Zechariah’s Night Visions – Part 3

I am currently teaching the book of Zechariah. For the class, I am producing a translation that I hope will lend itself to certain reading strategies that current English translations do not easily accommodate. The translation is much in the spirit of Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses. It is followed by comments aimed at lay readers, comments that may explain the logic of a particular translation or certain interpretive issues of the text.

2:1And I lifted my eyes, and I looked, and there—a man, and in his hand, a measuring cord! 2And I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem to determine what is its width, and what is its length.” 3And look! The messenger who spoke to me came out, and another messenger came out to call out to him. 4And he said to him, “Run! Speak to that young man,

‘As villages in the open country, so shall Jerusalem be inhabited, for many people and animals will be within it. 5And I myself will be to her—oracle of Yahweh—an encompassing wall of fire. And I will be glory in her midst.’”

6Attention! Attention! Flee from the land of north—oracle of Yahweh—for like the four winds of the heavens I am spreading you abroad—oracle of Yahweh. 7Attention! Escape to Zion, those who dwell in Daughter Babylon.

8For thus says Yahweh Almighty, (after glory, he has sent me concerning the nations which plundered you) “For the one who strikes you strikes the pupil of his own eye.” 9See! I am waving my hand against them, and they will be plunder for their slaves. And you will know that Yahweh Almighty sent me.

10Shout and rejoice, Daughter of Zion, for see—I am coming and I will reside in your midst!—oracle of Yahweh. 11And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh on that day, and they will be for me a people. And I will reside in your midst, for Yahweh of Hosts has sent me to you. 12And Yahweh will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and again choose Jerusalem. 13Keep silent all flesh in the presence of Yahweh! For he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

1. measuring cord. This is a measuring device that, according to verse 2, is used to measure the perimeter of the city. But elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the word for cord occurs in the context of Israel’s inheritance, perhaps reflecting back on Judah’s inheritance (cf. Zech 2:12).

2. its width . . . its length. In the Hebrew Bible, it is common for the length to precede the width. The reversal of these terms may function to form a chiasm with the corresponding vision in 5:2. It is also possible that this verse may be interacting with a vision in Ezekiel 48:15.

3. run. There is a close association between the activity of running, and the activity of prophesying in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Jer 23:21). Only here, it is the angel, not the prophet, who is being asked to run and to deliver an oracle of Yahweh. This represents a development in Israel’s tradition of the intimacy shared between Yahweh and his prophet, now being mediated by a heavenly emissary.

4. villages in the open country. This word elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible refers to rural (Est 9:19), unfortified settlements (Eze 38:11). The vision as a whole makes it clear that the primary significance of this description is the absence of a wall, though this is due neither to a fledgling population or economic inferiority.

5. glory. Among other things, the word glory is used in the Hebrew Bible for God’s presence (Ex 16:10; 24:16-17; 40:34-35; 1Kgs 8:10-11).

6. the land of the north. While Babylon lies to the east of Jerusalem, it was known as the land of the north because of the route by which travel to and from Babylon was made.

I am spreading you abroad. The movement from the Babylon to Zion does not entail geographical expansion. There is in this vision, however, a conception of Zion that is broader than that of its current geographical boundaries, and in this sense is it intelligible to speak of expansion when transitioning from Babylon to Zion.

8. after glory. These words are particularly enigmatic. Is the glory that of Yahweh’s presence as in verse 5, making Yahweh’s glory the sending agent? Or is the glory that of Yahweh’s reputation, making it the object on behalf of which the prophet is sent? Or, is the prophet sent on behalf of some kind of glory unrelated to Yahweh’s presence, reputation, or Yahweh himself? The grammar is not decisive here. Furthermore, it is difficult to interpret this as the direct speech of Yahweh seeing that he is characteristically the one who sends, not the one who is sent. This clause is likely an aside made by the prophet introducing the direct speech of Yahweh.

pupil of his own eye. Some translations take the pronoun “his” to refer back to Yahweh. The nearest antecedent, however, is that of the one who is violently striking Jerusalem. Yahweh threatens any who would attack Zion; such an attack would prove to be a self inflicting wound.

9. I am waving my hand. This prophetic act signifies destruction (cf. Isaiah 11:15; 13:2-3; 19:16).

10. reside in your midst. This is the same language used of God residing among the people Israel by means of the tabernacle (Ex 25:8) and carries with it covenantal overtones (Ex 29:45).

11. they will be for me a people. This is classic covenantal language (Ex 6:7), and it is reinforced by the promise that Yahweh will again “inherit” and “choose” Jerusalem (verse 12; cf. Ex 19:5; Deut 7:6; 14:2; 32:8-9; Ps 135:4).

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