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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 12

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter begins the second division of the second half of Zechariah. It begins, like the beginning of the first division (Zechariah 9:1) with the authentication of the message as coming from God Himself, and indicates the subject matter as being “The burden of the word of Jehovah concerning Israel” (Zechariah 12:1), contrasting sharply with the subject matter in the first section, “The burden of the word of Jehovah” upon the world powers. For comment on “burden,” see under Zechariah 9:1.

It is vital to any understanding of this chapter to identify the “Israel” of which the prophet spoke. It must not be understood in any way as a discussion of the fleshly, racial kingdom of the Jews, either before or after the first advent of Christ. The time period under consideration in this prophecy is after the staff BANDS had been cut asunder, severing forever any connection between racial Jews and the kingdom of God. See full discussion of this under Zechariah 11:14, above. The “Israel” in view throughout this chapter, and this section, is primarily “the true Israel of God,” the church of Jesus Christ. Many discerning scholars have emphasized this.

“Jehovah reveals the holy and indestructible character of the new spiritual body. Israel (here) is the new people of God under the rule of the Messiah.(F1) Although literal Israel had been rejected, a new people of God arises, the Messianic theocracy, which is also called Israel, whose fortunes the prophet herein delineates.”(F2)

The first and second advents of Jesus Christ are not dearly distinguished; consequently some of the events foretold were fulfilled in the first, and some yet remain to be fulfilled in the second coming of our Lord. Of course, the apostle Matthew also mingled in exactly the same manner such widely separated events in his glorious 24th chapter. That there are indeed events of the last days included here was discerned by Robinson:

“Zechariah 12-14 contain an oracle describing the victories of the new Theocracy and the coming of the day of the Lord. This section is emphatically eschatological, presenting three distinct apocalyptic pictures.”(F3)

Although “Israel” is not mentioned again by that name in the balance of the chapter, “It is to be understood as the elect people of God as distinct from the nations, heathen.”(F4) Despite the whole chapter’s having reference to the spiritual Israel, we should not be surprised that the terminology of the old Israel is used by the prophet. The reason for this appears in the fact that for the time then present in the days of Zechariah, the “true Israel” was still collectively identified with the old; and, “In conformity with the historical situation, we find, therefore, sometimes the one, sometimes the other locality referred to, and sometimes both together.”(F5)

Verses 1-2

“The burden of the word of Jehovah concerning Israel. Thus saith Jehovah, who stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him: Behold I will make Jerusalem a cup of reeling unto all the peoples round about, and upon Judah also shall it be in the siege against Jerusalem.”

In Zechariah 12:2, there is a problem regarding the translation of the reference to Judah.

King James Version: “They shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.”

Douay: “And Juda also shall be in the siege against Jerusalem.”

Of course, these are radically different statements; and this student does not claim any capability of deciding between conflicting translations of difficult Hebrew texts. Many of the current versions have gone back to the KJV and render it so as to say that Judah was on the side of Jerusalem; but the conviction endures in some that Judah was on the wrong side in this conflict. We shall explore both of these possible meanings:

(1) If Judah was on the right side, with Jerusalem. This view would indicate the meaning that Judah is another expression referring to the true “Israel” of God. Since Jerusalem used by itself has the utility of standing for the entirety of the New Israel (Revelation 21-22), it would be difficult indeed to explain the superfluous addition of Judah as another term meaning the same thing.

(2) If Judah was on the wrong side, fighting with the heathen nations against the true Church of God, exclusively identified as the true “Israel of God” in the reign of Messiah, then the passage would have the force of teaching that the racial and fleshly Jews throughout New Dispensation would be arrayed not with God’s people, but against them. In the light of other passages in the Bible, and in view of the history of racial Israel since Pentecost, we do not hesitate to express a preference for this meaning, as found in the Douay Version, and as espoused by a number of present-day scholars: “Judah was opposing Jerusalem”;(F6) “This suggests that Judah is linked with the enemies of Jerusalem, and with them receives the cup of reeling.”(F7) For generations, this meaning of the passage has been discerned. Smith has:

“The nations, not particularized here as they have been, gather to the siege of Jerusalem, and, very singularly, Judah is gathered with them against her own capital.”(F8)

Why then, has the current crop of versions eliminated this thought from the passage? Mitchell made it a gloss, and discarded it.(F9) Dummelow said, “This does not make sense”;(F10) and Unger accepted the KJV rendition as “the only one that makes sense.”(F11) It appears from this, then, that the principal reason for rejection of the Douay version as to the meaning of this, lies in the subjective reaction of the scholars themselves. This second meaning (Douay) makes excellent sense; for the passage then becomes a categorical prophecy of what has happened in the case of the racial Israel throughout the whole Christian dispensation and down to this very day. Of course, this would not make any sense to a scholar that doesn’t understand it!

This prophecy of racial Jewry being opposed to Christianity has been so understood since the times of Jerome. “Maurer and Jerome translate, `Also upon Judah shall be the cup of trembling.’“(F12)

“Make Jerusalem a cup of reeling” means that all the powers that oppose themselves against Christianity throughout the dispensation shall be overcome with drunkenness and madness (Zechariah 12:3). “If you are weary of your life, persecute the Christians,”(F13) was once a proverb.

“The siege against Jerusalem” does not refer to any historical assault upon literal Jerusalem, but to the long and bitter conflict between Christianity and the forces of Satan, a warfare still going on and destined to continue until the overthrow of “the cities of the nations” (Revelation 16:19) during the great world holocaust just preceding the final Judgment. In the meantime, Jerusalem, the City of God, the Church of Jesus Christ shall continue on earth unshaken by the hostile forces opposed to her.

Verse 3

“It shall come to pass in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all the peoples; all that burden themselves with it shall be sore wounded; and all the nations of the earth shall be gathered together against it.”

“Burdensome stone” has been variously understood, but the most reasonable explanation makes it a metaphor of a mighty boulder in a field, that defies any effort to dislodge it. All who attempt it shall be sorely wounded. The church of Christ is founded upon the eternal Rock of truth; it is the little stone cut out of the mountain without hand that shall fill the earth (Daniel 2:34-35); it is the “stumbling stone” for racial Israel; it is “the stone which the builders rejected” (Matthew 21:42); “He that falleth upon this stone shall be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust” (Matthew 21:44).

“It shall come to pass in that day” This is a code expression in the prophets meaning, “In the times of the Messiah.” We have noted already, however, that widely separated events are both included, some of them connected with the first coming of Christ, and some with the second coming and final Judgment. As in most of the Old Testament prophets, Zechariah included among the events of “the last days” everything from Pentecost to the Judgment. These are all included in this chapter under the title, “in that day,” an expression repeated in Zechariah 12:3-4; Zechariah 12:6; Zechariah 12:8-9; Zechariah 12:11.

“All the peoples” means, “All the peoples of the earth… This indicates that the struggle spoken of is no mere local conflict, but the great battle of the world against the Church, which shall rage in the Messianic era.”(F14) “The gospel claiming `obedience to the faith among all nations,’ provoked universal rebellion.”(F15)

Verse 4

“In that day, saith Jehovah, I will smite every horse with terror, and his rider with madness: and I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the peoples with madness.”

“In that day” identifies the time period in focus as the Messianic era.

“Smite every horse… and his rider” These expressions are metaphorical descriptions of the military power and other devices used by the enemies of God’s people. No device shall ever be successful in destroying the faith in Jesus Christ.

“I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah” “The house of Judah” will be blessed by the protective oversight of the Lord; and this identifies the expression as a name for the Church, which has as her head, “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” There is no reference in this to racial Jewry.

Verse 5

“And the chieftains of Judah shall say in their heart, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are my strength in Jehovah of hosts.”

“The chieftains of Judah” “These are the spiritual leaders among the people.”(F16) Since the strength of the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” comes only from God, the passage teaches that God is the sole strength and power of his people.

