Zechariah Chapter Nine
Secular Events Affecting The Yishuv in Nations Round About During the Golden Age and Reaching to Messiah's Coming
This chapter seems, on first sight, to be curiously placed in a book about both short and long term restorations of Israel. But after further consideration it falls in place splendidly. The first eight chapters of the prophecy deal primarily with the restoration of the Temple and the literal Jewish nation with incidental mention of the Messianic age in mystical references. In contrast, chapters 11 through 14, which contains the remainder of the book except for this chapter and chapter 10, deal primarily with the future advent of the Messiah and the call of Israel into the Messianic kingdom. Chapter 10 deals mostly with predictions of the growing "yishuv" after the death of Zechariah and therefore is a link between the former and latter sections mentioned here.
Although there is also a Messianic prophecy in this chapter in verses nine through twelve, it seems out of place and its presence can only be accounted for by the "infinite" slipping into these attempts to see the imminent future, or perhaps because all the nations surrounding Judea are mentioned. It seems out of place because this chapter is primarily about secular events in the world which affect the "yishuv" in the period before the coming of the Messiah but after the Temple is restored and the nation is reestablished. Some of these events, future to Zechariah, are also foretold in other prophetic books. Ezekiel described the fall of Tyre before it happened. His prophecy sees the destruction of Tyre both by the Babylonians and the later destruction by Alexander the Great, which is that which is also described here in Zechariah in verses three through eight. Zechariah also sees the later revolt of the Jews against the Greeks in the days of the Macabbees in verses thirteen through sixteen. Daniel records the same event in details so complete that skeptical (read "unbelieving") scholars deny the authenticity of the book of Daniel. It is prophecies like these that supply additional confirmation to the miraculous truth of the Scriptures. Zechariah calls the participants in these events by their historical names before they happened.
Zec. 9:1 The burden of the word of the LORD in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the LORD.
There would be more than one event that might be a judgement against Damascus during the days of Judah's uneventful Golden Age. Judah dwelt in relative safety, not so Damascus. Judah was spared by Alexander's armies when they came. Damascus was devastated.
Zec. 9:2 And Hamath also shall border thereby; Tyre, and Sidon, though it be very wise. 9:3 And Tyre built herself a strong hold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets. 9:4 Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and he will strike her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire.
The history of the destruction of Tyre is well known, having been recorded by several of Alexander's biographers. The city had actually been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and afterward rebuilt. The rebuilding was done offshore using some of the rubble of the destroyed city to make an island on a smaller outcropping about one mile in the sea. The city was a stronghold indeed. It is reported to have had walls 150 feet above the water line! It should have been impregnable. Arrian described how Alexander at first failed in his sea assault to breach the walls.* He then set his men to work gathering the remaining rubble of the old city, which was the ruins left by Nebuchadnezzar centuries before, and casting it into the sea to make a causeway from the shore to the city in the midst of the sea.** The building of the causeway was finally accomplished and the walls breached and the city burned. The overthrow of Tyre was complete.
* Arrian II:15-24; Arrian says that Alexander would not accept the Tyrian offer to capitulate but allow no Macedonian into the city. He could not enter Egypt safely with the Persian fleet in the hands of the unoccupied city of Tyre in his rear. Thus the siege was long and difficult. Many lost their lives at sea; 8,000 of Tyre were killed in the last assault alone and 30,000 sold into slavery. The city was then burned and systematically dismantled. ** This causeway has captured silt and sand and is now, with the former island, a peninsula.Zec. 9:5 Ashkelon shall see it, and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited.
This speaks of the further results of the yet future campaign of Alexander the Great as he continued to pass south of Tyre toward Egypt. He consolidated his power in all these lands before the final overthrow of Persia. The events and results prerecorded here were temporary and were related only to that campaign. It affects the Jews because they are not mentioned in the suffering and incredibly were protected by God's providence in the event! All these places mentioned in verse five, as well as Tyre, are adjacent to the nation of the Jews. These other cities suffered in Alexander's campaign both on his entrance into and exit from Egypt. It is a fact of great interest that the Jews were spared and favored by Alexander the Great. His interaction with the Jewish nation and visit to Jerusalem and the great favor he showed to them is recorded by Josephus.*
* Josephus Antiq. XI:8.
Zec. 9:6 And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. 9:7 And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remains, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.
This continues judgments on these surrounding nations in the time of Alexander and implies that Jews will have a positive spiritual and moral influence on Alexander, the one who is passing by.
Zec. 9:8 And I will encamp about my house because of the army, because of him that passes by, and because of him that returns: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now I have seen with my eyes.
Alexander did not attack the Jews when he passed into Egypt and neither did he attack on his return. On the contrary he visited Jerusalem and treated the High Priest with uncommon respect. Jerusalem is promised in this verse that God himself would protect the nation from the armies of Alexander.
Special divine protection for the Temple of the Jews is promised as the torch of government was passed from Persian to Greek. Josephus records just such an anomaly. Alexander asked for and received a blessing from the High Priest and did not enter the Temple. No further oppressors came against the Jews as a result of Alexander's campaign. In fact the successor, Ptolemy Lagos, treated Jews with favor and initiated the translation, called the Septuagint, of the Jewish Scriptures into Greek.
Messianic Promise of the Humble King
The insertion of a Messianic promise in this spot is not as easy to understand as other places where it happens. There is actually no answer as to why it is inserted here in the middle of prophecies about the Greeks. The prophecy about the Greek-led destruction of Tyre has just been completed in verse eight. This Messianic prophecy then extends from verse nine through verse twelve and is loaded with bristling visions of the coming of the Messiah and his impact on the lost and residents of Sheol! Then Zechariah returns, in verse thirteen, to the Greeks again and the wars they will fight against the "yishuv." What an extraordinary chapter!
