Introductory Chapters - "Must Reading"
Zechariah and Jewish Renewal chapters 1 - 5
Would you like to understand the mysterious words of Zechariah? I mean really understand them so you know you have a grasp of what was in the mind of the prophet and what were the primary concepts he was wanting to convey? This book has just that aim and certain elements have been included for accomplishing that goal.
Original language: There is much use of the Hebrew language written with English translations in the text of this book. Hebrew words and grammar are introduced where they make the mind of the prophet clearer. The Hebrew is written in Roman letters using a system of transliteration that is explained in the first chapter. The Hebrew words defined there are used often in the text of this book. There are only a few such words but they will make the text much clearer so you are advised to read the definitions. The Hebrew idiom is unique. It is so profound in such a simple vehicle. There are some problems that are unlocked by appealing to idiomatic manners of expression. Especially is this so in the discussion, in the commentary, concerning the young volunteers who came from Babylon to help in the ornamentation of the temple in the final stages of restoration.
Historical and Prophetic background: Zechariah records the completion of prophecies that have been given by earlier prophets. These prophecies and backgrounds are noticed first so that an understanding of the mind of the prophet is clearly in view before reading the commentary. The history of the nations of Israel and Judah are outlined. The names pertaining to that history are considered first so that when we find the names of Israel, Zion, Ephraim, Judah, Joseph and others we will know what or whom the prophet has in mind when he uses those terms.
Shekinah: The history of the "Shekinah" is most important to the understanding of Zechariah and therefore there is a history of the events relating to this mysterious presence of the Almighty in the text before we start the commentary.
Repetition: It is God's method to teach by repetition. The Hebrew word "shanan," translated "teach," in the commandment that says we are to teach God's commandments to our children as we walk in the way, is a word that means to repeat the teaching over and over. Consequently, because much of the material in Zechariah is at first obscure we have incorporated this method in the scheme of the book. Certain key elements are taught from more than one point of view. This design will help open this book to your understanding in a way that you may not think possible at this point. On the other hand if you think the task is easy we suggest that you read the text of Zechariah several times. The same instruction is relevant to one not well acquainted with the book of Zechariah. The task, which undertaken will result in knowing you know, will not be easy but will be very rewarding to one wanting to know the meaning of God's word. In reading Zechariah hold in your mind those things that seem to be certain and then note the most difficult passages that seem to be beyond your scope. These also will be opened to your understanding as you read these pages and follow the instructions given here.
Temple: Because the Temple is an important element in the history of the Bible, there is a post script chapter on the history of the Temple and the attempts to rebuild it. That next to last chapter in this book also continues the history of the independent Jewish state from the time of the Macabbees.
History of the "Silent Years": The most useful background chapters are those that speak of the "Silent Years" or "Golden Age" to which Zechariah gives a great deal of attention. He says the period will come as a consequence of rebuilding the temple and restoration of the nation. The history of that period is obscure but we have made an attempt to look through the veil of obscurity and you will find that those chapters, and portions of the commentary that describe the "Silent Years," will be rewarding in making Zechariah's point of view more clear.
The Oral Law: The discussion on the "oral law" at the end of the commentary completes the background material that will help produce the pool of knowledge that will open this mysterious book. This will probably be one of the most enlightening portions of this study. It will make Jewish life come into a new and clearer view. Understanding Zechariah's prophecies will be greatly enhanced by understanding the nature of the "oral law."
If you read the material in order and use the advice given here, then with your love for the .mysteries of God and your prayer to Him for guidance, there is a blessing waiting for you in these pages. My prayer is that you will receive it and add it to your reservoir of living waters.
Modern Hebrew Terms It Will be Helpful to Know
I will use some modern Hebrew terms in the text to describe Jewish life. In modern times the return of the Jewish nation from a world-wide dispersion began in the 1880s and the Hebrew language was almost at once revived. These Biblical terms were also revived to describe the returnees and the new elements in their lives. These events and conditions often paralleled those of the period of return under Joshua and Zerubbabel when similar events and conditions existed. I am therefore using these terms in the description of the return under Zerubbabel and the age of holiness which Zechariah predicted was to follow the rebuilding of the Temple.
It should be remembered that vowels in written Hebrew are not consistent and are not to be expected to be consistent in spelling. You will note this in the first two words below which are actually the same word in Hebrew but a different part of speech. I use a system of transliteration which is consistent. Some sounds are difficult to render in English and there is no corresponding letter to represent the sound. The "ch" is a letter pronounced like a German "ch" in "ach" where a slight clearing of the throat accompanies the sound. Whenever you see a "ts" it is considered as one letter which some transliterate as a "z." Pronounce it like the "ts" in boots no matter where it is in a word. Try what I just told you with "Chaluts." Pronounce all "a's" like "a" in father and all "i's" like "ee" and "iy" the same, and "u" as "oo" in boots. Now try "chaluts" again.
