Uggh. O.k. Straight up: Zechariah is the most difficult Bible book review I’ve had to write thus far, and we’re nearly done with the Old Testament. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written any reviews, and that is probably partly playing into this, but I swear to you this is the worst. And why is that? Zechariah is one of those books that is weird for the first half and then goes completely off the rails in the second half. And when I say off the rails, I mean really just … I’ve been banging my head against a wall trying to make heads or tails of it for weeks now. I’ve never in the entire time I’ve been reviewing the Bible had to split a review into 2 posts before. But I did it this time because if I kept this as one post, it was going to be pushing 7,000 words. Part 1 is here if you haven’t read it, and it covers all Zechariah’s visions from chapters 1-8.
From what I’m reading, it looks like Zechariah may have at least a couple different authors, with chapters 9-14 having possibly been written a century after chapters 1-8. As mentioned above, I covered chapters 1-8 in part 1, and that was the easy(ish) part. I’m now at chapters 9-14, and this is the point where it goes off its rocker. I’m doing a lot of re-reading and googling and re-reading and more googling. Knowing that these last 5 chapters were written nearly a century later and possibly by someone else explains why they seem so disconnected.
To make things extra confusing, there is zero timeframe given to anything that’s happening in these chapters, so we are left to just guess the context of all of this . It seems that this section of the book consists of two oracles. The term “oracle” is not used in the King James or NIV versions, but there apparently is a word used in the original Hebrew version that indicates the term “oracle”. The NIV version uses the phrase, “A prophecy: The word of the Lord …” to start each oracle, and the oracles begin at the start of chapters 9 and 12 respectively.
Oracle #1: Chapters 9-11
9:1 A prophecy: The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrak and will come to rest on Damascus— for the eyes of all people and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord – 9:2 and on Hamath too, which borders on it, and on Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful.
The first part of this oracle goes on to name many more of Israel’s enemies that God is gonna go apeshit on:
- Tyre: God is gonna take all your possessions and destroy you with fire.
- Ashkelon: You’re gonna see what happened to Tyre & shake in your boots.
- Gaza: You’re gonna writhe in agony and lose your king.
- Ekron: You’re gonna write in agony and be deserted.
- Ashdod: A “mongrel” people will occupy you.
- Philistines: God is gonna put an end to your pride. He’s also gonna take the blood from your mouths, the forbidden food from between your teeth. Those of you who are left will belong to god and become a clan in Judah.
God ends this section with a promise that he will never again let an oppressor overrun his people.
Next, we have what might be one of the most important parts of Zechariah if you’re looking at it from the perspective of Christianity and the New Testament. Here’s what it says:
9:9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 9:10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Ahh, hmmm … your king comes to you … lowly and riding on a donkey … Jesus? Can you hear me? But not so fast, as the rest of this passage isn’t all that clear. “His rule will extend sea to sea…” O.k. The problem with all of these possibly-Jesusy verses in the OT is that the person described always ends up sounding more like an actual king or a military leader.
9:11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. 9:12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. 9:13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword.
O.k. now this is just back to God talking about how he’s gonna restore glory to his people. Not much to see here. The rest of chapter 9 is The Lord saying he’ll appear and help his people thrive and kick ass and the usual stuff. The following verse will be an important reference when we get into chapters 10 and 11 though: “9:16 The Lord their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock.”
Chapter 10 is mostly boring and just talks about how the Lord will care for Judah. But once again, we’ve got some shepherd references: “10:2 The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. 10:3 ‘My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.'” O.k. so we’ve got a comparison here of bad “shepherds”, which represent bad leaders, vs. God who is the good shepherd for his people and will take over for the bad shepherds (leaders).
Chapter 11 then goes full-on into the shepherd theme, and I should point out that this shepherd theme is one of the reasons these chapters are so confusing. Let me start by breaking this down in the most basic possible way, stripping out as much of the weirdness and extra bells and whistles as possible: Chapter 11 starts off talking about the bad shepherds who were leading God’s people astray. It then describes how God finally got exasperated and stopped having pity on his people, deciding to “give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.”
Then it gets a lot more weird: Something bizarre happens where Zechariah himself tries to take over as the people’s shepherd? He takes two shepherd’s staffs, and names one Favor, and the other Union. More on what those names mean in the next paragraph. But eventually Zechy gives up on the people too: “The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them 11:9 and said, ‘I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.'” O.k. yum.
