This is one of the minor prophets whose book I was able to get out small group to actually study. Other than Isaiah it’s the most quoted in the New Testament. If one is going to understand Revelation, one of our other readings, it’s best to start for understand books like this in the Old Testament.
Zechariah 1:8 I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.
Zec 1:9 Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.
Zec 1:10 And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.
Zec 1:11 And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.
Zec 1:12 Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?
It’s probably a bit long but worth the time to read Old John Gill’s commentary.
I saw by night,…. Or, “that night” (m); the night of the twenty fourth of Sebat; a proper and usual time for visions; and it may denote the obscurity of the vision, as it was in some respects to the prophet; and the state of the church at this time, it being a night season with it, and in a low estate; and the care that the Lord, who is Israel’s Keeper, has of them in such seasons, being in the midst of them:
and behold! this is prefixed to the vision, to denote the wonderfulness of it, and to excite attention to it; there being something in it not only amazing, but of moment and importance:
a man riding upon a red horse; not any mere “man”, as Alexander on his Bucephalus, as Abarbinel interprets it; and so Arias Montanus, as Sanctius on the place observes; though the time this vision refers to, and the state of the Jews then, will not admit of such an interpretation; for at this time all the earth was still and at rest, there were no wars in it, Zec 1:11 which agrees not with the times of Alexander, and of his reign, which was wholly spent in war; and the whole world in a manner was involved in it by him; but best agrees with the times of Cyrus and Darius, after they had subdued the Babylonian monarchy: besides, the Jews were now in a very low estate, like a grove of myrtle trees in a bottom, plain, or valley; and not only surrounded and overtopped by other states and kingdoms, which were greatly superior to them; but oppressed by their enemies, who hindered them in the rebuilding of their city and temple; whereas this was not their case in the times of Alexander, when they were in better circumstances, and which were two hundred years after this; nor was he so very beneficial and serviceable to the Jews, as to be represented, in such a vision, as in the midst of them, for their relief and protection; but an angel of the Lord is here meant, as this man is expressly called, Zec 1:11 and not a created angel; for he is distinguished from the angel that talked with the prophet, Zec 1:9. The Jews, as Jerom relates, think that the Angel Michael is meant, by whom they understand a created angel; for otherwise, if they took him to be, as he is, the Son of God, the Archangel, the Head of principalities, who is, as his name signifies, like unto God, and equal to him, it would not be amiss: and it is usual for a divine Person to be called the Angel of the Lord, as was he that called to Abraham when sacrificing his son, and to Moses out of the bush; and who went before the Israelites in the wilderness, and who is called the Angel of God’s presence, and the messenger and Angel of the covenant; and the ancient Jews themselves own that a divine Person is here meant; for, on quoting these words, “I saw a man”, &c. they say (n), there is no man but the holy blessed God; as it is said, “the Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name”; and though he is distinguished from the Lord of hosts, Zec 1:12, the reason of this (or otherwise it is the title of this angel also, see Hos 12:4,) is because he here appears in the form of a man; and because of his office as an intercessor and advocate for his people, Zec 1:12 a character which well agrees with Christ, who is the advocate with the Father for his saints, and whoever lives to make intercession for them, and is always heard and answered with good and comfortable words: and he is called a “man”; not that he is a mere man, or was really man when this vision was seen; but he then appeared in a human form, because he should become man, and quickly would be, as it was purposed, prophesied, and agreed he should be: and he is represented as “riding”, to denote his majesty and glory as a king, or as a general of an army, in which he rode prosperously; see Psa 45:4 as also his readiness, swiftness, and haste he made to help and save his people; as the people of the Jews, in this their present time of distress, being opposed and hindered in building their city, in particular; so, in general, all his people, in whatsoever case or circumstances they may be: thus riding, when ascribed to a divine Person, is an emblem of haste and quick dispatch, to assist and relieve the distressed; see Deu 33:26 so Christ, who here appears as a man, was ready and forward, in the council and covenant of grace, to agree to become man, and be the surety of his people, and die in their place and stead, in order to save them: his frequent appearances in a human form, before his incarnation, show how willing and ready he was really to assume the human nature; and as soon as the time appointed for it was up, he tarried not; when the fulness of time was come, God sent him, and he came at once, and immediately; and as soon as possible he went about the business he came upon, took delight and pleasure in it, was constant