Zechariah, Prophet of the Restoration

6. Chariots of Judgment

The last of the visions is simple in its elements. Two mountains, from between which come four chariots, passing before the watching prophet and his angelic guide to proceed in differing directions until they are lost to sight. Apparently insignificant, but in reality full of meaning.

"There came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass" (copper) (ch.6:1). What is signified by the two mountains? The Hebrew text has the definite article "the two mountains" as though something specific is intended, not just mountains in the general sense. What could such an expression have conveyed to the Israelites who first heard Zechariah’s words? Mountains consisting of solid copper are unnatural to say the least, but every Israelite was well acquainted with the Divine promise to their forefathers concerning the land they were to inherit "a land...out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass (copper)" (Deut.8:9). Primitive Israel existed in what we call the Bronze Age, in which copper held the place today occupied by steel, and the land of the mountains of copper, to every true Israelite, was the land of Israel. The two mountains of the vision, then, might very well picture the dual kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as they existed side by side in the years before the great captivities.

Against the background of these two kingdoms are displayed the four chariots. The foremost one was drawn by red horses, the second by black, the third by white, and the fourth by what the A.V. calls "grisled and bay" horses (6:3), actually "dappled strong" horses. "Amutstism", rendered "bay", is a word meaning strong, active or nimble, as applied to horses. (The A.V. "bay", meaning a deep red, arises from the desire of the A.V. translators to find a place in verse 7 for the red horses appearing in verse 2 who otherwise have no assigned destination, and is based upon the assumption that amutstism should be read adamim, for which there is no warrant). In reply to the prophet’s query the revealing angel told him that these chariots were the "four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the LORD of all the earth" (6:5), that the one drawn by black horses goes into "the north country" and is followed there by the white, and that the dappled ones go into the south country. Here the A.V. confuses the issue by postulating an extra chariot drawn by the "bay" going "to and fro through the earth" and this has to be corrected. The sense of vv.6‑7 is that the dappled ones go forth first toward the south country, and that being active or nimble (the "most strong" as the Douay version has it) proceed to penetrate other parts of the earth. They "sought to go", says the narrator "that they might walk to and fro through the earth" (v.7). This expression "to and fro", is derived from the verb halak, "to go" continuously as with settled intent, in specific directions not otherwise defined but not necessarily an alternative on a single path as is meant by the present usage of "to and fro". Our term "hither and thither" more accurately represents the term to us.

Now what is the explanation? It will not escape notice that the colours of the first three horses are the same as those of the riders in the vision (1:8). (The notes in chapter 1 have already shown that "speckled" in that chapter should properly read "black"). The fourth colour, grisled or "dappled", is new. It must also be noted that although four chariots come before the prophet’s attention only three are assigned destinations. Of the first, the red, nothing more is said.

As a symbol the chariot pictures judgment, usually Divine judgment. "For behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury." (Isa.66:15). "The chariots of God are twenty thousand,...the Lord is among them, as in Sinai,...to GOD the Lord belong the issues from death. But God shall wound the head of his enemies...such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses" (Psa.68:17‑21). These chariots, said the angel, are synonymous with the "four spirits—or winds—of the heavens", and the four winds of heaven are also used as a symbol of Divine judgment. The eloquent passage in Psalm 18 illustrates that. "The earth shook and trembled...the LORD also thundered in the heavens...the foundations of the world were discovered,...O LORD, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils" (Psa.18:7‑15). "With his mighty wind shall he (the LORD) shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it" (Isa.11:15). Speaking of his judgment on Israel, God says "But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not" (Zech.7:14). Hence these four chariots are vehicles of Divine judgment, symbols of the wrath of God going out to whoever and whatever is represented by the "north country" and the "south country".

Consistently in the Old Testament Babylon is depicted as the "north country", the land of the north; although geographically it lies east of Israel. The fact that it’s invading armies had to descend on the Israelites from the north in order to avoid the intervening desert gave rise to the name. The "south country" is Egypt and Arabia. With these facts in mind the interpretation of the vision begins to take shape. It is a picture of Divine retribution overtaking the powers which through history had oppressed and enslaved Israel, or were yet to do so. The standpoint from which the chariots are viewed is that of Zechariah’s own day and this explains the omission of the red horses’ onward progress. As in chapter 1, the red horses represented Assyria, the power to which Israel was enslaved in the first of the great captivities, and in Zechariah’s day judgment on Assyria had already been executed. Assyria, with its capital city Nineveh, disappeared from history a century before Zechariah lived. That chariot had already passed on its way. "I will break the Assyrian in my land" the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah "and upon my mountains tread him under foot...the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?" (Isa.14:25‑27). The red chariot of judgment upon Assyria appeared to Zechariah’s prophetic consciousness but he did not see it proceed on its mission because that was already past history. Assyria had fallen and was no more.

