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Zechariah 9:1-17 | Werner Bible Commentary

Zechariah 9:1-17

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The first word of the Hebrew text is massá’. In the Septuagint, this noun is rendered lémma, which word basically denotes “something that is received” and so may be understood to mean a “received message.” The Vulgate rendering for massá’ is onus (“load” or “burden”). Renderings of massá’ found in modern translations include “burden,” “oracle,” “word,” “message,” “prophecy,” and “pronouncement.” (9:1)

The message is designated as the “word of YHWH.” It appears that the “word of YHWH” is referred to as coming to have a resting place “in the land of Hadrach and Damascus.” A number of translations render the preposition preceding “land of Hadrach” as “against,” which is a possible significance. In the Septuagint, however, the preposition is translated “in,” and that is also the reading of the partially preserved text in a Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr). The rendering “in” may be the preferable choice, for the phrase where the preposition appears may then be translated, “In the land of Hadrach and Damascus, the word of YHWH [will have] its [Hebrew, ‘his’ (to agree with the masculine gender of the noun ‘word’)] resting place.” This could indicate that the “word of YHWH” would from then onward have a direct bearing on people beyond the former borders of the land of Israel as if it had taken up residence “in the land of Hadrach and Damascus.” From this standpoint, YHWH may also be regarded as actively present in this region. (9:1; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint reading and the fragmentary Greek scroll [8HevXIIgr].)

The “land of Hadrach” appears to have been a district in Syria, where Hadrach was the principal city. Hadrach has commonly been identified with the Hatarikka that is mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions and has been linked to Tell Afis, a site southwest of Aleppo in Syria. Damascus lies much farther to the south of Tell Afis. The reference to Damascus probably also includes the district surrounding the city. (9:1)

A measure of obscurity exists regarding the concluding phrase, which many have emended to read “cities of Aram” instead of “eye of man.” This emendation does not find any support in either the Septuagint (kýrios ephora anthrópous kaí pásas phylás tou Israel [the “Lord watches men and all the tribes of Israel”]) or the Vulgate (oculus hominis et omnium tribuum Israhel [“eye of man and all the tribes of Israel”]). The fragmentary text of this verse in a Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr), though missing some of the letters, reads, “eye of men and all the tribes of Israel.” It appears preferable, therefore, to follow the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A literal rendering of the concluding phrase then would be, “for to YHWH the eye of man and all the tribes of Israel.” This could be understood to mean that the eye of man (a collective singular) or the eyes of non-Israelite people and all the tribes of Israel would be directed to YHWH, looking to him as their God. (9:1)

Hamath is referred to as “bordering on it” (literally, “on her” (a feminine suffix), probably meaning on the “land” (’érets [a noun in the feminine gender]) that was mentioned in the preceding verse. Likely the designation “Hamath” includes the district in which it was the major city, a site on the Orontes River and nearly 120 miles (c. 190 kilometers) north of Damascus. As principal cities, Tyre and Sidon may well represent all of Phoenicia. Regarding these cities, the verse concludes with the words, “for she is [they are (LXX)] very wise.” This wisdom could relate to the outstanding success in commercial activity, with Tyre especially being noted for its skilled seamen and craftsmen. (9:2)

When linked to the words of verse 1, Hamath, Tyre, and Sidon would also experience YHWH’s active involvement in their affairs, for they would be affected by his word or his expressed will and purpose. According to the Septuagint rendering, God’s watching would include his doing so over “Emath [Hamath] in its borders, Tyre and Sidon.” (9:2)

The city of Tyre had made itself secure, having built a “rampart” or “fortresses” (LXX). In his Anabasis of Alexander (II, xxi), the historian Arrian, writing in the second century CE, referred to a section of the walls of Tyre as being 150 feet (46 meters) in height and built of large stone blocks held together with mortar. Through its profitable trade, Tyre had “heaped up silver like dust and gold like the mud of the streets.” (9:3)

Tyre’s immense wealth and strong fortifications could not provide real security. This is because the “Lord” had purposed to “strip” Tyre and to “cast her wealth [cháyil] into the sea.” Tyre itself would be “consumed by fire.” The Hebrew word cháyil can designate either “wealth” or “power.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the Lord would come to possess Tyre and “strike its power into the sea.” (9:4; see the Notes section.)

