Zechariah, Prophet of the Restoration
11. Prelude to the Great Day
The last three chapters of Zechariah’s prophecy tell the story of the end of this Age. They commence with the rumblings of the coming conflict, the confusion of nations in their hostility to Israel and the incoming Kingdom. They go on to tell of Israel’s growing awareness of her Divinely ordained destiny and the development of a “remnant” which will be faithful to God through the fiery trials which lie ahead; of the emergence of new leaders, stalwarts of olden time returned to rule in righteousness during and after the crisis; of God’s promise that He will surely defend Jerusalem. A spirit of grace and supplication begins to become manifest among the people, a recognition of their past national failure to accept and believe on Christ, culminating in a campaign against the modern political idolatry which will still have great influence in affairs.
Nevertheless the nation as a whole is not yet truly converted; some there are who face the coming crisis with apprehension and unbelief and some, perhaps, who are in the land only for the material prosperity it brings them and not by reason of any real faith in the Divine purposes. These will be purged out, cut off from the land, exiled, when the test of faith is applied. But a loyal section remains, steadfast while the enemy advances, and at that moment Divine power is manifested for deliverance. The 14th chapter tells in detail of that final phase, when the forces of unrighteousness meet head-on with the powers of Heaven and are destroyed. So the story closes. God’s earthly “people for a purpose”, the “Holy Nation”, is standing secure among the nations and ready to embark upon its destined mission, that of proclaiming God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.
Verse 1 of chapter 12 is an introduction to the momentous happenings of chaps.12 and 13, covering the preliminary events of the period immediately preceding the dramatic moment when God rises up to deliver Jerusalem. It is important to realise that these three chapters do cover happenings occurring over a period of time; the gathering of the nations against Jerusalem and the fiery trial into which the people enter and from which only the faithful “remnant” emerge is not the work of a moment. Many distinct and varied factors enter into the sequence of events which characterises Israel’s history at the end of the Age and they have to be viewed in their proper relation one to another. Hence the solemnity of this introductory verse. “An Oracle” says the RSV “The word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus says the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him”. It is a strange verse, seemingly having little bearing upon the prophetic statement which follows, and yet, of course, it is vitally connected. The predominant theme of these three chapters is the all-pervading power of God, and His absolute supremacy over this earth that He has created and the men thereon to whom He has given life. In these three chapters the armed might of this world’s evil is brought to a focus and launched against the earthly citadel of God’s holiness, and is utterly broken. Nothing in all the earth can stand against God when He rises up to act. Hence it is fitting that right at the outset He declares himself the One who brought heaven and earth into being and made men to have the powers they possess. And having thus stated the fact, God goes on to declare His intention. “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem” (v.2). The “cup of trembling” is a figure of speech used several times in the O.T. (see Psa.75:8 and Isa.51:21-22); it is the cup of wine put into the hands of an enemy to cause stupefaction and confusion, and so assist the ease with which that enemy can be repulsed and defeated. This is what Jerusalem (a figure for all Israel) is to become to the nations. During the whole of a century that has been true. Since 1917, when General Allenby captured Jerusalem and liberated the land from Turkish control, the consequent political problems have been a source of stupefaction and confusion to the world’s politicians. And the problem has grown worse with time. “On that day” God says “I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it shall grievously hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will come together against it” (ch.12:3 RSV). The word for “grievously hurt” means to be cut and lacerated by a burden too heavy to hold; how true it has been that in these latter years every political power which concerns itself with the problem of Israel finds it one that is “too hot to hold”, to use our modern colloquialism.
The expression “come together against it” seemingly refers to the gradual hardening of opinion against Israel typical of the present time. Judah and Jerusalem are associated together in the crisis and, later on, in the deliverance, this being the implication of the phrase in verse 2. Why it should be thought necessary to stress this fact when it would normally be expected that Judah, the land, would naturally share the fate of the capital city Jerusalem might be thought rather strange, but it may be because in the historic invasion of Judah by Sennacherib two centuries or so before the time of Zechariah Judah was desolated whilst Jerusalem was delivered, and since that invasion was evidently the background against which Zechariah’s presentation is set there might be an indication here that in this particular detail the reality does not correspond with the background. Three times in the narrative it is made plain that Judah and Jerusalem come through the crisis together.
Verse 4 pictures the next development in the situation among the nations. The Lord will “smite every horse with panic” (not “astonishment” as A.V.) “and his rider with madness, and…every horse of the people with blindness”. Horses in prophecy are metaphors for the military might of nations; the well-known passage in Isa.31:1-3 is a good example of this. Blindness, madness, panic; surely these are the characteristics manifest in the policies of the nations in their dealings with the “Middle East” problem today. That which commenced with the cup of stupefaction, becoming a burdensome stone which lacerates all who pick it up, develops finally into complete failure to apprehend the true nature of what is happening, that the Most High is preparing the way for his intervention in the affairs of earth. Blindness, madness and panic is a very late stage in the period of preparation for the last siege of Jerusalem.
