Book Overview - Zechariah
by Peter Pett
Commentary on Zechariah.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons:London) DD
Zechariah the Prophet - Short Introduction.
Zechariah was ‘the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo’. He thus came from an important family. In Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14 (compare Nehemiah 12:16) he is described as the ‘son of Iddo’. Iddo was his most famous forebear, for Iddo was included among the heads of the first priestly families that returned to Judah from exile in Babylon (Nehemiah 12:4; Nehemiah 12:16). Calling him ‘the son of Iddo’ was in accordance with the usual practise of often calling a man ‘the son of ’ his grandfather (or an earlier ancestor), especially when the grandfather was prestigious.
Those returning exiles settled down in very difficult conditions and, having erected an altar for commencement of worship, began to build a Temple in the midst of the ruined city of Jerusalem but they were soon thwarted by their neighbours because they refused to let their neighbours, who were syncretistic Yahwists, from having a part in it (for this would have allowed them to introduce their own syncretistic Yahwism). So instead they concentrated on building their own houses and making themselves as comfortable as possible with a view to building the Temple later. It was in order to arouse the next generation to set about building the Temple that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah arose.
Zechariah was a (probably much younger) contemporary of Haggai alongside whom he preached, and with whom he exhorted the people. This was under the Governor Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest. And they called on the people to be revived in their faith towards God and to carry out the rebuilding of the Temple after the exile. Zechariah thus lived in an exciting time when the beginnings of the new nation were being established. His ministry was an essential part of that recovery.
But he also looked forward to the coming of an anointed king under the title of ‘The Branch’, one from ‘the root’ of the house of David, who would establish God’s purposes for His people and bring them to fruition. The two ideas ran alongside each other for, as far as he was aware, the second may have been almost as close to fulfilment as the first. The exile was after all over as far as God was concerned, and new beginnings were in progress, but he never confuses the two in spite of the attempts of some scholars to claim that he did. Never does he exalt Zerubbabel except as the builder of the new Temple (Zechariah 4:1-14). Always he looks forward to another who would come to finalise the purposes of God.
He began prophesying in the second year of King Darius of Persia (reigned 522/1-486 BC). At that time Judah and the remnants of Israel had been in exile in Babylon for over sixty five years, having been carried away en masse following the events that led to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, at the time when Jeremiah and Ezekiel were prophesying its fall. And since that time Judah had lain waste with relatively few inhabitants who scratched a living from the soil.
But under the decree of Cyrus two decades prior to Zechariah’s ministry some exiles had returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 1), and an altar had been erected and work had begun on a Temple. However, once the foundations had been laid this work had languished as those who were antagonistic to them sought to interfere with the work, and the people tried to re-establish themselves in the land, and they had soon lost their vision (see the whole story in Ezra). Thus God’s purposes seemed to be grinding to a halt.
Now God was concerned for the final completion of a proper and worthy Temple, for this would unite His people and give focus to their worship and give them pride in their inheritance.
But it is a mistake to think of Zechariah as only concerned with the building of the Temple. He is concerned with it as part of the wider picture of the return of the exiles, a final outreach to the nations and the establishing of God’s purposes under the future Messianic king. He has the full vision of God’s future purposes.
The book naturally divides up into four/five distinct sections by typical introductory phrases as follows:
· INTRODUCTION - ‘in the eighth month of the second year of Darius came the word of the LORD to Zechariah’ (Zechariah 1:1).
· FIRST SECTION - ‘On the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius came the word of the LORD to Zechariah ---’ (Zechariah 1:7)
· SECOND SECTION -‘And it came about in the fourth year of king Darius that the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev.’ (Zechariah 7:1).
· THIRD SECTION -‘The burden of the word of the LORD upon the land of Hadrach ---.’ (Zechariah 9:1)
· FOURTH SECTION - ‘The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel.’ (Zechariah 12:1).
We may, however, see the initial introductory verses as connected with the first main section thus reducing the sections to four.
ANALYSIS OF INTRODUCTION AND THE FIRST SECTION.
This first section (Zechariah 1:1 to Zechariah 6:15) can be divided up by means of the opening words of sentences as follows:
· ‘The word of the LORD to the son of Zechariah --- saying’ (Zechariah 1:1).
· ‘The word of the LORD to Zechariah --- saying, “I saw in the night ---” ’ (Zechariah 1:8).
· ‘I lifted up my eyes and saw’ (Zechariah 1:18).
· ‘I lifted up my eyes and saw’ (Zechariah 2:1).
· ‘And he showed me’ (Zechariah 3:1).
· ‘And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me --- and he said to me, “What do you see?” ’ (Zechariah 4:1).
· ‘Then again I lifted up my eyes and saw’ (Zechariah 5:1).
· ‘Then the angel who talked with me said, “Lift up now your eyes and see --” ’ (Zechariah 5:5).
· ‘And again I lifted up my eyes and saw ---’ (Zechariah 6:1).
· ‘And the word of the LORD came to me saying’ (Zechariah 6:9).
It will be noted that the emphasis all the way through is on what he saw or, in the case of the heavenly scene, on what was shown to him. Only Zechariah 1:1 and Zechariah 6:9 deal with instructions given to Zechariah by the LORD. The remainder are referring to visions. In the cases where we are told what he saw there is always a question and answer session, but that is not so in the case of the heavenly vision in Zechariah 3:1-10.
