The prophet Zacharias (aka. Zechariah)

Yesterday was the memorial day in the Church’s calendars of the Hebrew prophet Zechariah, massively important for Christians because of the number of references to his prophecies in the Gospels. Here is his entry in the Roman martyrology, our calendarised memorial book:

“Commemoration of Saint Zacharias, prophet, who prophesied the return to the Promised Land of the exiled people of God and brought to that same people the news of the King of Peace, which promise Christ the Lord wonderfully fulfilled with his triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

Roman martyrology, September the 6th

And this seems a good point to present a short survey of the prophecy of Zacharias. We may recall that, the Israelite kingdoms having been destroyed and the people exiled from a fairly deserted Holy Land, the histories of Esdras, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, tell of the return of a small band of the exiles to Juda, now in a condition of semi-independence – self-rule under a Jewish governor, but under the oversight and supra-governance of the Persian empire – and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, along with a smaller and more humble Temple. In these reduced circumstances of a humiliated and humbled people, the prophets of almighty God reappeared. The prophecy of Zacharias, a contemporary of the prophet Aggaeus (aka. Haggai) who was another prophet of this post-exilic period, is very significant for Christians because several of his lines were used by the Gospel-writers and in the rest of the New Testament, as pointing towards the late Jewish period and Christ, before the final destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70.

The Book of Zacharias is quite hard to understand, because it doesn’t seem to have a single form, but seems to be a stitching together of several prophecies, that speak sometimes of widely different time periods. In addition to that, Zacharias was a bit of a visionary, in the manner of Ezechiel; the things he sees in vision are supposed to be evident in meaning, but for us millenia in the future things are rather obscure. The book seems to be based in that post-exilic period, with the small band of Jews returned from Babylon, under the successor of David called Zorobabel – now a Persian-appointed governor, rather than a king of Juda – assisted by a Sadocite high-priest called Josue; these two are addressed more plainly by Haggai. And the Lord declares Himself for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Jewish people:

“…the Lord answered him; gracious His words were, gracious and full of comfort. ‘Cry it abroad, now,’ my monitor said to me, ‘this message from the Lord of hosts: Jealous, right jealous My love for Sion’s hill, deep, full deep My anger against the heathen that are so well content! I would have punished Jerusalem but lightly, it was these drove home the blow. And now, the Lord says, I am for Jerusalem again, bringing pardon with Me; Temple shall be built there for the Lord of hosts, Jerusalem shall see mason’s plummet busy once again. And this, too: A promise from the Lord of hosts! Yonder towns shall yet overflow with riches; Sion shall yet receive comfort, Jerusalem be the city of My choice.”

Zacharias, 1: 13-17

The nations in comfort are possibly those old neighbours of Juda and Jerusalem who had profited from the destruction of the Hebrew nations. These first visions of Zacharias are well populated with angelic figures, such as the prophet’s monitor. Another figure, in chapter two, performs the same service as Ezechiel’s angel companion – he prepares at first to measure the newly-restored City, still in the building. But then God interrupts to say that the City will be filled beyond measure and then, gasp, that He Himself will come to dwell among the people, and the Gentiles (other nations) will join sides with the people of God – no,  they would also become the people of God!

“When next I looked up, I saw a man there that carried a measuring-line; so I asked him, whither he was bound? ‘For Jerusalem,’ said he, ‘to measure length and breadth of it.’ And at that, my angel monitor would have gone out on his errand, but here was a second angel come out to meet him. ‘Speed thee,’ said he, ‘on thy way, and tell that pupil of thine: So full Jerusalem shall be, of men and cattle both, wall it shall have none to hedge it in;’ ‘I Myself,’ the Lord says, ‘will be a wall of fire around it, and in the midst of it, the brightness of My presence… Sion, poor maid, break out into songs of rejoicing; I am on My way, coming to dwell in the midst of thee,’ the Lord says. ‘There be nations a many that shall rally that day to the Lord’s side; they, too, shall be people of Mine, but with thee shall be My dwelling.’ Doubt there shall be none it was the Lord of hosts sent me to thy aid. Juda the Lord shall claim for His own, His portion in a holy land; still Jerusalem shall be the city of His choice. Be silent, living things, in the Lord’s presence; yonder in His holy dwelling all is astir.”

