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PREFACE TO ZECHARIAH
The book of Zechariah is one of the more difficult Biblical books to understand. It is rooted in a historical period that, compared with Israel’s early history, there is scant biblical description of. To understand this period the student must look largely to extra-biblical data. While many of the Old Testament prophecies find their fulfilment in the pages of the New Testament, many of Zechariah’s prophecies also require extra-biblical data to appreciate, such as an understanding of the history of the early Roman Empire.
Two things bear our attention when it comes to interpretting a book like Zechariah. Firstly, just because a biblical book maybe difficult for us to understand, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood. Secondly, while popular opinion is often a guide to correct interpretation of a biblical book or passage, popular opinion is not always grounded in the sound principles of hermeneutics.
Our goal in interpreting any Scripture is to arrive at the author’s intended meaning. The book of Zechariah presents a challenge in this pursuit. Zechariah himself seems to have little idea what the Spirit of God was moving him to write, therefore, the intended meaning may well have been a mystery, even to him (2Peter 2:20-21). We are then forced to undertake the even more arduous mission of arriving at God’s intended meaning of a passage. Nevertheless, we have some parameters given to us that at least enable us to dismiss certain speculative interpretations of a passage when they contradict either the overall message of Scripture, or another particular passage is so plain that it clearly contradicts a certain speculative interpretation. With this in mind, I present to you a reasonable case for understanding this important book of the Bible.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
The Prophecies Of Zechariah
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying
Zechariah was one of the last prophets of the Old Covenant. After him there comes a four hundred year period of ‘prophetic silence’ known as the intertestamental period. As with the closing book of the Old Testament, Malachi, Zechariah points to the promised Messiah. Unlike Malachi though, Zechariah gives several important additional prophetic details about the Messiah including, His arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9), His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (11:12), and His mistreatment by Israel’s leaders (13:7). He also gives several significant prophecies of Jerusalem’s fate after their rejection of the Christ including its siege against the Romans (12:2), its surrounding by various armies during the siege (14:2), the coming of the Lord in judgment on Jerusalem for its apostasy (14:5-7), its eventual inhabiting by followers of the Christ (14:9), its season of relative peace after its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD (Zech. 14:11), the demise of each world empire which opposed the Lord (14:12-15), the infiltration of the Gospel around the earth (Zech. 14:21).
Zechariah tells us that the Word of the Lord came to him during the second year of the reign of the aged Darius the Mede. In just one night his army overthrew the Babylonian empire. This overthrow is summarised in Daniel 5:30-31.
¶ That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
Nearly seventy years prior, in 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and destroyed Jerusalem. He had already exiled the nobles (including Daniel) and then later exiled all but the poorest to Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that this exile would last 70 years (Jer. 29:10). Zechariah’s message prepares the exiled Jews to return to the Lord so that they could return to the land they once possessed – just as Jeremiah had prophesied.
“The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to Me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.
Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which You have been angry these seventy years?’
The date of Zechariah’s opening prophecies was near the end of the Jewish Exile in Babylon which is further confirmed with the Lord’s statement in Zechariah 1:16 where it states that the reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple had not yet commenced.
Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.
Zechariah is then shown that the nations which wreaked havoc upon Jerusalem, described as ‘horns’ would be judged by the Lord for their actions.
¶ And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns! And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” And he said to me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. And I said, “What are these coming to do?” He said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head. And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”
Historically we know that Babylon, the nation which instigated the Jewish exile and the destruction of Jerusalem, was overthrown by the Medo-Persians. Zechariah reiterates the prophecies of Jeremiah who also denounced Judah’s neighbours for their part in Judah’s ruination.
¶ “Give wings to Moab,
for she would fly away;
her cities shall become a desolation,
with no inhabitant in them.
Zechariah is shown that the city which now lies in ruins will indeed be once again inhabited by Jews.
and said to him, “Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.
This prophecy began to be fulfilled from the decree of Cyrus which is described in the book of Nehemiah. By the time of Christ, Jerusalem was fully inhabited, and the surrounding towns of Judah were also populated. Yet, Zechariah also predicted that not all Jews would return to the land of their forefathers.
¶ Up! Up! Flee from the land of the north, declares the Lord. For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the Lord.
After their exile in Babylon ended with the decree of Cyrus, many Jews chose to remain in Persia. This included Mordecai and Esther. Within the book of Esther we note that Jews, even by then, had dispersed around the Persian Empire (which fulfilled Zechariah’s prophetic declaration that the exiled Jews would be ‘spread abroad as the four winds of the heavens’ – Zech. 2:6).
¶ The king’s scribes were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day. And an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded concerning the Jews, to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language.
As Zechariah recorded the prophetic word of the Lord, it became apparent that although the speaker identified as the Lord, that it is the pre-incarnate Christ who is speaking. The Divine Speaker declares that He would be sent by the Lord.
For thus said the Lord of hosts, after His glory sent Me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye: “Behold, I will shake My hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.
It was at the time of Israel’s Roman occupation that this prophecy of the Messiah coming and dwelling in their midst was fulfilled. Jesus described this time of His incarnation as the time of their visitation – which the rulers of the Jews largely rejected with dire consequences.
“For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
This Messianic theme continues in chapter 3 with the description of Joshua, the high priest. There is a conditional promise made to him and to those who succeed him in his office.
¶ And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.
The tragedy of this offer is that those who succeeded Joshua the high priest did not walk in the ways of God or keep His charge. When Caiaphas, the High Priest, withstood the Christ and condemned Him to death, it highlighted the extent of Israel’s apostasy.
Zechariah declared that the Messiah would be known as the Branch.
Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.
And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.
Zechariah began his vision described in chapter 4 as being like a man suddenly awoken from a deep sleep. If you have ever experienced this, you would know that it is initially difficult to distinguish the dream-state from real-state. The angel who spoke with Zechariah asked him what he could see?His answer bears an uncanny resemblance to the opening and eleventh chapters of Revelation.
And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
¶ Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.
¶ These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
Therefore, the book of Revelation is drawing on Zechariah’s vision to make the point that the focus of Zechariah’s vision is not about the Jews, Israel, or the Promised Land, but about the Christ. He was the ultimate promise to the Jews, not their land or even their nationhood. The opening words of the Book of Revelation should remind readers immediately what its central theme was: The revelation of Jesus Christ. And perhaps even more significantly, toward the end of this Revelation, comes the declaration that the spirit of all prophecy testifies of Jesus (Rev. 19:10).
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Jesus Himself declared that Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets all spoke about Him –
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
¶ Then He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Therefore, when reading the Old Testament, we should find the prophets pointing to Jesus as the central theme of all prophecy – especially when read Zechariah – because so much of this book is cited directly in the Gospels and the book Revelation as referring to the Christ.
Coming Soon – Part 2, ‘Jerusalem To Be Renewed’
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