Four Chariots From Between Two Mountains of Bronze (Zechariah 6) July 24-25
The final vision of the night, often reckoned as the eighth but most likely the seventh (see comments on previous reading), is that of four chariots coming from between two bronze mountains (verse 1). Each drawn by horses of a different color, they thunder forth throughout the earth, evidently to deliver judgment on the nations (verses 2-8). This follows right on from the previous vision of the end-time captivity of Israel and Judah by a final revival of Babylon (see Zechariah 5).
The picture of two bronze mountains is rather mysterious. In the Hebrew, the first occurrence of the word for mountains, after the word for two, is ha-hari, containing the definite article ha and therefore meaning "the mountains." And yet there does not appear to be any immediately preceding explanation for them—or a following one for that matter. So is the image here literal or figurative?
Well, there are no bronze mountains in the world. Bronze is not a naturally occurring metal. It is an alloy of copper and tin. The King James Version has "brass" here (6:1), which is an alloy of copper and zinc, and there is some dispute over which is intended, as the bronze of ancient Israel "varied a great deal in composition, and some contained an admixture of zinc, approaching brass. Such may have been the 'fine shiny bronze, precious as gold' (Ezra 8:27, NASB...)" (The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, "Mineral Kingdom"). In any case, there are no mountains of bronze or brass, yet mountains do provide the ingredients. God described the Promised Land as a land "out of whose hills you can dig copper" (Deuteronomy 8:9).
Yet bronze could also denote appearance rather than actual material composition. As explained in the Bible Reading Program comments on Isaiah 6, the Hebrew word for bronze, nechoshet, is related to the word for serpent, nachash, evidently because of the "shiny" quality they both share. Recall Daniel's vision of the glorious being with "arms and feet like burnished bronze in color" (Daniel 10:6). When the apostle John described the present appearance of Jesus Christ, he said, "His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace" (Revelation 1:15). The metal, then, would seem to denote a flashing, fiery appearance, as Ezekiel describes His legs and feet as "the appearance of fire with brightness all around" (Ezekiel 1:27).
There is also the figurative usage. One of the curses on the Israelites for disobedience was that God would make their "earth like bronze" (Leviticus 26:19), meaning hard and dry and unable to produce crops. Bronze could also signify firmness and invincibility. God set Jeremiah as "bronze walls against the whole land" so that no one would prevail against him (Jeremiah 1:18). Others point to the two massive bronze pillars that stood before the vestibule of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 7:15-22)—one named Jachin (meaning "He Will Establish") and the other named Boaz (meaning "In Him Is Strength" or possibly "He Is Quick.") Some, pointing to the bronze serpent Moses made and the bronze altar of sacrifice of the tabernacle and temple, see the metal as signifying judgment.
How, then, are we to understand the bronze mountains? As the chariots that come from between them (Zechariah 6:1) are also described as going out "from their station before the Lord of all the earth" (verse 5), this would seem to locate God in this picture either where the two mountains are or between them. Various explanations have been proposed. Here are seven such possibilities:
1. Given that Zechariah prophesied in Jerusalem and that the work of the nation at that time was rebuilding the temple there, many would identify one of the mountains as Jerusalem or its Temple Mount (see also 8:3). And some would identify the other mountain as the one across the Kidron Valley from the temple—the Mount of Olives. The picture here would be of God in the Kidron Valley unleashing His forces of devastation against the nations, the mountains to either side of Him—Jerusalem and the Temple Mount—ablaze or illuminated like bronze. Indeed, as other prophecies show, even those at the end of the book of Zechariah, the returning Jesus Christ will fight the nations who oppose Him at Jerusalem. And as explained in the Bible Reading Program comments on Joel, many equate the Valley of Jehoshaphat (meaning "Judgment of the Eternal") with the Kidron.
2. Another possibility relates to Zechariah 14:4, which says that the returning Christ will stand on the Mount of Olives, which will then split in two, leaving a northern half and a southern half. God refers to the resultant rift between the two halves in the literal Hebrew as "the valley of My mountains" (verse 5, Green's Literal Translation). The image is that the chariots of destruction then go out from this location.
3. Others take the two mountains as meaning the heavenly Mount Zion (seat of God's spiritual temple) and the earthly Mount Zion (seat of God's physical temple)—with Christ descending in the air between them and sending out His forces of judgment from this location. Bronze here would seem to have the figurative sense of firmness or strength.
4. Still others, given that "mountain" often represents a kingdom in prophecy, see "between the two mountains" as signifying the transition from God's earthly kingdom of national Israel to the millennial Kingdom of God—and that "between" them denotes the time of coming judgment.
5. There are some who would take the two mountains as signifying God's Kingdom and Satan's kingdom, though it does not seem that both of these would be characterized by the same metal in the same prophecy.
