By Edward Dennett
The subject of the previous chapter is here continued, and, in this case, in progressive order; for Jehovah is still concerned, in the actings of His grace, with the house of David, and with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. "In that day," says the prophet, "there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." (v. 1) That the period is the same as in Zech. 12 is shown from the repetition of the words, "In that day" — the day introduced by the appearing of the Messiah; a day therefore marked and even waited for in the counsels Of God; and a day which will be distinguished for ever in the annals of the history of His earthly people, because it is then that their relationships with Jehovah will be restored.
The fountain of which the prophet speaks is a fountain of water. The word employed is indeed the same as found in Jeremiah, where we read, "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters."1 (Jeremiah 2:13.) There is a beautiful moral order seen in the introduction of the fountain in this place. At the close of the last chapter we have seen the remnant brought under the efficacy of the sacrifice, the value of the blood; for as soon as they looked believingly on Him whom they had pierced, their sins, their transgressions, were all taken away, their guilt was for ever removed. The moment, however, this was (or will be) accomplished another need would arise, and that is, a provision for daily cleansing from sin and uncleanness; and this is made by the fountain; for water, an emblem of the word of God, is ever His means of removing the defilements which His people contract in their daily walk and warfare, as is so strikingly shown in the Lord's washing the feet of His disciples. (John 13) It was symbolized too by what took place at the cross, when the soldier pierced the side of the blessed Lord as He hung dead upon the tree; "and forthwith," as the apostle relates, "came there out blood and water" (John 19:34) — the blood for expiation or atonement, and the water for cleansing. (See 1 John 5:6 et seq.) This makes all clear, and enables us to perceive that the fountain is God's blessed provision for maintaining His people in a cleansed walk before Him.
Having removed the guilt of His people, and opened up the sources of their daily purification, Jehovah proceeds in the next place to cleanse His land. "And it shall come to pass in that day, saith 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." (v. 2.) Idols and false prophets were Satan's two successful instrumentalities by which he led both Judah and Israel to forsake the worship of the Lord their God. The golden calf, while it was their first open rebellion and apostasy, did but exhibit a tendency which never was eradicated while the kingdom lasted. As soon as they were in the land they went after other gods. (See Judges 2:12, etc.) Even Solomon fell into the prevailing snare; and, with some few exceptions, his successors followed in his steps. (See both 2 Kings and 2 Chr. And wherever idolatory prevails false prophets abound. Thus when Jehoshaphat wished, after he had pledged himself to go to war with the Syrians in alliance with Ahab, to quiet the scruples of his conscience by enquiring "at the word of the Lord," four hundred false prophets were found to prophesy as Ahab desired, whereas there was but one prophet of Jehovah In that other scene too on Mount Carmel Elijah had to confront four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal. Nor was it otherwise in the kingdom of Judah; for we often find Jeremiah alone and single-handed in conflict with lying prophets (See Jer. 23:25-40; Jer. 28:1-11) but now, at the time here spoken of, the Lord Himself will cut off the names of the idols, and cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. Kings had often endeavoured to purify the land in this way, but the power of evil was too strong for them. Jehovah will do the work effectually. and for ever. One expression proves this; it is, that "the names of the idols shall no more be remembered." For in this day the Lord will put His laws into the minds of His people, and write them in their hearts; and He will put his fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from Him. (Jer. 32:38-40; cp. Ezek. 36:25-38.)
The term "lying spirit" is significant. In the scene already alluded to, in which the false prophets prophesy before Ahab and Jehoshaphat, we are expressly told that the Lord put a "lying spirit" in their mouths (2 Chr. 18:22); that is, He left them, or put them judicially, in the power of Satan, that they might lure Ahab on to his destruction. But the point we desire the reader to notice is, that it is a "lying spirit" that animates false prophets; not merely that they are ignorant of the truth, and follow the bent and inclination of their own evil hearts, but that they are absolutely in the power and control of the evil one. There might be sincere men among them — men of thought and intellect, the leading spirits of the time, "princes" of the age; but let it not be overlooked that, be they what they may in the world's estimation, they are energized and led by a "lying spirit." Is it any otherwise with the false prophets of Christendom? And who are these? They are those who deny the scripture presentation of the atonement those who question the inspiration of the Scriptures those who are not "sound" on the truth of the person of our Lord; those who in any way undermine the foundations of Christianity, and seek to substitute their own thoughts in the place of the truth of God. These are the false prophets of modern days, and many of them occupy chairs in colleges and universities. Some are amongst our foremost men in science; and others, alas! are found in the pulpits of churches and chapels. But wherever they are, if they refuse the teachings of the word of God, they are led of a "lying spirit." Happy day will it be then for restored and blessed Judah when both idolatry and false prophets are removed for ever; and when they will be enabled to distinguish instantly between the voice of truth and the voice of error!
