“Thus says the LORD: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem”
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.1 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.”2 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 others3 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.4
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 Zion5 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”.6 This is a fitting divine appellation within a book that emphasizes the coming conquering King Messiah.
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.7
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.8 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,9 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,10 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.11 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 be 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.12 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.13 Yet when the Lord takes up residence in Israel,14 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 Courts15 standing ready to condemn Joshua, the High Priest, because of the filthiness16 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.17 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 dimensions18 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.19 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 crown20 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.21 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.22
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 protective23 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 permanently24 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 third and final portion of Zechariah’s message is distinctively different from the two antecedent sections. These exhilarating yet challenging chapters are comprised of predictive prophecy and must be understood from a future perspective. Specifically, Zechariah relates two associated divine oracles concerning the future of Jerusalem and the events surrounding the coming of the Messiah to deliver the city from its national enemies. While the previous sections are specifically dated and, for the most part, are written to encourage the Jewish people within the context of their contemporary situation, this last section is undated and pertains to the events immediately preceding and including the establishment of the impending Messianic Kingdom. Of particular note throughout the division is the repeated eschatological designation, “in that day,”25 firmly establishing its future timeframe. One should conclude that these oracles are intended to revitalize the zealous expectancy of each generation of God’s people until the realization of the prophesied events.
Within these chapters there is significant ambiguity concerning the specific affiliation between the return of the Lord to His people and the coming of the Messiah. Throughout this final section, the Lord acts through the chosen representative with whom He closely affiliates, the Messiah. The Lord and His Messiah are so closely associated that, at certain points, their identities appear to merge. This, of course, comes as no surprise to the New Testament believer.
The Lord, who throughout the message of Zechariah has characteristically been presented as the sovereign who commands the cosmic armies,26 now musters His power and personally enters into battle on behalf of His besieged covenant community. The Lord’s conclusive victory leads to ultimate blessing for His people, the establishment of His kingdom and the final fulfillment of all covenant promises. This would prove to be tremendously heartening for Zechariah’s post-exilic community as well as for every generation of God’s people since the prophecy’s original pronouncement.
The first half of the last section (9:1--11:17) chronicles God’s systematic deliverance of Judah from surrounding national enemies and the coming of the Messiah to establish His kingdom. In contrast to other contemptible leaders of Judah, Zechariah explains God’s desire to serve as a shepherd to His people and proves His abilities by rescuing His people from their worldwide dispersion. However, the majority of the covenant community rejects His agent of loving leadership, the Messiah, which results in His judgment on those who have rejected Him. The disastrous results of rejecting the Lord’s leadership would serve as an admonition for the Jewish people to submit themselves to their covenant God.
Zechariah relates the Lord’s personal defense of Jerusalem and conquest of the Jewish people’s traditional enemies (9:1-8), notably Syria, Phoenicia and Philistia, which extends Israel’s northern and western national borders to their ideal limits.27 After the Lord has eliminated the hostile threat to His people, the survivors from these nations will be assimilated into the covenant community and serve the Lord.
Zechariah then reveals the arrival of the Lord’s representative agent, the Messiah (9:9-10), who is to rule for the Lord as the righteous and victorious King of Israel. The Lord Himself performs the introduction of the Deliverer to His people. He describes the Messiah as humble and conveying a kingdom of peace, as designated by His entering Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war-horse.28 To augment the previous section’s assurance concerning the expansion of Israel’s national borders (9:1-8), it is clarified that not only will the Kingdom of Israel’s borders fully expand in all directions to their promised extent under their Messiah’s righteous and peaceful reign, but that the King of Israel will actually reign over the whole earth.
