Three months after Zechariah’s first message of repentance, he sees eight visions which encompass the first few chapters of the book. John MacArthur tells us that this first vision in chapter 1 gives us the general theme of all the visions – God promises prosperity to Israel.
“I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’ And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’” Zechariah 1:8-17
The first thing that strikes us in the vision is that Zechariah sees a man on a red horse. A horse usually represents power and the color has an obvious meaning. Red can mean war or blood. Revelation tells us, “And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.” (6:4) So the man on the red horse, which is the angel of the Lord, or more clearly, the Lord himself (preincarnate Christ), is ready for war! The good news is that he is not warring against Israel, but her enemies. God is angry with the nations that are oppressing his people, and he is about to make war with those nations.
In the middle of the vision we find, “And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.” And this really is the point of the vision, that God knew the enemies of his people were “at rest”, but that he was about to change that and visit blessings on his people once again. Charles Feinberg notes that the good and comforting words of God are sevenfold. The first of these is that God is jealous for Israel. “Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.” God’s jealousy is sometimes hard to understand because of our negative ideas about jealousy. But the Bible is clear, God is a jealous God. And while God’s jealousy has many aspects, Charles Spurgeon tells us in the highest sense, God is jealous over his own people.
The Lord has been graciously pleased to say of his people, “I am married unto you.” The covenant of grace is a marriage-covenant, and Christ’s Church has become his spouse. It is here that God’s jealousy is peculiarly liable to take fire. Men cannot be God’s favourites without being the subjects of his watchfulness and jealousy: that which might be looked over in another will be chastened in a member of Christ. As a husband is jealous of his honor, so is the Lord Jesus much concerned for the purity of his Church. (Spurgeon, “A Jealous God”)
Spurgeon goes on to say that God’s jealousy is not merely the watchfulness and chastening of God, but also shows his protection and comfort. Spurgeon concludes, “I am not afraid for the Church of God! I tremble not for the cause of God! Our jealous Husband will never let his Church be in danger, and if any smite her he will give them double for every blow. The gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church, but she shall prevail against the gates of hell. Her jealous Husband shall roll away her shame; her reproach shall be forgotten; her glory shall be fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners, for he that is jealous of himself is jealous for her fair fame.”
God’s jealousy for his people is both frightening and reassuring. It both disciplines and protects. It is deep, just as God is. And as we look around our world today and realize that much of what is happening is the result of the jealousy of God, his chastening of our rebellion. Remember, the theme of Zechariah’s vision. God promises blessing to his people. And the first thing Christ does is fiercely war against those who oppress us, like a jealous husband protecting his bride.