Israel’s Defilement Removed
In the previous chapter, we saw God pour out His grace on Israel, resulting in the nation’s redemption, its reconciliation to God, and its renewed covenant relationship with Him. In chapter 13, Zechariah revealed how the Holy Spirit will bring national cleansing to a redeemed Israel.
Zechariah declared, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (v. 1). The fountain of cleansing is the shed blood of the pierced Messiah (12:10). Like a fountain that gushes forth a continual provision of water, so the Messiah’s blood has been available to cleanse all individuals from sin, guilt, and moral defilement since the first century.
The word sin in verse 1 refers to “missing the mark,” or failing to meet God’s righteous moral standard. Uncleanness speaks metaphorically of ritual impurity associated with a woman’s monthly cycle. Both terms aptly represent Israel’s judicial guilt and defilement. This cleansing will take place at the Messiah’s Second Advent.
The “house of David” and the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” are singled out as beneficiaries. Israel’s cleansing will be all-inclusive, covering the kingly line of David and the commoners as well.
Idolatry Cut Off
When the Messiah returns, God will remove all idolatry and abolish even the idols’ names, so they will be remembered no more: “I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and…I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land” (v. 2). The unclean spirits are demonic agents or spirits that energize false prophets to speak and commit evil acts; they will also be cut off.
If any false prophet refuses to heed God’s warning to stop prophesying, his parents, as prescribed in the Mosaic Law, will execute him. His father and mother will say to him, “‘You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ.’ And his father and mother…shall thrust him through when he prophesies” (v. 3). In other words, honor for God’s name and love for truth will transcend the most intimate relationships, even a parent’s love for a son.
The Mosaic Law commanded parents to kill their evil sons by stoning, but in the Day of the Lord these sons will be stabbed to death. The word for “thrust” (Hebrew, daqar) is the same word used for “pierce” in Zechariah 12:10, where God said, “they will look on Me whom they pierced.”
On threat of death, false prophets will quickly deny involvement in such evil practices: “And it shall be…that every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive” (v. 4). Shame and fear of death will compel them to stop all prophesying. The genuine prophet often wore “a robe of coarse hair” to distinguish him as a prophet, in keeping with his frugal lifestyle and mournful pronouncements. (See 1 Kings 19:13, 19; 2 Kings 2:8, 14; Matthew 3:4.) Fearful of detection, the masquerading prophet will discard the mantle he wore to deceive people, covering up his activities.
Zechariah described the false prophet’s deception and defense: “But he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a farmer; for a man taught me to keep cattle from my youth’” (v. 5). This means he literally will say, “A man bought or possessed me, and I have been made a bondsman from my youth.”
To hide his involvement, he will claim to have been sold into slavery while young and taught to farm by his master. Thus the man will claim to be a slave of the lowest class, who was controlled by his master and never able to acquire the knowledge or ability needed to be a prophet.
Discerning individuals who know him will detect his deception. Wounds on the man’s body will give him away. He will be asked, “‘What are these wounds between your arms [breast]?’ Then he will answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’” (v. 6).
Some believe the phrase wounded in the house of my friends is a Messianic prophecy referring to the piercing of Messiah’s hands. However, this view is untenable. First, the Messiah was never wounded in the house of His friends but by Roman executioners who had no relationship with Him. Second, He was never wounded many times in His breast, as indicated in verse 6, but in His hands. Third, Messiah was not, nor would He ever claim to have been, a slave to any man on Earth. Fourth, the Messiah was never questioned by people of the world concerning His wounds after His resurrection. Fifth, the Messiah was a carpenter, not a farmer. Sixth, the Messiah was a prophet and never denied it. Seventh, the sequence of events presented in this chapter does not coincide with the time of the Messiah’s crucifixion.
Those interrogating the man in Zechariah 13 know he is lying. Moreover, his wounds are self-inflicted, given to himself while practicing idolatry. Like the prophets of Baal, he cut his body hoping to propitiate or placate false gods (cf. 1 Ki. 18:28). These types of lesions characterized many idolatrous men in that day, especially Canaanites. In Israel, priests and prophets were continually warned against such practices (Dt. 14:1).
