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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Zechariah

- Zechariah

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE AND WRITER

The title of this book comes from its traditional writer, as is true of all the prophetical books of the Old Testament. The name "Zechariah" (lit. Yahweh remembers) was a common one among the Israelites identifying at least 27 different individuals in the Old Testament, perhaps 30. [Note: Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, p. 1087. Cf. Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, p. 167.] It was an appropriate name for the writer of this book because it explains that Yahweh remembers His chosen people and His promises and will be faithful to them. This Zechariah was the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo (Zec_1:1; Zec_1:7; cf. Ezr_5:1; Ezr_6:14; Neh_12:4; Neh_12:16).

Zechariah, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, was both a prophet and a priest. He was obviously familiar with priestly things (cf. ch. 3; Zec_6:9-15; Zec_9:8; Zec_9:15; Zec_14:16; Zec_14:20-21). Since he was a young man (Heb. na’ar) when he began prophesying (Zec_2:4), he was probably born in Babylonian captivity and returned to Palestine in 536 B.C. with Zerubbabel and Joshua. He became a leading priest in the restoration community succeeding his grandfather (or ancestor), Iddo, who also returned from captivity in 536 B.C., as the leader of his priestly family (Neh_12:4; Neh_12:16). Zechariah’s father, Berechiah (Zec_1:1; Zec_1:7), evidently never became prominent.

The Lord Jesus referred to a Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom the Jews murdered between the temple and the altar (Mat_23:35). This appears to be how the prophet’s life ended. [Note: Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 425.] This would make Zechariah one of the last righteous people the Jews slew in Old Testament history.

Some students of Scripture believe that the Zechariah to whom Jesus referred was the son of Jehoiada whom the Jews stoned in the temple courtyard (2Ch_24:20-22). [Note: E.g., Eugene H. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 95.] However, that man died hundreds of years earlier, before 800 B.C., and Jesus seems to have been summarizing all the righteous people the Jews had slain throughout Old Testament history chronologically. Zechariah ben Jehoiada was the last martyr in the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles, so Jesus may have been speaking canonically, the equivalent of "all the martyrs from Genesis to Revelation." Nevertheless that Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada, not Berechiah, and Jesus mentioned Berechiah as the father of the Zechariah He meant. "Son" sometimes means "ancestor," but there is no known Berechiah in the family line of the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles.

"According to some ancient versions Zechariah was a poet as well as a prophet. His name is in the titles of Psalms 137, 145-50 in the LXX; in the titles of Psalms 111, 145 in the Vulgate; and in the titles of Psalms 125, 145-48 in the Syriac." [Note: Smith, p. 168.]

DATE

Zechariah’s inspired preaching began in the eighth month of 520 B.C. (Zec_1:1). His eight night visions followed three months later in 520 B.C. (Zec_1:7), when he was a young man (Zec_2:4). He delivered the messages in chapters 7-8 in 518 B.C. (Zec_7:1). Nehemiah mentioned Zechariah as the head of a priestly family when Joiakim, who succeeded Joshua, was high priest (Neh_12:12; Neh_12:16). This may have been as late as during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.). [Note: See Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 60.] Some scholars believe Nehemiah wrote chapters 9-14 during this later period of his life. [Note: E.g., Kenneth L. Barker, "Zechariah," in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 597; Merrill, p. 63; and Archer, p. 437.] The exact length of his life and ministry is guesswork, however.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Zechariah began ministering among the Jews who had returned from captivity in Babylon (i.e., the restoration community) two months after Haggai began preaching (Zec_1:1; Zec_7:1; cf. Neh_12:10-16; Hag_1:1). In a sense, Zechariah’s message supplements that of Haggai. [Note: H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah, p. 3.]

"Both prophets . . . contrast the past with the present and future, with Haggai stressing the rebuilt Temple as a sign and source of God’s blessing and Zechariah emphasizing the role of repentance and renewal in achieving that end. The two prophets worked hand in glove, complementing each other’s message." [Note: Merrill, p. 62.]