Verse 6

“In that day will I make the chieftains of Judah like a pan of fire among the wood, and like a flaming torch among the sheaves; and they shall devour all the peoples round about, on the right hand and on the left; and they of Jerusalem shall yet again dwell in their own place, even in Jerusalem.”

“In that day” “This removes the whole passage from any association with the fortunes of literal Jerusalem. “The Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother”; this is the apostolic key to understanding the passage. The terminology used here made it almost certain that racial Israel would accept the promise literally. Their view of the Messiah was that he would suddenly appear as a great military leader who would utterly annihilate all of the Gentile states and turn the government of the earth over to Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians.

What the passage really means is that God’s people will be able to overcome “all of the fiery darts of the evil one” (Galatians 6:16). As in ancient Israel, so it is today, there are many who do not have the spiritual understanding to discern the true meaning. Some are still waiting for God to do this “literally” in some kind of a millennial kingdom with Jerusalem as the earthly capital of it. The Christ made it plain enough for all who will hear, “My kingdom is NOT OF THIS WORLD” (John 18:36).

A failure to see that “Judah” in this passage is not the same as in Zechariah 12:2 results in some very imaginative interpretations. Baldwin wrote:

“The very fact that Judah is among the enemy is turned to advantage. As instantaneously as fire ignites dry tinder and ripe sheaves, so will Judah inflict devastation on the enemy while Jerusalem watches.”(F17)

“However, it is God’s wrath and not theirs, that is the fire which devours the adversaries.”(F18) Exactly this same thought is found in the New Testament. “And if any man proceedeth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies” (Revelation 11:5).

Deane considered this verse as teaching the protective power of God over his church as promised by the Saviour, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Verse 7

“Jehovah shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem be not magnified above Judah.”

“Save the tents of Judah first” Who are meant by the tents of Judah? These are the poor, the outcast, the wretched and miserable millions on earth who dwell in tents, compared with the palaces and fortified cities. Christ’s special message of redemption for the poor appears here. “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Leupold agreed that, “This term (tents) is an indication of the lowly condition in which the people of God generally found themselves in those days.”(F19)

The mention of Jerusalem, house of David, and Judah appears confusing until it is recognized that here we have a third usage of Judah already in this chapter! Here Judah stands for the poor, taken from the fact that the environs of Jerusalem contrasted sharply with the affluence and glory of the city itself.

The whole verse teaches that in the kingdom of Christ, “the first shall be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). Concerning the usual standards of “glory,” Christ categorically stated of his followers, “It shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:26). This merely says that the poor shall not play second fiddle to the wealthy and powerful in Jesus’ kingdom.

Verse 8

“In that day shall Jehovah defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of Jehovah before them.”

The first verse of the New Testament refers to Jesus as the “Son of David”; and here all the followers of that Greater David shall partake of the likeness, character, and perfection of Jesus Christ.

“As the angel of Jehovah” Some have mistakenly believed that this was intended to be a qualification or limitation on the promise of one “as God” in the house of David. Mitchell classified it as a gloss; and Baldwin understood it as “modifying” the phrase “as God”; but Hailey evidently understood the two phrases more perfectly, stating that: “This places the angel of Jehovah on the same level as Jehovah himself.”(F20) The oneness of the Father and Son is indicated. The thought of applying this passage to anyone other than Christ is preposterous. “Only one member of David’s family was God. That one was Jesus Christ.”(F21) Thus we see in this verse, “An intimation of the grace and endowments bestowed upon every faithful member of the Church of Christ.”(F22) McFadyen thought that this verse meant that:

“The weakest Jew would prove as strong as David, and the descendants of David like God Himself, inspired with supernatural strength by Jehovah himself.”(F23)

Of course, it is erroneous to see any promise whatever in this for any racial group. Race means absolutely nothing to God. There is no such thing in this whole dispensation as a divine distinction between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12, etc.).

Verse 9

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”

The fulfillment of this is seen in the rise and fall of earth’s powerful empires from the times of the First Advent to the present, as in turn, enmity was turned upon Christianity, and the source of the enmity fell. There is also an echo here of the ultimate fate of the whole rebellious earth whose nations shall at last find themselves arrayed against the Lord God Almighty as the end of time approaches. (See Revelation 18.)

