Zechariah (God Remembers)

A short look at Zechariah for interested students.

Introduction

Unlike other prophets, Zechariah gives us the date, occasion of his prophecies, and his ancestry, up front. He began to prophesy in the eighth month of the second year of Darius Hystaspes, which was about 520 BC. He was a contemporary of Haggai who’s first message was given about two months before Zechariah’s (See Ezra 5:1-6:14; Haggai 1:1).

The nature of Haggai’s message was largely rebuke (he has been called “the nagging prophet”); in contrast, Zechariah’s major concern was to comfort and encourage by giving his discouraged people hope. In such a note, god says, “Daughter Zion, shout for joy and be glad for I am coming to dwell among you” (2:16, HCSB).[1] Other than Isaiah’s, Zechariah’s prophecy contains more predictions of the Messiah than any other book of the Old Testament. Daniel, who lived through the entire seventy year period of exile, was also a contemporary of Zechariah, but what their relationship was like we simply don’t know. Zechariah, was a youth when he began to prophesy, and younger than either Daniel or Haggai. Their prophecies give evidence of contact between Haggai and Zechariah; how close it was, we don’t know.

Both Haggai and Zechariah, despite their different approaches, nevertheless, had one end in view—to move the people to resume the building of the temple. Thirteen years before, after laying the foundation, construction ceased. There was no valid excuse for this, and it was time to do something about it. God sent his two prophets with their diverse emphases to deal with the situation. These two very different prophets both called the people to repent and get back to work. Haggai’s first message was successful; the people who had returned from Babylon did repent and began to build once more. But there was discouragement, so Haggai’s prophesies, fortified by those of Zachariah—with their two distinct emphases—were largely responsible for bringing the work to completion in 4/5 more years.

Following the building of the temple, and the restoration of the city, it was not too long before the remnant that returned enjoyed an unprecedented period of about 300 years of quiet and undisturbed conditions predicted by Zechariah. These years were heralded by the sympathetic help of Cyrus, the Persian who supplied what was needed for the building project. The exiles came out of captivity in Babylon in three waves; others remained behind who had profitable businesses, and others interests. They were warned of the danger in doing so: an urgent call to get out of Babylon was issued (2:7-9). Others, including members of the supposedly lost ten tribes of Israel, continued to return individually and in small groups, thereby significantly increasing the population of the city. Some, during the ensuing period of relative rest, gradually occupied the remainder of Palestine as well. Thus, by the time of Christ, Israel had become a nation of some size.

The quiet period continued from the time of Zechariah to days before New Testament times. Antiochus Epiphanes’ gross attempts to Hellenize the new City, and his desecration of the new temple, lead to the Maccabbeean revolt. For about 100 years the country enjoyed the status of an independent state. That status, however, was not to last. Yet, for most given purposes, the “nation” was able to live and act as virtually an independent entity. The 300 years spanned the period following Zechariah’s ministry to the coming of Antioches. That is not to forget the problems with the successors to Alexander’s generals, the Seleucide and the Ptolmey dynasties, vying for supremacy—a task that involved traversing the land bridge that Palestine formed between Egypt and Syria as they fought many a battle (see Adams and Fisher, The Time of the End for details). In the process, the nation frequently felt the brunt of this activity.

During the intervening 300 year period—with the exception of the Maccabeean era— Israel was a vassal state subject first to the Persians, then to the Greeks, and finally to the Romans. Under the Persians and Greeks, there was an amazingly favorable relationship, unbroken by war or revolution. Up until the revolt of the Macabbees, occasioned by the attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to Hellenize Jerusalem, the era has rightly been called the “Golden Age,” and the “Silent Years.”[2]

Why such epithets? We have seen already that the period was an extended time of peace for the Jews. Hence the “Golden Age.” But why the “Silent Years?” This second epithet plainly derives from the fact that knowledge of Jewish history coming from the period is virtually nill. Even so prolific a writer as Josephus has hardly anything to say. But, then, what accounts for such a dearth of information? The “Golden Age’ itself does. When there are no battles, revolts, exchange of government, or significant events of that sort in your history, there is little to write about. Transitions occurred as world supremacy passed from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans, but—for a time—such matters affected the Jews positively, or only incidentally.

