Zech 2:10-17 in Hebrew
Judgment on Babylon
The Apple of God's Eye
I will dwell in the midst of you
Land of the North
The Prophecy's Effect
Zech 2:10-17 in Hebrew
It’s difficult to draw dividing lines under certain visions and prophecies in Zech 1:7-6:15 because they tend to overlap, repeat themselves and expand upon themes previously given. This is especially true here.
In 2:1-5, we saw how God gave a vision to Zechariah to show him that the city of Jerusalem would be expanded far beyond its expected limits and a similar picture is given to the prophet here (2:11). Also there, we noted that the Lord promised that He would be the glory within the city - that is, that He would dwell within her as repeated here (2:10). And the theme concerning the judgment of the nations in 1:18-21 is repeated here also (2:9).
So, although, at first glance, it appears that we are reading nothing new, we would be wrong to think that the passage simply reiterates points previously made through Zechariah. Here, for the first time, is a proclamation to the Jews still resident in Babylon to flee from the area and to return to the land of Israel (2:6-7 - something that may tell us about the whereabouts of Zechariah during the end of the sixth chapter and beginning of the seventh), an indication that the future of the city of Jerusalem and of the Lord’s work throughout the earth is dependent upon the Gentile nations coming to acknowledge YHWH (2:11) and, just as an aside, the only OT occurrence of the phrase ‘the holy land’ (2:12) which has come to be applied universally to the land of Israel.
So, although there are many ‘repeats’, there are also expansions upon themes already declared and we must be careful, therefore, to try and do the passage justice not glossing over it by appealing to the repetitive nature of some of its words.
Finally, Baldwin notes that this entire passage is Hebraic poetry even though the modern translations miss the point and place it within paragraphs. As such, it fits in well with the style of passages in Jeremiah and Isaiah who also expressed God’s word through them in such a style.
Firstly, see under ‘Context’ on 1:18-21 where I have described the conquest of Jerusalem and the exile of the Israelites into Babylon. I have also noted that, although the passage speaks of the ‘nations’ and we would think that, perhaps, just the ‘nation’ of Babylon should be held accountable for the deportation and conquest of the Israelites, there were many nations which dwelt around Israel that added to the suffering of God’s people and, therefore, are included in the judgment of those who went far beyond the bounds that had been imposed upon them by God Himself.
Secondly, in Zech 1:19, we read of four horns which have
‘...scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem’
and, again here in 2:6 but more plainly, God says through Zechariah
‘...I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens...’
Israel had not just gone into exile into the Kingdom known as Babylon but many of them had been scattered amongst the nations of the earth during that period when Nebuchadnezzar came against it. We don’t need to read between the lines and I will cite some Scriptures in a moment which will demonstrate where the exiles found themselves (some of the locations being self-imposed) but it is not unreasonable to assume that, upon the approach of the Babylonian army into the Promised Land, many Jews saw the danger that the armies posed to their own personal security and fled their livelihood for neighbouring areas which appeared to them to be more safe.
A natural depopulation of ground that the army was advancing upon is all too certain (as modern news reports can vouch for) but it was in the destruction of Jerusalem that the major scattering of the nation took place.
It goes without saying that the main population drain was to Babylon (II Kings 24:12-14, 25:11) and that through the two last conquests of Jerusalem when Jehoiachin and Zedekiah were the relevant kings, but there was also an exile of the northern Kingdom years earlier when the Assyrians defeated Samaria (II Kings 17:6) scattering them, as Baldwin notes
‘...over an area from the Gozan river, 200 miles west of Nineveh, to Media 300 miles to the east’
making it appear as if their integration into the Assyrian society was what was being attempted rather than to establish a Jewish community within the land - a policy which would better secure the stability of the kingdom rather than run the risk of having rebellions amongst the subdued nations who, once strengthened through numerical increase, may attempt to overthrow the established order.
The scattering of the nation under Nebuchadnezzar probably resulted in large numbers of Jews taking refuge in Moab, Edom and Ammon ‘and in other lands’ (Jer 40:11) from where they returned when they heard that the king of Babylon had set up a governor over the land. However, this return from exile was short-lived when the exiles, fearing reprisals from the Babylonians, fled for safety to Egypt (Jer 43:5-7) through the incidents which transpired from the beginning of chapter 41 onwards.
