God watching over His people
a. '...none shall march to and fro...'
b. '...no oppressor shall again overrun them...'
Zech 9:1-10 presents to the reader a systematic series of thoughts as if an army is sweeping down from the north-east of Jerusalem, through Damascus (9:1), turning due west to attack Tyre (9:3) before heading south into Philistine territory to come against the cities which made up that kingdom on Israel’s eastern flank (9:5-7). Eventually, the conquering army will arrive victoriously in the Promised Land in the Temple or city of Jerusalem (9:8 - the ‘my house’ may be indicative of the entire land - see below), the king at the head of the forces arriving in the city and welcomed by the inhabitants (9:9-10).
Here, then, we have the details concerning the Lord’s action against the Philistines (paralleled in other OT passages such as Is 14:24-32, Jer 47:1-7, Ezek 25:15-17, Amos 1:6-8 and Zeph 2:5-7 - though this list is by no means exhaustive).
In I Samuel 6:17-18, in the episode of the capturing of the Ark of the Covenant and its return, the five cities/lords of the Philistines are mentioned (Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron). It was these five city-states that formed the ancient nation and kingdom that were known as the Philistines.
But here, in Zech 9:5-6, only four are mentioned (the same four as in Amos 1:6-8, Jer 25:20 and Zeph 2:4), the city of Gath being the one omitted.
The reason seems to be that, by this time, either Gath had been incorporated into Israelite territory (which would have been an extremely unlikely occurrence as the returned exiles barely ruled over anything when Zechariah was prophesying - not even Jerusalem!) or it had been destroyed and lost its significance.
The inference of Amos 6:1-2 certainly suggests that Gath was already in ruins by Amos’ time as its strength is used as an example of the impossibility of Zion standing against the judgment of the Lord - if Gath, which was stronger than them, had not been able to withstand destruction, then how could they expect to withstand Him? Its destruction may go back to a military campaign under king Uzziah where its recorded (II Chr 26:6) that he
‘...went out and made war against the Philistines, and broke down the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod; and he built cities in the territory of Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines’
The one thing to be said against this is that the cities appear to have been rebuilt and not left to ruin seeing as they would have been valuable fortifications to defend the Israelite nation should an attack come by an invading army.
The judgment on Philistia begins by being directly related to the destruction of Tyre in Zech 9:3-4 for Ashkelon, Gaza and Ekron are all spoken of as ‘seeing it’ (9:5) and being afraid, confounded or of writhing in anguish. As I’ve said, although it is not wise to tie down a fulfilment of this word to an advancing army and to a specific time period, the panic that comes upon the Philistines appears to infer the advance of an enemy army from the north where Tyre was and which they had hoped would have stopped its advance. With Tyre removed, there is nothing that stands between themselves and the army’s approach.
But why should Philistia fall under the judgment of God? Amos 1:6-8 and Ezek 25:15-17 both hint at the reason for the judgment being that they had attacked the Israelites’ western flank at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s advance on the land and had sold the captives into slavery in Edom to the east, though Ezekiel’s description (prophesied in exile as opposed to Amos which was proclaimed before) simply states that they
‘...acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of heart to destroy in never-ending enmity’
This does relate back to earlier words of Zechariah in 1:15, 1:21 and 2:8 (as noted in all those passages) and ties in the prophetic words closely. Though I have previously mentioned that most commentators see Zechariah the prophet as not being responsible for the content of the Book from 9:1 onwards, the correlation between the two parts is somewhat striking and, in these first few verses, confirm the prophet’s declaration that he had been sent to the nations to declare the word of the Lord to them concerning their judgment at His hand (2:8).
Finally, what is the Philistines’ ‘pride’ mentioned in Zech 9:6b? Seeing as the Lord speaks directly concerning the fortified/royal cities in 9:5-6a, it is best to see in the word a description of where their heart lay - that is, in their fortified cities. They were confident in their own power, proud of their own strength and it is this that will be ended by God’s judgment upon them.
NB - Zech 9:6a mentions that
‘a mongrel people shall dwell in Ashdod...’
Neh 13:23-24 contains an observation by Nehemiah that
‘In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod...’
The Ashdodites had already begun to intermarry with the Jews of the land and they may well have done the same with the other peoples around them so that they were fast becoming a ‘mongrel people’ - that is, a people who were not to retain any distinct cultural identification - with no pure line of descent.
Though God’s judgment would rightfully fall upon the nation of Philistia, He would still save some of them as His own possession amongst those whom He recognised as His own people.
The first part of verse 7 speaks of the spiritual cleansing of the Philistines (probably to be equated with the consumption of blood ‘with the life’ - Lev 7:26-27, 17:10-16 - and the eating of unclean animals forbidden to His people in the Mosaic Law - Lev chapter 11).
