O.k., well, this is not what I was expecting. First off, Hi. It’s been over a year since my last Bible book review. In case you were sitting there waiting and wondering where I’ve been, as I’m sure so much of my imaginary loyal readership has, I’ve been around. Just busy with obnoxious stuff. Well, one of the things keeping me busy was good, which was that I got a new job. Yay! The other stuff was bad. Other than the new job I got, which I am genuinely happy about, 2016 was a shitshow for everyone, right? It’s not just me? Right. O.k. let’s move on.
Remember Haggai, the most recent book/prophet before Zechariah, whose story starts on the first day of the 6th month of the 2nd year of the reign of King Darius of Persia? Guess when Zechariah’s story starts? In the 8th month of the 2nd year of King Darius of Persia. So, Zechariah was apparently around basically the exact same time Haggai was doing his thang, but I guess he just wasn’t cool enough for Haggai to bother mentioning in his book. Maybe they were rival prophets or something and Haggai was trying to freeze him out. Zechy doesn’t mention Haggai in his book either. “Haggai? Haggai who? Never met him. Never seen him. Don’t know him.” Alright then.
In my Haggai review I was super pumped that I finally had a book that wasn’t covering the exact same territory as all the previous books. I should’ve known that wouldn’t last. The upside, though, is that Zechariah is notably weirder than Haggai. Zechariah is like Haggai on acid. He’s also like Haggai with a bad case of ‘roid rage, though. Haggai was a notably non-violent book, while Zechariah is notably violent in its latter chapters. With some bizarre obsession areas. And some prophecies that many people interpret as being about Jesus. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. Let’s walk through it.
First, let’s just give ourselves a reminder on the setting. It’s 520 BC, the Jews are in exile in Babylon after Jerusalem was defeated by the Babylonians back in 587 (remember my Succession of Kings table?). Cyrus the Great (of Persia) came in and defeated the Babylonians in 539, and was “moved by God” to make a proclamation that the Jewish exiles would be allowed to go home to Jerusalem, and he also promised to help them rebuild the Lord’s temple there. I just took most of that last sentence from my Haggai review, and I’m now realizing that I can literally just copy and paste the entire rest of that paragraph here:
“Ezra tells us that the initial attempt to rebuild the temple hit some snags with neighboring nations not being too thrilled about the whole thing. Actually, as I wrote in my Ezra review, it was far more than just a few snags – the neighbors caused issues with the rebuilding for a good number of years, through the entire reign of Cyrus and another couple kings after him, until the 2nd year of king Darius, which is exactly where
Haggai Zechariah starts [in 520 BC].” There, see? Maybe I can just copy and paste the rest of my entire Haggai review and just do a find & replace to change all the instances of “Haggai” to “Zechariah”? Unfortunately no. Because like I said before, Haggai’s a pretty straight forward dude and Zechariah is … not.
Zechariah does start mundanely enough with the first 6 verses of chapter 1 just being a preface – a rehash of why God punished the Jews by making King Nebuchadnezzar overtake Jerusalem (because they were dirty dirty sinners). We’ve gone through this part of the story many many times. Snoozy. But this is just the first 6 verses of chapter 1. It’s in the 7th verse of chapter 1 that we begin our acid trip.
The Acid Trip: Zechariah 1:7 – 6:8
Here’s where Zechy gets a little freaky and starts to have visions. 8 visions, to be exact. The visions start on the 24th day of the 11th month (the month of Shebat) of the 2nd year of King Darius. The Lord comes to Zechy that night and starts letting the visions fly. Let’s take a “trip” (pun intended) through them:
Vision 1: The Man Among the Myrtle Trees
1:8 During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
The man among the myrtle trees with the horses behind him, who I think is an angel, tells Zechy that the horses are “the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” The horses went through the earth and reported back that the earth is at rest and peace. The angel then asked God, “how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” The Lord replied, “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.” So then God is like, you know what? I’m over this. It’s time to give my people mercy and return them to Jerusalem and help them rebuild. “My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.” If you say so, God. I’m sure you won’t change your mind again.
Vision 2: Four Horns and Four Craftsmen
1:18 Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. 1:19 I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?” He answered me, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”
The craftsmen that you see fighting the horns with their tools (yes this is a strange sentence) have come to “terrify [the horns] and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.” O.k. cool. Thanks Craftsmen!
Vision 3: A Man With a Measuring Line
2:1 Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2:2 I asked, “Where are you going?” He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”
2:3 While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him 2:4 and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. 2:5 And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.'”
Then God is basically like, “Come on my children, come back from the land of the north back to Jerusalem, if anyone tries to attack you this time I will kick their asses! Many nations will join with me and I’ll live among you!” Last lines of chapter 2: “2:12 The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 2:13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
Vision 4: Clean Garments for the High Priest
3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 3:2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” 3:3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 3:4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” 3:5 Then I said, ‘”Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.
Note: Satan has only been mentioned a couple times in the Bible before now. It’s always a big deal to me when he shows up because it’s so rare. He has never been given any context or backstory and he’s not given any in this book either. All we know is that he’s always an asshole when he shows up.
