September 28th, 2021 - Zechariah 9-11
Zechariah ends his book with two oracles. The first is chapters 9-11 and the other chapters 12-14. This reading today is an Oracle against Israel’s enemies, and it comes with divine authority. These prophecies can be related to events that occurred between Zechariah’s time and the coming of Christ. The second part of Zechariah stands apart from the first in several ways. The last chapters are distinctively apocalyptic. They combine cryptic historical allusions with futuristic visions. The messages alternate between threats of judgement for other nations and promises of deliverance for Israel. There are no references to Zechariah here. Instead what we have is God’s direct speech. These messages may have been from a later point in Zechariah’s ministry. Today’s reading is comprised of the first Oracle.
This Oracle is actually encouraging to the Judeans because it told them they had nothing to fear from their three most prominent enemies; Syria (Aram), the Phoenicians ( Tyre and Sidon), and the Philistines. All three were rivals of Judah. They were constantly trying to take commercial and territorial advantage. Here God said those efforts would be in vain. The land of Aram was a city state on the northern boundary of Israel. They were right on the caravan route that connected Mesopotamia with the Mediterranean coast. Aram was sometimes an allay and sometimes an enemy to both Israel and Judah. The capital was Damascus. This city was actually the northern boundary of the ideal Hebrew state. Hamath was a fortress city on one of the southern trade routes from Asia Minor. This city too was on the northern border of Israel. Tyre and Sidon were twin port cities in what is today Lebanon. They were independent Phoenician kingdoms located on the Mediterranean coast. They were legendary for their maritime trade wealth but Old Testament prophets condemned their pride in that wealth and their oppressive policies. These prophets predicted both cities destruction. Both Tyre and Sidon were captured and destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashdod were Philistine cities located on the coastal plain of Israel. They were originally defeated by King David but later regained some of their status. The prophets Amos and Zephaniah pronounced similar judgements against these cities. There will be a time when foreigners would occupy Ashdod, a reference to their losing political and social identity.
The Lord was unhappy with the detestable practices of the Philistines such that He would snatch bloody meat out of their mouths. This was a reference to their unclean practices of not draining the blood out of their meat before eating it. Their detestable sacrifices were those that were eating all unclean food. Those Philistines who survived would eventually worship the Lord. This may well be an anticipation of Philip’s ministry in the cities of the Mediterranean coastal plain. And the Jebusites were a Canaanite group living in and around Jerusalem. The city of Jebus was the city of the jebusites, renamed Jerusalem when David defeated them and burned the city. David made it the capital of his kingdom. The Jebusites were absorbed by the Israelites through intermarriage during king David’s reign.
The second message of Zechariah’s first Oracle presents the juxtaposition of warfare and peace that has defined human history. Judah’s coming deliverer-king will be victorious in battle but at the same time, righteous and humble. He will bring peace to the nations in His universal reign. This message begins with a Messianic prophecy that we read on Palm Sunday. “Look, your king” refers to a future king from David’s line, described earlier as the Branch. The donkey was a humble animal and riding a donkey meant it’s rider came in peace. Donkeys were also the chosen mounts of princes and kings. Jesus didn’t have to say one word. His actions spoke so loud even the religious authorities couldn’t ignore them. Used here, Israel refers to the northern kingdom and Judah to the south. Because they are paired together we will see a unified kingdom, one that will be able to regain the covenant land. The kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Israel were established by military conquest. By contrast, the kingdom of the Messiah will dismantle the machinery of war and eradicate all arsenals of weapons. The Euphrates River mentioned here was originally the northern boundary of the promised land. But this new kingdom will not stop at the Euphrates River. It will go to the ends of the earth and there will be universal peace.
