Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection

Commentary on Zechariah

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Zechariah prophesied about the same time as Haggai, when after returning from exile in 593, the people had still not rebuilt the temple. Only about 50, 000 returned. From Ezra 2. 36-39 we see that out of the 24 orders of priests, representatives of only four had returned. Only 74 Levites and 392 temple servants came back: Ezra 2. 40, 58.

Isaiah as we recall had painted so bright a picture of the return from exile. But then, as we gather from Ezra and Nehemiah, the picture was not so glorious. Why? They had not been faithful to God. We saw that in Isaiah 58-59. They had fallen into many and serious sins. So the promised glory was not yet to be seen.

The rebuilding of the temple had faltered. First, political conditions were unstable after the death of Cyrus in 529. Also, the returned exiles faced opposition from Samaritans. The Samaritans had offered to help rebuild the temple. They claimed they had worshipped the true God since the time of Esarhaddon of Assyria who brought them there. But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the heads of the families of Israel rejected their offer.

Then the Samaritans got the governor of the West-of-Euphrates satrapy to write to King Artaxerxes saying Jerusalem was rebellious. They therefore got a restraining order, and frustrated things until the second year of the reign of Darius. They also complained to King Darius, but he had the archives searched, and found the decree of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the temple. Darius then ordered Tattenai governor of the West-of-Euphrates satrapy not to interfere. (Full account is found in Ezra chapters 4-6).

Zechariah is the most messianic of the prophets, next to Isaiah. We will explain the messianic symbolism as we go along. How much did Zechariah himself see? We do not know. We discussed this sort of problem in our comments on Isaiah 7. 14. Briefly: the Holy Spirit, the chief Author of Scripture, could easily have in mind more than the human author saw. Vatican II, in LG ยง55 indicated that is may well be the case with Genesis 3. 15 and Isaiah 7. 14. We suggested it may also be true in Jeremiah 31. 31, the prophecy of the New Covenant. Yet the Targums, which may go back in oral form to the 6th century B.C. did understand much, as we shall indicate as we go along. And the NT also understood much as we shall see.

Just as on the case of Isaiah, commentators are strongly convinced that there were three Isaiahs, so here there is a strong conviction that there are two Zecharias. The reasons are these: Chapters 9-14 are of a different character than chapters 1-8.

There is a difference in style, e.g., the second part uses terms not found in the first part, such as sheep and shepherd (11. 4ff). And the phrase "in those days" comes several times in chapters 12-14, whereas it is found only three times in chapters 1-8. But we reply: differences in style much greater than these are found between the historical works of Tacitus, especially if we read them in the original Latin, and his Dialogue on Orators. Yet evidence is such as to satisfy almost all that he did write all of these. Further, differences in chapters 9-14 are especially called for by the difference in materials. There were some messianic texts in chapters 1-8, but they are much more abundant in the last chapters.

It is also objected that chapter 9 mentions several cities that were of no special concern to the Jews of the time of Zecharias. There is even a mention of the Greeks, quite a distance in the future, at the time of Alexander the Great. We reply: In the case of Isaiah a strong objection was the mention of the name of Cyrus, who took Babylon in 539, long after the time of Isaiah. We reply: Isaiah explicitly (Is 44. 28), speaks of Cyrus as sent by God. Josephus reports (Antiquities 11. 1-18) that Cyrus was shown the text of Isaiah about his sending the Jews home, and that reading it influenced Cyrus. Not surprisingly, there is debate among commentators about the reliability of Josephus here, perhaps in part because of the report of a vision. Yet it is historically established that Alexander did grant special favors to the Jews. And B. Talmud, Yoma 69a reports the incident. Similarly here, Josephus (Antiquities 11. 317-39) tells us that Alexander the Great, before crossing over into Asia, when he was at Dios in Macedonia, was told by God during sleep that God had appointed him to conquer all those lands. Alexander did so. When he came to Jewish territory, the High Priest Jaddua, and other priests and laymen came out to meet him. The high priest wore his official robes. Then Alexander prostrated himself before Jaddua. On being asked why, he told of the dream in which he had seen the priest dressed that way. He said he was not honoring the priest, but the God for whom the priest stood.

