Zechariah, Prophet of the Restoration

12. "Who is on the Lord’s side!"

From his description of the external forces gathering against regathered Israel in chap.12:1‑9 the prophet now turns to view the attitude of the people in the land. Up to this point the nation has been referred to in general terms as the subject of Divine deliverance soon to be accomplished, but the extent to which the individuals comprising that nation are at heart loyal to God and trusting in His promise has not been declared. As a matter of fundamental principle God can only deliver where there is faith and trust and one of the reasons why it is so repeatedly said in the prophetic Scriptures that only the "Remnant" is ultimately delivered is surely because in all history saving faith is usually found only in the minority; the majority are found unable to pass the test. More than one Old Testament reference to these stirring times indicates that there will be a final purging of the unworthy from the nation on the very eve of Divine intervention and it is only to be expected that Zechariah’s very complete foreview of the events should include some reference both to that purging and the turning in faith to God which is characteristic of those who are not thus purged.

This is where the next section of the prophecy, chapter 12:10 to 13:6, has its application. The first half presents a picture of what appears to be almost a universal conversion of the nation and wholehearted sorrow for its former blindness to the workings of the Almighty on its behalf; with that comes the swift response of God in establishing a means of cleansing so that they become acceptable in His sight and acknowledged as His people. But concurrently with this the prophet paints a parallel but darker picture; false teachers and idolatrous, anti‑God influences in the land, even whilst in the process of being done away, are still active. The false prophets are "ashamed" of their visions and they make excuses, but they give no evidence of repentance and apparently remain false prophets at heart. And there may yet be such among the people when at the final critical moment God stretches out His hand to deliver. So the stage is set for that seemingly strange paradox of the end of chapter 13 and the beginning of chapter 14 when in the very moment of deliverance some who are still in the land suffer deprivation and cutting‑off.

At this momentous time, when the "governors of Israel" of Zech.12. 5‑6, the Old Testament stalwarts or "Ancient Worthies", are beginning their task of organising the nation to meet the increasing threat, a strange and wonderful happening occurs. "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon" (ch.12:10‑11).

This "spirit of grace and of supplication" is obviously one of repentance and a throwing of themselves upon the Divine goodness. Like Daniel of old, they might well be saying "we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies" (Dan.9:18). So many times there were in Israel’s former history when because of their apostasy "He brought down their heart with labour…and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses" (Psa.107:12‑13). Now the same thing is to happen again and for the last time. There will be no more apostasy. As Isaiah says (44:3‑5), speaking of this same time and event, "I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.. one shall say, I am the LORD’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel". This is definitely a widespread repentance within the nation, from the nature of the description a majority repentance. The dissentients and the unrepentant would appear to be in the minority, and this raises the question as to what has brought about this major reversal of national feeling. Is it inspired by the evidences of God’s moving in the affairs of the nation, or the realisation, at last, of Israel’s historic mission and that the time is at hand for its execution; or is it the effect of the reforming zeal of the heaven‑sent "governors" and their evident control of the situation and constant exhortation to faith in God? Whatever it may be, there is no doubt that this is a sincere and lasting repentance. The following words show that. "They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him" At long last, after so many generations of hard‑heartedness, they will "look unto Him", and be saved.

There is a certain amount of doubt as to the textual accuracy of "they shall look upon me". The speaker in this chapter is God Himself and there is a measure of inappropriateness in thinking of the Most High being "pierced"; the word is daqar, meaning to thrust through as with a sword or spear, and implies the death of the subject. To think of God as being thus done to death, even in symbol, seems improper. Neither does the sentence read very grammatically; they shall look on Me and they shall mourn for Him without specifying who is the second person thus introduced. Some give "him" instead of "me", so that some modern translators, including the R.S.V., Moffatt and Ferrar Fenton, adopt "him", whilst the RV and Rotherham give "him" as an alternative. It is of course tempting to look on this verse as referring to the Crucifixion especially as John in ch.19:37 quotes it in that connection, and his words are rendered in the A.V. "They shall look on him whom they pierced". It would appear to be true that on the basis of existing manuscripts there are more or less equal claims for either word. It has been pointed out, however, that the omission at an early date of one letter from the word could transform an original "him" to "me". The Hebrew word rendered "upon me", is a preposition in the first person singular masculine which by the addition of one more letter, the Hebrew vav, becomes third person, thus changing "me" to him. The following word in the Hebrew text, AT, is given by Gesenius as a demonstrative pronoun corresponding to the Greek autos, "this same", so that if the hypothetical correction is made the phrase would read "and they shall look toward him, this same who they pierced". Now the Greek of John 19:37 rendered literally would read "they shall look unto whom they pierced", the "him" being implied. It is possible therefore, that the "vav" was in the original text and dropped out at an early date, thus accounting for the alternative renderings in various manuscripts, and that what we have here is a prophetic picture of the repentance of Israel at the Time of the End, and their acceptance of the One whom their forebears crucified. "They shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son"; this was a term used to denote any unusually intense expression of grief and goes to show how widespread and deeply felt will be that national contrition which will sweep the nation at that time. A similar expression occurs in Amos 8:10.

