In our previous comments on the symbolism of Zechariah 1:8, we have treated the deep in connection with the figure of the rider of the red horse. In the text, it is the myrtles that are explicitly identified as being by the deep. The Angel-rider is by the deep because he comes and takes up a position in the midst of the myrtles. And that is the main point of this symbolic disclosure. While his people are in the world wilderness facing the satanic deep, while they are in the throes of their historic earthly struggle, Immanuel, mighty God, is present with them.
A. Myrtles as Paradise Trees in the Wilderness: Though a shrub, myrtles are sometimes listed in the Bible with trees. (Facilitating this is the fact the Hebrew ‘es signifies wood as well as tree.) Myrtles grow to some nine feet and thus as seen here probably stood at the height of the mounted horseman. With their delicate, star-like, white flowers and fragrant, bright green leaves the hardy evergreen myrtle naturally appears in idyllic pictures of the fertility and luxuriance of the earth in the messianic age (cf. Isa. 41:18,19a; 55:13). Also suggesting that the myrtles by the deep are a paradisaical image is the fact that paradise by the deep is a feature of those historical episodes of creation, exodus, and Jordan crossing which we have noted as the background for understanding the symbolism of theophany by the deep.
At creation, the Glory-Spirit brought forth paradise out of the primordial deep and darkness to be mankind’s dwelling place. The dead deep itself was transformed into the river of Eden that watered the garden with its trees, including the very tree of life, beneath the mountain of the Glory-theophany. From the beginning, luxuriant trees, in association with theophany by waters, are a conspicuous feature of paradise, and trees of life, flourishing on either side of a river of life, appear in apocalyptic visions of Eden’s paradise at last redemptively restored and perfected (Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:1,2).
Paradise by the deep is also found to be an element of the exodus re-creation event. After recording the song of Yahweh’s triumph over the deep (Exod. 15:1-21), the narrative hastens to tell of Israel under the directing hand of the Glory-theophany coming to Elim and encamping there by the twelve springs of water among the seventy palm trees (Exod. 15:27). As part of the larger Mosaic context in which the exodus wilderness experience is represented as a creation event, and in particular the wilderness is identified with the tohu-deep (cf. Deut. 32:10,11), the description of the Elim oasis in Exodus 15:27 at once evokes the paradisaical waters and trees of the garden of Eden. Also suggestive of Elim’s equivalency to Eden is the linkage with the mountain of theophany of the covenant Lord (cf. Exod. 16:1).
Glory-theophany over Jordan’s flooding deep in the days of Joshua was again the prelude to paradise, the paradise of the promised land flowing with milk and honey (cf. Josh. 5:6), with the oasis of Jericho and its perennial spring, the city of palm trees (Deut. 34:3), as an identification sign at the border. In the passage of Jordan’s deep, Israel moved from the sphere of wilderness into a paradise realm (cf. Josh. 5:12).
It thus appears that the myrtles by the deep in Zechariah 1:8 reinforce the other creation and exodus motifs already observed in the imagery of this vision. They do so by adding the element of the paradise land which the Creator-Redeemer provides as the dwelling for his people and as the site of his theophanic Presence. In his lordship over the deep the Lord God transforms it into a fructifying source for the arboreal blessings of his holy garden, the homeland of his people.
More particularly, the myrtle trees point to Eden’s tree of life. Being evergreens, the myrtles were a natural symbol of everlasting life. Moreover, since the eternal paradisaical life they represent is a life which in redemptive re-creation the Lord brings forth from the sea of death, the myrtles represent life from the grave, resurrection.
As to the precise picture in Zechariah 1:8, it is difficult to determine whether the Angel-rider stands between two myrtles or in the midst of a larger group. Eden contained two special trees and paired trees of life flank the river of life in prophetic pictures of paradise restored. Also, visions corresponding to the first vision of Zechariah in the literary arrangement of the night visions contain symbolic pairs. In the seventh vision, the agents of Glory emerge from between two mountains (which evidently led the LXX translators to read “between the mountains” [instead of myrtles] in Zech. 1:8). And in Zechariah 4:2,3, we read of the lampstand (menora) with an olive tree on either side. Further, a deity standing between two trees is a common Near Eastern image. It may well be then that the Zechariah 1:8 imagery is that of the Glory-theophany flanked by two paradise trees of life. The messianic Glory-Angel would thereby be identified as the Resurrection and the Life, as the divine Savior of Psalm 18, who raises up his suppliant people from death’s deep waters.
