All Nations to Come Against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12) August 16-20
Chapter 12 begins the final oracle in the book of Zechariah. Verse 1 in the New King James Version refers to it as the burden of the word of the Lord "against Israel," but this is evidently an inaccurate translation. The King James Version and J.P. Green's Literal Translation both have "for Israel." The New International Version has "concerning Israel." While there is mention of punishment to come on Israel and Judah in this section, the primary focus is obviously on their deliverance and judgment being visited on the nations.
The prophecies in chapters 12-14 for the most part concern the end time. Of the 18 occurrences in the last two oracles of the phrase "in that day"—referring to the future Day of the Lord—16 appear in the second oracle. Monumental, earth-shaking events are depicted in this section. At the outset, God is declared to be the great Creator—both of the physical universe and the spiritual component in human beings (12:1). It is He who is able to bring these awesome, civilization-altering events to pass.
God says that Jerusalem will be as a cup of wine or strong drink causing drunkenness to all surrounding peoples (verses 2-3). Perhaps this implies national enemies being totally irrational about trying to control the city, as is certainly the case today. Yet the cup is also a metaphor for God's wrath, as would-be conquerors are turned into reeling and collapsing men, incoherent and confused as if drunk (compare Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 13:13; 25:15-28; 51:7; Ezekiel 23:33; Revelation 14:10; 16:19). The next several verses of Zechariah 12 make it clear that this is exactly what is going to happen.
What is the time frame of the siege of Judah and Jerusalem described here? After Zechariah wrote, the next time the land of Judah would experience invasion and siege was during the time of the Seleucid Greek rulers of Syria. The Jews under the Maccabees would eventually succeed in pushing the Seleucids out. And it could be that the prophecy referred in small measure to those events. Yet the circumstances of those events were vastly different than the details given in the prophecy. "The fact is, no such coalition of nations (not even in the Roman war of the first century) against Israel has ever occurred in the past" (Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, p. 330). Like most of the rest of this section, this prophecy is for the future—to be fulfilled "in that day" (verse 4), the Day of the Lord. The mention of "all peoples" here (verse 3) corresponds to God bringing "all nations" down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat in Joel 3:1-2. They will come to fight against the returning Jesus Christ—and will suffer utter defeat.
In the final battle, God says He "will strike every horse with confusion, and its rider with madness...every horse of the peoples with blindness" (12:4). Seeming to parallel this, Zechariah 14:13-15 tells us that God will send a "great panic" among the attacking nations, causing them to slaughter one another in the ensuing confusion. While there may well be cavalry in the final battle over Jerusalem, perhaps horses in the end-time setting of Zechariah 12:4 refers more broadly to military vehicles. In the context of modern warfare, "blindness" and "confusion" among tanks and other war vehicles could perhaps refer to electronic sensors and guidance systems malfunctioning—leading to a flurry of "friendly fire incidents" sparking uncontrolled infighting. Of course, God can use other supernatural means to turn His enemies against one another—just as He did to ancient gentile forces that came against Judah in the days of Kings Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah (see 2 Chronicles 20; 2 Kings 18-19)
A remnant of Judah, rising from the oppression of the Great Tribulation, will be miraculously invigorated. Even though Jerusalem will have been occupied by enemy forces from the beginning of the Tribulation period, it is evident from Zechariah 12 that the Jews will retake the city and its surrounding territory shortly before Christ's return—perhaps when forces of the end-time Beast power depart from Jerusalem to meet the Eastern forces arriving at Armageddon (Mount Megiddo) in northern Israel (see Revelation 16:12-16).
God says He will make Judah's leaders "like a firepan in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves" (Zechariah 12:6)—that is, "a firepan used to carry hot coals for the purpose of starting a fire, and...a fiery torch that could quickly ignite a field of cut grain" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 6). The Living Bible paraphrases verse 6 this way: "In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a little fire that sets the forests aflame—like a burning match among the sheaves; they will burn up all the neighboring nations right and left." This ties back to the prophecies in Zechariah 9:13-15 and 10:3 and verse 5 of God using Ephraim and Judah to fight their enemies at Christ's return—as well as the very clear statement in Zechariah 14:14: "Judah also will fight at Jerusalem" (see also Isaiah 41:14-15; Micah 4:13; Jeremiah 51:20-24). Of course, deliverance will come through the Lord Himself arriving to destroy His people's enemies (Zechariah 12:7-9).
Verses 7-9 are quite remarkable in that they mention the "house of David" as a recognizable factor in the end time. This refers not to the Messiah (the returning Lord Himself), but to human beings in need of His deliverance and salvation. The dynasty of David did not end with the death of Jeconiah and Zedekiah in Babylon. Rather, it has continued through human rulers over the people of Ephraim in Great Britain. (To learn more about this, refer to our free online publication The Throne of Britain: Its Biblical Origin and Future.)
According to verse 8, "every ability will be enhanced, so the least individual will be like the undefeated warrior, David, and the royal line like the Angel of the Lord [here clearly equated with God].... While the hyperbole is intended to emphasize God's enablement, it may have prophetic significance, for Christ, David's descendant, is also the Lord" (Lawrence Richards, The Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 8).
