Zechariah 1 (day 912) 30 June 2012

             Zechariah is a mixture of historical narratives, prophetic oracles and apocalyptic visions. Scholars have long suspected that the book is a collection of writings from several authors, Jeremiah being one favorite nominee. We will not spend too much time trying to figure this out, but will simply read the book and see what it has to say to us.

             1-6: Zechariah is mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 along with Haggai. There he is called simply “Zechariah son of Iddo,” but we can be sure it is the same person. It is October, 520 B.C. in Jerusalem, although it is not clear from the opening lines that the prophet is in Jerusalem. He begins with God’s call to the people to repent their evil ways, and seems to receive a positive response from them.

             7-17: Skipping to January 519 B.C., we have the first in a series of eight visions. Zechariah sees horses hidden among trees in a glen. They are identified to him as those who have been patrolling the earth (compare Job 1:7 and 2:2). God reveals to Zechariah his impatience with the nations “that are at ease,” and tells him that Jerusalem will be comforted once again as God’s chosen.

             18-21: The second vision is a bit more perplexing. The four horns represent the nations that have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem: Egypt, Assyria and Babylon are obvious candidates, but the fourth is harder to identify – perhaps Ethiopia or Aram. The blacksmiths are there to terrify and strike down the “horns,” but it is difficult to identify them with real people or nations. Still, the point is that God will see to it that the great and arrogant nations of the day will be brought low, but Judah and Jerusalem will be strengthened.

 

Zechariah 2 (day 913) 1 July 2012

             1-5: The third vision has Zechariah eavesdropping on a couple of angels. The first is measuring the city. The second says there will be so many people coming to the city that it will overflow its walls; even so, God will protect them.

             6-13: Zechariah has God urging the exiles to escape from wherever they are to return to Zion. The once powerful nations that subdued Judah and Israel will be subdued by God. He calls the people to rejoice over God’s salvation and foresees the day when they will again be claimed by God as his own people. Moreover, God pledges to once again dwell in their midst, attracting other nations to Jerusalem that are seeking to become God’s people.

 

Zechariah 3 (day 914) 2 July 2013

             1-5: Satan, the erstwhile prosecutor in God’s court (compare Job 1:6-12, 2:2-6), is accusing Joshua the high priest (see Ezra 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 4). The filthy rags Joshua is wearing represent the sin of the people for which God laid Jerusalem to ruin. Now, however, Zechariah sees God rebuking Satan. God takes Joshua’s guilt away, and by proxy the guilt of all the people, and he is given clean clothes to symbolize the washing away of sin.

6-9: The angel of the LORD who is watching the proceedings instructs Joshua that as long as he does what he is supposed to do he will be given charge of the temple and its functions. Joshua and his colleagues are an omen: just as the priesthood is being reestablished, so too will the throne be reestablished by the coming of the “branch,” a word which always means a descendant of David. (Christian commentators have seen a hint of Jesus in that designation.) The one stone with seven facets or faces or eyes seems to be symbolic of the removal of guilt in one day, with the number seven indicating completion or perfection: God’s plan is thus set in God’s mind.

10: In Micah 4:4 each person will sit under his own vine and fig tree, a way of describing a time of peace and prosperity that will ensue. In Zechariah that peace and prosperity extends to community as a whole as they gather freely under each other’s vines and fig trees.

 

Zechariah 4 (day 915) 3 July 2012

             1-14: The fifth vision is more complex and obscure to the modern mind. The lampstand with seven lamps is reminiscent of the one Moses placed in the tabernacle (25:31-37), but that one had only six lamps. The seven lamps are therefore clearly related to the seven-faceted stone from the last vision (3:9); they are symbolic of completion, that God has firmly established what he is planning to do. The bowl is an odd feature, and it is difficult to picture the arrangement. The two olive trees are also an odd feature at first, but verse 12 helps us begin to grasp the vision a little better. The olive trees are connected by tubes or pipes by which they supply the bowl, which feeds their oil to the lamps. The meaning of the vision is explained by an angel: The constant flow of oil from the trees to the lamps represents the Holy Spirit by which God will unfailingly guide Zerubbabel, the governor of the city. The image of the mountain being flattened is a metaphor which simply means Zerubbabel will accomplish the work of building the temple despite all odds. Verse 10 clearly links the seven lamps to the seven facets of the stone in 3:9. The identity of the two persons represented by the olive trees is impossible to determine, however, and may not be intended to refer to anyone in particular.