It was to a scattered nation, then, that this passage is addressed, and Zechariah’s own words (2:8 - these are not quoted words from the mouth of God) that the Lord had
‘...with insistence [translation as Baldwin] sent me to the nations who plundered you...’
may give us an indication of why there was some 22 months between the close of this series of visions and prophecies ending at the conclusion of chapter six and the prophecy commencing with chapter seven. It is feasible that God really did send his servant ‘to the nations’ round about Israel to implore the Jews in the name of the Lord to return to Jerusalem and so come back into both His will and purpose for His people.
We have insufficient evidence to assert conclusively that this was so but it does provide a reason why Zechariah seems to disappear from the scene for a large space of time and then reappears only to suddenly vanish once more forever.
At the very least, we must note that Zechariah’s ministry was not just to the returned exiles but that He was entrusted with speaking the Will of God to all the nations to which He was to be sent by the Lord - that may have meant travel, but even if he didn’t actually ‘go’ in body, there would have been opportunity to send letters to the heads of the exiles who still dwelt in captivity with the message just as Jeremiah had done years previously (Jer 29:1).
There is no ‘vision’ here and the words of verses six and seven are specifically the prophet’s own, a conclusion based upon the prophetic word that He repeats to his listeners in 2:9-12. Verse 13 is once more the prophet’s own words and an action that he urges upon those who have heard him speak in view of God’s promises relayed through him to the nation.
It serves as a fitting conclusion to the entire series of visions and prophecies which begin with 1:7 and it may have been meant to mark an intermediate conclusion to the passage which runs through to the end of chapter six. From 3:1, the visions move on to speak personally to some of the individuals concerned with the rebuilding of the Temple and to show how they are types of the One who God will bring to them.
The prophecy is, again, straightforward even though there are a number of specific details which deserve more detailed attention. God’s people, scattered throughout Babylon are urged to return to the land of Israel because God will overthrow the city and kingdom in which they are currently finding security and protection, and, because God has purposed to return to the people in the land in blessing and not judgment.
This restoration is inextricably bound up with the successful conclusion of the rebuilding work on the Temple but the main thrust of the message is one of return from exile.
Judgment on Babylon
‘Flee from the land of the north’ (Zech 2:6) echoes similar commands of the Lord in the OT, though especially in Jeremiah who was used by the Lord to speak extensively concerning the coming judgment that was about to fall on the then kingdom of Babylon.
In Jer 50:8, therefore, we read
‘Flee from the midst of Babylon and go out from the land of the Chaldeans...’
‘Hark! They flee and escape from the land of Babylon...’
‘Flee from the midst of Babylon, let every man save his life...’
and Jer 51:45
‘Go out of the midst of her My people! Let every man save his life...’
all of which were spoken through the prophet before the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem it would appear - it is not certain, however, as Jeremiah continued to live on in the land after the captivity and, ultimately, found himself kidnapped against his will and transported to Egypt where the remaining Jews fled expecting reprisals from Babylon because of the assassination of the appointed governor over the area (Jeremiah chapters 41-43).
Each of these verses speak of the necessity of God’s people to remove themselves from out of the land of exile in order that God might judge that nation/kingdom for its part in the overthrow of Israel in which they went beyond the bounds that God had imposed upon them (Zech 1:15).
Zechariah, like Jeremiah, also speaks of the judgment about to fall upon them (though Jeremiah is used by God to detail it at great lengths - see chapters 50 and 51) and says (2:9)
‘Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them...’
However, there is a significant difference between Jeremiah’s prophecies and those of Zechariah. Between the uttering of
both prophecies (Jeremiah before or shortly after the exile of the Jews out of Israel in 586BC and Zechariah in 519BC), Babylon had already fallen to the Medes and Persians under the military commander Ugbaru, Cyrus entering triumphantly some sixteen days later. However, there was little bloodshed and even less destruction of the city, even though the reigning king, Belshazzar, was executed (Dan 5:30-31).
