Bible Commentary: Zechariah 9:1-10:1

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Zechariah 9:1-10:1

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Prophecy Against Judah’s Neighbors

Chapters 9-14 of Zechariah contain two undated oracles. They may have been written years after chapters 1-8. Some have suggested a time in the prophet’s old age, perhaps later than the Persian conflict with Greece around 480 B.C. since Greece appears in this section as a dominant power—though this is not a requirement, as God well knew that Greece would emerge as such a power. The focus of this section of prophecy is predominantly on the end time, with 18 occurrences of the phrase “in that day.” And it is a heavily messianic section, referring to both the first and second comings of the Messiah.

Verses 1-2 of chapter 9 label the first oracle as a message against the land of Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre and Sidon (and verses 5-7 add the cities of Philistia). Hadrach was in Syria, “north of Hamath on the Orontes River, southwest of Aleppo” (The Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 1). Verses 3-4 describe destruction to come on Tyre, reminiscent of Ezekiel’s prophecies against Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28. As explained in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on those prophecies, destruction of both ancient Tyre and its end-time counterpart appears to be intended. The greatest ancient destruction of Tyre was accomplished by Alexander the Great—as the unwitting agent of God—when he rebuilt an ancient causeway out to the island fortress, breached its towering walls and set the city ablaze. And this was a forerunner of the destruction God will bring against end-time Tyre—that is, the global power bloc also referred to in prophecy as “Babylon the Great” (see Revelation 18).

Many see Zechariah 9:1-8 Zechariah 9:1-8 [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. [2] And Hamath also shall border thereby; Tyrus, and Zidon, though it be very wise. [3] And Tyrus did build herself a strong hold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets. [4] Behold, the LORD will cast her out, and he will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire. [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. [6] And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. [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. [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 have I seen with my eyes.
American King James Version×
as descriptive of Alexander’s march down the eastern Mediterranean coastline, as he subdued the Persian territories there. “His successes,” commentator Charles Feinberg states, “are recounted in verses 1-7, and verse 8 notes the deliverance of Jerusalem. After the Battle of Issus, Alexander quickly conquered Damascus, Sidon, Tyre (after seven months it was burned), Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron. The course of his victories in 332 BC was from northern Syria south by the valley of the Orontes River to Damascus, then along the Phoenician and Philistine coast” (The Minor Prophets, 1990, p. 314). This was more than a century after Zechariah lived.

Verses 5-6 says, “The king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited. A mixed race [‘bastard’ in the King James Version here is an inaccurate translation] shall settle in Ashdod.” In Alexander’s conquest, “Ashkelon lost its population, and Gaza was reduced after a siege of a few months…. Special mention is made by a contemporary of Alexander that the king of Gaza was brought alive to the conqueror after the city was taken; the satrap, or petty ‘king’ of the city, was bound to a chariot and dragged around the city to his death…. Ashdod was to lose its native population during this invasion, being replaced by a…mongrel people. It was Alexander’s policy to mingle different conquered peoples” (p. 316).

Notice that verse 1 mentioned the eyes of all people, especially “all the tribes of Israel” being on the Lord—that is, on Him carrying out His will against these nations. The scattered tribes of Israel, on the northern periphery of the Persian Empire, experienced a measure of liberation through the conquests of Alexander. Yet this could also signify all the Israelites of the end time witnessing the coming of the Lord to deliver them—as described later in the chapter (see verse 14).

Verse 7 describes the removal of unclean and idolatrous practices from the Philistines—and apparently their conversion, as their remnant will be for God. This will be fulfilled at the return of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that the earlier verses in this prophecy are likely dual—applying to both ancient and future times. Ekron, probably representative in verse 7 of all the Philistines who are left, “will be like the Jebusites [the former inhabitants of Jerusalem] in a good sense. When David conquered Jerusalem, he did not destroy the Jebusites; instead, they were absorbed into Judah (e.g., Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:16 2 Samuel 24:16And when the angel stretched out his hand on Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now your hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite.
American King James Version×
; 1 Chronicles 21:18 1 Chronicles 21:18Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar to the LORD in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
American King James Version×
). So it will be with a remnant of the Philistines” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, note on verses 5-7).

Verse 8 further shows the end-time element of this prophecy, as God promises to never again allow a foreign oppressor to tramp through His people’s land. Since the time of Alexander, other oppressors have clearly afflicted the people of God. So the prophecy must refer to the time beyond Christ’s return.

The Messiah’s First and Second Comings

Zechariah 9:9 Zechariah 9:9Rejoice 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.
American King James Version×
contains the prophecy of the saving Messiah arriving on the colt of a donkey. This was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on such a donkey colt a few days before His crucifixion (Matthew 21:2-7 Matthew 21:2-7 [2] Saying to them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway you shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them to me. [3] And if any man say ought to you, you shall say, The Lord has need of them; and straightway he will send them. [4] All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, [5] Tell you the daughter of Sion, Behold, your King comes to you, meek, and sitting on an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. [6] And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, [7] And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
American King James Version×
; John 12:12-15 John 12:12-15 [12] On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, [13] Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord. [14] And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, [15] Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, your King comes, sitting on an ass’s colt.
American King James Version×
). “The donkey was the mount of princes (Judges 5:10 Judges 5:10Speak, you that ride on white asses, you that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
American King James Version×
; Judges 10:4 Judges 10:4And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havothjair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead.
American King James Version×
; Judges 12:14 Judges 12:14And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on three score and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.
American King James Version×
) and kings (2 Samuel16:1-2)” (Nelson Study Bible, note on Zechariah 9:9 Zechariah 9:9Rejoice 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.
American King James Version×
). God had forbidden Israel’s kings from multiplying horses to themselves (Deuteronomy 17:16 Deuteronomy 17:16But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: for as much as the LORD has said to you, You shall from now on return no more that way.
American King James Version×
). Horses would have been a symbol of exaltation and conquest. Notice that Zechariah 9:10 Zechariah 9:10And 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 to the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.
American King James Version×
shows horses and chariots as war implements. The donkey was to symbolize humility and peace—and Israel’s anointed kings were to represent the future Messiah who would humble Himself in the cause of ultimate peace.

