It doesn’t take a genius (even though it may not have occurred to many people) that the start of Zechariah chapter 9 sees the beginning of a new type of writing that doesn’t appear to correlate with the first eight chapters. Gone are the convenient dates which place the visions and prophetic words in context (eg Zech 7:1), gone are the references to both Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel and gone is the style of vision whereby Zechariah asks the accompanying angel what it is that he’s seeing.
In fact, so radically different do these chapters 9-14 appear that most commentators today assign them to a totally different prophet, even though the actual name of such is not universally accepted, proving through many different systems just how the chapters were disjointed passages that some chronicler compiled at a later date (a date which, again, there is no consensus of agreement over).
I have briefly addressed this issue in my Introduction under the heading ‘The unity of Zechariah’ and concluded there that, even though large volumes have been written on the subject and much time invested in getting to the bottom of the problem, there still remains no textual proof that Zechariah chapters 1-14 ever existed in a different form than they do today - in other words, there appears to be no good reason why we should believe that anyone other than the Zechariah who prophesied to the returned exiles should be named as the prophet.
Having said that, this series of prophetic words are certainly unusual. Zech 9:1 begins with the title ‘An Oracle’ as does 12:1 and the passage which begins with 11:4 seems to be outlining an incident in the life of Zechariah that he acted out before the people in much the same way as Ezekiel did before the exiles in the land of Babylon. These are the four main divisions, then, of the final six chapters, even though much can be said for treating chapter 14 as distinct and separate from the preceding two.
But some of these verses seem to warrant detailed examination seeing as they are quoted in the NT or that they raise questions that need to be addressed - therefore, my subdivisions of these chapters looks somewhat peculiar but it only represents what I feel needs to be kept separate in order that the web pages may be fairly straightforward and relatively uncomplicated.
Zech 9:1-11:3, 11:4-17 and 12:1-14:21, therefore, should definitely be treated as individual units and the reader should bear this in mind while studying them.
These initial series of prophecies (which run from 9:1-8) deal specifically with God’s judgment on various lands and it often takes commentators seemingly by surprise that Zechariah should ‘suddenly’ turn from being a prophet to his ‘home’ people to a prophet who addresses the nations which lay round about Israel.
But this is exactly what he said of himself in 2:8 where I followed Baldwin’s reading of the text as
‘...with insistence [He] sent me to the nations who plundered you...’
That is, the prophetic word that is outlined in chapter 9 is entirely in keeping with Zechariah’s declared function in the Lord’s Kingdom of being sent to the nations to pronounce judgment upon them. Far from being strange and seemingly out of step with his earlier prophetic words and visions, it actually backs them up and confirms to the reader that God really has spoken a word through the prophet that had relevance for the nations and cities round about Israel.
We noted in the former passage how God had made mention of ‘nations’ (1:21, 2:8) even though there was just Babylon who had come against the land and I pointed out from other OT Scripture that peoples such as Edom, Ammon and Moab had all stood against the fleeing Jews and had persecuted them, plundering what was left of the nation, so that the Lord’s condemnation could rightly be said to be due to fall upon them.
Here, though, the land of the Philistines, and the cities of Tyre and Damascus (to name just three) are singled out for specific words and we see that, even though Zechariah may have been based in Jerusalem with eyes fixed firmly on the Lord and on His purpose in the rebuilding of the Temple, He was still used by YHWH to proclaim words of national importance to the areas which lay as Israel’s neighbours and which, no doubt, were still in the returned exiles’ minds as being genuine dangers to their security and prosperity. Zechariah does not deal with kingdoms that are far away but with peoples who lived as close neighbours of the returned exiles and who would have been uppermost in their minds as representing a danger to them.
After seeing the Lord execute judgment (9:1-7), He reiterates His protection of His people (9:8) repeated from earlier visions and prophecies (2:5) before going on to speak of the returning vanquishing King, seemingly responsible for the judgment thus poured out upon the nations (9:9) in words that are quoted in the NT of Jesus Christ and which, therefore, have special relevance to us. Through this victorious campaign, peace can come and Jerusalem is seen as the head of the area over which their king shall rule and bring peace throughout the earth (9:10).
But, before the peace of God can be seen to descend upon the nations, God must go against those countries and peoples as a God of war - a significant enough fact seeing as our modern day society is set upon achieving peace with politics rather than peace with force.
As I type this, a European and American allied initiative is laying waste a country within Europe that has refused (according to the allied statements) to bring a peace within its national boundaries towards a certain ethnic group. Though it is a good thing that peace is attempted through peaceful ends, lasting world peace, according to the Bible, will never come through the political agreements of men but by a sudden and sovereign intervention by God who defeats world armies as they gather together against His people.
