Bible Commentary: Zechariah 13

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Zechariah 13

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Idolatry Cut Off; Shepherd Stricken and Sheep Scattered

The prophecy of chapter 13 continues right on from that of the previous chapter. The phrase “in that day” at the beginning of verse 1 shows that what is described here will accompany the events of chapter 12—that is, the return of Jesus Christ to defeat the enemies of Judah, the Jewish people’s recognition of Him as their Messiah and their heartfelt repentance over their sins. Verse 10 of chapter 12 explained that the “house of David and…the inhabitants of Jerusalem” would receive the “Spirit of grace and supplication.” They would beseech God in prayer for mercy and forgiveness.

Now, in verse 1 of chapter 13, we see what God will do in response. He again mentions the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying that a fountain will be opened for them “for sin and for uncleanness.” The fountain imagery shows that this provision for cleansing away sin will be abundant and overflowing. Some see the fountain as representative of the shed blood of the Messiah. Revelation 1:5 Revelation 1:5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
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says that Jesus “washed us from our sins in His own blood.” This atoning agent through which sin and uncleanness is forgiven will be opened to the entire nation of Israel at the time of Christ’s second coming. Yet the fountain could also signify the Word of God, as Jesus “gave Himself…that He might sanctify and cleanse [His people]…with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26 Ephesians 5:26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
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). Only after Christ’s return will Scripture truly be opened to the understanding of the Israelite nation as a whole—teaching them the way out of sin and uncleanness. Then again, the fountain could symbolize the Lord Himself as “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13 Jeremiah 2:13For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
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; Jeremiah 17:13 Jeremiah 17:13O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake you shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
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; see also Psalms 36:8-9 Psalms 36:8-9 8 They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house; and you shall make them drink of the river of your pleasures. 9 For with you is the fountain of life: in your light shall we see light.
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). The living waters in this figure depict the Holy Spirit, which will be given to Israel and then all nations to empower them to depart from the way of sin and uncleanness. Indeed, not only will the guilt of iniquity be expunged, but iniquity itself will be removed from the land—though not all at once of course and not entirely until all mankind is later glorified.

Zechariah 13:2 Zechariah 13:2And it shall come to pass in that day, said the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.
American King James Version×
states that God will cut off the names of the idols from the land so that they will no longer be remembered. This shows idolatry coming to an end. As noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Zechariah 10:2 Zechariah 10:2For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd.
American King James Version×
, idol worship was not a problem in Zechariah’s day. Yet God showed the prophet that it would yet be a problem among God’s people. This verse might also mean that the names of false gods will be removed from the language of the people. For instance, the fifth day of the week will no longer be called by the English name Thursday after the god Thor. A bowl of cereal will not be referred to as such, as the word comes from the Roman goddess Ceres. Even in Hebrew, the fourth month is named after the false Babylonian god Tammuz. This will apparently no longer be the case when God gives His people a “pure language” (Zephaniah 3:9 Zephaniah 3:9For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call on the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.
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).

God also says that He will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land (Zechariah 13:2 Zechariah 13:2And it shall come to pass in that day, said the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.
American King James Version×
). Prophets here evidently refers to  false  prophets, as God will still inspire human beings to proclaim His truth and even to have visions—indeed more at this time than in all history (see Joel 2:28 Joel 2:28And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
American King James Version×
). The term “unclean spirit,” used a number of times in the New Testament, occurs only here in the Old. This refers obviously to demons—the fallen angels behind much of false religion (see 1 Corinthians 10:20 1 Corinthians 10:20But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.
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). They and their leader Satan will be imprisoned at Christ’s return (see Revelation 20:1-3 Revelation 20:1-3 1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
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).

Any human beings who then lie in claiming to speak for God will face the death penalty (Zechariah 13:3 Zechariah 13:3And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say to him, You shall not live; for you speak lies in the name of the LORD: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.
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). “In that future day, if anyone dares to utter false prophecies (‘lies,’ v. 3), his own parents—in obedience to Deuteronomy 13:6-9 Deuteronomy 13:6-9 6 If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend, which is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known, you, nor your fathers; 7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, near to you, or far off from you, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; 8 You shall not consent to him, nor listen to him; neither shall your eye pity him, neither shall you spare, neither shall you conceal him: 9 But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first on him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
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—will take the lead in executing him [though apparently not by stoning as in ancient Israel]. The Hebrew for ‘stab’ [in the NIV and ‘thrust…through’ in the NKJV] is the same verb as ‘pierced’ in [Zechariah] 12:10, thus indicating that the feelings and actions shown in piercing the Messiah will be directed toward the false prophets” ( Expositor’s Bible Commentary , note on 13:2-3).

