Invitation to Zechariah
Who Was Zechariah?
Zechariah, whose name means “Yahweh remembers,” was the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo (1:1), and according to the genealogy in Nehemiah, he was born into the priestly line (Neh 12:1–16). That Ezra 5:1 and Nehemiah 12:16 link him directly to Iddo without reference to Berechiah is just a Hebrew way of identifying him as a descendant of Iddo, who was more prominent than Berechiah and, like his grandson, was a prophet as well as a priest (Zech 1:1). The Old Testament says nothing about his death, but Jesus, who links him to Berechiah, reveals that he was martyred at the temple (Matt 23:35) under much the same circumstances as the martyrdom of an earlier Zechariah (2Chr 24:20–21).
What Is the Theme of Zechariah?
The book of Zechariah expands on the theme of hope in God’s unfailing purpose.
When Was Zechariah Written?
Zechariah dates the first part of his prophecy in reference to the reign of Darius. According to Zechariah 1:1, his first message (Zech 1–6) dates to the second year of Darius (520 BC), and according to 7:1, his second message (Zech 7–8) dates to Darius’s fourth year (518 BC). Although Zechariah 9–14 is not specifically dated, the reference to Greece would indicate a later date. Most conservative scholars date this section between 480–470 BC. Zechariah’s ministry spanned about fifty years (520–470 BC), far longer than the writing career of Haggai, his older contemporary.
What Is the Situation of Zechariah?
Zechariah preached to the post-exilic Jewish community who had returned to the land of promise after 70 years of expatriation (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). The Babylonian captivity was one of the lowest points in Israel’s checkered history, but a new day was dawning.
Cyrus, the Persian king, issued a decree to allow the exiles to return to their homeland (Ezra 1:1–4) and even subsidized their journey and plans for revitalization. Hope was high that God would bless with restoration and revival. The physical restoration of the city was a crucial component in the development of God’s unfailing purpose of redemption in preparing the way for the coming Christ. The first order of business for the hopeful remnant was to rebuild the fallen temple. The book of Ezra records that at first progress on the project was good. The people were excited, unified, and hopeful. But soon there was external opposition, beginning with misunderstandings, and escalating to rumors, accusations, and threats. The opposition became so intense that the worked ceased. That led to internal problems as apathy and carelessness replaced the initial enthusiasm and diligence.
In 520 BC (the second year of Darius, the Persian king) God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to inspire the people to a renewed dedication and resolve for the work of the kingdom. Zechariah directed attention to God’s redemptive purpose, covenant promises, and unrivaled power to accomplish his will.
How Does Zechariah Point to the Coming Messiah?
Zechariah backed up his message of hope by referring approximately fifty times to the “LORD of hosts,” that title of God that designates him as the Commander-in-Chief who has all power and authority to guarantee every promise. A confident hope in certain blessing was an effective motivation to service.
Significantly, at the heart of the hope in the promised blessing was the certain coming of Messiah. Zechariah has some of the most specific and explicit Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, detailing aspects of each of the mediatorial functions of prophet (e.g., Zech 13:7), priest (e.g., Zech 3:8; 6:12), and king (e.g., Zech 14). Zechariah must be read with an eye open for Christ.
Zechariah writes to encourage God’s people to diligent kingdom service in the light of promised blessing founded on the certain coming and work of the Messiah.
“Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’”
— Zechariah 4:6 ESV
I. A Warning and Call to Repentance (1:1–6)
II. Visions of God’s Purpose (1:7–6:15)
A. A Man, Horses, and Myrtle Trees (1:7–17)
B. Four Horns and Four Craftsmen (1:18–21)
C. A Man with a Measuring Line (2:1–13)
D. Joshua and the Branch (3:1–10)
E. The Lampstand and Olive Trees (4:1–14)
F. The Flying Scroll (5:1–4)
G. The Woman in the Ephah (5:5–11)
H. The Four Wagons (6:1–8)
I. The Crowning of Joshua (6:9–15)
III. The Matter of Fasting (7:1–8:23)
A. The Question (7:1–3)
B. God’s Assessment (7:4–7)
C. God’s Expectation (7:8–14)
D. God’s Reversal (8:1–17)
E. God’s Promise (8:18–23)
IV. Oracles of Blessing (9:1–14:21)
A. The First Oracle (9:1–11:17)
1. Judgment of Enemies (9:1–8)
2. Coming of the King (9:9–10:12)
3. Rejection of the Shepherd (11:1–17)
B. The Second Oracle (12:1–14:21)
1. National Deliverance (12:1–9)
2. Spiritual Deliverance (12:10–13:9)
3. Messianic Victories (14:1–21)
A Warning and Call to Repentance (1:1–6)
Zechariah’s opening words were sobering yet hopeful. He reminds the people that it was God’s anger against the previous generations that caused the exile and warns them not to follow their example. Zechariah 1:2 says literally, “Yahweh has been angry against your fathers with anger,” a way of saying that God was really and intensely angry. In 1:4, Zechariah explains why the Lord was so full of fury. Those generations refused to repent from their wicked ways notwithstanding the warnings and exhortations of all the pre-exilic prophets (former prophets). Read Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy for a synopsis of what the prophets, beginning with Moses, preached. Their forefathers and all the pre-exilic prophets are gone (Zech 1:5), but the last seventy years provided irrefutable proof that what God had warned would happen (exile from the land) happened in fulfillment of his word (1:6). Without fail, what God says he will do he will do.
On the basis of that history, Zechariah warns his congregation not to follow that negative example (1:4) and then exhorts them to repent (1:3). Accompanying the invitation to repent is the assurance that God will accept the repentance and restore his favor: “Return to me . . . and I will return to you.” The verb “turn” has the sense of reversing direction. The nation, who had been going away from God, was to do an about face and come back to God. God, who in judgment had withdrawn his presence, would come again in blessing: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face” (Hos 5:15). This renewed call to repentance was a message of hope because God receives those who come to him (John 6:37), just as certainly has he rejects those who do not. Significantly, both framing and insetting the call to repent and God’s promise is the assurance that this is the word of Yahweh of Hosts (Armies). This divine title highlights the absolute authority and ability of God to accomplish his purpose. This title occurs five times in this section, and three of the references are in 1:3. The very beginning of Zechariah’s message sets the tone of hope that will characterize his prophecy. The hope is not just wishful thinking; it is certain based on the word, authority, and power of the God, who in addition to his inherent omnipotence has all the resources of his creation to accomplish his purpose.
Visions of God’s Purpose (1:7–6:15)
Zechariah 1:1 and 1:7 both record that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. Hebrews 1:1 says that God spoke to the prophets at different times and in different ways. The prophets do not always indicate the mechanics of the divine revelation and inspiration, but one of the ways God communicated was through visions (see Num 12:6). That the prophets were sometimes called “seers” may refer to this particular mode of revelation. How God spoke to Zechariah in 1:1 is not clear, but the second word was definitely something the prophet saw (Zech 1:8). This section of the book records a series of eight visions given to the prophet in a single night, seemingly one right after the other. Three features of divinely given visions are evident. First, visions were personal and internal. Zechariah records what he saw, but only he saw it. Second, the recipient of the vision was an active participant in what he was seeing. Throughout the book, Zechariah converses with an “interpreting” angel regarding what he sees. Third, visions were highly symbolic. The colored horses, flying scrolls, and ephah basket stuffed with a woman were all object lessons that pointed to spiritual realities. Interpreting visions, therefore, requires a bit of imagination that must be controlled by the context. Zechariah’s visions were of divine origin and just as authoritative as any other mode of communication. In this series of visions, God revealed to the prophet an overview of his redemptive plan from the immediate context to the distant future.
God revealed to the prophet an overview of his redemptive plan from the immediate context to the distant future.
A Man, Horses, and Myrtle Trees (1:7–17)
1:7–9 This opening vision has three principal parts: (1) a man on a red horse, (2) some myrtle trees located in a ravine, and (3) multicolored horses around the man. In addition to the scene, there is an angel who appears in most of the visions and talks with Zechariah asking and answering questions about what he sees. He is usually referred to as the interpreting angel.
1:10–11 The man conversing with Zechariah is the angel of the LORD. This could be rendered “the Messenger who is Yahweh,” who had multiple appearances throughout Old Testament history and is best identified as a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ. The myrtle trees in the ravine most likely represent the covenant nation, fragrant yet in a low estate. The fact that the Angel of the LORD was there with them would have been an encouragement that even in their affliction they were not abandoned by the LORD (see Isa 63:9). But the presence of the Angel and his activity was about to reverse the seemingly hopeless circumstances. The multicolored horses represent a host of angels, ministering spirits who were the agents of divine providence. Although they were various colors, the text does not link any distinctive action to any particular color as they were all on the same mission. At least in this context, the colors are incidental. Zechariah 1:10 indicates that they were on a reconnaissance mission to discover the status of the nations, particularly those who had afflicted Israel. Their report that the nations were enjoying peace and quiet (1:11) spurred the Angel of the Lord into action.
