By Edward Dennett
Jerusalem and Judah restored to blessing, as announced in the previous chapter, the neighbouring peoples come into view in connection with judgment. "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." (v. 1.) Very careful consideration must be given to this first verse, as it is the key for the understanding of what follows. Instead of reading the burden of the word of the Lord "in" the land of Hadrach, it should probably be "concerning" or "upon." The preposition is so translated, for example, in Isaiah 9:8. The Lord sent a word "into" Jacob and it hath lighted "upon" Israel, where both "into" and "upon" represent the same word.1 Then there is the question of the time to which the prophecy refers. Some maintain that the prophet is foretelling the judgment that was visited upon the places named by means of Alexander, the king of Greece.2 Others contend that the events here described are to be referred to the future, to the time when the Lord Himself will have returned to establish His kingdom. And we cannot question that these, for reasons immediately to be given, are right, though there is no doubt, at the same time, that the march of Alexander through these regions was, if not the fulfilment, yet a fulfilment of Zechariah's predictions. It is often so in prophecy that some near event is contemplated, which becomes in its turn a striking presage of a larger accomplishment of the prophetic word.3 Our reasons for the conclusion that this prophecy remains to be fulfilled are found in verses 1 and 8. It says in verse 1 that the time shall be "when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the Lord." Now at the time of Alexander the tribes of Israel, save the two tribes which had been restored under Cyrus, were still in captivity, or scattered through the nations, and there was not even the semblance of the eyes of men being turned towards the Lord; for idolatry was almost, if not quite, universal, and held undisputed sway over their minds. And these words will never be verified until the events foretold in the previous chapter (vv. 20-23) have had their accomplishment. Secondly, verse 8 is decisive of the point. The language, "I will encamp about mine house," &c., could not be used of anything short of the actual presence and interposition of Jehovah to shield His house and dwelling-place from the attack of an enemy. It is quite true that Jerusalem was unexpectedly delivered from the hands of Alexander by the impression made on his mind at the sight of the high priest;4 but the utmost that could be said, is that while it might have been effected in a providential way, it in no wise corresponded to the terms of this prophecy. It is clear therefore that the Spirit of God looked onward in these predictions to a still future period, to that time when the rights of Israel's Messiah, and of the Son of Man, shall be made good on the earth.
This part of the prophecy itself need not detain us at any length. The expression in verse 1 — "And Damascus shall be the rest thereof" (or "its resting-place") — would seem to mean that the word of the Lord should rest upon or in Damascus in the sense of bringing judgment upon it. Hadrach was probably in the neighbourhood of Damascus,5 and, according to this prophecy, will one day reappear,6 and reappear for judgment. (Compare Jeremiah 46 - 49)
What we have then is God's judgment upon these cities, as connected with the final deliverance of Jerusalem and Israel from their enemies. There remain two or three things to be indicated. First, the territories on which the stroke of judgment will descend. The places named, as the reader will perceive, are on the north of Israel's territory, and that tract of country on the west of Judea which is known throughout the Scripture history as the dwelling-place of the Philistines; and all alike were at some period or other — the Philistines perpetually — the enemies of the people of God, perhaps owing to the fact that they were immediately contiguous to, if not within, the borders of their territory.7 Hadrach, Damascus, and Hamath are situated in what was, and is, known as Syria, and these cities are only mentioned as the objects of judgment.8 Tyre and Sidon (Tyrus and Zidon) are specified with more detail; and we are taught that neither wisdom (V. 2), nor strength, nor riches — the three things in which man puts his confidence and glories — can avert the sure judgments of God. (vv. 3. 4.) The language concerning Tyrus (compare Ezekiel 28) is both striking and sublime. She "did build herself a strong hold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets. Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and he will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire." Truly man and all his resources are but vanity in the day of the Lord's anger. (Cp. Isa. 2) Then with a few rapid touches the prophet relates the character of the judgment on Philistia. "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. And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite." (vv. 5-7. Cp. Jeremiah 47; Zephaniah 2:4-7.)
