NOTE TO ALL BIBLE READING PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS
Following the August 2004 issue of the Bible Reading Program, we will be replacing regular Scripture readings with supplementary literature until December 1,at which time regular readings will resume. Some of the supplementary material has been referenced in the program before, but we know that not everyone has had an opportunity to read through it. And there will be some material we have not referred to previously. Even if you have gone through some of the items before, you may find them worthwhile to review. In any event, we apologize for the coming temporary delay in regular Scripture readings and, given the breaks we have already had, any impression that the program is losing steam. Indeed, we hope that the insertion of this extra material over the next three months will allow us to resume a regular schedule of one Bible and commentary reading per weekday after this temporary delay.
You have of course noticed that there have recently been, as alluded to above, far more breaks and stretching of material in the program than usual. This is due to a persistent production schedule problem that has been difficult to resolve—made worse of late by other urgent projects and the amount of research needed on recent sections covered. Regrettably, the breaks and stretching of material used recently in attempts to alleviate the problem have not helped enough. We hope that the publication of the supplementary material for the next three months will give us the time needed to catch up on regular commentaries—and eliminate the need for all but the planned festival breaks in the year. September, October and November seemed the best time for this course correction because of the long Feast break that would fall in this period anyway.
Please bear in mind that keeping on schedule requires writing about one commentary each weekday. As you can imagine, this is a rather tall order, so your prayers for God's direction and empowerment are certainly needed and appreciated.
For those who filled out the Bible Reading Program survey, we are grateful for your input. The fall program change will also give us time to evaluate that input and use it to refine the program where warranted when regular readings resume.
Thanks to everyone for your patience and understanding—and for your continued participation. We will yet make it to the end!
Prophecy Against Judah's Neighbors (Zechariah 9:1-10:1) August 1-5
Chapters 9-14 of Zechariah contain two undated oracles. They may have been written years after chapters 1-8. Some have suggested a time in the prophet's old age, perhaps later than the Persian conflict with Greece around 480 B.C. since Greece appears in this section as a dominant power—though this is not a requirement, as God well knew that Greece would emerge as such a power. The focus of this section of prophecy is predominantly on the end time, with 18 occurrences of the phrase "in that day." And it is a heavily messianic section, referring to both the first and second comings of the Messiah.
Verses 1-2 of chapter 9 label the first oracle as a message against the land of Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre and Sidon (and verses 5-7 add the cities of Philistia). Hadrach was in Syria, "north of Hamath on the Orontes River, southwest of Aleppo" (The Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 1). Verses 3-4 describe destruction to come on Tyre, reminiscent of Ezekiel's prophecies against Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28. As explained in the Bible Reading Program comments on those prophecies, destruction of both ancient Tyre and its end-time counterpart appears to be intended. The greatest ancient destruction of Tyre was accomplished by Alexander the Great—as the unwitting agent of God—when he rebuilt an ancient causeway out to the island fortress, breached its towering walls and set the city ablaze. And this was a forerunner of the destruction God will bring against end-time Tyre—that is, the global power bloc also referred to in prophecy as "Babylon the Great" (see Revelation 18).
Many see Zechariah 9:1-8 as descriptive of Alexander's march down the eastern Mediterranean coastline, as he subdued the Persian territories there. "His successes," commentator Charles Feinberg states, "are recounted in verses 1-7, and verse 8 notes the deliverance of Jerusalem. After the Battle of Issus, Alexander quickly conquered Damascus, Sidon, Tyre (after seven months it was burned), Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron. The course of his victories in 332 BC was from northern Syria south by the valley of the Orontes River to Damascus, then along the Phoenician and Philistine coast" (The Minor Prophets, 1990, p. 314). This was more than a century after Zechariah lived.
Verses 5-6 says, "The king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited. A mixed race ['bastard' in the King James Version here is an inaccurate translation] shall settle in Ashdod." In Alexander's conquest, "Ashkelon lost its population, and Gaza was reduced after a siege of a few months.... Special mention is made by a contemporary of Alexander that the king of Gaza was brought alive to the conqueror after the city was taken; the satrap, or petty 'king' of the city, was bound to a chariot and dragged around the city to his death.... Ashdod was to lose its native population during this invasion, being replaced by a...mongrel people. It was Alexander's policy to mingle different conquered peoples" (p. 316).
Notice that verse 1 mentioned the eyes of all people, especially "all the tribes of Israel" being on the Lord—that is, on Him carrying out His will against these nations. The scattered tribes of Israel, on the northern periphery of the Persian Empire, experienced a measure of liberation through the conquests of Alexander. Yet this could also signify all the Israelites of the end time witnessing the coming of the Lord to deliver them—as described later in the chapter (see verse 14).
Verse 7 describes the removal of unclean and idolatrous practices from the Philistines—and apparently their conversion, as their remnant will be for God. This will be fulfilled at the return of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that the earlier verses in this prophecy are likely dual—applying to both ancient and future times. Ekron, probably representative in verse 7 of all the Philistines who are left, "will be like the Jebusites [the former inhabitants of Jerusalem] in a good sense. When David conquered Jerusalem, he did not destroy the Jebusites; instead, they were absorbed into Judah (e.g., Araunah in 2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:18). So it will be with a remnant of the Philistines" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 5-7).
