The prophet and his prophecy
Like Haggai, Zechariah’s prophetic ministry took place in the postexilic period, and like him his focus (in his early ministry at least) was on the building of the Temple. He first prophesied in November 520BC (Haggai last prophesied in December 520BC) and likely prophesied for at least a further twenty years. As in Jeremiah (1:1) and Ezekiel (1:3), Zechariah was not only a prophet (1:1) but also a member of a priestly family. He was born in Babylonia and was among those who returned to Judah in 538/537BC, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua. At a later time, when Joiakim was high priest, Zechariah may have succeeded Iddo (1:1,7) as head of that priestly family (Nehemiah 12:10–16). Zechariah (Yahweh remembers) was a common OT name. A good deal of what he wrote was referred to elsewhere in several books of the Bible. The Book is remarkable in its use of rich imagery, insights into the spiritual (angelic) realm and its apocalyptic nature. In the second half (chapters 9-14) it refers to events in detail relating to the first and second coming of the Messiah. As an (this author) aside, the insights it has provided in piecing together the big prophetic picture have been extraordinary, and its neglect in Bible study is regrettable, which is one reason why extra space is given here to Zechariah’s prophecies.
Background and context
The background for Zechariah was much the same as described under Haggai and in the “Exile” section of Chapter 3. Regarding the end time events part, this was significant and not only was it consistent with that given my many of the writing prophets discussed earlier in this book but was referred to as being fulfilled in the life of Jesus (e.g. thirty pieces of silver, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey) but will be fulfilled when it comes to the great final battle and the coming in glory of Jesus (the second time) as detailed in the later chapters of Revelation and of Israel’s conversion referred to by Paul in Romans 11:26: “and so all Israel shall be saved”. If there is an overarching message to the Book, it is however long it takes, or strange it may appear, God is in control of history.
A synopsis of the Book
- Introduction (1:1–6)
- The Date and the Author’s Name (1:1)
- A Call to Repentance (1:2–6)
- A Series of Eight Visions in One Night (1:7—6:8)
- The Horseman among the Myrtle Trees (1:7–17)
- The Four Horns and the Four Craftsmen (1:18–21)
- A Man with a Measuring Line (ch. 2)
- Clean Garments for the High Priest (ch. 3)
- The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (ch. 4)
- The Flying Scroll (5:1–4)
- The Woman in a Basket (5:5–11)
- The Four Chariots (6:1–8)
- The Symbolic Crowning of Joshua the High Priest (6:9–15)
- The Problem of Fasting and the Promise of the Future (chs. 7–8)
- The Question by the Delegation from Bethel (7:1–3)
- The Rebuke by the Lord (7:4–7)
- The Command to Repent (7:8–14)
- The Restoration of Israel to God’s Favor (8:1–17)
- Kingdom Joy and Jewish Favor (8:18–23)
- First Prophetic Oracle: Messiah comes and is rejected (chs. 9–11)
- The coming of the Messianic King (chs. 9–10)
- Destruction of surrounding nations; Zion’s preservation (9:1–8)
- The coming of Zion’s King (9:9–10)
- The deliverance and blessing of Zion’s people (9:11—10:1)
- The leaders warned and the people encouraged (10:2–4)
- Israel’s victory and restoration (10:5–12)
- The rejection of the Messianic Shepherd-King (ch. 11)
- The prologue (11:1–3)
- The rejection of the Good Shepherd (11:4–14)
- The rise and fall of the worthless shepherd (11:15–17)
- Second Prophetic Oracle: Messiah’s coming and reception (chs. 12–14)
- The deliverance and conversion of Israel (chs. 12–13)
- The siege of Jerusalem (12:1–3)
- The divine deliverance (12:4–9)
- Israel completely delivered from sin (12:10—13:9)
- The Messiah’s coming and his kingdom (ch. 14)
- The siege of Jerusalem (14:1–2)
- The Messiah’s return and its effects (14:3–8)
- The establishment of the Messianic kingdom (14:9–11)
- The punishment of Israel’s enemies (14:12–15)
- The universal worship of the holy King (14:16–21)
The message of the Prophet
Chapter 1:1-6 introduces the word of the Lord that came to Zechariah. Like Haggai, he urges the people to take commitment to the Lord more seriously. Their forefathers had been warned by earlier prophets. They hadn’t listened, and were deservedly punished by exile. His message was unequivocal; this was their opportunity to take note and be blessed: “Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts” (1:3).
