Discovering Zechariah

Background Information

The author of this book is Zechariah (1:1). He was “the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo, who was also a prophet (1:1). Zechariah began his prophetic ministry in the eight month of Darius’s second year reigning over the Persian Empire, so the late sixth century (520-518 BC). By comparing the various dates given in both Haggai and Zechariah, we can conclude that Zechariah’s ministry overlapped with Haggai’s ministry by about a month then continued onward for another couple of years.

Purpose for the Book

Though Zechariah and Haggai addressed a similar need – waning interest and sincerity in both rebuilding and then subsequent, ongoing worship at the Temple as God desired – each prophet chose a different tact in the approach of their message. Whereas Haggai focused on confronting and correcting the people in their apathy and disobedience in the present, Zechariah focused on encouraging and inspiring the people through a hope-filled, long-range glimpse of the future.

Such a message was needed because though they had returned from captivity and resumed Temple worship, their conditions hardly resembled the promises God had given of judging the Gentile nations and establishing an Israel-centered millennial reign. The messages of this book provided helpful, clarifying perspective about God’s ongoing, remaining plan for the future which would encourage the people to persevere enthusiastically in the present will waiting confidently and expectantly for the eventual, later fulfillment of all God’s promises.

In summary, the purpose for this book was to encourage Israel to rebuild and worship at the Temple by providing a long-range view of God’s plan to send the Messiah as Savior, Judge, and King to establish his worldwide kingdom from Israel.

Outline and Content

The organization of this book is relatively straightforward. Following a brief, initial call for repentance, we find eight prophetic visions, followed by four prophetic messages, followed by two prophetic predictions.

  • An Opening Call to Repent (1:1-6)
  • Eight Visions Previewing God’s Future Plans for Israel (1:7-6:15)
    • Four Horsemen Among the Myrtle Trees (1:7-17)
    • Four Horns and Four Craftsmen (1:18-21)
    • The Man with a Measuring Line (2:1-13)
    • Cleansing the High Priest for Service (3:1-10)
    • The Golden Lampstand and Two Olive Trees (4:1-14)
    • The Flying Scroll (5:1-4)
    • A Woman in a Basket (5:5-11)
    • The Four Chariots of God (6:1-8)
    • A Concluding Command to Crown the High Priest Symbolically (6:9-15)
  • Four Messages (7:1-8:23)
    • An Initial Question about God’s View of Fasting (7:1-3)
    • Answer 1 – Ceremonial Ritual vs. Genuine Worship (7:4-7)
    • Answer 2 – The Necessity of Obedient Faith (7:8-14)
    • Answer 3 – Blessings Promised for Obedience (8:1-17)
    • Answer 4 – Fasting Exchanged for Universal Feasting (8:18-23)
  • Two Predictions (9:1-14:21)
    • The First Advent of the Messiah (9-11)
    • The Second Advent of the Messiah (12-14)

As you read through the book with this structure in mind, it is helpful to note that Zechariah delivered the material of Chs. 1-8 during the rebuilding of the Temple. He delivered the material of Chs. 9-14 after the rebuilding was complete.

In the opening call to repent (1:1-6), Zechariah provides a brief and blunt call to repent. In this message, he says nothing new but simply refers back to the messages of former prophets and the failure of Israel’s forefathers to listen to those prophets, pointing out that the consequences for disobedience occurred just as God has promised. On this basis, the new generation of Israelites who had returned to the land should take the message of God’s covenant and prophets seriously. This was Zechariah’s call to learn from their past before he encouraged them with their future.

After this opening charge, the book transitions immediately to relaying a series of eight prophetic visions, all of which he received from God in one single night. He gives the date for this night, which is equivalent to Feb 24, 519 B.C. on our calendar. This night occurred about three months after both his initial call to repent and Haggai’s final message (recorded at the end of his own prophetic book). It also occurred about five months after Israel had resumed rebuilding the Temple in response to Haggai’s ministry (1:7).

Altogether, these visions provided dramatic and prophetic glimpses at God’s future plans for Israel’s restoration.

Horsemen Among the Myrtle Trees (1:7-17)

This vision emphasized coming vengeance from God despite the current peaceful conditions. It featured a leading horseman followed by an army of multicolored horses. It represented God’s angelic armies being ready to defeat Israel’s adversaries.

Four Horns and Four Craftsmen (1:18-21)

This vision emphasized God’s eventual demolition of Israel’s oppressors. The horns were symbols of power and represented those powers which had “scattered Judah,” and the craftsmen were those who would come to dismantle and smash (as with a hammer) those powers. This may refer to men like Cyrus, Alexander the Great, Rome, but ultimately the Messiah himself.

The Man with a Measuring Line (2:1-13)

This vision emphasized the eventual widespread prosperity of Israel, pointing out that Jerusalem would one day be so large that walls would be impractical and unnecessary.

Cleansing the High Priest for Service (3:1-10)

This vision emphasized God’s promise of cleansing for his people. While Joshua and the priesthood are immediately in view, they represent instead the future coming Messiah, who would be like a branch sprouting up. He is also referred to as a servant and a stone.

The Golden Lampstand and Two Olive Trees (4:1-14)

This vision emphasized God’s power made available to his people through the Holy Spirit. Most specifically, it seems to portray Joshua (high priest, priestly office) and Zerubabbel (governor, royal/kingly office) as servants of God, whom he would empower to do his will.

