Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Photo: Terry Bidgood
©1998 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
Life on planet earth is fragile. We live every day under the threat of catastrophic environmental disasters and weapons of mass destruction.
Surprisingly, a study of a book as ancient as the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah can give us a stabilizing perspective in these fear-filled times. Zechariah reminds us that even though there will be calamitous events in the last days, human history is not destined for accidental death and extinction. Rather, we can expect a merciful deliverance and the long-awaited kingdom of God's promised Messiah.
The book of Zechariah was written when the people of Israel were a small nation with no means of defense against powerful neighbors. Zechariah not only reveals a God who is able to protect His people, but a God who has given us all the information we need to know His Messiah and His plan for the future.
Herb Vander Lugt, RBC Research Editor
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"The Lord will be king over the whole earth.
On that day there will be one Lord,
and His name the only name" (Zechariah 14:9)
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The year was 520 BC and the condition of the nation of Israel was strikingly similar to what it is today. She was a small nation in the Middle East without a temple, surrounded by powerful enemies, and in need of spiritual renewal.
To understand the situation, let's imagine we are listening to Simeon, an 85-year-old Jewish man who lived through this period. He tells his story this way:
"My parents told me that during the year I was born (605 BC) the Babylonian armies under King Nebuchadnezzar invaded our homeland of Israel. He took many of our finest young men back to his country, but those of us who remained were allowed to live much like we did before. When I was 8 (597 BC), however, his armies returned to quell a foolish and futile revolt of Jewish dissidents. Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers killed many of our people, again deported some of our best young men, and installed as king a 21-year-old descendant of David who was given the name Zedekiah.
"We lived quite peacefully until I was about 18 (587 BC). At that time, false prophets persuaded Zedekiah to make an alliance with Egypt, fortify Jerusalem, and break his agreement of loyalty to Babylon. This angered Nebuchadnezzar and he immediately sent a large army to invade Jerusalem. His troops couldn't enter easily, so they mobilized gainst us in a major siege of death and destruction. After 18 months, during which we lost many to starvation and disease, we could hold out no longer. The enemy soldiers came in with a vengeance. They killed, raped, and pillaged. They took everything of value. They even took the temple furnishings and stripped off the precious metals. Then they destroyed the city, including our magnificent temple. This time they took as captives all except the poorest among us and carried us off to the faraway regions of Babylon.
"Life in Babylon was not all bad. Our captors settled us in areas with fertile soil and good employment possibilities. We prospered. As the years passed, many of our Jewish people became so absorbed in the material aspects of life that they lost all interest in the spiritual. Yet there were some who did not forget our spiritual heritage. We met informally to rehearse our Scriptures and worship Yahweh. We prayed for the day when we would be able to return to Jerusalem and worship in a new temple.
"Then the Persians defeated our Babylonian captors and became the world power. It was under this new Persian government, when I was 68 (537 BC), that our prayers were finally answered. The emperor Cyrus issued a decree allowing us to return to Jerusalem to build a new temple. He even gave us financial help and protected us.
"We have been here about 18 years now, but we have been so preoccupied with making money and building our own homes that we haven't made much progress on the temple. God has sent us the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, however, to call us to repentance and to urge us to get on with our task."
Simeon's story helps us understand what the Israelites had gone through prior to God's commission of the prophet Zechariah in 520 BC. This young priest-prophet began to speak God's Word faithfully to his contemporaries--and he still speaks to us today. His inspired messages are so timeless and universal in scope that they have been preserved in the sacred Hebrew Scriptures. The book of Zechariah includes some amazing prophecies about a promised messianic deliverer and king. Some of them have already been fulfilled, while others have not yet come to pass.
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Zechariah 1--8 reveals how God prepared His people for Messiah's coming. It shows how God gave the Jewish people seven messages about His power, love, wisdom, and holiness to prepare them for this momentous event. If the people and their descendants took these messages to heart, they would have such a clear understanding of God and His ways of working that they would be spiritually ready for their Messiah when He finally appeared.
Message One: God Overrules The Affairs Of The Nations (1:7--2:13).
Message Two: God's Love Is Unconditional (3:1-10).
Message Three: God's Ways Are Higher And Nobler Than Our Ways (4:1-14).
Message Four: God Demands That His People Be Spiritually Clean (5:1-11).
Message Five: God Will Repay Those Who Abuse Israel (6:1-8).
