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Reading Zechariah, I have been struck by the frequency of the occurrences, explicit and implicit, of the number two. The most prominent are:

  • Two angels in chapters 1 and 2
  • Two dimensions:

    "To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and length." (2:2)

  • Repetition:

    Up! up! Flee from the land of the north, declares Yahweh. (2:6)

    and:

    "Grace, grace to it!" (4:7)

  • Two olive trees (4:3, 11)
  • Two branches (4:12)
  • Two golden pipes (4:12)
  • Two anointed ones (4:14)
  • Two sins (5:3)
  • Two mountains (6:1)
  • One mountain, split in two (14:4)
  • Two rivers (14:8)
  • A king and a priest (also, Yeshua and Zerubbabel throughout the book)
  • Two men (7:2)

What's going on here? Some of these pairs may be incidental, but the overall theme is too prominent to pass by. What is the significance of the number two in this book?

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Perhaps Matthew read a lot of Zechariah when he was writing down his account. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Jun 26 '12 at 18:48
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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Wikipedia also notes one more "pair":

Chapters 9 to 14

This section consists of two "oracles" or "burdens":

  • The first oracle (ch. 9-11) gives an outline of the course of God's providential dealings with his people down to the time of the coming of the Messiah.

  • The second oracle (ch. 12-14) points out the glories that await Israel in "the latter day", the final conflict and triumph of God's kingdom.


I took a look at a sample of the pairs noted in the question and found even more pairing in the context (italicized):

I looked up again, and I saw a flying scroll. “What do you see?” he asked. And I replied, “A flying scroll, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.” “That,” he explained to me, “is the curse which goes out over the whole land. For everyone who has stolen, as is forbidden on one side [of the scroll], has gone unpunished; and everyone who has sworn [falsely], as is forbidden on the other side of it, has gone unpunished. [But] I have sent it forth—declares the Lord of Hosts—and [the curse] shall enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name, and it shall lodge inside their houses and shall consume them to the last timber and stone.”—Zechariah 5:1-4 (NJPS)

In this case, it would seem that there is some level of completeness. In particular, the final pair ("timber and stone") suggests complete destruction of the houses of both the thief and the blasphemer. The explanation of the scroll seems to be that its dimensions signify judgement on "the whole land". There also is a possibility that the two sins represent complete sinfulness:

  • Sins against neighbors (stealing)
  • Sins against God (swearing falsely by God's name)

The summary on Wikipedia notes that the book starts with 8 visions, including one of 4 chariots. This suggests either the prophet used a binary or octal system of numbering rather than base-10, or was fond of using doubling as a metaphor. Without looking more deeply at the use of numbers in Zechariah, I don't know which of these options (if either one) makes the most sense.

Conclusion

I would say that Zechariah's use of pairs most likely symbolizes the completeness of his message.

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Good catch--I meant to include the the width versus length one but forgot. +1 for good and helpful discussion. However, I would be surprised if 2 can be a number for completeness, given that in various contexts 3, 4 and 7 already serve that purpose. Though I do see how "On the one hand... on the other..." could have to do with completeness. –  Kazark Jun 26 '12 at 23:01
    
@Kazark: I don't consider this a complete answer. ;-) Part of the problem is that I can't tell when I'm crossing the line between plausible guessing and pure speculation. Maybe "complete" isn't the right word. Could Zechariah have a dualism element to it? –  Jon Ericson Jun 26 '12 at 23:21
    
I'm also inclined to think that this may require a complex answer; the theme of two might be explained in a general way, and then each of the specific instances of two might each have different meanings. –  Kazark Jun 27 '12 at 1:47
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+1 - I think you guys are both right. One is unity, so two often means division, yet it can also mean 'a pair' like both side of the same thing. A man and a woman make a complete pair. Just as the law and the prophets both complete the basis for the Messiah. My brain would hurt to think about it any more, but I think Jon captured the idea. –  Mike Jun 28 '12 at 9:38
    
The more I've looked at this answer the more I've liked it. I'm going to mark it as accepted; this is the kind of question that is hard to give complete justice to in one answer. You noticed some things I didn't so I think that is a worthy reason. –  Kazark Jul 8 '12 at 0:55
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In Sensus plenior, the number two refers to a dualism of heaven and earth. In this dualism both are good, unlike in other dualisms. When there are two things, they represent the dual nature of the thing. Two trees, since Christ is the tree, represent his dual nature as God and Man. The left is the side of the flesh as represented by the clean animal, the goat, and the spiritual nature is represented by the sheep on the right.

Two sins are one sin against God in heaven and on earth. Though the sin on earth appears to be against man, all sin is against God. When David confessed for Uriah's death, he said, "Against you alone have I sinned."

The King represents the earthly while the priest represents the heavenly. Judges and prophets are mixtures of heaven and earth.

Width and length are similar to east/west and north/south which are representations of eternity/time and heaven/earth.

Two rivers are water/the word , which is expressed on earth and in heaven, as grace and holiness.

Summarizing the two's in Zechariah we might say, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".


Since this dualism is foreign to modern interpreters, this example of how to apply it may be helpful. Jesus interprets Joshua:

Jos 24:14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.

Joh 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

Joshua associates sincerity with truth, and Jesus associated the Spirit with truth. Since they are both associated with truth, they become a pair. The spirit is the heavenly reality, and sincerity is it's expression on earth.

We don't really understand the heavenly reality. But we get a glimpse of it when we understand sincerity in truth. Sincerity in truth is the earthly expression of the spiritual reality of worshiping in spirit and truth.

