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Zechariah, Book of

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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ZECHARIAH, BOOK OF . The first eight chapters contain the genuine prophecies of Zechariah. Chs. 9 14 are sharply distinguished from these in form, language, and thought. They are generally regarded as anonymous prophecies which became attached to the original book, and are often spoken of as Deutero-Zechariah.

I. Chapters 1 8

1. Historical occasion. According to Ezra ( Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14 ), the prophets Haggai and Zechariah roused Zerubbabel and Joshua to build the Temple, and the work went forward prosperously through their prophesying. The dates given in the book itself assign the prophecies to the second and fourth years of Darius (b.c. 520, 518). The first message ( Zechariah 1:1-5 ) is placed two months after the first address of Haggai, between the second and third. The section Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 6:15 is two months later than the last addresses of Haggai, while chs. 7, 8 follow after an interval of nearly two years. The prophecies are thus associated with the earlier part of the four years devoted to the re-building of the Temple, and their contents connect themselves with this occasion.

2. Contents. The book opens with an exhortation to return unto Jehovah ( Zechariah 1:1-6 ), based upon the sad experience of the fathers who had not heeded the word of the prophets to return from their evil ways.

It is especially noticeable that this post-exilic prophet, although very familiar with the words of his predecessors, is not enslaved by them; he rather draws a living lesson from a broad view of the vital experiences of the past. The main body of the book (Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 6:15 ) is made up of a series of eight visions and a symbolic action, after the manner of Ezekiel. In the first ( Zechariah 1:7-17 ) the prophet aees at night, in a myrtle-shaded glen, four horsemen whom the angel that talks with him designates as the messengers of Jehovah. They report that all is quiet in the earth. The angel calls upon Jehovah: ‘How long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?’ In response, assurance comes that Jehovah is displeased with the nations which are at ease, He is returned to Jerusalem, His house shall be built, His cities shall overflow with prosperity, Zion be comforted, Jerusalem chosen. The second vision ( Zechariah 1:18-21 ) is of four horns the nations which have scattered the holy people and four smiths, who are to cast them down. Next, the prophet sees ( Zechariah 2:1-5 ) the future Jerusalem spread far and wide beyond the limits of her old walls, with Jehovah as a wall of fire round about her. There follows a song that calls upon the exiles to return, pictures the discomfiture of those that have plundered them, and the future glory of Zion as Jehovah’s dwelling-place.

In ch. 3, Joshua, the high priest, is seen standing before Jehovah’s angel, clad in filthy garments and accused by the Satan. Now these garments are taken from him, and he is clothed in rich apparel as a symbol of the removal of guilt. Joshua is promised full exercise of his priestly functions if he will walk in Jehovah’s ways; he and those with him are a sign that Jehovah is to bring His servant the Branch (cf. Isaiah 4:2 , Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15 ). The vision that follows (ch. 4) is of the seven-branched lamp of the Temple, supplied with oil from two olive trees. Probably the promise to Zerubbabel ( Zechariah 4:6-10 a) should be transferred to the end of the chapter; then confusion disappears, and the seven lamps are interpreted as the eyes of Jehovah which run to and fro through the earth. The olive trees are explained as the two sons of oil that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. They must be Zerubbabel and Joshua, representatives of king and priest. The splendid promise to Zerubbabel now closes the picture, as that to Joshua had closed the preceding. In this, Zerubbabel is assured that he shall bring the Temple to completion, not by might nor by power, but by Jehovah’s spirit. The prominent place given in these visions to priest and king, as essential to the national life, is most significant. Next, the prophet aees ( Jeremiah 5:1-4 ) the curse of Jehovah as a book that flies and enters the house of every thief and perjurer to consume it. The seventh vision ( Jeremiah 5:6-11 ) follows naturally upon the preceding. Wickedness, represented by a woman, is carried away from the land to Babylonia. Jehovah’s curse has fallen upon the sinners, and sin itself is now removed to the land of exile. The last vision ( Jeremiah 6:1-8 ) represents four chariots going forth upon the earth; of these the one that goes to the north executes the wrath of Jehovah upon those who have oppressed His people. The visions opened with the horsemen that reported the earth as quiet; they close with the chariots that keep the world in subjection to Jehovah. There follows the symbolic act of crowning Joshua (more probably, in the original text, Zerubbabel). The visions centre in the hope of a glorious future for Jerusalem, with its Temple restored, its enemies stilled, its exiles returned, its sin forgiven, its wickedness removed, and with Jehovah’s spirit flowing in through priest and prince of Davidic line. The visions lead on to the symbolic crowning of the promised ruler.

In the third section (chs. 7, 8), Zechariah is led by a question concerning fasting to teach that the fasts which have been kept in the years of exile are to be changed into joyous feasts. Rather than fast they should observe the teachings of the earlier prophets concerning justice and mercy. With glorious promises for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem, with the nations coming to seek Jehovah, the original Book of Zechariah closes.