Zacharias, 2: 1-5, 10-13

Chapter three describes the recommissioning of the Sadocite priesthood in the high-priest Josue (aka. Joshua), because the continuation of that line of priesthood was still important to the service of the new Temple. But what I find interesting there is the mention of the Dayspring, God’s Servant, the stumbling-block for the Temple authorities in the New Testament that becomes the corner-stone of a new foundation, complete with seven eyes, like the Lamb of God in the book of Apocalypse who brings forgiveness (aka. Revelation, chapter five).

“This for the hearing of the high priest Josue, and others his co-assessors, names of good omen all. Time is I should bring hither My servant, that is the Dayspring. Stone is here I will set before yonder Josue; a stone that bears seven eyes, device of my own carving, says the Lord of hosts. All the guilt of this land I will banish in a single day. That shall be a day of good cheer, the Lord of hosts says, friend making glad with friend under vine and under fig-tree.”

Zacharias, 3: 8-10

Chapter four demonstrates the work of the building of the second Temple under Zorobabel, and the growth of two dynasties, one the Davidic which would bring the Messiah, and the other the Sadocite which would provide high-priests for the Temple – both here seem to be represented by olive trees. Both are begun by anointed ones, or christs, namely Zorobabel and Josue. Chapter five describes the imprisonment of godlessness, as the two christs are crowned in chapter six. And then there’s more talk about the Dayspring who would rebuild the Temple – this may describe Zorobabel in that time, but consider also that Christ would rebuild the Temple in three days (and Saint John says in the his Gospel that Christ was speaking of the Temple that was His body, that is, a third Temple, chapter two):

“Gold and silver thou must take from them, and make crowns, to crown the high priest, Josue son of Josedec… This message thou shalt give him from the Lord God of hosts: ‘Here is one takes his name from the Dayspring; where his feet have trodden, spring there shall be. He it is shall rebuild the Lord’s temple; builder of the Lord’s temple, to what honours he shall come! On princely throne he sits, throne of a priest beside him, and between these two, what harmony of counsel!’

Zacharias, 6: 11-13

So, that might indicate the two offices of king and high-priest existing in harmony with Zorobabel and Josue, but the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews might say to us that the harmony of the kingship of the line of King David and the high-priesthood of the Temple is brought about by none other but Christ, Who has entered once and for all into the Holy of Holies to make plea for His Church. The prophecies now moves again towards the restoration of Jerusalem (no need to continue to mourn for the City any longer, a tradition of the last seventy years of exile that the people can now let go of, chapter seven), and the renewed promise to the people (a new stability, renewed prosperity and security, restored morality, chapter eight). In the midst of all this, the people will finally rest in peace through the coming of a new ruler, a new king. And here’s some familiar language from the Gospels:

“Glad news for thee, widowed Sion; cry out for happiness, Jerusalem forlorn! See where thy king comes to greet thee, a trusty deliverer; see how lowly he rides, mounted on an ass, patient colt of patient dam! Chariots of thine, Ephraim, horses of thine, Jerusalem, shall be done away, bow of the warrior be unstrung; peace this king shall impose on the world, reigning from sea to sea, from Euphrates to the world’s end. How should they be ransomed, but by the blood of thy covenant with me, those thy fellow-countrymen, in waterless dungeons bound?”

Zacharias, 9: 9-11

A new king and possibly a new covenant, or perhaps a restoration or rewriting of an old covenant. And yet, the next few verses, and in chapter ten speak of the military success of the Jews, and perhaps hint at the military success of the Maccabees in the face of a future treacherous ruling class in Jerusalem and a cowardly priesthood there in the face of aggression against the Jewish religion by the Greeks of the remnants of Alexander the Great’s later empire. Chapter eleven is endlessly confusing, unless it refers also towards the failure of the twin institutions of governor and high-priest (that Zacharias had originally set up) in the face of the Greek aggression of later times, attached to a new and Greek idolatry that overtook many among the Jewish communities. This failure would have prompted a new anger on God’s part. But we’re coming to the end of the book and things are getting Messianic again. Here’s this interesting bit, where God is pierced:

When that day comes, the men of Jerusalem shall have the Lord for their stay; the lowest fallen among them shall seem royal as David’s self, and David’s clansmen a race divine, as though an angel of the Lord marched at their head. Never a nation that marched on Jerusalem but I will hunt it down, when that day comes, and make an end of it. On David’s clan, on all the citizens of Jerusalem, I will pour out a gracious spirit of prayer; towards me they shall look, me whom they have pierced through. Lament for him they must, and grieve bitterly; never was such lament for an only son, grief so bitter over first-born dead. When that day comes, great shall be the mourning in Jerusalem, great as Adadremmon’s mourning at Mageddo; the whole land in mourning, all its families apart.”

