Introductory Issues in Zechariah
Angels are mentioned twenty-one times in Zechariah, exceeded in the Bible only by Judges (22), LukeThe “beloved physician” and companion of Paul More (23), and Revelation (79). The principle role of angels in the Scriptures is to be messengers, and the Old Testament word malak simply means messenger. Malak might be a human or divine being, but malak yahweh, “angel of the LORD,” makes clear that a divine being is intended. If the context indicates that it is a message from one human to another, malak is translated “messenger” (Deuteronomy 2:26; JoshuaThe successor of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan More 6:17, 25; 7:22; Judges 11:12, 13; 1 SamuelThe judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More 6:21; 11:3-4, 7, 9; 19:11, 14-16; and others). If the context indicates the message comes from God, or if the word used is malak yahweh, “angel of the LORD,” it is clear that the messenger is from God, that is, an angel (Genesis 24:7; Exodus 23:20, 23; 1 Kings 13:18; 2 Chronicles 32:21; Daniel 3:28; and others). Because angels always speak God’s message, Zechariah uses variations of the phrases “Thus says the LORD of hosts” (1:3, 13, 16; 2:6, 9; 7:4; 8:2; etc.) or “the angel who talked with me” (1:9, 12, 13, 19; 2:3; 3:6; 4:1, 5; 5:5; 6:5; etc.) interchangeably.
ApocalypseAt its root, being derived from a Greek word meaning “unveiling,” apocalypse refers to a revelation of a divine or previously unseen reality. Some ancient Jewish and Christian literature used the term to describe destruction or cataclysm. Paul describes his encounter with Jesus Christ as… More
The book is in part an example of Jewish apocalyptic literature in the late history of the Old Testament era. The visions, imagery, oracles, angels, and eschatological themes point toward a new future. The first vision of the four horsemen who patrol the earth in 1:8 reappears as the last vision, four chariots drawn by horses in 6:1-8, also patrolling the earth. These two visions are prelude to the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” in Revelation 6:2-8.
Authorship of chapters 9-14
The tone and character of the book clearly change in the last six chapters. Chapters 1-8 deal specifically with the situation of the returning exiles and the rebuilding of the templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged… More, with angels appearing as intermediaries. Chapters 9-14 deal with the broader themes of judgment on foreign cities and nations not mentioned in previous chapters–Hamath, Damascus, Egypt, and Greece. Many scholars even posit two different authors for these last six chapters, responsible for 9-11 and 12-14, respectively, with 13:7-9 possibly belonging with 9-11. The dating of this latter section is very difficult. Some scholars date chapters 10 and 13 as preexilic, while others date these chapters as late as the Maccabean period (second century B.C.E.).
Zechariah foresees a man who will be simultaneously a servant and a “branch” (3:8-10), crowned with a crown of silver and gold, who will build the Lord’s temple (6:11-15). The passage implies two persons, a combined leadership of ruler or governor and priest, who “shall sit and rule on his throne” (6:13). The verses are also reminiscent of the branch from the stump of DavidSecond king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More in IsaiahIsaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)–preachers who boldly proclaimed God’s word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More 11:1, which is also later connected with JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God’s saving act for humanity More as MessiahThe Messiah was the one who, it was believed, would come to free the people of Israel from bondage and exile. In Jewish thought the Messiah is the anticipated one who will come, as prophesied by Isaiah. In Christian thought Jesus of Nazareth is identified… More.
The restoration of Jerusalem is a dominant theme throughout the book–as a center of worship, a magnet for all nations to worship God, and a place where people live harmoniously. How ironic that today the city is a symbol of contention. The place of Jerusalem is a critical issue today, because many people’s political views about the Middle East are shaped by their biblical interpretation of passages such as those found in Zechariah and elsewhere.
Matthew and John quote Zechariah several times, drawing parallels to Jesus’ life. In their accounts of the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, both Gospels quote Zechariah 9:9, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Zechariah’s oracle of the faithful shepherd being stuck down (13:7) is cited by Jesus at the Mount of Olives following the Last Supper, as he foretells his desertion by the disciples: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31, also Mark 14:27). Describing Judas’s betrayal and death, Matthew paraphrases Zechariah’s reference to thirty shekels of silver (11:12-13): “they took the thirty pieces of silver…and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me” (Matthew 27:9-10, where the passage from Zechariah is incorrectly attributed to Jeremiah). Zechariah’s oracle of compassion for those who have suffered (“they look on the one whom they have pierced”–12:10), is cited by John 19:37 at Jesus’ crucifixion as an indication of Scripture fulfilled.
Zechariah estimates that fully two-thirds of the flock will perish and be lost, but the one-third remaining remnant will be refined as silver and gold, and they will confess God faithfully (8:6, 11, 12; 13:7-9). The remnant remaining after punishment and exile is a common theme in prophetic writings, for example, Isaiah 10:20-22; 28:5; 37:31-32; JeremiahProphet who condemned Judah’s infidelity to God, warned of Babylonian conquest, and promised a new covenant More 24:8; 42:19; 44:12, 14; Micah 5:7, 8; Zephaniah 2:7, 9; Haggai 1:12, 14.
Satan appears in the fourth vision, accusing the high priest Joshua. The Lord rebukes him and restores the festive garb of Joshua. The word “Satan” has a broad meaning in the Old Testament. Here the more accurate translation of ha-satan would be “the accuser,” similar to Satan’s role in 1 Chronicles 21:1 (“Satan stood up against Israel”) or Job 1:7-12; 2:1-6. There is no suggestion here that Satan is an angel, the devil, or a “fallen angel.”
Shepherds faithful and false
The role of the shepherd becomes prominent in the closing two oracles of the book. In 10:2-7 the shepherd as false ruler and leader will be punished, so that the Lord can restore the people. Chapter 11 is a passage whose historical context has been the object of much speculation. The prophet is commanded to be a shepherd, even though the flock is doomed to slaughter because they have been deceived by false shepherds. Due to the flock’s unfaithfulness, the Lord has given them over to worthless shepherds who disregard the people’s welfare and who in turn will be destroyed by the Lord. Chapter 13 ends with a poem in which the Lord will strike down the shepherd, scattering the sheep, but the one-third remnant will be refined and will acknowledge the Lord as God (13:7-9).
The Jews in Babylon and in other dispersed places outside JudahJudah was the name of Jacob’s fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More had maintained their religious devotion without the temple. When the first exiles returned to Jerusalem they laid the foundation for the restored temple, but did not continue to build further (EzraScribe who helped establish Jewish practices in Jerusalem after the exile. More 4:4). Haggai and Zechariah led the movement to finish the temple and reinstate the priesthood with a high priestThe high priest was the most powerful priest in the temple in Jerusalem. The high priest Caiaphas held the office during the trial of Jesus. Later, in the New Testament book of Hebrews, the role of merciful high priest is ascribed to the resurrected Jesus. More (Ezra 5:1-2; 6:8-15). Yet, Zechariah cautions that true obedience to the Lord is not only in temple ritual, but in how we treat other people (7:1-10). Since the final destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., the priesthood and temple ritual were replaced altogether by rabbinic Judaism and the synagogueA synagogue is a Jewish house of worship. Jesus often taught in synagogues where he sometimes ran afoul of Jewish leaders. In the book of Acts, Paul and others attend synagogues and teach in them. More.
Zechariah has more visions than any other prophetic book. Each is followed by an interpretation looking toward the future. The character of visions is that they are easily sculpted to fit one’s own far-fetched theories. The history of scriptural interpretation is rife with fanciful theories based on biblical visions. Care must be taken to adhere as closely as possible to the meaning of visions in their own historical contexts.