Now the workings of God begin to become outwardly evident. At this point, when blindness, madness and panic begins to grip the nations, “I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah” says the Lord “and the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God. In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again” (ch.12:4-6). This is a most remarkable statement, for it speaks of a time in the end of the Age, prior to the deliverance of Israel and therefore prior to the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom, when the leaders of Israel avow their own faith and the faith of their people in God. “Our strength” say these governors “is not in the arm of flesh nor in carnal weapons, but in God”. This implies an awakening of faith in the nation, a beginning of that turning to God which blossoms into fulness at the time of the actual deliverance. At this moment God has opened his eyes upon the house of Judah and some have responded.
Who are the governors? These are political leaders of a new kind, for none of today’s statesmen, even those of present-day Israel would adopt so hazardous a policy as faith in Divine protection, and neither would their peoples. These governors are men of God, raised up from some totally unexpected source. There is good reason for the conclusion that they are none other than the promised heroes of Old Testament days, the “Ancient Worthies”, restored from the dead to lead the nation into the Kingdom. If this in fact be so then the chapter has already carried us to a stage in the events of the end of the Age very near to the final act, the consummation when Divine power is employed to bring the kingdoms of this world to their end and establish the earthly Kingdom of God in their place. By that time the “change” of the Church will have taken place and the work of the Messianic Age be at the point of commencement.
The impact, upon mankind generally, of the advent of these governors will be tremendous. “Like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves” says the RSV, “they shall devour to the right and…left all the peoples round about, while Jerusalem shall still be inhabited in its place” (ch.12:6). This verse is so momentous that it needs to be viewed in correct relation to the rest of the narrative with some care. It has its place prior to the active intervention of God to save the city at the critical moment; the influence of the “governors” is felt among the nations for a little while before, and it is a consuming influence. It is almost as if the battle commences and rages for some time before God steps in, and during that time the burden of defence rests upon the governors and the nature of that defence is indicated in this verse. Something of this kind appears to be demanded by the more detailed narrative of chapter 14 where the siege continues with sundry losses to Israel but without harming the faithful remnant, until, after the nation has been purged of its apostates who then go into exile, the time of actual Divine intervention comes and the city is saved.
“The LORD will give victory to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not be exalted over that of Judah” (ch.12:7 RSV). The expression “tents of Judah” really denotes the dwelling places of the ordinary populace of the land—derived from Israel’s early experiences at the Exodus; “tents” became a term throughout the Old Testament for homes, whether temporary or permanent. There is a contrast here between the people of the land generally and the “upper crust” of society concentrated in the city and the king’s court. Many of the invasions of Old Testament times saw the country dwellers despoiled and enslaved whilst the walled and defended city Jerusalem held out and escaped. There will be nothing like that in this battle of the Last Day.
The entire land is to be delivered from the invader; further, in order to intensify the fact that God is fighting for his covenant people as a whole and not just for a few elite, as it were, in the city, the countryside is to be first to experience deliverance, so that neither the royal ruling house of David nor the aristocracy of Jerusalem can claim priority of Divine favour over the masses of the people. The application of this symbolism to the time in question, when no Davidic kings rule nor is there any “aristocracy” element in restored Israel, is a little difficult to perceive. Perhaps it is intended to convey the idea that despite various vivid Old Testament pictures of the siege of Jerusalem, which from the literal viewpoint would involve the subjugation of the surrounding countryside, in this case the whole of the land of Israel is to be inviolate. It is certainly true that the siege of the city is just as truly a siege if the invaders are drawn up around the frontiers of the land instead of just outside the city walls and this would certainly be more appropriate to the idea of an entire nation awaiting the assault of the enemy in perfect trust in God and experiencing deliverance thereby.
“In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (ch.12:8-9).
This is the final stage. David of old was the champion of Israel; his exploits both as a “guerilla” fighter, as we would say, in his early days, and as a warrior king later on, made his name a legend. “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands” sang the maidens of Israel after one of his resounding victories. Even the weakest of the people “in that day” will be valiant as was David; not by dint of physical prowess in material warfare, but in the triumphs that faith will then bring. The house of David in ancient times was the ruling house, the royal family. “In that day” the ruling house will be the company of the resurrected Ancient Worthies and they truly will be “as God, as the angel of the Lord before them”. Just as the Angel of the Presence went before Israel in the days of the Exodus, guiding and protecting them, so will the men whom God has appointed prove themselves sure guides and strong defenders in Israel’s time of trial. So the Lord will defend his people and render ineffective all the assaults of their adversaries.
(to be continued)