The expansion of the nation
In the first five verses of chapter 10, we noted the contrast between the way the leaders and certain of the people treated with contempt those of the Lord’s people and what little regard they had for them. Therefore, the Lord went on to outline the elevated plan He had for His people, a plan that would bypass the leadership and use the ordinary people to bring about His will and purpose.
Here, the Word continues to speak of the restoration that God has planned for the nation, even though both Smith and Baldwin state that what’s in mind in these 7 verses is directed at the old northern kingdom of Israel rather than at both Israel and Judah combined.
Smith states that
‘...Judah has already returned from exile...But what about those Israelites who were carried away by the Assyrians when they captured Samaria in 722BC?’
Both these statements need some consideration. Certainly, part of Judah had already returned to the land under the leadership of both Zerubbabel and Joshua, but that not everyone had returned is obvious when passages such as Zech 6:10 and Ezra 7-8 are read. There still remained numerous individuals - and there were probably large numbers inhabiting specific areas that continued to prosper throughout the years following and well into the first centuries after the birth of Christ. Even today there are ethnic groupings of Jews in the Arab lands which now incorporate the old Median, Babylonian and Assyrian Empires.
Smith also makes it sound as if the thrust of the passage is only concerned with the dispersion of the northern kingdom into Assyria (see, for instance, II Kings 17:6) but the passage also refers to those who were living in Egypt (Zech 10:10-11) which is where many who belonged to the southern kingdom fled to once the first leader over the defeated nation was murdered (Jer 43:5-7). The great Assyrian Empire also included much of the territory over which both Babylon and Media ruled, so a description of returning exiles from Assyrian lands cannot exclude those Jews who had been dispersed there under the Babylonian exile.
Baldwin, on the other hand, simply states during her comments on Zech 10:8-9 that
‘Whereas in Judah’s case the main thrust of the message concerned the leadership, in Ephraim’s case the return of her exiles is the dominant theme’
without addressing this issue.
True - though Judah had partly returned, there was still an expectation that all the northern kingdom would return from the lands to where they had been scattered but there were still plenty of Jews who belonged to Judah that needed to return and to whom the words of this prophetic word would have been specifically relevant.
Therefore, it’s best to take Zech 10:6 as the header which introduces the entire passage which runs to the end of the chapter (and beyond - we will see on the next page how the first three verses show us the Lord’s provision for settlement land for His people as they return and multiply), mentioning as it does both the northern kingdom (Judah) and the southern (Joseph).
I said previously that Zechariah chapter 9 should rightly be taken to refer to a day that was a long time in the future whereas chapter 10 begins referring to the present day, going on here to speak of the imminent fulfilment of the purposes of God for His people in contrast to the designs of their leaders who were exploiting them.
This passage, which speaks both of the return of Ephraim and Judah, must precede the fulfilment of the word of Zech 9:13 where God spoke of the two kingdoms in phraseology borrowed from archery - namely that the two kingdoms would be indispensable to one another and would work together to form one instrument in the Lord’s hands under the reign of the Lord’s anointed and established King, Messiah.
Only once the two kingdoms were again resident within the land could their unity come about; only once the two kingdoms were ready to receive their Messiah would He be sent to them so that national restoration was fundamentally important to the outworking of God’s purpose to send them out as ambassadors to both proclaim and establish peace throughout the world (Zech 9:10-15).
Having said all that, the rest of the passage seems to speak for itself without the need for extensive comment though there need to be a few points making at certain junctures to clarify how the text actually runs and to show the imagery of the Hebrew words that is not expressly apparent in the modern translations.
God makes sure that the Jews understand that the restoration that is about to take place is from His hand, that it is solely He who is taking the initiative and that it is not an answer from the false gods that they have been worshipping (Zech 10:2). Repeatedly, He speaks of the restoration being solely His action and not a plan that any man thought up or that came from man through any petition in prayer.
In Zech 10:9, however, the Lord notes that the nation remembered Him in the countries to which they were scattered and so decided to set their hearts to return to the land with all their possessions, but this is only a response at best to the plan of God in calling them to return. Though many of the Jews will turn their attention towards their God, it is only because God has directed their minds and thoughts His way that they will have the opportunity to return to Him.
Below, we consider a passage that Solomon is recorded as having spoken at the consecration of the first Temple, talking about how, if the people repent, God might hear and restore them. But the words in this passage (notably my comments under ‘The sowing’ below) show how God had already planned for a return at the dispersal of the nation into the lands.
The RSV translates 10:8 (my italics) as
‘I will signal for them and gather them in...’
where the italicised word represents the Greek (LXX) rather than the Hebrew word. The latter, however, which is to be preferred, is a word (Strongs Hebrew number 8319) that continues the imagery of the shepherd and his sheep that has been used towards the end of chapter 9 and through the present chapter. The verb means ‘to whistle’ in a positive setting and is used this way in Judges 5:16 where the RSV reads
‘Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks?...’
