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COMMENTARY ON ZECHARIAH

This Second Main Section In Chapters 9-14 Probably Came Later in Zechariah’s Life and It Concentrates on the Eschatalogical Future When God Will Finally Bring All His Work to Fruition.

Many years have passed. The building of the Temple has been completed, but it has not produced the spiritual revival that Zechariah had hoped for. The nations round about are constantly at odds with them. The leaders are dallying with divination and the occult (10.2). Zechariah, whose words had been so effective in his youth, now finds his efforts thwarted and he himself rejected and put to one side (11.4-14). His opponents are profiting from their position by misusing the Temple to the detriment of the people, having become ‘traffickers of the sheep’ (11.5, 7, 11).

So in this second main section the prophet, realising that everything was not going to happen as speedily as he had hoped, seeks to encourage the faithful in Israel and concentrates on the more distant future, and the fulfilling of the purposes of God. Then the nations as a whole will be dealt with by God and His people will become a blessing to the world, especially through their Coming King. But before the final fulfilment there will be treachery and suffering. For God’s triumph will come through the tribulation of His people.

This second main section divides up into two subsections, 9-11 and 12-14.

ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST SUBSECTION.

This third section of Zechariah’s prophecy (9.1-11.17) is not so clearly divided up as the previous sections but we may possibly divide it as follows on the basis of exhortations:

  • ‘The burden of the word of YHWH on’ (the northern nations) - (9.1).
  • ‘Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion --- behold your King comes’ (9.9).
  • ‘Ask of YHWH rain in the time of the latter rain’ (10.1).
  • ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon ---’ (11.1).

IN DEPTH ANALYSIS OF ZECHARIAH 9-11.

  • Destruction of the pride and wisdom of the nations, salvation for the humbled Philistines, God will encamp around His house (His people) so that they will never again be oppressed (9.1-8).
  • ‘His people are called on to behold the arrival of the lowly but triumphant King who will introduce peace and abjure warfare. He will release the captive exiles, who are therefore to turn to the Stronghold, for YHWH will act on their behalf as their Defender using His own weaponry of lightning and whirlwind and thus they will feast and rejoice and flourish in perfect safety (9.9-17).
  • His people are to ask of YHWH for the necessary rains and the One Who is their Defender (the One Who makes lightning - 9.14) will give them rain, for God will deal with the false prophets and shepherds, and will raise up One Who will be His Cornerstone, His secure nail, and His battle bow, and an army of rulers who will be mighty men and will deliver His people. His people will be made strong and rejoice and He will signal to the exiles, will strengthen them in YHWH and they will return and walk up and down in His Name (10.1-12).
  • The nation is to open its doors to invaders because it has listened to the false shepherds and rejected its true shepherd who is valued at a derisory thirty pieces of silver. The result is that they will have to endure the false shepherds that they have chosen (11.1-17)

Note that in ‘a’ God promises that He will deal with the proud nations, and that His people will never be oppressed, and in the parallel His people will be oppressed because they have chosen to follow false shepherds. In ‘b’ their King comes and YHWH fights on His people’s behalf with His own weaponry, and in the parallel He sends His Cornerstone and again acts on their behalf again with His own weaponry.

In this remarkable chapter we have a description of YHWH’s purposes for the world. We may summarise it as follows:

  • All who are proud, and especially Tyre and Sidon, the outstanding symbol of pride and wealth at the time, will be brought down (9.1-4).
  • This will affect the attitudes of the peoples like the Philistines and they will see what happens and will be afraid. They too will be humbled, but in their case it will lead them to become one with God’s people, freed from idolatry (9.5-7).
  • At this time YHWH will become as a guard to His house (the house of Israel), so that His people will be free from oppressors (9.8).
  • The coming King will arrive, triumphant and victorious and yet riding in humility on an ass (9.9).
  • At this stage all weapons of warfare will be dispensed with, and the King will command peace to the nations and establish worldwide dominion in peace (9.10).
  • Because of the blood of the covenant His people will now be free to come out of their prisons as ‘prisoners of hope’ and return to His stronghold (9.11-12).
  • The influence of His people will reach across the seas even to Javan (9.13).
  • And all this will be wrought by the hand of YHWH as He goes forward to conquer, just as He did before Israel of old (9.14).
  • YHWH will watch over His people who will be under His protection and will make even the most fiendish weapons fail against them. They will be able to feast, and tread on their enemies’ sling stones, and satiate themselves with wine in the face of their enemies (9.15).
  • And on that day God will save them, and the age of blessing and plenty will dawn (916-17).

So the overall picture is of judgment on the proud, and of salvation to the humble, wrought by YHWH through the coming King.

God Declares Judgment on the Surrounding Nations and Security to His People (9.1-8).

The section begins by indicating that all are watching for what YHWH will do, and that those who pride themselves over God’s people will be summarily dealt with, although we then receive the surprising news that the Philistines are not finally to be destroyed but to be converted. They are to become one with God’s people. And then God will stand guard over His people and they will dwell securely.

