Zechariah 12


Chapters 9 to 11 were one oracle from the Lord to his despondent people in the days of Zechariah who had returned from the exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the work was difficult and slow and there were many obstacles in their way. And while they had returned from exile, they were still living under the authority of a foreign king, instead of living under their own king. And so, they were despondent and discouraged. Therefore the Lord sent them Zechariah the prophet to preach to them and to encourage them with an oracle or message about better days to come. And chapters 12 to 14 are also one oracle. And this oracle, like the previous one, is about the future and about the things God has planned for his people in days to come. And God gave them this oracle, this message, to encourage his people, not only in Zechariah’s day, but in our day as well, and it’s designed to encourage the Lord’s people in every generation, because though it speaks of suffering and opposition, it also speaks to us of the coming of God’s kingdom and of his victory over all. And it speaks to us of the Saviour, who was pierced, but who was pierced for us and for our salvation. And so, God has given us this oracle, this message, to encourage us in these, the last days in which we’re living, so that we will keep trusting in him even when things are hard.

Today’s passage can be divided into three parts. There’s the introduction in verse 1. Then verses 2 to 9 are about the siege of Jerusalem and its salvation. And verses 10 to 14 are about mourning for the one who was pierced. You’ll see the words ‘on that day’ throughout the passage. In the NIV it appears six times. However, in the original Hebrew text is appears seven times. On that day I will make Jerusalem an unmovable rock. On that day I will strike every horse with panic. On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like a brazier. On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem. On that day the feeblest among them will be like David. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great. Zechariah spoke about a day, but the phrase ‘on that day’ is similar to the phrase ‘the last days’ or ‘the latter days’, because it embraces the whole of the time between the first and second comings of Christ. So, when Zechariah says ‘on that day’, he doesn’t mean all of these things will happen on one single day, but he’s referring to how God will come in the future and do all of these things to establish his kingdom on the earth.

Verse 1

Let’s turn now to verse 1 which is the introduction to this oracle. This is the oracle of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. We’ve been reminded before how the one kingdom of Israel had been divided into two following the death of Solomon. The northern part of the kingdom continued to be called Israel, while the southern part was called Judah. But by referring only to Israel at the beginning of this oracle, the Lord is perhaps alluding to the unity he will give to his people in the future. In the future, God’s people will not be divided, but will be united. And we’ll be united, of course, because we’re united under Christ the King, who calls men and women and boys and girls from every nation into his one kingdom of grace. And so, this is not a message for part of God’s people, but for all of God’s people. And all of God’s people will share in his victory.

And the oracle goes on to describe God in these ways. He’s the LORD. LORD in capital letters is God’s special covenant name. The pagans might say that their god is Baal or their god is Dagon. But the people of Israel would say that their God is the LORD. And since it’s God’s special covenant name, it speaks to us of his commitment to his people, because the Lord has bound himself to his people with a promise to be their God for ever and to look after them as his treasured possession.

And then we read that the Lord is the one who stretches out the heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth and who forms the spirit of man within him. And so, the Lord is Almighty God, the maker of the heavens and the earth. And he’s our maker too, because he made us and he has given us our life and breathe and everything else. In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth; and then he formed Adam from the dust of the earth. And do you remember? He breathed into Adam the breath of life so that he became a living being. So, we’re not just flesh and bone, but we are body and spirit or body and soul. And since God is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth and since he’s our maker, then we know he is mighty and powerful and able to do all the things we read about in this chapter. And since he is the Creator of all things, then he has the right and authority to do what he wants with what he has made. As we were singing last week, this earth belongs to God, the world, its wealth and all its people. It all belongs to him, because he made it. And the one who created all things is also the one who will recreate all things. He recreates us inwardly when he comes into our lives by his Spirit and enables us to believe in the Saviour. And, when Christ comes again, he will recreate the heavens and the earth and he’ll give us a new body so that we’ll live with him in body and soul in the new heavens and earth.

And this great and mighty God, who made all things, and who will make all things new, has something to declare to his people. And so, that’s the introduction to this oracle. In verses 2 to 9 he declares to his people a word about the siege of Jerusalem and also about its salvation.