Historically, Alexander the Great conquered the city in 332 BCE after a siege that lasted from January to July. In the first century CE, Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote the following about the fate of Tyre after the conquest of Alexander the Great: “The extent of the bloodshed can be judged from the fact that 6,000 fighting-men were slaughtered within the city’s fortifications. It was a sad spectacle that the king’s fury then provided for the victors: 2,000 [Tyrians], by the killing of whom the rage subsided, now hung fastened to timbers all along the huge expanse of the beach.” (9:4; for pictures of and comments about Tyre, see Tyre.)

The inhabitants of the Philistine city of Ashkelon, upon “seeing” or learning about the fall of Tyre, would become fearful. In relation to the conquest of Alexander the Great, this fear would have been justified, for he and his forces did come to Philistia. In the Hebrew text, the choice of words is poetic (tere’ (“will see”), tiyra’ (“will be afraid”) (9:5)

In view of the fate of Tyre, the people of the Philistine city of Gaza would share the fear of the inhabitants of Ashkelon and writhe in anguish. The conquest of Alexander the Great resulted in ruin for Gaza and great pain for the inhabitants. After Alexander’s warriors succeeded in entering the city, the men of Gaza stood together and fought. All of them were slain in the place where “each man had been stationed.” Alexander sold the surviving women and children into slavery. (Arrian [historian in the second century CE] in his Anabasis of Alexander, II, xxvii) (9:5)

The object of the “expectation” or “hope” of Ekron would be put to shame, indicating that there would be no help coming from any quarter to which the inhabitants had looked to assist them in a successful defense of their city. In this manner, the object of their hope would be “put to shame” or be revealed as a disappointment. According to the Septuagint, Akkaron (Ekron) “was put to shame over its transgression.” This suggests that the people of Ekron, having been put to shame or humiliated on account of their record of wrongdoing, would be afraid like Ashkelon and Gaza. (9:5; see the Notes section.)

As a conquered city, Gaza would no longer have a local “king.” He would perish from the city. Conquest would reduce Ashkelon to the state of an uninhabited city. (9:5)

The Hebrew noun mamzér can designate an illegitimate son. As the word relates to the Philistine city of Ashdod, it may be understood to mean that a foreign population would replace the native population. This is the significance conveyed in the Septuagint. “Foreigners will reside in Azotus [Ashdod].” On account of the devastation that would come upon Philistia, YHWH is represented as saying that he would “cut off” or bring an end to the “pride” of the Philistines (allophyles [people of another tribe], LXX). (9:6)

The time would come when a remarkable change would take place among the remnant of the Philistines that would survive the foretold judgment, and that astonishing transformation is represented as something YHWH would bring about. According to a literal translations of the Hebrew text, YHWH declared, “I will take away his blood from his mouth and his abominations from between his teeth.” The singular masculine suffixes in the Hebrew text may be understood as collective singulars that refer to the Philistines. In the Septuagint, the pronouns are plural. “I will remove the blood from their mouth and their abominations from the midst of their teeth.” These words reveal that the Philistines would cease to eat blood or the meat of animals that had not been properly bled. (Compare Genesis 9:4.) The “abominations” that would no longer stick to their teeth would be the meat of unclean animals (as thus classified in the law given to the Israelites [Leviticus 11:1-23; Deuteronomy 14:3-21; compare Daniel 1:8]). A number of translations are specific in conveying this in their renderings. “I shall stop them eating flesh with the blood still in it and feeding on detestable things.” (REB) “No longer will the Philistines eat meat with blood in it or any unclean food.” (CEV) (9:7)

It is also possible that the reference is to the end of practices relating to the worship of nonexistent deities. Idolaters commonly ate part of the meat of animals that were offered as sacrifices, and the animals included ones that were unclean according to the terms of the law given to the Israelites. Accordingly, the Philistines would have eaten meat along with the blood that had not been drained from the sacrificed animals. Both the meat from the sacrifices and the source of that meat would have been abominable or unclean as food. (9:7; compare Isaiah 65:4; 66:17.)

