Overview Zechariah

The book of the prophet Zechariah The book is set after the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem and we´re told in the book of Ezra that Zechariah and Haggai together challenged and motivated the people to rebuild the temple and look for the fulfillment of God's promises. Now long ago Jeremiah, the prophet, had said that Israel's exile would last for seventy years and that afterwards God would restore his presence to a new temple and bring his kingdom and the rule of the Messiah over all nations. The dates at the beginning of this book tell us that those seventy years are almost up. But life back in the land was hard, and it seems like none of these promises were going to come true. why? And the book of Zechariah offers an explanation. It has a fairly clear design, there is an introduction, which sets the tone for a large collection of Zechariah´s dream visions and that's concluded by chapter 7 and 8. And then this is followed by two more large collections of poetry and prophecy let's just dive in and see how the book works. It begins with Zechariah´s challenge to his generation to turn back to God and not be like their ancestors who rebelled and refused to listen to the earlier prophets Which landed them in exile And so now the returned exiles respond positively to Zechariah they repent and humble themselves before God or so it seems. The next large section is a collection of eight nighttime visions that Zechariah experiences and just to prepare you, these are full of very bizarre strange images, a lot like your dreams. The idea that God communicates to people through symbolic dreams is very old and goes back to the book of genesis The dreams of Jacob or Joseph of Pharaoh, these gave meaning to current events at the time, but they also gave a window into the future and so Zechariah has his own dreams now and they've been arranged in this cool symmetrical design. The first and the last visions are about four horsemen each they are like rangers patrolling the world on God´s behalf and it's a representation of God's attentive watch over the nations the report is that the world is at peace and in Zechariah's day this refers to how God raised up Persia to conquer Babylon and bring peace. And so the question now arises, the seventy years of Israel's exile are almost up is now the time for the messianic kingdom in Jerusalem and God responds by saying that he is determined to fulfill those promises but he leaves the question of timing unaswererd the second and seventh visions are paired because they're both reflections on Israel's past sin, that led up to the exile. So, the second vision is about these horns, that symbolize the nations that attacked and then scattered Israel. Assyria and Babylon But then these horns or empires are themselves scattered by a group of blacksmiths an image for Persia. The seventh dream is about a woman in a basket and we are told she is a symbol of the centuries of israel´s covenant rebellion and then this woman is carried off to babylon by other women who carry the basket flying with stork wings this is so strange. The third and sixth visions are paired as they're both about the rebuilding of a new Jerusalem so a man is measuring the city, it's an image of God's promise that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and become a beacon to the nations who will join God´s people in worship and then the sixth dream is about a scroll that flies around the new Jerusalem punishing thieves and liars the idea being that the new Jerusalem is a place that´s purified from sin by the scriptures the fourth and fifth visions are at the center of these collection, and they're about the two key leaders among the returned exiles so Joshua, the high priest, and then Zerubbabel the royal descendant of David. So Joshua, had been symbolically wearing Israel´s sin in the form of theses dirty clothes but then those are taken off and he's given new clothes and a new turban, a symbol of God's grace and forgiveness. and then an angel tells Joshua that if he remains faithful to God, he will lead his people and Joshua will become a symbol of the future messianic king The other vision is about two olive trees that supply oil to this elaborate gold lamp which itself is a symbol of God´s watchful eye over his people and these two trees symbolize the two anointed leaders: Joshua and then Zerubbabel who's leading the temple rebuilding efforts and God says that success will not come to this new temple if it's only the result only of political maneuvering rather these two leaders must be dependant upon the work of God´s spirit The visions come to a close with a bonus vision from the prophet and it picks up the themes of the central fourth and fifth visions it's Joshua the high priest again and he's given a crown and presented as a symbol of the future messiah who will also be a priest over God's kingdom and then Zechariah closes it all out saying that all of these visions will be fulfilled only if the current generation is faithful to God and obeys the terms of the covenant. And so altogether these three visions emphasize how the coming of the messianic kingdom is conditional upon these generation being faithful to God which leads to the conclusion of the dreams it's another challenge from Zechariah and a group of Israelites come and they've been mourning over the former temple´s destruction for nearly seventy years and they ask him:" is it time to stop grieving? I mean it's God's kingdom going to come very soon?" and Zechariah again reminds them of how their ancestors rejected God's call through the prophets which led to the exile, and so he challenges them too. He says:"this generation will see the messianic kingdom only if they pursue justice and peace and remain faithful to the covenant So, in other words Zechariah reverses their question. He asks are you going to become the kind of people who are ready to receive and participate in God´s coming kingdom and that question is left just hanging there, the people don´t answer and the book just moves on And so we come to the final sections that are very different from chapters one to eight Each section is a kaleidoscopic collage of poems and images about the future messianic kingdom so the first one chapters nine to eleven, describe the coming of the humble messianic king who's riding a donkey into the new Jerusalem to establish God's kingdom over the nations but then, all of a sudden, this king, he is symbolized as a shepherd over the flock of Israel, and then he´s rejected first by his own people, but then also by their leaders who are also symbolized as shepherds and so God hands Israel over to these corrupt shepherds and it raises the question will Israel's rejection of their king last forever? and the final section, chapters twelve to fourteen say no. It´s another mosaic of poems and images about the future messianic kingdom and they depict the new Jerusalem as place where God's justice will finally confront and defeat evil among the nations. it´s very similar to the same themes in prophet Joel or Ezekiel But then God also will confront the rebellion within the hearts of his own people He´s going to pour out his spirit on them. He says, so that they can repent and grieve over the fact that they have rebelled and rejected their messianic shepherd The final chapter concludes with the new Jerusalem. That´s the gathering point for all of the nations And then this city becomes a new garden of eden, and there´s a river of living water flowing out of the temple bringing healing to all of creation and that's how the book ends. And so Zechariah just leaves you to ponder the connection between chapters one thru eight and nine to fourteen and the point seems to be that this future messianic kingdom of the book's second half will only come when God's people are faithful to the covenant the point of the first half. Reading the book of Zechariah is a wild ride. These visions and poems are full of starling imagery and they do not follow a linear flow of thought and that's part of the point. It´s like history and our lives, it doesn't always fit into neat orderly paterns but the prophets offer us glimpses of God's hand at work guiding history towards its own purposes and so ultimately Zechariah invites us to look above the chaos and hope for the coming of God's kingdom which should motivate faithfulness in the present and that's what the book of Zechariah is all about.