"Aliyah" means immigration. It comes from a word which means to "go up." Going to Jerusalem always was referred to as "going up," not just because Jerusalem is in the tops of the mountains but because of the holiness of the site and respect and reverence for the place because of the "Shekinah." Thus, return to the holy land itself is also "going up" and "aliyah" is more than immigration; it is a holy pilgrimage of a permanent nature.
"Oliym," plural, "oleh," singular, means one who has made or is making the "aliyah." "Oleh chadash" is a "new" immigrant. The plural would be "oliym chadashiym." Genesis 50:14 uses this word speaking of all the "oliym" who came out of Egypt with Joseph to bury his father. And Num. 32:11 counts all the "oliym" who left Egypt in the exodus. Ezra calls those returning from Babylon "the oliym" in both Ezr. 2:1 and 2:59. Thus the Biblical word is used for the pilgrims or immigrants who return back to the "admath qodesh"--the Holy earth.
"Chaluts" or plural "chalutsiym" means a pioneer -- a very heroic pioneer. It refers to the vanguard of youthful "oliym" who were visionary and believed in the virtue of sacrifice in order to restore the nation. They would offer their labor or special skills with no hope of monetary gain. Rebuilding, replanting forests, draining swamps, building settlements, establishing infrastructures where nothing but desolation existed was done by the "chalutsiym." The young men who were to be memorialized by gold crowns placed in the rebuilt Temple mentioned in Zec. 6:10-15 were at the same time "oliym" and "chalutsiym." The families mentioned there represent this class of people, not limited to those named, whose self sacrifice was commemorated by placing the crowns in the Temple.
"Yishuv," meaning "having dwelled," is the term given to the body of settled immigrants who have existed for a period to which the "oleh chadash," or new immigrant, will be added and a part of which he will become only after some long time has passed. In modern times a member of the "yishuv" is called a "tsabrah." A "tsabrah" was born in Israel and has never been an "oliym." "Tsabrah" is a cactus, native to Israel, a tough plant that survives in a hostile environment. All 50,000 making the "aliyah" with Zerubbabel were "oliym chadashiym." They and their descendants (who became "tsabrahs") were the "yishuv" when Ezra and Nehemiah arrived over 60 years later.
It was the description of extremity and hard conditions among the "yishuv" that caused both Ezra and Nehemiah to commit themselves to become temporary "chalutsiym" in a second "aliyah" which resulted in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and a revival of holiness and strict observance of the Law of Moses in the "yishuv." In modern times the several waves of "aliyah" are given numbers. For instance, the third "aliyah" began in 1919.*
* Alfassi, Itzhak and other contributors; Immigration and Settlement; Ketter Pub., .Jerusalem, 1973. Chapter IIThe Prophesied Period of Peace
The preface of the translation of the Hebrew Masoretic Text speaks of the establishment of the second commonwealth under Ezra and Nehemiah and what should have been the promised "Golden Age" of peace which would follow for the next several hundred years. Of this, the codification of the scripture texts, and the traditions and the Targums (Targums are Aramaic translations and interpretations of the of the Hebrew text of the Torah or Law of Moses)., it says, "All this is veiled in obscurity as is the whole inner history of the Jews during the Persian rule."* It confirms that the period, during which the "Great Synagogue" was held, the canon of the Old Testament closed, and the Targums or Aramaic translation of the Scriptures made, is dimmed and obscure with almost no mention of the "Yishuv" in historical documents. Many other sources sustain this continuing silence on the period in spite of discoveries of Persian libraries in recent times. So Charles says: "As can be seen from other sources the history of the Persian period is plunged in obscurity."** And Porten says the same: "... our information of the remaining 100 years of the Persian rule dries up."*** Johnson makes it clear that it was a period of unprecedented freedom of religion but he also says: "The years 400-200 B.C. are the lost centuries of Jewish History."****
* Central Conference of American Rabbis; Holy Scriptures, According to the Masoretic Text; Jewish Publication Society of America; Philadelphia, 1955; (first edition 1917.) pg. v.
** Charles, R. H.; Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha of the Old Testament; Clarendon Press, Oxford; 1976. First Pub. 1913. pg.2.
*** Porten, Bezelel and others; (Jewish) History Until 1880; Ketter Pub. Jerusalem, 1973, pg. 96.
**** Johnson, Paul; A History of The Jews; Harper & Row, New York; 1987. pg. 87.
Josephus, who gives extremely detailed, tedious descriptions in most cases, is remarkable because of his silence on this period! He would be expected not only to name the rulers who succeeded Zerubbabel but also to give detailed descriptions of their interaction with others. However, he ends his recounting of the restoration of Judah with the rebuilding of the walls under Ezra and for the rest of the Persian period includes only the narrative of Mordecai and Esther which is in the Bible. Josephus adds very little, if any, historical background to that narrative.* His next entry begins with a High Priest who lived at the time of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great. Thus, in Josephus Antiqs. XI: between chapter vi and chapter vii,** there is a time gap of slightly less than 135 years. There is nothing recorded about conditions in Israel in other histories, nor in Jewish tradition, about this period.
