The prophet Zechariah reveals a great deal about the person and the work of the Messiah. All too often Judaism takes a “wait and see” attitude concerning Messiah. That is, that Judaism would prefer to remain diligent in the belief that the Messiah is coming, but tends to refrain from offering too much information about Him. The result is most people who adhere to Judaism know very little about the identity of Messiah and what exactly He will accomplish and how He will bring these things about. Zechariah on the other hand offers much information about these issues and one should learn from his prophecy so as to be prepared for Messiah’s coming and not simply respond after the fact. It has already been discussed in a previous article that there is a debate whether the Messiah Who will bring about the establishment of the kingdom of G-d upon earth is from the dead; that is, lived before or whether He is from those who are alive and will reveal Himself as the Messiah by accomplishing the work of Messiah.
What exactly is the Messiah suppose to do? According to Rambam in Mishneh Torah Halachot M’lahchim Messiah is to do the following:
1. Return the kingdom to Israel and to the lineage of David.
2. Build the Temple in Jerusalem.
3. Gather the exiles and return them to the land of Israel.
4. Rule over the world and enforce Torah obedience.
5. Fight the wars of G-d, delivering the Jewish people from their enemies.
Zechariah speaks to all of these issues and reveals some vital information about the One who will accomplish these things.
The basic message of Zechariah is simple to discern—G-d will remember His covenant with Israel and redeem His people. It is significant that the name “Zechariah” means G-d remembers. In this article the twelfth chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy will serve as the primary text; however, other verses from this prophecy will be utilized in order to further one’s understanding of the person and work of the Messiah. The chapter opens up with the word “burden”. This word describes the judgment that HaShem will place upon the world. One must understand that there are two aspects to judgment. One is condemnation and the second is vindication. Hence G-d’s judgment will serve to condemn and destroy those who do not have a covenant relationship with Him, but will bring a great victory, and serve to redeem those who are in a covenant relationship with Him.
One cannot over emphasize the importance of a covenant relationship with G-d. Scripture declares that it was because of Israel’s covenant relationship with G-d that HaShem acted to redeem the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
“And G-d heard their groaning and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov.” Exodus 2:24
In the second half of verse one it says,
“…He stretches out the heavens and establishes the earth and forms the spirit of man in his midst.”
This sentence clearly speaks about creation of the world; however, what is important here is that it is not the first creation that is being referred to, but a new creation of the world, i.e. redemption. Verse two informs the reader that Jerusalem is foundational in G-d’s plan of bringing redemption to the world. Scripture reveals that G-d’s righteous rule through His king, Messiah will be established in the city of Jerusalem. Unfortunately man often opposes G-d’s plans and in the end of this age nothing will be different. Whereas verse two hints at man’s rebellion against G-d establishing His kingdom in Jerusalem, Zechariah clearly states that all the nations of the world will oppose Messiah and His redemption in the last days,
“Behold the day of the L-rd is coming…and I (the L-rd) will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for war…” Zechariah 14: 1-2 (selected)
Verse two calls Jerusalem a “cup of poison”,
“Behold I am setting Jerusalem a cup of poison to all the peoples around, and also concerning Judah will be in the siege for Jerusalem.”
There is actually another possible meaning for the Hebrew word translated “cup”. It can also mean a “threshold”. The point is that not only will those who attack Jerusalem be as those who drink poison, but attacking Jerusalem is like crossing a line which reveals one’s allegiance; that is, whether one is part of the family of G-d or an enemy to G-d and His people. The next verse describes Jerusalem as a heavy stone that will crush those who try to move it.
“And it shall come about on that day that I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone to all the people, to all who burden her (Jerusalem); they will cut (themselves) and all the nations of the earth shall be gathered unto her (Jerusalem).” Zechariah 12:3
Not only will those nations who attack Jerusalem be crushed, but there is an awkward phrase that the nations will also be cut or possibly the intent of the phrase is to cut themselves. Although a different Hebrew word is used, there are instances where those who engage in idolatry actually cut themselves as part of their pagan practices in worshipping their false gods. There are also examples of one cutting his flesh as a sign of remorse or deep regret. This is similar to the practice in Judaism of Kriah- cutting or tearing one’s garment as sign of remorse or mourning as in the case of the death of certain relatives. Hence, Zechariah may be saying that those nations that attack Jerusalem in the last days are doing so fulfilling the will of false religions and eventually they will learn of the great mistake and have deep sorrow and remorse.