Then Alexander gave great favors to the Jews. So Zechariah also knew by prophetic light what was to come, and knew the work of Alexander and his army of Greeks.

Incidentally, Josephus (ibid. 11. 338) also reports that Alexander was shown the book of Daniel, in which it was foretold that he would conquer the Persians, and Josephus adds that this influenced Alexander. (The passages of Daniel are likely to be Daniel 8. 3-8, 20-22; and especially 11. 3). The implications for the date of writing of Daniel are, to put it mildly, interesting, since so many today think Daniel was written in the second century B.C.).

The prophecy opens with a series of 8 visions, in the first six chapters. The purpose is to encourage rebuilding of the temple, and encourage the exiles who had returned in 539 BC. The year is now February 15, 539, about five months after work on rebuilding of the temple had been resumed. It was about the same year, 520, in which Haggai prophesied. They had had hopes for a fine future, but came back to a ruined city, and were disconsolate. As we said, we know too from the last chapters of Isaiah and from the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, that they had not lived as they should.

Chapter 1: First and Second Visions

1. Zechariah first sees a man riding a red horse among the myrtle trees. Myrtle trees are evergreen, In Nehemiah 8:15 they are associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, for making booths. Isaiah 41. 19 and 55. 13 speaks of them as among the blessing of the messianic kingdom. There were myrtle trees at the foot of the Mount of Olives, in the lowest part of the Kidron valley.

The Feast of Tabernacles, or booths, was one of the major feasts and lasted one week, starting in middle of October, five days after the Day of Atonement. It was called Booths because they were supposed to make shelters out of boughs and live in them for that time, in memory of their years of wandering. It seems not to have been much observed before the exile, but after the exile it became a popular occasion and Jews from other lands might come to take part. Following Leviticus 23. 40, as interpreted by the Pharisees, they carried in their right hand a lulab, a bundle of myrtle and willow twigs, and a citron in their left hands as they made their way to Jerusalem.

The first horseman is addressed by Zechariah as "my Lord". In v. 11 he is called the angel of the Lord. This is the interpreting angel, who is to explain the symbolism. Behind are three other horses, red, brown and white. The interpreting angel says the Lord has sent them to look over the earth. In the Persian empire - Judah is now part of that empire - the King used messengers to report on conditions in his vast empire. The three horsemen report they have found the whole world at rest and in peace. But Judah is not comfortable, so the interpreting angel asks God: How long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem? You have been angry for seventy years now - the time of the exile, from which the people have just returned.

So, the interpreting angel, after hearing comforting words from the Lord, told Zechariah that he should say the Lord is really jealous for Jerusalem. Jealousy is qinah , and does not have the meaning of English "envy", but of the attitude of a lover intensely concerned over his beloved.

The Lord says He has been angry with the secure nations: He had been only a little angry, but they made His anger worse by their conduct. But He will return to Jerusalem, and temple will be rebuilt, and the towns will overflow with prosperity.

The second vision pictured four horns, which had scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem. A horn in Scripture often stands for power, victory and glory. According to some commentators, the horns could stand for the kingdoms of Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. But others, much more likely, would see them as Assyria, Egypt, Babylonia, and Medo-Persia. This second set seems more likely, since at this time Greece and the Romans had not yet struck Judah.

But then Zechariah saw four craftsmen. The interpreting angel explained they came to throw down the horns of the nations that opposed Judah.

Chapter 2: Third Vision , that of the Surveyor

In a vision, the prophet sees a surveyor with a measuring line going to measure Jerusalem. An interpreting angel told Zechariah to tell the surveyor that Jerusalem would be a city without walls, because of the great number of people in it. But the Lord said He would be a wall of fire for it, and its glory within. .

