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Zechariah Part 2 - Oracles Concerning Hypocritical Fasting (7:1—8:23)

Hypocrisy of False Fasting

Chapters 7 and 8 of Zechariah lie between the night visions of chapters 1-6 and the self-designated oracles of chapters 9-14 (cf. hC*m^, massa, in 9:1; 12:1). The two chapters are bound by the common theme of fasting, a theme elaborated in both its negative (chap. 7) and positive (chap. 8) expressions by a series of pericopes form-critically defined as oracles, though not designated as such by the prophet himself.461 For a discussion of the form-critical character of chapters 7 and 8 and the relationship of this section to chapters 1-6 and chapters 9-14, see the Introduction to Zechariah, pp. 68-74.

    A. Introduction and Concern (7:1-3)


1In the fourth year of Darius the king, on the fourth (day) of the ninth month, Kislev, the Word of YHWH came to Zechariah. 2Now (the people of) Bethel had sent Sharezer and *Regem-Melech and their men to entreat the favor of YHWH 3by asking the priests of the house of YHWH of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep on the fifth month, separating myself as I have done over the years?”

Exegesis and Exposition

A most evident indication of the break between chapter 7 and what precedes it is the dating formula of v. 1. The previous visions had occurred in one night, the 24th of the eleventh month of the second year of Darius, that is, February 15, 519 B.C. (1:7). The date of this revelation is the fourth day of the ninth month in year four of Darius, or December 7, 518 B.C., about 22 months later.

It is fruitless to speculate about the impact of Zechariah’s visions, particularly his crowning and enthronement of Zerubbabel and Joshua which he presumably carried out in response to his charge of 6:9-15. The biblical record unfortunately is silent about such matters and, indeed, apart from the tantalizingly brief historical references here there is very little that can be known about the period at all. Neither Zerubbabel nor Joshua is mentioned again in Zechariah (though, of course, that does not mean that they had become inactive or even had died), even though Zechariah had been told that Zerubbabel would complete the Temple (6:12-13), a task accomplished on March 13, 514 B.C. (Ezra 6:16).462 Ezra says (3:14) that the Jews “went on successfully with the building under the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, and they completed the building.” While, as Williamson points out, this cannot prove anything about the tenure of these two prophets,463 it does provide some insight into the period from August 29, 520, until March 13, 515. Thereafter the record is completely silent until the coming of Ezra.464

That progress was well underway on the Temple by the date of this oracle is evident from the delegation that came to Jerusalem to inquire of the Lord through the priests and prophets, the former being associated with the house of YHWH (v. 3). This presupposes that the cult was being carried out there with some degree of formality and legitimacy, a fact that further implies a rather complete Temple complex. That it was not totally finished is also quite clear (cf. 8:9, 13). Where the travelers came from and even who they were is a matter of some disagreement. The Hebrew reads literally, “He sent Bethel, Sharezer, and Regem-melech, and his men….” This could mean that Bethel (that is, the community at Bethel) sent the others, thereby designating Bethel as the place of origin, or Bethel may be joined with Sharezer to create one name, Bethel-Sharezer. One should then translate, “Bethel-Sharezer sent both Regem-melech and his men….”

Francis North understands the passage in a totally different way. He argues that the LXX and Tg. place the destination (not the origin) of the journey at Bethel. Thus he says the focus of the cult shifted to Bethel after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. The priests of Bethel were Aaronic, whereas those of the restoration were Zadokite. The latter soon replaced the Aaronic priests and even claimed to be descendants of Aaron. Thus the Bethel shrine became extinct, a point underscored by the Masoretic tradition that has a delegation coming from Bethel and not going to Bethel. Besides its dependence on a hypothetical view of the origin of the Zadokite priesthood, North’s position depends on a tiny minority of Hebrew and LXX texts, too few to overthrow the traditional view.465 E. Lipinski takes the subject of the verb “sent” to be Darius and argues that “Bethel” is an “accusatif de determination locale” (“accusative of place”) even though it lacks the normal he locale (other examples are 2 Kings 2:4; Jer. 26:22; 29:28). Thus, he agrees with North that “Bethel”is the destination, but he takes la@-tyB@ (Bethel) not as referring to a place name but as “the house of God,” i.e., the Jerusalem Temple. Darius, he says, has sent a delegation to Jerusalem to show his interest in the work of the Temple, especially in light of the fact that the predicted 70 years until its reconstruction were nearly fulfilled.466 Why a pagan king should declare that he had wept and fasted over the ruined Temple (v. 3) is a serious problem to Lipinskis hypothesis, so serious that he has to assume that the words were pose au nom du roi” (“asked in the king’s name”) and that the shift of subject to Zechariah in vv. 4 ff. is redactional (p. 41). Obviously, the redactional adjustments that have to be made to make the narrative support his view weaken its credibility. Not to be overlooked in the whole matter of destination is why the Jerusalem cult, already so well established since the Exile, should seek information from a “fringe” religious center like Bethel.467

While names compounded with Bethel are otherwise attested at Elephantine and in Neo-Babylonian texts,468 it seems best here to take Bethel as the city name and subject of the predicate.469 This allows the conjunction (which otherwise is awkward) to remain on Regem-melech, since the series would now begin with Sharezer, and also comports better with the Masoretic accent tradition which places a rather strong disjunction (Zaqeph) between “Bethel” and “Sharezer.” Finally, there was a lively postexilic community at Bethel of more than 200 men (Ezra 2:28; but cf. Neh. 7:32).470 Coming as they did from a place long associated with apostate worship (1 Kings 12:29-33; 2 Kings 10:29; Jer. 48:13; Amos 3:14; 4;4; 7:13), these men would be particularly concerned to determine orthodox praxis on behalf of those who sent them.

The practice in mind is that of weeping and fasting in the fifth month, something the people of that community had done for a number of years. “Fasting” is implied by the niphal infinitive of rz~n` (nazar, “separating myself”), a verb used here to denote a consecratory withholding of oneself (from food),471 and is made certain by YHWH’s response in v. 5 where the normal term for fasting (<Wx, sum) occurs. The lamentable occasion that had given rise to this observance was the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, a disaster that had occurred almost exactly 70 years earlier, on August 14, 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8).472 This was on the seventh day of the fifth month, so the next anniversary was just a few months away, about August 2, 517.

A particular problem with the observance was that it had no sanction in Israel’s ancient religious traditions as did other holy days. Was it appropriate, then, to create holy days to observe occasions that had arisen in the post-Mosaic period? It obviously was being done de facto, but until the ecclesiastical authority structures were back in place in Jerusalem it was impossible to get an official ruling, hence the delegation.

Additional Notes

7:2 Syriac Syrohexapla, Ethiopic presuppose gm^-br^w+, the title of a high official, meaning here “chief officer of the king”; Winton Thomas, IB, 1082. LXX has Arbeseer oJ Basilevu", perhaps reflecting “rabsaris, the king.” A Rabsaris was a kind of an Assyrian official (cf. 2 Kings 18:17). See H. G. Mitchell, Haggai and Zechariah, 198.

    B. Criticism of Fasting (7:4-7)


4The Word of YHWH of hosts then came to me, 5“Speak to all the people of the land and to the priests as follows: ‘When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh (months) throughout these seventy years, did you indeed fast to me, to me, indeed? 6And when you eat and drink, are you not eating and drinking for yourselves?’” 7Should (you) not (have obeyed) the words that YHWH cried out through the former prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and at rest and her surrounding cities, the Negev, and the shephelah were also inhabited?

Exegesis and Exposition

What may have appeared to be an innocent question about the propriety of fasting was instead a question fraught with hypocrisy, as YHWH’s response puts beyond any doubt. It therefore appears that the query to Zechariah by the Bethelites may not have been so much a matter of piety as it was of posturing. May it not be that the delegation was trying more to impress the prophet than to gain instruction from him?

Be that as it may, the reply by YHWH was in fact a sharp rebuke. Their fasting and mourning, not only on the fifth but the seventh month and for seventy long years, was an empty exercise designed to enhance not YHWH but those who engaged in it in such a hypocritical manner. In other words, their religion had become one of outward show with no inner content. Evidence for that appears in the next section, vv. 8-14.

