Thoughts on Zechariah

I’m basically dumping this here because I need to write some of this out. I figured other people may well be interested. So here goes nothing …

Let’s start with structure. It’s been generally noted that the vibe of 1-8 is significantly different to the vibe of 9-14. 1-8 contains date references and the concerns represented there match the historic era it points to. 9-14, however, has no overt date references, and gets all apocalyptic in 12-14. The concerns seem to move to the eschatological future, rather than being anchored to any specific present.
There are some dissenters. Webb makes the split 1-6 and 7-14, on the basis that 7-8 is an introduction to 9-14. This is based on the similarity of theme between this and 1:1-6. I, however, think that 7-8 works better as the closing half of an inclusio formed with 1:1-6. Meredith Klein (who is male) has a more complex version of Webb’s break-up. He regards 6:9-15 as a hinge between these two major sections, which are each hinged at chp 3 and 11:1-17 respectively. However, in his analysis, he conflates chapter 5 into one vision, and the evidence that he adduces can also be deployed for other structures. That is, the night visions are already regarded as having a chiastic structure, and there’s Lamarche’s chiastic structure of 9-14 which Baldwin follows. Also, I find that Klein’s treatment of the night visions is flawed – he seems to ‘go to Jesus’ far too soon, and makes some claims which I don’t think are there in the text, e.g. that the gully in the first vision episode is actually representative of the chaotic depths.

Yet, even so, are there literary and theological connections between the two? Most commentaries split the two into separate works. Earlier commentaries thought that 9-14 may have been from the Hellenistic period because of mentions of Greece. However, these days, most are happy with dating it to the Persian era.
My view is that 1:1-6 introduces the basic problem that pervades the book. The problem is that people need to repent in order for God to return to them. This is both a moral concern and a physical concern vis-a-vis the temple. The whole ‘shuv’ theme references Deut 30, wherein, if the people repent, then God will return them. But haven’t they returned already? Well, yes, in the physical sense. But they are hardly as prosperous as they were before. They are a backwater section of a province, with little military value (armies don’t need to go through Jerusalem. If you’re taking chariots or horses, as most self-respecting conquering armies would, you’d stick to the coastal plain rather than go into the hills. You’d only go there if you really had to.) and whose main product is agricultural, meaning that you’re stuffed if it doesn’t rain. Yes, they have returned to the land, but is God with them? No. Part of the concern in Haggai is that their misfortune on the agricultural front is because they haven’t rebuilt the temple. But that blessing will return if they build his house. Zechariah’s opening oracle, about a month before Haggai’s last, has a similar bent, but also asks the question of moral repentance. If God is to be with this people, the people must be ready to receive him in their hearts.

The night visions then present the promise of God to be with his people. A problem has arisen, most likely, as suggested by George, that Zerubbabel has been taken out of the picture, albeit temporarily. This problem has raised the issue of temple completion, for temple building is a royal prerogative, and if Zerubbabel, Davidic descendant and next best thing to king, isn’t there, well, flip – there goes that plan. The night visions tell the people that God is with them, that they should still rebuild. But they also deal with the problem of the people. We see this especially in the Joshua vision (chp 3), the flying scroll and the ephah with a woman in it (chp 5). In chapter 3, despite the uncleanness of Joshua, he will be the one appointed by God to lead as high priest. The issue of the flying scroll is that if the presence of God is to be with this people, some people will be excluded and cut off, i.e. thieves and perjurers. The ephah tells of the necessary removal of idolatry to its own temple in Shinar, i.e. Babylon. The temple of Yahweh belongs in Jerusalem, and idolatry belongs in Babylon. Pick which one you want to be in. The rebuilding of the temple thus has consequences for what kind of people who live within its vicinity ought to be.

But, have they got the message?
Most people see chapters 7 and 8 as a response by curious people from Bethel about stopping fasting because the temple is nearly finished, which is responded to by a vaguely (or completely un)related answer that, one chapter later, finally ends up talking about true fasting. Well, yes, the temple is getting closer to completion. However, I see the context of the question as coming from a position of doubt. That is, Zechariah has said all these amazing things that will happen when the temple is rebuilt – why aren’t they happening? Should we keep fasting to bring God back?
The answer is two-fold. One, fasting is not repentance. Two, you need to listen to and trust in the word of Yahweh. Again, the prophet brings up the example of the forefathers not listening to the former prophets. You’d only say this if the audience was in serious danger of actually being like this, if not already actually being like the forefathers! The problem is that people aren’t listening. People aren’t believing, and so people aren’t repenting. That’s why you get the ridiculous number of ‘thus says Yahweh of Hosts’ in chapter 8. God has returned and will bring in the fortunes he promises.
But we know that this didn’t turn out in the Persian era (or later eras …) The prophet sees this, and knows that the promises of God are now and not yet. The rebuilt temple does signal the presence of God, but the coming prosperity of the kingdom of God remains in the future. And so he embarks on his second project, seeing that God will bring in his kingdom by himself, in spite of the rebelliousness of his people. Thus, he turns against the current conditions – the poor shepherding, as one example – and projects the work of God to bring in his kingdom by divine power alone. This includes the purification of his people, seen in chapter 13.

All in all, the book of Zechariah asks us to put our trust in Yahweh to bring his kingdom to consummation. It tells us to repent of trying to force God hand, or forcefully bring in the kingdom by human means. It tells us to wait for the action of God. Zechariah’s time was a kind of now-but-not-yet waiting situation. We too are in a now-but-not-yet, except, with Jesus, there is more now, but there is still not yet. We are still waiting, but we have seen more light then Zechariah did. We too must be penitent people. The moral demand of the kingdom of God remains the same. But we also know that the purification of the kingdom of God has been effected. It is there for those who put their trust in God. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. Repent, and be baptised, for the forgiveness of sins, so that the times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Repent and believe in the good news.

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