The Zechariah Zone #2

Overtaken By the Word of God

A Study of Zechariah 1:1-6


Last week we started a study of the strange Old Testament book of Zechariah. It’s easy to find because it’s the next-to-the-last book of the Old Testament. You have Zechariah, Malachi, and then Matthew. So you can find the Gospel of Matthew that opens the New Testament and go backward through Malachi and you’ll come to Zechariah.

The name Zechariah means “Yahweh Remembers” and it was a popular name in the Bible. Two dozen men have this name. The two best known are this prophet in the Old Testament and the father of John the Baptist in the New Testament.

This Old Testament prophet showed up in Jerusalem shortly after Haggai began preaching and the two of them worked side-by-side to encourage the Jewish remnant who had returned from Jerusalem to resume rebuilding the Second Temple. In summary: The nation of Judah became so vile and reprehensible that God allowed the Babylonians to conquer the nation, destroy the First Temple—the one Solomon had built—and to export the Jewish survivors to Babylon where they lived for 70 years.

Then Emperor Cyrus rose to power and allowed a remnant of the Jews to return and to try to reestablish a Jewish presence in Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. The work started, but it ran into so much opposition from the local Palestinian residents of the day. When Cyrus died in battle, his son took over the Persian Empire and that added to the chaos and resistance. The Jews continued going to work building their own houses and repopulating the land, but the temple of God remained an unfinished shell of a building for eighteen years. Then King Darius rose to the throne and conditions changed. Haggai and Zechariah showed up and encouraged the people to resume building the Second Temple, and their sermons were so powerful that the Temple construction resumed and was completed with great joy and fanfare.

Now let me tell you three more interesting details about this.

First, we think Zechariah was a young man. There is a verse in chapter 2 that suggests that possibility, and we’ll look at it in a future episode. But it has traditionally been thought that Haggai was an older man and Zechariah was a young man, and they were working side by side.

Second, although Zechariah’s ministry was very successful, his life ended when he was murdered. He is the last Old Testament figure to suffer martyrdom. We don’t have any account of his death in the Bible, but the Lord Jesus spoke some blistering words to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. He said, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (verses 33-35). 

So the first Old Testament martyr was Abel in the book of Genesis, and the last was the prophet Zechariah, who was murdered on the grounds of the very temple he had encouraged the people to reconstruct.

Third, the book of Zechariah is very odd. The first half is full of strange apocalyptic visions and the last part is filled with sermons about the last days. And so the book of Zechariah has been called “The Revelation of the Old Testament.” 


Zechariah was a prophet of encouragement, but he begins in a strange way, with the subject of the anger of God. If you went to your neighbors’ house to encourage them, would you start talking about the wrath of God? But that is often a logical starting point.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

“The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?

1. The Anger of God

Zechariah begins his messages of encouragement with the subject of the anger and wrath of God. His first spoken words were: Yahweh was very angry with your ancestors.

That seems a very unusual starting place. If you want to encourage someone, do you sit down and read them passages in the Bible about God’s wrath and anger?

Well, maybe. Zechariah wanted them to understand why they were in their current predicament so they would better know how to get out of it. And this is an interesting place to discuss the whole subject of the anger and wrath of God. Understandably, critics and skeptics say, “Your God of the Bible is just like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology, always losing His temper and working out of annoyance and irritation and resentment and violence. How can He be a God of love and always be so angry?”

Those are not bad questions, but we do have very good answers.

The Bible doesn’t hesitate to speak of the wrath of God. I’ve already quoted from a blunt sermon by Jesus Christ who called His critics a bunch of snakes who were going to hell. 

  • Romans 1:18 says: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
  • John 3:36 says: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
  • Nahum 1:2 and 3 says: The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents His wrath against His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm….
  • Psalm 7:11 says: God is a righteous judge, a God who displays His wrath every day.

In his classic book, Knowing God, Dr. J. I. Packer devotes an entire chapter to this subject. He wrote: “The modern habit throughout the Christian church is to play this subject down. Those who still believe in the wrath of God (not all do) say little about it….”

He discusses this for a while, and then writes, “Clearly, the theme of God’s wrath is one about which the biblical writers feel no inhibitions whatever. Why, then, should we? Why, when the Bible is vocal about it, do we feel obliged to be silent?”

And then a bit later, Packer makes this critical point: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to moral evil.”

That’s a very important way of understanding this. When we are talking about the wrath of God, we are talking about a right and necessary divine response to moral evil. Packer asks, “Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect?”

In the entry on this subject in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, there’s a very helpful sentence: “In the biblical portrayal the wrath of God is not so much an emotion or an angry frame of mind as it is the settled opposition of His holiness to evil.”

Well, the level of evil had become very great in ancient Judah and Israel. Sexual immorality was the norm; idolatry was everywhere; the kings and the government were corrupt; the priests were corrupt; there were vile images in the holy temple. In many ways, it prefigures our nation today. And the beginning point of change is to recognize that God is going to adjudicate all this. He is going to judge evil. That’s what happened to the Jewish people, and so Zechariah begins: “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors.

My friend, Keith Getty, along with Stuart Townend, wrote a wonderful hymn entitled, “In Christ Alone.” 