Verse 11 colours the picture further. "In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon". This is a simile which is not easy to understand at first sight. There is no other reference in Scripture to the "mourning of Hadadrimmon". Jerome in the 4th century suggested that it referred to a town called Rummaneh, near Jezreel, but no evidence that there ever was such a place is extant. Hadad in the Aramaic languages means The Mighty, and Rimmon is another name for the Syrian deity Adonis. The story of Naaman the Syrian captain healed by Elisha mentions the house or temple of Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18). The "mourning of Hadadrimmon" therefore may well mean the "mourning of the mighty Adonis". This was a well‑known ritual observed in the territory of Syria. The legend told how Adonis, the youthful god of Nature in her beneficent aspect, had been slain, and descended into the underworld. At his going the sun veiled its face, vegetation withered, the crops failed and the cattle died. The world became a cold and dark place in which there was no new life. Then Adonis rose from the grave and Nature smiled again and all was well. The entire myth was probably a picturesque story of the coming of winter upon the world and its succession by springtime. So, every year in early springtime, the festival was held. As soon as the river Adonis began to run red (this was due to the red clay banks crumbling in the sunshine and colouring the water) maidens ran about wailing and mourning the death of the god, whose blood was staining the water. The shepherds pointed to the red anemones blossoming in profusion over the fields—drops of blood from the veins of Adonis. The whole people gave themselves up to this ritual mourning for a week. Then on the sixth day, the note changed. Adonis was risen! Expressions of joy rose on every hand. The days of mourning were forgotten and all was well.

The same custom prevailed in Babylon and Chaldea where Adonis was known as Tammuz, and Ezekiel refers to it when, in describing the idolatrous practices of the Israelites of his day, he says he saw at the gate of the Temple "women weeping for Tammuz" (Ezek.8:14). So Zechariah was led to liken the mourning of Israel in the Last Days for the "only son" who had suffered death and risen again to that ancient ceremonial with which it had so many elements in common.

The final aspect of this universal mourning in Israel is shown in verses 12‑14 of chapter 12. Each family will mourn in privacy and the womenfolk separated from the menfolk. This is reminiscent of the Mosaic laws respecting the ceremonial for cleansing from defilement caused by contact with the dead. (Num.19:11‑22; 5:2‑4; 9:6‑10). Seven days separation from their fellows, and purification by means of the "water of separation", had the effect of purifying the man or woman from uncleanness; so here, simultaneously with the great mourning there is a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. (Zech.13:1).

Four families are specified; the houses of David, Nathan, Levi and Shimei. Two names are well‑known, the other two not so familiar. About nine individuals named Nathan appeared in the O.T., including the famous prophet of King David’s time, and eighteen named Shimei. There could be scope here for a number of interpretations based on any particular selection; perhaps the most reasonable conclusion is that Nathan, the son of David by Bathsheba, and Shimei, the grandson of Levi, are intended. We then have David, the leading representative of the royal house of Israel, and Nathan, a minor member of his posterity, with Levi, the head of the priestly tribe, and Shimei, a minor member of his posterity. The combination of the four names would then picture this great mourning extending to all levels of the people from kings and priests at the forefront to the rank and file of the people below them.

It is probably true that the respective offices of kings and priests will be combined, in that day, in the persons of the "governors", the princes, but the meaning remains the same. From the leaders to the led there will arise a great expression of repentance for the past and acceptance of God and his ways for the future. This is where ch.13:1 has its place. A cleansing stream makes its appearance and in the waters of that stream the sin and uncleanness of the past is washed away and the people stand ready to face their final ordeal, standing thus in the strength of their God.

