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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 13




The Eschatological Vision -YHWH Will Establish and Defend Jerusalem and Judah, and It Will Produce a Fountain For Sin and Uncleanness - And Then Will Come The End When God Will Triumph (12-14)


A prominent feature of this final section (Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 14:21) is the use of ‘it will come about’ and ‘in that day’. These occur as follows;

· ‘And it will come about in that day ---’ (Zechariah 12:3; Zechariah 12:9; Zechariah 13:2; Zechariah 13:4; Zechariah 14:6; Zechariah 14:8; Zechariah 14:13).,

· ‘In that day ---’ (Zechariah 12:4; Zechariah 12:6; Zechariah 12:8; Zechariah 12:11; Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:9; Zechariah 14:20-21).

· ‘It will come about’ (Zechariah 13:3; Zechariah 13:8; Zechariah 14:16).

· ‘Behold a day of YHWH comes’ (Zechariah 14:1).

This emphasises that this section is about a future which is yet some way ahead. It will be noted that it follows the passage in which all God’s plans have been thwarted because the people have listened to false shepherds. Thus His promises previously given have been thrust into the future as far as their complete fulfilment is concerned. And their fulfilment will only take place because of the direct intervention of the Great Creator. His great and final plan can be delayed but it cannot be thwarted.

In this section there are no clear linguistic dividers, and we are therefore left to divide the section on the basis of the contents. This might be seen to be as follows:

a Jerusalem is to be a cup of reeling for the nations (Zechariah 12:1-9).

b God will pour out blessing on His people and they will look on the one whom they had treated as a false prophet (Me Whom they pierced) and repent and He will open up a fountain for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1).

c The punishment that will fall on false prophets (Zechariah 13:2-6).

b God’s Shepherd will be smitten and appropriate punishment will follow but it will result in the refining of His people so that they say ‘YHWH is my God’ (Zechariah 13:7-9).

a Jerusalem is to be the source of salvation for the nations (Zechariah 14:1-21).

Note that in ‘a’ Jerusalem is a problem for the nations but in the parallel Jerusalem becomes the source of salvation for the nations. In ‘b’ God’s prophet has been pierced, resulting in repentance and cleansing, and in the parallel God’s Shepherd is smitten, resulting in refinement. Centrally in ‘c’ the kind of false prophecy that has opposed Zechariah is exposed.

Verse 2-3

The Cessation of the Guild of Prophets Because They Are No Longer True (Zechariah 13:2-3).

Zechariah 13:2

‘And it will happen in that day,’ says YHWH of Hosts, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they will not be remembered any more, and I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.’

The final result of the purification and cleansing will be that idolatry and false prophecy will be removed from the land forever (compare Zechariah 5:5-11). Even the memory of them will go. Truth will be victorious.

‘The unclean spirit.’ The spirit who speaks through the false prophets.

Thus the inference is that once the true Servant of God has come cultic prophecy will be a thing of the past for He will reveal the full truth and those who follow Him will receive the truth from Him.

Zechariah 13:3

‘And it will happen that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother who begat him will say to him, “You will not live, for you speak lies in the name of YHWH.” And his father and his mother who begat him will pierce him through when he prophesies.’

Once the days of the Messiah are here there will be no room for the old cult of prophets. Any who set themselves up as such will be denounced even by their parents and they will be declared worthy of punishment.

‘And his father and his mother --- will pierce him through --’. This clearly connects with the piercing through of the True Prophet in Zechariah 12:10. There the true prophet was pierced through because He was rejected by men. But God exonerated Him and identified Himself with Him. Here it is the turn of the false prophets, who played their part in His rejection, themselves to suffer the fate of a false prophet. This suggests that at the time of Zechariah false prophecy was dealt with in this way. We do not know of what the piercing through consisted but Zechariah 13:6 suggests that it was connected with the hands.

Verses 4-6

The False Prophets Will Be Ashamed Of Having Been Prophets (Zechariah 13:4-6).

Zechariah 13:4-5

‘And it will happen that the prophets will be ashamed every one of his vision when he prophesies, neither will they wear a hairy mantle to deceive. But he will say, “I am a tiller of the ground, for I have been made a bondman from my youth.” ’

It is clear that when some members of the prophetic cult prophesied they would wear a hairy mantle to depict themselves as following in the line of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). In the coming days of the Messiah they ‘will be ashamed of their vision’, that is they will not tell anyone what they have seen. So they will cease wearing a hairy mantle in order to deceive people. Instead they will depict themselves as honest sons of toil, as tillers of the ground and as bondmen, bound to menial service and therefore not free. For they will be ashamed for it to be known that they were once prophets.

