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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. The burden of the word of Jehovah for Israel R.V., “concerning Israel.” The heading of the entire section Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 14:21, prefixed probably by the collector of the Minor Prophets, who, finding the prophecies without a title, prefixed the words to indicate their general contents (see on Zechariah 9:1; compare Malachi 1:1). The oracle itself begins with Zechariah 12:2. It is introduced by 1b; primarily by “Thus saith Jehovah,” to which is added a reference to the creative power of Jehovah, in order to make the utterance more impressive. No matter how wonderful the promises may seem, a God who can create the heavens and the earth will surely be able to fulfill them. The words, therefore, serve the same purpose as Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8-9; Amos 9:5-6 (see there; compare Isaiah 42:5).

Stretcheth forth Compare Genesis 1:6-8.

Layeth the foundation Compare Genesis 1:9-10; Psalms 24:2.

Formeth the spirit Compare Genesis 2:7. Some recent commentators consider 1b a later insertion.

Verses 1-9

Marvelous deliverance of Judah and Jerusalem, Zechariah 12:1-9.

The prophet beholds the nations of the earth gathered around Jerusalem to besiege it; Jehovah smites them with terror. When the chieftains of Judah, who seem to have remained inactive during the early part of the struggle, see that Jehovah fights for Jerusalem, they turn their weapons against the nations. Jehovah saves the tents of Judah first, to prevent the inhabitants of Jerusalem from magnifying themselves above Judah, but he delivers Jerusalem also from all danger.

Verses 1-14


The heading (Zechariah 12:1) names the subject of these utterances, Israel, a term used here not in a national but in a religious sense of the people of Jehovah. The prophecies center around Jerusalem and Judah, the home of the postexilic Jewish community. The section falls naturally into two parts, Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 13:6, and Zechariah 14:1-21; Zechariah 13:7-9, has no close connection either with Zechariah 13:1-6, or with chapter 14 (see on Zechariah 13:7-9). The first part, Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 13:6, consists of three divisions; the first (Zechariah 12:1-9) deals with some marvelous deliverance of Judah and Jerusalem, the second (Zechariah 12:10-14) with a prolonged penitential mourning over some great crime, the third (Zechariah 13:1-6) with the purification of the community and its restoration to intimate fellowship with Jehovah.

Verse 2

In Zechariah 12:2, Jehovah himself is introduced as the speaker.

Behold, I will Better, Behold, I am about to; the act is imminent (G.-K., 116p).

Make Jerusalem a cup of trembling R.V., “of reeling”; a cup or bowl (Exodus 12:22; 1 Kings 7:4-5) that produces trembling or reeling. Jerusalem is pictured as a bowl filled with a tempting drink; eagerly the nations grasp it; but the draught results in their undoing; confused and discomfited they reel and stagger back (compare Habakkuk 2:16; Obadiah 1:16). 2b is translated in R.V., “and upon Judah also shall it be in the siege against Jerusalem.” A.V. is readily understood. The cup is handed to the nations when they attack Judah and Jerusalem. But what is the meaning of R.V., which is undoubtedly a more literal translation of the Hebrew? The troublesome clause is, “and upon Judah also shall it be.” What shall be upon, or against (margin), Judah also? Some say that Jerusalem will become a cup of reeling to Judah as well as to the other nations; which would imply that Judah was expected to make common cause with the nations against Jerusalem. One would hardly look for such an idea, and there is nothing in the rest of the prophecy that would support the idea that Judah was expected to turn against Jerusalem. It is worthy of notice also that the preposition before all the peoples is not the same as before Judah. Margin R.V. suggests a slightly different translation, “and upon Judah also shall it fall to be,” which has been interpreted as meaning that it shall be incumbent upon Judah to be in the siege; that is, Judah will be compelled to join in the siege. Some co-ordinate “upon Judah” with “concerning Israel” (the same preposition in Hebrew) in the title; that is, the word of Jehovah shall be concerning Judah also. Still others supply the subject from the preceding, that which falls upon Jerusalem shall fall upon Judah also; that is, Judah also will be besieged, and Judah also will be made a cup of reeling to the nations. All these translations and interpretations are more or less fanciful and do more or less violence to the text. It is quite certain that the text has suffered in transmission. Geiger, who is followed by others, omits the preposition before Judah and reads, “Judah also shall be in the siege of Jerusalem,” which might mean that Judah will join in the siege, or that Judah also will suffer when the city is surrounded. The latter is perhaps the thought of the author, but the emendation of Geiger does not remove all difficulties. Marti follows his usual method and omits the troublesome words, and with another change in the last clause he reads Zechariah 12:2, “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of reeling unto all the peoples round about, and there will be a siege of Jerusalem.”

