Zechariah

This book, the eleventh of the twelve so-called Minor Prophets, is called “Zechariah” or “Zachariah” (“The LORD Has Remembered”) after the prophet named as the recipient of the visions and oracles in the first half of the book, who was traditionally considered the author of the whole book.

Most scholars discern a clear break between chapters 1–8 and 9–14, although a few place the division at the start of chapter 7, seeing chapters 7–8 as an introduction to the second half of the book. The two halves differ in both form and subject-matter.

Chapters 1–8 are divided into three main sections by headings in 1:1, 1:7, and 7:1, which identify what follows as revelation given to the prophet Zechariah in 520 and 518 BCE. These dates place the prophecies early in the reign of Darius I of Persia, during the reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple after its destruction by the Babylonians. The middle section contains reports of eight visions, interspersed with prophetic sayings (1:7–6:8), followed by instructions for a symbolic crowning of the high priest Joshua (6:9–15). This central section is bracketed by a short prologue (1:1–6) and a longer epilogue (chapters 7–8), calling the people to repentance and promising divine favour. The major themes of these eight chapters are the reconstruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the LORD’s return, the removal of sin and guilt, the blessing of God’s people, and the overthrow of the nations. The purpose appears to be to reassure the people of the LORD’s renewed favour and his intention to fulfil his earlier promises.

Zechariah 9–14 contains a series of undated prophecies divided into two main sections by the headings in 9:1 and 12:1. Unlike chapters 1–8 the prophet is not named, and historical references are sparse and ambiguous. Chapters 9–11 prophesy judgment against the enemies and the leaders of God’s people, and the restoration of the scattered northern tribes. Chapters 12–14 contain two accounts of a painful but ultimately unsuccessful foreign siege against Jerusalem. The first is followed by a promise that the LORD will pour out his Spirit on the people, leading them to repentance and reform, and the second by a depiction of the submission of the nations.

In expounding their message, both halves of the book frequently reuse earlier parts of the Hebrew Bible, and especially the earlier prophets, a phenomenon which has been the subject of a number of recent studies.

Date and authorship

Zechariah was long regarded as the author of the whole book, and the majority of scholars still see much of chapters 1–8 originating with the prophet, although varying degrees of later amendment and expansion have been suggested. However, Zechariah’s authorship of chapters 9–14 has been questioned: writing ca. 1630 CE, Joseph Mede suggested that Jeremiah wrote chapters 9–11. Subsequently the dates suggested for Zechariah 9–14 have varied wildly, from the 8th to the 2nd centuries BCE. However, recent scholarship has tended to place them somewhere in the Persian or early Hellenistic periods, i.e., from late 6th to late 3rd centuries BCE. They are often considered to be the work of more than one author, rather than a single “Deutero-Zechariah.”

Despite the differences between the two halves of the book, and the possibility that chapters 9–14 were composed later than chapters 1–8, scholars have noted thematic, linguistic, and stylistic connections between the two halves. But opinions differ as to whether chapters 9–14 were originally composed as a continuation of chapters 1–8, or connected to those chapters only later.

Interpretation

The book’s obscurity poses numerous difficulties for the interpreter. Questions which have received particular scholarly attention include the eschatological perspective of the various parts of the book, their relationship to apocalyptic literature, and their messianic expectations. The latter question turns, in the case of chapters 1–8, on the question whether the “Shoot” mentioned in 3:8 and 6:12 is a reference to Zerubbabel or rather to a future Messiah. In chapters 9–14, “the one they pierced” (12:10) has traditionally been understood as a messianic reference by Christians (also John 19:37; Revelation 1:7). One strand of Jewish tradition identifies this figure with the Ephraimite Messiah (compare b. Sukkah 52a).

Reception history

The interpretative problems of the book have long been noted. Jerome’s description of Zechariah as “liber obscurissimus” (a most obscure book) is frequently cited.

The book is quoted several times in the gospels. Zechariah 9:9 envisages a righteous king coming to Jerusalem on a donkey, and Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15 connect this verse with the triumphal entry of Christ. Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27 report Jesus quoting Zechariah 13:7 as he predicts the disciples’ apostasy, and John 19:37 sees the piercing of Christ’s side by the soldier’s spear as a fulfilment of Zechariah 12:10. The book of Revelation frequently picks up imagery from Zechariah, including the “four horsemen” of Revelation 6:1–8, which are probably to be connected with the horses of different colours in Zechariah 1:8–11 and 6:1–8.

Zechariah has inspired a number of works of art, and various hymns, of which the most well-known is perhaps Cowper’s “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” which alludes to Zechariah 13:1.

Further reading

Baldwin, Joyce G. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary. TOTC. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1972.
Boda, Mark J. Haggai, Zechariah. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.
Coggins, Richard, and Jin H. Han. Pages 150-87 in Six Minor Prophets Through the Centuries. Blackwell Bible Commentaries. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Meyers, Carol L., and Eric M. Meyers. Haggai, Zechariah 1–8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB 25B. Garden City: Doubleday, 1987.
Meyers, Carol L., and Eric M. Meyers. Zechariah 9–14: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB 25C. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
Webb, Barry G. The Message of Zechariah: Your Kingdom Come. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2003.