As Herodotus relates (1.190-1), the surprise tactics which Cyrus’ forces sprang upon the Babylonians had the effect of shocking the city and of giving them the ability of taking it largely intact. He writes (although this is a rather lengthy quote, it makes interesting reading - well I think so!!)
‘...Cyrus, with the first approach of the ensuing spring, marched forward against Babylon. The Babylonians, encamped without their walls, awaited his coming. A battle was fought at a short distance from the city, in which the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian king, whereupon they withdrew within their defences. Here they shut themselves up, and made light of his siege, having laid in a store of provisions for many years in preparation against this attack; for when they saw Cyrus conquering nation after nation, they were convinced that he would never stop, and that their turn would come at last.
‘Cyrus was now reduced to great perplexity, as time went on and he made no progress against the place. In this distress either some one made the suggestion to him, or he bethought himself of a plan, which he proceeded to put in execution. He placed a portion of his army at the point where the river enters the city, and another body at the back of the place where it issues forth, with orders to march into the town by the bed of the stream, as soon as the water became shallow enough: he then himself drew off with the unwarlike portion of his host, and made for the place where Nitocris dug the basin for the river, where he did exactly what she had done formerly: he turned the Euphrates by a canal into the basin, which was then a marsh, on which the river sank to such an extent that the natural bed of the stream became fordable. Hereupon the Persians who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the river-side, entered the stream, which had now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man's thigh, and thus got into the town. Had the Babylonians been apprised of what Cyrus was about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the Persians to enter the city, but would have destroyed them utterly; for they would have made fast all the street-gates which gave upon the river, and mounting upon the walls along both sides of the stream, would so have caught the enemy, as it were, in a trap. But, as it was, the Persians came upon them by surprise and so took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare) long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and revelling until they learnt the capture but too certainly. Such, then, were the circumstances of the first taking of Babylon’
Interestingly, what Herodotus notes as time of ‘dancing and revelling’ Daniel also mentions in his account of the night of the siege and breach of the Babylonian defences (Dan 5:1).
What could have been regarded as the fulfilment of prophecy in 539BC when Cyrus became king over Babylon is so unlike what we read in the other sections of Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 that we need to realise that this prophecy was brought back to the Israelites’ attention through Zechariah in 519BC as being shortly to be fulfilled. God through Zechariah needn’t remind the returned exiles of the complex details of what was to befall Babylon but simply reiterate that the city and kingdom was to be judged in order for the listeners to realise the implications. Had anyone present been persuaded that Jeremiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled some twenty years previous, then they had best reconsider their position for, though overcome, Babylon still stood, as prosperous and as dominant as ever it was.
Neither does he subsequent history of Babylon never illustrates the fulfilment of the prophetic word through both Jeremiah and Zechariah however much we would like to think it does.
In the fourth year of the reign of Xerxes, Zondervan notes that
‘...the Babylonians made another attempt to gain their independence. Bel-shimanni and Shamash-eriba claimed the throne in 482 and this revolt was suppressed with much cruelty and damage to Babylon...’
but, nevertheless, it was not laid waste as prophesied. Even Alexander the Great did little damage to the city and he was welcomed as a hero rather than as an enemy when he entered the city after defeating the Median kingdom in 331BC but, upon his death, there were problems amongst his generals and Babylon once again received notable damage.
When a new capital city was founded at Seleucia on the river Tigris, Babylon continued to decline but continued to exist through to the second century AD (Trajan visited the city in 115AD) but fell into neglect and disuse rather than be overthrown violently as the prophetic words stated it would be (in 199AD Severus reported the city as being deserted).
What had been prophesied concerning Babylon, that it would meet a sudden and cataclysmic end, never came about.
