Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Commentary  Index 
Zechariah Index
  Previous  Next 

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Zechariah Introduction


zac 0:0



The Prophet. - Zechariah, זכריה - i.e., not μνήμη Κυρίου, memoria Domini, remembrance of God (Jerome and others), nor God's renown (Frst), but he whom God remembers (lxx Ζαχαρίας, Vulg. Zacharias) - is a name of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament. Our prophet, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, was of priestly descent, - a son of Berechiah, and grandson of Iddo (Zac 1:1, Zac 1:7), the chief of one of the priestly families, that returned from exile along with Zerubbabel and Joshua (Neh 12:4). He followed his grandfather in that office under the high priest Jehoiakim (Neh 12:16), from which it has been justly concluded that he returned from Babylon while still a youth, and that his father died young. This also probably serves to explain the fact that Zechariah is called bar 'Iddo', the son (grandson) of Iddo, in Ezr 5:1 and Ezr 6:14, and that his father is passed over. He commenced his prophetic labours in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, only two months later than his contemporary Haggai, in common with whom he sought to stimulate the building of the temple (Ezr 5:1; Ezr 6:14), and that while he was still of youthful age, as we may infer partly from the facts quoted above, and partly from the epithet הנּער הלּז (the young man) in Zac 2:8 (4), which refers to him. On the other hand, the legends handed down by the fathers, which are at variance with the biblical accounts, to the effect that Zechariah returned from Chaldaea at an advanced age, that he had previously predicted to Jozadak the birth of his son Joshua, and to Shealtiel the birth of Zerubbabel, and had shown to Cyrus his victory over Croesus and Astyages by means of a miracle (Ps. Dor., Ps. Epiph., Hesych., and others), are not worth noticing. It is impossible to determine how long his prophetic labours lasted. We simply know from Zac 7:1, that in the fourth year of Darius he announced a further revelation from God to the people, and that his last two oracles (ch. 9-14) fall within a still later period. All that the fathers are able to state with regard to the closing portion of his life is, that he died at an advanced age, and was buried near to Haggai; whilst the contradictory statement, in a Cod. of Epiph., to the effect that he was slain under Joash king of Judah, between the temple and the altar, has simply arisen from our prophet being confounded with the Zechariah mentioned in Ch2 24:20-23.

2. The Book of Zechariah contains, besides the brief word of God, which introduces his prophetic labours (Zac 1:1-6), four longer prophetic announcements: viz., (1) a series of seven visions, which Zechariah saw during the night, on the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, in the second year of Darius (Zechariah 1:7-6:8), together with a symbolical transaction, which brought the visions to a close (Zac 6:9-15); (2) the communication to the people of the answer of the Lord to a question addressed to the priests and prophets by certain Judaeans as to their continuing any longer to keep the day appointed for commemorating the burning of the temple and Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans as a fast-day, which took place in the fourth year of Darius (Zac 7:1-14 and 8); (3) a burden, i.e., a prophecy of threatening import, concerning the land of Hadrach, the seat of the ungodly world-power (ch. 9-11); and (4) a burden concerning Israel (ch. 12-14). The last two oracles, which are connected together by the common epithet massȧ', are distinguished from the first two announcements not only by the fact that the headings contain neither notices as to the time, nor the prophet's name, but also by the absence of express allusions to the circumstances of Zechariah's own times, however unmistakeably the circumstances of the covenant nation after the captivity form the historical background of these prophecies also; whilst there is in general such a connection between their contents and the prophetic character of the night-visions, that ch. 9-14 might be called a prophetic description of the future of the kingdom of God, in its conflict with the kingdoms of the world, as seen in the night-visions. For example, in the night-visions, as a sequel to Haggai, who had predicted two months before the overthrow of the might of all the kingdoms of the world and the preservation of Zerubbabel in the midst of that catastrophe (Hag 2:20-23), the future development of the kingdom of God is unfolded to the prophet in its principal features till its final completion in glory. The first vision shows that the shaking of the kingdoms of the world predicted by Haggai will soon occur, notwithstanding the fact that the whole earth is for the time still quiet and at rest, and that Zion will be redeemed from its oppression, and richly blessed (Zac 1:7-17). The realization of this promise is explained in the following visions: in the second (Zac 2:1-4), the breaking in pieces of the kingdoms of the world, by the four smiths who threw down the horns of the nations; in the third (Zac 2:5-13), the spread of the kingdom of God over the whole earth, through the coming of the Lord to His people; in the fourth (Zac 3:1-10), the restoration of the church to favour, through the wiping away of its sins; in the fifth (Zac 4:1-14), the glorifying of the church through the communication of the gifts of the Spirit; in the sixth (Zac 5:1-11), the sifting out of sinners from the kingdom of God; in the seventh (Zac 6:1-8), the judgment, through which God refines and renews the sinful world; and lastly, in the symbolical transaction which closes the visions (Zac 6:9-15), the completion of the kingdom of God by the Sprout of the Lord, who combines in His own person the dignity of both priest and king. If we compare with these the last two oracles, in ch. 9-11 we have first of all a picture of the judgment upon the kingdoms of the world, and of the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, through the gathering together of the scattered members of the covenant nation, and their exaltation to victory over the heathen (ch. 9, Zac 10:1-12), and secondly, a more minute description of the attitude of the Lord towards the covenant nation and the heathen world (ch. 11); and in ch. 12-14 we have an announcement of the conflict of the nations of the world with Jerusalem, of the conversion of Israel to the Messiah, whom it once rejected and put to death (Zac 12:1-14, Zac 13:1-9); and lastly, of the final attack of the heathen world upon the city of God, with its consequences, - namely, the purification and transfiguration of Jerusalem into a holy dwelling-place of the Lord, as King over the whole earth (ch. 14); so that in both oracles the development of the Old Testament kingdom of God is predicted until its completion in the kingdom of God, which embraces the whole earth. The revelation from God, which stands between these two principal parts, concerning the continuance of the fast-days (Zac 7:1-14, 8), does indeed divide the two from one another, both chronologically and externally; but substantially it forms the connecting link between the two, inasmuch as this word of God impresses upon the people the condition upon which the attainment of the glorious future set before them in the night-visions depends, and thereby prepares them for the conflicts which Israel will have to sustain according to the announcement in ch. 9-14, until the completion of the kingdom of God in glory.