 

Zechariah 5 (day 916) 4 July 2012

             1-4: Vision #6: a flying scroll; a huge flying scroll, about 15’x30’. Zechariah hears God (or perhaps the angel) telling him the scroll has been sent out to condemn two particular crimes; stealing and swearing falsely. The choice of these two and only these two is surprising, but upon further examination we realize they are connected with each other in that they have to do with criminal justice. The gist of the vision seems to be that thieves are not being convicted and justly punished because of false testimony. But human courts are not the final courts; God’s verdict is that both the thieves and those who give false testimony will be consumed by God’s justice. In the context of returning exiles trying to rebuild Jerusalem, the temple, and their lost society, maintaining justice is of paramount concern.

             5-11: The angel is specifically identified as the speaker in vision #7. What Zechariah sees “coming out” is not a basket, but an ephah – a unit of measure roughly equivalent to a bushel. When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek a couple of generations before Jesus the translators apparently were not satisfied with having an amorphous unit of measure carrying a woman and so guessed that it must have been an ephah-sized basket, and modern English versions tend to follow that lead. While it may have been a basket, identifying the kind of container obscures the vision’s primary message that wickedness is being measured here. Indeed, wickedness is depicted as a woman, and that is not surprising when you realize that this vision is a condemnation of Babylon (called Shinar here – see Genesis 11:1-9). The Babylonians worshiped the fertility goddess Ishtar, an abomination to the Jews. The two winged women who carry “Wickedness” off to Shinar (Babylon) are not identified but perhaps have something to do with the fact that the worship of Ishtar involved women who served as temple prostitutes to allow worshipers to act out the fertility promised by their goddess.

 

Zechariah 6 (day 917) 5 July 2012

1-8: The 8th vision is reported. Some scholars wonder that there are eight instead of only seven, since the number seven seems to play so important a part in the book. That’s one of the reasons there is speculation that the final form of Zechariah includes some later additions (the 3rd vision is a usual suspect) and rearrangements. Also, modern commentators have attempted to see a chiastic structure of the visions, with the last repeating elements of the first, but they may be trying too hard to find evidence that supports the theory. In any case we find ourselves in a scene reminiscent of John’s vision in Revelation 6, but there the four horses are sent to carry out specific tasks. Here they represent the four winds and are sent in different directions. There are some problems in the narrative. Zechariah sees four horses, the angel only mentions three. The horses are sent out to the north, south and west, but not to the east. One explanation is that the horses, like the sun, come out of the east and so the red horse is already there and need not be sent. In spite of the difficulties it is clear that the main point of the vision is that God’s spirit is set at rest in the “north country,” clearly a reference to Babylon. Although Babylon lies primarily east of Jerusalem, one must travel along a northern route for the first leg of the journey. The essence of the vision, then, is that peace now prevails and the exiles are free to return to Jerusalem.

9-14: The names of the recent returnees from Babylon are not known elsewhere, but it is clear that Zechariah is to receive an offering from the latest group of returnees out of which he is to fashion two crowns. When the Hebrew was translated into Greek, the translators couldn’t see why two crowns were needed and so changed the text to refer to a single crown. It seems obvious, though, that two crowns are needed, one for Joshua the high priest, and one for Zerubbabel the governor. Zerubbabel is the logical candidate for “Branch,” since “Branch” is to rebuild the temple and Zerubbabel was said in 4:9 to be the one to do just that. Why his name is not mentioned here a bit of a mystery, though. The really interesting thing about this oracle is that the high priest will be crowned also, thus sharing authority with the crown prince for the government’s administration.

15: God’s word to Zechariah is that the work force needed for the construction of the temple will be provided by returnees from Babylon who continue to arrive in the city.

 

Zechariah 7 (day 918) 6 July 2012

             1-7: About two years later: The people at Bethel (one of the pagan shrine sites set up by Jeroboam to worship the golden calves – see 1 Kings 12:25-29) send an envoy to ask the priests if they should continue their practice of fasting in the fifth month. God’s word through Zechariah is that their fasting as well as their eating has not been for God in the first place, but rather “for themselves,” probably meaning that it was part of the religion Jeroboam had invented.

             8-14: Justice, kindness and mercy is what God wants rather than fasting (see Micah 6:8). God wanted them to treat one another well, especially those who are poor and outcast. They wouldn’t listen, and therefore God “scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations,” a reference to the destruction of Samaria and the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians.

