“25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27)
What better piece of Old Testament Scripture can be found to obtain a better understanding of Romans 11 in the New Testament, than Zachariah 12-14? What does the future hold for the nation of Israel? Many Christians believe that God is finished dealing with Israel as a nation. They would attribute some type of allegorical interpretation to passages like this – making reference to God’s dealing today with His church. But the details revealed here must be given full weight and not spiritualized away. After Israel rejects her Messiah and the Good Shepherd has been pierced through with the sword, there will be a time of blindness and hardening upon the nation. But her setting aside will not be permanent. In the end times, the fountain of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and cleansing will be abundantly opened for the remnant of the nation of Israel. There will be a painful process of refining in the crucible of God’s judgment. But the end result will be restoration of the nation to its loyal covenant relationship.
To properly understand the content of Zechariah 12-13 in some chronological order, I always find it easy to start with Zechariah 13:7-9 as an introduction:
“7 Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. 8 And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. 9 And I will bring the third part through 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, The Lord is my God.”
S Lewis Johnson explains, “… the prophet speaks of the pathway to national cleansing. We are inclined to forget that sometimes many years may elapse between just a couple of verses. Between verses 7 and 8 lies the age in which we live right now. The process by which God will regain His people for Himself. There will be great tribulation in the future – bringing Israel back to faith in God. Only a third will turn. It is not true to say that all of Israel shall be saved – just all Israel when Jesus Christ returns. But on the way to that great event, the majority of the Jews shall fall to the judgment of God. If the time necessary for the refining be exceeded, the silver will be damaged. The silversmith knows the completion of the process when he can see his own image reflected in the silver as he intently looks at the crucible and watches the entire process.”
Israel will be in a time of severe testing for seven years, described by Jeremiah (30:5-7) as “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Daniel (12:1) calls it “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time.”
The Bible however teaches there is coming a great day for the nation of Israel– a day of tremendous spiritual salvation and political victory. That has been prophesied repeatedly in the Old and New Testaments and is detailed for us in Zechariah 12-14.
THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL BRING SUPERNATURAL DESTRUCTION TO ISRAEL’S ATTACKERS AND DIVINELY INITIATED REPENTANCE TO ALL THE JEWS WHO NOW RECOGNIZE THEIR MESSIAH
The words “In that day” (occurs 17 times) are synonym to the eschatological “Day of the Lord,” which deals with the events relating to the physical return of Jesus Christ. Zechariah 12-14 addresses the fulfilment of all of God’s promises regarding the future conversion and deliverance of His Chosen people Israel.
The enemy nations (occurs 14 times) who attack Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, with such great overpowering numbers and superior military force will be shocked to find that God will turn the tables on them and make Israel the scene of their ultimate defeat. At the last minute, just before Israel is annihilated, God will supernaturally rout the enemy and deliver His people.
The highlight will be the repentance that the Holy Spirit will bring about as the remnant of regathered Israel will recognize their Messiah, “the one whom they pierced.” They mourn in repentance as they come to grips with their great sin in rejecting their Messiah at His first coming.
- Duane Lindsey also provides a short, but powerful summary: The surviving remnant will have been purged and purified by the persecutions in the Tribulation, as well as by God’s judgment on living Israel at the Second Advent (cf. Ezek. 20:33-38; Matt. 25:1-30). They will call on the name of the Lord in faith (Zech. 12:10-13:1) and become a restored nation (Rom. 11:26-27). Their renewed covenant relationship with the Lord (Hosea 1-2; Jer. 32:38-41; Ezek. 37:23- 28) will be reflected in God’s words, They are My people (cf. Zech. 8:8), and the people’s response, The Lord is our (lit. ‘my’) God (cf. Hosea 2:21-23).
Zachariah 12 describes the physical deliverance of Israel in verses 1-9, and the spiritual deliverance of Israel in verses 10-14.
THE SIEGE OF ISRAEL (12:1-3)
“1-3 The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.”
This prophecy begins by describing a great attack by the Gentile nations against Israel, and more specifically aimed at Jerusalem (Jerusalem mentioned 22 times in these chapters). It will eventually turn out to be the battle of the centuries, the greatest war in history. It is commonly referred to as the Battle of Armageddon ((Joel 3:9-16; Rev. 16:16-21; Zech. 12:1-9; 14:2-3). All the nations of the world will be involved, to destroy Israel and to prevent the Messiah’s return to establish His Kingdom. The burden is from God Himself and He sovereignly directs the course of events.