Those who were false prophets before—including the false preachers of nominal Christianity—will cast off their religious-looking garb. Out of fear of humiliation and punishment, they will seek to hide their past occupation by claiming to be average, everyday workmen from their youth (verses 4-5).

Verse 6 is understood by most commentators to refer to the former false prophets lying about how they received ritual, self-inflicted wounds, such as those the prophets of Baal inflicted on themselves in the contest with Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:28 1 Kings 18:28And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out on them.
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). While possible, there is no mention of any self-inflicted wounds prior to this point in Zechariah 13—and it seems a stretch to bring them into the account. In fact, it is just an assumption that the wounds of verse 6 are self-inflicted. It is also only an assumption that the description of where the wounds were received is a lie. Furthermore, given the end-time context of this prophecy, we should consider that false ministers do not typically cut themselves in religious ritual today.

A better explanation of this verse seems to be the minority opinion that this is a messianic reference—that the mention of wounds ties back 10 verses to the earlier appearance of the Pierced One in 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.
American King James Version×
(and that the verses in between, 12:11-13:5, are parenthetical). Such an interpretation creates a more logical segue to the certain messianic reference in verse 7.

Dr. Merrill Unger, author of  Unger’s Bible Dictionary , takes this view of verse 6 in his commentary on Zechariah: “The boldness and daring of this Messianic prophecy and the dramatic abruptness with which it is introduced have frightened most expositors away from its true import on the supposition that it is inseparably connected with verses 2-5, and therefore, still has the false prophet in mind, and [that] to introduce the Messiah is flagrantly to ignore the context. But…the context is not actually violated. The entire section 13:1-6 constitutes a prophecy of Israel’s national cleansing…. Verse 6 logically and forcefully presents the revelation of the Messiah as the cleanser from idolatry….

“The grammatical structure of verse 6 does not [rule out] a Messianic reference. While the…[‘ him ’ in the phrase] (‘Then some one will say to  him ‘) apparently refers to the same person (the false prophet) as in the preceding verse; yet grammatically  it may not , and the author may conceivably have another person in mind. That he  does  so and resumes the subject broached in 12:10 (‘They shall look unto me whom they pierced’) is suggested by the  evident connection between these two passages  (the intervening context being parenthetical…[describing] the effect of Israel’s exercising faith in the Pierced One)…. The prophetic Scriptures offer numerous illustrations of such extended parentheses….” ( Zechariah: Prophet of Messiah’s Glory , 1970, p. 228).

Unger further contends: “The verse [13:6], accordingly, is not united to what immediately precedes [it] (an  illustration  of the main subject), but to the main subject itself,  Him whom they pierced , for whom they are to mourn and by whom they are to be cleansed when they realize the wounds ‘between His hands’ [as the Hebrew literally reads], i.e., ‘in His hands,’ are those which He received on Golgotha’s cross.  The wounds in the hands  are thus in harmony with the piercing of 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.
American King James Version×
which  precedes  [13:6], and the smiting of the Good Shepherd, which  follows  [13:6]…. Unsuccessful attempts have been made to make  between thy hands mean something other than ‘in thy hands’—between the shoulders (Rashi), the breast between the hands (Wright), the breast or chest (Feinberg, who cites II Kings 9:24 as an analogous case…but II Kings 9:24 is ‘between the arms’ and is not the same as ‘between the hands’ ” (pp. 229-230).

In explaining the messianic interpretation of Zechariah 13:6 Zechariah 13:6And one shall say to him, What are these wounds in your hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.
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, Unger says that Jesus Christ “with infinite grace and majestic pathos will reply to the heart-rending cry of His repentant people,  with these I was wounded  {smitten}  in the house of my friends  ( me’ahavay , [literally] ‘in the house  of those who loved Me ‘). It is to be carefully observed He does  not  say, ‘With these I was wounded  by  those who loved Me,’ for this was not true. The Jewish leaders who [sought to] put Him to death, on the contrary, hated Him diabolically. [And the Romans who carried out the execution had no love for Him.] But it was dramatically, even pathetically true, that His wounds were those with which He was wounded  ‘in the house of  those who loved Him,’ for it was ‘the house of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ yes, of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Zechariah himself who loved Him, looked for Him, and foretold His coming. It was the house of Simeon, Anna, His own mother Mary who bore Him and tenderly nursed Him, of Joseph who lovingly provided for Him, and the house of Peter, James, and John, who although they denied and forsook Him in the hour of supreme trial, nevertheless passionately loved Him, despite their human failure and weakness” (p. 230).

