Zechariah 1:1-21 (1:1-2:4)

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The eighth Jewish month, Heshvan or Bul, corresponds to mid-October to mid-November. It was in this month during the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia or in 520 BCE and about two months after Haggai proclaimed his first recorded message as YHWH’s prophet that the “word of YHWH” came to Zechariah (Zacharias [LXX]). (Haggai 1:1) It appears that Iddo (Addo [LXX]), Zechariah’s grandfather, was more prominent than his father Berechiah (Barachias [LXX]), for Zechariah (in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14) is called the “son of Iddo.” This may be regarded as a confirmatory indication that Zechariah was the grandson of the priest Iddo listed among those who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylonian exile about 17 years earlier. If this identification is correct, Zechariah (as did the priest Jeremiah more than a century earlier) began his service as a prophet when comparatively young. (1:1)

The Hebrew word naví’ and the corresponding Greek noun prophétes for “prophet” identify Zechariah as a proclaimer of the “word of YHWH” or the messages divinely revealed to him. While the messages included revelations regarding future developments, the predictive aspect was not the main focus of the declarations of the prophets. (1:1)

YHWH’s great anger with the “fathers” or ancestors of the Israelites who had returned from Babylonian exile is emphasized with the verb qatsáph and the corresponding noun qétseph (“YHWH was angry with your fathers [with] anger”). The Septuagint ends the sentence with the words “great anger.” Instead of being exclusively devoted to him, the “fathers” or forefathers had repeatedly disregarded his commands and the words he directed to them through his prophets. By their unfaithful conduct they made themselves the objects of YHWH’s great wrath. (1:2; see the Notes section.)

So that his contemporaries would not likewise anger YHWH, Zechariah was to urge them to return to “YHWH of hosts” (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels in his service. As the context and the prophesying of Haggai reveal, the return included resuming temple rebuilding. Upon their returning to YHWH as persons fully devoted to the doing his will, he would return to them, blessing them and their labors. (1:3; see the Notes section.)

Through Zechariah, YHWH appealed to the people not to be like their disobedient ancestors. To these forefathers the former prophets had proclaimed YHWH’s word to return from their “evil ways” and their “evil deeds,” abandoning their wayward course and then living in harmony with his commands. They, however, did not listen and refused to pay attention to YHWH. (1:4; see the Notes section.)

Those to whom the words of YHWH were directed knew the answer to the rhetorical questions. “Your fathers — where [are] they? And the prophets — do they live to limitless time?” The disobedient forefathers had died and had experienced the punitive judgments the prophets had announced in advance. Although the prophets also died, the word of YHWH through them did not become a dead word or a message that would never be fulfilled. (1:5)

The next question YHWH conveyed through Zechariah required those hearing it to respond. “But my words and my statutes that I commanded my servants the prophets [to proclaim], did they not overtake your fathers?” Those who heard this question are said to have “returned,” which may mean that they returned to YHWH in a repentant manner respecting their own failure in having been fully devoted to the doing of his will and then humbly acknowledged the justice of his dealings with them. “YHWH of hosts” (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels in his service, had dealt with them according to their ways and their deeds. (1:6)

The Septuagint rendering includes an appeal to those who heard the word of YHWH. “But accept my words and my statutes, which I command through my spirit to my servants the prophets. Did they not overtake your fathers?” Those who were addressed knew that YHWH’s words and the revealed consequences for failing to heed his statutes, commands, or regulations did overtake their forefathers. They experienced the punitive judgments that had been made known to them in advance through the operation of God’s spirit upon the prophets. Therefore, the people had good reason to be responsive to YHWH’s words and statutes. (1:6)

About two months later in the second year of the reign of King Darius (519 BCE), Zechariah received another divine revelation. It was then the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh Jewish month Shebat (mid-January to mid-February) and so would correspond to a day in the first half of February. The “word of YHWH,” as in verse 1, is said to have come to “Zechariah [Zacharias (LXX)] the son of Berechiah [Barachias (LXX)] the son of Iddo [Addo (LXX)], the prophet.” As the next verse indicates, the message came to Zechariah in a vision, for he referred to what he saw. (1:7; see verse 1 for additional comments.)