Verse 8 further shows the end-time element of this prophecy, as God promises to never again allow a foreign oppressor to tramp through His people's land. Since the time of Alexander, other oppressors have clearly afflicted the people of God. So the prophecy must refer to the time beyond Christ's return.
The Messiah's First and Second Comings (Zechariah 9:1-10:1)
Zechariah 9:9 contains the prophecy of the saving Messiah arriving on the colt of a donkey. This was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on such a donkey colt a few days before His crucifixion (Matthew 21:2-7; John 12:12-15). "The donkey was the mount of princes (Judg. 5:10; 10:4; 12:14) and kings (2 Sam.16:1, 2)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Zechariah 9:9). God had forbidden Israel's kings from multiplying horses to themselves (Deuteronomy 17:16). Horses would have been a symbol of exaltation and conquest. Notice that Zechariah 9:10 shows horses and chariots as war implements. The donkey was to symbolize humility and peace—and Israel's anointed kings were to represent the future Messiah who would humble Himself in the cause of ultimate peace.
Yet Jesus' first coming is not the primary focus of the remainder of the chapter. Verse 10 will not be fulfilled until Christ's second coming. Note the reference to Ephraim, as representative of the northern tribes. The end of the verse describes the Messiah's global dominion. In the remaining verses, we see that God will deliver His people.
Yet though Christ speaks peace to the nations (verse 10)—and indeed has done so through Scripture for nearly 2,000 years—they hatefully reject Him. He must therefore subdue them through means of war (verses 13-15). God will even use the returned captives of Ephraim (representative of the northern tribes) and Judah to fight their enemies. This is not a contradiction of the peaceful donkey imagery. Rather, it exactly parallels an ancient prophecy given about the Messiah by the patriarch Jacob: "The scepter [symbol of kingship] shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [i.e., the Messiah] comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes" (Genesis 49:10-11). "The imagery in this verse describes the warfare that the Messiah will wage to establish His reign (Ps. 2; 110; Rev. 19:11-21). Wine recalls the color of blood" (Nelson, note on Genesis 49:11-12).
Notice in verse 13 that the Israelites fight against the sons of Greece. The first part of the chapter (verses 1-8) seemed to indicate the Greco-Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great as typical of the coming of the Messiah. Yet here we see Greece as the enemy. Some have attempted to link verse 13 with the Jewish fight in the days of the Maccabees against the Seleucid Greek overlords of Syria. Yet, while there may have been a forerunner in that divinely assisted struggle, the verse here clearly mentions the presence of not just Judah but also Ephraim, as representative of the northern tribes—and they were not present during the Maccabean period.
The actual Hebrew word for Greece is Yavan (written in English as Javan). And the sons of Javan could refer to the nationalities listed in the table of nations in Genesis 10. "The sons of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim" (verse 4). Javan is generally understood to represent the Greeks. Elishah is typically equated with Cyprus. Tarshish is often thought to denote southern Europeans of the western Mediterranean, such as Spain (site of ancient Tartessus). Kittim, denoting western lands, could refer to people of Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Italy and perhaps other western Mediterranean areas. Dodanim (spelled "Rodanim" in 1 Chronicles 1:7) may correspond to the Rhodians and other Aegean peoples. So southern Europeans could be intended in Zechariah 9:13 by Javan and his sons. Interestingly, this is where the descendants of ancient Tyre and Sidon may be found today—as well as the descendants of ancient Babylon. So the end-time Babylon, centered at Rome, may well be in mind in Zechariah 9:13. Indeed, as this latter-day system descends from ancient Greece—as from ancient Persia and Babylon before it—those who are part of it can rightly be described as descendants of Greece.
Yet the reference here may also be to the Hellenization (spread of Greek culture) begun under Alexander. By the time of Jesus' first coming, the Jews regarded all non-Jews as "Greek"—a term frequently used in the New Testament for any and all gentiles. Foreseeing this divide, God in Zechariah 9:13 may simply be contrasting the Israelites with their gentile enemies. Even today, Greece is reckoned as the birthplace of Western civilization.
The returned exiles of Israel and Judah, though reduced to mainly slingstones for weapons, will fight together against their foes—and will miraculously gain victory as Christ returns in power and glory to save them (verses 13-16). In verse 15, "Zechariah describes the victory banquet of God's people in celebration of His victory over the nations and securing of Jerusalem. The people will be filled with drink like sacrificial basins were filled with blood, and they will be filled with meat like the corners of the sacrificial altar (see Ps. 110)" (Nelson, note on verse 15).
This mighty deliverance will come "in that day" (verse 16)—the Day of the Lord. And the people of God will experience great blessing and prosperity (verses 16-17). In 10:1, "the latter rain (Deut. 11:14) refers to the rain that comes in late spring and is essential for an abundant grain harvest" (note on Zechariah 10:1). The rains signify all blessings, both physical and spiritual. God's people will pray for these—and He will answer their prayers in abundance. Just as thunder and lightning precedes a shower of rain, so will the lightning, trumpet and whirlwind of Christ's coming (9:14) precede a shower of blessings—the greatest blessing being the pouring out of God's Spirit.
This oracle continues through the remainder of Zechariah 10 and chapter 11—our next two readings.