Continuing on from our study of Zechariah 12:1-14 Is it Yahweh who is pierced. Here’s a study of chapter 13.
“In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity” (Zechariah 13:1 NASB 1995)
In that day. The phrase ‘that day’ connects this verse with Zechariah 12:3, which we identified as the days of Messiah. Specifically, “that day” refers to the time when the Messiah came as a servant to be pierced or crucified.
A fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The piercing of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10) appears to have served as the reason for this spiritual “fountain” to be opened up for washing people’s sin and impurity. Hence, the scene at the end of Zechariah 12 of the whole community’s mourning (in repentance) for the “pierced” one shifts in Zechariah 13:1 to one of hope. A ‘fountain’ or ‘spring’ suggests an abundant supply of water (Ps. 36:9; Jer. 2:13), and the language indicates that this fountain will remain continuously open.
For sin and for impurity. “Sin” (ḥaṭṭā’t) is a more general term for human behavior that breaks God’s will (Deut. 9:18). “Impurity” (niddah) is a state that often results from amoral causes (e.g. childbirth or bodily emissions). Both unintentional sin and major impurity required ‘atonement’ through sacrifice, in the Old Covenant. Though there is no direct reference to sacrifice in this verse, the piercing of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10) serves as the sacrifice for washing sin and impurity of people. Washing occurs as a literary figure of repentance and purification elsewhere in the prophets (Isa. 1:16; Jer. 2:22; Ezek. 16:9). This fits with the images of repentance in Zechariah 12:10–14, and the cleansing water of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36:25.1 Zechariah 13:1 affirms God’s desire to cleanse repentant people. The New Testament clarifies that through Jesus, ‘rivers of living water’ flow to believers (John 7:38).
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. (Zechariah 13:2)
That I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered. Idolatry is associated with “impurity” (niddah) (Ezek. 36:17), which resulted in the dispersion of the Jews into exile (Ezekiel 36:16-21). As the previous verse shows, the “fountain” has been opened to cleanse people from such “impurity” (Zechariah 13:1). How would God cleanse people from such impurity? God will “cut off the names of the idols” from among people. The “name” is representative of the idol itself, which will be destroyed. The verb karat, to cut off or banish, is usually the punishment of the idolater, but the implication here appears to be people will banish the idols they serve with the transformation that comes to the community from looking up to the “pierced” one in repentance (Zechariah 12:10). The promise that these idols will “be remembered no more”, describes affection of the true worshiper. To remember is to serve a god, while to forget is to abandon it (Deut. 8:18–20). While it is true that modern Jewish and Gentile believers of Messiah are not often tempted to worship divine images, at the heart of idolatry is the pursuit of one’s agenda apart from reliance on and submission to God (Eph. 5:3–5). God promises to purify people from such idolatry following Messiah’s sacrifice.
And I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. Not only idols, but also their religious attendants, and promoters, the prophets, will be removed from the land. These false prophets are the focus of the final verses in Zechariah 13:3–6. Whereas God’s Spirit is associated explicitly with true prophecy (Zechariah 7:12), false prophecy is associated with ‘the unclean spirit’.
And if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who gave birth to him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you have spoken falsely in the name of the Lord’; and his father and mother who gave birth to him will pierce him through when he prophesies. (Zechariah 13:3)
The people will be so transformed by God that parents will enact the judgment against their own child. In Deuteronomy 13, there was to be no toleration of false prophecy connected with idolatry, as the people are commanded to put the person to death (Deuteronomy 13:5). In Numbers 25:8, an Israelite man and Midianite women, participating in idolatrous behavior through sexual intercourse, were “pierced” by Phinehas, grandson of Aaron the high priest. People “pierced” God, abandoning him through their idolatry, so now they will cleanse the land of idolatry by piercing their prophets. Zechariah speaks the above words using Old Covenant imagery and law in practice. Under the New Covenant, the idea is that God’s people will not tolerate false prophets, even the family of a false prophet would condemn the false prophet.
Also it will come about in that day that the prophets will each be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies, and they will not put on a hairy robe in order to deceive (Zechariah 13:4)
Those who had been false messengers of God would be ashamed of their message. They will put away the clothing of the prophets (a hairy robe) and earn an honest living, instead of deceiving people.
