If you glance back to the beginning of chapter 9, you’ll see the words ‘An Oracle’. Those two words are part of the original Hebrew text and they tell us that what follows is a message from the Lord to his people through the prophet Zechariah. And that one oracle from the Lord continues into chapters 10 and 11. And so, the passage we read a moment ago and which we’re studying this evening is connected to what we read last week.
Last week’s chapter was all about the future. Do you remember? It began with a word of judgment on the nations around the Promised Land. So, the Lord spoke against Hadrach and his word of judgment rested on Damascus and Hamath, waiting to be fulfilled. Although Tyre had built herself a stronghold, and had become rich, the Lord will take away her possessions and the city will be consumed by fire. And Ashkelon will see and fear, because the people there will know they are next. And it continued like that. But there were also a few hints that a remnant from those nations will be saved from the wrath of God and will become part of God’s people. But mostly it was a message of judgment on the nations which would happen one day. And then there was the promise that one day a great king will come who will proclaim peace to the nations and who will extend his rule from sea to sea. And then the chapter ended with the description of a great final battle which will take place one day when the Lord will come like a mighty storm, with lightning and thunder and strong winds, to enable his people to destroy their enemies. And afterwards, his people will sparkle in God’s land like jewels in a crown.
That was the Lord’s message to his people in chapter 9. And it was all about the future. In the future, the nations will be judged. In the future, the king will come. In the future, a final battle will be fought and won. The announcement about the coming king has now been fulfilled in part, because Christ is the king who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. And in Jerusalem he gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins before rising from the dead to give us life. And so, Christ the king has already come. But we know that he is coming again one day. And so, the Lord’s message to his people in chapter 9 was all about the future when the Devil will gather the nations for one final battle against the church. But as soon as they begin their attack the Lord will come and destroy them. Those in the nations who did not believe will be condemned. But all of God’s people will live in peace and safety in the new heavens and earth, where we will shine like jewels.
Chapter 10 also refers to the future. God will provide his people with new leaders and he himself will come and save them as he did in the past when he saved his people from Egypt. However, it begins in the present. That is, it begins with a message for the people in Zechariah’s day.
Verses 1 to 2
In verse 1, the Lord says to his people through Zechariah that they should ask him, the Lord, for rain in the springtime. From what we’ve read before, it seems that the harvests had not been good in the years following their return from exile. For instance, do you remember the Lord’s message to the people through the prophet Haggai? He said to them: ‘You have planted much, but have harvested little.’ They were struggling in those days. The harvests were not as good as they were expecting. And so, in verse 1 of chapter 10, the Lord invites the people to pray to him and to ask him for rain: rain in the springtime to make the crops in the field swell and enlarge. And notice that the name ‘Lord’ is written in capital letters, which means that this is God’s special covenant name. This is the name which signifies God’s commitment to his people. He has promised with an oath to be their God and to look after them. And since that’s the case, ask him for the help you need. Ask him for rain.
And ask him for rain, because not only has he promised to help you, but he’s able to help you. He’s able to help you, Zechariah says in the second line of verse 1, because he’s the one who makes the storm clouds; and he’s the one who gives showers of rain to men and he gives plants of the field to everyone. So, the weather-forecaster on TV and the meteorologist in the weather station think they understand how the weather works, because they’re spent their lives studying it and they have all their knowledge and expertise and equipment. And they do know so much about the weather and how it works; and we now have apps on our phone that tell us that it’s going to rain in 10 minutes. But despite all their knowledge, they don’t really understand the weather, because they don’t understand that behind the rain and the clouds and the wind and the pressure stands the Lord our God who controls all things, including the weather, which happens not by chance, but according to his will.
And so, Zechariah is saying to the people in his day: since the Lord has promised to care for you and since he controls the weather, ask him for rain. Ask him for rain and don’t ask the idols or diviners for rain, because the idols speak deceit and the diviners only lie. Idols, of course, are false gods. And not only were idols kept in temples, but people often had their own household idols which they kept at home and which they worshipped. Diviners were those who claimed that they could tell the future from dreams and visions. But, according to verse 2, their dreams were false and the diviners only gave comfort in vain. That is, they gave false hope, because they told the people what they wanted to hear, but they made it all up. So, don’t ask them for rain. Ask me for rain. That’s the Lord’s message to his people in the days of Zechariah. The Lord has spoken to them about the future and about better days to come. But he was also prepared to help them in the present as well.