Zechariah 13:6

‘And one shall say to him, “What are these wound in your hands?” Then he will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”

When people see the wounds made in the hands of the false prophets by their parents, and hear them say they are tillers of the soil, their suspicions will be aroused, for they will recognise the punishment of a false prophet. So they will ask what the wounds are, and the false prophet will make an excuse. The excuse is double edged. On the one hand he tries to persuade them that he received them while partying with his friends. But on the other hand the statement is also true, for those who really so dealt with him were truly his friends for they caused him to cease his false profession.

The One True Prophet Who was falsely pierced (Zechariah 12:10) would also use these words. But in His case the words would be more ironic. He was wounded by those who had professed to be His friends (see Zechariah 13:7).

Verses 7-9

The Righteous Shepherd Who Is God’s Fellow (Zechariah 13:7-9).

Zechariah 13:7

“Awake, Oh sword, against my shepherd, and against the man who is my fellow,” says YHWH of Hosts, “smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered and I will turn my hand on the little ones.”

This verse connects with the previous verse and with Zechariah 12:10. From Zechariah 12:10 - Zechariah 13:7 we have the deliberate contrast between God’s true Prophet and the cultic false prophets centred in the old Jerusalem. The false prophets were pierced because of their false prophecies. The true Prophet was pierced because He was falsely rejected. The false prophets claim to have been smitten by their friends, the true Shepherd will be smitten by those who should have been His friends. Thus the true Shepherd was also to be pierced and smitten because of the perversity of men.

Here ‘smite’ is used, the same verb as is used of false prophets in Zechariah 13:6, to contrast the smiting of the true Shepherd with that of the false. ‘Pierce’ was used in the contrast in Zechariah 12:10 and Zechariah 13:3.

The sword of judgment which had smitten the false shepherds (Zechariah 11:17) will also smite the true. This amazing verse then depicts the smiting of God’s true shepherd (compare Isaiah 53 which amplifies these words). The old Jerusalem’s last act before it is superseded will be to destroy the Shepherd of God.

In the background is God’s judgment on sin placed on the Shepherd (Isaiah 53:4-6) but the actual sword is wielded by His enemies, ironically the old dwellers in Jerusalem. The Shepherd is smitten by His supposed ‘friends’. But underlying it is that the One Who is the substitute for sin (Isaiah 53:5) must bear the judgment that is imposed on the enemies of God because He is made sin for us.

‘Awake, Oh sword.” In the end it is God Who controls and sends forth the sword of judgment. All is done under His sovereign hand. But it is wielded by His enemies, those who profess to be His friends, thus unconsciously bringing about the purposes of God..

‘My shepherd.’ The shepherd was familiar for his care and concern for his sheep, as feeder, guide and protector. It is a regular picture for God in the Old Testament (Psalms 23; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10) and for those who serve in God’s place (Zechariah 11:4; Zechariah 11:7; Numbers 27:16-17; Isaiah 63:11; Jeremiah 23:4) and especially for the Messiah (Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24). But as Zechariah has shown, many of the latter proved to be false shepherds (Zechariah 10:2-3; Zechariah 11:5; Zechariah 11:16-17 compare Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 25:33-37; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:2-10).

In the light of Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24 with Zechariah 12:10 and the use of ‘My’ we are justified in seeing in this smitten shepherd God’s servant, the ‘one shepherd’, the ‘David’ who was to come, in other words the Messiah.

‘And against the man who is my fellow.’ Literally, ‘the man who stands next to Me.’ This clearly suggests a God-appointed king and confirms that we have here the coming Promised One. It was always a problem for the Jews to reconcile this coming Promised One who would suffer under God’s hand with their expected triumphant Messiah. It is only in the coming of Jesus that we see the two reconciled. Yet the prophets had an awareness, although doubtless mystified, that this must be so.

‘Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered and I will turn my hand on the little ones (on the lambs).’ This verse is quoted by Jesus to describe the result on His disciples of His being seized (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). The smiting of the shepherd always results in the scattering of the sheep and the destruction of lambs. And in the sovereignty of God it has often been so with His people, whether it be the Great Shepherd or His under-shepherds. But as the next verses make clear this is because it will have a refining effect which is for the good of His flock. God’s purposes are accomplished through suffering, and among the scattered sheep He raises up further under-shepherds.

