Introduction to Zechariah

By James M. Rochford

Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh has remembered.” The main message of Zechariah is the fact that God will spare Israel, while the evil nations will be destroyed. He is the son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo (1:1). He is a younger prophet (2:4). Nehemiah mentions that he was friends with Zerubbabel at the presence of the Temple’s rebuilding (Neh. 12:4). He was also a colleague of Haggai during the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:1; Zech. 1:12). He was martyred by a mob (Mt. 23:35; 2 Chron. 24:20-21), because of criticizing the immorality of the people.

Date

Zechariah most likely wrote his prophecy in the late 6th or early 5th century (October or November of 520 BC for chapters 1-8 and 480-470 BC for chapters 9-14). He predicts the Grecian Empire (9:13), but this shouldn’t mean that he wrote after Greece was established as an empire, unless we believe predictive prophecy is impossible (see “Predictive Prophecy”).

First and Second Zechariah?

Critics claim that chapters 1-8 are written by Zechariah 1, and chapters 9-14 are written by Zechariah 11 (much like higher criticism of Isaiah). They base this skepticism on two primary reasons:

First, chapters 9-14 are heavily apocalyptic. Critics see this genre as the latest in Hebrew literature. Once the Jews realized that they were not going to be liberated, they “invented” this genre of future liberation.

Second, there are language dissimilarities between the first and second half (1-8; 9-14). This, they argue, serves as evidence that these are actually two authors—not one.

Defense of singular authorship

Like the arguments for a dual authorship of Isaiah (see “Authorship of Isaiah”), these arguments for Zechariah are not conclusive for a number of reasons:

First, there are more similarities between the two halves than differences. The expression “says Yahweh” occurs 14 times in the first half and 6 times in the second half. The expression “the eyes of Yahweh” occurs twice in the first half and once in the second. The title “Yahweh of hosts” occurs three times in both halves. The Hebrew verb yasab (“to dwell”) occurs twice in both halves. Archer notes, “Very seldom does this verb have that meaning outside of Zechariah.”[1] Moreover, Zechariah is written “in good, pure Hebrew.”[2] If it was written after Alexander’s conquest, we would expect many more Greek influences on the text.

Second, because this book was written over a 30 to 40 year span, we should expect language differences. An old Zechariah is not going to write the exact same way as a young Zechariah.

Third, because this book was written before and after the rebuilding of the Temple, we should expect differences. Since the first half deals with the rebuilding of the Temple in one scenario and the second half deals with the future of Israel in another scenario, we should expect differences in the content and style of the book.

What is Zechariah all about?

Zechariah is writing after the exile from Israel. He encourages the people to rebuild the Temple (with his friend Haggai). These two were like a tag team that helped rally the Jews into building their Temple. Zechariah’s main message is that Israel will survive dispersion, because they are the people of the Messiah. The Messiah will come and judge the Gentile nations for their brutality on the people of Israel. It is a book of hope and trust that God will set things right. This is why chapters 9-14 “constitute the Old Testament section most quoted in the passion narratives of the canonical Gospels”[3]

Chapters 1-8 are all messages that Zechariah gives during the rebuilding of the Temple. Zechariah is composed of Eight Visions. Let’s look at each one:

Teaching Rotation

Week 1: Chapters 1-4

Week 2: Chapters 5-8

Week 3: Chapters 9-11

Week 4: Chapters 12-14

(Zech. 1:1-6)

In this opening, Zechariah is summarizing what the Jews learned in their Exile. Remember, he is writing in the fall of 520 B.C. The Jews are taking back their land, and he is challenging them to learn the lesson of the exile. From here, follow eight visions, which Zechariah receives. These visions are chiastic (1 and 8 go together; 2 and 7 go together; 3 and 6 go together; etc.).

First Vision (1:7-17): Horsemen and the Myrtle Trees

Zechariah sees a man riding a red horse. Behind him, there are tons of men in the myrtle trees. Zechariah asks what he is seeing (v.9), and he is given an explanation.

These men are patrolling the Earth, and they say that it is at peace (v.11). How would a Jew at the time interpret this? Their land is desolate, and they are exiled. Yet, the land is at peace?! Maybe it means that God is in control, and he can fulfill his promise (because he is in control of the nations). He promises (again) to gather the Jews and rebuild the Temple (v.16-17).

Later in chapter six, Zechariah sees a similar vision. Remember these are combined chiastically. In that vision, God says that these angels are going to bring wrath against the nations that have offended God.

Second Vision (1:18-21): Four horns

The horns represent the nations that scattered Israel. According to the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3), these nations would be punished—even though God used them.