It was night when the prophet Zechariah saw a “man” mounted on a red (probably reddish brown like the soil) horse. Among the “myrtle trees” (Myrtus communis, aromatic evergreen shrubs that may attain a height of about 15 feet [c. 4.5 meters]) growing near the location where he found himself, the prophet could both see and hear this man (verse 10). According to the Septuagint (Rahlfs’ printed text), the man was positioned between “the two shaded mountains.” Verse 11 identifies this one as the “angel of YHWH.” (1:8; see the Notes section.)

Behind the “man” or the “angel of YHWH,” there were horsemen and their mounts, with the horses being of a different color — red (probably reddish brown), sorrel (perhaps chestnut or light reddish brown), and white. The three colors suggest the presence of three horses, but the Septuagint describes horses with four different colors — red, dapple gray, piebald or spotted, and white. Based on the context, the riders and their horses had returned from a reconnaissance mission and represent angelic forces. (1:8)

Puzzled by what he saw, Zechariah asked the angel who served as his guide and interpreter, “What [are] these, my lord?” The angel who communicated with him responded, “I will show you what these are.” (1:9)

Then the “man” or the angel of YHWH who was positioned among the myrtle trees (between the mountains [LXX]) answered Zechariah’s question. YHWH had sent out the horses with their riders to move about on the earth. As their report in the next verse reveals, the riders had been commissioned to observe developments there. (1:10)

The riders answered the angel of YHWH who was still among the myrtle trees (mountains [LXX]), telling him that they had found “all the earth sitting [dwelling or settled] and quiet” or undisturbed. This suggests that comparative peace and stability then existed in the lands under Persian control, with the earlier time of unrest and rebellion having ended. (1:11)

In Jerusalem and the former territory of the kingdom of Judah, however, evidence of the devastation from the Babylonian military campaigns remained. Therefore, the “angel of YHWH” asked “YHWH of hosts” (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]) about “how long” he would continue to have no mercy “on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah” against which he had been indignant “these seventy years.” With the temple still not rebuilt and extensive devastation visible in Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, it appeared that YHWH of hosts, the God with hosts of angels in his service, had not mercifully turned his favorable attention to his people and their cities but was still angry with them. The words “these seventy years” suggest that this period of years was drawing to a close, whereas the expected restoration of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah and the rebuilding of the temple had not materialized. (1:12; see the Notes section.)

YHWH’s response (that of the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]) to the angel who spoke to Zechariah in the capacity of his guide and his interpreter proved to be “good, comforting words.” They were words that conveyed a favorable message regarding Jerusalem and the temple. (1:13)

The angel who served as Zechariah’s guide and interpreter told him to call out or proclaim the message that YHWH had revealed. That message was, “Thus says YHWH of hosts [the Lord Almighty (LXX)], I am jealous [with] great jealousy for Jerusalem and for Zion.” Often Zion and Jerusalem are used interchangeably as parallel expressions. In this case, however, Jerusalem appears to designate the city as a whole, whereas Zion seems to denote the temple site. As the city YHWH had chosen, Jerusalem needed to be in a condition that properly represented him. (2 Kings 23:27) Therefore, his great jealousy or zeal for Jerusalem assured that he would see to it that it would be restored as a thriving city and cease to be an object of reproach in a state of ruin. The temple was his representative place of dwelling, and so his jealousy or zeal for Zion meant that the temple would be rebuilt. (1:14)

With “great anger” YHWH was angry with the nations that had contributed to the ruinous condition of Jerusalem. These nations are described as then being “at ease” (as “co-attacking” [LXX]) or in a state of security. It may be that the nations who are described in this manner designate the surrounding nations that opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and could include the Persians, for the Persian monarch had officially banned the rebuilding of the city. (1:15; see Ezra 4:4-23.)