* Josephus is mistaken in placing the history of Ezra and Nehemiah before that of Mordecai and Esther. It is now accepted that Xerxes was the ruler of Persia at the time of Mordecai and Josephus correctly records elsewhere that Artaxerxes Longimanus followed Xerxes, and ruled at the time of the Great Synagogue which is the time of Ezra. (Against Apion I:8) Thus the events recorded in Esther happened after the rebuilding of the Temple and before the arrival of Ezra, or between 485 and 473 B.C.
** Josephus, trans. Whiston, Wm.; Josephus, Complete Works; Kregel Pub., Grand Rapids, 1969, pg. 242
Josephus ends the gap and then describes the coming of Alexander who not only left Jerusalem undisturbed but lent moral and material assistance to the Jews. He goes on to describe Alexander's successor, Ptolemy, and his initiation of the translation of the Septuagint and his kindness toward the Jews. There follows then in Josephus another gap of 160 years, for as is seen, immediately after this section he takes up the history of Antiochus Epiphanes when the peace and security of the nation was interrupted permanently and tension would accompany the worship and daily life of the "yishuv" from thenceforth to this very day. The period of time from Alexander to Antiochus is approximately 160 years. Josephus mentions nothing -- absolute silence about the life of the "yishuv" in this time period. Thus, except for the visit of Alexander which was truly a wonderful event in Jewish life, and the translation of the Scriptures into the lingua franca, or Greek, this 160 years is also uneventful living from one generation to the next. For almost 300 years the life of the nation was monotonously calm!
This period is just what Zechariah predicted. It would be a time of peace -- mature people .walking safely and living to ripe old age in cities whose streets are full of children playing. Each man with his garden and vine watching his family grow, mature, and placing grandchildren on his knees in a secure environment. He would experience the undisturbed worship of God and each generation would watch the next come and grow to faithfulness in security. It would be so "uneventful" that nothing of note would be recorded. No high priests were murdered, no wars took place, no rebellion marked the tranquility of the times, and men went about their business in peace keeping the Law of Moses and looking for God's continued watchcare, confident in the "Shekinah" presence in Jerusalem. The fact that nothing is said of the period speaks more of the serenity of the times than a clear historical description would. Oh that all men might live in such times, when passing on what good has been received from the past is the only event of note and therefore not recorded.
Glimpses into the "Silent Years" 450-180 B.C.E.
After Ezra's reform the Scriptures became the most important vehicle of revelation. The office of prophet declined and altogether disappeared after the building of the second Temple. The eighth chapter of Ezra sets a precedent for the kind of worship that would be associated with feasts and national gatherings during the "Silent Years." The exposition and explanation of the Scriptures, would become the central activity in Jewish religion while the Temple would remain the center of worship. The synagogue which had grown initially in Babylon would become the local center of this activity, where the explanation of the Scriptures would be the most important part of the weekly sabbath meeting. This tradition was still evident in New Testament times and is illustrated by Jesus' visit to his home town synagogue at Nazareth, where after the readings, he, as a visiting Rabbi, was handed the scroll and he gave applications based on what he had read.
Ezra's precedent-setting "preaching rally"* resulted in mass repentance and emotional demonstrations of the penitent followed by deep commitment and life changes. We can expect that this element continued to be part of the mass gatherings, and occasionally of the local weekly synagogue meetings to which the worshippers returned with revived religious excitement from Succoth, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashanah, or Pesach, anticipating the next gathering of the faithful. This is especially impressive when we recall that the religious life of the nation was universally pervasive. This new element of the weekly reading, recitation, and explanation of the Scriptures carrying on the "mountaintop experiences" of the thrice annual gatherings, was the central and universal unifying force in Judah during the "Silent Years." The same circumstances still existed as late as New Testament times in Judea as well as in the Diaspora. This is illustrated by the ascent of the family of Jesus for the passover and the return to Nazareth in his thirteenth year. The synagogue contributed to the rise of Christianity among the Jews first, through the preaching of the early apostles and evangelists who found an initial ready hearing in the free and open and accepting service of the synagogue.
* Nehemiah 8. The whole chapter but particularly verse 8. "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."
The loss of the office of prophet and the importance of the Scriptures which followed produced the rise of new classes of religious leaders from those who cared for and interpreted the Scriptures. Those who were gifted with an ability above the ordinary in understanding and exegeting the Scriptures were given a descriptive name. Since they had much or multiplied knowledge they were simply called "muchites" or "multiplidites," for this is the meaning of the word "Rabbi." Its use, at first, was not an exaltation of the person but a description of his knowledge. A title, however, has a way of becoming an exalted term no matter what its root meaning is, as can be seen in the terms Deacon or Minister, both of which mean servant.
