By Edward Dennett
After the introduction of Antichrist, at the close of the preceding chapter, the prophet is occupied with the events of the last days, or those events which circle around Jerusalem, and which are connected with her siege and deliverance. Looking in the power of the Spirit into the future, he depicts event after event, until he sees, at the end of the book, the kingdom established, with Jerusalem as the religious metropolis of the whole earth, and all nations owning the authority of the King in Zion.
This chapter commences with a solemn "burden" for Israel. "The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem." (vv. 1. 2.) It is a striking feature that the "burden" is for (or "upon") Israel, for its contents seem to be concerned almost entirely with Judah and Jerusalem. It is contended by some, from this circumstance, that Israel, i.e. the ten tribes, must therefore have been restored before the siege of Jerusalem takes place, and that, as a consequence this siege is conducted by the Assyrian and. his confederates subsequent to the destruction of the Antichrist, to which allusion is made in the foregoing chapter.1 This question must be decided by the reader himself as he considers the words of the prophet, only it is necessary to remind him again that prophecy often employs language that may apply to different though connected events; and the main point of this chapter, we judge, is the deliverance of Jerusalem and Judah rather than the exact specification of the enemy who is destroyed, although it is clear that there will be at this time a confederacy of the Gentiles against Judah and Jerusalem. The head of this confederacy is not specified.
Jehovah in this "burden" upon Israel is presented as the Creator — the Creator of the heavens and the earth, as also of "the spirit of man." This is often so in the prophets (see, for example, Isa. 43:1, Isa. 44:18); for indeed this is God known in connection with the first creation, and it became therefore the distinctive Jewish testimony. (See Jonah 1. 9.) Jehovah thus lays the foundation of His demonstrated power in creation for the faith of His people as to the accomplishment of His word as to Jerusalem. When Zechariah prophesied the temple was not yet completed, and the city was still desolate; but by the word of Jehovah the people are bidden to look onward to the time when Jerusalem should be once more restored in its beauty and strength, and be made, if the object of the hostility of all the peoples (or all the nations) round about, to strike terror into the hearts of her foes. It is a solemn asseveration of what the Lord would do: "Behold, I will make;" and the next verse does but take up the divine assertion, with a change of figure, and intensify the promise. "And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people [again it is all peoples or nations]: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people [peoples] of the earth be gathered together against it."' (v. 3.) That the time of the end is referred to is shown by the use and the repetition of the phrase, "In that day." It is found, including the next chapter, eight times, and it is therefore abundantly clear that one and the same period is indicated which will comprise all the events which form the subject of Zechariah's "burden;" and, inasmuch as the conversion of the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem is one of these, as also the manifestation to them of the Messiah, the period is defined to be that connected with the Lord's appearing.2
At this time then the nations will be gathered together against Jerusalem, as well as against Judah. What has drawn them together is not here stated, but manifestly their object is to reduce into subjection both the city and the people of Judah. It is an outburst of enmity really against God and His Christ, the fulfilment, in this aspect, of the second Psalm: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." (vv. 1-6.) And so here divine judgment falls upon the assembled nations. In verse 2 Jerusalem becomes "a cup of trembling" to all the nations who encompass her in the siege, and in verse 3 she is "a burdensome stone" for them, and "all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces." (Compare Matt 21:44.) Then once more in the world's history it will be seen that if man in his daring impiety ventures to rush upon "the thick bosses of the bucklers" of God it is only for his instant and complete destruction.3
