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I've already asked a broad question about the number two in the book of Zechariah. I've received some helpful input on that and made progress in my own thinking regarding it. However, some of the remaining specific occurrences of the number two are puzzling me.

In addition, mountains are a theme in Zechariah (1:8; 1:10-11; 4:7; 6:1; 8:3; 14:4-5). These two (!) themes come together in 6:1:

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! (NIV)

Would these mountains perhaps reference or allude to any physical mountains familiar to Ezekiel's audience? Why were they made of bronze? What is their symbolic meaning? Why would the chariots come out from them?

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I really gotta re-read Zechariah to keep up with all these questions! (But keep posting. They are fascinating.) –  Jon Ericson Jul 5 '12 at 18:19
    
Related (on "bronze"): judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29858/472 –  Gone Quiet Jul 10 '13 at 13:16
    
Thanks, @Monica. Informative. –  Kazark Jul 12 '13 at 17:52

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

These two mountains of brass are the backdrops of the scene of which the four chariots ‘come out’ from. The chariots themselves I take the arguably most commonly held view: the four winds represents angels directing the four monarchies that overturned the known world starting with the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and then the Roman empire. The question before us then is what are these brass mountains, why two and how related to the chariots?

First as to the basic meaning we can take a step more certain. Most commentaries will all agree that we have represented in the brass mountain a sense of immovable, unstoppable strength covering a wide base. For example one author says:

Mountains are the Bible emblems of immoveable steadfastness; and mountains of brass is just a strengthening of the emblem (Lectures on the Prophecies of Zechariah, by Ralph Wardlaw, p130)

However, is this immovable sovereignty of God in general upon which these kingdoms rise and fall, or the immovable power of the kingdoms themselves, or something else? Also, why two mountains? Are we to take significance in the number two, or are we to assume this represents just a narrow passageway between one unmovable will of God whereby his decrees can slip through from his narrow opening for the event?

To take a cautious step forward in what is not clear at all, it seems the only way forward is to stick close to the chariots, otherwise any imaginative idea may be proposed. The solution must compliment the prophecy regarding the four monarchies. If we imagine it ourselves I think the answer will appear to us as obvious. If we looked upon brass-mountains through which chariots rode between their narrow openings, we would have two obvious impressions. One, the chariots are actually very small compared to the mountains. Two, the mountains keep everything else out from the scene except these chariots that they let pass. Therefore these mountains can’t directly speak to the power of the chariots themselves, but rather to the power of God’s will in allowing them to pass and esnuring they alone do pass.

Regarding the meaning of two, there are two positions that seem reasonable to me. (One my own conjecture, but I think a well received one if I may.) First, 'two' may mean nothing really other than a way to describe a mountain range with an opening for God’s sovereign will. Second (my proposed possibility) is that if we regard the immovable mountains as not only allowing passage but from their holy establishment but in regard to their high peaks viewing the seen are thereby acting as witnesses of the truthfulness of the prediction, then there is a plain meaning in the number two before is. For it is not biblical to accept the testimony of a witness unless there be at least two witnesses in establishing the truth of a matter (Deuteronomy 17:6). If we take this position then, the two brass-mountains are two reliable witnesses of God’s all powerful and unstoppable will. These emblems make the four kingdoms themselves, though tiny in comparison, unstoppable in their over-turnings of the world according to the foreordained purposes of God under the management of his angels.

However this really does not provide proper confidence to a good interpretation unless we can somewhere find mountains as taking the role of a witness in the Bible. As we look for such an indication it is no surprise that scripture has used this allusion to the high view of a fixed mountain to the concept of a testimony before:

Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel.( The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mic 6:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

So there we have it.

