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Saturday, June 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 9

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary



Zechariah 9:1 to Zechariah 14:21

Oracles and an Allegory on the Future of God’s Flock (9:1-11:17)

Chapter 9 begins with the title "An Oracle," indicating that a distinct section of the book begins at this point. The word "oracle" is the regular translation employed in the Revised Standard Version for a Hebrew word "burden" when this word is used in the sense of a special message from the Lord (except in Jeremiah 23:33-40 where there is a discussion of the prophet’s use of the word). In Zechariah (in Zechariah 9:1 and again in Zechariah 12:1) it appears as a sort of title, marking the beginning of anonymous prophetic utterances, the composition of which has been discussed earlier.

Verses 1-8

The Lord’s "Word Against Syria and Philistia (9:1-8)

The particular prophetic oracle or "burden" of Zechariah 9:1-8 is a word of the Lord against northern Syria, Phoenicia, and four of the five Philistine cities. The "land of Hadrach," mentioned in Assyrian documents of the eighth century B.C., was between Hamath and Aleppo. Tyre and Sidon had, through their cleverness, become wealthy as the centers of merchant shipping for the Near East, piling up money as graphically described in verse 3. Tyre had built her island fortress just off the Phoenician coast, and had successfully resisted Assyrian and Babylonian sieges, only to fall finally to Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.

Some regular campaign of conquest appears to be reflected in the oracle, even though, in typical poetic form, the cities are not named in precise geographical order from north to south. The oracle declares pointedly that "the Lord will strip her [Tyre] of her possessions and hurl her wealth into the sea, and she shall be devoured by fire." This sight will bring terror to the Philistine cities, and they, too, will suffer the consequences of defeat: Gaza will lose her ruler; Ashkelon will be uninhabited; Ashdod will become a mixed population; Ekron will degenerate from its proud status as an independent people and will become assimilated with the Judeans. But God will protect his house from the conqueror (vs. 8).

The identification of the oppressing king or general who will carry out the word of the Lord upon the cities of Syria, Phoenicia, and Philistia remains a problem for historians. It is just possible that the oracle originated during the eighth century, when Assyrians were campaigning across the Syrian and Palestinian countries (references to Hadrach and to the king of Gaza must otherwise be explained as anachronistic), but the oracle seems to owe its place in the Book of Zechariah to the experience of relief when Alexander the Great conquered Tyre and the Philistine cities but ignored Jerusalem in his haste to subdue Egypt and move on to the heart of the Persian Empire. The poet-prophet sees the events as the direct action of God rather than as a trail of human conquest. God’s vengeance upon Judah’s neighbors will be matched by his concern for his own people.

Verses 9-10

The Triumphal Entry of Zion’s King (9:9-10)

The oracle continues with the familiar prediction of the humble but triumphant entrance of the victorious king into Jerusalem, quoted in Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15. In the second verse of the section the extent of the king’s dominion is defined. Chariots, war horses, and battle bows — all accoutrements of war — will be cut off from both Ephraim and Judah. Need for these will no longer exist, since the king will rule "from sea to sea"; that is, from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and from the Euphrates River to the southernmost "ends of the earth." Further, in the manner of suzerainty treaties of the ancient world, the king will lay upon surrounding nations the obligation to live at peace with one another. He will therefore arrive as a magistrate, riding upon an ass rather than a war horse, promising by this symbolic action just and peaceful government for the people of Jerusalem. With good reason the people of Jerusalem are urged to "rejoice greatly" and "shout aloud."

The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion was interpreted as fulfillment of the prophetic word of Zechariah 9:9 not only by the writers of the Gospels but also by the people along the road from Bethany into the Holy City. It appears that Jesus planned his entrance as a declaration of his role as the Prince of Peace. Like the borrowed ass of the occasion, the ancient prophetic word was waiting for his use. What the composer of the oracle anticipated is not so clear. Having reduced the enemies of the Hebrews to poor and ineffective remnants (Zechariah 9:1-8), the king could enter Jerusalem in triumph and "command peace to the nations." Some think that a scribe, observing the progress of Alexander the Great in 333-32 B.C., saw the fulfillment of an oracular fragment (Zechariah 9:1-8) and added verses 9-10 in anticipation of Alexander’s peaceful entry into Jerusalem. The story that Alexander visited Jerusalem and sacrificed in the Temple is considered to be an unfounded legend, and certainly even the legend does not describe such an entrance as is sketched in Zechariah. Of unknown origin, the verses simply express the expectation of the coming of a "prince of peace" to Jerusalem, and for Christians this hope was clearly fulfilled by Jesus.

Verses 11-17

The Salvation of God’s People (9:11-17)

Here further details of the anticipated victories of the Lord are elaborated. Captives will be freed from their pits, and restoration will be complete ("double"). Judah and Ephraim will be used by the Lord in attaining this victorious situation - against the Greeks - and in the conflict they will be protected by the direct intervention of the Lord of hosts. In words which echo the song of Deborah (Judges 5:4) and the prophecy of Jacob (Genesis 49:10-12), the oracle promises that the Lord will "march forth in the whirlwinds of the south" and that his people "shall drink . , . blood like wine." Other vigorous figures of divine intervention include "his arrow . . . like lightning." The passage closes in somewhat milder vein with a promise that God will save his people, since they are his flock. They will shine like jewels. "Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the maidens."

After the interlude depicting the peaceful entrance of the king into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9-10) this part of the oracle, perhaps the work of another hand, returns to scenes of battle and graphically describes the direct and forceful way in which God was to save his people from their enemies, the Greeks. Only later than the time of Alexander the Great did the Greeks become the enemies of the people of Jerusalem. In its present form, therefore, the passage appears to reflect the time of Hellenistic domination over Palestine under the Ptolemies of Egypt after the breakup of Alexander’s empire. As in the earlier sections of this oracle, older poems anticipating the day of the Lord’s vengeance on the world — such as are found in Zephaniah — may have been edited so as to apply to the current enemies of the people of Jerusalem and Judah.

The modern reader will be inclined to pass by the more blood-thirsty figures of speech in the oracle, but he should not ignore the strong conviction of all of the fragments that God himself would intervene to deliver and to provide government for his people.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Zechariah 9". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/zechariah-9.html.
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