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Nehemiah records the fact that Zechariah was a priest (Nehemiah 12.1,16). He was contemporary with Haggai, but his ministry extended over a longer period, certainly until the fourth year of Darius II, 518 B.C., and possibly after that. There is no dating given to the final passages of the prophecy.

In comparison with Haggai, his prophecies are more colourful, filled with imagery and with references to the future. There are passages that speak directly of the Messiah, and others that describe, with a fair amount of detail, occurrences that will take place before and during the thousand years reign of our Lord in the glorious future of Israel.

Another characteristic of Zechariah is his acquaintance with and awareness of the heavenly messengers, the angels. "These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth" (Zechariah 1.10).

Zechariah spoke the word of the LORD, but it is significant that, to a struggling nation, painfully being reborn in the land which God had given them, surrounded by enemies, he usually refers to "the LORD of Hosts". The weak little nation, that seemed caught up in a turmoil of internal and external politics, was protected by forces greater than ever could be imagined, and was constantly the care of God. "For he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye" (2.8).

The promises that Israel received through this prophet were enough to quicken the pulses and lift the hearts of God's people to a point where nothing could dismay or daunt them, if they had taken and treasured them. All the promises of God are real and become part of our experience through faith. It is like the story of Martha. "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on Me shall never die.... Believest thou this?" (John 11.24-26). We are always content to believe that the promises will be fulfilled in somebody's experience, some day, but He addresses them to us, and now.

Zechariah had a series of visions. Of the first, he writes, "I saw in the night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him there were horses, red, sorrel and white" (1.8). Each vision is described cryptically, with little detail, but God takes great care to explain them fully. The first three are concerned with the future greatness of Israel, represented by the small community around Jerusalem, and God reveals to His prophet that the unseen messengers surround the people to protect them.

The visions of chapters three and four involve the two leaders of the people, Joshua and Zerubbabel. There must sometimes have been doubts in their minds about the validity of their leadership. Like all leaders they must have come under attack and criticism, and have felt the cold hand of despair when things seemed to be going wrong. Zechariah's word from the LORD is an assurance of their position in God's purposes and of His choice of them. It makes a great deal of difference, when we begin to doubt our judgement and to question our standing in the mists that Satan gathers round us, to hear the voice of God, "Is not this a brand plucked out the fire?" (3.2).

Zechariah does not direct his words against individual sins. He calls for a general repentance and a positive commitment to God's cause.

The first vision was of the man among the myrtle trees. It was a rendezvous for the LORD'S patrols which went to and fro in the earth. After nearly seventy years of sorrowful disruption, they were able to report that the earth was at rest. The punishment had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and wrecked the state, but Zechariah was very sure that God, committed to the salvation of Israel, had returned to His city and would restore it.

The second vision was four horns that represented those forces that destroyed Israel and Judah. God promised that those nations would be cast down.

The third vision was of the man who was going to measure Jerusalem. The people in the city were insecure and uncertain because the city had no wall around it. The LORD "will be unto her a wall of fire, and I will be the glory in the midst of her" (2.5).

The fourth and fifth visions are those already referred to, addressed to the leaders. The message to Joshua sees him standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan, his adversary, at his right hand. The complaint seems to be that Joshua was not fit to be there. The Lord ordered that the high priest should be clothed in suitable dress.

The fifth is the well-known vision of the lampstand and the olive trees. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts" (4.6). It is a vision that precedes the great New Testament revelation of the work of the Holy Spirit, and once again illustrates how God has chosen many different times and people to draw back the veil and reveal the reality of His presence and His manner of working in the world.

The sixth vision (5.1-4) was the flying scroll of judgement, a roll thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide, bringing a curse to thieves and to those who swear falsely in the LORD'S name.

The final two visions (5.5-11; 6.1-8) concern the removal of evil from the land, and the coming of rest to the north country, Babylonia.

After the visions came a series of practical instructions and exhortations. In chapter seven, the prophet answers questions regarding the continuation of the fast for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. God's answer is that the people should listen to the words that had been spoken by earlier prophets and ignored by their fathers. To fast or not to fast was no significant question because God's concern was with the lack of love and social justice. The lesson of history to the questioners was clear, and the result of disobedience was fresh in their experience in the distant streets of Babylon.

Chapters nine to fourteen contain a series of burdens or oracles. In chapter nine there is a clear prophecy of the fate of Tyre, fulfilled by the armies of Alexander the Great. In the middle of the chapter (vv.9,10) there is a short prophecy, appearing strangely in a largely unrelated context, that became reality on the day when Christ rode the colt into Jerusalem. It illustrates the ways of prophecy, where we cannot expect to discover the laws of sequence that we are accustomed to find in contemporary writing.

These later chapters appear to have been spoken at some time much later than the first years of Darius II. The spiritual leadership of the nation had declined dramatically. Again, in the allegory of the shepherds, we suddenly meet a prophecy that was remarkably fulfilled in the treachery of Judas, the deal of the thirty pieces of silver (11.12,13).

In chapter 13, there is a further reference to our Lord, that is quoted in the Gospels, where the prophet speaks of the smiting of the shepherd and the scattering of the sheep (vv.7,8).

The final chapter is a picture of the day of the LORD, a phrase which had, by this time, come to have a special meaning to God's people. The description contains some amazing facts, including the specific locations of a number of incidents and the details of a geographical upheaval that will change the face of the whole Middle East.

Zechariah closes with a beautiful picture of a society where everything exists for the LORD and all nations exist for His worship; a picture of a world centred around the house of the Lord God of Israel.