The seventh month (v. 5) evidently refers to the murder of Gedaliah, the Jewish governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem (Jer. 40:5). He was a grandson of Shaphan, quite likely the scribe who first read the Temple scroll and brought it to King Josiah for his perusal (2 Kings 22:5, 8-11). His father Ahikam (2 Kings 22:12) later interceded on Jeremiah’s behalf to deliver him from a plot against his life (Jer. 26:24).473 Gedaliah thus came from an honored family, one that enjoyed the confidence of good King Josiah. Josiah was strongly pro-Babylonian (2 Kings 23:28-29), so there is every reason to think that Gedaliah’s appointment to high office by Nebuchadnezzar was a way of rewarding one of Josiah’s own close confidants.

However it happened, some anti-Babylonian survivors of Jerusalem’s destruction and exile, led especially by Ishmael of the royal house of David (Jer. 41:1), formed a conspiracy with Baalis, king of Ammon, to assassinate Gedaliah (Jer. 40:13-14). This they managed to do on the seventh month of a certain year (Jer. 41:1), perhaps as late as 581 B.C. This date arises from the fact that the Babylonians undertook a campaign against Jerusalem in that year (Jer. 52:30), one that may have come about, according to some scholars, in retaliation for the murder of Gedaliah.474

The death of Gedaliah was an extremely traumatic event for the community already crushed nearly to annihilation by the loss of the Temple, the ruin of the Holy City, and the deportation of most of its leadership. The wrath of Babylonia that must have followed this subordination to its sovereignty would in itself give cause for the remnant to lament its further suffering. For nearly 70 years these twin events of such sad recollection—the ruin of the Temple and violent death of the first exilic leader—had been commemorated.

The form that YHWH’s question takes in regard to the genuineness of the fasting and grief betrays in itself their lack of sincerity. The Hebrew, by use of the infinitive absolute and independent pronoun, can hardly be captured in English. Literally YHWH asks (v. 5), “Fasting, did you fast to me, me?” Our translation above tries to bring out this nuance, which is both emphatic and skeptical.475 The rhetorical question posed by YHWH requires no answer by the people, but YHWH himself responds in a most ironic way. Just as they ate and drank for their own benefit and to their own satisfaction, so, he implies, did they fast (v. 6). Their religious activity was self-centered and self-fulfilling. It failed to satisfy the demands of a holy and loving God.

Verse 7 commences so elliptically that many scholars476 (following the LXX and other witnesses) emend the sign of the accusative ta# (et) to the demonstrative pronoun hL#a@ (elleh), “these,” to read “Are not these the words,” etc., and then proceed to eliminate vv. 8-9a (so BHS). The “words” referred to in v. 7 thereby become the words, “Execute true judgment,” etc., in v. 9b. Such an approach seems almost essential unless one either takes “words” as the object of “cried out” or postulates a missing verb of which “words” is the object.477 The former option is precluded by the fact that “cried out” is not in the independent clause with “words.” The second, therefore, must be entertained. Because the appeal by the prophet here is to attend to the words of the former prophets (any prior to himself), something earlier generations did not do, a verb such as “hear” or “obey” would be in order. Thus, we propose, “should (you) not (have obeyed) the words,” etc.

This seems preferable to the NIV and other versions that must supply “these” and then refer the message of vv. 5b-6 to the former prophets. That is, “these words” suggests in this view an appeal by the prophet Zechariah to the conditions of a previous generation with little or no direct relevance to his own hearers. Zechariah is not asking whether such and such were the words of early prophets, but his concern is whether his own contemporaries will obey those words. As for the ellipsis, it is even possible that Zechariah, having referred to eating and drinking in v. 6, is intending to use those verbs metaphorically in his question in v. 7. Thus, “Should (you) not (have eaten and drunk) the words which YHWH cried out by the former prophets?”478

The past to which Zechariah alludes is the preexilic past, a time when Jerusalem, its suburbs, and even more distant parts of Judah were occupied and at rest (v. 7). The message he is proclaiming, then, is not a new message. It is an old one, but that was spurned, leading to a depopulation of the land and upheaval and chaos in place of tranquillity.

The Negev was in the south of Judah and consisted largely of desert. For the Negev to be populated, one must envision times of unusually suitable climatic conditions and freedom from hostility. This is even more true of the Shephelah, the “lowlands” between Judah and the western plains. Its towns were historically in constant danger from the Philistines and other marauders who could easily penetrate their relatively weak and vulnerable defenses. Only when Israel and Judah were unusually strong could the conditions Zechariah describes prevail. His point is very apparent: If mighty and prosperous Jerusalem and Judah were overthrown for failing to heed the words of warning of earlier prophets, how much more important was it for his own audience to pay strict attention to those words in a day when their community was struggling for its very survival. This is no time for hypocritical self-indulgence.

    C. Instruction Concerning Fasting (7:8-14)

      1. Basis for Genuine Fasting (7:8-10)


8Again the Word of YHWH came to Zechariah and said, 9“Thus said YHWH of hosts, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. 10You ought not to oppress the widow, orphan, stranger, and poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his brother.’”

Exegesis and Exposition

In the previous verses YHWH drew attention to the former prophets and the words they had spoken concerning fasting and hypocrisy. Zechariah then urged his own contemporaries to give heed to those words from the past and to apply them to their own situation. Now YHWH more specifically lays down the basis for true worship, including fasting, by appealing to earlier canonical principles that provide its moral and spiritual framework. That YHWH is referring to the past is not determined by the speech formula itself in vv. 8-9, for the form here is standard prophetic introduction.479 Rather, the preterites beginning in v. 11 clearly demand the past tense in v. 9: “Thus said YHWH of hosts.”

Typically in biblical citation of earlier material, it is not always possible to determine precisely the source of the allusion. This is the case here, for though YHWH in a sense is “quoting scripture,” as vv. 11-12 make clear, His text could have come from any number of places.480 Micah 6:8 comes to mind with its insistence that what is good is for God’s people to “execute justice, love brotherhood, and walk humbly with your God.” Isaiah had exhorted the people to “attend to justice and do righteousness” (Isa. 56:1). Ezekiel describes the righteous man as one who executes “true justice between one man and another” (Ezek. 18:8). The same prophet commanded, “Take away violence and spoil and execute justice and righteousness” (45:9).

As for the injunctions of Zechariah 7:10, again there are abundant possibilities for precedent texts, especially in the writings of Moses. In the Book of the Covenant YHWH warns, “You shall not oppress any widow or orphan” (Ex. 22:22 [HB 22:21]; cf. Deut. 24:17-18).481 Micah, always concerned with the ethical dimensions of true religion, predicts woe on those who “devise iniquity and work out evil” at night so that when the morning comes they can implement their wicked schemes against their fellow man (Mic. 2:1; cf. Nah. 1:11).

Fasting or any other religious practice that is not founded on a true covenant faith toward God and relationship to one’s fellow in the covenant community is of little value and, in fact, is to be avoided at all cost.The language of YHWH’s exhortation here is sprinkled with covenant terminology, so much so that it is quite apparent that He is measuring the efficacy of religious observances against the requirements of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the covenant relationship (cf. 5:1-4). One need only note such words as fp*v=m! (mispat, “justice,” v. 9b); tm#a# (emet, “truth,” v. 9b); ds#j# (hesed, “brotherhood” or “loyalty,” v. 9b); <ym!j&r^ (rahamm, “compassion,” v. 9b); and ja* (ah, “brother,” vv. 9b, 10b) to see how deeply immersed in covenant thought the whole passage is.482

What has happened in the distant past as well as the more recent history of God’s people is that they have abandoned the principles of covenant obligation and behavior and yet have kept up with its cultic trappings. The real mission of the delegation from Bethel thus becomes all the more clear. Having jettisoned true covenant faith, the community they represent has tried to erect in its place a facade of religious activity, particularly commemorating the disasters of destruction and exile, and then has sought endorsement of their hypocrisy from the priestly and prophetic leadership of Jerusalem. This cannot be given, the passage declares, until the very heart of covenant commitment be rediscovered and reaffirmed.

      2. Rebellion against YHWH’s Word (7:11-12)


11But they refused to give attention, turning (instead) a stubborn shoulder and stopping their ears so they could not hear. 12Indeed, they made their heart (like a) *diamond, so that they could not obey the Torah and the words which YHWH of hosts sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore, there came great wrath from YHWH of hosts.