The covenant sealed with blood most likely refers to the blood sacrifice that sealed the mosaic covenant. See Exodus 24:8. And the prisoners here were Jews who were still living in Mesopotamia after the Babylonian exile. The Jews who remained in Persia and Babylon were spiritual exiles because they lived outside the Promised Land of spiritual blessing and rest. One of the defining activities of the Messiah would be to free the prisoners. See both Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:17-22. He issued a call for the Jews still in Babylon to return to the land of Judah. Zechariah used a bold metaphor comparing Judah and Israel to a bow and arrow, prepared by the Lord to be used against Greece. The Persians and Greeks were engaged in a power struggle in Zechariah’s time. In the future God would judge the Greeks, who probably represented all Gentiles. Zechariah is quite possibly alluding to Daniel’s vision here. The painted pictures are apocalyptic. Zechariah borrowed the image of a winged sun disk that artists pictured as protectively hovering over the Persian king. The Lord will protect Israel, go before them in battle, and show them His power. It is the rams horn that summons the people and, declares God’s presence and power. The whirlwind depicts God as a warrior of devastating power and unpredictable swiftness. References to lightning point us back to Mount Sinai, and the covenant promises God made to Israel. In ancient battles, great stones…literally sling stones…were hurled at defenders on city walls and catapulted onto the people living and hiding inside of the city walls.
Zechariah described the victory banquet of God’s people in celebration of His victory over the nations and the securing of Jerusalem. The people will be filled with drink like sacrificial basins were filled with blood, and they will be filled with meat like the corners of a sacrificial altar. When the Lord unleashes His armies against the Greeks the amount of bloodshed will be vast. These images seem to suggest that the vanquishing of the Lord’s enemies is in some regards an offering to Him. On that day, when the Lord is victorious, the Messiah will be both a king and a faithful shepherd to the people. The abundance of grain and new wine suggests abundance and prosperity and blessing. In those days, agricultural prosperity was a tangible sign of God’s blessings.
We see that God will strengthen His people by His power and restore them because of His great compassion. With the references to shepherds Zechariah prepares us for the following allegory of good and evil shepherds. The first three verses of chapter 10 gives us a rebuke of false shepherds, human leaders who do not have their people’s good at heart. Rain was a sure sign of divine blessing and this later rain or spring rain pointed to those rains that come in late spring and are crucial to an abundant grain harvest. Zechariah reminded the people that the Lord was the source of the rains that fell. But Israel’s leaders had led the people to trust in false gods instead. Household gods were most likely ancestor statues used in rituals of necromancy, which is conjuring up the spirits of the dead. Consulting the dead was a widespread practice in the ancient world, but God’s law made this taboo for the Jews. God was angry with the leaders of His people. In fact, God’s anger burned. Israel is often the object of God’s divine wrath. Usually it was the result of their disobedience to His covenants, laws, and commandments. Thrown into this mix was their idolatry and worship of false gods. Israel lacked national leadership but there were plenty of tyrants seeking to rule God’s people. None of these people had good intentions towards God’s people however.
Because of this, God promised a true shepherd. The poetic metaphors in verses 4-5 reflect the strength, stability, and victory that God will impart to His people. A corner stone is the first foundation stone stone laid upon which a building’s structure rests. It is an image of steadfast strength, stability, and victory. And, just like a tent peg anchors a tent to the ground, so Judah will provide the future leaders needed to stabilize the Hebrew nation. The battle bow is a picture of the strength that was needed for military conquest. There are many who understand the cornerstone, tent peg, and bow for battle as titles for the Messiah. Zechariah’s point here is that God will bring the salvation and victory. God will restore and save His people Israel because of his great compassion. He will make Judah strong so that they will help save the northern kingdom of Israel. Now we see that what was promised to Judah in verse 5 is promised to Israel in verse 7. They will be mighty warriors. Wine here is a symbol of abundant joy. Even the children will see what the Lord is doing and be glad. Everybody will rejoice in what the Lord is doing.
Shepherds in biblical times herded their flocks by whistling or piping to them. Now, as a shepherd signaled his sheep, so the Lord will whistle for His people to return to the land. God had redeemed or ransomed His people. In other words He has paid a price for them. This is akin to buying slaves out of their servitude. He will deliver them from sin and from the bondage of captivity. Once this happens the people will once again be fruitful and multiply, just like the covenant promise God made to Abraham. That the people were scattered like seeds among the nations was one of the covenant curses. It was punishment for their disobedience. But the people would remember the Lord, anticipating repentance and restoration. God promised spiritual life and blessings to those who repent. God’s people would return from north, south , east, and west and the future restoration would be so complete that the land would be filled with people. Verse 12 is simply a repetition of the earlier promise God made to strengthen His people.
