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The Book of Zechariah is rich in messianic content. Steve's analysis
would make a great companion in the reading of the book. - ed.
MINOR PROPHET WITH A MAJOR MESSAGE
by Steven C. Ger, Th.M.
Thus says the LORD: I will return to Zion, and will
dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. - Zechariah 8:3
Zechariah relays God’s word to encourage the returned Jewish exiles to take heart amidst uncertain circumstances and finish rebuilding the Temple, because the Lord plans to establish the Temple as the center of His Kingdom when He personally returns and glorifies His city, Jerusalem. This will result in the fulfillment of all covenant promises, the final deliverance of His people, Israel, and their employment to facilitate the universal worship of the Lord.
The book of Zechariah, although a prophetic work of singular importance in developing an understanding of Biblical eschatology and the role of the promised Messianic King, is one of the most overlooked and least studied of the Old Testament books. This, despite being one of the most quoted and alluded to Old Testament works within the New Testament corpus. The New Testament authors directly quote or allude to Zechariah’s content on some forty separate occasions. In fact, because of the diminutive size of Zechariah’s book, it could be argued that it is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament, pound for pound (or shekel for shekel). Yet in perusing the computer index of the dispensational journal par excellence, Bibliotheca Sacra, from 1955-1995, not one article on Zechariah’s book or specific subject matter could be located.
It is not as if the content of Zechariah is lacking relevance or profundity for Bible prophecy scholars. Students of the book of Revelation will readily recognize certain symbols and motifs strewn throughout this book. Additionally, Zechariah reveals more about the coming Messiah than all the other minor prophets combined. He is truly the minor prophet with the major message. Within the pages of Zechariah are found many of messianic prophecy’s “greatest hits”. In the emphasis of its subject matter on the restoration of Jerusalem and the coming Messianic King to His people, it is tempting to informally think of Zechariah as Isaiah, Jr.
As with the message of Isaiah, it has become common practice within some circles to challenge the unity of this book and propose a Deutero-Zechariah. The demonstration of Zechariah’s authorial unity has been well defended by others and goes beyond the purpose of this argument. Zechariah’s unity will therefore be a presupposition of this argument.
The historical backdrop to the vibrant and encouraging message of this prophet is the tremendous discouragement the returning Jewish exiles had experienced in the sixteen years they had been back in their land. The previous glory of Judah and, particularly, Jerusalem could not be recaptured, and the rebuilt Temple, although sixteen years in the works, was unimpressive and still unfinished. Yet until the completion of the Temple and the full restoration of covenantal Levitical worship, neither the glory of Jerusalem nor the prosperity of the Jewish people could be reestablished.
This pervasive discouragement and passivity is the ambiance which links all the post-exilic works together and especially permeates the work of Zechariah and his contemporary, the prophet Haggai. Haggai, whose ministry has a one month overlap with Zechariah’s, having begun to motivate the people to once again take up the task of rebuilding the Temple, exits the spotlight of Jewish history, but not before passing the motivational prophetic baton to Zechariah.
The prophet Zechariah, whose name means, “the one whom the Lord remembers”, is first mentioned in the list of the 50,000 returning Jewish exiles given in Ezra 5:1, 6:14. He was born in the Babylonian exile, of priestly descent, and thus is the third in the trinity of prophet/priests surrounding the Babylonian exile: Jeremiah, whose ministry was pre-exilic; Ezekiel, whose ministry was exilic; and Zechariah, whose ministry was postexilic. He is careful to date his prophecies, which begin in late 520 BC.
The body of Zechariah’s message is divided into three main portions. Uniquely, each of the three divisions comprises a separate prophetic genre. The first section, chapters 1-6, is considered apocalyptic and is filled with eight visions containing numerological, chromological and zoological symbolism along with accompanying angelic interpretations. The second, and briefest, section, chapters 7-8, is an example of ethical prophecy, or exhortation, the sort of “forth-telling” which was most prophets’ “stock-in-trade”. The third and final section, chapters 9-14, is predictive future prophecy, the “fore-telling” that commonly comes to mind when one thinks of prophetic ministry.
There are two specific emphases in this book upon which everything else is peripheral. The first is that of the powerful appearance of the Lord to destroy the enemies of His people Israel and, once all is subjugated under His control, to personally dwell among His people. The second is the specific election and glorification of His city, Jerusalem, the home of His Temple and the center of Israel’s and, eventually, the world’s worship. Jerusalem and its synonym Zion are mentioned some fifty times within the fourteen chapters of Zechariah’s book. Clearly, the restoration and supernatural glorification of the city of the Messianic King is a central focus of this prophet.