9.1 ‘The burden (or oracle) of the word of YHWH on the land of Hadrach, and Damascus its resting place. For the eye of man and of all the tribes of Israel is towards YHWH.’

‘Burden’ - ‘massa’. A ‘heavy load’ or ‘a pronouncement’. The latter meaning is most relevant here. But the prophet did not find what he had to announce as easy to say and his oracle was also a burden.

‘The word of YHWH’. Here not just a prophetic word but an effective word. It is a word which will accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55.11). YHWH Himself will act through His divine ‘word’ of power bringing about what He says.

Hadrach and Damascus were to the north of Palestine in Syria. Hadrach is mentioned in an Aramaic inscription of Zakur of Hamath, and is called Hatarikka in Assyrian inscriptions, and was once the seat of a district governor. Damascus was the capital of Syria. Thus both were important places. ‘Its resting place’ (or ‘its rest’) may signify the close relation between the two, and possibly includes the thought that Hadrach now relies on Damascus. Alternately we may read as ‘the word of YHWH is on Hadrach and it rests on Damascus’. Either way the thought is of God’s activity in judgment against these two places.

‘The eye of man and of all the tribes of Israel is towards YHWH.’ The rest of the world, and especially the tribes of Israel, are, as it were, looking expectantly towards YHWH to see what He will do. The world waits on God with foreboding, His people with expectation.

‘The tribes of Israel.’ A phrase rare in the prophets except in Ezekiel where it looks to the future restoration. Zechariah can use ‘Israel’ (see 12.1) or ‘Judah’ or both to signify God’s people. ‘Israel’ on its own is looking back towards the once united nation and seeing it as that again, Judah is stressing the present situation as the limited area to which the exiles have returned. But the people who have returned, and those they have joined up with in the land, include people from both Israel and Judah.

9.2-4 ‘And Hamath also which borders on it. Tyre and Sidon though she be very wise. And Tyre built herself a stronghold, and heaped up silver as the dust and fine gold as the mire of the streets. Behold Yahweh will dispossess her and he will smite her power in the sea and she will be devoured with fire.’

The catalogue of God’s judgments is described. Hamath, which borders on Damascus, will be included, as will Tyre and Sidon. Some of these were the nations that were making life very difficult for the returning exiles, and had often done so in the past for Israel and Judah. They now gloried in their position, and over the weakness of Judah. But it is their general behaviour that brings them into judgment as epitomised by God’s words against Tyre. For Tyre here is seen in a similar way to the way that Isaiah saw Babylon. They epitomised the pride of the ‘wise’ and the arrogant. Note the stress on the fact that Tyre was so ‘very wise’.

Tyre is vividly described. Difficult to get at by land it had long been a sea power and traded prosperously. It saw itself as self-sufficient and had great pride in itself and its own ability, building up great riches. No doubt they thought that they would last for ever. But God will bring judgment on Tyre, breaking her sea power and destroying her with fire by the hands of conquerors. Indeed every nation that exalts itself will fall.

9.5-6 “Ashkelon will see it and be afraid, Gaza also and will be sorely pained, and Ekron will be ashamed for her expectation, and the king will perish from Gaza and Ashkelon will not be inhabited, and a mongrel race will dwell in Ashdod and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines.”

The Philistine cities in the coastal plains are now brought into view. As they see the fate of Tyre they will be filled with fear, and then their time will come. They too will be devastated, and replaced by ‘a mongrel race’, no longer of pure antecedents. Again pride and self satisfaction is one of their great sins and it is in that sphere that they will be punished. (For judgment on the Philistines see also Jeremiah 25.20; Amos 1.6 on; Zephaniah 2.4-7).

9.7 ‘And I will take away his blood from his mouth, and his abomination from between his teeth. And he also shall be a remnant for our God, and he shall be as a chieftain (or ‘a clan’) in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.’

But for these there is hope as a result of their experience of being humbled. God will remove from them all that displeases Him. The eating of blood was forbidden in the Law. Philistia indulged both in this and the eating of unclean things. ‘Abomination’ regularly has reference to idolatry and we may thus see here also food sacrificed to idols with all its ramifications. But the Philistines will be delivered from these things. They are not without hope for God’s mercy is available.

‘He also shall be a remnant for our God.’ Once they have suffered they too will come to the Lord and will find acceptance by Him along with the remnant of Israel.

