Helpful side-note: Pre-exilic (before the exodus to Babylon in 600BC) v post-exilic (after the exodus to Babylon/during the God-instructed return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem), Zechariah is a post-exilic prophet.
Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he was both a prophet and priest, and a contemporary of Haggai.
The book of Zechariah is the longest of the minor prophets and is considered a “book of visions,” because of the interesting language used in the first part of the book.
Outline & Notable Attributes of the Book of Zechariah:
- Zechariah 1-8: the 8 “night visions”
- Zechariah 9-14: the oracles, or burdens
Zechariah is cited or referenced 41 times in the New Testament
[The book of Zechariah] is the most messianic, the most truly apocalyptic and eschatological of all the writings of the Old Testament.” (1.)
This begs the question, why is it so rarely taught?
For a dozen years or more, the task of rebuilding the temple has stood half completed. Zechariah is commission by God to encourage the people in the unfinished responsibility. Rather than exhorting them to action with strong words of rebuke, Zechariah seeks to encourage them to action by reminding them of the future importance of the temple. The temple must be built, for one day Messiah’s glory will inhabit it. But future blessing is contingent upon present obedience. The people are not merely building a structure; they are building the future. With that as their motivation, they can enter…the building project with wholehearted zeal, for their Messiah is coming! (2.)
Old Testament scholar Joyce Baldwin (3.) observes:
- While …based on present realities, Zechariah…goes on to introduce glimpses of things …from a heavenly standpoint.
- …God is working out his eternal purpose for Judah and Jerusalem, equipping his covenant people to fulfill the spiritual role for which he chose them (Zechariah. 1:7–6:15). The prophet…spell(s) out in everyday terms the quality of life which they are to display (Zechariah 7:1–8:23).
- …The last 6 chapters (Zechariah 9-14) are dominated by struggle and tension. At first the battle is local and God’s people triumph, but later the rejection of the good shepherd (Zechariah 11:4–17), mourning (Zechariah 12:10–13:1) and the slaughter of the shepherd (Zechariah 13:7–9) intensify the sinister impression that evil forces are gaining control. Finally, they capture Jerusalem, and that is the signal for the Lord’s intervention to establish his kingdom over all the earth.
- The book prepares God’s people for the worst calamity they can ever face, the triumph of evil over good. Even God’s representative dies at the hand of evil men. There is no room in Zechariah’s thinking for glib optimism, but when evil has done its worst the Lord remains King and will be seen to be King by all the nations.
A contrast with Haggai:
- The land if referenced 22 times
- The angel of the Lord declaring 20 times
(The angel of the Lord, or Angel of the Lord, is an illusion to Jesus)
- “Declares the Lord” or similar 20 times
- “The word of the Lord came…” 13 times
- Measuring line Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 2:1 and plumb line Zechariah 4:10
- Your king is coming Zechariah 9:9-10
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you;He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth. -Zechariah 9:9-10
Studying Prophetic Literature
Studying prophetic literature results in a scale of responses from dismissal to overly ambitious, creative interpretations.
I’m not for balance, I’m for accuracy. What does the text tell us?
That’s why I’m such a stickler for context. You and I have to understand the context in which these stories are compiled, the context in which God’s speaking to His people. How did the Israelites and Judah hear this? What did it mean to them (as best we can ascertain)?
Then we back up – what did it mean later? How many of these prophecies were fulfilled? How many are yet to be fulfilled?
That’s the art and science of Bible study methodology. It’s not as hard as it seems, but the continuum of dismissal or overstated interpretations is wrong. We can’t blow over the text when it’s difficult, nor should we overly interpret it. Look at plain language as best we can.
Who heard this first, and what did it mean to them?
God’s people had been in sin, had gone into Babylonian exile, and were returning and were charged by God, first and foremost, to rebuild the temple complex–and they didn’t do it. They started, but then stopped. And that’s the context into which Haggai and Zechariah come in and speak.