1:12–15 The Angel, in priestly mediation for his people, prayed for them. On the basis of what the Lord had promised (see Jer 25:12), he appealed to the Lord to show mercy by fully ending the seventy-year demonstration of his indignation. In answer to the prayer, the Lord declared his jealousy or fervent zeal for his people and affirmed that the currently peaceful surrounding superpowers were, in truth, the objects of this displeasure because they overstepped their commission as the agents of his chastisement.
1:16–17 These verses sum up the Lord’s answer to the Mediator’s prayer, which is the principal message of the first vision: God will reverse the fortunes of his people. The nation now in the ravine (city and temple in ruins and rubble) would prosper, and the nation, once scattered in exile, would expand its borders in peace. This first vision sets the tone for a message of hope. It gives all of God’s people hope to know that when Christ prays for them, his prayer is always answered.
Four Horns and Four Craftsmen (1:18–21)
The point of the second vision is clear: God has sufficient power to conquer the enemies of his people. Zechariah sees four horns. These are the horns of a bull, a common image referring to strength and power. They represent nations who have shown hostility to God’s people. Rather than speculating about the identity of four specific nations, it is best to see a symbolic reference to all powers that potentially come against the nation from the four quarters of the earth. As powerful as these nations may be, in God’s arsenal are craftsmen, the agents of divine providence, that are capable of utterly smashing them. None can resist or prevail against God’s superior power. This short vision contributes to the message of hope by assuring the nation that God’s power is infinite and that no enemy can stand against him or frustrate his purpose.
A Man with a Measuring Line (2:1–13)
2:1–5 The principal scene of the third vision is the man with a measuring line who attempts to measure the city limits of Jerusalem. What Zechariah sees in vision is what Paul declared in doxology: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). The main point of the vision is that God’s blessing is beyond expectation.
The mission of the man with the measuring line was to mark the borders of Jerusalem. The exact identity of the man is irrelevant, representing a typical individual, the “everyman” who was expressing the common notions of the day, at least the notions of those who believed the prophetic word that Jerusalem was going to be restored (Zech 1:16–17; Jer 29:10–14). To set out to measure the city limits at this time was no small demonstration of faith. The city was in ruins, and the temple was in shambles; the rubble of destruction cluttered the streets. Sight saw devastation; faith perceived restoration. Measuring the city was testimony to faith that God indeed would return in his jealously and mercy to restore the city (Zech 1:14–17). But yet, to measure is to mark borders and to set limits.
Sight saw devastation; faith perceived restoration.
The next scene in the vision addresses that limitation by directing attention to God’s greater purpose. The man with the measuring line is instructed to put up the ruler and not to bother measuring the city limits. Measuring the city at this juncture was premature because measuring the fullness of God’s blessing is impossible. City walls marked borders and constituted the chief defensive barrier against enemy attack. The fulfillment of God’s purpose would mean that there would be no walls to measure because the population was going to be so immense that walls could not contain it; there would be no city limits (2:4). As well, no walls would be necessary for defensive purposes because God’s presence would provide inviolable security (2:5).
This is a vision of the success of grace. The implications of this kingdom expansion are remarkably wonderful and point to the climactic fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. Here is the manifestation of the covenant promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude (Gen 12:2–3; 17:4) and a foretaste of heaven’s population consisting of those from every people and language group on the face of the earth (Rev 7:9). God’s purpose was for a new and ideal Israel consisting of a citizenship from every ethnic group on the planet. God’s people in every age are part of that plan of irresistible grace.
2:6–9 The rest of the chapter delineates the corollary applications of the vision itself, particularly with its focus on God’s presence with and protection of his people. With logic anticipating Paul’s, Zechariah demands that duty must flow from truth. This section addresses specifically the theme of divine protection.
The imagery of 2:8 clearly states the fact of God’s protection: “for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.” The apple of the eye is the gate or opening of the eye, referring to the pupil. The eye is sensitive to touch and consequently is the object of special care. The point is that God’s people are special to him, and he is sensitive to what threatens them. It is an amazing truth that believers are so special to the Lord.
The particular agent of this protection is Christ himself. Comparing 2:8 and 2:9, notwithstanding some surface confusion, reveals some profound theology. In 2:8 the LORD of hosts speaks saying that “he sent me after glory” (NKJV, see alternate translation in ESV). He continues with the assurance that he will turn the spoilers into spoil so that “Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me” (2:9). On the one hand, the LORD of hosts is the one being sent, and on the other hand, the LORD of hosts does the sending. Admittedly confusing and seemingly contradictory, but theologically it profoundly points to the Trinitarian mystery; the title LORD of hosts (Commander-in-Chief) designates both Father and the Son.
As Messiah, the divinely appointed and anointed Mediator, Christ functions as Prophet, Priest, and King. His special commission in this text highlights his kingly work as he conquers all of his and his people’s enemies. As the Commander-in-Chief (LORD of Hosts) he reveals his mission (2:8). The statement about his pursuing glory is a bit cryptic, but the sense is clear enough. In pursuit of glory, to reveal or accomplish glory, he will turn the tables. The spoilers will become the spoiled by his shaking his hand, an image for the effective brandishing and wielding the sword (2:9). The glory being pursued is undoubtedly God’s glory that will be manifest in the midst of his people (2:5). This is right in keeping with Messiah’s mission as the Lord Jesus confessed to his Father when his earthly mission was drawing to a close: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). The key thought for the encouragement of God’s people then and for God’s people now is that Christ is active in their behalf. Rebels and enemies are doomed and destined to destruction.
The twin realities of God’s coming glory and the impending judgment of the wicked are not only cause for hope for the future but also reason for living well in Christ’s kingdom now. The proper response to the Lord’s certain protection is to separate from the world that is sentenced to judgment. Since God’s people are the part of the world destined for glory, they should not grow comfortable in the world destined to pass away. Using verbal exclamation marks (“Up, up”) to get their attention, Zechariah punctuates the divine imperative to “flee from the land of the north” (Zech 2:6). He then explicitly says, “Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon” (2:7). Since most invasions into Israel came from the north, that compass point designated the enemy regardless of the geographical location of the kingdom itself. So even though Babylon was east of Jerusalem, at that time it was the “north” land because it was the enemy that had destroyed Jerusalem and had taken so many captive. Some of the exiles had returned home, but some remained in Babylon. Zechariah directs his exhortation to those still living in Babylon to leave because God’s purpose to bless his people was so magnificently great, and they needed to identify themselves with those God intended to bless not with those he intended to curse. God’s purpose was to spread them abroad as the four winds (2:6). This is not a dispersing in judgment like the exile. Rather, the image is the spreading of a garment to claim possession of whatever it covers. It is foolish for God’s people to side with the world that is passing away when they should be living in the reality of God’s blessing and taking possession of the inheritance that is purposed for them.
2:10–12 The final section expands on the promise of the divine presence: “for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord” (2:10; also 2:11). The word “dwell” is the verb root that is the basis for the references to God’s shekinah glory. Although the word shekinah does not actually occur in the Old Testament, the concept of God’s abiding presence is a frequent theme. It refers here to God’s taking up his residence with his covenant people and the consequent enjoyment of fellowship and communion. Significantly, Zechariah points to a time when Christ’s mediatorial kingdom extends to the Gentiles, who will become the Lord’s people and will experience God’s abiding covenantal presence (2:11). But the inclusion of the Gentiles does not exclude the Jews (2:12). All of this is what the apostle Paul so wonderfully explained in Ephesians 2:12–21. Gentiles, who were strangers to the covenant and without hope have been reconciled and made one with the covenant people, the middle wall of partition having been abolished in Christ who made all his people one. Every conversion is evidence of God’s great purpose being on track to its ultimate fulfillment.
Every conversion is evidence of God’s great purpose being on track to its ultimate fulfillment.
There is little wonder, then, why Zechariah says, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion” (Zech 2:10). Singing has the idea of lifting the voice with a shout; the heart expression is more important than the tune. Rejoicing is a word of jubilation, referring to the praise and worship directed to the Lord. “Joy to the world” indeed because the Lord has come and will come again in the fullness of glory.
