ZECHARIAH, BOOK OF The Book of Zechariah is the eleventh of the so-called Minor Prophets.
When the book was written In 538, Cyrus the Great, emperor of the Persian Empire, issued an edict (Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 6:3-5) allowing the Jews in Exile in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. Over the next two decades, many Exiles took advantage of Persian leniency, returned home, and began to reestablish life in Jerusalem or Judah. Apparently, an effort was made to begin rebuilding the Temple under an official named Sheshbazzar (Ezra 5:14-16) and perhaps Zerubabel (Ezra 3:1-13; Zechariah 4:9), but the work stopped due to opposition from persons who had not been in Exile and local officials. Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambysees, who died in 521 B.C. with no heir. The empire was thrown into disarray as two men, Darius I and Gautama, fought for the crown. In the midst of that turmoil, God raised two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to urge finishing the Temple.
What Zechariah preached The message of Zechariah may be summarized under two headings: prosperity and purification. Simply put, God promised the people of Judah and Jerusalem prosperity if they purified themselves from sin. This message is found in the first six chapters of the Book of Zechariah. Those chapters are written in the form of eight visions, with two messages of exhortation. The structure of the book anticipates the structure of later books called apocalypses, books like Daniel and Revelation; the Book of Zechariah itself is not, however, an apocalypse.
The opening message (Zechariah 1:1-6) reminds the audience that God had warned their forefathers not to sin, but they had not listened or repented. They had brought the Exile upon themselves. This message served to validate prophecy, after which Zechariah related his visions. The first three visions predict prosperity for Judah and Jerusalem. Four horsemen ride forth in Zechariah 1:7-17 to announce God's return to Zion, a new day when prosperity would come. In the second vision (Zechariah 1:18-21), four smiths (agents of God's deliverance) overcome four horns (symbols of the nations that ruled over Jerusalem). This reversal of fortunes would bring about the coming prosperity. In the third vision a man measures Jerusalem, only to find that it is too small to accommodate all those God would return to live there in glory. The visions conclude with a call to Exiles to return home from Babylon.
The last five visions deal with purification. In vision four (Zechariah 3:1-10) the high priest Joshua is symbolically cleansed for his work. The fifth vision (Zechariah 4:1-14) pictures God as a lampstand with two olive trees standing beside Him: Joshua and Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel is named to finish building the Temple, worship and sacrifice at which would be the means of purification. Vision six (Zechariah 5:1-4) involves a scroll flying through the air. The scroll and a voice condemn stealing and lying to cover up one's theft. (Was theft an especially acute problem in the poor, reduced state of Judah after the Exile?) In the seventh vision (Zechariah 5:5-11), Zechariah saw an ephah, in this case a container with a heavy, lead cover. Usually an ephah would hold about two-thirds of a bushel of grain. This ephah instead held a woman, who symbolizes impurity. Two women with wings came to take the iniquity back to Babylon, from which it had come. In the last vision (Zechariah 6:1-8), four charioteers head out in all directions to patrol the earth (and presumably to punish evil). Zechariah 7:1 and Zechariah 8:1 contain additional messages from Zechariah, but add no new insights.
The last six chapters of the Book of Zechariah do not seem to have been composed at the same time as the first eight chapters. For one thing, they presuppose that the Temple exists and so at least must have been written after 515, when the Temple was finished. In addition, Zechariah 11:12-13 is quoted in Matthew 27:9-10 as a saying of Jeremiah. In some Old Testament manuscripts, then, the verses (and presumably their context) probably were attached to the Book of Jeremiah, while in the manuscripts preserved in our Hebrew Bibles they were attached to Zechariah. Since the chapters differ in style and contents from both Jeremiah and Zechariah, some scholars think they were prophecies from an unknown prophet either from the time of the Persian Empire (down to 332) or the Greek Empire. Others think they are the later work of Zechariah.
