Zechariah’s Night Visions: Introduction

Setting of the Prophecy

The year was 520 B.C. Sixteen years prior, 49,897 exiles had returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua. The people promptly set about rebuilding the altar (Ezra 3), followed by the foundations of the temple (Ezra 5), but, as is often the case in the work of God, it was soon hindered by enemies and hardship. The work ceased and had lain dormant ever since. This was a time of despondency, disillusionment and disappointment. Where was God? Where was His blessing? What about the fulfilment of His promise of a glorious restoration after the exile? After all, the prophet Isaiah had said, “The redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (51:11).[1] This is the setting against which the two contemporary and complementary prophets of Haggai and Zechariah ministered. While Haggai emphasised the temple, and Zechariah the city (of Jerusalem) and throne, both called God’s people to spiritual repentance, with the ultimate purpose of resuming the physical rebuilding of the temple.

Significance of the Prophecy

Zechariah is the longest of the minor prophets at 211 verses. There are over 70 allusions to Zechariah in the New Testament, with over 30 of these found in Revelation. It is not surprising, therefore, that a repeated theme of the prophecy is the coming of Jehovah in the person of Messiah (cf. 14:1-4). Such a high note could only serve to encourage the people to view their present trials in the glorious light of the future. Moreover, it would remind them that God is true to His promises. The temple (and Jerusalem) would be rebuilt, and the glory of God would return! Indeed, Joshua and Zerubbabel were but foreshadows of a greater Priest-King who would yet sit on David’s throne (6:13). Had Zechariah convened a meeting for the full reading of his prophecy, and had it been written, the following words from J.G. Small’s hymn “I’ve Found a Friend” would have been most suitable to close the gathering:

“The eternal glories gleam afar to nerve my faint endeavour: So now to watch! To work! To war! And then to rest for ever!”

Structure of the Prophecy

The prophecy divides neatly into three parts, with two great prophetic panels at the beginning (chs. 1-6) and end (chs. 9-14), and one practical panel in the centre (chs. 7-8).

Zechariah 1-6 concerns the restoration of the glory of God. “For thus saith Jehovah of hosts: After the glory, hath he sent me unto the nations that made you a spoil” (2:8 JND). It is quite possible that “me” refers to Messiah, the sent one of God. It is Christ who came to pursue, restore, display and magnify the glory of God. It is this section that contains the eight night visions with which these articles are concerned, each showing how God will accomplish His purpose in this regard. At the end of the section, Joshua the High Priest is crowned – a picture of the coming King-Priest who, clothed in the splendour of deity, will ultimately “bear the glory” (6:13).

Zechariah 7-8 contains a restatement of the grace of God toward Israel in the past, present and future. The call is to live appropriately in the light of such grace – they must love truth and peace (8:16-19).

Finally, Zechariah 9-14 describes the universal reestablishment of God’s government. Man has rebelled against and challenged the authority and rule of God. But the Lord will destroy every foe and be King over all the earth (14:9).

In short, Zechariah 1-6 contains eight visions and concerns Israel’s foes. Zechariah 7-8 contains four messages and concerns Israel’s fasts. Zechariah 9-14 contains two oracles and concerns Israel’s future.

A Call to Repentance

Whilst the first six chapters close with the crowning of Joshua (6:9-15), they begin with a call to repentance (1:1-6). God desires to bless His people, but they must be in a fit spiritual state to enjoy it! Jehovah was “sore displeased,” or “angry, angry,” with their fathers (v2). They had displeased God by disobedience manifested in idolatry and hypocrisy – basically defined as worship divorced from any serious commitment to obeying God in everyday life. Such statements should make us all feel a little uncomfortable! But the people of God did not listen, and thus were disciplined through captivity (v4). “But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (2Ch 36:16).

Ironically, they did repent in captivity, recognising it was just reward for their sin (v6). But by this time, it was too late. Now, in the present, their descendants were faced with a similar choice. Would they repent? “Turn ye unto me” is the heartfelt plea of Jehovah (v3). Positionally, they were in the land; practically, they had begun rebuilding; but spiritually, they were not right. Any labour or service was therefore futile. They had turned from Godward to selfward devotion, seeking the best life for themselves and prioritising the material over the spiritual. No wonder Haggai cries, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways” (1:4-5).

A personal return to God, not the Law, was required. External order and correctness is good, but it must be accompanied by reciprocal inward devotion of heart and personal purity to the Lord Himself. We are all so prone to drift from our proper devotion to God. Are there things in our lives that need to be set aside? Have we chosen the wrong priorities? James sounds a similar note of warning seasoned with hope for the repentant, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (4:8). Clearly the call to repentance was heeded and had its desired spiritual effect, resulting in renewed physical vigour in the rebuilding of the temple, which was finished only four years later in 516 B.C.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.