In describing the war that will take place for Jerusalem Zechariah reveals that G-d will intervene in a miraculous manner striking the horses with blindness and its riders with madness. Perhaps this alludes to causing the enemy’s military armament to malfunction and those who operate it to act irrationally. The verse also contains a most interesting statement,
“On that day says the L-rd, I will strike every horse with madness and its rider with craziness and concerning the House of Judah I will open my eyes and every horse of the people (gentile nations) I will strike with blindness.” Zechariah 12:4
What is the significance of the phrase, “and concerning the House of Judah I (HaShem) will open my eyes”? Israel has been in exile since the destruction of the Temple and even though one can see G-d’s hand moving in the life of the Jewish people in establishing the modern state of Israel and providing victory in the War of Independence, The Six Days War, and Yom Kippur War; G-d’s will move in the last days to deliver the Jewish people, bringing redemption, and establishing His kingdom in a much greater way that it will be as though for the last 2000 plus years that G-d’s eyes were shut to the plight of His people.
Verses five through eight speak about G-d strengthening the Jewish people and Jerusalem returning to its former status. Although G-d does indeed make Israel as fire and her enemies as straw, G-d Himself will defend His people in a personal way.
“And the generals of Judah will say in their hearts, the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the L-rd of Hosts their G-d encourage me. On that day I will make the generals of Judah as a basis of fire against the trees and as a torch of fire against sheaves; and they will devour to the right and to the left- all the peoples round and Jerusalem will sit once more in her place in Jerusalem. The L-rd will save the tents of Judah as in the former times so that the splendor of house of David and the inhabitant of Jerusalem shall not exceed Judah. On that day the L-rd will defend the inhabitant of Jerusalem and it shall be that the failure among them on that day (shall be) like David and the house of David (shall be) as G-d- as the Angel of L-rd before them.” Zechariah 12:5-8
It is most clear from the following verse that there is a multinational agreement that Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish people is unacceptable to the nations of the world. If one reads the second verse of chapter fourteen it speaks about the city being divided as does Revelation chapter eleven verse two. There are also similar statements about Jerusalem going through a period of intense persecution and suffering. But in the end G-d Himself will destroy all the nations who come against the Jewish people and attack Jerusalem.
“And it shall come about on that day I (HaShem) will seek to destroy all the nations coming against Jerusalem.” Zechariah 12:9
The word which is translated “destroy” is a powerful word and denotes an utter annihilation. This supports what G-d told Avraham in Genesis chapter twelve,
“I will bless those who bless you, but curse those who curse you…” Gen. 12:3
Obviously those nations who are coming to make war with Jerusalem are not doing so to bless the Jewish people nor are they following the will of G-d and therefore they will find themselves fighting against the Living G-d and ultimately being destroyed. While the nations are perishing, G-d is bringing about a significant spiritual change in the Jewish people. Verse ten tells the reader that HaShem will pour out His Spirit on a certain group of the Jewish people and reveal who the Gemara calls Messiah Ben Yoseph.
“I will pour out upon the House of David and the inhabitant of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and supplication and they will look upon Me whom they have pierced and lament concerning him as one laments concerning an only son and be bitter as the bitterness is for (the death) of a firstborn son.” Zechariah 12:10
Two groups of people are mentioned in this verse, the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Just who is being referred by these descriptions? The “house of David” refers to those who have faith in the promise of HaShem to send a redeemer in the last days. It is clear that the first part of this verse is describing the same event as Isaiah,
“And a Redeemer shall come to Zion and to those who repent (from) sin of Jacob says the L-rd. And this is My covenant with them said the L-rd, My spirit (will be) upon you….” Isaiah 59:20-21
In the last days G-d will move in a unique and powerful manner pouring out His Spirit upon those who repent of sin. Zechariah say the “the Spirit of grace and supplication”, to what is he referring? The word translated grace is similar in meaning to the words “mercy” or “forgiveness”. There is however one important difference. The Hebrew word translated “grace” has a specific purpose attached to it. This purpose is to establish a bond or a relationship. Notice that Isaiah places the word “covenant” with in the context. This informs the reader that it is because of G-d’s desire to enter into a covenant relationship with the Jewish people that He is pouring His grace upon them. The Hebrew word translated “supplication” is derived from the same word as grace. Hence the text is saying that not only does G-d provide what is necessary to forgive the people of their sin (mercy) but He does so because of this great desire to have a covenant relationship them and even creates the desire within them (the spirit of supplication) to have such a relationship with Him.
Whereas the phrase “house of David” refers to those who have faith in a coming Messiah the term “the inhabitant of Jerusalem” speaks about those who will inherit the promises of G-d. The term “Jerusalem” being derived from two Hebrew words, the first meaning “to inherit” and the second “shalom” which speaks about the fulfillment of G-d’s will, which is to place upon His covenant people His blessings. The second half of this verse deals with the means by which these things are accomplished. The text says, “They will look upon Me…” to whom is the text referring? It is clear from the context that HaShem is speaking (the One who is pouring out His Spirit). It is most interesting that the consensus opinion among both Jewish and Christian commentators is that the text is referring to the Messiah.
