15.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)
Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai. Of the four separate occasions when he received divine revelation, he dates three of them precisely. According to the superscription (1:1), he preached his first oracle in the eighth month of the second year of Darius (520 B.C.), several months after Haggai began his prophetic ministry. His second revelation (1:7) came three months later (520 B.C.), and his third prophetic speech (7:1) was delivered two years later in the ninth month of Darius’ fourth year (518 B.C.). Zechariah’s undated fourth oracle (9:1) is commonly dated much later, perhaps after 480 B.C., due to the reference to Greece (9:13). Although the nation of Greece did become more prominent in the Palestinian region in the fifth century, Israel’s knowledge of its existence antedates Zechariah, and therefore it is uncertain that the undated prophecy should be assigned a significantly later date. Another reason scholars posit a much later date for the fourth message is its inclusion of prophecies that regard the distant future compared to the more immediately relevant prophecies contained in the first three messages. Further complicating the dating question is the lack of scholarly consensus whether Zechariah is the author of the final section of the book (9:1-14:21). Critical scholarship tends to favor another author while conservative, evangelical scholars argue for the singular authorship of Zechariah. Either way, it is impossible to be dogmatic regarding the date of Zechariah’s fourth oracle.
15.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)
Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the same post-exilic Jewish community, both beginning their prophetic work in 520 B.C., and therefore the historical background that Zechariah ministered in is identical to that of Haggai. Van Gemeren adequately summarizes the setting of Zechariah’s prophecies.
The people of Judah had returned from exile in 536 B.C., but the joy and enthusiasm (see Ps. 126) that had characterized their return were gone. Almost twenty years had elapsed, and the temple had not yet been rebuilt. When Haggai and Zechariah began to prophesy in 520 B.C., the Jewish people were disheartened, apathetic, and generally depressed. Their failure to complete the temple had brought judgment from God in the forms of drought and poor harvests (Hag. 1:11). In response to Haggai’s preaching, the Jews renewed their efforts at rebuilding the temple (Hag 1:14). Two months later the Spirit of God spoke through Zechariah to the same people (1:1), encouraging them with a vision a God’s kingdom and with the reality of prophetic fulfillment. They responded positively to the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah; the temple was dedicated on March 12, 515 B.C. (Ezra 6:15-18).
15.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)
The prophet Zechariah, whose name is a popular biblical moniker (there are over twenty-five individuals in the Bible named Zechariah), identifies himself as the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo (1:1). If he is the same Zechariah referred to in Ezra and Nehemiah (cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14; Neh. 12:16) as “the son of Iddo,” then he was a member of a priestly family that returned from the Babylonian captivity. It is likely that he attended to his priestly duties while also serving as the Lord’s prophetic spokesperson to the Israelite remnant. Bullock concludes that “his assumption of the head of his priestly clan (Neh. 12:16) seems to support the idea that he was a young man when he began his prophetic career in 520.” If Zechariah was indeed a priest, “this would also serve to explain his familiarity with and interest in matters pertaining to the temple (e.g., 1:16; 3-4; 6:9-15; 8:9, 20-23; 14:16-21).”
Wood provides an additional glimpse into the character of Zechariah. The prophet was called by God as a young man or na‘ar (2:4) shortly after the much older Haggai received his prophetic commission. Being a young man, he must have been spiritually mature beyond his years for God to call him for the immensely important task of rebuilding the temple.
One should think of Haggai as having been selected for this purpose at the close of his life and Zechariah at the beginning of his, thus complementing each other as a team. Haggai would have had more appeal to older folk to encourage their participation and Zechariah to younger people.
The function of Zechariah’s ministry seems to differ in emphasis from Haggai’s. Whereas the message of Haggai was primarily aimed at calling the people to action to begin temple reconstruction, Zechariah’s message seems to be directed at the attitude of the people as they worked. Drawing from the purpose of the prophet’s eight night visions, Wood notes, “his interest was that the people have right attitudes of heart, showing true dependence on God for His blessing.”
God must have had other tasks for Zechariah during and after the temple building process. For example, he addressed the people’s practical questions, one of which was whether they should continue to observe the various fasts commemorating the stages of the nation’s fall to the Babylonians. Zechariah answered with a word from the Lord that the fasts would in the future be celebrated as joyfully feasts in light of God’s redemptive plan to restore Israel (8:18-19). The people, once exiles and now pioneers, also asked about what the future held now that the remnant was back in the land and the temple was build anew. Again the prophet responded with a word from the Lord, but this time he spoke in terms of the distant future that God would faithfully and certainly bring the glorious fulfillment of the messianic kingdom.
15.4 The Book (abbreviated outline and brief summary)
I. Zechariah’s claim to authority (1:1-6)
II. The night visions (1:7-6:8)
A. The commander and his scouts (1:7-17)
B. Four horns and four craftsmen (1:18-21)
C. Man with a measuring line (2:1-13)
D. The high priest in filthy clothes (3:1-10)
E. The menorah and olive trees (4:1-14)
F. The flying scroll (5:1-4)
G. The basket of wickedness (5:5-11)
H. Four chariots (6:1-8)
III. Crown for the high priest (6:9-15)
IV. A question about fasting (7:1-8:23)
V. Two oracles (9-11; 12-14) about Israel’s enemies and the coming of Zion’s king and shepherd
Robertson’s analysis of Zechariah revolves around the state of the people, the state of the nations, and anticipations of the future. There are three primary elements that characterize the state of the returned exiles:
they are living in self-centeredness, neglecting the house of the Lord; they remain subject to the chastening hand of God, even to the point of facing a second, more permanent exile; and yet they may experience by God’s grace the gift of repentance leading to salvation.
