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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Zechariah 8

 

 

Introduction

ZECHARIAH

(Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23)

"Not by might, and not by force, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of Hosts."

"Be not afraid, strengthen your hands! Speak truth every man to his neighbor; truth and wholesome judgment judge ye in your gates, and in your hearts plan no evil for each other, nor take pleasure in false swearing, for all these things do I hate-oracle of Jehovah."

THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH

(1-8)

THE Book of Zechariah, consisting of fourteen chapters, falls clearly into two divisions: First, chapters 1-8, ascribed to Zechariah himself and full of evidence for their authenticity; Second, chapters 9-14, which are not ascribed to Zechariah, and deal with conditions different from those upon which he worked. The full discussion of the date and character of this second section we shall reserve till we reach the period at which we believe it to have been written. Here an introduction is necessary only to chapters 1-8.

These chapters may be divided into five sections.

I. Zechariah 1:1-6 -A Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah in the eighth month of the second year of Darius, that is in November, 520 B.C., or between the second and the third oracles of Haggai. In this the prophet’s place is affirmed in the succession of the prophets of Israel. The ancient prophets are gone, but their predictions have been fulfilled in the calamities of the Exile, and God’s Word abides forever.

II. Zechariah 1:7 - Zechariah 6:9.-A Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah on the twenty-fourth of the eleventh month of the same year, that is January or February, 519, and which he reproduces in the form of eight Visions by night.

(1) The Vision of the Four Horsemen: God’s new mercies to Jerusalem. [Zechariah 1:7-17]

(2) The Vision of the Four Horns, or Powers of the World, and the Four Smiths, who smite them down [Zechariah 2:1-4], but in the Septuagint and in the English Version. [Zechariah 1:18-21]

(3) The Vision of the Man with the Measuring Rope: Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, no longer as a narrow fortress, but spread abroad for the multitude of her population. {Zechariah 2:5-9;, Hebrews 2:1-5 LXX and English} To this Vision is appended a lyric piece of probably older date calling upon the Jews in Babylon to return, and celebrating the joining of many peoples to Jehovah, now that He takes up again His habitation in Jerusalem. {Zechariah 2:10;, Hebrews 2:6-13 LXX and English}

(4) The Vision of Joshua, the High Priest, and the Satan or Accuser: the Satan is rebuked, and Joshua is cleansed from his foul garments and clothed with a new turban and festal apparel; the land is purged and secure (chapter 3).

(5) The Vision of the Seven-Branched Lamp and the Two Olive-Trees: [Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 4:10-14] into the center of this has been inserted a Word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6-10 a), which interrupts the Vision and ought probably to come at the close of it.

(6) The Vision of the Flying Book: it is the curse of the land, which is being removed, but after destroying the houses of the wicked. [Zechariah 5:1-4]

(7) The Vision of the Bushel and the Woman: that is the guilt of the land and its wickedness; they are carried off and planted in the land of Shinar. [Zechariah 5:5-11]

(8) The Vision of the Four Chariots: they go forth from the Lord of all the earth, to traverse the earth and bring His Spirit, or anger, to bear on the North country (Zechariah 6:1-8).

III. Zechariah 6:9-15 -A Word of Jehovah, undated (unless it is to be taken as of the same date as the Visions to which it is attached), giving directions as to the gifts sent to the community at Jerusalem from the Babylonian Jews. A crown is to be made from the silver and gold, and, according to the text, placed upon the head of Joshua. But, as we shall the text gives evident signs of having been altered in the interest of the High Priest; and probably the crown was meant for Zerubbabel, at whose right hand the priest is to stand, and there shall be a counsel of peace between the two of them. The far-away shall come and assist at the building of the Temple. This section breaks off in the middle of a sentence.

IV. Chapter 7-The Word of Jehovah which came to Zechariah on the fourth of the ninth month of the fourth year of Darius, that is nearly two years after the date of the Visions. The Temple was approaching completion; and an inquiry was addressed to the priests who were in it and to the prophets concerning the Fasts, which had been maintained during the Exile while the Temple lay desolate. [Zechariah 7:1-3] This inquiry drew from Zechariah a historical explanation of how the Fasts arose. [Zechariah 7:4-14]

V. Chapter 8-Ten short undated oracles, each introduced by the same formula, "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts," and summarizing all Zechariah’s teaching since before the Temple began up to the question of the cessation of the Fasts upon its completion-with promises for the future.

