by Dr. Keith Megilligan
Zechariah is simply identified to us as a “prophet” in 1:1. His time for living and ministry are given in Ezra 6:14 – “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.” His own reference of two specific dates for his (initial?) word of prophecy, Zechariah 1:1,7, date him in the second year of Darius in 520 BC. These references help give us not only his time of ministry but indicate who his contemporaries were: Haggai, Daniel and Ezekiel.
Zechariah (as a prophet and the book) has the following “themes” in his writing:
1) His evident concern for the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah (1:12; 7:5; cf. Jeremiah 25:11; Daniel 9:2)
2) Jerusalem (mentioned 37 times)
3) Joshua the high priest and Satan (chapters 3, 6; mentioned 6 times)
4) A series of visions prefaced mainly by the phrase “word of the Lord.”
There are a variety of “personages” mentioned:
Lord [of Hosts] (46 times), LORD God, Angel of the Lord, angel (sometimes referred to as “man”), Joshua the high priest, Zerubbabel and “the” shepherd and shepherds. Zechariah offers two specific dates for his word of prophecy: 1:1,7 (519 B.C., 3 months after the first prophecy – 520 B.C.). These dates help give us not only his time of ministry but indicate who his contemporaries are (indicated above). Similarly, each of these prophets have specific (personal and prophetic) concerns for Jerusalem.
His visions (word of the Lord) are:
1) The horsemen (1:1,7)
2) Horns and craft-men (1:18)
3) “Man” and measuring line (2:1)
4) Joshua, the high priest (3:1; 6:11)
5) Golden lamp stand (5:1)
6) Woman (women) in basket (5:5)
7) Four chariots (6:1)
The following are not necessarily visions in that they are not proceeded by the phrase “word of the Lord.”
8) Coming King (9:9ff)
9) Ask for rain (10:1)
10) Shepherds 10:3; 11:4 culminating in 13:7-9
11) Lord returns to Jerusalem (salvation) (12:1) with the spirit of grace (12:10)
12) Day of the Lord (14:1)
It would be helpful to distinguish the role of prophet from the “prophecies” in this book. Briefly, a prophet in the Old Testament was referred to as a nabi. Basically he was a spokesman on behalf of another. For example, Aaron was Moses’ nabi, (Exodus 4; 7:1). Prophets were spokesmen on behalf of God. However, their word from the Lord may be “forth telling,” or “foretelling.” That is, the word may be for a contemporary audience of the prophet, and/or the word could be for future audiences. In Zechariah, there are a variety of “prophecies,” at least as far as the impact of the timing of the message was concerned. The following summary is not iron clad: the first two-thirds (of the book) is mainly for the immediate context/audience of Zechariah and the latter third is for future audience(s).
Outline and other observations on Zechariah
Zechariah uses the concept of questions and answers to open his prophetic book. Most of these Q & A sessions focus on the immediate sense of prophecy (forth telling). By this method we are given a little insight to the prophet and the immediate audience of his day. This pattern is followed from chapters 1 through 7. One of the interesting features of this “forth-telling” is the use of symbolism and object lessons to teach about the fate of Jerusalem/Israel. The use of symbols and even a touch of allegory are a familiar teaching mechanism among prophetic books (i.e. Daniel, Ezekiel and others) The Q & A is somewhat abruptly ended in chapter 8 by a series of statements: “Thus says the LORD of hosts…”The Q & A in the first seven chapters is focused upon Jerusalem and Judah:
1) It’s all about Jerusalem/Judah. Chapter 1 & 2
2) Who will oversee Jerusalem? Chapter 3
3) Who will build Jerusalem? Chapter 4
4) What is in the Land (Jerusalem/Judah)? Chapter 5
5) What are the chariots/spirits? Chapter 5:5
6) What is this “offering?” Chapter 6:10
7) Who is the branch? Chapter 6:12, 13 (future telling)
8) What about the crown? Chapter 6:10,11, 14, 15
9) Shall I mourn/fast? Chapter 7
As we come to chapter 8, a significant grammatical shift takes place. We go from Q & A to the LORD of hosts making a series of declarative statements preceded with the verbal formula: “…thus says the LORD of hosts…” Again, Jerusalem/Zion is his focus.