 

Zechariah 8 (day 919) 7 July 2012

             1-8: Zechariah pictures a time of restoration. He hears God promising to once again bless Jerusalem and Mt. Zion, and sees a vision of a peaceful city with old people and children. In the ruins of Jerusalem during Zechariah’s time it would surely have been hard to believe that such a thing would ever come to pass, but nothing is impossible with God.

             9-13: Times are tough, but God will see us through and bless us yet, he tells them. Peace will manifest itself not only in allowing people to grow to ripe old ages and children to play safely in the streets, but also in the fields and vineyards.

Even nature is blessed by God’s blessing of the city.

             14-17: God proposes a new covenant and demands only a few things of them: honesty (speak the truth, love no false oath), justice (judgments that are true and make for peace), and kindness (do not devise evil in your hearts against one another). We are reminded of Micah 6:8: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before your God.”

             18-19: Times of ritual fasting will become joyful events instead of bitter reminders of food shortages.

             20-23: People from everywhere will want to come to Jerusalem; God’s people will be held in high esteem among the nations because everyone will know God is with them.

 

Zechariah 9 (day 920) 8 July 2012

             1-8: These next two chapters are in the poetic oracle form that characterizes much of the prophetic literature. Its abrupt appearance here has caused many scholars to see it as evidence that the remainder of the book is from a different source, and in many commentaries chapters 9-14 are referred to as “Second Zechariah.” Hadrach is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, and it is not known whether it is a separate locale or a poetic reference to Aram and Damascus. In general, though, what we have here is a catalogue of cities from Damascus and Hamath down the coast of the Mediterranean to the Philistine cities of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron and Ashdod (Gath is missing). God owns them all, he says. God claims Aram (verse 1) and Philistia (verse 7). Curiously, Tyre and Sidon are to be destroyed by fire, indicating that God has no use for them, perhaps because their seafaring trade resulted in many of the displaced people of Israel and Judah being dispersed around the Mediterranean.

             9-10: Verse 9 is quoted at Matthew 21:5 to anchor Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem firmly in the prophetic pronouncements of a coming messiah. Zechariah says that the coming king, called “Branch” elsewhere, will institute a rule of peace. No weapons will again bring destruction to Israel (Ephraim) and Judah (Jerusalem). In contrast to earlier prophesies about Branch, however, the coming king in these verses will extend his rule “to the ends of the earth.”

             11-13: He foresees the time when God’s people will be set free to return to Zion (“your stronghold”). The mention of Greece is surprising here, and leads some scholars to speculate that “second” Zechariah may have been written centuries later than the time of Darius, after the whirlwind career of Alexander the Great. But the word translated “Greece” is “Javan,” which can also refer to the Greek colony of Ionia along the western coast of present-day Turkey. The Ionians were seafaring merchants who likely had a large part in the dispersal of the Jewish people following the fall of Israel and Judah.

             14-17: In spite of the military imagery in these verses I don’t believe Zechariah means there will be an actual battle between Judah and Greece. He simply means that God will protect them from future enemies so that peace will reign while the nation is being restored to prosperity with an abundance of grain and wine.

 

Zechariah 10 (day 921) 9 July 2012

             1-2: Zechariah urges the people to ask God to supply their needs instead of depending on pagan religious practices. The worship of other gods (“teraphim,” small statues of pagan deities) is what brought them trouble in the first place, resulting in the nation wandering senseless like sheep without a shepherd.

             3-7: God will use Judah to provide the leadership that will bring lasting security for both Judah and Joseph (Israel). Ephraim (also Israel) will be restored as well as Judah in Zechariah’s vision of the future.

             8-12: He describes all the exiles and refugees of Israel returning from Egypt and Assyria. Echoing the crossing of the sea in the time of Moses, he imagines the Nile drying up.

 

Zechariah 11 (day 922) 10 July 2012

             1-3: Although the literary style of these verses would seem to link them to the previous chapter, the general theme of the failure and denouncement of the “shepherds” dominates chapter 11, and verses 1-3 thus form an introduction. God’s judgment is once again pictured as proceeding in stages from the north. The cedars of Lebanon are burned. The oaks of Bashan (the Golan Heights) are ruined. The glory of the shepherds is despoiled and the thickets of the Jordan are destroyed. Placing the shepherds between Bashan and the Jordan valley would indicate that these are the leaders of the northern kingdom of Israel that fell to the Assyrians.

             4-6: Playing out recent history, God assigns Zechariah the responsibility of being the shepherd of the northern kingdom of Israel (“the flock doomed to slaughter”). He is to pronounce judgment on the false shepherds who have mistreated and misled the people: God will cause the false shepherds to fall into the hands of a king; that is, the leaders of Israel will be overrun by foreign powers.