A Closer Look at Zechariah Chapter 3
Characters – Joshua, the Angel of the Lord (Jesus), and Satan.
1. Standing – Joshua is standing before the Lord, a posture of worship. But notice, Satan is also standing.
2. Rebuke – God has chosen Israel, and rebukes Satan. We cannot miss the theme that God chose Israel and will choose her again. But notice, they’re a brand plucked from a fire. A great image. A brand plucked from the fire will lose its heat. When God snatches something out of a blaze, He’s saving them from certain destruction.
When God rebukes, there’s no defense.
God spares His people not because they deserve it, but because of His covenant promises to His chosen people.
3. Joshua’s filthy garments expose the sin condition of the High priest. A priest can’t have filthy garments. This is representative of sin, and he can’t do anything about it. Someone else has to cleanse that sin, he’s unable: man can’t even approach God in worship the right way, we need someone else to stand in.
4. The Angel of the Lord commands other angels to remove the filthy garments. It is the Lord who is able to remove the filthy garments. No one is good or can resolve their own sin condition!
- It’s hard to overstate the importance of obedience.God cares about our obedience far more than we understand.
The temple was more than a national centerpiece. It was the theological centerpiece of the world. The place where God had established His name for His people to worship Him.
Israel’s repeated disobedience and unfaithfulness bring heavy and, in some cases, lifelong consequences.
You will never regret obeying God. The outcome is always better when we run to obedience.
Future blessing is contingent on present obedience. – Wilkinson & Boa
- Rebuilding was both literal and spiritual.The temple complex was a physical place in need of rebuilding, but it wasn’t merely a physical structure–it was their place of worship and connection to God. God had prescribed that they would rebuild the temple.
In a building project, you must measure your materials against a standard–and you must have the correct standard by which to measure in order to rebuild. The measuring line would establish the boundaries and survey within God’s design.
You can only rebuild that which is broken or in need of repair.
Rebuilding reveals Israel’s broken relationship, the chosen path of sin and unfaithfulness, for which they had been severely disciplined. Now, by God’s mercy, they had the opportunity to rebuild/repair, lest they would be unable to worship Him.
God is so interested in you and me rebuilding our lives according to His measuring line, not ours.
Obedience is more important than we understand, and we must obey to His standard.
This isn’t legalism or do’s and don’t’s – it’s a sense of alignment with God’s Word.
It doesn’t matter how you and I feel about it, it matters if you obey.
- Be eager to pay attention.
Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.
-Dr. Curt Thompson
In Jewish culture, when they speak of the heart they mean the conscious mind. What Zechariah’s saying is: you’ve turned off your mind to the truth of God.
They refused to pay attention. It’s chilling how bent on sin we can become, and it can be so easy to smugly judge others’ sins.
Obedience isn’t that difficult:
Am I doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons?
The latter part of the book…stretches the capacity of human words and understanding. The chapters are filled with tension, capturing the eternal struggle between good and evil, but locating that struggle in the context of God’s chosen people and their future.
Although this section ends finally with a sense of God’s triumph, it is a dark passage, penetrated as much by despair and violence as it is by hope. The prophetic message… addresses … issues that trouble mankind in every generation.
Must evil always triumph over good?
Is God really almighty?
Will the world get better, or only worse?
Will the Kingdom of God, of peace and of righteousness, ever be established in this sad world?
It is questions such as these that are addressed in the Book of Zechariah. They are answered from the perspective of faith in God and hope in God’s future. But insofar as the book contains answers, they are addressed from faith and to faith. And insofar as those answers pertain in part to a future world, they are expressed in language which is difficult to interpret but breathes nevertheless with an ultimate hope in God which cannot be destroyed. (4.)
We rarely have answers to our “why” or “how long” questions, but we have clear instructions from the Lord:
Our ultimate future cannot be destroyed. We must be faithful in the in between.
- F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah,”in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1545.(International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956, 5:3136)
- Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible(Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), 288.
- Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 28, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 62.
- Peter C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets, vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), 157-159.