The next phrase (“he also will be remaining for our God”) indicates that a remnant of the Philistines would become worshipers of YHWH. As such, this Philistine remnant would become like a “chieftain” (’allúph) in Judah. In the Septuagint, the corresponding noun for ’allúph is chilíarchos, a term that applies to a commander of a thousand men. This suggests that the translator linked the noun ’allúph to ’éleph, meaning “thousand.” For the Philistine remnant to become like a “chieftain” suggests that they would be fully incorporated as part of the people whom YHWH recognized as his own and have an equal standing with them. This has taken place in connection with the “Israel of God” or the true “seed of Abraham,” among whom all former distinctions that divided people on the basis of race, nation, tribe, social standing, or sex do not exist. (9:7; compare Galatians 3:28, 29; 6:15, 16.)

The incorporation of a Philistine remnant with God’s own people is expressed in still another way. “Ekron [will be] like the Jebusite.” People of the Philistine city of Ekron are hereby portrayed as becoming like the Jebusite. After Jerusalem was seized from the Jebusites during the reign of King David, a remnant of the Jebusites continued to live among the Israelites. This is evident from the fact that King David purchased the future temple site from Araunah (Ornan) the Jebusite. (2 Samuel 24:18-24; 1 Chronicles 21:15-25) Just as Araunah or Ornan was treated with dignity by King David, so a remnant of the Philistines would gain the same dignified standing among the people whom God recognized as belonging to him. (9:7)

The expression “my house” designates the temple of YHWH. He is represented as encamping at his “house” like a guard or a garrison, stopping all from passing through and returning either as attackers or as defiled persons. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to indicate that God would “set up an encampment” for his house. He would not permit his people to be the object of one passing through as an attacker or as an oppressor. According to the Septuagint, no one would “come against them to drive them out.” This is expressed emphatically with two Greek words for “not,” indicating that it would by no means take place. The words attributed to YHWH (“for now I see with my eyes”) reveal that he is fully aware of developments and is always prepared to protect his people. (9:8)

At the time these words were recorded, the Israelites had no king in the royal line of David from the tribe of Judah but were subject to a foreign power. In the future, however, the king from the royal line would come to Zion or Jerusalem. The expressions “daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem” are parallel designations and apply to the people who would be able to cry out joyfully. Zion (or the people) is called upon to rejoice greatly. In the parallel expression, Jerusalem (or the people) is invited to shout or to cry out joyfully. This is because the king would be coming to Zion or Jerusalem. (9:9)

The king is described as “righteous and saved,” also “humble and riding on a donkey, on a young donkey, the offspring [literally, son] of a jenny” (“on a beast of burden, even [on] a young foal” [LXX]) His being “righteous” may point to the fact that he is rightfully king by God’s appointment and not a king who has seized rulership by corrupt means. He would also be righteous or just when administering affairs. His being “saved” could point to his coming to Jerusalem as if saved from battle or as victorious. Another possible meaning is that he is one whom YHWH saves to be king. Unlike monarchs with a proud bearing, this king is “humble,” unassuming, kindly and gentle. He does not make his entrance on a war mount, but on a donkey or an animal used for carrying burdens or for peaceful agricultural labor. (9:9)

Centuries later, the prophetic words regarding this king came to be recognized as applying to Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey on which no one had previously ridden. At that time many acknowledged him as the “son of David” or as the promised Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ in the royal line of David. (9:9; Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; John 12:12-16)

