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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Zechariah

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The Restoration of Jerusalem ( 1:1–8:23 )

( 1:1–6 ) Preface

With chs. 7–8 this forms an editorial frame (Beuken 1967 ). Darius the Persian has allowed the Jews to return home from exile. The date is mid-October to mid-November 520 BCE. In recent history the covenant curses have justly been invoked, the land is unclean, the glory departed, and the community still partially disbanded. The fathers of the present generation and the prophets who admonished them are all dead, but their words and their experience stand as a lesson for all time. Zechariah is concerned with full restoration: his very name means ‘YHWH has remembered’, which is foundational to the book. On the human side, returning and repenting (the Hebrew is the same) are equally basic. Zechariah is a contemporary of Haggai and comes of a priestly line that had been exiled. There are two other Zechariahs in the OT (Isa 8:2 and 2 Chr 24:20–2 ) and biblical tradition sometimes confuses them; ‘son of Berechiah’ may be part of this confusion. His oracles often reinterpret the ‘former prophets’ (v. 4 ); he may have had access to the early collections of prophecies from Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

( 1:7–6:15 ) The Vision Cycle

Zechariah's eight night visions (perhaps originally seven) are his primary and most distinctive feature. They exist betwixt and between the mundane world and the heavenly world where history is made and where Jerusalem's restoration is being ordained. The visionary form is highly literary and has a standardized format; the cycle is structured in a concentric pattern (though Butterworth (1992 ) argues for caution in looking for, and finding, detailed literary structures). In contrast to his predecessors the prophet has an angelic interpreter as intermediary between himself and God, whose communications have become cryptic. Much of the imagery has cultic roots, drawn particularly from the liturgies of temple foundation (‘Temple’, OCB) and with a general background in Ugaritic (OCB) texts. The vision cycle is now studded with brief oracles, in more than one redactional layer, preoccupied with leadership and temple. These, like the editorial frame, could be summaries of relevant sermons by the prophet and reuse themes from older prophecy (Mason 1990 ). The cycle is dated mid-January to mid-February 519 (v. 7 ).

( 1:8–17 )

In the first vision the earth is peaceful and expectant. The four patrolling horsemen (‘Number Symbolism’, OCB) are the first of numerous symbols (OCB S.V.) from Zechariah which would be reused in Revelation. The seventy years of the Lord's withholding mercy (cf. Jer 25:11 ) are over (the Exile is loosely held to have lasted from 587 to 519 BCE); he has returned and the temple is to be rebuilt.

( 1:18–21 )

The second vision bizarrely symbolizes both the powerful nations that have terrorized the chosen people, and the counterforces (blacksmiths) raised by YHWH; blacksmiths are supposed to be skilful in spells (Tigchelaar 1996 ).

( 2:1–5 )

The third vision shows the restoration of Jerusalem in the cosmic realm which must precede mundane restoration (cf. Ezek 40:3–4; Isa 49:19–21 ); it points forward to the New Jerusalem of Rev 21:15–17 . The formerly negative image of a city without walls becomes a positive one, and the symbolism of Sinai (the fire, cloud, and direct vision of God) is added to that of Zion (see ‘Glory’, OCB). The appended oracles (vv. 6–13 ) are still encouraging a return to Jerusalem after Zechariah and his community were already there; possibly not everyone had returned, and possibly the oracles have an eschatological dimension. For ‘apple of the eye’ (v. 8 ) see OCB. With v. 10 cf. Zech 9:9–10 . v. 13 is thought to be liturgical.

( 3:1–10 )

The fourth vision shows the high priest Joshua accused by Satan (lit. the Satan, or the Adversary, i.e. the prosecuting counsel in the heavenly court) but acquitted (for a contrasting confrontation see Am 7:10–17 ). His subsequent cleansing (‘Purity, Ritual’, OCB) signifies the renewal of the temple services which make provision for the cleansing of the community. The high priest has expanded powers and duties in the functioning of a temple without a king, and these are sanctioned in the appended oracles (vv. 6–10 ). Arguably v. 8 is a messianic reference (‘my servant the Branch’), and does not merely refer to the Davidic governor of the time. Although the complete ‘removal of guilt’ is also promised (v. 9 ), the mechanism is unclear and the matter is actually left unresolved by Proto-Zechariah and returned to in an atmosphere of some bitterness in Zech 12 ; meantime, it appears that priests and sacrifices will still be needed.