Two months later, Chapter 1:7-6:15, Zechariah had a series of visions (full of strange imagery and remarkable symmetry: 1&8, 2&7, 3&6, 4&5 all having a correlation) during the night, speaking of God’s burning desire to see Jerusalem, the city of Zion, rebuilt and restored for the fulfilment of His future purposes:
The first vision (1:7-17) is of God surveying the whole earth by means of four horsemen during the seventy years when God’s people were in Exile, noting the world was at peace (thanks to King Cyrus). The angel (not having predictive powers) appeals to God on the nation’s behalf. The Lord with displeasure notes the oppressing nations at ease and declares He will bless Jerusalem “the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (1:17) but in His time.
The second vision (1:18-21), involving blacksmiths and horns, is God sending His agents (likely Persia) to overthrow nations who had scattered His people.
The third vision (2:1-13) is of a man measuring Jerusalem and God telling him that great numbers will live there in the future because He’s going to bring so many people home. The Lord also says that He will come and live among them, giving us a first glimpse of God’s promises for the far future in which those who are not Israel will join with Israel in worshipping the Lord and knowing his protection (for which man-made walls are not required): “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her … And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee. And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again. Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation” (2:5, 11-13).
The fourth vision (3:1-10) is of Joshua the high priest having filthy clothes removed and fresh clothes put on. This is a poignant picture of how Satan (often in the shadows and never far away as far of the OT narrative goes) is apt and keen accusing God’s people, especially their leaders. The Lord has a wonderful response (worth us all now to bear in mind) and a glorious future prediction, involving the future Messiah and the wiping away of sin: “And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? … Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree” (3:2, 7-10).
The fifth vision (4:1-14) is reminiscent of Haggai 2:20-23 where Zerubbabel the governor of Judea is given greater authority. It also presents us the picture of the golden lampstand (that stood in the Holy Place of the Temple) replenished with oil (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) in never ending supply through two (not identified by name, but likely Zerubbabel and Joshua, anointed ones, who God had called to their tasks). The message is one full of hope and encouragement and a reminder of how God’s work done in His way will assuredly be carried out: “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth” (4:7-10).
The sixth vision (5:1-4) is of a flying scroll whose purpose is to curse all unrighteousness amongst God’s people, for stealing and lying cannot be.
The seventh vision (5:5-11) is of a woman in a basket, representing the wickedness of God’s people. She is exported to Babylon in place of God’s people who have been re-imported from Babylon into their land. Yet there is a salutary note, as part of God’s sovereign plan permits evil to establish itself elsewhere: “Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah? And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base” (5:10-11).
And the eighth vision (6:1-8) recalls the first: four chariots riding out from the presence of God to do His will. All the history of Israel and the surrounding nations has been God’s work. And now His Spirit is at rest, even in the land of the north (Babylonia). It implies His work must surely be complete.
The visions are rounded off with a word from God about crowning Joshua the high priest as king – a picture of the future Messiah, fulfilled ultimately in Jesus, our great High Priest, who sits on the throne of David forever (6:9-15). “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both … And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (6:12-13,15).
In Chapters 7 and 8, two years after these night visions, God gave Zechariah prophetic words for a delegation who came from the worship centre at Bethel. They had come to ask if they should continue observing fasts in the fifth and seventh months, which were memorials of the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC and the murder of the governor Gedaliah a little later. God’s answer was: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Yes – don’t forget the disaster and punishment came seventy years ago, because the message God’s people refused to hear then must be obeyed by the present generation. Don’t forget the lesson the Lord is teaching (7:1-14). No – forget the destruction of the Temple and the murder of the governor. The Lord is going to restore and bless Jerusalem and His people such that all memory of the past will be blotted out. God is going to bless the remnant of His people and they will be able to grow old in peace again. If there is a moral for now, fasting and feasting both have a place, but as unto the Lord.
