Zechariah: Israel, the Apple of God’s Eye

Posted on July 6, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length. 

Name of Book: Zechariah 

Author: The prophet Zechariah 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “Yahweh Remembers” 

When Written: The first eight chapters were written in 520 B.C. The last six could have been written a month, year, decade, or more later. This section differs dramatically in content from the first probably because of the change in concentration (Israel during the prophet’s day in the earlier chapters, Israel in the end-times in the later chapters). 

Themes

  • Israel’s election and preservation
  • God’s control of nations and governments
  • The reconciliation of Israel to her Messiah

Political Background: Same setting as the book of Haggai.                                                                                                  

Key Verses

  • Zechariah 2:8: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.’”
  • Zechariah 12:10: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

References in the New Testament

  • Zechariah 8:16 (Ephesians 4:25)
  • Zechariah 9:9 (John 12:15)
  • Zechariah 11:12-13 (Matthew 27:9-10)
  • Zechariah 12:10 (John 19:37)
  • Zechariah 13:7 (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27)

Synopsis
book of zechariahThe book of Zechariah is one of complex visions and puzzles, but also offers clear truth for practical living. The book begins with wise counsel as the prophet calls Israel back to God: “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’” (1:2-3). This is as simple an appeal as can be made to God’s people. From those who strayed from Him, the Lord wants a complete return – a surrender of will, obedience, and affection. Such was the call to Israel; such is the call to today’s believer.

The remainder of chapter 1 focuses on two visions given to Zechariah, one concerning a man among myrtle trees with four accompanying horses (vv. 7-11); the other concerning four horns and craftsmen (vv. 18-21). Because it is beyond the scope of this overview to examine the visions (I recommend a good commentary), I will limit myself to the gist. The visions concern God’s redemption of Israel. Zechariah writes: “I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great zeal … I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy … The Lord will again comfort Zion, and will again choose Jerusalem” (vv. 14, 16, 17). Chapter 1 puts God’s passion for Israel on display.

Chapter 2 begins with Zechariah’s third vision (there are eight total), of a man with a measuring line. However, what Zechariah Chapter 2 is especially known for is its powerful declaration of God’s devotion to Israel in v. 8: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.’” Think about the person you love most. What would you do if he or she were attacked? How would you defend this person? Now, multiply this a thousand times over and you get an idea of God’s love for Israel. As if this declaration were not enough, the Lord adds: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst” (v. 10).

Chapter 3 begins with Zechariah’s fourth vision, of Joshua, Israel’s high priest at the time of the writing. Joshua, wearing filthy garments (v. 3), is standing before the Angel of the Lord while Satan slanders him. The Lord rebukes Satan, telling him that Joshua is His chosen instrument, and clothes Joshua with “rich robes” (v. 4) and a “clean turban” (v. 5). Zechariah explains that Joshua is a picture of Israel’s Messiah, “the BRANCH” (v. 8), who will one day bring peace and prosperity to Israel (vv. 9-10).

Chapter 4 features Zechariah’s fifth vision, a lampstand and two olive trees. The Lord explains that this vision represents “the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel [the governor]” (v. 6). And what is this word? It is this: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (v. 6). God is telling Israel to not be discouraged by human oppression, but to look beyond it to the Spirit of God. The Lord’s Spirit has allowed Zerubbabel to lay “the foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it” (v. 9).

flying scrollChapter 5 focuses on visions 6 and 7. The first is of a flying scroll; the second is of a woman in a basket. Both deal with theft, perjury, lying, and wickedness. Such evil will be expelled from Israel during the Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom following Christ’s return.

The final vision, which opens chapter 6, consists of four chariots emerging from twin mountains of bronze. They are commanded to, “Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth” (v. 7). This command indicates God’s sovereignty over the entire earth, and the authority He will exercise over it in the Millennial Kingdom. In verses 9-15, Zechariah returns to the high priest Joshua, and the One he represents, the future BRANCH. Joshua will preside over the construction of the post-exilic Temple. This facility will be a foreshadowing of the more glorious Temple who will one day “tabernacle” in Israel: the BRANCH, the Lord Jesus Christ (compare John 1:14).

Chapters 7 and 8 transport us two years forward to 518 B.C. when Zechariah gives Israel four explanatory messages. The first is one of rebuke (7:4-7), chastising Israel for worshiping the Lord with ritual, but not with the heart. The second concerns repentance (7:8-14), calling Israel to address societal ills by showing mercy and compassion, cease oppressing widows and orphans, and stop plotting evil against one another. The third message concerns restoration (8:1-17), where God vows to “save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem” (7-8). The fourth message is one of rejoicing (8:18-23), about a time when, “many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (8:22).

Chapter 9 is a startling departure from the first eight chapters. The second section of Zechariah is marked by its stark tone and end-times realism. Verses 1-8 proclaim judgment on Israel’s enemies. This abruptly gives way to a euphoric announcement of the coming of Israel’s Messiah. Zechariah proclaims: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v. 9). This prophecy was fulfilled during Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for the final week of His earthly life. Zechariah then jumps ahead to the Millennial Kingdom – Israel’s future golden age – when the Lord “will save them … as the flock of His people. For they shall be like the jewels of a crown, lifted like a banner over His land” (v. 16).

Chapter 10 continues the theme of Israel’s golden age, a period of unimagined restoration. In that day, the Lord “will bring them back, because I have mercy on them. They shall be as though I had not cast them aside; for I am the Lord their God, and I will hear them” (v. 6). The Millennial age will be exemplified by Israel’s mass return to her promised land: “I will also bring them back from the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon, until no more room is found for them” (v. 10).

