Having now listened to Zechariah’s Messianic prophecies in chapter 9, you and I can sense there is a shift in the prophet’s focus and style. Scholars have also noticed this shift, and call this second half of the book “Second Zechariah,” or sometimes “Deutero-Zechariah,” dating chapters 1-8 to the late sixth century, and chapters 9-15 possibly to the fifth century. Similarly to the Book of Isaiah, many scholars suggest the first part was written by the prophet, and the second part by a student, or students, of Zechariah who had received his mantle (his teaching and style and, from my own vantage, his anointing).
Zechariah’s second half is itself also divided into two parts. The first oracle in chapters 9-11, and the second oracle in chapters 12-14.
Chapter 10 describes in greater detail the victory of God over God’s enemies, the strengthening of God’s people, and the gathering in of scattered Israel to live in peace and prosperity in the Promised Land.
True and False
Beginning with goodly rain
Ask rain from the LordZechariah 10:1 (NRSV)
in the season of the spring rain,
from the Lord who makes the storm clouds,
who gives showers of rain to you,
the vegetation in the field to everyone.
Rain came in the spring and in the fall, and both were gifts from God which it pleased God to give in abundance—upon being asked from a people who love God, trust God, and acknowledge their dependence upon God.
This is the segue into God’s indictment against idols and the deception of diviners.
For the teraphim utter nonsense,Zechariah 10:2 (NRSV)
and the diviners see lies;
the dreamers tell false dreams,
and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
they suffer for lack of a shepherd.
Teraphim were the cultic items of native Canaanites.
Think about the difference between correlation and causation. If I offer lavish gifts to a teraphim, made in the likeness of a god I am convinced exists, and I sing songs to it, and cry heartfelt prayers to it, if I rub it lovingly with oil every morning and drape it with fragrant flowers every evening, and then the rain comes, right on schedule . . .
Do you see? I can become convinced my actions have caused the teraphim to produce the rain.
And if diviners tell me cleverly worded yet vague messages, then correlate certain circumstances of my life, or experience, or situation, with that message, claiming it came from the teraphim, and those skillful in observation and manipulation give me predictions that often (at least partially) seem to come true, and console me when they do not (for it must be my fault in some way) . . .
And so, God’s people were rudderless, aimless, unable to understand true causation because they were being deceived not only by their false leaders, but also by their own desire to control their lives. It is much more manageable to have teraphim that can be bribed into performing, or punished for lack of performance (as villages sometimes did, starving their teraphim, or throwing old rags over them), than to be in relationship with Almighty God.
You and I may think we are far more highly evolved than the idol worshippers of old, but really we are not. We still have a problem with understanding the difference between causation and correlation.
We still think “If I do these things (whatever those things are) correctly, I will succeed.”
We still try to get around God and manage our lives in the way we see fit.
God, however, was not going to permit this situation to last. The hapless, aimless flock of sheep were going to be reshaped into a powerful nation that knew and responded to God.
My anger is hot against the shepherds,Zechariah 10:3 (NRSV)
and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
and will make them like his proud war-horse.
God is the same God today. God will do away with our teraphim as well, and is just as angry with the false leaders who seek to deceive, and bring the eyes of God’s people away from God and onto themselves instead.
Out of them shall come the cornerstone,Zechariah 10:4 (NRSV)
out of them the tent peg,
out of them the battle bow,
out of them every commander.
Jesus is the tent peg, or the capstone, as Peter described him, the one who holds all things together, as Isaiah foretold
Jesus is the battle bow, as the writer of Revelation—who used a lot of material from Zechariah—depicted the returning Messiah.
Jesus is the Commander, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who will together with those in his command conquer all the armies arrayed against him.
The Gathered People of God
In a continuing motif of mightiness, Zechariah portrayed the people of God as victorious warriors, trampling and putting to shame all the enemies of God.
As Christians, it may be difficult reading for us today, bloody and violent, seemingly heartless and shallow to indulge in vengeful bloodlust against those who have victimized us. We know our Savior has called us to a different path, where we pray for those who persecute us, we willingly give what is demanded of us.
So let us instead read into these verses God’s reassurance of justice, that wrongs will be made right, that victims will be championed, that the cruel and vicious will be checked and ultimately dealt with in all righteousness.
For God, after reassuring God’s people of triumph in battle, then spoke of strengthening and saving.
I will strengthen the house of Judah,
and I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back because I have compassion on them,
and they shall be as though I had not rejected them;
for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them.
Then the people of Ephraim shall become like warriors,Zechariah 10:6-7 (NRSV)
and their hearts shall be glad as with wine.
Their children shall see it and rejoice,
their hearts shall exult in the Lord.
This is, of course, God’s desire and the focus of God’s purposes.
I will signal for them and gather them in,Zechariah 10:8 (NRSV)
for I have redeemed them,
and they shall be as numerous as they were before.
That signal was the whistle beekeepers used to draw the bees back to their hive, evocative to the people of Israel, for the Land of Milk and Honey was renowned for its beehives. (Scholarship supports beekeeping was women’s work in antiquity, and indeed throughout history. If so, then God used imagery they would particularly understand).
The gathering Zechariah described did happen in part, as many exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and repair the holy city’s ramparts.
A greater fulfillment came in 1948, when Israel was restored as a nation, twenty centuries after it had been utterly destroyed. Today, millions of those with Jewish heritage have made thereעֲלִיָּה aliyah, their “ascent” to Zion, the holy land of God.
But the complete fulfillment will be found in a time still future to us.
I will bring them home from the land of Egypt,
and gather them from Assyria;
I will bring them to the land of Gilead and to Lebanon,
until there is no room for them.
They shall pass through the sea of distress,
and the waves of the sea shall be struck down,
and all the depths of the Nile dried up.
The pride of Assyria shall be laid low,
and the scepter of Egypt shall depart.
I will make them strong in the Lord,
and they shall walk in [God’s] name,
says the Lord.