But, silent though those years may have been for Israel politically, about them Zechariah had much to predict. As he wrote about a man sitting under his vine and fig tree, children playing in the streets, long lives, and so forth, he brought a message of comfort and hope.  For those who would enjoy such peace and tranquility, there was much to say by way of anticipation and thanksgiving; but the world cared nothing about that. So, the history books are relatively silent. This was a time for codifying the oral law, gathering, selecting and closing the canon of the Old Testament, the development of the synagog, the origin of the feast of Purim, and the building of a temple in Egypt for Jews who lived there—all of which were significant factors for Judah’s impact in the future. During this time, to serve those Jews still in exile, the Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint (LXX), which, possibly, was the most significant task undertaken. This translation not only provided a Bible for Jews of the diaspora[3], New Testament writers[4] referred  to it extensively. And since Greek had become the lingua franca of the day—replacing Aramaic—the Bible from Genesis to Revelation would soon be available to the world.

The Book of Zechariah is rather evenly divided into two sections:
Chs. 1-7: Call to repentance and restoration  of the temple
Chs. 1-6: Visions (containing fragments of Messianic prophecy)
Ch. 7: Warning and promise
Ch. 8: Exiles return, cheerful times predicted; also a strong note about the eventual beginning of Gentile conversion.
Chs. 9-14: Messianic Prophecies

Key Messianic passages:
9: 1-9  The triumphal entry of the humble King.
12: 10ff The pouring out of the Spirit on the elect of the House of David, leading to mourning for the one “whom the pierced” (see Rev. 1:7; Luke 23:27). Literally, the passage reads “on Me Whom they pierced” giving Yahweh and Messiah’s a common identity. The extended mourning described in the verses following is not national mourning, but mourning “apart,” or by individuals and their families. The nation did not repent under John the Baptist or the preaching of Jesus..

13:1 The fountain that would wash away sin opened for the House of David is a designation, once again including believing Jews. And according to the reference from Amos quoted by James in Acts 15, probably faithful Gentiles as well. In 13: 7, the “Shepherd” is also said by God to be “the man [gibor= “strong man; hero] who is my Associate.” God the Father places the Son in a category with Himself. Jesus referred the passage to Himself when He quoted the last part of verse 7 to His death and the scattering of His followers (Matthew 26:31). According to v. 8, those who believe will be fewer than those who do and, in v. 9, the persecution of the faithful is foretold.

14: 1-21 Here the Destruction of the new temple and the city of Jerusalem that occurred in 70AD is predicted along with a description of the new heavenly, spiritual city that replaced it is given. In 14:1, the destruction of Jerusalem is once again in view. The splitting in two of the mountain to make a way of escape for those who believed, in this highly figurative chapter was a way of referring to Jesus’ warning Christian Jews to leave the city when it is surrounded by armies (Luke 21:2, 21; and see the consequent escape of the 144,000 in Revelation).

So, if you sum up what Zechariah has to say about the coming Messiah, you might compile a list that looks something like this:

  1. He is to be a priest –king (remember the double-crown placed on Joshua’s head)
  2. He is the Branch (or “shoot”—cf. passages in Isaiah and elsewhere that also describe Jesus as such)
  3. He will reveal Himself a King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey
  4. He will be of David’s family
  5. He is One who belongs to the Father’s social group
  6. He would be priced at 30 pieces of silver
  7. He would be mourned individually by those who pierced Him
  8. He would be the saving Fountain to wash away sins when the Spirit is poured out
  9. He will provide a way of escape from Jerusalem for His followers at its destruction.
  10. He will save a remnant, even though the majority of the nation will be lost.

Truly, Zechariah is a very important book to study prophecy—especially of the coming, Person, and work of the Messiah.

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[1] Possibly a reference to the return of the Shekinah glory which would dwell once more in the most holy place of the newly constructed temple.

[2] Fred P. Miller, Zechariah and Jewish Renewal. Moellerhaus Publishing (1992), PP. 7, 11.

[3] The “Sowing.” The word refers to Jews dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world, as if they were seed that had been sown (or scattered) by a farmer.

[4] The Septuagint is quoted by New Testament writers more frequently than the Hebrew.

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