Chapter 11 is perhaps the most perplexing chapter in all of Scripture. The theme is Israel’s “shepherds” – her political leaders. There are such baffling phrases as “two staffs: the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bonds” (v. 7); “I dismissed the three shepherds in one month” (v. 8); and “Then I said to them, ‘If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.’ So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver’” (v. 12; this verse was fulfilled by Judas, but its immediate context is a mystery). These references are difficult to make sense of, but one thing is clear: they express God’s loathing of dishonest, uncaring leaders who brutalize their people. Of these nefarious leaders, God says: “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who leaves the flock! A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; his arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded” (v. 17).

sunlit crossChapter 12 returns to the end of the age when the Lord will cause the nations to “lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem” (v. 2). When this happens, God will fight for His people. The result: “they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place –Jerusalem” (v. 6). It is then – when Israel, on the brink of destruction, is miraculously saved by the Lord – that at last her eyes will be opened to recognize her rejected Messiah. Zechariah writes: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (v. 10). In a time of weeping and wailing, the Jewish people will acknowledge their long-held Messianic blindness.

In response to this acceptance of Christ, Chapter 13 tells us, the Lord will bring about a time of cleansing and repentance as the Jewish people confess and renounce their sins. Sadly, this national renewal will include but a fraction of the total population. Zechariah declares:

“And it shall come to pass in all the land,” says the Lord, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (vv. 8-9).

It is disturbing to consider the destruction of two-thirds of the Jewish people, but we must accept the divine, Spirit-breathed truth of God’s Word. Though they are painful to fathom, we are called to trust God’s perfect and ethical decrees.

Chapter 14 is both recap and conclusion. The recap, beginning in verse 1, concerns the Day of the Lord. Zechariah writes:

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle (vv. 1-3, italic added).

The Lord will draw the nations to Israel with two purposes in mind: 1) to punish Israel (the remnant not included), and 2) to punish the nations.

The Day of the Lord will be unique in the annals of human history: “It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to the Lord – neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light” (vv. 6-7).

lion lambFinally, the Lord will establish His Millennial Kingdom on Earth. It will be a time of glory for all who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and will be a particularly blessed time of majesty for Israel:

And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be – “The Lord is one,” and His name one (vv. 8-9).

When the breathtaking oracle ends, there is little else for the reader to do than proclaim the words of Revelation 22:20: “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). 

Aftermath: Zechariah has given the world a body of end-times prophecy which continues to amaze, fascinate, and bring clarity, insight, and understanding to lovers of God’s Word.

Significance for God’s People Today

  • Though during Zechariah’s day Israel was geographically small, politically insignificant, and militarily feeble, God promised her great things. What about you? Do you feel small, insignificant, and feeble? Do you know that, like Israel, you are the apple of God’s eye? He has great things planned for you. What are some of these? Read Ephesians 1:3-14.
  • It’s an old saying, but true: “In the end, God wins.” If you’ve read the Ephesians passage, you might be saying, “That’s great, but things are really tough; I can’t see it happening.” Yet, God has given His word. He has given His word to Israel, and He will bring it about, despite current events. The same holds true for you. Your present circumstances cannot hinder God. He has made you sure promises; nothing can erase them. Because God wins in the end, so do His children.

Implications for the World Today

  • Zechariah 2:8 calls Israel “the apple of His [God’s] eye.” As such, nations and individuals ought to be praying for Israel. However, not everyone sees Israel through God’s eyes. Many Western nations have been longtime allies of Israel, but this is changing. With vast oil supplies gurgling beneath the ground of Israel’s neighbors, the West has persistently downgraded Israel in favor of her oil-rich neighbors. If Western nations totally turn their backs on Israel – and Zechariah 14:2 indicates they will – they will have to answer for it. The West needs to remember God’s promise made long ago to Abraham concerning Israel: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
  • zechariah pageZechariah 14:2 reads: “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem …” Believers have wondered for decades if the West, particularly America, figures into prophecy. Despite fanciful theories, we see nothing definitive, save, perhaps, this verse. Is this the West’s and America’s lone reference in the Bible? If so, it’s not a good one. It’s sobering to think that the West’s only end-times role could be as among the nations coming against Israel bent on destroying her. We can only pray the West repents, turns to God, and again embraces His chosen people.

Of Note

  • Zechariah is the most messianic and eschatological (end times-oriented) book in the Old Testament.
  • Scholars have discovered 41 citations or allusions to the book of Zechariah in the New Testament (Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece. New York: American Bible Society, 1950, pp. 670-71).
  • Zechariah was a Levite born in Babylon (Nehemiah 12:1-4, 16).
  • Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah was both a prophet and a priest.

Up Next: “Malachi: Rebuking a People for Dishonoring God” 

Part 1: “Introduction: The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets” 

Part 2: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace” 

Part 3: “Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord” 

Part 4: “Amos: A Corrupt People and a God of Fury” 

Part 5: “Obadiah: Pride and Arrogance Brought Low” 

Part 6: “Jonah: Running From God” 

Part 7: “Micah: He Has Shown You, O Man” 

Part 8: “Nahum: The Ultimate in Fire and Brimstone”

Part 9: “Habakkuk: Why, Oh Why, Lord?”

Part 10: “Zephaniah: Packing a Powerful Prophetic Punch” 

Part 11: “Haggai: “Stop Lounging Around and Get Back to Work!”