Verse 3

Zechariah 12:3 reiterates in a different figure the thought of Zechariah 12:2, that Jerusalem will prove the destruction of the nations that attack it.

A burdensome stone Some see here an allusion to a custom spoken of by Jerome as existing in the cities of Palestine in his days. Young men were accustomed to test their strength by lifting and throwing heavy round stones. If the prophecy is as late as Marti would make it these practices may have been known in Jerusalem at the time (compare 2Ma 4:12-15 ), but if the prophecy is much older a Palestinian author could hardly have known them. Guided partly by a belief in an earlier date and partly by the fact that the stone in this passage is not a round stone, for the people will cut themselves on it, others believe that the author has in mind the use of stones in the erection of buildings. “In vain should all the nations round about seek to fit the stone Jerusalem into any of the political structures which they might seek to erect.” Whatever the basis of the figure, the prophet means to say that any attack upon Jerusalem will prove disastrous to those who undertake it.

All people Better, R.V., “all the peoples.” The surrounding nations (compare last clause, Zechariah 12:2; Zechariah 12:6).

Verse 4

Zechariah 12:4 describes more minutely the overthrow of the nations announced in figurative terms in Zechariah 12:2-3.

In that day When the nations of the earth are gathered against the city.

Horse… rider The cavalry, which here represents the entire military force of the enemy.

Astonishment,… madness For the former R.V. reads “terror.” The soldiers will be thrown into hopeless confusion, so that they will rush headlong to destruction.

Smite… with blindness When this happens to the enemies they will be unable to distinguish between friend and foe, and they will turn their swords against their own fellows (Judges 7:22; 2 Kings 6:18; compare Deuteronomy 28:28).

Of the people Better, R.V., “peoples.” Meanwhile Jerusalem will be safe.

I will open mine eyes In watchful care, so that no harm can come near (1 Kings 8:29; Psalms 32:8).

The house of Judah Jerusalem and Judah. Marti omits the last clause, as also Zechariah 12:5, and reads following “the house of Judah” Zechariah 12:6. In this way he gets rid of several troublesome clauses, while at the same time the thought connection is improved; but in the absence of all external evidence many will hesitate to accept the suggestion. To make the reading smoother he omits also Zechariah 12:7-8.

Verse 5

As Zechariah 12:5 stands now it seems to describe the effect produced upon the inhabitants of Judah by the divine manifestation against the enemies. They will be inspired with new hope and courage.

Governors R.V., “chieftains.” See on Zechariah 9:7. Here as there it seems to denote the divisions rather than the leaders.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in Jehovah of hosts their God Jehovah has chosen Jerusalem as his dwelling place, hence he cannot permit the hostile nations to occupy it; to prevent its capture he strengthens the inhabitants so that they may drive off the enemy. The inhabitants of the country regions know that Jerusalem is closely united with the rest of Judah, therefore any assistance given to Jerusalem is assistance given to all Judah. In these thoughts the divisions of Judah find their strength and inspiration. The Hebrew is peculiar. A very slight change would give, “Strength is to the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Jehovah of hosts, their God”; and this is preferable.

Verse 6

6. Jehovah will use the forces of Judah to complete the defeat of the nations.

Governors As in Zechariah 12:5.

Like an hearth Better, R.V., “like a pan.” Judah will utterly destroy the hostile nations as fire devours wood or dry sheaves.

Jerusalem shall be inhabited again R.V., more literally, “shall yet again dwell in their own place.” If the last clause, “even in Jerusalem,” is original, the name is used first of the inhabitants, then of the city. The inhabitants shall again dwell in the city. Since there is no reference to a deportation some have taken dwell as equivalent to dwell in peace. After the enemies are defeated the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall again dwell in peace. In several important manuscripts of LXX. “even in Jerusalem” is omitted; it may be an accidental repetition. If it is omitted the thought is that Jerusalem will remain unshaken by any of the events just described.

Verse 7

7. Jehovah also shall save the tents of Judah first Though the open country is not defended by strong walls, though its villages may be likened to defenseless tents, the outburst of courage to which attention is called in Zechariah 12:5-6 will result in the freeing of the country from enemies, even before the mighty city is delivered. And this is in accord with the divine purpose, for it will prevent boasting on the part of the city over the country. There may have been at this time a tendency among the inhabitants of the capital to despise the country population; if so, this utterance may be meant to counteract this tendency. Instead of first some Hebrew manuscripts and the most important ancient versions read “as in former days,” which presupposes a change of only one consonant. If this reading is adopted the verse affirms that the deliverance of the future will resemble the wonderful deliverances of the past.

