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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Zechariah 1

 

 

Introduction

Zechariah 1-8.

Unlike Haggai, Zechariah would appear to have written his own prophecies, but the original document, which has not come down to us quite complete, has been edited with sundry introductory notes and contains, apparently, some interpolations. Of the latter, Zechariah 1:2-6 is an instance. There is here nothing peculiarly characteristic of Zechariah, though in so short a book arguments from style must not be pressed. It is, however, strange that when the restoration of the Temple was going on apace, Zechariah, with his hopeful temperament, should preach a sermon implying the continued impenitence of the people. Probably a later exhortation has been substituted for the original opening, deemed for some reason unsuitable. "The former prophets" implies a contrast with the later prophets, Jeremiah being assigned to another era. While the section would suit better the situation at the beginning of Haggai's ministry, it is not quite in his style, and it suggests sins more serious than the apathy which he attacks. The author of Zechariah 1:2-6 seems to have expanded Zechariah 1:7 f.

The nature of Zechariah's activity is clear from his own words. The first utterance which can be certainly ascribed to him (Zechariah 1:7-17) is dated Feb. 24, 519 B.C. At this date the revolts which had broken out against Darius in various parts of the Persian empire were being rapidly quelled, and the disappointment of the hopes raised by Haggai in the previous Oct. (Haggai 2:6 f.) had caused depression in Judah. Zechariah, however, did not lose courage, predicting the overthrow of the nations and the completion of Zion's restoration. But he protested against the fatuity of Zerubbabel's advisers, who, untaught by the lesson of the exile, wished not only to restore but to fortify Jerusalem, a project which aroused Samaritan jealousy and caused Persian intervention.

The prophecies of Zechariah are of supreme importance through the light which they throw on the internal history of Judah. For some reason not definitely stated, an attempt was made to deprive Joshua of the High-priesthood. Joshua apparently belonged to the community which had remained in Palestine during the exile (p. 573), and consequently when Zadokite priests returned from Babylonia, friction inevitably arose, since the latter would regard Joshua as an upstart fit at best for the subordinate position of Levite (see Ezekiel 44:10-14). Moreover, Joshua and Zerubbabel seem to have quarrelled personally. Zechariah boldly championed the cause of Joshua, declaring that so long as his conduct was blameless he ought to be the head of the Temple. Zerubbabel also had his own sphere of usefulness, and both should work together for the good of Judah.

According to Ezra 6:15 the Temple was finished on March 3, 515. This is probably the date of the completion of all building operations within the Temple area, the Temple proper having been completed much earlier. At any rate on Dec. 4, 518, the work was progressing so well, that a deputation was sent, apparently by Zerubbabel, to the religious leaders to inquire whether the fasts commemorating the disasters of 586 should still be observed (Zechariah 7:1 ff.). Zechariah replied that they should henceforth be observed as holidays, since the restoration of the Temple was an earnest of the restoration of national prosperity.

From a literary point of view Zechariah makes a new departure, inasmuch as he delivers his message in a series of allegories purporting, like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, to be a dream. The germ of this style may indeed be found earlier (1 Kings 22), but the development of it is Zechariah's. These allegories or word-painted pictures, though to us they may appear somewhat bizarre, were clearly as intelligible in his age as our own political cartoons are in ours. Another new feature in his prophecies is the avoidance of the apparent familiarity in speaking of the Lord which is characteristic of the older literature. This may be due partly to increased reverence, partly to the decline of poetry and the growth of a more prosaic literalism. Thus, though he uses freely the old formula "saith the Lord," he represents himself as addressing the Lord not directly, but through the mediation of an angel who interprets to him the meaning of what he sees.