While it is true that the word may be used to denote the sound made when people pass by a judged and desolate city (Lam 2:15), the positive context of its usage here makes the translation ‘whistle’ the best option (even though the AV translates the word ‘hiss’, destroying the imagery).
The Lord, then, is depicting Himself as the chief Shepherd of His flock Israel, whistling to the sheep to come to Him in Jerusalem and, upon hearing His call, the implication is that they return.
Zech 10:9 has another bad choice of words by the RSV (using another emendation of a word that is perfectly at home in the context in which it sits) and the translation runs (my italics)
‘Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me...’
The word italicised here implies the dispersion into all corners of the earth with no specific purpose except, as we see in other Scriptures, the outpouring of God’s judgment of the nation. But the word unemended properly means ‘to sow’ (Strongs Hebrew number 2232) implying purpose in the Jews’ dispersion amongst the nations that there might be a future harvest.
The point is an important one - either God was not concerned with the locations of the people who had sinned against Him and whom He judged, or else, even in judgment, God was beginning a work to fulfil a future purpose that would bring them back to the land for a new start.
The expansion of the nation
God’s restoration of the nation is spoken of numerically in the passage. Zech 10:8 states that
‘...they shall be as many as of old’
and Zech 10:10 that He will bring them home until
‘...there is no room for them’
This return to the land is mentioned as being both from Assyria (with all its implications that kingdom had with the northern kingdom) and Egypt (which is associated with the south’s dispersion) though it is probably correct to say that the Lord is not being restrictive in the locations of the exiles but using these two areas as inclusive of all the lands where they had been sown.
So many shall return that even the land of Gilead (to the east of the Jordan) and Lebanon (to the north of the Promised Land) shall not be sufficient to contain them and it seems necessary to assume that more land will be provided for them once they have been fully settled.
But His restoration of His people must be much deeper and wider than just a numerical restoration. Zech 10:8 says that God has redeemed them and 10:12 notes that
‘I will make them strong in the Lord and they shall walk in His name...’
Again, the initiative is with God and is reminiscent of Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26ff where it is God’s work in redeeming His people and in causing them to walk in His ways that is a characteristic of the New Covenant sealed in Jesus’ blood.
A parallel passage of note here is I Kings 8:47-51 where Solomon prayed that, should the nation be scattered amongst the nations through sin and rebellion, God would hear their prayers if they repented where they found themselves and that God would restore them. We have previously seen that words like this do not imply that restoration is initiated by a work of man (as the Lord sowed the nation within the nations upon exile, the implication of which is that there was to be a pre-planned future harvest) but Solomon rightly noted that what was required from the people was a spiritual restoration and not a literal and physical one - in the passage in question, Solomon never makes a reference in his petition that God might bring them back to the land.
Ezekiel 6:8-10 also speaks of a spiritual restoration of the people as being the necessity for the nation once it has been scattered into the nations, God going so far as to point out that the only reason for their return being the work that He will do in breaking their heart which has turned from Him and in blinding their eyes to the false gods that they were going after.
Therefore, though most of Zech 10:6-12 speaks of a numerical return to the land, it’s tied up with a spiritual restoration of the people into a covenant relationship with God and that not a move of man that prompts the hand of God, but a direct work of God upon the lives of His rebellious people.
The restoration and return of the nation is also tied up with the judgment of the nations where the exiles find themselves (Zech 10:11). Though the Assyrian empire had long since been absorbed into the Babylonian and then, subsequently, into the Median and Persian kingdom, the point is that the areas that hold the Lord’s people captive will be judged that they may let the people go.
The RSV’s translation of the first sentence of 10:11 adds an emendation to the text (yet again!) to make it read as referring to the nation of Egypt but the original text runs perfectly well without when it says that
‘[The nation] shall pass through the sea of affliction...’
indicating a sufficient reason why the lands upon which the exiles live will be judged.
The similarities between this passage and the first eight chapters of Zechariah should be apparent but, if not, the reader should compare the text before moving on. Many commentators, as previously noted, tend to fragment the overall message of Zechariah into sections and attribute the contents to various authors either before or after the life and times of the prophet who spoke during the move of God in restoring His temple under both Zerubbabel and Joshua. But the message, in general terms is the same - God will move upon the nations and judge them, releasing the people to return to the land and be restored into a covenant relationship with Himself.
The Lord’s people shall return from exile as a response (Zech 10:9) to God’s initiative (10:6,8,10). Both northern and southern kingdoms shall return to the land (10:6,10), so much so that there shall be an overflow to the north and east (10:10). Along with the physical restoration into the land, there will also be a spiritual one (10:6a,8,12) and judgment will be executed upon those nations that had held them captive (10:11).
In the next three verses which begin chapter 11, there seem to be so many possible answers to the question of who God is referring to that there is little definitive that can be said about it. But there remains the possibility that the passage shows us how the Lord intends to make room for the returning Jews in both Lebanon and Gilead (Zech 10:10), though the words refer specifically to the land of Lebanon.
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