Bible Knowledge Commentary

Walvoord and Zuck, Editors

"The postexilic Prophet Zechariah was a Levite born in Babylon (Neh. 12:1, 16). He was the son of Berekiah and the grandson of Iddo the priest (Zech. 1:1). Ezra and Nehemiah referred to him as "a descendant of Iddo" (Ezra 5:1; 6:14; cf. Neh. 12:4, 16), implying perhaps that his father had died young and Zechariah became the successor of his grandfather (cf. Neh. 12:4, 16). So, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel before him, Zechariah was both a prophet and a priest. Zechariah's name, which he shared with about 30 other men in the Old Testament, means "Yahweh (NIV, 'the LORD') remembers."

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai the prophet, Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high priest (Ezra 5:1-2; Zech. 3:1; 4:6; 6:11). Zechariah returned to Jerusalem from Babylon with almost 50,000 other Jewish exiles. He was probably a relatively young man at the beginning of his prophetic ministry (cf. 2:4) while Haggai might have been considerably older.


The fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. marked the finale of the kingdom of Judah, much as the earlier defeat at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. brought to an end the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Most of Jerusalem's inhabitants were deported to Babylon for a period of about 70 years, as prophesied by the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11; 29:10). During this Exile the Prophet Daniel received the revelation that Gentile kingdoms would be dominant over Judah and Israel until God would set up His kingdom on the earth under the rule of the Messiah (Dan. 2; 7). This period was referred to by Jesus Christ as "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24).

When the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian Empire (539 B.C.), Cyrus the Great decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple (Ezra 1:2-4; cf. Isa. 44:28). However, only a small minority of about 50,000 Jews (including Haggai and Zechariah) returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest (Ezra 2). Levitical sacrifices were soon reinstituted on a rebuilt altar of burnt offering (Ezra 3:1-6), and in the second year of their return the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:8-13; 5:16). However, external oppression and internal depression halted the rebuilding of the temple for about 16 more years of spiritual apathy till the rule of the Persian King Darius Hystaspis (522-486 B.C.). In the second regnal year of Darius (520 B.C.) God raised up Haggai the prophet to encourage the Jews in rebuilding (Ezra 5:1-2; Hag. 1:1). Haggai preached four sermons in four months and then disappeared from the scene. Two months after Haggai delivered his first sermon, Zechariah began his prophetic ministry (cf. Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1), encouraging the people to spiritual renewal and motivating them to rebuild the temple by revealing to them God's plans for Israel's future. With this prophetic encouragement the people completed the temple reconstruction in 515 B.C. (Ezra 6:15). The dated portions of Zechariah's prophecy fall within the period of the rebuilding of the temple. The undated prophecies of Zechariah 9-14 were probably written much later in his ministry.

Ezra, Zechariah, Nehemiah
Expositor's Bible Commentary
Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor

1. Historical Background of Zechariah

Zechariah's prophetic ministry took place in the time of Israel's restoration from the Babylonian captivity, i.e., in the postexilic period. Approximately seventy-five years had elapsed since Habakkuk and Jeremiah had predicted the invasion of Judah by the Neo-Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar. When their "hard service" (Isa 40:2) in Babylonia was completed, God influenced Cyrus, the Persian king, to allow the Hebrews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple (Isa 44:28).

The historical circumstances and conditions Zechariah ministered under were, in general, those of Haggai's time, since their labors were contemporary (cf. 1:1 with Hag 1:1). In 520 B.C. Haggai preached four sermons in four months. Zechariah began his ministry two months after Haggai had begun his. Thus the immediate historical background for Zechariah's ministry began with Cyrus's capture of Babylon and included the completion of the restoration, or second, temple.

Babylon fell to Cyrus in 539 B.C. Cyrus then signed the edict that permitted Israel to return and rebuild her temple (2 Chronicles 36:21-23; Ezra 1:1-4; 6:3, 5). According to Ezra 2, a large group (about fifty thousand) did return in 538-537 B.C. under the civil leadership of Zerubbabel (the governor) and the religious leadership of Joshua (the high priest). This group completed the foundation of the temple early in 536 B.C. (Ezra 3:8-13). But several obstacles arose that slowed and finally halted the construction (Ezra 4:1-5, 24). During the years of inactivity, Cyrus died in battle (529 B.C.); and his son Cambyses II, who was coregent with Cyrus for one year, reigned (530-522 B.C.).

Political rebellion ultimately brought Darius Hystaspes to the throne in 522 B.C. (The Behistun Inscription pictures him putting down an insurrection.) His wise administration and religious toleration created a favorable climate for the Israelites to complete the rebuilding of their temple. He confirmed the decree of Cyrus and authorized resumption of the work (Ezra 6:6-12; Hag 1:1-2). The construction was resumed in 520 B.C., and the temple was finished in 516 B.C. For additional events in the history of the period, see the historical background of Ezra, Daniel, and Haggai.

4. Date

The dates of Zechariah's recorded messages may be correlated with those of Haggai and with other historical events as follows:

1.    Haggai's first message (Hag 1:1-11; Ezra 5:1)—29 August 520 B.C.

2.    Resumption of the building of the temple (Hag 1:12-15; Ezra 5:2)—21 September 520 (The rebuilding seems to have been hindered from 536 to about 530 [Ezra 4:1-5], and the work ceased altogether from about 530 to 520 [Ezra 4:24].)