There is one other reason however that would call forth the extraordinary messianic prophecy in this section. Alexander the Great was received like a hero by the population of Jerusalem. According to Josephus, many Jewish youths joined Alexander's armies for further conquest. Jews were favored by Alexander and he recruited Jewish merchants to be in charge of the mercantile relations of his burgeoning empire. Thus the handsome and flamboyant Alexander had great appeal to the Jewish nation. Is there the possibility that he might be mistaken for the Messiah? If there were, the contrast is given here to correct that possibility. Alexander is great, "but behold your king comes," humble riding on an ass's colt. The contrast and need to head off a premature mistake may be the reason for the inclusion of the prophecy at this point. The prophecy here announces that Alexander is not to be mistaken for the Messiah.
Zec. 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your King comes to you; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass.
"Riding on an ass." Hebrew "chamor," , a male. "A colt the foal of an ass." Hebrew "a'yir ben 'atonoth," . "A'yir," , is a young male ass; "'atonoth," , is a female ass. The prophecy is very specific. The colt Jesus rode was a male.
Zec. 9:10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the heathen; and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.
"Cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem." This is in a Messianic prophecy and can only be fulfilled after the coming of the Messiah. The chariot as a symbol of armed might must have reference to the loss of the literal political authority of the natural kingdom of Judah by the Messianic kingdom. The horses of Jerusalem are mentioned in 12:10 but there they are horses of Judah and are attacking Jerusalem. This imagery, introduced for the first time, cannot be satisfactorily explained except where there are fuller descriptions given. This will be the subject of Chapter 12 where this image will become much plainer. That is, how the strongest natural authorities, expressed here by "horses of Jerusalem" and "chariots of Ephraim" will be cut off by God or the Messiah, either of which the text would allow.
"Speak peace to the heathen." This marks this as a Messianic prophecy so there is no doubt that he has not yet slipped back to the Golden Age of the "yishuv" during which the rest of the chapter is fulfilled. This is still in the Messianic excursus.
Zec. 9:11 As for you also, by the blood of your covenant I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. 9:12 Turn you to the strong hold, you prisoners of hope; even today do I declare that I will render double to you.
"Blood of your covenant." I can hardly keep from exclaiming "what a verse!" Messiah's blood is to send forth the prisoners from their prison. Would John the Baptist have asked the same question that he did if he had the same hindsight that we have? "Are you the one coming or do we look for another?" If we know the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the results of the earth moving, epoch making, and continuing impact of the events of his life and death, why would we look for another to match the predictions of his coming?
"Prisoners of the Pit." We are all potential children of Hell. He has released us from the penalty of sin. He has released us from that penalty and we now hope in the resurrection of the dead by which hope we are held prisoner until he appears the second time.
"Render double." The promise of the double portion which is due the firstborn is meant by this promise. Christians are called first born ones in Heb. 13:23.
Zechariah now ends his parenthetical excursion into the Messianic mystery and returns to the Greeks, more precisely, to the war of the Greeks against the "yishuv."
Zec. 9:13 When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim, and raised up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and made you as the sword of a mighty man.
"Bent Judah...filled the bow with Ephraim." This is the key that he is speaking of the restored "yishuv" which is the nation of Judah with the remnants of the rest of the tribes, here called Ephraim, joined with him in battle against the Greeks. (See notes on 10:6,7 and Chapter VII.)
"Zion" is the symbol of the nation at its idealistic best. It is also a picture of Messiah's kingdom and will be enlarged on in greater detail below. Zion, the nation, is the restoration of all the twelve tribes. It also represents the "True Church," the mother of all the spiritually reborn. The nation of Judah, called here Zion, during the Golden Age and at the time of the attack by the Greeks was still the "apple of His eye."
From the time of the return from Babylon until the coming of Jesus there is only one foe the returned Jews would have to fight in a major war. The Jews were led by the Macabbees, and Zechariah foresees that their enemies will be the Greeks! What incredible foresight that can only be the result of the Almighty God who announced this coming event to Zechariah. This would be over 300 years in the future, after Zechariah, and would close that period of unchronicaled silence and open the nation to historical scrutiny again. The period of peaceful isolation will then be over. The end of the Golden Age! The nation was attacked by the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who was bent on Hellenizing the Jewish nation. The High Priest defected to the Greeks and the Temple daily sacrifice was stopped for three years and ten days. This rebellion of the Jewish province of the Greek Empire resulted in the establishment of an independent Jewish state for the first time since 606 B.C.E. The independence would only be held for about seventy years by entering a mutual assistance treaty with the Romans who warned the Greeks not to fight Israel, now the "Friend of Rome." In the following verses God's protection of the "yishuv" during the Macabbean revolt is described. (For the further history of events from this period see chapter XXX of this book.
Zec. 9:14 And the LORD shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord GOD shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south. 9:15 The LORD of hosts shall defend them; and they shall devour, and subdue with sling stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar. 9:16 And the LORD their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people; for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land.
These verses remove any doubt that the Jews were the special people of God at the time of the Macabbean revolt. If you can compare the unlimited resources of the Selucid Greek empire with the rag-tag Jewish guerilla forces then you would be assured that there was no way that Israel (Judah) could have defeated many Greek armies in many battles with untrained Levites, and broken loose to maintain an independent Jewish state for one hundred years in the shadow of Antioch, without the special protection of the God who favored them as His special people. Perhaps this is the reason for the Messianic picture in the middle of this chapter. He was there in Spirit in the Macabbean revolt to protect his own.
Zec. 9:17 For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.
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