Message Six: God's Messiah Will Be Israel's Priest And King (6:9-15).
Message Seven: God Looks For Obedience And Despises Empty Ritualism (7--8).
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Knowing that His people were aware of their perilous position, surrounded as they were by powerful enemies, God assured them that He was in charge. The first three visions carried this comforting message.
Vision #1: The Man Among The Myrtle Trees (1:7-17). Zechariah saw a group of mounted horses among myrtle trees in a ravine. The angelic rider on a red horse reported, "We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace" (v.11). But this was not good news. Messiah would return in troubled times, not under conditions of peace. The angel knew that before Messiah came to rule the world, God would "shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. . . . [and] all nations" (Hag. 2:6-7). So the angel asked God, "How long will You withhold mercy from Jerusalem?" (Zech. 1:12). And God answered, "I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt" (v.16). The next vision told how He would do this.
Vision #2: The Four Horns And The Four Craftsmen (1:18-21). Zechariah saw four horns (on the heads of animals). These represented the nations that had devastated Israel. He then saw four craftsmen whose mission was to "terrify and throw down" the nations that had abused the Israelites. Who were these craftsmen? Pagan nations that had destroyed other pagan nations, and thus became God's instruments to shape the course of history in preparation for Messiah's coming.
Vision #3: The Surveyor (2:1-13). Zechariah next saw a surveyor, who announced that he was going to measure the length and breadth of Jerusalem, a city that had become so large and secure that it expanded beyond its walls without any fear. God said He would be a "wall of fire" around her. The promise of this vision provided the Jews who were still in exile a powerful incentive to return (vv.5-6). In addition, the Lord promised a future time when, "I am coming, and I will live among you . . . . Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become My people. I will live among you" (2:10-11).
In summary, these three visions in Zechariah's first message were designed to encourage the Israelites of his day, assuring them that God had great plans for the nation and that He would overrule the plans of their enemies to bring about all that He had decreed.
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In Zechariah's fourth vision, God showed the Jewish people that even though their sins had made them unfit to function as a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6), they remained the objects of His unconditional love. The nation would therefore be cleansed and made fit one day.
Vision #4: The High Priest's Dirty Clothing Removed And Replaced With Rich Garments. Israel's high priest, a man named Joshua, was standing before the angel of the Lord. But Satan was at his side accusing him. The garments of the high priest were filthy, symbolizing the sinfulness of the nation. The devil was charging that the nation's spiritual condition disqualified her from becoming a nation of priests. But the angel of the Lord responded, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" (3:2). Satan's accusations were futile! God in His unconditional love had snatched these people from the fire of captivity in Babylon.
The scene that followed gives us a visual demonstration of the way God will qualify the Israelites for their calling. The angel of the Lord told bystanders to take off Joshua's filthy clothes, saying, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you" (v.4). Joshua was then clothed in clean high-priestly garments, including the turban with the golden plate on which were engraved the words, "holy to the Lord" (Ex. 28:36; 39:30). Since Joshua represented the priesthood of the nation, this transaction symbolized the future cleansing of the Israelites and their reinstatement as a nation of priests.
The vision closes with the angel of the Lord speaking of the coming Messiah as the "Branch" (Isa. 4:2; 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 6:12) and as the "stone" (Ps. 118:22-24; Mt. 21:42; 1 Pet. 2:7-8), having "seven eyes." Through Him the nation will be spiritually cleansed (Zech. 3:9) and enjoy a time of material abundance (v.10).
Although the love of God for Israel is unconditional, the nation can experience His love only when she believes and obeys Him. God's love for the Jewish people was not diminished by their rejection of Him. Even though He permitted their scattering and persecution, and allows them to be threatened by hate-filled enemies, He yearns for their trust and obedience.
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The temple the Jews were building at the time of Zechariah was going to be small and modest compared to the one that had been destroyed. In Zechariah's fifth vision, God told them not to let this discourage them because He often works out His will through the ordinary and unpretentious.
Vision #5: The Golden Lampstand And The Two Olive Trees. Zechariah saw a golden lampstand with a large bowl at the top and seven lamps arranged around it, connected to it by a channel. On each side of the lampstand stood an olive tree, the branches of both trees hanging over the bowl and keeping it filled with oil. The fact that they provided olive oil without anyone picking the olives and pressing them out holds the key to the understanding of this vision.