The convening of the people for reading the Scriptures and preaching was a precedent set by Ezra and included many of the young Rabbis who would repeat the same messages that were broadcast from the central pulpit. Thus the thrice annual gatherings would be punctuated with groups gathered around Rabbis who were giving the meaning of the Law of Moses and calling the faithful to a closer walk with God. Just such a picture is given of Jesus as "he cried in the Temple" during the feasts that he attended. This element of Jewish life carried through the 400 years from Ezra to the time of Jesus of Nazareth. One can only imagine the effects of young men aflame with righteousness proclaiming the truth of the Scripture to a nation whose majority was religiously active. No wonder secular history records nothing at all of those years!
Another important class of leader which arose due to the central importance of reading and expounding the Divine texts was that of copyist or scribe. The writing of the Scriptures was a laborious task and the demand for scrolls would be great in the flourishing towns of Judea and Galilee after the many waves of "aliyah" had brought their populations to the proportions predicted by Zechariah. He said that Galilee and Golan and Gilead would overflow with the population of the "oliym." He said no place would be found for them and that Jerusalem would be a metropolis that no walls could contain and all of Judea would be inhabited, even the waste places south of Jerusalem.
The "Great Synagogue" was held at the beginning of this period. The canon of the Old Testament was closed and no books were added to the Jewish Scriptures by Jews after that time. The apocryphal books are not and were not in the Jewish canon. Ezra is traditionally seen as the coordinator of the "Great Synagogue." Zechariah may have been a participant in the "Great Synagogue." If he were he would have participated in placing his own writings within the canon! Or he may have been dead, but men who knew him personally would have participated in the "Great Synagogue." Therefore, it seems like an elementary mistake to question the authenticity of the latter portion of Zechariah as belonging to another writer of another period. The closing of the canon of the Old Testament placed extra importance on the Scriptures and made their reading and explanation the most important element in the religious life of the "yishuv" during the "Silent Years."
Johnson calls Ezra's return the third "aliyah"* and Zechariah's predictions imply numerous "aliyahs" to continue from Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt and beyond. One needs only to read of the zealous experiences of the early kibbutzniks of the first part of the twentieth century to imagine the fervor and dedication of the "yishuv" as "chalutsiym" poured into the new commonwealth. The conditions would be similar to those met by the Jews of the generation just preceding and including ours except that after Ezra they would have the protection and encouragement of the central government. No war would mar their eventual growth to a large repopulated Judea and Galilee.**
* Johnson, Paul; A History of The Jews; Harper & Row, New York; 1987, pg. 86.
** The extent of the Diaspora and growth through "aliyah" (aliyah is immigration to the Holy land) of the combined nation of restored Judah, containing all the tribes of Israel, is the subject of Zechariah 10 in chapter XX.
Among this population, prompted by the Diaspora in Babylon, the study of the Scripture, (and what became more important, discussions of the "oral law,") produced academies. The academies and Rabbinic schools grew up around the scribal centers in Jerusalem. The copying of the Scriptures was paramount for the scribe but he also became an expert on legal problems in the Bible and the "oral law." In the "Silent Years" the experts in these classes became the most respected leaders of the community. Only later would they divide over interpretations into competitive sects. Accordingly, Jerusalem became the center of world Jewry and communicated with the dispersed in Egypt and Babylon and the rest of the world. Just as it is today, those among the Diaspora outnumbered those of the "yishuv" in Palestine. The "yishuv" surely could have looked to the best of these times as a fulfillment of the promise of Zechariah that the riches of many nations would be brought to Jerusalem. This went on for three hundred years. That is a long time to know nothing at all, zero knowledge, except what can be surmised by implications, about a nation whose history is copiously recorded both before and after the Silent Years!
The only knowledge we have of daily life in the Holy Land comes from incidental records outside of Palestine. Some of those were found in the excavation of Nippur in Mesopotamia and Elephantine in lower Egypt.* They mention the business and trade connections of the Jewish population. The book of Esther, the only Biblical description of the "Silent Years," tells us nothing about Palestine. But we have a description of the Jewish queen and her uncle in the court of the Persian king whose reign is celebrated in the feast of Purim, during which it is, still to this day, a custom for Jewish children to masquerade as Esther, Mordecai, Haman, or Xerxes, and now Hitler has been added to the Haman-like participants. This celebration of Purim began during the "Silent Years" and was continued annually. The feast of Channukah commemorates the cleansing of the Temple after the Macabbean revolt which ended the "Silent Years." It was also added to the religious celebrations which are called "chaggiym," as the feast of lights, which was on the official religious calendar. This "chag" is mentioned in the Gospels (John 10:22) as one that Jesus attended at Jerusalem. The child Jesus, like others in religiously observant families, would "hadliyq eth nerrey ha-channukah," light the channukah menorah, as well as dress for Purim. I wonder what costume Jesus chose.
* Johnson, op. cit.
The language of Palestine was Aramaic. It is close enough to Hebrew that one fluent in either could understand the other. Aramaic was the spoken language from the Persian Gulf to Egypt during the "Silent Years" until the advent of Alexander the Great when Greek was added and the world became bilingual. Jesus, like all native Palestinians, spoke Aramaic. Among his last words are: "Eloi, Eloi, lamah, sabachtani." They are an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew in Psalm 22:1. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew and so read in the synagogue. Written interpretations in Aramaic were recorded and became part of the literary tradition of the "yishuv." The Aramaic translations and interpretations are called Targums. The Targums are further evidence of the central place the Scriptures had in the daily life of the "yishuv" during the "Silent Years."