at it till he had finished it; and even his sufferings and death, which were disagreeable to nature, considered in themselves, were wished and longed for, and cheerfully submitted to by him: and he is quick in all his motions to help his people in all their times of need; nor can any difficulties prevent him giving an early and speedy relief; he comes to them leaping on the mountains, and skipping on the hills; and at the last day he will come quickly to put them into the possession of salvation he has wrought out for them; and will be a swift witness for them, and against wicked men that hate them, and oppose them: and he is upon a “red horse”, signifying either his incarnation, and his bloody sufferings and death; and his taking peace from the earth when on it, not intentionally, but eventually, through the wickedness of men; see Rev 6:4 or his indignation against his enemies, and his wrath and vengeance upon them, and the destruction of them; and may have a particular reference to those who opposed the building of the temple; see Isa 63:1,
and he stood among the myrtle trees which were in the bottom: by the “myrtle trees” may be meant the Israelites, as Kimchi interprets it; and that either as in Babylon, which he supposes is designed by “the bottom”; agreeably to the Targum, which paraphrases the words, “and he stood among the myrtle trees which are in Babylon”; or rather, as now returned to their own land; and so may denote the low estate and condition in which they were when they began to rebuild the temple, being feeble, and opposed by their enemies, mightier than they; but yet, inasmuch as the Lord was in the midst of them, they had encouragement to go on in the work, as is suggested in Hag 2:3, though the saints and people of God in general may be here meant by the “myrtle trees”; and the ancient Jews (o) interpret them of the righteous, saying, there are no myrtle trees but the righteous; and give this as a reason why Esther was called Hadassah, Est 2:7 which signifies a myrtle tree, because this is the name of the righteous (p); and these may fitly be compared to such trees for their goodliness and beauty to look at, for their sweet and fragrant smell, for their verdure and greenness, and for their flourishing in valleys and watery places (q), signified here by “the bottom”; all which is true of the saints, who are pleasant plants, comely through Christ’s comeliness; whose graces, when in exercise, send forth a sweet smell; whose prayers are odours, and whose good works are acceptable, being done in faith; whose leaves never wither, and who flourish much, being planted by the river of divine love; and in whom the grace of God ever remains, and they persevere in grace to the end: these may be said to be “in the bottom”; or in a low estate; not only before conversion, but after; when corruptions prevail, temptations are strong, grace is weak; God hides his face, Christ is absent, and the Spirit withdraws his influences; and so it is true of the church in general, when under persecution, or pestered with false teachers, and when the life and power of religion are almost gone; and yet even then Christ stands in the midst of them, to sympathize with them, and as ready to help and assist them, to deliver them out of their troubles, to protect them from their enemies, and to restore them to their former state and condition. A grove of myrtle trees in a plain, in which they delight, being dark and shady, is thought by some to be an emblem of this world, in which there is a mixture of good and bad men; and of the care of Providence over human affairs, consulting the good of man, especially the raising up of the church of God out of a low estate by Christ, and his apostles, and other ministers of the word, performing their offices, according to the different abilities and gifts God has bestowed upon them (r):
and behind him were there red horses, speckled and white; that is, with riders on them. Some (s) Jewish writers interpret this vision of the four kingdoms; and understand by the red horse with the man upon it, in the former clause, the Babylonian monarchy, of which Nebuchadnezzar was the head; and, by these three sorts here, the Medes, Greeks, and Romans, by inverting the order of them; they interpreting the white horses with the riders on them of the Medes and Persians; who were kind to the Jews, and under whom they were dismissed from their captivity, and their temple rebuilt: the speckled, or those of different colours, the Macedonians or Grecians; some of which were friends, and kind and benevolent to the Jews; and others cruel persecutors of them; and the red, the Romans, who were bloody, and slew multitudes of them, and destroyed their city and temple: but others, as Jerom observes, who relates the above sense, keep the order of the text, and explain the particulars of it thus; the red horse on which the man rode, and the red horses behind him, of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, who were sanguine; the one carried away the ten tribes under Shalmaneser; and the other the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, burning the city of Jerusalem, and laying waste the temple; the speckled, or those of various colours, the Medes and Persians; some of whom were mild and gentle, as Cyrus, and Darius the son of Hystaspes, and Ahasuerus, whom the Greeks call Artaxerxes, under whom was the history of Esther; and others were cruel, as Cambyses, &c.: those who think that Alexander the