The two olive branches represented "the two who are anointed to serve the Lord" (v.14), that is, the civil leader Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua. But even though God used mere men, He accomplished wonders because of the powerful, supernatural working of His Spirit--"Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit" (v.6).
God's message was clear. To paraphrase verses 6-10: "It doesn't matter that you are a small nation and that the temple will be small. What matters is that I, your Lord, am in it! Through the quiet but powerful working of My Spirit, the mountain of apathy on the part of many among you and the mountain of opposition by your enemies will melt away. Zerubbabel will surely lay the capstone of the new temple, and you who witness it joyfully call for My blessing upon it."
This warning not to despise "the day of small things" (v.10) was to give the Jewish people a reason to look for a Messiah who would appear in a surprisingly unpretentious manner. It was given to remind them that they worshiped a God who could work through small and humble means. He was the One who through another prophet would declare, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. . . . As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
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The Israelites came back from exile cured of pagan idolatry, but they remained self-centered and spiritually dry. Haggai, a contemporary of Zechariah, rebuked the prosperous people for living in luxurious houses while allowing God's house to remain unfinished (Hag. 1:3-8). Yet they saw themselves as deserving God's favor! The sixth and seventh visions were sent to correct this serious misconception.
Vision #6: The Flying Scroll (5:1-4). Zechariah saw a large flying scroll that was 30 feet long and 15 feet wide with writing on both sides. One side pronounced God's curse on all who break the eighth commandment by thievery. The other side contained His curse on all who break the third and ninth commandments by committing perjury. When Messiah comes to earth, His curse "will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely" (v.4), eliminating all who flagrantly disregard God's moral law in spite of repeated warnings. This solemn warning went unheeded by Zechariah's contemporaries as well as by later generations.
Vision #7: The Woman In A Basket (5:5-11). Zechariah next saw a measuring basket (similar to a bushel basket but enlarged) with a heavy cover of lead. When the lid was raised, a woman appeared and struggled to get out. The attending angel shoved her back in and replaced the cover, saying, "This is wickedness" (v.7). Then two women with "wings like those of a stork" picked up the basket and flew away, carrying it to "the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place" (v.11).
This woman personified the religious and commercial evils of the pagan world, evils that clung to the Israelites and showed up in their godless commercialism, sexual permissiveness, and religious compromise--evils from which they were to repent.
The transportation of this woman to Babylon where a temple was built for her has both historical and prophetic significance. This was the geographical area where men first united in an effort to dethrone God (Gen. 10:10-11; 11:2). It's interesting to note that in Revelation 17 and 18, the New Testament sees Babylon as the origin of religious and commercial systems that are antagonistic to the one true God. The evil associated with Babylon is so monstrous that when the city is destroyed at the Lord's glorious return, a great multitude in heaven will sing the hallelujah chorus (Rev. 19).
The fact that this personification of evil was removed from the land and taken to Babylon instead of being immediately destroyed tells us that God tolerates wickedness and rebellion for a longer period among unredeemed people than He will permit among His own. Why? First, the sins of rebels do not reflect on His character in the same way that the sins of His own people do. Second, as He used the Babylonians to bring many in Israel to repentance and spiritual renewal, He can use the sins of pagan people to further His purposes. Third, He does not need to be in a hurry with the ungodly because He has all eternity to let justice be done.
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In the first vision, God had affirmed His authority and power to overrule the decisions of pagan rulers. In this last vision, He declared that the time is coming when He will completely subdue all the nations that have abused Israel.
Vision #8: The Four Chariots. Four chariots hitched to powerful horses--red, black, white, and dappled--came out of a valley "between two mountains--mountains of bronze!" (vv.1-3). The revealing angel identified them as "the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world" (v.5). The mention of the "mountains of bronze" indicates the nature of their mission, for bronze represents judgment in both the serpent of bronze (Num. 21:9) and the bronze altar (Ex. 27:2). Moreover, the colors of the horses almost certainly symbolize different forms of judgment. (Note also the colors of the horses and their stated symbolism in Revelation 6:1-8.)
These horses are straining in their harnesses, eager to go on their missions of judgment--the black team to the north, the white team to the west, and the dappled team to the south. These were the routes to the nations that had oppressed Israel. No chariot went to the east, possibly because it was the site of the Arabian Desert.
