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The word prophesy can mean predicting the future based on revelation or predicting outcomes based on current events. Which view of prophesy is Zechariah employing?

Zech 3:8 - Hear now, O high priest Joshua, you and your companions seated before you, who are indeed a sign. For behold, I am going to bring My servant, the Branch.

Zech 6:12 - And you are to tell him that this is what the LORD of Hosts says: ‘Here is a man whose name is the Branch, and He will branch out from His place and build the temple of the LORD.

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  • 'Prophecy' is not foretelling the future. Prophets used to be called 'seers' as scripture tells us, 1 Samuel 9:9. They 'see' conditions and they pronounce what will be the future consequences of those conditions. You are asking two questions here, maybe better to ask two. Welcome to SE-BH. Please see the Tour and the Help (below) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Please also see the archive of questions and answers as to how this plays out in practice.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 23 at 18:37
  • Hey John! Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. This site can be a bit tricky at first. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – Jason_
    Commented May 23 at 19:32
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    Prophecy that is "foretelling" is predicting the future (near or distant). Prophecy that is "forth-telling" is reporting a message from God, with nothing about prediction, except and unless the message is a warning about the consequences of the audience's current (evil) actions.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 24 at 2:41

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There are two "branch" prophecies in the book of Zechariah. If they have to do with with the coming of Zerubbabel - as I will argue - they deal with outcomes of current events. However, they are also interpreted to refer to Jesus, in which case they are revelations about the distant future.

Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David would govern Judea under the Persians and worked together with the high priest Joshua to rebuild the Temple.

Zechariah 6

9 Then the word of the Lord came to me: ...11 You will take silver and gold, and make crowns; place one on the head of Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 12 And say to him: Thus says the Lord of hosts: There is a man whose name is Branch—and from his place he will branch out and he will build the temple of the Lord. 13 He will build the temple of the Lord, and taking up the royal insignia, he will sit as ruler upon his throne. The priest will be at his right hand, and between the two of them there will be peaceful understanding... 15 And they who are from afar will come and build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. This will happen if you truly obey the Lord your God.

Here, the prophet declares that the Branch will not only rebuild the temple (which Zerubbabel indeed accomplished) but that he will take up the royal insignia and reign as king, which he apparently did not. At least he is not reported to have done so in the Bible. Some analysts think his disappearance from the record with no explanation is a result of his having displeased his Persian overlords by attempting to fulfill Zechariah's prophecy regarding the royal insignia and crown.

The other Branch prophecy in Zechariah 3 is less direct.

“Hear, O Joshua, high priest! You and your associates who sit before you! For they are signs of things to come! I will surely bring my servant the Branch. 9 Look at the stone that I have placed before Joshua. On this one stone with seven facets.”

Zech. 4 makes it rather clear that the "Branch" of this prophecy is also Zerubbabel, a member of the Davidic lineage who is one of the two "olive trees" that Zechariah sees in his vision. He is also directly identified as God's "signet ring" in Haggai 2:23.

Conclusion: The Branch prophecy of Zechariah is both a foretelling and a forth telling. If it is understood as I explained above, it refers to events in the very near future. The prediction was partly fulfilled when Zerubbabel and Joshua returned to Jerusalem with the exiles and the temple was rebuilt, but Zerubbabel never took up the royal insignia or sat on the throne, as far as we know.

On the other hand, Christians often interpret the Branch prophecy as referring to Jesus, who was one of Zerubbabel's descendants. If so, then the prophecy would be a very distant foretelling.

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Concerning the question of the meaning of "prophesy" in the Hebrew Bible - see appendix below.

Concerning "The Branch", this is a recurring theme in the latter OT prophets, always concerning Messiah:

  • Isa 4:2 - On that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of Israel’s survivors.
  • Isa 11:1 - Then a shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots will bear fruit.
  • Jer 23:5 - Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He will reign wisely as King and will administer justice and righteousness in the land.
  • Jer 33:15 - In those days and at that time I will cause to sprout for David a righteous Branch, and He will administer justice and righteousness in the land.
  • Zech 3:8 - Hear now, O high priest Joshua, you and your companions seated before you, who are indeed a sign. For behold, I am going to bring My servant, the Branch.
  • Zech 6:12 - And you are to tell him that this is what the LORD of Hosts says: ‘Here is a man whose name is the Branch, and He will branch out from His place and build the temple of the LORD.

Thus, Zechariah's prophesies clearly allude to the earlier prophesies of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Some will argue that Zechariah's "Branch Prophesies" allude to Zerubbabel, which is probably true in part - Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah (never king!) but more importantly, he was also the ancestor of Jesus (Matt 1:13ff). This idea is further strengthened by the following observations:

  • Zechariah's prophesies clearly allude to the earlier prophesies of Isaiah and Jeremiah which are clearly messianic.
  • Zechariah also calls "The Branch", "My Servant", in Zech 3:8 and thus further alludes to the four servant songs of Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12, which are also Messianic.
  • In Zech 3:9, the Branch appears to be also the great Stone with seven eyes, which is another Messianic allusion as per Rev 5:6 (referring to the Lamb)
  • In Zech 3:9, the Branch would be involved in removing the iniquity of the land in a single day - this was only accomplished by Messiah on the cross.
  • Zech 3:10 about future prosperity is possibly a prophecy about future heavenly glory, but this is debated.
  • In Zech 6:12 & 13 involve a number of prophesies that could not (and were not fulfilled) by Zerubbabel including:
    • He will be clothed in splendor and sit on the throne [Zerubbabel was never enthroned and never sat in splendor, but Messiah was and now seated at the right hand in majesty, Matt 14:62, Heb 8:1, 10:12, Luke 22:69, 1 peter 3:22, etc.]
    • He will rule as a priest [Zerubbabel was never a priest but Jesus became our great High Priest forever, Heb 4:14, 5:10, 7:26, 8:1, 9:11, etc.]