The house of David A phrase used ordinarily to denote the dynasty of David. If so here, it points to a time when a descendant of David occupied a position of prominence in the government. However, it is not impossible that the phrase is used in the more general sense of ruling family or government.

Glory The martial glory bestowed upon the victor.

Verse 8

8. In that day When Jerusalem is made a cup of reeling (Zechariah 12:2).

Defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem Though Judah will be saved first, Jerusalem also will be delivered; not through the direct interference of Jehovah alone (4), nor through the bravery of Judah (6), but through the efforts of her own inhabitants, who will be endowed with marvelous strength which will make them irresistible.

He that is feeble Literally, he that stumbleth; one who is unable to stand without assistance (1 Samuel 2:4).

As David The typical hero of Israel (1 Samuel 17:34 ff.; compare Psalms 18:32 ff.). The feeble in Jerusalem will become like him.

House of David As in Zechariah 12:7. Here it may include all leaders who in strength and courage resemble David, the Davids. As God These heroes will be endowed with supernatural strength and power; there is no thought of moral excellence.

As the angel of Jehovah before them The angel of Jehovah is Jehovah manifesting himself in the history of Israel (see on Zechariah 1:11), especially in leading the armies to victory, when their own strength would fail (Exodus 23:20 ff.; Judges 6:11 ff.). This angel possessed superhuman strength, for he could accomplish that which without him the whole nation could not do. With similar superhuman power the present chieftains will be endowed.

Verse 9

9. While Jehovah thus equips the inhabitants of Jerusalem for the conflict, his wrath is turned against the nations that plan to attack the city.

I will seek to destroy In itself the expression does not assure the fulfillment of the divine purpose (compare Exodus 4:24), but in this case the context makes it plain that Jehovah is determined to carry out his purpose.

Verse 10

10. The spirit of grace and of supplications See on Joel 2:28. Grace is, as in many other passages in the Old Testament, the favor shown by Jehovah toward his people (compare Zechariah 4:7). In this passage it is thought of as active within man, making him conscious of wrongdoing and leading him to make supplication for mercy and pardon (compare Romans 2:4, “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance”).

The house of David,… the inhabitants of Jerusalem The former as in Zechariah 12:7; the latter may represent the population of the whole land, for the spiritual blessings are surely not to be limited to the inhabitants of the capital. The entire nation, from the rulers down, shall turn in humble penitence to Jehovah, and then they shall become partakers of the spiritual gifts (compare Zechariah 13:1).

They shall look upon me whom they have pierced The speaker is Jehovah; the subject of look and have pierced is the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; me can refer only to Jehovah, whom they have pierced (metaphorically) by their cruel rebellion. The look is one of contrition.

Mourn for him The pronoun can refer only to some representative of Jehovah whom they rejected. “The prophet may have pictured to himself the man of God, whom he leaves mysteriously indefinite, as a prophetic national leader, who incurs at the hands of princes and people the fate prepared, according to tradition, by Manasseh for Isaiah, by Jehoiakim for Uriah (Jeremiah 26:20 ff.), and by several rulers almost for Jeremiah.” Some interpret him as referring to Jehovah himself for me. If so, the change from the first to the third person must be explained by the tendency, which is common in prophetic discourse, not to distinguish clearly between Jehovah and his representative (compare introductory remarks to Zechariah 11:4-14). The thought might be expressed more clearly in a paraphrase, “They shall look unto me whom they pierced in the person of my representative, and they shall mourn for him whom they thus cruelly rejected.” There may be an allusion to the fate of the good shepherd whom the people rejected (compare Zechariah 11:4-14). On the other hand, some see in the representative of Jehovah the good high priest Onias III, who was deposed in 175 and slain in 170 ( 2Ma 4:27-34 ). In John 19:37, this passage is applied to Jesus (see Introduction p. 603f). Some Hebrew manuscripts and some manuscripts of LXX. read unto him instead of upon me, R.V. unto me, and some modern commentators consider it the original.

However, it seems preferable to retain the present Hebrew text; the change into him is probably due to the desire of a pious Jew to remove a reading which he considered offensive, because it made God himself the object of a murderous attack. The rest of the verse indicates the bitterness of the grief (see on Amos 8:10).

Verses 10-14

Penitential mourning and supplication, Zechariah 12:10-14.

