Read Zechariah 6.
We love to think we’re shaping our own destinies, living the dream of being whatever we want. Truth is, none of us controls the world. Much bigger hands shape our history, our nation, our economy, our opportunities. Corporate takeovers can make me redundant. Disasters can destroy my environment.
So, who is in control? Conspiracy theorists promote all sorts of hidden groups, but none of them run the world. There is only one God, one sovereign.
That’s how Israel thought until Babylon swept down from the north and captured God’s nation. Nebuchadnezzar told them he was in charge of their destiny — him and his gods. But that didn’t last. Persia swept in from the east, capturing the Babylonian Empire (including Israel), so who was controlling the world now? Their experience seemed as unstable as the wind.
The two visions of Zechariah 6 address the question of who is in charge.
Who’s in charge of the winds? (6:1-8)
The sight of four chariots emerging from a pass between the mountains would have been terrifying for the prophet, like a premonition of invasion (6:1). Over the centuries, Israel had experienced chariots invading from the south (Egypt) and the north (Assyria/Babylon). But the army in Zechariah’s vision has different coloured horses (suggesting he’s well supplied), and the horses are powerful: all of them powerful (6:2-3).
Surely there can’t be another invasion after all they’ve been through? The returning exiles haven’t even had a chance to rebuild yet. Zechariah doesn’t know what army is coming. He asks, What are these, my lord? (6:4)
His guide says, These are the four rûaḥ of the heavens (6:5). rûaḥ is the Hebrew word for spirit, wind, or breath. Did the angel say these were “the four winds of the sky” or “the four spirits of Heaven”? It all depends on whether you relate it to our realm or God’s. Both are possible from the context: the presence of the Lord suggests Heaven, but the four compass points suggest something like the winds on earth.
Maybe these two realms as not as separate as we think. Heaven is more engaged with what happens here on earth than we realize. From winds to wars, our world is God’s world — governed by the spiritual realm. The point of the four rûaḥ is the connectedness of our world with God’s: they go out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world (6:5).
The horses and chariots of Zechariah’s vision are not another foreign power coming to invade God’s people and force them to become part of their kingdom. God is the sovereign ruler who governs us, so the vision reveals earth is a kingdom of heaven.
Earth is not controlled by the superpowers of the day, whether Persia or Babylon, or the United States or China. God commands, Go throughout the earth! When he commands, they obey, they went throughout the whole earth (6:7).
God is in control. The whole earth is under his command, and his ultimate goal is peace: rest (6:8). One day we will see the earth at peace again: the kingdom of heaven, just as Jesus proclaimed.
Who represents him on earth? (6:9-15)
But who represented the Lord’s sovereign authority on earth in Zechariah’s time?
Before the exile, that would have been the Davidic king — the Lord and his anointed (Psalm 2:2). God told Zechariah that the Branch from David’s line would reign again one day (3:8), but in this moment Zerubbabel (David’s descendant) was not king. So, who was representing God’s reign?
Zechariah is given an extraordinary assignment. For now, Joshua the high priest will bear the regal responsibilities as well. Zechariah is to crown Joshua, and give him a title that won’t offend the Persians but that will communicate the promise of God’s reign.
The Branch is clearly a reference to the Davidic kingship, not only in Zechariah but in the other prophets as well (e.g. Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Isaiah 4:2; 11:1). There are two people in view here, since there will be harmony between the two (6:13). So, it seems that Zerubbabel was okay with this arrangement, with Joshua the high priest receiving the regal role for this time. Realistically, Zerubbabel knew that there was no chance of his being king under Persian rule. He was willing to throw his entire weight behind the reconstruction of the temple now, and trust that the Lord will restore the kingship at the right time.
Zerubbabel watches as the prophet receives the silver and gold from the returning exiles to form a crown (6:10-11). They seem as willing to give the precious metals to create this symbol of God’s reign as the original generation were willing to provide the materials to make a house for God to live among them (Exodus 25:3).
So, the high priest is crowned by the prophet, with the promise of harmony between the two of them. The two of them are symbols of things to come (3:8). One day, the king will come riding into Jerusalem to shouts of praise (9:9).
There might be a suggestion of that anticipated day in this chapter too. In 6:11 and 6:14, most modern English versions say that Zechariah was to make a crown (singular), but the Hebrew word is crowns (plural). Translators have struggled to make sense of this (see footnote i on page 387 of Mark Boda’s translation in Zechariah, NICOT). One intriguing possibility is that they made two crowns, setting one aside for the day when the Branch from David’s line could resume the regal responsibilities temporarily entrusted to the high priest. They might just about get away with something like that, without drawing the attention of their Persian overlords.
I don’t imagine any of them — Zerubbabel, Joshua, Zechariah, or the returning exiles who donated the silver and gold for the crown — expected that it would be so long before a son of David was finally crowned as God’s anointed ruler on earth. We’re looking at half a millennium of foreign rule — over 500 years — before the son of David rode into Jerusalem as God’s Anointed to receive his crown.
By that time, the high priest was so used to wearing it that he was not about to yield his crown to the one whose claim he treated as blasphemy. The Jesus described in Matthew’s Gospel kept referring back to Zechariah to explain what was going on, as did Matthew himself. They understood Zechariah’s prophecy as the story of God’s kingship, the restoration of God’s reign through his Anointed.
I think the book of Zechariah makes astoundingly good sense when we read it that way as well. What do you think?
What others are saying
John Goldingay and Pamela J. Scalise, Minor Prophets II, UBCS (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 241:
Zechariah’s instructions from the Lord are somewhat like the commands to Samuel and to Elisha’s unnamed colleague to anoint kings. There were long waiting periods after the anointing of David and Jehu (1 Sam. 16:1–13; 2 Kgs. 9:1–13) before these chosen men were able to take their thrones (2 Sam. 5:1–5; 2 Kgs. 10:18–36). The delay in Zechariah’s case will be much longer. He crowns a proxy rather than the new king himself. The priests who worked with Joshua have been called “men symbolic of things to come,” of the coming of the Branch (3:8). In Zechariah’s sign-act the high priest himself is the sign of the Branch and of the priest who will sit on the throne (6:13). The report of this prophetic sign-act and word from the Lord addresses the people’s questions about unfulfilled hopes.
The people of Zechariah’s audience were looking for the restoration of the king in David’s line. When it did not occur in the sixth century B.C., questions remained — “How long?” and “Will God ever fulfill the promises?” Persistent questions are a way of maintaining faith.