The political conditions for Judah during the Persian period were ideal and with universal religious toleration the Jews had unlimited freedom of worship. Except for an occasion or two that did not affect Palestine, there was unity without revolt in the world united from the Bosporus to the Indus River. Freedom of movement was enjoyed between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Palestine was not a prize to be struggled for between these two areas, as it would be later, since all were controlled through the 120 satrapies of the Persians. There was a serious attempt, though it failed, at overthrowing a Persian ruler which is recorded by Xenophon. But even this was done by a Persian who deceived Greek troops loyal to the Persian government headed by Cyrus the Younger. The Anabasis is a record of the 10,000 troops making their way back to Greece after the attempted coup d'etat was aborted. Because of such ideal conditions there were few if any other internal attempts at palace coups and there were no external rebellions that attempted to overthrow the central authority of Persia until the rise of Alexander.
With the coming of Alexander the Great this changed. However, Alexander showed great .favor to the Jews, but the advent of Greek as the lingua franca of the civilized world added a new cultural element which would disturb the tranquility of the "yishuv." We know very little about the particulars of his acts with the Jews but we do know that he enlisted the mercantile talents of the Jews, settling Jewish leaders in remote regions to organize the trade and business of his empire.* He was an exciting personality and many Jewish youth joined him in his further campaigns after his visit to Jerusalem.** The Ptolemaic dynasty, successors to Alexander in Egypt, became the protectors of Judea. But Judah suffered the loss of its protective isolation in this period because the former unity was lost.
* Dubnov, S.M.; History of the Jews in Russian and Poland; Jewish Pub. Soc., Philadelphia, 1916. pg. 16.
** Josephus Antiq. XI:8,5
Although by 325 B.C.E. the world was Greek, the Greeks had divided into at least four centers. The major centers were in Antioch of Syria, which ruled all Syria and Mesopotamia through the Selucid kings; and Egypt which was ruled by the Greek Ptolemies who controlled Judea from 325 B.C.E. to about 180 B.C.E. During that time the Jewish community in Egypt would see the Hebrew Scriptures translated into the Greek language and later they were able to build an alternative Temple.( For more information on the alternative Temple in Egypt see the introduction in Chapter XX. ) During this period, although the "yishuv" enjoyed continued freedom of religion, the encroachments of a culture based on science and intellectualism took its toll on the Jews who looked for mystical heavenly rewards from the God whose "Shekinah" presence was real and did not depend on their waning faith in the supernatural.
The decline of simple faith began to be noticed first in the ruling classes. By the time that Antiochus the Great (180 B.C.E.) took the territory of Palestine from the Ptolemies and placed Judea and Galilee under the authority of Antioch, the Jews were prepared for what would be an almost lethal assault on their religion. Before long the High Priesthood became a victim of creeping Hellenism and it became accepted that the new scientific thought was worthy of supplanting the Law of Moses. This condition reached its peak at the time of the Macabbees. With the death of Onias the High Priest, Menelaus usurped the office and defected to Hellenism. He attempted to Hellenize the worship. He actually built a Greek gymnasium attached to the Temple buildings and a method was invented to make the Jews look uncircumcised in the gymnasiums where, after the Greek fashion, the games were performed in the nude! So far would the corrupt Hellenized priests go to please their foreign masters! The end of the "Silent Years" ended more than their silence! Thus Judah and her religion were prepared for the final assault under Antiochus Epiphanies, himself a physically perfect example of the incredibly handsome aquiline Greek, who now opposed the backward and homespun Jewish nation. He attempted to lift the Jews from their superstition and backward looking traditions. The absolutely astounding rebellion and victory of the Macabbees over Antiochus resulted in the restoration of a cleansed Temple which had been desecrated by the Greeks, but the attempt to restore the simple religious faith of the "Silent Years" was doomed to failure. Proud scribes, exclusive Pharisees, political priests, ardent revolutionaries, reactionary ascetics, and narrow-minded Rabbis whose center of thought was the oral traditions and the Targums, in contrast to simple exposition of the Scriptures, would now compete with the unpretentious faith of a holy people.
In spite of continuing struggle with Antioch the Macabbees established an independent Jewish state, and with the help of the Romans managed to stay semi-independent after the treaties with Rome were ratified.* This condition was difficult, full of corruption, and short-lived. It ended with the arrival of Pompey in 66 B.C.E. Josephus describes how he, with his Roman armies, beat down the Temple walls and killed priests who would not abandon their duties of offering sacrifices in spite of the walls of the Temple area literally falling down around them! The steadfastness of ritual observance was still deeply imbedded in their hearts even though the ubiquitous simplicity and holiness of the "Silent Years" had been lost for almost a century.
