Zechariah’s ministry took place during the reign of Darius the Great (1:1).
He was a contemporary of Haggai – the prophet we looked at last week.
A quick summary of history – the Assyrians are in power, then the Babylonians come into power, and now the Persians are in power.
THAT is an over simplification!
Now the Babylonians held power by exiling the smartest and best, sending them to the Babylonia.
Then when the Persians came to power, they held control by being more politically savvy with the nation of Judah.
The people can go home – if they choose to do so – and they get to rebuild the temple.
Zehariah comes on the scene. Not much is known about Zechariah’s family history, but he was probably from a priestly family. He was born in exile in Babylon and came to Jerusalem sometime between 538 and 520 BC.
His prophecies show the influence of both priestly and prophetic concerns in his life. As a member of a priestly family, Zechariah would have been taught the precepts of the law, particularly those related to the priestly duties of sacrifice and ritual. He would have learned how to judge and give opinions in cases involving questions of religious or ritual procedure.
The law and memories of the Temple – with all of its rituals of worship and sacrifice – were passed on to him through his family and other priests in exile.
It is even possible that Zechariah may have listened to the prophetic preachings of Ezekiel, who was among the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Some of the prophecies of Zechariah and of Ezekiel express a similar concern for the Temple, its rituals and its maintenance.
The book is a collection of vision reports and prophetic oracles.
The first part of the book is a brief section – six verses, that serve as an introduction to the book.
A Call to Return to the LORD
1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:
2 “The LORD was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.
5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?
“Then they repented and said, ‘The LORD Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”
Zechariah is telling the people, look at your parents. When the prophets prophesied in the past, their fathers ignored them. They went into exile and died as a result of the discipline of the Lord. Where are your fathers? (dead) Where did they die? (in exile) Do the prophets live forever? (no) So listen up while you have a chance.
Beginning in verse 7 of chapter 1, we see the first of a series of 8 visions to Zechariah.
Zechariah is trying to motivate a very depressed and discouraged people by helping them envision the future.
7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.
8 During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
9 I asked, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”
10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth.”
11 And they reported to the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”
Now that phrase, “the whole world is at rest and in peace,” sounds good, but what it means is that the world is complacent. They are sitting fat and sassy.
12 Then the angel of the LORD said, “LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” 13 So the LORD spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
14 Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15 and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’
I find this to be a fascinating passage. Here we also see the interplay between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humanity. God is angry because, although He wanted the nations to discipline Israel, they went too far. Because Babylon was too hard on Israel, God sends Persia to punish Babylon, etc. So God is a God of history, God is in control of history, but God is not the micro manager of history or a puppet master of the world.
16 “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty.
17 “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”
There is that very familiar cycle of doom and gloom and hope – the cycle of judgment and comfort.
Let’s move over to chapter 4…
The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees
1 Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. 2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
4 I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
5 He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.
Who is Zerubbabel?
He is the governor of Judah. The Persians controlled the people by placing locals in power. Limited power. Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, but he was not a king. He was a provincial governor under Persian rule. One of the big differences between Zerubbabel and his ancestors is that the kings of Israel were political AND religious leaders, but Zerubbabel is simply the secular politician – not the religious leader. This is the Jewish people’s first experience with a separation of church and state.
Continuing with verse 7
7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
8 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.
10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
11 Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”
12 Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”
13 He replied, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I said.
14 So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”
These two who are anointed leaders are the governor, Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua.
Through their leadership and guidance, God’s light is shed on the people.
According to verse six, Zerubbabel will lead the people – not by hyis own power, but by the spiritual gifts given him by God.
In verse 9 it Zechariah points out that Zerubbabel has already laid the foundation of the temple.
Now this is important because these are discouraging times. Building the Temple is not easy. The people are discouraged. The old timers remember the Temple in the glory days and what they are now building falls far short of what used to be “back in the day.” The materials are scarce. The work is hard. And in the midst of these difficult times, the prophet says, Zechariah has ALREADY built the foundation AND he goes on to say, that Zerubbabel will finish the task.
Everyone needs that encouragement after you leave the starting line of a race or of any project, “you can do it. Go! Go! Go!” And Zechariah does that for Zerubbabel and the people.
I love that line in verse 10:
“Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”
The phrase “seven eyes of the Lord” are not literal, but mean God’s ability to see all things – seven meaning “completeness” in the Bible.
But what captures my imagination is that opening line in verse 10 – “Who dares despise the day of small things…”
We like to think big – and there is nothing wrong with that. Chapel by the Sea, some two decades or so ago, built this wonderful sanctuary. People come here every week to sit through the video tour of the building and to learn about the windows and the history.
But the great things we do in the Lord’s work is not always the monumental things, but what Zechariah calls, the small things.
It’s the showers we provide at God’s Table. The hair cuts. Helping the homeless and needy to feel human and clean. It’s the food we pass out. It’s the soup we serve in Immokalee. It’s one church member asking another church member, “how are you doing,” and then actually listening when the other says, “not that good.”