Read, for instance, Zechariah 2:9 which states that
‘...[Babylon] shall become plunder for those who served them’
and the emphatic warning ‘Flee...’ in 2:6 which implies sudden, unforeseen and imminent destruction. Compare also Jeremiah’s prophetic statements where he says (50:3 - the ‘northern nation’ could very well have been a reference to Media except that the type of overthrow of Babylon was not what is indicated by these words)
‘For out of the north a nation has come up against her, which shall make her land a desolation, and none shall dwell in it; both man and beast shall flee away’
‘Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated, says the Lord’
‘your mother shall be utterly shamed, and she who bore you shall be disgraced. Lo, she shall be the last of the nations, a wilderness dry and desert’
‘Because of the wrath of the Lord she shall not be inhabited, but shall be an utter desolation; every one who passes by Babylon shall be appalled, and hiss because of all her wounds’
‘Come against her from every quarter; open her granaries; pile her up like heaps of grain, and destroy her utterly; let nothing be left of her’
and so on. The prophetic words recount a catalogue of devastation and destruction. Rather than flee from the facts of history and assert that it must have happened as it is recorded for us in Scripture (even when it quite obviously didn’t), we need to come to terms with why it never fell the way that God had planned it would (readers would do well to consult my notes on prophecy here which attempt to obtain a Biblical framework for understanding what prophecy is, how we should expect it to be fulfilled and what the implications are when it isn’t).
These prophecies concerning Babylon given through the Lord’s servants the prophets should be studied closely, for their fulfilment was dependent upon the obedience of His people who were still in captivity in Babylon. God commanded the exiles to remove themselves from the nation in order that His judgment might fall upon that kingdom and so not to consume them along with the Babylonians, a command that was only partly received and acted upon by its hearers, it being noteworthy that a Jewish school of learning existed here well into the first century AD.
So, we read from Jeremiah that God says (50:8)
‘Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as he-goats before the flock’
‘Flee from the midst of Babylon, let every man save his life! Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the Lord's vengeance, the requital He is rendering her’
‘Go out of the midst of her, my people! Let every man save his life from the fierce anger of the Lord’
and here again in Zechariah (2:6-7)
‘Flee from the land of the north...Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon’
As the Lord’s people never fully came out, God never fully judged the wickedness of that nation. Indeed, in Revelation 18:4, the prophecy still stands when John records for us the command to God’s people to
‘Come out of her My people, lest you take part in her sins...’
which reads as if it refers to the judgment of a world system rather than a specific geographical area. But the repeat of the command underlines the fact that the OT prophetic announcements concerning the kingdom of Babylon were still considered to be in effect and relevant for the Church of the first century AD.
Just as in former days, the fulfilment of the prophetic word depends upon a correct response in God’s people in order that, when judgment falls, it will not consume them along with it. One of our concerns as followers of Jesus must be to remove ourselves (spiritually, not physically) from everything that can be described as a trait of Babylon.
Returning to Zechariah’s prophetic word once more in conclusion, God’s words underline the inevitability of the judgment that is about to fall upon the enemies of the returned exiles (and, for that matter, all of God’s people) but onus is put upon the Jews to flee from the midst of their enemy in order that they may not be destroyed along with the Babylonians when it takes place.
The Apple of God’s Eye
The phrase ‘the apple of God’s eye’ (Zech 2:8) occurs a number of times in Scripture and is a poetic/figurative way of referring to the pupil.
In the English language, the phrase has come to mean a ‘dear affection’ (Dictionary), something that is highly favoured by the possessor of the eye, a treasure that is beyond compare. However, the Hebrew does not know this concept within its usage initially, even though the implications of the meaning here in Zechariah will naturally lead to this sort of interpretation.
The phrase simply means ‘the pupil’ and, in its three other occurrences in the OT, it is always used with the verb ‘to keep’, so in Deut 32:10, we read concerning God that
‘He found [Israel] in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye’
in Psalm 17:8, David prays that the Lord might
‘Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings’
and, in Prov 7:2, the writer implores his son to
‘keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye’
The pupil, which was and is one of the most tender parts of the visible human body, is used in Scripture to convey the care with which it is looked after. Therefore, in the first two quoted Scriptures above, God is associated with the protection of His people in the same way as one would protect the natural eye and, in the third Scripture, the protection spoken of is with regard to wise teaching.