Then the Lord encouraged those who have not yet left Babylon to leave it. He added a sentence, verse. 8, that is not very clear in the Hebrew. The literal wording would be: "For the Lord of Hosts after kabod sent me against the nations, the ones who plundered you - whoever plunders you touches the apple of his eye. I will definitely raise my hand against them. Then you will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent me." (To provide context, we continued into verse 9).

There are four problem spots in this passage. The most difficult is Hebrew kabod , which commonly means "glory", but the etymological meaning is "heaviness". So it could refer to the affliction of God's people, which would fit with the context we gave above.

Also we have the strange pronouns, "me" used twice, "his" once. We ask who is the person meant in the "me"? It could be the prophet himself. Some have wondered if Zechariah refers to the Messiah, for in the later chapters he will speak much of the Messiah, and not always with full clarity. We have some strange uses of pronouns later on, in Zech 12. 10: "They shall look upon me who they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as for his only son." We will take it up in detail later. We will suggest that the "me" is spoken by the Messiah, who is pierced in the crucifixion, and the "him" still refers to the same Messiah, in a strange shift of pronouns, so strange that most versions change the "me" to "him".

As to "the apple of his eye", it would refer to God's eye, what is dear to Him (the expression, apple of eye, is found only here in all the Old Testament). We would expect "my" here, but this is another strange shift of pronouns. (Incidentally if one reads the works of St. Teresa of Avila in her original Spanish, pronoun shifts are not unusual).

Our net result on verse 8: God will raise his hand, after they have been afflicted, against those who hurt Israel, the apple of His eye.

Zechariah continues: Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion, the Lord says: "I am coming, and I will live among you." This easily means that God Himself in person is coming - which happened in the person of the messiah. We recall the remarkable uses of "I" in Ezekiel 34. 11 and Jeremiah 23. 3 and 30. 11, which when joined to the el gibbor of Isaiah 7. 14 at least can be taken as a promise that God Himself will come in person, in the Messiah.

Then: Many nations will join themselves to you. The Jews must have taken this to mean other nations would become Jews. We saw this idea in commenting on Isaiah 2. The same comments apply here.

Then Zechariah continues: the Lord will inherit Judah and again choose Jerusalem. - In what sense? In Romans 11, in the image of the two olive trees, we see that gentiles become part of the original people of God. We saw that many prophecies, such as Isaiah 2 indicated that. We saw that Ephesians 3. 6 says the gentiles will be fellow heirs. So the object of God's special love is to be not just Israel, but all God's people, made into one with Israel, for Jesus has broken the wall of separation, as Ephesians 2. 13-17 said.

There is now just one people of God, consisting of gentiles and Jews who have accepted God's Messiah. Those who reject Him are not part of that people, they are the branches fallen from the tame olive tree of which Romans 11 spoke.

Further light on this comes from Romans 9:25-16 where St. Paul quotes the prophet Hosea: "Those who were not my people, I will call my people" In the original setting, . Hosea was saying that the Jews, because of their sins, brought on the Babylonian exile, and had fallen out of the People of God. But after their repentance, God would gladly take them back: "Those who were not my People I will call my People. In the original words of Hosea 2:23: " I will say to lo ammi [not my people]: "You are my people." For they had ceased being God's people, and had remained many days (Hosea 3:4) "without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim," but when they repented, He would gladly say to them the words just cited: "You are now my people again".

But even when they become His people again, they must not forget God has joined gentiles to them, if the gentiles accept their Messiah. They are no longer alone.

Chapter 3: Fourth vision

The angel shows Zechariah Joshua the high priest, and satan standing at the right (the position of an accuser in their courts). Joshua stood for all of Israel. His garments were filthy - their sins. But the angel told the attendants to remove the filthy clothes and put a new set on him. This stood for God's intention to forgive the sins of Israel.

But the forgiveness is not without condition. The Lord said through the angel: "If you walk in my ways, you will govern my house."