Verses 2 to 9

He says in verse 2:

I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem.

So, he’s referring to a siege on Jerusalem. However, the siege is not confined to Jerusalem, because it seems the whole land of Judah will be besieged. It’s difficult to understand how a whole nation can be besieged, but perhaps this unusual image is used to convey to us the idea that all of God’s people, wherever they are, are under siege. That, you see, is what this oracle is about. The nations of the world have gathered together against the Lord’s people. And the Lord’s people, wherever they are, are surrounded by an unbelieving world which is opposed to Christ and his kingdom. So, when we read about Jerusalem and Judah, or when we read about Israel, we’re not to think about the historical city of Jerusalem and the ancient nations of Israel and Judah. We’re to think about God’s people. We’re to think about the church. This oracle from the Lord is about the future and it’s about the church in the world in these, the last days, in which we’re living between the first and second comings of Christ. The nations are gathered against the church, because they do not believe what we believe. However, though an unbelieving world will oppose and oppress the church, the world cannot succeed, because God will make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. So, we’re to imagine someone taking up a cup and drinking it down, consuming it. But afterwards, they reel and stagger because of what they have drunk. And the meaning of the image is that the nations will come against the church and will try to consume the church. They will try to devour the church. They will try to destroy the church. But they will not succeed and they will come off worse. Think of a man who is angry. He’s so angry that he thumps his fist against the wall. The wall is not damaged, no matter how hard the man has thumped it. And while the wall is not damaged, the man’s fist is cut and bruised and perhaps even broken. The Lord is saying that those who come against his people will be broken.

And in verse 3 he uses the phrase ‘on that day’ for the first time. So, on that day, when all nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all nations. And all who try to move it will injure themselves. So, we’re to imagine a bunch of people who have gathered around a heavy rock. And they’re trying to lift it and move it. It’s in their way. They want rid of it. Easy. All we have to do it lift it a little and move it out of our way. But the rock proves to be immovable and all those who try to move it only end up hurting themselves. They have a hernia. They damage their back. They tear a ligament. They hurt themselves. And so it will be whenever an unbelieving world gathers around God’s people. The Lord will make his people like an immovable rock.

On that day, the Lord says in verse 4, I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness. So, he’s using military imagery from Zechariah’s day to describe the opposition of the world to God’s people. In Zechariah’s day, one army would attack another army with horses and chariots. But the historians tells us that one ancient battle strategy was to try to panic your opponents’ horses. And that’s perhaps what the Lord is referring to here in order to convey how he will send confusion on the world to prevent an unbelieving world from destroying his church. Though an unbelieving world will come against the church, they Lord will not let them succeed.

And he continues to say in verse 4 that he will keep a watchful eye over the house of Judah, but he will blind all the horses of the nations. So, he’ll watch over his people to help them and to care for them. And he’ll frustrate the world in all its effort to destroy the church.

And so, the leaders [or it might be the clans of Judah] will say in the hearts that the people of Jerusalem are strong. But why are they strong? Because the Lord Almighty is their God. The name ‘Lord Almighty’ in the NIV is literally ‘the Lord of hosts’. He commands the host of heaven. That is, he commands the armies of heaven. Do you remember the story in 2 Kings 6 about how the king of Aram sent horses and chariots and a strong force of soldiers to surround the city where Elisha the prophet was. And when Elisha’s servant saw them, he was afraid. What shall we do? And Elisha responded by telling him not to be afraid because those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha then prayed to the Lord asking him to open his servant’s eyes to see what Elisha could see by faith. And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and enabled him to see that the hills surrounding the city were full of horses and chariots of fire. The Lord Almighty, the commander of the armies of heaven, sent his armies to protect Elisha. God’s people never need to be afraid, because our God has promised never to leave us or to forsake us. And he’s the Lord Almighty, the commander of the host of heaven, and he’s able to send an army of angels to strength his people and to protect us from those who hate and despise us.

