Zechariah, written to encourage the remnant of Israel struggling to follow the Lord, looks ahead to the eventual triumph of God's people and the coming of the Messiah. It contains many prophecies about Messiah, His life on earth, His millennial reign, and the salvation He would bring--so many in fact that it has been called the "Revelation of the Old Testament."
In this easy-to-read, easy-to-use commentary, J. Carl Laney takes you through these prophecies carefully, giving you guidelines for interpreting apocalyptic literature and enriching your understanding of the times in which Zechariah lived. With this Everyman's Bible Commentary as your guide, you can discover rich truths about the Lord Jesus Christ found in the minor prophets. Use it in your personal study or as the basis of group or Sunday school study.
About the Author
J. CARL LANEY (B.S., University of Oregon; M.Div., Th.M., Western Conservative Baptist Seminary; Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is professor of biblical literature at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon. He is the author of commentaries on First and Second Samuel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Zechariah for the Everyman's Bible Commentary series. Dr. Laney has also written several other books, including God (Understanding Christian Theology Series), Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Divorce Myth and Baker's Concise Bible Atlas. He resides in Portland, Oregon.
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By J. Carl Laney
Moody PressCopyright © 1984 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
THE INTRODUCTORY CALL TO REPENTANCE
The return to their Judean homeland in 537 B.C. constituted a new beginning for the Jewish exiles. As the Exodus from Egypt had resulted in the establishment of the Israelite nation, so this "second exodus" (cf. Isa. 11:16; 51:9-11) resulted in the refounding of Judah. But the returned exiles faltered as they made this fresh start. Although the foundation of the Temple had been laid, a neglect of spiritual priorities prevented its completion (Hag. 1:4). The lax spiritual condition of the Judeans could never be blessed by the Lord. Zechariah knew that genuine repentance was the prerequisite for spiritual blessing.
Zechariah's words were hard but necessary ones for a people who had failed to take God seriously. Verse 3 is the key to this section. God promised a change in His manner of dealing with His people if they would but change their ways.
The Superscription (1:1)
Zechariah began his prophetic ministry in 520 B.C., or in the eighth month of the second year of Darius (522-486 B.C.). The eighth month, known on ancient Jewish calendars as Marchesvan, coincides with October-November on our Julian calendar. The eighth month began on October 27, 520 B.C. Unlike the other dates given in Haggai and Zechariah, the day of the month is not given here. The absence of a date has led some to suggest that it was the new moon—the first day of the month. Although this view has the support of the Syriac version, it is better to set a pattern early in this study of avoiding speculation in commenting on Zechariah.
Zechariah identifies himself as a prophet who brings the authoritative "word of the LORD" to the people. Although the derivation of the Hebrew word for prophet (nabi) is debated, the meaning is quite clear from Scripture. A prophet is one who speaks forth the message that God has revealed to him (cf. Ex. 7:12). As a spokesman for God, Zechariah's primary duty was to faithfully declare God's message to God's people.
Zechariah the prophet appears to have a significant spiritual heritage. As the grandson of Iddo, one of the heads of the priestly families that returned from Babylon to Judea (Neh. 12:4, 16), Zechariah was a member of the tribe of Levi and probably served both as a priest and a prophet. His priestly lineage may have given him a special burden for there building of the temple in Jerusalem and the full restoration of worship.
The Prophet's Call (1:2-3)
In dealing with His sinful people, God does not mince words or sidestep issues. The first prophetic utterance is a strong affirmation of Yahweh's anger against the "fathers." In this context, the "fathers" refers not to the patriarchs, but to the forefathers of the generation to whom Zechariah ministered (cf. 7:9-12; 8:14). This was the generation that heard but did not heed the rebukes of the prophets and fell under judgment (cf. 2 Chron. 36:15-16). Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Judeans were taken into exile.
The verb "was angry" is supplemented in the Hebrew text by a noun made up of the same three letters, which strengthens the verb's force. The phrase could be translated," Yahweh was extremely angry with your fathers."
