The first eight chapters of the book contain the teaching of Zechariah in a series of eight visions of the night (1.7–6.15) together with accompanying oracles. These are sandwiched between accounts of his preaching in 1.1–6 and chaps. 7–8. Like Haggai, Zechariah is said to have prophesied in the second year of Darius the Persian (520 BCE), but his ministry extended to the fourth year (518 BCE). Like Haggai, therefore, he is addressing and seeking to encourage the postexilic community in Judah in all their frustrations and difficulties.
Several visions and oracles assure the people of God's imminent action on their behalf. While the first vision, that of the horsemen (1.8–13), shows that nothing can yet be seen to be happening (v. 11), the oracle brings assurance that God is deeply concerned for the welfare of Jerusalem, which he is about to “choose” again and to which he will come to resume his dwelling. He will punish the nations that have destroyed the city and taken its citizens into exile, the theme also of the second vision of the “horns” and “smiths” (1.18–20). The third (2.1–5) takes up Second Isaiah's picture of the unlimited size of the restored city (Isa. 49.19–21) and assures them that God's glory (his presence) will be in the city (cf. Ezek. 43.1–5; Hag. 2.9). God will protect them as he did when he led the Israelites in the wilderness by a pillar of fire (Exod. 13.21). The oracle that follows (2.6–13) calls on the exiles to return, for Yahweh is about to dwell in the city to which not only Jews, but all nations, will come. The fourth vision (3.1–10) shows the cleansing of Joshua, the high priest (called Jeshua in Ezra and Nehemiah), a sign that God is now determined to forgive and cleanse the community. The fifth (4.1–14) suggests a joint leadership of Zerubbabel as civil governor and Joshua, and contains a promise that Zerubbabel will complete the rebuilding of the Temple, but also a warning that he must do so only in complete reliance on God's spirit (vv. 6–10a). The two visions in chap. 5 announce the cleansing of the restored community, while a final vision (6.1–8), echoing the first, pictures horsemen and chariots patrolling the earth, reporting that God's spirit is now at rest in the north country (traditionally the direction from which Israel's enemies have come in judgment from God; see Jer. 1.14). Now, however, this is the peace, not of inaction, as in the first vision, but of the resolution of the people's problems by God's saving actions. The passage 6.9–15, along with 3.6–10, seems to describe a situation in which the priestly line has assumed preeminence, while messianic hope now attaches to an unnamed and future figure called the Branch (see Isa. 11.1)
The surrounding oracles contain warnings against repeating the sins of preexilic generations who ignored the teaching of the prophets (1.1–6; 7.7–14; 8.14–17). They reinforce the promises of the visions of an imminent new age by assuring questioners (7.1–3) that all mourning fasts for the fall of Jerusalem are about to be replaced by joyful festivals of celebration (8.18–19).
The fact that 1.1–6 and chaps. 7–8 contain echoes of some of the “sermons” in the books of Chronicles (e.g., 2 Chron. 30.6–9) may suggest that the teaching of Zechariah was handed down by preaching and teaching personnel of the post‐exilic Temple. This is strengthened by the presence of teaching on such subjects as true fasting (7.4–6), found elsewhere in postexilic literature (e.g., Isa. 58). Again, oracles of Zechariah are taken up and expounded afresh in 8.1–8 (cf. 1.14, 16), while 8.9–13 appears to be exposition of Haggai 2.15–19. The universalist tone in Zechariah's teaching (2.11) is strongly and splendidly renewed in 8.20–23.
Zechariah, like Haggai, was thus remembered as a prophet who encouraged the immediate postexilic community by assuring them of God's imminent action in terms that echoed the preaching of Ezekiel and Second Isaiah and took up themes of the preexilic Zion/David theology expressed in many psalms. His picture of a joint messiahship of civil and religious leaders was to reappear in the teaching of the Qumran community. The form of the teaching in a series of visions is reminiscent of one test of a true prophet in some of the earlier literature, namely, that he had been admitted to the council of heaven (Jer. 23.18). The stronger sense here, however, that what is happening on earth is a projection of what is happening in heaven, has suggested to some that in Zechariah 1–8 we have an early hint of apocalyptic.
In Zechariah 9–14 no mention is made of the building of the Temple that now is standing, nor of the time of Darius I, while there is a reference to “Yawan” (literally, Ionia; NRSV: “Greece”) in 9.13. There is nothing corresponding to the visions of chaps. 1–8 or to the ethical teaching of 1.1–6 and chaps. 7–8. For these reasons most scholars assign these chapters to a later time and another hand or hands. Broad thematic features are, however, common to both parts of the book, such as a strongly Zion‐centered interest, God's cleansing of the community in preparation for his final act of salvation, a marked universalism, dependance on earlier prophecy, and a concern for a true and proper leadership as one sign of the new age. These suggest that the later parts of the book came from circles that maintained the traditions of Zechariah's teaching.
Many attempts have been made to date these chapters by the supposed historical allusions found in them, but these attempts have yielded such widely differing results that we must question their validity. It is more likely that we have here exposition of earlier prophetic themes in general terms in which particular countries, personalities, and events are now seen as typical or symbolic of the clash of the forces of evil with God's universal kingship. By such means earlier prophecies are related to the writer's own time and their relevance for people of later generations demonstrated.
The material is broadly of two kinds: eschatological passages that look forward to the triumph of God over evil and controversy passages in which strong attacks are made on those who are seen as false leaders of the community, in the manner of some earlier prophetic books.
Chap. 9 speaks of the advance of an enemy, echoing oracles of Amos and Ezekiel (vv. 1–7). God, however, defends Jerusalem, to which her king comes in triumph bringing peace among all nations (vv. 9–10), words later quoted in the New Testament and used of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matt. 21.1–9 par.) Vv. 11–17 speak of God's ultimate victory, taking up earlier prophetic themes and the imagery of the enthronement psalms, a note continued in 10.3b–12.
Chaps. 12–14 introduce new themes. In 12.1–13.6 the nations have gathered to attack Jerusalem. Yahweh, however, intervenes to defeat them and delivers both Judah and Jerusalem, this resulting in an act of divine cleansing and renewal of the whole community. Chap. 14 paints an even more cosmic picture, with God himself gathering the nations who come to lay siege to Jerusalem. Only after half the population has been exiled does God come to the aid of his stricken city (vv. 2–3). He appears on the Mount of Olives; the mountain is connected to the city by a great earthquake so that Yahweh once more enters Jerusalem (vv. 4–5). Thereafter all nature is renewed, and God is acclaimed as universal king (v. 9). Jerusalem becomes the highest point in the land (vv. 10–11; cf. Isa. 2.2); all who oppose God's rule are defeated (vv. 12–15) and all nations come to worship him in Jerusalem (vv. 16–21). Because the eschatology of chaps. 12–14 tends more toward that of apocalyptic and because the heading “Oracle” is found, not only at 9.1 but again at 12.1, some scholars hold that these chapters are later than chaps. 9–11. Since, however, the same degree of dependence on earlier prophecy is found in each section and controversy passages occur in both, they may be more closely connected than some have thought.
The controversy passages (10.1–3a; 11.13; 11.4–17; 13.7–9) express increasingly severe condemnation of false shepherds, presumably the priestly leaders of the community at some point, or points, in the postexilic period.
So much is obscure in these chapters that interpretation of them can be only tentative. The view that they came from a sharply eschatological party that found itself increasingly at odds with the official priesthood and Temple, and so looked for a more and more radical intervention of God, would account for much that is here. If that were so, it would mean that some of the factors that later gave rise to the Qumran community were already being felt by those from whom chaps. 9–14 came, perhaps in the third century BCE.