Mourning Over the Pierced One (Zechariah 12)
Verse 10 makes the end-time context of the events of the chapter clear. It is the time of the pouring out of God's Spirit—starting with the people of Judah. "The prophet sets forth, as nowhere else in Scripture with such vividness and power, the conversion of Israel to the Lord. Nothing in Israel's past history can be interpreted as the fulfillment of this passage. In that coming day of Israel's national atonement, the Lord will pour upon the royal house and all who dwell in Jerusalem, then throughout the whole nation, the spirit of grace and supplication" (Feinberg, p. 332).
Of that time, the Lord makes this incredible statement: "They will look on [or 'to'] Me whom they pierced." The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "The most common meaning of the Hebrew preposition translated 'on' is 'to' (NIV mg.), and there is no good contextual reason to depart from it here. The emphasis, then, is not on looking 'on' (or 'at') the Messiah literally but on [at last] looking 'to' the Messiah in faith (cf. Num 21:9; Isa 45:22; John 3:14-15)" (note on Zechariah 12:10). Yet it could well be "on," especially given the specific reference to this time in Revelation 1:7: "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him."
Regarding the pierced Messiah, Zechariah says of the people of Judah, "Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn." They will finally realize what God meant through David in prophesying, "They pierced My hands and My feet" (Psalm 22:16)—that is, the nailing of the Messiah to the cross as part of His atoning suffering and death. They will at last recognize that Jesus Christ was indeed the true Messiah—that the very One they worshiped as God was made flesh and that His flesh was pierced with scourge, thorns, nails and spear for the sake of their sins and those of all humanity.
Early on the Jews understood the Pierced One here as a messianic designation, yet they found it difficult to reconcile with other messianic references to the coming conquering King. "The Talmud pronounces peace upon one who refers the passage to [the supposed] Messiah the son of Joseph, yet to be slain. The theory of two Messiahs, one to die and one to reign, is an invention of the rabbis without foundation in Scripture to explain the passages which present the Messiah as suffering and as ruling. The answer is to be found in the two advents [comings] of the one Messiah, as proved by this very passage under consideration. It is not some unknown martyr of whom Zechariah is speaking but of the coming Messiah Himself. The oldest interpreters of the passage, both Jewish and Christian, so understood it" (Feinberg, p. 333).
Sadly, "Jewish commentators [now] often regard this as a corporate reference to the Jews killed in the defense of Jerusalem (12:1-9)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 10). That is, "they will look to Me whom they pierced" is reinterpreted to mean "they will look to Me about those whom they [the enemy] pierced." The Jewish Tanakh says, "They shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them as over a favorite son..." This alteration is a rather convenient way of sidestepping the whole issue. Interestingly, the Tanakh has a footnote on this verse stating, "Meaning of Heb[rew] uncertain." One day these Hebrew speakers will understand what their own language is telling them here. And when they do, they will greatly mourn over their failure to recognize their Messiah sooner and over their sins, which necessitated His atoning death.
The reference to the prior "mourning at Haddad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo" (verse 11) is uncertain. The Expositor's Bible Commentary takes "Hadad-Rimmon as a place name (containing the names of ancient Semitic fertility gods) near Megiddo. So understood, the simile in v. 11 refers to the people of this town mourning the death of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:20-27; see v. 22 there for the plain of Megiddo and v. 24 for the mourning)" (note on Zechariah 12:11). Feinberg agrees: "The calamity referred to was Pharaoh-Necho's slaying of the godly Josiah, the only ray of hope of the nation between Hezekiah and the fall of the Jewish nation.... Even Jeremiah wrote special dirges for the occasion" (p. 333). This seems rather likely, especially given that 2 Chronicles 35:25 says that mourning over Josiah became "a custom in Israel"—perhaps one that was still known in Zechariah's day.
As in the former occasion, the whole nation will suffer intense sorrow and grief. The mention of the house of David alongside the house of Nathan is interesting. Judah's kings were of the line of David's son Solomon. Yet it is from David's younger son Nathan that Jesus Christ came. Perhaps the idea is that all the families of David, from the highest to the lowest, will mourn. Again, this means that there will be a recognizable Davidic royal family to speak of at the time of Christ's return. Listed next, "the house of Levi speaks of the priestly family; Shimei was of the family of Gershon, son of Levi (Num 3:17, 18, 21). Different priestly classes are comprehended here. The leaders, who are pointed out, and the common people of the land will engage together in the lamentation, each in his individual place" (p. 334).
Note the mourning of each family "by itself, and their wives by themselves" (Zechariah 12:13-14). "These words are quoted in the Talmud as an argument for separating men and women in worship. But the verse seems to [simply] indicate that each mourner will face his or her sorrow alone, without the comfort of companionship" (Nelson, note on verses 12-14). Feinberg correctly notes: "The prophet means that the mourning will be so intense as to transcend even the closest ties of earth, those between husband and wife. Each will want to be alone with God in that hour" (p. 334). And in the face of this great and heartfelt repentance, God, in His great mercy, will pardon the transgression of His people. Indeed, their contrition of spirit is actually from Him. As He stated up front in verse 10, this is not a time of condemnation, but rather the awesome pouring out on His people of His wonderful Spirit of grace. We will see more about this in the next chapter.