‘And he will be as a chieftain (or friend or clan) in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.’ The Jebusites were absorbed into ‘Israel’ when Jerusalem was captured by David. Thus the idea is of Philistia being absorbed into ‘Israel’. The unpointed Hebrew consonants for ‘chieftain’ could also mean ‘clan, family tribe’ which seems a preferable translation, but even with its present pointing it can mean ‘friend’ as well as ‘chieftain’. (‘Pointing’ refers to vowel sound marks introduced late into the Hebrew text long after the time of Christ. Originally Hebrew texts consisted almost solely of consonants). Thus just as Ekron is accepted into the confederation of Israel and Judah on friendly terms, like the Jebusites were earlier in the time of David, so also will all the Philistines be accepted. In other words they will be incorporated into the people of God. (From the time of the Maccabees (1 Maccabees 3.41) the Philistines historically disappear from view, no doubt being absorbed into their neighbours).

The overall point behind these verses would seem to be that while those who are lifted up in their pride will come into judgment, (as they did as a result of the activities of Alexander the Great), those who humbled, even the most surprising of them, can find mercy.

9.8 “And I will encamp about my house against the army (or possibly ‘as a garrison’) that none pass through or return. And no oppressor will pass through them any more, for now I have seen with my eyes.”

Meanwhile God will surround His people with His protection so that they are safe from enemies. His eyes will be on them to save them from oppression. No enemies will pass through them. No returning armies will pillage them. Thus in the last days when all God purposes come to fruition the people of God, His house, will be safe in His hands. The basic idea is of the final security of the people of God.

‘About my house.’ Compare Hosea 8.1 where ‘the house of YHWH’ is His people. It is not the Temple which will be preserved, but His people (see also on 14.20).

The Coming of God’s King Who Will Deliver His People (9.9-10).

This establishment of the security of God’s people will be brought about by the coming of its King. He will not come as a warrior, but as a just and lowly Saviour, bringing salvation to God’s own (Zion). So the proud will have been brought low (verses 2-6) while the lowly will triumph.

9.9 “Rejoice greatly, Oh daughter of Zion, shout, Oh daughter of Jerusalem, behold your king is coming to you. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, even on a colt, the foal of an ass.”

God’s coming protection is now connected with His coming king. His coming should cause great rejoicing. Yet He does not come as a mighty world conqueror, for He is lowly. But He brings what is better. He brings justice and He brings deliverance. He is the lowly and just Deliverer. His lowliness is in stark contrast with the pride of Tyre. Salvation is not to be found in riches and prosperity, but through lowliness and righteousness and justice.

‘Just.’ The One Who comes will come bringing justice. When Israel as a whole thought of their coming Messiah their stress tended to be on His deliverance. (They wanted to be like Tyre). Had they recognised that He would render truly according to men’s desserts they might have been a little less enthusiastic. Like all men they tended to play down their own sins compared with the sins of others. When He came an account would have to be given. Only those who were truly righteous or who sought true righteousness had cause to welcome His coming.

‘Having salvation.’ He it is Who will bring about the fulfilment of God’s promises to His people and the world. He brings salvation and deliverance for all men as the prophets elsewhere make clear. But this is deliverance from themselves and their sins as well as from others.

‘Lowly.’ The word means ‘poor, afflicted, lowly’. It was the word that all overlooked. He would thus be despised and rejected by man but acknowledged by God (Isaiah 53.3).

‘On an ass.’ Riding on an ass is not necessarily symbolic of lowliness. The ass was regularly the beast on which kings rode in honour (see 1 Kings 1.33, 44). But it is a symbol of peace not of war. It was the triumphant conqueror who rode on a warhorse. When Jesus wished to reveal Himself as the One Whom God had sent He rode into Jerusalem on an ass not a warhorse.

Only God could have foreseen that the One Who would transform the world would be such as is described here.

9.10 “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be cut off. And he will speak peace to the nations, and his dominion will be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

The remarkable nature of the prophecy continues. This coming king will not operate through chariots, war horses and battle bows. These will not be required and will be disposed of. His weapons will be words of peace for the nations, and His lordship will be worldwide in its effect. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and reaching even to the ends of the earth.

‘Ephraim’. As a large tribe Ephraim was often utilised as a synonym of Israel. ‘The River’ is the river Euphrates. (Note here that it is Ephraim and Jerusalem who now represent the whole people of God. To Zechariah the terms Israel, Ephraim, Joseph and Judah can all refer to God’s whole people.)

‘From sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.’ The description is intended to be all-inclusive.

So the coming king will come in lowliness and poverty, He will be just and righteous and will bring deliverance to mankind, He will avoid all signs of war, He will come speaking words of peace and He will exercise worldwide control. This is in interesting conflict with what follows, demonstrating that the latter is not the work of the Messianic prince.

This Future Deliverance and Prosperity is Promised Even to the Returning Exiles (9.11-10.1).

This promise of hope is already available in part. The exiles can come out of their ‘prisons’ because of the blood of the covenant. The promises of God at Sinai still hold for those who obey Him. And they will become effective against all men.

9.11 ‘As for you also, because of the blood of your covenant, I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit in which there is no water. Turn you to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today do I declare that I will render double to you. For I have bent Judah for me, I have filled the bow with Ephraim, and I will stir up your sons, Oh Zion, against your sons, Oh Javan, and will make you as the sword of a mighty man.’