The “Cup of trembling” pictures the nations as a person who drinks too much wine and finds himself staggering. When the nations converge on Israel and besiege Jerusalem, they will find themselves as ineffective as a drunkard trying to walk a straight line. By the time the nations make their way to Jerusalem, they will become figuratively drunk with their over inflated sense of power. Their overconfidence will so disorient them, they will be unable to claim their coveted prize, becoming easy prey for divine judgment.
The second metaphor, that of “a burdensome stone” refers to a heavy stone that was used in weightlifting contests. Like a heavy weight, Jerusalem will give a hernia to any nation that tries to gain victory over it. The phrase “shall be cut in pieces” is best understood in context to mean they shall grievously injure themselves. It refers to a rupture or other internal injuries sustained from lifting something too heavy. The proud Gentile nations won’t be able to subdue Israel.
THE SHIELDING OF ISRAEL (12: 4-9)
- The Panic of the Defiant (v. 4)
“4 In that day, saith the Lord, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness.”
God is comforting His people, explaining how He will protect them in that day. Since horses were the symbol of strength in ancient times, verse 4 emphasizes God’s superior power over Israel’s enemies as He smites the horses with terror and confusion. Furthermore, He inflicts their riders with madness, putting them into a wild and helpless state of panic. When the great armies of the world converge on Jerusalem, their weapons and soldiers will be rendered helpless. Although they will think victory is at hand as they attack the seemingly vanquished Jews, they will find themselves rushing to their own destruction. The phrase “I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah” assures Israel that He will be concerned and actively involved in what’s happening to His people. God will open His eyes of love and forgiveness toward Israel as He brings about their deliverance.
- The Preservation of the Defenceless (v. 5)
“5 And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the Lord of hosts their God.”
The people in Israel who lived outside the city of Jerusalem were the most vulnerable in war in ancient times, being without the protection of fortified city walls. But knowing that God had chosen Jerusalem to be the city of His special affection will give confidence to future denizens of the surrounding countryside. They will recognize that they have been preserved because God has chosen Jerusalem. His promises to Jerusalem, which is the heart of the nation, will assure them of their divine invincibility.
- The Paradox of the Defeated (v. 6)
“6 In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem.”
The prophecy compares the Gentile armies to kindling or sheaves that the governors of Judah as firepots or torches that devour wood in flame. The relatively weak and outnumbered leaders of Israel are going to devour their enemies “round about on the right hand and on the left.” That will allow Jerusalem to “be inhabited again in her own place.” In the final battle nothing will be able to ultimately destroy the city of Jerusalem, which shall again be peacefully inhabited.
- The Priority of Deliverance (v. 7)
“7 The Lord also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah.”
God will first deliver the defenseless country folk. That will show those in the welldefended capital, which is delivered last, that the battle was not won by their military might or strategizing.
- The Power of David (v. 8)
“8 In that day shall the Lord defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them.”
King David was renowned for his fighting ability, courage, and success. God promises a day when the weakest in Jerusalem will be as mighty as David. The strong, represented by the house of David, shall be like God. More specifically they’ll be like the angel of the Lord, who is Christ. They will be infused with the energy of the Messiah Himself, implying that He will be there leading His people to victory.
- The Promise of Destruction (v. 9)
“9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”
God is going to wipe out those who seek to attack His people. The Hebrew term translated “will seek” speaks of the concentration of the marksman, who focuses on his target without being distracted. Revelation 16 and 19 chronicle the wrath of God and the judgment of Christ as He comes out of heaven in glory and power to conquer His foes.
Zechariah 12:1-9 prophetically describes Israel’s great deliverance and the destruction of the armies of the world gathered against her. That’s a political victory that will cause Israel and her enemies to recognize God at work. Verse 10 now makes a transition into the spiritual transformation of Israel.
THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL (12: 14)
While Israel’s spiritual eyes are focused on God and His deliverance, they will see God incarnate, their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ coming as their victor–the very One they once rejected. Once God has accomplished His work of judgment on the nations through Judah and Jerusalem and has secured His people against further danger from them, He will begin to work a work of grace among the redeemed.
“10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”
God’s pouring forth of His Spirit is the evidence of salvation because He never gives His Spirit to unbelievers (Rom. 8:9). The Holy Spirit is identified as the “Spirit of grace” (cf., Heb. 10:29) because He was given out of grace, and the Spirit “of supplication” because God’s grace toward the remnant will result in repentant prayer. Zechariah is saying that God will pour out the Spirit of grace and supplication on the repentant, needy Israel.
