The Book of Zechariah
With this article, we continue our study of the post-exilic prophets (having finished our study in Haggai) by beginning a study in the book of Zechariah. This book should be much beloved by all Christians because of the many prophecies concerning our Lord Jesus Christ contained therein.
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. In fact, Zechariah’s first prophecy was given to him in between Haggai’s second and third prophecies. By way of review, let me recount again the historical background of the time of Haggai’s and Zechariah’s prophecies. Because of their disobedience, God allowed the Israelites to be taken into exile by the Babylonians. The earlier prophets of God foresaw the exile of the Israelites (see Jer. 25:1– 10, et. al.), but they also foresaw the return to the promised land of the Israelites (see Isa. 43:14–21; Jer. 25:11–12; Jer. 29:10). As prophesied, in 538 B.C. Zerubbabel led some 50,000 exiles back to Jerusalem (see Ezra 2). The returned exiles set to restoring the promised land by starting to rebuild Jerusalem, as well as the Temple of God within Jerusalem. However, like all servants of the Lord embarking on a great work of God, they ran into opposition. The existent inhabitants of the land set to thwart the efforts of the returning exiles (see Ezra 4), and they succeeded in this, bringing the rebuilding of the Temple to a halt in 530 B.C. (see Ezra 4:24).
Ten years later (in 520 B.C.), God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to exhort and encourage the people of God to resume work on the Temple and finish the great work that they had started. As we saw in our study of the book of Haggai, through Haggai’s prophetical exhortations, the remnant in Israel was inspired to begin again work on the Temple of God. Since the Temple of God was, to the people of Israel, "the grand symbol of revealed religion, indifference to it was an undoubted symptom of backsliding and spiritual declension" [Moore, 38]. While Haggai’s prophecies were primarily practical exhortations to encourage the people to continue their physical work on the Temple, Zechariah’s prophecies were more spiritual in nature, with the purpose of restoring the spiritual fervor of the people. "The difference between the two prophets seems to be this, that while Haggai’s task was chiefly to rouse the people to the outward task of building the Temple, Zechariah took up the prophetic labours just where Haggai had left it, and sought to lead the people to a complete spiritual change, one of the fruits of which would of necessity be increased zeal in the building of God’s House, the completion of which he witnessed four years later" [Baron, 9].
Zechariah accomplishes his purpose largely through a series of visions and prophecies concerning the future glory of Zion. And of course, the glory of Zion resides in its Messiah, Jesus Christ. Thus, Zechariah "dwells on the Person and work of Christ more fully than all the other minor prophets together" [Feinberg, 273]. Because of this, the book of Zechariah should be especially precious to Christians. The number and vividness of prophecies relating to Jesus is striking. Some examples: "His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver; the Roman spear with which He was ‘pierced’ by His own nation; the awakened sword of Jehavah’s justice which, in love for a lost world, and for the sin of the guilty, smites the Good Shepherd, ‘the Man’ who is God’s own equal; and the outcome of His sufferings, when He alone shall bear the glory, and ‘shall sit and rule upon His throne,’ and when upon His blessed brow, once crowned with thorns, shall at last be put the crown of glory" [Baron, 6].
These were all prophecies concerning Jesus’ life of earth, which were fulfilled (as we now know) during Jesus’ first coming to earth. These prophecies were written by Zechariah some 500 years before Jesus came to the earth. Thus, Zechariah was confirmed by these fulfilled prophecies to be a true prophet of God. Now, Zechariah also spoke about the end-times, times still yet future to us. The fact that Zechariah’s prophecies about Jesus’ life on earth were fulfilled with great accuracy lends great credibility to Zechariah’s prophecies which have yet to be fulfilled. David Baron lists these prophecies: "The presence in Palestine of a representative remnant of the Jewish people in a condition of unbelief (actually, this prophecy has been fulfilled since Mr. Baron wrote this––Ed.); the fiery furnace of suffering into which they are there to be thrown; their great tribulation and anguish occasioned by the final siege of Jerusalem by the confederated Gentile armies under the headship of Him in whom both Jewish and Gentile apostasy is to reach its climax; how in the very midst of their final sorrow the spirit of grace and supplication shall be poured upon them, and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced and mourn; how this blessed One whom they so long rejected shall suddenly appear as their Deliverer, and His feet stand ‘in that day’ on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east; how God shall again say ‘Ammi’ to the nation which during the long centuries of their unbelief were ‘Lo-Ammi’–– ‘not My people,’ and how Israel shall joyously respond, ‘Jehovah, my God’; how Israel’s Messiah shall speak peace to the nations, and Israel himself enter at last on his priestly mission to the peoples for which he was originally destined, and Jerusalem become the center of God’s fear and worship for the whole earth––all these and other solemn events of the time of the end are spoken of in this book with a clearness and distinctness as if they were occurrences of history instead of prophecies of the future" [Baron, 7].