Exegesis and Exposition

The response of earlier generations to YHWH’s covenant appeal was consistently and inflexibly negative. Rather than open-mindedly receiving the word of witness from the prophets, they had, literally, “given a shoulder of stubbornness” (v. 11). The same idiom occurs in the important covenant rsum section of Nehemiah where the author, reviewing YHWH’s past dealings with His people, says that they “gave a shoulder of stubbornness” to Him and would not listen to His commandments (tox=m!, miswot); instead, they sinned against His ordinances (<yf!P*v=m!, mispatm). All the time YHWH had been seeking to bring them back again to His law (hr`oT, tora) (Neh. 9:29). All of these are technical terms in covenant texts (cf. Ex. 24:3, 12), so the opinion that Zechariah 9 should be viewed from that perspective finds even further support here.483

Another idiom in v. 11 worth noting is “stopping the ears.” Literally, the phrase says that the people “made their ears heavy.” This construction occurs in only one other place in the OT, namely, Isa. 6:10. There, however, YHWH commands the prophet to proclaim the message of salvation and judgment until its very hearing, without result, will cause the people’s ears to become heavy, that is, insensitive to response. The doleful effect will be the removal of the stubborn resisters to God’s overtures of grace until only a tiny remnant remains.

These two expressions would certainly have pricked the minds and hearts of Zechariah’s hearers, reminding them of the waywardness of their fathers. But their fathers learned nothing from the prophets who had confronted them. Besides turning the shoulder and stopping the ears they had set their hearts like a diamond, an impenetrable and impervious shield against truth. Both the Torah of Moses and the inspired words of the prophets failed to make an impression (v. 12). The result was predictable: YHWH of hosts sent great wrath against them.

So much was this the pattern of the long history of Israel and Judah that it was not necessary for Zechariah to cite specific instances of defection. The people themselves were well aware of their sordid past and could have supplied their own register of particulars. They might well have recalled the words of 2 Kings 17:7-23, which provided in summary form what YHWH was referring to in Zechariah. It was because of Israel’s sin that she fell to Assyria (v. 7). Every prophet and seer had pleaded with God’s people to “turn from your evil ways and observe My commandments and statutes, according to all the Torah which I commanded your fathers” (v. 13). Here again the collocation of covenant terms (hw`x=m! [miswa], “commandment”; qj) [hoq], “statute”; hr`oT [tora], “law”) is striking, giving evidence once more that the sin of Israel and Judah was fundamentally the sin of covenant violation. It is in line with this tradition of disobedience that YHWH speaks through Zechariah to the postexilic generation as well.

Additional Notes

7:12 The Hebrew word used here (rym!v*) occurs elsewhere in a simile for hardness only in Ezek. 3:9 where it is frequently translated “diamond.” In that passage it is described as something harder than flint, so diamond is a reasonable suggestion. On the other hand, it is questionable as to whether the diamond was known to ancient Israel so that what is in view is more likely an adamantine such as corundum. LXX translates rym!v* in Zech. 7:12 as ajpeiqh', “disobedient,” thus indicating lack of understanding of the Hebrew word. The Vg. renders it adamas, “hard, impervious.” See Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody, 1957), 736-37.

      3. Judgment Because of Rebellion (7:13-14)


13It then came about that, just as He cried out but they would not obey, so “they will cry out but I will not listen,” said YHWH of hosts. 14“Rather, I will blow them away in a *storm among all the nations with which they are unfamiliar.” Thus the land became desolate because of them, no one crossing through or returning, for they had made the desirable land a waste.

Exegesis and Exposition

The changing tenses in this passage pose a problem until the various speakers are sorted out. Beginning with v. 11 Zechariah is clearly the speaker, reporting the reaction of earlier generations to the covenant requirements of YHWH. This continues on into v. 13 as the preterite yh!y+w^ (wayeh) shows, but following the major accent athnah after Wum@v* (sameu), “they (would not) obey,” there is a series of imperfects and YHWH speaks (v. 13b). It is apparent that Zechariah is quoting YHWH’s response to the refractoriness of the rebels, a response that naturally would be in the imperfect (that is, present or future time) in that past context.484 The YHWH speech continues on to v. 14 and ends with “unfamiliar.” Zechariah then speaks, bringing the oracle to a close.

In a pungent chiastic thought pattern (v. 13)485 the prophet recounts the reaction of YHWH to the spurning of His overtures in the past:

    A He cried out

      B They did not listen

      B They will cry out

    A He (I) will not listen.

He had warned them through the prophets about the disaster that would surely attend their present course of action, but they had given no heed. Now they would do the crying out, pleading for mercy and forbearance, but His ears would be stopped up.

Instead of deliverance the people of old had experienced the whirlwind of God’s wrath, a storm of fury that had driven them to lands they had never even heard of before. Second Kings 17:6 lists some of these, and others are mentioned in other places as a result of both the Assyrian (1 Chron. 5:26) and Babylonian (Ezra 2:59; Esth. 8:11; 9:2; Jer. 44:1; Ezek. 3:15) deportations. Hosea had used the same verb, (ru^s* (saar, “to storm”) to describe the same judgment of YHWH. Israel, he said, would be like “chaff driven with the storm out of the threshing-floor” (Hos. 13:3).

All had come to pass as YHWH had prophesied, a fact that Zechariah’s audience knew all too well, for it was they who were now trying to recover from the awful effects of the sins of their fathers and the wrath of God it provoked. The land had become desolate as a result, so much so that it appeared to be virtually uninhabited (cf. Ezek. 36:32-36). Hardly a soul could be found criss-crossing it, for there was no one there with whom to do business. What had once been a place “flowing with milk and honey,” a veritable paradise (hD^*m=j# [hemda], “desirable land”), will become a place of unutterable wasteness (v. 14). Jeremiah used the word hemda in a similar way when he described Canaan as a “delightful land,” a worthy heritage for YHWH’s people Israel (Jer 3:19). Its contrast, hM*v^ (samma, “waste”), is a favorite term of the prophets to describe the aftermath of YHWH’s devastation of the land. Like paradise lost it became a desert devoid of life and pleasure (Hos. 5:9; Isa. 5:9; 13:9; 24:12; Jer. 2:15; 4:7; 18:16).

This part of the oracle section ends rather abruptly with no explicit statement as to what those who engage in hypocritical religious practice, particularly fasting, can expect. But what is not explicitly stated may be inferred without mistake. Unless members of Zechariah’s audience, in this case the Bethel delegation, but by extension all of the postexilic community, understands the abhorrence with which YHWH views religious observance which is only superficial and self-serving, they can expect the same calamitous results as those experienced by their forefathers. This is precisely the burden of Zechariah’s prophetic colleague Haggai as well (Hag. 1:4-6), and Haggai pointed out that the dire results of such behavior had already begun to manifest themselves (1:9-11; 2:16-17).

Additional Notes

7:14 The verb form here (<r@u&s*a@) is a piel, to be construed as a factitive, thus “act like a storm.” My translation is an attempt to smooth this out and therefore is rather expansive. For the anomalous pointing under the first radical, cf. GKC, 52n.

Blessing of True Fasting

This continuation of the long oracle on fasting commences with a reversal of the tragic circumstances with which the previous section ended.486 There YHWH had described the scattering of the preexilic covenant people to the four winds and the empty desolation of the land that ensured (7:14). This had been done because of the hypocritical infidelity of the nation down through the years (7:9-12). Zechariah’s own contemporaries were guilty of the same perfidy, especially with regard to a falsely pious and self-interested practice of commemorating the collapse of Jerusalem and the Temple by a ritual of fasting. They were therefore in danger of suffering the same consequences.

But this is not what YHWH plans or desires for His people. Rather, He is “zealous” for them, so much so that He will display His great wrath on their behalf. Throughout this passage there are the overtones of YHWH’s guardian protection of Judah. A dominant motif reflecting this concern and his capacity to achieve it is the self-ascription “YHWH of hosts.” As noted previously, this epithet, which is a favorite of the postexilic prophets speaks of YHWH’s omnipotent and universal sovereignty. In an age when tiny Judah had nearly been swallowed up by the mighty empires of the day and when even after her restoration from Babylonia she had found life to be tenuous at best, it was important that her prophets assure her that YHWH, her God, was the commander of the empire of heaven. The leader of hosts was sufficient for the times.

Of a total of 36 occurrences of “YHWH of hosts” in Zechariah, 15 are in this one oracle, the highest concentration of the phrase in the OT with the possible exception of Malachi. Even more remarkable, it occurs six times in the present passage alone, a passage that focuses narrowly on eschatological restoration. So humanly impossible will that be, it can come to pass only by the resources of the Almighty One.

    A. Restoration of Jerusalem (8:1-8)


1Then the Word of YHWH of hosts came to me as follows: 2 “Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘I am very greatly zealous for Zion; indeed, I am zealous for her with rage.’ 3Thus says YHWH, ‘I have returned to Zion and will live in the midst of Jerusalem. Now Jerusalem will be called “truthful city,” “mountain of YHWH of hosts,” “holy mountain.”’ 4Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘Old men and women will once more live in the plazas of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of advanced age. 5And the streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing there.’ 6Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘Though it be difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be difficult in my sight?’ says YHWH of hosts. 7Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘I am about to save My people from the east country and from the west. 8And I will bring them to settle in the midst of Jerusalem. They will be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.’”

