Zechariah was one of three prophets, along with Haggai and later Malachi, who ministered (about 520 B.C.) to the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple. By Zechariah’s day, Judah was no longer the kingdom that it was before, under David or Solomon. In a sense, the exiles who returned were all that was left of Israel, and they were always under siege from hostile forces, and threatened with extinction. However, Zechariah explains that God’s people will triumph one day. Zechariah is writing at a time when the Old Covenant was active. We must keep in mind that he uses old covenant imagery, shadows, and symbols, that the first readers understood, to communicate coming restoration of God’s people. With that in mind, lets dive into a verse-by-verse study of Zechariah 12:1-14 to see what it teaches us about “restoration” of God’s people and a coming Messiah.
The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him (Zechariah 12:1 NASB 1995)
The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Zechariah characterizes the entire message in chapter 12-14 as “the burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel.” It is a burden because it brings heavy tidings and burdens the prophet with a sense of urgency to deliver it to God’s people who need hope and encouragement after their return from exile.
The oracle is concerning Israel. Since what had once been the nation of Israel, composed of the twelve tribes of Israel, is no more, it looks forward to the time when the exiled and scattered people of God will return to become the people of God once more. The use of ‘Israel’ to refer to God’s people (instead of Jerusalem or Judah mentioned in verse Zechariah 12:2), gives this prophesy an eschatological thrust. Who is Israel?
This message is delivered to its first readers, who are ethnic Jews. It is given for their comfort and encouragement. However, when Christ entered human history, He established a new covenant with His people (as Old Covenant prophet Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34), rendering the Old Covenant obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). Since there is a New Covenant in effect, Gentiles have been included in the commonwealth of Israel and are as much “true Jews” as are believing ethnic Jews today and in Zechariah’s day. Paul says in Ephesians 2:11 that believing Gentiles are now equal members of the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12) and are “fellow citizens with the saints and are of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). This is not replacing ethnic Israel but including and fulfilling what God always predestined through Abraham. If anyone belongs to “Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). Hence, according to New Testament revelation, “true Israel” must include all Abraham’s descendants, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:15).
But does Israel as corporate entity also have a future? Paul appears to answer this question in Romans 11 with a “yes.” Paul presents Israel as a corporate entity, comprised of an elect remnant and a hardened majority. Paul goes on to say that while God never promised to save every Jewish citizen (Romans 11:6), he did promise to save the people-group, the corporate entity, the nation. Paul’s answer, of course, isn’t comprehensive. It doesn’t say anything, for example, about Israel’s land or about a temporal future (millennial) kingdom. But what it does say is that (1) Israel will be saved, (2) this salvation is taking place now [from his day] and will conclude at Jesus’ return, (3) it will lead to the resurrection from the dead, (4) it happens as a result of the Gentile mission, and (5) it is a re-grafting of unbelieving Jews into their own tree (in concert with a grafting in of Gentiles to the same tree).2 The restoration of Israel will mean their becoming part of the “true Israel” by faith in Jesus Christ the Messiah. Though Romans 11 may be interpreted differently, such a view is not uncommon among non-dispensationalist adherents.4 Continuing on from the rest of the verse.
Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. The power that guarantees the coming restoration is seen in the threefold description of Yahweh. 1) He stretches out the heavens, 2) He founded the earth, 3) He formed the Spirit within man. The mention of the creation of heavens, and earth implies a new act of creation that is coming with establishment of the Kingdom promised to David. The mention of the creation of the “spirit” of man implies a further work in man, a work of “new creation” that would result from a “pierced” One (Zechariah 12:10).
Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah (Zechariah 12:2)
Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the only holy City of God that Zechariah ever knew. So, he uses earthly Jerusalem and Judah as a representation of God’s holy city and His people (just like Micah 5:5 represents the “Assyrians“, as all enemies of the Messiah and His people). It is from Jerusalem that salvation spread to all the nations and families of the earth. Hence, Zechariah’s oracle displays the centrality of Judah and Jerusalem to this restoration of God’s people.
