Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Renewal and Completion of the Covenant of Grace - Zechariah 8
In this chapter we have the second half of the Lord's answer to the question concerning the last-days, which promises to the people the restitution of the former relation of grace, and the future glorification of Israel, on the simple condition of their observing the moral precepts of the law. This double promise is contained in two words of God, each of which is divided into a number of separate sayings, containing the separate details of the salvation bestowed by the formula כּה אמר יי צ (thus saith Jehovah of hosts): the first into seven (Zac 8:2, Zac 8:3, Zac 8:4-5, Zac 8:6, Zac 8:7, Zac 8:9, Zac 8:14-17), the second into three (Zac 8:19, Zac 8:20-22, and Zac 8:23). Jerome observes, with reference to this: "By the separate words and sentences, in which Israel is promised not only prosperity, but things almost incredible in their magnitude, the prophet declares, 'Thus saith the Almighty God;' saying, in other words, Do not imagine that the things which I promise are my own, and so disbelieve me as only a man; they are the promises of God which I unfold."
Restoration and completion of the covenant relation. - Zac 8:1. "And the word of Jehovah of hosts came, saying, Zac 8:2. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and with great fury I am jealous for her." The promise commences with the declaration of the Lord, that He has resolved to give active expression once more to the warmth of His love to Zion. The perfects are used prophetically of that which God had resolved to do, and was now about to accomplish. For the fact itself, compare Zac 1:14-15. This warmth of the love of God towards Zion, and of His wrath towards the nations that were hostile to Zion, will manifest itself in the facts described in Zac 8:3 : "Thus saith Jehovah, I return to Zion, and shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem will be called city of truth, and the mountain of Jehovah of hosts the holy mountain." When Jerusalem was given up into the power of its foes, the Lord had forsaken His dwelling-place in the temple. Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord depart from the temple (Ezeliel Eze 9:3; Eze 10:4, Eze 10:18; Eze 11:22-23). Now He is about to resume His abode in Jerusalem once more. The difference between this promise and the similar promise in Zac 2:10-13, is not that in the latter passage Jehovah's dwelling in the midst of His people is to be understood in an ideal and absolute sense, whereas here it simply denotes such a dwelling as had taken place before, as Koehler supposes. This is not implied in שׁבתּי, nor is it in harmony with the statement that Jerusalem is to be called a city of truth, and the temple hill the holy mountain. ‛Ir 'ĕmeth does not mean "city of security," but city of truth or fidelity, i.e., in which truth and fidelity towards the Lord have their home. The temple mountain will be called the holy mountain, i.e., will be so, and will be recognised and known as being so, from the fact that Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, will sanctify it by His dwelling there. Jerusalem did not acquire this character in the period after the captivity, in which, though not defiled by gross idolatry, as in the times before the captivity, it was polluted by other moral abominations no less than it had been before. Jerusalem becomes a faithful city for the first time through the Messiah, and it is through Him that the temple mountain first really becomes the holy mountain. The opinion, that there is nothing in the promises in Zac 8:3-13 that did not really happen to Israel in the period from Zerubbabel to Christ (Kliefoth, Koehler, etc.), is proved to be incorrect by the very words, both of this verse and also of Zac 8:6, Zac 8:7, Zac 8:8, which follow. How could the simple restoration of the previous covenant relation be described in Zac 8:6 as something that appeared miraculous and incredible to the nation? There is only so much correctness in the view in question, that the promise does not refer exclusively to the Messianic times, but that feeble commencements of its fulfilment accompanied the completion of the work of building the temple, and the restoration of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. But the saying which follows proves that these commencements do not exhaust the meaning of the words.
Zac 8:4. "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Yet will there sit old men and women in the streets of Jerusalem, every one with his staff in his hand, for the multitude of the days of his life. Zac 8:5. And the streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing in their streets." Long life, to an extreme old age, and a plentiful number of blooming children, were theocratic blessings, which the Lord had already promised in the law to His people, so far as they were faithful to the covenant. Consequently there does not appear to be any Messianic element in this promise. But if we compare this fourth verse with Isa 65:20, we shall see that extreme old age also belonged to the blessings of the Messianic times. And as Israel had almost always to suffer most grievously from wars and other calamities, which swept off the people at an untimely age, during the time which extended from Zerubbabel to Christ; it must be admitted, notwithstanding the description of the prosperous times which Israel enjoyed under the government of Simon (1 Maccabees 14:4-15), that this promise also was only fulfilled in a very meagre measure, so far as Jerusalem was concerned, before the coming of Christ.
"Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this nation in those days, will it also be marvellous in my eyes? is the saying of Jehovah of hosts." The second clause of this verse is to be taken as a question with a negative answer, גּם for הגם, as in Sa1 22:7, and the meaning is the following: If this (what is promised in Zac 8:3-5) should appear marvellous, i.e., incredible, to the people in those days when it shall arrive, it will not on that account appear marvellous to Jehovah Himself, i.e., Jehovah will for all that cause what has been promised actually to occur. This contains an assurance not only of the greatness of the salvation set before them, but also of the certainty of its realization. "The remnant of the nation," as in Hag 1:12-14.
Zac 8:7. "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Behold, I save my people out of the land of the rising and out of the land of the setting of the sun. Zac 8:8. And I bring them hither, and they will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and will be my people, and I shall be their God, in truth and righteousness." The deliverance of the people of God out of the heathen lands did indeed commence with the return of a body of exiles from Babylon under the guidance of Zerubbabel, but their deliverance out of all the countries of the earth is still in the future. Instead of all countries, the land of the rising (the east) and the land of the setting (the west) are individualized (cf. Psa 50:1; Psa 113:3; Isa 59:19; Mal 1:11). This deliverance is first effected through the Messiah. This is indisputably evident from the words, "I bring them to Jerusalem," by which of course we cannot understand the earthly Jerusalem, since that would not furnish space enough for the Jews scattered throughout all the world, but the open and enlarged Jerusalem mentioned in Zac 2:8, i.e., the Messianic kingdom of God. Then will those who have been gathered together out of all the countries of the earth become in truth God's nation. Israel was the nation of Jehovah, and Jehovah was also Israel's God from the time of the establishment of the old covenant at Sinai (Exodus 24). This relation is to be restored in the future, "in truth and righteousness." This is the new feature by which the future is to be distinguished from the present and the past. The words "in truth and righteousness" belong to the two clauses, "they shall be" and "I will be." For the fact itself, compare Hos 2:21-22; and for the expression, Isa 48:1 and Kg1 3:6.
After these promises the prophet admonishes the people to be of good courage, because the Lord will from henceforth bestow His blessing upon them. Zac 8:9. "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words from the mouth of the prophets, on the day that the foundation of the house of Jehovah of hosts was laid, the temple, that it may be built. Zac 8:10. For before those days there were no wages for the men, and no wages of cattle; and whoever went out and in had no peace because of the oppressor: and I drove all men, one against the other. Zac 8:11. But now I am not as in the former days to the remnant of this people, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts. Zac 8:12. But the seed of peace, the vine, shall yield its fruit, and the land shall yield its produce, and the heaven give its dew; and to the remnant of this people will I give all this for an inheritance." Having the hands strong, is the same as taking good courage for any enterprise (thus in Jdg 7:11; Sa2 2:7, and Eze 22:14). This phrase does not refer specially to their courageous continuation of the building of the temple, but has the more general meaning of taking courage to accomplish what the calling of each required, as Zac 8:10-13 show. The persons addressed are those who hear the words of the prophets in these days. This suggests a motive for taking courage. Because they hear these words, they are to look forward with comfort to the future, and do what their calling requires. The words of the prophets are the promises which Zechariah announced in Zac 8:2-8, and his contemporary Haggai in ch. 2. It will not do to take the plural נביאים in a general sense, as referring to Zechariah alone. For if there had been no prophet at that time beside Zechariah, he could not have spoken in general terms of prophets. By the defining phrase, who are or who rose up at the time when the foundation of the temple was laid, these prophets are distinguished from the earlier ones before the captivity (Zac 7:7, Zac 7:12; Zac 1:4), and their words are thereby limited to what Haggai and Zechariah prophesied from that time downwards. בּיום does not stand for מיּום (Hitzig), but yōm is used in the general sense of the time at which anything does occur or has occurred. As a more precise definition of יום יסּד the word להבּנות is added, to show that the time referred to is that in which the laying of the foundation of the temple in the time of Cyrus became an eventful fact through the continuation of the building. In Zac 8:10. a reason is assigned for the admonition to work with good courage, by an exhibition of the contrast between the present and the former times. Before those days, sc. when the building of the temple was resumed and continued, a man received no wages for his work, and even the cattle received none, namely, because the labour of man and beast, i.e., agricultural pursuits, yielded no result, or at any rate a most meagre result, by no means corresponding to the labour (cf. Hag 1:9, Hag 1:9-11; Hag 2:16, Hag 2:19). The feminine suffix attached to איננּה refers with inexactness to the nearest word הבּהמה, instead of the more remote שׂכר (cf. Ewald, 317, c). In addition to this, on going out and coming in, i.e., when pursuing their ordinary avocations, men came everywhere upon enemies or adversaries, and therefore there was an entire absence of civil peace. הצּר is not an abstract noun, "oppression" (lxx, Chald., Vulg.), but a concrete, "adversary," oppressor, though not the heathen foe merely, but, as the last clause of Zac 8:10 shows, the adversaries in their own nation also. In ואשׁלּח the ו is not a simple copula, but the ו consec. with the compensation wanting, like wa'agaareesh in Jdg 6:9 (cf. Ewald, 232, h); and שׁלּח, to send, used of a hostile nation, is here transferred to personal attacks on the part of individuals.
