The Zechariah Zone #1

Where To Go When You Need Encouragement

A Study of the Book of Zechariah

Introduction: A certain man volunteered at a large and beautiful zoo. He showed up five days a week and his job was to walk around the park all day greeting visitors and answering questions. In that way he got a lot of exercise, a lot of sunshine and fresh air, and he was able to interact with people all day long. His shirt had a patch on it that said, “Zoo Crew” and he was full of smiles and encouragement. For the first few weeks, he wandered around following his nose. Everywhere he went, people stopped him with questions or comments, and he never failed to answer with a smile. But after a few weeks, he developed a regular pathway and he explained why. He said, “I start in the reptile house so I can get them over with—they’re creepy. Then I proceed to the lions and tigers and bears, because they are ill-tempered. By lunch I’m with the monkeys because they are foolish and funny. I walk past the zebras but they are skittish and stand-offish. But I always end my day by walking through the aviary because the singing of the birds cheers my heart and I end my day with their encouraging songs. 

Then he said, “It’s a lot like life, isn’t it. Some people are creepy. Some are ill-tempered. Some are foolish and funny. Some are skittish and stand-offish. But some of them leave you with a song.

We call that encouragement, and today I want to begin a series of studies into the strangest encouragement in the Bible. His name is Zechariah, and he’s what we call a minor prophet. He isn’t minor in his importance. The minor prophets simply have shorter books than the major prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Isaiah, for example, has sixty-six chapters; Zechariah has fourteen. But they are filled with the strangest passages of encouragement in all the Bible.


In order to understand the strange book of Zechariah, we need to know about him and his times and his ministry. If you don’t understand the background of Zechariah, it’s impossible to interpret his strange visions and sermons. So this is the story….

In the book of Deuteronomy, God made an agreement with Israel, the nation He chose to produce a Messiah and Savior for all the world. If the people honored and obeyed Him, He would fight their battles, meet their needs, and bless their land. But if they dishonored and disobeyed Him, He would remove His protections and provisions.

Over time, the nation became increasingly evil, and some of the Old Testament accounts of what they did are shocking to read. The people descended into wickedness, until finally, in 587 B.C., the vast Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar overwhelmed the nation of Israel, burned its capital, destroyed its temple, and deported its people into refugee camps in Babylon. And the country remained desolate for seventy years.

In the meantime, Babylon itself was defeated by the Persians, and the Persian Emperor Cyrus became the most powerful man on earth.

The Remnant Returns

Then, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah, God moved the heart of Cyrus to allow some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem and restore their city and rebuild their temple. This happened in 539 B.C. The story of this is told in the Old Testament book of Ezra. So as background for our study of the writings of Zechariah, let’s begin our study in Ezra 1:1:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.

There is an amazing archaeological confirmation of this policy by Cyrus, and you can see it with your own eyes in the British Museum. It’s called the Cyrus Cylinder, and it’s a clay cylinder dating from the time of Cyrus on which it boasts of the king’s policy to repatriate displaced people and restore their temples and sanctuaries. The Babylonians had forced their defeated peoples to relocate to another area, and Cyrus reversed this policy and told people they could return to their homeland. The Cyrus Cylinder does not single out the Jews; it just states the policy for all defeated peoples. But it corresponds perfectly to what we read here in Ezra, even to the date when it was created—539 B.C.

In his specific proclamation to the Jews, Cyrus said:

 Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”

Nothing was more important to the Jewish people than rebuilding their temple. I don’t think we can even realize what it meant to a Jewish person in those days. For seventy years, there had been no offerings for the forgiveness of sins and no visible presence of God for the nation. Now that was about to change.

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.

King Cyrus also provided financing and returned to the Jews many of the vessels that had been looted from their original temple—the Temple of Solomon.

This has been called the Second Exodus. In the first Exodus, God delivered His people from Egypt to the Promised Land; and now He was leading them from Babylonia to the Promised Land. The Lord always finishes what He starts. And by the way, that includes you and me. Philippians 1:6 says, “He who has begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Now let’s continue with Ezra, chapter 2:

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua)….

Zerubbabel was the political leader of the group, and he was named the Governor of Jerusalem. He was of the family of David so he had royal blood in his veins. Joshua was the high priest. This is not the Joshua who led the Israelites into the Promised Land the first time; but this is another Joshua, who helped lead the Israelites into the Promised Land a second time. His grandfather had been the High Priest of Israel when the Temple had been destroyed. Now the grandson was going to restore what his grandfather had lost.

Try to picture this exodus of about 50,000 people packing their belongings, saying goodbye to their friends, and starting on a migration back to their homeland. They had about eight thousand horses and mules and donkeys, and more than 400 stubborn camels. The trip was nearly 900 miles and took four months. But imagine their joy when they saw the remains of Jerusalem ahead of them!

The Temple Rebuilding Begins

Let’s continue in chapter 3:

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.

Up on the Temple Mount was the rubble of the destroyed Temple of Solomon. In front of the Temple had been an enormous altar on which the sacrificial lambs and other animals had been sacrificed. The first act of the remnant was to restore and rebuild this altar. They felt enormous guilt, and the only way to atone for the guilt and find peace with themselves and with God was the blood of the Lamb—which is also true for us today, our Lamb being the Lord Jesus.

If you ever look back at your life and beat yourself up because of past guilt or sin or failure or shame, you are miscalculating the power of the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ. We have an altar and we have a sacrifice and we have a total victory.

Now, verse 3 introduces the fact that there were other people who had populated Jerusalem and Judah, and so the arrival of the Jewish remnant was an obvious point of tension. It’s the same way today in Jerusalem. You have Jews and Arabs living in the same city, and it’s still a source of tension.