             7-14: Illustrating what happened to Israel, Zechariah imagines himself taking two staffs: “favor,” to symbolize God’s original relationship with Israel and Judah, and “unity,” to symbolize the reign of David and Solomon over a united Judah and Israel. He disposes of three unidentified shepherds and then resigns his office, leaving them to their fate. “Favor” is broken – God will no longer protect them. He demands his wages as the shepherd and is paid off (Christian readers will find special significance in the 30 shekels of silver – see Matthew 26:14). At God’s command he throws the coins into “the house of the LORD” (see Matthew 27:3-5). All of this is to say that the leaders of Israel, the northern tribes, would no longer accept God’s sovereignty, breaking the ties of unity that bound all the twelve tribes together and creating the separation that resulted in the two separate nations of Israel and Judah.

             15-17: Just as Zechariah has abandoned the sheep in his vision, God has called forth a worthless shepherd who decimates the flock and who will be destroyed in battle. The withering of the arm and blinding of the eye is a reference to the helplessness with which Israel met the invading Assyrian army.

 

Zechariah 12 (day 923) 11 July 2012

             1-5: Six political entities figure in this oracle – Israel, Jerusalem, the surrounding peoples, all the nations, Judah, and the house of David. It begins with a word concerning Israel, a term which, as used here, is inclusive of Israel and Judah. In the immediate post-exilic era there was a strong sentiment that the tribes from both Judah and Israel would be reunited as one. Quickly, though, the oracle moves specifically to Jerusalem. “Cup” of reeling in verse 2 could be rendered “threshold of reeling,” which I think makes better sense, giving a picture of invaders being tripped up as they try to enter the city. “All the surrounding peoples,” who have at one time or another been enemies of Jerusalem, are pictured stumbling as they attempt to enter the city by siege. In verse three the enemy is expanded to include “all the nations of the earth” come to plunder the city, but they will hurt themselves trying to “lift” it. Enemy forces attacking Jerusalem will be panicked and confused. In Judah, the countryside around about Jerusalem, the people will watch and see that the inhabitants of the city have God on their side.

             6: Thus inspired, the families in the Judean countryside will strike out against the enemies of the city, and be victorious. Jerusalem will remain intact.

             7-9: The “tents of Judah,” that is, the encampment of the army, will be victorious first so that the capital city, Jerusalem, and the monarchy centered there may not claim any superiority over the rest of the nation. In that way Jerusalem will be saved and its inhabitants will successfully defeat the siege and its leaders will seem to them like protecting angels.

             10-13:1: The oracle takes a sudden sad turn that is difficult to connect with anything described up to this point. The inhabitants of Jerusalem, acting together with the royal administration (the “house of David”) will “pierce” someone. It is clearly an act of murder, but afterward the people mourn as though the one they killed is their own child. In addition, the mourning will be private, not public, indicating a deep sense of guilt over what has happened, so deep the people cannot bear to be with each other. The mention of Hadad-rimmon in verse 11 is unique in the Bible and the event to which it refers cannot be identified, but seems to have been inserted to provide a contrast between the kind of mourning that engages the public and the very private grief that Jerusalem will experience. Finally, in 13:1 the event being mourned will turn out to be spiritually purifying for both the leadership and the common people of Jerusalem.

             Is there any wonder that early Christian commentators saw in these verses a description of Jesus? Indeed, verse 10 is quoted in the fourth gospel (John 19:37). The “one whom they have pierced” is an only child, a first-born son, whose death results in widespread mourning behind closed doors, and through whose death the people are cleansed “from sin and impurity.”

 

Zechariah 13 (day 924) 12 July 2012

             2-6: Continuing the description of future events begun in 12:6 (“On that day”), Zechariah addresses the religious trappings of the old vs. the new Jerusalem. Idols will be forgotten and prophets will be removed from the land along with the “unclean spirit.” The unclean spirit probably means that spirit or attitude under which idols were worshiped and false prophets spoke. We are surprised to read that fathers and mothers will murder their own child for being a prophet, but this is in keeping with the last chapter where, in response to the murder of the unidentified first-born son, grieving was carried out privately in each home. As to the punishment given, see Deuteronomy 18:20, where false prophesy is a capital offense. It would appear that Zechariah is outlawing prophecy altogether, although it is possible to read the text as applying only to false prophecy. The false prophets will respond to this new strict construction of the Law by laying aside their mantles, the visible sign of the office of prophet in Zechariah’s time (copying Elijah’s mode of dress) and claiming that they are farmers and have been all their lives. The wounds on their chests may be a result of self-flagellation, although there is no direct evidence in the Bible that prophets engaged in that form of demonstration.