Yet Jesus’ first coming is not the primary focus of the remainder of the chapter. Verse 10 will not be fulfilled until Christ’s second coming. Note the reference to Ephraim, as representative of the northern tribes. The end of the verse describes the Messiah’s global dominion. In the remaining verses, we see that God will deliver His people.

Yet though Christ speaks peace to the nations (verse 10)—and indeed has done so through Scripture for nearly 2,000 years—they hatefully reject Him. He must therefore subdue them through means of war (verses 13-15). God will even use the returned captives of Ephraim (representative of the northern tribes) and Judah to fight their enemies. This is not a contradiction of the peaceful donkey imagery. Rather, it exactly parallels an ancient prophecy given about the Messiah by the patriarch Jacob: “The scepter [symbol of kingship] shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [i.e., the Messiah] comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10-11 Genesis 49:10-11 [10] The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be. [11] Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass’s colt to the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:
American King James Version×
). “The imagery in this verse describes the warfare that the Messiah will wage to establish His reign (Ps. 2; 110; Revelation 19:11-21 Revelation 19:11-21 [11] And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. [12] His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. [13] And he was clothed with a clothing dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. [14] And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. [15] And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. [16] And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. [17] And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the middle of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together to the supper of the great God; [18] That you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. [19] And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. [20] And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. [21] And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat on the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
American King James Version×
). Wine recalls the color of blood” (Nelson, note on Genesis 49:11-12 Genesis 49:11-12 [11] Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass’s colt to the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: [12] His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
American King James Version×
).

Notice in verse 13 that the Israelites fight against the sons of Greece. The first part of the chapter (verses 1-8) seemed to indicate the Greco-Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great as typical of the coming of the Messiah. Yet here we see Greece as the enemy. Some have attempted to link verse 13 with the Jewish fight in the days of the Maccabees against the Seleucid Greek overlords of Syria. Yet, while there may have been a forerunner in that divinely assisted struggle, the verse here clearly mentions the presence of not just Judah but also Ephraim, as representative of the northern tribes—and they were not present during the Maccabean period.

The actual Hebrew word for Greece is Yavan (written in English as Javan). And the sons of Javan could refer to the nationalities listed in the table of nations in Genesis 10. “The sons of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim” (verse 4). Javan is generally understood to represent the Greeks. Elishah is typically equated with Cyprus. Tarshish is often thought to denote southern Europeans of the western Mediterranean, such as Spain (site of ancient Tartessus). Kittim, denoting western lands, could refer to people of Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Italy and perhaps other western Mediterranean areas. Dodanim (spelled “Rodanim” in 1 Chronicles 1:7 1 Chronicles 1:7And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.
American King James Version×
) may correspond to the Rhodians and other Aegean peoples. So southern Europeans could be intended in Zechariah 9:13 Zechariah 9:13When 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.
American King James Version×
by Javan and his sons. Interestingly, this is where the descendants of ancient Tyre and Sidon may be found today—as well as the descendants of ancient Babylon. So the end-time Babylon, centered at Rome, may well be in mind in Zechariah 9:13 Zechariah 9:13When 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.
American King James Version×
. Indeed, as this latter-day system descends from ancient Greece—as from ancient Persia and Babylon before it—those who are part of it can rightly be described as descendants of Greece.

Yet the reference here may also be to the Hellenization (spread of Greek culture) begun under Alexander. By the time of Jesus’ first coming, the Jews regarded all non-Jews as “Greek”—a term frequently used in the New Testament for any and all gentiles. Foreseeing this divide, God in Zechariah 9:13 Zechariah 9:13When 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.
American King James Version×
may simply be contrasting the Israelites with their gentile enemies. Even today, Greece is reckoned as the birthplace of Western civilization.

The returned exiles of Israel and Judah, though reduced to mainly slingstones for weapons, will fight together against their foes—and will miraculously gain victory as Christ returns in power and glory to save them (verses 13-16). In verse 15, “Zechariah describes the victory banquet of God’s people in celebration of His victory over the nations and securing of Jerusalem. The people will be filled with drink like sacrificial basins were filled with blood, and they will be filled with meat like the corners of the sacrificial altar (see Ps. 110)” (Nelson, note on verse 15).

This mighty deliverance will come “in that day” (verse 16)—the Day of the Lord. And the people of God will experience great blessing and prosperity (verses 16-17). In 10:1, “the latter rain (Deut. 11:14) refers to the rain that comes in late spring and is essential for an abundant grain harvest” (note on Zechariah 10:1 Zechariah 10:1Ask you of the LORD rain in the time of the latter rain; so the LORD shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.
American King James Version×
). The rains signify all blessings, both physical and spiritual. God’s people will pray for these—and He will answer their prayers in abundance. Just as thunder and lightning precedes a shower of rain, so will the lightning, trumpet and whirlwind of Christ’s coming (9:14) precede a shower of blessings—the greatest blessing being the pouring out of God’s Spirit.

This oracle continues through the remainder of Zechariah 10 and chapter 11—our next two readings.

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