Chapter 9 is a summary of God against the nations of the world. In the process God demonstrates himself as rising to the defense of Israel.
Chapter 10, by contrast, is a summary of God’s blessings upon the return of Jacob/Israel to the Land.
The flip side of this blessing is the destruction that God declares awaits Lebanon, Bashan, and Jordan in chapter 11. Continuing in this chapter, the Lord switches his concern to the subject of shepherding. He is especially critical of bad shepherds and their care (lack of) those who are doomed for slaughter. He uses the analogy of two different named staffs: Favor and Union to illustrate His broken relationship with Judah and Israel. He also incorporates the famous passage about “thirty pieces of silver” (see Matthew 26:15; 27:9,10 for the messianic implications).
The previous segment about the thirty pieces of silver becomes a transition of sorts in Zechariah’s book. The emphasis of his prophecy definitely shifts from “forth telling” to “future telling.” One prophetic cue (or clue), is the idiomatic expression, “In that day…” (Hebrew = b’yom). This idiom is used about 10 times from chapter 12 to the end of the book (prophecy).
Next, there is a change in tense (The Hebrew language doesn’t function the same as English, where the characteristic of time [past, present and future] isn’t as clearly manifested. Technically, the Hebrew verbs have aspects of reference where the context helps govern the time indicated). That being said, the tense becomes future oriented, e.g. “I will make…” “I will strike…” Further, there is an introduction of a phrase like nothing that has happened to that point in Israel’s relationship to God: “…they will look on Me whom they have pierced…” Certainly this phrase is something that needs further explanation and understanding that perhaps even Zechariah didn’t fully comprehend as he penned those words.
Chapter 12 also contains certain phrases that need additional consideration.
How do we understand the phrases, “glory of the house of David, glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem”?
- Is there a particular distinction between the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem? If so, what is that distinction?
- What is the “Spirit of Grace”? Should the phrase even be capitalized?
- Do we now understand better why the previous “mourning” (chapter 7) was rebuffed as it is now clearly purposed (i.e. “…for Him, as one mourns for an only son”)?
- How is the phrase “in that day” (vs. 11) related to the mourning done in the plain of Megiddo (vs. 11)?
- Chapter 13 contains some familiar themes that prophets of God are frequently told to address. There are judgments against idolatry and false prophets. The former speaks to commitment of Israel to God alone. The latter speaks to the biblical qualifications for true prophets that God had laid down during the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 13 and 18).
God likewise addresses the subject of “My Shepherd” by laying the context for another messianic fulfillment (vs. 7; cf. Matthew 26:31) and the matter of painful refinement for Israel in that only one third will survive “in all the land.” Again, the concept of God refining the children of Israel is a common theme among Old Testament prophets (see Isaiah 48:10,11).
The concluding chapter 14 again implements the idiom, “in that day,” or a similar phrase, “it will come about in that day.” The whole chapter is basically messianic. “The LORD will go forth…His feet will stand…” are two such phrases climaxing in verse 9 with, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.” This is a distinct reflection of the unity and simplicity of God as taught in Deuteronomy 6:4. However, the language about God’s “feet” and “stand” used by Zechariah is anthropomorphic. That is, we know that God, being Spirit, does not have feet. So for God to be depicted as such would indicate that the anticipation is of the Messiah; God being incarnate in His Son (cf. Isaiah 9:6,7).
Finally, there are two physical phenomena described that must be pointing to the future because these phenomena have never occurred in Israel’s history or, for that matter, the history of the world.
1) A day in which there will be no light (14:6,7).
2) The topography of and around Jerusalem will be completely changed (14:5, 10).
Zechariah by using his office of “forth-teller” and “fore-teller” gives us a consistent view of God’s regard for Jerusalem, Judah, Israel and His Son, the Messiah of Israel. God has cared for and even exalted each in the past and he will continue to do so today and in the future (“in that day”).
The consistent caution is against idolatry and careful adherence to his Word (through his true prophets). Today, the child of God is admonished to do the same. Keep looking to the Word for not only the future of Jerusalem and Israel, but your own future as well.