It is more than probable, as we have before pointed out, there is a twofold fulfilment in these predictions; that is, that there has already been a partial accomplishment, though not a complete one, in so far as the temporal judgments on these cities are concerned; for nothing can be more certain than that the power of Tyrus in the sea has been smitten, or that these cities of the Philistines have been visited. But the careful reader will not fail to notice that the whole prophecy has not been fulfilled, for it speaks of a spared remnant from the Philistines that shall be "for [or to] our God." This must be future, and points unmistakably to the fact when these cities shall be revived, judgment will again fall upon them; and the Lord, by His chosen instruments, will stain all the pride of their glory, while at the same time He will restore a remnant for blessing. The statement that Ekron shall be as a Jebusite is most likely a reference to the fact that as the Jebusites, not having been driven out by the children of Judah, dwelt with them at Jerusalem (see Joshua 15:63), so the spared Philistines will be found in a future day, in the time of the kingdom, mingled with Israel.9
The future application of this prophetic word is especially seen, as we have shown, by what follows: "And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes." (v. 8.) We gather then that, after Israel is restored to their own land and the temple has been rebuilt (see Zech. 6) by Messiah Himself, the land will be invaded, and Jerusalem will be the object of his attack. This is undoubtedly the last attack of the Assyrian, so often alluded to by the prophets. As King of the North (for the king of the north is identical with the Assyrian) he enters the land before the appearing of Christ (in the interval between the rapture of the saints (1 Thess. 4), and their return with Christ in glory), and after succeeding for a while in his designs, he will "stand up against the Prince of princes, but he should be broken without hand." (Daniel 8:25.) He has, however, a successor, who, after the return in glory to Jerusalem, also invades the holy land, and seeks likewise to capture the holy city. But the Lord is now there, as will be explained more at length when we reach Zech. 12 - 14, and terrified by what he and his confederates discover, as the psalmist describes, "They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away. Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail." (Psalm 48:5-6.) Not simply the angel of the Lord, but the Lord Himself will encamp round about His house and His people, and deliver them once for all from their oppressors; "for now," as we read, "have I seen with mine eyes."10 The expression is strikingly beautiful. It is as if the Lord had come down to behold the state of His people, even as we read in Genesis that He came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men builded (Gen. 11:5); and perceiving how they were beleaguered by the enemy, and pitying their distress, He Himself undertakes their defence, and secures their deliverance. "The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." (Ps. 46:6-7.)
The prophet having gone on to the final emancipation of Judah and Jerusalem from their oppressors through the direct intervention of the Lord Himself, now turns back a little to introduce the person of Him for whom they waited, and in whom alone their deliverance would be found. Viewing in prophetic vision the accomplishment of all that God had promised to His people, he turns with delight to the One who would thus bring salvation, and exclaims, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." (v. 9.) He thus calls upon the daughter of Zion to rejoice in the glorious prospect unfolded, and reminds her at the same time that all she looked and longed for was bound up with the advent of the Messiah. He places the daughter of Jerusalem and of Zion on an eminence, as it were, whence she can behold the King approaching, and calls upon her to shout with joy as she beholds Him.