Of the chariot that heads north, the direction of the powerful countries that had conquered and oppressed Israel, the angel of the Lord said, "Look, those going toward the north country have given My Spirit rest in the land of the north" (Zech. 6:8). When these messengers of judgment have finished their work, all will be ready for the coming of Messiah.
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The fourth and fifth visions had portrayed the high priest Joshua and the civil ruler Zerubbabel as foreshadowing likenesses of the Messiah. Now, in actually placing a kingly crown on the head of the high priest, Zechariah showed the Israelites that their Messiah will combine both offices of priest and king in one person.
The Command To Put A Crown On Joshua.In the morning after the eight night visions, the Lord commanded Zechariah to go to the home of a man named Josiah to meet three men who had come from Babylon with silver and gold as gifts for the temple. From these precious metals he was to fashion a royal crown and place it on the head of Joshua, the high priest. Joshua apparently understood that this was only a symbolic crowning, for he immediately set it aside. It was later placed in the completed temple as a reminder to the Israelites that their coming Messiah would be both priest and king. Interestingly, the name of the man who typified the Messiah was Joshua, the Hebrew equivalent to Jesus--"the Lord saves."
Joshua was informed that the Messiah would one day appear and build a new temple: "Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and He will branch out from His place and build the temple of the Lord. It is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on His throne. And He will be a priest on His throne. And there will be harmony between the two" (6:12-13). The messianic nature of this section of Zechariah was strongly affirmed by Jewish scholars who prepared the Aramaic Targum, the Jerusalem Talmud, and the Midrash.
The prophecy continued: "Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent Me to you" (6:15). When the Jews build the temple described in Ezekiel 40--48, they will receive a great deal of help from God-fearing Gentiles. While sympathetic Gentiles also helped to build the temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel, this future assistance will apparently be so liberal that it will be to the Israelites a confirming sign that their Messiah is one who has become the Lord and Savior not only of Israel but of all who believe in and trust Him.
The closing conditional statement "This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God" (6:15) is used by some to support their belief that the promises of Israel's restoration and the earth's renewal under Messiah's rule have been canceled because of Israel's past disobedience and judgment. Although the conditional element is clearly stated, the prophetic Scriptures are equally clear that God Himself will make sure that Israel meets this condition of obedience in the last days. For example, Ezekiel 36:22-27 tells us that even though the Israelites had profaned the Lord's name wherever they went and did not deserve His favor, they would be marvelously restored and spiritually renewed because of God's concern about His own reputation.
The condition for millennial joy is indeed obedience to the Lord. During the endtime tribulational period, Israel will repent, and as an obedient people they will welcome Messiah at His coming. The Hebrew of Zechariah 6:15 permits the following translation: "This will happen when you diligently obey the Lord your God."
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The Israelites of Zechariah's day, like their ancestors before the exile, clung to the idea that they could gain God's favor by their ritualistic observance. Immoral and greedy, they placed great value on their religious observances, but they ignored moral virtues like heart purity, humility, kindness, and compassion. The arrival at Jerusalem of a delegation of Jews from Bethel with a question about fasting gave God an opportunity to repeat through Zechariah the message of the former prophets--that He hates empty ritualism and expects obedience from His people.
The Question About Fasting (7:1-3). Two years after the night visions, a delegation of Jews from Bethel came to Jerusalem asking whether or not they should continue their fifth-month fast as they had done while in captivity. This was one of four fasts the Jewish leaders had instituted as reminders of four significant events: (1) the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, (2) the breaching of the walls by the Babylonians, (3) the destruction of Solomon's temple, and (4) the assassination of governor appointee Gedaliah as recorded in Jeremiah 41:1-3. Now, with freedom to return and the imminent completion of the new temple, they wondered if they should continue these observances.
God's Response (7:4--8:23). God did not give a yes or no answer to their query. Instead, He led Zechariah to respond to their question in four distinct messages: (1) a rebuke, (2) a command, (3) a promise of restoration, and (4) an assurance of worldwide renown.
God began His rebuke by asking the delegates two rhetorical questions: "When you fasted and mourned . . . , was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?" (7:4-6). Many of the Jews in exile were prosperous and quite satisfied with the status quo. To them, the fasts were token observances--enjoyable national holidays. It appears that even those who were genuinely homesick for Jerusalem and the worship services in the temple allowed the fasts and the feasting that followed to become self-serving festivals.