2:13 The concluding admonition of this vision is fitting: “Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.” “Be silent” is actually an interjection meaning “hush” or as we might do by putting our finger over our lip breathing “shush.” Calm down with thoughts about the Lord’s purpose, protection, and presence. Regardless of what we may see in the world, the Lord is about to be stirred to set all in motion. He will get all glory; every enemy will be spoiled; and every believer will own his Lord and share in covenant promise and blessing. The prospects are good.
Joshua and the Branch (3:1–10)
Although most of Zechariah’s visions concern the nation at large, this vision and the next are personal yet with broad application. This fourth vision addresses the personal issue of salvation from sin. The principal scene of this fourth vision centers on Joshua the High Priest. Since the High Priest was the paramount representative of the people of God, what is true of Joshua is true for every justified sinner. The ultimate point of the vision is its symbolic picture of the gospel truth of free and gracious justification. Four essential components of justification are pictured in the vision. Some say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That may or may not be true, but here is a picture that is worth a soul.
3:1–3 First, the need for justification is great. The passage begins with a judicial scene in which Joshua, the accused, is standing before the Angel of the Lord, the judge, and is being accused by Satan, the prosecutor. “Satan” means “accuser” or “adversary” and is a noun form of the verb translated here “to resist.” In other words, Satan was being Satan, or the accuser was accusing. He is the great adversary who accuses God to us (Gen 3) and us to God (see Job 1, 2). The specific accusation against Joshua is not recorded but can be inferred from how Joshua is dressed (Zech 3:3). The picture accurately portrays how every man on his own stands before God. He stands silently, dressed in detestably filthy garments with no self-defense before the Judge. The language is graphic in describing the garments as heinously detestable and disgusting, fouled by excrement and vomit. The sight is not pretty, but it vividly pictures how man appears before God in all the filthy rags of his own righteousness, precisely depicting the sinner’s moral pollution. Because of unrighteousness, all men are guilty before the just God. That part of Satan’s accusation was true because man has no inherent right to stand before God and to be accepted on his own merit. Joshua’s vile condition cries for something to be done.
The picture accurately portrays how every man on his own stands before God. He stands silently, dressed in detestably filthy garments with no self-defense before the Judge.
3:4–5 Second, the act of justification is gracious. Joshua was silent; he offered no self-defense; he was guilty as charged. But the vision highlights something of the beauty of the gospel in that God does for man what man cannot do for himself. God rebukes Satan and rescues Joshua as a brand plucked from the burning. He was fit for destruction but delivered by grace. Joshua was accepted before the Lord and allowed to stand in his presence. The accuser was swept away; he had no power to condemn the one that God accepts (see Rom 8:31–39). The text highlights two essential elements of that acceptance. (1) The Lord graciously pardoned sin. This is pictured by the removal of the filthy garments and explained directly: “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you” (Zech 3:4). The guilt and, therefore, the liability for punishment and penalty were removed. But taking away the filthy garments alone would only result in nakedness before God and the susceptibility to fouling things up again. Something positive had to be done. (2) The Lord provided righteousness. Not only were the filthy garments removed, but they were replaced with costly and glorious clothes. The clean turban refers to the headdress of the High Priest inscribed with the engraving, “Holy to the Lord” (Exod 28:36). The filth was replaced by radiating holiness, without which no man can see God. This represents that robe of righteousness, the garment of salvation (Isa 61:10), that renders the wearer presentable before the Lord. In justification, God both pardons sin and imputes the righteousness of Christ.
God does for man what man cannot do for himself.
3:6–10 Third, God’s pardoning sinners is gracious. This brings us to the Branch (Zech 3:8), a Messianic title first used by Isaiah (Isa 4:2), then by Jeremiah (Jer 23:5; 33:15), and now by Zechariah. This title depicts the Messiah as a new shoot of life that will sprout up from the house of David. Together these texts highlight the deity, kingship, priesthood, and humanity of Christ. The Branch would be the meritorious grounds by which he justifies sinners. That the Branch is called the servant, charged with all Isaiah’s servant theology, speaks of his humble obedience both in life and to death. The reference to iniquity being removed in one day (Zech 3:9) points to his cross, the only place where iniquity was effectively removed. Christ’s perfect life (his active obedience) and his effectual death (his passive obedience) is the only meritorious ground for salvation.
Fourth, the demand of justification is logical. Zechariah makes it clear that a change in legal standing demands a change in moral behavior. A change in standing demands a change in walking. Justification always issues in sanctification; position always affects experience. Those justified are to persevere in godliness by walking in God’s ways (a manner of life conforming to God’s law), keeping his charge (obedience and fidelity to God’s ordinances), and maintaining justice (3:7). Those justified are to be like Christ; they are to imitate and represent him. Zechariah described Joshua and his fellows as “men wondered at” (3:8). Literally, they were “men of a sign,” men who were to be types of something else; they were to signify the Branch. So it is that every justified sinner is to be like Christ, to be conformed to his image.
A change in legal standing demands a change in moral behavior.
The vision begins with a picture of despair coming from a condemning heart that too often hears the accusations of the accuser. It ends with the assurance and hope that God will remove every obstacle to blessing for his people, even the sin that separates his people from him (Isa 59:2). Rather than being abandoned to the fire (Zech 3:2), God’s people are as a stone upon which are seven eyes (3:9). Opinions differ as to what this means, but most likely it represents the Lord’s people, his kingdom, upon or toward which he directs his seven eyes, a symbol of his omniscience and consequent protecting care. They will also enjoy, because of the work of the Branch, peace and prosperity. This is the point of the symbolism in 3:10 of calling every man “neighbor” (peace) and residing under the vine and fig tree (prosperity). His providing the means for salvation from sin by the Branch assures that everything else he has promised is sure. Paul put it this way: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).
The Lampstand and Olive Trees (4:1–14)
The fifth vision addresses the removal of every external obstacle to the advance of the kingdom by the work of the Holy Spirit. The principal parts of this vision are the candlestick or lampstand that is situated between two olive trees with pipes or troughs funneling oil directly from the trees to the lampstand. Interpreting this picture requires factoring in some of the symbolism from the Tabernacle/Temple.
4:1–5 The lampstand was constructed of a single piece of gold with a predominant center shaft having six branches, three on each side. A regular supply of oil fueled the lamps. Symbolically, the lamp represents the spiritual enlightenment that God gives his people through his revelation. David noted the link between light and life: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Ps 36:9). The New Testament suggests the same when it speaks of the light of the gospel (2Cor 4:4). If the light represents the gospel, the lampstand is a picture prophecy (type) of both Christ and the church, corporately and individually. The Lord Jesus identified himself and believers as the light of the world (Matt 5:14; John 8:12). That the seven churches in the book of the Revelation are designated as seven lampstands confirms the corporate relevance.
Most likely, the predominant center shaft specifically points to Christ, who as the ideal prophet reveals God and truth. The branches with their lamps seemingly directing light to the center shaft picture the function of the church to bear witness to Christ, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Indeed, the ministry of the Baptist sums up the ministry of the church as a whole: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8; see Matt 5:14, 16; Isa 60:1–3; 62:1–2). Furthermore, because the lampstand was a single piece of gold, the branches could not be separated from the center shaft. Just so are believers inseparably united to Christ. The lampstand by itself pictures some profound theology.
The distinctive components of Zechariah’s vision, however, suggest that the main point for Zerubbabel concerned the functioning of the lampstand and its supply of oil necessary for its functioning. Oil was the energy source. Not only was this actually necessary, but because oil was such a common symbol in the Old Testament of the Holy Spirit, it has illustrative function as well. Just as the light cannot shine without the oil, so the church cannot function without the Holy Spirit.
The distinctive components are the bowl on top of the lampstand, the seven pipes from the bowl to each of the lamps, and the two olive trees on either side with two troughs transferring oil from the trees directly to the bowl. In the Tabernacle economy, the continuity of the light depended on the people who were to supply the olive oil and on the ministry of the priesthood who were to assure the lights were burning morning and evening (Exod 27:20–21; 30:7–8). But in Zechariah’s vision, there was no middleman; there was a constant, inexhaustible supply of oil directly from the source of the oil to the lamp. Translating the symbolism to reality means that there is an inexhaustible supply of the Holy Spirit available to God’s servants to provide power to perform their service, their kingdom work.
That is what Zechariah saw, and the message of an inexhaustible supply of the Spirit’s power is precisely the word Zerubbabel needed. As the civil authority, Zerubbabel was commissioned to oversee the rebuilding of the Temple. But it was during his administration that the opposition from the outside, greater than Zerubbabel could resolve on his own, halted the project. This visionary word through Zechariah was right on point to help Zerubbabel accomplish his service, guaranteeing that the Temple would stand again. Since Malachi would reveal that the Messiah was going to appear suddenly in the Temple (Mal 3:1), a standing Temple was an essential step toward the fullness of time. This vision, therefore, of the Spirit’s engagement and empowering was an important point in the progression of God’s redemptive purpose and plan. The picture suggests three specific points with applications beyond Zerubbabel—a declaration, a promise, and an encouragement.