6. Yet another theory is that "the two mountains" must refer to something previously mentioned in the relating of Zechariah's visions. The flying scroll of the previous chapter represented the curses for disobedience in God's covenant with Israel pursuing the people to visit judgment upon them. Interestingly, God through Moses had told the Israelites to publicly post the covenant between two mountains at Shechem—and for half the people to proclaim the blessings from Mount Gerizim and half to proclaim the curses from Mount Ebal (see Deuteronomy 27). And this they did (Joshua 8:30-35). Yet how could this possibly relate to the punishment on the gentile nations indicated in Zechariah 6? Notice that just after telling the Israelites of the curses that would befall them for disobedience (see Deuteronomy 27:1-30:1), God said that they would repent and return from captivity (verses 2-6) and that this would then happen: "Also the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you" (verse 7). So the curses that had pursued and stricken the Israelites would turn around and strike the gentile nations. Consider also that after proclaiming the blessings and curses between the two mountains at Shechem, Joshua and the Israelites went out from there and conquered the Promised Land. This was figurative of the end time, when another Joshua (Jesus Christ) will lead His hosts to victory over the nations, conquering the "promised land" of the Kingdom of God—the entire earth.
7. Another possibility that has been offered, and perhaps the simplest, is that the two bronze mountains refer directly to the two bronze pillars (literally "standing things") before the temple. Mountains are certainly symbols of strength, just as were the bronze pillars—given their names related to strength and God establishing. Indeed, mentioning the two bronze mountains as the place of God's presence to a people engaged in the work of rebuilding the temple would quite likely have made them immediately think of the two pillars. So the picture here would simply be of God's agents going out from the place of His throne (which the temple represented).
Let's next consider the horse-drawn chariots. The picture of red, black, white and dappled horses in Zechariah 6 recalls the red, white and brown horses of chapter 1. Though similar, the images are not the same. The different colors in chapter 1 may have represented the different areas of oversight of some of God's angels in their reconnaissance of the nations. The colors in chapter 6 seem to most closely resemble the colors of the horses in Revelation 6: white, red, black and pale. While the order is not the same, the meanings of the colors are probably similar. The red horse of Revelation 6 signifies war and bloodshed, the black horse signifies famine, and the pale horse symbolizes plagues of disease and other calamities. "Dappled" in Zechariah 6—or splotchy—could fit the image of a variety of plagues. The parallel between the white horses of Zechariah 6 and Revelation 6 is perhaps not immediately grasped, as the one in Revelation is often designated as false religion—which does not fit with the one sent out by God in Zechariah. In fact, the white horse simply signifies conquest—as Christ Himself arrives on a white horse (Revelation 19). In Revelation 6, it is false religion doing the conquering: "And he went out conquering and to conquer" (verse 2). In Zechariah 6, it is God's agents who claim victory.
Yet the agents of God in this chapter are evidently not angels as in chapter 1. Rather, the horses and chariots of chapter 6 evidently represent waves of judgment from God. In verse 5, "four spirits of heaven" could also be "four winds of heaven," symbolizing destructive power sent out over the earth by God (see Jeremiah 49:36). In fact, notice Revelation 7: "After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree...'...till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads'" (verses 1-3). The sealing is completed during the Great Tribulation (see verse 14) so that the four winds are released thereafter during the day of the Lord. (There might be some relation, at least thematically, to the releasing of four angels bound at the Euphrates during the Day of the Lord in Revelation 9:13-21 to cause vast destruction.)
The red horses of Zechariah 6 are not designated as going to any particular place but evidently are first in going "throughout the earth" (see verse 7, which applies to all the horses)—that is, to the whole world, indicating a period of global war. In verse 6, the chariot of black horses charges into the "north country." In Zechariah's third vision earlier the same night, "the land of the north" was specifically equated with Babylon (Zechariah 2:6-7). And Babylon was mentioned again in the previous vision (5:11). So it appears that end-time Babylon will be hit with a period of devastation and famine—which it will experience in the Day of the Lord. This may parallel the imagery in Joel 2:2-11 (see also verse 20). The black horses are followed to Babylon by the white horses of conquest—to be ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Christ and His heavenly hosts.
The plagues of the dappled horses strike south toward Egypt and other areas that are today Muslim. Interestingly, "if the chariots in Zechariah's seventh vision are understood as moving from Zion in just the two directions, north and south, the geo-political outlook of Zech 6:1-8 is comparable to that in Daniel 11 with its concentration on the Ptolemies to the south and the Seleucids to the north, threatening the covenant people in between" (Meredith Kline, Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah's Night Visions, p. 218 footnote)—with the conflict continuing to the end-time. Later in the book of Zechariah, we are told of plagues on Egypt following Christ's return if they refuse to observe the Feast of Tabernacles (14:16-19), showing how God will work with all nations.