The Flying Scroll (5:1-4)

This vision emphasized God’s future, sweeping judgment upon those who violate his law, judging so thoroughly that it even purged sin from within people’s private domestic quarters.

A Woman in a Basket (5:5-11)

This vision emphasized God’s futural removal of wickedness from among Israel. The destination of this package being delivered is called “Shinar,” which had been recognized – since the days of ungodly Nimrod – as the land of evil.

The Four Chariots of God (6:1-8)

This vision emphasized God’s coming judgment of his enemies worldwide. If featured four, multi-colored horses representing bloodshed, war, and other atrocities. They seem to be mentioned again in Rev 6:4-8 at the outset of the Tribulation. They underscore God’s preparedness to move into battle against the enemies of his people.

A Concluding Command to Crown the High Priest Symbolically (6:9-15)

This command concludes the eight visions and orders Zechariah to arrange an unusual coronation ceremony at the Temple. It is unusual for multiple reasons:

  • First, the splendid crown they would create and place on Joshua (whom they were coronating), the high priest’s head, would also be removed in the same ceremony, making it clear that he was merely an actor taking a role in this symbolic scene. He was not the actual person in view.
  • This ceremony was further unusual in that it emphasized kingly, royal elements and themes, not just priestly, religious ones. Altogether, this ceremony informed Israel that the high priestly office, as previously established, would become obsolete and that someone else – called “the Branch” – would eventually sprout, who would assume both the priestly and kingly role combined. This merger of priest and king would occur in the coming Messiah who would come to this Temple in the future and – once crowned – would never relinquish his crown.

Following these eight visions, Zechariah engages with a delegation from Bethel (12 mi. north of Jerusalem) who had come to Jerusalem to ask a question about religious fasting, whether fasting as required on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29, 31) or at other times called for by Israel’s leaders. Zechariah answered this question in four parts:

Answer 1 – Ceremonial Ritual vs. Genuine Worship (7:4-7)

In this part of his answer, Zechariah pointed out that many of their feasts – esp. during the captivity – had been to commemorate certain historical events or milestones, just as many of their feasts had been as well. These didn’t focus on the Lord at all. God was not interested in the rituals of fasting and feasting but was interested instead in actual, heartfelt obedience to his Word.

Answer 2 – The Necessity of Obedient Faith (7:8-14)

In this part of his answer, Zechariah highlighted the importance of implementing justice and treating one another fairly and rightly, esp. those who were less fortunate, including those who were foreigners and not native to Israel. This, in God’s view, was far more important that the observance of ritual fasts.

Answer 3 – Blessings Promised for Obedience (8:1-17)

As God’s people followed his ways by faith, then God promised the fulfillment of many blessings upon them and their land.

Answer 4 – Fasting Exchanged for Universal Feasting (8:18-23)

In the end, their fasting would become feasting instead – feasts which would include believing Gentiles from around the world.

The final section of Zechariah’s book of prophecy (which may have been given at a much later period in Zechariah’s life, perhaps 480-470 B.C.) features a set of two extended prophetic predictions about the future, centering on (a) the first advent of the Messiah (9-11) then (b) the second advent of the Messiah (12-14). For time, we are unable to delve into these extended prophecies. But we can observe that the first section emphasizes the rejection of God’s Messiah, while the second section emphasizes the eventual acceptance of and reign of the Messiah.

The late Dr. Rob Bell of Bob Jones Seminary in his helpful book, The Theological Messages of the Old Testament Books, provides this helpful outline of this final section:

  • Oracle Against the Nations: Protection of God’s People Through Judgment (9:1–11:17)
  • Nations Judged with Messiah’s Coming to Zion (9:1-17)
  • Judgment, Deliverance, and Restoration for Judah (10:1–11:3)
  • Good Shepherd Rejected and Replaced by Bad Shepherds (11:4–-7)
  • Oracle Against Israel: Perfection of God’s People Through Judgment (12:1–14:21)
  • God’s Elimination of His Enemies at Jerusalem (12:1–13:6)
  • Slain Shepherd of God’s Refined People (13:7-9)
  • Day of the Lord at Jerusalem (14:1–21)

Of all the Minor Prophets, this book provides the largest number of clear Messianic prophecies and is second only to Isaiah among all the prophets in this regard. References include prophecies of Christ’s first (9:9) and second (14:8-9) advents. Other references to Christ include: the angel of the Lord (3:1-2); the righteous Branch (3:8; 6:12); the King-Priest (6:13); the cornerstone, tent peg, and battle bow (10:4); the Good Shepherd who is sold for thirty pieces of silver (11:4–13); the pierced One (12:10); and the coming Warrior and righteous King (14:3-4; 16-17).

Personal Takeaways

Learn from the past. As Zechariah called Israel to observe the failures and consequences of their forefathers, so we should do the same – observing the failures and consequences not only of our forefathers but of so many generations of Israel as well. They have consistently received serious consequences for their disobedience and unfaithfulness, so we should expect no different and should choose to follow God by faith instead.

Be encouraged by the future. When we see and understand God’s faithful, intentional future plan for Israel, we should be encouraged, knowing that no matter what happens today, the future of Israel will be certain and bright. Christ will come again to remove all evil and establish his perfect and wonderful reign in Jerusalem through all the earth. Fasting will be turned into feasting and will include people from all nations.

Worship God from the heart and do right. God is less interested in our religious rituals and far more interested that we believe on him in genuine faith and then simply do what he calls us to do. Treat other people properly and live justly.

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