The offer of hope is now made more personal to the present circumstances. Its basis lies in ‘the blood of the covenant’. This of course refers to the blood of the sacrificial system which was at the heart of God’s covenant with His people, and had sealed the covenant in Exodus 24. Now it was available again in the new Temple. It is because He accepts their offering for sin and again acknowledges His covenant with them that He can show mercy on them. But at its heart is the blood of the new covenant which the coming king will seal in His own blood. In that is the true hope for the prisoners of hope who will be saved by ‘the blood of the covenant’ (Matthew 26.28).

So God’s people are depicted as having been like prisoners in a waterless pit. They were far from home, living in darkness and thirsty in soul. But He has delivered them and brought them back so that they now have hope. This is a fitting description too of salvation coming to the heart of a man.

‘Turn you to the stronghold.’ The word for stronghold is a rare one, but comes from the root btsr. It would seem to mean an inaccessible and fortified place, a bastion against all enemies. Here God is depicted as their mighty stronghold to which they should turn, their deliverer and protector, the One Who has set them free from their prison. Babylon is the waterless prison. God is their stronghold. (Compare Proverbs 18.10; Psalm 18.2; 61.3; 91.2; 144.2).

‘I will render double to you.’ God’s mercy is such that He will give them double what they had before. When He provides He always provides munificently.

‘I have bent Judah for me, I have filled the bow with Ephraim.’ Judah is like a bow bent to receive the arrow. The arrow is Ephraim (Israel) filling the bow. God will give them future victory. The triumph of His people is sure. Indeed He will make them as the sword of a champion, totally invincible. Even ‘Javan’ is to experience the effects of God’s intervention, as they are conquered by God’s people.

But in the light of verse 10 this is not to be seen as by war. The battle bow has been cut off. God’s people have themselves become God’s bow and arrow.

‘And I will stir up your sons, Oh Zion, against your sons, Oh Javan, and will make you as the sword of a mighty man.’ Zion have become God’s sword and they will overcome the sons off Javan, the peoples across the sea. But in the context of the passage not by warfare. Like the coming King their conquest will be in peace.

‘Oh Javan’. Javan was one of the ‘sons’ of Japheth who ‘fathered’ Elishah (Alasia), Tarshish (Spain?), Kittim (Cyprus) and Dodanim (Rhodes) (Genesis 10.4). It therefore refers to powers to the West across the sea. It eventually became synonymous with Grecian influence as referring to the Ionians.

In the light of what has gone before in terms of the Philistines (verse 7) we may see this as indicating that even these peoples across the sea will be brought into subjection to YHWH. For it will be noted from verse 10 that war bows are no more.

This mention of Javan has been seen as referring strictly to Greece and the later Grecian empire and therefore to indicate a late date for the prophecy, but this need not be so. For there were in fact large contingents of Greek mercenaries in the Persian army, and the returned exiles would have come in close contact with them. And they would have been very familiar with Greek traders. Notice with regard to this that the prophecy is not directed at Javan itself but at ‘the sons of Javan’. So Zechariah could well have foreseen these sons of Javan being brought under the influence of God’s people.

As with much prophecy Zechariah spoke in terms that he knew. Indeed it should be noted that Tyre is destroyed while the Philistines are humbled and become part of the people of God. In the same way Zechariah offers nothing to the Persians. His offer it to the peoples across the sea whose soldiers are but servants of the Persians.

We may, of course see that God Himself saw the wider picture and that Israel would indeed see the rise of a Greek Empire and clash with it, but if this is latent in the prophecy, it is not patent. What is patent is the triumph of God and His people.

There were also at this time certainly spasmodic raids by the peoples of the sea against the Palestine coastline, and this may well have directly affected the returned exiles and suggested the need for a future relationship with these people. Such a recent raid may well have been known to Zechariah and it could have been the cause of his concern over Javan.

Alternatively it may be that Zechariah did not want to refer directly to the downfall of Persia, and yet, foreseeing who would be the people who would bring about that downfall, refers to them as the people of the future, indicating thereby that they will eventually have replaced the Persians.

So the reference to Javan may simply be to the only peoples that Zechariah could foresee as a threat to Persia, whom he saw as under the judgment of God. As a result they would be then represent the future ‘opposition’. Better then that they be brought into submission to YHWH.

Note on Javan.

These peoples across the sea were not a totally unknown quantity. They were well known through trading activities and stories of their prowess would no doubt have filtered through. Thus given that they were also known for frequent sporadic raids on the Palestinian coastline, and that a considerable part of the Persian army was made up of Greek mercenaries, Zechariah had good reason to see these mysterious people as possible future enemies, and, having reflected unfavourably on the part they were playing in preventing Judah’s freedom, to foresee their necessary defeat by God’s people before the final triumph was possible. In that case Zechariah would be justified in seeing Javan as in some way a future threat to Judah, and may well possibly have foreseen through it the necessary downfall of the Persian empire. Thus it was necessary that the sons of Zion should be sure that they would be victorious against the sons of Javan.