In the following verses we have Jehovah's interposition for the defence and salvation of His people. Already, as we have noted, it is what he would do — "I will make Jerusalem," etc. (vv. 1-3); and now His action with reference to the enemy is described: "In that day, saith the Lord, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the People" (rather, all the horses of the peoples) "with blindness." (v. 4.) "The horse and his rider," as has been said, "had, through Moses' song at the Red Sea, become the emblem of worldly pride and power." But it is not here as in the Red Sea, into which both the horse and his rider were cast; for here they are smitten suddenly with a divine stroke, and the effect is "astonishment and madness." The forces of the nations are thus paralyzed; and so thrown into utter confusion, dismay and disaster are the necessary consequence. The object, if not the motive, of this divine action is beautifully indicated in the midst of the description; it lies in the words, "I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah."4 Though all is of grace, we yet learn that Jehovah was moved by compassion for the house of Judah. He opens His eyes upon, beholds, and is touched by, their sorrowful condition; and, if the words may be permitted, hastening to their rescue, He smites all the horses of the people with blindness. Thus at one stroke all the flower and strength of the enemies' armies are destroyed as suddenly as in days of old, when an angel was sent to smite with pestilence the Assyrian host. At once the hearts of the leaders of Judah, as well they might be, are encouraged. "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."5 (v. 5.) It will be observed that the reference is to an inward conviction wrought in the hearts of the governors of Judah, a conviction wrought doubtless by the Lord Himself, and, if unknown to them, is the sign of the commencement of His work of deliverance. To human eyes at such a moment the inhabitants of Jerusalem, besieged in their city by the nations, would be in the very jaws of destruction, alike helpless and exposed to the fury of the foe; but it is to these apparently doomed ones the heads of Judah look, and are led to feel that their strength would be found in them; but, if in or through them, only from the Lord their God. The very name of God is significant in this connection; it is the Lord of hosts in contrast with man's hosts that were gathered against His people; and it is this name, as identified with the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that is here used to impart confidence to the governors of Judah.
First, then, the Lord works in the heart of these princes, and then, in the next place, He demonstrates their strength — "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" (again, all the peoples) "round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own Place, even in Jerusalem." (v. 6.) As ever, the Lord first prepares His instruments in secret, and then, when the time comes for their use, He displays their fitness for their work. He thus trained David, while tending his father's flocks, through his conflicts with the lion and the bear, to vanquish Goliath, the foe of Israel. In like manner these princes of Judah have been trained, and now, when He launches them against the nations, nothing can stand before them; for they are like a raging, devouring fire, consuming all that comes before it. The result is at once stated, "Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in her own place." And the fact that the result is thus given explains the character of the verse, that the Spirit of God has crowded into it the whole deliverance of Jerusalem, together with her consequent restoration and blessing. This will enable the reader to perceive how pregnant these sentences are. Thus, for example, "I will make the governors of Judah," etc., is now seen to include the actual coming of Jehovah and His taking them up as His weapon for the destruction of the nations. The verse therefore forms a kind of summary, a compendious statement of the rescue of Jerusalem from the grasp of the foe, the means employed for that end, and her consequent prosperity. In the succeeding verses more details, details of the same event, will be found.
"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. In that day shall the Lord defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and he that is feeble6 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. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem." (vv. 7-9) In the beautiful language of another, "God would judge the power of man, but would raise up His people in sovereign grace. He would destroy the nations that had come up against Jerusalem. The deliverance of the people by the power of Jehovah comes first. This is sovereign grace to the chief of sinners, the feeble but beloved Judah, who had added to all her rebellion against God the despisal and rejection of her King and Saviour. The grace of God takes the lead over all the resources of man. The audacity of the enemies of God's people stirs up His affection, which never diminishes; and thus, by compelling God to act, this very audacity becomes the means of proving the faithfulness of His love. Judah, guilty yet beloved Judah, is delivered — that is to say, the remnant to whom the affliction of Israel had been a burden — but the question of her conduct towards her God remained."7 And this, as will be seen, is dealt with afterwards.