Thus all the parts of the book hang closely together; and the objection which modern critics have offered to the unity of the book has arisen, not from the nature of the last two longer oracles (ch. 9-14), but partly from the dogmatic assumption of the rationalistic and naturalistic critics, that the biblical prophecies are nothing more than the productions of natural divination, and partly from the inability of critics, in consequence of this assumption, to penetrate into the depths of the divine revelation, and to grasp either the substance or form of their historical development, so as to appreciate it fully.

(Note: For the history of these attacks upon the genuineness of the last part of Zechariah, and of the vindication of its genuineness, with the arguments pro and con, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, 103, and Koehler's Zechariah, ii. p. 297ff.)

The current opinion of these critics, that the chapters in question date from the time before the captivity - viz. ch. 9-11 from a contemporary of Isaiah, and ch. 12-14 from the last period before the destruction of the kingdom of Judah - is completely overthrown by the circumstance, that even in these oracles the condition of the covenant nation after the captivity forms the historical ground and starting-point for the proclamation and picture of the future development of the kingdom of God. The covenant nation in its two parts, into which it had been divided since the severance of the kingdom at the death of Solomon, had been dispersed among the heathen like a flock without a shepherd (Zac 10:2). It is true that Judah had already partially returned to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; but the daughter Zion had still "prisoners of hope" waiting for release (Zac 9:11-12, compared with Zac 2:10-11), and the house of Joseph or Ephraim was still to be gathered and saved (Zac 10:6-10). Moreover, the severance of Judah and Ephraim, which lasted till the destruction of both kingdoms, had ceased. The eye of Jehovah is now fixed upon all the tribes of Israel (Zac 9:1); Judah and Ephraim are strengthened by God for a common victorious conflict with the sons of Javan (Zac 9:13); the Lord their God grants salvation to His people as a flock (Zac 9:16 compared with Zac 8:13); the shepherd of the Lord feeds them both as a single flock, and only abolishes the brotherhood between Judah and Israel by the breaking of his second staff (Zac 11:14). Hence the jealousy between Judah and Ephraim, the cessation of which was expected in the future by the prophets before the captivity (cf. Isa 11:13; Hos 2:2; Eze 37:15.), is extinct; and all that remains of the severance into two kingdoms is the epithet house of Judah or house of Israel, which Zechariah uses not only in ch. 9-11, but also in the appeal in Zac 8:13, which no critic has called in question. All the tribes form one nation, which dwells in the presence of the prophet in Jerusalem and Judah. Just as in the first part of our book Israel consists of Judah and Jerusalem (Zac 1:19, cf. Zac 2:12), so in the second part the burden pronounced upon Israel (Zac 12:1) falls upon Jerusalem and Judah (Zac 12:2, Zac 12:5., Zac 14:2, Zac 14:14); and just as, according to the night-visions, the imperial power has its seat in the land of the north and of the south (Zac 6:6), so in the last oracles Asshur (the north land) and Egypt (the south land) are types of the heathen world (Zac 10:10). And when at length the empire of the world which is hostile to God is more precisely defined, it is called Javan, - an epithet taken from Dan 8:21, which points as clearly as possible to the times after the captivity, inasmuch as the sons of Javan never appear as enemies of the covenant nation before the captivity, even when the Tyrians and Philistines are threatened with divine retribution for having sold to the Javanites the prisoners of Judah and Jerusalem (Joe 3:6).