The people, moreover, will be in full communion with the mind of God as to the false prophets; for Zechariah says, "And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shall not live, for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth." (v. 3.) The truth in that day will hold its rightful place in the hearts and consciences of God's people, and thus be more precious to them than the dearest earthly objects. Then will be seen, once more upon the earth, the spectacle of saints loving the Lord more than father or mother, husband or wife, or children; and they will therefore hold fast His word at all costs, and be, as this scripture teaches, the first to denounce those, be they connected with them by the closest of all ties, who shall seek to supersede the truth of God with their own lying imaginations. (Compare Deut, 13:6-11.) Well it would have been for the Church of God had there been something of this zeal for the truth. Lacking it, and falling into Laodicean indifference, teachers of error have been permitted to pursue their deadly work until the truth, in the estimation of many, has become a mere matter of opinion; and, its certainty being thus lost, souls have been "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Eph. 4:14.)
The effect of this holy zeal for God against the false prophets is most salutary: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment" (a garment of hair) "to deceive." (v. 4.) "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you;" and so, when the faces of God's people are set against the false prophets, they will disappear, or, if any should continue under the power of Satan, and still have their visions, they will no longer boast of it, as before, but be ashamed, and will lay aside the garment of hair as symbolic of their office.* For in truth the vocation of the prophet — and God's people will know it — will be gone. The prophet was sent in times of backsliding and apostasy to recall the people to the claims of Jehovah and His law, and their function was therefore to appeal to the conscience, denouncing judgments upon the rebellious, and encouraging the obedient with the glorious prospects of the future connected with the advent of the Messiah. Now, therefore, when Messiah shall have come, and when the law shall be written in the hearts of the people, and they shall receive a heart of flesh in the place of the heart of stone, and it will be consequently their delight to be found walking in the ways of the Lord, the prophet will have no more place. Hence restored and converted Israel, Judah here and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, will instantly know that any who claim to have seen visions are not the prophets of Jehovah and will accordingly, as having the mind of the Lord, execute judgment upon them.
The next verse demands careful consideration: "But he shall say, I am no prophet, I am an husbandman, for man taught me to keep cattle2 from my youth." (v. 5.) Two things must first be noted; the connection and the translation. At first it would seem that the words "he shall say" referred to the false prophets in the preceding verse, but the language that follows makes this to be impossible. The question then arises, Who is the speaker? If now the sixth verse is examined, it will be at once seen that it could be no other than the Messiah Himself. The transition is abrupt in the extreme, but there can be no manner of doubt, in the light of the following verses, that the Messiah is here introduced. And the ground of it may be explained. Following upon Zech. 12, down to the end of verse 4, the blessed consequences of Jehovah's intervention on behalf of Judah and Jerusalem, and of His return to Zion, are given; and then, on the mention of the false prophets, Christ is brought forth as the One through whose work, as connected with His rejection, all these blessings will be inherited; and as the One, at the same time, who had been the Prophet in their midst, according to Deut. 18, but whose words they would not receive. It is, therefore, the mention of the false prophets that gives the occasion for showing how all had been made to depend upon Christ. Then, secondly, the translation must be weighed. As it stands it gives no distinct meaning, and many suggestions have been made to clear up the difficulty. The one which harmonizes most with the truth, and which also is justified critically, gives as the rendering of the last clause, "for man has acquired me [as a slave] from my youth."3 The meaning of these words may. be given in the language of another: "Christ takes the humble position of One devoted to the service of man in the circumstances into which Adam was brought by sin (that is, with respect to His position as a man living in this world)." He was a, nay, the prophet, and God had said that He would require it from the man who would not hearken to the words which Christ should speak in His name. But refused from the very outset, He became a husbandman, a sower of seed (Matt. 13), a dresser of the vineyard (Luke 13), in a word, He became the servant of man for the glory of God. He thus said to His disciples, "I am among you as He that serveth;" for indeed He took upon Him the form of a servant, and became in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion is a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. This verse, therefore, opens out to us the lowly place of service which Christ took, on His first coming, in the midst of Israel, and reveals that unquenchable love which led Him to devote Himself to their true interests in spite of all that they were, and of their enmity and hatred. It contains, in a word, the secret of redemption.