The question of whether to fast or feast was therefore not an unreasonable one but better if it could be turned around. It could read: will you become the people ready to participate in God’s Kingdom? 2500 years on, we still await the full answer, which will gloriously come to pass, with Israel restored and we read again, along with those not of Israel joining them: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (8:19-23).
Chapters 9 – 14 are not always easy to understand, and they pick up on events in the far future and speak concerning God’s final intervention in history. While still concerned with Israel’s future, it is more concerned with Israel’s Messiah. It can be viewed in two parts: national (Israel) restoration (Chapters 9-11) and international (furthest future) repercussion (Chapters 12-14). There appears to be a certain amount of darting backwards and forwards. Like the other OT prophets, Zechariah had but a bare inkling of elapsed time. While the modern reader may want sequential presentation of events (some having happened with Jesus first coming; others yet to happen with his second coming), as far as this presentation goes, besides that which is further discussed in (our) Chapter 15, we will take each section as it comes, concentrating on the main highlights. We are reminded that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” Hebrews 1:1-2 and Revelation when the pieces come together.
National Restoration (9-11)
- Vanquished enemies (9:1-8) speaks of Israel’s enemies being vanquished – Jerusalem is God’s eternal city and will be there, come what may (until the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21), and the day will come when the enemies will be no more and some will even join with Israel.
- Peaceful king (9:9-10) speaks of a king who has dominion from sea even to sea (9:10). The words “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, a few days before being put to death, although those who acclaimed Hosanna wrongly assumed that He was coming to liberate them and then turned against Him when He didn’t (for His time had not then come).
- Mighty God (9:11-10:7) speaks of He who fight’s on Israel’s behalf, like the good shepherd. “And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land” (9:16). He will rid Israel of bad shepherds, destroy her enemies “And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the Lord their God, and will hear them” (10:6).
- Gathered People (10:8-12) speaks of those who were dispersed among the nations coming home: “And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again. I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them” (10:9-10).
- Deforested Neighbours (11:1-3) speaks, somewhat surprisingly, of the trees of some of Israel’s neighbours being removed.
- Worthless Shepherds (11:4-17) contains a parable about three shepherds that had been sacked for not doing their jobs and then throwing back their wages. This also looks to a time when God raises up worthless shepherds who rather than look after the sheep do the very opposite. There is also a NT fulfilment with Judas Iscariot: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord” 11:12-14.
International Repercussion (12-14)
- Invading Army (12:1-9) shows while Jerusalem is the main focus and up to the end of the Book, when becoming the centre of world government, some things need to happen first. It begins with a siege against Jerusalem (and Judah) with the nations gathered against it. We are introduced to a concept considered in both OT and NT – “the Day of the Lord”. We now come to the culmination of world events prior to the messianic reign. As for the outcome of this attack: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (1:9).
- Grieving Inhabitants (12:10-14) is where we reach the glorious climax of the Day of the Lord before back and once again fore tracking: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon” (12:10-11). The glory is He who Israel had hitherto rejected, the Lamb of Calvary, is the one who now comes to rescue them. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” Revelation 1:7.
- Banished Prophets (13:1-6) are those who have been scourge to the people but the land will be banished of the now shamed false prophets.
- Reduced Population (13:7-9) reflects that the population had been reduced to a third (could this have begun under the Holocaust?).
- Plagued Attackers (14:1-24) is where we return to Israel under attack (with parallels to Ezekiel 38-39 and Joel 3), with the Lord gathering the nations for battle and defending Israel, with the armies turning on each other and with Jesus returning to mount of Olives as He said he would (Acts 1:8): “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (14:1-4) and with living waters going out from Jerusalem (4:8) and “the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord” (4:9). There will be geographic changes with the City elevated and the people living in safety.
- Universal Worship (14:16-25) follows. The Lord establishes Jerusalem. It becomes the place from where He rules and all nations recognise and submit to His authority, including celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Significantly, this feast celebrates the final ingathering of the harvest. It is the most important one for Jews, and is one where they are again married to the Law and when they expect their Messiah to come, just as the Church celebrates the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7): “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. … Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts” (14:16-17, 21).