The state of the nations in relation to Israel involves two aspects: (1) they are at rest and experiencing relative peace despite their participation in the persecution and exile of God’s people; and (2) they will eventually experience the wrath of God in divine judgment. This duality of God’s purposes for the nations is clearly revealed in the meaning of Zechariah’s night visions (1:7-6:8). The prophet borrows the image of Babylon (the nation that specifically carried out judgment against God’s people) by identifying it as “the land of the north” (2:6-7; 6:6, 8). Robertson extrapolates the eschatological significance of this northern land.
But even in the days of Zechariah, Babylon has assumed a symbolic value, since the Babylonian Empire had been in ruins for a generation. This nation served as the appropriate symbol of political opposition to the kingdom of God for many reasons. Babylon had destroyed the Lord’s chosen city of Jerusalem, burning it to the ground. Babylon had terminated the four hundred years of Davidic succession to the throne of Israel, displaying its readiness to bring an end to God’s covenant promises. Babylon had displaced God’s own people from the land that had been promised them. Because of this determination to destroy the whole redemptive purpose of God in the world, Babylon serves as a most suitable image for the visible and invisible powers set against God.
Zechariah couches this image of the land of the north, the corporate Satanic national powers, in an ultimate timeframe pointing toward the final divine judgment. God will defeat this final enemy and thereby bring rest to the covenant people. Thus the state of affairs for Israel and the nations will be reversed in the eschaton—restless Israel will finally obtain its coveted rest through the defeat and destruction of its restful enemies, who will have their false rest snatched from them. Robertson describes the cyclic completion of the states of both Israel and the land of the north:
Now in the eschatological perspective of Zechariah, final rest is realized in the defeat of God’s ultimate enemy. As the parallel passage in the final chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy indicates, the definitive destruction of the Lord’s enemies means that the Lord is established as “king over the whole earth” (Zech. 14:9 NIV).
Finally, Zechariah’s prophecy anticipates five events of future significance: (1) Jerusalem and the temple will be rebuilt; (2) God himself will return to live with them; (3) many more people will return [to the land]; (4) sin will be removed; and (5) the Lord’s priestly servant-messiah will come. Each of these elements had an important redemptive purpose in God’s plan for history.
Regarding the rebuilding of the temple, which Haggai and Zechariah saw to completion, note that
the people of the exile had to return to the land and the temple had to be rebuilt in order to provide a sanctified theater in which the great acts of divine redemption could be brought to completion. By these significant events of the sixth century B.C., the groundwork was laid for the climax of redemptive history at the appearance of Jesus the Christ.
While the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise to return to live with his people was realized in the Spirit working in the hearts of the remnant, this was but a token, a deposit of the glorious new covenant reality of the Word “tabernacling” among his people (John 1:14) and the Spirit building the new temple of the Lord with the living stones of his church (Eph 2:21-22). The multitude of people returning to the land likewise finds its fulfillment in the new covenant grafting of the Gentile nations into the branch of Israel to form the complete number of the people of God. Again, Robertson recognizes the vitality of grasping this truth for today.
Gentiles are not simply participants, but equal participants of all the promises of God’s covenants; not merely sharers in the inheritance, but equal heirs with Israel in all God’s promises; not only strangers who have been welcomed, but members together in a single body with Jewish believers—this is the mystery associated with Gentile participation in the salvation of Israel. This mystery has now been made known, but it is regularly denied. This mystery has the potential of changing the total perspective on the Lord’s ongoing work of redemption among the nations of the world and of bringing the church of Christ to its full maturity.
Zechariah vividly describes the removal of sin in both sections of his book. In the book’s first section, the prophet portrays the resolution of the sin problem in the context of his dramatic night visions. “The centerpiece of Zechariah’s visions anticipates the resolution of this ongoing problem of sin and its inevitable liability to punishment. The symbolism associated with the trial of Israel’s high priest communicates the way of finally setting aside sin (3:1-10).” In the second section, sin is dealt with through the cleansing waters of a fountain that “shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (13:1). With the image of both king and people washed of their sin, the offices of king and high priest will be conjoined at the arrival of that future day, thus completing the restoration after the exile.
Finally, the prophet develops the theme of the Lord’s priestly servant-messiah to come. Zechariah predicted the emergence of a God-appointed Davidic monarch and the combining of the offices of priest and king in this consummate Davidic king. This merger of priestly and kingly functions is underscored by the command to crown Joshua the high priest instead of Zerubbabel the governor who stood directly in the lineage of David (6:9-13).
When the prophet indicates that the “counsel of peace will be between them both” (6:13), he refers to the peace between the Lord himself and the priest-king who rules with him. Sharing in God’s own throne, the messianic priest-king must be in perfect harmony with the Lord himself.
Obviously, the biblical answer to the identity of this coming priest-king can only be the Lord Jesus Christ.
175. Van Gemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word, p. 193.
176. Bullock, Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books, p. 311.
177. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 427.
178. Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 372.
179. Ibid., p. 371.
180. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 432-33.
181. See Robertson, Christ of the Prophets, pp. 362-89, for his combined thematic summary of Haggai and Zechariah.
182. Ibid., p. 369.
183. Ibid., p. 372.
184. Ibid., pp. 372-73.
185. Ibid., pp. 373-89.
186. Ibid., p. 375.
187. Ibid., p. 379.
188. Ibid., p. 380.
189. Ibid., p. 388.