In expression of his anger against his unfaithful people, YHWH had permitted Jerusalem and the cities of Judah to be devastated and to remain in a state of ruin. He, though, was only angry to a limited extent — a “little.” His purpose was for Jerusalem and the temple to be rebuilt. The enemy nations, on the other hand, helped to bring about “evil,” calamity, or disaster. Their objective was to make sure that Jerusalem remained in a condition of permanent devastation. (Ezra 4:9-23) According to the Septuagint rendering, these nations had been guilty of “co-attacking for calamities.” They had joined in making an attack that was designed to keep Jerusalem in a state of ruin. (1:15)

“Therefore,” in keeping with his purpose, YHWH declared that he would “return to Jerusalem with mercies,” granting the city his favorable attention in expression of his compassion for his people. His “house” or temple would be rebuilt in the city. The “measuring line” would be “stretched out over Jerusalem.” This measuring would be required for the work of rebuilding walls, houses, and other structures in the city. That the city and the temple would not remain in ruins was a certainty, for YHWH of hosts (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels under his command, could and would unfailingly have the rebuilding accomplished. (1:16)

Zechariah was directed again to cry out or proclaim, “Thus says YHWH of hosts [the Lord Almighty (LXX)], My cities will again overflow with good [good things (LXX)], and YHWH will again feel sorry [have mercy (LXX)] for Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” The cities were in the land that YHWH had promised to give to the forefathers of the Israelites, and so they were his cities. These cities would overflow with “good” or “good things” upon being rebuilt and inhabited and then prospering. YHWH’s feeling sorry for, comforting, or showing mercy to Zion would be manifest in his having the city and temple rebuilt. He would again “choose Jerusalem” as the city of his representative place of dwelling, the site for his temple. (1:17; see the Notes section.)

Zechariah saw yet another vision. When he raised his eyes, he saw “four horns.” (1:18 [2:1])

Not knowing what the four horns represented, Zechariah asked the angel who had been communicating with him as his interpreter, “What [are] these?” The angel replied, “They [are] the horns that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” Military campaigns against Judah and Israel resulted in scattering or dispersing the defeated people as exiles or as captives sold into slavery. In the Septuagint, Jerusalem is not included. The four horns could represent Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, for all four powers had contributed to the devastation of the territory of Judah and Israel, as well as the city of Jerusalem (Egypt [1 Kings 14:25, 26; 2 Kings 23:29-35], Assyria [2 Kings 18:9-16], Babylon [2 Kings 24:10-16; 25:1-17], and Persia [Ezra 4:17-24]). Whereas Persia did not directly engage in scattering any of the people. The official ban on the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its enforcement doubtless caused those involved in the work to scatter or to leave the city. (Ezra 4:21-23) It appears more likely, however, that the “four horns” represent all the nations that participated in bringing ruin to Judah, Israel, and the city of Jerusalem, causing the people to be dispersed or scattered from their land. (1:19 [2:2])

Thereafter YHWH showed “four artificers” or craftsmen to Zechariah. As these “four artificers” cannot be linked to any four specific entities, this would lend weight to the explanation that the “four horns” represent all the enemy powers that fought against the Israelites. (1:20 [2:3])

Zechariah then asked what the four craftsmen “were coming to do.” The divine reply indicated that they would act against the horns that had scattered Judah to such an extent that no man raised his head. These artificers arrived to cause the horns to tremble, terrifying them, and they would then “cast down the horns” or powers of the nations that had “lifted up the horn” or power “against the land of Judah to scatter it.” The “horns of the nations” had come as attackers against the land and had caused the scattering of the Israelites as captives or as exiles. The four craftsmen, as representing the means YHWH would use against the enemy powers that had fought against his people, would smash those powers and thus bring an end to the humiliated state of his people and the desolate condition of their land and cities. (1:21 [2:4])

The Septuagint rendering indicates that the horns “scattered Judah and shattered Israel, and none of them raised the head.” The craftsmen came to “sharpen” the horns, the “four horns into their hands.” These “four horns” are then identified as the “nations that raised their horns against the land of the Lord to scatter it.” The reference to the sharpening of the horns suggests that the four horns or powers would come into the hands, or under the control, of the four craftsmen that would then, by sharpening them, transform them, thereby preventing them from using their power against the land of God’s people. (1:21 [2:4])


In verse 2, a Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr) preserves the last letter (he [H]) of the divine name (YHWH) in paleo-Hebrew script.