But now the Lord will act differently to His remaining people, and bless it again with a fruitful harvest of the fruits of the field and soil. כּי in Zac 8:12, "for," after a negative clause, "but." זרע השּׁלום, not the seed will be secure (Chald., Pesh.), but the seed of peace, viz., the vine. This is so designated, not because there is a berâkhâh in the grape (Isa 65:8); but because the vine can only flourish in peaceful times, and not when the land is laid waste by enemies (Koehler). On the words which follow, compare Lev 26:4., Psa 67:7; Hag 1:10; Hag 2:19. "Future abundance will compensate for the drought and scarcity of the past" (Jerome).
The whole blessing is finally summed up in one expression in Zac 8:13 : "And it will come to pass, as ye were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I endow you with salvation, that ye may be a blessing. Fear not, let your hands be strong." The formula, to be a curse among the nations, is to be interpreted according to Jer 24:9; Jer 25:9; Jer 42:18; Kg2 22:19, as equivalent to being the object of a curse, i.e., so smitten by God as to serve as the object of curses. In harmony with this, the phrase to "become a blessing" is equivalent to being so blessed as to be used as a benedictory formula (cf. Gen 48:22; Jer 29:22). This promise is made to the remnant of Judah and Israel, and therefore of all the twelve tribes, who are to become partakers of the future salvation in undivided unity (cf. Zac 9:10, Zac 9:13; Zac 10:6; Zac 11:14). Israel is therefore to look forward to the future without alarm.
The ground upon which this promise rests is given in Zac 8:14 and Zac 8:15, and it is closed in Zac 8:16 and Zac 8:17 by the addition of the condition upon which it is to be fulfilled. Zac 8:14. "For thus saith Jehovah of hosts: As I thought to do evil to you, when your fathers were angry with me, saith Jehovah of hosts, and repented not; Zac 8:15. So have I purposed again in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Fear ye not. Zac 8:16. These are the words that ye are to do: speak truth every one to his neighbour; truth and judgment of peace judge ye in your gates. Zac 8:17. And let not one devise the evil of his neighbour, and love not the oath of deceit: for all this, I hate it, is the saying of Jehovah." As the time of punishment by exile came upon Israel through the decree of God, so is it now a decree of the Lord to show good to Judah. In שׁבתּי זממתּי the שׁבתּי takes the place of the adverbial idea "again." The people have therefore no need to fear, if they are only diligent in practising truth, righteousness, and love to their neighbour. God required the same of the fathers (Zac 7:9-10). Mishpat shâlōm is such an administration of justice as tends to promote peace and establish concord between those who are at strife. "In your gates," where courts of justice were held (cf. Deu 21:19; Deu 22:15, etc.). The את before כּל־אלּה in Zac 8:17 may be accounted for from a kind of attraction, inasmuch as by the insertion of אשׁר the object "all this" is separated from the verb, to bring it out with emphasis: "As for all this, it is what I hate." Compare the similar use of 'ēth in Hag 2:5, and Ewald, 277, d.
The last word of God gives, in connection with what precedes, the direct answer to the inquiry concerning the fast-days, and consists of three sayings, Zac 8:19, Zac 8:20, and Zac 8:23, of which the second and third explain the contents of the first more clearly. Zac 8:18 is the same as Zac 8:1 and Zac 8:7 and Zac 4:8. Zac 8:19. "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: The fasting of the fourth, and the fasting of the fifth, and the fasting of the seventh, and the fasting of the tenth (months), will become pleasure and joy to the house of Judah, and good feasts. But truth and peace ye should love." On the fast-days mentioned, compare the exposition of Zac 7:3. These fast-days the Lord will turn into days of joy and cheerful feast-days - namely, by bestowing upon them such a fulness of salvation, that Judah will forget to commemorate the former mournful events, and will only have occasion to rejoice in the blessings of grace bestowed upon it by God; though only when the condition mentioned in Zac 8:16 and Zac 8:17 has been fulfilled.