The blessings vouchsafed in Zechariah 12:1-9 are purely temporal and physical; but with few exceptions the Messianic anticipations of the prophets include spiritual blessings (compare Hosea 14:1-3; Joel 2:27 ff.; Isaiah 4:5-6). Zechariah is no exception to this rule. He also is convinced that the physical victory will be followed by the outpouring of rich spiritual gifts. The fullness of the latter is not touched upon until Zechariah 13:1 ff., but the “spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10) is one of them. Zechariah 12:10-14, speaks of the preparation of the people for the divine fullness. Like Hosea, our prophet emphasizes repentance as a condition of complete restoration to the favor of God, and of the enjoyment of the spiritual blessings (see p. 605). When the people become fully conscious of the depth of the divine mercy manifesting itself in the wonderful deliverance described in Zechariah 12:1-9, they will be seized by a heartfelt sorrow for past sins, and in deep humility they will prostrate themselves before Jehovah.

Verses 11-14

Zechariah 12:11-14 continue the description of the intensity and universality of the lamentation.

11. Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon This expression has received many different interpretations; even the ancient versions differ from one another. At present two views stand out most prominently: (1) The Plain of Megiddo was the scene of one of the most disastrous events in Hebrew history, the fatal wounding of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20 ff.). For many years a public lamentation was held in commemoration of the death of this king (2 Chronicles 35:25; compare Jeremiah 22:10); and it is with this mourning over the death of Josiah that the mourning mentioned here is connected by many. Hadadrimmon is then understood as the place where Josiah fell. To this interpretation it has been objected that the mourning for Josiah took place in Jerusalem, not at the place of his death. The force of this objection is recognized by many, hence they understand the reference not of the public mourning but of the lamentation which arose as soon as the news of Josiah’s fatal injury spread. Another difficulty is presented by the name Hadadrimmon, for no place bearing that name has yet been found, though it has been identified with the small village Rummaneh, near Megiddo. (2) Some commentators connect the phrase with the weeping for Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), who is identical with the Phoenician deity Adonis. The name Hadadrimmon consists of two elements, both names of the storm god, who is thought to be the same as Tammuz-Adonis. That it was customary to hold mournings for the latter is proven by the passage in Ezekiel, but the identification of Hadadrimmon with Adonis is by no means certain; besides, it is exceedingly doubtful that a prophet or any other devout Israelite would illustrate the depth of repentance and sorrow by a reference to an abominable heathen practice. Targum identifies Hadadrimmon with the slayer of King Ahab (1 Kings 22:34 ff.), but this identification also is improbable; therefore the most probable view is still that which connects the passage with the lamentation for Josiah upon the battlefield, immediately after his fatal wounding.

Zechariah 12:12-14 describe the universality of the lamentation. All parts of the community will participate, and all will weep as over the loss of a loved one.

Their wives apart The men were the moving spirits in the rejection of the representative of Jehovah, but the women will feel themselves involved in the guilt. For the separation of the sexes compare Exodus 15:20.

Family Is used here not in the narrow sense in which we are accustomed to use the term, but in the wider sense of clan or tribe. The community is made up of a great number of such; of these four representative families are named; the others are included in “all the families that remain” (Zechariah 12:14).

David… Nathan… Levi… Shimei The last is literally “the Shimeites.” Jerome reproduces the rabbinical interpretation of these names thus: “In David the regal tribe is included, that is, Judah; in Nathan the prophetic order is described. Levi refers to the priests, for from him sprang the priesthood. In Simeon the teachers are included, as the companies of masters sprang from that tribe. He says nothing about the other tribes, as they had no special privilege or dignity.” So far as Simeon is concerned, the explanation breaks down, for Shimeites has no connection with Simeon; it is rather the patronymic of Shimei. Only two of the groups named can be determined with certainty. House of David means the successors of David, that is, the civil rulers (see on Zechariah 12:7); house of Levi represents the priesthood, the ecclesiastical rulers. The two are mentioned to indicate that even the most prominent in the community will join in the mourning. Nathan might be the well-known prophet bearing that name (2 Samuel 7:2); if so, house of Nathan would denote the prophetic order. In view of Zechariah 13:2 ff., this interpretation is improbable; besides, the use of house implied in the interpretation would not be in accord with its use in the other expressions.

Perhaps it is better to see here a reference to Nathan, the son of David (2 Samuel 5:14; Luke 3:31); if so, house of Nathan denotes the descendants of this son of David. If this is the correct interpretation, then it becomes quite probable that the other name denotes a branch of the family of Levi, namely, Shimei, the grandson of Levi (Numbers 3:17 ff.); the Shimeites are the descendants of this Shimei. Why these two unimportant families should be singled out and placed alongside of the chief representatives we do not know; it may be simply to indicate that the families of prominence as well as those living in obscurity will participate in the mourning.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/zechariah-12.html. 1874-1909.
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