Peace through peaceful means may occasionally happen but the nature of man is such that lasting peace cannot be established without the intervention of God Himself.
The title ‘the Oracle’ occurs in Zechariah both here and in 12:1 where it sits as the title of the passage which runs to the end of the book. The word (Strongs Hebrew number 4853) is used a number of times in the prophets to introduce a specific word from the Lord and is translated 57 times as ‘burden’ in the AV but its precise meaning needs to be determined as it adds a certain explanation as to what the prophet was experiencing when he received and delivered this ‘burden’.
TWOTOT distinguishes between two words, each transliterated ‘massa’, and, though it notes that the secular usage
‘...refers to the load or burden upon the backs of such animals as the ass (Ex 23:5), mule (II Kings 5:17) and camels (II Kings 8:9)’
it distinguishes the religious usage by assigning it an alternative translation of ‘oracle’ as in the RSV’s translation in Zech 9:1.
If there are two different meanings behind the one word, then the image conveyed of a ‘burden’ being placed upon the prophet who received it may be misleading but, according to Baldwin, de Boer’s study of the occurrences of the word, failed to show any real difference in its usage when used of pack animals under carrying loads and prophets under the inspiration of God.
Therefore, quoting de Boer, Baldwin notes the word as meaning a burden
‘...imposed by a master, a despot or a deity on their subjects, beasts, men or things’
and notes that the word
‘...lays stress on the prophet’s sense of constraint in giving the message that follows. He would not have chosen to give it but he finds he has no option...It has been placed on him, and like the loadbearer, he has to accept it and discharge his duty. Like an ambassador he is given his message, and however unacceptable it may be he cannot alter it; hence the burdensome aspect of his calling’
This word definition is underpinned by a couple of Scriptures in Jeremiah where the prophet notes (6:11) that
‘...I am full of the wrath of the Lord; I am weary of holding it in...’
‘If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’
and, in Ezekiel 3:14, the prophet says
‘The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me’
speaking about an inner turmoil that he was experiencing when under the anointing and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
I noted in the introduction on this page that the prophetic word here was entirely in keeping with Zechariah’s description of himself in 2:8 where he said that he had been sent to the nations to prophesy to them ‘with insistence’, a phrase which parallels the meaning of the word ‘burden’ that heads this passage.
Therefore, the prophetic word here (the RSV’s use of the title ‘The Oracle’ is misleading and should rather be reconciled with the next phrase to read ‘The burden of the word of the Lord is against...’) is a weight placed upon the prophet which he is forced to carry and bring to the necessary recipients and hearers in much the same way as any beast of burden is loaded with a weight that must be borne to whichever destination that the master chooses.
It may be disturbing for us to think of these ‘words’ as being ‘weights’ or compulsions which are difficult to oppose but that seems to be the intention of the word of the Lord as it came through Zechariah and as confirmed in the experience of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It wasn’t that Zechariah had sat down and dreamed the messages up, neither that he had consulted the former prophets, reworked their messages and come up with his own brand of message, but that a coercion or pressure had come upon him that he was at pains to despatch to whomsoever he was sent.
Such, therefore, seems to be the meaning behind the word ‘massa’, the burden of the word of the Lord.
Zech 9:1-2a - Pp Is 17:1-6, Jer 49:23-27, Amos 1:3-5
Commentators have attempted to date this passage by recourse to the setting of the city through the ages and so to place it in the context of the day that it best fits within. When we come to the outworking of the judgment (though it is difficult to be definite about what sort of judgment is specified here), commentators have also looked at subsequent history and attempted to confine the word to a fulfilment in the known records, making the prophecy pre-date the event if they believe God speaks through his prophets concerning events yet to happen or post-date the event if they are atheistic or cynical.
But prophecy is not pre-written history and is never meant to be (see my notes on prophecy here) and, even if the prophetic word does not appear to date the age in which it was given it may be an indication that either the time of relevancy for the word is far off or that we simply do not know exactly what was going on the region at the time it was being given.
For all the great discoveries in archaeology, it must be remembered that what is unearthed and evaluated represents only a very small percentage of the site normally and it is very difficult to reconstruct life in ancient societies by discovered artefacts. Though writings go a long way to illuminate civilisations and peoples, they are normally records of the kings to whom life was somewhat different than the ordinary people who served under them.
Moving on to this prophecy, Damascus was the capital of the Syrian Empire located to the north east of Canaan. Both the land of Hadrach (mentioned only here in the OT but mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions in the middle of the eighth century BC) and Hamath are further north, the latter being the most southerly point and mentioned in Joshua 13:5 as one of the limits of Israel’s allotted possession.