As woven throughout Zechariah’s message, the promise, based on God’s covenantal obligations, of final restoration of the Jewish people to their land from wherever they have been dispersed is reiterated (9:11-13). When the Lord establishes His kingdom through the Messiah, Israel will be richly blessed with both fertility and prosperity. The Jewish people themselves will participate in the judgment of the Lord over their national enemies, being led into holy war by their supernaturally enabled Messianic King (9:13-17).29
The next section (10:1-12) begins a new theme related to the previous chapter’s revelation of the Messianic King, that of the subjects of the Kingdom. Zechariah contrasts the excellent leadership of the Lord over his people with the inferior leadership they have chosen for themselves. Although the Lord is the source of all blessings, the people are being led astray by their leaders to consult household idols and soothsayers. This leadership is so paltry that the Lord wrathfully declares that it is as if the people had no guidance at all. He proclaims judgment against the leading authorities and promises to personally lead and invigorate the entire covenant community (10:1-3). As noted earlier, the perspective of this final division is eschatological. The contemporary leadership of Zechariah’s day, notably Zerubbabel and Joshua, cannot be in view here considering their earlier commendation (3:1-4:14; 6:9-15).
Zechariah employs royal imagery to further describe the mission of the coming Messiah; as a Davidic King, He will proceed from Judah and, with strong and secure leadership, will force out Judah’s worthless leaders (10:4-5). In relation to the establishment of the messianic reign must come the repopulation of the Messianic Kingdom. In fulfillment of covenant obligation, the Lord promises to restore His people from worldwide dispersion (10:6-7). Although the Jewish people are pictured as being scattered in every direction of the compass, as symbolized by Assyria (north and east) and Egypt (south and west), the Lord knows just where to find them, for it was He who placed them there. The return of the exiles from this worldwide dispersion is vividly described as a second exodus. So numerous will the returning exiles be that they will swamp the land and Israel’s northern and eastern national borders will need to be expanded, as previously noted (9:1-8;10), to accommodate the swollen population (10:8-11). The Lord will bless the renewed population of Israel and they will worship Him (10:12).30
What follows in chapter 11 contains arguably the most interpretively difficult passages in the entire Old Testament. Questions arise as to the intended timeframe, content and means of conveyance of the message. Concerning the content, one verse in particular (11:8), has carried the hefty burden of at least forty different interpretations.31 Concerning the transmission, there is a well-established dramatic genre within the Hebrew prophets, wherein they “act out” a message as a creative means of communication (Ez. 4:1-3;5:1-12; Jer 27:2-11, etc.). However, this message goes beyond that genre in requiring the participation of a whole “troop” of fellow actors. We must therefore assume that the message Zechariah conveys is one that was only dramatized on the stage of his own mind, either through vision or imagination.32 As to the timeframe depicted, consistency within this entire final division of Zechariah’s work dictates that the events are future.
Zechariah strikes a somber contrast with the glories related in the previous portion (9:1-10:12) as he relates the events preceding, and effectively delaying, the Messianic Kingdom’s inauguration. The devastation of the entire land of Israel and the surrounding geographic area is recorded, as symbolized by the incineration of its most verdant areas (11:1-3). The reason for this vast desolation is given as the rejection of the Lord’s chosen shepherd of His people, their Messiah (11:4-17). Zechariah returns here to the theme of the nation’s leadership, embodied now in the representative shepherding of the prophet himself.
The Lord commands Zechariah to portray the role of a shepherd of a flock of sheep which was condemned to slaughter because of the delinquent care of their previous shepherds (11:4-6). Through this dramatic presentation, Zechariah is standing-in for, i.e., impersonating, the Lord’s representative, the Messiah. His doomed flock represent the Jewish people, and their delinquent shepherds are their leaders who have oppressed them by collaborating with Gentile powers. Zechariah is aware that, although he represents the Lord’s Messiah, the people will reject him, which will serve to corroborate their fate with the Lord’s endorsement.
Zechariah, as the Messiah, shepherds with two symbolic staffs: one called “favor”, symbolizing the external condition of peace between the nations and the Jewish people; and the other designated “union”, symbolizing the internal condition of peace within the covenant community (11:7).33 Although Zechariah’s care of the people is exemplary, as expressed by his ability within a short period of ministration to depose, i.e., render powerless, the previously mentioned loathsome and abusive shepherds,34 the people reject his leadership. He, in turn, rejects them, relinquishes his position as shepherd and abandons his people to their doom. The people are destined to suffer dreadfully on account of their repudiation of God’s chosen leader (11:8-9).
