Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Zechariah 1:7-17 ) transports me to the Oakley house of my childhood, on a 1971 day etched in my memory, when my older brother Dave brought home a new eight-track: Led Zep’s now legendary fourth album. It was just about the time I was first learning to play guitar, and I made it a life goal to someday learn how to play Stairway to Heaven. Which I eventually did, and many years later I found that every youngster I taught guitar lessons to wanted to learn it as well, or at least learn the opening riff. The music I could understand; the lyrics were another story. I’ve never figured out the meaning to the many seemingly random references pieced together throughout the song. There’s the famous enigmatic line, If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow don’t be alarmed now, it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen that has puzzled generations. There are all these references to trees; the tree by the brook, rings of smoke through the trees, and the forests which echo with laughter (when the concert movie, The Song Remains the Same, came out, Robert Plant’s added line, Does anybody remember laughter? became a catch phrase for my circle of friends).
As indecipherable as some Zep lyrics are, they do paint pictures with vivid images; much like happens in our dreamworld, when we can’t quite remember the plot of the dream or understand its meaning, but can remember some of the vivid scenery. The same is true for many passages written by the Hebrew prophets, today’s passage being a case in point. Zechariah begins his prophecy with a dream-like story that, like a good Zeppelin song, is filled with some random and fairly indecipherable references, but with distinct descriptions of the scenery. The prophecy, like Stairway, speaks of trees, not just any trees, but a glen of myrtles. Underneath these myrtle trees an angel appears on a chestnut mare, and following the angel were three riders on a bay, a chestnut, and a white horse. What’s the meaning of this? the prophet wants to know, and the angel proceeds to tell him these cowboy angels have been patrolling the earth, and they found everything tranquil and at peace. In case we mistakenly think a peaceful world is a good thing, the angel proceeds to interrogate God, wondering why the Lord Almighty has been angry and withheld mercy from the covenant community. God replies with something of a non-sequitor, then goes into executive session with the angel, who then relays the message to the prophet: God is jealous, and is really mad at the nations, after having been only a little angry with the faith community, after which the nations made the disaster worse. Therefore, the angel says, as if there’s supposed to be some logic to this conversation, God is poised to restore Israel’s fortunes. A new day will dawn for those who stand long. We can presume that at this bit of good news, the myrtle forest echoed with laughter. Read a dozen commentaries and you’ll find a dozen commentators trying to puzzle out the enigmatic lyrics of this beginning chapter of Zechariah’s prophetic anthem. I’m glad it’s there, if only to contemplate how the same muse who sparked the creative geniuses of Plant and Page was at work centuries earlier, inspiring the prophets.
All this puzzling over enigmatic lines makes me appreciate something Robert Plant said in a press conference I just viewed on YouTube, as the three remaining LZ members fielded questions about the recent release of their 2007 reunion concert movie. A reporter asked about something she had heard, that Robert Plant had not been crazy about including Stairway to Heaven in the concert, and how Jimmy Page had to really champion the song to get it into the set list. Plant responded, I struggle with some of the lyrics from particular periods of time, and I don’t know, the musicality, the construction of it is peerless, but maybe I didn’t quite feel the same about the lyrics a little bit later on in life as I got further down the road. Maybe I’m still trying to work out what I was talking about. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one trying to work it out. After all, You know sometimes words have two meanings. . . And it makes me wonder.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.