Studies in Zechariah
John Riddle, Cheshunt, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
INTRODUCING THE BOOK
When was it Written?
HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH AND MALACHI all lived and wrote at the time of the restoration of the Jews to their homeland after seventy years captivity in Babylonia. When we read these three books, we need to take a little more time to read three more: Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. They too refer to the same period in Israel’s history. Very briefly, the six books are linked together as follows:
In BC 536 or 537, Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a decree authorizing the Jews (i.e. the exiles from Judah) to return from Babylonia to Judah. The first contingent returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel. See Ezra chapters 1 to 6. A second contingent returned under the leadership of Ezra. See Ezra chapters 7 to 10. Some fifty or sixty years elapsed between the two expeditions back to Jerusalem, and the events described in the book of Esther took place in those years. The principal event in the book of Ezra is the rebuilding of the temple. The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah should be read in conjunction with Ezra. You will find numerous cross-references; for example, Ezra 5. 1-2. Some ten years later, in BC 466, Nehemiah heard of the plight of Jerusalem. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The city was in ruins - apart from the rebuilt temple - and therefore exposed to every predator. The book of Nehemiah records the rebuilding of the city wall. The prophecy of Malachi should be read in conjunction with Nehemiah, even though it describes events somewhat later than Nehemiah. Quite clearly, the sad conditions set out in Nehemiah 13 had deteriorated still further by the time Malachi began to write. You will discover points of similarity between Nehemiah 13 and Malachi’s ministry.
Why was it Written?
We have already seen that Zechariah, with Haggai, was deeply involved with the rebuilding of the temple. ‘Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo prophesied unto the Jews’, Ezra 4.24-5. 1. Haggai preached his first message ‘in the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month’, Hag. 1. 1. Twenty-four days later, the Jews recommenced rebuilding the temple. About four weeks later, Haggai delivered his second message, Hag. 2. 1. In the next month, God called Zechariah to confirm and supplement Haggai’s preaching, Zech. 1. 1. The following month saw Haggai back in action, Hag. 2. 10. Two months later, it was Zechariah’s turn again, in the ninth and eleventh months of ‘the second year of Darius’. Evidently, they had no meetings in the tenth month! We mustn’t overlook two simple, but important, lessons which emerge. Firstly, that although the work of temple reconstruction had recommenced, the people needed constant encouragement and help in the work. We need the word of God when things are at a low ebb, but we need the word of God just as much when things are going well. Secondly, here we have two men working together. Zechariah’s ministry differed in style from that of Haggai. It also seems that Zechariah was possibly the younger of the two, see Zechariah 2. 4. But there was no confusion or collision between them. God used each at different times, and to say different things, but always in perfect harmony with each other. This is not, of course, surprising, 1 Cor. 14.33.
Quite obviously then, Zechariah worked very closely with Haggai in encouraging and helping the returned Jewish exiles to rebuild the temple. But as we shall see in future studies, God willing, Zechariah (and Haggai chapter 2. 6-9) undertook his ministry of encouragement with reference to the final fulfilment of God’s purposes for Israel, as well as to the immediate task of rebuilding. We must always remember that the Old Testament prophets addressed the present in the light of the future. Zechariah therefore describes the still future glory of Jerusalem, for example, chapters 6. 13-15 and 14. 20-21.
We must therefore remember that this wonderful prophecy, often using symbolic language which needs careful and sensible explanation from other parts of the bible, describes:
- events and conditions existing at the time, and
- events and conditions which are still future.
How was it Written?
The prophecy divides fairly clearly into three sections:
- Chapters 1-6. After the introductory message given in ‘the eighth month, in the second year of Darius’ (November, BC 520), Zechariah received a series of eight visions in the ‘eleventh month’. He saw them all, apparently, in one night’! 1. 8 and 4. 1. If you feel that these visions are very confusing at times- or all the time - take comfort from such verses as 4. 5 and 11-13, and 6. 4 (there are others too). Even Zechariah needed some help! The section ends with, ‘He shall build the temple of the Lord’, 6. 12-13. The builder is ‘the man whose name is The Branch.’ Sufficient however to note just now that Zechariah’s ministry of encouragement to the temple rebuilders in BC 520, included reference to the coming glory of the temple.
- Chapters 7-8. Two years have passed: ‘in the fourth year of king Darius’. (The rebuilding project was completed ‘in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king’, Ezra 6.15). A deputation had arrived to ask the temple priests if it was still necessary to fast and mourn - and received an answer they didn’t expect. God looked for obedience in His people, not mere religious practices - and had ‘scattered thelll with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not’, 7. 14, because they ‘refused to hearken … and stopped their ears’, 7. 11-12. But if the people whom He had brought back from Babylon obeyed His word, the very fast days they queried would become occasions of joy, not mourning, 8. 19. The section ends, like the first, with reference to the future, when both Jew and Gentile will come to Jerusalem ‘to seek the Lord of hosts … and to pray before the Lord’, 8. 20-23.
- Chapters 9-14. The final section of the prophecy describes events leading to the return of the Lord in glory to deliver His besieged people, and to establish His kingdom. The frequent occurrence of the phrase ‘in that day’, points to events at the end-time. The reasons for Jewish suffering and tribulation are spelt out very clearly. Their King had corne, 9.9, and had been rejected, 11. 7-14 and 12.10; but now He returns in power and glory. As before, the section ends with reference to all nations coming to worship in the temple at Jerusalem.
Who wrote it?
