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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 13

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


The Christian dispensation continues to be the focus of the revelation in this brief chapter. This is indicated by the triple recurrence of “in that day” (Zechariah 13:1-2; Zechariah 13:4), by Peter’s indication that part of the chapter applies to Christians (Zechariah 13:9), and by Jesus’ own identification of himself with the smitten Shepherd (Zechariah 13:7). Part of Zechariah 13:5-6 are difficult of interpretation.

Verse 1

“In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”

“In that day” i.e., in the times of the blessed Messiah.

“A fountain opened… for sin and for uncleanness” This is the fountain of the blood of Christ, the only fountain in all history that ever afforded cleansing from sin and uncleanness. That fountain may also be understood as the fountain of living water (John 7:37).

“To the house of David… inhabitants of Jerusalem” These expressions denote the “true Israel of God” in the times of the New Covenant; and, although that Israel is by no means restricted to racial Jews, or literal descendants of Abraham, neither is any one of them (or any other person) excluded:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will (Whosoever will), let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Robinson titled this chapter: “A remnant of Israel (shall be) purified, refined, and saved.”(F1) It is a gross error to suppose that the “cleansing” here is primarily a reference to the procurement of “ritual purity for the people of Jerusalem.”(F2) The text indicates that the cleansing is from sin. “This was a cleansing unknown in the pre-Christian era.”(F3) Of course, there were a number of Old Testament prophecies looking forward to the forgiveness of sins in the days of Christ. Jeremiah 31:31-35; Ezekiel 36:25; and Zechariah 3:4; Zechariah 3:9, where Joshua the High Priest received clean linen clothes, are among such prophecies. Of particular interest is Ezekiel 36:25:

“And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”

Keil explained this thus:

“By this water we have to understand not only grace in general, but the spiritual sprinkling-water, which is prepared through the sacrificial death of Christ, through the blood that he shed for sin, and which is sprinkled upon us for the cleansing away of sin in the gracious waters of baptism.”(F4)

As for the fantasy that “sprinkling” of any kind is visible in Zechariah 13:1, it must be declared that: although sprinkling of water and the ashes of a red heifer were a legitimate ritual under the law of Moses, there is no “sprinkling of water” connected in any way with Christianity, certainly not in Christian baptism, which is not and never was a “sprinkling,” but an immersion. There is a “sprinkling of the blood of Christ” (Hebrews 10:22), a sprinkling not of water and not of our bodies, but as the passage says, “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Thus “in that day,” when the fountain for sin is opened, hearts are sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and bodies are washed with pure water. Sprinkling water on “bodies” is nowhere mentioned as a Christian ordinance. We are a bit surprised that several commentators gave lip service to this old, discredited and worn-out argument for sprinkling as a form of baptism.

“Cleansing for sin and uncleanness” Ah, here is the crying need of all men. What a glory of Christianity is inherent in such a promise as this! In all of the history of the universe, there is no such thing as the forgiveness of sins, until one comes to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. No forgiveness of sins was available for the angels who kept not their first estate; no forgiveness has ever been seen in the operation of God’s natural laws (gravity, etc.); nature exhibits no such thing as forgiveness; and, even under the law of Moses, there was a remembrance made of sin, “every year.” The unique glory of the Christian faith is that it embraces “the fountain opened for sin.”

“Sin and uncleanness” “These two terms together comprise all guilt and pollution.”(F5) As Gill said, “An entire volume could be written identifying this `fountain’ as the blood of Christ.”(F6)

Verse 2

“And it shall come to pass in that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered; and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.”

In the days of Christianity, idol worship shall be destroyed, and the system of false prophets associated, of old, with idol temples will disappear. The exact and universal fulfillment of this occurred much earlier, but it was confirmed and formalized in the Edict of Theodosius (389 A.D.) which closed all pagan temples, proscribed and outlawed the pagan priests, and sealed with royal authority the victory that Christ had already won over paganism.

We do not consider the “idol worship” found in apostate portions of Christianity any denial of the universal victory. Where are the names, temples, and glory of the pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses ? Long, long ago, they ceased.

“The prophets” “The false prophets are meant,”(F7) and these only, as indicated by their association in this verse with idols and the unclean spirit.

We must resist the inclination of some to associate the true prophets of God with the “cutting off” here. True, there would come a period, after the New Testament was given, when prophecies would be “done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8), but that is definitely not in view here. All of the prophets of the new dispensation, along with the apostles, would lay the foundations in Christ of the Church of the New Covenant (Ephesians 2:10), long afterward from the times of Zechariah.