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 in difference. That which falls short of the standard of God's own character must be judged. Yet Scripture reveals that God does not judge hastily. He is "slow to anger" (Nah.1:3). The fact that this earth continues to exist in spite of man's sin and rebellion is a testimony to God's infinite grace. As the apostle Peter declares, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). God's wrath and God's love are affirmed in both testaments (Ex. 34:6; Deut. 7:7-11; John 3:16, 36). Neither of those attributes can be denied without diminishing the true character of God.
The theme of Zechariah's first prophetic message reflects the central thrust of his ministry. It is found in verse 3 where Yahweh issues a call to repentance. The imperative "return" implies a change of mind that issues in a change of conduct. Such repentance is illustrated by the Thessalonians who "turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God"(1 Thess. 1:9). The words "to Me" personalize the call to repentance. God desires a personal relationship with His people. But repentance from sin is the prerequisite for such fellowship. A sincere return to the Lord will result in a relationship in which the repentant sinner can experience God's blessing (cf. Hag. 2:17-19). The theme in verse 3 must have had a significant impact on the people for it appeared year slater in the preaching of Malachi (Mai. 3:7).
God is designated "Lord [Yahweh] of hosts" three time sin verse 3. This is a military designation referring to God as the One who commands the angelic armies of heaven (1 Kings 22:19; Luke 2:13; Rev. 19:14) and the armies of Israel (Judg. 5:14; 1 Sam. 17:45). Whereas the "LORD of hosts" designation appears 261 times in the Old Testament, the greatest concentration of occurrences is in the postexilic prophets: Haggai(14), Zechariah (53), and Malachi (24). The expression emphasizes the sovereignty and omnipotence of God as the supreme commander of every earthly, heavenly, or cosmic force. J. E. Hartley observes, "Although the title has military overtones, it points directly to Yahweh's rulership over the entire universe." It is a most exalted title. Zechariah seems to be saying to the people, "Return to the God from whom you have departed. The King of the Universe desires fellowship with you!"
The Prophet's Warning(1:4-6)
In verses 4-6 Zechariah warns the postexilic community against following the example of their forefathers who refused to repent and were taken into exile. "Do not be like your fathers," exhorts Zechariah. The "former prophets" would be those spokesmen of God who ministered during the closing years of the Judean monarchy, such as Habakkuk and Jeremiah. The message of Jeremiah appears to be capsulated in verse 4, "Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds" (cf. Jer. 18:11; 25:5; 35:15). The words "evilways" and "evil deeds" reflect the awful depravity of the Judeans in Jeremiah's day (cf. Jer. 2:13; 3:1-2; 5:7-9, 19). But the people neither heard nor did they heed God's Word through the prophets.
In verses 5-6a Zechariah asks three rhetorical questions designed to encourage his listeners to respond to his message. The first question, "Your fathers, where are they?" served to remind the returned exiles that the judgments announced by the former prophets were literally fulfilled. Their forefathers, having been killed or exiled by the Babylonians, were no more. The second question, "And the prophets, do they live forever?" served to remind the listeners that there was a limited opportunity during which to respond to the prophet's message. Judgment is certain, and life is short. Don't pass up the opportunity to repent today!
The third question (v. 6a) asked by Zechariah served to remind the returned exiles that their forefathers were judged in accordance with the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant. The "words and statutes" must refer specifically to the cursings of the covenant found in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. The same Hebrew word "overtake" occurs in Deuteronomy 28:15, 45 with reference to the curses that would overtake the disobedient Israelites as a savage beast overtakes its prey.