The literal Jerusalem appears nowhere at all in these promises except for a time during which the true Israel of God continued to be mingled with the racial city. After Pentecost, such a mingling ceased.

Verse 10

“And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.”

Three tremendously important things are foretold here: (1) a spirit of grace and supplication (repentance) shall be poured out upon the “inhabitants of Jerusalem,” (2) they shall look unto “me,” that is, Jehovah, whom they have pierced, and (3) they shall mourn for “him,” as one mourneth his only son. Pentecost marked the amazing fulfillment of (1). On that occasion, a vast company of people in Jerusalem repented, were baptized into Christ, and received the blessed Holy Spirit, “the spirit of grace and of supplication.” In (2), they “looked unto Jehovah” in their prayers and supplications, and fulfilled (3) when they mourned, and cried, “What shall we do?” Peter had just pointed out to them that they had “crucified and slain the Prince of Life” (Acts 2).

“Me whom they pierced, and they shall mourn for “him” This passage sends the critics into a frenzy. Their first move is the usual one, that of declaring it a gloss; but, as Hailey said, “`They shall look unto me whom they have pierced’ is the authentic reading.”(F24) Baldwin spoke of some who were embarrassed by the “apparent contradiction that God had been put to death.”(F25) Unregenerated man has difficulty with the proposition that God indeed died in the person of his Son on the Cross.

Having failed utterly to get the message altered or excised, the critics nevertheless continue to deny that there is any reference to Christ:

“Some noble representative of Jehovah had been martyred… but who this martyr was we have no means of knowing.(F26) The one pierced is not the Messiah.(F27) There are no historical allusions.(F28) Various suggestions of historical personages have been made in an attempt to identify the pierced one: the brother of Jonathan, Onias III, Simon the Maccabee, or a Teacher mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc., etc!”(F29)

Of course, it is perfectly clear to all that this passage is a reference to the crucifixion of Christ. As Gill put it: “It would be difficult to imagine a clearer prediction of the detail of Christ’s crucifixion.”(F30) Hailey also summed it up thus:

“There is clearly depicted a tragedy occurring in the family of David, when some leading personage in the family would be smitten (Zechariah 13:7); his hands would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:6); a fountain for sin will be opened (Zechariah 13:1). It was to happen in the day when the house of David shall be as God (Zechariah 12:8). Only One member of David’s family was ever God. That One was Jesus. This identifies the Person here referred to as the “Branch” of Zechariah 3:6, who would remove the sin of the earth in “one day” (Zechariah 3:9); and he would rule from sea to sea and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Zechariah 9:6-10). Here is an amazing forecast in detail of the Death of Jesus, in no wise applicable to any other known person.(F31)

“They shall mourn over him” Who is the “him”? Jesus of course, for the similes concerning the mourning conspicuously refer to “only son” and “firstborn,” two distinctive designations that point unerringly to Him who was both “the only begotten Son of God,” and the “Firstborn of all creation!”

This mourning will be extensively elaborated in the next few verses, indicating the worldwide, universal nature of it. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper all over the earth throughout the entire dispensation, in which countless millions “show the Lord’s death until he comes” must be included in the ultimate fulfillment of such mourning as that which is indicated here. There is also an eschatological fulfillment that will be commented upon under Zechariah 12:11.

We agree with Deane that the fulfillment of this verse came, “When the Jews crucified the Messiah, him who was God and Man.”(F32) Piercing Christ was the piercing of God himself. Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”; and Jesus is called God a full dozen times in the Greek New Testament. The unique application of this passage to Jesus Christ can never be effectively denied. An apostle made that application of it in the gospel, where John quoted this place as proof that the Scriptures were fulfilled in the events occurring in connection with the crucifixion of Christ, saying, “They shall look upon him whom they pierced” (John 19:37). This is an interpretive quotation in which the inspired apostle melded the meaning of the two principal clauses (look unto me, and him whom they pierced), indicating that God and “him whom they pierced” are thought of as one, and that the one thought of is Jesus Christ. Such an instructive use of the passage by John makes it impossible to accept the notion that the apostle, “may not have been intending to do more than give the general sense.”(F33) John’s quotation does far more than that. For us, his words, inspired of God, are the end of the matter. One word from such a source is worth more than the concurring opinions of all human councils.