(1) A Word affirming Jehovah’s new zeal for Jerusalem and His Return to her (Zechariah 8:1-2).

(2) Another of the same (Zechariah 8:3).

(3) A Word promising fullness of old folk and children in her streets (Zechariah 8:4-5).

(4) A Word affirming that nothing is too wonderful for Jehovah (Zechariah 8:6).

(5) A Word promising the return of the people from east and west (Zechariah 8:7-8).

(6 and 7) Two Words contrasting, in terms similar to Haggai 1:1-15, the poverty of the people before the foundation of the Temple with their new prosperity: from a curse Israel shall become a blessing. This is due to God’s anger having changed into a purpose of grace to Jerusalem. But the people themselves must do truth and justice, ceasing from perjury and thoughts of evil against each other (Zechariah 8:9-17).

(8) A Word which recurs to the question of Fasting, and commands that the four great Fasts, instituted to commemorate the siege and overthrow of Jerusalem, and the murder of Gedaliah, be changed to joy and gladness (Zechariah 8:18-19).

(9) A Word predicting the coming of the Gentiles to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:20-22).

(10) Another of the same (Zechariah 8:23).

There can be little doubt that, apart from the few interpolations noted, these eight chapters are genuine prophecies of Zechariah, who is mentioned in the Book of Ezra as the colleague of Haggai, and contemporary of Zerubbabel and Joshua at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple. [Ezra 5:1;, Ezra 6:14] Like the oracles of Haggai, these prophecies are dated according to the years of Darius the king, from his second year to his fourth. Although they may contain some of the exhortations to build the Temple, which the Book of Ezra informs us that Zechariah made along with Haggai, the most of them presuppose progress in the work, and seek to assist it by historical retrospect and by glowing hopes of the Messianic effects of its completion. Their allusions suit exactly the years to which they are assigned. Darius is king. The Exile has lasted about seventy years. Numbers of Jews remain in Babylon, and are scattered over the rest of the world. [Zechariah 8:7, etc.} The community at Jerusalem is small and weak: it is the mere colony of young men and men in middle life who came to it from Babylon; there are few children and old folk. {Zechariah 8:4-5] Joshua and Zerubbabel are the heads of the community and the pledges for its future. [Zechariah 3:1-10;, Zechariah 4:6-10;, Zechariah 6:11 ff.} The exact conditions are recalled as recent which Haggai spoke of a few years before. {Zechariah 8:9-10] Moreover, there is a steady and orderly progress throughout the prophecies, in harmony with the successive dates at which they were delivered. In November, 520, they begin with a cry to repentance and lessons drawn from the past of prophecy. [Zechariah 1:1-6] In January, 519, Temple and city are still to be built. [Zechariah 1:7-17] Zerubbabel has laid the foundation; the completion is yet future. [Zechariah 4:6-10] The prophet’s duty is to quiet the people’s apprehensions about the state of the world, to provoke their zeal (Zechariah 4:6 ff.), give them confidence in their great men (Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14), and, above all, assure them that God is returned to them (Zechariah 1:16), and their sin pardoned (Zechariah 5:1-11). But in December, 518, the Temple is so far built that the priests are said to belong to it; [Zechariah 7:3] there is no occasion for continuing the fasts of the Exile, [Zechariah 7:1-7; Zechariah 8:18-19] the future has opened and the horizon is bright with the Messianic hopes. [Zechariah 8:20-23] Most of all, it is felt that the hard struggle with the forces of nature is over, and the people are exhorted to the virtues of the civic life. [Zechariah 8:16-17] They have time to lift their eyes from their work and see the nations coming from afar to Jerusalem. [Zechariah 8:20-23]

These features leave no room for doubt that the great bulk of the first eight chapters of the Book of Zechariah are by the prophet himself, and from the years to which he assigns them, November, 520, to December, 518. The point requires no argument.

There are, however, three passages which provoke further examination-two of them because of the signs they bear of an earlier date, and one because of the alteration it has suffered in the interests of a later day in Israel’s history.