3.    Haggai's second message (Hag 2:1-9)—17 October 520

4.    Beginning of Zechariah's preaching (Zech 1:1-6)—October/November 520

5.    Haggai's third message (Hag 2:10-19)—18 December 520

6.    Haggai's fourth message (Hag 2:20-23)—18 December 520

7.    Tattenai's letter to Darius concerning the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:3-6:14)—519-518 (There must have been a lapse of time between the resumption of the building and Tattenai's appearance.)

8.    Zechariah's eight night visions (Zech 1:7-6:8)—15 February 519

9.    Joshua's crowning (Zech 6:9-15)—16(?) February 519

10.    Urging of repentance, promise of blessings (Zech 7-8)—7 December 518

11.    Dedication of the temple (Ezra 6:15-18)—12 March 516

12.    Zechariah's final prophecy (Zech 9-14)—after 480(?) 

5. Place of Composition

At the time of his prophesying and writing, Zechariah was clearly back in Palestine; and his ministry was to the returned exiles (Zech 4:8-10; 6:10, 14; 7:2-3, 9; Neh 12:1, 12, 16).

6. Occasion and Purpose

The occasion is the same as that of the Book of Haggai. Approximately fifty thousand former exiles had arrived in Jerusalem and the nearby towns in 538-537 B.C., with high hopes of resettling the land and rebuilding the temple (Ezra 2). Their original zeal was evident; immediately they set up the altar of burnt offering (Ezra 3:1-6). They resumed worship and restored the sacrificial ritual that had been suspended during the seventy years of exile in Babylonia. The people then laid the foundation of the temple in the second month of the second year (536 B.C.) of their return (Ezra 3:8-13). But their fervor and activity soon met with opposition in various forms (Ezra 4:1-5; Hag 1:6-11). So the reconstruction of the temple ground to a halt and did not begin again till 520 B.C. (Ezra 4:24).
The chief purpose of Zechariah and Haggai was to rebuke the people and motivate and encourage them to complete the rebuilding of the temple (Zech 4:9-10, Hag 1-2), though Zechariah was clearly interested in spiritual renewal as well. Also, the purpose of the eight night visions is explained in Zechariah 1:3, 5-6: The Lord asked Israel to return to him; then he would return to them, and his word would continue to be fulfilled.

7. Theological Values

George L. Robinson calls Zechariah "the most Messianic, the most truly apocalyptic and eschatological, of all the writings of the OT."

Zechariah predicted Christ's first coming in lowliness (6:12), his humanity (6:12), his rejection and betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (11:12-13), his being struck by the sword of the Lord (13:7), his deity (3:4; 13:7), his priesthood (6:13), his kingship (6:13; 9:9; 14:9, 16), his second coming in glory (14:4), his building of the Lord's temple (6:12-13), his reign (9:10; 14), and his establishment of enduring peace and prosperity (3:10; 9:9-10). These messianic passages give added significance to Jesus' words in Luke 24:25-27, 44.
As for the apocalyptic and eschatological aspect, Zechariah predicted the final siege of Jerusalem (12:1-3; 14:1-2), the initial victory of Israel's enemies (14:2), the Lord's defense of Jerusalem (14:3-4), the judgment on the nations (12:9, 14:3), the topographical changes in Israel (14:4-5), the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in the messianic kingdom age (14:16-19), and the ultimate holiness of Jerusalem and her people (14:20-21).

The prophet's name itself has theological significance. It means "the LORD [Yahweh] remembers." "The LORD," the personal, covenant name of God, is a perpetual testimony to his faithfulness to his promises. He "remembers" his covenant promises and acts to fulfill them. In Zechariah, God's promised deliverance from Babylonian captivity, including a restored theocratic community and a functioning temple—the earthly seat of the divine sovereignty—leads into even grander pictures of the salvation and restoration to come through the Messiah.

Finally, the book as a whole teaches the sovereignty to God in history over men and nations—past, present, and future.

9. Structure and Themes

a. Structure

While Zechariah may be divided into two parts (chs. 1-8 and chs. 9-14), it likewise falls rather naturally into five major divisions: (1) 1:1-6, introduction and call to repentance; (2) 1:7-6:8, eight night visions; (3) 6:9-15, the symbolic crowning of Joshua the high priest; (4) chapters 7-8, the question about fasting; and (5) chapters 9-14, two prophetic oracles (9-11 and 12-14).
For an excellent visual representation of the unified, chiastic plan of chapters 9-14 (based on Lamarche), see Baldwin (Zechariah, pp. 78-79), who then goes on to delineate a similar chiastic arrangement in chapters 1-8, thus arguing on structural grounds the unity of the entire book. Elsewhere ("Pseudonymity," pp. 9-10) Baldwin concludes, "So closely knit is the fabric of the book that one mind must be responsible for its construction, and the simplest explanation is that the prophet Zechariah himself is the author of the total work that bears his name."

b. Themes

The central theme of Zechariah is encouragement—primarily encouragement to complete the rebuilding of the temple. In fact, Laetseh (p. 403) Calls Zechariah "the prophet of hope and encouragement in troublous times." Various means are used to accomplish this end, and these function as subthemes. For example, great stress is laid on the coming of the Messiah and his overthrow of all antikingdom forces so that the theocracy can be finally and fully established on earth. The consideration of the current local scene thus becomes the basis for the eschatological, universal picture.