Joel prophesied essentially the same thing when he said, “It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and, also, upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit” (Joel 2:28-29). That prophesy will be completely fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ. Joel’s prophecy is similar to Ezekiel’s saying that God would replace Israel’s stony heart with a heart of flesh and would put His Spirit within them (Ezek. 36:26-27).
Israel’s repentance happens because “they shall look upon [Him] whom they have pierced.” They may have used a Roman spear and a cross (John 19:34), but it was their plotting of their religious leaders that put Him there. Yet God in His great mercy can forgive anything–even the murder of His Messiah.
Once this is granted, or simultaneous with it, they will look Christ, the one they have mortally wounded by their heartbreaking behavior, a look that produces in them a sense of great sorrow. That realization will cause national mourning among every family and individual. The only sorrow comparable is that of the loss of a first-born son in death. Such sorrow is a sign of genuine repentance.
Commentator David Baron explains the singling out of the families of David, Nathan, Levi, and Shimei: “Through these … aristocratic and privileged lines, the rulers and the priests, who, alas! in times past often set an evil example to the whole nation, will now be foremost in their self-contrition and mourning over the great national sin, their example for good will now also be followed by all the rest of the people” (The Vision & Prophecies of Zechariah [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972], p. 453).
NATIONAL CLEANSING FOR THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL (13:1-6)
THE REJECTION OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD LEADS TO A REFINING PROCESS WHERE THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL IS EVENTUALLY CLEANSED AND RESTORED TO ITS LOYAL COVENANT RELATIONSHIP
John MacArthur explains, “The cleansing of Israel is a sovereign act of God, but it occurs in concert with the will of the people of Israel. God does not sovereignly redeem His people apart from their faith in Him. The people that were “not my people” (Heb., lo ammi) will become “my people” (Heb., ammi), according to God’s prophecy in Hosea 1:9-11. From the midst of their fiery ordeal the remnant of Israel will see Jesus Christ and they call upon Him as their Lord. Their decision will consummate their cleansing. Isaiah said, “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10).”
Zechariah 13:1 reiterates the promise of salvation for Israel: “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.” (cf. Ezek. 47) The figure of a fountain pictures abundant cleansing that would continue indefinitely. That fountain was opened when Jesus died; but they will only experience the benefits of that fountain in the future. Israel has been blind to the facts right before their eyes; but God will remove the blindness of their eyes and the hardness of their hearts.
This will be the fulfillment of God’s promise to forgive the sins of His people Israel in the New Covenant (3:4, 9; Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25; cf. Zech. 3:4, 9; Rom. 11:26). God is going to wash away the sins of the nation. When they see Jesus and cry out, “My Lord and my God,” they will realize it was the God of Israel whom they had pierced. And then God will turn on the fountain of spiritual cleansing and wash His people clean as He pours out His Spirit.
With reference to Zechariah 13:2-5, idolatry and false prophecy were the two principle ways Israel was led astray from God. God not only provides a fountain to cleanse, but He also promises to cut off the source of uncleanness – in this case, idolatry and false prophecy. . .
S Lewis Johnson has an interesting take on the false prophecy. “The false prophet is the second beast talked about in book of Revelation. These verses have their ultimate reference to the defeat of that false prophet. Prophets wore a mantle around their shoulders from animal hair. Today there are some outward signs that men put on as well to try to be identified as a prophet of the Lord. All of that anti God worship will pass out of the land.”
Zechariah 13:6 is quite interesting: “6 And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
The man accused of being a false prophet insists the scars on his body are not the self-inflicted wounds often associated with false prophets, but merely the result of a brawl in his friend’s house. The unlikely, ironic explanation shows just how desperately people will avoid being identified with false prophets in this coming day Zechariah speaks of. It wasn’t unusual for false prophets to wound or mutilate themselves in the service of idols (1 Kings 18:28, Jeremiah 48:37.
Some take this as another Messianic prophecy in Zechariah, because Jesus was clearly wounded by those who should have been His friends. Nevertheless, the context and the original Hebrew argue against this referring to Jesus and His wounds. The translation from the King James Version makes it seem even more likely that this refers to Jesus: What are these wounds in thine hands? But the Hebrew is more literally between your hands, that is on the body, whether the chest or the back. “Some apply this to Christ, because Zechariah has mentioned wounds on the hands; but this is very puerile; for it is quite evident that he speaks here of false teachers, who had for a time falsely pretended God’s name.” (Calvin)
(BIBLE VERSION: KJV)
(MAIN EXTRA-BIBLICAL SOURCE: “THE LORD REMEMBERS AND WILL AGAIN CHOOSE JERUSALEM — COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH” by Paul G. Apple, October 2007)