Thus, while Zerubbabel was a human progenitor of Christ, Zerubbabel did not fulfil the prophesies of the Brance - that was to be the (then future) Messiah, "Jesus Christ the Righteous", 1 John 2:1 (compare Jer 23:5, 33:15).

APPENDIX - Prophesy

In the Hebrew OT the verb נָבָא (naba) translated as "prophesy" simply means to convey a divine message under the influence of the Spirit of God, which may or may not involved foretelling the future. In the book of Zechariah, the verb occurs just three times in Zech 13:3 & 4.

Here is an extract from BDB on this verb.

[נָבָא] verb denominative prophesy (in oldest forms, of religious ecstasy with or without song and music; later, essentially religious instruction, with occasional predictions); — Niph`al Perfect3masculine singular נִבֵּא Jeremiah 20:1 7t.; 2 masculine singular נִבֵּאתָ Jeremiah 20:6 2t.; נִבֵּיתָ Jeremiah 26:9; 1singular נִבֵּאתִי Ezekiel 37:7; 3plural נִבֵּאוּ Jeremiah 2:8 3t.; נִבָּ֑אוּ Jeremiah 23:21; Imperfect3masculine singular יִנָּבֵא Amos 3:8 9t. Imperfect; Imperative הִנָּבֵא Amos 7:15 27t.; Infinitive הִנָּבֵא Amos 7:13; suffix הִנָָּֽבְאוֺ Zechariah 13:3; הִנָָּֽבְאֹתוֺ Zechariah 13:4, + 4 t. Infinitive; Participle נִבָּא Jeremiah 26:18 20t. Participle; —

  1. prophesy under influence of divine spirit:

a. in the ecstatic state, with song 1 Samuel 10:11; 1 Samuel 19:20 and music 1 Chronicles 25:1,2,3.

b. the word of ׳י: absolute Amos 2:12; Amos 3:8 (emended יחרד We Now needless), Amos 7:12,13; Joel 3:1; Jeremiah 19:14; Jeremiah 26:18; Jeremiah 28:9; Jeremiah 32:3; Ezekiel 11:13; Ezekiel 12:27; Ezekiel 21:19; Ezekiel 37:7; Ezekiel 38:17 but especially in phrase הִנָּבֵא וֶאַמַדְתָּ Ezekiel 12:27; Ezekiel 21:14; Ezekiel 21:33; Ezekiel 30:2; Ezekiel 34:2; Ezekiel 36:3; Ezekiel 37:7,12; Ezekiel 38:14,17; with accusative Jeremiah 20:1; Jeremiah 25:30; Jeremiah 28:6; followed by עַל against Amos 7:16; Jeremiah 25:13; Jeremiah 26:20; Ezekiel 4:7; Ezekiel 11:4; Ezekiel 13:17; Ezekiel 25:2; Ezekiel 28:21; Ezekiel 29:2; Ezekiel 34:2; Ezekiel 35:2; Ezekiel 36:6; Ezekiel 38:2; Ezekiel 39:1; unto Ezekiel 37:4; אֶל unto Amos 7:15; Jeremiah 26:11,12; Jeremiah 28:8; Ezekiel 36:1; Ezekiel 37:9; against Ezekiel 6:2; Ezekiel 13:2; Ezekiel 21:2; Ezekiel 21:7; ׳בְּשֵׁם י Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 14:15; Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 26:9.

  1. of false prophets: absolute Jeremiah 23:21; Ezekiel 13:2; Zechariah 13:3 (twice in verse); Zechariah 13:4; with accusative 1 Kings 22:12 2Chronicles 18:11; שֶׁקֶר Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 27:10,14,16; Jeremiah 29:21; לַשָּׁ֑קֶר Jeremiah 27:15; בַּשֶּׁקֶר Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 20:6; Jeremiah 29:9; ׳נִבְּאֵי הַשּׁ Jeremiah 23:26; compare Jeremiah 23:32; with לֵ Jeremiah 14:16; Jeremiah 23:16; Jeremiah 27:15,16; Jeremiah 29:31; Jeremiah 37:19; followed by אֶל concerning Ezekiel 13:16.

  2. compare heathen prophets, בַּבַּעַל Jeremiah 2:8.

Hithpa`el Perfect2masculine singular הִתְנַבִּיתָ 1 Samuel 10:16; 1singular הִנַּבֵּאתִי Ezekiel 37:10; Imperfect יִתְנַבֵּא 1 Samuel 10:10 7t.; 3 masculine plural יִתְנַבְּאוּ Numbers 11:25 5t.; Imperative הִנַּבְּאוּ Jeremiah 23:13; Infinitive הִתְנַבּוֺת 1 Samuel 10:13; Participle מִתְנַבֵּא Jeremiah 26:20 9t. Participle; —

  1. Prophesy under influence of divine spirit:

a. in the ecstatic state Numbers 11:25,26,27 (J), with music 1 Samuel 10:5,6,10,13, in frenzy 1 Samuel 19:20,21 (twice in verse); 1 Samuel 19:23,24; excited to violence 1 Samuel 18:10 (= מְשֻׁגָּע mad 2 Kings 9:11); Jeremiah 29:26.

b. apart from ecstatic state, absolute Ezekiel 37:10, with לְ 1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 29:27; על 1 Kings 22:18 2Chronicles 18:17,7; 20:37; ׳בְּשֵׁם י Jeremiah 26:20.

  1. of heathen prophets of Baal in ecstatic state 1 Kings 18:29; בַּבַּעַל Jeremiah 23:13.

  2. of false prophets 1 Kings 22:10 2Chronicles 18:9; Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:17.

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