The lyric passage which is appended to the Second Vision {Zechariah 2:10 Hebrew, Zechariah 6:1-13 LXX and English} suggests questions by its singularity: there is no other such among the Visions. But in addition to this it speaks not only of the Return from Babylon as still future-this might still be said after the First Return of the exiles in 536-but it differs from the language of all the Visions proper in describing the return of Jehovah Himself to Zion as still future. The whole, too, has the ring of the great odes in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13, and seems to reflect the same situation, upon the eve of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon. There can be little doubt that we have here inserted in Zechariah’s Visions a song of twenty years earlier, but we must confess inability to decide whether it was adopted by Zechariah himself or added by a later hand.

Again, there are the two passages called the Word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel, Zechariah 4:6 b-10a; and the Word of Jehovah concerning the gifts which came to Jerusalem from the Jews in Babylon, Zechariah 6:9-15. The first, as Wellhausen has shown, is clearly out of place; it disturbs the narrative of the Vision, and is to be put at the end of the latter. The second is undated, and separate from the Visions. The second plainly affirms that the building of the Temple is still future The man whose name is Branch or Shoot is designated: "and he shall build the Temple of Jehovah." The first is in the same temper as the first two oracles of Haggai. It is possible then that these two passages are not, like the Visions with which they are taken, to be dated from 519, but represent that still earlier prophesying of Zechariah with which we are told he assisted Haggai in instigating the people to begin to build the Temple.

The style of the prophet Zechariah betrays special features almost only in the narrative of the Visions. Outside these his language is simple, direct, and pure, as it could not but be, considering how much of it is drawn from, or modeled upon, the older prophets, and chiefly Hosea and Jeremiah. Only one or two lapses into a careless and degenerate dialect show us how the prophet might have written had he not been sustained by the music of the classical periods of the language.

This directness and pith is not shared by the language in which the Visions are narrated. Here the style is involved and redundant. The syntax is loose; there is a frequent omission of the copula, and of other means by which, in better Hebrew, connection and conciseness are sustained. The formulas, "thus saith" and "saying," are repeated to weariness. At the same time it is fair to ask how much of this redundancy was due to Zechariah himself? Take the Septuagint version. The Hebrew text which it followed, not only included a number of repetitions of the formulas, and of the designations of the personages introduced into the Visions, which do not occur in the Massoretic text, but omitted some which are found in the Massoretic text. These two sets of phenomena prove that from an early date the copiers of the original text of Zechariah must have been busy in increasing its redundancies. Further, there are still earlier intrusions and expansions, for these are shared by both the Hebrew and the Greek texts: some of them very natural efforts to clear up the personages and conversations recorded in the dreams, some of them stupid mistakes in understanding the drift of the argument. There must of course have been a certain amount of redundancy in the original to provoke such aggravations of it, and of obscurity or tortuousness of style to cause them to be deemed necessary. But it would be very unjust to charge all the faults of our present text to Zechariah himself, especially when we find such force and simplicity in the passages outside the Visions. Of course the involved and misty subjects of the latter naturally forced upon the description of them a laboriousness of art, to which there was no provocation in directly exhorting the people to a pure life, or in straightforward predictions of the Messianic era.

Beyond the corruptions due to these causes, the text of Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23, has not suffered more than that of our other prophets. There are one or two clerical errors; an occasional preposition or person of a verb needs to be amended. Here and there the text has been disarranged; and as already noticed, there has been one serious alteration of the original.

From the foregoing paragraphs it must be apparent what help and hindrance in the reconstruction of the text is furnished by the Septuagint. A list of its variant readings and of its mistranslations is appended.


Verses 1-23

; Zechariah 8:1-23

"THE SEED OF PEACE"

Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23

THE Visions have revealed the removal of the guilt of the land, the restoration of Israel to their standing before God, the revival of the great national institutions, and God’s will to destroy the heathen forces of the world. With the Temple built, Israel should be again in the position which she enjoyed before the Exile. Zechariah, therefore, proceeds to exhort his people to put away the fasts which the Exile had made necessary, and address themselves, as of old, to the virtues and duties of the civic life. And he introduces his orations to this end by a natural appeal to the experience of the former days.

