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by Joseph Benson
THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH.
ZECHARIAH, one of the last of that succession of prophets whom God sent at sundry times to signify his will to the Jewish nation, was the son of Barachiah, and the grandson of Iddo, mentioned Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14. He is, indeed, in these passages, called simply the son of Iddo; but that is merely because a person’s descendants, though remote, are frequently termed his sons, or daughters, in the Scriptures. The time and place of his birth are not certainly known. Dr. Blayney, however, thinks it unquestionable, that he was of the number of the captives who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in consequence of the decree of Cyrus; but that he was very young when he came thither, being styled הנער , a youth, chap. Zechariah 2:4, sixteen or seventeen years afterward, even when he had begun to exercise his prophetical function; a title which would scarcely have been given him had he much exceeded the age of twenty. “It was in the eighth month of the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes, king of Persia, that is, about the year 520 before the Christian era, that he first opened his divine commission with a serious and solemn call to repentance. In the same year he is found, together with the Prophet Haggai, employed in assisting the endeavours of Zerubbabel and Joshua, to excite and animate the people at Jerusalem to a vigorous prosecution of the work of rebuilding their temple. For this purpose he communicated the visions which are contained in the first six chapters, and which he was favoured with on the 24th day of the 11th month, in the year aforesaid; all evidently calculated to inspire the strongest hopes and assurance of future prosperity, through the returning favour of the Almighty. The same design is further carried on in a subsequent revelation, made to him about two years afterward;” as is recorded chap. 7., 8. But though the time and occasion of this former part of his prophecies be thus ascertained, by the dates annexed to them, we have not the same certainty with respect to those that follow. “It is, however, highly probable, from the apparent difference both of style and subject, that they came forth at a different and more advanced period of our prophet’s life. This difference, indeed, has been urged as a proof that the last six chapters are not Zechariah’s, but by a different hand. But the argument is inconclusive; for it is very possible for the same man to alter his style, and write differently at different periods of time. Nor would it be at all surprising if this writer, as he advanced in years and dignity, should have learned to express himself in a tone of more elevation and energy.” At such distant periods also, as we suppose, the subject of his predictions and discourses would be materially changed. For he would no longer have occasion to stimulate his countrymen to the building of the temple, which was already completely finished; but he was actually engaged in predicting some remarkable occurrences that would distinguish his own and the neighbouring nations in remote periods, some of them perhaps not yet arrived; and in urging an immediate reformation of national manners. In so doing, what more natural to expect, than that he would encounter hatred and opposition from those whose corruptions he was called upon to censure and repress. “The sequel,” says Dr. Blayney, “may easily be guessed at; for from similar causes, similar effects may naturally be looked for. His enraged adversaries, after thwarting and defeating all his endeavours for the public good, at length so far succeeded as to turn the tide of popular prejudice and resentment against him; and he was barbarously murdered, as his namesake Zechariah the son of Jehoiada had been, for the same cause, and in the self-same place, between three and four hundred years before. For this we have no less authority than that of our blessed Lord himself, who expressly calls the person of whom he speaks, Matthew 23:35, Zecharias, son of Barachias, distinguishing him from the before-mentioned Zechariah son of Jehoiada by his patronymic as effectually as two men bearing the same Christian name in our days would be distinguished by their family names. That the Scriptures of the Old Testament are silent in regard to this latter instance can be no objection, if it be considered that a very small portion of them was written after the supposed date of this transaction; and that nothing occurs in this part which would naturally lead to the mention of it. But no sooner is the line of sacred history resumed in the New Testament, than we find the subject brought forward with such precision, that it requires no small degree of prejudice to controvert it. Add to this, how very improbable it is that our Saviour, who has taken his first term from the earliest date of history, should have chosen for his last one which would not include the whole series of prophets and divine messengers, who suffered for their testimony to the cause of religious truth.” In this particular, however, it must be observed, Dr. Blayney’s opinion differs from that of many commentators, who suppose that Zechariah the son of Jehoiada is intended in the passage of St. Matthew’s gospel above referred to, and that the expression, the son of Barachias, was the officious addition of some early transcriber of that gospel, and not inserted by St. Matthew himself. See the note on Matthew 23:35.
It has been urged by some, that many parts of this book are very hard, if not impossible, to be understood. “That Zechariah is in some degree obscure,” says Dr. Blayney, “is not to be questioned. And which of the ancient prophets is not so? It is of the nature of prophecy to affect a degree of enigmaticalness previous to the accomplishment, in order not to clash with the freedom of human agency. And there is no doubt, that some of Zechariah’s predictions relate to matters that are still involved in the womb of futurity. No wonder, then, that these fall not within the reach of our perfect comprehension. Others there are, which we have good reason to believe have already been fulfilled, but do not appear with such a degree of evidence, as they probably would have done if we had been better informed concerning the times and facts to which they relate. With respect to the emblems and types that are exhibited, they are most of them of easy and determinate application. And, in favour of the importance of his subject matter, it must be acknowledged that, next to Isaiah, Zechariah is the most evangelical of all the prophets; having more frequent, and more clear and direct allusions to the character and coming of the Messiah, and his kingdom, than any of the rest. Nor in his language and composition do we find any particular bias to obscurity; except that the quickness and suddenness of the transitions are sometimes apt to confound the boundaries of discourse, so as to leave the less attentive reader at a loss to whom the several parts of it are to be ascribed. But, upon the whole, the diction is remarkably pure, the construction natural and perspicuous, and the style judiciously varied, according to the nature of the subject; simple and plain in the narrative and historical parts; but in those that are wholly prophetical, the latter chapters in particular, rising to a degree of elevation and grandeur scarcely inferior to the sublimest of the inspired writings.”
the Sixth Week after Easter