Then the prophecy turns to the future. The Lord will send His "servant, the Branch". The Targum easily sees this word "Branch", as we do too, as standing for the Messiah. A stone is set before Joshua. Most likely it stands for the Messiah, who is to be the cornerstone: cf. Eph 2. 19-22 and the stone on which some will stumble, while others will rise: cf. Isaiah 28. 16, cited in Romans 9. 33; cf. also Luke 2. 34. The seven eyes stand for the fullness of the Holy Spirit who was to rest on the Messiah: Isaiah 11. 1-3. God said then He would remove the sin the land in one day: the day of the death of the Messiah, who earned all forgiveness - but its giving out was under the same "if" as we saw above in verse 6. They would have to be converted, as Romans 11. 25-26 says, and adds in v. 27: "The deliverer shall come from Zion and turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this is my covenant, when I take away their sins." Then God's people would be secure: the ideal of the Messianic age.

Chapter 4: The Fifth Vision

The interpreting angel wakens Zechariah to see another vision -- it seems the visions were coming at night. Zechariah saw a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps which are on top of it. Also, two olive trees one on the right, one on the left of the bowl. This seems to mean seven small bowls each with places for seven wicks - these are olive oil lamps. The fact that there are seven seems to stress that oil is abundant. The oil probably stands for God's power through His Spirit. The two olive trees seem to stand for the offices of priest and king in Israel. As we gather from later in this passage, that is, from verses 12-14, the two olive branches are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord, that is Zerubbabel (civil authority), and Joshua (high priest). The usual translations call them the anointed ones. The Hebrew, of same sense, calls them sons of oil.

They are responsible for the restored community, and assured of God's power.

Faith in God's power - now turning to verse 7 - can overcome even a mountain of opposition to rebuilding the temple and the community. So v. 8 says the hands of Zerubbabel laid the foundation, the same hands will complete it.

But the temple under construction was rather small in comparison to the temple of Solomon, as verse 10 shows. But one should not look down on the day of small things. In Haggai 2. 9 (contemporary with Zechariah), we hear that the glory of the new house will be greater than that of the old. That was not true in the material sense, but in the sense that the divine Messiah was to enter the new house.

In the last part of verse 11 we read of seven eyes - the eyes of the Lord who sees all things.

Chapter 5: The Sixth and Seventh Visions: A flying Scroll, and the Woman in a Basket

The angel now showed him a flying scroll. It was very large, about 30 feet long and fifteen wide. (The Hebrew gives it in cubits, of about 18 inches each).

The scroll is flying so all can read it, and large for the same reason. The angel explains that it is a curse flying over the land. On one side it orders that every thief be banished; on the other, all who swear falsely should be banished. Why these two crimes? Stealing might stand for wronging others in any way; swearing falsely might stand for any irreverence to God. Or it might be that these two sins were the chief ones in the restored community.

The curse of course reminds us of the words of Moses in Dt 27. 26 saying that he who fails to fulfill the law is cursed. We also think of the words of Moses in Dt 11. 26 that he is putting before them a blessing and a curse. Still further, in James 2. 10 we hear that he who violates one command is guilty of violating all - in the sense that he has denied the authority of the lawgiver, God.

The seventh vision is of a flying basket, an ephah, which is called a measuring basket: it held a bit less than a bushel.

In it is a woman, who stands for all evil. When the lid is raised, she tries to get out, but the angel pushes down the lid.

Then two other women take the basket to the land of Shinar - an old name for Babylon, the symbol of all evil - it belongs there. The house reminds us of a ziggurat, the kind of temple tower found in Babylonia.

So all evil must be removed from the restored community.

Chapter 6.1-6. Eighth Vision, of the Four Chariots

Zechariah sees four chariots, coming from between two mountains of bronze - they may stand for Mount Zion, and the Mount of Olives, with the Kidron valley in between them. The chariots seem to stand for angelic spirits, which are powerful to fulfill the will of God. The black horses go to the north - the region from which invasions by Assyria and Babylonia had come. The dappled horses go south, the direction of Egypt, which had also threatened Israel.