But why is Damascus singled out for judgment (if indeed the words indicate that - some commentators are unwilling to interpret the passage this way as there is no definitive word of judgment upon the city and lands mentioned, even though the word is said to be against their land)? Amos 1:3, the only verse of the parallel passages listed above to give a reason for judgment, speaks of the Assyrians as attacking and laying waste the land of Gilead east of the Jordan where Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh dwelt after the Israelites had driven out the former nations. By the use of the word ‘threshed’, it appears that Syria repeatedly attacked the inhabitants of Gilead.
That may or may not be the reason for their mention here but it would appear more relevant to see their judgment received because of the part they took in the persecution of the fleeing Israelites as previously mentioned and therefore included in Zechariah’s previous words concerning the ‘nations’.
Incidentally, Isaiah is recorded as noting that Damascus was to be laid waste and would
‘...cease to be a city, and will become a heap of ruins. Her cities will be deserted for ever; they will be for flocks...’
something that, as far as I know, has not yet taken place.
The translation of Zech 9:1b has been much disputed and Smith notes that
‘Theologically it would be best to take this expression...to say that Yahweh has his eye on the whole world. But one cannot say dogmatically that this is what the text says’
but then translates the verse totally different! But, with Baldwin, it seems best to take the meaning of the passage as saying
‘For the Lord has His eye on all men, as on the tribes of Israel’
The Lord witnesses the deeds of all men, therefore He will call all men to give an account of themselves, judging everyone (II Sam 22:28, Jer 32:19, Amos 9:8). Nothing escapes the eyes of the Lord of Hosts, therefore there is no deed that cannot go unrewarded either negatively or positively and that includes the land and people of Syria, represented by the mention of Damascus, Hadrach and Hamath.
Israel had been the first of the nations to be judged but she would not be the last. Though God had used nations that were, in some ways, more wicked than Israel to execute His wrath upon His people, they were still morally responsible for their own sin. Though the prophet Habakkuk found God’s use of an evil nation difficult to accept, he nevertheless saw that they would also be judged (Hab chapters 1-2 but see especially 2:8).
The times in which Zechariah lived would be a time when God would ‘re-order’ the kingdoms of the earth (Hag 2:21-22) but God’s cleansing of the earth began with His people - as it does even today - before He will move on to those who don’t profess to know Him (Jer 49:12, I Peter 4:17-18).
Israel had been exiled for a time away from their allotted possession. But their return and restoration signalled the start of God’s judgment upon the nations. So, too, the Church’s final restoration into the reality of the first century Church will herald the beginning of the wrath of God being poured out upon the earth.
Zech 9:2b-4 - Pp Is chapter 23, Ezek chapters 27-28
Tyre was one of the great natural ports of the ancient world, located on the Mediterranean coast in present-day Lebanon. It was renowned for its wealth and prosperity and is the obvious parallel city to the one labelled ‘Babylon’ in Revelation chapters 17-18. When the OT passages above are referred to, the reader will see just how similar in style these passages are with their New Testament equivalent and it is not without significance that the two passages which are normally taken to be referring to satan as resident over areas are actually addressed to Babylon in Is 13:1, 14:12-21 and Tyre in Ezek 28:11-19.
‘Tyre was famed for practical shrewdness in driving a bargain, both in business and in politics’
Compromise was used so long as Tyre’s wealth was either maintained or increased (Ezek 28:1-5).
The word of the Lord is against Tyre’s wealth and it shall be destroyed along with the city and the port as the other prophetic passages make plain. Tyre was to lose all its glory and become a minor, unimportant town in later years notably as a consequence of the campaign of Alexander the Great from which the city never fully recovered its wealth and influence.
Commentators often point to this as a fulfilment of prophecy - and indeed it may be - but they don’t always appear to be too ready to give an adequate explanation for why Damascus never had the judgment poured out upon it as mentioned in the OT passages (see above).
Smith, on the other hand, asks the question whether, in the judgment mentioned, we should be looking to an earthly conqueror and answers it with a quote from Hanson as saying:
‘No specific historical conquest by a specific historical conqueror is being described, nor is there anywhere in these verses so much as a hint that a foreign king is being used by Yahweh as His instrument’
but that limits the outworking of God’s purposes. All we should say is that no matter what means God might use, it will be Him who is at the centre of the action - if a military campaign will bring about His purpose, then it will be because God has inspired men to undertake such a campaign, but, if God acts through some supernatural disaster, it will equally be because He has made it so. To say that God will not use a human agency limits the purpose of God.
When materialism and arrogance, as in Tyre’s case, is brought low and the riches of men’s hearts are removed, they are more likely to turn their attention Godward and be saved (with the understanding that God must move upon men’s hearts to convict them of sin first - see here). God’s judgments always open up the hope that men may return back to Him and are not wanton acts of a vengeful God inflicting punishment upon creatures that are incapable of defence or retaliation.
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