Additionally, Zechariah continually chooses on some fifty occasions to refer to God by the specific title, YHWH Sabbaoth, traditionally translated as the Lord of Hosts (NASB, KJV, et al) or the Lord Almighty (NIV). A more nuanced translation is the “sovereign Lord who leads armies”. This is a fitting divine appellation within a book that emphasizes the coming conquering King Messiah.
(All section and division headings from this point on are the editor's, not the author's. -
THE SECTIONS OF THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH
This section is the introduction to the short but potent message of Zechariah. The date is October/November 520 BC. As Zechariah relates the word of the Lord, acting as His approved spokesman, the returned exiles are reminded that their ancestors had purposefully ignored the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant and thereby incurred God’s wrath. The not so subtle implication of this message is for this generation not to repeat their fathers’ grave mistakes. They have the opportunity to incur God’s blessings through their obedience to God’s covenant and reestablishment of a personal relationship with Him.
Zechariah 1:7 - 6:15
In this section, the first of three major divisions of the prophet’s message, Zechariah details a series of eight supernatural visions the Lord reveals to Him over the course of one evening, February 15, 519 BC. These visions are apocalyptic in nature and are communicated to encourage the people to finish rebuilding the Temple, which at that point was five months into reconstruction. Additionally, these visions are given to relay hope for the people’s future status and the future status of the city of the Temple, Jerusalem.
These visions are given sequentially and have a chiastic structure. The first is connected to the eighth, the second is connected to the seventh, the third is connected to the sixth, and the fourth and fifth visions are connected in climactic fashion. Each vision loosely follows a general pattern: Zechariah relays the vision itself, he asks for clarification of the meaning of the vision, is given clarification by an angelic companion, and then the Lord delivers a message/oracle.
The first vision (1:7-17) consists of four angelic riders on four horses of various colors. One angelic rider, the angel of the Lord, dismounts his horse in the middle of a grove of myrtle trees. Although Zechariah asks his interpreting angelic companion the meaning of this vision, it is the angel of the Lord who responds. The horses and riders have been sent throughout the earth by the Lord to survey his dominion and have found everything peaceful. This elicits a direct question from the angel of the Lord to the Lord as to when the punishment of Jerusalem and Judah, which had lasted seventy years in accordance with the prophetic word of Jeremiah, would end. The Lord responds to this question with a declaration of passionate love for Jerusalem and promises of renewed mercy and prosperity for the city within which He has chosen to dwell personally. Conversely, His anger has been transferred to the nations who have gone above and beyond their call of duty as too-enthusiastic instruments of God’s justice upon Israel.
The second vision (1:18-21) builds on one motif of the previous vision, that of the Lord’s anger toward the nations which have proven hostile to the Jewish people, and makes it the theme. This vision communicates that the Lord will send his supernatural representatives to overthrow these nations for their hostility and instrumentality in the dispersion of the Jewish people from their land. The vision is brief and consists of Zechariah’s seeing four animal horns, which represent the power of the particular nations which have, or will have in the future, actively persecuted the Jewish people. These are immediately followed by four craftsmen, presumably wielding the instruments of their craft, who are elucidated to be supernatural agents of God’s justice and will be individually employed by Him to destroy these four hostile nations.
The third vision (2:1-5) establishes that Jerusalem will again be the epicenter of God’s protective presence and provision for His people. This vision’s message was to foster hope within the hearts of the Jewish people as they worked to rebuild the Temple which was to house the Lord Himself. In this vision, Zechariah sees a surveyor who is concerned with measuring the geographic proportions of Jerusalem in order to ascertain and restore the ancient city boundaries. The Lord declares that this is unnecessary, as the future population of Jerusalem will be so prosperous as to greatly overflow the ancient borders. At some imminent period, the Lord Himself would personally inhabit Jerusalem and provide prosperity and security for the city. His manifest glory will be visible to all. Certainly, this would prove reassuring to Zechariah’s contemporaries, for whom the city’s security was an ever-present concern.
