Zechariah begins:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty. (1:3)

The LORD Almighty is repeated 3 times. What follows in verse 4 is even more repetitive:

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo: 2 “The LORD was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. 5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?" (Zechariah 1:6a NIV)

About this passage David Starling1 says:

The punctuation of the English translations struggles to accommodate the extent to which the opening paragraph nests quotations within quotations. In verse 4, for example, at the center of the paragraph, the narrator is telling the book's readers about what YHWH said to Zechariah about what Zechariah was to say to the people about what YHWH had to say about what the earlier prophets had said about what YHWH had to say to the ancestors of the people of Zechariah's time. The ancestors to whom those words were originally spoken have long since died, as verse 5 reminds us, and the same is true of the prophets who were their contemporaries. But the words that were spoken to them live on, reverberating solemnly as a quotation of a quotation of a quotation of a quotation of a quotation, embedded at the center of the introduction to the book.

Since Zechariah follows his 3-fold use of LORD Almighty with the nested 5-fold quotations, there seems to be a purpose beyond a simple call to "return and remember."

Is there a particular significance of having a five-fold witness to what was said, as opposed to a 3-fold witness? Or is this simply a consequence of Zechariah having to retell the history at the time it happens to require a 5-fold message?

1. David I. Starling, Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship. Baker Academic 2006. p.83

  • Multiple embedding of direct discourse in the HB came up in chat at some point, and I was directed to Meier whose discussion is germane also to your question.
    – Susan
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 9:06
  • I like this question. The repetition keeps happening throughout the book. I have no idea what the answer is but could it be possible that it's a way to say the name should be more important than how it's being revered? Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 0:24

2 Answers 2


There's nothing particularly remarkable in the formulae used here at the start of Zechariah - similar formulations are used throughout the Tanakh's other prophetic texts. The text itself does not observe or remark upon any kind of "five-fold" or "three-fold" repetition or witnessing, and it seems to be really just a feature of the kind of message that Zechariah had to bring.

On Starling's Analysis

Starling's comments on the text seem to arise less out of the plain message of the text and more out of his own thoughts on accurately rendering the passage in English. Hebrew is beautifully flexible in these sorts of matters, as with no quotation marks our authors never have to worry about technicalities, and don't make any obvious effort to tidy up nested quotations.

Some other prophetic texts happily mix and match quotations without any obvious markers as to who is speaking when - Jeremiah 8:17-22 is my favourite example of this. It's not totally clear whether this was understood as "a thing" in Hebrew as we recognise it in English, so imposing this concept back onto the passage may be anachronistic.

The NIV's English rendering doesn't change the formulation of the Hebrew very much, and it may be noted that verse 4 does avoid repetition of "said" (amar), utilising "call" (qara) instead. One might have expected that if the nesting was really 'a thing' for Zechariah he would have continued with the 'amar' formula throughout.

An alternative analysis

Functionally, the prophets were very much just the mouth-piece of God, and in this particular example the only key 'actors' of concern in this portion of the message are YHWH and the people. The message is actually a simple one - don't be like your ancestors. YHWH warned them, and they didn't listen: the ancestors are gone, the prophets are gone, yet YHWH's word still stands.

If anything, this repetition and witness-gathering (at face value) has more of the effect of emphasising the strength and persistence of YHWH's words - your ancestors are gone, the prophets are gone, but YHWH's words remain, therefore obey the words so you don't become like these others who have disappeared.


It could be a simple manner of teaching. The repetition stresses a dependence upon YHWH.

Psa. 25:1-5,

"By David. Unto Thee, O Jehovah, my soul I lift up.

2 My God, in Thee I have trusted, Let me not be ashamed, Let not mine enemies exult over me.

3 Also let none waiting on Thee be ashamed, Let the treacherous dealers without cause be ashamed.

4 Thy ways, O Jehovah, cause me to know, Thy paths teach Thou me.

5 Cause me to tread in Thy truth, and teach me, For Thou [art] the God of my salvation, Near Thee I have waited all the day." (YLT)

The prophets were continually correcting, and calling the people to turn from their idolatrous ways and come back to the Lord (YHWH).

Deu. 32:37-38,

"And He hath said, Where [are] their gods -- The rock in which they trusted; 38 Which the fat of their sacrifices do eat, They drink the wine of their libation! Let them arise and help you, Let it be for you a hiding-place!" (YLT)

We are to trust in the Lord, and put our full faith and dependence upon Him. (Prov. 3:5-6; 2 Sam. 22:31; Psa. 9:10, etc.) The repetition of the name of God, which is left out of all English translations, was an emphasis that in no other name is salvation found; that only in that name were they to trust.

Repetition is a tried and true method of getting the concept to be understood.


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