Zechariah: Getting Back to God (May 6-June 3)

Teaching in General

A major theme of the book of Zechariah is repentance—returning to God. Repentance and returning to God is what we hope our class members and we ourselves experience when we study the Bible. How does this transformation happen? Generally not through words and knowledge alone. For life transformation to occur, the call of God needs to make sense to us intellectually, touch us emotionally, and we need to experience it and put it into practice. Transformative Bible study touches the head, heart, and hands and feet. So in Bible study, look for ways to help class members understand and preferably discover truth for themselves. Touch their minds. Open up avenues for the message to reach them on an emotional level. Help them find their love and passion, righteous anger, sadness, and empathy through creativity, prayer, music, personal stories, and through open and honest sharing. Help them find their motivation for being what God has called them to be. Touch their hearts. Finally, look for ways to experience God and to make practical application through the week. Live out the message of the text. Touch their hands and feet.

Introduction to the Unit

Biblical History
The historical background of Zechariah is particularly important to understanding the book’s message. During the reign of Cyrus of Persia, Jewish captives of the Babylonian exile were allowed to return to Jerusalem, though they remained under foreign rule. If you’d like to learn a little more about the historical context of Zechariah check out the articles on “Exile” and “Post- Exilic Period” in Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995) and Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988). A biblical map of the Babylonian Empire and the Persian Empire will also be helpful (A Bible Atlas is available in my office and I am trying to secure one for the library.)

A brief timeline:
722    Assyria conquers the Northern Kingdom of Israel
586    Babylon conquers Judah completely; destroys the temple; exiles the Jews to Babylonia; Babylonian Captivity begins
539    Persia defeats Babylon; Cyrus, emperor of Persia, issues edict, allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem; Daniel serves in Cyrus’ court
520    The prophecy of Zechariah (1:1) and Haggai encourage the rebuilding of the temple
515    Temple completed
480    Esther becomes of Persia

The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 prophets (including Zechariah) are set during this time period before, during and after the Babylonian conquest, destruction of Jerusalem, exile, and return to Jerusalem.

Apocalyptic Literature
Apocalyptic literature in the Bible, like the book of Revelation and Daniel, and some passage in Zechariah, is written during times when Israel is experiencing foreign rule and persecution. It is intentionally veiled and symbolic, since to be openly critical of the ruling powers or to speak of God’s ultimate reign and power could bring the wrath of the occupying kingdom. Consider the visions of colored horses and horsemen, a large flying scroll, and a woman in a basket for example. Though these visions often look to the future, they speak to Israel’s current situation around 520 BCE, so we must be careful not to read too much into our present day situation in 2012. Apocalyptic writings are meant to bring hope and comfort to an oppressed people in a difficult situation, without making the situation worse by angering those that rule over them. For more on this see the article on “Apocalyptic” literature in Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988).

Missions Fair
On Sunday, May 20, 9:00-10:30 a.m. we will again conduct a missions fair. Representatives of the local and global ministries we support will provide information about their work at a variety of booths in fellowship hall. Please encourage your class members to attend. Come early or late or let the missions fair be your Sunday lesson for the day.

The May 27 lesson refers to “the widow, the orphan, the alien, the poor.” When you visit the missions fair, you may want to look for examples of ministry with widows, orphans, aliens, and the poor, to share with your class the following Sunday (see teaching suggestion in the May 27 session).