The following verse thus tells of His rejection: "And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." (v. 6.) What a contrast! He had in love become the servant of man, and for His love He had hatred, rejection, and crucifixion, and this, as He explains, in the house of His friends. For, according to the flesh, He was a Jew, Son of David, heir of the promises, and as such he come into the house of His friends. For Him, too, they waited; all their hopes were centred on His advent, and yet they would not receive Him, but met Him with the enmity of their evil hearts, and rested not until they had pierced His hands and His feet. All this is familiar to us, but we never weary of meditating upon it, because the cross, and the cross alone, is the measure of His love. One further remark may be added. He cannot conceal His love for His people; for though showing the wounds He had received while in their midst, He yet says, "the house of my friends." Truly, blessed Lord, thy love is both unchangeable and unquenchable!
He was wounded by His friends, but He was smitten of Jehovah and thus we read, "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones." (v. 7.) The application and fulfilment of this scripture have been indicated by the Lord Himself. After the Passover feast, "when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye 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." (Matt. 26:30-31.) This makes it plain that the death of Christ in His character as the Shepherd is signified, and thus supplies the key to the interpretation of the passage. The address is to the sword, the sword being a figure of the judicial stroke that fell upon Christ in His death (compare Jer. 47:6); and the command to smite reveals that while the Jews by wicked hands took and crucified their Messiah, He was yet delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Wounded in the house of his friends was man's work and man's wickedness, smitten by the sword of judgment, though man was the instrument, brings in rather God's action; and thus in these two verses we have indicated His sufferings from the hands of man, and His sufferings from the hand of God. Under the hand of man He died for righteousness' sake a martyr, as suffering under the hand of God, because He offered Himself for the glory of God in expiation, He died as the sacrifice for sin. The sixth verse is therefore the sixty-ninth, and the seventh is the twenty-second Psalm.
Then the character in which the Messiah is here presented must be noticed. First He is termed "My Shepherd." This title is especially used in relation to Israel. We thus read in Ezekiel, "I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd." (Ezek. 34:23.) And the Lord when down here claimed for Himself that He was the Good Shepherd, even as also the apostle speaks of Him as the great Shepherd of the sheep. (Heb. 13) As here used the title describes Him as the Messiah, who, in the words of Isaiah, "shall feed His flock like a shepherd, He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isa. 40:11; compare Ps. 23, Ps. 78:70-72, etc.) Since, moreover, He is termed "my" Shepherd, He is brought before us as the One of God's providing and appointment, and as the One who answers to His mind. In a word, the Messiah will be God's Shepherd for His people when they are once again restored and blessed in the land; and He was presented as such on His first coming, but, refused, He laid down His life for the sheep. He was smitten of Jehovah's sword in the language of our Scripture. If, however, the term shepherd points to His official place as the King, "the man that is my fellow" reveals to us His divinity; for of no other than He, who was one with the Father (John 10), who subsisted in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God (Phil. 2), and who, as the Word was with God and was God (John 1), could such language be employed. Wondrous words are they to be spoken of the meek and lowly Jesus, of Him whose "visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men" (Isa. 52:14); but being used, they unfold the truth that Jesus of Nazareth was in very deed God manifest in flesh. And remark, as has often been done, that, addressed here in His humiliation as the "fellow" of Jehovah, in His exaltation where He is addressed as God, the saints are spoken of as His "fellows." (Psalm 45; Heb. 1.)
