Zechariah - Introduction
The book of Zechariah is the longest and most obscure of the Minor Prophets. Formally, it divides into two parts. The first, chs 1–8 , consists of a series of vision reports. Often referred to as “First Zechariah,” it is closely tied to the preceding book of Haggai by the date formulas in 1.1,7 and 7.1 (cf. Hag 1.1; 2.1 ) and by references to Joshua, the high priest in Jerusalem, and Zerubbabel, its governor.
The second section, chs 9–14 , is a collection of sayings organized in two parts, each of which has the title “An Oracle” ( 9.1; 12.1 ). “Second Zechariah,” as it is sometimes called, is similar in form to the subsequent book, Malachi, which itself begins with the same title (Mal 1.1 ). These oracles cite neither specific dates nor contemporary persons. Their concerns are for “that day,” the Day of the LORD (e.g., 9.16; 12.3; 13.1; 14.1 ), and for unnamed persons such as a king who enters Jerusalem on a donkey ( 9.9 ) and a “shepherd” stricken by a divine sword ( 13.7 ).
The prophecies in the first part date from 520–518 BCE. Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, prophesied in the early days of the restoration, when returning exiles joined with those who had never left to rebuild Judahite society. There are no biographical details in the book itself, but Zechariah is mentioned, along with Haggai, in Ezra 5.1 and 6.14 . He shared Haggai's zeal for rebuilding the Temple, a purified community, and the coming of an ideal age. But Zechariah differs from Haggai in the form and presentation of his message. Zechariah uses the genre of apocalyptic, with angelic interpreters and esoteric imagery. For his city, Zechariah had utopian expectations: The rebuilding of the Temple would inaugurate nothing short of the transformation of the world. For its leaders, Zechariah had messianic hopes ( 4.14 ). Yet despite the apocalyptic style, Zech 1–8 also has a down‐to‐earth focus on the rebuilding of the Temple, practical concerns such as fasting ( 7.1–14 ), and a given historical moment.
The second part of the book is more difficult to date, and its historical background is elusive. The reference to “Greece” ( 9.13 ) could suggest a time after Alexander the Great's campaigns (after ca. 330 BCE) but it is unwise to rely on a single piece of evidence. Though its oracles do not mention other‐worldly interpreters, Zech 9–14 also contains an apocalyptic message. Conflicts in the restoration community are described against a cosmic backdrop (see the contrast between Judah and Jerusalem in 12.1–5 ). The ever—present vulnerability of Judah to a succession of foreign powers finds vivid expression: The nations attack Jerusalem but the LORD intervenes to defeat them and transform Jerusalem into a kind of Eden ( 14.1–11 ).
Zechariah is best read from start to finish: chs 1–8 in conjunction with Haggai; chs 9–14 in conjunction with Malachi. In terms of the development of apocalyptic literature in the Hebrew Bible, Zechariah stands between Ezekiel (e.g., chs 38–39 ) and Daniel (chs 7–12 ).