Here in Zechariah, the intention of the words is that the Babylonians and the other nations (see on 1:18-21) - or whoever else for that matter - who had put their hand against God’s people, had caused Him much pain, similar to poking God Almighty in the eye (Is 63:9)!
Though the nation of Israel might complain that God didn’t care about them, the statement is far from the truth. God was seriously hurt when the nations plundered Israel (even though He had caused Babylon to come against the land in judgment for their continued disobedience), so much so that He was not going to rest until He executed vengeance upon the source of that hurt (see Zech 2:9 which illustrates the outcome of God’s decision).
The same is true today and is not confined solely to the OT.
With our hurt, God is wounded; when we suffer, God feels for us. He may allow us to go through a difficult situation for a time for His own purpose, but afterward He will take vengeance on those who hurt us, for they hurt Him also.
God looks upon all His people as in need of protection and, just like a normal human will put his hands to his eyes to protect himself whenever he perceives danger coming towards him, so too will God shield His people from danger. And yet, when His people are afflicted, the hurt done to them is felt by God also who will speedily rise up defend them.
I will dwell in the midst of you
The Tabernacle and, later, the Temple, was the place where God took up residence in the midst of His people (Ex 25:8 - the Tabernacle, I Kings 6:13 - the Temple, Ezekiel 43:7 - the new Temple). The Lord’s reassurance here in 2:10-11 (and in 2:5) that He would once again dwell in their midst is not a contradiction of His previous word that He had already returned to Jerusalem with compassion (1:16) but an assurance to the workmen that He would take up permanent residence in the structure that they were currently building.
There had already been opposition (Ezra 5:3-17) and it is probably accurate to envisage the exiles hard at work on the restoration but knowing full well that the fate of whether their task would be accomplished lay in the hands of Darius the king.
But the Jews could continue to build with faith and confidence that God would see to it that they received a favourable reply (or perhaps they were expecting none at all until the Temple was built - which would have been too late to stop it!) because He spoke through His servant Zechariah that He would dwell in their midst - a statement that presupposes the completion of the Temple.
Zech 2:13 is a powerful reminder that what the Lord has said will come to pass. When God rouses Himself to act on His people’s behalf, then silence is a fitting response - a silence that confesses that nothing can be added to His words, that nothing can be changed in His intent (a similar meaning is intended in the NT in Rev 8:1 where it’s recorded that
‘...there was silence in Heaven for half an hour’
even though a brother in the Lord once told me that the verse was concluding proof that there were no women in heaven - he wasn’t being serious, by the way!).
God has decided that He will once again dwell in their midst and no earthly king is going to be able to frustrate the outworkings of His purpose.
a. Land of the North
Zech 2:6 and 6:8
There have been numerous modern prophecies that have viewed any statement in the Scriptures that the armies that are to come upon Israel in the latter days (and which do not appear to have been fulfilled) must be referring to Russia, seeing as this nation lies due north of the land and is a definite ‘super-power’ as the advancing army appears to be described (for instance, Daniel 11:6ff amongst others).
But this, as I said in my introduction, is getting a truth from Scripture which is out of context from the original meaning. In the world of the OT, armies normally came upon the land of Israel either from the north or south because of the difficulties of marching an army from the east (where there was desert) or from the west (where the sea was located).
Therefore, to attack Israel, Babylonia journeyed first north-west away from the land of Israel before turning almost due south to come upon the land. Though a few well-supplied individuals might make it across the trade routes which appear to have been used through ancient Tadmor and then Damascus, it was not the easiest route for an army to be able to travel and to be in a fit state to do battle upon arriving (even though Alexander the Great appears never to have considered this a difficulty when he went to war!!).
Therefore, when Zeph 2:13 states that
‘[God] will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and He will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert’
we have no problem accepting it because Assyria is described as being ‘the north’ even though it wasn’t! It lay north-east!
