Jesus shows up again in the Old Testament – very clearly this time. But first, God told the people that he would vanquish their enemies. The land of Israel was in a delicate spot when Zechariah was writing this book of the Bible. The people had returned from exile. They were politically and economically weak. Numerous people groups had inflicted harm over them – and would inflict even more harm.
And God promised the people he would bring punishment on the enemies of his people. The description Zechariah gives in 9:1-8 is like a military campaign that moves from north to south. Zechariah gives us a list of places that will be defeated – Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, Sidon, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Gaza.
Some scholars think Zechariah was speaking generally of the coming of Alexander the Great, the Greek general who would build an empire across the land – and whose army actually destroyed some of those cities in the 300s BC.
There’s a little bit of “missions” talk in this section, which is somewhat unexpected. In talking about the cities in Philistia, Zechariah records God’s promise that some of the people there would be “a remnant for our God; it shall be like a clan of Judah, and Ekron shall be like the Jebusites.” Judah, of course, was the primary nation within Israel. Ekron was a pagan Philistine city, and the Jebusites were defeated by King David (they lived in what is now Jerusalem).
So there is destruction here, but there also is a taste of conversion – of people brought into the nation of Israel. The kingdom of God, even then, remained open to those who would come.
And then we find Jesus in Zechariah 9. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
This points to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The gospel writers Matthew and John actually quote portions of Zechariah’s writings here when they described that first Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy. This text ultimately was about Jesus, even though it was written more than 500 years before the time of Christ.
King Jesus would enter Jerusalem in peace and humility – on a donkey – not on a warhorse like you might expect a king to ride. Jesus’ reign would be “to the ends of the earth.” And “he shall speak peace to the nations.”
Jesus’ kingdom would be a kingdom of peace. He is part of the “blood covenant” that God has with Israel – think of the cross – and would witness God’s setting prisoners free from the “waterless pit.”
It’s OK to think of the patriarch Joseph here, who was thrown into a cistern by his jealous brothers and then sold into slavery in Egypt. But God brought Joseph out of that cistern – that waterless pit – to save the lives of Israel during a famine (Genesis 45:7). Life came out of certain death! Jesus also emerged from a waterless pit (the tomb) to save the lives of anyone with faith in him. Again, life came out of death. They are saved from the grave! You’ve been saved from a waterless pit.
The text then begins talking about war again. While Jesus’ kingdom is one of peace, it apparently is one of peace only for those who trust in him. Maybe, the “speaking of peace to the nations” is the speaking of the good news – the good news that humans can have peace with God (Romans 5:1). We can have forgiveness of our sins by the blood of Christ.
Zechariah promises that God will show up in person. He will appear “over” Israel. His arrow will go out like “lightning.” There will be the sound of a “trumpet.” And God will march forward in the “whirlwinds.” When God shows up – when he makes a physical appearance – it typically is accompanied by lightning and the sound of a trumpet. It happened that way for ancient Israel at Mount Sinai, and we are promised the same when Jesus returns (Exodus 19:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
And the people of God will “tread down” their enemies. We do have enemies, you know – and we do have a shield (Ephesians 6:12, 16). And there is more language of sacrifice, pointing to Jesus’ death on the cross – “drenched like the corners of the alter.”
In the last few verses, we also see a key characteristic of the Messiah, who is a shepherd like King David was – “their God will save them, as the flock of his people.” And I sense just a little bit of a hint of the Lord’s Supper. “For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.” Think bread and wine.
Some people may object to viewing Zechariah 9 in this light. They may object to seeing all these pointers to Jesus Christ, to his sacrifice, to his second coming, to his body and blood. Could Zechariah have intended all of this with this chapter? I doubt Zechariah even had the full picture of what God was going to do in Christ. God was at work here.
But again, if you are a Christian, you really should read the Old Testament – from Genesis to Malachi – with Christian eyes. Look for Christ. In this case, it’s pretty easy – as the gospel writers gave us a big help when they referenced this chapter as they described Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. I think it’s OK to be aggressive in looking for what else God might have to say about his Son in the text. And as you can see, I find plenty there.
So what do we do with this chapter? It is up to you. What stood out to you in this text? What words, phrases, or images captured your attention? What excited you? Did you have any emotions as you read this text? Read it again and see where the Holy Spirit leads you.