Zechariah: Historical Background
In January of 588 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege against Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 25; 2 Chron. 36; Jer. 52). For over a year, the Jews suffered the effects of the siege. As famine set in, morale among the Jews sank. Due to their weakened condition, plagues of one kind or another began to afflict the people (Jer. 14:12; 27:8,13). Eventually the food supply was depleted and misery soared high as many were reduced to cannibalism (Jer. 19:9; La. 2:20; 4:10; Ezek. 5:10). Finally, in July of 587 B.C., the Babylonians broke through the walls and began pillaging and looting the city. Many Jews were slaughtered. The city, temple, and walls, were razed to the ground. Those not killed were taken captive to Babylon, except for some of the peasantry. All that was left of Jerusalem was ash and rubble.
The Jews taken captive to Babylon remained in bondage throughout the rest of the life of the Babylonian empire. In 538 B.C., the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians. Cyrus, king of Persia, reversed the Babylonian practice of repression of nationalism by allowing those nations who had been deported by the Babylonians to return back to their homelands and to worship their own gods. Cyrus allowed returning captives to take with them the religious objects which the Babylonians claimed as booty. He also provided them some funds to help rebuild local religious shrines. He hoped that this generosity would create local governments who were loyal to him.
The Jews taken captive by Babylon benefitted from Cyrus’ policy and were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Cyrus’ edict allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem is found in Ezra (1:2-4; 6:3-5). Over the next century and a half, numbers of Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem and her temple. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra tell the story.
Shortly after Cyrus’ edict, a group of Jews led by Sheshbazaar, of the Davidic line, returned to Jerusalem. They immediately attempted to rebuild the temple. However, the situation in Jerusalem was difficult and the group failed to make much progress in securing Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. In 520 B.C., a second group of exiles returned to Jerusalem led by two men named Zerubbabel, nephew to Sheshbazaar, and Joshua. Under their leadership, and through the inspiration of the prophets Zachariah and Haggai, the temple was rebuilt although its structure cannot be compared to the grandeur of Solomon’s temple.
Book of Zechariah
The writings of Zechariah include both his preachings and prophecies. His preachings focused on motivating the Jews to complete the rebuilding of the temple (Zech. 1-8). The prophecies (Zech. 9-14) deal with the second coming of Christ.
Zechariah’s Prophecies of the Last Days
Zechariah prophesies that in the last days, “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it” (12:2-3). Jerusalem in the past has been a place of much contention. Many wars have been fought upon the slopes where that ancient city was built. Zecariah’s prophecy states that Jerusalem shall remain “a burdensome stone for all people.”
Any who are familiar with the Middle East today are keenly aware how crucial Jerusalem is in the political wranglings which keep that part of the world in a state of constant violence. I have personally lived in Jerusalem on several different occasions - both as a student and teacher. I have observed the politics that keep Jerusalem “a burdensome stone.” In fact, I was teaching at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies when this last siege of violence broke out (beginning at the end of September 2002). For a month and a half, we, with the students, played dodge ball with that violent and dangerous situation. Finally, the First Presidency had the students return to America. We, the faculty, were asked to stay in Jerusalem in hopes that the violence would subside and the student program could continue. However, the political situation worsened and the violence spread to the point that the lives of the faculty and their families were in harm’s way. Consequently, the student program was brought to an end and we were brought home.
Since my return from the Middle East, the political situation has worsened. The prospect of war with Iraq is ominous. And in the middle of all of this, Jerusalem still remains “a burdensome stone.” All of this has been foreknown by God. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, “As part of his infinite foreknowledge, for example, the Lord would need to have perfect comprehension of all the military and political developments in the Middle East for all time. Some of these are unfolding only now, bringing to pass a latter‑day condition in which Jerusalem, as Zechariah foretold, will be a ‘cup of trembling,’ a ‘burdensome stone for all people.’ ‘All nations’ will be gathered ‘against Jerusalem to battle.’ (Zechariah 12:2,3; 14:2.).”[i]
We shall have to watch and see how the situation in the Middle East deteriorates to the point that Jerusalem is eventually besieged, with “all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.”
Regarding the latter-day siege against Jerusalem, Zechariah uttered several prophecies. The meanings of these various prophecies are lost when they are viewed separately. However, a latter-day revelation has pieced them together giving them great meaning. Note the following prophecies found in Zechariah chapters 12-14:
• “In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come
• “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (13:6)
• “Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.