But how different in character is this presentation of Israel's King from that of the world's monarchs in all their pomp and splendour! Remark that it is "thy" King. As another has written, "He does not say a king, but thy King, thine own, the long-promised, the long-expected"; for in truth He is the One of whom God had spoken, "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2); and He comes now to sit upon the throne of His father David, and to reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 2:32-33; see also Isaiah 9:6-7.) Then we have two characteristics. First, He is just, or righteous. This is put first because it represents the character of His reign. He will found His kingdom and reign in righteousness. (Psalm 72:) Next, He has salvation; i.e., He brings salvation, not so much here to the individual soul that trusts in Him, as salvation, or deliverance, to His people from their enemies (Compare Luke 1:67-75; Luke 2:29-32), together with all the blessings into which they would be consequently introduced. We have, furthermore, what He is in Himself, and the manner of His approach. He is "lowly." This is to be much observed. That He was the lowly One here all know; but we are apt to forget that meekness is His abiding character, not a feature produced by His circumstances of trial and sorrow when He was down here to do the will of God, but a trait of His perfectness as man; and hence, whether in the glory at the right hand of God, or appearing to Israel as their long looked-for Messiah, He is still the lowly or meek One. Blessed thought! For who could fear, who of His people, however timid and feeble they might be, could shrink from His presence when this divine and perfect lowliness is written on His face? It is in this manner that He is presented to His poor and afflicted people when He comes for their salvation, and as "riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." The sons of judges rode upon asses (Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14), but, as a devout writer has remarked, "There is no instance in which a king rode on an ass, save He whose kingdom was not of this world." We all know how exactly this promise was fulfilled, though Zion was not then prepared to receive Him, and did not therefore shout for joy at His approach, at His first coming. True, the crowd that went forth to meet Him, "took branches of palm trees … and cried, Hosanna! blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13); but their momentary enthusiasm soon passed away, and, swayed by their rulers, they cried, "Crucify Him, crucify Him."11
From this point to the end of the chapter the consequences of the advent of the Messiah are depicted. First, the Messiah will remove all the false confidences of His people. He says, "I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off." (v. 10) All these things were the symbols of human strength, human grounds of confidence in conflict; and hence the psalmist says, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God." (Psalm 20:7.) Speaking also by the prophet Hosea, Jehovah says, "I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen." (Hosea 1:7.) And again in Micah: "I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots." (Micah 5:10) For in that day His people will have to learn that God alone is their refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble — a lesson which even Christians are slow to apprehend. And consequent upon the deliverance of His people, "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." For when once the King is established upon the holy hill of Zion, He will ask and receive the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. What is here predicted is the universal sway of Christ in His kingdom, after His return in glory, as depicted in Ps. 72.
The introduction of Ephraim in this chapter, both in verse 10 and verse 13, should be especially remarked. It shows that the prophet passes from the coming of the King to the restoration of all Israel. Judah and Jerusalem are his subject, but the moment he names Ephraim he implies the restoration of the ten tribes to their own land. This will not take place until after the deliverance and blessing of Judah and Jerusalem; but here the prophet has the consequences of the coming of the King to Zion for all Israel before his mind. And hence the chariot shall be cut off from Ephraim, as well as the horse from Jerusalem; for when Messiah goes forth against His enemies, He, while associating His people with Himself, for they will be all willing in the day of His power, will be independent of all human sources of strength, and He will, at the same time, teach His people that they can only be strong in His strength, as He leads them forth conquering and to conquer, when He will strike through kings in the day of His wrath.
The prophet turns again, in the next place, to the daughter of Zion; and, speaking in the name of the Lord, he says, "As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water." (v. 11) "Thy prisoners" will refer to the "sons of Zion" who may at this time be found in captivity, their captivity being set forth by the figure of a pit wherein is no water. Such was their condition — shut in on every side, and deprived of all sources of life; and yet they will be "sent forth," delivered. And the ground of their deliverance is the covenant which God had been pleased to establish with them by blood. Even the first covenant was of this kind (Ex. 24); but it is not on the covenant of Sinai that Jehovah will interpose for the salvation of Israel, but upon that new and better covenant which derives its efficacy and certainty of fulfilment from the precious blood of Christ. Hence the Lord Himself said, as He took the cup, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt. 26:28.) And it is to this the apostle alludes when he says, "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant." (Heb. 13:20.) And when we learn from Zechariah that the foundation on which God brought our Lord Jesus up from the grave is that also on which He will send forth, in the day of Messiah's glory, those of His people who may be found as prisoners in the pit wherein is no water.
The exhortation of the next verse is based upon this assurance, and thus the prophet proceeds, "Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee." (v. 12.) The strong hold is Zion, now a strong hold because God is in the midst of her (see Psalm 46); and it is to Zion the prisoners of hope are exhorted to turn, because it is from thence that their Redeemer is to come. The addition of the words "of hope" to the term "prisoners" indicates the class who will participate in the salvation the King brings to Zion; it is those who in their captivity cherish the expectation of the coming Messiah, and who are therefore prisoners of hope. Then the Lord will render double — double in comfort and blessing as compared with what they have suffered. (See Isaiah 40:1-2.)