4:6 First, the divine declaration is that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that kingdom work can advance. The explanation from the interpreting angel has given classic expression to this truth: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” The word “might” has the idea of “capacity” and ranges in reference from notions of the valor of courage or the wealth of riches to virtue of character. But it also at times refers to an army. The notion of corporate or collective strength (like an army) is likely in view here, particularly as it is paired with the word “power.” This word referring to “ability” or “strength” applies regularly to individuals. Putting the two words together removes any chance for any human resource, whether personal charisma or collective organization, to be the effective agent in administering or accomplishing kingdom work. But what man or men are incapable of doing, the Spirit of the Lord can do. If anything is to be accomplished in the name of the Lord for the Lord’s cause, the Lord himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit must operate and supply the power for service. Zerubbabel had seemingly exhausted all his options. He could testify by experience that the work could not be done by collective might or personal power. But the Lord gave him a word of hope: The work would progress by “my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” The principle that was true then is just as true now. Zechariah 4:6 needs to be the mantra for every Christian engaged in service to the Lord.
If anything is to be accomplished in the name of the Lord for the Lord’s cause, the Lord himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit must operate and supply the power for service.
4:7–9 Second, the promise is that every obstacle will be removed, and the work will be completed (4:7). When the Spirit works, there will be success; his power is irresistible. The obstacles are described in terms of a mountain that would appear to be impassable. Yet it will be flattened to become a plain, suited for unhindered travel. The work that had been stalled will be finished. The headstone, typically the topmost stone that marks the completion of a structure, will be fitted into its place. The shouts of double grace express both the jubilation over the completion and the desire for God’s favor to rest upon the finished work. That the work will be completed will be irrefutable evidence of the Lord’s working through the whole process (4:9).
4:10 Third, the encouragement is not to be discouraged at what may seem to be a small and insignificant task. The asking of the question, “For whosoever has despised the day of small things” presupposes that some were in fact despising or showing contempt or despite for the work. Similarly, Haggai referred to those who had seen Solomon’s temple and were put off by the lesser prospect of the second temple. Haggai’s response to that notion was that faithfulness in serving the Lord is more important than the size of the work or the natural ability required for doing it. Even the smallest and most insignificant task done for the sake of the kingdom brings joy to the Lord. This more literal translation makes the point clearly: “Those seven, the eyes of the Lord which are roaming about the whole earth, will rejoice and see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.” The reference to the seven eyes of the Lord is a figurative way of expressing his omniscience; he sees and knows everything. Nothing escapes him. The plummet was simply a line used to measure straightness. It does not take much skill to hold the plum line, but when the plum line was held in service to the Lord, God was pleased. That is amazing and encouraging, especially to so many believers who think they have nothing of value to offer. There is no work so small or insignificant that we should attempt it in our own strength; there is no work so small or insignificant that God will not see and rejoice over when done for him.
The imagery of Zechariah’s lampstand and olive trees is deep, and it shows us the heart of the Trinity in the heart of the Old Testament.
4:11–14 The point of the vision is clear: there is power for service. But after the vision and its explanation, Zechariah still had a question for the interpreting angel regarding the identity of the two olive trees. The answer does not affect the point of the picture, but it does draw a line to Christ. The angel, although a bit shocked that Zechariah does not know (4:13), identifies the two trees as “these are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (4:14). At first, the answer does not appear to help much, but further reflection suggests some significant Trinitarian theology. Literally, it says, “the two sons of oil,” suggesting the origin of the oil that flows to the lampstand—the two mediatorial figures of Joshua and Zerubbabel, and their two offices of priest and ruler point toward the future Anointed One, the Messiah who will bring together the two roles into one. The two trees together, then, represent Christ. Christ is standing next to Jehovah; the oil or Holy Spirit is flowing from Christ. Each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is in view. The picture, in essence, portrays the truth expressed in the Athanasian Creed: “The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding” (23). The imagery of Zechariah’s lampstand and olive trees is deep, and it shows us the heart of the Trinity in the heart of the Old Testament.
The Flying Scroll (5:1–4)
The principal picture of the sixth vision is a flying scroll measuring about 30 by 15 feet or 9 by 4.5 meters. Significantly, those are the dimensions of the Holy Place in the Tabernacle as traditionally understood by calculating the sizes of boards described in Exodus 26. The interpreting angel identified the scroll as “the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land” (5:3). Something was written on the scroll that exposed thieves and perjurers, cutting them off or purging them out (5:3) and sentenced them to destruction even from the apparent safety of their own houses (5:4). Being consumed (5:4) has the idea of finishing or bringing to an end; the execution of justice will be thorough and irreversible. Perhaps, then, the scroll’s dimensions equaling the Holy Place suggest the sanctuary standards, the divinely sacred rule of holiness, by which sinners will be exposed, evaluated, and executed.
Employing the “analogy of Scripture” (using Scripture to interpret Scripture) enables us to be even more specific. Moses said, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut 27:26). What was true in the Old Testament remains true in the New as Paul makes clear by repeating Moses’s words in Galatians 3:10 and then by explaining in Romans 4:15 that “but where there is no law there is no transgression.” All this points to the conclusion that what Zechariah saw flying all over was the standard of God’s righteous and moral law, the standard by which all will be judged without discrimination.
The main point is that God will deal with individual sinners; justice will be served. The fact that only thieves and liars are mentioned does not exclude or exempt other transgressors from receiving justice. On the one hand, mentioning two categories of sinners indicates how thoroughly and specifically the law identifies sinners. None can escape. On the other hand, mentioning only a part is a literary device (brachylogy) used to designate totality. If every conceivable kind of sinner or sin were listed, the list would be endless. The partial list makes the point that every individual will be judged according to the strict standard of righteousness.
The Woman in the Ephah (5:5–11)
5:5 Whereas the vision of the flying scroll addressed God’s dealing with individual sinners, the vision of the woman in the ephah addresses how God will deal with the principle of sin itself. He will triumph over all evil. The day is coming when every vestige of sin will be gone. The day is coming when there will be a complete reversal of the curse and a perfect environment for God’s people to live in perfect communion and enjoyment of him. There will be no more obstacles to his glory or hindrances to the holiness of his people. Wickedness will never tempt or trouble again.
The day is coming when there will be a complete reversal of the curse and a perfect environment for God’s people to live in perfect communion and enjoyment of him.
5:6–7 The principal parts of the vision are the woman in the ephah, the two women with stork-like wings, and Shinar. Zechariah first sees an ephah whose “iniquity” is “in all the land.” An ephah was a dry measure, the largest in everyday use and roughly equivalent to a bushel basket (about 35 liters). The exact proportions are not as significant as the basket’s function of carrying a load. It was a receptacle for collecting, transporting, and deposing. Surprisingly, when the lid (the talent of lead, referring to a circular disk) was removed, a single woman sitting in the basket was seen.
5:8 The interpreting angel identifies the woman as wickedness that was put inside the basket, which was then covered with the lid (the weight of lead on the basket’s mouth or opening). The identity of the woman is a crucial component in the vision. That wickedness is a woman is the convention of Hebrew grammar not a comment on womanhood. Hebrew only has two genders, masculine and feminine. Gender is a matter of grammar and not a reflection of biological sex. The feminine gender often personifies abstract ideas, whether good or bad, whether vice or virtue (see Wisdom in Prov 1, 8, 9). The point is not that a woman is contained but that wickedness is. Wickedness is trapped in such a way that it cannot escape.
5:9–11 Adding to the strangeness of the sight are two women who appear with stork-like wings that lift the basket and transport it to Shinar and put it in its own place. Storks are known for the strength of their wings, which here enable these two women to lift the basket high and carry it far away. The women are not identified specifically but represent the means by which wickedness is going to be removed. Shinar is an old name for Babylon, a place symbolic of wickedness (see Gen 10:10; 11:12). Significantly, this confined wickedness will be imprisoned in a house, implying a fixed and permanent residence. The influence of wickedness will be removed once for all. God is triumphant; this is a vision of the manifestation of his ultimate and final victory over evil.
The Four Wagons (6:1–8)
The final vision returns full circle to the issue in the first. In the first vision, the horses, representing the angelic agents of divine providence, reported that the nations that had afflicted Judah remained at rest in peace and quiet. That report caused the Angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ) to pray for God to show mercy to his people by executing vengeance on the enemies (Zech 1:12–15). In the last vision, the horses report that the vengeance has indeed been executed (6:8). Christ’s prayer is answered, and this last vision symbolically details that answer. This vision concerns the final defeat of Judah’s enemies, the anticipated fulfillment of which was a motivating hope for those struggling to advance the kingdom by their rebuilding the Temple in the face of opposition.