Exegesis and Exposition

It is YHWH of hosts who testifies to His zeal for His people (v. 1). The cognate accusative form (“zealous with zeal”) in which this is expressed conveys the intensity of God’s feelings.487 As is well known, “zeal” and “jealousy” are both translations of the Hebrew noun ha*n+q! (qina) and semantically are interlocked. Thus YHWH is a “jealous God” (Ex. 20:5), one who tolerates no rivals real or imaginary and who is zealous to protect His uniqueness and maintain the allegiance of His people to Himself alone. He is also jealous for His people, that is, He is protective of them against all who would challenge them or claim to be elect alongside them. Therefore, He is zealous to safeguard their interests and come to their defense. This is the way the clause “I am zealous for her with rage” (v. 2b) should be taken.488 Those who would presume to interdict YHWH’s purposes for Judah may expect to incur His awful wrath.

Reference to Zion in prophetic literature is by far most often found in eschatological contexts. Thus already in Zechariah and in a passage very similar to this (1:14-17), the Lord speaks of His zeal for Jerusalem, i.e., Zion, and promises a glorious restoration in both historical and eschatological times. The same promise, again featuring Zion, occurs in Zech. 2:7-13. The eschatological springs from the historical and cannot be separated from it. This is one reason that the two frequently seem to merge and why a “dual fulfillment” is not only possible but necessary. Here, by way of example, YHWH says He “has returned to Zion”489 and will settle in the midst of Jerusalem” (v. 3a). His return was a historical event attendant to the return of the remnant from exile (cf. Ezra 6:12; 7:15; Hag. 1:13; 2:4; Zech. 1:16; 2:10). In one sense He already had settled in Jerusalem, but now He says He will live there. The verb here is /k^v* (sakan), which connotes a permanent residence as opposed to a temporary one. Though bv^y` (yasab) is synonymous with sakan and even used in parallel constructions with it (cf. Isa. 18:3; Jer. 49:31), sakan is more commonly used in eschatological descriptions of YHWH’s residence on earth.490

When YHWH makes his abode in Jerusalem, the city will be radically transformed. It will now be “truth city, mountain of YHWH of hosts, holy hill” (v. 3b). Isaiah had described Zion as a place where truth had fallen in the street and was absent altogether (Isa. 59:14-15). But truth will be revived and come to live there once more. The psalmist identified Zion as the “holy hill” on which the messianic king would reign (Ps. 2:6), and as “the joy of the whole earth,” the “holy hill,” “the city of the Great King” (48:1-2, [HB 48:2-3]). To renewed Jerusalem, both Isaiah (2:2-3) and Micah (4:1-3) attest, the nations will come, for the city will be elevated above all the mountains (cf. Zech. 14:10).

The transformation will include a repopulation of the city to the full. Through use of a merism the prophet looks to the day when the oldest and the youngest (i.e., the citizenry as a whole) will inhabit the city (vv. 4-5). In his own day that was not a reality, for the refugees who returned home under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were relatively few in number. Even in Nehemiah’s day, 80 years later, he had to conscript enough residents from the countryside to give the capital an adequate population (Neh. 7:4; 11:1-2).

The fact that the old men and women lean on walking-sticks does not detract from the joy and renewal of this millennial scene but merely emphasizes the great age of some of the populace (cf. Isa. 65:20). At the other extreme, the streets will teem with children at play (cf. Jer. 31:12-13). The entire scene is one of security and happiness.

For the city of Zechariah’s day to undergo such astounding transformation as just described would be nothing short of miraculous. Indeed, in anticipation of the skepticism that this message would surely elicit, YHWH goes on to say that just because the whole prospect is difficult for human perception it is not difficult for Him, for He is “YHWH of hosts” (v. 6, twice). Within a chiastic form491 He makes the point very firmly:

    A Thus says YHWH of hosts

      B It will be difficult

        C in the sight of the remnant


        C in my sight

      B (will) it be difficult?

    A says YHWH of hosts

One reason this transformation would seem so absurd is that only a “remnant of the people” (seert haam) were there to hear the promise. How could this tiny band be sufficient for so glorious a prospect? The answer lies in a gathering of others, “My people” YHWH calls them (v. 7), whom He will deliver from the whole earth. Again, as “YHWH of hosts” He is about to save (the futurum instans use of the hiphil participle of uv^y` [yasa`], “to save”)492 them, that is, to restore them to covenant fellowship and deliver them from exile, bondage, and dispersion. This calls to mind the message of Hosea where sinful Israel, the “not My people” (Hos. 1:9), will be transformed into “My people,” the “sons of the living God” (1:10; 2:1; cf. Isa. 11:11-12; 43:1-7; Jer. 30:7-11; 31:7).

The specific points of origin of these regathered people of YHWH are the east and the west (v. 7). The terms for the directions here are much more cosmic in scope than the usual ones, referring respectively to the rising and setting of the sun. This suggests that the immigrants will come not only from the immediately surrounding areas but from the very ends of the earth.493 This is also the import of limiting the scope to the two directions, for the sun relates to the earth only in terms of east and west, not north and south.

It is true, of course, that the prophets usually describe the restoration of Judah as a movement from north and south as well as east and west. Isaiah does so in the order east, west, north, and south (43:5-6) or even just north, west, and “the land of Sinim” (49:12). Jeremiah locates the source as north (3:18; 16:15; 23:8; 31:8) especially, no doubt because he so often connects the dispersion with Babylonia. Zechariah’s formula is unique to him though the use of jr`z+m! (mizrah) for east and vm#V#j^ aobm= (mebo hassemes, lit. “going in of the sun”) is common (see, respectively, Josh. 23:4; Pss. 103:12; 107:3; Isa. 46:11; Dan. 8:9). Zechariah seems intent on magnifying the extent of the Diaspora and the supernatural power of YHWH in regathering His people from one end of the earth to the other in order to fill up the holy city.

YHWH had said He would dwell in the midst of Jerusalem (v. 3). Now He says He will bring His people back so that they might do the same (v. 8a). When that has come to pass, they will become His people. He in turn will become their God. This is not to say that a covenant relationship will then and there be forged for the first time, for they had been His people from the day of their election in the patriarchs (Gen. 12:2; 17:5-6) and redemption from Egypt (Ex. 2:7; 4:22-23). Their sin, however, had driven a wedge between them and YHWH so that, as Hosea so poignantly put it, they became “not My people” in terms of their functional position. By a mighty act of grace YHWH “will bring them back” (8a). This verb, in the hiphil stem, places all the initiative in God’s hands. He is about to save them (v. 7), and He will bring them back. The result of this gracious work is that once more Israel, in function as well as in promise, will be His people.

That the covenant is the framework in which all this takes place is most apparent in the last phrase of v. 8: “in truth and righteousness.” It is in that sphere that the redemptive grace of God finds a basis, for He had made covenant with His people and had placed Himself in obligation to keep it, their unfaithfulness notwithstanding.494 The truth (tm#a#, emet) and righteousness (hq*d*x=, sedaqa) here are hallmarks of integrity that attest to the sincerity of the mutual commitments. The same phrase occurs in Isaiah, who says of wayward Israelites that they “swear by the name of YHWH and invoke the name of the God of Israel, but not in truth (emet) or in righteousness” (sedaqa) (Isa. 48:1). Thus their profession of allegiance was hollow because it was not undergirded with genuine commitment to covenant principle.

    B. Prosperity of Jerusalem (8:9-13)


9 “Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘Let your hands be strong, you who hear these words in these days from the mouth of the prophets who were there at the founding of the house of YHWH of hosts, that the Temple might be built. 10Before that time there was no wage payment for man or beast, nor was there any rest from adversity to those who came and went, because I had pitted everybody, each one, against his neighbor. 11But now I will not be to the remnant of this people as I was in former days,’ says YHWH of hosts, 12‘for there will be a *peaceful sowing time, the vine will produce its fruit and the ground its yield, and the heavens will drop down dew. Then I will allow the remnant of this people to possess all these things. 13Then it will be that just as you were a curse to the nations—both the house of Judah and that of Israel—so I will save you and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid! Let your hands be strong!’”