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+1 Very interesting answer. –  Kazark Jul 7 '12 at 16:58
    
Building upon Mikes conclusion, " The two brass mountains are the absolute unmovable controlling administrations of God under the Old and New Covenants. We could call these two mountains the dispensations of Law and Grace. To say this then implies that the chariots riding through the two mountains represents the bringing in of a new or end time third dispensation. –  user2353 Jun 15 '13 at 15:02
    
@JonEricson - Actually you nudged me to make a revision that has been nagging me for some time to do. This pretty much wipes away my previous post. –  Mike Jun 16 '13 at 4:44
    
@Kazark - FYI I re-worked my answer quite a bit on this. –  Mike Jun 16 '13 at 4:45
    
Thank you for coming back to this answer; it's much stronger for it. –  Jon Ericson Jun 17 '13 at 17:14

Two mountains would make me think first of Gerizim and Ebal, where the Levites pronounced the blessings and curses, respectively, of Torah upon the people of Israel. These were pronouncements of God's blessings if Israel and Israelites kept covenant, and cursing if they did not (Paul refers to this in Gal 3:10). I have not studied Zechariah in any depth, but if that's correct, it's likely a picture of YHWH reinforcing the covenant by sending out messengers of blessing and judgment to patrol Judah in her captivity and see that she has returned to the law of her God.

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I offer two possibilities here.

Option 1

Before we tackle the mountains we need to ask: what are the four chariots (with their four colors of horses)? Rashi sees here references to the four powerful kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Greece, and Edom. The mountains are bronze (or copper or brass) to signify strength and hardness:

and the mountains were mountains of copper: A sign of the strength of these kingdoms, which came to them from between the two mountains, which are hard and strong, as these four chariots are messengers of the Holy one, blessed be He, to give ruling power to the four kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Greece, and Edom.

Why these four kingdoms, beyond that all caused problems for Israel? Rashi offers the following reasoning:

red horses: They were the ones that caused Babylon to mount, for [Babylon] is red, as it is written (Dan. 2:38): “You are the head of gold” [gold having a red tinge].

black: [Horses,] to cause Media to mount, for they blackened the faces of Israel in the days of Haman.

white: To cause Persia to mount, and Persia built the Temple. [I do not know what he means by that, and Persia isn't on his initial list.]*

spotted: They are spotted. [Their function is] to cause Greece to mount, [as Greece] oppressed Israel with various kinds of decrees

ash-colored: to cause Edom and Ishmael to mount, but I do not know the expression אֲמֻצִּים. Jonathan rendered: ash-colored.

So Rashi's reasoning seems to be that the chariots are symbols of mighty kingdoms and the mountains, being of metal, indicate the strength and hardness of those kingdoms.

Alternatively...

Option 2

The word נְחֹשֶׁת, here translated "bronze", is in other places translated "copper" or "brass". Perhaps this refers to appearance, not composition. I offer here a photo I took in Jerusalem in summer 2012 just outside the old city:

hills of Jerusalem


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Nice picture, and helpful suggestion about color. –  Kazark Jun 18 '13 at 3:51

One Rule of Interpretation of Symbolism, since we are dealing with symbols here, is that if the interpretation of the symbol is given in the Scriptures, then that remains the interpretation unless God says it is otherwise. So we are not left to our imagination to interpret the symbols, rather it is by revelation, and that revelation is one and the same.

All the prophets of the Old and New Testaments saw different things, just as the Gospel writers saw different things, but it was the same scene, just as Matthew, Mark and Luke comment on different attributes of the same healing that Christ performed. They each had a different seat in the audience, with a different viewpoint, but the same revelation. Each prophet had a different seat in time, and saw various attributes about God and His Workings, but they are the same workings, even though each prophet has a different take on them, depending when he lived and what the issues of his time were.

