So the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster.’”
About three months after Zechariah’s first prophecy, God spoke to him again in a series of eight visions (Zech. 1:7ff) during “the month Shebat” (a Babylonian name given to the eleventh month of the Jewish calendar). Zechariah reported that he saw these visions “at night” (1:8a), apparently while he was asleep (4:1). In the first vision, he saw a man riding on a red horse among the myrtle trees in a hollow, followed by red, sorrel, and white horses (1:8). After asking an angel for an explanation about the horses, Zechariah was told by the man who stood among the myrtle trees (later identified as “the angel of the Lord” – 1:11) that the horses were sent by the Lord to patrol the earth and give a report to the angel of the Lord (1:9-11a). They reported that “all the earth is peaceful and quiet” (1:11b). “They” (1:11a) could be in reference to the horses themselves, or to the riders of the horses if they had riders. Since the vision is apocalyptic (figurative) in nature, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the horses themselves were speaking.
Zechariah then wrote, “Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?’” (1:12). Keep in mind that Zechariah prophesied during the time when the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland after seventy years of Babylonian captivity (cf. Ezra 1:1-5; 5:1; 6:14). He then described God’s response: “The Lord answered the angel who was speaking with me with gracious words, comforting words” (1:13). The angel then directed Zechariah to “proclaim” these words, namely that the Lord was “exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion” (1:14). “Exceedingly jealous” (qina qana) has to do with being either very jealous or very zealous for something. In this context, it’s meant to show that the Lord’s love for Jerusalem and Zion was similar to the love a husband has for a wife who has been wronged by others. This is made clear when we read that He was also “very angry with the nations who are at ease” (1:15a). He had been “only a little angry” with them, but that changed because “they furthered the disaster” (1:15b). Various translations say that they “helped forward the affliction,” “helped – but with evil intent,” or “added to the calamity.” While God’s righteous people were struggling to rebuild their nation, the pagan nations around them were “at ease” and adding to their troubles with duplicitous aid (cf. Ezek. 23:3, 6; Obadiah 10-17). Zechariah was then told that the Lord “will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built on it…and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem” (1:16), referring to the instruments used by surveyors to mark out the boundaries of what was about to be constructed. It was the Lord’s way to assure the Jews that both the temple and the city would be rebuilt. He also promised that “My cities will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem” (1:17).
Zechariah’s purpose was to join the prophet Haggai in encouraging the Jews in their efforts to rebuild the temple (Ezra 4:1-5; 5:1-2; 6:14-15). Thus, this first vision’s message was to inform Judah that while everything appeared to be fine with the nations surrounding them, God would bring judgment on them while showing mercy to Jerusalem. Haggai had given a similar promise to Zerubbabel two months earlier (Hag. 2:10, 20-22). This would have greatly comforted the Jews who were struggling to get back on their feet as a nation after decades of captivity, and had as an additional burden the anxiety of dealing with adversity from the nations around them (cf. Ezra 4:1-5). As Christians, we should rejoice that God comforts us today as well (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3-7; Phil. 4:6-7).