But he will say, ‘I am not a prophet; I am a tiller of the ground, for a man sold me as a slave in my youth.’ (Zechariah 13:5)
Those who posed as prophets will so fear exposure that they will deny ever having made such a claim. So eager would the false prophet be to hide his false pretense, that he would be willing to say, that he has been employed in farm work, and was sold as a slave from his youth.
And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds between your arms?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’ (Zechariah 13:5-6)
Without the hairy robe to cover his body, the false prophet will expose his “wounds”, though they try to conceal the truth, and pretend that they were wounds he had privately in his father’s family. Many conclude that this refers to wounds connected with illicit religious rites. The cutting of the body is linked to idolatrous practices connected with Baal religion (1 Kings 18:28) and the cult of the dead (Lev. 19:28). Some have argued that the ‘wounds between your hands’ are a reference to the suffering Messiah, however, the wounds their body bore appear to be because of false prophetic activity.
The removal of idolatry and false prophecy portrayed in Zechariah 13:2–6 is a key concern for the people of God in view of Jesus’ death. Worshipping idols is one of the characteristics of ‘pagan’ living (1 Peter 4:3) and is associated with the acts of the ‘flesh’ (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:5). While the judgment by the Old Covenant law on false prophets in the community is no longer directly applicable (i.e. their being put to death), Christians are to be intolerant of false teaching (2 Tim. 3:5; Rev. 2:20). In Revelation, the ‘false prophet’ does the work of the antichrist (16:13; 19:20; cf. 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7). The ‘false prophet’ is ultimately destroyed at Messiah’s second coming.
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,” Declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones (Zechariah 13:7)
“Awake, O sword. ‘Awake, O sword’ appears to begin a new oracle (given the vocative noun and imperfect verb with which it begins) but is still thematically connected to what preceded.The sword is a regular metaphor in prophetic literature, an image of death and judgment (Isa. 34:5–6; Ezek. 5:1).
Against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,” Declares the Lord of hosts. This verse contains the final ‘shepherd’ reference in Zechariah and brings together the various strands concerning leadership (shepherds) that have been woven through the book of Zechariah to this point. Zechariah 10:3 expresses God’s anger against shepherds. Zechariah 10:17 envisions serious injury against the shepherd, and here (Zechariah 13:7), it advocates striking a fatal blow against the shepherd.
The sword is instructed to “strike” the Shepherd, who is called “my shepherd” and “My Associate”. Both phrases use the possessive pronoun “my,” emphasizing the close association between the Lord and this shepherd who is struck by the sword. The ancient Hebrew word for My Associate is used in Leviticus 6:2 and 18:20 to mean a “near neighbor.” My Associate describes someone who is more than a friend of the LORD; someone who “dwells side by side with the LORD, His equal.”3 While “my shepherd” could be used of God’s shepherds in general, “My associate” seems to render the reference definite, meaning a specific shepherd may be meant. As for the image of the sword, because it is connected with God’s judgment, this Shepherd is apparently someone who is struck as a result of some offense. However, if there is such a close relationship between the shepherd and Yahweh, and Yahweh commands his death – then could it be that the shepherd suffers not for his own sins, but for the sins of others? Could it be that this shepherd is not a wayward shepherd?
If this verse is approached in isolation, it is not clear who the shepherd might be. It may appear that this is talking about Israel’s wayward leadership (given previous references to God’s anger against Shepherds, and reference to false prophets in Zechariah 13:2-6). Some have identified this Shepherd with the Zadokite priesthood because of the connection to idolatry in Zechariah 10:1–3. However, if this verse is read as an integral part of the book of Zechariah, then the referent should be found in what has gone before. Given the expectation of a future Davidic king to this point in Zechariah, including “My Servant the Branch” in Zechariah 3:8;6:12, the coming “king” of Zechariah 9:9, the “Cornerstone” of Zechariah 10:4 and the one who is “pierced” in Zechariah 12:10, it is entirely fitting to identify the “My Associate” as this future king and Messiah.