Infliction of Christ
Abruptly, the Lord’s focus shifts from the false prophet’s inflictions to the infliction of the true Shepherd who was smitten for the sins of God’s people:
Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion….Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; then I will turn My hand against the little ones (v. 7).
This verse covers a lengthy period, from the crucifixion of Christ through the Great Tribulation.
The Shepherd. Messiah is the righteous Shepherd. God the Father called Him “My Shepherd” and “My Companion.” The word shepherd is related to the word used in Zechariah 11:4–17 and refers to the one who was pierced in Zechariah 12:10, that is, Jesus the Messiah.
The word companion [Hebrew, amit] speaks of a human being who is associated in a family connection; in this context, he must be closely united or joined to God the Father. Thus he is a human being in an equal relationship with God. This word clearly refers to Jesus the Messiah, who is both human and divine. This truth is both awe-inspiring and staggering, plainly teaching the Messiah’s equality with God.
The Sword. The Redeemer is smitten: “Awake, O sword,…[and] strike the Shepherd.” The word sword pictures an instrument used by a judicial authority to inflict death and is a symbol of God’s divine wrath. This is not man’s wrath being inflicted on the Messiah, but God’s righteous wrath being poured out on Him who bore the sins of the world upon Himself and shed His blood for the remission of sin.
God the Father commanded the sword to arise and carry out divine justice. The command indicates it was God’s will that Jesus be smitten. Although wicked men murdered Him, His death nevertheless was predetermined by the counsel and divine plan of Almighty God who ordained that Messiah would die for the sins of the world (Acts 2:23). The sword of divine justice did not fall on a wicked man but on a righteous Messiah who is the Son of God. He is the same Lamb of God who was pierced for the sins of humankind (12:10; cf. Isa. 53:5). Isaiah prophesied that it pleased God the Father to bruise the Messiah and “make His soul an offering for sin” (Isa. 53:10).
The Sheep. The sheep that reject the shepherd are scattered. Those who fled the smitten Shepherd were the Jewish people at His crucifixion. The Lord predicted that His disciples would flee then (Mt. 26:31). But their scattering was not the complete fulfillment of this prophecy; the prophecy also involves the nation of Israel. Its scattering took place in A.D. 70, with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and again in 135 when the Romans put down the Bar Kokhba revolt against their occupation and rule in Jerusalem. After the revolt, Jewish people were scattered across the earth in what is commonly called the Diaspora.
The phrase then I will turn my hand against the little one has been interpreted in various ways. Some teach that God has turned away from His anger against the sheep to show them mercy, love, and grace. We would like to embrace this position, but the context does not support the interpretation. This expression is to be interpreted in a punitive sense and does not suggest God showing mercy to a faithful remnant of Jewish people. Jewish people have suffered 2,000 years of persecution and are yet to face the greatest Holocaust of their history during the Great Tribulation (Jer. 30:7; Rev. 12:1–17): “‘And it shall come to pass in all the land,’ says the LORD, ‘that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it’” (v. 8).
During the Great Tribulation two-thirds of the Jewish population will perish. This percentage is high because (1) Satan will try to annihilate Israel (Rev. 12), (2) the false prophet will kill Jewish people who refuse to worship the Antichrist (13:15), and (3) many will die during the invasion of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1–3).
However, this chapter ends with a glorious prediction:
I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, “This is My people”; and each one will say, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my God” (v. 9).
Zechariah foresaw the redemption of a righteous remnant in Israel that will survive the refining furnace of tribulation. As silver and gold are tried in the fire, so will the Great Tribulation purge away all of Israel’s iniquity. This repentant remnant will emerge from its experience free of sin. With its suffering finally past, Israel will be established in its land to enjoy all the blessings promised in the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:25–38). Both Hosea and the apostle Paul foresaw this great day as well (Hos. 2:23; Rom. 11:26–27).
God will acknowledge the redeemed, refined remnant when He says, “This is My people,” whereupon, the people respond, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my God” (v. 9). What a wonderful day awaits Israel when the Messiah brings a redeemed and cleansed remnant to complete salvation!