Verse 3

“And it shall come to pass that, when they shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of Jehovah; and his father and mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.”

“They shall yet prophesy” No stretch of imagination can apply this to God’s true prophets; for it is categorically stated here the prophets under consideration were those who spoke “lies.”

The utmost detestation of the false prophet is indicated here by the fact that his own family are represented as hating him and actually putting him to death. Of course, there is no commandment in this for parents to execute their own sinful children; but rather the lesson is that, “We must hate and forsake our nearest relatives when they come in competition with our duty to God (Luke 14:26).”(F8) What is taught here is that, “Merciless extermination should be the fate of all such deceivers.”(F9) “These are actually men in the service of God’s enemy, a foreign spirit, who would lead people to a false and unclean worship.”(F10)

Verse 4

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he prophesieth; neither shall they wear a hairy mantle to deceive.”

This merely describes the utter banishment of pagan priests from any credibility in the days of the Messiah. The whole institution of the false prophets of paganism shall become so unpopular that all who were found connected with it would be despised and made ashamed.

We must reject absolutely the notion of Smith and others who would include the prophets of Jehovah as objects of this prophecy. “It is not merely false prophecy, but prophecy in general.”(F11) He “proved” this by stating that, “Amos refused to call himself a prophet”;(F12) but, of course, that is merely an example of one false interpretation being used to bolster another false interpretation. Amos did not refuse to call himself a prophet, affirming in the most uncertain words that God indeed gave him the message to Israel. He did say in Amos 7:14: “I was not a prophet; neither was I a prophet’s son”; but what he was saying is not that, “I am not a prophet,” but that I WAS not a prophet at the time I was called to the prophetic office. (See full comment on this in our series, Commentary on the Minor Prophets, vol. 1, p. 203.) In New Testament times, Agabus and others were true prophets of God; their word was trusted; and this shows that Zechariah was not here prophesying the cessation of true prophecy. That was a prophecy, which in time, Paul would declare in 1 Corinthians 13:8; and that apostle indicated that such a cessation was yet future from his own times. It is regrettable that Keil and others following him must be held in error on this particular interpretation, despite their usual dependability.

Verse 5

“But he shall say, I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the ground; for I have been made a bondman from my youth.”

We construe this verse as an elaboration of the discomfiture of the false prophets, resulting in their shame, and even in denial (as here) of any connection with the discredited and rejected institution of the pagan prophets. Such a position had once been a lucrative and respected calling, but no longer. When forced out of the temples, they would pretend that they had never been associated with them.

Verse 6

“And one shall say unto him, What are those wounds between thine arms? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”

(1) There are two ways of interpreting this verse, and we simply do not know which is correct. We shall note the interpretation first which is popular with current expositors.

These understand the verse as a further extension of the thought of Zechariah 13:5, which is supported by the use of the first clause with its pronoun referring to the false prophet. The picture is that of a former pagan priest who is questioned by those seeking to expose him by calling attention to the “wounds” between his arms, usually understood to be the markings of self-inflicted cuts incurred in the service of pagan deities (See 1 Kings 18:28). The former pagan priest denies even that evidence by answering that he had received such wounds “in the house of my friends,” an answer, which by any understanding of it must be counted evasive. “This answer also is nothing more than an evasion.”(F13) This is by far the most natural and the easiest explanation of this difficult passage. But some see in the expression, “I was wounded in the house of my friends” a prophecy of our Lord.

(2) The understanding of this place as a prophecy of Jesus requires that the “wounds” be understood, as did Keil: “The expression `between the hands’ can hardly be understood in any other way than as relating to the palms of the hands.”(F14) This interpretation also requires that the connection with verse five be denied, which is strongly done by Unger who alleged that it is independent of it. “The supposition that this verse is inseparably connected to Zechariah 13:2-5, and therefore still has the false prophet in mind, flagrantly ignores the context.”(F15) Some scholars even allege that Christ had a connection with the “false prophet” in this section, because the Pharisees put him to death as a “deceiver,” or false prophet, but we simply cannot accept that. If there indeed was a prophecy of Christ in the reply of this former pagan priest who said, “I was wounded in the house of my friends,” it would have to be in the same category as the prophecy of the false high priest of Israel in John 11:52-54. Of course, Jesus was “wounded” in the house of those who “should have been” his friends; and he even referred to Judas as, “Friend,” when the traitor approached to plant the betrayal kiss upon his cheek, but, to this point, we have never found a New Testament reference referring this passage to Jesus Christ. Such a New Testament reference is what the advocates of this interpretation need to establish the place as an authentic prediction concerning Jesus.