Third Vision (2:1-13): Measuring line

God promised to take care of his people. In this passage, he states that he will protect the city and dwell within it. Normally, the glory was in the Temple. Here, he says that his glory will be in the city.

Is this prophetic of the final city at the end of time? A lot of the language is similar. For instance, in the vision, the angel measures the city. Both appear to be literal cities. Look at John’s account of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-17).

This chapter seems to be eschatological. Look at the rest of the passage. God tells the people that “on that day…” he will gather “all humanity…” and “many nations…” to himself.

Fourth Vision (3:1-10): The Dirty Priest

How can this priest faithfully serve God? Aren’t Satan’s accusations right (3:1-2)? He is a filthy sinner, who doesn’t deserve to serve or know God, right? He gets his right directly from God himself (3:3-4). He is given clean clothes. This reminds me of the robes given to the man at Jesus’ wedding banquet or the white robes given to the saints in Revelation—washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Compare with Isaiah 6.

Fifth Vision (4:1-14): Lamp Stand with Oil

These seven lamps refer to God’s ability to rebuild the Temple. God promises that Zerubbabel’s work is actually empowered by God. Zechariah writes, “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty” (Zech. 4:6 NLT).

Does this relate to the seven lamps of Revelation?

The two anointed ones (4:14) are Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the priest). These two anointed ones “or messiahs” were each in charge of either the political leadership in Israel or the spiritual leadership in Israel. Jesus—the perfect and complete anointed one—was both the political leader and the spiritual leader. But, first, he came as a spiritual leader. When he returns, he will be a political leader.

Sixth Vision (5:1-4): Flying scroll of judgment

This scroll represents the curse of God’s law over individual people (compare with Deut. 28). He mentions two of the Ten Commandments. More are probably in view.

Seventh Vision (5:5-11): The Whore of Babylon?

Is this the Old Testament version of the Whore of Babylon?—not yet fully revealed? (cf. Rev. 17) Don’t forget that Babylon was the evil nation that enslaved the Hebrews and kicked them out of their land. In Revalation 17, John writes that the Whore of Babylon is drunk on the blood of the saints.

Eighth Vision (6:1-8): Four Chariots

The vision is of four chariots pulled by red, black, white, and gray horses (v.3). It relates to the first vision.

Zechariah 7

In this chapter, Zechariah deals with the subject of ritual versus relationship. The people are focused on fasting, and God is focused on love of others (7:9). This is similar to James 1:27. Religion always usurps God’s desires and plans. Compare with Jesus’ discourse with the Pharisees. He says that same thing. Compare with Stephen’s defense in Acts 7. They did the same thing as a result of his speech.

Zechariah 8

Chapter 8 emphasizes a remnant of people (8:6, 12) who inherit the promises of God. Compare with Romans 11. It ends with the worldwide blessing of the nation of Israel.

Zechariah 9

Some commentators believe that this death march against the enemies of Israel is a prediction of Alexander the Great, who attacked and destroyed all of these nations in 330’s B.C.

Zechariah 10

Next, Zechariah describes the lostness of these people. They have false gods (teraphim) and use divination. They lack leadership (v.2).

A shepherd can either refer to a human king (2 Sam. 5:2; Is. 44:28; Jer. 23:2-4) or to God as the King (Ps. 23:1; 100:3; Ezek. 34:11-16). It can also refer to the Messiah (Ezek. 34:23-24; Jn. 10:11-16; Heb. 13:20).

Zechariah 11

This chapter shows the rejection of Yahweh by the people of Israel.

Zechariah 12

This chapter shows the people’s national repentance.

Zechariah 13

As a result of the mourning of chapter 12, many Jews come to Christ at this time (v.3).

Zechariah 14

Israel is clearly regathered at this point. In fact, the city of Jerusalem is occupied. The Gentile nations apparently will surround it, and they will occupy half of it. However, the LORD himself will protect the city (v.3). Some interpreters (e.g. Matthew Henry) interpret this event metaphorically (v.4). He believes that Christ brought the dividing wall down between Jews and Gentiles on the Cross (Eph. 2).

However, this is clearly literal, because Zechariah compares this cataclysmic event with a past, literal event (“you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah” v.5). Jerusalem will be supernaturally protected (vv.10-11).

 

[1] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3rd. ed.). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 477.

[2] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3rd. ed.). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 477.

[3] Carson, D. A. For the Love of God: Volume 2 : a Daily Companion for Discovering the Treasures of God’s Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999. Zechariah 1.