There is some debate as to whether the repentance referred to in verse 6b refers to the response of the former generation of Jews who had been taken into exile or to the later generation to whom Zechariah addressed his prophecies. The second view would be supported by the fact that the verb "repeated" in verse 6b is the same Hebrew word used in verse 3. Zechariah called the people to repentance (v. 3), and their response to his exhortation was immediate and positive. The antecedent of the "they repented" is found in verse 3, "therefore say to them." Those who heard Zechariah returned to the Lord, "repented" as they had been exhorted inverse 3. In turning back to the Lord they acknowledged that the Lord's purpose had been accomplished in His dealings with their forefathers. The discipline of exile was in accordance with their evil ways and deeds (cf. 1:4). What had taken place in 586 B.C. was no mere chance happening. The destruction of Jerusalem was a manifestation of God's sovereign dealings with His disobedient people.CHAPTER 2
THE NIGHT VISIONS OF ZECHARIAH
Zechariah 1:7—6:15 contains a sequence of eight night visions followed by one symbolic action, the crowning of Joshua the high priest. These visions are reported by the prophet and explained by an interpreting angel. Whereas each vision may have originally functioned independently, it is generally agreed that they are meant to be interpreted as a literary unit.
This section of Zechariah seems to pursue the same end as Haggai, that is, the rebuilding of the temple as the center of world rule and as a pilgrimage point for the nations (Zech. 8:20-23; Hag. 2:7-9). The visions have their pivot or focus on the fifth vision (Zech. 4) in which the building of the Temple is central. Yet, as Baldwin points out, "Each contributes to the total picture of the role of Israel in the new era about to dawn."
The question has been raised as to Zechariah's motive for publishing the visions and the symbolic coronation. H. G. May addressed himself to this issue some years ago, suggesting on the basis of the date (1:7) that Zechariah was planning on holding a secret coronation of Zerubbabel in the spring of the year. According to May, this coronation was planned for New Year's Day, when Joshua the high priest would have also had a part in the ritual. He seeks to show that Zechariah drew his symbolism in chapter 3 from the mythological background of the New Year ritual he was familiar with in Babylonia.
Although that view remains an interesting possibility, it is based more on speculation than biblical data. The context of Zechariah suggests quite clearly that the prophecies were designed to call the people to repentance and to give comfort and encouragement to those in the throes of despair (1:12-17). It is speculative to suggest that Zechariah was trying to manipulate the people into accepting one whom he mistakenly identified as Messiah and was then forced to modify his message when his prophecies were not fulfilled. A more cautious approach to the visions is to let the interpreting angel speak for himself, recognizing that this section focuses on the centrality of the Temple and its rebuilding both as a challenge and an encouragement to the Jews of the restoration community.
The Red Horse Rider Among the Myrtles (1:7-17)
Following the pattern of the Mesopotamian dream-visions, the first vision begins with a description of the setting. The vision was received on the twenty-fourth day of Shebat (January-February) in the second year of Darius, king of Persia, who ruled from 522 to 486 B.C. According to modern reckoning, the vision would be dated February 15, 519 B.C. The recipient of the vision was Zechariah the prophet, author of the book (1:1).
THE DESCRIPTION OF THE VISION (1:8)
The pattern in the visions of 1:7—6:15 is for Zechariah to describe what he saw ("I saw"), then ask the question "What does this mean?" and finally to have the explanation given by the interpreting angel. In verse 8 Zechariah describes what he saw in his first night vision. The fact that the vision took place at night might lead one to conclude that the prophet was dreaming. But that does not appear to be the case. He was quite alert and actively involved in the visions both in observing and asking questions. The words "I saw" (1:8; cf. 1:18; 2:1; 3:1; 4:2) are used else where of prophetic visions (Isa.30:10; Gen. 41:22; Rev. 5:1; 7:1; 9:17).
In his first vision Zechariah observed a man riding on a red horse standing among some myrtle trees in a ravine or deep valley. Accompanying the rider on the red horse were troops on red, sorrel, and white horses. The exact shade of color meant by the unique Hebrew word translated "sorrel" is uncertain. It is generally understood to mean a reddish brown. After a thorough examination of the various possibilities ("dappled," "variegated," "faint-colored, grey"), Gordon emends the text and suggests the translation "white-spotted". Although not mentioned specifically, it is quite evident from the "we" of verse 11 that other riders are present. One other person is mentioned in connection with the vision—"the angel of the LORD" to whom the riders report(v. 11).