If the myrtles between which the messianic Angel stands allude specifically to the original two special trees of Eden in their two distinct identities, then Zechariah’s imagery would be informed not only by the tree of life symbolism but by the significance of the tree of judicial discerning between good and evil (cf. Gen. 2:9). That tree represented the dominical authority with which man was invested as image of the sovereign Glory-Spirit. A claim was made by the Son of man to what both the trees of Eden symbolized when he said that it was given to him by the Father to have life in himself and authority to execute judgment (John 5:26,27). This twofold messianic endowment with life and judicial authority was also represented by the two symbolic items associated with the two tables of the covenant in the ark of the covenant—the manna, heavenly bread of everlasting life (cf. John 6:32ff.), and the budded rod of Aaron, the sign of his authority in God’s courts (cf. Zech. 3:7; Heb. 9:4; Num. 17:10). Significantly, these symbols were located within the paradisaical decor of the holy of holies, beneath the Glory, flanked by cherubim, themselves peculiarly identified with life and holy authority.
Of the several instances of paradise by the deep that we have cited as background for the symbolism of Zechariah 1:8, Israel’s encampment at the Elim oasis brings out most vividly the truth that the presence of God’s Glory, the source and provider of the life and beatitude of holy paradise, may be enjoyed by his people while they are still in the wilderness, not yet arrived at their promised inheritance. The wilderness setting is mentioned just before and just after the Elim episode (Exod. 15:27). From the sea of the exodus salvation to Elim was the journey through the wilderness of Shur (Exod. 15:22-26). Then leading from Elim to Sinai was the journey through the wilderness of Sin (Exod. 16:1ff.). Likewise in Zechariah 1:8, the wilderness is the setting of the myrtles of paradise and the Angel-rider’s appearance there. This becomes evident when it is recognized that in the figure of the myrtles there is an allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, that graphic memorial of Israel’s life in the wilderness. We shall trace the intricate web of this myrtles-Tabernacles connection, observing in advance that the wilderness, the common context of the Elim paradise, the Tabernacles experience, and the myrtles by the deep in Zechariah 1:8, is an appropriate metaphor for the political-eschatological situation confronting not only Zechariah but the church to the end of this present world.
B. Myrtles and Tabernacles—Consummation Glory: When the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated in the days of Israel’s return from exile, myrtles were designated along with olive and palm trees as meeting the requirement written in the Law of Moses for the construction of the shelters in which the people lived during the week of celebration (Neh. 8:14ff., esp. 15; cf. Lev. 23:39ff., esp. 40). One criterion in the Law for the selection of trees for this purpose was their practical suitability for constructing the huts; with this in view, trees with broad fronds of leafy branches were specified. The second criterion was ornamental appearance indicated by the phrase, “trees of hadar (glory or beauty).” Of the several designated trees, the flowered myrtle would best serve this function. The choice of the myrtle for the Zechariah 1 imagery might then be to direct attention primarily to the glory aspect of the tabernacles, while their protective function remained secondary. Highlighting this connection and further prompting the selection of the myrtles here would be a word play that obtains between hadar (glory) and hadas (myrtle).
To catch the full force of the myrtles image in Zechariah 1, we must then inquire into the topological meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles. It was celebrated at the close of the agricultural year when all the fruit of the land had been harvested and was accordingly called the Feast of Ingathering (Exod. 23:16; 34:22). Its date in the seventh month and its seven day duration, initiated and concluded (on a crowning eighth day) with days of solemn rest, emphasized its sabbatical-consummatory significance. Tabernacles was thus a typological prophecy of the completion of God’s kingdom through the final universal ingathering of the elect of all nations to worship the Lord with joy as the King over all the earth, the Lord of hosts. Agreeably, Zechariah at the close of the book, returning to this theme of his opening vision, declares that in the eternal day the redeemed remnant of all the national families of the earth will from year to year come before God’s throne to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16). Employing the customary prophetic idiom of Old Testament typology, he thus indicated that beyond the final eschatological conflict (Zech. 14:1ff.) what Tabernacles had adumbrated will be realized. This would also be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah’s contemporary, Haggai, dated on the last day of the most recent Tabernacles feast, shortly before Zechariah’s visions (cf. Hag. 2:1; Zech. 1:7), declaring that the Lord would bring the glory of the nations into his house (Hag. 2:6-9). Similarly, the apostle John saw the universal harvest of the worshippers of the Lamb (cf. Rev. 14:14-16), an innumerable multitude out of every people and nation, with palms in hand engaged in Tabernacles celebration before God’s throne (Rev. 7:9), covered there by the tabernacle of God (Rev. 7:15). The three annual festivals all featured pilgrimage of God’s people to his house, but the connection of Tabernacles with the final completion of harvest made the Tabernacles pilgrimage to Jerusalem the premier sign of the final universal pilgrimage and permanent assembling of the covenant people of all ages at the heavenly Zion.