Verse 7 brings us to the time of that trial. It explains how the Pierced One came to receive His wounds—a logical transition from verse 6 if that verse is understood in a messianic context. God the Father is now speaking of His Companion whom He has appointed Shepherd over His people. This is a clear reference to the Messiah, and Jesus specifically applied this verse to Himself (see Matthew 26:31 Matthew 26:31Then said Jesus to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
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). It may be shocking to read in Zechariah 13:7 Zechariah 13:7Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, said the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand on the little ones.
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that God actually commands the sword to strike the Messiah. Yet like Isaiah 53:10 Isaiah 53:10Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
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and the symbolism of Israel’s sacrificial system, this verse shows that the death of Jesus Christ was no accident but was divinely determined—even required—in His plan to redeem humanity from sin and its consequences (see also Acts 2:23 Acts 2:23Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
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).

“When the Shepherd is struck, the sheep (cf. 10:3, 9) are scattered, in fulfillment of the curses for covenant disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:64; Deuteronomy 29:24-25 Deuteronomy 29:24-25 24 Even all nations shall say, Why has the LORD done thus to this land? what means the heat of this great anger? 25 Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:
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)…. [One commentator] maintains that the thought is that the Lord ‘will scatter Israel or His nation by smiting the shepherd; that is to say, He will give it up to the misery and destruction to which a flock without a shepherd is exposed … The flock, which will be dispersed in consequence of the slaying of the shepherd, is the covenant nation…the flock which the shepherd in [Zechariah 11:4 Zechariah 11:4Thus said the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter;
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]…had to feed.’ This part of [chapter 13] v. 7 is quoted by Jesus not long before his arrest (Matthew 26:31 Matthew 26:31Then said Jesus to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
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; Mark 14:27 Mark 14:27And Jesus said to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.
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) and applied to the scattering of the apostles [on the night He was delivered over to the authorities] (Matthew 26:56 Matthew 26:56But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
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; Mark 14:50 Mark 14:50And they all forsook him, and fled.
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), but they are probably intended to serve as a type of the Diaspora [i.e., Dispersion or Scattering] that occurred [when the Romans invaded] in A.D. 70 and following [—the greatest fulfillment to come in the end time]. Some take ‘I will turn my hand against {or ‘on’ or ‘over’}’ in a negative sense, others in a positive one… [One commentator] strikes a balance: ‘For correction, but in mercy, ver[ses] 8, 9. Comp[are] Is[aiah 1:]25 [‘I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy’]. ‘The little ones’ are the remnant (vv. 8-9)” ( Expositor’s , note on Zechariah 13:7 Zechariah 13:7Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, said the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand on the little ones.
American King James Version×
).

The scattering of the national flock and the refining of the remnant is the subject of the next two verses—verses 8-9—which constitute the end of chapter 13. The Roman destruction of Judea in A.D. 70 may have been partially in view here. But the context of what follows in chapter 14 makes it clear that the end time is the primary setting. The “two thirds” and “one third” of 13:8 probably refers to parts of the entire national flock, including the northern tribes of Israel, not just Judah. The prophecy of this verse parallels that of Ezekiel 5, which shows that in the end time one third of the nation will die of famine and pestilence, one third will die from military weapons and one third will be taken into foreign captivity. (You may wish to review the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Ezekiel 5 at this point.)

At the end of Zechariah 13:8 Zechariah 13:8And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, said the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.
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, the phrase “one third shall be left in it” can be misleading, as it seems to imply that after two thirds of the people are killed, one third remains in the land (rather than going into captivity). Yet the phrase is better comprehended as “one third in it shall be left”—that is, one third of those who are in the land to start with will be left alive and not immediately killed (not that they will necessarily still be in the land). In verse 9, God says He will bring this remaining third through the fire—the fiery trial of the Great Tribulation. As Ezekiel 5 and other passages show, they will be taken into captivity. Yet of these, we learn elsewhere that only about a tenth will survive (see Amos 5:3 Amos 5:3For thus said the Lord GOD; The city that went out by a thousand shall leave an hundred, and that which went forth by an hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
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; Isaiah 6:11-13 Isaiah 6:11-13 11 Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 12 And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the middle of the land. 13 But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
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, Living Bible).

In the imagery of refining silver and gold through the smelting process, we see again the theme of God purging His people of iniquity—purifying them. And this process is not for the physical, national Israelites alone. The spiritual people of God, those of His Church, go through trials to produce patience and a perfected character (see James 1:2-4 James 1:2-4 2 My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
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). Indeed, similar language to that of Zechariah 13 is used of some of God’s spiritual people of the end time who will have to endure the suffering of the Great Tribulation. God tells them, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be [truly] rich” (Revelation 3:18 Revelation 3:18I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
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). Those of both national Israel and the Church who are purified during the Tribulation will in the end be part of the true people of God.

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