The Divine Purpose
Those are very, very painful words to read. One can almost hear the lament of God:
Despite all of God’s efforts, even sending the promised Elijah to turn the hearts of His People back to Him, many, too many, turn away and are engulfed in the fires that come upon the nation.
God’s intent is to purify His people through fire. Two-thirds die, not because God wills it or desires it, but because God is unable to bring them through the purifying fires. They lack the faith in Him that would make this possible. It is an occasion for great sorrow to God.
The emotional content of these words is almost beyond expression. The gentleness and sweetness of these words when God finally brings His People into the family embrace of the Abrahamic covenant is deeply moving. After so many millenniums, God can finally say, “This is My people”! (The promise is found in Gen 17:7-8.)
“That Day” From Israel’s Perspective: Zech. 12:2-13:1
It is impressive how often God declares that He is the one creating the conditions that Israel is experiencing (vv.2,3,4,6,9). Nothing happens by accident; all is being directly guided by God to accomplish what He has always desired: that Israel would become His people.
This is a day of great travail for God’s people with the enemies from the surrounding nations pressing hard against them, and with many other nations supporting this fighting. In this context we are told that God will finally “open My eyes on the house of Judah” (Zech 12:4).
What is the significance of God’s eyes being open? Consider first two quotes from Deuteronomy:
The first quote picks up the striking language of 12:4: madness, confusion, blindness, but here it is applied to the judgment on God’s people for turning away from Him. The second quote picks up a similar context, judgments on His People. Ezekiel, looking back in time, tells us of the fulfillment of these words:
In contrast to the past when God hid His face, there is to be a time coming when God will turn back towards Israel:
What can we learn from these references? When God’s eyes are not on His people, when He hides His face from them, Israel experiences a time of trouble and affliction, when they are unable to succeed against their enemies.
In Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kgs 8:22-53; 2 Chron 6:12-40) you can also see the other side of this image. In his prayer Solomon asks that when God’s people cry out to Him, that His “eyes be open and Your ears attentive to the prayer in this place.” (2Ch 6:40)
The image is simple, when God turns His face away from His people, they experience affliction and failure; when God turns back towards them and opens His eyes, it is to show them His favor and blessing.
Now we can appreciate the power of these words in v.4: Israel’s enemies are now the ones experiencing the judgments of God in their confusion, madness, and blindness. They are no longer able to succeed because God’s hand is against them, while His face and eyes are towards His people to bless and deliver them from these enemies.
There are some implications as well: First, this would appear to be a new situation for the enemy; they thought they had the victory in hand, that they would easily overrun Israel. Why they thought this we will see in part 3.
Second, for Solomon’s prayer to be answered by God at this time it will require a change in the heart of at least some of His people; they must return to Him in faith and contrition and seek His help. How does this change come about? A hint about this change is found in the next verse:
Who are these “inhabitants of Jerusalem”? What is happening that causes the military leaders to find such courage from these people, perhaps even moving them to now call on God for help? Is there here more than a hint that whoever these inhabitants are, their faith in God’s power and deliverance has somehow become manifest in a way that empowers these leaders to now emulate their contrition and faith in Yahweh?
The next 4 verses (vv.6-9) picture Israel as a fire pan igniting a wood pile, a torch igniting sheaves of dry grain. On the right hand and on the left, they devour their enemies until they are destroyed. Israel completely overwhelms and crushes all those who fight against Jerusalem.
It is instructive to find in the middle of this description of military victory an expression of God’s concern lest one group in the nation, the “inhabitants of Jerusalem”, should develop a severe case of pride (v.5). We have already observed that something extraordinary has happened because of these inhabitants, so extraordinary that the military leaders in Judah are greatly encouraged and emboldened. Yet God in His desire to ensure their expression of great faith does not lay a foundation for equally great pride, God wisely saves those in Judah first, before deliverance comes to Jerusalem.
But defend Jerusalem He does! Even the most feeble among them rises up like King David against his enemies, and the rulers of God’s people become like the great Angel that brought Israel out of Egypt! Is this describing the time when God “roars” out of Jerusalem?
An Astonishing Response
We now meet an astonishing response. In the time of victory when men and women historically crowded the streets with great rejoicing, this ‘V-Day’ is swallowed up by bitter mourning and wailing! What could possibly turn this day of great victory into a day of such bitter lamentation?
Who did the people see and what could possibly have caused such a reaction among all the people? We really do need to explore this thoroughly.
This verse begins with a clear declaration by God that He will give the House of David (the rulers?) and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a mind to seek God’s favor and help. All the circumstances and forces that work to generate this spirit within His people are not told to us, but it is a spirit and mind-set that moves God to respond to their cries in their hour of need.
It also opens their hearts to be powerfully moved by the sight of “me whom they have pierced”. We are not left in doubt as to who they are looking at: John quotes this passage after he tells us that one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear (Jn 19:34,37). Observe, though, that while it was a Roman spear that pierced him, it was Jewish hands that caused it to be pushed in. It was Jewish hatred for Jesus that brought all this to pass.
But why does God appropriate this piercing image as applying to Himself? It is Jesus who introduces a vital principle that plays a large role in explaining what is happening at this time:
The principle is simple: What they did to Jesus is what they did, in effect, to his Father. Their hatred of him both in thought and deed, was an expression of their hatred of God. This principle also applied to Jesus’ disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you… But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake…” (Jn 15:18,21) We noted this principle in the first part of this series where Paul is told that his persecution of Jesus’ followers was the persecution of Jesus himself (Acts 9:4).
Understanding this principle helps us to understand the reaction of this people when they learn that the one who has just worked a mighty deliverance in their midst is the very Messiah their forefathers killed.
At first glance we might think that, of course, when they see the marks of their forefathers’ hatred in his flesh, they will fall to their knees in abject anguish. But what this does not take into account is the attitude today, right now, of the Jews in Israel to Jesus. They may dismiss him altogether; they may see him as an ancient rabbi; they may even see him as having some positive teachings; but one thing they don’t feel is any guilt or any connection to the actions of their forefathers.
So how could the visual evidence of crucifixion at this moment move this people to any kind of mourning … unless they suddenly recognize that the blood of Jesus actually is on their hands?
How is this possible? Because their intense hatred of Jesus was only recently manifested when they vented their hatred against his hapless followers, savagely persecuting some, killing others. As they recall their actions, like Saul of Tarsus, an intensity of guilt and shame floods into their hearts, moving this people at every level— rulers (House of David), religious leaders (House of Levi), counselors (House of Nathan), even the rebellious (Family of Shimei)— to a prolonged and bitter mourning. It seems as if nothing can mitigate or relieve their guilt or purge their sin.
When Peter’s powerful revelation of the people’s culpability in the death of Jesus “cut” his hearers “to the heart”, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) They were devastated to realize their great sin against God; they were overcome with inconsolable guilt. What was Peter’s answer to them?
Amazingly, this is exactly what happens at this time! It is the Day of Pentecost being repeated in the 21st century!
Wow. The repentant people of God are now baptized into Christ that their sins might be forgiven, and their lives cleansed through the blood of the Lamb. By all means go back and reread this 1st century episode in the work of God among His people. See what those in whose heart God put a new spirit did as a result of this great transformation. There is every reason to believe that this 21st century people, filled in like manner with the Spirit of God, will go forth proclaiming to the rest of the nation that the Lord Jesus, their Messiah, has come at last to redeem them.
While the above suggested study would be exciting to plunge into, it would, alas, divert our attention from the next and final phase of this grand prophecy which will be picked up in the last part of this study.