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No. 60: The Eighth Month

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 60
April, 1994
Copyright 1994, Biblical Horizons

Zechariah’s first prophecy (Zech. 1:1-6) was delivered in the eighth month of the second year of Darius. The notation of this date serves a number of purposes. Most obviously, it relates Zechariah’s prophecies to those of Haggai. By the time Zechariah delivered his first prophecy, Haggai had already chided the Jews for their neglect of the temple (Hag. 1:1-11), the people had responded by returning to the work of rebuilding (Hag. 1:12-15), and Haggai had encouraged the people with the promise that the house they were building would be more glorious than the previous temple (Hag. 2:1-9). Zechariah’s first prophecy is dated only by month, not by day, so it is impossible to know precisely the length of the interval between Haggai’s second prophecy (Hag. 2:1) and Zechariah’s first. It could have been as little as a week (if Zechariah prophesied on the first day of the eighth month) or as much as a month (if Zechariah prophesied toward the end of the eighth month). What we do know is that by the time Zechariah delivered his first recorded prophecy, the people had begun working on the temple again.

It seems likely, however, that the date is also given for other reasons. Eight frequently signifies resurrection and renewal in the Bible (cf. Gen. 17:12). Zechariah’s prophecy is a call to repentance and renewal, a call to abandon the follies the past and to chart a new course (Zech. 1:4). Zechariah 1:5 is two-edged. On the one hand, Zechariah reminded the Jews that though their fathers were gone, the Word was still alive and active, and was still capable of "overtaking" the rebellious (v. 6). On the other hand, the fact that the fathers were gone meant that Zechariah’s generation had an opportunity to abandon the old ways; a new day and a new way were open possibilities, if the Jews would repent. Zechariah’s sermon was an admonition to cut off the flesh and enter into the new life of the Spirit. All this fits comfortably as an eighth day theme.

Specifically, Zechariah prophesied in the eighth month (1:1), a month that had no particular significance under the Mosaic calendar. The festival calendar was completed by the middle of the seventh month, with the feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23; Nu. 28-29). The fact that Zechariah’s first prophecy is outside the temporal framework of the Pentateuch may in itself be significant of the new realities of the restoration period.

There are, moreover, two relevant events associated with the eighth month in the Old Testament. First, 1 Kings 6:38 informs us that the temple of Solomon was completed in the eighth month of the eleventh year of Solomon’s reign. Clearly, this date relates to the general "eight" theme in Scripture; the temple, an architectural new creation, was completed in the eighth month, after seven years of construction. This background, in turn, informs Zechariah’s prophecy. He prophesied to Jews who were at work rebuilding the temple, and began to do so in the month that the first temple was completed; the timing of his prophecy contained a promise of success. Moreover, when the first temple was completed, the Lord’s glory came into the Most Holy Place, and God took up His residence in the midst of His people. Similarly, Zechariah promises the restoration community that if they repent and turn, the Lord will return to them to dwell among them (Zech. 1:3).

The second event that took place in the eighth month was Jeroboam’s mock feast of tabernacles. 1 Kings 12:32-33 records that "Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast that is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. Then he went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month that he had made from his own heart; and he made a feast for the sons of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense." Perhaps with this rebellious eighth-month feast in mind, Zechariah urged the Jews not to imitate their fathers.

Further evidence that the rebellion of northern kingdom forms part of the background of Zechariah’s message is provided by the parallel between Zechariah’s prophecy and Hezekiah’s invitation to the northern tribes to attend the Passover. Both Hezekiah and Zechariah addressed remnant communities who had survived or escaped exile. Like Zechariah, Hezekiah urged Israel to "return to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that He may return to those of you who escaped and are left from the hand of the kings of Assyria" (2 Chron. 30:6; Zech. 1:3). Hezekiah added the admonition, "do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were unfaithful to the Lord God of their fathers, so that He made them a horror, as you see. Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the Lord and enter His sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever, and serve the Lord your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you" (2 Chron. 30:7-8; cf. Zech. 1:2-6).

Hezekiah’s Passover took place in the second month rather than the first (2 Chron. 30:2). This is in accord with Mosaic instructions concerning an alternative Passover for those who are unclean or traveling in the first month (Nu. 9:9-14). Still, this makes for an intriguing parallel with Zechariah’s first prophecy. Hezekiah urged the remnant of the northern kingdom not to imitate their fathers in the month after the normal feast of Passover; Zechariah urged the remnant from the exile not to imitate their fathers in the month after the feast of booths. Perhaps we have here another example of the curious conflation of Passover and Booths that occurs after the exile and continues into the New Testament (cf. Ezk. 45:18-25; Jn. 12:1, 12-16; Rev. 7:9-17; on this last verse, see Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images [Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1970], pp. 114-15).

The dating of Zechariah’s first prophecy, then, brought together a complex of historical and symbolic associations. In the month when Jeroboam had celebrated his mock Tabernacles, Zechariah issued an invitation to those who had acted like the northern tribes when they abandoned the house of God, urging them to reject the example of Jeroboam and their fathers. In the eighth month, the opportunity for rebirth was offered, and the promise that God would return to dwell in a new temple.