By Edward Dennett
Another vision now dawns upon the soul of the prophet. "And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass." (v. 1) We are passing now again, it is evident, into the sphere of the world's empires, and God's government of the earth by their means. In chapter 1 there were horses representing the three empires — Persia, Greece, and Rome — that succeeded Babylon; here all these four empires are shown under the symbol of chariots and horses. And they come out from between two mountains of brass. We may be helped in ascertaining the meaning of this expression by the statement in verse 5: "These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth." The chariots thus come out from the presence of the Most High; and the mountains (which are sometimes figuratively used for seats of government, Psalm 72:3; Rev. 17:9, etc.) may be regarded as the pillars of His throne. (Compare Ps. 75:3.) Their being mountains of brass tends also to the same interpretation; for brass is an emblem of divine righteousness testing man (as, for example, in the brazen altar) in responsibility, and hence it is connected with judgment, as indeed in the present vision. (v. 8.) God is taking cognizance of the events of earth as He is about to judge all on the eternal principle of His own righteousness as displayed in His government. Thus the Psalmist says, "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains"; and, "The mountains of God" (Psalm 36:6), an expression which confirms our interpretation.
The following remarks of another are so striking, and so vividly express, as we judge, the significance of this vision that we give them entire. "In chapter 6 we are shown the government of God in the four monarchies, but neither as immediate government on God's part, nor merely that of human government. We have seen power committed to man in the person of Nebuchadnezzar, and that he had failed therein. But it was not the will of God immediately to resume the reins of government in the earth, neither to leave the earth to the wickedness and the will of man without any providential bridle, without any government. He controls them, not by acting directly, so as to maintain the testimony of His character and His ways, but by means of instruments whom He employs, the result of whose activity is according to His will. The only wise God can do this; for He knows all things, and directs all things to the accomplishment of His purposes. This is the reason that we see all sorts of things morally in disagreement with His ways in government, which yet succeed; a chaos as to the present, but the issue of which will furnish a clue that will make manifest a wisdom even more profound and admirable than that which was displayed in His own immediate government in Israel, perfect as this was in its place. It is that universal providence which, in its results, satisfies the moral exigencies of the nature of God; while in the intermediate course of things free scope is left to the active energies of man's will.
This mediate power, exercised by means of instruments proceeding from the presence of the Most High God is employed in connection with His rights over the whole earth. This is the character of God in the prophecy of Zechariah. It is the character also of His government for the time being, that is, during the four empires. When Christ shall reign, the government will again be immediate in His person, and Jerusalem be its centre.
I think the judgment executed upon Babylon answers to that which is said in verse 8. We know that Chaldea was always the north country to Israel. The spirits employed by God have accomplished His will there. The seventh verse appears to indicate the Roman empire, comprising everything from its first establishment to the present time, and its historical character at all times. The white horses would be the representatives of that which God has done by means of the Greek empire. The grisled and bay appear to indicate a mixture of Greek and Roman power; at least, these horses have a double character, which becomes afterwards two distinct classes (the last only having the character of universality, which goes to and fro throughout all the earth). I doubt not that all these proud instruments of His government will be found again as spheres of judgment in the last days, when God begins to assert His rights as the God of the whole earth, unless Babylon geographically may be an exception in virtue of what is said in verse 8."1
The principles laid down at the commencement of the above extract are of all importance for the understanding of God's ways in the government of the earth during the long interval between the removal of His throne from Jerusalem, on the destruction of the city and temple by Nebuchadnezzar, and the establishment of Messiah's throne in Zion. If, however, the reader should be disappointed at not finding a more precise and detailed interpretation of the chariots and their horses, he must remember that full light will only be thrown back on these symbols when Jehovah again asserts His claims over the earth, and that in the meantime we must be contented with an outline of His working through and by means of these successive world empires. Still, great assistance may be gained in the study of these prophetic visions by a careful examination of all that has been written in other books concerning the empires of the world, as, for example, in Daniel 2:7 - 11, etc. Two things he will at least learn. First, that the four monarchies, represented by four chariots, are but successive instrumentalities in the hand of God for the accomplishment of His will; and that the various political crises, whether as arising from wars or changes of territory, both in "the north country," and in "the south country," are the result of His working through man's will and man's schemes in view of His immutable purposes of blessing in Israel; and secondly, that the issue of the government of the earth by the hands of man will be the two beasts of Rev. 13, who will be the incarnation of all human wickedness, as seen in the vain attempt to eradicate from the hearts of men all belief in the existence of God. (See Rev. 13)2 Happy are those who, through the grace of God, have their portion outside of this scene; who know that their citizenship is in heaven; and who therefore, while they, in obedience to the word of God, are subject to the powers that be and obey magistrates, stand aloof from all political agitations and movements, expecting nothing from man's vain and futile efforts to improve the world, but wait continually for the return of the Lord.