* Judas Macabbee and the Jewish people sent emissaries to Rome to conclude a .mutual assistance treaty just after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. The treaty signed and inscribed in brass is described in Josephus Ant. XII:x,6. The treaty was renewed by the Roman senate from time to time. The renewals are recorded in Jos. Ant. XIII:ix,2; XIV:viii,5; and XIV:x,19;
Chapter IVDaniel is a Contemporary of Zechariah and Haggai Daniel showed great concern for the restoration of the city of Jerusalem. He had actually gone into captivity with the first of the captives in 606 B.C.E.
The Historical Context and Time of the Prophecy 519 BC
(Dan. 1:1) In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
Daniel lived through the whole seventy years of the Babylonian period. The seventy years would have expired by Daniel's calculation in 536 B.C.E. That was the year that Cyrus made the decree to restore and build Jerusalem and approximately 50,000 "Chalutsiym" (pioneers) returned, led by Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the High Priest. Daniel would know that more than seventy years had now passed since the captivity began. Haggai began to predict the rebuilding of the Temple in the sixth month of the second year and Zechariah began in the eighth month of the second year. See below.
Daniel's prayer, preceding the prophecy of chapter 9, also preceded the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah by a matter of months. Daniel prayed fervently,-- more fervently than is ordinary because he considered that the sin of the nation was so great that God may have deferred his promise to restore Jerusalem after the desolation by the Babylonians. The reason for this conclusion no doubt is based on Daniel's understanding of the time given in Jeremiah. For the proper chronology for this period see the explanation in the commentary on the 70 week prophecy in the ninth chapter of Daniel
(Dan. 9:1) In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; (Dan. 9:2) In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, where the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
He read this in Jeremiah 25:11.
(Jer. 25:11) And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (Jer 25:12) And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, says the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
If there are five years in the reign of Cyrus after the commission to return; one or two for Cambyses after the death of Cyrus and the eight years for the false Smerdis, then the first year of Darius is 15 years after the return. The first year of Darius would be 520 or 521 B.C.E. At that time Daniel would know that more than eighty-five years had passed since the captivity began and more than fifteen years had passed since Cyrus authorized the rebuilding but the Temple was still desolate. Daniel received a vision that went beyond the immediate restoration of the physical Temple building and the walls of Jerusalem, although they are also mentioned in Daniel's prophecy. Daniel saw his vision less than a year before Haggai and Zechariah.
Haggai began prophesying two months before Zechariah. The first prophecy of Haggai was in the sixth month of the second year of Darius.
(Hag. 1:1) In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the High Priest,
The first messages of Haggai had the desired effect, and "work," not to say actual building, started three weeks later, as seen in the next verse.
(Hag. 1:14) And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the High Priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, (Hag. 1:15) In the twenty fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
Another message came from Haggai about one month and a half after his first preaching which stirred things up and started some work. This still preceded the messages of Zechariah.
This message was one of assurance that the meager beginning would outshine the previous house. That would seem very marvelous to those who had seen the first Temple and could see the ruins all around them and a very small beginning.
Zechariah begins his public prophecy before the next message of Haggai.
(Zec. 1:1) In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet,
Zechariah's message is delivered in more encouraging tones than Haggai's. The former gives great reassurance and promises of future glory. He has the fervor of a young man looking to new beginnings. And although both prophets have a mixture of warnings and encouragements, Haggai seems to present more of the side of an older experienced man of God who must chide and nag the recalcitrant settlers. He says their blessings are lacking because they think of themselves first. They live in houses with roofs and only the open sky greets the Temple foundations! Zechariah's message is weighted more toward the reasonable rather than "what you ought to do." Perhaps a little nagging is a good thing. God sends prophets for all kinds of people but you may notice that Haggai, who may be called the "nagging prophet," has but two chapters; while there are fourteen chapters in Zechariah of very reassuring and reasoned predictions which are meant to encourage the same goal that Haggai presses toward. That is, getting the leaders and the nation to put forth earnest efforts to complete the Temple whose foundations were laid, but not built upon, thirteen years previously.
After Haggai and Zechariah had combined their talents in moving the work forward, then the important point of view, that God now sees the work as having actually begun, is reached. The attitude of the nation is one of commitment to the point that now He can bless because they have set themselves in earnest to the work even though no stone of the new building has actually been laid. That point is marked as the twenty fourth day of the ninth month -- about one and one half months after Zechariah joined Haggai in the same message. (Hag. 2:10) In the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, (Hag. 2:15) And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the Temple of the Lord: (Hag. 2:18) Consider now from this day and upward, from the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's Temple was laid, consider it.
He says that physical blessings from God have been withheld from the laying of the foundation thirteen years previously until this day, the twenty fourth of the ninth month, when now He will begin his blessing. The promise is they will see the difference in their physical well being.
(Hag. 2:19) Is the seed yet in the barn? [No! not yet] yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, have not brought forth: [But] from this day will I bless you.
Then the rest of Haggai's visions are given on this day.
Zechariah begins the major portions of his prophetic visions that relate to the rebuilding of the second Temple two months later.