C. Myrtles and Tabernacles—Present Glory in the Wilderness: A curious feature of the Feast of Tabernacles is that while its place in the annual and agricultural calendars made it a sign of the consummation of the kingdom, the situation to which it pointed as a historical memorial and which it dramatized by the peculiar manner of its observance identified it with an earlier, emphatically preconsummation stage in the redemptive process. This intriguing combination of contrasting concepts finds expression in the two names of the festival—Ingathering and Booths. The former, as we have seen, speaks of the final harvesting into the heavenly assembly (cf. Rev. 14:14-16). The latter refers to the preconsummation condition of God’s people. The name Booths reflects of course the requirement that during the festival the pilgrims were to dwell in structures of leafy branches in imitation of the Israelites’ mode of life while they were on the move in the wilderness between the salvation event at the Egyptian sea and their entrance into Canaan, the prototype of the sabbath-paradise to come (Lev. 23:43). The rough simplicity of the booths underscored the unsettled, impermanent character of the wilderness situation. The huts occupied during the Tabernacles festival were only a temporary arrangement, like the booths that used to be set up in the fields by harvesters. This comparison suggests the possibility that an original connection of the two names, Ingathering and Booths, is to be found in some old harvest festival celebrated in such temporary shelters in the field. If the Mosaic ordinance of the Feast of Tabernacles is an adaptation of such a harvest festival, it has invested the old form with a totally new, redemptive-historical significance.
The transient nature of Israel’s experience in the wilderness was further reflected in the kind of dwelling the Lord prescribed for himself at Sinai. As a gracious expression of his Immanuel-Presence with his people, the Lord adopted a form of residence similar to their own. The temporary nature of even this more elaborate tabernacle of the Lord is emphasized in the narrative of David’s proposal to build a permanent house for the ark of God (2 Sam. 7:1ff.). From what the Lord says on that occasion about his continuing use of the tabernacle-form of sanctuary, it is evident that the transitory character of Israel’s existence extended beyond the wilderness journeying into the tumultuous days of their penetration of the land and the troubled period of the judges, down to the emergence of the Davidic dynasty and the obtaining of rest from all the enemies round about. A wilderness-like, impermanent state of affairs continued all the while God’s dwelling place retained its temporary tent-form, until this very time when the Lord was arranging through covenant with David for the constructing of a temple-house by David’s son (2 Sam. 7:13).
Of course even under Israel’s theocratic kings the kingdom of God did not yet attain its true permanence. After all, Canaan was not the true Sabbath land but only a prototype, and Jerusalem was not the heavenly city but only a foreshadowing of it. Celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in those days would have been a reminder of this. There in Jerusalem, on the roofs and in the open court of the city of the Great King, the Israelites had to set up and reside in the temporary booths—a declaration that this was not the eternal city itself and this was not the time or place for the saints’ everlasting mansions of glory. Did not the (apparent) preservation of the portable wilderness tabernacle within Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:4) serve as a similar reminder, as a sign that even this more durable structure on fixed foundations was only a typological prefiguration of the truly permanent temple to be built by the Greater than Solomon? Though Israel enjoyed a privileged position in the typological order of things they were not thereby prematurely transported out of the basic circumstances of this present world. From the Fall until the inauguration of the world to come at the Consummation, life for the people of God is always a pilgrim journey through an alien wilderness under the shadow of death. So it was in Zechariah’s day. So it is in ours.
Two different moments in the redemptive journey are symbolized in the Feast of Tabernacles, signified by the two names, Booths and Ingathering. It reminded God’s people that they were pilgrims and aliens in this world (Booths) and simultaneously promised them that they were the heirs of heaven (Ingathering). But the symbolism of this festival was even more richly complex in its portrayal of the eschatological nature of the existence of God’s people in this world. It did not simply declare that the promised goal of the consummation of redemption would at last be reached; it said something too about a present realization of that eschatological hope.
The actual character of the process of redemptive eschatology is such that heaven breaks into the history of this world beforehand, particularly in the reality of the presence of the Spirit, re-creatively fashioning God’s people in the image of his Glory. It is especially (though not for the first time) in the present age of the church that this semi-eschatological situation obtains, the Consummation being already experienced in the inner glory of the supernatural presence and renewing power of the Spirit, even while the Consummation in its external dimensions of glory is not yet attained. And this realized eschatology of the inner glory of the Spirit, experienced even in the time of our tabernacling in the wilderness of this present age, we find to have had a place in the rich symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles. (Of interest here is the way Paul combines the teaching of the gift of the Spirit as a present earnest of glorification with the representation of our temporal, mortal condition by the figure of a tabernacle [2 Cor. 5:1-5; cf. 2 Pet. 1:13,14]). To see how it was that the Feast of Tabernacles signified this additional feature of a present participation in the promised future glory, we must explore further the symbolism of the booths. In the process, we will also discover further confirmation of our interpretation of the myrtles in Zechariah 1 as containing an allusion to these booths.