Verses 11-14

“In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart. The family of the house of Levi, and their wives apart; the family of the Shimeites, and their wives apart. All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.”

The effect of this passage is best seen by keeping all of it in mind. Note the triple “mourning” (Zechariah 12:11-12), and especially the recurrence of the word “apart,” eleven times in three verses! This emphasis upon the word “apart” makes it impossible to see this passage as depicting any kind of a great national celebration of mourning in which everybody takes part.

It should also be observed that the four specific families mentioned, those of David, Nathan, Levi, and Shemet, are mentioned not primarily at all, but as examples, or typical of “every family apart” (Zechariah 12:12), and of “all the families that remain, every family apart” (Zechariah 12:14). The subject of the passage is “all the families” or “every family”; and the prominent Jewish families mentioned are merely a parenthesis indicating the application. The solution for this difficult passage lies in the understanding of “every family” and “all the families” Note this:

“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14-15).”

In this passage, Paul was speaking of the totality of the Christian family of God, not only in heaven, but upon earth as well. Thus “every family,” “all the families” are expressions emphasizing the universality of the mourning of “all mankind” for “him whom they pierced.” This is wondrously fulfilled in two ways.

(1) It is fulfilled in the worldwide, universal, continual observance of the death of Christ, every Sunday for some two thousand years already, an observance destined to continue until the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have reference to the Lord’s supper. In every congregation of faithful believers on earth, on every Sunday of their whole lives, the communicants gather to “show forth the Lord’s death until he come.” “Apart”? Certainly, each community of believers celebrates this “mourning” individually at the time and place pertaining to them. This worldwide phenomenon is indeed great enough, universal enough, and sufficiently connected with “him whom they pierced” to justify our understanding it as the thing prophesied here. But there is yet to be another fulfillment of it.

(2) This mourning over the “Son of Man” who was pierced upon Calvary will at last be shared by every man ever born on earth. The topic sentence and theme of the Book of Revelation is:

“Behold he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him” (Revelation 1:7)

The entire prophecy of Revelation concerns the universal and final judgment of all mankind; and significantly, the terminology of this key sentence in Revelation indicates the mourning of humanity at the Judgment. Jesus himself mentioned this connection:

“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

What a broadening effect these revelations have upon the “mourning” of humanity over the Christ whom they pierced. Thus, “they” who did the piercing are not merely those who ordered, desired, and participated in the actual “piercing.” They include all of every time and place who “crucify the Lord again, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 5:6). Included also are those who disbelieve and reject the salvation which Jesus brought to man.

One other thing should be noted in these final four verses, and that is the reference to Hadad-Rimmon. That was supposed to have been the place where the good king Josiah was slain, an event followed by great mourning throughout Israel; and perhaps that is as good an understanding of the place as any. Critical scholars have attempted to identify Hadad-Rimmon as the site of an orgy of pagan mourning over some mythological incident in paganism. Delcor, as quoted by Baldwin, found it “repugnant that the mourning of a pagan deity should be put on a level with mourning for the Lord,”(F34) a viewpoint which we share. If there is a reference in this expression to paganism, it could very well have been for the purpose of showing that not merely believers in Christ would “mourn for him,” but that the whole disbelieving, pagan world would also be involved in it. They will really have something to mourn about when they see the Lamb sitting upon the throne, at which time:

“The kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the rocks and the mountains, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of wrath is come; and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17).

The second advent of Jesus Christ will be an occasion of very bad news indeed for the millions of earth who have lived lives of rebellion against him; and the mourning that shall sweep over the entirety of earth’s populations who at last see this and can no longer deny it will be a mourning like none that ever happened before. We are sure that this passage portrays such a mourning as effectively as it could have been done.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Zechariah 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/zechariah-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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