6:1 The principal symbolism in the final vision centers on the horses in the chariots and their activity. Zechariah first sees four chariots between two brass or, more precisely, bronze mountains. Since bronze is often associated with and symbolic of judgment, the idea is that these chariots are stationed on the ready to execute a work of judgment. Although Joel 3:16 reveals that in divine judgment God will roar from Mount Zion, Zechariah 14:4 links judgment to the Mount of Olives, but the identification of the mountains in this vision is not germane to the picture; just see them as representing the place of judgment. The translation “chariot” is a bit misleading given our common notion of a chariot as a combat vehicle carrying warriors with their weapons. The word here refers to war wagons used more for transporting supplies than for engaging in conflict. This explains why the text specifically says that the multi-colored horses were in the wagons not pulling them. The horses were cargo in the wagons parked and ready to be deployed from judgment headquarters.
6:2–4 Interestingly, the horses were segregated in the four wagons according to their colors except in the fourth: red in the first, black in the second, white in the third, but in the fourth were dappled and bay horses. “Dappled” indicates piebald or having irregular patches. “Bay” indicates strength. The interpretation question is whether the colors are integral to the message or just incidental. Unlike the horses in John’s apocalyptic vision whose colors are contextually defined (Rev 6), this text does not seem to link any particular activity to the color. It seems that in both of Zechariah’s visions involving multi-colored horses (the first and last), the colors are incidental other than expressing that God has multiple servants at his command and disposal to accomplish his purpose.
6:5 This purpose is confirmed when the interpreting angel identifies the horses and their commission. He tells Zechariah, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.” As in the first vision, the horses represent God’s angels, ministering spirits who are agents of his providence (see Ps 104:4; Heb 1:14). Significantly, they are here “standing before the Lord of all the earth,” ready to do his bidding. The word “Lord” here is the word for master or owner and conveys God’s absolute authority over all.
6:6–7 The horses are commissioned. The black horses go north, and the white horses follow them. The dappled horses head south, and the strong horses (bay) go everywhere. Each group receives the same orders; they are just deployed in service to different places. The north and south are singled out because of their particular relationships to Judah. The south most likely represents Egypt, and the north represents Babylon, the principal enemy at this time and the primary focus of attention in the vision. But thanks to the strong horses, every part of the earth is covered. Interestingly, the red horses go nowhere; they are kept in reserve, standing by the Lord ready to serve whenever he would order. All this suggests that God’s resources are unlimited to accomplish his purposes. His power and authority are infinite.
God’s resources are unlimited to accomplish his purposes. His power and authority are infinite.
6:8 Ironically, the horse report in the first vision disclosed that the nations hostile to God’s people were at rest, living in peace and quiet (1:11). That report led to God’s expressed displeasure “with the nations that are at ease” (1:15) and to his promise to return to Jerusalem with mercies (1:16). In this last vision, the report about the north country (Babylon) has brought rest to the Lord: “Behold, these who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.” God’s anger has ceased; his displeasure has been appeased. Regardless of how successful the hostile worldly enemies may appear at present, God has the final victory.
Zechariah’s visions make clear at every juncture that God is working with unrelenting resolve and irresistible power to accomplish every promise he has made and every plan he has revealed. What God has in store for his people is beyond complete comprehension.
The Crowning of Joshua (6:9–15)
6:9 The eight visions followed the statement that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah (1:7), indicating that they were all part of a single revelation event. Zechariah 6:9 again says that the word of the Lord came to the prophet, indicating that what follows is another revelation occasion. Whereas only Zechariah could see the visions, the scene described in this section was open to public view. The paragraph gives the details of an object lesson involving Joshua the High Priest.
6:10–15 The prophet is instructed to enact a coronation ceremony. A splendid crown (the plural in Hebrew expresses the idea of excellence) is placed on the head of Joshua. That symbolic gesture of the priest wearing a crown is accompanied with the declaration, “Behold the man whose name is the Branch: and he shall branch out from his place . . . shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne” (6:12–13). This is the same messianic title used in chapter 3, also in the context of Joshua the High Priest. The particular focus of this object lesson is the uniting of the offices of priest and king in the person of the Branch. The significance of this is outstanding since the Lord had made an important dichotomy between these two mediatorial offices. Hermeneutically, it is an inviolable messianic clue that whenever these two offices are united in a single person, it must be referring to Christ. The significance is obvious. Inherent in the term “Branch” is the identification with the royal line of David. That the Branch is identified as man helps establish the priestly connection with Joshua because a priest had to be one of those he represented. Humanity is an essential qualification for priesthood. After the symbolic coronation, the crown was removed from Joshua and kept “in the temple of the LORD as a reminder . . .” (6:14). Joshua was part of a wonderful picture, but he was not the reality. In fact, this object lesson confirmed the obsolescence of the Levitical priesthood and fostered hope in a coming Royal Priest who would be after the order of Melchizedek and not Aaron. Only Jesus, the Great High Priest to come, could wear and keep the crown.
The Matter of Fasting (7:1–8:23)
The Question (7:1–3)
Two years after Zechariah’s visions, the word of the Lord came to him again. This word was in answer to a question regarding the matter of fasting. A group of men asked whether they should continue the practice of weeping and separating themselves in the fifth month. This language expresses the sorrow and abstinence that would characterize fasting. The fifth month marked the yearly anniversary of the destruction of the temple (2Kgs 25:8–9), and they wondered whether they should continue to commemorate its destruction in this way since the reconstruction of the temple was about to be completed. The Lord used Zechariah to answer the question in four different ways. Each of the answers is marked by the word of the Lord coming to the prophet (Zech 7:4, 8; 8:1, 18).
God’s Assessment (7:4–7)
Although fasting was associated with acts of personal or corporate repentance (see Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5), only once did God command a commemorative fast—the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). This fast that they had been observing yearly for seventy years was of their own devising; God had not ordered it. Not only did God not command it, but he looked right through it and assessed that it was something they were doing for themselves without reference to him. Zechariah 7:7 puts the whole issue in perspective. This spiritually empty ritual could have been avoided had the pre-exilic nation heeded the preaching of the former or pre-exilic prophets. Repentance then could have prevented the need for this fast now. God’s first answer to the question of continuing the fast was essentially “why bother, it was not for me to begin with.” God is never satisfied with empty ritual.
God is never satisfied with empty ritual.
God’s Expectation (7:8–14)
7:8–10 God’s second answer expands on the first by specifying some of his righteous demands ignored by the pre-exilic nation that justified their destruction and captivity. The point is clear that obedience is better than empty and heartless rituals. Significantly, the focus is on the second division of the decalogue that concerns the demand to love one’s neighbor as self. God expects fairness, acts of loyalty and kindness, and acts of pity or compassion (7:9). He demands care for those who are incapable of caring for themselves and prohibits plots and schemes against others (7:10). One’s love for others is an index of one’s love for God.
7:11–14 The pre-exilic nation had hearts as hard as diamonds and rejected the preaching of the prophets (7:12). Consequently, they earned God’s wrath and suffered the judgment. God blew them away in a storm, scattering them among the nations (7:14). God expected the post-exilic nation to learn the lesson not to substitute self-imposed rituals for genuine obedience to the law. The fast they were concerned about served no good purpose.
God’s Reversal (8:1–17)
The final two answers in chapter 8 turn the attention away from the fast-causing circumstances to a time when devastation would give way to restoration (8:1–17) and mourning would be replaced with joy (8:18–23). The bottom line is that Zechariah’s prospect for the future seemed in so many ways to be too good to be true. Things were going to be so different from what the people were currently experiencing. Zechariah 8 paints a scene of blessing that illustrates the point. This is part of the prophet’s answer to a question whether fasting to commemorate Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians was still in order given the fact that the exile was now over. The fulfillment of the blessing would include the Lord’s presence (8:3), peace (8:3–5), prosperity (8:11–12), and piety (8:3).
8:1–8 All these blessings heaped on one another defy comprehension. But the incomprehensible should not foster doubt but rather a confident hope in the Lord and his infinite ability. The Lord graciously gave the assurance that the magnitude of the blessing should not be a hindrance to belief (8:6). That the question is framed by the Lord of hosts, Zechariah’s most common designation for the Lord, adds to the certainty of the implied answer. Making the promises was the Commander-in-Chief who had all creation at his disposal to order and accomplish his will; nothing or no one could frustrate his eternal purpose. The word translated “marvelous” means difficult or beyond one’s power; it often refers to God’s extraordinary and miraculous acts. What was incomprehensible and humanly impossible to accomplish was not in any way beyond God’s will to purpose or his ability to perform. Nothing is too hard for the Lord; indeed, nothing is hard for him at all.