Zechariah's teaching is characterised by sanctified common sense. Although he hoped to see Zerubbabel actually king of Judah, he was not blind to the dangers of the course he was pursuing. Recognising as clearly as any Zadokite priest the need of a rallying point for Jewish religion, he was free from the petty narrowness which could see no merit in any priest of another guild. In an age when, as it would seem, the civil and the religious leaders were striving for the pre-eminence, he declared that each had his own proper sphere. He recognised the value of fasting if performed in the right spirit, but he did not desire that the children of the bride-chamber should fast while the bridegroom was with them.

Unhappily Zechariah's countrymen would have none of his counsels of patience. His mission was denied, and his advic disregarded. Only too late did the Church of Judah learn the truth of his reiterated assurance, "Ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me unto you." Had his counsel been followed, the suspicion of the Samaritans would never have been aroused by the attempt to fortify Jerusalem, and the jealousy between Samaria and Judah, at first merely political, would not have been extended to religious matters also. Like Him whose forerunner he was, Zechariah would have gathered Jerusalem's children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and they would not.


Verses 1-6

Zechariah 1:2-6. This rebuke (see above, p. 575) seems inconsistent with a date five weeks or more after work had been begun at the Temple and at least ten days after the prophecy in Haggai 2:1-9. The clumsy handiwork of one or more editors is also evident in the section. The thought appears to be as follows: The Lord had great cause to be wroth with your fathers, and their punishment has largely fallen upon you. But now if you will change your attitude towards Him in showing loyal obedience, He will change His attitude towards you in showing you mercy. Your fathers were stubborn, and they are gone; but the prophets' words came to pass, and your fathers were constrained to acknowledge the justice of their punishment. Zechariah 1:5, as it stands, is difficult. The required sense is best given by the restoration of a negative omitted by accident; thus, "Your fathers where are they? but the prophets, do not they live for ever? Yea, indeed, my words and my statutes, etc." The reference is not to individual prophets but to the prophetic order which always endures.


Verses 7-17

Zechariah 1:7-17. This section, to which Zechariah 1:7 is an editorial introduction, either is not the beginning of Zechariah's allegories, or has not come down to us in its original form, for the interpreting angel is mentioned in Zechariah 1:9 as already known to the reader. A verse introducing him may, however, have been omitted between Zechariah 1:8 and Zechariah 1:9, since the opening words of Zechariah 1:8 imply that we have here the beginning of the allegorical prophecies. There are many corruptions in the text, several of which can, however, be easily corrected from the context. In Zechariah 1:8 read, "I saw in the (Anglice "a") night dream (cf. Zechariah 4:1): omit "riding upon a red horse," as a mutilated fragment of the last clause of the verse which should read, "and behind him were riders on horses red, white, sorrel, and black." (According to MT the "horses" carry on a conversation.) In Zechariah 1:11, for "the angel of the Lord" read "the man" (i.e. of Zechariah 1:8; the correction was perhaps due to reverence, since Zechariah 1:12 f. shows that the "man" is the Lord Himself). In Zechariah 1:12 read "the angel that talked with me answered." For "myrtle trees" the LXX has, perhaps correctly, "mountains," as in Zechariah 6:1. The significance of myrtle trees is not known, nor of the word rendered "the bottom" (Zechariah 1:8 mg. "shady place"). With a corrected text the meaning of the allegory is clear. Zechariah sees someone, who is later perceived to be the Lord Himself, behind whom are four riders on horses of various colours. These bring reports from the four quarters of the earth that the whole earth is quiet; i.e. the revolts which Haggai expected to end in the downfall of Persia have been quelled. Thereupon the interpreting angel expresses the prophet's disappointment, but the Lord answers with words of encouragement. The heathen nations have indeed been His instrument to chastise His people (cf. Isaiah 10:5 ff.), but they are about to be punished for their malice. The outcome will be the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem.


Verses 18-21

Zechariah 1:18-21. The four horns which have scattered Judah and Jerusalem ("Israel" should probably be omitted) represent the whole world arrayed against Judah, and are perhaps iron horns like those made by Zedekiah (1 Kings 22:11); hence "smiths" are introduced to shatter them.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Zechariah 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/zechariah-1.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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