As a public expression of his termination of leadership, Zechariah, as the Messiah, breaks the first staff, “favor” (11:10-11), which removes the Lord’s restraint of the nations against Israel, creating an opportunity by which nations may freely act on their hostility toward Israel. He then breaks his second staff, “union” (11:14), which removes the harmony within the Jewish community, creating an opportunity for gross division and discord within the nation at their moment of greatest peril. When Zechariah asks to be compensated for his efforts, the people disgrace him by paying their Messiah the value of a slave’s lifetime wage (Ex. 21:32), thirty pieces of silver. This demonstrates their utter contempt for the Lord’s Anointed, although there is a small remnant who recognize His worth (11:11). As indicated by the sarcasm of the Lord’s interjection at this point on being valued at that “exorbitant” price, He clearly takes the insult personally. God then commands Zechariah to return the people’s disdain by tossing away the insulting wages to the potter, i.e., the recycling bin35 in the Temple courts (11:12-13).
The section concludes with the Lord then summoning Zechariah to portray a different role, that of a corrupt shepherd whom the Lord would first appoint over the Jewish people and then destroy because he had sought to prey on the people in his charge (11:15-17). The identity of this corrupt leader is ambiguous, as is so much in this chapter, but should be classified as the eschatological antichrist (Dan 9:27;2 Thes. 2:3-4;1 Jn. 2:18, et al).
The second half of the final third of Zechariah’s prophecy (12-14) reveals the harrowing yet exhilarating circumstances immediately preceding the ultimate victory of the Messianic King and the establishment of His Kingdom. Although the description of these triumphal events is placed in seeming contrast with the previous chapter’s pessimistic revelation, this section actually provides the narrative sequel to the events of chapter 11. With a creative device reminiscent of a cleverly composed present-day film or a complex symphonic composition, the prophet juxtaposes situations and motifs previously described in chapters 9-10, such as the arrival of the Messianic King, the Jewish people’s second exodus, and the Lord’s final judgment on the nations, and elaborates on their details, building to a grand climax of universal scope. As noted above, the prophet’s repeated choice of the eschatological phrase par excellence, “in that day,”36 firmly anchors this final third within the temporal future.
Zechariah begins this message of cosmic import by reminding his audience that the reliability of His message is ensured by its source, the Creator of the Universe (12:1). This section develops the holy war motif of 9:13-17. The Lord declares that He will imminently employ His city, Jerusalem, as a mechanism to wage judgment on the nations. The time is at hand when every nation will make war against the Jewish people, and their capital, Jerusalem, will be besieged on every side. However, the Lord will intervene on behalf of His people and incapacitate their enemies, whom Zechariah portrays as staggering and retching as with intoxication, and as herniating themselves by trying to lift too heavy an object for their capacity (12:2-3). Although Jerusalem’s enemies will be blinded by the Lord, His vision will be crystalline (12:4).
In order to reach Jerusalem, the nations will also have to assault the surrounding territory, Judah. The Lord will supernaturally energize the defenders of Judah, beginning with the outlying Judean settlements, and Jerusalem, enabling them to defeat their enemies. The people’s natural capabilities will be supernaturally heightened as they are energized by the Lord to do battle (12:5-9). For one final time, the devastating fruit of the Abrahamic promise of divine retribution toward the enemies of the Jewish people (Gen.12:3) will be harvested.
When the threat posed by Israel’s national enemies, upon their comprehensive defeat, is finally defused, the Lord will infuse the Jewish people with spiritual conviction and contrition. He will enable the Jewish people to perceive their need for divine forgiveness and the entire nation will repent. The reason for their repentance will be their prior rejection of the Messiah, the representative agent of the Lord’s loving leadership. It is unmistakable in this passage that Zechariah is depicting the Lord’s identity as being integrated with the Messiah’s. He declares that when the Jewish people see the Lord they will suddenly comprehend that in mortally wounding the Messiah it was as if they had physically pierced the Lord Himself.37 Upon this realization, their grief will be so enormous that it must be compared to a parent’s bitter grief at the death of an only child and the consequent termination of family lineage (12:10). It is also compared (12:11) to the national mourning which attended the untimely death of a beloved Jewish king, Josiah (2 Chr. 35:22-27). The mourning for this messianic Jewish King will not only yield public national anguish, but private, intense, individual grief, led by the Jewish political and spiritual leadership (12:12-14).
