Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
Psalm 41, 52 (Morning)
Psalm 44 (Evening)
Jewish Dreams Realized by Iranian Deeds
The dreaming prophet Zechariah finds himself in a grove of myrtle trees where he encounters angel-like messengers, each mounting differently colored horses. Zechariah hears that they “have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.” One angel then delivers the good news that, after 70 years of divine wrath for their not heeding earlier prophets, “The Lord God Almighty will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem… ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.”
This dream is filled with classical symbolism and is for once, very solidly based in ancient history. As punishment for their having sided with Pharaoh and refusing to pay tribute to the Babylonian rulers, in 588 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, burnt Jerusalem to the ground and deported about a quarter of the Jewish population to be long term hostages to an area about 50 miles from modern Baghdad. In 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, establishing the Persian Empire. In 538 BCE he released the Jews and generously funded the building of what became known as the Second Temple as well as a very much modernized Jerusalem, which was subsequently ruled by Jewish client kings who were wisely (this time) compliant with whichever Persian ruler was in power–in this case Darius the Great. The grove of myrtles alludes to joyful celebrations (myrtle garlands, wreaths, and crowns were traditionally used at weddings). The ability of the riders to go to the ends of the earth without feeling endangered by battles or bandits alludes to the construction of frequently-patrolled imperial highways linking all parts of the Persian Empire. The varying colors of the horses may well refer to the multiethnic makeup of the new regime, which the Guinness Book of Records notes encompassed 44% of the entire world’s population at that time. The riders were just as likely to be “fravashis” or “yazatas,” types of angels that are actually a part of the Zoroastrian faith which was observed by most Persians at that time, but by Zoroaster’s own admonition and royal decree was forbidden to be forced upon anyone else.
It might be useful to reflect that the relief of the desperate suffering of God’s Chosen People was actually accomplished by “pagans” who, in our time are now overwhelmingly Muslims and who are seen, not without some basis, as an enemy by Israelis and by many Americans. Before any ill-informed idiot talks about attacking today’s Iranians, he would be well-advised to note that there are still 25,000 Zoroastrians living among them. And just maybe, wiser men and women will one night dream anew of unexpectedly meeting heavenly bearers of good news in a propitious grove of myrtle trees, and after they awaken the next day, realize that something good and constructive could be made to happen.
Written by Tony Stankus, an Episcopalian for less than a year
Tony is a Distinguished Professor and Librarian at the University of Arkansas. He says he joined St. Paul’s at age 66 because he could no longer resist the surpassing joy of its liturgies and the radiant warmth of its priests and people.