Daniel in Chapter 2 sees the "Bronze" as representitive of the Greek Kingdom. In Chapter 7 he sees a Beast with Iron(Roman) teeth, and brass(Greek) claws, symbolizing that the Romans copied the Greek laws and made them their own. What's more important is that in Revelations 13:1-2 we see the Beast 'like unto a leopard'-in Daniel 7 the 3rd Beast is a leopard with 4 heads. This means the entire Beast carries the attributes of the Greek Kingdom, even though the Greek Kingdom had long disappeared. Greece or the Greek Empire is the leopard, and brass is it's symbolic representation. The horses are the same as the horses of Revelation; the white horse is conquest, but white is the color of purity-remember the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords rides on a white horse. The red horse is warfare, the black horse is famine and the pale horse is plague and death. These are the Judgements of God visited upon the earth; the riderless ones in Chapter 1 are general judgements because of disobedience to the general counsels of God, the ones with riders/chariots are in specific relation to Israel and the words given by God-specific counsel. I don't know why the 2 mountains of brass; since the Greek Empire had not come into being yet, but since the Greek Empire was given dominion over the whole earth, as stated in Daniel, the 4 heads are not only the 4 generals who divided the rule of Alexander the Great but also the 4 Ordinal Directions this kingdom took.(N,S,E,W) Since East and West have little significance in direction for Israel, although they play great importance for the rest of the world, I believe they could be North and South, since these are the kingdoms that have had the greatest impact on Israel.

Interestingly, in Zech.9:13-14 it says,"When I have bent Judah for me, filled with bow with Ephraim, and raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece, and made thee as a sword of a mighty man. And the Lord will be seen over them, and His arrow shall go forth as lightning: and the Lord shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south." This is the scene of the last battle, all the nations(the Antichrist/Beast/leopard kingdom-Spiritual Greece) will attempt to annihilate Israel. The Lord will go forth to battle against them and destroy the Statue of Nebuchadnezzar, and the world system which supports it. This Mountain(the Lord and His Kingdom) will fill the entire earth.

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In addition to what Tim Gallant has written above, we must take the Temple architecture into account. Solomon's Temple had ten symbolic chariots, each of which carried a small "laver" of water. They were symbols of the cleansing that Israel would carry to the nations. We see as much in Ezekiel 47.

The process of cleansing involves both blood and water. Blood is lifted up (presented on the four horns) and water flows down (referencing the four rivers of Eden). Once the sacrifice is accepted, Israel can minister the "living water" to the nations.

What are the two bronze mountains? Well, what was directly outside the Temple building? The bronze altar, which represented the "four cornered" Land of Israel, lifted up above the nations. They are the remains of the Bronze Altar split in two because its job is done (1 Kings 13:5). The curse is lifted and the Land is clean.

The first part of Zechariah is a microcosm of the entire book. The beginning of the Restoration era shows us these two mountains. Later, we see the entire Mount of Olives split in two, signaling the end of the same era. (This mountain was in view of the entrance to the Temple.)

Typologically, we see a similar sign-and-fulfillment in the first century. The rocks were split at the crucifixion, and then the entire "four cornered" Land of Judah was an altar "divided" by the Gospel. The Christian martyrs were sealed as sacrifices, offered to God, and then the Land was covered with their blood "up to the horses' bridles" (Rev. 14:20). These "human sacrifices" were the "sheep" Peter was commanded to feed. The sacrifices were ended legally in Christ (unhewn rocks split), and physically in AD70 (the whole Land destroyed).

So these two bronze mountains are the remains of the old four cornered "Davidic" Land, and the split allows the Spirit-horses to ride out and institute a new "prophetic" Israel. The altar is divided because "it is finished." Zechariah takes us from the inauguration of a new Jerusalem (by Covenant) to its destruction in the first century. We see a similar pattern in the Revelation. The four Gospels ride out of the New Covenant scroll as horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8), and at the end, Jesus comes with all the slain saints on horses to take vengeance on the murderous city of Jerusalem (Rev. 19).

The main reason we don't understand many Bible images is because either we are not familiar with the consistent architecture and how it is developed, or we fail to read the "cultic core" of the Torah into later Scriptures. All the action in the visions takes place within the Tabernacle/Temple layout, because it is a liturgical model of the cosmos.

