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God’s Word for You

Zechariah 1:9-10 Mercy in the myrtle trees

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 10, 2022

9 I said, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”  10 And then the man standing among the myrtle trees said, “These are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth.”

This vision continues through verse 17, and so we haven’t heard all of it yet, but in this scene we have some details that should be explained. First, the prophet addresses an angel with the title “my lord,” which is lord spelled with all small letters; it’s like saying, “sir,” a very polite title of honor, but not a divine name in this case. The prophet does not yet know whether the angel is God’s messenger, or perhaps God himself.

Now, between verses 9 and 10, we seem to have two different speakers besides the prophet. In verse 9 there is “the angel who was talking with me,” and then in verse 10, the man on the horse among the myrtle trees speaks. Luther thought they were the same messenger, but it doesn’t affect the message at all whether we take this to be one or two individuals.

The question, “What are these?” is about the many horses that were there among the trees. They are ridden by angels, because angels are the messengers of God, and we’re told that “these are the ones the Lord has sent,” therefore, his messengers or his angels.

Let’s notice this scene: Horses, especially mounted horses, were feared by the Israelites and by many nations. On the other hand, myrtle trees are hardly more than overgrown bushes. They’re just about the prettiest shrubs you can imagine.

I grew up in a Wisconsin village called Poynette. A family from our church, old friends, owns and operates a big pine forest there which is actually a Christmas tree farm known as the Paint Farm. Different parts of that farm get harvested every year, but there are always new, immature trees in large numbers. Imagine fields, big fields, of lovely little head-high pine trees, the neatest, happiest, prettiest, most peaceful place you can imagine. And then three divisions of brand-new army tanks come crashing through the trees, with an angel in the turret of every tank wearing a helmet and goggles. What we have then, is peace and war, serenity and cutting-edge technology, mixed together. The angels have just arrived, and we haven’t heard their findings, but it would be natural to be nervous. It’s a peaceful setting—not even a hilltop or mountain summit, but a lovely little valley in the shade—but with a feeling of war, imminent or at least close by. Will it be a time of trouble? Days of war and battle?

But there is another emotion at work here, another level to the vision. These are not enemy nations in the vision; they are God’s own angels. He has been described as “Lord of hosts / Lord of armies” four times already in the book, and we’re only up to verse ten. Well, here are some of those army hosts. With God’s own angels surrounding us, using the same steeds as Israel’s enemies, matching technology for technology, skill for skill, tactic for tactic, but with God himself in command, what should his people fear?

The thing to fear, as always, is only my own sinfulness. God is my protector: have I offended God with my life, with my miserable choices; with my sin? The Christian cries out over his sins: Have mercy! In our Lutheran hymnals, it’s one of the first things we say or sing. In the new blue hymnal, it’s what we sing right after the confession of sins. In the old red hymnal, we sang it in the same place (page 15). In the old 1941 hymnal, it was also sung in the same place right after the confession of sins (page 7): “Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us.” It’s called the Kyrie, and it’s the cry to the Lord for his mercy and forgiveness. God is the one who punishes sin; God is the one we pray to for mercy. And our God has been merciful to us. He showed this with wood and iron and soldiers wielding a hammer. “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). And the same one who was given up for our sins is the very same one, long since raised to life, who sits at the right hand of the Father and prays on our behalf: Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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