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Studies in the Prophets


Unkind commentators have talked about the 13 books of the minor prophets, simply because there are no present day scholars who would wish to maintain that chapters 1-8 of Zechariah come from the same pen as Zechariah 9-14.

The nature, the language and the subject material clearly come from two distinct periods of history.

Chapters 1-8
Dates are given for this work
1:1 In the eight month in the second year of Darius
                        Darius I 522-486BC                                        (October 520BC)

1:7 On the 24th day of the eleventh month (Shebat) in the second year of Darius (Feb 519BC)

These are very close to the dates of Haggai – around 20 years after the decree of Cyrus which allowed subject people to return home to their own countries and shortly before the rebuilding of the temple 516BC. In essence the two men probably worked together to encourage the people to rebuild.

However the first part of this book of Zechariah is rather different from that of Haggai

The structure of these first 8 chapters looks like this

1:1-6                Israel’s past sins and Yahweh’s judgement
1:7 – 6:8          Eight visions
6:9-15              Joshua crowned but the Branch is king
7:1 – 8:23        Covenant renewed  - and call to true obedience

It is the 8 visions between chapters 1 and 6 that predominate the material.

The date in chapter 1 verse 7 seems to imply that all the visions came to Zechariah at one time. Many scholars don’t believe they did but without going into each in depth, I think that is an issue we should walk past.
The aim of chapters 1-8 is to encourage the returned exiles to go on believing that God was at work in the community and that he really was fulfilling the promises made to the prophets who had foretold the return from exile.
There are echoes of prophecies by Isaiah and Jeremiah here.

The people are reminded to heed the warnings of these prophets and reminded that the consequences of what they had suffered had come about because the people had refused to listen to the warnings.

It is also possible that these people harboured messianic hopes or a restored Davidic king, who would lead them into a time of victory and prosperity. This would be quite natural when they re-read prophecies such as
Jeremiah 23:5-6 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.

And as we saw in the book of Haggai it is possible that Zerubbabel was the focus of these hopes.
Vision 1           The horsemen
Vision 2           The four horns
Vision 3           Rebuilding of Jerusalem
Vision 4           Vision of heaven and the divine council
Vision 5           Vision of the 7 lampstands and two olive trees
Vision 6           Flying scroll
Vision 7           The ephah (which is a kind of measure)
Vision 8           Vision of 4 chariots

Zechariah 9-14
This has a very different tone. The vision form of chapters 1-6 is absent as are the time indications.
The first person narrative that held chapters 1-8 together is limited here to 11:4-17 and the idea of the restoration of Jerusalem has receded.

If you are in to drawing lines in your bible to show different parts, of the story you would need to isolate chapters 9 to 11.
Here we have oracles that are similar to the words of the pre-exilic prophets. There are references to both Israel and Judah, Assyria and Egypt as well as a host of smaller nations. Then in chapter 9 there comes the expectation of a king who would deliver from enemies and bring about peace.

Chapters 12-14 by contrast tell of the final victory of God, as the divine warrior (12:8) over the nations and his vindication of Jerusalem. The images of this conflict arte unnatural and go beyond ordinary military victories.
The universality and extravagant imagery show that the reference is to an eschatological victory  - one which brings about the end. Within this section there is also a depiction of Jerusalem, mourning in penitence and being cleansed of sin (12:11 – 13:9) In this way the final victory goes hand in hand with a purification of Jerusalem so that only a remnant of the people will enjoy the fruits of victory.

There is a stark contrast between the two main sections of the book of Zechariah. Chapters 1-8 are similar to the mood of Haggai – there is a belief that God had delivered Judah and the book seems to want to encourage the returned exiles to take certain steps towards establishing the community on the right lines.
Chapters 9-14 with their need for cleansing and talk of a remnant and their vision of apocalyptic victory could address a rather more critical situation. This night have been in the mid fifth century BC during the conflict with Persia or Greece, which could have affected the Judean community adversely.

The book of Zechariah is the longest of all the books of the minor prophets. It exists on the reputation of earlier prophets. There are reminiscences of earlier prophecies and the readers are reminded that the words of judgement of the older prophets had come true. For that reason the present warnings given by Zechariah should be heeded.
The people had been warned of God’s judgement which would be implemented in a new way.
Even the casual reader will see the difference between the prophetic works of Amos to the teachings of Zechariah
I think we move from prophetic warnings that would bring about forgiveness, repentance and security to eschatological warning, which deal with concepts such as the Messiah judgement and salvation.   


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