Next to Isaiah, the messianic prophecies of Zechariah are the most important in the Old Testament. Zechariah began his prophetic work in November 520 B.C, and verses Zechariah 1:1-6 are dated at that time. Verses 7-17 are dated February 519 B.C.-four months later. The locale is Jerusalem.
It was a time of very great discouragement. The captivity had come. Israel and Judah had been taken captive and scattered. Seventy years of captivity had ended and the hoped-for restoration, the rebuilding, was a very feeble thing. Only a handful returned to Jerusalem and Judea, and this handful had to survey the ruins of a big city with rubble that was impossible to penetrate. It was seventy years before that rubble was cleared and the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.
They had begun, under the urging of the prophet Haggai, to rebuild the temple. When Zechariah spoke, the temple was partially rebuilt. But the very work of reconstruction was fearfully discouraging so that many wept as they surveyed it. They saw all around them a world of evil triumphant, self-satisfied, and at rest. They saw their feeble efforts at reconstruction, which to them seemed so pitiful, as against the enormity of unbelief, and their reaction was one of despair.
Be Not Unbelieving
The first temple of Solomon had been a great edifice, one of the wonders of the world. The second temple was a very poor building. By comparison it was pathetic. Thus, as they began the task of reconstruction, it seemed that the future had little to offer them. In the face of this Zechariah spoke and in the first six verses reminded them: "God was very angry with your forefathers because of their apostasy." Again and again God spoke to their forefathers, "Return unto me and I will return unto you." But they would not. So His judgment overwhelmed them.
Now, God says through Zechariah, "Be not as your fathers were, unbelieving."
These were the men who had returned to Jerusalem by faith and who were engaged in the task of recon-struction. But in that task of reconstruction they were falling into the danger of walking by sight rather than by faith. They saw the immensity of evil and the feebleness of their efforts; it seemed almost futile to lay another brick. And so God said, "Be not as your fathers were, unbelieving. Did not the word that I spoke unto them overtake them?" It is rendered: [Did not the word that I spoke] "take hold of your fathers?" (v. 6) This can also and better be translated, "overtake them."
God's Word is either obeyed and becomes the ground of our living, or it overtakes us in judgment.
"Your fathers," God said to them through Zechariah, "where are they? And the prophets who spoke unto your fathers, where are they? But my words stand."
So the first message of Zechariah to the people was: "Be not unbelieving. As you begin your task of reconstruction, do not look at appearances, but look at this that you do, that it is done in the name of God. And His Word is the Word that is come true again and again and His power is unchanged still."
Christ In The Midst
Then four months later came the vision of a man sitting on a red horse. "[A]nd he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white" (v. 8).
Immediately the man on the red horse is identified as an angel. Then He is identified as the angel of Jehovah or the angel of the Lord, so that we are brought to the recognition that this rider is Jesus Christ, God the Son. Over and over again God the Son is spoken of in the Old Testament as the angel of the Lord. We meet Him, first, in Genesis 16:7, again in Genesis 22:11 and repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. And we find Him clearly identified as God the Son.
In the vision we see the discussion between God the Son and God the Father. God the Son speaking in behalf of His people, the church; and God the Son reassuring Him concerning those things which must surely come to pass.
Christ is presented as in the midst of the myrtle trees. And the myrtle trees, an ancient symbol of joy, peace, and purity, were also a symbol of the true church of God. The trees are portrayed as being in the bottom, or in the depths, so that we have a symbolic presentation of the church in the depths, the church in difficulty, the church insignificant in the sight of the world. Yet, Christ is in the midst of the church; and the whole world is portrayed as sitting still and at rest, satisfied that it is in control and has power.
"So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy" (v. 14). Thus the Word of the Lord is given to Zechariah, a promise concerning Jerusalem and the true church of God: "[M]y house shall be built" (v. 16), i.e, "This temple which you are now building and that is barely underway and seems so feeble an enterprise, it shall be built." Second, "a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem" (v. 16), i.e., Jerusalem shall be fenced in and defended, it shall become a walled city. Third, "My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad" (v. 17). Fourth, and finally, "the LORD shall yet comfort Zion" (v. 17).
All four promises were fulfilled. The second temple was built. Seventy years later, under Nehemiah, Jerusalem was walled. Then the cities through prosperity spread abroad throughout Judea and Galilee. And then, finally, the final promise, the comfort of Zion, Jesus Christ came: He who was spoken of, of old, as the consolation or the comfort of Israel.
Thus, God speaking to a church that was in the bottom, in the depths, gave them His word that "history is in My hands. And the future is determined not in terms of these who are in power, but in terms of Myself, Who am in the midst of the church. And My power is unchanged still."
