Introduction to Zechariah (Zechariah 1:1-6) June 25-27
Ezra 4:24-5:2 says that in the second year of the Persian king Darius, the Judean governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Jeshua or Joshua recommenced the work on the second temple in response to the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai 1:14-15 tells us that the work was resumed on the 24th day of the sixth month (corresponding to September 22, 520 B.C.). Yet the first message of the book of Zechariah is dated to the eighth month of the same year (late October to late November)—one to two months after the work's resumption. Evidently Zechariah preached with Haggai prior to the 24th day of the sixth month but didn't receive the message from God that begins his book until the eighth month. In other words, Zechariah's ministry began prior to the writing of his book.
Zechariah is the 11th of the 12 Minor Prophets—the second of the three Postexilic Prophets. He refers to himself as "Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo" (Zechariah 1:1). Ezra refers to him as "Zechariah the son of Iddo" (Ezra 5:1; 6:14)—"son" in this case meaning "grandson." "Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah was not only a prophet but also a priest. He was born in Babylonia and was among those who returned to Palestine in 539-537 B.C. under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua (cf. Iddo, Neh 12:4). At a later time, when Joiakim was high priest, Zechariah apparently succeeded his grandfather Iddo (Zech 1:1, 7) as head of that priestly family (Neh 12:10-16). Since it was the grandson (Zechariah) who in this instance succeeded the grandfather (Iddo), it has been conjectured that the father (Berekiah, Zech 1:1, 7) died at an early age, before he could succeed to family headship. Though a contemporary of Haggai, Zechariah continued his ministry long after him (cf. Zech 1:1 and 7:1 with Hag 1:1; see also Neh 12:10-16). Considering his young age in the early period of his ministry (Zech 2:4, 'young man'), it is possible that Zechariah continued into the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.)" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, introduction to Zechariah). Chapters 1-8 of Zechariah are dated to the time of the temple's reconstruction. Chapters 9-14 are undated and believed by many to have been written much later.
The name Zechariah, a common one in the Old Testament, means "Yhwh Remembers." Expositor's notes: "The three names in the complete patronymic formula (Zechariah, Berekiah, Iddo) mean 'the Lord remembers,' 'the Lord blesses,' and 'timely (?).' [Commentator Charles] Feinberg...combining the three names, believes they signify that 'the Lord remembers,' and 'the Lord will bless' at 'the set time,' which, in a sense, is the theme of the book" (note on 1:1). Zechariah's message is that God will not forget or forsake His people—He will remember and restore them. This was already evident through the restoration God was then accomplishing. And in due time God would send the Messiah to bring them eternal salvation and glory.
"Zechariah is frequently called the 'prophet of hope'.... [His] book is filled with references to Christ. Messianic references include mentions of Christ's lowliness and humanity (6:12). They describe His betrayal by Judas (11:12-13), His deity (3:4; 13:7), His priesthood (6:13), and His kingship (6:13; 9:9; 14:9, 16). Zechariah also speaks of the Messiah's being struck down by the Lord['s command] (13:7), His second coming (14:4), His glorious reign (9:10; 14), and His establishment of world peace (9:9-10; cf. 3:10). In few Old Testament books do we find such constant attention given to the coming Saviour" (Bible Reader's Companion, introduction to Zechariah).
In his book The Minor Prophets, Charles Feinberg states: "The prophetic horizon of Zechariah is far broader than that of the other minor prophets. His book has been called an apocalypse because of the presence of a number of visions. He dwells on the Person and work of Christ more fully than all the other minor prophets together" (p. 273).