Not so the case with the chariot of black horses. That again as in chapter 1, pictured Babylon and the judgment to come upon that land. Said the angel (v.6) "The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them". The white logically picture Persia, as in chapter 1. Divine retribution began to come upon Babylon in Zechariah’s own lifetime; he was there at the time and he witnessed the fall of the city and the death of Belshazzar its last king. Although Persian rule commenced there and then the Babylonian nation continued and the city did not disappear at once; something like two centuries elapsed before Babylon completely lost its commercial importance and the city reverted to its dust. Judgment was being executed all that time. And more or less contemporaneous with the latter part of that period the succeeding empire, Persia, began to receive its due at the Lord’s hand by the agency of Greece, so that by the time of Alexander of Greece that white‑horsed chariot also had completed its mission. Both Babylon and Persia in turn had suffered the fate of Assyria their predecessor even as the Hebrew prophets had foretold. It is of these chariots that the proclamation of v.8 is made: "these that go toward the north country have quieted my spirit in the north country". That word quieted means to permit rest or to pacify. The downfall and destruction of the successive empires. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, as it were satisfied the Divine justice; after the chariots of judgment had completed their work the Divine Spirit was "pacified" so far as those lands were concerned. Something like this must have been in the mind of Jeremiah when he contemplated the same kind of retribution coming upon other of the enemies of God. "O thou sword of the LORD" he declaimed "how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still. How can it be quiet, seeing the LORD hath given it a charge" (Jer.47:6‑7). Here in the case of the "north country", the sword of the Lord, at last, was quiet.

There is still the fourth chariot to consider. This went forth to "the south country". In Zechariah’s day this was yet to come. After the fall of Persia the dispersion and exile of Israel lay in the south and west rather than in the north and east. Greece succeeded Persia as Israel’s overlord but there was no captivity in Greece. From this time the dispersion of Israel was, first, south into Egypt and Arabia, and later, about and after the time of the First Advent, when Rome succeeded Greece, into North Africa and Europe, the west. So the dappled strong horses may well represent the variable but mainly harsh rule of Greece which sent so many of the sons of Israel southward, followed by the fall of Greece and of Egypt before the armed might of Rome. Then came the time when the "strong" of the horses began to go "hither and thither" through the earth. Just as the power of Rome has extended throughout the earth—the Mediterranean world which is what the Old Testament means by the term—and just as the dispersion of Israel has extended similarly, so does the chariot of judgment follow, bringing Divine displeasure upon every vestige of evil rule and evil power until all is destroyed before the coming of earth’s new King. Perhaps this fourth chariot is still going "hither and thither" through the earth and the disruption and disintegration so prevalent today is the final manifestation of its presence. The whole earth has entered into judgment, but afterwards comes the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Horse/ Chariot Colour Place to Represents
1 Red n/a Assyria
2 Black North Babylon
3 White North Persia 
4 Dappled & strong South
to & fro
Greece, Rome...

Thus seen, this last of Zechariah’s visions pictures the progressive judgments of God upon evil powers in the earth preparatory to the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. From the re‑establishment of Israel in the sixth century B.C., pictured in the first vision, the prophet had seen in symbol the development of the Christian Church, the preparation of the earthly Holy Nation, the dawn of the Messianic Age with its light and life, its standards of right and wrong, the elimination of evil, and the completion of retribution upon the evil forces of this world. Now the vision comes to an end. As commentary upon the whole he was now to engage in a kind of symbolic charade in which he with his fellows would present in dramatic form a picture of the Millennial world which is yet to be, and this is the meaning of the remaining passage in chapter 6.

Verses 9‑15 tell how the word of the Lord came to Zechariah telling him, in effect, that three men were coming from Babylon, apparently bearing gifts of gold and silver to the Jewish community. He was to take a portion of this tribute, and of it construct a crown with which, in a symbolic ceremony, he would crown Joshua the High Priest and proclaim him as the Lord’s anointed, the "Branch", a Messianic title. Thus consecrated, Joshua was to reign as a royal priest in the day of the completed Temple, and foreigners from far‑off lands would come and share with Israel in the work and service of God. All of which was a wonderful idea never realised in that day; Joshua never became a ruler on a throne, and foreigners were never accepted within the ranks of Israel. The entire proceeding was a prophecy of a then far future day.

"Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon; and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown." This is the R.S.V. rendering of vv.10‑11, supported by other modern translators. The A.V., based on the Vulgate, has confused the text and rendered it difficult to understand. The plural "crowns" as in the A.V. refers to several circlets of which the single crown is composed (this incidentally is the meaning of the "many crowns" of Rev.19:12.). It was a common thing for visitors from the Jewish community in Babylon to visit their brethren in Judea bringing valuable gifts for the new Temple. None of the four individuals here mentioned can be identified elsewhere in Old Testament history although two Jedaiahs, both priests, were in Judea at the time of Zechariah. Suffice it that these three had come from Babylon with their gifts, that Zechariah met them and went with them to the home of Josiah the son of Zephaniah, and there made this crown. Evidently Joshua the High Priest was present, and probably a company of others, so that Zechariah was able in an impressive fashion to crown Joshua and declare the Divine decree.

"Thus speaketh the LORD of Hosts:
 Behold the man whose name is THE BRANCH,
 And he shall build the Temple of the LORD,
 And he shall bear the glory
 And shall sit and rule upon his throne.
 And he shall be a priest upon his throne.
 And the counsel of peace shall be between them both
" (vv.12‑13)

This can only be understood as a Messianic prophecy and the whole proceeding as a tableau depicting the ruling power of the Messianic Age. To depict Joshua himself as a crowned ruler in Judea at that time would not only be treason in the eyes of Persia, for Judea was a subject State, but treason against God, for the one who was to become both king and priest and dignified with the title of "the Branch" (of David) must come of Judah, the royal tribe. Joshua was of Levi, the priestly tribe. Thus the interpretation must be carried forward into the day when the Royal Priest, the one "after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb.7) assumes his office and power "in glory", and this points unmistakably to our Lord "at his coming and his Kingdom". To this the language fits. "The Branch" is his title as the scion of David’s house, the "root and...offspring of David" (Rev.22:16). He "grow(s) up out of his place" (v.12) from the days of his humanity at his First Advent to the glory of his Second Advent. He shall sit and rule upon his throne both as king and as priest with complete harmony between the two functions; "the counsel of peace shall be between them both". (v.13) One could picture this declaration as the Divine announcement to all the world at the time of the investiture of earth’s rightful King in the dawn of the Millennial Age, calling all men to take heed to the new world order headed by this Priest‑King for their salvation.

It is noteworthy that whereas Joshua was used in chapter 3 to prefigure the cleansing and development of the Church during this present Age he becomes, in chapter 6, the symbol of the reigning Christ in the next; it will not escape notice in this connection that the Church is destined to be associated with her Lord in the kingly‑priestly work of that Age so that the use of Joshua as a symbol of both "Christ the Head and the Church which is his body" is perhaps not altogether accidental.

"And the crown shall be to Heldai, and to Tobjiah, and to Jedaiah,... for a memorial in the temple of the LORD. And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the LORD" (vv.14‑15). Two minor corrections in the text have to be made. "Helem" in v.14 is obviously "Heldai" as in v.10, this is evidently a copyist’s error at some early date, the daleth yod (DI) at the end of the word having been mistaken for mem (M), a mistake due to similarity between the characters if written somewhat carelessly in the manuscript. "Hen" in the same verse is not a proper name and by some translators is linked with a word meaning favour or kindness; thus the R.V. Margin and others render "for the kindness of the son of Zephaniah" which removes all disparity between this verse and verse 10. It is now possible to take a look at the apparent meaning of the statement. The crown, following its use for the ceremonial crowning of Joshua, is said to be laid up in the Temple as a memorial to the three pious men who brought the original gift from Babylon, and to record the "kindness" of Josiah the son of Zephaniah who received them into his house and provided a place in which the ceremony could be performed. Since the entire proceeding has its setting in the Millennial Age and the "crown" is laid up in the newly built Temple after the Priest‑King has been crowned and therefore presumably entered upon the duties of his office, the Temple can hardly represent other than the edifice built during that Age, the all‑righteous system of world government instituted and presided over by our Lord and his Church—corresponding to some extent to the Holy City of Revelation. Within that system of administration there will be a memorial of some who in a past time brought their gifts away from the lands of unrighteousness, and within the confines of a friendly house contributed their symbol of faith that the time for the reign of earth’s great Priest‑King had come. If we take it that those three unknown men, Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, pictured all of Israel who in the Last Days come in faith, away from the lands of the old world into the friendly land which is to be the nucleus of the Kingdom on earth, and for a short time join concert with those who, like Josiah the son of Zephaniah, are already in that land living in faith and hope, expressing their belief in the imminent coming of earth’s new King, then perhaps the house of Josiah can symbolise the land, and the four figures in the tableau, the people, whose faith and works immediately prior to the establishment of the Kingdom in full sight of all people will be remembered for ever—a "memorial in the temple of the LORD."

Logically enough, it is then that "they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the LORD". (v.15) In that glorious Age men will come from all nations, from earth’s remotest bound, to play their part in the building of the new social system which is described so succinctly in the New Testament as "a new heavens and a new earth, wherein (in which) dwelleth righteousness". (2 Pet.3:13)

To be continued