D. Myrtles and Tabernacles—Replicas of the Glory Spirit: Crude in form, hastily set up, and thus apt symbols of the impermanence of the wilderness era, the booths were nevertheless designed to be replicas of the theophanic Glory itself. Materials prescribed for construction of the booths are described in Leviticus 23:40-42 (cf. Neh. 8:15) by terms that call attention to their likeness to the Glory-cloud. Trees of splendor (hadar), or majestic trees, were to be used. The term hadar is a synonym of kabod, “glory”, repeatedly serving as its poetic parallel in descriptions of the majestic radiance and beauty of the theophanic appearance of the heavenly King (cf. Pss. 90:16; 96:6; 104:1; 145:5; Isa. 2:10,19,21; 35:2). God’s kingship over all the earth is dominant in these contexts. Of special interest in connection with the symbolism of Zechariah 1:8 is Psalm 104:1, where the hadar is identified with the theophanic light of the Lord (v. 2), who is pictured as riding on his cloud chariot (v. 3). Other than Leviticus 23:40, hadar is applied to trees only in Isaiah 35:2. There it refers to the splendor of Carmel’s wooded range and Sharon’s dense vegetation, in parallelism with the kabod of Lebanon’s majestic cedars. And significantly the verse concludes by paralleling this kabod and hadar of majestic trees to the kabod and hadar of Yahweh, our God. It is in the wilderness that this divine glory and arboreal splendor are said to appear. This forecast of the renewal of paradise in the wilderness is also found in Isaiah 41:19, which mentions the myrtle along with the cedar and other trees that will characterize the once dry wilderness now turned into springs and pools of water (v. 18) by the Lord’s re-creating hand (v. 20, cf. bara’). Such, we have seen, was the promise of the imagery of the myrtles by the deep in Zechariah 1:8, another link in the connection between these myrtles and the booths of Leviticus 23:40-42 (cf. Neh. 8:15).
In light of this usage of hadar, the requirement that the booths of the Tabernacles festival be made of trees of hadar apparently had in view their serving as symbolic images of the Glory-Spirit. To the same effect is the stipulation in Leviticus 23:40 that the wood for the booths be selected from leafy trees, trees of densely interwoven foliage ( ‘abot ). Here again, this time more subtly through the device of paronomasia, a connection is made with the Glory-cloud. For ‘abot also appears as plural of ‘ab (“dark cloud mass,” also a “wood thicket”), which is the term found in Exodus 19:9 for the theophanic cloud of Sinai. It is similarly used elsewhere, and in particular for the clouds as the chariot on which the Lord rides (Job 22:14; Ps. 18:11,12 [12,13]; 104:3; Isa. 19:1). The Psalm 18 example is of special importance because of its close relationship to the Zechariah 1:8 imagery of the mounted divine warrior who comes to deliver his people from the deep (cf. Ps. 18:10,16[11,17]).
The connection between the booths of glory-wood and the Glory theophany is also made from the other side. That is, not only are the booths described in Glory-cloud terms, but the Glory theophany is referred to as a booth (sukka the plural of which, sukkot, is the name of the festival). One instance is the very verse (v. 11) in Psalm 18 just cited in illustration of the usage of ‘ab, (“thick cloud”). Here God’s sukka (“covert,” cf. the parallel seter, “hiding place”) is in fact identified as those dark water-clouds of the sky (cf. Job 36:29). Psalm 31:20(21) extols the Lord whose Presence is the hiding place (seter), the sukka for those who take refuge in him (v. 20). In the preview of the day of Zion’s consummation in Isaiah 4:2-6, it is said that when Yahweh engages anew in creation (cf. bara’, v. 5) the Shekinah pillar of cloud and fire (v. 5), the Spirit (cf. ruah, v. 4) of the original creation, will overshadow the mountain of God and the assembly of the redeemed. Over everything the Glory (kabod) will be a canopy (v. 5) and a covert (sukka, v. 6).