3. Significance. The historical importance of Zechariah in connection with the re-building of the Temple has already been noted. In the transition from prophetical to apocalyptic literature, this book is an important link. Zechariah has a large measure of the spirit of the early ethical prophets. From the experiences of the past he can draw broad and deep moral lessons, with something of the freedom and consciousness of immediate Divine illumination that distinguished an Amos or an Isaiah. Yet, even in the passages where this is most observable, one feels a harking back that was not characteristic of the earlier prophecy less of vital touch with present conditions and with the God in whose name he speaks. The centring of hope in prince and priest, with the consciousness that the great era of prophecy is past, sharply distinguishes Zechariah from his pre-exilic predecessors. In the visions, the machinery of apocalypse, Introduced by Ezekiel, has been somewhat developed in its feature of angelic intermediaries. The characteristic apocalyptic spirit, however, with its revelling in the blood of enemies, is noticeably lacking. Zechariah loves, rather, to dwell upon peace and prosperity, upon sin removed, and the Divine spirit inflowing. His message is rich and full, for he has caught the ethical enthusiasm of the great eighth-century prophets, and has enriched it by the spiritual insight of Jeremiah and the glorious hopes of the exilic prophets. Zechariah not only strove to get the Temple built, but also urged upon the builders those moral and spiritual truths without which the Temple and its worship would be hollow mockery.

II. Chapters 9 14

1. Critical analysis . As early as 1653, it was maintained, in the interest of the accuracy of Matthew 27:9-10 , that chs. 9 11 were written by Jeremiah. This view was soon adopted by several writers, and chs. 12 14 were connected with 9 11 as the work of the earlier prophet. Near the close of the 18th century, chs. 9 11 and 12 14 were distinguished as separate prophecies, dated respectively, from internal evidence, in the time of Hosea, and shortly after the death of Josiah. At about the same time, the view that 9 14 were really later than Zechariah was advocated. During the 19th century, each of the three general conclusions (1) that the entire book is the work of Zechariah; (2) that 9 14 are pre-exilic; (3) that 9 14 are post-Zecharian found many advocates. In the third quarter of the century, however, the first view was largely abandoned, and, after the thoroughgoing discussion of Stade, in 1881 2, the third view became almost completely dominant. Growing knowledge of the general course of development of prophetic and apocalyptic literature makes this conclusion more and more inevitable. How many separate prophecies, by different hands, may be embodied in these six chapters is not determinable with equal clearness. On the whole, however, 9 11 (with Matthew 13:7-9 ) seem distinct from 12 14. Less conclusive are the data which indicate distinct sections as beginning at Matthew 11:4 and Matthew 14:1 . It is not possible to connect chs. 9 14 positively with any known events in the post-exilic history. In general, the historical situation seems to be that of the years after Alexander’s conquests and death, when the Egyptian and Syrian rulers struggled for the possession of Palestine. Possibly some of the material comes from the time just before or during the Maccabæan struggle.

2. Contents . In Matthew 9:1 to Matthew 11:2 the oracle is one of doom upon Israel’s neighbours, with promises of dominion and prosperity for Israel, restored to her land. The title ‘burden of the word of Jehovah’ is very unusual, occurring elsewhere only in Zechariah 12:1 and Malachi 1:1 . The opening message of doom upon Israel’s neighbours bears outward resemblance to Amos, but the ethical ground of Amos’s denunciation is noticeably lacking. If v. 7 is rightly interpreted as referring to food ritually unclean, the contrast with the early prophet is still more striking. V. 8, with its comforting promise, seems to reflect the devastation of the Temple, as in the past. This is followed by the prediction of the coming king of peace a beautiful lyric which breaks in sharply upon the context, and is followed by a prediction of successful resistance to the Greeks, and victory given through Jehovah. The shepherds of Judah, Jehovah’s flock, are condemned, and victory is promised to the flock. The house of Judah shall be strengthened, and the house of Joseph restored to its land. In 11:4 17, 13:7 9 the figure of the false shepherds, introduced in the preceding section, is worked out into an allegory of the false and true shepherd, in a way that enables the prophet to illustrate the frustration of God’s beneficeot purpose by the obstinacy of His people, as well as the evil character of their rulers. The three shepherds cut off in quick succession strongly suggest the conditions shortly before the Maccabæan uprising, but the highly symbolic and somewhat imitative character of the prophecy renders it precarious to seek any exact picture of immediate conditions; our ignorance, too, of large portions of the post-exilic age makes it impossible to say that some other time may not have furnished an equally appropriate occasion.

The second main division of chs. 9 14, beginning with ch. 12, leads us immediately into the familiar apocalyptic conception introduced by Zephaniah, and developed by Ezekiel and Joel. The nations are assembled against Jerusalem, there to be consumed through the power of Jehovah. Hope centres in the house of David, and yet this house, it would seem, is now reduced to the position of merely one of the important families of the people. The closing verses of the first section in this division (13:1 6) indicate a time when prophecy is utterly degraded idols, prophets, unclean spirit are evils to be removed. Ch. 14 gives another apocalyptic vision of the siege of Jerusalem. The onslaught is terrible, and the discomfiture of her enemies is wrought only after great affliction. In this little apocalypse the vengeful, proud hopes with which the wretched, persecuted Jews consuled themselves throughout the later pre-Christian centuries, and on into Christian times, find vivid expression. With these hopes there is clearly present that late, narrow, legalistic spirit which finds its climax of religious outlook in a wide recognition of the feasts, and in ceremonially clean boiling-pots for the sacrifices. It is evident that the closing oracle of this collection appended to Zechariah carries us far into ‘the night of legalism.’

Henry T. Fowler.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Zechariah, Book of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​z/zechariah-book-of.html. 1909.
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