In the second message (7:8-14), God commanded the Israelites to repent and change their social, moral, and ethical ways. He told them to: (1) "administer true justice," (2) "show mercy and compassion," (3) "not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor," and (4) "not think evil of each other." He reminded them that the Lord Almighty had been "very angry" with their ancestors for their wickedness and obstinacy. So He had abandoned them to their own resources and permitted the devastation of their country: "When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen . . . . This is how they made the pleasant land desolate" (vv.13-14).
In the third message (8:1-17), God declared that the nation would someday be fully restored, spiritually and physically, with Jerusalem gaining the name "City of Truth" (vv.1-3). He will dwell among them, people will live to a ripe old age, children will play safely, the land will yield bountiful harvests, and the nation will be respected by friendly neighbors (vv.4-15). Since this was to be their destiny, they should now "speak the truth," "render true and sound judgment," and quit their evil practices (vv.16-17).
In the fourth message (8:18-23), God promised that a time will come when the Israelites will celebrate their festivals with such joy that Gentile nations will send delegations to Jerusalem to join them in worship. When the Israelites who live outside of Jerusalem go there for their festivals of praise, non-Jews will want to accompany them because they will "have heard that God is with you" (v.23).
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Shortly after 480 BC, about 40 years after the night visions with which the book opens, God gave His servant a new revelation that highlighted Messiah's arrival (9:9) and rejection (11:4-17). The prophecy falls into four divisions: the astonishing precursor (9:1-8), the astounding proposition (9:9), the apparent absence (9:10--11:3), and the insulting rejection (11:4-17).
1. The Astonishing Precursor Of Messiah (9:1-8). The Lord declared that He will one day judge Israel's oppressing neighbors, and in doing so, He will turn her eyes toward Him. He pronounced judgment on specific territories: Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, and the Philistine cities of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashdod. About 150 years later, these prophecies were fulfilled with amazing precision through the forces of Alexander the Great as they marched through the Middle East. His successes so frightened the Israelites that they did indeed focus their eyes "on the Lord" (9:1).
Damascus and Hamath (Aramean cities) and coastal Tyre and Sidon (Phoenician cities) were overrun quickly. Even the island city of Tyre, whose inhabitants felt secure because their navy had for 13 years frustrated the attempts of Nebuchadnezzar to capture them, was easily taken when Alexander's troops scraped the remains of coastal Tyre into the sea and built a causeway on which they marched in. This fulfilled the prophecy, "The Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea" (v.4).
The prophecy about the end of Philistia's national existence was also amazingly fulfilled. The words "I will take the blood from their mouths" (v.7) depict the end of their revolting pagan practices. The prediction "Those who are left will belong to our God and become leaders in Judah" (v.7) came about when the Philistines who survived Alexander's attack humbly turned to the Lord and became so amalgamated with the Jews that they lost their former national identity. Some even became renowned leaders in Israel.
The promise of 9:8, like many other prophecies,
compresses into one picture events which in their fulfillment were separated
by many years: "I will defend My house against marauding forces. Never
again will an oppressor overrun My people, for now I am keeping watch."
The partial fulfillment occurred when Alexander's forces arrived at Jerusalem.
Jewish historian Josephus said that the high priest, through instructions given in a supernatural revelation, put on his holy garments and, with a large company of people who were dressed in white, went outside the city to greet the Greek general. Alexander immediately prostrated himself before the high priest, explaining that in a dream he had been told that he would meet a man of God in this exact garb (Antiquities, XI, pp.317-339). Some of Josephus' minute details may be partly legend, but history records the fulfillment of two specific prophecies: Alexander did spare Jerusalem, and he treated the Jews with great favor. He played a vital role in preparing the way for the coming of Messiah.
2. The Astounding Proposition Of Messiah (9:9). The way having been prepared, the King arrived and presented Himself to Israel as her Messiah: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (9:9).
Here is a prophecy even more amazing than that which predicted the accomplishments of Alexander the Great. A skeptic may ignore the many sound reasons for believing that Zechariah wrote the entire book that bears his name and claim that the description of Alexander the Great's accomplishments was written after the fact. But if he says that Zechariah 9:9 was written after the appearance of Jesus, he contradicts a universally acknowledged historical fact.
What an astounding prophecy! The Jewish people expected a Messiah who would deliver them from their captors by military might and then rule over the earth from the city of Jerusalem. They based their view on passages like Isaiah 2:2-4, which described a messianic age of universal peace and spiritual enlightenment. The idea that Messiah would be meek and lowly and ride on a donkey instead of a war horse was foreign to them. Yet that is precisely the picture we see in Zechariah 9:9.