What follows next (2:6-13) is the application of the preceding three visions. The Lord commands that all the remaining exiles, who chose to remain in foreign captivity, return home to their land, in preparation for the judgment the Lord is about to pour out on Babylon. The wrath of God is promised to be poured out upon all the nations which have participated or will participate in the dispersion of the Jewish people. The full scope of this judgment must clearly point beyond Zechariah’s contemporary situation toward some future universal dispersion of the Jewish people.
Whatever the specific eschatological timeframe of this coming judgment, the reason for it is clear. By persecuting the Jewish people, the guilty nations have personally and painfully abused the Lord with Whom the Jewish people are bound in covenantal relationship. The timeless Abrahamic promise of Gen. 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you”, is clearly in effect. Yet when the Lord takes up residence in Israel, specifically, in the city of Jerusalem, and fills it with his protective glory, great numbers of Gentiles will join the Jewish people in their relationship to the Lord and worship together with them.
The fourth vision (3:1-10), the first of the two messianic “centerpiece visions” in the series, communicates the trial of the High Priest, Joshua, who represents the Jewish people before the Lord. This vision demonstrates that, although the people are unclean and thereby unworthy to worship the Lord, as a sovereign act of elective grace He will make His people clean and bless them. The vision opens with Satan, the angelic adversary, before the Lord in the Temple Courts standing ready to condemn Joshua, the High Priest, because of the filthiness of His clothing. While the accusation would have been true that the ritual impurity of Joshua’s clothing would disqualify him from serving as High Priest, the Lord Himself rebukes the accuser and provides clean, royal robes for Joshua to wear. Joshua, as the representative of the Jewish people, specifically of the remnant now laboring in Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, is declared worthy of the Lord by a sovereign declaration of His grace. The Jewish people and their leaders could be fully confident that the Lord would accept their worship.
The Lord charges Joshua to faithfully execute the responsibilities of his priesthood and encouraged him with the promise of the coming Messiah who will bring a period of prosperity and blessing. The Lord reveals that Joshua and his priestly colleagues are symbols of this coming Messiah, called here the Branch, a term fraught with royal Davidic connotation. This Messianic figure is also designated here as an omniscient foundation Stone. This Messianic Davidic ruler would serve as High Priest and remove the Jewish people’s sin, thereby inaugurating a period of tremendous blessing for the people and their land.
The fifth vision (4:1-14), which, paired with the previous vision, provides a climax to Zechariah’s series, records a pair of olive trees which dripped oil into a golden menorah. As the fourth vision focused on the Jewish people and their religious leader, Joshua, this vision would encourage the Jewish people and their civil leader, Zerubbabel, a direct descendent of David, to take heart in rebuilding the Temple, for their handiwork will one day house the manifest presence of the Lord.
Zechariah sees a golden menorah, characterized by seven wicks and seven spouts within a single bowl which rested on top. On either side of the menorah is an olive tree. Zechariah asks the interpreting angel, his companion throughout these night visions, what the interpretation is. Curiously, the angel’s response indicates his assumption that the interpretations should have been self-explanatory, but he illuminates the vision. The menorah represents the promise of God to Zerubbabel. The Lord Himself would enable Zerubbabel to complete the rebuilding of the Temple, a seemingly impossible task, which will cause the people to worship the Lord. The olive trees represent the power of God’s Spirit flowing through both Joshua and Zerubbabel, the religious leader and the civil leader of the Jewish people and the respective subjects of this vision and the previous one. Thus, the foundation is laid for the Jewish messianic expectation of both a priestly Messiah and a Davidic Messiah.
The sixth vision (5:1-4) is related by Zechariah in which he sees an open scroll of enormous dimensions flying through the air over Jerusalem. This vision, which complements the third vision, that of the surveyor attempting to measure Jerusalem, was given to signify that prior to any future divine blessings and prosperity, the cleansing judgment of God would be distributed to all within the covenant community who were guilty of breaking that covenant through the violation of God’s law. As Zechariah ponders the airborne scroll, the interpreting angel explains that the scroll represents God’s curse throughout the land for the people’s violation of the covenant. On one side of the scroll is written the third commandment and on the opposite side is written the eighth commandment. The third and the eighth commandments would have been the middle commandments on each of the two stone tablets given to Moses. These middle commandments represent the entirety of the ten commandments, which, in turn, exemplify the entire Torah, the Mosaic law. In order for God to personally dwell in the midst of His people, they must be purged of covenantal impurity in preparation for His presence.