The horses were straining to go, that is, the angels were eager to do God's will, but would not start until He gave the word. The white horses went west, to lands farther out over the sea. Nothing is said of going to the east, perhaps because the desert directly east was practically impassable.

Those going to the north are specially said to have appeased God's spirit, by overcoming the great enemies of Israel which came from that direction.

Chapter 6.9-15: Symbolic Crowning of Joshua as High Priest

The prophet was ordered by the Lord to take silver and gold from those who had just come from Babylon, and to go on the same day to the house of Josiah, and make a crown for the head of the high priest Joshua. Zechariah should tell Joshua that the Lord said: Here is the man called the Branch - he will branch out from the place and build the temple. He will rule on his throne and will be a priest on his throne. He will build the temple. Then the crown is to be put in as a memorial in the temple.

Is this a real action, or a vision? More likely a real action, but a symbolic one, such as the prophets sometimes carried out, e.g., Jer 19. 10-13 and Ezek 4. 1-8. The latter view seems more likely.

Are there two men involved here, Zerubbabel, the civil authority as king and Joshua, the high priest? The Hebrew text seems to indicate Joshua has both positions. This could be a foreshadowing of the fact that the Messiah - designated, as so often, by the word "Branch" - would be both King and Priest. The Septuagint changes the wording, and has the king on the throne, the priest at his right, with harmony (shalom) between them. (Many versions follow the Septuagint on this matter). We think the Hebrew reading more likely to be true, and note that all of this is fulfilled completely in Christ, the Messiah as priest and king. The Targum, the Talmud, and the Rabbis all see the Branch as messianic.

Those who are far away, the gentiles, will come to help build the temple. We saw this before, in that Cyrus and later Darius did aid the reconstruction of the temple.

7.1-8. 23: Fasting and the Promise of the Future

After a lapse of two years, Zechariah is again called on to prophesy. that is, on Dec. 7, 518 BC.

A delegation from Bethel came to ask if they should still observe the national fasts that had been established during the time of the captivity, namely in the fourth month, when the city walls were breached; in the fifth month, when the temple was destroyed by fire; in the seventh month, the anniversary of the murder of Gedeliah, and in the tenth month, on the day Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem.

The word of the Lord came to the prophet. He was to ask the people and priests: When you fasted on those days, was it for the Lord, or for yourself? In other words, they lacked the right interior dispositions. This would be the same sort of lack of which God complained in Isaiah 29. 13.

So instead of the old fasts, the Lord asked for four things: 1) administer true justice, that is, proper ordering of society; 2) show hesed, mercy and compassion; 3) do not oppress the widow and orphan - a widow might have no means of financial support without a husband; 4) do not think evil, avoid hatred and revenge. These were really the chief things the covenant had called for. So they should go back to obeying the covenant. But the people refused, they were as hard as flint, and so the Lord was angry. That is why He had scattered them before.

If they complied, God would restore His favor to them, and even foreigners would join in their joy. So they should go ahead in rebuilding the temple, and the great promises would be fulfilled, for nothing is difficult to God.

Chapters 9-10

At this point still more messianic prophecies begin.

In the introduction we gave the explanation for the countries named in 9. 1-8. Alexander will subdue them.

But here, in contrast, the Messiah will use peace, not force. He will come riding not on a horse, as for war, but on a donkey (Zechariah speaks of a colt, the foal of a donkey. This means he will sit on the young beast, but its mother will come along, since the colt had not been ridden before. Some commentators have accused Matthew 21. 5 of misunderstanding, as if Jesus were to ride on two beasts at the same time - hardly possible! No it is merely semitic parallelism here. The readers of Matthew, knowing Hebrew culture, would understand). Talmud and Midrash see this text of verses 9-10 as messianic.

The King Messiah will take away the war horses and the battle bows, for He brings peace. His rule will be from the River to the ends of the earth - an echo of Psalm 72. 8 - that is, covering everything.

