Introduction from the NIV Study Bible | Go to Zechariah
Zechariah’s prophetic ministry took place in the postexilic period, the time of the Jewish restoration from Babylonian captivity. For historical details see Introduction to Haggai: Background.
Author and Unity
Like Jeremiah (1:1) and Ezekiel (1:3), Zechariah was not only a prophet (1:1) but also a member of a priestly family. He was born in Babylonia and was among those who returned to Judah in 538/537 b.c. under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua (his grandfather Iddo is named among the returnees in Ne 12:4). At a later time, when Joiakim was high priest (see note on Ne 12:12–21), Zechariah apparently succeeded Iddo (1:1,7) as head of that priestly family (Ne 12:10–16). Since the grandson succeeded the grandfather, it has been suggested that the father (Berekiah, 1:1,7) died at an early age.
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai (Ezr 5:1; 6:14) but continued his ministry long after him (compare 1:1 and 7:1 with Hag 1:1; see also Ne 12:1–16). His young age (see 2:4 and note) in the early period of his ministry makes it possible that he ministered even into the reign of Artaxerxes I (465–424 b.c.).
Most likely Zechariah wrote the entire book that bears his name. Some have questioned his authorship of chs. 9–14, citing differences in style and other compositional features, and giving historical and chronological references that allegedly require a different date and author from those of chs. 1–8. All these objections, however, can be explained in other satisfactory ways, so there is no compelling reason to question the unity of the book.
The dates of Zechariah’s recorded messages are best correlated with those of Haggai and with other historical events as follows:
|1.||Haggai’s first message (Hag 1:1–11; Ezr 5:1)||Aug. 29, 520 b.c.|
|2.||Resumption of the building of the temple (Hag 1:12–15; Ezr 5:2)
(The rebuilding seems to have been hindered from 536 to c. 530
[Ezr 4:1–5], and the work ceased altogether from c. 530 to 520
|Sept. 21, 520|
|3.||Haggai’s second message (Hag 2:1–9)||Oct. 17, 520|
|4.||Beginning of Zechariah’s preaching (1:1–6)||Oct./Nov., 520|
|5.||Haggai’s third message (Hag 2:10–19)||Dec. 18, 520|
|6.||Haggai’s fourth message (Hag 2:20–23)||Dec. 18, 520|
|7.||Tattenai’s letter to Darius concerning the rebuilding of the
temple (Ezr 5:3—6:14)
(There must have been a lapse of time between the resumption
of the building and Tattenai’s appearance.)
|8.||Zechariah’s eight night visions (1:7—6:8)||Feb. 15, 519|
|9.||Joshua crowned (6:9–15)||Feb. 16 (?), 519|
|10.||Repentance urged, blessings promised (chs. 7–8)||Dec. 7, 518|
|11.||Dedication of the temple (Ezr 6:15–18)||Mar. 12, 516|
|12.||Zechariah’s final prophecies (chs. 9–14)||After 480 (?)|
Occasion and Purpose
The occasion is the same as that of the book of Haggai (see Background; Dates). The chief purpose of Zechariah (and Haggai) was to rebuke the people of Judah and to encourage and motivate them to complete the rebuilding of the temple (Zec 4:8–10; Hag 1–2), though both prophets were clearly interested in spiritual renewal as well. In addition, the purpose of the eight night visions (1:7—6:8) is explained in 1:3,5–6: The Lord said that if Judah would return to him, he would return to them. Furthermore, his word would continue to be fulfilled.
The theology of Zechariah’s prophecy matches his name, which means “The Lord (Yahweh) remembers.” “The Lord” is the personal, covenant name of God and is a perpetual testimony to his faithfulness to his promises (see notes on Ge 2:4; Ex 3:14–15; 6:6; Dt 28:58). He “remembers” his covenant promises and takes action to fulfill them. In the book of Zechariah God’s promised deliverance from Babylonian exile, including a restored kingdom community and a functioning temple (the earthly throne of the divine King; see Introduction to Psalms: Theology), leads into even grander pictures of the salvation and restoration to come through the Messiah (see notes on 3:8–9; 4:3,14; 6:9–15; 9:9–10; 10:2,4; 11:4–14; 12:10—13:1; 13:7; 14:4–9).
The book as a whole also teaches the sovereignty of God in history, over people and nations—past, present and future (see, e.g., 1:10–11; 2:13; 4:10,14 and note; 6:5,7; 8:20–23; 9:10,13–14; 10:11; 12:1–5; 14:9,16–19). See also Literary Forms and Themes below.
Literary Forms and Themes
The book is primarily a mixture of exhortation (call to repentance, 1:2–6), prophetic visions (1:7—6:8), a prophetic oracle of instruction or exhortation involving a symbolic coronation scene (6:9–15), hortatory messages (mainly of rebuke and hope) prompted by a question about fasting (chs. 7–8) and judgment and salvation oracles (chs. 9–14). The prophetic visions of 1:7—6:8 are called apocalyptic (revelatory) literature, which is essentially a literature of encouragement to God’s people. When the apocalyptic section is read along with the salvation (or deliverance) oracles in chs. 9–14, it becomes obvious that the dominant emphasis of the book is encouragement because of the glorious future that awaits the people of God.
In fact, encouragement is the book’s central theme—primarily encouragement to complete the rebuilding of the temple. Various means are used to accomplish this end, and these function as subthemes. For example, great stress is laid on the coming of the Messiah and the overthrow of all anti-kingdom forces by him so that God’s rule can be finally and fully established on earth. The then-current local scene thus becomes the basis for contemplating the universal, eschatological picture.
Several interpreters have arranged the eight visions of 1:7—6:8 in a chiastic (or concentric) pattern of a-b-b-c / c1-b1-b1-a1:
- a The Lord controls the events of history (1:7–17)
- b Nations that devastated Israel will in turn be devastated (1:18–21)
- b Israel will be fully restored (ch. 2)
- b1 Lawbreakers will be purged from Israel (5:1–4)
- b1 The whole sinful system will be removed from the land (5:5–11)
- a1 The Lord controls the events of history (6:1–8)
Part I (chs. 1–8)
- Introduction (1:1–6)
- A Series of Eight Visions in One Night (1:7—6:8)
- The Horseman among the Myrtle Trees (1:7–17)
- The Four Horns and the Four Craftsmen (1:18–21)
- A Man with a Measuring Line (ch. 2)
- Clean Garments for the High Priest (ch. 3)
- The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (ch. 4)
- The Flying Scroll (5:1–4)
- The Woman in a Basket (5:5–11)
- The Four Chariots (6:1–8)
- The Symbolic Crowning of Joshua the High Priest (6:9–15)
- The Problem of Fasting and the Promise of the Future (chs. 7–8)
- Two Prophetic Oracles: The Great Messianic Future and the Full Realization of God’s Kingdom (chs. 9–14)
- The First Oracle: The Coming and Rejection of the Messiah (chs. 9–11)
- The coming of the Messianic King (chs. 9–10)
- The rejection of the Messianic Shepherd-King (ch. 11)
- The Second Oracle: The Coming and Reception of the Messiah (chs. 12–14)
- The deliverance and conversion of Israel (chs. 12–13)
- The Messiah’s coming and his kingdom (ch. 14)
- The First Oracle: The Coming and Rejection of the Messiah (chs. 9–11)
© Zondervan. From the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Used with Permission.
Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014