Mark Boda Answers Your Questions on The Book of Zechariah
In our September newsletter, we invited readers to submit their questions for Mark Boda, author of the new NICOT volume on Zechariah. The response was phenomenal — so much so that it’s taken us a little longer than we would have liked to share his answers with you.
Although Dr. Boda was unable to respond to every one of the forty-five questions raised, you’ll find answers to twenty reader questions below.
Is yours among the questions he selected? Read on to find out!
On the content of Zechariah . . .
It is the cry at the outset of the book: return to Me so that I may return to you — the passionate pursuit of Yahweh for covenantal relationship.
Why do some commentators divide the book? Such as chapters 1-8, and 9-14? What is the consensus with evangelical commentators? Do you address this issue in your book?
Many scholars have noted the differences between the first half of the book (chs. 1-8) and the second half (chs. 9-14) based on the style of the literature, with the first half more focused on present day issues and the second half on eschatological issues. This reached its height with the view of Hanson (also Plöger) that Zech 1-8 arose from someone supporting the hierocracy (the Zadokite priesthood in Jerusalem) and Zech 9-14 from someone directly opposed to the hierocracy. Evangelical commentators have tended to argue for a united book, but it should be noted that early attempts to distinguish the two parts of the book arose because Matt 27:7 identifies a citation from Zechariah 11:12-13 as coming from Jeremiah (so for conservative reasons the book was seen as divided). Over the past half century, however, there has been a growing body of research that has highlighted how the book evidences unity and should be read as such. I do address this issue in the commentary.
In Zechariah 3:1-2, does the term “Satan” refer to a spiritual figure or to a human being (perhaps one of the “colleagues who are sitting before you” in 3:8)?
The Satan I take as a heavenly figure responsible for bringing accusation against human figures in the heavenly court, much as a prosecuting attorney in a modern court.
Who is the one Zechariah 12:10 referring to?
I see the figure in Zech 12:10 as Yahweh. The first person “me” which precedes the phrase “the one whom they stabbed” is always Yahweh in Zechariah 12-14.
How do you interpret the craftsmen?
The craftsmen are not craftsmen, but rather are “plowers” or “farmers.” The image world here is agricultural with the horns of two animals, farmers who throw stones to drive away these animals. The farmers are the Persians who punished the earlier powers who abused Israel and Judah (Assyria/Babylon).
Not knowing your theological disposition, what are your thoughts on dispensational readings of Zechariah 14?
I don’t deal as much with this in this present commentary since I developed this quite extensively in my earlier NIVAC Haggai/Zechariah. You can especially look to the introduction in “Bridging Contexts.” There is a long history of scholarship on the New Testament (Bruce, Dodd, France, Marcus) that Zechariah 9-14 is used as a foundational text for the Passion Narratives of the Gospels and in this way Zechariah 9-14 is seen as fulfilled in and through the First Coming of Christ. Whether this is typological fulfillment or promise/fulfillment is not clear, and whether the expectation of Zechariah 9-14 is related to a possibility that is conditioned by human response or set in stone is also not clear. But the expectation of the New Testament for a future which will bring history to an end suggests that these depictions in the prophets provide some image of a coming crisis. You’ll find that while I see the church as inheriting the promises of Israel, I also see an enduring hope for the Jewish ethnic community, based on Romans 9-11. This probably does not make me fit into any one camp too comfortably. But my NICOT is not focused on these issues since I already have expressed my views on this in my NIVAC.
On Zechariah in its wider context . . .
How do you see Zechariah fitting into the Book of the Twelve overall?
I’ve been working on this issue for the past 5 years with a dozen articles published so far. A volume will appear in the next couple of years showcasing my argument, but I think that Zechariah plays a significant role in drawing together the Book of the Twelve as a whole. Zechariah was the anchor of a collection that encompassed Haggai-Malachi and which then was joined to the Twelve and played a key role in its shape as a final collection. Zechariah highlights the key theme of repentance in the final phase of the Twelve, echoing earlier language and theology of repentance found in the first half of the Twelve, especially as seen in Joel and Jonah. Zechariah also plays a key role in the development of the theme of exile and restoration of kingship and the protest and theodicy.