We can further demonstrate the identification of the shelters of the Tabernacles festival as replicas of the Glory theophany and at the same time clarify the choice of the myrtle in Zechariah 1:8 as a symbolic cipher for these booths by tracing the matter to its ultimate roots. Hovering over the mountain of God in Eden, the Glory-cloud was a shelter, a shade by day and light by night, a roof and a lamp. God was man’s original dwelling place. This is the picture that informs prophetic views of the paradise of the new creation (Isa. 4:5,6; Rev. 22:5). A natural replica of this supernatural shelter was at hand in the trees the Lord made and among which he placed man in the garden. Trees, especially those with dense foliage, afforded a covering, a lodging place protected from the elements, a shade from the heat and a covert in the storm (cf. the cosmic tree of Daniel 4:10-12, a dwelling place for all the creatures of the earth). And trees in their kindled state provided the light and warmth of fire, the benefits of the sun captured from the air and embodied in the living tree and then released into the air again in the tree sacrificed in the flames. Like the luminous, overshadowing Glory-cloud, trees were a house, a protecting roof and an illuminating torch-lamp. In other respects too there was likeness. Like the Glory-theophany in its majestic beauty, the trees were a delight to the eyes. Like the Glory-Spirit, the source of life, the trees provided the fruit of life; they were good for food. Indeed God invested one tree with special symbolic meaning as a tree of life, and another tree with the significance of the judgment tree, reflecting the judicial dominion of the Glory-Spirit. These two trees were sacramental means facilitating the full development of man as the image of God, the likeness of the Glory-Spirit.
The character of trees as natural poetic images of the Glory-canopy may explain the significance of the frequent appearance of trees as cultic objects at places of worship. But here we want to note that what the Lord prescribed by way of dwellings en route to the promised land and in the commemoration of this in the Feast of Booths was essentially an adaptation of the native role and simile-value of trees.
The tents in which the Lord and the Israelites tabernacled in the wilderness and the huts provided for the Feast of Booths are structurally quite similar. They are alike impermanent, wooden frame construction with non-rigid coverings. In so far as the tent coverings were made of cotton or linen cloth, as in the case of the inner curtains of the Lord’s tabernacle, they were like the booths of the festival in having coverings of plant material. The wood and foliage of the trees were incorporated in ruder form in the huts, while the tree and other plant products used as material in the tents underwent more processing by the artisans. But that difference is simply disregarded as insignificant when booths are appointed for the feast as equivalents of the tent-dwellings occupied by God’s people in the wilderness (Lev. 23:40). The booths and tents were much the same, and both were in form and material essentially modified tree shelters. That being so, the myrtle trees of the Zechariah 1:8 vision were all the more a natural symbol to evoke the Feast of Tabernacles and in particular the booths, revealing behind them a more fundamental level of symbolism in the trees of Eden and so illuminating their nature as replicas of the divine Glory, for such were the trees of the garden of God.
Moreover, the fundamental structural equivalency of the booths and the particular tent that the Lord prescribed as his own dwelling in the midst of the tents of Israel brings into still clearer focus the nature of the booths as replicas of the Glory-canopy. For the holy tabernacle was precisely and on a most elaborate scale the ectypal earthly replica of the archetypal heavenly Glory-temple that appeared on the mountain of God. It was the Council Tent (‘ohel mo’ed), so named as symbolic copy of the heavenly council (mo’ed) of the Lord of hosts. Because of the presence of this divine council on the mountain (har) of God, the latter was called har mo’ed (cf. harmagedon), Council Mountain. Har-magedon is the mountain of God’s enthronement and the mountain of judgment. The likeness of the booths of the Tabernacles festival to the holy tabernacle, therefore, reinforces the evidence previously presented identifying the booths as symbolic replications of the Glory-Spirit (namely, the shared designations of the booths and the Glory-theophany as alike canopies of royal beauty and their common relation to the trees of Eden). The picture that emerges in the Tabernacles festival is then one of the Glory-Spirit re-creatively overshadowing the redeemed Israelite community in the wilderness, fashioning them in his own glory-likeness. Consequently, the exodus typology depicts the mission of the coming Christ as a work of new creation, especially the creation of the new humanity in the image of God, a transformation perfected at last in their glorification and reception into the heavenly tabernacle.