"There is a marked contrast between Haggai and his contemporary Zechariah. If Haggai was the builder, responsible for the solid structure of the new Temple, Zechariah was more like the artist, adding colourful windows with their symbolism, gaiety and light. To make sure that their symbolism is rightly understood an interpreting angel acts as guide, adding in some cases a message that goes far beyond what could be deduced from the visions." [Note: Baldwin, p. 59.]

Haggai and Zechariah’s ministries followed those of Ezekiel and Daniel, who ministered during the Captivity in Babylon.

Table of Some Post-Exilic Events
Cyrus issued his edict allowing the Jews to return home.538 B.C.Ezra 1
About 50,000 Jews returned under Zerubbabel and Joshua’s leadership.536 B.C.Ezra 2; Nehemiah 7
The altar was rebuilt and sacrifices resumed.536 B.C.
Work on the temple began but then halted.536 B.C.Ezr_3:1-4
The Jews became occupied with rebuilding their own homes.536-522 B.C.Haggai 1-2
Cyrus died, and his son, Cambyses II, succeeded him and ruled Persia.530 B.C.; 530-522 B.C.
Smerdis ruled Persia.522-521 B.C.
Darius I, the Great (Hystaspes), rescued Persia from civil war and ruled Persia.521-486 B.C.
Darius confirmed Cyrus’ decree and encouraged the Jews to continue rebuilding the temple.520 B.C.Ezr_6:1-14
Haggai preached his first three sermons.520 B.C.,
6th and 7th months
Hag_1:1; Hag_1:15; Hag_2:1
Zechariah preached his first sermon.520 B.C.,
8th month
Zec_1:1
Haggai preached his fourth and fifth sermons.520 B.C.,
9th month
Hag_2:10; Hag_2:20
Zechariah received his eight night visions.520 B.C., 11th monthZec_1:7
Joshua, the high priest, was crowned.520 B.C., 11th monthZec_6:9-15
The delegation from Bethel arrived, and Zechariah preached again.518 B.C.,
9th month
Zec_7:1
The Jews completed the temple and dedicated it.515 B.C.,
12th month
Ezr_6:15
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) reigned over Persia.486-464 B.C.Est_2:16
Artaxerxes I reigned over Persia.464-424 B.C.
About 5,000 Jews returned to Palestine under Ezra’s leadership.458 B.C.Ezr_7:7
Artaxerxes I authorized Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.445 B.C.Neh_2:1
Nehemiah led the third return to Palestine.444 B.C.Neh_2:9
Malachi ministered.ca. 432-431 B.C.

PURPOSE AND THEMES

Zechariah ministered to the restoration community to motivate those Jews to finish rebuilding the temple and to rededicate themselves to Yahweh with the prospect of His blessing. The central theme of the book is encouragement and hope. [Note: See Archer, pp. 423-24; Robert D. Bell, "The Theology of Zechariah," Biblical Viewpoint 24:2 (November 1990):55-61; and Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "A Theology of the Minor Prophets," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 423-28.] The key to this hope is the coming of Messiah and his overthrow of ungodly forces and establishment of His kingdom on earth.

"The prophet is concerned to comfort his discouraged and pessimistic compatriots, who are in the process of rebuilding their Temple and restructuring their community but who view their efforts as making little difference in the present and offering no hope for the future." [Note: Merrill, p. 87.]

This prophet dealt with the future of Israel, and particularly its distant, eschatological future, to an extent that surpassed the other Old Testament prophets (cf. Zec_12:1-3; Zec_12:9; Zec_14:1-5; Zec_14:16-21). His revelations concerning a future day of the Lord are numerous.

"What former prophets revealed at length, Zechariah epitomizes for us in terse sentences or even clauses." [Note: Charles L. Feinberg, God Remembers: A Study of the Book of Zechariah, p. 3.]

