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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Zechariah 13

Verses 1-6

Concerning the Future Restoration of Judah (12:1-13:6)

The oracle begins by referring to "Israel," but throughout it speaks in terms of Jerusalem and Judah. "Israel" is evidently a broad generic term for the postexilic remnant, and does not refer to the Ephraimite kingdom or its remnants. For reasons unexplained, "all the nations of the earth will come together against" Jerusalem and Judah, but "the Lord will give victory to the tents of Judah first" (Zechariah 12:7) and "put a shield about the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (Zechariah 12:8). The priority given to the clans (or chieftains) and tents of Judah has puzzled some commentators, but it appears that it was necessary for the prophet to maintain a balance of importance between those inside and those outside of Jerusalem. We may wonder if the author of this fragment was from a rural village.

Whatever the tensions between Jerusalem and the rest of Judah, the oracle graphically describes the complete victory of the combination and the devastating effects of the siege of Jerusalem upon the nations of the world (Zechariah 12:2-9). Contrasting with the frightful conditions of the battle is the majestic description of the Lord in verse 1, in whose name the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah will have strength for their victory.

A second section of the oracle (Zechariah 12:10-14) prophesies that on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mourning and of prayer will be poured out. The oracle emphasizes the bitterness of this mourning, its extent (the comparison with "the mourning for Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo" probably points to the ancient pagan practice of ritual weeping for a dead god of vegetation), and the fact that the mourning will be carried out separately by families and separately by men and women within the families. This last detail is perhaps intended to suggest the depth and intensity of the feeling behind the mourning, showing that the participation of the whole people is not due to any mass hysteria.

The occasion for the mourning will be the sight of him (or "me"?) whom they have pierced. The pierced victim has been variously identified: as the shepherd of Zechariah 11:7-14, as a prophet martyr, as a Messiah martyr, or as Simon Maccabee, murdered by the governor of Jericho in 134 B.C. (1 Maccabees 16:11-22). The Fourth Gospel sees the piercing of the side of Jesus as a fulfillment of this Scripture (John 19:37). In view of the piercing referred to in Zechariah 13:3 it seems reasonable to assume that the mourning of Zechariah 12:10-14 is to be for a prophet whose message was at first rejected. Later a deep feeling of repentance would possess the people, but not in the manner of a mass hysteria.

Chapter 13 begins with a single sentence which looks forward to the opening of a fountain for the cleansing of sin and uncleanness in Jerusalem. No particular stress is placed on the means of cleansing provided, and it appears that the oracle is concerned primarily with declaring the certainty of ritual purity for the people of Jerusalem in the day contemplated.

The final section of the oracle (Zechariah 13:2-6) foresees the cutting off of idols and the removal of prophets and "the unclean spirit" from the land. The initial declaration is followed by a series of comments on the removal of prophecy, which is an attempt to explain the prediction. Throughout the paragraph it appears that the rejection of the prophet is occasioned by the belief of his family and his friends that his vision is false and deceptive. The declaration of 13:5 is reminiscent of Amos 7:14 and implies that the author of the oracle wishes to dissociate himself from the low estate to which prophecy had fallen in his time. Along with this goes the underlying consciousness that he has spoken truly for the Lord of hosts.

At the time to which this oracle points — that is, in the culmination of God’s purposes — Judah and Jerusalem will gain great victories, after severe trials. These victories cannot be identified with any historical battles, nor is it safe to spiritualize them into evangelistic victories for the Church. The prophet formulated his anticipation of military victories for his people which he expected to occur on the great and terrible "day of the Lord" (Zechariah 14:1). For Christians that day has become the faraway, but still imminent, Day of Judgment.

For the prophets the Day of the Lord was not usually the complete end of God’s people. In the aftermath of the victories for Judah and Jerusalem the prophet sees a time in which religious feeling will be deep and pure, and the evils of idolatry and false prophecy will be done away. The symbolic language of the oracle is an effort to express the expectation of pure and refined religion in the day of the culmination of the Lord’s purposes. Genuine revival can come only out of deep repentance and the putting away of the evils which God abhors. Thus for Christians the period of repentance and restoration is visualized as preceding "that day" rather than following it. Incidentally, Isaiah 61:2 (used by Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum) makes the "day of vengeance" follow the "year of the Lord’s favor." Real revival can come only as we recall that the sufferings of Christ are the means of a gracious outpouring of divine forgiveness and restoration.

Verses 7-9

A Further Thought Regarding Sheep and Shepherd (13:7-9)

A brief poetic fragment continues the theme of sheep and shepherd from Zechariah 11:17. A sword is called to strike the shepherd, "the man who stands next to me." In some indefinable way this bitter treatment appears to be associated with the fate of the shepherd in Zechariah 11:7-14 and of the unnamed person pierced in Zechariah 12:10. Is this victim the worthless shepherd of Zechariah 11:17 Again identification from the point of view of the writer is impossible. Appropriately, Jesus applied the reference to himself (Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27) in connection with the events of the Garden of Gethsemane.

As in the use made of the text by Jesus, so in the poetic fragment found in Zechariah, the weight of emphasis is upon the scattering of the sheep rather than upon the striking of the shepherd. The hand of the Lord will be turned against little ones; two-thirds of the people (as in Ezekiel 5:1-4) will be cut off; the remaining third will be refined as silver or gold. The result will be a people of whom God can say, "They are my people," and who will willingly declare, "The Lord is my God."

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Zechariah 13". "Layman's Bible Commentary".