E. Myrtles and Tabernacles—Transfiguration and Tabernacles: A foretaste of the ultimate restoration of the Glory-image and at the same time a dramatic exposition of the meaning of the Tabernacles festival along these lines was given in the episode of our Lord’s Transfiguration. Various features of the Transfiguration relate that event to the Feast of Tabernacles, even while others identify it as a messianic counterpart to the encounter of Moses with the Glory theophany on Sinai. The Transfiguration was a wilderness event, apart on a high mountain. Redolent of the wilderness too were both the visitors seen with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Also, there is the possibility that the introductory time detail, “after six days” (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; cf. Luke 9:28, “about 8 days”), refers to the time leading from the Day of Atonement to the Feast of Tabernacles. The exodus context of Tabernacles is echoed in the topic of conversation, the exodos (“decease” or “departure”) about to be accomplished by Jesus (Luke 9:31). Above all, the mention of the booths, which Peter suggested be constructed for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, recalls the wilderness shelters of the Israelites and the imitative reconstructions thereof prescribed in the Feast of Tabernacles. (On the rendering of skene as “booths”, cf. the LXX use of it for sukka in Lev. 23:42f. and the LXX use of skenopegia to designate the Feast of Tabernacles in, e.g., Zech. 14:16.) Especially important for the understanding of the festival booths as images of the Glory-cloud is the way the booths and the overshadowing cloud are brought together in the Transfiguration narrative. Peter’s suggestion about the booths was made as Moses and Elijah were departing (Luke 9:33a). So far as it made sense at all (cf. Mark 9:6; Luke 9:33c), the idea apparently was that these two might be persuaded to stay on, continuing this “good” arrangement, if only shelter were made available—a thought possibly prompted by the darkening threat of the approaching fearful cloud. In any case, the cloud overshadowed them while he spoke (Matt. 17:5; Luke 9:34) and thus the booths of Peter’s recommendation and the Glory-cloud, the proposed man-made shelter and the divine covering, were brought into closest proximity. In this combination of booths and the divine cloud, the Transfiguration answers to the Israelite booths and the Glorycloud in the wilderness and to the imitative commemoration of that wilderness situation in the Feast of Tabernacles.
That the Transfiguration was indeed antitypal to the Tabernacles symbolism becomes plain once we have recognized that the festival booths were designed to be images of the Glory-canopy, for the Transfiguration itself consists in precisely such a replication of the divine Glory. The physical glorification of Jesus was a fashioning in the likeness of the bright theophanic cloud (cf. Matt. 17:5) that overarched the holy mountain. This majesty of Jesus was a revelation of him as the Son, the image-likeness of the Father, as the voice from the majestic Glory declared (cf. 2 Pet. 1:16,17). In the case of the first Adam, likeness to the Glory-Spirit was never completed, the component of physical glory not having been attained. But the glory-image is perfected in the second Adam, as the firstfruits of a new humanity, and that ultimate consummating of the reproduction of the divine image in man was anticipated in the Transfiguration.
Additionally, the theme of renewal in the image of Glory is associated with both of those who appeared with Jesus in glory at the Transfiguration. As a result of his approach to the overshadowing Glory on Sinai, the countenance of Moses was transfigured. And Elijah, who had his own close encounter with the Glory on the mountain of God, also experienced a remarkable foretaste of physical glorification in his deathless exodus, borne aloft by the fiery chariots and horses of Glory. These two who participated in the Transfiguration with Jesus were the only two in the history of Israel qualified by both these credentials of theophanic encounter and physical transformation for appearance at this antitypal event of Glory replication.
So Peter spoke better than he knew in introducing the Tabernacles motif of the booths into the Transfiguration episode. Of course the Son from heaven was here and it was therefore not a time for earthly symbols but for the heavenly reality. Nevertheless the Transfiguration was indeed a new covenant counterpart to Tabernacles. Hence in the antitypal Transfiguration event the image-relationship of the Tabernacles booths to the Glory as replicas to a divine paradigm received the bright illumination of historical fulfillment.
F. Glory Presence in the Midst of the Myrtles by the Deep: We have found that the Feast of Tabernacles as a harvest festival was a promise of the final ingathering, the hope of ultimate glorification, and that its requirement to live in rustic booths simultaneously reminded worshippers of the wilderness-like, not-yet-arrived nature of their life in the present world. These very same booths were designed, however, to be replicas of the theophanic Glory and so were affirmations of the Creator’s redemptive renewal of his people in his image, a re-creation that begins here and now during the wilderness journey, even if the perfecting of the Glory-likeness awaits arrival at the heavenly destination. The booths thus portray the complex eschatological character of the present existence of the saints as both already and not yet. By symbolizing the believers’ present participation in the heavenly glory in the Spirit, the booths indicate that their life on earth, awaiting the future consummation of glory, is already in measure one of realized eschatology.
