In the eight night visions which Zechariah received from the Lord, the Lord made clear that the temple would be rebuilt and Jerusalem would become an ever-expanding city and foreign nations would come and worship the Lord and the Lord would be there again, among his people to bless them. And while the Lord’s promises were fulfilled in part in the days of Zechariah, the visions pointed forward to the church of Jesus Christ, which is growing throughout the world and which is filled with people from every nation and it’s where God now dwells by his Spirit. And the visions also pointed forward beyond this world to the new Jerusalem to come in the new heavens and earth where God will dwell with his people for ever and for ever.
And the Lord also spoke about his servant, the Branch, who would be both a priest and a king and who would establish peace. And he was referring to the coming of the Lord Jesus, who is our Great High Priest, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins; and who is our Great King, who calls us into his everlasting kingdom. And he gives us peace, because, through faith in him , we have peace with God; and we don’t need to be afraid of anything, because he promises to keep us for ever.
And then last week, we saw that chapters 7 and 8 focused on the past and on the future. In the past, God’s people were unfaithful to him; and they refused to pay attention to the Lord and his word; and they stubbornly turned their backs and stopped up their ears; and they made their hearts as hard as flint and they would not listen to the law or to the words of the Lord spoken by his prophets. And so, the Lord was angry with them and he sent them away from the Promised Land and into exile to far off lands. But then he revealed how he will return to Jerusalem; and he will bring back his exiled people; and he will dwell with them; and old men and women will sit in the streets of the city and boys and girls will play there. There will be no one to harm them; and they will live in peace and safety; and the Lord will bless them with good things to enjoy; and foreigners will join them there to worship the Lord. And once again, the Lord’s promises were fulfilled in part in Zechariah’s day. And they are fulfilled more fully in the church of Jesus Christ. But they will be fulfilled in all their fullness in the new and better world to come, where all of God’s people, drawn from every nation, will live in perfect peace and rest in the presence of God for ever.
The Lord spoke through Zechariah to his despondent people who had returned from exile and who were struggling to rebuild the temple. The Lord spoke to them and encouraged them. And the Lord speaks through Zechariah’s prophecy to his despondent people in every generation to encourage us with visions of better days to come. And he speaks to us in the same way in chapter 9 which is in three parts. In the first part, verses 1 to 8, the Lord announced judgment and salvation on the nations around Israel. In the second part, verses 9 and 10, the Lord announced the coming of his righteous king. And in the third part, verses 11 to 17, the Lord announced freedom for his people and how they will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. And we know that the king has already come, because the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s king, who came into the world to save us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the presence of God in the new heavens and earth.
Verses 1 to 8
In verses 1 to 8, the Lord’s oracle, or message, to his people draws on the past in order to speak about the future. What I mean is that he refers to old enemies from Israel’s past to speak about the coming day of judgment. He mentions Hadrach and Damascus in verse 1 and Hamath and Tyre and Sidon in verse 2. The first three were northern cities on the border of the Promised Land. Tyre and Sidon were on the coast to the west of the land. And the Lord had prophesied judgment on these cities through the former prophets. That is, through men like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos. And the Lord’s message about them now was also a message of judgment. So, in verse 1, this is a word against Hadrach. And then we’re told that the word of the Lord will rest upon Damascus and upon Hamath and upon Tyre and Sidon. The word will rest upon those cities in the sense that God’s word of judgment on those cities, spoken through the former prophets, awaits fulfilment.
We’re told in verse 3 that Tyre had built herself into a stronghold. The historians tell us that the people of Tyre had built a fortified city for themselves on an island about a mile out to sea. And it had withstood attacks from several powerful nations. Tyre and Sidon, being on the coast, were sea ports and had become prosperous. And the Lord’s oracle refers to that when it says that Tyre had heaped up silver like dust and gold like the dirt in the streets. In other words, silver and gold were common in Tyre because it had become a wealthy city. However, the Lord will take away her possessions and will destroy her power on the sea and the city will be consumed by fire. So, all of these cities, all of them on the border with the Promised Land, some to the north, and some on the west, will one day be destroyed. God will come and punish them just as he had warned before through the former prophets before the exile.