(Zec. 1:7) Upon the twenty fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet.
The building had begun in earnest but these were still very discouraging times. The political situation has been described already. The poor moral situation in the "yishuv" has been hinted at; it was more than pathetic; and the need for national repentance is a part of Zechariah's visions. He has a positive attitude and instead of chiding an unrepentant "yishuv" he gives some beautiful visions of the removal of besetting sins from the nation and further describes the blessings of the restored nation.
His next chronological note after chapter one shows the Temple partially complete -- enough so that it is called "the house of the LORD."
(Zec. 7:1) And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu.
This is two years after the beginning of the building in earnest. Visions from here on overlap with visions of Messianic times. It is the primary purpose of Zechariah to reveal visions which relate to the immediate rebuilding of the Temple and the blessings which will accompany the period following. Zechariah is dealing with eternity, and when he is allowed to delve into the future the rest of the prophecies reach into things not part of the immediate goal. He gives prophecies of Tyre and Egypt that can only be fulfilled in Alexander the Great more than 200 years after his time. The prophecies of secular events are completely unexpected.
Then the most extraordinary Messianic prophecies are found intermingled with other prophetic notes that do not at first seem related. The Messianic prophecies are gripping in their unambiguous straightforwardness. He is to enter Jerusalem as King riding on a male colt of an ass. He is sold for thirty pieces of silver. The money ends up in the purse of a potter after being cast down in the Temple! God's covenant is broken in that same day. He is to be pierced. His hands are wounded in the house of his friends. He is a shepherd but is smitten and the sheep are scattered. They will mourn as for a first born when he is pierced. They shall look on him whom they have pierced. A fountain for the cleansing for sin will be opened on account of him. All nations are to fight against Jerusalem and God will battle them and win. His feet shall stand on Mt. Olive and create a haven for those who flee for his protection. He shall be King over all the earth. He shall unite the Gentile and the Jew.
These clear views of the coming Messianic visit are intermingled in some of the most .mystical and difficult to explain contexts. When one views the purpose of Zechariah to predict his immediate future and compares the former visions with those at the end of the book a feeling of awe at the nature of eternity is experienced. Mystical is the right word.
Chapter VZechariah and Haggai as has been shown are contemporary prophets. They lived at the same time at the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. In fact, they were part of the return. Both are acknowledged as contributing to the climate which resulted in rebuilding the Temple after the work had stopped.
Zechariah: The Prophet of Better Days Ahead
(Ezr. 4:24) So [the work] ceased to the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezr. 5:1) Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel even to them. (Ezr. 5:2) Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
The time is made more specific in the prophetic books:
(Hag. 1:1) In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the High Priest,
(Zec. 1:1) In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord to Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet,
Zechariah and Haggai both prophesied primarily about the same event,--the rebuilding of the Temple whose foundations had been laid in the second year of the return from Babylonian exile in 536 B.C.E. Their prophecies were also projected toward the same people, Joshua and Zerubbabel, and were only two months apart.
The message is primarily the same: Zechariah says the disorder in the secular world which hindered the finishing of the Temple after the foundations were laid is now over. In fact, he says there is no disorder at all on a world scale or for the Jews, on the immediate horizon, although calamities far in the future are predicted. This is actually a very amazing prophecy. The disorder in the lives of the Jews had been going on more than seventy years. If the seventy years began with the first captivity by Nebuchadnezzar in 606, they ended in 536 with the decree of Cyrus to return. (2Chr. 36:22,23; Ezr. 1:1,2) If they began in 585 B.C.E. with the third siege of Nebuchadnezzar when the city and Solomon's Temple were razed to the ground, then the seventy years were just now over when Zechariah began his prophecy. It is possible that Zechariah viewed them that way since the city was still lying desolate. See this in:
(Zec. 1:12) Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these seventy years?
Thus, Zechariah speaks as though the seventy years have just ended or are near their completion. When he speaks of the fast that had been appointed for the seventy years there seems to be a question as to when the period ended if it indeed had done so. See this in:
(Zec. 7:5) Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast to me, even to me?
Zechariah prophesies an imminent period of world wide tranquility and of religious revival with holiness as a characteristic of the whole Jewish nation. He says that angels on horses have run over the whole earth and the result of their survey:
(Zec. 1:11) And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sits still, and is at rest.
The prophet uses more than one vision to show that evil is being rooted out of the nation and sent back to Babylon where it belongs! First he shows that Joshua, the High Priest, has received soiled clothes from the past but he is to be cleaned up, signifying the end of corruption in the office of High Priest and the beginning of a period of restored power and righteousness for the head of their religion:
(Zec. 3:3) Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. (Zec. 3:4) And he answered and spoke to those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And to him he said, Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with change of raiment.
The vision of the flying roll is a record of righteous judgments which divided the evil from the evildoers and separated the evil from the nation so it could be sent back to Babylon.
(Zec. 5:3) Then said he to me, This is the curse that goes forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that steals shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that swears shall be cut off as on that side according to it.