Zechy then takes Favor and breaks it, which symbolizes revoking the covenant he (or wait … God) had with all the nations. Uggh this is worded so confusingly. This website explains it well and their interpretation seems reasonable enough to me: The “covenant” is the Mosaic covenant, named after Moses. Remember him? Remember way back in the first few books of the Bible when God forms a covenant with his people, the Israelites? Yeah, that one. That covenant is what Favor represents. And now it’s done been broke.
Zechy then breaks Union, which symbolizes the fracturing of the family bond between Judah and Israel. OH! There’s a reference we know of! But does this mean this is actually happening during the timeframe of this story? Nah, the timing doesn’t make sense on that. I think it must be just referencing the fracture that happened way back in 1st Kings. It seems that all of this shepherd talk is looking back on that history, of why God fractured his people in two and then let them get defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and thrown into exile. “11:15 Then the Lord said to me, ‘Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 11:16 For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hooves.'” UGGH, what!? Who?? Just, you lost me here Zech. I’m lost again.
11:17 “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!”
Well that’s … specific. That’s how chapter 11 (and this entire oracle) ends. So, in summary: Oracle #1 involves God telling a bunch of nations he’s gonna kick their asses, God mentioning a future messiah who might be Jesus or a future king or a future military leader or like literally anyone else, God telling his people that he’ll take care of them, God getting angry at bad shepherds (a.k.a. bad leaders), and God giving up on his people (which I think at least partially refers to when he let them get taken over and thrown into exile in Babylon etc.).
And to give a little more info on why the shepherd analogy is so confusing, it’s in large part because Zechy refers to 3 different types of shepherds here, switching back and forth between these 3 types of shepherds with no warning or clarity most of the time:
- Literal shepherds, with real sheep, whose verses I didn’t even bother quoting here because I had too much else to talk about
- Bad leaders
- God, the good shepherd
If you know this going into it, it’s a bit easier to figure out what’s going on if you read super carefully. If not, your head will be spinning by the end of it.
Oracle #2: Chapters 12-14
12:1 A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: 12:2 “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 12:3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. 12:4 On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the Lord. “I will keep a watchful eye over Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. 12:5 Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God.’
The first part of chapter 12 goes on like this, with the Lord just talking about how he’ll protect Judah and Jerusalem and kick everyone else’s asses who try to mess with them. But then it goes into this weird-ass thing:
12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 12:11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12:12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, [etc.].
What?? The “one they pierced”? What the heck does this mean? Is this another one of those possible Jesus prophecies? The internet tells me it is indeed referenced again in John, in the New Testament, so I will keep an eye out for that when I get there.
Hmm. Chapter 13 then opens with, “13:1 On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” Weird. Still sounds Jesusy. This chapter then talks about how God will banish false idols and false prophets from the land. Or maybe just all the prophets, period. It says that if anyone still prophecies, then “their father and mother, to whom they were born, will say to them, ‘You must die, because you have told lies in the Lord’s name.’ Then their own parents will stab the one who prophesies.” O.k. then. Don’t try to pretend to be a prophet, son, or your mom and dad will stab you to death. You’ve been warned.
The last few verses of chapter 13 go back to the shepherd theme again, but this time God just goes straight to killing them. “13:7 ‘Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.'” WTF! The little what? The little sheep? Or the little kids? God then says that 2/3rds of everyone in the land will be struck down and perish, and 1/3 will survive. But this third he will “put into the fire” and “refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.'” Honestly, I really have no idea what this is referring to and the internet isn’t helping me that much either. I mean I get what God is saying he’s going to do, which is to basically put that final third of people into some sort of bootcamp of devotion to The Lord, but I don’t know when or where this is happening.
And then, finally, we get to chapter 14. It talks about Jerusalem being attacked, and, well, it’s very specific without being specific at all about when this happens or who they are being attacked by:
14:1 A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls. 14:2 I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. 14:3 Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.
This chapter then goes into some specifics about location, saying that while God fights against those nations, his feet will “stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.” The people will flee by God’s mountain valley, which will extend to Azel. It then compares the fleeing to that of when there was a great earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. So I guess at least we know that at least this happens after that timeframe! But of course it does, that was a long time ago. Not very helpful. “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” Wikipedia tells us that the Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge east of and adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City.