The occasion came to him when the Temple had been building for two years, and when some of its services were probably resumed. A deputation of Jews appeared in Jerusalem and raised the question of the continuance of the great Fasts of the Exile. Who the deputation were is not certain: probably we ought to delete "Bethel" from the second verse, and read either "El-sar’eser sent Regem-Melekh and his men to the house of Jehovah to propitiate Jehovah," or else "the house of El-sar’eser sent Regem-Melekh and his men to propitiate Jehovah." It has been thought that they came from the Jews in Babylon: this would agree with their arrival in the ninth month to inquire about a fast in the fifth month. But Zechariah’s answer is addressed to Jews in Judea. The deputation limited their inquiry to the fast of the fifth month, which commemorated the burning of the Temple and the City, now practically restored. But with a breadth of view which reveals the prophet rather than the priest, Zechariah replies, in the following chapter, upon all the fasts by which Israel for seventy years had bewailed her ruin and exile. He instances two: that of the fifth month, and that of the seventh month, the date of the murder of Gedaliah, when the last poor remnant of a Jewish state was swept away. [Jeremiah 41:2; 2 Kings 25:25] With a boldness which recalls Amos to the very letter, Zechariah asks his people whether in those fasts they fasted at all to their God. Jehovah had not charged them, and in fasting they had fasted for themselves, just as in eating and drinking they had eaten and drunken to themselves. They should rather hearken to the words He really sent them. In a passage, the meaning of which has been perverted by the intrusion of the eighth verse, that therefore ought to be deleted, Zechariah recalls what those words of Jehovah had been in the former times when the land was inhabited and the national life in full course. They were not ceremonial; they were ethical: they commanded justice, kindness, and the care of the helpless and the poor. And it was in consequence of the people’s disobedience to those words that all the ruin came upon them for which they now annually mourned. The moral is obvious if unexpressed. Let them drop their fasts, and practice the virtues the neglect of which had made their fasts a necessity. It is a sane and practical word, and makes us feel how much Zechariah has inherited of the temper of Amos and Isaiah. He rests, as before, upon the letter of the ancient oracles, but only so as to bring out their spirit. With such an example of the use of ancient Scripture, it is deplorable that so many men, both among the Jews and the Christians, should have devoted themselves to the letter at the expense of the spirit.

"And it came to pass in the fourth year of Darius the king, that the Word of Jehovah came to Zechariah on the fourth of the ninth month, Kislev. For these sent to the house of Jehovah, El-sar’eser and Regem-Melekh and his men, to propitiate Jehovah, to ask of the priests which were in the house of Jehovah of Hosts and of the prophets as follows: Shall I weep in the fifth month with fasting as I have now done so many years? And the Word of Jehovah of Hosts came to me: Speak now to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying: When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh month, and this for seventy years, did ye fast at all to Me? And when ye eat and when ye drink, are not ye the eaters and ye the drinkers? Are not these the words which Jehovah proclaimed by the hand of the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and at peace, with her cities round about her, and the Negeb and the Shephela, were inhabited?"

"Thus spake Jehovah of Hosts: Judge true judgment, and practice towards each other kindness and mercy; oppress neither widow nor orphan, stranger nor poor, and think not evil in your hearts towards one another. But they refused to hearken, and turned a rebellious shoulder, and their ears they dulled from listening. And their heart they made adamant, so as not to hear the Torah and the words which Jehovah of Hosts sent through His Spirit by the hand of the former prophets; and there was great wrath from Jehovah of Hosts. And it came to pass that, as He had called and they heard not, so they shall call and I will not hear, said Jehovah of Hosts, but I will whirl them away among nations whom they know not. And the land was laid waste behind them, without any to pass to and fro, and they made the pleasant land desolate."

There follow upon this deliverance ten other short oracles: chapter 8. Whether all of this decalogue are to be dated from the same time as the answer to the deputation about the fasts is uncertain. Some of them appear rather to belong to an earlier date, for they reflect the situation, and even the words, of Haggai’s oracles, and represent the advent of Jehovah to Jerusalem as still future. But they return to the question of the fasts, treating it still more comprehensively than before, and they close with a promise, fitly spoken as the Temple grew to completion, of the coming of the heathen to worship at Jerusalem.

