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Four Horses, But Only One Horseman
The prophecy of Zechariah is, according to Rashi, a "closed book," whose visions are very difficult to understand. The prophet Zechariah was a descendant of Iddo the Seer, whom we see elsewhere in Tanach (the Bible). Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai.
G-d spoke to Zechariah in the second year of the reign of Darius, prior to the Jews resuming work on the construction of the second Temple. G-d said that He had been angry with the generation of the first Temple and He encouraged the current generation to return to Him. They should not be like their ancestors, who refused to listen to the earlier prophets. Look how they suffered for their deeds with famine, plague and war. If the people would respond, "What about the prophets? They died, too!" what do you want, that they should live forever? The reality is that the words of G-d's prophets did come true and the people were punished for their evil behavior.
G-d spoke to Zechariah a few months later and gave him a vision. He saw a man (an angel) riding a red horse, standing among myrtles in a pool of water. Following him were red, black and white horses. (These horses refer to the various empires who would conquer one another. The pool represents Babylonia and the myrtles represent the Jews in exile there.) Zechariah asks for the vision to be explained and an angel said, "I will show you." The angel who had been riding the red horse said, "These are the ones whom G-d sends back and forth on the Earth." (We see from the book of Job that the angels are the ones whom G-d sends back and forth to the Earth.)
The others replied that while walking back and forth on the Earth, they saw that the world was quiet and at rest, meaning that while Israel was in exile, the nations of the world were at peace. The first angel replied by asking how long G-d will not have mercy on Jerusalem, with whom He has been angry for 70 years. G-d replied through an angel that He will exact payment from those who have unduly oppressed Jerusalem. G-d was a little angry with Israel and sought to exile them but the nations went above and beyond in their oppression of the Jewish people. Therefore, G-d will return to Jerusalem with mercy, not because the Jews have necessarily earned it. The city will be spread out in all directions because of the vast number of people who will return there. G-d will console the Jewish people and continue to choose Jerusalem as His holy city.
Author: Rabbi Jack Abramowitz