The duality, when identified, helps us understand spiritual realities by the example of the earthly expression of it.

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+1. The heaven/earth duality is helpful and I think relevant to the message of Zechariah. –  Kazark Jul 8 '12 at 0:57
    
@Kazark Try applying it everywhere you see it. If it only works here it is just free-for-all allegory with a coincidental application. If it works everywhere, it is God's intended meaning. –  Bob Jones Jul 8 '12 at 1:18
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The Totality of Two

Jon Ericson claimed in his answer that two may be a number of completeness. At first I found this surprising, but I begin to find myself persuaded; and because technical terms have a power of persuasion in themselves, I have called it binary completeness. One may think of two sides of a coin, or two people in a marriage, or any number of things listed below. Also, if you have a bow but no arrow you have an incomplete weapon (see 9:13).

Two could also have what might be called synecdochic completeness, in which two significant parts are offered as a representative sampling of a whole. (This is a common function of parallelism.) "Tyre and Sidon" may function this way; I think "silver and gold" do. However, three or four might function equally well for this type of completeness.

The Taxonomy of Two

I have found it helpful to organize the types of occurrences of the number. This is not a complete analysis.

  • Simple spatial completeness (which is usually four):
    • in one dimension (east/west in 8:7 and 14:8; north/south in 6:6, where "the four winds of heaven" were just mentioned in verse 5, and yet east/west are not mentioned; going out/coming in in 8:10; going/marching to and fro in 7:14 and 9:8)
    • in two dimensions (width/length in 2:2 and 5:2; sea to sea in 9:10 and 14:8)
  • Simple temporal completeness (day/night in 14:7; winter/summer in 14:8; year after year in 14:16; seems to carry the idea of eternity)
  • Rhetorical emphasis:

    • Simple repetition: Direct and strong, almost sharp (2:6; 4:7)
    • Repetitious parallelism: strong but not as abrupt; e.g. 8:10—

      For before those days there was no wage for man or wage for beast. (ESV)

      and gloriously (I can't read this without Handel's Messiah in my head):

      Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
      Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
      Behold, your king is coming to you;
      righteous and having salvation is he,
      humble and mounted on a donkey,
      on a colt, the foal of a donkey. —9:9

      And with a little different twist:

      As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear. —7:13

    • Parallelism: more subtle; e.g. 13:1—

      On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

  • Traditional pairs which are common in Scripture and human culture ("parallelism" might be classified here as well):
    • Tyre and Sidon (9:2), possibly a form of localized geographical completeness, as it is part of a passage which seems to be given to geographical completeness—note Ashkelon, Gaza and Ekron in 9:5
    • Silver and gold (9:3), standing for all kinds of wealth (see also 6:11 and 13:9, where they probably don't bear synecdochic completeness)
  • Two of the offices of the Messiah, priest and king, with the third being hidden by virtue of proximity in the person of the prophet (thus the olive trees, branches, golden pipes, anointed ones, Yeshua and Zerubbabel)
  • Division/destruction
    • In chapter 11, there are the two staffs of Zechariah, Favor and Union, and each are broken in two. The breaking of union annuls the brotherhood between Israel and Judah.
    • Two thirds of the people will be cut off and perish (13:8). Similarly, in 14:2, the city is divided into two parts: those who will go into exile, and those who will be left behind and blessed.

Two as a Theme

That explains some of the individual cases; but is there any unifying reason why Zechariah, under the power of the Spirit of God, uses the number two? I have concluded there is no single, exclusive theological meaning of the number in the book. Nevertheless, I can guess at some literary reasons which have theological overtones:

  • Though we ought never to use the elegance of God's Word as a proof of its truthfulness, or confuse the beauty of the literature with the beauty of the truth, nevertheless, parts of the Scriptures have a distinct literary beauty. The use of two could be esthetic, providing a unifying literary theme.
  • The use of two through, from the first chapter to the last, could also have been intended by the Spirit of God as a rebuke to those who think that the book cannot have been written by one prophet. By providing a literary unity, as mentioned in the previous point, Zechariah's duality precludes the possibility of wanting to separate the first part of the book from his last, even though the first part of his ministry seems to have been more well received than the latter part. This is another duality within a whole, not a division.
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Just a note.. 7 is the number of completeness in SP. There are six spatial rays of direction, and a seventh in time (you cannot go back in time). 4 is the whole word of God as revealed through prophet, priest, king and judge. These are duals of duals (HH, HE, EH, EE) The duality of time is between time/eternity. As for rhetorical emphasis, tere is a Jewsih rule that says a double letter is not a new root, but an expansion (of some sort) of the root with a single letter. Using this rule it is determined that Cain had a twin sister and Abel had two twin sisters (triplets) –  Bob Jones Jul 8 '12 at 1:25
    
You have been in Zech a while. If you would like to see the whole book unpacked, drop me a note and I'll start working on it. I'd have to do it through e-mail because I don't know what format it would take here. –  Bob Jones Jul 8 '12 at 1:28
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Really interesting stuff! You questions have gotten me interested in Zechariah, a prophet I haven't paid much attention to before. Thank you! –  Jon Ericson Jul 8 '12 at 17:22
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Note to self: vote. –  Jon Ericson Jul 11 '12 at 4:48
    
@JonEricson Haha, even you Jon! What is this site coming too! ;) –  Kazark Jul 11 '12 at 14:00
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