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The bronze mountains represent the entrance or gateway to the presence of God and in particular are reminsicent of the two great bronze pillars of Solomon's temple.

Context of the Canon

Mountains

Mountains are used often as symbols throughout the Hebrew Bible. Their use is not uniform, but there are identifiable symbolic themes. Mountains may represent kingdoms and their rulers. We see this in a place like Psalm 30:6-7, where David's kingdom is likened to a mountain that he feels cannot be shaken. Similarly in the vision in Daniel 2, the unhewn stone that becomes a mountain to fill the whole earth is a kingdom to crush all other kingdoms.

For our purposes though, the major symbolic link concerning mountains is to the dwelling place of God. This connection can really be elaborated at length. For example, there are notable links between the pattern of the tabernacle and encounter between God and Moses/Israel on Sinai - the court corresponding to the perimeter around the mountain where the people stood, the holy place that only the priests could enter corresponding to the base of the mountain where the 70 elders could come and eat the covenant meal with God, and the holy of holies where God's glory cloud dwelled and that only the high priest could enter corresponding ot the peak of the mountain where the cloud was and where only Moses could approach. But we also see this repeated again and again in the Psalms (e.g. 3:4 15:1, 24:3, etc...) and in the prophets (cf. Isa. 2:2-3, Ezek 40:2f). Mountains were readily seen as the connecting place between earth and the heaven where God dwelled.

Lastly, though, we note that mountains were also understood as the foundations or pillars of the earth (see Job 9:5-6). They are generally imovable but that God might shake them.

Bronze

Bronze was certainly a symbol of strength. In the Daniel 2 vision, the legs of the statue were of bronze signifying their strength. Similarly in Ezekiel's vision in 1:7 he sees legs of bronze. Isaiah compares the stuborness of the people in 48:4 to having a forehead made of bronze.

Again, though, the major thematic use of bronze in the Hebrew Bible for our purposes is undoubtedly in connection with the dwelling place of God. A great deal of bronze was used in the construction of the tabernacle and later Solomon's temple. 1 Kings 7:47 says that so much bronze was used it couldn't even be weighed. Of particular note is the construction of two massive bronze pillars at the front of the temple.

Context of Zechariah

The vision starting in 6:1 of Zechariah concludes a series of eight visions beginning in chapter 1. 1:1 begins with the word of the Lord coming to the prophet, there is a series of eight visions, and then the word of the Lord again comes to the prophet at the end of chapter six. The vision here in 6:1 can be seen as creating an inclusio with the first vision, and it should be seen as a development of that vision. The purpose of Zechariah's prophecy is to encourage the completion of the second temple by the returned exiles (cf. Ezra 5:1).

The two major themes of the eight visions are 1) the re-establishment of the temple and the priesthood in connection with it through the two annointed for the task (Joshua and Zerubbabel - cf. Ezra 5:2) and 2) judgment on the enemies of Israel for going to far in Israel's punishment. In the opening vision, the prophet sees four colored horses who go throughout the earth and find it at rest when it should not be. Next there is a vision of four horns to be smashed by four craftsmen. And then in chapter two the vision of Jerusalem being measured combines the two themes with the ingathering of the people and the rebuilding of the temple/city alongside with a pronouncement of judgment on the nations (2:9).

Context of the Immediate Pericope

All this leads up to our vision which recalls the four horse riders (scouts), now seen as four chariots (warriors). Here the two themes are linked. Verse 5 explicitly states that the four chariots are the four winds which were standing in the presence of God and are now going out into the world. The vision then ties the two themes of temple and judgment together by showing that the establishment of the new temple will be the means by which God will judge the nations.

The two bronze mountains remind the people of the bronze pillars of Solomon's temple, emphasizing also the strength and dominion of God's house, and therefore encouraging them to rebuild the temple knowing that through it God will answer their pleas: "Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?"

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