Then a symbol of a woman as personified evil is set in a basket and the evil is held in by a lead weight and borne away by two winged women with the wind in their wings. They carry the evil of the nation back to Babylon where it came from!
(Zec. 5:9) Then lifted I up my eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. (Zec. 5:10) Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Where do these bear the ephah? (Zec. 5:11) And he said to me, To build it a house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base.
Zechariah also says the seventy years are over and God will now comfort his people.
(Zec. 1:12) Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these seventy years? (Zec. 1:13) And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.
He then goes on to great and poetic descriptions of a long and prosperous period just dawning when Jerusalem will be a city of great population, too large to enclose in walls. Old people, men and women, will walk safely and children will play in the streets. This longed for restoration and revival actually happened!
To the Jews, in that moment, in the second year of Darius, the world was still a very disordered place even though Darius had ascended the throne.
If the record in Herodotus is accurate, then they had just lived through a very convulsive period with little prospect that it would not be repeated for generations to come. The overview of the period following the outline of events as recorded by Herodotus follows:
Cyrus took the city of Babylon and the Kingdom in 539 B.C.E. He decreed the return but his whole reign was a period of wars in spite of his grand scope and architectural achievements. Within five years he died in battle at the hand of a Scythian queen who dipped his severed head in blood as a token of her revenge. Cyrus' son Smerdis had previously been murdered by his brother Cambyses to insure his own accession to the throne. After Cyrus died Cambyses then returned from Egypt to assume the throne but he died on the way to Persia and left the empire in grand disarray. Into this gap an opportunistic slave thrust himself declaring he was Smerdis, son of Cyrus, and laid claim to the throne. The inept false Smerdis ruled for eight convulsive years and it is in this period that the Temple's construction was stopped, which we will show in the next few paragraphs.. Ezra records how the work had been begun and the foundations laid previously, in the reign of Cyrus.
(Ezr. 3:8) Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, [after the return] began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity to Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the Lord. (Ezr. 3:10) And when the builders laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, king of Israel.
Immediately the Palestinian leaders sent letters to the Persians to request a stop to the work. Cyrus, Cambyses, and false Smerdis received the letters of complaint. The latter two are called by the generic terms Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes in Ezra.
(Ezr. 4:5) [The Syrians] hired counsellors against [the Jews], to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezr. 4:6) And in the reign of Ahasuerus, [Cambyses] in the beginning of his reign, they wrote to him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezr. 4:7) And in the days of Artaxerxes [False Smerdis] Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes [False Smerdis] king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue. (Ezr. 4:13) Be it known now to the king, that, if this city be built, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so you shall damage the revenue of the kings.
Artaxerxes (false Smerdis) received the letter and made a search of the records and found that the city indeed had been troublesome in the past and thus sent the decree to stop the work. Smerdis' letter said:
(Ezr. 4:21) Give you now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not built, until another commandment shall be given from me. (Ezr. 4:23) Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' [False Smerdis] letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. (Ezr. 4:24) Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased to the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The second year of Darius is when Haggai and Zechariah prophesied that the disorder was henceforth over. That would not appear so to a contemporary. Darius with two other conspirators had raised a coup d'etat against Smerdis who was overthrown. In the time of Smerdis' rule a majority of the provinces had rebelled against the central authority set up by Cyrus. The first two years of Darius' reign was a time of reconquest and reorganization of the provinces from the Bosporus to India (which Herodotus called the most populous nation in the known world) and from the Caucasus to Ethiopia and Arabia. These events, as well as the sixty seven nations held in twenty provinces, are recorded by Herodotus.* The history of their reconquest was also inscribed on a mountainside near Ekbatana in Persia called Behistun Rock. This latter is the site of a huge inscription, written in Persian cuneiform script and in Greek which describes the reconquest and names the nations that were reconquered. It became the instrument for unlocking the ancient cuneiform languages when, in the 1840's, it was copied and deciphered by Sir Henry Rawlinson who hung in a bosun's chair on the cliff face 500 feet above the plain, hand copying the inscription on paper!
* Herodotus Book 3:91-93
Darius returned the Persian Empire to the orderliness envisioned by Cyrus, and in spite of the need for reconquest he ushered in a period of orderly dynastic exchange of power that reached to Alexander the Great in 325 B.C.E. For the Jews even Alexander's coming would be a good experience. Alexander absorbed Palestine into his empire by right of the conquest of Persia. When he visited Jerusalem he is said to have expressed surprise at seeing the High Priest whom he claimed he had seen in a vision assisting him and directing his progress.* At his command Jerusalem enjoyed freedom and tolerance until Antiochus Epiphanes decided to destroy Jewish culture and replace it with Hellenism in 165 B.C.E.
* Josephus Antiquities XI:8,5
Thus, the second year of Darius was the beginning of peace and freedom for Jerusalem, under foreign oversight, which was to last over three hundred years! Quite a prophet, this Zechariah, don't you think! How, without the guidance of the Almighty, could he foresee this complete break with the past and a prosperous future for religion and the nation, which indeed came to pass?
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