Following this period of grief and repentance, the Lord will forgive His people for their rejection of His leadership and will superintend their spiritual purification (13:1). He will direct the eradication of false worship throughout Israel, specifically eliminating idols, false prophets and their evil motivating spirit (13:2).38 The remaining remnant of false prophets in the land will bring such disgrace on their families that their own parents will execute them39 in obedience to the covenant. These false prophets will be ashamed of their activities and for fear of judgment will seek to cover them up on the pretense of being merely farmers, but the self-inflicted chest lacerations characteristic of their office betray them (13:3-6).40 This explicates the concise false prophet motif of 10:2.
Zechariah follows this with a prophetic tapestry which weaves together the theme of the rejected leader (10--11), the pierced Messiah motif (12:10), and the final siege of Jerusalem (12:1-9). Zechariah portrays the Lord ordaining the murder of His representative, the Messiah (13:7). Again, there is an emphasis on the close affiliation between the Lord and His Messiah, so much so that their identities appear to be fused together.41 As a consequence of the Messiah’s death, the Jewish people will suffer worldwide dispersion. Yet, at some eschatological point they will reenter their land, and it is there that two thirds of the Jewish people will be slain. The survivors of this genocidal decimation, although undergoing the persecution and previously discussed international siege of 12:1-9, will be purified through their suffering and will worship the Lord within the parameters of covenant lifestyle, as revealed in 12:10-13:1.
In Zechariah’s final chapter (14:1-21) attention is returned to Israel’s final hour, the international siege of Jerusalem. Elaborating on that which had previously been summarized (9:1-8;12:1-9), including the massacre of the Jewish people (13:8), the prophet supplies fresh and vivid details of Jerusalem’s final defense prior to the Lord’s intervention (12:4; 14:3), including the fact that the international assembly at Jerusalem was orchestrated by the Lord Himself (14:2). Zechariah’s narrative of this onslaught picks up at Jerusalem’s most desperate moment, when it appears that the nations which have united against the city will completely overrun it. By this point, half the population of the city have already been taken captive and deported, and the remainder have seen their possessions despoiled and their women brutally raped (14:1-2). When it seems that the nations will complete their victory with a “final solution,” the Lord enters the battle and engages the nations on behalf of His people (14:3).
The Lord arrives just east of the city on the Mount of Olives in the person of the Messiah, His chosen representative, accompanied by angelic armies at His command.42 In the closing pericopes of his message, Zechariah’s preferred choice of divine designation, “YHWH Sabbaoth”, is visibly corroborated (14:4-5). Taken together with previous intimations of the nature of the Messiah’s close affiliation with the Lord (9:9-10;12:10 ), the weight of revealed evidence now demands that the Messiah is in fact the manifest Lord Himself. Upon His appearance the Mount of Olives divides in two, reminiscent of the parting of the Exodus waters,43 creating a valley which serves as a shielded escape route from Jerusalem to safety (14:5).
The prophet changes perspectives momentarily and takes leaves of the action of the final conflict. He describes additional topographical as well as meteorological changes accompanying the Messiah’s appearance, including the eruption of a river within Jerusalem, an event signifying divine blessings of fertility on a city in which water was traditionally the scarcest of commodities. As the Messiah’s capital, Jerusalem will be topographically elevated and the surrounding geographic area lowered in contrast (14:6-11).
Zechariah’s perspective now returns to the Messiah’s encounter with the enemy armies. With His brutalized people now removed from the conflict and out of harm’s way, the Messiah confronts His enemies in this second stage of battle. Those vast armies which would have butchered the Jewish people are now themselves decimated by a plague which rots their flesh. Panicking in their desperation to escape this devastation, they slaughter one another. Additional aid in their defeat comes from the residents of the surrounding Judean countryside who, together with the now-secure survivors of Jerusalem, plunder those who had plundered them (14:12-15).