This book also contains many messianic prophecies (cf. Zec_3:8-9; Zec_6:12-13; Zec_9:9-10; Zec_9:14; Zec_11:12-13; Zec_13:7; Zec_14:4; Zec_14:9; Zec_14:16).

"Particularly prominent in the book is the Messianic element. With the exception of Isaiah, there is no other prophet whose book contains such a wealth and variety of this element, not only in proportion to the total amount of material offered, but also as a sum total of passages." [Note: Leupold, p. 4.]

"Few books of the OT are as difficult of interpretation as the Book of Zechariah; no other book is as Messianic." [Note: The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1949 ed., s.v. "Zechariah, Book of," by George L. Robinson, 5:3136.]

CANONICITY AND UNITY

This book is the second to the last of the Minor Prophets in the second (Prophets) division of the Hebrew Bible. Neither Jews nor Christians seriously challenged its canonicity. One reason for this is the fact that the New Testament quotes and alludes to Zechariah so often, about 41 times. [Note: E. Nestle and K. Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece, pp. 670-71.] The Gospel evangelists cited chapters 9-14 more frequently in their passion narratives than any other portion of the Old Testament. The Book of Revelation refers to the Book of Zechariah more frequently than to any other Old Testament book except Ezekiel. There are also few textual problems in the book; the text has come down to us well preserved. [Note: See T. Jansma, "Inquiry into the Hebrew Text and the Ancient Versions of Zechariah ix-xiv," Oudtestamentische Studiën 7 (1950):1-142.]

Until A.D. 1653 no one seriously questioned that Zechariah wrote the whole book. In that year Joseph Mede suggested that Jeremiah may have written chapters 9-11, in view of Mat_27:9. In succeeding years other scholars proceeded to question the second part of the book (chs. 9-14) because of its differences in content and historical and chronological references compared to the first part. Today almost all critical scholars regard this book as the product of two or three writers who wrote either before the exile or after Zechariah. Bruce Waltke, though conservative in most matters, dealt with this book by referring to "First Zechariah" and "Second Zechariah." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, pp. 846-47.] Similarly critical scholars regard Isaiah as having two or three writers. Critics commonly divide Zechariah into chapters 1-8 and 9-14 or 1-8, 9-11, and 12-14. The presence of predictive prophecy in the last chapters of the book has encouraged those who deny the miraculous to relegate this part to a later time and writer(s). [Note: See Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 487-90, for further discussion.]

"We maintain it is impossible to confine or restrict the Spirit of God in His revelatory purposes. If He cares to predict an event three centuries off, He is sovereign; and if it pleases Him to foretell the plan of God a millennium before its materialization, He is just as sovereign. We emphasize this because we believe it to be the sine qua non of reverent, acceptable interpretation of Biblical prophecy." [Note: Feinberg, p. 10.]

Competent conservative scholars have refuted the arguments of the radical critics adequately. [Note: See especially Baldwin, pp. 62-70; Leupold, pp. 6-13; Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Commentary: Zechariah, pp. 13-14; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 950-56; and Archer, pp. 425-30.]

"In the nature of the case it is not possible to prove conclusively who wrote chapters 9-14, but when every argument has been considered the fact remains that all fourteen chapters have been handed down to us as one book in every manuscript so far discovered. Even the tiny fragment of the Greek manuscript found at Qumran, which includes the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9, shows no gap or spacing whatsoever to suggest a break between the two parts." [Note: Baldwin, pp. 69-70.]

GENRE

Zechariah consists of a combination of poetry (chs. 9-10), exhortations (sermon material; Zec_1:1-6), prophetic-apocalyptic visions (Zec_1:7 to Zec_6:8), symbolic actions (Zec_6:9-15), and oracles (chs. 7-14), some of which concern eschatological salvation (chs. 9-14). Some of the oracles introduce or follow visions, and others do not. Along with Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation, Zechariah is one of the most apocalyptic books in the Bible. [Note: For discussion of apocalyptic as a genre, see Ralph H. Alexander, "Hermeneutics of Old Testament Apocalyptic Literature" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1968), p. 45; Elliott E. Johnson, "Apocalyptic Genre in Literary Interpretation," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, p. 200; Merrill, pp. 69-74; and Baldwin, pp. 70-74.]

