ZECHARIAH Chapters 12 and 13

An overview of the chapters without seeing any reference to Jesus as the Messiah
A look at specific verses with particular emphasis on references to Jesus as the Messiah
   a. Zechariah 12:10
   b. Zechariah 13:7
      i. 'My shepherd'
      ii. 'The man who stands next to Me'
      iii. 'Strike the shepherd...'
   c. The significance of the four names of Zechariah 12:12-13
      i. David
      ii. Nathan
      iii. Levi
      iv. Shimei

‘End Times’ prophecies are always difficult.

On the one hand, there is the danger to interpret the passages solely into subsequent history as known to the commentator and so see nearly everything as pre-written historical events that require little (if any) moral response from the people to which they were given and, on the other, it is too easy to interpret what has been written by what we see around us at this present time and, if we believe that we are in the ‘very last days’ before Jesus returns, to ‘name names’ to show believers that certain individuals will be ‘the anti-christ’ and - hey! - did you really think that the European Union was a good idea?

Problem is, we could be staring the return of the Lord in the face or it could be centuries away - most christians throughout Church history believed that He was returning in their lifetime and we should be warned against tying down prophetic words in such a restrictive manner. Let’s rather try to understand what the prophecies originally meant and/or what they might mean to a future generation, but let’s not apply them to the current political scene and make certain individuals out to be the anti-christ or beast because, if history is going to repeat itself, we’ll be wrong!

What I intend doing here, then, is firstly to try and understand these two chapters as they were originally written. Though there is no real context that we can be certain of (as we could for the first eight chapters of the Book), we need to try and understand the verses as the original recipients understood them. I have, however, tried to interpret 13:7-9 into the preceding passage to give it some sense but it is equally possible that it is meant to stand alone as an independent message to the Israelites.

Then I shall go on to look at certain verses and how they have been applied to the Messiah, finishing with a brief consideration of the significance of the four names used in 12:12-13 which mark out the people who will grieve over what they have done.

An overview of the chapters without seeing any reference to Jesus as the Messiah

The nations shall gather together against the city of Jerusalem (12:3) but in their number shall also be the descendants of the tribe of Judah (12:2) though not all of Judah shall ally themselves with the nations as the house of David are also descended from Judah but these are recorded as being in Jerusalem (12:7,12).

God will confound the allied forces so that, in their advance upon the city, their ranks are dispersed (12:4) probably by an unseen and supernatural hand rather than through the defensive acts of the Jerusalemite army (12:4). Judah, who will witness this but who will not experience the same judgment (12:4), will acknowledge that the hand of the Lord has done it (12:5) and shall decimate the ranks of the allied forces while God is against them (12:6 - that is, the foreign army).

In this way, Judah will gain the first victory over the Gentile army (12:7) while the Jerusalemites will be regarded as being mighty warriors in battle (12:8), probably a reference to what is shortly to take place.

In Jerusalem (the phrase ‘the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’ [12:7,10,13:1] is taken to mean the sum total of the Israelites’ forces that withstand the allies from Jerusalem), there is widespread mourning for their brethren against whom they have been fighting in battle (12:10 - ‘when they look on him whom they have pierced’). There is an alternative possibility here as the phrase in 12:10 which runs ‘on him’ should probably read in the original ‘on Me’ referring to YHWH Himself. This would fit in well with the context of the following verses where the spiritual restoration of God’s people is spoken of (13:1-6).

It shall be a time of great mourning that shall only take place within family groups and not as ‘the congregation of Israel’ - that is, not corporately (12:11-14).

God, in return, will cleanse the city’s inhabitants from the sin of their deeds against their brethren (or, against Him - 13:1). It will also be a spiritual cleansing of the land (13:2) as opposed to just the city, and the Lord Himself will remove the idols from the land (13:2 - through the Gentiles’ military campaign?) and will make the land’s inhabitants reluctant to utter any word ‘in the name of the Lord’ for fear of their lives (13:3-6). Though the passage reads that all prophets shall perish from the land, it may only mean that those false ones are eliminated while all the other people guard their mouths in order not to misrepresent the Lord.

The advance of the army had slain two thirds of the inhabitants of the land (13:8), the remainder, through a time of tribulation (13:9 - the conquest of the Allied army until it arrives outside Jerusalem?), find salvation in the Lord. This invasion of the land has taken place and advanced quickly because the Israelites’ leader has been assassinated or killed in battle, scattering the forces that were united under Him (13:7) - even though it is the Lord who smites the one who stands next to Him, the phrases used imply that it is the Israelite nations’ ultimate ruler who is smitten and killed.

