For the Love of God, Volume 2/December 14
From Gospel Translations
2 Chronicles 16; Revelation 5; Zechariah 1; John 4
LIKE HIS CONTEMPORARY HAGGAI, Zechariah is a postexilic prophet. If Haggai is largely responsible, under God, for encouraging the people to get going and build the second temple, Zechariah’s contribution, though in some ways more significant, is harder to pin down. Here one finds searing apocalyptic, enigmatic visions, decidedly difficult passages, soaring perspective. However difficult they may be, chapters 9—14 constitute the Old Testament section most quoted in the passion narratives of the canonical Gospels, and the second most important source (after Ezekiel) for the countless Old Testament allusions in the book of Revelation. Few Old Testament prophetic books have called forth a wider diversity of “partition theories”—theories that assign chapters 9—14, or certain parts of them, to some writer other than the historical Zechariah.
This of course is not the place to address all these debates. We shall be concerned to grapple with parts of the text as they stand. For the moment, we focus on Zechariah 1:1-17.
The opening six verses constitute an introduction to chapters 1—8. The word of the Lord comes to Zechariah in October or November 520 B.C. The burden of this introduction is to review the catastrophic judgment of 587, when Jerusalem and the temple fell, and what led up to it and what flowed from it. “Return to me . . . and I will return to you” (1:3) is the lesson to be learned. Initially the people would not listen. But eventually they were carried off into exile and began to reflect more seriously on all the messages that had been given them. In exile they came to their senses: “The LORD Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do” (1:6). The implication is obvious: the covenantal blessings and judgments still stand, and the people of God must come to him in reverence and godly fear, lest they repeat the stubbornness of their ancestors and call down judgment on themselves.
There follow eight visions (1:7—6:15), sometimes collectively referred to as “the book of visions.” These eight visions have a more-or-less standard form. After an introductory expression we are told what the prophet sees. He asks the angel what these things are or mean, and the angel provides an explanation. With four of the visions there is an accompanying oracle (1:14-17; 2:6-13; 4:6-10a; 6:9-15), usually but not invariably at the end. The eight visions are thematically chiastic: the first and eighth are similar, the second and seventh, and so forth. All of them disclose something of the future of Jerusalem and Judah. What contribution is made by the first?