The Passage In Context
The Passage as an Insight into the New Covenant
The RSV makes a break at the end of these four verses not just because it’s the end of the chapter but because they put an empty line underneath them indicating the end of a section and the beginning of a new one (I have largely been following their divisions throughout this chapter as they seem to have mostly got it right) but Baldwin runs the passage which begins with 9:11 through to the conclusion of 10:1, concluding that
‘...as 10:2b leads into the “shepherd” theme, the break has been made at the end of 10:1’
Smith, on the other hand, follows the normal break.
Although it is quite true that 10:1 appears to address the declaration of the last clause of 9:17 (that is, how the nation are to obtain grain and new wine), there are two reasons why the RSV’s divisions are to be preferred (Baldwin’s statement that the ‘shepherd’ theme begins in 10:2 is against the mention of the ‘flock’ in 9:16 which she seems to have overlooked).
Firstly, 10:1 begins a section that appears to give specific instruction to the Israelites who are currently resident in the land and is not referring to a time yet to come in which their King will be received by them, when they will be sent to the nations to proclaim and enforce His peace. They are being told to ‘Ask rain from the Lord’ because God wishes to restore their fortunes now not because, many years distant, He is intending to do it.
Secondly, the first line of 10:2 is contrasted with 10:1 where the idea is that the Israelites should ask rain from God not from the false gods and the diviners who speak rubbish. Dividing the passage at the conclusion of 10:1 masks this unity.
Therefore, this last section sits at the conclusion of chapter 9, not just because the division of the chapter has made it so but because it appears to conclude the prophetic word which has been outlining a future time when the Lord’s King will come to Jerusalem and begin to rule over the earth through His people.
As with 9:11-13, I intend to, firstly, attempt to view the passage in the context in which it was first presented to the returned exiles in Zechariah’s day and explain what the text appears to have been telling them was God’s purpose and intention for them after the acceptance of their conquering King into Jerusalem. Then, secondly, to try and draw out some Truth which is prophetically foreshadowed in this passage concerning the New Covenant and of the victory won for mankind through the cross and now presented to the world through Christ’s Body on earth, the Church.
The Passage In Context
The word which begins the passage
is not in the Hebrew but the context favours these verses as being a continuation of those that have gone before and the RSV’s translation gives the passage context by employing it.
The Lord is now speaking concerning the nation of Israel at the time when they will be sent out to the nations from Jerusalem to establish peace throughout the earth (see my comments on 9:11-13). These promises which follow here, then, are mostly outlining a necessary provision for the people of God when we realise that they will still be travelling through a world that is not given over to a total commitment to follow after the Lord.
With the use of imagery of a fast approaching storm, the Lord is seen to be coming to His people’s aid and deliverance just as David used a similar parallel in II Samuel 22. God appears over both of them (Zech 9:14a, II Sam 22:17) and sends out His arrows on their behalf (Zech 9:14b, II Sam 22:15). Again, the Lord is pictured as thundering His voice out like a trumpet call (Zech 9:14c, II Sam 22:14) and of marching within the winds that approach with the advent of the storm clouds (Zech 9:14d, II Sam 22:11).
In David’s psalm, the situation he finds himself in is one of oppression by an enemy that is vastly superior to himself and which is overwhelming him (II Sam 22:5-6), calling upon the Lord for deliverance from something too great for him to overcome in his own strength (II Sam 22:7). Having heard His servant’s cry, the Lord God arms Himself immediately for war and advances on David’s position to defend the interests of His servant spoken of with the use of the imagery of an advancing storm (II Sam 22:8-16). Deliverance comes speedily and swiftly (II Sam 22:17-20) and restoration follows.
The same sort of context favours the Zechariah passage where the people of God have been sent out into the world to enforce the King’s peace. It’s no surprise that nations will rise up against them, the passage going on to declare that (9:15)
‘...they shall tread down the slingstones’
(that is, those weapons that are used to attack them with shall be of no effectual use and will be trodden under foot by the Lord’s people) and that (9:16)
‘...the Lord their God will save them...’
protection being afforded them no matter what kind of trial or circumstance they may come against. But the advance of the Lord’s army is not to be thought of simply as one of survival and of persevering through to the end without any positive reward being granted them.