Indicating that the kingship of the one coming to Jerusalem would be rooted in peace, YHWH is represented as saying, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem.” Here Ephraim represents the former kingdom of Israel and Jerusalem the kingdom of Judah. The chariot and the horse were associated with warfare, and their being cut off could indicate that the former hostilities between Israel and Judah would cease and both would be united and benefit from the peaceful rule of the future king. YHWH would also “speak peace to the nations,” granting them the opportunity to submit willingly to the future king without his having to gain dominion over them through battle. This king’s realm is portrayed as greater than existed in the time of David. It would extend “from sea to sea” (the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea) and “from the River” (the Euphrates) to the “ends of the earth.” (9:10)

According to the Septuagint, the future king is the one who would “destroy chariots from Ephraim” and “cavalry from Jerusalem.” Also the “bow of warfare” would be destroyed. The Septuagint rendering appears to limit the peace to the land of God’s people, for “abundance and peace” are represented as being away “from the nations.” As to the reign of the king, it is portrayed as over “waters as far as the sea and the estuaries of the rivers of the earth.” (9:10)

The singular personal pronoun “you” (’at) is feminine gender. This pronoun refers to Jerusalem (verse 9), the “mother” of God’s people, as still having “children” in captivity, imprisonment, or exile. According to the Hebrew text, YHWH would “send” the captives or prisoners “out of the waterless pit” (a dry cistern used as a prison), setting them free from the place of their exile. The basis for deliverance is linked to the “blood of your [Jerusalem’s] covenant,” meaning the covenant that God concluded with his people as represented by their “mother” Jerusalem. (9:11; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

According to Exodus 24:3-8, the “blood of the covenant,” or the blood of sacrificed animals, validated the law covenant or put this covenant in force. In his capacity as mediator, Moses splashed half of the blood of the sacrificial victims on the altar. Then, after reading the law that had been divinely revealed to him and which he recorded, he sprinkled blood from the sacrificial victims on the people. On the basis of the covenant that was thus put into effect, the Israelites came to be YHWH’s people, and this covenant relationship assured that YHWH would free his people who were still captives. (9:11)

In relation to the king who would be coming to Zion, the new covenant provides the basis for a grander liberation. This new covenant was put in force when Jesus, the promised Messiah or Christ in the royal line of David, died a sacrificial death, with his shed blood making possible a deliverance from slavery to sin and the condemnation to which sin leads. (9:11; compare Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:11-28.)

The “prisoners of hope” would be those of God’s people still in exile who had the hope that they would be liberated. They are told, “Return to the stronghold.” This stronghold may be Zion or Jerusalem. YHWH’s promise to these prisoners is that he would restore double of what they had before their state of imprisonment or exile. This promise is expressed emphatically with the words, “Today I declare.” In the Septuagint, the restoring of the people is portrayed as their being compensated double for a single day of alien residence. (9:12; regarding the first part of the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)

In the case of those liberated from sin, the stronghold to which they can return as “children” or citizens is the “Jerusalem above.” (Galatians 4:26) What they receive as God’s approved people in the form of guidance and blessing is indeed comparable to a “double” reward. (9:12)

YHWH is represented as treading the bow, as if placing his foot in the middle of a bow to bend it so as to string it (tying the unattached string to the opposite side). Judah is identified as this “bow,” suggesting that the people of Judah are readied in YHWH’s hand for battle. Ephraim, representing the rest of the people of Israel, appears to be referred to as the one with whom YHWH “fills” the bow. This suggests that the people would be like an arrow in the bow, ready to be launched against the enemy. The attack is portrayed as one against the “sons” or people of “Javan” or Greece, with YHWH wielding the “sons” or people of Zion like the “sword of a warrior” against them. (9:13; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Under the leadership of the Maccabees in the second century BCE, Jewish forces succeeded in gaining remarkable victories. The prophetic words, however, have been even more outstandingly fulfilled in the case of the members of the true Israel of God, those who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and King. Despite their seemingly defenseless state and being submitted to vicious attacks, no power of the enemy has succeeded against them. (Compare Luke 10:19.) As in the case of their Lord and King, they have proved to be unconquerable, remaining firm in their devotion to God with the help of his spirit and not succumbing to the corruption of a world at enmity with him. (9:13; compare John 16:33; 1 John 5:3, 4.)