Whether written by Jeremiah, Zechariah, or an anonymous prophet, it is the contents of the chapters that are important. Matthew 9:1 through 11 depict God's deliverance of His people in terms of the victory of God and His Messiah over the neighboring peoples, including the Greeks (Zechariah 9:1-10:7), the return of the Exiles (Zechariah 10:6-12), and the punishment of the wicked leaders of Judah (Zechariah 11:4-17). Zechariah 12-14 depict an end-time attack upon Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (Zechariah 12:1-3; Zechariah 14:1-3), an attack in which many people would be killed as God purifies His people (Zechariah 13:7-9). God Himself would rescue His people (Zechariah 12:4-9; Zechariah 14:4-5,Zechariah 14:12-15), cleanse the people from idolatry, rid the land of prophecy (which had become synonymous with false prophecy, Zechariah 13:1-6), and turn Jerusalem into a paradise to which the nations of the world would come to worship. Zechariah 14:1 envisions the Mount of Olives splitting in two, with fresh water (representing the blessings of God) flowing east and west watering the world. Cold and nighttime, representing threats to God's control, would be eliminated as He came to reign over all the world from Jerusalem.
I. God Is Just (Zechariah 1:1-2:13)
A. God's anger with His sinful people is justified (Zechariah 1:1-2).
B. God will return to His people if they return to Him (Zechariah 1:3).
C. History shows the justice of God and the sinfulness of His people (Zechariah 1:4-6).
II. God Promises Prosperity to His People (Zechariah 1:7-2:13).
A. Vision One: God's election mercy for His people replaces His anger (Zechariah 1:7-17).
B. Vision Two: God punishes those who oppress His people (Zechariah 1:18-21).
C. Vision Three: God's glorious presence will restore, protect, and expand His people (Zechariah 2:1-13).
III. God Calls His People to Purification (Zechariah 3:1-6:15).
A. Vision Four: God wants to forgive and purify His people and their leaders (Zechariah 3:1-10).
B. Vision Five: God exercise His sovereign rule through His Spirit and His messianic leaders (Zechariah 4:1-14).
C. Vision Six: God condemns stealing and lying (Zechariah 5:1-4).
D. Vision Seven: God removes the wickedness of His people (Zechariah 5:5-11).
E. Vision Eight: The universal God defeats the enemies of His people (Zechariah 6:1-8).
F. God commissions leaders for His obedient people (Zechariah 6:9-15).
IV. God Seeks Righteousness, Not Ritual. (Zechariah 7:1-14).
A. God has always rejected selfish, insincere worship rituals (Zechariah 7:1-7).
B. God seeks justice, mercy, and compassion (Zechariah 7:8-10).
C. God is angry when His people reject His inspired teaching (Zechariah 7:11-12).
D. God punishes His disobedient people (Zechariah 7:13-14).
V. God in His Jealousy Restores His Faithful Remnant (Zechariah 8:1-23).
A. God's jealousy leads to hope for His people (Zechariah 8:1-5).
B. The faithful God wants to renew His covenant with His people (Zechariah 8:6-8).
C. God is not bound by the past (Zechariah 8:9-13).
D. God has punished Judah and now will bless her (Zechariah 8:14-15).
E. God commands truthfulness, justice, and peace (Zechariah 8:16-19).
F. God seeks all people to worship Him (Zechariah 8:20-23).
VI. God Controls the Future of His People (Zechariah 9:1-11:17).
A. God promises restoration (Zechariah 9:1-17).
B. God punishes wicked leaders (Zechariah 10:1-11:3).
C. God is not bound by past covenants from punishing His foolish people and their wicked leaders (Zechariah 11:4-17).
VII. God Purges and Delivers His People (Zechariah 12:1-14-21).
A. The universal God exercises His control over all His world (Zechariah 12:1-13:6).
B. God will make a new covenant with the remnant of His people after striking His shepherd (Zechariah 13:7-9).
C. God will rule over the whole earth on the day of the Lord (Zechariah 14:1-21).
Paul L. Redditt
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.