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Asbury Bible Commentary – III. Content And Structure
III. Content And Structure

III. Content And Structure

The first six chapters of Zechariah may be called a “book of visions.” Through these eight visions (whether actual visions or literary technique is a moot issue) the prophet reveals God's intention to deliver the beleaguered restoration community. The first and last visions emphasize God's sovereignty over all the earth, hence enveloping the other six visions with a tenor of certainty. Chs. 7 and 8 contain the prophet's sermons or sermonic notes on a variety of issues. They have been arranged, however, around the theme of fasting. Chs. 9-14 fall naturally into halves, each introduced by the expression “An Oracle—The Word of the Lord” (9:1; 12:1). In highly symbolic language, the prophet speaks of Yahweh's ultimate victory over evil and the deliverance of his people. The Messiah plays a central role in this ultimate salvation, and Zechariah's description of God's Anointed One is as clear as any other in the OT.

Zechariah contains a strong apocalyptic tone. Technically, only Daniel and Revelation may be said to be “apocalyptic.” Those books provide the definition and characteristics of “biblical apocalyptic” (as distinct from the literature of the intertestamental period). Those characteristics include a cosmic scope, God's miraculous intervention on behalf of his people, a sense of finality since the divine purposes were already achieved in heaven, and a liberal use of visions and symbolic numbers or animals. Daniel and Revelation also employ a discernible arrangement of material beginning at a specific point in history (Nebuchadnessar's Babylon for Daniel and the seven local churches of Asia Minor for John). Both books then proceed from the local scene in Babylon or Asia Minor to the universal scene, from a point in time to the end of time.

Zechariah may be said to be a “rudimentary stage” of this type of literature (Baldwin, 71). Chs. 1-8 are set in the prophet's own day in the city of Jerusalem (though two of the visions are broader). Chs. 9-14 involve Israel's history, but the scope gradually broadens to include all the nations. In highly poetic language, the author jumps to “the day of the Lord” when the whole world will acknowledge Yahweh's lordship (ch. 14). The presence of the other characteristics of apocalyptic in Zechariah (visions, symbolism, cosmic scope, etc.) have led scholars to refer to Zechariah as “early apocalyptic” or “proto-apocalyptic” (e.g., Hanson, 472-73).

Zechariah's use of this apocalyptic arrangement from a point of time to the end of time is another reason for assuming the essential unity of the book (see “Composition and the Problem of Unity” above). Moreover, each section of the prophecy is systematically structured on a chiastic pattern. That is to say, there is a concentric movement among each section's subunits. This is best illustrated by the outline of chs. 7-8 (see below). The unit opens and closes with paragraphs dealing with the question about fasting, designated as A and A1. The sermons of 7:4-14 and 8:9-17 correspond in a general way (B and B1). In the center stands Zechariah's “sayings of encouragement” (C). So chiasm is arranged according to an ABCBA pattern. The section in the center (C in our example) is usually central to the author's message. The visions of chs. 1-6 are thus organized according to an ABBCCBBA pattern. The arrangement of the materials in chs. 9-14 is a bit more complicated (see outline below). I am indebted to Joyce Baldwin for this analysis and invite the reader to consult her excellent commentary for more detail on this structure (Baldwin, 74-81).