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.
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:
The prophecy divides fairly clearly into three sections:
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 book commences with a warning from the past, and it is possible to trace at least four themes in these introductory verses:
They are mentioned four times: v. 2, v. 4, v. 5 and v. 6. On each occasion, something different is stressed -
They are mentioned three times: v. 4, v. 5 and v. 6. Once again, something different is stressed in each reference.
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.
Three things are emphasised about God’s word:
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