The time of this expected blessing is now declared, and this again makes it clear that the prophecy looks on to future days; it is, "When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim, and raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece, and made thee as the sword of a mighty man." (v. 13). The "sons of Greece" are here used as representing generally the Gentiles; but they are named for the reason already given that the invasion of the holy land by Alexander is in the foreground of the prophecy as the shadow of the attacks which will be made upon Israel on the eve of, and especially after, the appearing of their Messiah. In that day, as we gather from this and other prophecies, Christ will employ His people Israel to subdue the Gentiles. Jeremiah thus speaks of Israel in the Lord's name, "Thou art my battle-axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms," etc. (Jer. 51:20-23.)
The next two verses describe the manner of the Lord's going forth, and His defence of them in the conflict. "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. 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."12 (vv. 14, 15.) This is a vivid description of the irresistible might of Jehovah's armies when He Himself leads them forth to battle. And it is to be observed that He will be seen over them; i.e., there will be some visible tokens of His presence with His people, as there were also when He led them through the wilderness — and He will fight for them, as, for example, He did of old when He cast down hail stones upon their enemies (Joshua 10:11); only here it is the lightning He will employ as His weapon, even as Habakkuk says, "At the light of thy arrows they went, at the shining of thy glittering spear." (Hab. 3:11) Not only so, but there will also be every accompaniment of terror to strike dismay into the hearts of the foe. In days of old, the priests were, in times of war, to "blow an alarm with the trumpets, and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies" (Num. 10:9); but here the Lord God will Himself, in all His majesty and power, sound the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south. (See Isaiah 21:1) So also we read in Psalm 18, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. … Yea, He sent out His arrows, and scattered them.; and He shot out lightnings, and discomfited them." (vv. 10-14.)
As verse 14 gives the action of God as against the enemy, verse 15 sets forth the effect of His presence upon His people whom He is leading forth to the conflict. In the first place He will defend them; that is, He will so protect them that they shall not be harmed by their foes, even as when Israel went forth to battle with the Midianites, and returned without the loss of a man (Num. 31); and then their victorious energy will be so great that they shall devour and subdue all that opposes. As another has said, to explain the metaphor of the sling stones, "Their enemies shall fall under them, as harmless and as of little account as the sling stones which have missed their aim, and lie on the road to be passed over." The two remaining figures are more difficult, though the first, "they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine," is probably to be referred to the exhilaration produced by the conflict as comparable to the effects of wine. The second, "they shall be filled like bowls" may flow from the first, indicating that they will overflow with the holy excitement called out in them by the presence of the Lord of hosts; but the addition, "like the corners of the altar," cannot be explained with certainty, unless it refers to some practice, now unknown, in connection with the drink-offerings presented with the sacrifices, in which case it would be an allusion to the fact that their zeal was in communion with that of their divine Leader.
Finally, it is added: "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." (v. 16.) Together with the Lord's anger against His foes, His protecting shield, as already noticed, is thrown over His people, so that He will save them in that day as the flock of His people from the lions and bears that will be round about them; for no weapon formed against Israel shall then prosper. It is in contrast with the destruction of their enemies that it is said, "They shall be as the stones of a crown," "stones selected for their beauty and preciousness, and as suited to adorn the diadem of their King;" but if so, because they have now been beautified with His beauty, and because all His preciousness now attaches to them. (See 1 Peter 2) And as such they shall be lifted up as an ensign upon His land. First, they will be His battle-axe for conflict, and then, when His enemies shall be have been subdued under Him, His people will be lifted up, or, as it might be, "lifted on high" as an ensign upon His land, to the end that all might behold the place of honour and exaltation in which, by the grace of their King, they have been set, as He thus displays them in all their beauty and excellency as His own royal standard, as the sign of His presence with them, and as the symbol of His universal dominion.
