Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 12


The occurrence of a new heading, "The burden of the word of the Lord," which occurs again in Zechariah 12:1, and elsewhere only in Malachi 1:1, warns us that a new section begins here. We are no longer concerned with Joshua and Zerubbabel, the small community of Judah, and the hopes and aspirations of their time, but to a great extent with a larger Judaism which is in conflict with a world-power described as Greek, whose strongholds are not Babylon, but Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, and the Philistine towns. No Jewish king or governor is mentioned, and the High Priest appears to be the head of the subject Jewish community. At the same time there is a sharp cleavage in the Jewish community itself; Judah and Jerusalem are opposed to one another, and the greatest Jewish families are regarded as blameworthy. The post-exilic date of Zechariah 9-14 is certain, not merely from the absence of any reference to a king, but also from the widespread dispersion of the Jews, from the mention of Greeks, and from the utter difference in tone between this section and the utterances of the pre-exilic prophets. The mention of Egypt and Assyria side by side is not in itself evidence for a pre-exilic date, since in Ezra 6:22, which can scarcely be earlier than the Greek period, "Assyria" denotes the great empire of W. Asia, which, having originally been Assyrian, passed successively to the Chaldeans, the Persians, and the Greeks (Numbers 24:22 f.*, Isaiah 11:11*, Isaiah 27:13). A late date is also suggested by the obvious use of other passages of Scripture, particularly Ezek. Here, as in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, we have compositions saturated with Biblical terms, evidently emanating from "the people of a book." There are likewise numerous agreements with late Pss. and late post-exilic sections of Is. Like many of the Pss., these chapters appear to have been composed in a time of storm and stress, when the Jews were oppressed by the heathen, and disunited among themselves; and of such a time we have no record before the second century B.C. That they are written in classical Heb. as distinct from the Heb. of the Midrash is no proof to the contrary; for not only did Ben Sira (c. 180 B.C.) write in the older language, but many of the Pss. are as late as the Maccabean age. Space forbids at this point a detailed examination of these six chapters. It must suffice to state what will afterwards be shown in detail that, apart from some points as yet unexplained on any theory of date, every section of these chapters is quite consistent with the known history of the second century B.C. It is scarcely conceivable that a number of compositions dealing both with internal and external affairs should be equally applicable to two or more distinct periods.

These chapters fall into two main divisions (note the new heading in Zechariah 12:1, though the divisions are not necessarily homogeneous). Hebrew methods of arrangement, being based originally on oral rather than on written tradition, are fundamentally different from English; catchwords and prominent phrases being considered rather than logical arrangement. The analytical study of the Synoptic Gospels has shown that an apparently continuous section may be made up of many disjointed fragments, and this fact must be kept in view in the criticism of prophetical literature.

Of the two sections into which. Zechariah 9-14 falls, the first (Zechariah 9-11) is in the main poetical or based upon poetical prophecies, the second (Zechariah 12-14) is entirely prose. In Zechariah 9-11, however, there are some evident divisions, and perhaps we have hero the work of several authors. The mere fact that two poems are composed in a somewhat unusual metre does not prove, apart from subject-matter, that they are from the same hand, for a poet who produced a great impression by a novel form of verse may well have had imitators. If the date given above is correct (the second century B.C.), we may assume that the prophecies were first published in synagogues, and that, after the triumph of the Maccaban party, they passed to Jerusalem and became incorporated in the Scriptures. Sirach 49:10 tells us nothing as to the contents of the books of the twelve, the Minor Prophets, as we call them. A new edition of the Heb. text of Jeremiah, enlarged and rearranged, was issued after the Gr. translation had been made from an earlier edition; and though no new name would have been received as canonical, it was evidently possible for some time after the fixing of the list of canonical prophets to enlarge a canonical book by the incorporation of additional matter.