The New Testament reveals that Zechariah's prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Mt. 21:1-11). On this day, Jesus publicly accepted the people's recognition of Him as their promised Messiah. The Israelites who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover had been so amazed at His miracles that they were not disturbed that He rode on a donkey instead of a war horse and that He had peasant followers instead of a well-equipped army. Nor did they understand the significance of His meek and lowly demeanor and the purpose for which He was entering the city. But at that moment they believed that Jesus was the One they had been waiting for. So they placed their cloaks on the ground, spread palm branches along the road, and joyfully shouted their hosannas, quoting from a messianic psalm (Ps. 118) that almost every Israelite knew by heart and sang at the Feast of Tabernacles.
No Israelite in the centuries before Jesus appeared could have dreamed up this prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. It had to come from God.
3. The Apparent Absence Of Messiah (9:10--11:3). The King appears in verse 9, but the following verses do not describe anything Messiah did at that time. He did not bring peace between the nations as predicted in 9:10. He did not deliver Israel from her enemies and settle her in the land under ideal conditions as declared in 9:11--10:1. Furthermore, the words of warning, encouragement, and promise of 10:2--11:3 indicate that Messiah is not physically present. The King who so suddenly appeared on the scene is once again physically absent.
4. The Insulting Rejection Of Messiah (11:4-17). After pronouncing His judgment on the nation for the sin of rejecting Messiah, God told Zechariah to take on the appearance of a shepherd as he ministered. He appeared before the people carrying two staffs to which he gave the names "Favor" and "Union." He spoke tenderly to them as the "oppressed of the flock." He quickly disposed of three unfit leaders, probably false prophets. The result? Instead of loving him, the people "detested me, and I grew weary of them" (11:8). They did not want him, so he decided to abandon them. To signify this, he publicly broke the staff named "Favor," and then asked his listeners to pay him what his services had been worth to them.
This is the setting for an event in Zechariah's life that carries with it an astounding prophecy. In response to Zechariah's request, the people gave him 30 pieces of silver--the price paid for a slave! God told Zechariah to take the paltry sum to the temple and "throw it to the potter" (11:13). This money was considered by the priests to be tainted, so it was unsuitable for the temple treasury. It was usable only to buy an almost worthless piece of ground from which a potter had dug up all the available clay, a field useful only as burial places for paupers.
About 500 years later, Judas Iscariot, having been paid 30 pieces of silver by the enemies of Jesus, led a group of temple guards into the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before Jesus' crucifixion. With this nighttime arrest, they hoped to secure His conviction before the crowds gathered the next morning. But when it became apparent that Jesus would be crucified, Judas was seized with remorse and tried to return the money to the priests. When they refused it, he flung it on the temple floor and went out and committed suicide. Matthew wrote, "Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 'They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on Him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me' " (27:9-10).
Judas, a representative of the generation to which Jesus came, unwittingly fulfilled Zechariah's prophecy--the same amount of money and the same use of it after it was thrown on the floor of the temple. Although Matthew quoted loosely from Zechariah 11:13, he also had in mind the potter's field of Jeremiah 19:1-13 and used the name of the major prophet.
Zechariah then made another prophecy by breaking the second staff, the one he had named "Union" (11:14). This act predicted the fracture in the political unity of the Israelites, a fracture that occurred shortly after the ascension of Jesus. Jewish historians agree that between AD 35 and 70 their people gradually broke up into parties bitterly hostile to one another.
The Lord through His prophet went on to say that because they had rejected the Good Shepherd, they would someday accept a worthless shepherd (11:15-16) whose career would be brief because of God's anger (11:17).
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The second of the 480 BC prophecies presents a series of pictures that focus primarily on the events leading up to and following Messiah's return. They are topically rather than chronologically arranged. The prophecy opens and closes with a description of Israel's final rescue and reclamation.
1. Israel's Endtime Physical Deliverance (12:1-9). In powerful figurative language, the opening words of this oracle portray the land of Israel, especially Jerusalem, as a cup out of which "all the nations of the earth" will drink and become intoxicated and disoriented (v.2). Jerusalem is also portrayed as an "immovable rock" upon which the attackers succeed only in injuring themselves (v.3). Without going into some of the details revealed in Zechariah 14:1-15, this prophecy pictures the enemy forces thrown into panic by God's supernatural intervention and routed by the Israelite soldiers. Even the "feeblest" among them are endowed with supernatural strength (vv.4-8). God says, "On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem" (12:9).