Exegesis and Exposition

This section is neatly bracketed within the exhortations “Let your hands be strong” (vv. 9, 13), a refrain that is singularly appropriate to it. YHWH has promised that Jerusalem will be restored, repopulated, and reconfirmed as the center of His covenant interests (vv. 1-8). Now it is important for the remnant people there to shoulder the responsibilities requisite to the fulfillment of the promise. Their deliverance and return may depend wholly on God’s grace (vv. 7-8), but prosperity in the land, both now and in the eschaton, is directly related to obedience and hard work.

YHWH’s message thus turns from the future to the present, to those who are hearing (present participle) in the days of the oracle itself. The messengers to whom they are listening are the prophets who were in attendance at the day the foundations of the Temple were laid, some two years earlier. Who beyond Haggai and Zechariah they may have been must remain unknown, but these two were on the scene from the very beginning.495 That the reference here is to the rebuilding that commenced in the second year of Darius and not to the initial attempts at construction in 536 B.C. (cf. Ezra 3:8) is clear from the following verses (10-12).496 The verb describing the founding of the Temple (dS^y% [yussad], “founding,” v. 9), appears in the same form in Hag. 2:18 where, as is clear from the context, Haggai also is referring to the work that got underway in 520 B.C.497 (see Commentary on Haggai, loc. cit.).

Also like Haggai, Zechariah alludes to the days of social and economic distress that characterized life in Judah before the people rearranged their priorities and got about the business of putting YHWH and the Temple at the center of their community life. Before those days, Zechariah says, there was severe unemployment for both man and animal. Neither one’s services were in demand, so there was no payment of wages (v. 10a). Haggai had said that even when wages were earned they had little value in the inflated economy. In fact, it was as though they put their earnings into purses with holes (Hag. 1:6).

Moreover, there had been social unrest in those days as well. No one dared to come and go because of crime and violence. Literally the text says either “There was no peace from the adversary” or “There was no peace from the distress” (v. 10b). The words for “adversary” and “distress” are homonyms (rx^, sar), and either fits reasonably well here. The latter may be less tautological and therefore better stylistically.498 The reason for this state of affairs is that YHWH had set man against man. This antagonistic spirit caused distress to the whole community and made life unsafe and unhappy.

The social disintegration described here does not likely refer to the problems the Jews had at the hands of the Samaritans and other hostile neighbors. They did indeed suffer in this respect, as Ezra and Nehemiah make abundantly clear, but the whole thrust of the message here, especially in light of its obvious similarities to that of Haggai, is that the problems were internal and of their own making (cf. Hag. 1:4, 9-12; 2:14). The struggle of a man against his neighbor here is an internecine conflict, the most sorrowful and damaging of all.

It is YHWH, however, who brought this expression of animosity about (v. 10b). He had “sent out” everybody with a pugnacious desire to harm his neighbor. The verb used to express this act of YHWH (hl^v*, salah, preterite form here) is highly idiomatic in this passage. Ordinarily it is to be rendered as “sent,” but here it must be nuanced to “pitted” or “set in opposition.”499 Such a usage may be found also in 2 Kings 24:2; Ezek. 28:23; Amos 4:10. Besides the lexical or semantic difficulty there is also that of theodicy. How could YHWH stir up strife and conflict among brothers? The answer no doubt lies in the widely attested biblical idea of the removal of moral restraint by YHWH from evil men, who then are free to pursue a course of violence and evil (cf. Isa. 19:2; Amos 3:6; 9:4).

Whatever YHWH had done to wicked Judah before the Temple project resumed with full force, He would not repeat in the present because the preaching of the prophets had been effective (v. 11). As Haggai had said in response to their reordering of priorities, “From today I will bless you” (Hag. 2:19). Because the conditions had been met for blessing, it would be forthcoming without delay in everyday life. In an elliptical statement of promise— “for the seed of peace” (v. 12)—YHWH guarantees that planting time from then on would not be interrupted by the turmoil that characterized the earlier period. Furthermore, the erstwhile barren vineyards and fields would produce crops, contrary to recent experience (cf. Hag. 1:6; 2:16-17), and the heavens would grant nourishing moisture to ensure continuation of these bounties. This, too, would be a reversal of the drought (Hag. 1:10-11) and harmful weather conditions (Hag. 2:17) that had made it nearly impossible to survive before.

In summary, YHWH says He will allow the remnant of the nation, those who made up the community to which this very message was directed, to possess all the things about which He had just spoken. This token of blessing would signify that Israel and Judah together, that is, the whole covenant nation, would themselves be a blessing to the nations and no longer a curse. This juxtaposition of blessing and curse recalls the ancient patriarchal covenant pledges of YHWH in which He had said, “I will bless those who bless you, but him who curses you I will curse; and in you all the clans of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).500 In fact, Abraham was commissioned to “be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).

Through most of her history Israel had been a curse to the nations in the sense that she had failed to winsomely attract the nations to the one true God. As a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6) she was derelict in not mediating His saving grace to them so that they, too, could become part of the community of faith. But now, YHWH says, “you will be a blessing.” That this has eschatological ramifications cannot be denied, but one need look no further than to the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, to see what untold blessing Israel has been to the world. With that glorious prospect in view, YHWH again encouraged the people to cease being afraid and to strengthen themselves for the work. This task was by no means limited to the sheer physical work of building the Temple and reestablishing the foundations of a postexilic nation. It was a work of the spirit as well, one designed to enthrone YHWH as sovereign over them and to bring to perfection the ministry of servanthood to which He had elected and redeemed them.

Additional Notes

8:12 For the apparently incomplete phrase “for the seed of peace” (<olV*j^ ur^z#-yK!) the LXX reads “I will sow peace” (<olv* hu*r+z+a#). This destroys the parallelism in the verse with the next lines, however. Other versions (Syr Tg. Neb.) attest “her seed (will be) peace” (<olv* Hu*r+z~), but again the parallelism suffers. It is best to see this as an example of ellipsis, with the verb in the following clauses understood here as well.

    C. Expectations for Jerusalem (8:14-17)


14“For thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘As I had *planned to harm you when your fathers incited Me to wrath,’ says YHWH of hosts, ‘and I was not sorry, 15So, to the contrary, I have planned in these days to do good to Jerusalem and the family of Judah—do not fear! 16These are the things you should do: Speak truth, each of you, to one another. Judge in truth and wholesome judgment in your gates. 17Do not plot evil in your hearts against one another. Do not favor a false path—these are all things that I hate,’ says YHWH.”

Exegesis and Exposition

This section could easily be treated with the preceding (vv. 9-13), for its themes and emphases are essentially the same. However, the introduction is standard for oracle pericopes (cf. 8:1, 9, 19), and there is an advancement in thought in terms of the parenthesis at the end of the passage (vv. 16-17).501 Its central message is that in view of the restoration and promised prosperity of Judah, YHWH has certain expectations from her. She must, as covenant people, observe the stipulations of covenant and live life commensurate with her renewed status.

Once more YHWH reaches back to the past, to the time when the preexilic and even pre-Second Temple generations had shamefully refused to honor the commitments they had made to center their national life and destiny on the principles of the covenant. As a result, He had found it necessary to apply discipline, a judgment based not only on the principle of correction but one brought to bear by the wrath their obstinate behavior elicited.

The theodicic problem here (v. 14) is the same as that in v. 10b. Usually the verb <m^z` (zamam) has a negative connotation, that is, to plan or devise something harmful. The only exception with God as subject, in fact, appears to be in v. 15 where YHWH also plans to do good (BDB, p. 273).502 But the “evil” He does is not moral in content but disciplinary, as its opposite “good” in v. 15 makes clear. It takes the form of something hurtful or harmful that seeks to produce consciousness of sin and a desire for repentance.503

The confusing reference to both “you” (that is, the audience being addressed) and “your fathers” (the former generation) should be explained by the corporate and timeless nature of the people of Israel. When YHWH addressed their fathers in the past, He addressed them as well. One could as well translate, “As I had planned to harm you, Israel (or Judah), when your fathers,” etc. This passage is important in its assertion of the fundamental unity of the people of God through the ages.

The harm YHWH brought to the fathers may have been administered with reluctance, but it was not with remorse or second thought. It was a punishment that had to be inflicted to achieve the higher goal of bringing them into conformity with His purposes for them as a servant nation. Jeremiah uses the same verb translated here as “sorry” (v. 14b) (<j^n], niham) to express YHWH’s lack of regret for having destroyed the cities of the plain (Jer. 20:16). It was something that had to be done to safeguard His own holiness.