A darker part of the picture now comes into view. Some there are in the nation who do not share the general spirit of repentance and supplication. Idolatry is still present in the land and in ch.13:2 the Lord declares His intention of rooting out that idolatry and eliminating the false prophets. Idolatry in Zechariah’s day meant the worship of false gods, Baal and Ashtoreth and Molech and others, representative of and associated with the powers of Nature and the more depraved aspects of men’s minds. That kind of worship has long since disappeared, but its equivalent in more modern guise is with us now and to an extent will be present in the regathered nation until consumed in the fire of the final ordeal. Money, commercial gain, political power, control of the minds and lives of men, these are the modern forms of idolatry and these will have their devotees, the false prophets of this chapter, and to an extent their voices are heard in this nation so soon to be tried in the fire that it may be forged into an instrument for God’s purpose. It would seem, though, that chapter 13 envisages a time when national sentiment in general is against them. The great repentance and mourning of chapter 12, the fountain for cleansing of ch.13:1, are having their effect, and in ch.13:3 a situation is described in which these false prophets are discredited and rejected when they speak. Again the symbolism of the Mosaic Law is invoked. The parents of the false prophet say to him "Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the LORD" and they thrust him through, i.e. put him to death. This was the penalty for idolatry laid down by Moses and recorded in Deut.13:6‑11. The offender’s nearest relative must execute the death sentence. Thus is indicated that the closest of ties will not interfere with the complete separation between the godly and the godless at this critical time. So the false prophets are more or less driven underground, as we would say today. They endeavour to avoid discovery, "ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied" as Zechariah puts it in v.4, eschewing the distinctive garb of a prophet, the addereth seir, the mantle of goat skin or camel skin. They claim instead to be one with the people of the land, and when taxed with an enquiry as to the wounds in their hands they return an evasive reply. "One shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends" (v.6). The idolatrous priests were accustomed to cut themselves with knives and inflict various wounds upon their bodies in the prophetic frenzy—the priests of Baal did this at the time of Elijah’s challenge (1 Kings 18:28)—and the possession of such injuries was another mark of a false prophet. But here in this case the men thus taxed deny the imputation and claim that they received their injuries within their social circle; this is the meaning of the expression "house of my friends". Either blood relatives or close companions are implied. The false prophets are at pains to make it appear that they are at one with the prevailing national sentiment of faith and loyalty toward God but in fact their hearts are far from these things. This passage relating to the presence of false prophets at this time is difficult to interpret and it is only because there are other Scriptural references to the presence of just such a class of men when the hostile nations advance to the attack that it is possible to elicit a meaning at all. Thus Zephaniah, speaking of this same time, of the Lord "rising up to the prey", gathering the nations for judgment preparatory to turning his "pure language" to the people (Zeph.3:8‑20) goes on to say "then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride...I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD". This "remnant of Israel" he says "shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth". The 5th chapter of Micah, devoted to the same events, pictured as the "Assyrian" invading the land, (v.5) includes as an integral part of the Lord’s deliverance the banishment of witchcraft, "and thou shalt have no more soothsayers: thy graven images also will I cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee; and thou shalt no more worship the work of thine (own) hands". (vv.12‑13) Isaiah in his 66th chapter talks of retribution to come upon those who are following idolatrous practices at the very time He has gathered all nations of the world for the final battle; here again the "remnant of Israel" are the only survivors in the land and they are then commissioned to take the knowledge of God to all nations. This is another way of picturing the "pure language" of the Zephaniah passage just quoted. The association of an unbelieving element with the faithful "remnant" in the land at this crucial time seems plainly to be indicated in these passages.

It will not have escaped notice that in all these prophetic fore views the prevailing sin of the unbelieving element is idolatry—the worship of a rival god. It is perhaps only to be expected that in Israel at the final stage there will still be those whose minds and hands are given to the perpetuation of this present order of things, those who would advocate collaboration with the powers of this world rather than dedication to the service and the purpose of God. Perhaps in the Divine wisdom such will be allowed to continue their covert resistance to the reforming work of the "governors"—false prophets "ashamed" of their vision, but at heart false prophets nevertheless and hoping still that their policy will ultimately prevail. But the Lord has declared "I know their works and their thoughts" (Isa.66:18) and although their continued presence in the land may well be permitted to constitute a test and a refining influence upon the faithful—and this may well be the inference to be drawn from verses 7‑9 of chapter 13—it is certain that all who come short of complete and whole‑hearted faith and loyalty towards God will find themselves excluded from the deliverance which God has planned for the people of faith. The fourteenth chapter makes it plain that when at last, the long‑expected onslaught takes place and Israel enters into the fire, some of the people are not delivered; they go into exile. That can only be because they are not the people of faith. They have yielded their devotion and efforts to the service of idol gods, and to their idol gods they will be abandoned.

(To be continued)