Zechariah's message was no doubt an encouraging one. Like Haggai, he experienced a positive response from the people of Judah. This leads to a question about what became of this particular prophet. Jesus later mentions the horrifying martyrdom of "Zechariah, son of Berechiah...murdered between the temple and the altar" (Matthew 23:35)—the location seeming to imply that the victim was a priest, as only priests were permitted in this area. Yet it would seem odd for the author of the book of Zechariah to have been meant considering that Ezra and Nehemiah make no mention of such a vile act—one that would have represented a drastic change in the orientation of the people. It is, however, possible that Zechariah lived beyond the completion of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and that his martyrdom came at that later time—perhaps by people who felt his messianic proclamations had failed. Alternatively, commentators typically conclude that Christ was referring to Zechariah "the son of Jehoiada" who was stoned to death in the temple court (2 Chronicles 24:19-22)—seeing Jehoiada as actually his grandfather and Berechiah as his father though not named in Scripture (or Berechiah as a second name for Jehoiada). Chronicles was the last book of the Bible in Jesus' day, and it is argued that His statement "the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah" was intended to signify martyrdom "from one end of Scripture to the other."
"Return to Me...and I Will Return to You" (Zechariah 1:1-6)
The prophet Zechariah's book opens with a call to repentance (Zechariah 1:1-6). Though God had stirred the hearts and minds of the people to resume work on the temple, it is evident that they were not fully reformed. Working on the reconstruction was not enough. They needed to completely reorient their lives toward God, serving Him wholeheartedly with the right attitude. And they needed to stay the course—remaining consistent in obedience (a rather tall order for a people who did not have the indwelling strength of God through His Spirit). Haggai had already addressed the disappointment of many over the scope of the new temple as compared with Solomon's (Haggai 2:3). Discouragement could have led to neglect and giving up as it had some years before. So Haggai urged a steady strength. Through Zechariah God urges "return"—repentance.
It was imperative for the people to recognize their tendency to sin and the possibility that they could fall into their forefathers' pattern of rejecting God. (Indeed, as 1 John 1:7-8 makes clear, even true, converted Christians do not always succeed in their ongoing struggle against sin—and must regularly and constantly "return" to God and His ways.) Nevertheless, the admonition that the people not follow in their forefathers' footsteps should have served as an encouragement. The returned exiles had a choice in the matter—they did not have to go the way of their ancestors.
The great God was with them to help and guide those who would trust in and submit to Him—and to correct and chasten those who would not. "Note the title 'Lord of Hosts' [Yhwh Sabaoth] throughout this passage and the entire prophecy as well. It is the characteristic name for God in Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, occurring more than eighty times. The Greek translation of the Old Testament renders it 'the Almighty.' God is Lord of the stars, the powers of heaven, and all the forces of the universe—a most inclusive and comprehensive name for God" (Feinberg, p. 275).
Zechariah 1:5-6 offers an important perspective about the prophetic pronouncements of the Bible. Many earlier prophets had warned of future national destruction to come on Israel and Judah for their failure to obey God but died before the destruction came to pass. Many looked on their deaths as justification for viewing their warnings as false alarms. And yet their pronouncements came true. "Though the messengers may be gone, God's words live on to be fulfilled (cf. Isa 40:6-8)" (Expositor's, note on verses 4-6). Many today scoff at end-time prophecy, claiming that those who issued apocalyptic warnings are long since dead and gone—their pronouncements nothing to worry about. This kind of thinking is foolish. Almighty God is still alive. He's the one who actually made the pronouncements through His servants—and He will ensure their fulfillment.
In verse 6, the phrase "So they returned" or "'Then they repented' [NIV] ('came to themselves,' 'changed their minds') is apparently a reference to what happened to the preexilic forefathers and/or to their offspring during the Exile and immediately afterward.... They had to acknowledge that they had brought the divine discipline of the Exile on themselves because they had refused to 'listen,' or 'pay attention,' to the Lord and to his words of warning through his servants the prophets. They also had to acknowledge that the Lord was just and righteous in his judgment, for he had done to them what their ways and practices deserved, all in accord with what he had 'determined to do' (cf. Lam 2:17)" (Expositor's, note on Zechariah 1:4-6).
The Exile had vindicated the rejected former prophets—their words had come true. The people of Zechariah's day needed to learn the lessons and live their lives according to God's will. Of course, the message was not only for Zechariah's day. These words were written for us as well.