What is true of the Tabernacles booths will also be true of the imagery of the myrtles in Zechariah 1:8. The myrtles by the deep recall the Elim oasis in the wilderness and like it give promise of the glorious paradise inheritance at the end of the journey. As a promissory sign of the restoration of paradise at the Consummation, they correspond to the prophetic ingathering aspect of the Feast of Tabernacles. But they also correspond to the booths as symbolic replicas of the Glory-covering. When we were tracing a common footage for the symbolism of the booths and the myrtles in the trees of the garden of Eden, we reflected on the character of these trees as natural images (and, in the case of the two special trees, as sacramental images) of the Glory-canopy over paradise. So perceived, the myrtles by the deep emerge as signs of God’s redemptive re-creating of his image in the new humanity. Like the booths of Tabernacles, the myrtles teach an already/not yet eschatology of the anticipation of heaven in the course of the earthly pilgrimage of the redeemed, a realized eschatology of the Spirit’s renewing of the glory within before the parousia of the Glory without. They tell of a glory experienced by God’s children even while laboring on through the wilderness over against the deep.
By portraying the replication of the divine image in the symbolism of the booths, the Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of the presence of the Glory-Spirit himself, the archetypal Shekinah-shelter which hovered above the community in the wilderness. Tabernacles was thus a celebration of God’s presence in the midst of his people. In the case of the equivalent symbolism of the myrtles in Zechariah 1:8, that reality of the divine presence took visible form in the appearance of the Lord of Glory in the figure of the Angel of the Presence, the rider of the red horse, seen by Zechariah as accompanied by the other agents of the divine council and stationed in the midst of the myrtles. This presence of the Lord himself among his myrtle-people is the glory of the covenant, the secret of all life and beatitude, a guarantee that the Glory within will be followed by the Glory without. For the people of God, the bearers of the Father’s image, this Presence is an earnest of the transfiguration change awaiting them in the Sabbath-land beyond the wilderness at the Parousia-revelation of God’s Glory.
G. Glory-Angel in the Midst of the Myrtles and in the Burning Bush: Zechariah’s opening vision answers in its imagery and message to the inaugural revelation of the old covenant order by which Moses was called to lead Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to its promised inheritance (Exod. 3). Zechariah saw the Angel of the Lord, commander of the fiery heavenly beings, in the midst of the myrtle shrubs by the deep. Moses saw the theophanic fire, identified with the Angel of the Lord, in the midst of the desert shrub in the wilderness over against the Egyptian sea. These two episodes are linked through their mutual relationship to the appearance of the Angel to Joshua near Jericho, recounted in Joshua 5. We have observed above the interrelation of the Zechariah 1 and Joshua 5 appearances. The connection between the encounters of Moses and Joshua with the divine Angel is strengthened by the common feature of the divine command to each man to remove his footwear because the site of the Angel’s presence was holy (Exod. 3:5; Josh. 5:15). A closer look at the theophany of Exodus 3 should open another window on the message of the vision of Zechariah 1:8.
Clear direction for understanding the significance of the theophany of the burning-but-unconsumed bush emerges from a comparison of that event (narrated in Exod. 3) and the Sinai theophany witnessed by Israel (as reviewed in Deut. 4 and 5). Both events involve a fiery theophany and both transpire at Horeb, the mountain of God (Exod. 3:1; Deut. 4:10; 5:23). Possibly there is a word play on Sinai in the term seneh, “bush,” in Exodus 3. In any case, both the bush and Sinai are described by the same phrase, “burning with fire” (Exod. 3:2; Deut. 4:11; 5:23), and both passages speak of people “approaching” (Exod. 3:5; Deut. 5:23) to “this great sight/fire” (Exod. 3:3; Deut. 5:25; 18:16). Certainly, then, the fire in the burning bush is not symbolic of the fiery trials of oppressed Israel, but is the manifestation of the presence of the Lord, who is a consuming fire (Exod. 19:18; 24:17; Deut. 4:24; cf. Deut. 33:16). This is stated explicitly in Exodus 3:2 if we translate: “The Angel of Yahweh appeared to him as [beth essentiae] a flame of fire.” And this leads to the meaning of the bush and the wonder of its not being consumed. At Sinai a covenant was established between Yahweh and Israel as a nation, a covenant that brought the consuming fiery Presence of the Lord of Glory into the midst of the covenant community. In the Exodus 3 anticipation of Sinai, the bush in which the flaming theophany appears must then represent God’s people. What depicts the afflicted condition of the Israelites is not the fire in the bush, but the nature of the bush itself: a lowly desert shrub. If, as often conjectured, it is a thorny type of bush, that fact and its wilderness location might be suggestive of the sin-cursed world outside Eden, in which God’s people, along with all the rest of mankind, have their existence until the end of the days (cf. Gen. 3:17-19,23,24).