The seventh vision (5:5-11) communicates the appearance of a woman seated within a large basket. This vision builds upon the previous one and corresponds particularly to the second vision, that of the coming destruction of the nations who persecuted the Jewish people. The interpreting angel explains to Zechariah that the woman seated in the basket was the personification of the sins of the Jewish people. A heavy lead lid is placed over the basket, completely encasing and trapping this personification of evil. Two supernatural winged beings, also female, pick up the basket and swiftly convey this personification of evil far away to Babylon, the ancient source of evil. This vision graphically communicates that God will superintend the removal of sin from the covenant community.
Zechariah’s eighth and final vision (6:1-8) is the climax of all the previous visions and complements the original vision of the four horses. This vision’s message is that God will certainly judge all nations which have opposed His people and His program. From between two bronze mountains, Zechariah sees four chariots being drawn by four different colored horses. Although both the first and the eighth visions are of horses of various colors; the colors across the visions do not correlate. The interpreting angel explains that the four chariots are the Lord’s agents sent forth in separate directions to exercise His dominion over the nations. The vision concludes with a report of the discharge of appropriate judgment on Babylon. In this eighth vision, the Jewish community is reminded once again that Babylon will be a recipient of the Abrahamic covenantal promise (Gen 12:3), “I will curse those who curse you.”
As Zechariah recorded an application to the first three visions, he now records the encouraging application (6:9-15) to the final five visions. The Lord instructs him to take precious metals from the Temple reconstruction supply and fashion a double royal crown to be to be symbolically placed on the head of Joshua the High Priest. This representative crowning of Joshua symbolized the future royal coronation of the coming Messiah, referred to again here as the Branch. Although previously Zerubbabel was symbolically referred to as the Branch, the designation “Branch” is also used here of the High Priest, signifying the dual nature of the Messiah’s mission.
Viewed in association with the climactic visions four and five, which emphasized the divinely sanctioned leadership of Joshua, the religious leader, and Zerubbabel, the civil leader, it becomes apparent that the ultimate fulfillment of these messianic promises, of which Joshua and Zerubbabel were typical, was to extend beyond their contemporary situation and into the unspecified future. Although it is comprehensible, in light of this passage and the fifth vision of the olive trees, to empathize with the development of the expectation of two separate Messiahs, it is preferred to see a final blending of these two roles into one figure. When he appears on the scene, the Messiah will complete the construction of the Temple and will powerfully rule Israel by the fusion of the offices of both priest and king. The symbolic crown was to be kept in the Temple as a memorial to attract the Jewish people currently in the land, those still to return from exile and the Gentiles who will join together with Israel in the worship of the Lord.
This section begins the second of the three divisions of the book. It is within this, the book’s structural core, that we find the interpretive essence of Zechariah’s entire message. The Lord Himself is undertaking to encourage His people to take heart and rebuild the Temple because He is returning to once again inhabit Jerusalem, glorify the city and bless its inhabitants.
Leaving behind the apocalyptic imagery of the previous chapters, Zechariah launches into a sermon of prophetic exhortation. The basis of this ethical appeal to the people is a response to a question asked of Zechariah by a delegation from the city of Bethel in regard to the continued appropriateness of observing certain days of mourning. This elicits a visceral response from the prophet, who tells the people that that no matter the particular circumstances, it is faithfulness to the covenant with which God is concerned. The worshipers’ attitudes must be congruent with their exercise in order for God to appreciate their worship.
This two-chapter portion is dated December 7, 518 BC, almost two years after Zechariah’s night visions, and over two years since the reconstruction of the Temple had begun. Chapter seven begins as the city of Bethel sends a delegation to the Jerusalem priests who served at the then half-completed Temple to inquire as to whether it was appropriate to continue observing the fast day of Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of the day of the Temple’s destruction in 586 BC. Zechariah, speaking for the Lord, denounces the people for observing this and other fast days with inappropriate motives, with being more concerned with observance than obedience. The Lord charges them with self-centeredness and forgetting the covenant stipulations of social justice, mercy and societal compassion. They have hypocritically substituted the consideration of man-made memorials for God-ordained requirements. The people are reminded that it was this very attitude of covenantal neglect and insubordination which had invoked the Lord’s severe wrath and resulted in the Babylonian exile.