But what He had done with respect to the fathers is the exact opposite of what He will do now. Now He plans (also <m^z`) to bring benefit and blessing, not harm, to Jerusalem and Judah (v. 15). This is possible because the warnings from their own prophets (v. 9) have been heeded and the prerequisites for providential favor have been met. The strongest contrast in action is conveyed between vv. 14 and 15. YHWH had planned harm (ur^, ra`) before but now plans good (bof, tob; here in infinitive construct byf!yh@, hetb). Then He had shown no compassion (yT!m=j*n] aO, lonihamt), but now He once more (yT!b=v^, sabt) has reversed His course of action entirely. Then their fathers had caused YHWH to be filled with wrath ([yx!q=h^, haqsp), but now He says to them, “do not fear” (War`yT! la^, al trau). All this is in line with the restoration and prosperity promised in vv. 1-13.

The evidence for their restored religious and spiritual life follows in vv. 16 and 17 which, with 7:8-10, form an inclusio around this section of the oracle concerning fasting.504 It is a unit that speaks, first of all, of the scattering of the nation for violation of the basic tenets of covenant behavior (7:11-14) and then of their regathering as an act of God’s grace (8:1-15). The fathers had been commanded to “exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other” (7:9). Now YHWH says the present generation must “judge in truth and wholesome judgment” (8:16). The heart of covenant faith on the social plane is that one must love his neighbor as himself.

Those of old also learned that they must not oppress the disadvantaged among them or hatch up evil against one another (7:10). Zechariah’s audience hears similar words of exhortation: “Do not plot evil in your hearts against one another” (8:17).505 They must also not “love a false oath,” something that was in direct contradiction of the Torah itself (Ex. 20:16). All these things He hates, says YHWH.

Additional Notes

8:14 Despite the position of the accent Geres over yT!m=m^z`, the verb should be translated as perfect, exactly as in v. 15.

    D. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem (8:18-23)


18The word of YHWH of hosts came to me as follows, 19“Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘The fast of the fourth month and that of the fifth, seventh, and tenth will become for the house of Judah joyful and happy, pleasant feasts; so love truth and well-being.’ 20Thus says YHWH of hosts, *‘It will yet be that people will come, residents of many cities. 21The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to beseech the favor of YHWH, to seek YHWH of hosts. Indeed, I will go also.”’ 22Many people and strong nations will come to seek YHWH of hosts in Jerusalem and to beseech the favor of YHWH. 23Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘In those days it will happen that ten men from all the languages of the nations will seize, indeed, latch onto the garment of a Jew and will say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

Exegesis and Exposition

This final section of the oracle of Zechariah 7-8 comes full circle to the theme with which the oracle began, the concern for fasting.506 At the beginning a delegation of Bethelites had come to Jerusalem to ask about the propriety of (or to seek commendation for) their observance by fasting of the destruction of the Temple and the assassination of Gedaliah, the first Babylonian political appointee from among the survivors (7:1-7). Here is one more example of the careful craftsmanship with which Zechariah arranged his material, for 7:1-7 is clearly a bracketing device with 8:18-23.507 Other clues are the pilgrimage to Jerusalem by both the Bethelites (7:2-3) and the peoples of the nations (8:20-21) “to beseech the favor of YHWH” (hw`hy+ yn}P=-ta# toLj*l= [le hallot et pene YHWH], 7:2; 8:21). Also in common, if by contrast, is the fact that at the beginning only one city sent its representatives (7:2), but at the end “all the languages of the nations” will be represented (8:23). Finally, fasting in sorrow will be turned into feasting for joy (7:3; cf. 8:19).

The men of Bethel had mentioned only two occasions for fasting, but here at the end of the oracle there are four. Those on the fifth and seventh months have already been considered (7:5), so now attention must be directed to those on the fourth and tenth months. The fourth month without much doubt marked the event of the breach of Jerusalem’s walls by the Babylonians in the eleventh year of King Zedekiah (Jer. 39:2). The date, the ninth day of the fourth month, was on or about July 18, 586 B.C.508 This access to the city marked the end of its resistance, so the king and his royal guard attempted to escape, unsuccessfully as it turned out (Jer. 39:3-5). The Temple remained standing for four more weeks, falling at last on August 14 (cf. 7:3; 2 Kings 25:8).

The fast of the tenth month was to commemorate the siege of Jerusalem that commenced on the tenth day of that month in 588 B.C. (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 52:4). This was approximately on January 15 in the modern calendar.509 The city therefore was able to hold out for about two and one half years until its walls were penetrated and the siege lifted. At least four times a year the survivors of these disasters and their descendants remembered these events and mourned with fasting and other observances. Not until the return under Cyrus, the initial attempts at rebuilding, and the laying of the foundations of the Temple under Joshua and Zerubbabel was their hope even partially relized that the tragedies might be undone.

It was, of course, the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah that generated the most confidence that YHWH was about to restore the people’s fortunes. Haggai urged the building of the Temple, an act that would result in YHWH’s pleasure and presence (1:7, 13). Its completion would also bring about the upheaval of nations who would fill it with their tribute (2:6-7). Despite all the setbacks of the past, Haggai said, from that day of renewed commitment onward YHWH would bless them (2:19). Zechariah joined his colleague and in vision and oracle held forth the promise that YHWH was about to do something more glorious than they had ever before witnessed. He would restore the nation (1:16-17; 2:10; 3:9; 4:9; 8:3-8, 11-13), appoint his messianic leaders (3:5, 7-8; 4:7-8, 14; 6:12-13), and rule as sovereign over the nation and over all other nations (1:10-11; 2:5, 10-11; 6:7-8; 8:8).

In most succinct terms in the present unit this change from the tragedies of yesterday to the triumphs of tomorrow will be a change from fasting to feasting (v. 19). No longer when the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months roll around will there be mourning; instead, there will be joyful and happy festivity. Literally the Hebrew reads: “Fasting … will become for the house of Judah rejoicing and gladness, and appointed times of good things.” It may be better to take the substantives “rejoicing” and “gladness” as adjectival here (even though this is impossible grammatically because of the difference in number), for the purpose appears to be to characterize the nature of the feasts—they will not be sad but happy. As for <yb!of (tobm), “good,” the idea again is the contrast between the mournful fastings and joyful feastings. Thus, “pleasant” is the better rendering. Together, then, a freer rendering could be: “Fasting … will become … joyful, happy, and pleasant times of feasting.”510

The last clause in v. 19 is rhetorically awkward. Following His description of the transformation of fasts to festivals YHWH says, in imperatival terms, “Love the truth and the peace.” So out of place does this appear that BHS suggests it may be a later addition to the text. The problem remains, however, as to why anyone would want to add it.

The most satisfying solution may be to take this clause (more accurately rendered, “Love truth and well-being”) as the resumption of a condition that must be met by Judah before the mourning can be turned to joy. In effect what YHWH is saying is, “If you want the above-mentioned transformation to occur, love truth and well-being.” These terms appear just above in v. 16 (“truth and wholesome [i.e., peaceful] judgment”) as the essence of covenant law on the horizontal or interpersonal dimension. Furthermore, in v. 17 YHWH had said that the people must not love (bh@a*, aheb, the same as the verb in v. 19) a false oath. The collocation of these three words— “truth,” “well-being,” and “love” —in two nearly adjoining verses supports the thesis that the condition for covenant renewal and blessing is mentioned, even if interruptively, to make clear the human element in achieving YHWH’s purposes for His people.511

The point having been made that the time for lamentation about the past is about to be transformed into a time of celebration, specific causes of or accompaniments to that change follow (vv. 20-23). First of all, there will be a mass pilgrimage of the peoples of the earth to seek YHWH at Jerusalem. At some time yet (du), `od) to come people from many cities (not “people and the residents of many cities”) will come, those from one place encouraging others from other places to join them without delay in paying homage to Him.

The idea of the nations coming in pilgrimage to the Temple of YHWH at Jerusalem is a major eschatological theme.512 Haggai hinted at this when he described the stirring of the nations and their presentation of their wealth to the Temple coffers (Hag. 2:7). Zechariah himself had already affirmed this explicitly in the oracle of vision three (2:11). “Many nations,” he said, “will join themselves to YHWH in that day and will become My people.” Isaiah long before prophesied that “in the latter days” (Isa. 2:2) all nations would flow into Jerusalem and multitudes would say “Let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths” (2:3).

