A study regimen for preaching Zechariah’s night visions

I just finished preaching a short series through the night visions of Zechariah (Zech 1.8-6.15) and thought I’d do a post reflecting on the books I used and how they helped me in preparing for these sermons.

Prior to starting the series, I worked through the Zechariah portion of the introductions written by Ray Dillard & Tremper Longman, as well as that of Brevard Childs.  Both were very nice overviews and, especially in the case of Childs, helped me to start thinking about how to tie together some of the theological and critical issues related to these texts.

I began studying each textual unit by reading through my English Bible, just to get an idea of the flow of the text.  I circled things that I really wanted to check in the Hebrew and tried to make note of some of the imagery that I thought might be relevant.  Next, I worked through the Hebrew text in my Reader’s Hebrew Bible by Zondervan.  I went ahead and marked it up pretty thoroughly, drawing attention to places where the ESV smoothed out the text too much or places where there were syntactical and/or lexical problems.  (Of course I used Bibleworks 8 during this process too, in order to do some quick concordance searches.)

From here, I started with one of my favorite scholars, Marvin Sweeney.  His commentary on Zechariah (part of his 2 volume set on The Twelve Prophets [2000]) is superb.  Sweeney does an amazing job of synthesizing the historical issues with the theological issues.  He practices a very robust form of inner-textuality/innerbiblical exegesis, and draws some amazing and erudite conclusions.  Conservative readers might not always like what he has to say, but one is very unwise to skip (or even skim) Sweeney on Zechariah.  He was by far my favorite commentary.

From here, I also consulted David L. Peterson’s commentary (1984), and that of Eric and Carol Meyers (1987).  These were not quite as innertextual as was Sweeney, but were very historical and did a fine job of wrestling with the historical and philological issues (Myers and Meyers) and the relevant archaeological material (Peterson).  I always worked through Peterson’s volume, but found that I only had time to spot check from Meyers and Meyers (their treatment is REALLY thorough).  Both volumes are a bit dated, but both helped me to get my historical bearings.

In order to exhaust a technical understanding of the intertextuality present in the night visions, I turned to Michael R. Stead’s dissertation, The Intertextuality of Zechariah 1-8 (2009), part of the JSOT Supplement Series (now renamed).  (My university’s library had a copy so I didn’t have to buy one which would have been a bit pricy!)  Stead was a great read!  I sometimes felt that he made mountains out of innerbiblical molehills and drew attention to parallels that were a bit tenuous, but as a dissertation written under J.G. McConville, it was pure gold!  Though Meredith Kline (to be discussed below) also touched on some of the same issues, Stead’s much more technical/academic treatment made for a VERY useful resource.

At this point, I felt like I had a pretty good grip on the historical and innertextual issues in the text, so I turned to more theological and homiletical treatments.  Iain Duguid’s recently published commentary (2010) was a delight!  Duguid was able to hone down some of the application and really draw attention to some of the homiletical and redemptive-historical points that would preach.  His application sections were hit and miss, but his commentary proper was always chock full of useful application!  I would also read through Kline’s Glory in Our Midst, the application of his biblical-theological system to a concrete text.  Kline was superb in drawing out some of the innerbiblical imagery and putting a robustly Reformed, redemptive-historical spin on the material.  The cogency of his innerbiblical interpretation was spotty – sometimes saying outright weird and midrashic things about supposed intertextual allusions (e.g., his interpretation of the Myrtles in Zech 1) – but when he was on, he was dead center!  Duguid and Kline both did outstanding jobs drawing in the New Testament application as well.

Finally, I would read every word written by John Calvin in his exposition of Zechariah.  While definitely dated and unaware of some of the more technical issues, Calvin is a must read.  Don’t think that by putting him last, I was putting him off.  I read Calvin last in order to be most equipped to sit at his feet and integrate his exposition with what I already understood.  Calvin did very good to not say too much, but managed to draw out some very nice doctrinal applications from the night visions.  His prayers at the end of each segment are also wonderful.  Twice I actually read the whole prayer at the conclusion of the sermon.