And then in verses 5 to 8, the Lord refers to other cities which might be familiar to you, because these cities are mentioned in 1 and 2 Samuel. These are some of the cities which belonged to the Philistines: Ashkelon and Gaza and Ashdod and Ekron. Ashkelon will see what happened to the other cities and will begin to fear, because the people will suspect that they are next. Gaza and Ekron will writhe in agony. Gaza will lose her king, presumably because he’ll be killed in battle. Ashkelon will be deserted: the people will either be killed or they will flee for their lives. And foreigners will occupy Ashdod: they will take over the city from its original inhabitants, who have been defeated. And in this way, the Lord will cut down the pride of the Philistines. The Lord will humble them and bring them down and make them nothing.
However, as well as announcing judgment on these nations, there are also signs that some of the people will be saved. And not only will they be saved, but they’ll be incorporated into Israel. That is, they will become members of God’s people. Go back to verse 1, where it says that the eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord. It’s not entirely clear, but the Lord could be announcing that instead of looking to their idols for help, they will look to the Lord for help. That is, they will begin to worship him. And then in verse 7, where the Lord says he will take the blood from their mouths and the forbidden food from between their teeth, he could be referring to food which was given to their idols as an offering. So, in ancient times, meat was given as an offering to the gods and the worshippers would then eat the meat as part of a thanksgiving meal. However, the Lord will take that meat from their mouths in the sense that he will save them from idol worship and teach them to worship him alone. And in the rest of verse 7 he tells us that those who are left alive from those nations will belong to the Lord. In fact, they will become leaders in Judah. And the people of Ekron, that Philistine city, will become like the Jebusites. The Jebusites were the original inhabitants of Jerusalem. While most were killed when David overthrew the city, some were incorporated into Israel.
So, while this is a message of judgment on these nations, the Lord is also announcing that a remnant among the nations will be added to Israel. They will become part of God’s people. And so, it matches what we read in the night visions and in chapter 8 and in those prophecies which spoke of a time when the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. The wicked will be judged by the Lord and punished for their sin and rebellion. But the Lord will also have mercy on some; and he will save them from their idolatry and wickedness; and he will add them to his people.
And in verse 8 the Lord reassured his people that he will protect them from marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun his people, because the Lord is keeping watch over them. The Lord is like a shepherd, who keeps watch over his sheep to protect them from wild animals. Or the Lord is like a vigilant soldier, who stands guard in the night to watch out for an enemy attack. So, after the Lord has judged and destroyed the nations, he will return to his people in Jerusalem to stand guard over them.
And we know that the day is coming, that great and terrible judgment day, when the Lord will judge the nations and he will repay the wicked for what they have done wrong. The wicked will be condemned and sent away to be punished for ever and for ever. Though they were once mighty, the Lord will bring them down and no one will be able to withstand the thunder of God’s power and the terror of his wrath. However, he will save some from every nation and he will gather them into the new Jerusalem to come, where they will enjoy peace and safety for ever and there will be nothing to harm them there. And so, even when the Lord announced the judgment to come, he also announced his grace and mercy and his willingness to pardon sinners. And he’s able to pardon sinners and to give them eternal life in his presence because of Christ the King who came into the world to give up his life as a ransom for sinners. And in the next part of the Lord’s message to Zechariah, he announces the coming of Christ the King.
Verses 9 and 10
‘Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion. Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem.’ The inhabitants of Jerusalem are likened to a young woman and someone is calling on them to rejoice loudly. And they’re to rejoice loudly, because their king is coming. This perhaps recalls the time when David entered Jerusalem with the ark of the Lord and we read that David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord. But, of course, it anticipates what we now call Palm Sunday when the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people placed their cloaks on the ground to form a carpet for him to ride on and they waved palm branches and shouted:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!
Christ is the King and he entered Jerusalem, not to kill and destroy, but to be killed and to establish a lasting peace between God and sinners by paying for our sins with his life before rising from the dead to give us life. And all of that is anticipated in this message which the Lord announced beforehand through the prophet Zechariah.
So, rejoice greatly and shout aloud, Jerusalem, because your king has come to you. And look how the king is described. Firstly, he is righteous, which means he does what is right. Israel had known many unrighteous kings, who always did what was wrong. While some kings were good and upright, many were wicked who disregarded the word of the Lord and did as they pleased. But this new king who was coming would be righteous. So, unlike those wicked kings who did what was evil, this king will do only what is right. And when he judges, he will judge justly so that the poor and needy in his kingdom do not need to be afraid that they will be oppressed and persecuted by the wicked, because their king will protect them and see that justice is done.