Clearly, this is the final battle in the endtime war of Armageddon. It will occur 7 years after the Antichrist has confirmed "a covenant with many for one 'seven' " (Dan. 9:27). The Jewish people will apparently institute some kind of sacrificial system in their new temple during the first 3 and half years, only to have the world ruler break his agreement by desecrating the temple and beginning his program of persecution designed to annihilate all who refuse to worship him (see Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15; 2 Th. 2:3-4; and Rev. 13:1-18). From this point, Antichrist will be in power only 42 months (Rev. 13:5). From Daniel 11:36-45 we learn that toward the close of this timespan he will move to quell insurrections in the Middle East. This sets the scene for his final and disastrous campaign described in Zechariah 12:1-9.
2. Israel's Endtime Repentance And Spiritual Renewal (12:10--13:6). Having depicted the physical deliverance of Israel, the prophecy now describes its necessary counterpart--Israel's repentance. God will pour out upon His people "a spirit of grace and supplication" (12:10). As a result, when the Israelites see "the One they have pierced," they will mourn like the weeping of parents at the death of a child (v.10). Their sorrow will be so intense that each person will grieve alone (v.12). Then the "fountain" of salvation that has been flowing from Calvary since AD 31 will remove their sin and uncleanness (13:1).
The nation of Israel will be so thoroughly converted that they will completely separate themselves from all the false religions of their past. Parents will even favor the execution of a son if he tries to maintain his role as a false prophet (13:2-3). Unconverted false prophets, knowing that they face the death penalty if detected, will try to hide their identity. If a false prophet is asked about what appear to be self-inflicted wounds, the kind by which pagan prophets tried to arouse prophetic ecstasy, he will say that he has been a farmer all his life and that these marks are from chastisements received "at the house of my friends" (13:6)--childhood punishment inflicted by parents or teachers. He will lie, hoping to escape the death penalty. (Some Bible teachers have made this a reference to Christ receiving His wounds in the house of His friends--from His own people. But Jesus was not a farmer, and He never denied being a prophet.)
A recurring question has to do with the exact time of Israel's future repentance. Some say it will occur at the moment the Jewish people see the descending Messiah-King and observe the wounds inflicted on Him at His first coming. Most Bible teachers, however, believe that the nation will be brought to repentance through the judgments of the great tribulation, and that the weeping described in this passage is that of an already repentant people. This view has New Testament support in the words of Peter to a Jewish audience recorded in Acts 3:19-20:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus.
The condition for God to send Jesus to usher in the times of refreshing is Israel's repentance. When Israel repents, Jesus will come back to bring her the restoration promised by the prophets.
3. Israel's Suffering And Salvation--Consequences Of The Striking Of Her Shepherd (13:7-9). The prophecy, which has been portraying endtime events, suddenly takes us back to the Lord's first coming: "Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, against the man who is close to Me! . . . Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones" (13:7). Jesus quoted the last part of this verse shortly before He was arrested, applying it to the scattering of the apostles (Mt. 26:31,56).
Here again we have a fulfilled prophecy that gives powerful evidence of the supernatural element in the book of Zechariah. From a human perspective, this young prophet would not have interjected this verse into the picture of Israel's final deliverance. If he had been well-acquainted with the book of Isaiah, he might have caught a glimpse of a God-chastened Messiah from 53:10, "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer." But the whole concept was foreign to Zechariah's peers. If he had this understanding of Isaiah 53, it would have been only through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, he implies the special relationship between the Father and the Son, a truth not really developed in the Old Testament. Note the words " 'against the man who is close to Me!' declares the Lord Almighty." God does the striking. This in itself is remarkable, but it echoes Isaiah 53:10. The shepherd whom God strikes is "the man who is close to Me!" That's a foreshadowing of John 3:16--of God giving His "one and only Son." The Hebrew words translated "who is close to Me" denote a "next-door neighbor." The shepherd God strikes, says Baldwin's commentary on Zechariah, "is one who dwells side by side with the Lord, His equal." From whom did Zechariah receive this profound truth? The only logical answer is that he received it from the Lord.