It is clear indeed that sovereign grace alone explains the statement that Jehovah first delivers the tents of Judah; and the reason, or rather the object, is very striking — that the glory of the house of David, and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, do not magnify themselves against Judah. The deliverance of Jerusalem, and the dwelling of Jehovah in her midst, and the fact that the Messiah is the true Son of David, could not fail to reflect glory upon both the city and the house of the King; and knowing what man is, this might lead both the city and the family of David to exalt themselves over Judah. But Jehovah will prevent this by exhibiting His love to Judah in appearing first on her behalf. But if He deliver Judah, it is only, as it were, while on His way to the succour of the beloved city; for He will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem. So also we read in Isaiah: "The Lord of hosts shall come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it." (Isa. 31:4-5.) Together with His appearing for the defence and succour of the city, He will endow its inhabitants, as it appears, with superhuman strength. Reduced to helplessness, they are in the place and condition to receive strength; for it is ever true, in all dispensations, that when God's people are weak then they are strong, because His strength is made perfect in weakness. Hence he that is feeble, or stumbles from weakness among them, shall be as David — as David when he went forth and overcame all the power of the enemy; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of Jehovah who was now again at their head as the Captain of the Lord's host (Joshua 5) and leading them forth to battle. There is, in truth, no limit to the power of God's people when they are taken up by Him, and when, in dependence upon Him, they are following Him in conflict with their foes.
The next verse merely gives the fact, afterwards expanded in chapter 14 that Jehovah in that day will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. Here it is not so much the execution of His judgment, as the declaration of His purpose to execute it, the announcement that when all nations come against Jerusalem they would come for their entire and total destruction. In the prophetic view they are undoubtedly destroyed, only the words, "I will seek to destroy," speak rather of the purpose in the divine mind, than of its actual accomplishment.
Judah and Jerusalem succoured, we have in the next place a divine action in the hearts of the people. "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn." (v. 10) It was in Jerusalem that our Lord was rejected and condemned to be crucified (He suffered without the gate); it was in Jerusalem the gospel was first preached, and the first work of grace commenced; and now we find that it is in Jerusalem Jehovah will first commence the work of grace when he returns to Zion. Nothing could more magnify His grace and unchanging love; and nothing could more fully reveal the impotent condition of man than the fact here recorded, that it is Jehovah — Jehovah who had been rejected in the person of Jesus — who will pour out upon His people the spirit of grace and of supplication. All things truly are of God; and hence, as the apostle writes, it is "by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of ourselves: it is the gift of God." It is the heart of God moved with compassion for the condition of the people whom He had chosen, and whom He loves; and who, on this account, bestows the spirit of grace and of supplications to prepare them to receive, and to own, their Messiah. Hence the next thing is, "They shall look upon me8 whom they have pierced." This is ever the divine order; first, conviction of sin, and then, the presentation of Christ. It was so with Saul of Tarsus; for no sooner had he been charged with, and made to feel, the sin of which he had been guilty in persecuting the saints by the question, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" than, in answer to the response, "Who art thou, Lord?" he received the reply, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." (Acts 9) So also with the brethren of Joseph, who foreshadow, in this particular, what we have here; it was after their exercises of heart and compunctions of conscience that Joseph, said, "I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt."
And what a moment this will be for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem when, as they see their Messiah come in glory for their deliverance, the conviction is begotten in their hearts that it is Jesus whom they had nailed to the bitter tree. For it was through the sin of the house of David, as also that of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that the kingdom was subverted by Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Chr. 36:11-20); and Jerusalem had added to all her transgressions that greatest sin of all, the denial and rejection of her Lord. And yet He comes for their deliverance, and, when their eyes are opened, they behold their Deliverer, and recognize that He is Jesus of Nazareth! Then for the first time they will understand by the very magnitude of the grace, the turpitude of their sin, and, transfixed with the arrows of conviction, will be bowed in the dust before their God in true penitence and sorrow for their guilt. As another has written, "To be loved by a God against whom one has so deeply revolted, melts the heart. Grace then goes farther, and presents to the people the Messiah whom they had pierced. The rejected One is the Jehovah that delivers them. It is now no longer merely the cry of distress that has no refuge, but Jehovah Israel, more strictly Judah, no longer a prey to the terrible anxiety which her distress occasioned, is entirely occupied with her sin felt in the presence of a crucified Saviour. It is no longer a common grief, that of a nation crushed and trodden down in its most cherished sentiments. It is now hearts melted by the sense of what they had been towards One who had given Himself up for them."9
There follows a description of this unparalleled grief and first its character is noted: "They shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son," etc. It is a comparison to illustrate the intensity of their grief, even as Amos also speaks, "I bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day," (Amos 8:10); and then, to enhance the conception of the sorrow, it is said to be "bitterness for Him. as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn." Blessed grief, we may add; for it partakes of that sorrow according to God, which works a repentance, not to be repented of, and the end of which will prove to be light, blessing, and joy. Such weeping may endure for the night, but joy will surely come in the morning, the first streaks of which, indeed, have already appeared through the clouds of their darkness and grief.