And that’s a message for all of us, isn’t it? We trust the Lord for the future, because we believe that Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins and to make peace for us with God. And by believing in him, we receive the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life. So, we believe that in the future we’ll enjoy everlasting life in the presence of God. We’re trusting in Christ for the future. But what about in our daily lives? Do we trust in God to help us with all the troubles and trials of this life? When we hear bad news, when obstacles arise, when disappointments happen, when things don’t go our way, do we turn to God in prayer and ask for his help? When we wake up in the morning, and we face an uncertain day, do we ask the Lord for his help? And having asked for his help, do we leave all our worries and concerns in his hands and stop worrying?
It’s hard, isn’t it? Worrying comes so naturally to us. But instead of worrying, we need to remember and believe that, for the sake of Christ, who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who took the blame for all that we have done wrong, God has become our God. And he has bound himself with a promise to take care of us and to work all things together for our good. And he’s able to help us, because he is mighty and powerful and rules over all things in heaven and on earth. You may not need rain from the Lord. But you need other things from him. And you need his help to cope with all the troubles and trials of this life. And therefore, just as the Israelites were invited to ask him for rain, so you are invited to ask him for help.
And verse 2 ends by telling us that the people wandered like sheep without a shepherd to take care of them. He means they were without a king. Before the exile, they had kings. First there was Saul. Then there was David and Solomon and then there was a long line of kings after them, who ruled Israel in the north and Judah in the south. But because of their sin and rebellion — including the sin of idolatry, when they trusted in idols and diviners — the Lord took their king away and he sent them into exile to a far off land. Now, in his mercy, he had brought them back to the Promised Land and he was helping them to rebuild the temple and the walls. But they were still without a king. They were without a king of their own, because a foreign king still ruled over them. And so, not only did they need rain, but they also needed a new king to conquer their enemies and to give them peace.
Verses 3 to 5
And that’s what verses 3 to 5 are about. In verse 3 the Lord said that his anger burns against the shepherds and he will punish the leaders. The word translated ‘leaders’ is actually the word for ‘rams’. So, we’re to imagine sheep who are bullied by rams and who are also mistreated by bad shepherds. The commentators discuss who the Lord is referring to when he mentions these bad shepherds and rams who are abusing his people. Some commentators think he’s referring to wicked leaders in Israel. And certainly God’s people always seemed to suffer because of wicked leaders and false teachers. However, others think he’s referring to foreign kings, especially because God’s people were still living under the authority of Darius the king of the Medes and Persians. In a sense, though, it doesn’t matter who these bad shepherds and goats were, because the point is the same: the Lord’s people were being oppressed and troubled by bad leaders. And the Lord was angry with those bad leaders and he was ready to punish them, because the Lord Almighty cares for his flock. He’s concerned for their well-being. And he’s going to come and strengthen his people and make his little sheep into proud battle horses. Do you see that at the end of verse 3? Sheep are timid creatures and they run away at the first sign of danger. But proud battle horses are ready to ride straight into the battle and with their galloping hooves they will crush their enemies.
And not only will the Lord transform his people, but he will also provide his people with new leaders. So, verse 4: from Judah will come the cornerstone; and from Judah will come the tent peg; and from Judah will come the battle-bow; and from Judah will come every ruler. So, from the tribe of Judah there will come all these leaders. The cornerstone was either the stone which was placed at the top of an arch or else it was the stone which was placed at the corner of the building. In either case, it was vital for giving the building stability, because it held the building together. And so, God will give them a leader who will provide them with stability. We can all picture a tent peg, driven into the ground which is used to keep the tent upright and to keep it from blowing away in the wind. However, it’s also possible that the peg in this verse refers to a peg which was driven into a wall as a kind of hook. And so, you would hang things from it. In either case, it provides support: support for the tent or support for whatever was hanging from it. And so, God will give them a leader who will provide them with support. A strong battle-bow leads to victory and conveys the idea of military might. And so, God will give them a leader who will lead them into victory over their enemies. The word translated ‘ruler’ actually means ‘oppressor’. Oppressors are not normally good, but in this case the Lord might mean that the leaders which he gives to his people will oppress those who once oppressed them. And so, God will give them a leader who will overcome their enemies.
So, the Lord will bring leaders from Judah. And, according to verse 5, they will be like mighty men trampling the muddy street in battle. It’s possible that he’s referring to the leaders: they will be like mighty men. However, it’s perhaps more likely that he’s referring to the people: with these leaders to lead them, the people will become like mighty men. And because the Lord is with them, they will fight and overthrow the horsemen. So, the Lord is promising victory to his people and freedom from those nations who had once oppressed them. And he will give them victory by means of these leaders from Judah. He will save his people by means of this cornerstone, this tent peg, this battle-bow, these rulers.