Verse 7

“Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith Jehovah of hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn my hand upon the little ones.”

Here we are on solid ground. Christ said to the apostles on the occasion of his Passion: “All ye shall be offended in me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). It is the proximity of this certain prophecy of Christ to Zechariah 13:6, above, which lends some credibility to the understanding of a prophecy of our Lord there; also, there is the oft-repeated indication that this entire section is Messianic.

“Awake, O sword” Pre-eminently, the sword was a symbol of the Roman Empire, indicating that Christ would be put to death by that power. This also shows that it was by God’s design, at his instigation, and with his full consent that the dark scenes of Calvary occurred. Peter spoke of it thus:

“Him (Christ), being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hands of lawless men did crucify and slay” (Acts 2:23).

The fact that God indeed put Christ to death for all men, that they might be saved is clear throughout the Bible. It is inherent in John 3:16, in the declaration that God “set him forth” to be the propitiation (Romans 3:25), that the Almighty “Laid upon him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6), etc., etc. It is also plain in this verse, where the commandment of God is, “Smite the Shepherd.” Such a profound truth, however, did not and could not absolve wicked participants in the crucifixion of their rightful blame.

“Against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow” The word here rendered “man that is my fellow” “implies one united to another by the possession of common nature, rights, and privileges. God could speak only of One… that is, of him who could say, `I and the Father are one.’“(F16)

“My Shepherd” is a phrase added to forbid any confusion of this Person with the evil shepherd of Zechariah 11:16. “These additional words are given to distinguish `my shepherd’ from `that shepherd.’“(F17) Despite such a precaution, however, the critics have proceeded to move these verses under the passage about the false shepherd in Zechariah 11:16 f, in their violent Scissors and Paste job on this prophecy, with the evident purpose of identifying Christ as a “false shepherd.” Gailey, for example, wrote:

“This verse continues the theme of Zechariah 11:17! A sword is called to strike the shepherd. Is the victim the worthless shepherd of Zechariah 11:17?… appropriately, Jesus applied the reference to himself!(F18)

Rarely does even the most violent criticism of the word of God reach the level of that seen in Gailey’s statement above.

“My shepherd” Of course, “The shepherd of Jehovah whom the sword is to strike is no other than the Messiah, who is also identified with Jehovah in Zechariah 12:10.”(F19) “There is no stronger statement in the Old Testament regarding the unimpeachable deity of Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God.”(F20)

“And I will turn my hand upon the little ones” “This indicated his gathering the little ones together and His protecting the weak.”(F21) This gathering of the “scattered” first took place when Christ gathered and regrouped the Twelve before assigning to them the Great Commission.

“And the sheep shall be scattered” The first application of this, as indicated by Jesus’ quotation, regarded his immediate disciples, the apostles; but there was also a greater dimension of the same truth.

Christ was the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd of Israel; and the loss of Christ as their Shepherd condemned all the flock of Israel (secular) to the prolonged, worldwide scattering which took place soon after his crucifixion, and which is still visible in the separated families of the old Israel all over the world; nor has the state of Israel (1948) made much difference in this; there are still more Jews in New York than in Jerusalem.

Verse 8

“And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith Jehovah, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.”

Baldwin and others have supposed that this refers to the killing of two thirds of the Jewish population, as at the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans; and, of course, that literally occurred; but “in that day” appears to focus the prophecy upon what will take place in God’s spiritual Israel throughout history. If so, it is but a way of saying what Jesus said:

“Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it” (Matthew 7:13).

This usage of “one third” is also seen in Revelation 6. Inherent in the teaching of this verse is the fact that the company of the redeemed is but a “remnant,” certainly nothing approaching a majority of the people. “This third part represents the faithful among the Jews and the Christian Church gathered out of the nations.”(F22) As Christ said,

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Verse 9

“And I will bring the third part into the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, Jehovah is my God.”

There is no better comment on this anywhere than in the writings of the apostle Peter who made this a description of the tribulations that shall test the Christians:

“Now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Inherent in this is the necessity that every Christian’s faith be tested through tribulations. “It must needs be that offences come” (Matthew 18:7); and, “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), etc. The faithful understanding of this principle is a source of countless blessings to the child of God. Whenever sorrows are multiplied and “fiery trials” of the most violent and vicious kind descend upon him, he will remember that God is merely testing, finding out, if he really “believes” or not!

And what is the result of the “refining” process? It is stated in the concluding clauses: They will say Jehovah is my God; and God will say, It is my people! Wherever that relationship exists, the “end and all” of living in this world has been accomplished.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Zechariah 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/zechariah-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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