On the other hand, the differences which prevail between the first two prophecies of Zechariah and the last two are not of such a character as to point to two or three different prophets. It is true that in ch. 9-14 there occur no visions, no angels taking an active part, no Satan, no seven eyes of God; but Amos also, for example, has only visions in the second part, and none in the first; whilst the first part of Zechariah contains not only visions, but also, in Zac 1:1-6, Zac 7:1-14 and 8, simple prophetic addresses, and symbolical actions not only in Zac 6:9-15, but also in Zac 11:4-17. The angels and Satan, which appear in the visions, are also absent from Zac 7:1-14 and 8; whereas the angel of Jehovah is mentioned in the last part in Zac 12:8, and the saints in Zac 14:5 are angels. The seven eyes of God are only mentioned in two visions (Zac 3:9 and Zac 4:10); and the providence of God is referred to in Zac 9:1, Zac 9:8, under the epithet of the eye of Jehovah. This also applies to the form of description and the language employed in the two parts. The visionary sights are described in simple prose, as the style most appropriate for such descriptions. The prophecies in word are oratorical, and to some extent are rich in gold figures and similes. This diversity in the prophetic modes of presentation was occasioned by the occurrence of peculiar facts and ideas, with the corresponding expressions and words; but it cannot be proved that there is any constant diversity in the way in which the same thing or the same idea is described in the two parts, whereas there are certain unusual expressions, such as מעבר וּמשּׁב (in Zac 7:14 and Zac 9:8) and העביר in the sense of removere (in Zac 3:4 and Zac 13:2), which are common to both parts. Again, the absence of any notice as to the time in the headings in Zac 9:1 and Zac 12:1 may be explained very simply from the fact, that these prophecies of the future of the kingdom are not so directly associated with the prophet's own time as the visions are, the first of which describes the condition of the world in the second year of Darius. The omission of the name of the author from the headings no more disproves the authorship of the Zechariah who lived after the captivity, than the omission of the name from Isa 15:1; Isa 17:1; Isa 19:1, disproves Isaiah's authorship in the case of the chapters named. All the other arguments that have been brought against the integrity or unity of authorship of the entire book, are founded upon false interpretations and misunderstandings; whereas, on the other hand, the integrity of the whole is placed beyond the reach of doubt by the testimony of tradition, which is to be regarded as of all the greater value in the case of Zechariah, inasmuch as the collection of the prophetic writings, if not of the whole of the Old Testament canon, was completed within even less than a generation after the prophet's death.

Zechariah's mode of prophesying presents, therefore, according to the cursory survey just given, a very great variety. Nevertheless, the crowding together of visions is not to be placed to the account of the times after the captivity; nor can any foreign, particularly Babylonian, colouring be detected in the visions or in the prophetic descriptions. The habit of leaning upon the prophecies of predecessors is not greater in his case than in that of many of the prophets before the captivity. The prophetic addresses are to some extent rich in repetitions, especially in Zac 7:1-14 and 8, and tolerably uniform; but in the last two oracles they rise into very bold and most original views and figures, which are evidently the production of a lively and youthful imagination. This abundance of very unusual figures, connected with much harshness of expression and transitions without intermediate links, makes the work of exposition a very difficult one; so that Jerome and the rabbins raise very general, but still greatly exaggerated, lamentations over the obscurity of this prophet. The diction is, on the whole, free from Chaldaisms, and formed upon the model of good earlier writers. For the proofs of this, as well as for the exegetical literature, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, p. 310ff.

Next: Zechariah Chapter 1