If we did not have the New Testament, and there was no new covenant in effect, we would have concluded that the earthly Jerusalem was still God’s holy city. In the past God spoke to His people through “the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1) but in these last days, He “has spoken” (Hebrews 1:2) to us through the Messiah and His apostles the essential meaning of the Old Testament [Law and Prophets]. God’s Jerusalem is no longer an earthly city, but it has become the eternal “heavenly Jerusalem”, the “city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22), where both Jew and Gentile believers’ “citizenship” have been established and included (Philippians 3:20). Abraham who was promised an earthly “land” (Genesis 17:8) understood that what God ultimately had in mind for him, and his descendants was something much “better” (Hebrew 11:16), a heavenly “city” whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). Therefore, Jerusalem here must refer to “Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26), hence, God is worshiped “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . but . . . in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–23).
A cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around. The figure of Jerusalem as a cup that causes people to ‘reel’ or stagger (as though drunk), draws on traditional prophetic language about ‘the cup of judgment’ that God will cause his enemies to drink when they come against His people (Jew or Gentile), who belong to “heavenly Jerusalem”. “All the peoples around” implies enemy forces of global proportions who will come against God’s people.
When the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. Here, the prophet tells his readers that God will not only be the guardian of His city, but also of the whole land. When Jerusalem shall be besieged, the Lord will put impediments (causes reeling) everywhere, which will hinder and prevent the assault of enemies. The promise of protection is thus extended to all people when the enemy comes.
It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it. (Zechariah 12:3)
It will come about in that day. It will come about in “that day”, a time in the future. When is “that day”? It was on “that day” Zechariah 12:11 says that there was great mourning in Jerusalem, because of the “pierced” one (Zechariah 12:10). John says Zechariah 12:10 was fulfilled in the days of the Messiah, when Jesus was crucified (John 19:37). Hence, “that day” refers to the days of the Messiah. In the New Testament, “that day” refers to the “last days” – the whole period beginning with the first coming of Christ to make atonement for sin, and his second coming in glory to judge the world. Peter in Acts 2:17, and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 1:1-2, declare the last days to be the days of the Messiah.
Many, particularly those of a dispensational tradition, have understood Zechariah chapter 12–14 to be all about the events at the end of this age, during a 1000 year millennial reign. But the problem is the New Testament understands “that day” foremostly with the crucifixion of the Messiah, and secondarily with His return.
That I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it. Here imagery shifts from cup to a heavy stone, and from reeling to injury caused by those who try to move an immovable foundation. God will place His people as a stone of offense before all peoples, when enemy nations will come against His people. “All nations” like “all the peoples around” implies enemy forces of global proportions. However, what is implied is, when enemies come against God’s people, unlike the Babylonian siege in 586 B.C, God will act to repel the nations and give victory to His people.
Moreover, the reference to “All nations” is prophetic hyperbole which do not necessarily mean that all the 190 plus nations on this planet in the 21st century would be coming against God’s people, but the attack will come from a global scale. Since “that day” encompasses the days of Messiah, then we could expect these words to have fulfillment during the days of Messiah. The New Testament is explicit that all the Old Testament promises about the coming kingdom of God find their fulfilment (ultimate meaning) in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). This means (among other things) that the fulfilment would come in His first coming, and consummated with His second coming.