Yet the principal enemy of chapter 6 is Babylon. Recall that God had been "exceedingly angry with the nations at ease" (1:15)—the enemies of Israel. He had foretold their punishment (verses 18-21), particularly that of Babylon (2:6-9). Now, with the judgment on the Babylonians accomplished, God's Spirit is at last able to rest from bringing punishment on them (6:8).
The Crowning of Joshua (Zechariah 6)
Whether or not Zechariah was still experiencing his final vision when God gave Him the instructions of verses 9-15 is not clear. In any case, his carrying out of the instructions, including his relaying of God's message, would not have been part of a vision. Evidently, the episode described here literally took place on the day following the night of visions. The date would still have been the 24th day of the 11th month, because days were reckoned as beginning at sunset and lasting until the following sunset.
A new group returns from Babylon (verse 9), represented by a certain Heldai (referred to in verse 14 as Helem), Tobijah and Jedaiah. Following the vision in chapter 5 of the future captivity of Israel and Judah by Babylon, and the vision earlier in chapter 6 of Babylon's coming punishment, the newly returned group represents, in the context of the visions, the returning captives from end-time Babylon. The men of Zechariah's day brought gold and silver for the temple. Even so, the captives of the end time will return and contribute to God and His work.
Regarding Josiah the son of Zephaniah, Dr. Meredith Kline identifies him as "a treasury steward. Confirming this identification of his role is the designation for him in v. 14. In place of the name Josiah is lehen. The l- is usually taken as the preposition 'for,' which is prefixed to each of the other three names. It should, however, be taken together with the hn and this lhn has been shown to be an Akkadian loanword, the Neo-Assyrian lahhinu (also attested in the Aramaic lehen), used as a title for a court or temple official, a steward of precious commodities. Josiah was then a temple official. Such an office was occupied in the days of Hezekiah by Kore ben Imnah, who was set over the storage and distribution of the offerings (2 Chr 31:14). Josiah's 'house' does not refer to his residence but to the storage or treasury room(s) connected with the temple, over which he was in charge. It was naturally to this 'house' of Josiah that the returning exiles brought their treasures for the temple. And it would have been at that (treasury) house that Zechariah received through Josiah's offices the exiles' donation as requisitioned by the Lord" (Glory in Our Midst, pp. 228-229).
With their gift Zechariah was to see to the making of a royal crown to be placed on the head of Joshua the high priest, probably to encircle the base of his priestly miter or turban. This would signify combining the priesthood and monarchy in one office. Yet Joshua was certainly not being actually crowned as king. Judah was still under Persian rule and there was no provision for the line of Aaron to reign anyway. Some have speculated that this ceremony was to signify Joshua, the ecclesiastical leader, soon taking over civil rule as well given the conspicuous absence of Zerubbabel after this point. The event is also seen as representative of the later rise of the Hasmonean priest-kings around four centuries later. But this episode symbolized neither of these things.
Joshua was in no way personally assuming the royal office. He would not wear the crown again beyond this symbolic coronation. Rather, it would be kept in the temple for a memorial (verse 14). The point is that "again, as in chapter 3, Joshua is typical of Messiah both by name and office. The crown was to be a composite one (the verb is singular in v. 14), one set above another" (Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, p. 300). As in chapter 3, the Messiah typified by Joshua is again referred to as the Branch. He is introduced with the words "Behold, the Man..." (verse 12), the very words by which Pontius Pilate introduced the brutalized Jesus to the crowd that cried out for His death (John 19:5). The prophecy states that the Branch would "branch out" (Zechariah 6:12). Jesus told His followers, "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). His Church would grow out from Him—and eventually His Kingdom throughout the earth and then the whole universe. The Messiah, as the ultimate Zerubbabel figure, would be the one to build the temple (Zechariah 6:12-13; see 4:9). He would accomplish the building of the second temple in Zechariah's day. He would build the spiritual temple of His followers, the Church of God. And He will also build a new temple in Jerusalem in the Millennium. Church and state will be united through His rule as both Priest and King.
Not only would the crown in the temple represent the hope of Christ's future coming as both ruler and intercessor, but it would also serve as a memorial to those who had contributed to the crown and thus to the Kingdom by their gifts to the work of God—and this as a representation of those who would come from afar in the future (verse 15). This would include not only Israelites but also the gentiles. All would be allowed and encouraged to "build the temple" along with the Messiah Himself—though this remained, as always, contingent on faithful obedience (same verse). Some of this is fulfilled in the Church of God today, God's spiritual temple, but the ultimate emphasis here, as throughout Zechariah's visions, is on the incredible time of Christ's return.