This is the prophecy of Zechariah. It is a prophecy not only concerning Jerusalem, but concerning the church today; a prophecy that is not a finished word because it had its first fulfillment in Jerusalem. It has its fulfillment now in terms of the church. Why? Because the church is, again, in the depths while the whole world seems to lie at ease, satisfied that it is in power and that history is in the hands of men, not in the hands of God, so that their only question is, which group of men will determine the future?
But Christ, through Zechariah, tells us that He is in the midst of His church-His true church, not the visible church, not the outward church, but the church that is the true church, those who are inwardly of Him-He is in their midst. The future is not determined in terms of Moscow, nor of Washington, nor of New York and the UN, nor by London, Paris, Berlin or any other world center. The future is governed and determined by God the Sovereign One, the triune God, by God the Son who stands in the midst of His church. "[W]here two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst" (Matt. 18:20), so that the center of history, the heart of the future, is here in our midst. Wherever any are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ-whether formally or informally, in every home where Christ is truly worshipped-there He is, and the future of history is determined in terms of every such person, every such group: for they are members of the body of Christ and Christ is in their midst. In terms of them, the future shall be determined.
The Center of History
When our Lord took His leave of His disciples He said to them, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18), and, "[L]o, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the [earth, the end of the] world [to the end of the age]" (Matt. 28:20). Our Lord told His disciples that all power, all authority, all dominion were given unto Him. He repeated the promise given through Zechariah that He stands in the midst of the myrtle trees in terms of the true church, which is often in the depths from the perspective of men, but stands, in reality, at the center of history because the Lord governs through His church and in terms of it.
Therefore, when we look at the future we must walk by faith. We must not look at our efforts and their feebleness as we begin the task of Christian reconstruction. We must look at the reality of God's promise that He is with us always and that all power and all dominion are in His hands. Therefore, the future of the world is determined in terms of Christ in the midst of His church.
2. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3. Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
7. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(Ps. 46:2-3, 7)
Between Two Evils
Meanwhile, two great evils have characterized human activities in culture after culture, plaguing us even in the church: activism and quietism.
There is a kind of activism that feels responsibility for the entire world. Such activists feel that anything that occurs anywhere in the world is their responsibility and they must do something about it. If there is a problem in Africa or in Asia, they must be concerned, they must act. So, little by little, the activist feels a world responsibility which makes him, in his own thinking, comparable to God. If he relaxes at all in his vigilance somehow the world is going to fall apart. So upon himself and other likeminded activists the mantle of God, as it were, is assumed to have fallen and the world will not function if they do not keep up their perpetual concern, their perpetual activism. Such activism is, of course, playing at being God. It is wrong and it is foolish.
On the other hand, there is a great deal of quietism that has, over and over again, possessed men. Men, playing God with their activism, become disillusioned and turn, on the other hand, to a total unconcern about the world. They deny that they have any responsibility except to concern themselves about their own souls. With quietism often comes mysticism, one of the great evils that has plagued human history. With the mystic the concern is not with the material world, not with other people, not even with himself, but total withdrawal from all things and seeking absorption, disillusionment, and dissolution into the absolute, into the universe-a dissolution into the universe and a disillusionment with the world. Quietism is a great evil, and basic to every quietism there is also a fearful pride. Even as the activist assumes himself to be a god, so the quietist says, "I will be one with the ultimate power of the universe." He identifies himself with God whom he defines as being unconcerned with the universe.
Between quietism and activism, what course should the people of God take?
For Every Oppressor, a Destroyer
Zechariah had an answer to this question in a revelation from God that he describes in the concluding verses of the first chapter. Zechariah was speaking to a handful of Israelites who had returned from captivity. For seventy years the land had been idle. What once had been a flourishing country of many cities, a great deal of industry, vineyards and orchards, was now a wasteland. The trees had taken over the farms. Wild animals roamed where once people had dwelt, and animals that had disappeared centuries earlier again took over the land.
Into this situation, a handful of people came, some 40,000. The task of reconstruction seemed to be hopeless. Jerusalem was a heap of ruins, impenetrable by horseback. They had begun their task of reconstruction with the rebuilding of the second temple. This temple was so insignificant compared to the temple of Solomon that they were deeply discouraged.
In addition to the problem directly in front of them, they felt threatened by the people around them as they began to rebuild. Their ancient enemies by no means wanted to see Israel restored and its kingdom reestablished. So as the Israelites turned from one side to the other, they saw only hostility. The Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Samaritans were to the north, the Egyptians to the south, the Philistines on the west, and the Ammonites and Moabites on the east. Israel was totally encircled by enemies. They were a handful, some 40,000, against millions. When they realized how overwhelming a task they faced, they were filled with despair.