Of the three times the divine name (YHWH) appears in verse 3, the fragmentary text of a Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr) preserves the entire name for the second occurrence and the first three letters for the third occurrence. Instead of “Lord Almighty,” the scroll reading is, “YHWH of forces.”

The partially preserved text of verse 4 in a Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr) contains the first occurrence of the divine name (YHWH) in paleo-Hebrew script. Instead of the Greek word meaning “Almighty” (pantokrátor) found in the extant text of the Septuagint, this scroll reads “forces” (dynámeon [YHWH of forces]).

In verse 8 of the Greek text, the word “two” is missing in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. There is uncertainty about the Hebrew designation (metsulláh) for the location of the myrtle trees. One conjecture is that it refers to the bottom of a valley or a ravine in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The Septuagint translator appears to have understood the word to be related to tsel, meaning “shade” or “shadow.”

Extant evidence indicates that the period of 70 years mentioned in verse 12 may best be regarded as a round number. In his Against Apion (I, 20), the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, on the basis of the writings of Berosus (a Babylonian priest believed to have written his account in the third century BCE), listed the length of the reigns of the Chaldean monarchs — 43 years for Nebuchadnezzar, 2 years for Evil-Merodach (Amel-Marduk, Amil-Marduk, or Awil-Marduk), 4 years for Neriglissar (Nergal-sharezer), 9 months for Labashi-Marduk. After Labashi-Marduk was killed, Nabonidus began to rule. In the seventeenth year of the reign of Nabonidus, Cyrus the Persian with his forces came against Babylon.

In the next section (Against Apion, I, 21), Josephus indicated that a period of “fifty years” passed between the time Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and the second year of Cyrus when “its foundations were laid.” According to the biblical record, it was about ten years after Jehoiachin the king of Judah was taken into exile that the temple was destroyed. Then, in the thirty-seventh year of his exile, he received the favorable attention of Evil-merodach (Amel-Marduk). This was in the first year of Evil-merodach’s reign or about twenty-six years after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. At the time the temple was destroyed, about 25 years of Nebuchadnezzar’s forty-three year rule remained. Accordingly, the biblical account and the extant sources regarding the length of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and the start of Evil-merodach’s rule are in agreement. (2 Kings 24:11, 12; 25:8, 9, 27-30)

Ptolemy’s Canon (originating in the second century CE) and the Uruk King List (tablet IM 65066 from a time after 225 BCE) agree with Berosus in assigning two years to the reign of Evil-merodach (Amel-Marduk). The Uruk King List is not clear regarding the rule of Neriglissar, but Ptolemy’s Canon indicates it to have been four years. Two stelae inscribed with the expressions of the mother of Nabonidus likewise support Berosus in attributing a reign of four years to Neriglissar. Ptolemy’s Canon does not include the short reign of Labashi-Marduk, and the Uruk King List indicates that it lasted three months. In the Uruk King List, the reference to the reign of Nabonidus is incomplete, but Ptolemy’s Canon indicates it to have been 17 years. Accordingly, based on extant ancient sources, the time between the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and the second year of Persian King Cyrus is about 25 years (2 + 4 + less than 1 year [for Labashi-Marduk] +17 + 1). This also fits what Josephus wrote about the temple (Against Apion, I, 21). It lay in a “state of obscurity for fifty years” (about 25 years during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and another some 25 years until the second year of King Cyrus when the foundations of the temple were laid).

According to Ptolemy’s Canon, Cyrus reigned for 9 years and Cambyses for 8 years. Darius succeeded Cambyses as king, and this would place the second year of Darius about 67 years after the destruction of Jerusalem (about 50 years from the destruction of the temple until the second year of King Cyrus and about 17 years from his second year until the second year of the reign of Darius). A period of about 67 years would fit when 70 years is regarded as a round number.

In verse 17, the extant Septuagint text opens with the words, “And the angel who spoke with me said to me, Cry out, saying, …”