This is not the only mention of ‘Javan’. It is also mentioned in Isaiah 66.19 as a part of the far off peoples who would be involved in God’s judgments, and in Joel 3.6 it is to ‘the Ionians’ that the people of God have been sold by Tyre and Sidon, and Philistia. They are therefore certainly seen there as involved with God’s people and meriting God’s judgment. So it is clear that the ‘sons of Javan’ were regularly seen as genuine enemies of God’s people even in the time of Joel. Zechariah may well have had this in mind when he speaks of Javan.

That the name ‘Javan’ became at some stage almost synonymous with the Grecian empire is demonstrated in the book of Daniel (Daniel 8.21; 10.20; 11.3), and indeed Greece would arise from among the far off nations across the sea as destroyer of the Persian Empire, although as Macedon, the kingdom of Alexander the Great, did not originally see itself as being Greek we must be careful not to be too dogmatic about restricting the use of the term. As such Javan would begin to trouble Judah and Israel.

But the important thing here is that the Jews are assured that they need not fear ‘the sons of Javan’, the mysterious peoples across the sea, but would achieve great victories against them. God caters for the future as well as the present. All His enemies will fail.

The Jews did, of course, become a part of that Greek Empire, and suffered defeat at their hands. But historically they did also finally gain ‘great’ victories against the Seleucid part of the Greek Empire and gain a certain amount of relative freedom including freedom of worship. And we may say that Zechariah does not actually promise more than this, and that what is at the back of it all is that Judah and Israel need not finally fear the Greeks.

It is, of course, always possible that the words were added later as an application of the promise under divine influence, but there is no evidence for this other than their existence here in this form and it is not really necessary.

We must, however, recognise that Zechariah is describing Israel’s influence over Javan as over the Philistines earlier. He is not necessarily speaking of warfare.

End of Note.

9.14 ‘And YHWH will be seen over them, and his arrow will go forth as the lightning, and the Lord YHWH will blow the trumpet, and will go with the whirlwinds of the South.’

‘YHWH will be seen over them.’ This may refer to some manifestation of the divine presence as in the pillar of fire, but more likely it signifies that He will be over them as their protector and commander. It is as commander that He ‘will blow the trumpet’ (i.e. command the trumpeter to blow it).

‘His arrow will go forth as the lightning.’ In verse 13 the arrow of God is Ephraim, in which case ‘the whirlwinds of the south’ may be Judah (in Isaiah 21.1 the phrase possibly refers to a commonly known phenomenon in Judah used as a vivid picture). But as verse 10 has demonstrated they will not be involved in warfare. The probability is that the picture has changed and that reference is being made directly to His own activity, for lightning arrows (2 Samuel 22.15; Psalm 18.14; 144.6) and strong wind (Jeremiah 4.11; 51.1) are regularly symbolic of God’s power and deliverance. With the King present fighting is unnecessary.

9.15 ‘YHWH of Hosts will defend them, and they will eat, and will tread down the sling stones, and they will drink and make a noise as through wine, and they will be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar.’

This confirms a twofold application of verse 14. It is YHWH Himself Who defends His people, and the result is that they go are able to feast and tread down the slingstones of their enemy in contempt.

‘Will tread down the sling stones.’ In the hands of experts the sling was a deadly weapon and its stones to be feared, but God’s people will tread them down with contempt for they will have been under God’s protection.

‘And they will drink and make a noise as through wine.’ To drink is to participate in successfully and while YHWH is triumphing they will be drinking wine and becoming merry.

‘And they will be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar.’ Reference here is to the sacrificial ritual where the bowls are filled with blood which is flung on the corners of the altar. They will similarly be satiated with wine.

The idea may be of a siege where, as in the days of Isaiah 37, YHWH disposes of the enemy and the people simply have to watch in faith the salvation of God. It is in direct contrast to Isaiah 22.13 where they ate and drank in unbelief with the result that disaster followed. But the overall thought is that none can make them afraid under any circumstances.

9.16 ‘And YHWH their God will save them in that day as the flock of his people, for they will be as the stones of a crown lifted on high over his land.’

In that day their deliverance will be from YHWH. They are His sheep, His flock over whom He is shepherd. And they will share His triumph as stones in His crown as He sets it over His land.

‘Lifted on high.’ Possibly ‘raised up as a banner’. The word is rare, (compare Psalm 64.4 (64.6 in Hebrew)). But the idea is of triumphal rule under God.

9.17 ‘For how great is his goodness and how great is his beauty. Corn will make the young men flourish, and new wine the maids.’

A paean of praise to the goodness and glory of God. His greatness and His splendour are revealed in the victory and prosperity of His people. Both young men and young women will have great cause for celebration. ‘Corn’ parallels ‘new wine’ and may therefore possibly refer to drinks made from corn. Alternately it may be saying that there will be abundance of food and drink.

