Zechariah 3

Introduction

The book of Zechariah bears the prophet’s name, which means “Jehovah will remember” or “Jehovah remembers.” The book is difficult to date as a whole, because only three of the prophecies are dated. These exceptions are in Zechariah 1:1 (“the eighth month of Darius’ second year,” 520 B.C.), Zechariah 1:7 (“the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in Darius’ second year”), and Zechariah 7:1 (“In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month,” 518 B.C.).

However, the book can be easily divided into two major sections, chapters 1-8 and 9-14, based on the content of the prophecies. The first section deals primarily with God’s messages to Judah as they worked to rebuild the Temple (similar to Haggai’s prophecies of the same time). The second section deals more with eschatological events, particularly the future Messianic kingdom. The reference to “that day” is found 17 times in chapters 9-14 but only once in the first section (Zechariah 3:10).

Because of this distinction, and due to the fact that Greece is mentioned by name as a considerable force (which it was not in the early sixth century), some scholars contend that the second section was written much later and appended to Zechariah. However, Archer points out that by 480 B.C. (only 40 years later), Greece was already pushing back against Persian expansion, which would have given the entire region pause. 1 A span of 40-50 years would not have been too long for Zechariah to minister in Judah, especially since he was considered to be a “young man” at the beginning (Zechariah 2:4), so it is a strong possibility that the sections were written at different times, albeit by the same man and for different purposes.

Much like the Revelation, Zechariah is full of odd visions and illustrations – horsemen, olive trees, a flying scroll – so it is notoriously difficult to interpret without a basic understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future from Zechariah’s standpoint. However, since most of the symbols are explained to some extent, a grasp of the historical context does resolve some of the confusion.

Chapter three records Zechariah’s fourth vision in one night. He “saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). There is significance to the fact that “the angel of the LORD” in Zechariah 3:1 is called “the LORD” in Zechariah 3:2, who yet refers to “the LORD” as a distinct person. This is an obvious reference to the deity of the pre-incarnate Christ (the Eternal Son of God), who is wholly God yet a distinct person from the Father.

Like Michael in Jude 9, the angel of the LORD did not rebuke Satan at this time, but left that in the hands of Jehovah (Zechariah 3:2), who considered Joshua as one saved from fire. In Zechariah’s vision Joshua was wearing dirty clothes, a symbol of the uncleanness of Israel and her priesthood (Zechariah 3:3-5; compare to Haggai 2:10-14). The clean clothes represent God’s forgiveness of sin, including the high priest’s turban, which Joshua received at Zechariah’s prompting (cf. Exodus 28:36-39).

Finally, the angel of the LORD commissioned Joshua, promising that he would stand and serve in the Temple, if he would continue to be faithful in his life and service to God (Zechariah 3:6-7). Joshua and his fellow priests would serve as pictures of the coming Servant-Branch (both references to the Messiah; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1). Zechariah 3:10 includes the first use of the eschatological phrase “in [or on] that day” in Zechariah, a common phrase to reference Messiah’s coming and kingdom. When that day comes, “the iniquity of this land” will be removed, peaceful fellowship will be restored, and Jehovah will act with omniscience over the world (symbolized by the “seven eyes,” explained in Zechariah 4:10). Even the stone itself probably refers to Messiah, “the cornerstone and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over” (1 Peter 2:7-8).

Notes:

  1. “As far as the situation in Zechariah’s own time was concerned, the defeats recently administered by the Greeks to Xerxes…in 480-479 would furnish ample cause to bring them to the attention of all the inhabitants of the Persian empire.” (Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised and Expanded [Chicago: Moody Press, 1994], 475.)

Nehemiah 1

Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book in the Hebrew text, because they tell the three-part story of Israel’s return from captivity in Persia. When the Hebrew text was translated into Greek (the Septuagint), this was retained as one book, called Esdras B (or 2 Esdras). It was not until Origen and, finally, Jerome in the 4th century A.D. that the book was finally split into two, each carrying the name of the respective writers.

In a similar manner to how Babylon took Israel captive in three sets (605, 597, 586 B.C.), Israel returned to her land under Persian permission in three sets as well (539, 457, 455 B.C.), each with a major person leading them – Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the last of the historical books of the Old Testament. Whereas the book of Ezra addresses the spiritual restoration of Israel – the initial return from captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple – Nehemiah focuses more on the political restoration, reestablishing Israel as a nation.

The dating of Nehemiah is important for at least a couple of reasons. First, there has been some dispute regarding which Persian king Nehemiah served. He should be understood as Artaxerxes I, the same man as in Ezra 7. Second, this helps interpret the 70 weeks of Daniel. Of all of the commands and allowances for the Jews to return to Israel after their captivity, only the command in Nehemiah 2 fits the Daniel 9:25 description “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem… with plaza and moat, but in distressful times.” This took place in 444 B.C. The rest of Daniel’s prophecy (e.g., the cutting off of Messiah) occurred in A.D. 33, just as promised.

Most of Nehemiah was written in the first person, that is, Nehemiah used the pronouns I, me, and my as he wrote of his experiences. He provided a firsthand account of the balance between his leadership skills and personality and God’s grace at work in and through him, as he led the Israelites in obedience to God, along with godly men like Ezra and Malachi.

Chapter one opens with a specific date, “in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year” (Nehemiah 1:1). This would have been 445-444 B.C., about 13 years after Ezra had gone to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:7). When his brother, Hanani, and some others made their way back from Jerusalem to Susa, Nehemiah naturally inquired about the status of his people and the holy city. Zerubbabel had gone there 539 B.C., almost a hundred years earlier (Ezra 1:1), in order to begin the restoration, but there was much trouble, and they did not do much beyond building the Temple. 1 Ezra brought another group back to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:7), but his time was spent purifying the people again and restoring the proper worship in the Temple.

Nehemiah was crushed at the news that “the wall of Jerusalem lies breached, and its gates have been burned down!” (Nehemiah 1:3) After nearly 100 years since Zerubbabel, he expected that Jerusalem would have been a strong, fully functioning city again. Like Daniel so many years before and Ezra just a dozen years earlier, Nehemiah fell down before God in prayer, confessing sin on behalf of his nation (Nehemiah 1:4-11).

In addition to his confession, his prayer included two other key points. First, he quoted from the Land Covenant God made with Israel in Deuteronomy 30, knowing that God had obligated himself to fulfill those promises (Nehemiah 1:8-10). Second, Nehemiah already had a plan to confront the king, so he asked God for success in that meeting (Nehemiah 1:11). He was not afraid to use the secular connections he had to accomplish God’s work.

Notes:

  1. The books of Ezra and Haggai recount some of the issues they had to deal with when helping the people build the Temple.