Reflections on Zechariah (4): Looking Back on Chapters 1-6

The book of Zechariah divides into two large sections, chapters 1-6 and chapters 7-12 (although I don’t agree that these two sections represent different authors and different historical settings). As I just finished chapter 6 this morning, it is an appropriate time to stop and look back on what I have learned from this first half of the book.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one sentence what the book of Zechariah is basically about, at this point in my study I would respond that the book of Zechariah is a call to the post-exilic community to renew their covenant relationship with God after the disruption of the exile. The exile was not merely a historical tragedy, though it was certainly that; it was also a severe spiritual disruption to relationship between God and his people. There must have been many who wondered if God had permanently divorced his people, and if there was no future hope for them. But exile was not the end of the story: God was faithful to bring his people out of exile, to fulfill his promises to them, and ultimately to bring them to a bright and prosperous future. The book of Zechariah is about God’s people picking themselves up after the exile and getting back to work living as God’s people. “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord of Hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ declares the Lord of Hosts” (1:3). One important aspect of this renewed relationship with God was the rebuilding of the temple, and so Zechariah accompanies Haggai (his only known contemporary) in focusing on temple reconstruction. But the focus of the book goes way beyond temple reconstruction. The book also emphasizes God’s restoration and vindication of the leaders of the post-exilic community: Joshua the high priest (chapter 3 and 6:9-15) and Zerubbabel the royal governor (chapter 4 and 6:9-15); God’s judgment on those who punished his people, Babylon (1:7-21 and 6:1-8); Israel’s future prosperity (1:7-17, 2:1-5); and the need for purity and righteousness in the land (chapter 5). Here is my summary of each section so far (I have listed 8 night visions, but some denote only 6: it depends how you count them):

1:1-1:6: Introductory oracle: a call to God’s people to return to God, in light of God’s judgment on their fathers.
1:7-17: Night Vision #1: God’s zeal for restoring his people and judging those who punished them (primarily Babylon).
1:18-21: Night Vision #2: God will judge the Babylonians through the rise of the Persian Empire.
2:1-5: Night Vision #3: God Himself will bless Jerusalem and make her people very numerous.
2:6-13: Oracle: A call to return to the land and rejoice in God’s restored presence.
3:1-10: Night Vision #4: God restores and vindicates Joshua and the priestly order.
4:1-14: Night Vision #5: God establishes Zerubbabel as leader in temple reconstruction and promises he will succeed.
5:1-4: Night Vision #6: A call to righteousness and justice in the internal relations of God’s people in the land.
5:5-11: Night Vision #7: A call to purity before God in the land (and yet another promise of judgment on Babylon in 5:11).
6:1-8: Night Vision #8: A promise of judgment on God’s enemies, especially Babylon.
6:9-15: Concluding oracle: Joshua and Zerubbabel (the “Branch”) will work together in leading God’s people and in temple reconstruction.

Its been so fun to go through this difficult and sometimes obscure book and ask questions like: how does this passage speak to our postmodern culture? What relevance does this passage have for the 21st century world? What unique insight into God’s nature does this passage have? How would I preach a sermon on this text? What would be my fallen condition focus (the aspect of fallen human nature that needs divine redemption)? What would be my main thesis, and my three main points? What contribution does this book (or this passage) make to the canon? What would be missing if it were not here? Why did God choose to reveal truth in apocalyptic visions as well as other forms of literature? What unique advantage is there to this genre? What are its difficulties? How does this book relate to Christ and the new covenant? How does it relate to the pre-exilic prophets? And so on.

Here is one of my favorite passages so far:

Zechariah 4:6-7: “Then 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 of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'”

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