It has already been discussed that Judaism speaks about two Messiahs, Messiah Ben David and Messiah Ben Yoseph. The Gemara in Meseket Sukah says that this one is Messiah Ben Yoseph (there is also an alternate view that the text is referring to man’s evil inclination). Rabbi Dosa says the lamenting is for the Messiah which descended from Yoseph who was killed previously (see meseket suka 52a).Such an interpretation poses a serious conflict for Judaism. It is clear from verse nine that HaShem is defeating those that are attacking Jerusalem and the Jewish people at the end of the age. Rambam’s view which is embraced by Judaism as a whole says it is the role of Messiah Ben David to fight the war at the end of this age and bring about the final redemption. Therefore it is problematic that it is Messiah Ben Yoseph that is being mentioned here according to the Gemara. The fact that the “house of David” is mentioned in this verse also serves to hint to Messiah Ben David. The reason that there is a desire among the rabbis to interpret the subject of the verse as Messiah Ben Yoseph is because he was stabbed / pierced. Once again both Jewish and Christian commentators see this as relating to Messiah’s (Jewish scholars say Messiah Ben Yoseph) death. The problem is that this one is bringing the victory to Israel in the last days (role of Messiah Ben David) is the one who had previously been and died and now is returning and bringing the final redemption. Rabbinical Judaism cannot reconcile this conflict. However there is a simple solution. As has been discussed in a previous article, there are not two Messiahs, but one. This one Messiah has two distinct roles which He will accomplish at two distinct times. The first role is to do the work of redemption and the second is to bring the actual results of the work of redemption to Israel and the world, i.e. the kingdom of G-d. Zechariah chapter three offers an interesting illustration in helping the reader to understand the nature of Messiah’s work of redemption.
In chapter three the prophet Zechariah has a vision of Yehoshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the L-rd and Satan standing on his right side to accuse him. Satan makes this accusation against Yehoshua because as high priest Yehoshua represents the entire people of Israel. It is most significant that Yehoshua is clothed with soiled garments. These soiled garments represent the sins of the Jewish people. HaShem responds by ordering that the soiled garments be removed from upon Yehoshua. This removal of the soiled garments represents the removal of the sins from the Jewish people. This is the work of redemption. Messiah has the responsibility as had already been discussed in the previous article to pay the price of redemption for the Jewish people and in fact all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Please note the end of the fourth verse of chapter three,
“And He (HaShem) answered and said to the ones standing before him saying, ‘remove the soiled garments from upon him and clothe him with the festival garments”. Zechariah 3:4
The word which is translated as “festival garments” is derived from the Hebrew word which speaks of being released. In Modern Hebrew this word is related to the word for a corkscrew. Hence the idea is freedom from sin and the consequences thereof. It is most significant that verse eight mentions “My Servant (the) Branch“. All commentators see this phrase relating to the Messiah. In the next verse it is recorded,
“…I will remove the sin of that land in one day.” Zechariah 3:9b
The verse reveals that in one day HaShem will do the work necessary to redeem Israel. Furthermore the fact that the vision speaks of Yehoshua being clothed with soiled garments and then clean ones teaches a vicarious sacrifice. This is exactly the type of sacrifice the High Priest makes for Israel on the Day of Atonement. With this information clearly being revealed in this chapter it is now obvious to conclude the following about Messiah’s work of redemption. Messiah will make a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of Israel and in one day the work of redemption is achieved. Such a view is quite different from a common teaching of Judaism today that it is by doing good deeds that Israel will merit her own redemption. This was the teaching of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe who said that a certain number of good deeds would be done prior to Messiah being revealed and therefore encouraged people to do good deeds saying that “perhaps the good deed that you do will be the one that brings the final redemption.”
This third chapter of Zechariah teaches that it is not by merit that Israel will be redeemed, but by the sovereign plan of G-d, Who will one day simply give the command that Messiah should do the work of redemption. Now returning to chapter twelve and verse ten the reader notices another key piece of information. When Messiah appears, Who has been pierced / stabbed, it says that the people will lament for Him. In fact the verse tells the reader about the uniqueness of this lamentation,
“… and they will look upon Me whom they have pierced and lament concerning him as one laments concerning an only son and be bitter as the bitterness is for (the death) of a firstborn son.” Zechariah 12:10
Such mourning is significant. It is a clear reference to a thirty day mourning period. Daniel offers some key information to help one understand the significance of this period. In the next article we will investigate the relationship between Zechariah chapter fourteen and what Daniel says about the last days and learn how Messiah figures into these days.
Author: Dr Baruch Korman