Another note: You may recall Joshua from the book of Haggai. Haggai clearly explains that Joshua is the high priest and that Zerubbabel is the governor of Judah during this time. Zechariah seems to be using his hallucinations to tell the story of how Joshua gets anointed as the priest.
So anywho God then tells Josh the Priest (through the angel) that if he does his job well for The Lord and keeps his requirements then Josh will “govern [God’s] house and have charge of [God’s] courts, and [God] will give [Josh] a place among these standing here.” Verses 8 – 10 are wacko so I think I’m gonna have to just copy/paste: “3:8 ‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 3:9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.’ 3:10 ‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” O.k. Stone: check. 7 eyes on the stone: check. Inscription: check. Vine and fig tree: check. Thanks God.
Vision 5: The Gold Lampstand and The Two Olive Trees
4:1 Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. 4:2 He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. 4:3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
So Zechy asks the angel what the heck this candle stand and trees are all about, and the angel is like, “Oh do you not know what these are dude??” And Zechy is like no sir please tell me. And the angel is like, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel [who, as mentioned above, is introduced in Haggai as the governor of Judah]: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” 4:7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” O.k. then. The angel then tells Zechy that Zerubbabel will be in charge of rebuilding the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem. When he finishes it, that will be proof to Zechy that this angel he’s talking to now was sent from The Lord.
Then Zechy is like hmm o.k. but what are the two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand that pour out golden oil? Then again the angel is like “Oh wait so you don’t know what these are?” No angel, no. If I knew, would I be asking you? Why the need for condescension? Then the angel answers, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” So is that Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest? Maybe?
Vision 6: The Flying Scroll
5:1 I looked again, and there before me was a flying scroll. 5:2 [The angel] asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.”
“5:3 And he said to me, ‘This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. 5:4 The Lord Almighty declares, “I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.”‘” Err, yikes. O.k. Don’t be a thief or a liar. God will eff your shit up.
Vision 7: The Woman in a Basket
Finally, we get to my favorite vision, the woman in the basket. “5:5 Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, ‘Look up and see what is appearing.’
5:6 I asked, ‘What is it?’ He replied, ‘It is a basket.’ And he added, ‘This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.'” O.k., seems reasonable enough so far, right? Let’s continue. “5:7 Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! 5:8 He said, ‘This is wickedness,’ and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed its lead cover down on it.” WTF!
Right. Because this wouldn’t be The Bible if the evil weren’t represented by a woman. “5:9 Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth. 5:10 “Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me. 5:11 He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When the house is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.” This is just … o.k., let’s get a visual for this now:
I have no idea who the sexy man angel is in the flying saucer above them here to be honest; I’m just a big fan of this artistic interpretation of the story. And what the heck is the significance of building a house for the basket in Babylon?? Let’s see what Google tells us. Oh interesting, this breakdown of Zechy’s visions suggests that since Babylon is a place where the people don’t seem to follow God at all, it makes sense to banish God’s people’s wickedness there, because that’s where wickedness belongs. Seems about as logical as a woman in a basket representing evil being carried by two flying ladies can get.
Vision 8: Four Chariots
6:1 I looked up again, and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze. 6:2 The first chariot had red horses, the second black, 6:3 the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. 6:4 I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”
6:5 The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. 6:6 The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.” 6:7 When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. 6:8 Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”
Again, I just, I dunno. We’ve got the horses roaming the land again just like they did in the first vision. The same website I referenced earlier even seems a bit unclear on this one too, but suggests that the chariots/horses may represent God spreading his divine judgement throughout the land. Or something.
So now that all 8 of these visions have completed, God is now ready to crown Joshua, the high priest. Haggai told us that Joshua and Zerubbabel, as the priest and the governor, are the ones in charge of rebuilding the temple. I gotta admit I’m extremely relieved we had Haggai to tell this story in a coherent way before we got to Zechariah, because if I had to make heads or tails of this shit from Zechy alone I’d be screwed. Anyway so in this passage, the angel instructs Zechy on how to make a crown, and then he tells him to go find Joshua and crown him as the high priest and tell him to get to building that temple, stat. At least I think this is what is happening here.
From Fasting to Feasting: Chapters 7 & 8
In chapter 7, we then skip ahead to 2 years later, in the 4th year of King Darius. Chapters 7 and 8 are basically about whether the people should continue their mourning and fasting traditions, the answer to which of course involves yet another recap of everything that happened with that whole Babylon debacle. It then involves God telling Zechy what the future will look like now that God is going to bless them again in Jerusalem. It’s gonna involve stuff like, “… men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” The crops will grow bountifully, the heavens will drop their dew, it all sounds quite wonderful. Then God seems to answer the mourning/fasting question with “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.” So I guess this means that now the fasts will be for celebration rather than mourning, because everything will be awesome again.
God also says that people from other powerful nations will travel to Jerusalem to “seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.” Wow, so everyone else is gonna want to get in on the fun too. And in this amazing future time, “… ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” Oh o.k. wow, well, that sounds maybe a little bit aggressive, but I mean, sure. We can make this work.
The Oracles: Let’s Get Apocalyptic (Chapters 9-14)
For the first time in all my Bible reviews, I’ve had to split up one book review into 2 posts. Zechariah has been a real bear and I explain it more in part 2, here.