And on the day, says the Lord in verse 6, I will make the leaders or clans of Judah like a brazier in a woodpile. A brazier is a blazing pot. It’s a pot or pan filled with burning coals. And what will happen when a pan filled with burning coals is set among the woodpile? The wood will burn. And the Lord will make the leaders or the clans of Judah like a flaming torch among the sheaves. The sheaves are a bundle of grain. And what will happen when a flaming torch is put near the sheaves of grain? The sheaves will burn. And so, the Lord is using another image to convey the same idea as before. The nations may come against the church to destroy it, but the nations will come off worse. He will make his people untouchable and whatever the world does to the church will only backfire on them. The leaders or clans of Judah will consume all the surrounding peoples, but Jerusalem will be left intact in her place.

And in verse 7, the Lord refers to the dwellings of Judah and to the house of David and Jerusalem’s inhabitants to make clear that none of God’s people will miss out on the honour or the splendour of the victory which God has won for them. The honour will be given to all of his people. And on that day, the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem. That is, he will guard and protect his people in such a way that even the feeblest among them will be like David, who was such a great and mighty king. But, of course, David got his strength from the Lord, who gave him the victory. And so, God will give victory to his people. And the house of David will be like God and like the Angel of the Lord going before them. This image recalls the people of Israel, going through the wilderness in the days of Moses, and the presence of the Lord went before them, signified by the pillar of cloud and fire. God was with them and he was leading them. And in this verse, the Lord is saying that the house of David will be like this. The Lord Jesus Christ was from the house of David; and so perhaps by these words the Lord is foretelling that the Lord Jesus Christ will lead his people just as the Lord led his people through the wilderness. And he will lead us all the way to the Promised Land of eternal life.

And on that day, God says in verse 9, I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. This is a kind of summary statement which sums up what we have read so far in this chapter. The Lord foretells a time when an unbelieving world will surround the church to oppose and destroy it. But the Lord will be with his people to make them strong and untouchable. And whatever the nations do to the church will only backfire on them, because whoever tries to move the immoveable rock will only end up hurting himself.

And at the end of verse 9, the Lord announces that, on that day, he will set out to destroy the nations that attack Jerusalem. Back in chapter 9, at the beginning of the first oracle, the Lord foretold how he would destroy the nations. However, there were hints in chapter 9 that some among the nations would be added to the church. And that’s always the case, isn’t it? Whoever turns from their unbelief and rebellion, and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness, is pardoned by God and added to his church. It’s what happened to Paul, who once persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. He used to breathe out threats against the church. But the Lord Jesus changed his life and added him to the church. And, if you’re a believer, it happened to you, because God has added you to his church. But for those who remain steadfast in their unbelief and rebellion, and who remain part of the unbelieving world, which stands opposed to the church, there is, in the end, only condemnation, because God will give everlasting salvation to his people, but everlasting punishment to those who refuse to believe in his Son.

And what we have read in these verses about the nations surrounding the church matches what we read elsewhere in the Bible. It matches what we read back in Genesis 3, where God spoke about the enmity that would exist between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. He was talking about the line of believers and the line of unbelievers, the church and the world, and how there would always be this division between them and seed of the serpent would always be hostile towards the seed of the woman. It matches what we read in the book of Daniel and how God’s people need to stand firm and remain faithful, because of the pressure upon us to conform to the ways of an unbelieving world. And there are evil ant-Christian forces at work in the world to oppose and oppress the church. It matches the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the gospels and what we read in the rest of the New Testament about the troubles and persecution believers will face because of our faith in the Lord Jesus and how we should expect persecution from the world; and how the Devil is the enemy of our souls and he comes at us with his wicked schemes; and there’s the secret power of lawlessness which is at work in the world to persecute the church and to deceive the people. The Bible speaks of these things to teach us that the world is a battlefield, not a playground, and we need to stand firm in the faith. And while believers must always love their enemies and do good to those who hate them, we must resist the pressure to conform to the ways of an unbelieving world and remain faithful to our Lord. And above all, we need to look to the Lord, because the Lord Almighty is our strength and he has promised to keep his people and to shield us by his mighty power. He has revealed these things so that we will trust in him and look to him and rely on him. By ourselves we have no strength and we’re weak and frail and feeble. And so, we need to rely on the Lord and his mighty strength. Think of Psalm 46. God is our refuge and strength. He is an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear. And then the psalmist goes on to refer to the church and he says the Most High dwells among us. God is within her. That is, he is within the church. She will not fall. God will help her. The Lord Almighty is with us. He is with us. Therefore instead of panicking, and instead of giving in, we must trust in him to help us.

