Chariots and house

Some observations on Zechariah 6 that are dependent on the helpful insights of several grad students:

If we connect the chariots emerging from between the bronze mountains with the horses and chariots of fire mentioned in 2 Kings 2 and 6, and if the bronze mountains are the pillars of the temple, then what we have is a fiery host charging out from the temple.  That puts me in mind of the fire that came out from Yahweh to ignite the tabernacle and temple altars.  Here, however, the whole earth is being lit by the “four spirits” that ride from the temple.  The whole earth has become a place of universal sacrifice.

My student Stephen Long suggested that the spirits coming from the temple are analogous to the departure of the glory in Ezekiel 8-11.  That’s counterintuitive: Zechariah should be about the return of the glory not its departure.  But I think Stephen’s onto something.

Earlier in Zechariah’s night visions (ch. 2), Yahweh promises to be a wall of fire around His people, who constitute a new Jerusalem “without walls.”  The fiery chariots may be going out to protect the still-scattered Israel, as the chariots and horses surrounded Elisha in 2 Kings.  Yahweh’s fire is the “read guard” of the Israel that remains in the wilderness of exile.

At the end of the vision in Zechariah 6, further, Yahweh says that His Spirit rests in the land of the north.  That has been taken to mean that Yahweh’s disturbed Spirit is “appeased,” or even taken as a threat against the land of the north.  But the more straightforward reading is that Yahweh’s Spirit has found a home, a place of rest (the verb is related to the name “Noah”) among the Gentiles.  The “four spirits” that emerge from the temple are the angels of Yahweh’s glory-cloud, and that fire now dwells in the north.

Thus, Zechariah is not a straightforward reversal of Ezekiel 8-11, but something more subtle.  Yahweh does promise to be with His people in the land, but the “restoration” and return of Yahweh that Isaiah predicted is also Yahweh’s return to His people outside the land.  From one angle, the glory-cloud follows the same path after the temple is rebuilt that He took before it was destroyed: He goes out from the house to be with His people.

This might also be a way of splitting the difference between NT Wright and his critics.  Did Yahweh’s glory return to the second temple?  I think Zechariah indicates that it did.  At the same time, the “return of the glory” also means that the glory goes out to the four corners (and particularly to the north) to be with the people in exile.  Yahweh’s glory dwells among the Gentiles because Israel dwells among the Gentiles, and Israel is the glory of the Lord.  That is a “return” of the glory.

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