These two chapters leave us with the impression that the Allied attack upon Jerusalem has failed due to the direct intervention of God who has, through it all, cleansed His people from spiritual defilement. The ominous tone of 12:9 makes us see the final outcome of the Allies’ attack but the deliverance will come through the army of the Lord (12:7-8) not, as in Zech 14, as a result of God coming down to judge the nations as His people flee the destroying army (14:3-5).

I have overlooked many other of the verses to try and bring the passage together cohesively. Some of them are difficult to harmonise with what I’ve outlined here but they do not appear to be impossible.

A look at specific verses with particular emphasis on references to Jesus as the Messiah

a. Zechariah 12:10
‘...when they look on him whom they have pierced...’

The phrase ‘on him’ is contained in some Hebrew manuscripts, but they are not usually considered to be the most reliable. Usually, it is the Greek, Syriac, Aramaic and Latin versions that are assumed to have retained a better transmission through the years that are used and which have, in place of ‘on him’, ‘to me’ - that is, the text runs

‘...when they look to Me whom they have pierced...’

As it’s Jehovah who’s speaking, the statement is all the more striking in view of the Lord speaking of Himself as being ‘pierced’.

The word for ‘pierced’ (Strongs Hebrew number 1856) is the one employed to denote a serious wound (Jer 37:10) that often resulted in death (Judges 9:54, I Samuel 31:4, Jer 51:4, Lam 4:9) and is often used when a shameful death is implied.

For example, Zech 13:3 speaks of the false prophet being pierced through his body when he utters lies in the name of the Lord, and Num 25:8 speaks of the act of Phineas who pierced the two bodies of an Israelite and a Moabite cult prostitute, killing them outright.

If the phrase ‘to Me’ is the original one employed (and I believe it is), then we aren’t looking at the Lord proclaiming Himself to be momentarily sad, sorrowful or grieved but witnessing a statement that proclaims that the wound He received at the hands of the Jerusalemites was such a serious blow that it was considered to be fatal.

Though I interpreted the verse under the previous section to primarily refer to the tribe of Judah, it should be noted that although the force of the word is fully in keeping with the type of wound that had been inflicted on some of the Judahites, it is quite incompatible with the statement (Zech 12:4) that

‘...upon Judah I will open My eyes...’

That is, that Judah will be protected from the judgment upon the nations that come against Jerusalem. It does not appear as if they have been ‘mortally wounded’ by the conflict up to that point in time when Jerusalem mourns and Judah fights in the midst of the Allied forces to reap a great victory.

What appears to be the correct application from the text points us forward to the spiritual salvation of the Jerusalemites, when they look upon their Messiah (that is, spiritually with faith rather than physically upon His return - 14:4-5) who they have previously wounded through the piercing of His body by crucifixion - John 19:37 applies this Scripture to Jesus though ‘on Him’ is not to be taken as a direct quotation. The writer has changed the quote into the third person to avoid confusion in his hearers and to apply it to the relevant situation. Ps 22:16 is also prophetic (Ps 22 being one of the ‘psalms of the cross’) though the word translated ‘pierced’ is not the same as that used in Zech 12:10 and its meaning has been hotly debated.

As YHWH is speaking in the first person in Zech 12:10, the Messiah is shown to be none other than God Himself. This godly sorrow of repentance will lead them to experience the cleansing from sin and uncleanness (Zech 13:1 Pp Zech 3:9) that is the provision of the cross of Christ.

b. Zechariah 13:7
‘Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, against the man who stands next to Me, says the Lord of Hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered’

i. ‘My shepherd’
The same phrase is used by God of Cyrus who was His chosen instrument to bring about the return of the exiles from Babylon, though there is no indication that this means that he was in a right relationship with God - only that he was God’s chosen instrument (Is 44:28). It is also used to denote those leaders that had a responsibility to care for God’s sheep, His people, but who had looked after themselves instead at the sheep’s expense (Ezek 34:8). King David was also recognised as being God’s choice of shepherd by the people of Israel (II Sam 5:2).
The phrase could mean no more than ‘the one whom God has appointed to watch over His people’ but it should be noted that Ezekiel 34:23 speaks of the Messiah in shepherd language stating that
‘I will set up over [the sheep] one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them’
and, when Jesus came, He took upon Himself the title of ‘the Good Shepherd’ (John 10:11). Therefore it is possible that these verses could be applied to the Messiah (as they were below).