Secondly, he has salvation. There’s a little ambiguity in that phrase, because it can either mean he will bring salvation or it can also mean he will be saved himself. We normally assume it means he will bring salvation for his people, because that’s why Christ the King came into the world. He came to save us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life. However, he himself was saved by God, because after he died and was buried, God the Father saved him from the power of death when he raised him from the grave. But, of course, his own salvation from the grave leads to our salvation as well, because just as Christ died and was raised, so all who trust in him will likewise be raised from the dead to live for ever.
Thirdly, he will be gentle. That’s how the NIV translates it. The Hebrew word means ‘afflicted’. The NIV probably uses the word gentle, because this king is depicted as riding on a donkey. Whenever kings went into battle, they rode on horses or they rode in chariots. They didn’t ride into battle on a donkey. And so, this king has not come to make war. He hasn’t come to kill and to destroy, but to be killed and to offer his life as a ransom for sinners. So, the word gentle fits the context. However, the Lord Jesus was also a man of sorrows who was familiar with grief. He was afflicted in many ways, because of the things he suffered throughout his life on earth, including his death on the cross. And so, not only was he gentle, but he was also afflicted.
And fourthly, he will ride on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. If you’ve ever been puzzled by the story of how the Lord Jesus sent his disciples to fetch him a donkey and the colt, which he then rode into Jerusalem, you can now see that the reason he asked them to fetch him a donkey and its colt was to fulfil this prophecy and to make clear to the people that he is the king God promised to send. And, in fact, it links back to Genesis 49:11, and to Jacob’s prophecy about his son Judah and how a king will come from the tribe of Judah, who will tether his donkey to a vine and his colt to the choicest branch.
And look now at verse 10. God promises to take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem. Ephraim represents the northern part of Israel and Jerusalem represents the southern part. And the chariots and war-horses will be removed, because the coming king will establish peace in the land. And so, the battle-bow will also be broken. You only need the battle-bow in times of war, but this king will bring peace to the land. And, as one of the commentators puts it, this king will also be a preacher, because he will proclaim peace to the nations. And the peace he proclaims will be shalom, that Hebrew word which conveys the idea, not only of peace, but of a sense of well-being and contentment and rest. And this king’s rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth. In other words, his reign will be a universal reign and he will not only rule in Israel, but he’ll rule over the entire earth.
And so, the Lord was announcing to his despondent people that one day he will send them a king who will rule over all the nations and establish peace throughout the entire world. And the Lord was referring to the Lord Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and who died on the cross on Good Friday in order to pay for our sins with his life and to make peace for us with God. And after he died, he was raised from the grave and he was exalted to heaven where he now rules over all things for the sake of his people here on earth. And he has sent preachers into the world to proclaim peace to all who will repent and believe in him, because whoever repents and believes is pardoned by God and receives the free gift of eternal life. And we know that one day Christ our King will come again. And when he comes again, his enemies will be condemned and punished for ever, but his people — who will come from many nations — will live with him in the new heavens and earth, where we will live in peace and safety for ever.
Verses 11 to 18
Verses 11 and 12 seem to focus particularly on God’s people in Zechariah’s day, because the Lord refers to the covenant he made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses when he had brought them out of Egypt and where he promised to be their God and to take care of them. And so, because of his covenant-commitment to them, he was prepared to free them from the waterless pit. Waterless pits were used as temporary prisons. Think of Joseph in the Old Testament whose brothers threw him into a pit while they worked out what to do with him. Sending his people into exile to Babylon was like putting them into a waterless pit: for a time he held them there, but because of his covenant-commitment to them, he was going to release those who remained in exile. And so, those who were still in exile should return to Jerusalem, their fortress, where God will keep them safe. The Lord was able to refer to his exiled people as ‘prisoners of hope’, because though he had imprisoned them in Babylon, they could look forward to their release. And not only would he release them, but he would bless them with twice as much as before.