"In the present writer’s judgment, his [Zechariah’s] book is the most Messianic, the most truly apocalyptic and eschatological, of all the writings of the OT." [Note: Robinson, 5:3136.]

"Apocalyptic literature is basically meant to encourage the people of God." [Note: Barker, p. 600.]

"Only apocalyptic could express the utter transcendence involved in the radical transformations that would accompany the irruption of the kingdom of YHWH and the consequent shattering of all human and earthly systems in its wake." [Note: Merrill, p. 71.]

"The apocalyptic visions of Zechariah, though filled with symbolism, are not as complicated and bizarre as those of Ezekiel, but do require angelic interpreters, at least in chapters 1-6. He goes beyond Ezekiel and other early apocalyptists, however, in his declarations that what he envisions is as good as done, for it is only an earthly reflection of what has in fact come to pass in heaven." [Note: Ibid., p. 72.]

STRUCTURE

"The ’shape’ of a poem, the artistic arrangement of a book are instruments used by the Holy Spirit to convey His message." [Note: Baldwin, p. 74]

In the case of Zechariah, there are three large chiastic sections (Zec_1:7 to Zec_6:15; Zec_7:1 to Zec_8:19; and chs. 9-14). These contain Zechariah’s eight night visions and their accompanying oracles, his messages prompted by a question about fasting, and the two burdens (oracles) announcing the triumphant interventions of the Lord into history in the future. A brief section introduces the whole book (Zec_1:1-6).

Zechariah is the longest of the Minor Prophets. It contains 14 chapters with 211 verses, whereas Hosea, the second longest, has 14 chapters with 197 verses. Daniel, the shortest Major Prophet, contains 12 chapters with 357 verses.

OUTLINE

I.    Introduction Zec_1:1-6

II.    The eight night visions and four messages Zec_1:7 to Zec_6:8

A.    The horseman among the myrtle trees Zec_1:7-17

1.    The vision proper Zec_1:7-15

2.    The oracle about God’s jealousy for Israel Zec_1:16-17

B.    The four horns and the four smiths Zec_1:18-21

C.    The surveyor ch. 2

1.    The vision itself Zec_2:1-5

2.    The oracle about enemy destruction and Israelite blessing Zec_2:6-13

D.    The cleansing and restoration of Joshua ch. 3

1.    The symbolic Act_3:1-5

2.    The accompanying promises Zec_3:6-10

E.    The gold lampstand and the two olive trees ch. 4

1.    The vision Zec_4:1-5

2.    Two oracles concerning Zerubbabel Zec_4:6-10

3.    The interpretation of the vision Zec_4:11-14

F.    The flying scroll Zec_5:1-4

G.    The woman in the basket Zec_5:5-11

H.    The four chariots Zec_6:1-8

III.    The symbolic crowning of Jos_6:9-15

IV.    Messages concerning hypocritical fasting chs. 7-8

A.    The question from the delegation from Bethel Zec_7:1-3

B.    The Lord’s rebuke Zec_7:4-7

C.    The command to repent Zec_7:8-14

D.    Israel’s restoration to God’s favor Zec_8:1-17

E.    Kingdom joy and Jewish favor Zec_8:18-23

V.    Oracles about the Messiah and Israel’s future chs. 9-14

A.    The burden concerning the nations: the advent and rejection of Messiah chs. 9-11

1.    The coming of the true king ch. 9

2.    The restoration of the true people ch. 10

3.    The rejection of the true king ch. 11

B.    The burden concerning Israel: the advent and acceptance of Messiah chs. 12-14

1.    The repentance of Judah ch. 12

2.    The restoration of Judah ch. 13

3.    The reign of Messiah ch. 14

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