I found this regimen to be very edifying and at the end, found myself to be ready to write the sermon.  I have no doubt that I’ve skipped over some great commentaries, but I had to draw the line somewhere since my time was limited.  If I get the chance to rework through these texts homiletically, I’d like to add Mark Boda’s commentary (NIVAC) and grab the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture for the Twelve Prophets.  Mark Boda co-edited a really helpful collection of essays with Michael Floyd called Tradition in Transition: Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 in the Trajectory of Hebrew Theology.  His own contribution to the volume, dealing with Zech 2.10-17, really whet my appetite to see what he did within the editorial boundaries of the NIVAC series.  Richard Phillips’ contribution to the Reformed Expository Commentary series also looks like a nice homiletical tool.  (I really like other volumes in this series.)


8 thoughts on “A study regimen for preaching Zechariah’s night visions”

  1. Hi Andrew,
    I did some specific work on the 2nd Vision (the paper that got me into grad school!) and some general work on the other visions (for a class in seminary). I found Boda to be outstanding. I would highly recommend his commentary.

    I hope the sermons went well as well. After doing all this work, I preached on the first four visions in our little CRC church in Grand Rapids. The people loved it. I don’t know if any of them had ever heard a sermon on Zechariah (other than maybe a “not by might… etc.” sermon). One of my Hebrew profs at seminary confirmed this experience when he noted that he has found that people love hearing the minor prophets because no one ever preaches on them. I’m curious if that was your experience as well.

    As a side note, I sympathize somewhat with your assessment of Kline. While I haven’t read that particular volume, I just finished “God, Heaven, and Har Magedon” and was thoroughly disappointed. Kline’s “By Oath Consigned” was the book that moved me into the paidobaptist camp, and so I was excited to read one of his new books. However, while there were some interesting macro-structure ideas in place (i.e., building a biblical theology around the ANE mythic symbols of cosmic warfare and the mountain of the gods), some of the specifics were really strange. Every now and then I would find a gem, but most of the time I kept thinking that the book could have stood a good editing.


    1. Thanks for the note on Boda. The edited volume was solid and inspite of the name “application” in the NIVAC series, I’ve found it to be a really robust series of commentaries.

      Yep on people’s response to the minor prophets. People really enjoyed the imagery. We even had a chance in the last oracle (6.9-15 or whatever) to talk about what to do when a passage is completely bewildering! (There are some REAL textual issues there.) I was able to muster support from Kuyper/Bavinck and some of Richard Muller for that one.

      As for MGK – yeah, he’s a really interesting writer. On the one hand, I really appreciate his erudition, but the more I read him, the more I find his method to lack concrete ‘pegs’ upon which to hang the allusions and intertextuality. Many of his conclusions are really fun, but I find myself thinking that one has to adopt the entire system to find the proposals very cogent.

      Not to knock him too much though. There were many parts of “God, Heaven and Har Magedon” that I really thought were spot on. I think that he will always be part of my reading/study/consultation routine, but as time goes on, I’m much more critical of a reader and find more and more of his explanations to be somewhat of a stretch – seriously, midrashic sounding! (Of course, I am to other writers as well, so I’m not just picking on Kline.) As a WSC grad though, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to leave him out of the discussion! [grin]


      1. Great post, Andrew, thanks! I’ll be sure to utilize it sometime in the future. And I agree with your Kline comments; “midrash” might sound a bit harsh, but I think you’re right – I’m not sure what else to call it. I also noticed that Childs reference – I need to get that!

        By the way, I just was digging in Vos’ “Eschatology of the OT” and noticed that the appendix had a section of Vos’ notes on Zechariah. I didn’t read it (b/c I was looking for something else), but I thought you’d like to check it out, though it’s only a few pages.



  2. Oh man – I didn’t realize that about Vos! I need to dig in. I also found several articles by Al Wolters I’d like to read (in the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series by Zondervan). He’s really an amazing OT scholar!

    Yeah, midrash is a bit of a ding … but also yeah, I’m not sure exactly what to call his type of intertextuality (i.e., unrestrained). At the end of the day, while we might disagree with the Rabbi’s, they were really amazing exegetes. They knew their bibles really well and mustered up everything in their arsenal to make it all cohere.


  3. I would also give Wolters a thumbs up. All the work I did on Zechariah was for a class that he taught at Calvin during the summer. His Hebrew is incredible!


  4. Andrew – by the way, I noticed something about the Reader’s Hebrew Bible you linked to above: they have Appendix A available for free PDF download (Appendix A is the glossary). This will save wear and tear if a person needs to flip back to the glossary quite often. Looks like a good (free!) resource.

    You can see it by clicking the Reader’s Hebrew Bible link above then scrolling down the page a bit.



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