So, as we have seen, the prophecy looks ahead to God’s dealings with His people. To them all was seen as one, but as we look back we see different strands of promises, some dealing with the more near future, others with the more distant future. The returning exiles were facing great difficulties and needed great encouragement, and this is what God gives them. And history saw them arise from adversity and become well established in the land.

And to us these words can also be an encouragement as they stress His faithfulness to His people. But, as always, included with God’s future actions on behalf of His people there is in mind His final action when He will bring His purposes to fruition through His chosen King and God will be all in all. For in the end all God’s actions lead up to the final triumph. And it is at this time that His people will be triumphant.

The People Are Called On To Cry To YHWH For The Latter Rain.

10.1 ‘Ask you of YHWH rain in the time of the latter rain, even of YHWH who makes lightnings, and he will give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.’

This promise links with the previous verses, and with those which follow. God has promised fruitfulness and blessing. Once that time has come His people can ask for rain, both spiritual and physical. The fields will blossom and so will the hearts of His people. For YHWH the Creator is over all.

‘Rain.’ This looks back to Isaiah 32.15; 44.3-5 where rain and the coming of the Spirit are paralleled. The blessing of God will be poured out is such a way as to provide all that is needed, to supply abundance of provision, and to fill the people with life and joy in the Spirit.

‘The time of the latter rain.’ The importance of rain in Palestine cannot be exaggerated. The land depended on rain. Rain came there at a certain time of the year, and if it failed to come it was disastrous. In mid-October, although often delayed, there was the former rain as the rainy season began, and the latter rain followed at the end of the rainy season around April before the beginning of the hot summer, at which time ‘the winter is past, the rain is over and gone’ (Song of Solomon 2.11). Often at the time of the latter rain there was longing for more rain as the rainfall had been insufficient and here this is used to illustrate God’s provision for His people. When the rain appears to be over they can call on Him and He will provide further abundant rain. The phrase has finally in mind ‘the end times’, the times of the Messiah. At the right time the rain will come unexpectedly when men are expecting the heat of summer with its accompanying barrenness. This was pictured by John the Baptiser in his baptism of repentance which depicted the falling, life-giving rain of the Spirit with its resultant harvest. The latter rains had come!

‘YHWH who makes lightnings.’ Rain in Palestine is regularly accompanied by lightning. Baal, the primary Canaanite god, was seen by the Canaanites as the Lord of Storm and Lightning, and as the source in their eyes of the life-giving rain. But as Elijah had so ably demonstrated (1 Kings 18.24) it is really YHWH Who produces the lightning, and He and He alone is the controller and provider of the rains. Note the connection with 9.14. The lightning maker Who had protected them will now make provision for them.

‘To everyone grass in the field.’ Compare Amos 4.7 where the rain fell in some places and not in others. In the time of the latter rain all will benefit and be blessed. Thus the promise is of future blessing, fulfilled at least partially in the times of John the Baptiser and of Jesus Himself followed by the ministry of the Apostles.

So this whole passage from 9.1-10.1 pictures God’s eschatological salvation. The proud will be brought low and He will raise up the humble and meek. And He will do it through His righteous King and through the blood of the covenant. And the result will be worldwide blessing.

God’s Anger At False Shepherds Who Lead His People Astray, But God will Ensure The Coming Restoration (10.2-12).

The picture now changes for a moment. If God is so powerful why are His people in their present straits? And the answer lies in whom they are listening to. The theme of Zechariah, as of all the prophets, is the present wrong and the future hope. The future may be filled with hope but at present God’s people are unresponsive and disobedient, ill taught and badly led. They gain their knowledge of the future from anywhere but the prophets. Of course in the future this will be remedied by God Himself, and He will act to bring it about. But prior to that there will be an unspecified time in which the false shepherds will bring disaster on the people (11.4-17). The future is thus seen as a whole. To them there was but one future. And that was indeed so. But it was a future that was more complicated than they could ever have imagined.

We looking back can see its many facets. The encouraging of the people through time, the raising of them from the low state in which they were, the re-establishing of His people in the land, the coming of the Messianic king, the spiritual transformation of His people along with those who would unite themselves to them, the reaching out of God’s truth to the world and the final consummation. All this was encompassed by the prophets, but in terms of their own day. But it was still a future dream because of their false teachers.

10.2 ‘For the teraphim have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and they have told false dreams, they comfort in vain. Therefore they go their way like sheep, they are afflicted because there is no shepherd.’ .

Zechariah has now come down to earth. The shepherds of the people have been false shepherds and have deceived them. The people have been hearing the future from lying sources. That is why the people are wandering like sheep with no shepherd. They are without protection and defenceless. This will be dealt with in detail shortly (11.4-17). Compare Jeremiah 27.9; 29.8; Micah 3.7 which demonstrate that those who were supposed to be shepherds of God’s people regularly did use these methods.

