Bible Commentary: Zechariah 12

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Zechariah 12

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All Nations to Come Against Jerusalem

Chapter 12 begins the final oracle in the book of Zechariah. Verse 1 in the New King James Version refers to it as the burden of the word of the Lord “ against  Israel,” but this is evidently an inaccurate translation. The King James Version and J.P. Green’s Literal Translation both have “ for  Israel.” The New International Version has “ concerning  Israel.” While there is mention of punishment to come on Israel and Judah in this section, the primary focus is obviously on their deliverance and judgment being visited on the nations.

The prophecies in chapters 12-14 for the most part concern the end time. Of the 18 occurrences in the last two oracles of the phrase “in that day”—referring to the future Day of the Lord—16 appear in the second oracle. Monumental, earth-shaking events are depicted in this section. At the outset, God is declared to be the great Creator—both of the physical universe and the spiritual component in human beings (Zechariah 12:1 Zechariah 12:1The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, said the LORD, which stretches forth the heavens, and lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.
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). It is He who is able to bring these awesome, civilization-altering events to pass.

God says that Jerusalem will be as a cup of wine or strong drink causing drunkenness to all surrounding peoples (verses 2-3). Perhaps this implies national enemies being totally irrational about trying to control the city, as is certainly the case today. Yet the cup is also a metaphor for God’s wrath, as would-be conquerors are turned into reeling and collapsing men, incoherent and confused as if drunk (compare Isaiah 51:17 Isaiah 51:17Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which have drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; you have drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.
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, Isaiah 51:22 Isaiah 51:22Thus said your Lord the LORD, and your God that pleads the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; you shall no more drink it again:
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; Jeremiah 13:13 Jeremiah 13:13Then shall you say to them, Thus said the LORD, Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land, even the kings that sit on David’s throne, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness.
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; Jeremiah 25:15-28 Jeremiah 25:15-28 15 For thus said the LORD God of Israel to me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it. 16 And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them. 17 Then took I the cup at the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to drink, to whom the LORD had sent me: 18 To wit, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and the kings thereof, and the princes thereof, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, an hissing, and a curse; as it is this day; 19 Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants, and his princes, and all his people; 20 And all the mingled people, and all the kings of the land of Uz, and all the kings of the land of the Philistines, and Ashkelon, and Azzah, and Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod, 21 Edom, and Moab, and the children of Ammon, 22 And all the kings of Tyrus, and all the kings of Zidon, and the kings of the isles which are beyond the sea, 23 Dedan, and Tema, and Buz, and all that are in the utmost corners, 24 And all the kings of Arabia, and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the desert, 25 And all the kings of Zimri, and all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes, 26 And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world, which are on the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them. 27 Therefore you shall say to them, Thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Drink you, and be drunken, and spew, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you. 28 And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at your hand to drink, then shall you say to them, Thus said the LORD of hosts; You shall certainly drink.
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; Jeremiah 51:7 Jeremiah 51:7Babylon has been a golden cup in the LORD’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad.
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; Ezekiel 23:33 Ezekiel 23:33You shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of astonishment and desolation, with the cup of your sister Samaria.
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; Revelation 14:10 Revelation 14:10The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
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; Revelation 16:19 Revelation 16:19And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
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). The next several verses of Zechariah 12 make it clear that this is exactly what is going to happen.

What is the time frame of the siege of Judah and Jerusalem described here? After Zechariah wrote, the next time the land of Judah would experience invasion and siege was during the time of the Seleucid Greek rulers of Syria. The Jews under the Maccabees would eventually succeed in pushing the Seleucids out. And it could be that the prophecy referred in small measure to those events. Yet the circumstances of those events were vastly different than the details given in the prophecy. “The fact is, no such coalition of nations (not even in the Roman war of the first century) against Israel has ever occurred in the past” (Charles Feinberg,  The Minor Prophets , p. 330). Like most of the rest of this section, this prophecy is for the future—to be fulfilled “in that day” (verse 4), the Day of the Lord. The mention of “all peoples” here (verse 3) corresponds to God bringing “all nations” down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat in Joel 3:1-2 Joel 3:1-2 1 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.
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. They will come to fight against the returning Jesus Christ—and will suffer utter defeat.

In the final battle, God says He “will strike every horse with confusion, and its rider with madness…every horse of the peoples with blindness” (Zechariah 12:4 Zechariah 12:4In that day, said the LORD, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open my eyes on the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness.
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). Seeming to parallel this, Zechariah 14:13-15 Zechariah 14:13-15 13 And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the LORD shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor. 14 And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance. 15 And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague.
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tells us that God will send a “great panic” among the attacking nations, causing them to slaughter one another in the ensuing confusion. While there may well be cavalry in the final battle over Jerusalem, perhaps horses in the end-time setting of Zechariah 12:4 Zechariah 12:4In that day, said the LORD, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open my eyes on the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness.
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refers more broadly to military vehicles. In the context of modern warfare, “blindness” and “confusion” among tanks and other war vehicles could perhaps refer to electronic sensors and guidance systems malfunctioning—leading to a flurry of “friendly fire incidents” sparking uncontrolled infighting. Of course, God can use other supernatural means to turn His enemies against one another—just as He did to ancient gentile forces that came against Judah in the days of Kings Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah (see 2 Chronicles 20; 2 Kings 18-19)

A remnant of Judah, rising from the oppression of the Great Tribulation, will be miraculously invigorated. Even though Jerusalem will have been occupied by enemy forces from the beginning of the Tribulation period, it is evident from Zechariah 12 that the Jews will retake the city and its surrounding territory shortly before Christ’s return—perhaps when forces of the end-time Beast power depart from Jerusalem to meet the Eastern forces arriving at Armageddon (Mount Megiddo) in northern Israel (see Revelation 16:12-16 Revelation 16:12-16 12 And the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. 15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. 16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
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).