             7-9: At 11:4 Zechariah was appointed by God to be “a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” but I think we would be mistaken to imagine he is predicting his own death here. Jesus quotes verse 7 when he tells his disciples that they will all forsake him (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27), and at John 10:18 he is quoted as saying, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Christians have long seen verse 7 as a messianic prophecy. Verses 8 and 9 remind us of Ezekiel (5:12) describing two thirds of the population being killed and one third scattered among the nations. Ezekiel, of course, was referring to the fate Judah and Jerusalem had undergone at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar some 70 years before the prophecies of Zechariah. Zechariah sees a different outcome of the surviving third: God will be their God and they will be God’s people (compare Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 14:11, 37:23, 37:27: and in the New Testament; Hebrews 8:10, Revelation 21:7).

 

Zechariah 14 (day 925) 13 July 2012

             1-2: The final chapter begins with a slight variant from the usual way of announcing the day of the LORD: “See, a day is coming for the LORD,” rather than the usual “On that day” (as in 12:6; 13:1, 2). It is thus difficult to know whether the prophet intends this as a brand new vision or a continuation of what was being described in the previous two chapters. All the nations were gathered against Jerusalem in 12:3. Here, though, more detail is given: the houses are looted, the women raped and half the population taken into exile. These are the unfortunate circumstances of war but specific mention of the violation of the women in the city is rare – only here and at Lamentations 5:11 (a passage in which the descriptions of atrocities goes ‘way beyond anything in Zechariah).

             3-5: We’re back to “on that day,” and the record now takes on true apocalyptic dimensions with God directing the defense from the Mount of Olives (where Jesus was standing when he ascended – Acts 1:9-12). The mountain is split in two, providing a path for people to flee the city, although it is not said who is to flee – is it the 50% remaining after the other 50% have been exiled? Such is the hazy nature of apocalyptic visions. Azal (or Azel) is an unknown destination, and the earthquake referred to here is mentioned only at Amos 1:1 with no description of people fleeing. As the people flee, Zechariah says, “then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” Come where, to Azal? And, who are the holy ones – the righteous among the people, or angels? Details, details, we want details!

             6-7: The city will be bathed with continuous light, but I doubt Zechariah foresaw electricity and street lamps. Rather, he is describing the complete victory of the forces of light over the forces of darkness. Compare Revelation 21:23.

             8: A river is seen flowing out of Jerusalem, flowing both east and west. This is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of the river emanating from the temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12), and compare also John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:1-2. Plenty of light and a dependable source of water are the two necessary natural ingredients for developing a viable society.

             9: God’s kingship has always been over all the earth; Zechariah means that God’s sovereignty will be recognized over all the other gods and idols worshiped around the world.

             10-11: Zechariah pictures a transformation of all of Judah from Geba in the north to Rimmon in the south. It will become a fertile plain watered by the river flowing from Mt. Zion, and Jerusalem and Mt. Zion will be elevated above the surrounding lands.

             12-15: He describes in putrid detail the fate of Jerusalem’s enemies (“all the nations” of verse 2). The mention of Judah in verse 14 implies that there has been some enmity between the region of the former nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. There probably was: when the exiles returned to Jerusalem with leaders appointed by the Persian emperor the folks in the countryside were likely slow to acknowledge the authority of Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, the high priest Joshua, and so forth. Now, however, Zechariah sees the city and the whole region of Judah united in war against the LORD’s enemies, and envisions their taking huge amounts of wealth from the invading armies.

             16-19: Finally, the foreign survivors of the great battle become themselves worshipers of the LORD. Those who refuse are punished, but the punishment is not specifically sent from God; rather it seems to naturally result from their godlessness. Obedience to the covenant with God was always seen as a way to assure adequate rain and abundant harvests.

             20: To this point in the Bible the only place where the inscription “Holy to the LORD” was allowed was on the headdress of the high priest, beginning with Aaron’s turban (Exodus 39:28-30). Now, with Jerusalem redeemed, even horses’ bells will bear that inscription, and everything will be deemed holy.

             21: Zechariah’s prophecy ends with the temple swept clean of buyers and sellers. This prophecy could well be why Jesus decided to chase the moneychangers et al from the temple, as recorded in the gospels (see for example Luke 19:45-46).

 

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