Zechariah 13:8-9

“And it will happen that in all the land,” says Yahweh, “two parts in it will be cut off and die, but the third part will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They will call on my name and I will hear them. I will say, ‘It is my people’. And they will say, ‘YHWH is my God’.”

Here we have described the result of the smiting of the Shepherd. God’s future promises are not effective for all. The majority will not respond to God’s offer of mercy and will come under His judgment. This is depicted here in terms of a large proportion who die and a smaller proportion who go through refining fires and are purified.

Refining fires are also destructive fires. In Ezekiel 22:17-22 God declares that because of His wrath against His people Israel they will undergo the fire of His wrath. There is no suggestion there of its purifying effect although that may possibly be assumed from the process described, the purpose of which is to remove dross from metals. Ezekiel, however, describes Israel as mainly the dross, more in line with Jeremiah 6:29-30. Their concentration is on the judgment of a sinful people. Zechariah here recognises the destruction of a large proportion as dross but adds the thought of the fire as purifying the remnant who undergo it. So the idea is expanded and is not fully the same. For him there is room for mercy.

Malachi 3:1-3 and Isaiah 1:25-28 are more parallel with Zechariah. In Malachi 3:1-3 the concentration is on refining. After the sending of His messenger to prepare the way, YHWH comes to His Temple to purify the priesthood through refining fire, so that they are purified like gold and silver and become a true priesthood. This true priesthood was represented in the early church who became a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

Isaiah in Isaiah 1:25-28 cites YHWH as declaring, ‘I will turn my hand on you and will purge away all your dross as with lye, and will take away all your tin.’ The result is then that the judges and counsellors are ‘restored’ and Jerusalem is called ‘the city of righteousness, the faithful city’, while transgressors and sinners are destroyed. This clearly reflects the meaning of Zechariah in respect of the ‘third part’.

Thus the smiting of the Shepherd results in judgment on the majority and the choosing out and refining of a minority. We may see this fulfilled in the consequences that came on the Jews after their rejection of the Messiah. In the war that began in 66 AD huge numbers of Jews were slaughtered, many by the sword, and others by crucifixion or death in the arena, But the true remnant who made up the church of Jesus Christ, although enduring much persecution prior to this, escaped the slaughter by fleeing from Jerusalem as Jesus had said.

‘A third part.’ Three was the number of completeness thus this means a proportion of the whole which is complete in itself. It is intended to mean a smallish minority and not to be applied literally. The exactness indicates the precision with which God chooses rather than being a mathematical declaration. This third part is to be purified through ‘fire’. The general idea behind this is suffering of one form or another. The bringing of man into a state acceptable to God is not something to be easily accomplished. In the words of Paul ‘tribulation produces patient endurance’ (Romans 5:3).

‘They will call on my name and I will hear them.’ The result of the refining will be genuine repentance so that they call on God from a true heart. Then He will hear them and respond.

‘I will say, “It is my people”. And they will say, “YHWH is my God”.’ They will be accepted once again by God as His true people and they will respond to Him as truly their God. We can compare Hosea 2:23, and Jeremiah 31:33, the latter specifically demonstrating the effect of the refining as ‘having the law written in their hearts’ as a result of the new covenant God makes with His people. This latter is cited in Hebrews 8:8-12 as relating to the better covenant brought by Jesus Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 6:17-18).

Note. There are some who would relate this whole passage in Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 13:9 only to the final days of the current age. They would cite ‘in that day’ as always meaning such a time. They then see it as relating only to the Jews with a resulting ‘end time’ revival among them and late response to the Messiah. And indeed we would not deny that all such might happen, for there are grounds elsewhere for thinking of this as a possibility, but we must not restrict it to that. Nor is that even necessary.

The New Testament makes clear that ‘that day’, the ‘last days’, began in New Testament times. The Apostles saw themselves as being in the last days, the time of the end, the times of the Messiah (Acts 2:16 in context; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 9:26-28; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7). It is true that that time has extended so that we too are in the last days, but their insistence on this means that prophecies related to ‘the end days’ apply from their time onwards.

Thus Peter applies the prophecy of Joel 2:28 to Pentecost, and this is in line with the idea in Zechariah 12:10; Jesus Christ cites Himself as the smitten Shepherd (Matthew 26:31), and the fountain for sin and uncleanness was opened as a result of His death and resurrection. To restrict it to the ‘end times’ as meant by these interpreters is to limit its significance and to lose the glory of what has come about. And it is to ignore the insistence of the New Testament that the hopes of Israel find themselves fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and in His church, the elect remnant, the Israel of God.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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