God says He will make Judah’s leaders “like a firepan in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves” (Zechariah 12:6 Zechariah 12:6In 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 in her own place, even in Jerusalem.
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)—that is, “a firepan used to carry hot coals for the purpose of starting a fire, and…a fiery torch that could quickly ignite a field of cut grain” ( Nelson Study Bible , note on verse 6). The Living Bible paraphrases verse 6 this way: “In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a little fire that sets the forests aflame—like a burning match among the sheaves; they will burn up all the neighboring nations right and left.” This ties back to the prophecies in Zechariah 9:13-15 Zechariah 9:13-15 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. 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. 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.
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and Zechariah 10:3 Zechariah 10:3My anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts has visited his flock the house of Judah, and has made them as his goodly horse in the battle.
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and verse 5 of God using Ephraim and Judah to fight their enemies at Christ’s return—as well as the very clear statement in Zechariah 14:14 Zechariah 14:14And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance.
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: “Judah also will fight at Jerusalem” (see also Isaiah 41:14-15 Isaiah 41:14-15 14 Fear not, you worm Jacob, and you men of Israel; I will help you, said the LORD, and your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 Behold, I will make you a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: you shall thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shall make the hills as chaff.
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; Micah 4:13 Micah 4:13Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs brass: and you shall beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain to the LORD, and their substance to the Lord of the whole earth.
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; Jeremiah 51:20-24 Jeremiah 51:20-24 20 You are my battle ax and weapons of war: for with you will I break in pieces the nations, and with you will I destroy kingdoms; 21 And with you will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with you will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider; 22 With you also will I break in pieces man and woman; and with you will I break in pieces old and young; and with you will I break in pieces the young man and the maid; 23 I will also break in pieces with you the shepherd and his flock; and with you will I break in pieces the farmer and his yoke of oxen; and with you will I break in pieces captains and rulers. 24 And I will render to Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, said the LORD.
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). Of course, deliverance will come through the Lord Himself arriving to destroy His people’s enemies (Zechariah 12:7-9 Zechariah 12:7-9 7 The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah. 8 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. 9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
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).

Verses 7-9 are quite remarkable in that they mention the “house of David” as a recognizable factor in the end time. This refers not to the Messiah (the returning Lord Himself), but to human beings in need of His deliverance and salvation. The dynasty of David did not end with the death of Jeconiah and Zedekiah in Babylon. Rather, it has continued through human rulers over the people of Ephraim in Great Britain. (To learn more about this, refer to our free online publication The Throne of Britain: Its Biblical Origin and Future .)

According to verse 8, “every ability will be enhanced, so the least individual will be like the undefeated warrior, David, and the royal line like the Angel of the Lord [here clearly equated with God]…. While the hyperbole is intended to emphasize God’s enablement, it may have prophetic significance, for Christ, David’s descendant, is also the Lord” (Lawrence Richards,  The Bible Reader’s Companion , note on verse 8).

Mourning Over the Pierced One

Verse 10 makes the end-time context of the events of the chapter clear. It is the time of the pouring out of God’s Spirit—starting with the people of Judah. “The prophet sets forth, as nowhere else in Scripture with such vividness and power, the conversion of Israel to the Lord. Nothing in Israel’s past history can be interpreted as the fulfillment of this passage. In that coming day of Israel’s national atonement, the Lord will pour upon the royal house and all who dwell in Jerusalem, then throughout the whole nation, the spirit of grace and supplication” (Feinberg, p. 332).

Of that time, the Lord makes this incredible statement: “They will look on [or ‘to’] Me whom they pierced.”  The Expositor’s Bible Commentary  states: “The most common meaning of the Hebrew preposition translated ‘on’ is ‘to’ (NIV mg.), and there is no good contextual reason to depart from it here. The emphasis, then, is not on looking ‘on’ (or ‘at’) the Messiah literally but on [at last] looking ‘to’ the Messiah in faith (cf. Numbers 21:9; Isaiah 45:22 Isaiah 45:22Look to me, and be you saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
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; John 3:14-15 John 3:14-15 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
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)” (note on Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah 12:10And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
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). Yet it could well be “on,” especially given the specific reference to this time in Revelation 1:7 Revelation 1:7Behold, he comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
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: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.”