(Note: Luther aptly observes: "Keep only what I command, and let fasting alone. Yea, if ye keep my commandments, not only shall such fasts be over and come to an end; but because I will do so much good to Jerusalem, all the affliction, for which ye have chosen and kept such fasting, shall be so forgotten, that ye will be transported with joy when ye think of your fasting, and of the heart's grief on account of which ye fasted for the time," etc.)
Zac 8:20. "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Yet will nations come, and inhabitants of many cities. Zac 8:21. And the inhabitants of one (city) will go to another, and say, 'We will go, go away, to supplicate the face of Jehovah, and to seek Jehovah of hosts.' 'I will also go.' Zac 8:22. And many peoples and strong nations will come, to seek Jehovah of hosts in Jerusalem, and to supplicate the face of Jehovah." These verses do not announce a further or second glorification, which God has designed for His people, but simply indicate the nature and magnitude of the salvation appointed for Israel, through which its fast-days will be turned into days of joy. Hitherto Israel had kept days of mourning and fasting on account of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; but in the future the Lord will so glorify His city and His house, that not only will Israel keep joyful feasts there, but many and strong heathen nations will go to the house of God, to seek and worship the God of hosts. עד is used with emphasis, so that it resembles a sentence: "It will still come to pass, that," etc. This is how אשׁר in Zac 8:21 and Zac 8:23 is to be taken, and not as the introduction to the saying preceded energetically by עד, for which Hitzig is wrong in referring to Mic 6:10. For the fact itself, compare Mic 4:1., Isa 2:2., Jer 16:19. In Zac 8:21 the thought is individualized. The inhabitants of one city call upon those of another. נלכה הלוך, "we will go to supplicate," etc.; and the population of the other city responds to the summons by saying, "I also will go." חלּות את־פּני, as in Zac 7:2.
"Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: In those days ten men out of all languages of the nations take hold; they will take hold of the skirt of a Jewish man, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard God is with you." Not only will the heathen then flow to Jerusalem to seek the God of Israel, but they will crowd together to Israel and Judah to be received into fellowship with them as a nation. Ten men from the heathen nations to one Jewish man: so great will be the pressure of the heathen. Ten is used as an indefinite number, denoting a great and complete multitude, as in Gen 31:7; Lev 26:26; Num 14:22, and Sa1 1:8. For the figure, compare Isa 4:1. והחזיקוּ is a resumption of יחזיקוּ in the form of an apodosis. The unusual combination כּל לשׁנות הגּוים, "all the tongues of the nations," is formed after Isa 66:18 (הגּוים והלּשׁנות, "all nations and tongues," i.e., nations of all languages), and on the basis of Gen 10:20 and Gen 10:31. For נלכה עמּכם, compare Rut 1:16; and for אלהים עמּכם, Ch2 15:9.
The promise, that the Lord would change the fast-days in the future into days of rejoicing and cheerful feasts, if Israel only loved truth and peace (Zac 8:20), when taken in connection with what is said in Zac 7:5-6 concerning fasting, left the decision of the question, whether the fast-days were to be given up or to be still observed, in the hands of the people. We have no historical information as to the course adopted by the inhabitants of Judah in consequence of the divine answer. All that we know is, that even to the present day the Jews observe the four disastrous days as days of national mourning. The talmudic tradition in Rosh-hashana (f. 18, a, b), that the four fast-days were abolished in consequence of the answer of Jehovah, and were not restored again till after the destruction of the second temple, is not only very improbable, but is no doubt erroneous, inasmuch as, although the restoration of the days for commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple could easily be explained, on the supposition that the second destruction occurred at the same time as the first, it is not so easy to explain the restoration of the fast-days in commemoration of events for which there was no link of connection whatever in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. In all probability, the matter stands rather thus: that after the receipt of this verbal answer, the people did not venture formally to abolish the fast-days before the appearance of the promised salvation, but let them remain, even if they were not always strictly observed; and that at a later period the Jews, who rejected the Messiah, began again to observe them with greater stringency after the second destruction of Jerusalem, and continue to do so to the present time, not because "the prophecy of the glory intended for Israel (Zac 8:18-23) is still unfulfilled" (Koehler), but because "blindness in part is happened to Israel," so that it has not discerned the fulfilment, which commenced with the appearance of Christ upon earth.