No doubt, over the years, the Lord provided different leaders to help his people. However, the Lord’s promise in verses 4 and 5 is fulfilled ultimately by one leader in particular, because the Lord Jesus is the stone, who was rejected by men, but which has become the cornerstone. Do you remember that’s how the Lord referred to himself in the gospels? He was rejected by men when they did not believe in him and crucified him. And yet, his Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place. And in Ephesians 2 Paul refers to the Lord Jesus as the cornerstone of the church, because believers are united to him through faith. And he’s the one who promises to support us when we are weak and to hold us up when we are burdened. And he gives us victory, because he saves us from the penalty and power of sin and from the tyranny of the Devil and from the grave. And he is our ruler, our king.
And didn’t he come from the tribe of Judah? So, when the wise men went to Jerusalem to look for the new king who had been born, the scribes were able to search the Scriptures and tell them that the new king would be born in Bethlehem in the land of Judah. He was born in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, in fulfilment of the word of the Lord who promised that the new king would come from the tribe of Judah. And he came to conquer sin for us and Satan for us and death for us. In the days of Zechariah, the people were like sheep without a shepherd, because there were missing a king to rule over them and to lead them. But God was able to announce to them his plan to send into the world a new king who would lead all of God’s people into victory.
Verses 6 to 12
In verse 6 the Lord mentions Judah and Joseph. When he refers to Judah, he’s referring to the southern kingdom of Israel. When he refers to Joseph, he’s referring to the northern kingdom of Israel. Remember how, after Solomon, the one kingdom was divided into two with one king in the north and another king in the south? And that’s the way it remained up to the exile. And both of them had been taken into exile. The northern kingdom had fallen first and the people were taken away into Assyria. The southern kingdom fell second and the people were taken away into Babylon. The people who returned to Jerusalem in the days of Haggai and Zechariah and Ezra and Nehemiah were from the southern kingdom. But here’s the Lord referring to both kingdoms and promising that he will strengthen and save both of them. And he will restore them, because he has compassion on them. Though he had once rejected them, because of their sin and rebellion and unbelief, he will restore them to the Promised Land and reunite them as one nation so that it will be as if they had never been rejected. Though for a time he wouldn’t answer them when they called for mercy, now he will answer them.
When he refers to the Ephraimites in verse 7, he’s again referring to the northern kingdom. He will make them like mighty men and their hearts will be glad as with wine. And their children will see it and be joyful. So, God will give victory to his people and they will rejoice because of his salvation. The mention of their children implies how they will live in safety and will be able to raise their families in peace.
So, for years they were a defeated and dejected people, oppressed by their enemies, living in the land of bondage, ruled over by foreign kings. All of this came about because of their sin and unbelief. But the Lord was willing to show them compassion and mercy and to restore them to the Promised Land and to give them peace. In other words, the Lord was describing how he would save them.
In verse 8 the Lord says he will signal for them. The Hebrew word translated ‘signal’ actually mean ‘whistle’. So, we’re to imagine a shepherd whistling for his sheep. We think of shepherds whistling to their dogs, but in other countries of the world shepherds whistle to call their sheep. And the image of a shepherd whistling for his sheep is to make the point that God will gather his people from the nations where they had been scattered. And he promises to redeem them, which means he will pay the cost to bring them back. Though he had scattered them among the nations, they will remember him. And they and their children will return to the Promised Land. In fact, according to verse 10, the Lord himself will bring them back. He’ll bring them back from wherever they were scattered and he’ll lead them to Gilead and Lebanon. He probably mentions those two regions of Israel to refer to the whole of the land. And the Lord will bring back so many people that there won’t be room for all of them.
In verse 10 he referred to Egypt, the place of bondage. In the days of Moses, the Lord rescued them from their bondage in Egypt by leading them through the Red Sea. And the Lord recalls that time in verse 11 where he promises once again to lead them through the sea of trouble. They will pass through it safely, because the Lord is with them to protect them. The surging sea will be subdued by God and will not be allowed to endanger them. The depths of the Nile will dry up to allow them to pass through safely. All of their enemies — who are represented in verse 11 by Assyria and Egypt — will be brought down and destroyed. And God will strengthen his people and they will walk in his name. As those who bear his name and who belong to him, they will walk about unharmed and unhindered.