The book of Zechariah can be divided into the following sections: Introductory address calling the people to repentance (1:1–6); Eight visions (1:6–6:15); An exhortation concerning fasts (7:1–8:23); Prophecies concerning the Messiah and the end-times (9:1–14:21).
A Call to Repentance
1In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:
2The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. 3Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers?
"Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.’"
The book of Zechariah begins: "In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo: The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty’" (vs. 1). Zechariah (whose name appropriately means "remembrance of Jehovah") was a priest of God by inheritance. It seems from various passages (Neh. 12:4,16; Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14) that Zechariah inherited the priesthood, not from his father Berekiah, but from his grandfather Iddo, presumably because his father died before his grandfather died. Thus, Zechariah most likely became a priest (and prophet) at a relatively young age (in fact, an angel calls him "young man" in Zech. 2:4).
The "word of the Lord" first came to Zechariah "in the eighth month of the second year of Darius." This is right in-between the second and third messages which the Lord spoke through Haggai (see Haggai 2:1 and 2:10). As we studied, Haggai’s first message aroused the remnant in Israel to restart their work on building the Temple of God. So, at the time the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, the people were already physically serving the Lord. But though they were physically serving the Lord, though they were carrying out the great work for the Lord of rebuilding the Temple, the Lord felt it necessary to say to them these words: "Return to me... and I will return to you" (vs. 3). Though they were physically doing the Lord’s work, their hearts had not fully returned to the Lord. We must be careful, dear reader, that we do not let our physical works for the Lord be a substitute for truly walking with the Lord, and in His ways. Yes, it is possible to serve the Lord, even to do great works for the Lord, and yet not walk in His ways. Jesus spoke of this: "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matt. 7:22–23).
The Lord wanted to make it clear to the remnant in Israel that the behavior of their forefathers in Israel was unacceptable: "The Lord was very angry with your forefathers... Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord" (vss. 2,4). It is not enough to be the people of God in name only. The people of God must "listen" and "pay attention" to the Lord (i.e., put into practice what they hear).
Take note that "the Lord was very angry" with the people of God. God does get "angry" at those who do not listen to Him. "The anger of God is a subject that is frequently overlooked and neglected by Christians today. God’s attribute of love is often pitted against this attribute, thus diminishing its importance. How can a loving God execute wrathful judgment? The key is to recognize that God’s wrath against sin is in keeping with His infinitely holy character. He cannot look on sin with indifference. That which falls short of the standard of God’s own character must be judged" [Laney, 32]. Note also, though, that the goal of God’s anger was to get the people to "return" to Him. And then the result of the people returning to Him would be that He would return to them. What a gracious God we have!
Sadly, the "forefathers" of the remnant in Israel did not "listen or pay attention" to the Lord. Through His prophets, God gave them ample warning, telling them: "Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices." Because they did not heed the warnings of the prophets, the people of Israel suffered: "Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers? Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do’" (vss. 5–6). The answer to the question: "Where are your forefathers now?" is that they died in exile in Babylon. God carried out His threatenings, even to the detriment of His name, by allowing His people to be defeated by their enemies and carried away into exile.
As for the prophets, indeed they did not live forever. Their warnings went unheeded and the prophets passed away. But this did not mean that the words they spoke, the Word of the Lord, passed away with them. On the contrary, as the Lord declared: "But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers?" The Word of the Lord is not to be ignored. If He threatens judgment, He will carry it out if He goes unheeded. His people realized this, but too late: "Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.’"
The example of their forefathers to the remnant who returned to Israel must surely have been vivid and alive to them, for they were living in the ravaged, defeated land of their forefathers, trying to rebuild it to its former glory. God purposely used this vivid example to encourage the people to return to Him, to walk closely with Him, to listen and pay attention to His Word. He wanted this for their good. "Zechariah is going to unfold many rich and comforting promises... But riches like these are for people who have repented of sin and are ready to embrace the will and declarations of God. For this reason, the book opens with a message calling on the people to return to God and not be as their forefathers who refused to listen to Him" [Boice, 157].
Lord, help us too to heed Your warnings and to listen to and pay attention to Your Word. May we treasure Your commands, as well as Your promises. Also, help us to set aside time so that we may study Your Word and store it into our hearts, that we may know and understand Your will for us. We pray these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.