The Messiah then, as the Shepherd of Israel, and as the One who is described as the fellow of Jehovah is seen here as smitten4 — smitten by the sword of judgment because, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for the sheep, thus intercepting the stroke that was their due, that He might, on their behalf, meet all God's holy claims, and glorify Him concerning their sins.
A twofold immediate effect here follows. First, the sheep are scattered. This was fulfilled literally on the night of His apprehension, when all His disciples, those who had acknowledged Him as the Shepherd of Israel, forsook Him and fled; and in another way, we cannot doubt, it has been accomplished in the scattering of the Jews over the face of the whole earth; for it is written, "He that scattereth Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock." (Jer. 31:10) He came to gather His sheep, but when they as a people refused to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and He was smitten, God in His government, and judicially, "scattered" the flock. It is also added, "And I will turn mine hand upon the little ones."5 Thus while judgment should descend upon the sheep who did not know the voice of their Shepherd, and who, instead of following Him, demanded His crucifixion, God would cover with His hand the "little ones" who had recognized their Messiah, the remnant, in fact, who had attached themselves to Him during His earthly ministry, in that day of evil and trouble.
Lastly, we have the consequences of the smiting of the Shepherd in their final results for God's people. "And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God." (vv. 8, 9.) It is clear, we judge, that the whole of the present interval of grace must be interposed between the seventh and eighth verses; for while judgment, and terrible judgment, did fall upon the Jewish nation some thirty or forty years after the death of Christ, no such result as the bringing a third part through the fire into relationship with God was then reached. The accomplishment of this word, therefore, must be looked for in the future, when the Jews shall have been brought back to their land in unbelief, when God will resume His dealings with them, and when, as we know from other scriptures (Matt. 24; Rev. 13) they will be subjected to hitherto unheard of persecutions. It is then that God will deal with them on account of their sin in rejecting their Messiah, and when, as we read here, two parts "shall be cut off and die," and when, as the Lord foretold, "except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." (Matt. 24:22.) But a third part shall be brought through this fire, a fire seven times hotter than even Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, and God will purify them in the process, refining them as silver, and trying them as gold (compare Malachi 3:2-3, also 1 Peter 1:7), and thereby bring them back into relationship with Jehovah their God.6 This represents the end of all God's ways, in His judicial dealings, with the Jews. Because of their sins He had written the sentence of Lo-ammi (not-my-people), upon them; and now the sentence is reversed, and He, out of the fulness of His heart, on His part declares, It is my people; and they, brought back, repentant and restored, in gratitude respond, The Lord is my God. Blessed, happy, consummation for which God still waits, and for which too His ancient people unconsciously wait, but which will surely arrive in its own time; and when it comes it will usher in the peace and blessing of the millennial day.
That the word
"fountain" could only be used of water is so apparent that there were no need to
refer to it, were it not that Cowper's popular hymn -
"There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins," etc.,
which is based upon this scripture, has so connected it with the blood of Christ, that the mass of believers have come to regard this as its proper meaning.
2) The reader may remember that a garment of hair, setting forth their moral separation from the evils around, was often worn by the prophets. Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), and John the Baptist (Matt. 3:4), may be cited as examples.
3) Thus Luther translates, "Denn ich habe Menschen gedienet von meiner Jugend auf"; J. N. D.'s French version is, "Car l'homme m'a acquis [comme esclave] dès ma jeunesse"; and the Revised Version gives, "For I have been made a bondman from my youth."
4) We do not enter here upon the question as to whether this smiting can be distinguished, in so far as His Messiahship and the position of His people Israel are concerned, from atonement. As Daniel speaks, He was in this sense cut off, and had nothing; that is, His taking possession of the kingdom was postponed, the delay serving, as we know, as the occasion for the unfolding of God's eternal counsels as to the Church. But inasmuch as the smiting was death, and atonement was thereby accomplished, we have spoken of it in that aspect and character.
5) The point is much discussed whether it is "over" or "upon the little ones. As to the translation either would be correct. The question then arises, Whether the action described is for protection or judgment? Fully admitting that, from usage, the latter sense is to be preferred, we yet judge that, from the context, the former is that intended; viz., that "I will turn mine hand upon [or over] the little ones" — means for their protection.
6) This purified remnant will doubtless be the same as the hundred and forty-four thousand of Rev. 14.