Can you please comment on how our study of the imagery in Zechariah (chapter 4, for example) should influence our reading of the same (or similar) imagery in the book of Revelation?
Certainly there are many connections between Zechariah and Revelation in terms of imagery, and I am happy to hear you focus on this as a connection in terms of “imagery” and not “theology.” How the images function within Zechariah is different than how they function in Revelation, so it is important not to equate the images and their literary and theological function in the one book with their function in the other. Nevertheless the use of the olive tree/lampstand imagery from Zechariah 4 in Revelation 11 gave me more confidence for my argument that the “sons of fresh oil” (often called the anointed ones) in Zechariah 4 are prophetic figures (Haggai/Zechariah) rather than royal and priestly figures (Zerubbabel/Joshua) which is the common view among Christian interpreters as well as the community at Qumran.
What do you consider to be the primary influence of Zechariah upon the people of the dead sea scrolls?
I would say it is the two figures at the end of Zechariah 4, often identified as the “anointed ones.”
On preaching and applying Zechariah . . .
What is the biggest pitfall to avoid when interpreting and applying Zechariah, whether as a pastor preaching through the book or someone reading it on their own?
I think it is to not see the potential of the text’s message to its original audience for our churches and communities today. The prophets are so often preached and read for their foretelling message, often looking for specific connections to Jesus. But their forthtelling message — that message to a community in need of grace and holiness — dominates the book of Zechariah and is a message from Yahweh, the triune God, and thus also the message of Jesus to us.
Though it’s not the purpose of the commentary series, I’m curious how you might advise a pastor (or in my case a campus minister) who might preach through the book as a series of messages. Would you think it could be reasonable to break it up into a few talks to be done in a weekend retreat setting? If so, how might you divide the book into sections/units?
I’ve preached through Zechariah and found that people are fascinated by it. I found, too, that it was easy to keep their attention, since they were not used to these passages. You could focus in one section of the book, perhaps the night visions in 1:7-6:15, and present on the first three night visions (a message of comfort), then the middle two night visions (leadership), and then the two night visions in ch. 5 (confronting sin). If people wanted an overview of the book as a whole, I’d do a talk on repentance in 1:1-6/7:1-8:23, then a talk on comfort and challenge drawing up on the visionary material in 1:7-6:15, and finally a talk on God’s passion to change the world in Zechariah 9-14. In each section there are impediments within human community for these themes to be realized: whether social injustice (1:1-6/7:1-8:23), social injustice/idolatry (1:7-6:15) or failed leadership (the shepherd units in chs. 9-14). If you preach on it, do send me a note with how you did it. I’d love to hear.
What is your understanding of preaching Christ from the OT, and how would you apply those principles to preaching Zechariah? Do you do any of this in your commentary?
This was not the focus of this commentary, as I had already addressed this subject quite extensively in my NIVAC Commentary. My approach is redemptive historical but also what I called redemptive ethical, with my hermeneutical foundation found in 2 Tim 3:14-17. The OT provides the foundation for the redemptive story that finds its climax in and through the two advents of Christ, but also has ethical implications for us as Christians who have received grace in and through Christ. (Also check out my article on Biblical Theology and the Old Testament in the Eerdmans book Hearing the Old Testament, edited by Craig Bartholomew and David Beldman. There I talk about my Theocentric, Christotelic, and Pneumamorphic approach to OT interpretation.)
Often I have difficulty convincing people of the importance of the prophets. What would you say is the most important reason that we should read the Old Testament Prophets?”
Because Christ and the apostles drew upon them for foundational theology and ethics.
How (specifically) can a thorough study of Zechariah enrich our knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ?