The scattered sheep of Zechariah can be identified first of all as the apostles, men who fled when Jesus was arrested. But the scattered apostles in turn represent the Israelites as a nation, driven from Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Titus in AD 70 and to this day dispersed all over the earth. They have been a successful people wherever they have gone, contributing much to every area of human endeavor. But they have also endured horrendous hatred and persecution. Today they are once again a nation, but according to their own prophets, including Zechariah, they will in the endtime undergo a brief period of unprecedented tribulation, and two-thirds of them will die (Zech. 13:8). However, one-third of the nation will come out of the refining fire repentant and thoroughly changed: "They will call on My name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God' " (13:9).
4. Israel's Final Rescue And Full Restoration (14:1-21). Using language associated with warfare in his own day, Zechariah depicted the final endtime battle by which Israel will be delivered from the armies of the Antichrist. He then described the cosmic and topographical changes that will occur at Christ's appearance and the characteristics of the kingdom He will establish.
The account begins with a vivid description of the invasion of Israel by the forces of Antichrist, the same event depicted in Zechariah 12 but with different details. From Daniel 11:40-45 we learn that an uprising by the "king of the South" (undoubtedly Egypt and her allies) will incite Antichrist to launch a furious attack in the Middle East and sweep victoriously through the entire area. Simultaneously, disturbing reports from "the east and the north" (Dan. 11:44) will cause him to send troops in that direction. Zechariah 14 pictures his armies, representing many nations, going through the land of Israel at will, ransacking, raping, and pillaging. They may plan to join the other forces assembling "between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain" (Dan. 11:45), between the Mediterranean and Dead Seas, within striking distance of Jerusalem. (Revelation 16:16 mentions the same place when it says that evil spirits will gather "the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.")
It is at this point that God intervenes: "Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle" (Zech. 14:3). The Lord will send a plague that will cause the eyes, tongues, and flesh of men to consume away while they stand. This will throw the soldiers into such a panic that they will turn against one another. Once the victory is completed, the Lord's people will gather the spoils of battle (14:12-15).
Cosmic signs will occur. We cannot be absolutely sure about the meaning of 14:6-7, but it seems to indicate "that day" will be unique, because there will be no sharp distinction between day and night. Awesome topographical changes will also take place. The land around Jerusalem will be leveled and the city will be elevated (14:10-11). A large stream of fresh water will flow into the Dead and Mediterranean Seas (14:8). It will be a visible reminder to the surrounding nations of the unfailing blessings that flow from Messiah's throne in the holy city.
While the Mosaic system will not be reestablished, the Feast of Tabernacles will be observed and all nations will be expected to participate in this worship of the King (14:16-19). His rule will be universal and totalitarian: "The Lord will be King over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name" (14:9). His beneficent rule will extend to every facet of human life. Even things like the bells worn by horses will have inscribed on them the words "holy to the Lord." Even cooking utensils will be "holy to the Lord Almighty" (14:20-21). Because the Giver and Sustainer of all that exists is on the throne, everything will become sacred by the touch of His rule. Therefore, no "Canaanite"--no morally or spiritually unclean person--will be able to pose as a member of God's family (14:21).
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The Bible assures us that God's love is unconditional and that He will fulfill all His promises. Even when it warns us that we won't experience God's blessings if we live in disobedience to Him, we are assured that if we have accepted His Son as Messiah, God will deal with us as a loving Father and see us safely to our home in heaven.
The Scriptures also present God as limitless in knowledge, wisdom, and power. In 420 BC, for example, Zechariah predicted events that were fulfilled by Alexander the Great's conquests, Israel's rejection of Jesus, Judas Iscariot's treachery, and the rise and fall of the coming Antichrist. God has everything planned.
Yet the Bible repeatedly addresses us as responsible to make good choices. But how can we be free when He has planned everything? How could the Israelites have accepted Jesus as Messiah if He had already decreed that they would reject Him?
Questions like these lead skeptics to say Christians can't have it both ways. They say that we must deny either God's perfect foreknowledge or our freedom to choose. But they forget that with our limited minds we cannot fully understand God, standing as He does above time and seeing past and future with equal clarity. We therefore acknowledge our limitations. We are comforted by the knowledge that He will carry out all His plans. We tremble in the realization that we are responsible to choose right and reject wrong. And we rejoice in the wonder of His grace that freely forgives and fully accepts into His family all who receive Jesus Christ as Savior (Jn. 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 3:23; 6:23).