The same prophet, in an apostrophe to Zion, proclaimed that “foreigners will build your walls and their kings will serve you” (Isa. 60:10) and they will call her “the city of YHWH, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (60:14). More than that, the time will come when the nations will come to witness God’s glory (66:18) and all humankind will worship before Him (66:23). Jeremiah, too, is aware of this momentous day, for he says that “at that time [Israel and Judah] will call Jerusalem the throne of YHWH, and all nations will be gathered to it, to the name of YHWH, to Jerusalem” (Jer. 3:17).

No prophet excels Zechariah himself in his presentation of the universal pilgrimage of nations and their confession of YHWH’s kingship. Besides our passage at hand, he expostulates at length on that theme in chapter 14. Further comment must await discussion of that passage, but for now it is sufficient to note that the prophet sees a day when “YHWH will be king over all the earth” and then the nations “will go up every year to worship the King, YHWH of hosts, and keep the feast of Tabernacles” (14:9, 16). The language in those verses is clearly that of pilgrimage and is in that respect consonant with the language of 8:20-23.

The purpose of the pilgrimage as stated here is “to beseech the favor of YHWH” (v. 21). This idiom (yn}P=-ta# toLj^l=, lehallot et pene) always connotes the idea of appeasement, of entreaty to a powerful person to show leniency of mercy when he might be inclined otherwise.513 A famous example of its use is in the story of the golden calf, where YHWH had resolved to destroy wicked Israel because of their apostasy while Moses was on the mountain (Ex. 32:1-10). True to his mediatorial role Moses “beseeched the favor of YHWH His God,” reminding Him of His covenant promises (vv. 11-13). It is because the nations realize that they have historically sinned grievously against the one true God that they will come on the day of repentance and solicit His grace.

It is impossible to know what prompts this desire but it is urgent, as the terse wording here makes clear. “Let us go at once” (Eolh* hk*l=n}, neleka halok), they say, expressing by the infinite absolute form the most intense kind of resolve. None will be satisfied only to encourage others to go. Each will say, “I will go, indeed, I (will)” (21c). It is more than a matter of mere curiosity; rather, it is a shared sense of individual responsibility.

Building on the statements of the pagan peoples themselves, Zechariah enlarges the picture by describing the pilgrims as “many peoples” and “strong nations” (v. 22). This will be a movement on a universal scale, not one limited to a scattering of cities or to nations that participate out of weakness and inability to remain independent. The mightiest will be there, knowing full well that YHWH is sovereign even over them. Again one recalls Isaiah’s appeal for YHWH, “Look to me and be delivered, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other” (Isa. 45:23). So indelibly will this great truth be pressed upon the hearts of the nations that “every knee will bend and every tongue swear” to Him (v. 23).

Continuing in the speech of eschatological discourse, Zechariah says that “in those days,” that is, the end days of history, ten men from “all the languages of the nations” will seize upon a Jew and agree to go with him to Jerusalem and the Temple, for it will be manifest to them that God is with the Jew in a unique way.514

This is the only place Zechariah refers to the eschaton in this particular phrase hM*h@h* <ym!Y`B^ (bayyamm hahemma) “in those days,” but this is a favorite way of designating the end of time in prophetic literature.515 Joel spoke of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all His people “in those days” (Joel 2:29 [HB 3:2]). Also, he said, when Judah is restored “in those days,” YHWH will gather all nations to judge them in the “valley of Jehoshaphat” for the ill treatment they showed His people (3:1 [HB 4:1]). The phrase is also common to Jeremiah. He announces that “in those days” the ark will recede in significance, for YHWH Himself will be enthroned in Jerusalem and all the nations will be gathered there (Jer. 3:16-17). Also “in those days” the righteous Branch will sprout up, Judah and Jerusalem will be delivered and protected, and the royal and priestly messiah(s) will assume their eternal offices (33:15-17).

Zechariah’s use of the phrase is optimistic and positive. “Those days” will be a time when the nations of earth will realize that “salvation is of Israel” and that Israel’s God is to be found especially in His Temple in Jerusalem. At a ten to one ratio, then, they will outnumber the Jews who return to seek the face of YHWH. The number “ten” is not to be pressed literally but is symbolic in the Bible of totality or comprehensiveness (cf. Gen. 31:7; Ex. 34:28; Lev. 26:26; 1 Sam. 1:8; Job 19:3; Dan. 1:12, 20; Amos 6:9). The universal thrust here is seen also in the fact that these “ten men” come from “all the languages” of the nations. This is a way of describing the far-flung dimensions of this regathering. It will not be from just the surrounding Hamito-Semitic world but from nations so distant that their very languages are exotic and incomprehensible (cf. Acts 2:5-11).

So urgent will be the desire of the nations to learn of YHWH that they will “seize” (qz~j*, hazaq) the “wing” ([n`K*, kanap) of a man, that is, whatever flies out from him, most likely a flapping garment.516 The verb hazaq in the hiphil often denotes almost a violent grabbing of something with the intention of not letting go (BDB, 305). Isaiah reflects something of this intensity of desire when he speaks of various nations whose people will fall down before Israel and beg, confessing that “God is in your midst” and “There is no other God” (Isa. 45:14). “Even to him,” the prophet says, “will men come” (45:24). Jerusalem will someday be known to them as “the city of YHWH, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (60:14).

It is particularly interesting that the reason the nations will want to join themselves to the Jew is that they will have heard that God is with them. The usual divine name YHWH does not occur here because the field of interest is much broader than Israel, with which the name YHWH as a covenant name is especially related. Rather, the generic Elohim (<yh!Oa^) is used, for it suddenly is obvious to all the nations that their “god” is Israel’s “God.”517 What they have been seeking through the millennia of human history has at last been found. Thus, the role of Israel as a kingdom of priests mediating the saving grace of God to a fallen world will have come to pass. The age of the Gospel and the church marks the beginning of that process, for in and through the Jew the salvific message and event have already come to pass in Christ. But the fullness of redemption awaits the eschaton, the time when “every knee will bend and every mouth will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11; cf. Isa. 45:23).

Additional Notes

8:20 The phrase rv#a& du), lit., “yet that,” requires expansion such as that suggested here. The context allows something like “it will yet come to pass that,” etc.

461 For an excellent case for the literary unity of Chaps. 7-8 see David J. Clark, “Discourse Structure in Zechariah 7:1—8:23,” BT 36 (1985): 328-35.

462 Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.A.D. 75 (Providence, R.I.: Brown Univ., 1956), 30.

463 H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1985), 16 83.

464 P. R. Ackroyd, Israel Under Babylon and Persia (Oxford: Oxford Univ., 1970), 173.

465 Francis S. North, “Aaron’s Rise in Prestige,” ZAW 66 (1954): 191-99.

466 E. Lipinski, “Recherches sur le Livre de Zacharie,” VT 20 (1970): 35-42.

467 See Nigel Allan, “The Identity of the Jerusalem Priesthood During the Exile.” HeyJ 23 (1982): 264.

468 Hyatt gives many examples and even goes so far as to suggest that a certain shirku (a type of temple servant) named Bt-ili-shar-usur may be the Bethel-Sharezer of Zech. 7:2 (J. Philip Hyatt, “A Neo-Babylonian Parallel to Bethel-Sar-Eser, Zech. 7:2, “JBL 56 [1937]: 387-94). It is difficult to believe, however, that an officiant at a pagan Babylonian temple would become a staff person in a Jewish cult (so Hyatt, 394).

469 Wilhelm Rudolph, Haggai-Sacharia 1-8—Sacharia 9-14—Maleachi, KAT (Gütersloh: Verlaghaus Gerd Mohn, 1976), 136-38.

470 Commenting on the postexilic occupation of Gibeah, Gibeon, Bethel, and Shechem, Lapp observed that “especially noted is the apparent prosperity of these towns in the late 6th century in marked contrast with evidence from sites excavated to the south of Jerusalem” (Paul W. Lapp, “Tell el-Fl,” BA 28 [1965]: 6).

471 J. Kühlewein, TWAT, II:50, s.v. ryzn. Kühlewein points out that rzn as a verb in the niphal occurs four times (Lev. 22:2; Ezek. 14:7; Hos. 9:10; Zech. 7:3) in the sense of separation from unclean things from YHWH Himself, or from food.

472 Parker and Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.—A.D. 75, 28; A. Malamat, “The Last Kings of Judah and the Fall of Jerusalem” IEJ 18 (1968): 154-55.

473 For arguments supporting these relationships, see J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 653.

474 P. R. Ackroyd, Israel Under Babylon and Persia, 36-37.

475 Merrill F. Unger, Zechariah, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 124.

476 So, e.g., Friedrich Horst, Die Zwlf Kleinen Propheten. Nahum bis Maleachi, HAT 14 (1936; reprint, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1964), 238-40.