But the key question of interpretation concerns the great wonder that the bush is aflame, yet not consumed by the flames. It is the meaning of this, in particular, that is clearly explained by the comparison of Exodus 3 and the Deuteronomy 4 and 5 account of Sinai. It turns out that the main problem was not how the Israelites could manage to endure in the face of the world tyrant. Rather, the fundamental issue was the ultimate religious question of how sinners can survive in the Parousia-Glory presence of God and his consuming holiness. Israel’s election to privileged covenant relationship, by bringing the Glory of the Lord into their very midst, seemed to threaten them with fiery destruction. Yet they were not consumed. That was the wonder, a mystery of redeeming love and grace. They expressed it in fearful amazement: “Behold, Yahweh our God has showed us his Glory and his Greatness and we have heard his voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen today that God can speak with man and he can still live” (Deut. 5:24)! The Glory-flame descends upon the bush but does not consume it. The bush still lives. This miracle of grace was not to be presumed upon as a covenant guarantee regardless of Israel’s covenant keeping or covenant breaking. Alert to the continuing threat of the holy Presence, the Israelites hastened to request some distancing of themselves from it through the provision of a mediator. They plead: “Why should we die? This great fire will consume us” (Deut. 5:25).
After Israel’s rebellion in the matter of the golden calf, the Lord expressed a reluctance to expose Israel to this danger inherent in the presence of his Glory-theophany in their midst. He proposed instead to send with them his Angel unattended by the Glory (Exod. 33:2,3). For if God were to go with them in the Shekinah Glory, he might destroy them (v. 5). At the intercession of Moses, the Lord relented and promised: “My Presence will go with you” (Exod. 33:14). However, precisely what Israel feared and God warned would happen did happen. One such divine judgment came in response to Israel’s further rebellion against the covenant on their departure from Sinai, an episode that was memorialized by naming the site Taberah (“consuming,” a designation that embodies the verbal root b’r, used for the burning bush in Exod. 3:2,3). The blessing of the covenant, the wonder of grace, is that the bush burns (b’r), but is not consumed or devoured (‘kl). Describing the curse of the covenant against repudiators of grace at Taberah, the biblical narrative employs the terminology of Exodus 3:2 in an ironic reversal. Number 11:1 relates that fire from the Lord burned (b’r) among the Israelites and devoured (‘kl) some of them.
The old covenant canon closes not long after Zechariah’s night visions with this theme of the crisis of the divine fire in the thorn bush. Malachi predicts the advent of the Angel of the covenant as a refiner’s fire, a day that burns (b’r) like a furnace, and raises again the ancient, cardinal question facing the sinner: Who can survive at his fiery parousia (Mal. 3:1,2; 4:1[3:19])? As for the arrogant who do not fear the Lord, the prophet warns the fire will totally consume them (4:1[3:19]). But he knows that the fiery Glory-Spirit is the executor of the blessings as well as the curses of the covenant. He has not forgotten the sign at the inauguration of the old covenant, the miracle of the Glory-flame in the bush that still lived. Accordingly he likens the Parousia-Glory not only to the burning furnace but to the sun of righteousness which rises with healing in its wings for those who fear God’s name (4:2[3:20]). The imagery of the winged sun-disc belongs to an ancient iconographic tradition that represented the majesty of the divine presence as a luminous glory between winged or other objects. It is a prominent motif in the symbolism of Zechariah’s night visions, with a form of it, as noted above, possibly in the opening vision of the Glory Angel between the myrtles.
Present in the midst of the myrtles, the Angel-Commander of the fiery horses of heaven promises life and peace, vindication over against the satanic forces of the deep, and exaltation from wilderness existence into the glory of the consummated city of God. Like the burning bush, these myrtles are aflame with the presence of divine glory, but they are not consumed. This wonder seen by Zechariah is a sign confirming God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham and his seed, the covenant of promise not disannulled by the Law (Gal. 3:17). It speaks of the Immanuel-mystery, which is most fully revealed in the new covenant, whose mediator is the Glory-Angel become God-man, the incarnate rider on the red horse.
John, the seer of the New Testament Apocalypse, also saw a version of the sign of the burning bush (Rev. 1:12-20), a version adapted from another Zecharian form of it (cf. Zech. 4)—the transfigured-glorified Jesus, the light of the world, standing among the seven lamps, burning but not consumed, symbol of the church renewed in the luminous image of Christ, blessed by the presence of Glory within even during its present existence in the wilderness, bound for the Glory of the New Jerusalem. The Angel of fire in the bush, the Angel-rider in the midst of the myrtles, the glorified Christ in the midst of the lampstands—each represents the already/not yet stage in the process of the formation of the eternal temple-city, the stage of the covenant people’s life in the present world wilderness.