Some people have gone to the most amazing lengths to prove that there must have been two writers. Most of them assume that Zechariah Mark I must have written chapters 1-8, and that Zechariah Mark II must have written chapters 9-14. Others go for three or even more writers. Others try to dismember the book, and reconstruct it in a different order - because they can’t understand it in its present form! After ploughing through a book giving all sorts of views and opinions about the authorship of Zechariah, your contributor was highly amused to read: ‘but when every argument has been considered, the fact remains that all fourteen chapters have been handed down to us as one book in every manuscript so far discovered. Even the tiny fragment of the Greek manuscript found at Qumran, which includes the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9, shows no gap or spacing whatsoever to suggest a break between the two parts’. Precisely! But let’s ask the question again - ‘Who wrote it?’ The answer is, a man whose name means, ‘He whom Jehovah remembers’. And so He does. Zechariah proves that ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’, Psa. 121. 4. Zechariah introduces himself as ‘Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Icido’. Place the meanings of these three names together, and you get a sentence like this: ‘God remembers, God blesses, at the appointed time’. Could you think of a better summary of the prophecy of Zechariah?
The Prologue, Chapter 1. 1-6
The book commences with a warning from the past, and it is possible to trace at least four themes in these introductory verses:
1) The Fathers
They are mentioned four times: v. 2, v. 4, v. 5 and v. 6. On each occasion, something different is stressed -
- They displeased God. ‘The Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers’, v. 2. The apostle Paul expressed his desire to please God as follows: ‘Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him (well-pleasing unto Him, R.V.)’. 2 Corinthians 5. 9. 1 Thessalonians 4. 1 and 2 Timothy 2. 4 are required reading at this juncture. God found complete pleasure and delight in His Son, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’.
- They disregarded God. ‘Be ye not as your fathers … they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the Lord’, v. 4. God had spoken to them. It was not a case of not hearing in the sense that His word had never penetrated their ears, but of not hearing in the sense that they had not responded to His word. They know what God had said - but there it stayed. No wonder the Lord Jesus said, ‘Take heed therefore how ye hear’, Luke 8. 18. See also Matthew 13. 13.
- They were judged by God. ‘Your fathers, where are they?’, v. 5. It wasn’t simply that they were dead: rather, how and where they had died. Invasion and captivity had meant that they died in disgrace and defeat. They could not say at the end, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith’.
- They acknowledged God. ‘But my words …. did they not take hold of (overtake) your fathers? and they returned and said, like as the Lord of hosts thought to do unto us …. so hath he dealt with us’, v. 6. They had been forced to acknowledge that God’s threats were far from empty - He had fulfilled His word, see Galatians 6. 7-8.
2) The Prophets
They are mentioned three times: v. 4, v. 5 and v. 6. Once again, something different is stressed in each reference.
- They cried. ‘Unto whom the former prophets (see 7.7), have cried’, v. 4. They didn’t haIf-heartedly chat about God’s message - they cried. The message gripped them: they were earnest about it: it was real to them. Paul had the same spirit: ‘necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel’, 1 Cor. 9. 16. See also Acts 18. 5, where ‘pressed in spirit’ means, ‘constrained by the word’, R.V.
- They ceased. ‘The prophets, do they live for ever?’, v. 5. The verse stresses the brevity of life, whether for the disobedient ‘fathers’, or for God’s servants the prophets. The significance of the verse is dearly seen when we read the next - the messenger passes off the scene, but the message remains. Like David, we can only serve our own generation, but what do we leave behind? How important to leave a legacy of faithful bible teaching and preaching.
- They were commanded. ‘My words and my statutes which I commanded my servants the prophets’, v. 6. The prophets were men whose message and whose movements were directed by God. They were servants, and therefore under an obligation to obey their divine Master, see 1 Cor. 4.1-2.
3) The Lord of Hosts
He is mentioned five times: v. 3 (three times), v.4 and v. 6. In Romans 9.29 and James 5.4, this title is rendered ‘the Lord of sabaoth’. It signifies His supreme authority in every realm - His absolute power and infinite resources, see Dan. 4. 35: ’ … He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth’. It is a title first mentioned in 1 Samuel 1. 3, but it occurs with frequency in the latter part of the Old Testament - in Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. It is a title used in connection with Israel’s need.
Zechariah chapter 1 emphasises two ways in which the title is used. Firstly, in connection with His power to bless. All God’s resources are available for His people’s blessing. Zechariah said it in BC 520, v. 3, and the ‘former prophets’ had said it too, v4. Just see how it’s put in Malachi 3. 10.
Secondly, in connection with His power to judge, see v. 6. We must never forget that.
4) The Word of God
Three things are emphasised about God’s word:
- God appeals through His word. ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn to you, saith the Lord of hosts’, v. 3. He was entitled to command: but in love He pleads with His people. He desires to bless them, and looks for conditions in their hearts and lives to make this possible. This is the central message of the passage. He waits ‘that He may be gracious’, Isa. 30. 18.
- God warns through His word. ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts; turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings’, v. 4. If the emphasis in verse 3 is on God’s desire to bless, then the emphasis in verse 4 is on the necessity to turn to His word. We cannot afford to ignore the warnings of God’s word.
- God is faithful to His word. ‘But my words and my statutes …. did they not take hold (overtake) your fathers?’, v. 6. Whether in blessing or, as here, in judgement, God will always honour His promises. There are some things that God cannot do, and here is one of them: ‘God, that cannot lie’, Tit. 1. 2. If we reject His word, the consequences are inevitable. The ‘fathers’ were obliged to acknowledge that God was faithful to His own word.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John Riddle is an elder in the assembly meeting at Mill Lane Chapel, Cheshunt, and serves the Lord in written and oral ministry throughout the UK where his gifts are much appreciated. He took early retirement from business as a pensions executive.