We should never despise those small moments for God. Zechariah is telling this to the people who look back and say, “all we’ve accomplished is this little wall, or all we did was lay a few bricks…” Never despise the small things.
Now what follows is the kind of passage UFO conspiracy buffs would love.
1 I looked again, and there before me was a flying scroll.
2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a flying scroll, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.”
3 And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.
This concept of being under the CURSE of God is a powerful thing that most modern readers ignore.
Think about this. We are under grace. We fell the love. What does it mean to be under the CURSE of God? That is a powerful statement. It’s not judgment, but the curse.
Elizabeth Actemeier in her book about the Minor Prophets says this: “Not only is the accursed cut off from all life and all good, which come only from God, but a curse is active, evil power which brings destruction and wasting and death upon its object.”
We give so much thought to what it means to be blessed. What would it be like to be under God’s curse?
I confess, I’ve never thought much about being under God’s curse, so I did some reading on the subject.
Early in the Bible, Cain kills Able, and this is what happens in Genesis 4
10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
But still, notice that God still cares for Cain. Cain is afraid someone else will kill him out of revenge, but God protects Cain. God gives him a mark and declares that anyone killing Cain would suffer vengeance seven times over. But Cain was still cursed, and Genesis says, “Cain went out from the LORD’s presence.”
Zechariah 1 through 6 give a series of eight visions. We looked at a small portion of them. Beginning n chapter 7 and continuing through chapter 8, we come to a collection of prophetic oracles concerning ethical living.
Justice and Mercy, Not Fasting
1 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the LORD 3 by asking the priests of the house of the LORD Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
The Temple was burned and destroyed decades earlier, and for 70 years the people have been practicing a ritual fasting.
Now the people are wondering if they should continue that fasting since they will now have a new Temple.
The answer that Zechariah gives applies not just to the Jews about to reopen the new Temple, but applies to all of us who practice faith in our lives.
4 Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6
In other words – what was your motivation to begin with.
Any religious action or ritual is worthless if done out of self-centered motivations.
And more than that, it is not just motivation that gives meaning to religious ritual, it is how the religious ritual impacts your own lifestyle and actions:
9 “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
This passage sounds like it was ripped from the pages of another Minor Prophet – Micah:
6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
In chapter 8, there is a series of statements about what life is like in the Kingdom of God – for the people Zechariah’s day, these sayings or brief oracles apply to the restored Jerusalem, but for us, they apply the eventual Kingdom of God on this earth.
For example, here is one with chapter 8 verse 4:
4 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. 5 The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
That is a wonderful image of a community that is multigenerational, in which everyone is at peace and in safety. We would be afraid to let our kids play in the streets!
Beginning in chapter 9, there is a completely different feel to the book. Some people even divide Zechariah into two books – 1st Zechariah and 2nd Zechariah. Scholars feel chapter 9 onward is from a different time in history – toward the end of the days of the Persian Empire as the Greeks were coming into power. Some scholars believe this section was written by a different individual entirely – perhaps a disciple or student of Zechariah.
In fact, no where in these remaining verses does it ever say, “the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, as it does in chapter 7, verse 1: “In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah”
Here in chapter nine, we see a passage appropriate for this coming Sunday – Palm Sunday:
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
That is fulfilled in the events leading to Good Friday =- the triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus Christ.
Now jump to chapter 11 and there is more reflection on the coming Messiah:
11:8 The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them 9 and said, “I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.”
This is the consequences of rejecting the Messiah. “What is to die, let it die; what is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed; and let those who are left eat the fless of one another.”
That is a picture of every era or society that rejects God’s rule and authority over it. We devour the flesh of one another by hate or crime or war or poverty or greed or injustice.
When we rebel against God, our only inheritance is evil – a wasting away of our life.
In other words, the power of God over us is to give us the freedom of will, to let ourselves wander and flounder as we will, apart from the guidance of God.
This oracle ends with this uplifting statement about the one who would reject the Messiah: Chapter 11 verse 17:
“May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!”
With chapter 12 we come to the last of the oracles of the book of Zechariah.
It continues a Messianic and End Times theme.
10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
This sounds like a Good Friday passage with the piercing of Christ on the cross.
So what will the Kingdom on Earth look like? The Second Coming, the rule of Christ on Earth?
6 On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique day—a day known only to the LORD—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.
That is the best description of the future – it will be a day known only to the Lord. It will be a unique day.
8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.
Where else do we hear about the living water? Jesus in John’s Gospel says he is the living water.
9 The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.
What are some of the things you pick out of Zechariah to take home with you?
*Religious ritual is meaningless if it doesn't find itself living out in your life - don't build a Temple without an internal faith.
*The Messiah is humble.
*Peace will someday be established.
*The Kingdom of God is unique, and what we imagine is a tiny part of what it will be.