Zechariah, Prophet of the Restoration
9. The Hope of Israel
Chapter 10 is a continuation of the latter part of chapter 9 in that the vision of Christ who comes to conquer the world by love and persuasion in contrast to his predecessor Alexander the Greek who attempted to do so by force, and failed, goes into its culmination in the era of our Lord’s reign over the earth still yet to come. "Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids" is the conclusion to chapter 9 and that is followed immediately by the promise in chap.10 of the Lord giving showers of rain and grass in the field; this is a vivid picture of the Millennial Age at work. "Ask ye of the LORD rain in the time of the latter rain; so the LORD shall... give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field". (v.1) This is still in the future tense: the day has not yet come but this is the prospect and it will surely be, and the standpoint of the prophet is as though he stands at the very threshold of that day and announces what he sees.
But the Lord has another word to speak, one that looks back to the past. "The teraphim have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain" (v.2 Margin). The teraphim were miniature images of the pagan gods, standing on shelves or in niches in the house to protect its inmates from harm; but they could not protect. "Therefore" says the Lord, the people "were troubled, because there was no shepherd". He has more to say about the unfaithful shepherds in the next chapter, but for the moment he contents himself by saying "Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited...the house of Judah, and made them as his goodly (war) horse" (v.3) The Lord is here taking his stand as it were in the dawn of the Millennial Age when the apostate leaders and unfaithful pastors have been deprived of their positions and the Lord himself has come out of his place to feed and exalt Israel. The past times had known the power of idol worship, of false prophets and soothsayers, of rapacious shepherds and ambitious leaders, the "he‑goats" of verse 3 (RV). "Be as the he‑goats before the flocks" was his admonition in the days of the Captivity (Jer.50:8 RV) when he called upon Israel and Judah to assert themselves and take the lead among the nations; but more often the leaders were themselves apostate as in this case and merited condemnation. "Shepherds" was the term for rulers whether civil or ecclesiastical; the priests were shepherds and so were the kings. "The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit" (Jer.2:8). But now those dark days are past, and the Lord is taking action.
"The LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his… (war) horse in the battle. Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together" (vv.3‑4). The time indicated is that at which the Lord of hosts has made the house of Judah his war‑horse in the battle; that fixes it at the inauguration of the Messianic Age. From God comes the "corner" (pinnah ‑ chief man, or as we would say "the key man") which harks back to Psa.118:22. "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner" and Isa.28:16. "I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious (chosen) corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall (never be confounded) not make haste". (The RSV puts verse 4 in the future tense "out of him shall come" which is logical.) So too, is the "nail" in this same 4th verse, alluding to Isa.22:23, the nail "in a sure place", the Messiah upon whom all things will depend. So also, is the battle bow, which symbolises the triumphal progress of Messiah against the forces of evil as in Psa.45, "thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies". Logically, then, the restored and purified people of the Lord shall indeed, as verse 5 declares "be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies… because the LORD is with them… And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph… and they shall be as though I had not cast them off... And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man,… their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the LORD. " (vv.5‑7).
With this stirring and somewhat martial picture of the victory which righteousness gains in the "Last Day" comes the Lord’s promise to Israel regarding their future destiny and the downfall of their opponents. He will "strengthen the house of Judah" and "save the house of Joseph" and they will be restored to their land (v.6). Ephraim shall be regathered following the Divine call. The mention of these three, Judah, Joseph, Ephraim, denotes that the centuries‑old rift between the two halves of the nation has been healed; there is now only one people of Israel and that people is a united one rejoicing in the Lord.
"I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they have increased. And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again" (vv.8‑9). The word "hiss" in v.8 has the meaning of calling by means of a pipe or wind instrument. This is not a call to war, as of a trumpet. The pipe or flute is an instrument of peace and the call is to come to a land where peace reigns and the peaceable arts of life can be followed without hindrance.
This picture of Judah. Joseph, and Ephraim being united in the arts of peace and godliness is a remarkable one when the implications are realised. Joseph was the favourite son of Jacob and his father conferred upon him the birthright, as Isaac had done with Jacob a generation earlier. From Joseph that birthright passed to Ephraim, one of Joseph’s twin sons, but in later times the tribe of Ephraim became the most apostate of the tribes. Sadly did the Lord speak through Hosea the prophet "When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died" (Hos.13:1). So Ephraim became the leader of the Ten‑Tribe kingdom with all its apostasy, and Judah of the Two‑Tribe kingdom became the one through whom the purposes of God with the nation were eventually to be worked out; so Christ came of Judah and will one day be the greater David to rule all men everywhere, "with justice and with judgment...even for ever". (Isa.9:7) So there was enmity between Ephraim and Judah from that time and forward. Now in this vision Zechariah sees that enmity replaced by unity. Judah and Joseph / Ephraim, two tribes and ten tribes, are no longer divided into two peoples; they are one, blood‑brothers as they were at the first. The prophet Ezekiel described this in his picturesque symbol of the two sticks, inscribed with the two names, which became the one stick in his hand. "Son of man" said the Lord to Ezekiel, "take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah… then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim… and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand... Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen (nations), whither they be gone, and will... bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land...and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. " (Ezek.37:15‑22). The whereabouts of the "Lost Ten Tribes" has been a subject of speculation, a great deal of claimed history and not a little fanciful speculation for centuries. The Lord knows where they are and his word will be fulfilled in his own time and way.
So "I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries;" (v.9) this is the Dispersion among all nations subsisting throughout this present Age between the First and Second Advents. But, "they shall live with their children, and turn again"; this is the Restoration at the end of the Age. "I will bring them… out… of Egypt,… and out of Assyria; and I will bring them into… Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them". Verse 11 defines the manner in which God will do this great thing. He will "pass through the sea with straightness" (the A.V. "affliction" in v.11 means straightness or tightness) and in this context pictures a deliverance analogous to the Red Sea crossing where God led the hosts while "the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" (Exod.14:22). He shall "smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up" continues v.11, a manifest allusion both to the Red Sea passage and the later crossing of Jordan into the Promised Land. "And the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart (pass) away".
Egypt and Assyria, traditional enemies and oppressors of Israel throughout the nation’s history, well symbolise the world powers which have continued that oppression since the days of the Romans. In such fashion will the powers of evil of this world give place when God rises up for that purpose, as surely and inexorably as that of Egypt failed in the days of Moses. So the people of God will be given strength (v.12) "and they shall walk up and down in his name", an affirmation of confidence that at that time, the time of the Messianic reign, peace and prosperity shall come, and the dark shadow of evil flee away.
In these two picturesque chapters 9 and 10, the prophet conducts his readers through a rapid survey of history, outlining the careers of two great personages, both of whom set out to achieve world domination, the one by fear and force, the other by love and persuasion. The first was the Greek, Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world three centuries before the First Advent, a man of whom it was said that after subduing all known countries he sat down and wept because there were no worlds left for him to conquer. Three years later he died and the empire he had built fell to pieces. Verses 1‑8 of chapter 9 tell of his progress and his conquests so far as they affected or concerned Israel. The second is Christ the Lord, Prince of Peace, who came, not with fanfare of trumpet and show of force as did Alexander, but in lowliness and love. Verses 9‑12 picture his coming and his invitation to men to accept him. Then the rest of chapter 9 and the whole of chapter 10 foresee the day yet to come when He takes to himself his great power and reigns, King of the nations. And under that reign there will, at last be peace.
(To be continued)