The prophet proceeds still further to illustrate this penitential mourning of the people: "In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon." (v. 11) It is the same mourning as described in the previous verse; that is, the mourning consequent upon their discovery that the One they had pierced was no other than Jehovah and now to show its depth and intensity reference is made to one of the most calamitous events that had ever befallen the nation; viz., the death of Josiah, who was mortally wounded in battle with Necho, king of Egypt, in the valley of Megiddon. For in truth the death of this monarch was the sunset of the kingdom of Judah. A few gleams of light may have lingered afterwards in Jehovah's mercy; but these soon faded away (for both kings and people were deaf to the pleadings of the prophets) into utter night. The significance of the death of Josiah seems to have been instinctively apprehended; for we read that "all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah; and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations."10 (2 Chr. 35:24-25.) It was therefore a true national sorrow, and it is to this the Holy Spirit here points back to illustrate the mourning that will ensue upon the revelation of their crucified and glorified Messiah to their hearts.
There is also another feature distinguished: "And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart." (vv. 12-14.) If a national, it is also a household, nay, an individual sorrow, a sure proof of the thoroughness of the work of penitence which will be wrought in their hearts by the Spirit of God. Every family, and every individual in the family, will own the sin of having crucified the Lord. "Each family, isolated by, its personal convictions, confesses apart the depth of its sin while no fear of judgment or punishment comes in to impair the character and the truth of their sorrow. Their souls are restored according to the efficacy of the work of Christ. It is this which definitely brings the people into relationship with God." We thus see that, while it is true that Christ died for the nation, and that the nation (i.e. the remnant that comes into that place before God) will own its sin in the rejection of the Messiah, every individual must own his sin "apart," alone in the presence of God, in order to be brought under the value and efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. This was foreshadowed indeed in the directions for the day of atonement; "for whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people." (Lev. 23:20.)
Four families are specified amid "all the families that remain." That of the house of David is mentioned for the reason given in an earlier part of the chapter; viz., that it was the sin of this house, for the kings were held responsible for the state of the nation, that brought the kingdom to its judicial end. Nathan is named perhaps as the representative of the prophets, inasmuch as he was the prophet in the days of David. The house of Levi will stand here more especially for the priestly family; for, in setting forth the causes of God's intervention in judgment in the reign of Zedekiah, the Holy Spirit says, "Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem." (2 Chr. 36:14.) And it was the chief priests who, to secure the condemnation of Jesus, cried, and thus deliberately denied their national history and their national hopes, "We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:15) The family of Shimei is more difficult of interpretation.11 A reference is sometimes made to Num. 3:21, where we read of the family of the Shimites as belonging to Gershon, one of the sons of Levi. If this be the family intended, we have in the list the royal family, the prophetic and priestly families, as well as that of those who were Levites in the ordinary sense of that term, besides all the families that remain. In that case every class of the nation is here represented, and all are brought in for the purpose of showing how general will be the humiliation and contrition of all the people, when at length God once again takes them up for the accomplishment of all His counsels respecting them, and when the first lesson they will have to learn is the nature of their sin in having crucified Jesus of Nazareth.