Then shit’s gonna get real weird. On that day, there will be no sun, but there won’t be “cold frosty” darkness either. This day will be unique, known only to The Lord, and there will be no distinction between day or night. But then when evening comes, there will be light instead of darkness. “14:8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. 14:9 The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” Yeah I mean, that is pretty much God’s standard happy ending.
It then says that Jerusalem will never again be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure. Wellll … I mean … how’s that working out for you, God? I wouldn’t exactly call it smooth sailing from whatever point in history this is referring to up till now. O.k., check this out though, because this is where Zechariah gets suuuper crazy. This is how God is going to get vengeance on all the nations who have attacked Jerusalem:
14:12 This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 14:13 On that day people will be stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another. 14:14 Judah too will fight at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected—great quantities of gold and silver and clothing. 14:15 A similar plague will strike the horses and mules, the camels and donkeys, and all the animals in those camps.
Really, God?? Even the animals!? I mean seriously. Why you gotta be like that!? Overkill: LIT’rally. O.k. so once God strikes down the people in the enemy nations with plague that rots them inside out while they are standing, the survivors in those lands will “go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.” I suppose they’ll want to, to avoid having their tongues rot inside their mouths and their eyes rot in their sockets. But guess what happens if they don’t? Well, then they’re gonna have no rain. And of course they’re gonna get that rotting plague too. Because, obviously. God specifically calls out Egypt by name here too btw, and then just says “plus all the other nations.” Watch your back, Egypt. I mean we know God has never liked you, so hopefully you’ve been watching your back this entire time. Keep that up. And sleep with one eye open.
Here is how Zechariah ends:
14:20 On that day holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. 14:21 Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty.
Uhhh. Canaanites? I’ve got some bad news for you. Also, this paragraph seems pretty true to real life when it comes to The Lord’s name being inscribed on everything. Pots, bowls, horse bells. Toast. Welcome mats. Truck windows. I mean they’re a little more geared towards Jesus these days, but we’re gonna get there very soon. Just one short book left of the Old Testament.
The second half of Zechariah may give us nearly zero setting to its prophecies, leading us to be confused as to what exactly they refer to, but the internet has given some good historical context. Remember, the first half of Zechy was very clear about the setting: It was during the reign of King Darius, in the 500’s BC, while Jerusalem was being rebuilt after the Jews’ exile in Babylon. And remember that the second half of Zechy was likely written nearly a century later. So this historical info is helpful to understanding where the writer(s) of these chapters may be coming from:
“Yet, it was now clear in this century after the rebuilding of the Temple and the repatriation of many of the exiles, that Judah would not soon regain political autonomy and a Davidic king. So the various poems, narratives, oracles, and parables of Second Zechariah maintain the hope of previous prophets by depicting a glorious eschatological restoration. At that time all nations will recognize Jerusalem’s centrality and acknowledge God’s universal sovereignty.”
So it sounds like even after Jerusalem was rebuilt, things did not exactly go how Team God had planned/hoped. So the second half of Zechariah seems to be them still holding out hope for things to come together eventually.
I’m not gonna bother with a Good Stuff and Bad Stuff section for this book because I’ve already laid out everything in detail. I will just mention one other observation, which is of the repeated use of the phrase, “On that day, ___” in the second half of Zechariah. It sounds very melodramatic. e.g.:
- 9:16 The Lord their God will save his people on that day …
- 12:3 “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock …”
- 12:4 “On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness…”
- 12:6“ On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile”
- 12:9 “On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.”
- 14:13 “On that day people will be stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another …”
- 11:11 It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.
- 13:23 Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar on that day, I can tell you!
O.k. It’s possible that one of those lines was not actually from Zechariah. I’ll let you figure out which one. But honestly while reading these chapters, this is all I could think of. I read every one of these verses in Louis Tully’s voice. I think he says “that day” and not “on that day” in the movie, but it’s close enough, damnit.
Anywho. Finally I have gotten through Zechariah. I’m very proud of myself, and relieved that Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, is only 4 chapters long. WOOT!! I’m so close I can taste it. Whatever the New Testament tastes like.
I gave Haggai, which tells the same story as the first half of Zechariah, a 4/10. The book was a little boring, but at least there wasn’t much in the way of violence. Zechariah wins extra points on flare and sheer wackiness, but it loses points on coherence and God violently murdering people again. Given all that, 2.5 might actually be too high. But I guess I’ll let it stand for now because I’m sick of this book and I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’m not ruling out the possibility of changing my mind later. Onto Malachi!