Purity of life and diligence in service to God has precedence over ritual.
8:9–17 The contrast between what was and what was going to be was incentive to proper living. Depression and conflict would be replaced with peace and prosperity (8:10–12). Curse would turn to blessing (8:13), and God’s wrath would give way to his favor (8:14–15). Even if the current population would not experience the fullness of the reversal blessings, the certainty of those reversals should motivate them to obedience and service. The obedience is defined especially in terms of equitable behavior toward others: practicing fidelity and honesty and avoiding contentiousness and perjury (8:16–17). Service was defined in terms of getting back to work on rebuilding the temple (8:9). Purity of life and diligence in service to God has precedence over ritual. There was no reason to keep the fast.
God’s Promise (8:18–23)
So dramatic the reversal will be that the sad fast will give way to a cheerful feast filled with joy and gladness (8:19). There will be joy in the place of mourning. True worship will be contagious (8:21). So attractive will the blessing be that Gentiles will seek the Lord and join in true worship (8:22–23) in a worldwide revival of true religion. That ten men from every language group will grasp on to every Jew pictures an indefinitely huge number that will worship the one true and living God (see Rev 7). This is a wonderful prophecy of Gentile inclusion in the church and the universal expansion of God’s kingdom. It seemed so unlikely then, but because God made the promises, the fulfillment was certain.
Oracles of Blessing (9:1–14:21)
The final section of Zechariah is not specifically dated, but the historical references and allusions (particularly regarding Greece) suggest that it was written about thirty-five years after the completion of the temple (ca. 516 BC), which was the prophet’s principal concern at the beginning of his ministry. Even though a remnant had returned to Palestine and the temple was rebuilt, the people were still under the rule of a foreign power, Persia. Zechariah concludes his ministry by assuring the nation that God had a purpose to deliver them from all foreign domination under the rule of the Messiah. The hope for the future was good.
There are two main divisions in the last section, each beginning with the statement “the burden of the word of the LORD” (Zech 9:1; 12:1). The word “burden” refers to a pronouncement, utterance, or oracle and is full of prophetic certainty and authority.
The First Oracle (9:1–11:17)
Judgment of Enemies (9:1–8)
These oracles of blessing begin with the declaration that the Lord would eliminate the threat from enemies. Significantly, the prophet focuses on traditional enemies who bordered Israel: Syria to the north (Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath), Phoenicia (Tyrus, Zidon), and Philistia (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod) on the coastlines from north to south. These were never world powers, but they were nations hostile to Israel and thus were representative of all potential enemies.
Although these were pagan nations who did not acknowledge the true God, they were nonetheless accountable to him. The Lord had an eye on all mankind just as he did on Israel. Nothing escaped his knowledge, his all-seeing eye, and thus he directed this word of judgment on them (9:1). These nations had no skills or resources that could withstand God’s coming to judge and destroy (9:2, 3). Zechariah 9:7 alludes to rites of pagan religious rituals that were useless to rescue from divine intervention. Remarkably, God eliminated the enemies’ threat in two ways. On the one hand, he destroyed (9:4–7a). On the other hand, he transformed some into a remnant for himself (9:7b). This illustrates the consistent biblical theme that God conquers either by power or by grace. But one way or another, he conquers. The section ends with the assuring word that God himself will be the Guardian Protector and that oppression will be a thing of the past (9:8).
Coming of the King (9:9–10:12)
This section centers on two significant Messianic texts (9:9; 10:4) from which Zechariah draws conclusions and makes application to foster hope. The following comments focus primarily on the Messianic passages.
9:9 The prophet commands Zion to rejoice because the Ideal King is coming. Zechariah sets the prophecy against the backdrop of Greece’s world conquests and God’s defeat of Greece (9:13). The New Testament specifically identifies the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 as the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem at the beginning of what became the week of his passion (Matt 21:5; John 12:15).
Zechariah makes four key statements about the coming King. First, he is the promised King. This goes to the heart of the Davidic covenant promise. David’s throne was vacant, but the prophet aimed the eye of faith beyond the empty throne, toward the sure promise. The prospect of seeing that King warranted the admonition to rejoice. The imperatives (rejoice and shout) carry the idea of shrieking loudly with joy and triumph; they express both inner and outward celebration.
David’s throne was vacant, but the prophet aimed the eye of faith beyond the empty throne, toward the sure promise.
Second, he is the righteous King. Not only is Christ eternally and perfectly righteous by virtue of his deity, but he was animated with righteousness throughout his earthly mission and, he will forever execute righteousness in his royal authority. It was part of the messianic ideal that the Davidic king would judge his people with righteousness and that righteousness would flourish in his days (Ps 72:2, 7; see especially 2Sam 23:3). This righteousness most likely designates the positive and active obedience that the Lord performed during his earthly life. In every way the Lord Jesus satisfied the expectations and demands of the ideal King.
Third, he is the victorious King. The Hebrew text has a form of the verb “to save” which can convey either a passive sense of “being saved or delivered” or a stative sense of “being victorious.” The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and other ancient versions suggest the active sense of “one who saves.” Although either the active or the passive sense would accurately apply to the Messiah, the Hebrew text is preferable. That God’s Messiah King is the object of divine help and deliverance is a recurring theme both in messianic prophecy (see Pss 18:50; 20:6; 21:1, 4–5; 22:8) and in the earthly experience of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. The greatest deliverance of all was his deliverance from the grave by the power of God. His deliverance marked his victory over every enemy. His deliverance guarantees the salvation of all his people. Because he has been delivered, he is victorious, and he delivers and saves his people.
Fourth, he is the humble King. This refers to more than the Messiah’s poverty and meekness of spirit; it has the idea of being afflicted or oppressed and encompasses the whole suffering life of Christ. Messiah’s riding a young donkey further defines his humble obedience and was the specific element of the prophecy that was fulfilled at the Triumphal Entry. The significance is not that the donkey was a lowly creature in contrast to the stately horse. Donkeys were often mounts for royalty and rulers (see Judg 5:10; 10:4; 12:14; 2Sam 16:1–2). The people’s response when they saw Christ riding into Jerusalem on the donkey was not surprise as to why a king would be on a donkey. Rather, when they saw him, they immediately cried, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). For a king to ride a donkey was not contrary to expectation. The significance rests, rather, in the fact horses were war machines (see Zech 9:10, where they are associated with chariots and battle bows), symbolic of self-reliance and distrust of God (see Deut 17:16). It would be aberrant for the ideal King to associate himself with that which marked kingly disobedience. Even in the detail of the donkey, Christ fulfilled all righteousness.
9:10–17 As a result of the coming of the King, the prophet delineates assurances of God’s defense of his people. The coming King was the conquering King. Without the aid of military assistance from the nation, he would conquer Gentile nations making peace with them and establishing a universal kingdom (Zech 9:10). He would rescue his people from apparent destruction (9:11), promising to give them more than they had lost (9:12). As the Divine Warrior, he will defeat every enemy with ease and elevate his people to places of honor (9:13–16). To be a part of his kingdom was reason for both joy (9:17) and hope. Significantly, it is in this context of the coming King that Zechariah implores the “prisoners of hope” (9:12, i.e. the prisoners who have hope) to take their refuge in the strong hold (the King himself). Greece was coming and Rome after them, but the King was coming irresistibly “conquering, and to conquer” (Rev 6:2).
10:1–4 The next Messianic prophecy describes the character of the coming king with four titles: “From him shall come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler—all of them together” (Zech 10:4). The person described is God’s answer to the bad shepherds (rulers) who had troubled the flock of his people (10:2–3). The LORD of hosts would visit his people and reverse their fortunes. The agent by whom the bad shepherds would be punished and the flock blessed is by implication the good shepherd king. The statement “from him” (from the Lord) precedes each of these four titles, suggesting the divine anointing and commission of the Messiah to conduct his ministry.
That Christ is the Corner testifies to his being the sure and stable foundation. This same word occurs in other Messianic texts as confirmed in the New Testament (cp. Isa 28:16; Ps 118:22 with Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1Pet 2:4–8). In contrast to the vain and worthless objects of trust mentioned in Zechariah 10:2 (idols, diviners, dreamers), the Corner is the only trustworthy object for faith. That was true then, and it is true now. The object of faith determines the value of faith, and the only object of saving faith is Christ.
The object of faith determines the value of faith, and the only object of saving faith is Christ.