In that day,” declares the Lord, “I will strike every horse with bewilderment and his rider with madness. But I will watch over the house of Judah, while I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness (Zechariah 12:4)
So God will cause those who come against His people to stagger (verse 2) and injure themselves (verse 3), and now, he will confuse their cavalry (verse 4). Horses were pivotal in battle, and ancient battle strategies often included plans to try to panic the enemies’ horses. Using Old Testament horse riding warlike imagery, God promises to watch over His people so that the enemies of God’s people shall be astonished at the failure of their attempts. That is the kind of thing that happened when the Lord overthrew the army of Pharaoh at the Red Sea, when Joshua led the Israelites into battle against the Canaanites, when Rome turned its attention away from hunting Christians (AD66).3
The expression the house of Judah, may be a general term for the people as a whole or for their leaders. Again, Zechariah’s words will be fulfilled “in that day”, the last days which began with Christ’s first coming and end with His second coming. God has fought for his people before. But this appears to be last battle – the battle of that day which will usher in the kingdom of God, after His second coming.
Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘A strong support for us are the inhabitants of Jerusalem through the Lord of hosts, their God.’ (Zechariah 12:5)
Clans of Judah, meaning leaders (under God) are shown as playing a key role in the victory. And the people who support them will be strong because the Lord Almighty is their God.
“In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot among pieces of wood and a flaming torch among sheaves, so they will consume on the right hand and on the left all the surrounding peoples, while the inhabitants of Jerusalem again dwell on their own sites in Jerusalem. (Zechariah 12:6)
In these images the enemy is the wood and sheaves, which are entirely consumed (“right and left”). These verses appear to describe thoroughness of God’s victory over the enemy through His people. When the battle is over and the victory complete, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem (now expanded to include heavenly Jerusalem) will dwell securely in their own eternal homes (John 14:1-4).
The Lord also will save the tents of Judah first, so that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem will not be magnified above Judah. (Zechariah 12:7)
The statement that the Lord will “save the tents of Judah first, so that the glory of the house of David may not be magnified above Judah,” contains the simple thought that the salvation will take place in such a manner that no part of God’s people will have any occasion to lift itself up above another, and that because the salvation is effected not by human power, but by the omnipotence of God alone.
In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. (Zechariah 12:8)
On that day, not only the Lord will protect his people. Even the one who is weak will be like David who on many occasions saved Israel by defeating its enemies through God’s power. It was the ‘angel of the Lord’ who was responsible for leading Yahweh’s people on many occasions and providing protection, particularly in the exodus. Therefore, the house of David will be victorious because the Messiah himself is the “a descendant of David” (Romans 1:3) who will go before His people like He did as the “Angel of the Lord” (1 Cor. 10:4).
And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. (Zechariah 12:9)
On that day, when all the nations of the earth gather against Jerusalem, appears to refer to the day when God will establish his kingdom on earth in glory (Revelation 19:11). While God defending His people is applicable through out the last days (like He preserved His people during Neronic persecution (AD64-66), its position at the end of this prophetic snapshot suggest here the Spirit is mainly looking ahead to the Day of the LORD, His Second Coming.
How is it that eschatological Jerusalem will become a cup of reeling to the nations (12:2); how is it that God will so zealously come to her aid (12:4, 9); how is it that his people will find such great strength for the battle (12:5-7)? Zechariah’s next prophetic snapshot supplies the answer: They will enjoy these blessings because “in that day” God will grant them deep, Spirit-wrought repentance and faith in the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-14).
“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication. Yahweh speaks and says He will be poured out, conveying grace to the leadership (house of David) and people (inhabitants of Jerusalem), thereby enabling them to offer repentant prayer. This is similar to what Joel prophesied in Joel 2:28, which is quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17 as fulfilled in the days of Messiah, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, God says, that I will pour forth My Spirit on all mankind.”
So that they will look on Me. “They” in context refer to the house of David and inhabitants of Jerusalem – the offspring of Abraham. “Look on” is the idea of looking in faith just as Israel looked upon the bronze serpent in faith to receive healing (Numbers 21:9). “Me” is the object of their look of faith. Yahweh is the speaker (the “Me”), so He identifies himself as the one who is pierced. The oldest and best Hebrew manuscripts read “me”. Since it appears inappropriate to speak Yahweh as pierced, many scholars have doubted the integrity of the oldest Hebrew text.