The first three verses of chapter 11 are a taunt song against Lebanon and Bashan. It included the previous message of deliverance and restoration for Israel. It also introduces the following message about good and evil shepherds. Lebanon was a symbol of strength and fertility. She had snow covered mountains and fruitful valleys. She was also knows for her mighty cedar trees. Like Lebanon, Bashan also had superb stands of timber. These two countries are often paired together in representing the nations that God would judge when He would regather and restore the people of Israel. Shepherds and lions here represent the leaders of Lebanon and Bashan, lamenting the destruction of their forested slopes, their pride, and their livelihood. The metaphor of Hebrew leaders as shepherds binds together the last three messages of Zechariah’s first Oracle. This message combines allegory with symbolic action on Zechariah’s part to dramatize the wickedness of Israel’s shepherds. The prophet acts out the parable of a good shepherd, called by God to lead and unite His people. However, the people reject this shepherd along with the promise of protection from other nations and unity between Judah and Israel. Zechariah’s symbolic actions foreshadow the ministry of Jesus Christ the Messiah as the Good Shepherd. The people of Israel are God’s flock and the relative helplessness of sheep places a premium on their careful shepherding. God’s people are the flock intended for slaughter in that like sheep fattened for the butcher, the people are being treated as disposable goods in a corrupt economy. The sheep, the Hebrew people, were being sold as slaves to buyers; in this case occupying foreign powers, foreign allies or domestic slave traders. And the sellers were the shepherds, leaders of the people who were more concerned about getting rich than the well-being of the sheep.
Again we see that the Lord will let these leaders fall into the hands of foreign kings who will attack the land. This is the punishment for the evil shepherd leaders. So the Lord cared for the flock that was set for the slaughter, the people, who were oppressed by their own leaders. And Zechariah took the shepherds staff’s. The staff symbolizes leadership and authority. He named the staffs favor and union. The staff named favor symbolized God’s choice of Israel as His people and the promise of a leader like King David. The staff named union symbolized the union of the Hebrew tribes as a single nation like they were under King David. The three evil kings that were removed are not identified. There is widespread speculation as to who they might be but the bottom line is that three symbolizes completeness, and we have no lives who the three are. God had removed all the evil shepherds and will raise up good shepherds for the well-being of His people. However, God became impatient with the sheep as well and he resigned as their shepherd. The words are a bit harsh but they show the depth of the Lord’s frustration. Too bad if you die or are killed and for those who are left, they can devour one another. This may be an actual reference to the cannibalism that resulted from the famine of a prolonged war siege. Or, it may refer to the various forms of exploitation and oppression in the world at that time.
Unlike Ezekiel who was dramatic in his portrayal of the reunification of the two kingdoms, Zechariah is also dramatic. In fact, he cut the staffs in two pieces. This indicated the broken covenant bond between God and His people and the broken unity between Judah and Israel. Like Ezekiel’s covenant of peace, the covenant referred to here as the covenant with the nations, may refer to a covenant with the gentile nation on Israel’s behalf. Zechariah, taking the role of the Messianic shepherd, requested his wages for services rendered. His wage was calculated as 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave. This of course was the price paid to Judas for betraying Jesus. The command to throw the money to the potter is further illuminated by Zechariah’s action. He threw them into the House of the Lord for the potter. Some speculate there may have been a guild of potters who were minor temple officials due to the continual need for sacred vessels. Others believe that the similarity between the Hebrew word potter and the Hebrew word treasury means Zechariah tossed the money back into the treasury. The Greek translation of the Hebrew here reads throw it into the furnace suggesting that the silver was melted down and recast into a silver vessel for use in temple rituals. Thirty pieces of silver was a significant amount of money, being nearly two years wages for the average laborer. Once more the Lord told Zechariah to play the part of a worthless shepherd. He would represent corrupt leaders, in contrast to the good shepherd. These worthless shepherds would not care one bit about the sheep. Eating the flesh and tearing off the hooves paints an ugly picture. It means that the corrupt and worthless leaders would take everything they could from the people for themselves. It pictured a ravenous search for the last morsel of edible meat on an animal carcass.
This Oracle of woe is a poetic curse against the worthless shepherds for abandoning the flock. The arm and right eye represent the physical and mental abilities of the shepherd. The maimed arm and blind eye make the worthless shepherd powerless and ends their selfish and opportunistic rule.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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