Following this denunciation of the people’s attitudes and motivations concerning their worship of the Lord, Zechariah’s message continues (8:1-8) with an encouraging promise from the Lord to restore the Jewish people, despite their failings, because of his overwhelming protective passion for them. This section revisits the theme of the first three night visions (1:7-2:13). Zechariah relates four specific divine promises: The Lord will personally return to Jerusalem and permanently dwell among His people; His presence in Jerusalem will glorify and sanctify the city; He will convey great blessing, prosperity, peace and security to the population of Jerusalem; and no matter how distantly the Jewish people have been dispersed, the Lord guarantees He will personally return His people to Jerusalem and restore their covenantal relationship with Him by a sovereign act of gracious authority. Regardless of the condition of Israel’s covenantal commitment toward Him, His covenantal obligation toward them will not falter.
The Lord proceeds (8:9-23) to motivate His people to take heart and finish the reconstruction of the Temple because He is about to reverse their fortunes by showering them with blessings of fertility. The Lord carefully instructs His people to respond appropriately to His blessings by living in covenantal obedience to Him. As a result, each memorial day of mourning within the Jewish calendar will be transformed into a celebratory festival; fast days will be exchanged for feast days. Multitudes of Gentiles from surrounding nations will be attracted to the Lord and will eagerly pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship Him in the Temple alongside the Jewish people. This harmonizes with the application of the first three visions (2:6-13). The Jewish people, by virtue of their covenant relationship with the Lord, will serve as His mediators and will be granted a position of prominence among the Gentiles. The covenantal promises to Abraham of universal blessing through His seed (Gen. 12:3) will at last be fulfilled.
 The researcher’s own non-systematic, casual perusal of the NT yielded 35 such references or allusions to Zechariah.
 For example, the Messiah entering Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9); Messiah betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (11:12-13); the Jewish remnant mourning for Him Whom they have pierced (12:10); strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter (13:7); Messiah returning to the Mount of Olives (14:4), etc.
 See Eugene Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. (Chicago: Moody, 1994) 74-88 and Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1972) 60-70.
 Haggai’s recorded ministry ends on 24 Kislev/December 18, 520 B.C.E. (Haggai 2:10) and Zechariah’s ministry begins approximately one month prior in Heshvan/November 520 B.C.E.
 See W. Howard Mare, “Zion.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday,1992) 6:1096.
 See Dr. Robert B. Chisholm’s masterful translation of Isaiah 1:9 (specifically, the Heb.
twab;x] hw:hyÒ) in The NET Bible (www.bible.org: Biblical Studies Press, 1996).
 i.e. the Lord’s plaintive “return to me…and I will return to you” (Zech. 1:3).
 Baldwin 74-81.
 In this vision it is apparent that the angel of the Lord and the Lord Himself are two separate individuals. In subsequent visions their individual identities appear to be interchangeable. See F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, (Wheaton: Victor, 1986.) 1550
 Jeremiah 29:10
 In accordance with the parallel prophesies of Daniel 2, 7-8, these nations are Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as per Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, (Chicago: Moody, 1990) 278.
 Zech. 2:8. The Jewish people here are likened to the Lord’s pupil, the most sensitive part of the eye, into which the nations have artlessly poked their finger. This is an offense which the Lord feels personally.
 Thanks to Eugene Merrill (123) for a reminder of this timeless principle.
 Referred to in Zechariah 2:12 for the first and only time in the Bible as “the holy land.”
 Feinberg 284.
 Heb. µyaiwxo µydigÉB] i.e. clothing stained with excrement (Zech. 3:3).
 The interpretation of the design of the golden menorah has occasioned much debate. This researcher has opted for the most reasonable and least convoluted interpretation. But see Merrill (147-149) and Baldwin (119-120).
 Thirty feet by fifteen feet. See Merrill (166).
 Large enough to contain five gallons. See Baldwin (128).
 Feinberg 300.
 ibid. 305.
 For an informative analysis of the chiastic structure of these two chapters and Zechariah’s word plays in chapter 7 see Robert B. Chisholm, Interpreting the Minor Prophets, (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1990) 255-56.
 Merrill 220.
 ibid. 221.
- "Zechariah" will be concluded in our next Shofar. -
- © 1998 Sojourner Ministries, Inc -
Steven C. Ger, Th.M., is the director of Sojourner Ministries.
This article is republished by permission from Sojourner Ministries' website,
and may be viewed in its original form at http://sojournerministries.org/cmz/content/view/54/161.
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