‘The teraphim have spoken vanity.’ Teraphim were linked with divination and spiritist practises (Judges 17.5; Ezekiel 21.21; 2 Kings 23.24). They were almost always condemned in Scripture (1 Samuel 15.23; 2 Kings 23.24; Judges 17.6). We do not know what form they took or what material they were made of, although they are linked with household gods (e.g. Genesis 31.30 with 34). The word probably links with the Hittite ‘tarpis’, a type of spirit sometimes seen as evil and sometimes as protective. The reason that Rachel stole the teraphim may have been in order to enjoy their protection (Genesis 31.34-35). The latter idea would fit the context here in that the false shepherds have failed to give protection. But whatever their function, rather than giving protection they have spoken only what has brought harm and trouble (’awen).

‘The diviners have seen a lie, and they have told false dreams. They comfort in vain.’ It is clear that the ‘shepherds’ of the people have been using many means to obtain messages from the beyond. But here we are told that their methods are useless and vain and clearly to be condemned. They have no message for God’s people. Their messages are lies. The result is that God’s people are misled and suffer harm. And it is ever so. There are always those who ignore the word of God and proclaim vain words of comfort and false dreams which are not in accordance with its teaching.

In these days when astrology, tarot cards, ouija boards, spirit writing and such like abound we need to recognise their futility and their condemnation by God.

10.3 “My anger is kindled against the shepherds, and I will punish the he-goats.” For Yahweh of Hosts has visited his flock, the house of Judah, and will make them as his goodly horse in the battle.’

But when God begins to act the false shepherds will suffer God’s anger. The he-goats, the leaders of the flock, will be punished, for they will have misled the people. For God will visit His flock and it is He Who will then protect and lead them, making them His sound and effective instrument.

‘His goodly horse in battle.’ When a mounted man went into battle he needed ideally a horse which was strong, powerful, well-balanced and unafraid. This is what God will make His people to be.

10.4 ‘From him shall come forth the corner stone, from him the nail, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler together.’

God will provide full protection and strong leadership for His people, replacing these false shepherds. He will supply the cornerstone, the nail, the battle bow and the leadership.

‘From Him -- the corner stone.’ It was the corner stone that strengthened the building and provided its final strength. Compare Judges 20.2 where the leaders are described in the Hebrew as ‘the corners of all the people’. But the finest corner stone of all was the One Whom God sent into the world to save us from our sins and be the foundation of His new people (Psalm 118.22; Matthew 21.42).

‘From Him the nail.’ The steward appointed by God in Isaiah 22 was described as being like a nail in a sure place (Isaiah 22.23) who could bear the weight of what was expected of him. God will provide sufficiency for His people.

‘From Him the battle bow.’ Compare 9.13 where Judah is God’s battle bow. The battle bow is seen there as the powerful weapon of God.

‘From Him every ruler.’ The word for ‘ruler’ is nagas, ‘one who exerts pressure’. Thus an exactor exacting taxes, a taskmaster overseeing work, one who governs and rules forcefully (compare its use in Isaiah 3.12).

So God will replace the false shepherds, and those whom God will put over His people will be strong and effective and able to bear the weight placed on them because they participate in His truth and power. The Targums refer this verse to the coming Messiah, and He unquestionably is its final fulfilment. The New Testament refers specifically to Jesus Christ as ‘the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2.20; 1 Peter 2.6).

10.5 ‘And they shall be as mighty men, trampling down in the mire of the streets in the battle, and they will fight because YHWH is with them, and the riders on horses will be confounded.’

‘Mighty men.’ Compare the mighty men of David (2 Samuel 23.8). These were the flower of any army, the king’s champions.

This is a picture of triumph and overcoming and the details need not be pressed. The vivid scene was well known to the prophet and his contemporaries for some had seen it in reality. The mud-filled streets of a city, the powerful champions against whom none could prevail, their forward progress trampling all before them, enemy cavalry beaten and destroyed. In the past this had been true of their enemies who had seemed invincible. Now it was to become true of them. In their turn they will be the victors because YHWH is with them.

We may be engaged in a different kind of battle, a spiritual battle, but the way is still miry and the enemy still battling in desperation. Ours too will be the victory if God is with us.

10.6 “And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again, for I have mercy on them. And they will be as though I had not cast them off, for I am YHWH their God and I will hear them.”

As in verse 3a we are suddenly introduced to direct words of YHWH. Here is the promise of full restoration for both Judah and Israel (Joseph). Because God will reveal His mercy they will be brought back to the land and be as though they had not been cast off. In other words they will be restored to the ‘ideal’ as God’s covenant people, as what they were intended originally to be in God’s eyes. When God forgives He does it completely. There is full restoration to His service.

‘The house of Joseph.’ As with the use of Ephraim (the son of Joseph) the term includes the whole of Israel. It is an alternative to avoid too much repetition.