Regarding the pierced Messiah, Zechariah says of the people of Judah, “Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” They will finally realize what God meant through David in prophesying, “They pierced My hands and My feet” (Psalms 22:16 Psalms 22:16For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
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)—that is, the nailing of the Messiah to the cross as part of His atoning suffering and death. They will at last recognize that Jesus Christ was indeed the true Messiah—that the very One they worshiped as God was made flesh and that His flesh was pierced with scourge, thorns, nails and spear for the sake of their sins and those of all humanity.

Early on the Jews understood the Pierced One here as a messianic designation, yet they found it difficult to reconcile with other messianic references to the coming conquering King. “The Talmud pronounces peace upon one who refers the passage to [the supposed] Messiah the son of Joseph, yet to be slain. The theory of two Messiahs, one to die and one to reign, is an invention of the rabbis without foundation in Scripture to explain the passages which present the Messiah as suffering and as ruling. The answer is to be found in the two advents [comings] of the one Messiah, as proved by this very passage under consideration. It is not some unknown martyr of whom Zechariah is speaking but of the coming Messiah Himself. The oldest interpreters of the passage, both Jewish and Christian, so understood it” (Feinberg, p. 333).

Sadly, “Jewish commentators [now] often regard this as a corporate reference to the Jews killed in the defense of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:1-9 Zechariah 12:1-9 1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, said the LORD, which stretches forth the heavens, and lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. 2 Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling to all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. 3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. 4 In that day, said the LORD, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open my eyes on the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness. 5 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. 6 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 in her own place, even in Jerusalem. 7 The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah. 8 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. 9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
American King James Version×
)” ( Nelson Study Bible , note on verse 10). That is, “they will look to Me whom they pierced” is reinterpreted to mean “they will look to Me  about those  whom they [the enemy] pierced.” The Jewish Tanakh says, “They shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them as over a favorite son…” This alteration is a rather convenient way of sidestepping the whole issue. Interestingly, the Tanakh has a footnote on this verse stating, “Meaning of Heb[rew] uncertain.” One day these Hebrew speakers will understand what their own language is telling them here. And when they do, they will greatly mourn over their failure to recognize their Messiah sooner and over their sins, which necessitated His atoning death.

The reference to the prior “mourning at Haddad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo” (verse 11) is uncertain.  The Expositor’s Bible Commentary  takes “Hadad-Rimmon as a place name (containing the names of ancient Semitic fertility gods) near Megiddo. So understood, the simile in v. 11 refers to the people of this town mourning the death of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:20-27 2 Chronicles 35:20-27 20 After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Charchemish by Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him. 21 But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with you, you king of Judah? I come not against you this day, but against the house with which I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear you from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy you not. 22 Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and listened not to the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo. 23 And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded. 24 His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchers of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. 25 And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spoke of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations. 26 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his goodness, according to that which was written in the law of the LORD, 27 And his deeds, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.
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; see v. 22 there for the plain of Megiddo and v. 24 for the mourning)” (note on Zechariah 12:11 Zechariah 12:11In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon.
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). Feinberg agrees: “The calamity referred to was Pharaoh-Necho’s slaying of the godly Josiah, the only ray of hope of the nation between Hezekiah and the fall of the Jewish nation…. Even Jeremiah wrote special dirges for the occasion” (p. 333). This seems rather likely, especially given that 2 Chronicles 35:25 2 Chronicles 35:25And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spoke of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations.
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says that mourning over Josiah became “a custom in Israel”—perhaps one that was still known in Zechariah’s day.

As in the former occasion, the whole nation will suffer intense sorrow and grief. The mention of the house of David alongside the house of Nathan is interesting. Judah’s kings were of the line of David’s son Solomon. Yet it is from David’s younger son Nathan that Jesus Christ came. Perhaps the idea is that all the families of David, from the highest to the lowest, will mourn. Again, this means that there will be a recognizable Davidic royal family to speak of at the time of Christ’s return. Listed next, “the house of Levi speaks of the priestly family; Shimei was of the family of Gershon, son of Levi (Numbers 3:17-18 Numbers 3:17-18 17 And these were the sons of Levi by their names; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari. 18 And these are the names of the sons of Gershon by their families; Libni, and Shimei.
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, 21). Different priestly classes are comprehended here. The leaders, who are pointed out, and the common people of the land will engage together in the lamentation, each in his individual place” (p. 334).

Note the mourning of each family “by itself, and their wives by themselves” (Zechariah 12:13-14 Zechariah 12:13-14 13 The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; 14 All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.
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). “These words are quoted in the Talmud as an argument for separating men and women in worship. But the verse seems to [simply] indicate that each mourner will face his or her sorrow alone, without the comfort of companionship” ( Nelson , note on verses 12-14). Feinberg correctly notes: “The prophet means that the mourning will be so intense as to transcend even the closest ties of earth, those between husband and wife. Each will want to be alone with God in that hour” (p. 334). And in the face of this great and heartfelt repentance, God, in His great mercy, will pardon the transgression of His people. Indeed, their contrition of spirit is actually from Him. As He stated up front in verse 10, this is not a time of condemnation, but rather the awesome pouring out on His people of His wonderful Spirit of grace. We will see more about this in the next chapter.

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