The RSV tends to make quite a hash of verse 15 (as can be seen by my different quote of the verse which speaks of ‘the slingers’) and it is best to follow both Baldwin and Smith here who note that
‘they shall devour’
is better translated from the received text of the Hebrew
‘they shall eat’
and that the last few lines should run something like
‘...they shall drink and make a noise like drunken men. They shall be as full as one of the bowls that collected the blood from a sacrifice and, like the corner of the altar where it was poured out, they shall be drenched with a bounteous supply’
These words speak of the abundance of provision given to His people as they go out into all the world and seek to do the will of the One who sends them.
God goes on further to speak of the glory that will settle upon them when He proclaims that they will shine like the jewels of a crown in the land of promise and that the harvest that they will reap shall be a source of much prosperity to the extent that their land (and, presumably, whatever they do in the name of the Lord) will provide abundantly for there to be a surplus from which leisure activities can be enjoyed (that’s a general description of the phrases concerning beer and wine!).
What the Lord is saying here, then, is that He will be their shield and protection as they go to the nations to enforce the peace that He has established at Jerusalem. But, more than this, that He will make sure that the provision that they need will be granted to them in abundance - many of those who go to the nations would be farmers and other workers who got their livelihood from agricultural work, but the ground will yield such a harvest that they needn’t worry when they’re in faraway lands because the abundance of provision at home will be ample to feed their families and friends (I know I’m going beyond the bounds of the Scripture here but this appears to be the implication if taken literally).
But it all hinges on them accepting their King and of being willing to go to the nations in the Lord’s name.
The Passage as an Insight into the New Covenant
We saw in the previous passage that the literal fulfilment of the Scripture has never come about, largely because the Jews rejected the King who had been sent to them. But that does not mean that the Scriptures cannot speak to us a little of the New Covenant that we serve under.
God has commanded His people to ‘go to the nations’ in a like manner to the Jews of Zechariah’s day (Mtw 28:19), whether we think of this as someone catching a plane to the outer reaches of civilisation or of popping in to the local shop to share the message of the Gospel. Both believers are going ‘into the world’ and both are preaching the Gospel, even though we tend only to think of the former as fulfilling the Lord’s command.
If my life is anything to go by, the Lord’s protection under the New Covenant does not mean that we shall suffer no trials or tribulations in this life (perhaps the norm is otherwise? Please email me!). Rather, we experience probably more than most people, but we know that God oversees all our situations and will stand by us no matter where or in what we find ourselves and that, after the trial, we shall be strengthened to be better disciples and more like Christ than we were before (I Peter 5:10).
The natural provision of the cross (as opposed to the spiritual provision which restores us into a right relationship with the Lord and ministers to all the problems we have with and within ourselves) is overflowing but, in one of the passages that speaks of it, Jesus is careful to note (Mark 10:29-30 - my italics) that
‘...there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life’
If Jesus had simply been thinking of a time of reward in a future life after death, He would not have mentioned the last phrase but, as it is, whoever leaves friends, family or possessions for the Gospel’s sake will receive ‘a hundredfold’ in this life. That doesn’t mean that we should give everything away because we want more - or that we should just give everything away for no other reason than we’ve read it in the NT - but we should be careful to invest those possessions that belong to us into active service and for the advance of the Gospel throughout the earth and that, should we be called away from family (or be rejected by them and have to leave our homes), that there will be others who will be surrogate family members because of the bond that exists through the cross (see also Luke 6:37-38).
We read in Zech 9:15 that the Lord’s people will ‘tread down the slingstones’, that nothing that is used against them shall prosper - but all of us should equally be aware of the martyrs that have given their lives throughout history who testify to the evil of man. But, as a defence of the Gospel, nothing shall confute any person (Mtw 10:19, Mark 13:11, Luke 21:14-15, I Peter 3:15). Even the simplest of believers will have a word to say that will confound the wisest theologian (sorry, couldn’t resist it) and which will stop them in their tracks. In this way, God will make sure that no one can stand against a believer.
There are spiritual principles here that equally apply under the New Covenant as they do within this passage which speaks of the Lord’s provision for the Jew once He has accepted the King sent to him and allowed himself to be sent out into all the earth. The commissions are so similar (where the Jew was to be entrusted with the establishment of peace amongst the nations and Christ’s followers are commanded to establish peace between men and women and between God and man) as to be part and parcel of the same call.
Even though the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah compelled the Lord to proclaim His message of reconciliation to the Gentiles, it had been His intention to include the Gentiles within the outworking of the proclamation of the Gospel all along (see Zech 9:7, for instance), and the promise to the Jews has now fallen to all believers (though especially the Gentiles who make up the majority of the Church) to establish the Lord’s peace in all the earth.
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