And Jeremiah, who prophesied concerning Babylon, spoke of the nation as coming from the north on numerous occasions (1:13-15, 4:6, 6:1, 6:22, 10:22, 16:15, 23:8, 31:8) when Babylon actually lay almost due east! There is no problem, therefore with Zechariah’s association of the Babylonians with the north country but neither should we think that, when we come to the prophetic Scriptures, ‘north’ means something different from what it meant in Ancient times.
b. Many Nations
The ‘many nations’ in this verse is a declaration that the Gentiles (that is, the non-Jews) would come on a large scale to be joined to God’s people. Though the Jews of the NT would had taken such passages to imply an assimilation of the Gentile world into their kind of service of God interpreted from the Mosaic Law, God had planned something quite different who, through Christ, broke down the wall of separation which existed between the two groups of people (Eph 2:11-22).
The Gentiles are not presented here to the listeners of these words as an optional extra but as ‘mainstream’ people of the Lord for He says neither that they shall be called God’s people, neither that they shall help God’s people (as Tattenai and Shetharbozenai did - Ezra 6:13) but that they shall be God’s people.
In Zech 14:9, we read of the Lord becoming King over all the earth and of subduing the nations before Him but the passage here appears to imply that of their own freewill the Gentiles would come and join themselves with the move of God in both Judah and Jerusalem. This event will be evidence, says Zechariah, that God has sent him to His people.
Though we do not have sufficient evidence to say whether this took place in the lifetime of the recipients of this prophecy, it did come about through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, Ezra appears not to have interpreted this prophecy as being outworked through the incident of Ezra 9:1ff so it would appear that they understood the prophecy as implying an absorption of the Gentiles into the Jews rather than, as happened years later, both Jews and Gentiles being absorbed into Christ!
If you’re looking for and expecting the wrong thing, it’s hardly likely that you’ll be able to accept what God chooses to do. The Jews had so convinced themselves that the salvation of the Gentiles meant their assimilation into the Old Covenant that they completely missed the coming of the New and turned out to be the prime opposers of the move of God through Jesus Christ.
c. Choose Jerusalem
This verse reaffirms the promise of 1:17 that God would again choose Jerusalem even though He had rejected them at the time of the exile into Babylon as a result of their disobedience and unrighteousness.
But the verse covers new ground in that God now proclaims that Judah will become God’s inheritance - they are, to God, what rightfully belongs to Him to possess.
d. The Prophecy’s Effect
This must be considered even though we will only be repeating what we have previously noted.
Fear had been a major problem in the lives of the returning exiles which forced them to fail to rebuild the Temple at the appointed time (Ezra 3:3, 4:4-5) but, through these prophecies and visions, if they will reject the ways of their fathers and listen attentively and obediently to the words of God’s prophets (Zech 1:1-6), they will find their fear dispelled because God will ‘pull all the stops out’ so that the work will get done speedily.
No worries that the Israelites are still awaiting a word from Darius in Babylon as to the fate of their building work and that his representatives in the province ‘Beyond the River’ have the military force to make them stop - God knows all these things and, even now, has planned for the Gentiles - the very people who stand opposed to them - to join themselves to the Lord in Jerusalem and Judah (2:11).
Besides this, those peoples who have oppressed the nation shall be swiftly judged and so their threat will be removed (2:9) though this does depend upon their brethren removing themselves from out of the area to be judged. This is not a time for cowardice and neither timidity, but a time for boldness and courage in the face of what they think could happen, relying upon the Word of God rather than on an active imagination which fears the worst.
They should stand in awe of God rather than doubt His will for them (2:13) and shun the ways of their fathers who continually rejected the testimony of the former prophets.
So, by the time this passage comes to a close, the Israelites should already have turned from their fear to embrace the future that the Lord has spelt out for them, secure in knowing that God will be their protection - both as a wall of defence and as a warrior who fights on their behalf against those who would do them harm.
An ideal encouragement for them to continue to use the open door of opportunity that has been given them.
This passage (which has run from 1:7 to 2:13) holds together well as one unit directed towards the nation as a whole (verse 13 brings the passage to a fitting conclusion, seeing as it calls the world to be silent before the tremendous work of God that is being accomplished in their own time). Chapters 3 and 4 will go on to speak about individuals (but which, nevertheless, have national significance) before 5 and 6 will rehighlight some of the prophetic words already mentioned but with additional aspects added and expanded.
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