Verses 1 to 3
And in the final part of today’s passage, in verses 1 to 3 of chapter 11, the Lord refers to cedars and pine trees and stately trees and oaks and dense forests which will be brought down and ruined. These trees signify the leaders of the nations. And so, the Lord is saying they will be cut down and removed. In verse 3 he refers to wailing shepherds and roaring lions. Again, he’s referring to the leaders of the nations who will be defeated. Every kingdom will fall, but God will redeem and deliver his people and restore them to the Promised Land.
Chapter 10 began with the invitation to pray to the Lord, because the people needed rain. But they not only needed rain, they also needed leaders. And so, the Lord promised to send them leaders to lead them in victory over their enemies. And those leaders foreshadowed our true leader, Jesus Christ the King, who came from the tribe of Judah to save us from Satan’s tyranny. And the Lord went on to speak about how he would redeem or free his exiled people and deliver them from bondage in far off countries. And he will bring them back to the Promised Land, where the northern and southern kingdoms will be reunited and where they will rejoice and live in peace.
And what we read in this chapter is connected to what we read in the New Testament about Christ and his church. So, Zechariah tells us that the Lord’s anger burned against the shepherds and rams who oppressed his people in those days. But his Son is the Good Shepherd who loved us and gave up his life for us. The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep and is ready to abandon them. But Christ is the Good Shepherd who was willing to die for his people. And the Lord Jesus is the cornerstone who was rejected by those he came to save, but he has now been exalted as King over all. And he invites us to cast our burdens upon him and he will sustain us. And when the Lord was on the earth, he fought on our behalf against the Devil. And though Christ our King died and was buried, so that it seemed for a time as if the Devil had won, nevertheless he was raised victorious from the grave to set us free from Satan’s tyranny. And so, he is the battle-bow by which God has won a great victory for us. And having been exalted to heaven, he now rules over all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of his people. And he strengthens his people and enables us to take our stand against the Devil’s schemes and to stand firm in the faith and to resist temptation.
And Zechariah speaks of how God had compassion on his sinful people; and though he once rejected them, he rejected them no more, but redeemed them. That is, he set them free from their bondage by paying the price for their freedom. And though we too deserve to be rejected by God and condemned by him for a lifetime of sin and disobedience, nevertheless he has redeemed us from our sin and misery by sending his Son into the world to pay for our sins with his life and to set us free from condemnation and death. I have come, the Lord Jesus said, not to be served, but to serve God’s people and to give my life as a ransom for many.
Zechariah also speaks of how the Lord will gather his scattered people and will unite them together as one people in the Promised Land where their hearts will rejoice. And isn’t that what is happening right up to the present time, because through the reading and preaching of his word, the Lord is gathering his people from every nation, all who are willing to repent and to believe the good news. We are being united together under Christ the Saviour as members of his worldwide kingdom. And one day, when Christ comes again, he’ll bring us together to live in the Promised Land to come in the new heavens and earth and our hearts will rejoice within us and we’ll praise his name for ever. And just as Zechariah anticipated that there will not be enough room for all those who are brought back to the Promised Land, so we know that the number of those who will enter eternal life to be with the Lord will be too many too count.
And just as Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s sceptre will pass away, and just as the leaders of the nations will be cut down like trees, so every kingdom of the world will be perish; and the only kingdom that will last will be Christ’s kingdom, because it is an everlasting kingdom. And all those who belong to it will live with Christ the King for ever and for ever.
And just as we close notice how the Lord is the one who will accomplish all of this. Verse 11: I will strengthen and I will save. I will restore them. I have compassion on them. I am the Lord their God. I will answer them. I will signal for them. I will gather them. I will redeem them. I will bring them back from Egypt. I will gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon. I will strengthen them. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were unable to save themselves. But the Lord rescued them. When the Jews were in exile in Babylon, they were unable to save themselves. But the Lord rescued them. We are born in sin and misery, held fast under Satan’s tyranny, and liable to the God’s wrath and curse in this life and the next. But the Lord rescued us from our sin and misery by sending his Son into the world to pay for our sins; and by sending his Spirit into our lives to enable us to repent and believe the good news. And he will continue to work in the world to save his people and to build his church and to accomplish his purposes. And so, we should rejoice because of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus; and we should give him all the glory and honour he deserves. And when we are in trouble, we should pray to him, and seek from him all that we need while we wait for him to do all that he has planned.