9.11-10.7: Final Conflicts to Bring in the Messianic Peace

Even though the Messiah is to bring peace, first the enemies must be conquered. God promises this because of 'the blood of the covenant. This recalls the blood ceremony Moses carried out in the making of the Sinai covenant in Exodus 24. 1-8. Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant sacrifices on the people. This meant they were become kinsmen of God, who was to act as their goel, that is, the next of kin, who has both the right and the duty to rescue his kinsmen in dire straits.

The mention of the waterless pit, in 9. 11, could remind us of the pit where the brothers of Joseph threw him in Gen 37. 24 or of that into which Jeremiah was put: Jer. 38. 6-9.

9. 13 speaks of conflict against Greece - that was still well in the future from the time of Zechariah, but his prophetic light could and did show it to him. By Greece may well be meant the Seleucid empire, a part of what had once been Alexander's Empire. Antiochus IV of that empire persecuted the Jews horribly c. 170 B.C. Yet thanks to the army of the Maccabees, they did hold out and set up a line of kings from the tribe of Judah that lasted until Herod, in 41 B.C. whom Rome imposed on them as the first ruler who was not of the tribe of Judah -- a sign that the Messiah was due, and was really coming: cf. Genesis 49. 10, which even Jacob Neusner, a great modern Jewish scholar (Messiah in Context, Fortress, 1984, p. 242), understands as messianic, even though so many Catholic scholars claim not to see what it means.

We note too that Joel 4. 10, speaking of this period, tells of turning ploughshares into swords - the opposite of Isaiah 2. 4 -but the two prophets speak of two different periods. One is the war needed to bring in the era of messianic peace, the other, the actual era of messianic peace.

In v. 15 the mention of the bowl used to sprinkle the corners of the altar, alludes to the ceremony of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement: Exodus 30. 7-10.

10. 2: speaks of against the deceit of idols. Verse 3 speaks of God's anger against the shepherds, that is, the rulers. That word "shepherd" specially referred to kings at that time. .

In verse 4 a cornerstone is to come from Judah. The Targum saw it as messianic. We think of Ephesians 12. 20 which speaks of Christ as the cornerstone: cf. 1 Peter 2. 6, also Romans 9. 33 and Luke 2. 34.

Then, in the remainder of chapter 10, verses 8-12, the Lord promises to bring back the Jews from Egypt and from Assyria, that is, from all places of dispersion, for the time of the Messiah.

We may see these things as getting the first part of their fulfillment with the coming of Jesus; but the complete fulfillment at the end, when all Israel will be converted to the Messiah, as St. Paul foretold in Romans 11. 25-26. That conversion is foretold in chapter 12. 1 to the end of chapter 14.

Chapter 11: The Allegory of the Evil Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

The false shepherds are like those of whom Jeremiah 25. 34-38 spoke, the false leaders of the people. Lebanon's forest is to be felled. So it is clear that the lower and more accessible trees will also fall. The Rabbis saw in the fall of Lebanon the fall of the second temple, though the royal palace could also be spoken of as Lebanon, because of the cedars of Lebanon used in its construction.

But now, in the rest of chapter 11, the prophet himself seems to have acted the role of the coming shepherd, the Messiah. Such prophecies in action were known before, especially in Jeremiah 13. 1-14; 18. 1-12; 19-1-14; 27. 1-28. 17, and Ezekiel 4. 1-5. 15;12. 20; 21. 11-22.

So Zechariah pastured the flock marked for slaughter. He took two staffs, marked one Favor, and the other Union. In one month he got rid of the false shepherds. - But the flock got tired of him, and Zechariah said he would no longer be their shepherd. "Let those who are left eat each other's flesh."

In the siege of Jerusalem before the end in 70 A.D. they literally did eat each other's flesh, in cannibalism. Josephus (War 6. 193-213) actually reports that this happened during that siege.

Then Zechariah broke one of the rods, the one marked Favor: this stood for God's revocation of the covenant. So the nations would be permitted to overrun them - which they did in the fall of Jerusalem in 70.

