A Study Guide for Zechariah
In 539 BC, a shock-wave travelled throughout the world; Cyrus the Persian had conquered the Babylonian Empire. Immediately after this, he issued a decree that encouraged all the people conquered and displaced by Babylon to return to their homelands and begin worshipping their own local deities again. This decree caused thousands of Jews, scattered throughout the Empire, to prepare to return to Jerusalem.
Zechariah wrote this book about twenty years after Cyrus' decree. Many Jews had returned to Jerusalem, but they hadn't yet rebuilt God's Temple. Ezra 4 reports that local Samaritans, angered at this effort, had manipulated the Persian government to forbid any more rebuilding. The Jews complied. But in obeying the Persians, the Jews disobeyed God's word in Isaiah 44, which told them that God Himself had authorized them to rebuild.
So in 520 BC, God sent two prophets to correct this government induced spiritual apathy: Haggai and Zechariah. Remarkably, we have 3 independent records of this period, Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah, all telling us how God reinvigorated this Temple rebuilding effort.
Ezra recorded the historical situation, even locating and transcribing the official government correspondence. God used Haggai to prophesy a brief, simple encouragement to the people and its leaders to continue the rebuilding process. But Zechariah stands apart from these two accounts in its length of fourteen chapters, its highly symbolic use of visions, and its comprehensive scope of redemptive history.
Outline of Zechariah
We can arrange the chapters of Zechariah as follows:
I. Eight Visions of Yahweh Restoring Israel and its Leaders (1-6)
II. A Question about Fasting over Jerusalem's Past Destruction (7-8)
III. An Oracle of Yahweh Judging Israel's Enemies (9-11)
V. An Oracle of Yahweh Restoring Israel by its Pierced Messiah (12-14)
The Content of Zechariah
Zechariah begins with eight visions in the first six chapters.
The first vision assesses the Gentile world as a calm place, though guilty of destroying God's temple and displacing His people (1:7-17). The second vision describes four major nations guilty of doing this evil and the beginning of God's work to dismantle them (1:18-21). The third vision gives God's promise to judge the nations, rebuild Jerusalem, restore His people to it, welcome repentant Gentiles as well, and dwell with all of them in the city (2:1-13). The fourth vision tells how the Messiah, called “the Branch” will spiritually purify the high priest, Joshua, when He restores Jerusalem (3:1-10). The fifth vision tells how God’s Spirit will empower Zerubbabel to rebuild God’s temple (4:1-14); The sixth vision shows God cleansing the land of Israel from any thieves or liars (5:1-4). The seventh tells how God will remove sin from the land of Israel and will deposit it in Shinar, the plain where the tower of Babel was built (6:5-11). And the eighth tells of God’s four horsemen who go throughout the earth to judge it, fulfilling the desire of God’s Spirit (6:1-8). To conclude these visions, God commands the returned exiles to honor the coming Messiah, the Branch, by creating a crown to adorn the high priest (6:9-15).
Chapters 7-8 deal with a question brought to Jerusalem by Jews living in Bethel during this time. The question asks whether it is appropriate to fast for the times in the past when Jerusalem has been attacked or destroyed. God’s response calls His nation to respond to God from the heart, rather than obeying man-made rituals.
Chapters 9-11 begin, "The oracle of the word of Yahweh is against the land of Hadrach". These three chapters are a description of God's judgment of Israel's enemies, including the Gentile nations who have come against Israel, but also making frequent mention of the false shepherds of Israel who have misguided the nation. God condemns both groups.
The first section describes two coming kings. One is a worldly king, whom many interpret to be Alexander the Great, sent by God to conquer all the Levant region except Jerusalem (9:1-8). The other is God's king, who reigns over the world from Zion and redeems people by the blood of His covenant (9:9-17). Chapter 10 makes a contrast between Israel's deceitful, unreliable spiritual leaders (evil shepherds) and its supremely dependable shepherd, Yahweh, who will restore Israel and lead it in victory over the nations. Chapter 11 again compares these shepherds; but this time, by making Zechariah live out an object lesson wherein he shepherds some of Israel’s sheep to imitate Yahweh’s shepherding history with Israel.
Chapters 12-14 begin, "The oracle of the word of Yahweh concerning Israel". This section looks at God's restoration of Israel through the work of his Branch, the Messiah, who is central to the spiritual and material restoration of Israel.
The first half of chapter 12 (12:1-9) describes Yahweh’s protection of Jerusalem against the coming siege of the nations. The second half describes the response of Israel to this protection, mourning over Yahweh as they recognize they pierced Him (12:10-14). Chapter 13 describes the cutting off of two kinds of shepherds. Verses 1-6 show that in the kingdom of the Messiah, false shepherds will either be killed or find another profession. Verses 7-9 shows that when the true Shepherd is cut off, this tragedy will refine His people. Chapter 14 describes Yahweh’s victory against the nations, the changes which will take place on earth during Messiah’s kingdom, and the celebration of the Feast of Booths by Jews and Gentiles which will take place in that period.
Much of the book addresses restoration of Jerusalem and its Temple in the time of Zechariah. But the book is also directing readers to look beyond this earthly restoration to the divine restoration Yahweh will defend His people and bring His kingdom.
As we study the book, it becomes clear that there is an ongoing evil effort to destroy Israel and its inhabitants. But we who believe in Christ can read about these truths with gratitude because God's grace has kept us from that futile effort. We may suffer rejection and persecution in this life, but we’ll never endure the judgment God is going to bring. He has paid the penalty for our sins on the Christ through the Pierced One, the Good Shepherd, who has mercifully drawn us to Him.