Last summer the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” made headlines for its lyrical references to the wrath of God and atonement theology. A hymn committee with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) wanted to add the song to their new hymnal, Glory to God, released this fall. But in doing so, the committee requested permission from the song’s writers, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, to print an altered version of the hymn’s lyrics, changing “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The songwriters rejected the proposed change, and as a result the hymn committee voted to bar the hymn…. This was the second time a hymnal publisher attempted to change the same lyric. 

2. Return to Me

But after that one sentence, Zechariah told the people what to do. Look at verses 3 and 4:

 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord

God is not only a God of wrath and justice; He is also a God of love and mercy and forgiveness. He opens the door for us to be forgiven and to have a relationship with Him. 

In coming chapters, Zechariah is going to tell us that this will be through the agency of a man who will:

  • Come and live among the Jewish people (2:11).
  • Become a servant who will cleanse people from their sins (3:8).
  • He will remove the sin of the world in a single day (3:9).
  • He will be Joshua or Jesus, who will serve as both King and Priest (6:9-11).
  • He will be called the Branch, which has sprouted from the stump of Jesse and He will sit and rule on His throne (6:12-15).
  • He will be the cornerstone (10:4).
  • He will enter Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9).
  • He will proclaim peace to the nations (9:10).
  • He will be a shepherd who saves (9:16).
  • But He will be struck and His sheep scattered (13:7).
  • He will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (10:12).
  • The money will be thrown down (10:13).
  • The money will be paid to the potter (10:13).
  • The Shepherd-King will be pierced (12:10).
  • He will open a fountain for the cleansing of sin (13:1).
  • In the future, His feet will descend to the Mount of Olives, just as the nations of the world are attacking Jerusalem in the Last Battle and save His people and establish His kingdom (14).

This is Jesus Christ in the book of Zechariah. Even His name is prefigured in the priest—Joshua—was also crowned as a king, uniting the priesthood and the monarchy. Joshua is the Old Testament form of Jesus. We’ll look at each of these passages in future episodes.

But for now, what would you say if I asked you this question? What person in the Bible or in all of human history was Jewish, who came to live among His own people, who was a servant who, on a single day, would provide cleansing for sin; who is named Joshua or Jesus; who is both priest and king; who is called the Branch and the Cornerstone, who entered Jerusalem on a donkey and proclaimed peace to the nations? Who is this person?

He was a good shepherd who was struck down, betrayed for 30 pieces of silver that were thrown onto the temple floor and used to buy a field from a potter? Who is this Shepherd King who was pierced, whose death opened a fountain for the cleansing of sin?

Who is this strange person who will return one day, His feet descending onto the Mount of Olives at the climactic moment of a violent battle in which the nations of the world are surrounding Jerusalem. Who will save His people, assume His throne, and rule over a Messianic kingdom unlike anything the world has ever imagined?

This Joshua, this Jew, this servant, this priest, this king, this branch, this cornerstone, this shepherd, this martyr, this man whose own veins provide a fountain filled with blood – this man of prediction and prophecy is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth was still roughly 500 years in the future.

But this is why the Lord can say to you and me: Return! Come to me! Return to Me and I will return to You. Do not be like the hardhearted and stubborn. I invite you to come.

3. Overtaken By the Word

There’s one other phrase I want you to notice, the one about being overtaken by the Word. Look at verses 5 and 6:  Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?

The word overtake is worth underlining in your Bible. It means to catch up with someone. I believe Zechariah was harkening back to Deuteronomy 28:15, which says, “If you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all His commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you.”

Psalm 40:12 says, “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me.”

Proverbs 10:24 says, “What the wicked dread will overtake them.”

You can’t outrun the consequences of your sin. If there’s an area of immorality in your life, it will sooner or later overtake you. If you continue to persist in some bad habit, one day it will catch up with you. The Bible says that our sins will find us out. And here Zechariah reminded his listeners of how the judgment of God overtook their ancestors. 

But there’s another way in which we can be overtaken by the Word of God. Deuteronomy 28:2—the same chapter that talks about the curses overtaking the disobedient—also says, “All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:2 CSB).

Isaiah 35:10 says of the Redeemed: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Just as those without Jesus Christ will be overtaken by judgment, all those of us who do know Him will be overtaken will blessing, with gladness, with joy. We are not yet fully experiencing all that God has planned for us, but one day all His promises will be fulfilled and all His goodness will catch up with us.


The last sentence of the paragraph says, “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

Zechariah reminded the people of the repentance option. To repent of something means that we say to the Lord, “I’ve been doing things my way; now I’m going to do them your way.”

That was where Zechariah started his sermons of encouragement. He encouraged people to remember what had befallen their ancestors. He reminded them of the wrath of God. He reminded them of how sin can overtake them. But he also reminded them of the repentance option—the wonderful opportunity to say, “Lord, I’ve been doing things my way; now I’m going to begin living for the one who…

Became a servant to cleanse me from sin, to be my King and Priest, to be my Shepherd; the one who entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, who was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, who was pierced, who was struck down, and who opened a fountain for the cleansing of sin; the one who is coming again for me.

Let’s make up our minds to live so that all His blessings overtake us in due time.