Finally, Zechariah as it were resigned from his job: he asked for "severance pay" and they gave him thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave as mentioned in Exodus 21. 32. Further, God told Zechariah to throw the silver into the temple to the Potter. Judas fulfilled this in throwing down the 30 pieces of silver he had been paid to betray Jesus, in the temple. It was used to buy a potter's field, for the burial of strangers.

After that he broke the second staff, the one marked Union, to signify the breaking of the union of Judah and Israel. Of course, the north and south had broken off long before. But this signified the internal fighting among the Jews at the time just before Rome took the city. Their lack of unity helped bring the fall of the city. As the high priest had said in worry (John 11.48) then the Romans really did come and took away both their place and their nation.

But then in 11.15-17, Zechariah is called on to act an opposite role, that of the bad shepherd who will eat the meat of the choice sheep. Woe to this worthless shepherd who deserts his flock!

Chapter 12.1-3: The apocalyptic siege of Jerusalem

The Lord said He would make Jerusalem a cup that would make the surrounding peoples reeling as from alcohol. All nations will gather against Judah, the countryside, and against Jerusalem. But the Lord will deliver even the defenseless countryside, as well as the fortified city of Jerusalem. Even the feeble will be great warriors like David.

Chapter 12.10 to 13.9: Israel finally to be freed from sin

Finally, the Lord will pour out upon the house of David a spirit that brings grace and leads them to prayer. Then "they will look on me, the one they have pierced, and mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, or like the ritual weeping over Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

We notice the odd pronoun shift, from "me" to "him". Many versions do not show that. Yet it indicates the divinity of the Messiah, and the fact that they will have pierced, crucified Him. We saw such a pronoun shift earlier (cf. comments on chapter 2. 8). John 19. 37 explicitly quotes this line and refers it to Jesus. Similarly, Apocalypse/Revelation 1. 7 understands it to refer to Jesus: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, everyone who pierced him, and all the tribes of earth will wail on account of him." We think too of the image in Daniel 7. 13 about the Son of Man coming on the clouds - to which Jesus referred in speaking to the high priest in Matthew 26. 24. Jesus on the cross recited part of Psalm 22, in which verse 17 said: "They have pierced my hands and my feet." (As we see in Mt. 26. 31 Jesus quotes Zech 12. 7: "I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed."

At the start of 13. 1 a fountain will be opened to the house of David to cleanse them from their impurity. And all the idols will be finally banished. And the people will be extremely wary of any false prophet - if they even suspect a man of being such, he may be slain, as Dt. 13. 6-9 prescribed. So a man might try to say that the wounds he had were not from ritual cutting of himself in idol rites, but from scuffles in the house of friends. (Nehemiah 6. 12-14 shows false prophets were troublesome after the return from exile, as they had been also before the exile. And Matthew 24. 4-5 foretells the coming of false prophets near the end.

In verse 7 the shepherd image returns again, from chapter 11, standing now for the Good Shepherd. Jesus Himself cited this line, as we saw above, to refer to Himself, and the sheep scattered to refer to the Apostles.

The mention of "the man who is near to me" in verse 7 may recall Leviticus 6. 2 and 18. 20 - only in Leviticus is the phrase used - to refer to someone who is side by side with the Lord, as if His equal. This could evoke the thought of John 10. 30; "I and the Father are one."

Oddly, 12. 8-9 seem to hark back to the scene of 12. 1-6, the refining process for Israel, which is compared to refining silver and gold. Silver or gold ore would be put in a porous clay vessel along with lead, salt and zinc. The vessel would be sealed, and put in a fired kiln for five days. After that the dross would stick to the sides of the vessel, the gold or silver would be left. Those who had gone through the refining would say: The Lord is my God, and He would say: They are my people - evoking the very wording of the prophecy of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31. 31ff.