Of course, whenever Zechariah wrote down these words from the Lord, some of God’s people had already returned from exile. They were the ones who were rebuilding the temple in the days of Zechariah. But more would return in the years to come in the days of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of the city. And the city would once again be filled with God’s people.
But then, in the final verses of this chapter, the Lord moves on from speaking about Jerusalem in the days of Zechariah and Nehemiah to write about a final battle. And so, having spoken in verse 10, of life in the new heavens and earth, where all of God’s people will enjoy perfect peace and rest, these verses anticipate what will happen before that time comes. In verse 13 the Lord will use his people as weapons: Judah is his bow and Ephraim is his arrow; and he will rouse the sons of Zion to make war on Greece. When he refers to Judah and Ephraim, he referring to his people. And while Greece may not have been a powerful nation in the days of Zechariah, it would become a mighty nation. And so, in this prophecy, the Lord is saying that his people will defeat a mighty and powerful future enemy.
But then, according to verse 14, the Lord himself will appear and his arrow will flash like lightning. He will sound the trumpet and will march in the storms of the south. When God comes to fight for his people, his coming will be like a mighty storm, with lightning and thunder and with strong winds to uproot and to destroy. And the Lord will shield his people and he will enable them to destroy their enemies. The image in verse 15 of drinking and roaring as with wine and being full like a bowl with blood conveys the idea of a bloody battle which they will fight. But the Lord will save his people on that day as the flock of his people. So, he’s like a shepherd who protects his sheep from wild animals who have come to devour them, the Lord will protect them. And afterwards they will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. And how attractive and beautiful they will be and they will enjoy grain and new wine.
It’s hard to make sense of all of this, isn’t it? And we find the warfare image difficult and especially the idea of destroying our enemies, because Christ our King calls us to love our enemies and to do good to them. However, the New Testament depicts the Christian life as a battle and we’re commanded to be strong in the Lord and to stand firm against the Devil’s wicked schemes. Our struggle now is not against flesh and blood. That is, we’re not to fight against other people, the way the Israelites did in the past. Our struggle now is with spiritual rulers and authorities and the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And so, Christians are called to fight, but we’re to fight against the Devil and his temptations.
However, Revelation 20 tells us about the last battle to come, when Satan will gather an army to make war on the church just before the end of the last days in which we’re now living. So, shortly before the Lord comes again, the Devil will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth and he’ll gather them together for the last battle. And John tells us how they will march across the breadth of the earth to surround the church. However, when that time comes, the battle will be short-lived. In fact, it will be over even before it has begun, because the Lord will pour down fire from heaven to devour the nations who have surrounded the church. And the Devil will be thrown into the lake of burning sulphur to be tormented day and night. And then the great day of judgment will come.
That’s in Revelation 20. And in Revelation 21, we read about the new Jerusalem. And God’s people will live there in peace and safety for ever. God’s presence will fill the city. And in that chapter God’s people are likened to precious stones. In other words, we will sparkle in God’s heavenly land like jewels in a crown. And there we will thrive, not because of grain or new wine, but because we’ll drink from the water of the river of life and live for ever.
And so, the Lord’s message through Zechariah matches the Lord’s message through John. There is a final battle which is yet to take place, when the Devil will lead the wicked against the church. But they will not succeed, because the Lord is our shepherd to protect us; and his coming will be like a storm, with lightning and thunder and wind; and he will destroy the Devil and all who sided with him. And all of God’s people will live in peace and safety in the new Jerusalem to come. God has revealed these things in advance to encourage his despondent people in every generation so that we won’t be overwhelmed with fear when we see the wicked prosper and do well; and we won’t be overly-anxious when we see how small and weak the church is. We’re to expect these things in this life, because there have always been places like Hadrach and Damascus and Hamath and Tyre and Sidon and Ashkelon and Gaza and Ekron and Ashdod where unbelievers have lived and prospered. And the church has always existed in the midst of an unbelieving world. But in the end those who refused to yield to Christ the King and who sided with the Devil in his rebellion will be condemned and punished, but those who remain faithful and true will share in the victory of Christ our King who came into the world the first time to lay down his life for our salvation; and who is coming again with glory and power to bring us to our eternal home. And so, we should give thanks to God for Christ our King and we should stand firm in the faith and let nothing move us as we wait for the Lord to appear again.