We cannot be sure what these abominable practises were (though I have suggested possibilities above) but it is not important. The phraseology of the verse is such that it is evident that the nation needed cleansing in order for them to become God’s own people which is stated in v.8a where God speaks of them as becoming
‘...a remnant for our God...’
Although this remnant shall be incorporated into Judah as part of the chosen people, it shall not lose its identity (apart from the Ashdodites, no doubt) and Ekron is singled out as becoming ‘like the Jebusites’ (v.8c). The Jebusites were a people who continued to inhabit the land when Israel first entered Canaan (Num 13:29) and who were subjected to forced labour under Solomon (II Chr 8:7-8), even retaining their own cultural identity until at least the time of Ezra 9:1 which still lay in the future when this prophecy was given.
The Ekronites, probably as representatives of the entire Philistine nation, were to retain their identity while being incorporated into the people of God. This is yet another example of the call and cleansing of the Gentiles before the cross of Christ and shows that God’s people were chosen by the will of God and not solely by natural descent - that is, by grace and not by the will of man, according to the flesh or through works done (John 1:12-13).
Though the Jews may have said a loud ‘Amen!’ to the advance of a conquering king and his army as they swept down across the boundaries of their land, defeating their enemies, would they rather say ‘Ahem!’ to the salvation of their enemies?!!! Certainly that was the case when the Jewish believers found that God had opened a door for the Gentiles to be brought into the purposes of God through Christ.
Incidentally, the assertion that Gentiles would come to be regarded as the Lord’s people is entirely in keeping with earlier passages in Zechariah (2:11, 6:15, 8:20-23).
God watching over His people
The RSV’s ‘My house’ needs a word of explanation before we go on to a discussion of this verse.
Baldwin notes that
‘”My house” may refer to the Temple, but it probably has the wider connotation of the land, as in Jeremiah 12:7ff and Hosea 8:1; 9:15’
but Smith is unwilling to see a reference to the Temple because the word used by Zechariah here is not what one would expect to be employed if the Temple was being referred to. He translates it simply as ‘my house’ and in his discussion states that it is impossible to determine what the phrase actually means.
I shall opt for the city of Jerusalem and/or the Temple but am persuaded that it probably rightly also refers to the entire land of Israel that the Lord’s people are resident in. Though, at that time, the Temple was all that the Jews looked to possess and rebuild, it naturally should be extended if and when they were able to regain the land that God had allocated to them by promise.
God, then, having dealt with the Philistines, turns to march upon His city. He will set up guard over His people from Jerusalem (paralleled in Zech 2:5) but the effect of His presence will be demonstrated over the entire land in two specific ways:
a. ‘...none shall march to and fro...’
Israel was the crossroads of the ancient world at that time and before, through which armies passed to take on other nations of the world (see, for example, II Chr 35:20), being unable or unwilling to build large armadas of boats and sail up the coast on the Mediterranean or to risk the hardships that the land to the east of the Jordan presented them with.
But God’s presence would be such that no foreign nation would again pass through the land (Joel 3:17) probably because of the fear that was upon them as to what might befall them from the residents within the land.
Neither, in the New Covenant, shall the Church be a stepping stone into greater things. God’s presence will be so tangible that individuals will be fearful of entering and especially of using it as a vehicle for their own ends.
If that doesn’t sound like the Church that you and I both know it’s not because the Lord does not have the intention of doing this with His people but because the Lord’s presence is not as tangible and real in our midst as He should be, the fault lying in ourselves who often compromise the Truth for an easier and simpler lifestyle rather than step out onto uncertain ground.
b. ‘...no oppressor shall again overrun them...’
Neither shall a foreign nation occupy the land and subdue the people. Notice that, in Israel’s subsequent known history, this did not find it’s fulfilment - but, then, neither did the salvation of the Philistines.
Likewise, in the New Covenant, the Church will not be bound into serving the whims and fancies of evil powers (whether principalities in heavenly places or on the earth). That part of the Body which likes to label itself as ‘the Church’ has forged political allegiances with the present world systems is, again, to our shame for compromises are too easy to be assimilated into the life of the Body for the sake of some sphere of influence in the society in which we live.
Rather, the Church should be made afraid by no one and stand against what is wrong, proclaiming the Truth in a manner that is both fair and accurate to the nations of the world in which it finds itself.
Finally, God states that He will watch over His word to bring it to pass and that He will not neglect to bring about what He has promised His people (see Jer 1:11-12, 31:28). This comes from the final line of the verse where the RSV translates
‘...for now I see with My own eyes’
This translation rather obscures the meaning but Smith notes that
‘It is probably best to understand that they are Yahweh’s eyes in the sense of enforcing His judgments’
as in Jer 1:12 where God says to the prophet that He is
‘...watching over My word to perform it’
God has not just spoken a word that may or may not come about through circumstances then in existence but He will actively participate in the outworking of His purpose until what He has spoken shall come about and be fulfilled.
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