Following the Messiah’s final triumph, the whole earth will recognize the Lord, and His covenant community will expand accordingly (14:9).44 Although their armies have been devastated, the nation’s survivors will all worship the Lord with the Jewish people in Jerusalem at the Temple, the location of His manifest presence. Those who formally opposed God will now surface to appease God. Ambassadors from all nations will make annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, the great holy day related to the appeal for blessings of fertility, specifically, for rain, the public reading of the Torah and covenant renewal. Those nations who neglect to send an ambassador will suffer a lack of fertility, specifically, no rain, as divine punishment for their lack of covenant allegiance (14:16-19). In the culmination of the Messianic Kingdom all distinctions between the sacred and profane will be eradicated, for everything will be sacred; the most mundane materials and the most unlikely Gentile subjects will all be dedicated to the Lord (14:20-21).
1The researcher’s own non-systematic, casual perusal of the NT yielded 35 such
references or allusions to Zechariah.
2For 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.
3See 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.
4Haggai’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.
5See W. Howard Mare, “Zion.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 6:1096.
6See Dr. Robert B. Chisholm’s masterful translation of Isaiah 1:9 (specifically, the Heb.) in The NET Bible (www.bible.org: Biblical Studies Press, 1996).
7i.e. the Lord’s plaintiff “return to me…and I will return to you” (Zech. 1:3).
9In 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
11In 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.
12Zech. 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.
13Thanks to Eugene Merrill (123) for a reminder of this timeless principle.
14Referred to in Zech. 2:12 for the first and only time in the Bible as “the holy land.”
16Heb. i.e. clothing stained with excrement (Zech. 3:3).
17The 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).
18Thirty feet by fifteen feet. See Merrill (166).
19Large enough to contain five gallons. See Baldwin (128).
22For 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
25Heb. Zech. 9:16: 11:11; 12:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11; 13:1, 2, 4; 14:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 20, 21. Note the particular concentration within the 45 verses of chapters 12-14.
26ref. note 6, above
28See Baldwin’s discussion (165-66).
29Merrill (260-261) cautions against using the reference to Greece (Javan) in Zech. 9:13 to move the historical composition of the work at a later date, contemporaneous with Alexander’s conquests.. Greece is simply here as representative of the great nations. Evidently, Greece was perceived in Zechariah’s day as the up-and-coming world power on the horizon.
30For an fascinating alternative translation of 10:12, see Merrill (282).
33ibid 327- but see Merrill (295) for an alternative.
34To the extremely difficult text of 11:8, Baldwin (183) offers a compelling alternative to the fruitless attempt to identify the three deposed shepherds. If Zechariah is employing apocalyptic literature’s devise of the symbolic use of numbers, then in this context the number three might simply stand for the number of completion and signifies the removal by the shepherd of all opposing leadership.
35Merrill (298) includes an interesting discussion.
36Ref. Note 25, above.
37C.F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament: Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986) notes that the Heb. indicates “pierced or thrust through to death” (388).
38We see here that Satan, the ultimate source of idolatry, will be dealt with at this point by God Himself. See Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 685
39The same word is used as in 12:10, “to pierce through”. See note 37, above.
40Although often interpreted and quoted as a prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, see Merrill (332) and Barker (686) on why 13:6 cannot be a messianic prophecy.
41To the researcher, the conclusion is unmistakable that Zechariah means us to grasp some manner of divine personification within the Messiah’s identity. See Barker (686). Also, see note 9, above.
42See notes 6, 26 above.
44Zech. 14:9 seems to contain an explicit reference to the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4) – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One,” - the great traditional rallying creed of the Jewish people, thus signifying the ultimate establishment of universal worship of the one true God.
Share this View
- The Indwelling Torah: Exploring the Jewish Heart of Pentecost
- Embracing the Jewishness in Your Congregation
- The Remnant of Israel in the Church Age: Theological and Practical Considerations for the Church
- Zechariah: Minor Prophet with a Major Message
- Whither Kumbaya? (Or Whether National Healing is Possible without a Diagnosis of the Disease)
- Messiah According to Isaiah Part 2
- Messiah According to Isaiah Part 1
- Jeremiah: Weeping for the Disobedient, Part 3
- Jeremiah: Weeping for the Disobedient, Part 2
- Jeremiah: Weeping for the Disobedient, Part 1