How to Read Zechariah

The Book of Zechariah

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

The book of Zechariah is a mosaic of visions that explained current events and pointed to the future. It encourages us to look above the chaos and hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Zechariah, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 

Now that you have an overview of Zechariah in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Zechariah. Read about the coming King of Zion in Zechariah 9:9–13. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Zechariah 9:9–13.  

Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

The Coming King of Zion

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;

righteous and having salvation is he,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall speak peace to the nations;

his rule shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;

today I declare that I will restore to you double.

13For I have bent Judah as my bow;

I have made Ephraim its arrow.

I will stir up your sons, O Zion,

against your sons, O Greece,

and wield you like a warrior’s sword.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The coming king is humble and riding a donkey.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Zechariah 9:9–13? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) The coming king is humble and riding a donkey. (Interpretation) In contrast to the arrogant and violent kings of the past, the Messianic King is humble, and comes not on a war horse, but on a peaceful donkey. This description calls to mind Jesus, who enters Jerusalem on a donkey.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Zechariah 9:9–13? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Zechariah? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: When sin entered the world, God promised He would send a future rescuer to defeat sin and death.  Zechariah prophesies about a coming King, and the coming of God’s Kingdom. The future King will be humble and ride a donkey into Jerusalem. The future King will be rejected by the people and by the Jewish leaders. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus is rejected by His people and their leaders. Jesus is crucified. Jesus rises from the dead and ascends to heaven. The coming Kingdom will have no end. Jesus will reign as the Messianic King in the New Jerusalem. 

Contextualize: What themes does Zechariah 9:9–13 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the story of Zechariah? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Reading Zechariah, I can see distinct images of Jesus, the Messianic King. From His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, to his humility, and the way His people rejected Him, Jesus is the King to whom all the prophecies point. Seeing this, I can be reminded of God’s great faithfulness to His promises. Even though the Israelites couldn’t understand or see how or when God would fulfill His promises, His grand plan was and is always moving forward. When my own circumstances make life chaotic, confusing, or hopeless, I can return to the knowledge of God’s faithfulness to His promises, and remember that He is continuing to carry out His plan of redemption in the world today, until that day when Jesus rules as the Messianic King of the New Jerusalem, where all nations will worship Him and dwell with Him. 

Apply: How does the truth from Zechariah 9:9–13 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Zechariah to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Zechariah, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Zechariah this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.