ZECHARIAH is an unusual book. It is part apocalypse (revelation), but its first half calls more on prophesy than on the eschaton (last things), but it is considered by some to be a realised eschatology. Its second half calls more on the eschaton, with each chapter slightly different from perspective, but it’s less apocalyptic. Of course, chapters 7 and 8 divide the book; the first half comprising chapters 1–6, the second half encompassing chapters 9–14.
Chapter 1 is a call to repentance, for the people to return to their merciful God. And repentance, in these first six chapters, is about returning from exile to Jerusalem (2:6-8), rebuilding the city (1:17; 2:4) and the temple (1:16; 4:7-10), singing and rejoicing (2:10), and being the remnant through responding in covenant obedience (3:7; 5:4, 8).
Chapters 1:7 – 6:8 comprise the eight night visions (not dreams) that Zechariah had. It’s been shown (by Webb, 2003) that the first four visions represent God returning to his people, and the second four visions (5–8) represent sin departing from the land. The four horseman vision anticipates the judgment of the nations. The second and third visions show, through the building of God’s house, that Yahweh is returning. The fourth and fifth visions depict Joshua and Zerubbabel as God’s chosen leaders. (I note that Joshua and Zerubbabel, together with Zechariah, cohabit in a trinity representing Christ’s three offices — priest [Joshua], prophet [Zechariah], and king [Zerubbabel].) Wickedness is removed from the land in visions six and seven (chapter 5) and a house is made for it (evil, idolatry, and sin) in Babylon! With chariots comes the final (eighth) night vision, showing the execution of judgment against the nations.
Chapter 6, after the final night vision, ushers in the coronation of the Branch (or Shoot), which was first anticipated in verse 3:8. Key verses attending to the messianic nature of Zechariah’s material, as they came to manifest in Jesus Christ’s life, are 3:8, 6:12, 9:9-10, 12:10, 13:7-9.
Ethics in Zechariah are strong, which diminishes the argument that the post-exilic prophets reflect a shift in emphasis from ethics back to the cultus. 1:3-6, 3:7, 5:1-11, 6:15, 7:1-14, 8:14-17, and 13:2-6 all show how important covenant obedience was for Yahweh in returning to the people of God. Zechariah understood this and affirmed it in his writing. The rebuilding of the temple and of the city was not wholly and solely about returning to the legalistic ritualism, though the post-exilic prophets might be thought to anticipate the age of legalistic Judaism at the time of Christ. So compelling are ethics of the covenant in Zechariah that chapters 5 and 7 are replete with ethics of the Kingdom.
Chapters 7 and 8 feature an astounding chiasm where the Lord is entreated in Jerusalem (7:1-3 and 8:20-23), there are details about what the Lord says about fasting (7:4-7 and 8:18-19) and what the Lord wants (7:8-10 and 8:16-17), as well as their ancestors’ refusal and punishment (7:11-14 and 8:14-15), and the hinge is the topic of a future salvation in 8:1-13. Chapter 8 is a collection of ten oracles in two sections — seven in the first (8:1-17) and three in the second (8:18-23) — with each oracle introduced by the general wording “So says the Lord of hosts.” Chapter 8 also connects to the themes of chapters 1–6, the earlier prophets, particularly the eschatological blessing of Jerusalem and the nation’s pilgrimages to it, and, because these themes are well developed in chapters 9–14, it’s easy to see the hinge that this section is in connecting the first half with the second, amalgamating the book as a whole.
Chapters 9–14 are much different to the aforementioned. For starters there are only two main oracles, the first of which is 9:1–11:17, which is a portrayal of the future in terms drawn from Israel’s history. Chapter 9 can be broken up into three headings: 1) 9:1-8 (the restored land); 2) 9:9-10 (the restored king); and, 3) 9:11-17 (the restored people). Although the people of God in Zechariah’s time were out of exile, they were, of effect, considering the exodus imagery waiting for a ‘second exodus’ to occur.
Chapter 10 is a standalone unit in its own regard. It speaks of the results of good and poor leadership. Yahweh is highly critical of the leaders (shepherds) in this section — a theme that will spill over into chapter 11. Shepherd imagery links chapters 10 and 11.
Chapter 11 is a complete enigma on our first reading of it! Can we possibly see Jesus — the coming Davidic king — in it? That seems impossible. Jesus is Lord, but the Lord of destruction? Of destroying ‘favour’ (grace) and ‘union’ (unity). No, for these he came. But if we read Zech. 11 in view of what had been, the troubled pre-exilic time of the people of God, the remnant still has hope in view of what is to come in the next chapter.
Chapter 11 comprises two sign actions involving shepherds (11:4-14, 15-17) given to Zechariah as instructions from Yahweh. There is merit in seeing the prophesy in this chapter as being past tense. The breaking of the two staffs ‘union’ and ‘favour’ represent the division of the kingdom and the exile respectively, speaking of the veracity of a past tense attribution of how this chapter is to be read.
Chapter 12 begins with the nations battling God’s people and the affliction of Jerusalem and wider Judah. But God will defend his people and his land. God, himself, will be “pierced” and there’s a great outpouring of grief and mourning. This chapter commences the seventeen ‘on that day’ phrases in chapters 12–14. As with themes in other chapters the coming of God’s kingdom — a great Day for the remnant people of God and the obedient nations — will not come first without great cost.
Some themes that are collected in latter Zechariah (chapters 9–10, 12–14) are as follows: 1) There are battles against the nations, yet 2) Yahweh fights for and 3) protects his people. 4) Mention is made of a future king. 5) Yahweh saves his people. And finally, 6) the exiles will return/be gathered.
Chapter 13 commences in a similar way to other sections — the removal of sin — targeting false prophets, idolatry, and every spirit of impurity. But then there’s three very important verses (7–9) that conclude the chapter with an image that is unmistakable to the New Testament reader who’s also aware of the Suffering Servant image in Isaiah 40–55.
Chapter 14, say many commentators, including Martin Luther, is difficult to interpret as to the time of its setting, its purpose — metaphorical or literal — and its meaning in the overall context of the world. But all ends well for Jerusalem and Judah, and the nations are either complicit with the worship of the Lord or they’re decimated or punished. It seems fair, in modest appropriation of view considering the hermeneutical challenges, that this chapter be classified as applying to both first and second comings of Jesus. As far as ‘fulfilment’ is concerned, it’s a case of ‘now and not yet’.
A large book for the profile of its prophet, though just as important as any of the Twelve as far as apocalyptic, eschatology, and messianism is concerned, Zechariah every bit as large as any, theologically and hermeneutically.
Zechariah speaks of the coming Messiah, the return of Yahweh to Jerusalem and the people of God, of covenant, and of the future reign of God’s Kingdom.
The faithfulness of the New Testament is that Jesus is found in the Old.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.
Reference: Petterson, A.R., Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi (Apollos Old Testament Commentary, Vol. 25) (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2015).