“I looked out in the night and saw a man riding on a chestnut horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in the valley. Behind him were chestnut, brown, and white horses. I asked, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who was talking to me replied, ‘I will show you what they are.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Discipline is not fun. It’s not fun and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who takes the opposite opinion. It certainly doesn’t appear in the Scriptures. The most explicit reference to discipline there comes from the writer of Hebrews who says it plainly: “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.” This is doubly true when you are the one doing the disciplining and the object of your effort is your children. When the discipline is over, though, what is needed then? We get a glimpse of that here in Zechariah’s first vision.
As I said yesterday, these visions are tough. As we work through these, sometimes we’ll be able to make some clear sense out of them. Sometimes we won’t and we’ll have to live with the tension that creates. This first vision starts out with an image of four horsemen.
Well, if you have even a passing familiarity with apocalyptic themes at all, the phrase “four horsemen” is going to sound familiar. Four horsemen are a sign of the end of the world. So, is Zechariah seeing the end of the world here?
In a word, no. Nothing in the context even remotely points in that direction. So why use this image? Well…I don’t know. It could be that these are the same horsemen, but serving a different purpose here than they will serve in the end. Ultimately, that doesn’t much matter. What we see them doing here is inspecting. They have inspected the earth at God’s direction and have found everything to be okay.
This is an odd report given the chaos with which the people had been living for so long. They were fresh out of exile and were living in the ruins of their once grand city. How is it that “the whole earth is calm and quiet”?
This is a tension the angel of the Lord–who serves as Zechariah’s guide throughout these visions–seems to acknowledge as he responds to this report by asking God directly, “How long…will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that you have been angry with these seventy years?”
The people had been living under the discipline of the Lord for two generations. They were broken and tired. They were starting to wonder if they were ever going to be free from a life of punishment for their sins. Now they had been freed from their captivity, but life still wasn’t good. It was hard. Each step was taken with difficulty and resistance from those who wanted to see them fail. It was not a fun place to be. What they needed was reassurance that there was going to be life for them again in the days ahead.
Well, the Lord knows our needs. He would yet have words of challenge for them in the messages Zechariah was to deliver, but here they needed comfort. They needed encouragement. They needed a reassurance of His love for and commitment to them. And so that’s exactly what they received. He proclaims judgment on those who took the measure of wrath He allowed them to exercise against Judah and went too far with it. He proclaims His commitment to seeing the temple and indeed the whole city of Jerusalem rebuilt. He proclaims His intention to bring prosperity back to the struggling city and its people. He will “once more comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.”
Now, before you get too excited about these incredible promises, they aren’t for us. These were for Israel. Their situation was different from ours and so God’s words of comfort to them are not words of comfort to us. Preachers who might try and use something like this to proclaim a season of prosperity for a modern nation are being careless with their exegesis.
But, while these words may not be for us, the character of God they reveal to us is consistent. So, what do these words tell us about God’s character? He is a God who responds to genuine repentance. When He makes a commitment to a people, He does not waver from that commitment. He is passionate for the things He has declared to be His. He is faithful and gracious at all times and in all things. In these truths we can take comfort. We can be reassured ourselves that though we may have been traveling a road of suffering and pain because of sin, if we will turn and return to Him, He will receive us with love and grace.
In fact, we have an even greater assurance of this than the people of Israel had. We don’t have to settle for trying to figure out how their promises can apply to us. We have better promises. We have the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. We have the promise of forgiveness if we will repent and turn to Him because He has already paid the price for our sins. We are eternally accepted in Him. We only need to go and receive the gift of life.
If you have been walking through a season of discipline, then, know well that there is a God who loves you perfectly and is ready to see you restored. When you will turn with repentance and receive Him, He has already committed to receiving you in Christ. Go there to find and enjoy the life that is truly life.