The thought of a suffering Messiah was a problem for many Jews, who expected the Messiah to live forever. So in Talmud, Sukkah 52a we read of a suffering and slain Messiah, son of Joseph, (in comment on Zechariah 12. 10), who was to be a precursor of the Messiah son of David. Hence too one reason for the Targumic distortion of Isaiah 53, which changed the meek lamb into an arrogant conqueror. Of course there were added reasons for the distortion. One was the belief that Bar Kokhba, leader of the second Jewish revolt, 132-35, was the Messiah. Another was the hostility of Jews to the Christian use of the passage. This reason for distortion is admitted in H. J. Schoeps, Paul (Westminster, 1961, p. 129), and Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context (p. 190) and Samson Levey, (op. cit., p. 152. note 10). Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls also spoke of two Messiahs. Cf. Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls (JSOT 1987) pp. 53-54.

Chapter 14: the return of the Messiah and His Kingship

Many scholars are inclined to say this chapter is not by Zechariah: it seems to contradict other predictions of the future of Jerusalem.

In earlier chapters especially 9-10, there seems to be a final victory for Jerusalem. Now there is talk of the enemies winning. Similarly Ezekiel 40-48 gave a glorious future for Jerusalem. Isaiah 2 had all nations streaming to Jerusalem. Zechariah 8. 20-23 spoke similarly. Isaiah 2 spoke of beating swords into ploughshares.

But we must remember three things: 1) First, chapter 14 is strongly apocalyptic. In such a genre there are bizarre images, which need to be much reduced to get the truth. Cf. the imagery of Isaiah 13. 9-10; 34. 4, and Ezek 32. 7-8, and of Mt. 24. 2) Joel speaks of beating ploughshares into swords. Apoc. 16. 13-16 speaks of a final battle. 3) The Holy Spirit is the author all of Scripture. So one part cannot contradict another. 4) Often temporal images are used for spiritual things. This is surely the case with Ez 40-48. St. Paul in Gal 3. 15-22 reads the old law as referring to eternal salvation.

The answer is this: We can see from the seeming conflicts that there is reference to two eras: one, the final war to bring in the messianic age; two, the return of the Messiah Himself.

We turn to the era of conflict. Even the nonconservative New American Bible in its note on Joel 4. 10 sees that in Joel warlike weapons are made to respond to God's call to for arms to expel forever the unlawful invaders; while Is 2 speaks of the glorious final stage. Apoc/Rev. 16. 13-16, as we said, speaks of this conflict as the great battle of Armageddon (Mountain of Megiddo) - obviously symbolic, for the place is really too small for a gigantic conflict: Apoc 16. 12-21.

To understand the symbolism we need to note that Jerusalem, the Bride of God, often stands for the Church, the People of God. The bride of the Lamb in Apocalypse 19. 7 is the Church: cf. 2 Cor 11. 2; Eph. 5. 22-33. Marriage was often used to picture the covenant relationship of God and the People of God, especially in Hos 2. 16-22; Is 54. 5-8; Ez 16. 6-14.

So we can see that the ruin of most of Jerusalem means the same as Luke 18. 8: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith on the earth? (cf. 2 Thes 2. 3). So as Zech 14. 2 says, only a remnant will be left, will survive for the return in glory of the Messiah at the end of time.

An idea of a great falling away developed in Judaism much earlier. During the great persecution by Antiochus IV of Syria (175-64 BC) many Jews fell into apostasy. That seems to have led to the belief that there would be a great apostasy before the final age. We find this predicted in 1 Enoch 91. 7. (E. Isaac, in his introduction to the translation of 1 Enoch in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [Doubleday, 1983, p. 7] estimates the date of this part of 1 Enoch as around 100 B.C. ), and Jubilees 23. 14-16 (probably before 100 B. C), and 4 Ezra 5. 1-13 (probably dating from c . 100 A. D) which says truth will be hidden, faith uprooted, and wisdom will retreat into its chamber.

That day of the return of the Messiah in glory will be a day, says 14. 6 with no light - we could add: because the light of the Holy City will be the Lamb: Apoc 21. 23-24.

Then will come the time predicted in Zec 8. 21-23 and Isaiah 2, when all nations who are left will join themselves to the Lord: Zec 14. 16. This too will be the fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48. to come.



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