 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices

The passage goes on to say that the Jewish settlers started observing the Jewish calendar again with all its feasts and festivals, and then they proceeded with the next phase of their plan—the rebuilding of the temple. They purchased cedar logs from Lebanon, which were floated down the coast of the Mediterranean sea to the port of Joppa and brought overland to Jerusalem, drew up the plans, gathered the other materials, and look at verse 8:

In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord.

Verse 10 says:

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

“He is good; His love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

I’ve always thought this is one of the most emotional and poignant scenes in the Old Testament. The older people who remembered the glorious Temple of Solomon wept because this new enterprise was so small and inferior to what they remembered; but they were also weeping because at least the Temple was being rebuilt. And the younger people who had no such memories were enraptured with their project and their vision for the future.

The Temple Work Ceases

But now the Jews run into real opposition. Look at chapter 4:

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.

Someone said that of all the tools in the devil’s toolkit, none is as effective as discouragement. I wonder about your level of discouragement. The thing is, we can be discouraged about so many things that it’s hard to overcome it all. We can be overwhelmed with discouragement. Ninety-five percent of your life could be going well, but the one area that discourages you can affect one hundred percent of your morale. We get discouraged over our children; over our finances; over our jobs; over our health. Some people like me step on the bathroom scales every morning to check our weight, and we begin the day discouraged.

A very great part of spiritual maturity is developing an immunity against discouragement. The only way to do that is through the truths of Scripture and its message of the sovereign control of our God over every detail of our lives.

  • Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
  • Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
  • 1 Chronicles 28:20 says, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”
  • 2 Chronicles 20:15 says, “This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’”
  • Ephesians 3:13 says, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged….”
  • 2 Corinthians 7:6 (NLT) says, “God…encourages those who are discouraged.”
  • Psalm 42:11 (TLB) says, “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be upset. Expect God to act! For I know that I shall again have plenty of reason to praise Him for all that He will do.”

You and I have to be diligent and vigilant against this crippling emotional disease called discouragement. If you are discouraged right now, find some of these verses and repeat them. Shout them aloud. Trust in the Lord and expect Him to work it all for good. And you can know that you will again have plenty of reason to praise Him for all He will do.

Well, the rest of Ezra, chapter 4 describes the political opposition by the local residents against the Jews. They resorted to threats, to bribery, to accusations, and to political and military pressure. And finally they forced the Jews to stop work on the Temple.

Ezra 4:24 says: Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

That ends chapter 4, and between chapters 4 and 5, there is a period of eighteen silent years. Eighteen years when the Jewish remnant went about their lives, building their houses, getting married, having children, establishing their jobs, and walking beneath the unfinished construction of the temple.

I’ve been in foreign nations many times and seen half-constructed buildings abandoned. Sometimes you see it in this country. Often it’s a concrete shell with weeds growing around it and rubbish collecting around it. It’s a depressing scene. Someone had a dream; they planned a building; they invested their money; but for whatever reason they were stopped in the middle of the project and the concrete or cinder blocks look bare and deserted.

That’s the way the temple looked for nearly 20 years. In defense of the remnant, King Cyrus had died on the battlefield and his much darker and more oppressive son, Cambyses (Kam-by’-sis), plundered the Holy Land and used Gaza as a staging area for his war with Egypt. His death paved the way for Darius to become emperor and that’s when the prophets Haggai and Zechariah began their ministry.

Ezra 4:24 says: Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The Prophets Appear

But now, let’s go to Ezra 5.

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied [preached] to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

Two prophets showed up. These two men felt the call of God to do something. They gathered the people and began to preach to them. And a revival broke out—a revival of the work for the rebuilding of the temple. And Zerubbabel and Joshua—the governor and the high priest—got stirred up again, and so did the people. And they marched up that hill, cleared away the debris, jump started the work, withstood their enemies, and built that temple. In the next chapter, it is completed and dedicated.

What’s amazing is that the book of Ezra does not tell us one word that was spoken by either prophet. What could they have said that so stirred up the people? Wouldn’t you like to have a transcript of their sermons!

Well, we do!

What they said is recorded for us in the books that bear their names—the book of Haggai and the book of Zechariah, right at the end of the Old Testament. 

For example, let’s turn over to Haggai, chapter 2: 

On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to that passage when I’ve been discouraged, when my work for the Lord seemed to me like nothing.

Haggai and Zechariah are the prophets to discouraged people, especially people who become discouraged in the work to which God has called them to. In the New Testament, Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement” because of how he encouraged God’s people. In the Old Testament, Haggai and Zechariah were the sons of encouragement. If you don’t realize the background for these books in the minor prophets, you’ll never be able to draw out the lessons we need.

That’s why I want to begin a study of the book of Zechariah. He is the strangest of all the prophets. He has odd visions, dramatic messages, and apocalyptic information to give. In this book you’ll see a woman flying through the air in a basket, and you’ll learn the details of the Battle of Armageddon. The book of Zechariah has fourteen chapters, and every one of them is rich.

But the purpose is to give us encouragement in our own day. 


So many times in my 47 years of pastoral ministry I’ve gone to Haggai and Zechariah for encouragement. I’ll give you just one closing example. Like the Israelites who thought their new temple was such a small and unworthy replacement for the vast temple of Solomon, I’ve sometimes looked at my work and it seemed so small and unimpressive. But I would go to Zechariah 4:10—“Do not despise the day of small things.” And just above that verse is the one that says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The temple of Zerubbabel, which we call the Second Temple, was being built for Jesus Christ and one day it would possess greater glory than that of Solomon for the Lord Himself would minister there.

And I came to realize there is small or insignificant work where God is concerned when it is done, not by human might or power, but by His Spirit.

And, encouraged, I went back to work. 

So where do you go for encouragement? Sometimes you go to Haggai and Zechariah, and in going to them you are digging into the riches of the Word of God.