Whom they have pierced. The verb “pierce” (daqar) means to pierce or thrust through. In the case of the one pierced here, it is certain that death happened, given the subsequent reference to mourning and cleansing. Yet if it refers only to the piercing of God, this seems inappropriate – how can God be pierced?
Since in immediate context, “house of David” or “David” is mentioned several times, it is natural to identify the pierced one was the Davidic King, the Messiah (instead of persons like Zerubbabel, the prophet Jeremiah, Onias III or ‘the true prophets of Yahweh, as some have suggested). The New Testament confirms this to be Messiah Jesus (John 19:37; Revelation 1:7). It is significant that a number of Jewish rabbis also interpreted this verse in terms of a pierced Messiah, though, as per Jewish tradition, it is their second Messiah, ben Joseph/Ephraim, who is killed, rather than the triumphant Messiah ben David, who will rule as King6,7.
The great irony is that the death of the king comes at the hands of his own people (‘whom they pierced’). This is not surprising given the history of the people of God in rejecting Yahweh as their shepherd.
Why is the king pierced? This becomes clearer in Zechariah 13:1, “In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity”. The piercing of Yahweh and the Messiah served as a type of sacrifice for sin. This is supported by Isaiah’s suffering servant, where the servant is made an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10). Forgiveness of sin and cleansing from impurity are two key fruits of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.
Quick summary: Zechariah 11 portrayed God’s rejection of his people for their rejection of him, but chapter 12 reveals that God’s ultimate purpose for his people is salvation. Yet the path to this outcome is not without cost to God’s people, and Messiah himself. In Zechariah 12:10–14, the prophet reveals that accompanying this salvation from external forces will be an internal renewal of the people as God transforms their affections to seek him in repentance.
And they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
They will mourn for Him. The association of the pierced one with the future Messiah (Davidic King) provides a reasonable explanation for the abrupt shift here from the first person “look on Me” to third person “mourn for Him” in reference to the pierced one. How was Yahweh pierced? To pierce the Messiah is also to pierce Yahweh, the Father.
As one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. They will “mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve as one grieves the death of a firstborn”, are expressions that convey the depth of anguish and sorrow. The implication appears to be that those who have pierced the Messiah have offended Yahweh, and that they understand that they are deserving of His judgment. Yet Yahweh in his grace has restored relationship and moved them to grieve because of their sin and pray for mercy. Firstborn was synonymous with the most beloved. The title “firstborn” was used of David (Psalm 89:27), as well Messiah Jesus (Colossians 1:8). At his return, Jesus Christ will again be seen by ‘those who pierced him’, and they will ‘mourn because of him’. But this time it is not just Israel (when Messiah was crucified), but ‘all peoples of the earth’ who are in view (Revelation 1:7).
In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. (Zechariah 12:11)
This sorrow will be widespread. Mourning of Hadadrimmon may refer to the mourning over King Josiah’s death (2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20-25). He was such a godly king that the whole nation wept bitterly at his death.
The land will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; 14 all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves. (Zechariah 12:12-14)
This mourning is clearly universal in the land and certain families are singled out. It may be representing the entire leadership caste of the community (royal, David; prophetic, Nathan; priestly, Levi; sapiential, Shimei), or the list represents two specific lines within the royal (David/Nathan) and priestly (Levi/Shimei) houses. Notably women and men are separated for this activity, an action probably related to ancient mourning customs. The ‘mourning’ and ‘wailing’ for him by ‘a large number of people’ was fulfilled in the days of Messiah as Luke 23:27, 48 shows. Zechariah 12:10-14 is fully fulfilled, neither in Jewish converts alone, nor in Gentile converts alone, but in all converts; in the One New Man and the One New Nation that is the Spirit-filled Body of Christ, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:15; 1 Peter 2:9).
- 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?
1. Anthony R. Petterson, Apollos Old Testament Commentary
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