That Christ is the Nail testifies to his ability to bear the load in supporting his people. This nail is a peg in the wall for hanging items. Unless the peg is solid, it will be useless for hanging anything (see Ezek 15:3). Isaiah’s report of Eliakim’s promotion to administer the keys to David’s house illustrates this function of the nail (Isa 22:23–24). Sadly, Eliakim’s nail loosened and the burden hanging on it fell off (Isa 22:25). This failure of what seemed to be a sure support points to the fact that there is only one Nail that is strong enough and sure enough to hold any burden. That unfailing Nail is Christ. In contrast to the bad shepherds who took advantage of and increased the burden of the people, the Lord would fix an immovable Nail that would hold up under any weight and load. It is good to know that not only did Christ bear the load of our guilt and sin but that he is ever able to bear the load of our troubles and cares. We can hang it all on him.
That Christ is the Battle Bow testifies to his being the active champion and warrior for his people. This highlights that aspect of his mediatorial kingship in which he subdues and conquers all of his and our enemies (see also Ps 45:5). It is this divinely sent Battle Bow that will execute God’s anger against the bad shepherds and punish the goats. Certainly, the final manifestation of this warrior King will come when he rides in on that white horse with a sharp sword in his mouth to smite the nations (Rev 19:12–15). In the meantime, Christ is the able and unfailing defender of his people.
That Christ is the Absolute Ruler testifies to his certain sovereignty. The translation of this last line is notoriously difficult, but there is no question that the word designates a ruler. Many occurrences of the word in the Old Testament refer to hard taskmasters or slave drivers who would use whatever means they desired to force their subjects into compliance. This explains the translation “oppressor” in some versions. The word itself, however, simply defines one who has ultimate authority over another. The character of the ruler determines whether his rule is cruel and oppressive. The parallelism with the other three expressions demands that this title refer to the same person. Therefore, the Ruler with absolute authority over his subjects is Christ. His rule is not oppressive, but it is absolute, nonetheless. This is a most fitting designation of Christ in the immediate context. The people knew well the oppression of the bad shepherds (rulers). What a relief it would be to know the kind despotism of the Messiah King. Submitting to the absolute authority of Christ is always a relief; moreover, it is the wise thing to do. He will rule either by grace or by the rod of iron. If he is the Absolute Ruler, it is best to be a citizen rather than an enemy of his kingdom. That was true then; it is true now.
10:5–12 After describing the coming Messiah, the prophet assures the people of strength for battle and a total restoration. The Lord’s presence would enable them to fight against the odds (Zech 10:5, 12). God’s blessing was going to extend to the whole nation (10:6–9); there would be no more division between Judah (the southern kingdom) and Ephraim (the northern kingdom). Significantly, the enemies are identified as Egypt and Assyria, representatives of all the nations hostile to God and his people (10:10–11). The reference to Egypt along with the images of passing through the sea and rivers drying up are reminiscent of the historic exodus and conquest. This new exodus will bring the people to Gilead and Lebanon, places of fertility and symbolic of prosperity (10:10). That no place is found for them is hyperbolic language to refer to a huge population. The message is unmistakably clear: the coming of the King changes everything.
Rejection of the Shepherd (11:1–17)
The final section of the first oracle describes the consequences of rejecting the good shepherd and pronounces judgment on the wicked shepherds who lead the people astray. Many of the details are complex and obscure, but the main message is clear of a coming judgment that will extend to both the land and people.
11:1–3 Zechariah describes the judgment in general terms as the forests are warned of an impending catastrophe and the shepherds and young lions (images for the leaders of the people) will express their sense of doom with howling. Most likely this new wave of judgment refers to the oppression coming from the Greeks and then the Romans.
11:4 The Lord instructs the prophet to engage in the activities of a shepherd, a common title and imagery in the Old Testament and throughout the ancient Near East to refer to kings or sovereigns. The shepherd king was to protect and provide for people. When the Lord instructs the prophet to shepherd the flock destined to destruction, it is as though the prophet becomes a living object lesson to reinforce his message. He is an object lesson pointing to the ideal Shepherd, the Messiah, who will come in the midst of that Roman occupation.
11:5–14 Here, the prophet describes a tragic scene of injustice among the people (11:5) and failure among leaders (11:8) that result in the Lord’s giving the nation up to destruction (11:6) and his removing the bad shepherds from office (11:8). The prophet illustrates this divine sentence by taking two staffs, inscribing one with the name “favor” and other with “union.” “Favor” represents the covenant with God, which was broken and symbolized by the breaking of the staff (11:10). “Union” represents the bond between Judah and Israel. The breaking of this staff points to the devastation and disunity that will be experienced by the whole nation (11:14).
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is how the people responded to the shepherd. Only a remnant, the poor of the flock, would attend to his word; the rest would reject him and hold him in low regard. That this good Shepherd was valued as nothing more than a slave (30 pieces of silver; see Exod 21:32) was an insult, causing him to discard the wage in disgust (Zech 11:13). The meager amount connected with the rejection of the Shepherd points to the New Testament when Judas received that amount for his betrayal and rejection of Jesus.
11:15–17 The consequence of this rejection would be that God would give the nation over to Gentile powers who would treat them fiercely without mercy. Throughout Israel’s history, God raised up abusive and self-serving leaders as instruments in his hands to accomplish his purpose of discipline (see Isa 10:5 for instance). That they were agents in God’s hand did not excuse them from their abuses and sins. God held them accountable for their own wicked behavior.
The Second Oracle (12:1–14:21)
National Deliverance (12:1–9)
These oracles of blessing begin with the prospect of a national deliverance set in the context of “that day” (Zech 12:3, 4, 6, 8, 9), an abbreviation of the fuller expression, the “Day of the Lord.” The day of the Lord is a common prophetic theme, perhaps originating with Obadiah, the earliest of the writing prophets (mid-ninth century BC). The word “day” does not refer to a twenty-four-hour period; but it is a temporal word to designate those epoch interventions of God into the affairs of time and circumstance. In contrast to Providence, which is the ordinary work of God by which he governs and preserves all of his creation, the day of the Lord is an extraordinary act of God when he breaks into time in spectacular fashion either to judge the wicked or to deliver the righteous. The day of the Lord is eternity breaking into time.
The day of the Lord is an extraordinary act of God when he breaks into time in spectacular fashion either to judge the wicked or to deliver the righteous. The day of the Lord is eternity breaking into time.
Behind this declaration of national deliverance is the God of creation (12:1) who with infinite power will frustrate every attempted invasion of Judah and Jerusalem. The infantry who lays siege against Jerusalem will stagger like a drunkard (12:2), and the cavalry will panic in chaotic confusion (12:4). No hostile invader stands a chance against God’s resolve to defend his people (12: 8–9). As a result of this divine intervention, Jerusalem will be free of foreign domination (12:6). Significantly, the execution of this deliverance is in connection with “the house of David,” which would be as God and the angel of the Lord (a designation of the pre-incarnate Christ). Since the next ruler from David’s house would be Messiah himself, this is unmistakably detailing the conquest of the coming King (12:8–9).
Spiritual Deliverance (12:10–13:9)
The Lord accomplishes deliverance for his people with a two-edged sword, a sword of iron and of grace. On the one hand, destruction comes on the enemy—the rod of iron. On the other hand, a spiritual awakening comes on the covenant people—grace.
12:10–14 This spiritual awakening is the consequence of God’s pouring out on his people the spirit of grace and supplications (12:10). This most likely refers to the Holy Spirit who dispenses grace and generates prayer. The Spirit awakens the sinner to look with understanding on Christ. The New Testament confirms that the one they had pierced and will mourn over as an expression of repentance was Jesus (John 19:37; Rev. 1:7). Significantly, the statement hints at the Trinitarian relationship. The Lord is speaking and says that they will “look upon me whom they pierced and mourn for him” (emphasis mine). Although grammatically inconsistent, it points to the truth of John 10:30 where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” This mourning is going to be extensive, including every segment of the nation (Zech 12:11–14). This appears to be a national conversion, perhaps pointing to Paul’s reference in Romans 11:26. But although the conversion is widespread, the repetition of “alone” (by itself) underscores the truth that salvation is always individual.