Zacharias, 12: 8-12

This is, of course, what the Apostle Saint John speaks of to great effect when he portrays the Crucifixion of Christ and the piercing of the Body of Christ (Gospel of S. John, 19:37). John, of course, had immediately before this spoken of the blood and the water that burst forth from the side of Christ, an eruption that Holy Church has often seen as her birth in the Lord. We can be sure that Zacharias was in the mind of Saint John, because the very next words in Zacharias are these:

When that day comes, clansmen of David and citizens of Jerusalem shall have a fountain flowing openly, of guilt to rid them, and of defilement. A time shall come, says the Lord of hosts, when I will efface the memory of the false gods; the very names of them shall be forgotten; banish, too, the false prophets, and the unclean spirit they echo. Dares one of them prophesy again, all men will turn against him, even the parents that begot him; Still at thy lying, and in the Lord’s name? Thou shalt die for it! And with a javelin’s thrust father and mother will take the life they gave.”

Zacharias, 13: 1-3

Of course, false prophets would continue, as Christ Himself said. But the people would no longer be taken in by them, for they would themselves henceforth be guided by the Holy Spirit and by the ministerial priesthood of the Apostles, bishops and priests. Here in this chapter is the line used by Christ after the Last Supper, when the Apostles promise to remain true to Him, but He tells them that they will all lose faith in Him at once and have to rediscover that faith:

“Up, sword, and attack this shepherd of mine, neighbour of mine, says the Lord of hosts. Smite shepherd, and his flock shall scatter; so upon the common folk my vengeance shall fall. All over this land, the Lord says, two thirds of them are forfeit to destruction, only a third shall be left to dwell there; and this third part, through fire I will lead them; purged they shall be as silver is purged, tried as gold is tried. Theirs on my name to call, their plea mine to grant; My own people, so I greet them, and they answer, The Lord is my own God.

Zacharias, 13: 7-9

And how they would regain that faith! Martyrs would bend head before the sword and go to the gallows thenceforth for the sake of the Shepherd, once fallen and now risen. Through great suffering they would be tried as silver and gold is tried, as the Shepherd had said they would, and reply to magistrates and rulers that the Lord is their own God. And this brings us to the last chapter, where the Lord is given to take his stand upon the Mount of Olives, as Christ did do in those last few days after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Messiah.

“And then the Lord will go out to battle against those nations, as He did ever in the decisive hour. There on the mount of Olives, that faces Jerusalem on the east, His feet shall be set; to east and west the mount of Olives shall be cloven in two halves, with a great chasm between, and the two halves shall move apart, one northward, one southward.”

Zacharias, 14: 3-4

On that day, on that day, on that day, living water will flow forth from the Temple in Jerusalem and God will be acclaimed King by all, a King reigning from a Cross. The evangelists all speak of a dreadful darkness that crowned the land of Juda that day, when Christ cried aloud from the Cross and the veil of the Temple was torn in two.

“Light there shall be none that day, all shall be frost and cold; one day there shall be, none but the Lord knows the length of it, that shall be neither daylight nor dark, but when evening comes, there shall be light. Then a living stream will flow from Jerusalem, half to the eastern, half to the western sea, winter and summer both; and over all the earth the Lord shall be king, one Lord, called everywhere by one name.

Zacharias, 14: 6-9

And all the people that previously warred against Jerusalem and the Jews will fall into a single worship of the one God, Whom alone they will recognise as able to control their destinies, rule their lives, and above all forgive their sins. The feast of Tent-dwelling, Tabernacles, is associated with the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and comes around every year in about September. And there, with the arrival of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, I shall end this post.

“Yet of all the nations that sent their armies against Jerusalem there shall be some remnant left; and these, year by year, shall make pilgrimage, to worship their King, the Lord of hosts, and keep his feast of Tent-dwelling. Come and worship their King they must, the Lord of hosts; else no rain shall fall on them, all the world over.

Zacharias, 14: 16-17

And that’s a nice place to end, as the Jewish communities today celebrate Rosh Ha’Shana, the New Year, and march liturgically towards the Day of Atonement and the feast of Tent-dwelling. One day they will come and worship their King, for they must, Lord of Hosts, King and Messiah.

The prophet sitting in the roof of the Sixtine chapel in Rome