Fifty years before Zechariah opened his mouth to report his visions of:
- a flying scroll (5:1-4)
- celestial chariots (6:1-8)
- and a little woman sitting in a bushel basket (5:4-11)
Jews considered themselves the privileged, handpicked people of God, prospering in the Promised Land.
But that was before he kicked them out, turned his back on them, and left them talking to themselves when they prayed.
People who felt Not Chosen
As the earlier prophets tell it, God and the Jews had an agreement. Jews broke it. They didn’t live up to their part of the contract. They worshiped idols and broke all the other 10 Commandments like a grandson eats candy at Grandpa’s house.
Prophets such as Habakkuk said God sent Assyrian and Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq to conquer the two Jewish nations and deport Jewish survivors of the two wars. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC and Judah in the south fell to Babylon in 586 BC.
Jews come home to piles of rock
Now, freed by Persians who conquered Babylon, some Jews like Zechariah moved back to what is now Israel and Palestinian Territory.
They didn’t seem eager to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. It took them more than 20 years after the first Jews came home, in 538 BC, to finish it. Perhaps they felt they were just another group of refugees, and nothing special to God anymore.
Prophets and leaders like Haggai and Zechariah had to find the balance between kicking their fannies and lifting their spirits.
There’s a bit of violence ahead: rotting eyeballs, Judean Hills collapsing flat, and the Mount of Olives splitting in two. Typical apocalyptic word pictures to prep the reader for an apparent Battle of Armageddon.
But after that, Utopia, or at least nearly so.
- Jews are forgiven, welcomed, and protected.
- Nations enrich Jerusalem with gifts, and visit the city each autumn to celebrate the Last Harvest Festival of the year.
- The world finally recognizes God as the one and only.
“When that time comes, there will no longer be warm sunny days or cool moonlit nights. Instead, it will remain daylight all the time. God knows how and when. Even at night, it’ll be daylight bright” (Zechariah 14:6-7).
Zechariah was a prophet and a priest. He was born in exile, probably in Iraq. But like many Jews, he moved back to what was left of the Jewish homeland.
Fifty years earlier, Babylonian invaders levelled Jerusalem and other cities in the region. Then they deported the survivors.
Most Bible scholars seem to agree that Zechariah wrote at least chapters 1-8. They say they aren’t so sure about chapters 9-14. Those chapters seem to reflect a later time—perhaps in Greece’s glory days, after the Persians lost to Alexander the Great. Those chapters also seem written in a different style. Yet some scholars argue Zechariah may have written that section late in life.
Zechariah and Haggai prophesied at the same time, when Jews were rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple—a job completed in 516 BC.
Zechariah got his first vision four years earlier: “almost a year and eight months” into Darius’ reign as king of Persia (1:1). On today’s calendar, that’s October or November 520 BC.
Two years later—the last date in Zechariah’s prophecy—he said the LORD gave him another message. This one came on December 7, 518 BC, “the fourth year, ninth month, and fourth day of King Darius’ reign” (Zechariah 7:1).
Zechariah may have continued his ministry as a prophet. Or perhaps he returned to the family business of the priesthood once workers finished the Temple.
Zechariah’s ministry seems to have taken place in Jerusalem, a fitting location for him as a priest. But his words reached out to all Jews in what had become the Persian province of Judah, in the territory known as Palestine—formerly David’s kingdom of Israel.
Zechariah is a prophet bringing good news to the Jews.
They need it. They’ve just come back from a generation in exile, to their native homeland and to the ruins Babylonian invaders left behind.
Zechariah says not to worry. Jerusalem is safe. Their enemies are doomed. And the Temple and the city will be greater than ever.
Best of all:
“People will see the LORD as King of the World. People everywhere will finally recognize him as the LORD, and as the one and only God” (Zechariah 14:9).
Hints of Jesus
Students of the Bible say they see more clues about Jesus in this book than in any other book of the Old Testament, except Isaiah.
“Celebrate, Mount Zion.
Sing and shout, Jerusalem.
Look, here comes your king,
The good savior.
Humbly riding a colt,
The young foal of a donkey” (9:9; see Matthew 21:9 about how Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, before his Friday execution).
“I told them, ‘If you want to pay me what you owe me, I’ll take it now. If you don’t want to pay, fine.’ So, they shekeled me 30 pieces of silver. How pitifully noble of them. The LORD said, ‘Shuck it back. Toss it to the potter.’ So, I threw that miserly noble salary to the Temple potter” (11:12-13; see Matthew 27:7 about what Judas did with his 30 pieces of silver, his reward for betraying Jesus).
“Kill the shepherd,
But let the sheep run away and scatter” (13:7; see Matthew 26:31 about what happened to Jesus’ disciples when Temple police arrested him).