Zechariah reveals to us the character of Christ, seen in Yahweh’s passionate pursuit of His people from the very first sermon of the book. It was in Zechariah that the New Testament gospel writers found structure for understanding the drama of Christ’s passion, constantly alluding to Zechariah 9-14 within their passion accounts. The enduring hope for the Davidic line seen in most of Zechariah highlights the role that Christ would play as son of David.
On the process of writing of this commentary . . .
Thomas Manton says in his sermon on Zech 14:9, “Never serve a faction or party to the prejudice and detriment of truth and religion.” Did you find yourself, at any time, in a struggle with some of the conclusions you came to while interpreting the book?
I do believe in the value of reflecting on the implications of my study for my own theological framework and am, of course, open to my need to adjust that framework based on the fact that I am not only finite but fallible. Prior to my work in Zechariah I had treated biblical books like Zechariah as discrete units, while being aware of influences from other parts of the canon. But working with Zechariah I began to realize that Zechariah was part of a larger literary work called the Twelve (and I think Zechariah and his disciples played a role in drawing this collection together).
What verse or section of verses did you find most challenging to exegete and write about in your commentary on Zechariah? Also, which verse or set of verses did you find most edifying?
The most challenging was Zechariah 9-14. Actually, I was so intimidated when I started to work on this section 15 years ago that I gathered together a group of scholars into a project to give me a chance to dialogue about it (see my edited volume with Michael Floyd, Bringing Out the Treasure). The most edifying remains the opening sermon of Zechariah 1:3, where Zechariah gets to the heart of repentance: “Return to Me.” This passage reminds me that repentance is fundamentally relational: it is a return to the Father (as in the Prodigal Son), before it is a change in ethical behavior (which Zechariah 1:4 makes clear as well).
General questions . . .
I noticed that you have written another significant commentary on Zechariah in the NIVAC series. What is the most important development in your understanding of Zechariah in the NICOT work compared to your previous study? And related to that, what was the most significant influence that led to that change?
The NICOT gave me an opportunity to provide the foundation upon which my NIVAC was based. In this volume you will find more detail on particular words and more orientation to the sections of the book, helping you to read the variety of genres that often confuse modern readers. I have been able to fill out connections between Zechariah and other parts of the Old Testament, those inner biblical allusions that provide so much insight into reading Zechariah. In terms of major shifts, I have been able to incorporate more reflection on how Zechariah interacts with the Book of the Twelve.
One of the emphases that I have been looking for in commentaries on the prophets is the application to ANE people. But Zechariah seems to have less ancient tie-ins than other prophets. Does your new book have those kind of tie-ins to ancient spiritual life?
My main focus for ANE is related to the history of the Persian empire and the demise of the Babylonian empire. You will find some connections to the fire-altars, sun god, horses, and images, as well as the political history and how this shapes Zechariah’s message.
What makes this commentary on Zechariah unique from other commentaries on the book?
You’ll find detailed discussion of the specific verses along with more general orientations to each chapter as well as section of the book. The key for me was to provide good orientation at the outset so you don’t get lost in the forest for the trees — and yet also to provide lots of analysis of the individual trees for those who need to clarity on specific issues. I have also incorporated the latest in research. I am an evangelical who reads the biblical text with the best of critical methodology.
What ways have your personal experiences and interests shaped this book?
I cut my teeth on prophetic literature 25 years ago in my Westminster prophets class with Raymond Dillard translating Zechariah! I pastored a small church in Philadelphia at the time as well and didn’t have much extra time to prepare sermons, so I used Zechariah in my church. So from my first serious encounter with Zechariah, I was forced to use it in the context of the church, and I saw how the community of Zechariah’s time had many issues in common with my little struggling church. When I was a young professor and was writing on Zechariah I had two young pastors who I was mentoring take my notes and preach them in their congregations. I continued to see the potential of this text to shape the people of God.