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION (1:9-11)
Zechariah played a very active role in his night visions. Inverse 9 he asks the angel who acts as his guide and interpreter throughout (1:18; 2:3; 4:1, 5; 5:5; 6:4), "My lord, what are these?" The fact that Zechariah calls him "lord" does not suggest that the angel is divine. The term is used frequently in the Old Testament to refer to an earthly lord or master. It is merely a respectful form of address. Note that the prophet asks what? not who? He is interested in understanding the meaning of the vision, not just in identifying its participants. The angel promises to give the interpretation and does so by allowing Zechariah to overhear the words of those participating in the vision.
The man who was standing among the myrtles, apparently the leader of the riders and mounted on the red horse (v. 8), declared for Zechariah's benefit, "These are those whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth" (v. 10) The word translated "patrol" in the NASB literally means "walk to and fro." It suggests the idea of exploring or reconnoitering. In the time of Darius there was in the Persian administration an elaborate system of imperial inspectors known as the "King's Eyes and Ears." The inspectors went on annual circuits through the satrapies to investigate complaints and forestall disloyalty among the subjects. As the Persian rulers used messengers on horse back to keep them informed on matters concerning the empire, so the Lord has patrollers to observe and report. That is not to suggest, however, that God needs someone to keep Him informed. In view of His omniscience, He knows all things (Ps. 147:4; Matt. 10:30).
In verse 11 "the angel of the LORD" is mentioned as standing among the myrtles. He is the one to whom the riders report. Some have sought to identify the "man" of verses 8 and 10 with the "angel" of verse 11. However, it is unlikely that the riders would report to someone who led them on their patrol. When the term "angel of the Lord" occurs with the definite article in the Old Testament, the context consistently indicates that the figure is a divine being (cf. Gen. 16:7, 13; Judg. 13:15-22). It is quite clear that the angel of the Lord is the second Person of the Trinity appearing in angelic form before His incarnation.
The report received by the angel of the LORD was one of peace and quiet. "We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet" (v. 11). When Darius claimed the throne after the death of Cambyses in 522 B.C., the Persian Empire was in an up heaval. Many provinces were in revolt. A usurper, Gaumata, who pretended to be the brother of Cambyses, had seized the throne in an eastern region of the empire. Darius marched eastward into Media, captured Gaumata, and had him executed. During the next two years Darius defeated nine kings in nineteen battles to secure his throne. It was not until late in 520 B.C. that his position as king of Persia was actually secure. Peace had been established in the Persian Empire, but that was not necessarily good news for the Jews because they anticipated world upheavals to us her in the messianic age (Hag. 2:21-22).
THE MESSAGE ACCOMPANYING THE VISION (1:12-17)
The explanation of the vision is followed by a message of consolation for Israel. Having been disciplined through the exile, the Judeans will receive God's compassion (vv. 12, 16) and comfort (vv. 13, 17). The message also contains a promise that both Jerusalem and the Temple will be rebuilt (v. 16).
The angel of the LORD, who had received the patrol's report (v. 11), responded with a question, "O Yahweh of Hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?" (author's translation). Acting as intercessor for the returned exiles, the angel of Yahweh appeals to God regarding the continued humiliation of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. The "seventy years" was the duration of exile and humiliation prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11; 29:10). This is viewed as a period during which God showed His people "no compassion" (cf. Hos. 1:6). It is clear from verse 11 that the return to the land did not completely fulfill Jeremiah's prophecy. Jerusalem and the cities of Judah needed to be rebuilt. The "seventy years" may be calculated from 586 B.C., when the Jerusalem Temple was burned, to 515 B.C., when the Temple was rebuilt.
Excerpted from Zechariah by J. Carl Laney. Copyright © 1984 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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Table of Contents
1. The Introductory Call to Repentance, 1:1-6,
2. The Night Visions of Zechariah, 1:7—6:15,
3. The Question Concerning Fasting, 7-8,
4. The Oracle Concerning Israel and the Nations, 9-11,
5. The Oracle Concerning Israel's Future, 12-14,
Appendix: Homiletical Suggestions,