477 The ta could also mark the subject of a verbless major clause; see Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 183.

478 A position akin to this is held by Hoftijzer, who joins v. 7 to v. 6, taking aolh& to be “a strengthening particle that can be used also in the midst of the sentence, and not only at its beginning” (J. Hoftijzer, “The Particle t in Classical Hebrew,” OTS 14 [1965]: 76).

479 So Samuel Amsler, Agge, Zacharie 1-8, Zacharie 9-14. CAT (Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestl, 1981), 116, 117.

480 Petitjean helpfully points to other passages where fp*v=m! and tm#a# (v. 9a) occur, including Zech. 8:16 (cf. Pss. 19:10 [EB 19:9]; 25:9-10; 89:15 [EB 89:14]; 111:7; 119:160; Isa. 16:5; 42:3; 59:14-15; Jer. 4:2; Ezek. 18:8). Likewise, the combination fp*v=m! and ds#j# (v. 9a, b) is elsewhere attested (Pss. 25:9-10; 33:5; 89:15 [EB 89:14]; 101:1-2; Jer. 9:23; Hos. 2:21; 12:7; Mic. 6:8). Finally, Petitjean cites relevant passages that provide a background for v. 10 (Pss. 94:6; 146:9; Ex. 22:20-23; Jer. 7:6; 22:3; Ezek. 22:7; Mal. 3:5) A. Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, [Paris: J. Gabalda, 1969] 324, 328, 330-31). As Donald Gowan points out more succinctly, “Zechariah’s summary reflects the ethos of the rest of the Old Testament” (Donald E. Gowan, “Wealth and Poverty in the Old Testament,” Int 41 [1987]: 341).

481 The widow and orphan were particularly vulnerable and dependent inasmuch as the only “welfare” system that existed was within the family with a husband and father. See F. C. Fensham, “Widow, Orphan and the Poor in Ancient Near Eastern Legal and Wisdom Literature,” JNES 21 (1962): 129-39.

482 For most of these see Paul Kalluveettil, “Declaration and Covenant,” An Bib 88 (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1982), 20-91. Cf. also the insightful discussion of Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” EBC, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:646-47.

483 F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 1982, 229-30, 232-41.

484 A. Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, 353-54.

485 This is seen also but not developed by Carol L. Myers and Eric M. Meyers in Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987), 404.

486 For a poetic analysis of this pericope demonstrating, among other things, its unity, see Siegfried Mittmann, “Die Einheit von Sacharja 8, 1-8,” in Text and Context: Old Testament and Semitic Studies for F. C. Fensham, JSOTSup 48 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), 269-82.

487 Merrill F. Unger, Zechariah, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 134.

488 Though the parallelism ha*n+q!//hM*j@ may suggest a translation of “ardor” (so Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, [London: Tyndale, 1972], 149) or something similar, hM*j@ never has that meaning elsewhere (cf. BDB, 404; KBL, 309). In spite of this, Petitjean makes the use here an exception and says that hM*j@ “exprime l’ardeur avec laquelle Jahv intervient en faveur d’Isral” (“expresses the ardor with which YHWH intervenes in Israel’s favor”) (A. Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, [Paris: J. Gabalda, 1969], 368). Schunck does not attest one example of the vocable with this meaning (K.-D. Schunck, TDOT, 4:462-65, s.v. hM*j@.

489 Though yT!b=v^ can be rendered as a narrative perfect (“I am returned”) or perfectum propheticum (“I will return”), the assurance given to members of the postexilic community, especially since they have begun the restoration of the Temple and thus have met the prerequisites for His coming, is that He is already among them (Hag. 1:8, 13; 2:4-5, 19). He has returned and now will live among them. See Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987), 408.

490 Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT 2:925, s.v. /k^v*. Cf. Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, 133-35.

491 Noted also by Mittmann, “Die Einheit von Sacharja 8, 1-8,” 276.

492 GKC, 116p.

493 Wilhelm Rudolph, Haggai-Sacharja 1-8Sacharja 9-14Maleachi, KAT (Gütersloh: Verlaghaus Gerd Mohn, 1976), 148.

494 Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 150.

495 For a review of the possibilities, see Petitjean, Les Oracle du Proto-Zacharie, 386-87.

496 David L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8, (London: SCM, 1985), 305.

497 Meyers and Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, 421.

498 For strong (but to us unconvincing) arguments that “enemy” or “adversary” is to be preferred, see Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, 392-94. The structure of v. 10c-d favors “adversity” or “distress” because Zechariah is saying that there was no peace to any who went out or came in (10c), for YHWH had set every man against his brother (10d). That is, it was fraternal strife, not external, that caused the trouble. See, for this view, Meyers and Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, 421-22.

499 Cf. M. Delcor/E. Jenni, THAT 2:915, s.v. jlv. They render the verb here “loslsst Menschen gegeneinander.”

500 Samuel Amsler, Agge, Zacharie 1-8, CAT (Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestl, 1981), 123.

501 For an analysis that sees the section as promise (vv. 14-15) and exhortation (vv. 16-17), see Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, 407.

502 S. Steingrimsson, TDOT 4:88, s.v.<mz.

503 A. van Hoonacker, Les Douze Petits PropheVtes, (Paris: Librairie Victor Lecoffre, 1908), 646.

504 Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Zacharie, 412-13.

505 Greenfield draws attention to the idiom bl*L@B^ bv^j* (“to think in the heart”; i.e., “to plot”) and its Aramaic equivalent `st blbb in Sfire II B 5 (cf. also Zech. 7:10); Jonas C. Greenfield, “Idiomatic Ancient Aramaic,” in To Touch the Text. Biblical and Related Studies in Honor of Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., ed. by Maurya P. Horgan and Paul J. Kobelski (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 50.

506 Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8, 312.

507 S. Amsler, Agge, Zacharie 1-8, 124.

508 Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.—A.D. 75, (Providence: R.I.: Brown Univ., 1956), 28; A. Malamat, “The Last Kings of Judah and the Fall of Jerusalem,” IEJ 18 (1968): 154-55.

509 Malamat, “The Last Kings of Judah and the Fall of Jerusalem,” 150-51.

510 Karl Elliger, e.g., translates it “schnen Festen”; Karl Elliger, Die Propheten Nahum, Habakuk, Zephania, Haggai, Sacharja, Maleachi, ATD (Gttingen: Vandenhock & Ruprecht, 1982), 133.

511 Rudolph makes the cogent point that this clause is the direct answer to the Bethelite delegation’s question in 7:3; Wilhelm Rudolph, Haggai-Sacharja 1-8—Sacharja 9-14—Maleachi, KAT (Gütersloh: Verlaghaus Gerd Mohn, 1976), 151.

512 E. H. Merrill, “Pilgrimage and Procession: Motifs of Israel’s Return,” in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, ed. Avraham Gileadi (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 261-72.

513 K. Seybold, TDOT, 4:408-9, s.v. hl*j*.

514 Lipinski argues that the translation “Jew” for yd!Why+ in v. 23 is anachronistic and should read “Judean.” Therefore, the passage does not speak of Gentile conversion but of Jewish pilgrimage, the “ten men” referring to the customary minyan. It speaks of a return of the Diaspora and not an eschatological universalism (E. Lipinski, “Recherches sur le Livre de Zacharie,” VT 20 (1970): 42-46). It is wholly arbitrary to conclude that “Jew” was a post-Zechariah ethnic term. For examples of even preexilic usage of the term in this way see Jer. 32:12; 38:19; 40:11, 12; 52:28, 30. Carroll translates it this way in all these passages (Robert P. Carroll, Jeremiah. OTL [London: SCM, 1985]).

515 Petitjean, Les Oracles du Proto-Sacharie, 434-35.

516 Petersen offers the suggestion that the [n`K* was some readily identifiable element of a Jewish garment, perhaps tassels affixed to its corners (D. L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8, 319). Bertman, though he fails to associate [n`K* with a tassel, provides an interesting account of garments with such appendages (Stephen Bertman, “Tasseled Garments in the Ancient East Mediterranean,” BA 24 [1961]:119-28). For suggestions that the seizing of the garment here has messianic overtones (i.e., the hem of Jesus’ robe), see J. T. Cummings, “The Tassel of His Cloak: Mark, Luke, Matthewand Zechariah,” in Studia Biblica II, ed. A. Livingstone, Sixth International Congress on Biblical Studies, 1978, JSOTSup 2 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1980), 47-61, esp. 2.

517 Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 156.

Related Topics: Fasting, Prophecy/Revelation