Zechariah wrote his entire book within the context of the rebuilding of the temple. The prophet Ezra records that Cyrus, the king of Persia who had recently conquered what was left of the Neo-Babylonian empire, made a decree to send the Jews back to the land of Israel in the first year of his reign, approximately 538 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4). They began this work in the second year, approximately 537 B.C. (Ezra 3:8). However, because of opposition from people like the Samaritans, work ceased until the second year of Darius (Ezra 4:24). The Lord gave the command to resume the work of rebuilding the temple on the first day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius, approximately 520 B.C. (Haggai 1:1), and they resumed the work on the 24th of that same month (Haggai 1:15). They finished the work of rebuilding on 3 Adar, the twelfth month, in the sixth year of Darius, approximately 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15).
The date notices Zechariah gives all fall within the context of the resumed work. Zechariah first receives the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the eighth month of the second year of Darius, approximately two months after the work was renewed (Zechariah 1:1). His visions, which form the first part of the book until the end of chapter 6, came on the 24th of the eleventh month of the same year (Zechariah 1:7). The remainder, in which this reading falls, come on the 4th of the ninth month in the fourth year of Darius, approximately two years before the work was finished (Zechariah 7:1).
Where his fellow prophet Haggai stirred up the returned exiles to the work of rebuilding, the Lord inspired Zechariah to proclaim a message of hope. After all, the exiles had initially been zealous for the work of rebuilding, but their zeal had disappeared. They had fallen into all kinds of idolatry and sins, even after the Lord had brought them back (Ezra 9-10). It was not enough to have a rebuilt temple and a still faithless people. While Zechariah assisted Ezra in this work (Nehemiah 8:4), it seems that the Jews remained hardened, since Zechariah would later become a martyr (Matthew 23:35).
Nevertheless, the immediate context for Zechariah 9 is the coming judgment against the enemies of Israel. Damascus to the northeast, Lebanon to the northwest, and Philistia to the southwest, all the historical enemies of Israel would be cut off for their sins against God’s people (Zechariah 9:1-8). Because the Lord also refers to Javan, typically understood to be Greece, in Zechariah 9:13, this passage seems to encompass all enemies generally. In other words, there will no longer be war in Israel when the king comes to reign in triumph. All who have set themselves against Israel will be cut off when the king comes.
“Daughter of Zion,” apart from one reference by David in Psalm 9:15, occurs primarily among the later prophets, from the days of Isaiah onward (for example, Isaiah 37:22; Zephaniah 3:14; and Lamentations 2:13). The Lord refers to Israel as a woman in many other passages, such as Hosea 2:2, Ezekiel 23, and especially notably in Revelation 21:2. The bride is called to rejoice and to shout aloud (a word which also occurs in Joshua 6, which is to say, a war-cry or a cry of triumph). When the King comes, He will come in triumph and victory, and he will put an end to war and be indeed the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; see also Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10; and Micah 4:3).
However, there is a contrast at work here. This just and victorious King will come humble and riding on a male donkey. His coming will not be in the way one would expect, even though it is no less triumphant. Much like the prophecy of Isaiah, Immanuel will eat curds and honey—the food of poverty—from his earliest years (Isaiah 7:15). Ahaz’ faithlessness meant that the line of David would seem to fail by passing into poverty and ruin. Even so, the true Son of David, poor and humble, would come to claim His rightful throne and reign as the promised heir forever (2 Samuel 7:12). All of this shows why the Apostles cited this passage as part of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15).
Finally, Zechariah notes that the reign of Christ will be from “sea as far as sea and from the river as far as the end of the land.” This is nearly an exact quotation of Psalm 72:8, the psalm of Solomon which prays for the welfare of the king. It refers poetically to the promises which God had made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-20), to Israel through Moses (Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24), and to Joshua (Joshua 1:4). Not only would this enormous tract of land encompass all of the territory of the enemies of Israel (as the Lord promised elsewhere in passages like Genesis 22:17 and 24:60), it is also a larger territory than Israel ever possessed historically. The closest to come to this was Solomon, who “ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:21). But Solomon fell into sin and the kingdom divided as a result. But with the coming of Christ, the one greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31), the Lord will again be King over His people and reign in triumph as the Crucified One.