As arising out of the vision, Zechariah now receives a distinct message, which gives us the frill result of God's ways in government in the introduction of the Messiah, who should be as "a priest upon his throne," between whom and Jehovah as we shall see, there will be "the counsel of peace." First, we have the occasion of the message, and a symbolic action, which becomes a shadow of the complete blessing predicted. "And the word of the Lord came unto me saying, Take of them of the captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah, and of Jedaiah, which are come from Babylon, and come thou the same day, and go into the house of Joshua the son of Zephaniah; then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest." (vv. 9-11) We find no other reference to these names, and it would seem that they had come from Babylon with offerings for the Lord's work in building the temple. They had not availed themselves of the liberty given, through the proclamation of Cyrus, to return to Judah with their brethren; but though they had not faith for this, they had fellowship with the object of those who had returned.3 The prophet is commanded to go into the house of Josiah — where these godly Jews lodged, it may be — and take silver and gold, of the offerings they had brought, if this were the purpose of their visit to Jerusalem, and to make crowns and set them upon the head of Joshua the high priest. Thus crowned with many crowns (see Rev. 19:12), he stood in the midst of his brethren as a type of Christ in His future glory. It was no mean privilege for Joshua, as the crowned priest, to become the symbol of the Messiah; but this honour was accorded to him by Jehovah through His messenger. And while he thus stood before these children of the captivity, Zechariah was charged to speak unto him, saying, "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH, and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: even 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.)
The message explains most fully the meaning of the symbolical act of crowning Joshua the high priest. He thus became, as already shown, a type of Christ as the true Melchizedek.4 The several features of the Messiah in His future glory are very interesting. He is first presented to us as the man whose name is The BRANCH.5 According to promise He should spring forth after the flesh from the stock, and thus be the offspring of David; and hence it is added that "He shall grow up out of His place"; i.e. He should be regarded as born in Zion, according to the word in the Psalm — "The Lord shall count, when He writeth up the people, that this man" (Christ) "was born there." (Psalm 87:6.) For though Bethlehem was the place of David's nativity (also of David's Son and Lord), Zion was the seat of that royal grace displayed in the kingdom, and the place to which therefore Messiah is said to belong. Then moreover it is said, "he shall build the temple of the Lord: even he shall build the temple of the Lord." In this way the faith of Joshua, and the remnant whom he represented, would be encouraged. They were labouring to erect a house for Jehovah amid the desolations of the once beautiful Jerusalem; and the Lord directs them to look upon their work as the promise of a time, which should eclipse the glory of the past far more than the past overshadowed the present, when Messiah Himself should build the temple — one therefore commensurate with the splendours of His own glorious reign, and as such worthy to be the habitation of the Lord their God.
The fact is interesting in itself, and should be noted by every reader of prophecy, as it throws a flood of light upon the future. The temple now being erected was to last till the days of Herod; for he really rebuilt, or made such alterations and renovations as were tantamount to rebuilding the temple. This was destroyed, as we know, by the Romans, and from that day to this, Jerusalem trodden under foot by the Gentiles, has been without a house for Jehovah and will continue to be so as long as the day of grace shall be extended. The time, however, will come when the Jews, restored to their own land, will in their unbelief — unbelief as to Jesus being their Messiah — build another temple; for it is found existing and associated with wickedness. (See Isaiah 66:6; Matt. 24:15.) This temple will also be destroyed (Daniel 8:11), and thus the way is prepared for the advent of the Messiah in His kingdom, when He will fulfil the prediction here given through Zechariah. It will be then for the first time that there will be One to govern upon earth adequate to all the requirements of the glory of God: He shall bear the glory. This is the One of whom the prophet Isaiah had spoken as a nail fastened in a sure place, who should be for a glorious throne to his father's house, upon whom they should hang "all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons." (Isa. 22:23-24.) Yea, He shall bear the glory; for He has shown, proved, both His worthiness and ability to do so. On the cross He was tested as to this, and it was abundantly demonstrated that He could sustain the whole weight of the glory of God in respect of His people's sins. In the place of sin and for sin He endured all that was necessary to vindicate the name of His God before the universe; for He devoted Himself to such a death for the divine glory, and He to whom He thus offered Himself has declared His satisfaction, His joy, in the death of His beloved Son by raising Him from the dead, and setting Him down at His own right hand in heaven. Already He has glorified Him there with the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; and very soon He will display Him in that glory on the earth, and then it is that He will execute the decree already promulgated — "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." And He will do this in connection with establishing Him as King upon His holy hill of Zion, where the accomplishment of these words, "he shall bear the glory," will be verified, the glory of God in the earth, is He already bears it in heaven. That it is in connection with government is seen from what follows. He "shall sit and rule upon his throne" — the throne of His father David — when "he shall reign over the house (of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:32-33.)