1) We subjoin the following note from the writings of another to make the above remark more intelligible, and to help the reader who may desire to enter further upon this interesting subject. "The departure of God from the direct government of the earth with Israel for the centre, His throne being in their midst, sitting between the cherubim, and His return to the government of the earth, is of immense importance. In Ezekiel we see this judgment (God's departure) on Jerusalem. God comes (Nebuchadnezzar being the instrument); He executes judgment, leaves them and goes into heaven. The Gentiles are left to rule (subject to God's providence and final judgment). Israel, and God's throne in their midst, are set aside. Four great empires arise successively — Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Roman empire, while devastating everywhere, does not succeed in getting all nations under its power, but continues the great power of the world till the judgment, though in a special form. Then the Assyrian comes on the scene again at the close, that is, geographically in what is now Turkey in Asia, and part of Persia; but in the last days Assyria will appear on the scene in the Russian power" (that is, we apprehend, upheld by, as allied with or subject to, Russia), "according to the testimony of Ezekiel 37, 38, [so that] the world, as connected with Israel and God's ultimate purposes on the earth, is divided into Western Europe, and the basin of the Mediterranean, the Roman Empire; and Eastern Europe, or the Russian" (that is, Eastern Europe will fall within the territory of the Russian Empire). "These two are never confounded in Scripture. The Assyrian was the power that warred against Israel when God owned them (before He wrote the sentence upon them of Lo-ammi, and suffered them to be carried away captive), and the other (the Roman Empire) that oppressed and held them captives when they were not owned." (Lectures on the Second Coming. By J. N. Darby, pp. 156, 157.) We add to this, that both of these powers will be judged by the Lord Himself, and in connection with Jerusalem. First, He will destroy both the head of the Roman Empire and the Antichrist, as described in Rev. 19, and, subsequently, He will destroy the Assyrian, who will come up against Israel after their restoration, and will then meet with his final overthrow. The question then raised above is simply whether the siege spoken of is connected with the overthrow of the Roman power, together with Antichrist, or with that of the Assyrian? If we confine ourselves to the language of the chapter, we shall see that neither is mentioned, that it says merely that all the people (peoples), that is, all the nations, will be in the siege.
2) It is astonishing how godly persons, with verses 9 and 10 before their eyes, can either apply this chapter to any of the past sieges of Jerusalem, or endeavour to spiritualize its meaning, so as to adapt it to the progress of the gospel. We append one comment of the latter kind: "The gospel claiming obedience to the faith among all nations, provoked universal rebellion. Herod and Pontius Pilate became friends through rejection of Christ; the Roman Caesar and the Persian Sapor, Goths and Vandals at war with one another, were one in persecuting Christ and the Church!"
3) As chapter 14 brings before us larger details of the final siege of Jerusalem, we postpone any further remarks on this subject until that chapter is reached.
4) This expression has been deemed to point to the fact that this interference of Jehovah is rather in connection with the beast and the false prophet (the antichrist) than with the siege of the Assyrian. The phrase "all the peoples" of the earth might be thought to point to the latter. The reader will consider and form his own judgment, remembering, however, what has been already observed, that in the text nothing is said beyond the fact that "all the peoples" are combined in the scene.
5) The translation, as the marginal rendering shows, is a little difficult. J. N. D.'s French version gives, "Les habitants de Jérusalem seront ma force, par l'Eternel des armèes, leur Dieu." Others render, "Strength to me are the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the Lord of hosts their God." The sense either way is much the same.
6) Rather, "He that stumbleth among them."
7) Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by J. N. Darby, vol. ii. p. 635.
8) There have been many discussions concerning this reading — "on me"; for Jewish writers have attempted to set aside this plain identification of Jehovah with the crucified Jesus. The result has only been to justify, on irrefutable grounds, the translation in the text.
9) Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by J. N. Darby, vol. ii.
10) Hadadrimmon was situated in the northern kingdom, south of mount Carmel, and a few miles west of Jezreel. It has been remarked that the name is compounded of the appellations of two Syrian idols, and is therefore "a witness how Syrian idolatry penetrated into the kingdom when it was detached from the worship of God."
11) The Septuagint gives Simeon, but, as it would appear, with questionable authority.