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Introduction to the Book of Zechariah

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets Introduction to Haggai
Introduction to Ezra and Nehemiah The Persian Empire

Zechariah the prophet

The prophet is introduced as Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet (1:1). His name means 'Yahweh has remembered'. Haggai was his contemporary prophet, also prophesying in 520 BC, after the return from exile in Babylon.

Zechariah was a very popular name. There are thirty-one people called Zechariah in the OT, including a king of the Northern Kingdom. In the NT the father of John the Baptist was also Zechariah. Therefore caution is needed in identification. The prophet Zechariah son of Iddo is mentioned along with Haggai in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14, where they prophesied to the Jews, encouraging them to rebuild the temple.

His grandfather Iddo was one of the priests and Levites who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua, in the list of the chiefs of the priestly families (Neh 12:4). Zechariah son of Iddo is later named as the head of the family (Neh 12:16). So, Zechariah was almost certainly both a priest and a prophet.

There is a possibility that Zechariah is mentioned in Mt 23:35, who was murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (also Lk 11:51). He is the son of Barachiah in Matthew, but is this the same person as Berechiah in Zech 1:1? If this connection is true, then Zechariah was martyred, but there is no independent record of this.

There was another Zechariah who was murdered in the temple court before the exile, Zechariah son of Jehoiada (2 Chr 24:20-22), during the reign of Joash. Matthew may be referring to this Zechariah in Matt 23:35, but they have different fathers. Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew Bible, so Matthew may be referring to the first and last murder in the Hebrew Bible.

One question arises, is what was Zechariah doing before 520 BC? Why did he wait until then to start prophesying, when the temple building had stopped since 535 BC? Either he didn't return until 520 BC from Babylon, or otherwise he was only a child when his parents returned in 537 BC, and grew up in the ruined city. He was almost certainly only a young man when called to the ministry of a prophet. He could be the young man of Zech 2:4.

Dated prophecies

Both Haggai and Zechariah carefully date their prophecies, so they can be linked closely with events described in the Book of Ezra.

Hag:1:1 1st day, 6th month, 2nd year of Darius 29 Aug 520 BC Call to rebuild temple
Ezra 4:24 2nd year of Darius 520 BC Work resumed
Hag 1:15 24th day, 6th month, 2nd year of Darius 21 Sept 520 BC Work started
Hag 2:1 21st day, 7th month, 2nd year of Darius 17 Oct 520 BC Call to work
Zech 1:1 8th month, 2nd year of Darius Oct/Nov 520 BC Call to repent
Hag 2:10 24th day, 9th month, 2nd year of Darius 18 Dec 520 BC Blessing promised
Hag 2:29 24th day, 9th month, 2nd year of Darius 18 Dec 520 BC Word to Zerubbabel
Zech 1:7 24th day, 11th month, 2nd year of Darius 15 Feb 519 BC Visions in the night
Zech 7:1 4th day, 9th month, 4th year of Darius 7 Dec 518 Questions about fasting
Ezra 6:15 6th day, 12th month, 6th year of Darius 516 BC Temple complete
Ezra 6:19 7th day, 1st month, 6th year of Darius 515 BC First Passover

Zechariah chapters 9-14 were probably written much later, they are undated, no mention is made of the temple building. They could well be after 480 BC, when the Greek nation started to become prominent after its successful resistance of the invasion by Xerxes I of Persia. Some scholars say these chapters are not by Zechariah as they refer to events after the conquest of Alexander the Great in 333 BC, and are therefore written after this, long after the time of Zechariah. One problem is that Matthew roughly quotes Zechariah 11:12-13 in Matt 27:9-10, saying that Judas buying the Potter's field with the thirty pieces of silver fulfills a prophecy of Jeremiah, so other scholars say these chapters are by Jeremiah, written before the exile.

Historical background

As Zechariah’s ministry was contemporary with Haggai, the historical background is described in the article about Haggai.

Structure of book

Zechariah has quite an easy structure, but rather difficult contents.

ch 1-8 During building of the temple (contemporary events) : Three dated messages (1:1, 1:7, 7:1)

ch 9-14 After temple was completed (future events - Messiah) : Two undated oracles (9:1, 12:1)

1. Three messages (ch 1-8)

1st message
Call to repentance and return to covenant (1:1)

2nd message
Series of eight visions in the night to inspire temple rebuilding (1:7 - 6:15)

These are in chiastic structure

A 1. God's patrol of four horsemen report the earth is at rest (1:7-17).
  B 2.
  B 3.
Four horns destroyed by four smiths (1:18-21)
Man with measuring line measuring Jerusalem (2:1-13)
    C 4.
    C 5.
Joshua, the high priest cleansed (3:1-10)
Golden lamp fed by two olive branches (4:1-14)
Two anointed Leaders
(Joshua & Zerubbabel)
  B 6.
  B 7.
Flying scroll - curse on sinners (5:1-4)
Woman in ephah - removed to Babylon (5:5-11)
Sin in Jerusalem
A 8. Four chariots patrol the earth (6:1-8)
Symbolic act (6:9-15) - Coronation of Joshua as type of Messiah.

3rd message
Questions about fasting (7:1)
Should they contine to fast to remember the destruction of the temple, now it is being rebuilt. Fasts will be turned into feasting.

Fourfold reply:
a) They should remember their motive in fasting, was it to please themselves, or to please the Lord? (7:4-7)
b) Yahweh requires inward righteousness, and the showing of justice and mercy to the oppressed, more than outward forms. He calls them to remember the words of the former prophets, which the people ignored (7:8-14)
c) God will restore to his people what they have lost - seven words of blessing (8:1-17)
d) The fasts will be turned into feasts of gladness (8:18-23)

2. Two oracles (ch 9-14)

1st oracle (Burden)

9:1 "An oracle. The word of the Lord ..."

2nd oracle (Burden)

12:1 "An oracle. The word of the Lord ..."

N.B. Mal 1:1 "An oracle. The word of the Lord ..."
Some have suggested that Malachi and chapters 9-14 of Zechariah were written much later by the same person (during the Maccabean period). There is great argument as to whether Zechariah wrote 9-14 (his name is not mentioned, different style, no mention of temple building)

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets Introduction to Haggai
Introduction to Ezra and Nehemiah The Persian Empire