‘I am YHWH their God and I will hear them.’ A reminder of their covenant relationship. God is a God Who hears and responds. But all through Zechariah, and indeed the Old Testament, this relationship is dependent on a response of righteous living and obedience. God reveals His mercy and His people must respond accordingly. Then He will hear them.

10.7 ‘And Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart will rejoice as through wine. Yes, their children will see it and rejoice. Their heart will be glad in YHWH. I will hiss for them and gather them, for I have redeemed them. And they will increase as they have increased. And as there was a sowing of them among the peoples so will they remember me in far countries, and they will live with their children and shall return.’

The result of their new reception by God will be that they themselves will become champions and filled with rejoicing in their hearts. But this joy will not be the result of drinking wine but will be the result of their response to God (compare Ephesians 5.18). Their descendants too will see it and rejoice in it. Indeed God will signal to them and bring them back to the land because He has planned to redeem them as He did at the Exodus. And as they have increased they will continue to increase. He has sowed them among peoples in far countries, but now they will remember Him and this will give them new life along with their children and so they will return to the land.

‘I will hiss for them.’ Make a noise to attract their attention and call them back. We could translate ‘whistle’ as to a sheep dog.

‘As there was a sowing of them.’ Literally ‘I will sow them among the peoples.’ The context demands that this refer to a past sowing. The verse is looking at past and future as one. Hebrew verbs are not as specific as to time as English verbs and must be interpreted from the context. First they had been sown among the people, now they will remember and return.

So God’s purpose that His people should return to the land is emphasised. He wants them there so that they can begin again and be His faithful people. And their final triumph in one form or another is assured.

10.10-11 ‘I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria, and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon, and place shall not be found for them. And he will pass through the sea of affliction, and will smite the waves in the sea, and all the depths of the Nile will dry up, and the pride of Assyria will be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt will depart away.’

The promise of a new exodus is confirmed and described. Just as God had delivered His people from Egypt under Moses, so would He now again deliver them from their present exiles, both those who had fled to Egypt for shelter, and those carried way to Assyria and elsewhere. The reference to Egypt and Assyria parallels Isaiah 52.4. They were the traditional ‘old enemies’ of Israel, remembered as typical of all their enemies. And Assyria was especially the place to which exiles had been taken from Israel (2 Kings 17.6, 23; 18.11). They were also the two enemies who had previously most clearly suffered at the powerful hand of YHWH, Egypt at the Reed Sea (Exodus 14.27-31) and Assyria before Jerusalem in the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19.35; Isaiah 37.36) and could be used as examples.

‘The land of Gilead and Lebanon.’ Such will be the triumph that the boundaries of the old kingdom are to be restored, indeed the people will be so numerous that even this will not be sufficient and Gilead and Lebanon would also be possessed and populated (compare Isaiah 29.17). When we contrast this with the tiny patch of land around Jerusalem populated by the first returning exiles we can see the triumph in the declaration.

The description then follows which reminds them of how He had led them through the Sea of Reeds, but now all obstacles will be dried up, even the Nile itself will be totally ‘dried up’, and the pride of Assyria ‘brought down’. Both mighty Assyria and powerful Egypt will be humbled and subjected to others. The thought is even perhaps that they will be ruled by Judah and Israel. The language is the language of hyperbole. It was a reminder of how Israel had escaped through the dried up waters and through the smiting angel against Assyria. But now even the Nile would be dried up. We do not need to look for a literal drying up of the Nile but of all that the Nile represents in respect of Egypt’s prosperity, affected both by famine and by warfare. That seemingly impregnable nation will be reduced to subservience and all their gods, including the Nile, will prove useless.

Note again the change of persons in midstream from ‘I’ to ‘He’, typical of Zechariah.

The overall description of these verses is to demonstrate that God will do far more than He has ever done before. His people will become strong and mighty and all their adversities will be removed. It is the prophetic equivalent of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22. We need not look for a literal fulfilment to the letter, but can see it as a picture of the final triumph of the people of God.

10.12 ‘And I will strengthen them in YHWH, and they will walk up and down in his name. The word of YHWH.’

The whole trust of the people will now be in their covenant God and they will find their strength in Him and will walk triumphantly in His name in total confidence. This is ‘the prophetic word of YHWH’.

(Note. As Paul brings out, we must distinguish between those who respond and reveal themselves to be the true people of God, the remnant according to the election of grace, and those who fail to respond and thus cut themselves off from the true Israel. As he demonstrates this was true right from the beginning. Not all Abraham’s seed inherited the full promises, but a select part only. The call was to all in every case, but its fruition depended on response. Ishmael and Esau could have stayed within the covenant community but they chose not to do so. Not all returned from exile. And that has been true throughout history. Potentially ‘the remnant’ was all of Israel who survived. In actual fact it was those who truly responded to God and believed. (See Romans 9-11)).

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