Several apocalyptic midrashim dating from the early to late first millennium AD cite Zechariah 13:9 in connection with the death of Messiah ben Joseph. This is not the victorious Messiah ben David, as per Jewish tradition, but the second Messiah figure who dies in a battle against Gog and Magog. When and how this second Messiah figure developed within Judaism is unclear. At the least, this shows that ancient Jewish scholars understood the concept of a future Messiah king who suffers and dies, and hence applying Zechariah 13:9 to Messiah is not a case of Christian eisegesis.
The New Testament uses Zechariah 13:7 to interpret the death of Christ and its effect on the disciples (Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27; cf. John 16:32). A difficulty can arise if the “shepherd” in Zechariah 13:7 is a reference to wayward leadership, which would be like placing Jesus into the role of inappropriate leadership that led Israel astray. However, this does not cause difficulty for Christian interpreters as the New Testament presents Jesus assuming the role of the covenant leader of the community, leading as a good shepherd (John 10:11) before taking on himself their sins and redeeming the community and its leadership. He is the good shepherd of Zechariah 11:4–16, rejected by his people in favor of a bad shepherd, taking the punishment of the bad shepherd in order to achieve the transformation expected throughout chapters 9–14 of Zechariah – which is the creation of a restored, united, and victorious “true Israel” as the center of God’s rule over the cosmos.
“Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones. Because of the loss of the shepherd, the flock will be scattered. This scattering leaves the “little ones” (Jer. 49:20; 50:45) open to discipline. The discipline comes from God, who turns his hand against them, a phrase used elsewhere to refer to his judgment (Ps. 81:14; Isa. 1:25; Ezek. 38:12; Amos 1:8). This indicates that God will discipline the flock (“little ones”) in order to purify them, which is described in Zechariah 13:8–9.
Jesus quoted the above phrase from Zechariah 13:7 in Matthew 26:31 as a reference to the scattering of His disciples during His arrest and suffering. The timing of the quote is also significant as it comes just after the Last Supper, where Jesus explains that his death will be for the forgiveness of sins and the establishment of the new covenant (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). Jesus’ designation of his followers as ‘little ones’ (Matt. 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; Mark 9:42) also appears to be against the backdrop of Zechariah 13:7.
“It will come about in all the land,” Declares the Lord, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. (Zechariah 13:8)
The majority of the flock will be eliminated from the outset as two-thirds “will be struck down and perish.” The third survives but then undergoes further discipline. In context, ‘the land’ (hā’āreṣ) is best conceived as the region in which God’s people dwell (specifically the land of Israel), rather than the whole earth (Zechariah 12:12).
“And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)
This verse reveals the result of the refining process in verse 8. The smiting of the Shepherd scattered the sheep, but the good Shepherd would turn his hand graciously to the lowly and insignificant (“the little ones”) to refine and gather them as the remnant. That the Lord calls them “my people” and the people identify the Lord as “my God” is covenant language expressing a reconciled relationship. Jeremiah 31:33 uses this language to speak of the ‘new covenant’ and it is natural to associate Zechariah’s hope with this. Dispensationalists believe these verses refer to a future 7-year tribulation. However, the context of the previous verses and language of a “new covenant” (Hebrews 8:13) suggests that we may be looking at the early days following Jesus’ resurrection, and the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. We cannot be certain unless we review Zechariah 14 to see if the biblical language leads us to such an immediate fulfillment.
- This generation will not pass away (Matthew 24:1-51)
- Zechariah 14:1-21 – Is it about the earthly Jerusalem or New Jerusalem
- Zechariah 13:1-9 Who is the shepherd who is struck?
- Zechariah 12:1-14 – Is it Yahweh who is pierced?
- Micah 5:1-15 – Will the Messiah come from Bethlehem?
- Isaiah 9:1-7 Is the child about the Messiah or Hezekiah?
- Isaiah 7:14: Is it really about Jesus or someone else?
- Isaiah 53:1-12: Israel or Messiah?
- Challenges in embracing Dispensational Theology
Referenced and adapted
1. Petterson, A (2015). Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi (Apollos Old Testament Commentary)
2. Boda, M (2004). The Haggai, Zechariah NIV Application Commentary
3. David Guzik. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/zechariah-13/