Some passages of Scripture are meant to be held lightly – delicately. These are texts we aren’t fully going to understand until the end. These are texts we can read and pray over and study. But they aren’t texts we can use as weapons. They aren’t texts we can say we “own.” God told Job when Job was thinking he understood something of God’s – “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).
Zechariah 12 is one of those texts that I read and understand to be part of God’s holy Word that may not be for me to fully understand.
So we hold this text lightly in our hands, and we praise God – because it all appears to be good news.
God reminded Israel of who he is. “Thus declares the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him.” This is the God who operates three spheres of creativity – heaven, earth, and humanity (you and I). “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). There is nothing we can look at today – there is nothing beyond the astronomer’s telescope and nothing under the biologist’s microscope – that was not created by God. He made everything. All of it belongs to him.
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). So God stretched out the heavens and founded the earth, and he formed the spirit of man within us. It is the breath of life. And we became living creatures by the creative power of God.
And God chose some of those living creatures – some of those humans – to belong to him and to him alone. God chose a man named Abram and took him outside to look at those heavens made by God – and God asked Abram to see if he could number the stars in the sky. It was impossible, of course. And God said, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).
And Abram believed God. And God told Abram lay out a sacrifice to him of animals – a heifer and a goat and a ram and a turtledove and a pigeon. And Abram cut them in pieces and laid them out on the ground. That night, God promised that years into the future Abram’s family would be slaves in a foreign land. But God would bring them out of slavery. And God would bring them into the Promised Land. And the sign God gave Abram was this, from Genesis 15, “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces [of sacrifice]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land'” (Genesis 15:17-18).
We know that land to be the land of Israel. And we know Abram’s offspring to be the Jewish nation. And the creator of the heavens and earth and humanity made his promise to Israel. Abram’s family would have this land – a gift from God. And the city of Jerusalem is in the middle of that land.
In Zechariah 12, God promised he would make Jerusalem “a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples.” That is, God would make the city of Jerusalem something through which he poured out his wrath on the surrounding peoples. (See Isaiah 51:17). Zechariah paints for us a picture of a great siege of Jerusalem – the city of God – by enemy nations. But it would not go well for those nations!
Six times in this passage, Zechariah quotes God saying, “On that day …” This is the Day of Lord. We might call this the End. The day when God sets things right in the world and when we might see things turned upside down. So I believe God is talking here in Zechariah 12 about future “day.” This is not a reference to any past battle in Israel’s history. This day hasn’t happened yet. But it will.
1) “On that day,” God will make Jerusalem like a heavy stone that injures people when they try to move it. Jerusalem will be like a rock – immovable. All the nations will gather against it, but to no avail. (I think about Matthew 16:18 here.)
2) “On that day,” God will put panic and madness and blindness into the enemies of Israel. There will be chaos among the nations of the earth. And the people of God will know, “The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the Lord of hosts, their God.” The power of God will be clear. It’s not the power of humanity. It’s the power of the creator of humanity.
3) “On that day,” God will make the families of Judah – the kingly family of Israel – like a “blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves.” Remember the covenant promise to Abram – the vision of the fire pot and flaming torch and the promise of the land. The surrounding peoples will be destroyed, and Judah will be saved first.
4) “On that day,” God will protect the people of Jerusalem. The “feeblest” among them will be like David – who was the strongest warrior they’d ever known. Things will be turned upside down. It is not physical strength that God exalts. It is something else. And there’s more: “And the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, going before them.” It is a powerful statement to say any human – or group of humans – will be “like God.”
5) “On that day,” God will seek to destroy the nations that oppose Jerusalem. Meanhile, something amazing would happen to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the house of David. God will pour out “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that when they look on me [God!], on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
There was a man hanging on a cross once. He was a man who was born into the family of Judah, the house of David – the same people Zechariah was writing about. The disciple John recorded this: “But when they [the Roman soldiers] came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced'” (John 21:33-37).
6) “On that day,” God will hear mourning in Jerusalem. It will be like the mourning that took place on the plain of Megiddo. I think this is a reference to the death of King Josiah, the last godly king of Israel. His death in 610 BC ushered in 70 years of “exile” that lasted until the survivors of Israel returned to the Promised Land. The people lamented the death of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:20-25). But this lamenting over the God “whom they have pierced” would be just as great. The lamenting would include both the kingly families of Israel and the priestly ones.
And so we hold this text lightly because it might not totally be about us as Gentile believers in Jesus Christ who are waiting for the return of Christ. This text may be about Israel. What’s going to happen to Israel in the future – to those who are part of the family of Abram but who reject Christ as their messiah?
The apostle Paul wrote this, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26).
Could this “spirit of grace and pleas for mercy” that God pours out on Israel mark their salvation – when they see again Jesus, the “pierced” one? Will all Israel be saved when Jesus returns – the God whom they have pierced? Will Israel in that moment turn back to God in repentance? The apostle Paul went on to say, “For just as you [Gentile Christians] were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:30-32).
So we hold this text lightly, and we wait for “that day.” We thank God for his mercy to us. And we look forward to the day when God brings all promises to completion – to us and to Israel. Our God is a God of mercy.