The prophet then concludes with one short word as significant of the greatness of Jehovah's grace and beauty, and of the consequent happiness of His people: "For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids." (v. 17.) All the blessing into which they have been introduced has flowed from the goodness of their God, and their eyes being opened they see the King in His beauty, already become to them the altogether lovely. And feasting upon Him as upon the firstfruits, the true corn of the land in which they now dwell, the young men are made cheerful; and the maids, drinking of the new wine of the kingdom, are made glad. It is a picture of the millennial joy of Messiah's kingdom as flowing from His own heart of goodness or grace.
1) The Revised Version in Zechariah gives the word "upon," while J. N. D.'s French version renders, "L'oracle de la parole de 1'Eternal (qui vient) dans le pays de Hadrac."
2) Thus one writes: "The foreground of this prophecy is the course of the victories of Alexander, which circled round the holy land without hurting it, and ended in the overthrow of the Persian empire. The surrender of Damascus followed first, immediately on his great victory at the Issus; then Sidon yielded itself, and received its ruler from the conqueror, Tyre he utterly destroyed; Gaza we know perished. He passed harmless by Jerusalem. Samaria, on his return from Egypt, he chastised."
3) As an illustration of this we subjoin a note from J.N.D.'s translation of the New Testament. "'In order that it might be' hina (see Matt. 1:22); 'so that it might be,' hupos (Matt. 2:23); and, 'then' tote (Matt. 2:17), 'was fulfilled,' are never confounded in the quotations of the Old Testament. The first is the object of the prophecy; the second, not simply its object, but an event which was within the scope and intention of the prophecy; the third is merely a case in Point, where what happened was an illustration of what was said in the prophecy." (Note to Matt. 2:23.)
4) Those interested in the history will find the record in Josephus' Antiquities, xi. 8, 3-5.
5) A modern writer, who cites Sir H. Rawlinson, says, "it is now certain that there was a city called Hadrach in the neighbourhood of Damascus and Hamath, although its exact site is not known."
6) This is one of the striking facts learnt from prophecy, that the cities and nations formerly in the vicinity of Palestine, in external relationship with Israel, though now utterly lost sight of, will be found again in their old places in the last days.
7) It is not quite clear whether Tyre and Sidon were not within the territory of Asher — Sidon certainly was (Judges 1:31; also Joshua 19:28-29) — even as the cities of the Philistines were comprised in that of Judah.
8) The judgments here denounced are, it would appear, preparatory to the putting of Israel in possession of all the territory promised to them.
9) The expressions concerning those spared of the Philistines are very striking, for there is little doubt that "he that remaineth" does refer to such. Cleansed from their idolatries (the "blood" and his "abominations" being connected with his idol worship), he shall be as a governor ("a captain of a thousand") in Judah, etc. The reader will carefully consider these statements.
10) Compare the expression, "And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians," etc. (Ex. 14:24-25).
11) As a proof of the wonderful accuracy of Scripture, the reader will be interested to note the omission of some of the words in the citation from Zechariah both in Matthew and John. In Matthew the words "just" and "having salvation" are not found; and in John, where the characteristic presentation of Christ is as the Son of God, the word "lowly" is also omitted. The reason is evident to the spiritual mind. Though Jesus was the Messiah, rejected as He was, He did not then enter Jerusalem as righteous (it was rather in grace), and as having salvation — nor could He while rejected, but He did enter as the lowly One; and hence this word is retained in Matthew, while John leaves out this also, as before said, because of the aspect in which, as led of the Holy Ghost, he portrays the life of our blessed Lord. Observe also that neither Matthew nor John calls upon the daughter of Sion to rejoice or to shout. The former says, "Tell ye the daughter of Sion"; the latter, "Fear not," etc. The time of rejoicing could not come as long as the King was rejected.
12) The question is sometimes raised as to what particular conflict allusion is here made, as also in Zech. 9:10, whether it refers or not to the final overthrow of Gog in the land. This is to import a consideration not found in the chapter, the point of which is rather Jehovah's defence and lead of His victorious people than to indicate the foes. That they are Gentiles is clear, and thus it may be the last confederacy of the nations against Israel.