In the first century CE, the apostle Paul and other loyal disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ waged spiritual warfare, demolishing views or opinions that conflicted with God’s ways, exposing them as worthless and injurious. The battle was against things that were high and raised up against the knowledge of God, which could include everything that defiant humans had exalted as a bulwark against what God had revealed to be his will and purpose. Paul fought hard to triumph over all wrong thoughts, reducing them to the helpless state of captives in subjection to Christ. Like bound captives, these wrong thoughts were deprived of all power to do harm. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5)

Through his prophet, YHWH is identified as the defender of his people. “And YHWH will appear over them,” manifestly as their protector. His defensive action is portrayed in terms of ancient warfare. The “arrow” shot from his bow would go forth “like lightning,” moving speedily and striking like a bolt of lightning. The Lord YHWH (Lord Almighty [LXX]) is represented as blowing on a shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet), sounding a signal for battle. He is then referred to as going with the “tempests of the south.” Winds from the south pass over arid regions, bringing with them a heat wave that can dry up vegetation and proving to be very destructive. The mention of tempests or storms suggests that, in this depiction, the lightning bolt is the arrow and thunder is the sound of the shophar. (9:14; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

“YHWH of hosts [the Lord Almighty (LXX)],” the God with hosts of angels in his service, can and will “cover,” protect or defend his people. They would then, manifestly with his aid, defeat their foes as if “devouring” and “treading down” the “sling stones” that the enemy warriors had hurled. According to the Septuagint, God’s people are the ones who would consume the enemies and “overwhelm them with sling stones.” (9:15)

The reference to drinking “like wine,” or as if it were wine, may be a figurative way of expressing total defeat of the enemies as if the victors were imbibing their blood and then becoming “boisterous” as one would from drinking wine. In view of the link to the “corners of the altar,” the reference to the people becoming “filled like a bowl” appears to refer to being filled like a bowl that is full of the blood from a sacrifice. According to the law, the priest used his finger to put blood on the four horns of the altar, but the majority of the blood would be poured at the base of the altar. (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:18) So it would appear that the corners of the altar would be the corners at the base where the largest quantity of blood was poured. A number of modern translations contain renderings that specifically refer to the bowl as being filled with blood. “They will drink and shout like drunk men. They will be filled like a bowl used for sprinkling blood at the corners of the altar.” (NCV) “They will shout in battle like drunk men and will shed the blood of their enemies; it will flow like the blood of a sacrifice poured on the altar from a bowl.” (GNT, Second Edition) “They will shout in battle as though drunk with wine, shedding the blood of their enemies. They will be filled with blood like a bowl, drenched with blood like the corners of the altar.” (NLT) The Septuagint rendering may indicate that God’s people would “drink” their enemies “like wine,” consuming them, and would fill an “altar” as one might fill “bowls.” (9:15)

On “that day,” the time when he would be acting as the defender of his people, “YHWH their God” would save them. They are described as being “like the flock of his people” or comparable to a flock of sheep under his care as a shepherd. The Septuagint specifically refers to saving his people “like sheep.” They will be very precious to YHWH like the “stones” or jewels of a diadem, sparkling [nasás] “over his land.” There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the form of the Hebrew word that has been linked to nasás. Other suggested meanings besides “sparkle” or “glitter” are “raised,” “lifted up,” or “conspicuous” (like a signal or a banner). The Septuagint rendering is a form of the verb for “roll.” It reads, “for holy stones will roll on his land.” In the Vulgate, the verb is translated “elevated” or “raised up,” and it also uses the expression “holy stones” (“holy stones will be elevated over his land” [lapides sancti elevantur super terram eius]). (9:16)