Two other things are added; first, that He shall be a priest upon His throne — the true Melchizedek — King of Righteousness, and also King of Peace — the two characters foreshadowed by David and Solomon, and together with these ever maintaining the place and office of the Priest on behalf of His people. (See Psalm 110) Lastly, the counsel of peace shall be between Him and Jehovah; and this, as the result of His bearing the glory, and, governing according to God's perfect standard, the expression in His government of the character and ways of God, and that in the fulness of their perfection; and thus it will be the foundation and the guarantee of the peace and blessing of all who accept from the heart His perfect and righteous rule. (Compare Psalm 72) It is for this blessed future the earth now sighs and waits; for unconsciously to themselves this Royal Priest is the desire of all nations, and when He once comes and takes His power, He will not only satisfy, but far transcend, the most longing expectations. Hence in the prospect of this the psalmist cries, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be. joyful together before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity." (Psalm 98:4-9.)
We have now another action. First of all, the crowns (or crown) having been made, were put upon the head of Joshua, who became thus a type of Christ in the glory of the kingdom. Having served this purpose, the crowns (or crown) were to be laid up in the temple of Jehovah as a memorial "to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah." (v. 14.) There is something touchingly beautiful in this act of grace. These godly Jews, as we have before pointed out, had not returned with their brethren from Babylon to unite in the work of building the temple; but, while they had not risen to the call of God in this respect, they were in fellowship with those who had, and had travelled all the way from Babylon to bring their offerings for the work. The Lord had noted all this. His eyes were upon them, for this act of theirs was precious in His sight; and He directed that the crowns which had been made should be kept as a memorial of their fellowship with the work of their brethren — yea, with His own work — In the erection of His habitation in Jerusalem.6 Not only so, but these true Israelites in their journey from distant Babylon should themselves become a figure of those who, in the day of Messiah's glory, should come to build in the temple of the Lord. (v. 15.) The prophet Isaiah also speaks of these when he says, "The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee. Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces [wealth] of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought … The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious." (Isaiah 60:10-13) Thus while Messiah Himself shall build the temple of the Lord (v. 12) He will permit in His grace the association of others with Him, labouring under His direction and control, in this glorious work. It is the same in principle now in the present dispensation. "On this rock." He says to Peter, "I will build my church." And Paul says, "We are labourers together with God," or fellow-labourers belonging to God, and this, as he explains, in connection with building His church. (1 Cor. 3) How great the grace! How unspeakable the privilege in being thus associated with the Lord in the execution of His designs! And the prophet appeals to this verification of his prophecy as a proof of his mission from Jehovah.
The chapter concludes with placing the remnant under the responsibility of obedience. "And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God." (v. 15.) In this way the Lord connects the fulfilment of His promises with their obedience, and thus the present with the future. Doubtless the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and therefore He will surely accomplish His own purposes; but, on the other hand, He ever proposes blessing to His people, on condition of walking in His ways. Thus in Acts 3. by the mouth of Peter, the return of Christ to the Jewish nation was offered on condition of their repentance. And for the Christian it is no less true that obedience is the way of all blessing. In the address therefore to Philadelphia, the Lord says, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." (Rev. 3:10) In like manner the remnant from Babylon would only be guarded, prospered, and brought into the enjoyment of present blessing in building the temple, even as the remnant in a future day, of whom they were the representatives, would only be permitted to see the fulfilment of these glorious predictions, if they diligently obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.7
1) Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by J. N. Darby, 3rd edition.
2) Strange to say, this is the first article in the creed of that Nihilism which men at present affect to despise and hate, because it wages war against ordered government and society, and thus disturbs their peace. The time is soon coming when they will welcome and applaud the Anti-christ who will proclaim the very doctrines they now abominate.
3) It has been noticed that the names of the deputation (for they probably represented others as well) are most expressive spiritually. Thus Tobijah is "The Lord is my good"; Jedaiah, "Jehovah knoweth"; Josiah, "Jehovah supporteth"; Zephaniah, "The Lord hideth." Heldai, or Cheldai, is not so clear.
4) It should be said that it is not certain whether the word rendered "crowns" should not be given in the singular as "crown." The only difference is, if "crown" it is more distinctly the Melchizedek character of the Messiah brought before us; if "crowns" it would rather be His wider glory as King of kings and Lord of lords, His universal dominion.
5) See our remarks on Zech. 3:8 for the meaning of this expression.
6) Monarchs, warriors, and others, under the influence of sacerdotalism and superstition, in ignorance of the teaching of this scripture, as well as of the character of the day of grace, have sought to imitate the action of these pious Jews, and to commend themselves thereby to God by adorning the "churches" of Christendom and the shrines of saints with costly gifts of gold and precious stones.
7) Before passing on to the next section of this book, we desire again to call attention to the special characteristic of that now considered. The following remarks present it clearly and concisely: "We may remark that in Zechariah (Babylon being already judged) we have neither man invested with the government, nor the moral character of the empires presented under the form of an image, or that of beasts, but the government of God, hidden, providential, but real, in connection with these empires. This is an element of much importance, if we would understand the whole system existing from the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the return from captivity until the end, when Christ shall reign in righteousness." — Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. ii., third edition.