Verses 10 to 14

But, of course, the chapter isn’t over. In verse 10, the Lord promises that he will pour out on his people a spirit, or the Spirit, of grace and supplication. That is, he will give his people the help of his Spirit so that they will pray to him for grace. And they will pray for grace, because they will look on me, the Lord says, the one they have pierced. And they will mourn for him, the one they have pierced, as one mourns for an only child. And they will grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. And on that day, the weeping in Jerusalem will be great. It will be like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. We’re not sure, but we think that’s a reference to the time when godly King Josiah died on the plain of Megiddo and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him. So, just as they mourned for Josiah, so the people will mourn for the one they have pierced. And the land will mourn, each clan by itself with their wives by themselves. And the clan of the house of David will mourn and the clan of the house of Nathan will mourn and the clan of the house of Eli will mourn and the clan of the house of Shimei will mourn and all their wives will mourn. And all the rest of the clans will mourn and their wives. There will be lots of mourning.

Who is the one who was pierced? He’s referring ultimately to the Lord Jesus, isn’t he? In John 19, John describes the Lord’s crucifixion and death and how the Roman soldiers pierced the Lord’s side with a spear. And in verses 36 and 37 John said that these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled. And he quotes Zechariah 12:10: ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.’ And afterwards, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to the crowds about the death of Christ and how they put the Lord to death by nailing him to the cross. And he went on to speak about the resurrection. And when the people heard all these things, they were cut to the heart. They were cut to the heart in sorrow because of what they had done’ and they were cut to the heart in mourning over their sin and unbelief. And God gave them his Spirit and enabled them to cry out to him for grace and for salvation. And so it is today. God sends out his preachers into the world to proclaim the message of Christ crucified, the Son of God who was pierced and who died on the cross and gave up his life for sinners. And God sends his Spirit to enable those who hear to turn from their sins with sorrow and mourning for what they have done and to trust in the Saviour for forgiveness and for eternal life. And he adds them to his church and promises to be with them always.

But John refers to Zechariah 12:10 in another place. He refers to it in Revelation 1, where he anticipates the coming of the Lord in glory and with power: Look! He’s coming with the clouds. And when he comes, every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. When John refers in Revelation 1 to those who pierced him, he’s probably referring, not only to the soldiers who nailed Christ to the cross, but to everyone who despises the Lord and who doesn’t believe in him and who rejects him. And they will mourn when he comes again, because they did not believe in him and now he’s come and it’s too late for them to do anything about it. They had heard about him before, but they did not believe in him before. And now he’s come to judge the living and the dead and he’s come to judge them and they did not believe in him and therefore they will be condemned. And so, in Revelation 1, it’s a different kind of mourning. It’s the mourning that will take place when Christ comes again and those who refused to believe will realise it’s now too late for them. But the mourning of Acts 2 is the mourning of those who heard the good news and they believed in Christ. They’re mourning in repentance over their sins and they’re trusting in Christ for forgiveness.

And so, since those who do not believe will be condemned, and since God will set out to destroy the nations who do not believe, and since God will shield his people, what should we all do? We should all weep and mourn over our sins; and trust in Christ for salvation; and we should look to the Lord to help us to stand firm in the faith even when an unbelieving world stands against us, because in the end, in the end, victory belongs to the Lord and his people.

In Revelation 20, John sees a vision of a time at the end of history, when Satan will gather the nations for one last, final battle against the church. And so, they will surround the camp of God’s people. But the battle ends even before it begins, because fire came down from heaven and devoured the nations. That’s the ultimate fulfilment of this oracle and it still lies in the future. But every day the church faces an unbelieving world which opposes and oppresses God’s people. And behind this unbelieving world there’s Satan who hates the Lord and his people. He’s like a roaring lion seeking to destroy us. But we needn’t be afraid, because God is with us to help us and he has promised to keep his church for ever.