The elliptical opening phrase, (“for how his goodness and how his beauty”) may be variously understood. It could denote that everything will be good and beautiful. The Hebrew singular masculine suffix could apply to God. “For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” (ESV) As a collective singular, the suffix could refer to the people. “How lovely and beautiful they will be!” (HCSB) Translators have also rendered the phrase so as to apply to the land. “How good and beautiful the land will be!” (GNT, Second Edition) With God’s blessing, the land would produce abundantly. The young men would thrive, as there would be ample grain for making bread to eat, and the maidens would be able to enjoy sweet wine on account of good grape harvests. (9:17; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Notes

In verse 1, the Septuagint does not contain a word for “resting place” but says thysía (“offering” or “sacrifice”), seemingly representing God’s sacrifice as being “in Hadrach [Sedrach] and Damascus.” It appears that the rendering “offering” resulted from reading the consonants (mem [M], nun [N], heth [CH], taw [T], and waw [W]) of the Hebrew expression for “his [or its] resting place” as the consonants for “his offering” (mem [M], nun [N], heth [CH], he [H], and waw [W]). The only difference is one letter, he (H) instead of taw (T), and the Hebrew letters in the ancient scrolls are similar. A Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr) does not read thysía (“offering”) but contains the partially preserved word katápausis (“resting place”). This scroll, like the Masoretic Text, includes the divine name (YHWH) twice, and it is written in paleo-Hebrew script.

In verse 4, the Masoretic Text contains the plural form of the word for “Lord,” which in this case would be a plural of excellence. This is one of the places where the ancient Jewish scribes replaced the divine name (YHWH) with the Hebrew word for “Lord.” Numerous Hebrew manuscripts do contain the divine name. It is also found partially preserved (the last two letters [waw (W) and he (H)] in the paleo-Hebrew script of a Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr).

A Greek Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXIIgr) starts verse 5 with the conjunction kaí, but the alpha (A) is not preserved. Also in this verse, the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, like the Hebrew text, does not say “transgressions.” The codex contains a form of the Greek word elpís, meaning “expectation” or “hope.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 11 represents Jerusalem as sending forth her prisoners from the waterless pit by the “blood of the covenant.” It may be that the translator misread the Hebrew word “send” as a second person singular verb instead of a first person singular verb (“I will send”). Another possibility is that the manuscript that provided the basis for the translation lacked the final yod (Y) of the Hebrew word for “send.”

It appears that the Septuagint rendering of the first part of verse 12 resulted from misreading or from a defective reading of the Hebrew manuscript available to the translator. The Septuagint says, “You will sit in a stronghold, O you captives [bound ones] of the gathering” (or “you assembled captives”). If the Hebrew word for “return” (a form of shuv) was spelled like a form of yasháv, the meaning would be “dwell” or “sit.” The Septuagint translator appears to have taken the Hebrew word for hope tiqváh as a form of qahál (“gather” or “gathering”).

In verse 13, the Septuagint represents God as stretching Judah as a bow for himself and filling Ephraim. The words, “I have filled Ephraim,” do not, however, convey a comprehensible significance. This verse then concludes, “I will raise up your children, O Zion, against the children of the Greeks, and I will handle you like a sword of a warrior.”

The initial phrase of verse 14 in the Septuagint may be rendered, “And the Lord will be over [epí] them,” meaning that he would be over his people as their protector and defender. It is also possible to understand the Greek preposition epí to mean “against” (as in the verse 13). In that case, the opening words of verse 14 may be regarded as a continuation of the phrase about the “children of the Greeks” and express the thought that the “Lord will be against them.” The Septuagint does not contain the expression “tempests [or storms] of the south” but says “tempest of his threatening,” suggesting that the destructive tempest is a manifestation of God’s anger.

The rendering of verse 17 in the Septuagint conveys the basic sense of the extant Hebrew text. “For if anything of his is good and if anything from him is beautiful, [there will be] grain for young men and pleasant-smelling wine for maidens.” The things “of his” or “from him” could be understood to refer to the good and beautiful things that have God as their source and would include the yield of the ground. With his blessing, young men would have plenty to eat, for there would be abundant grain for baking bread. There would also be a good grape harvest. Therefore, the maidens or virgins would be able to partake of sweet wine.