( 4:1–14 )

The fifth vision, of the golden lamp and the olive-tree people, uses seal imagery to symbolize joint leaders who can be identified from the context as Joshua and the Davidic governor Zerubbabel (OCB S.V.). The primary function of the latter (vv. 6–10a ) is to build the second temple, just as Solomon (OCB S.V.) founded the first. The two leaders are both ‘anointed ones’ (v. 14 ; lit. sons of oil, vocabulary from the same root as ‘messiah’; see ‘Anoint’, OCB). Although there is realized eschatology here, the people and events of the restoration are not mistaken for those of the golden age; Zerubbabel's is the ‘day of small things’ (v. 10 ) and he is utterly reliant on the work of the Lord's spirit. The Lord's favour is still contingent on the fitness of his people (v. 7 ) and therefore the fullness of blessing is still deferred.

( 5:1–4 )

The sixth vision of the flying scroll, shows the word of the Lord in materialized form, i.e. ‘scripture’ beginning to emerge as a concept, a gold standard by which to assess and cleanse the community. The invocation of the covenant curse shows that the covenant does remain in force despite having once been broken.

( 5:5–11 )

The seventh vision is of a woman in a basket (Heb. ᾽êpâ,) personifying the people's iniquity (Heb. ‘eye’; the emendation only requires the alteration of one consonant for another which looks similar). It is no coincidence that a feminine idol (OCB S.V.) (to be stood ‘on its base’ in a ‘house’, i.e. a temple), should be symbolically exiled to Babylon (OCB S.V.) just as Judaism truly became a YHWH-alone religion, abjuring feminine deities such as the Queen of Heaven, about whom Jeremiah complained (see ‘Women, Second Temple Period’, OCB).

( 6:1–8 )

The eighth vision forms an inclusio with the first; it specifies the pacifying of the north country because that is the direction from which the majority of attacks on Israel were made (cf. Jer 1:14 ).

( 6:9–15 )

To the visions is appended a sign-act of the crowning of a ‘messianic’ leader or leaders, which concludes the whole cycle. The text has been altered at the cost of some ambiguity. Originally, a blatant presentation of Zerubbabel as the promised leader probably occurred here (esp. vv. 12–13 ); but if so his name has been removed, possibly to square the record with the facts of history; only that of Joshua remains, though confusingly a second priest stands beside his throne, and he is the wearer of two crowns. This is one of the roots of the concept of a priestly Messiah and of joint messiahship. On ‘peace’ (v. 13 ) see OCB.

(Chs. 7–8 ) Oracles and Sermons

The epilogic editorial frame returns to the mixture of oracles and condensed sermons seen in the prologue (the sermon forms of Chronicles are comparable). It has grown from an enquiry to the prophet about fasting (OCB S.V.) ( 7:2–3 ). The date is mid-November to mid-December 518 BCE ( 7:1 ) and the temple is presumably complete. The question arises whether the fast of the fifth month commemorating the destruction of the first temple is still necessary. There are two views as to the meaning of the answer ( 7:4–7 ; amplified in 7:8–14 ), which is negative and sweeps in the fast of the seventh month also (v. 5 ): it could be anti-cult, but that would be alien to the spirit of Proto-Zechariah; more likely it means that in the ideal world which the prophet envisages, fasting, like punishment, should no longer be necessary. For ‘the alien’ and ‘the poor’ see OCB. Zech 8:1–8 returns to the renewal theme of earlier oracles in the vision cycle (cf. 1:14, 16 ); likewise 8:9–13 returns to temple building (cf. Hag 2:15–19 ). 8:14–17 emphasizes the need for right living. In 8:18–19 the fasting theme resurfaces and now two more fasts are added (those of the fourth and tenth months) with exhortations to rejoice reinforcing the view that the prophet is speaking idealistically and positively. The booklet closes with a picture of universal pilgrimage to Jerusalem ( 8:20–3 ), forming an inclusio with 7:2 and indeed the more universalistic 2:11 and 14:16 . This is one indication that it is legitimate to read Proto-Zechariah, as edited, in the light of the more developed eschatology of chs. 9–14 . ‘Ten men’ (v. 23 ) is the number required to form a synagogue; for ‘Jew’ see OCB.

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