And to them came the vision through Zechariah: "Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns" (v. 18). Here we deal with symbolism that was once familiar to everyone. Throughout most of history, until fairly recent times, it was no problem for anyone to understand the meaning of horns. They signified power, authority, dominion, majesty, and might. Many an ancient crown was characterized by horns. The Persian Empire, during its period of greatness, had two horns on the crown of the emperor.
We meet the symbol of horns from one end of Scripture to the other. For example, we read when Hannah-rejoicing because God had given her the gift of Samuel, the son for whom she had prayed so long-sang her beautiful song (which was echoed centuries later by the virgin Mary) and said, "[M]ine horn is exalted in the LORD" (1 Sam. 2:1).
In Psalm 89 we read:
17. For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.
18. For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.
22. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
23. And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.
24. But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
(Psalm 89:17-18, 22-24)
The symbolism of the horn occurs throughout the Bible and countless times in the world at large. Everyone understood its meaning.
Zechariah spoke of four horns, and then spelled out, "these are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem" (v. 19), i.e., "Here are the powers of the ungodly world round about you. These are they that have scattered you and broken you. These are the enemies that surround you. Indeed, you are surrounded by power. You, a small handful of 40,000."
"And the LORD shewed me four carpenters" (v. 20). The word that is translated "carpenters" has a more general meaning in the Hebrew. It can also be rendered as "smith" because it means not only a worker in wood, but also a worker in stone or in iron.
"Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it" (v. 21).
The meaning was immediately apparent to every Israelite. Here were four smiths coming who could dehorn every horn, who had the power to do it, so that even as Israel had been surrounded by oppressors, by the providence of God, destroyers for these oppressors had been raised up so that for every oppressor there is a destroyer.
Age after age, history testifies to this, and the Scripture gives us abundant evidence of it. When Israel was oppressed in Egypt, God, using the forces of nature, destroyed Egypt. When they entered into the Promised Land, He used the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. Age after age when they were threatened by enemies, God raised up someone to destroy the enemies. God raised up the oppressor, Assyria, and then destroyed Assyria with Babylon. Then Babylon was destroyed by the Medo-Persian Empire. And the Medes and Persians were destroyed by Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great was destroyed by other powers so that in every age, every oppressor found that there was a destroyer for him.
So God said to this handful of 40,000 who were feeling hopeless as they faced the task of reconstruction, "The powers are around you but God has already appointed the destroyers. Have no fear. Your task, therefore, awaits you."
This, then, is the meaning of this vision. God declares that for every oppressor there is a destroyer, so that in every situation we can face our problems, our adversaries, in this confidence: that God has, from all eternity, ordained the means of their destruction.
God's Destroyers Free His People to Build
Today those who represent the cause of Christ are a handful. Virtually every church the length and breadth of this country and around the world is given over to evil, is given over to the powers of darkness, so that we face a monstrous evil everywhere in the church and power is in their hands. They are among the horns that oppress us. As we look at the governments of the world, we see them almost uniformly given over to socialism, to communism, to welfarism, to every kind of evil. As we look at education we see, again, the schools in the hands of evil. On all sides we see the horns of the enemy. We see power in his hands.
By comparison, we who have dedicated ourselves to the task of reconstruction seem small and impotent, just like those 40,000 returning captives. All that we represent and all that we hope to do can be snuffed out by powerful enemies in a mere moment. But God says to us, "For every oppressor there is an ap-pointed destroyer," so that our task is reconstruction. God has given us a calling and a responsibility. What we cannot do, God does not ask us to do. What we can do, God requires us to do. It is His purpose, His ordination, that evil shall not prevail. The kingdoms of this earth are not ordained to become the dominions of the powers of darkness.
The Lord's Prayer concludes with a sentence that is not only our prayer, but it must be an article of faith. "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen" (Matt. 6:13). This we must believe. If we doubt it, we are doubting God. If we surrender the world into the hands of evil men because we do not believe that God is able to destroy them, we are doubting God. We are then denying Him. So, this must be an article of faith: For thine is the kingdom! We must continually stand in terms of this.
The task of reconstruction before us is our responsibility. That which we can do, we must do with all our might. And day by day as we approach God in prayer, it must be an article of faith with us when we declare, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen" (Matt. 6:13).
Do you believe this? Then you must live in terms of it.
- R. J. Rushdoony
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.