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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Zechariah - Introduction

Zechariah, together with his contemporary Haggai, lived in a time of great crisis, the period following the destruction of Jerusalem (587 BCE) and the exile of its leading citizens to Babylon (587–538). Twenty years after the new Persian monarch Cyrus allowed exiles to return to their homelands, Zechariah spoke to those who had returned to the ruins of Judah and Jerusalem, encouraging them not to lose hope. His words of hope emphasize God's control of history and God's plans to restore the fortunes of Judah. In a series of eight visions, which make up the core of Zechariah's prophecy, these themes are elaborated in detail (see sidebar on p. 1230 ). The first and last visions describe God's universal rule along with the heavenly emissaries who carry out God's plans in the world ( 1.7–17; 6.1–8 ). The intervening visions announce the restoration and purification of Judah ( 1.18–2.5; 5.1–11 ) and the establishment of a new government in which leadership will be shared by priestly and political officials (chs. 3–4 ). The aim of these visions is to give the people of Judah confidence in the future and a new religious and political structure within which to build their future. Framing these visions are two speeches ( 1.1–6; 7.1–8.23 ) in which Zechariah urges his listeners to build a society more principled and just than their ancestors'.

Appended to the visions and speeches of Zechariah are two prophetic collections (chs. 9–11 and 12–14 ) that differ in style and content and are believed to have been composed by another prophetic figure or group. These collections lack the specific references to dates and people present in chs. 1–8 , are composed in different literary forms and styles, and reflect a crisis in leadership and internal Judean conflicts absent in Zechariah's messages. Two themes dominate chs. 9–14 , one unique to this section of the book, the other shared with chs. 1–8 . Unique to chs. 9–14 is a criticism of Judah's political leaders, described as shepherds, and of Judah's prophets. * Judah's leaders are blamed for exploiting their people ( 11.4–17 ) and its prophets for preaching lies ( 13.1–6 ). Shared with chs. 1–8 is a vision of Judah's restoration, detailed in several lengthy speeches (chs. 9, 10, 12, 14 ).

The historical period in which Zechariah spoke can be determined precisely by the dates prefixed to the book's major sections ( 1.1, 7; 7.1 ). These speeches were all delivered between the years 520 and 518 BCE, the second to the fourth years of rule by the Persian monarch Darius. This was about 20 years after the Persian king Cyrus had conquered Babylon (538 BCE) and issued a decree repatriating exiles and supporting their return to their homelands (see sidebar on p. 1222 ). Urged by the great exilic prophet Second Isaiah (Isa 40–55 ), many Judean exiles took this opportunity to return home from Babylon and to begin the reconstruction of Jerusalem and its environs (Ezra 1–5 ). But the land lay in ruins ( 2.1–4 ), and the future did not look bright for those who returned ( 8.6 ). In such difficult circumstances Zechariah and his contemporary Haggai spoke, both to instill hope and to urge the people to begin the concrete process of rebuilding their cities and institutions.

The context of the supplements to Zechariah, chs. 9–14 , cannot be determined as precisely as the prophecies of Zechariah themselves, since they contain no specific dates or references to identifiable people or events. They certainly reflect the same general environment in Judah during the post-exilic period. The crisis in leadership they address ( 11.4–17; 13.1–6 ), however, may place these supplements later than chs. 1–8 , in a time when the sanctified leadership expected by Zechariah (chs. 3–4 ) had become corrupt and exploitive.

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