Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 1)

Zechariah was active from 520 to about 480 B.C.  He is mentioned along with Haggai in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14.  His post-exilic book is remarkable for its imagery[1] and for its sustained messianism.  This has caused some interpreters to despair at an interpretation, especially of its first and last thirds.[2]  His use of covenant terminology is confined to two enigmatic passages (Zech. 9:11; 11:10).  There are covenant intimations in the book (e.g. Zech. 6:15).  But it is apparent that in most everything he says the great biblical covenants are behind it.  The book opens with God’s overture to His people:

The Lord has been very angry with your fathers.  Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.’ – Zechariah 1:2-3

    The threefold repetition of “Lord of hosts” (i.e. God Almighty)[3] is noticeable.  The God of Israel is not off somewhere in the ether awaiting appeasement, like the pagan gods, as Zechariah 1:8-11 and 18-21 shows.  Rather God upholds the whole scheme of things, and He is Israel’s God, and through Israel He will reach out to the nations, just as He promised in His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:4-5; 18:18; 22:18).  So while a note of divine superintendence over Israel is emphasized by the prophet (e.g. Zech. 2:1-5, 8; 3:2; 8:1-8; 9:16-17; 10:6-8; 12:7-9; 14:8-11), yet the nations, whom the Lord is angry with (Zech. 1:15, 21), will finally be saved:

The book of Zechariah also addresses the nations, merging them into the future picture in much the same fashion as the preexilic prophets did.  Thus the prophet pronounces judgment on the nations due to their sin and rebellion, but he proclaims hope for their conversion as well.  The nations are included in his vision of the ultimate restoration in which all of Yahweh’s people come to worship him (Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; 14:16-19).[4]

    Moreover, the salvation of the world is consciously linked to Israel in its covenant role as “witnesses” (Isa. 43:10-12), or “priests” to the other nations (Exod. 19:6; cf. Zech. 8:20-23).[5]  The same phenomenon is found in the promise to the nations in Zechariah 2:10-13 (cf. Isa. 49:6; 62:1-2).  The “good and comforting words” (Zech. 1:13) that were spoken to Zechariah after he had asked whether God would again bless Israel after the exile provide a kind of heading for the main thrust of the book.[6]  God’s presence will take center stage (Zech. 1:16-17; 2:5, 10; 6:12-13; 8:3, 20-23; 14:9, 16-17).  There is also a nascent proto-trinitarianism within the book; God, the Branch, and the Spirit all being conspicuous within its pages.

The person of the Branch (tsemach) is found in chapter 3 and chapter 6.  The Angel of the Lord predicts the coming of the Branch, whom He calls “My Servant” in Isaianic fashion (cf. Isa. 42:1ff.; 49:3-8).  There is not much added to the promise of the Branch in Zechariah 3:8, but we ought to note the underlying New covenant meaning of the following verses:

I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.  In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, `Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’ – Zechariah 3:9b-10

    The promise of the sudden removal of sin from the land of Israel (cf. Isa. 66:8) would have warmed the hearts of the post-exilic community, reminding them that someday the covenant God would be true to His prophetic word.

The Land-Promise Still Very Much in Force

The land itself is not a “shadow,” of something else.  This is contrary to those who would dogmatically point to passages like 1 Kings 4:25[7] to try to prove that the fulfillment of the land promise was all in the past.  Any such land-promise in the prophets is not just a type of another reality.[8]  One can scarcely get that from reading Zechariah.[9]  For instance,

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD.

 “Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

 “And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. – Zechariah 2:10-12

    Yahweh calls the actual land of Israel His “inheritance” and “the Holy Land” in this wonderful passage.  The land will be holy because God Himself will dwell there!  Therefore, just as the ground before Moses was “holy” because of God’s presence (Exod. 3:1-5), so in the coming age, the age of divine government, the whole land of Israel will be holy.

Moreover, God’s people will be extended to include “many nations” (Zech. 2:11).  Not that these foreigners will be reckoned as Israel, but that they will be saved, just as the Abrahamic covenant foretold (Gen. 12:3c).  In words which echo Micah 4:4, and the time of tranquility we have often noted, Zechariah predicts a time when “everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zech. 3:10).  This word of comfort, coming as it does in a scene where Satan is seen accusing the high priest Joshua before God (Zech. 3:1), is very significant.  The Enemy is told in no uncertain terms that “Yahweh has chosen Jerusalem” (Zech. 3:2).  God’s grace cleanses Joshua, and it will restore Israel in the end.  The city and the land were in the hearts of God’s prophets (e.g. Mic. 7:14-20; Dan. 9:1-19), and they trusted that God would finally fulfill all the covenants He had promised.  Zechariah chapters 8 – 14 must be read against this backdrop of covenant expectation.

The verses directly above this one speak of the Branch (Zech. 3:8), which of course carries a kingly connotation, and an inscribed “stone” (Zech. 3:9), which some think alludes to the priesthood.[10]  Although the promise of remission “in one day” (cf. Isa. 66:8) which accompanies the stone is not just for the priesthood, but for the whole land of Israel (Zech. 3:9b).  I have already said that the image of the Branch also occurs in Zechariah 6, where, not coincidentally, it is seen in conjunction with the high priest Joshua.  That chapter begins with a vision of “the four spirits of heaven” (Zech. 6:5), who perform supervisory roles over the earth (Zech. 6:6-8 cf. Dan. 4:17).  Whatever significance they have, the fact that they are revealed demonstrates God’s “hands-on” approach to ruling.  This connection of the spiritual and the physical creation is vital to a biblical creational worldview.  Man is privileged to occupy both realms.  The Creation Project is very much in view in Zechariah.

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[1] The many strange visions, particularly in the first half of the book, might seem to shroud the prophet’s message in mystery.  But most of the time the images, the horses (Zech. 1:8), the horns and craftsmen (Zech. 1:18-21), the lampstand and olive trees (Zech. 4:2-3), and the horses and chariots (Zech. 6:1-3), are at least partially explained in the context.  Even the weird vision of the flying scroll and the woman in the basket (Zech. 5:1-11) is for the most part, discernible.  Hence, those who stress the “apocalyptic” content of the visions can err if they fail to pay at least as much attention to the interpretations of them given in the context.  It is the revealed interpretations which we should be more concerned about than the supposed genre employed.

[2] See e.g. Al Wolters, “Zechariah, Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, eds, Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, 890.

[3] This is a better way to understand the name rather than the more literal “Lord of powers” or “armies.”  See Walther Eichrodt’s discussion in Theology of the Old Testament I.192-194.

[4] C. Marvin Pate, J. Scott Duvall, et al, The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 101.

[5] See Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 243; Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus, 460.  In Ezekiel 5:5 Jerusalem is said to be “set in the midst of the nations”.  This would make it a bright testimony indeed if it was truly “the City of Truth” (Zech. 8:3).

[6] E.g. “He who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8).

[7] O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 13-14.

[8] This is how O. Palmer Robertson ends his book, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 300

[9] Of course, those who insist upon reading the Prophets typologically do not collect their understanding from them either.  Their typology is drafted from their method of reading their interpretation of the New Testament back into the Old Testament.

[10] George L. Klein, Zechariah (Nashville: B & H, 2008), 151.

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