IN DEPTH ANALYSIS OF Zechariah 1-6.
a Introduction - God calls on His people to return to Him in genuine repentance and points out that all that He had warned them of has come about (Zechariah 1:1-6). Now, however, it is time for them to return to Him, that He might return to them. But He then provides Zechariah with a series of visions which reveal what His purposes are for His people.
b THE FIRST VISION - The Horsemen Scouts of YHWH, with their different coloured horses, have gathered outside Jerusalem to report on what they have found as they have scoured the earth. While to the world Persia was the centre of activity from which scouts went out, to God it is Jerusalem that is the centre of such activity. These scouts have found no activity taking place in the world that might portend the full restoration of Jerusalem and Judah. This indicates that the nations are clearly not concerned about them. But the point is that God is. He is looking with mercy on Jerusalem again, and His house will be built in it (Isaiah 44:28) and Jerusalem be comforted (Isaiah 40:1) and chosen (Isaiah 41 onwards) - (Zechariah 1:7-17).
c THE SECOND VISION - The Four Horns and the Four Smiths - those who have scattered God’s people will themselves now be dealt with (Zechariah 1:18-21).
d THE THIRD VISION - The Measuring of Jerusalem - Jerusalem is to be restored and made prosperous - too large to be surrounded by a wall (compare Ezekiel 38:11) - and God will surround her with fire and be the glory in the midst of her (compare Isaiah 4:5). Her exiles must therefore escape from Babylon and return (Isaiah 48:20). Then she will become His witness to the nations who will join themselves to the LORD and become His people (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6-7). All should therefore be silent and watch for God has stirred Himself to act from Heaven (Zechariah 2:1-13).
e THE FOURTH VISION - The Cleansing of the High Priest - This scene alone takes place in the heavenly court (or in the Temple). Joshua the High Priest, standing before God’s throne, is accused by the Adversary (satanas). But his accusation is rejected on the grounds that it is contrary to God’s purpose because God has chosen to pluck Jerusalem like a brand plucked from the fire. Joshua is divested of his filthy garments (defiled by the sins of the past - compare Isaiah 64:6) and richly clothed and turbaned (Isaiah 61:10). From now on if he walks faithfully and is true he will have access to the heavenly court. He is the guarantee that one day God will bring forth His servant the Branch (Isaiah 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15). Then the iniquity of the land will then be removed in one day and all will live in prosperity as free men under his own vine and his own fig tree (Isaiah 36:16) - (Zechariah 3:1-10),
d THE FIFTH VISION - The Two Anointed Ones - Zerubbabel and Joshua - with Zerubbabel prominent as the chosen restorer and rebuilder of the Temple. He and Joshua will stand before the Lord of the whole earth (Zechariah 4:1-14).
c THE SIXTH VISION - The Flying Scroll - which contains God’s curse on the sins of the land, especially theft and false witness. They will be removed from the land (Zechariah 5:1-4).
THE SEVENTH VISION - The Woman In The Measuring Jar - she represents idolatry and wickedness, possibly as the idolatrous Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44:17-18), for a temple is to be built for her in Babylon where she belongs. The measuring jar may represent dishonest business interests. Babylon’s dishonest business interests and idolatry are to be returned to her (Zechariah 5:5-11).
b THE EIGHTH VISION - The Four Chariots with different coloured horses - who come from the heavenly stables and traverse the earth and have especially ensured peace in the north (from where danger usually threatens). All is set for the prosperity of Jerusalem.
a The BRANCH is crowned by proxy - he will build the Temple of the LORD, with the assistance of those from afar off, and will bear glory and rule on his throne as both king and priest. In him kingship and priesthood will be in perfect harmony. But if they are to experience it all is dependent on their diligently obeying the voice of the LORD (Zechariah 6:9-15).
Note that in ‘a’ the people are called to true repentance, and in the parallel learn their reward for such true repentance in the coming of the future King Priest. In ‘b’ the four sets of horsemen go forth, and in the parallel the four chariots go forth. In ‘c’ the external enemies, the antagonistic nations are dealt with, and in the dual parallel the internal enemies, the sins and idolatry of the nation are dealt with. In ‘d’ Jerusalem is to be restored, and in the parallel the Temple is to be restored. Centrally in ‘e’ is the scene in Heaven where the High Priest is purified on behalf of his people and the coming of the BRANCH is promised.
We can also see a progression whereby: the scouts find out that nothing is happening towards the restoration of Jerusalem, God then renders the nations powerless, Jerusalem is measured up with expansion in view, the High Priest is cleansed to prepare for his new duties, the building of the new Temple is guaranteed, sin is dealt with in the land, idolatry is despatched from the land, and the aggressors in the north are pacified, all ready for the coming of the Branch if only the people are responsive.
So Zechariah takes us through the whole history of God’s people from his day onwards. The return from exile, the building of the Temple, coming suffering, the need for godliness, the coming of the Prophet Messiah, the pouring out of the Spirit, the establishing of the Reign of God and the continuation of that reign with His people as the new Temple, and finally the eternal state where the Temple has been replaced by the people of God, and where God is all in all.
He does it, of course, in terms of what he knows and understands, but there can really be no question that in his final chapters he goes beyond the literal to the symbolic. There was no other way in which he could proclaim what he had to proclaim, for it went beyond the bounds of this world and he knew only of this world. But what he did foresee was the final triumph of God as King, and the gradual final submission of all to Him.
It was left to the New Testament to explain it more fully.
the Second Week after Epiphany