We have already noticed the tender charm and strong simplicity of these prophecies, and there is little now to add except the translation of them. As with the older prophets, and especially the great Evangelist of the Exile, they start from the glowing love of Jehovah for His people, to which nothing is impossible; they promise a complete return of the scattered Jews to their land, and are not content except with the assurance of a world converted to the faith of their God. With Haggai Zechariah promises the speedy end of the poverty of the little colony; and he adds his own characteristic notes of a reign of peace to be used for hearty labor, bringing forth a great prosperity. Only let men be true and just and kind, thinking no evil of each other, as in those hard days when hunger and the fierce rivalry for sustenance made every one’s neighbor his enemy, and the petty life, devoid of large interests for the commonweal, filled their hearts with envy and malice. For ourselves the chief profit of these beautiful oracles is their lesson that the remedy for the sordid tempers and cruel hatreds, engendered by the fierce struggle for existence, is found in civic and religious hopes, in a noble ideal for the national life, and in the assurance that God’s Love is at the back of all, with nothing impossible to it. Amid these glories, however, the heart will probably thank Zechariah most for his immortal picture of the streets of the new Jerusalem: old men and women sitting in the sun, boys and girls playing in all the open places. The motive of it, as we have seen, was found in the circumstances of his own day. Like many another emigration for religion’s sake, from the heart of civilization to a barren coast, the poor colony of Jerusalem consisted chiefly of men, young and in middle life. The barren years gave no encouragement to marriage. The constant warfare with neighboring tribes allowed few to reach gray hairs. It was a rough and a hard society, unblessed by the two great benedictions of life, childhood and old age. But this should all be changed, and Jerusalem filled with placid old men and women, and with joyous boys and girls. The oracle, we say, had its motive in Zechariah’s day. But what an oracle for these times of ours! Whether in the large cities of the old world, where so few of the workers may hope for a quiet old age sitting in the sun, and the children’s days of play are shortened by premature toil and knowledge of evil; or in the newest fringes of the new world, where men’s hardness and, coarseness are, in the, struggle for gold, unawed by reverence for age and unsoftened by the fellowship of childhood, -Zechariah’s great promise is equally needed. Even there shall it be fulfilled if men will remember his conditions-that the first regard of a community, however straitened in means, be the provision of religion, that truth and whole-hearted justice abound in the gates, with love and loyalty in every heart towards every other.

"And the Word of Jehovah of Hosts came, saying":-

1. "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: I am jealous for Zion with a great jealousy, and with great anger am I jealous for her."

2. "Thus saith Jehovah: I am returned to Zion, and I dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the City of Troth, [Isaiah 1:26] and the mountain of Jehovah of Hosts the Holy Mountain."

3. "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: Old men and old women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand, for fullness of days; and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in her streets."

4. "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: Because it seems too wonderful to the remnant of this people in those days, shall it also seem too wonderful to Me?-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts."

5. "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: Lo! I am about to save My people out of the land of the rising and out of the land of the setting of the sun; and I will bring them home, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and they shall be to Me for a people, and I will be to them for God, in troth and in righteousness."

6. Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: Strengthen your hands, O ye who have heard in such days such words from the mouth of the prophets, Not merely since the day when the House of Jehovah of Hosts was founded: the sanctuary was to be built! For before those days there was no gain for man, and none to be made by cattle and neither for him that went out nor for him that came in was there any peace from the adversary, and I set every man’s hand against his neighbor. But not now as in the past days am I towards the remnant of this people-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts. For I am sowing the seed of peace. The vine shall yield her fruit, and the land yield her increase, and the heavens yield their dew, and I will give them all for a heritage to the remnant of this people. And it shall come to pass, that as ye have been a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you and ye shall be a blessing! Be not afraid, strengthen your hands!

7. "For thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: As I have planned to do evil to you, for the provocation your fathers gave Me, saith Jehovah of Hosts, and did not relent, so have I turned and planned in these days to do good to Jerusalem and the house of Judah. Be not afraid! These are the things which ye shall do: Speak truth to one another; truth and wholesome judgment decree ye in your gates; and plan no evil to each other in your hearts, nor take pleasure in false swearing: for it is all these that I hate-oracle of Jehovah."

"And the Word of Jehovah of Hosts came to me, saying":-

8. "Thus saith Jehovah 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 become to the house of Judah joy and gladness and happy feasts. But love ye truth and peace."

9. "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: There shall yet come peoples and citizens of great cities; and the citizens of one city will go to another city, saying: ‘Let us go to propitiate Jehovah, and to seek Jehovah of Hosts!’ ‘I will go too!’ And many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek Jehovah of Hosts in Jerusalem and to propitiate Jehovah";

10. "Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: In those days ten men, of all languages of the nations, shall take hold of the skirt of a Jew and say, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Zechariah 8:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/zechariah-8.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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