ii. ‘The man who stands next to Me’
This is similar to a previous vision of Zechariah’s in which he speaks of Zerubbabel and Joshua as being (4:14)
‘the two anointed who stand by the Lord of the whole earth’
They were both chosen instruments of the Lord who had been anointed by Him to bring about the return of the flow of God’s provision to His people (see my notes on this passage).
The Messiah, by translation of the name, means ‘the anointed’ (eg Ps 2:2), the One chosen by God to rule over His people (the title could equally well be applied to many different individuals but there was always the promise that there would be a special ‘anointed one’ who would be everything that Israel looked for in a leader - that is The Messiah). Jesus, the Messiah, is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Mk 16:19, Acts 2:33, Eph 1:20, Heb 10:12), though He was always One with the Father even before the foundation of the world (John 1:1-3, 17:11) and was, from everlasting, standing ‘next to’ the Father awaiting the time when He would be ‘sent’ into the world as God’s anointed Shepherd (John 17:18). He was the One who, standing by the Lord, is included in the statements where God speaks in the first person plural (for instance Gen 1:26, 11:7).
And it is in anticipation of His coming in human form that the passage in Zechariah 13:7 speaks of ‘the man’ that stands next to the Lord.

iii. ‘Strike the shepherd...’
This is directly quoted by Jesus in the Gospels shortly before His arrest (Mtw 26:31, Mk 14:27) as the evidence that because He will be ‘smitten’, the disciples will all be scattered from Him. It is, therefore, fulfilled in the life of the Messiah which is not otherwise easily discernible. Indeed, the Lord’s declaration in verse 7 that God Himself will smite the shepherd of His choosing is difficult to comprehend in any context apart from the cross, of which Isaiah wrote (Is 53:4,10)
‘...we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted...It was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief...’
The salvation of the people of the land of Israel (Zech 13:9) is dependant upon the smiting of the Shepherd for so the passage concludes. Without that affliction, there can be no restoration of the people into a covenant relationship with God.
Although we have interpreted this verse in the light of its context (under the previous section above), it harmonises well with 12:10 in seeing the Messiah slain in order to bring about the salvation of His people. This is one of the reasons why, though the context of an advancing army may at first appear to disqualify theses verses from having anything to say to us about Messiah, the content and application parallel the situation that Jesus was to find Himself in many years future to the original giving of this word.
Salvation is made available through the affliction of God’s Shepherd and it is received through the mourning of individuals (not corporate groups - 12:12-14) when they consider the work of the cross.

c. The significance of the four names of Zechariah 12:12-13

There have been a few suggestions as to why the four names - David, Nathan, Levi and Shimei - appear as the list of those households who mourn for the one who they’ve pierced so I will here suggest what appears to me to be the most logical explanation.

i. David
represents leadership, God’s ruling authority within Jerusalem. It doesn’t have to be gone into in any detail here, suffice to say that he was the archetype of all subsequent kings, a model to emulate and who foreshadowed and fathered (according to the flesh) God’s supreme leader, Jesus the Messiah.

ii. Nathan
It seems possible to understand the mention of Nathan as representing the prophetic office, as it was Nathan who was one of the leading prophets during David’s reign as king (II Sam 12:1-15, I Kings 1:8).
However, it may be best to see in the mention of Nathan a reference to one of David’s sons (I Chr 14:4) who was the one selected by the Lord as a direct descendent of the Messiah (Luke 3:31 - see my notes on the Genealogy here) following Solomon’s disobedience.
David and Nathan, then, represent both the leadership and its subsequent propagation.

iii. Levi
represents the priesthood, the ones who were chosen by God to be His ministers instead of the first born. Again, we need not go into the details as the identification is straightforward.

iv. Shimei
poses a problem, but it seems best to see the mention of Shimei as referring to one of Levi’s sons through Gershom (Num 3:17-18, 21-26, I Chr 23:7-10) who, as a tribe, were commissioned to serve in a particular area in the Tabernacle.
Levi and Shimmei represent both the priesthood or ministry to the Lord and the continued propagation of such.

Both the leadership of God’s people and the ministers to the Lord mourn because of their part in piercing the Lord Himself (see on 12:10 above). It was both these classes, summarised collectively as the Sanhedrin, that decided to put Jesus to death (John 11:45-53).
Therefore, godly sorrow is needed which will lead to repentance and their cleansing from sin and uncleanness (Zech 13:1).