13:1–6 Chapter 13 describes a spiritual cleansing that rids the land of all pagan worship and then declares the Lord’s gathering of his remnant after the smiting of the Shepherd. The purging of sin (13:1) comes between a reference to the one who was pierced (12:10) and the Shepherd executed by God’s sword (13:7). The purging refers to the expiatory aspect of Christ’s atonement and reminds us that the cleansing fountain of Christ’s blood is the only means whereby sins are forgiven. So thorough will be this cleansing from sin (the meaning of expiation) that every thought of idolatry will be gone (13:2), and so pervasive will be true religion that every false prophet will disguise himself for fear of death (13:3–5; see Deut 13:1–5). One of them, however, had wounds exposed that raised suspicion, potentially giving him away as a false prophet (13:6). The Hebrew text refers literally to wounds “between the hands.” This is an idiom referring to the back or chest area, that body surface often the target of self-mutilation as a pagan means of invoking deity (see 1Kgs 18:28 where the prophets of Baal mutilated themselves). Although these wounds were undoubtedly the marks of his trade, he claimed that they were received in company with friends, attempting to cast off suspicion.
13:7 Zechariah now transitions to the Shepherd who is the true Prophet. What makes this verse such a remarkable statement is the fact that the speaker is the Lord of hosts. The Lord first addresses the Messiah as “the shepherd.” The messianic significance of this title occurs as early as Genesis 49:24. The use of the title “Shepherd” was common in the ancient world. Based on the obvious pastoral imagery, the appellative was frequently employed even by pagan kings to designate their authoritative rule. The title refers to sovereign kingship and thus points to Christ’s being the mediatorial King. But there is an aspect of the Shepherd theology that avers the deity of the ideal Shepherd, which communicates something about his being the ideal Prophet as well.
The Shepherd is the Lord, yet the Shepherd is distinct from the Lord. He is the perfect manifestation of God, hence the perfect Prophet. This dual identification points to that mysterious Trinitarian relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The pronoun “my” suggests both the divine appointment and the special relationship that exists between the Shepherd and Jehovah (see the similar “my king” in Ps 2:6).
Zechariah goes further in expressing the deity of the Messiah when he records the LORD’s identification of his shepherd as “the man who stands next to me” (Zech 13:7). The word “man” often designates man in his strength, referring to a hero figure. Moses used the word to designate God (Deut 10:17) as did David (Ps 45:3), Isaiah (Isa 9:6; 10:20–21) and Jeremiah (Jer 32:18). By the time Zechariah uses this term to refer to the Lord’s shepherd, it was well charged with messianic import pointing to the Messiah’s deity.
Also of consequence is the word translated “stands next to me.” This word occurs only here and in Leviticus. Usually translated “neighbor” in Leviticus, it refers to those who have things in common, such as laws and privileges. It would be inappropriate for God in the Zechariah context to apply this term to mere mortal man. This one, God’s associate or nearest one, stands not only in proximity to God but equal with God. He participates and shares in the divine nature; he is God. That God would send his perfect representative, his Son, was the great message of hope. Christ Jesus is the ideal Prophet because he is God.
This one, God’s associate or nearest one, stands not only in proximity to God but equal with God. He participates and shares in the divine nature; he is God.
The text is also important because of its statement of the Messiah’s sacrificial death, a fact pointing directly to his mediatorial priesthood. Interestingly, Jesus not only links this passage directly to the events of his crucifixion (Matt 26:31), but he also marks another parallel to Zechariah’s prophecy when he said the good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
God’s way of salvation required the sacrifice of the shepherd, “the fellow” of God. Zechariah 13:7 squelches any notion that the Messiah’s death was anything other than the eternal purpose of God. The verse begins with Jehovah of hosts commanding the sword to awake and smite his shepherd. That God demanded the death of his equal speaks volumes concerning the seriousness of sin and the immutability of divine justice. In Pauline language, it is only by and because of the death of Christ that God is both just and justifier (Rom 3:26). In Zechariah’s terms, it is only because God bade the sword awake against his shepherd that a cleansing fountain could be opened “from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1).
13:8–9 The smiting of the Shepherd scattered the sheep (see Matt 26:31), but the good Shepherd would turn his hand graciously to the lowly and insignificant (“the little ones”) to refine and gather them as the remnant. Here, Zechariah describes a purging that would be severe but successful in purifying the remnant. That the Lord calls them “my people” and the people identify the Lord as “my God” is covenant language expressing a reconciled relationship.
Messianic Victories (14:1–21)
14:1–5 In the final section of his prophecy, Zechariah announces the final day of the Lord when the conquering King defeats every enemy and establishes the triumph of true religion. Significantly, the whole scene, even the gathering of hostile forces that come against Jerusalem, is orchestrated by the Lord (14:2). He even allows the enemies, for a moment, to have the upper hand as they divide what they assume are the spoils of victory (14:1). At the moment when everything seemed to be hopeless, the Lord himself enters the conflict (14:3). The King appears, taking his stand on the mountain of Olives (14:4), located just outside the city of Jerusalem. He comes at the place he is needed most. The topological cataclysms associated with his coming (14:4) are symbolic of his awesome power. The point is that nothing remains the same when God appears (see also Isa 64:1–3; Mic 1:2–3). Although the day of the Lord is a sign of defeat for the enemies, God has not left his people out of the picture, providing them a way of escape and promising that he will be with them (Zech 14:5).
Nothing remains the same when God appears.
14:6–11 The prophet goes on to detail the benefits and blessings that will be experienced by God’s people. Some of the details are obscure, but the message is certain that it will be good for the covenant people. It will be a unique day with life sustaining waters flowing from both the eastern sea (the Dead Sea) and the western sea (the Mediterranean Sea) year-round (summer and winter). There will be no more droughts, which were associated with divine disfavor (see Deut 28:22–24; Zech 14:17). Jerusalem and all its environs will be securely inhabited, never again under the threat of destruction. The King will make everything better than ever imagined. Indeed, the most significant blessing will be the universal acknowledgement of the Lord as the one and only true God. Note that the language of 14:9 is similar to the Shema (Deut 6:4), the definitive statement of true religion.
14:12–15 Zechariah again focuses on the defeat of those hostile to God and his people. In graphic terms, the prophet describes a plague that will come upon the enemies consuming their flesh and even extending to their livestock that would have been part of their arsenal. The Lord will also send such confusion that they will begin to fight against each other. The scene is both tragic and ironic in that Jerusalem had been plundered (Zech 14:1) and will now plunder their enemies.
14:16–21 The closing verses are astounding, revealing that the King conquers the enemy either with the plague of destruction or with grace. He either defeats them or transforms them into worshippers of the King, the Lord of hosts. The Gentile survivors participate in the feast of tabernacles, that particular feast that commemorated God’s protection and preservation of his people during the wilderness wanderings and that here represents the whole of divinely prescribed and acceptable worship. Those nations (represented by Egypt) who refuse to worship the true God remain under the sentence of punishment. But the bottom line is that sin is subdued. The curse is reversed with the distinction between the sacred and secular disappearing (14:20–21). Secular things (bells on horses and pots for cooking) are regarded as holy. So pervasive will be holiness that vessels that had been set aside for religious rituals are available for ordinary use. Everything will be holy, and the threat of contamination will be forever gone. No more traders (literally, Canaanites) will be around to pervert the Lord’s house. Christ’s cleansing the temple of the moneychangers was but a foretaste of this final purge (Matt 21:12–13).
The King conquers the enemy either with the plague of destruction or with grace. He either defeats them or transforms them into worshippers of the King, the Lord of hosts.
Granted, the scene described is subject to various views of the end times. Confessedly, the details and the timing can be confusing. Nonetheless, the overriding and inescapable message is that there is a happy hope for all believers that God and Christ will triumph. The day is coming when every vestige of sin will be gone and the unrelenting power of the gospel to reverse the effects of the curse will be manifest. For Zechariah to end his prophecy this way justifies his reputation as being the prophet of hope—a hope that he squarely focuses on Christ, the ideal Prophet, Priest, and King.
Michael P. V. Barrett, The Next to Last Word: Service, Hope, and Revival in the Postexilic Prophets (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015).
Anthony R. Petterson, “Zechariah” in ESV Expository Commentary Vol. VII (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2018).
The text of this commentary has been adapted from The Next to Last Word: Service, Hope, and Revival in the Postexilic Prophets and The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible with permission from Reformation Heritage Books.
The text of Zechariah, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2023 by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives you permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.In addition, TGC gives you permission to faithfully translate the work into any other language, but you may not translate the English ESV Bible into another language. If you wish to include Bible quotations with the translated work, you will need to obtain permission from a publisher of a Bible translation in the same language. All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV Text Edition: 2016. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A
A Call to Return to the Lord
1:1 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, 2 “The LORD was very angry with your fathers. 3 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. 4 Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. 5 Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”
A Vision of a Horseman
7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, 8 “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. 9 Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ 10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.’ 11 And they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ 12 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?’ 13 And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. 15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. 16 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. 17 Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”
A Vision of Horns and Craftsmen
18 1 And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns! 19 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.” 20 Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen. 21 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.”