great is meant on the red horse suppose that those that succeeded him are meant by the other horses of various colours; namely, the Lagidae and the Seleucidae, or the kings of Egypt and Syria, who were sometimes very fierce and furious, and sometimes very friendly to the Jews; at least different kings, and at different times: but it seems better to interpret them of saints, the godly and faithful followers of Christ; not only the godly among the Jews, who were made as his goodly horse in the battle, Zec 10:3 but the church and people of God in general, who are compared to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariot, Son 1:9, for their strength, courage, serviceableness, and the value Christ has them: thus, as he is elsewhere represented as riding on a white horse, under the Gospel dispensation, as the general of an army, and mighty conqueror; so the armies of heaven that follow him on white horses, and clothed in white, are the called, and faithful, and chosen, Rev 17:14 and some of these being described by red horses, with riders on them, may signify, such who have been called to shed their blood, and lay down their lives, for Christ and his Gospel, and their profession of it, even the martyrs of Jesus; and others by speckled horses, or of various colours, may intend such professors of religion, who, though not called to die for Christ, yet suffer persecution in various ways, both by reproach and affliction; and whose lives may be a chequered work of comforts and troubles, of prosperity and adversity: and others by white horses may point at such who are not only clothed with fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of the saints; and who are more than conquerors through Christ, who has loved them, which are characters common to all saints; but who enjoy a great deal of liberty, peace, and prosperity, all their days. Some (t) restrain this to the apostles of Christ, and succeeding ministers of the word; and observe, that as horses carry men and other things into the various parts of the world, so the ministers of the Gospel bear the name of Christ, and carry his Gospel into the whole world; and as horses do not go into any part of it of themselves, but as they are directed by their masters, so the Gospel ministers are sent under the direction of Christ, some here, and some there; and as horses going through towns and villages are mostly annoyed by the barking of dogs, which yet they regard not, so as to stop their speed; thus likewise faithful preachers are followed with the calumnies of wicked men, with their scoffs and jeers, reproaches and persecutions; but none of these things move them, or cause them to desist from their work; and as Christ the Son of God stood among these horses, so he is, and has promised to be, with his ministering servants unto the end of the world; and as they are like horses, docile and laborious, so the various colours of these may have respect to them; some of whom are called to resist even unto blood; and others to various trials; as well as they have different gifts, and are of different usefulness, and all of them at last victorious over their enemies; and are under Christ their Head, and are ready to do his will in whatsoever he directs them; though the more commonly received opinion is, that angels are designed, and as it seems from Zec 1:10 compared with Zec 6:1 see also 2Ki 2:11 signified by horses, for their strength, courage, swiftness, serviceableness, and disposition for war; and these different colours may represent the different state and condition of the nations with whom they were concerned, and to whom they were sent, as cruel or kind, to the people of God; and their different employments and services, both to help the saints, and render vengeance to their enemies; and the various offices they perform, with respect to Christ and his people, in things temporal and spiritual; and the place and situation of these horses being “behind” Christ may denote his superiority over them: he is superior to all monarchs and monarchies, kingdoms and states; he is King of kings, and Lord of lords; the kingdoms of this world are his, and he is the Governor among the nations; they are all behind and under him, and disposed of by him at his pleasure; and he can restrain them, when he thinks fit, from doing any harm to his people: he is superior to all men, even the best and greatest; he is the Head of the church, and King of saints; and it is their business, and even their honour and privilege, to follow him whithersoever he goes: and he is superior to angels, has a more excellent name and nature than they, is the Creator and Maker of them, and is worshipped by them; and even, as Mediator, is in a greater office, and in a higher place, at the right hand of God, than they are; they are at his beck and command, and at hand to be sent forth on all occasions to do his business, to minister for him, and to his people; they are his servants, and devoted to his service, and are ready to do his pleasure.
(m) הלילה “hac nocte”, Drusius. (n) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 93. 1. Pesikta Rabbati apud Yalkut Simeoni, par. 2. fol. 85. 4. (o) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 93. 1. (p) T. Bab. Megilla, fol. 13. 1. (q) “—-Et amantes littora myrtos.” Virgil. Georgic. l. 4. (r) Vid. Levin. Lemnii Herb. Bibl. Explicat. c. 39. p. 108. (s) In Abendana, Not. in Miclol Yophi in loc. (t) Vid. Frantzii Hist. Animal. Sacr. par. 1. c. 12. p. 130, 131.