Verse 1

Zechariah 12:1 a is an editorial heading probably added when the two collections Zechariah 9-11, Zechariah 12-14 were appended to the earlier book of Zechariah. The text of this section is corrupt in places, but the sense is on the whole clear. We have reference both to the earlier days of the struggle, when Jerusalem was in the hands of the Hellenisers and the heathen, while the Maccabees, who derived their forces from the country districts, were fighting against the Syro-Greek government, and also to the time when Jerusalem as a whole—with the possible exception of the citadel, which only surrendered in 141 B.C.—was in the hands of the Maccabees, and Jewish power was becoming a serious menace to the neighbouring peoples as well as a thorn in the side of the government. Jerusalem became a "cup of reeling" to all the peoples, when the Maccabean leaders inflicted their appalling blows on Philistia, Edom, Ammon, etc. The MT of Zechariah 12:2 b is untranslatable. It cannot mean that Judah will take part in the siege of Jerusalem, for Zechariah 12:2 a represents Jerusalem as already a bowl of reeling to the neighbouring peoples, and therefore already in Jewish hands. The context implies that Judah should be described as supporting those who hold Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:3 repeats the statement of Zechariah 12:2 a with a change of metaphor. Those who attack Jerusalem find themselves crushed as it were beneath a burdensome stone. The metaphor was perhaps suggested by an actual incident in some great quarry such as that of Baalbec, a huge stone having injured those who were endeavouring to transport it. The description of all the nations as gathered together against Jerusalem, which is a constant feature of the late apocalyptic literature, is due to the inclusion in the Syro-Greek empire of most of the nations known to the Jews. This empire is actually described in the Book of Daniel as consisting of "all peoples, nations, and languages." The figures of the horses and riders and the smiting with blindness are derived from the older Scriptures (cf. 2 Kings 6:18). Read in Zechariah 12:4 b "as for all the house of Judah, I will open their eyes." The "chieftains of Judah" will be the Maccabean leaders, but for "chieftains" read "thousands," i.e. clans. The word rendered "strength" (Zechariah 12:5) occurs nowhere else; for "are my" we should probably read "have." Zechariah 12:6 describes the achievements of the Maccabees. They were a small fire, but kindled a great matter, working havoc among the neighbouring peoples, and restoring Jerusalem, i.e. its loyal Jewish population whom the Hellenisers had expelled. In future the Lord will so protect the city that the family of its most feeble inhabitant will have a stability like that of David's dynasty (cf. 2 Samuel 7, Psalms 89:20 ff., Isaiah 55:3). The term "house of David" may denote merely the ruling classes of Jews in Jerusalem who occupied the position once held by the family of David. But since in Zechariah 10 and Zechariah 12 it is mentioned as sharing in the nation's guilt, and the Maccabean leaders, who were in command at Jerusalem at the time, would hardly have been so described, the phrase is perhaps to be understood literally. It is evident from the NT that the family of David was not extinct in the first century A.D., and in the Maccabæan age its members may well have been included in the aristocracy even if they were subordinate to the sons of Tobias in wealth and influence. Perhaps, like the latter, they had adopted Hellenism, and put forward their claims as descendants of David only when the Maccabean achievements had brought the idea of Jewish independence within the sphere of practical politics. No conclusion can be drawn from the silence of the Books of Maccabees on the matter, for they are strongly partisan, and are considerably later than the events which they record; while Josephus, as his many contradictions show, is by no means an infallible guide. In the OT, as in the NT, we have first-hand information, though given, it may be, only in hints, of events and movements on which later documents are silent. In Zechariah 10 read "him" (mg.) for "me"; the sentence is perhaps somewhat mutilated. The writer regards the troubles of Judah and Jerusalem as due to the guilt which rests on the country in consequence of some murder, guilt which can be expiated only by general mourning and fasting. The name of the victim is not given, but it was evidently well known; and since the guilt involves the whole land, the murdered person must be the head of Judaism, i.e. a High Priest. It is true that Onias was murdered not at Jerusalem, but at Antioch; but since the murder was planned by a Jew, and was due to his failure to find support among his own people, the whole nation might well be regarded as responsible for it. The house of Nathan and the house of Levi are clearly prominent among the Jewish aristocracy, but we have no information about them.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Zechariah 12". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.