Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The penitential supplication of Israel will lead to a thorough renewal of the nation, since the Lord will open to the penitent the fountain of His grace for the cleansing away of sin and the sanctifying of life. Zac 13:1. "In that day will a fountain be opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and uncleanness." As the Lord Himself pours out the spirit of supplication upon Israel, so does He also provide the means of purification from sin. A fountain is opened, when its stream of water bursts forth from the bosom of the earth (see Isa 41:18; Isa 35:6). The water, which flows from the fountain opened by the Lord, is a water of sprinkling, with which sin and uncleanness are removed. The figure is taken partly from the water used for the purification of the Levites at their consecration, which is called מי חטּאת, sin-water, or alter of absolution, in Num 8:7, and partly from the sprinkling-water prepared from the sacrificial ashes of the red heifer for purification from the defilement of death, which is called מי נדּה, water of uncleanness, i.e., water which removed uncleanness, in Num 19:9. Just as bodily uncleanness is a figure used to denote spiritual uncleanness, the defilement of sin (cf. Psa 51:9), so is earthly sprinkling-water a symbol of the spiritual water by which sin is removed. By this water we have to understand not only grace in general, but the spiritual sprinkling-water, which is prepared through the sacrificial death of Christ, through the blood that He shed for sin, and which is sprinkled upon us for the cleansing away of sin in the gracious water of baptism. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin (Jo1 1:7; compare Jo1 5:6).
The house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem represent the whole nation here, as in Zac 12:10. This cleansing will be following by a new life in fellowship with God, since the Lord will remove everything that could hinder sanctification. This renewal of life and sanctification is described in Zac 12:2-7. Zac 12:2. "And it will come to pass in that day, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, they shall be remembered no more; and the prophets also and the spirit of uncleanness will I remove out of the land. Zac 12:3. And it will come to pass, if a man prophesies any more, his father and his mother, they that begat him, will say to him, Thou must not live, for thou hast spoken deceit in the name of Jehovah: and his father and his mother, they that begat him, will pierce him through because of his prophesying. Zac 12:4. And it will come to pass on that day, the prophets will be ashamed every one of his vision, at his prophesying, and will no more put on a hairy mantle to lie. Zac 12:5. And he will say, I am no prophet, I am a man who cultivates the land; for a man bought me from my youth. Zac 12:6. And if they shall say to him, What scars are these between thy hands? he will say, These were inflicted upon me in the house of my loves." The new life in righteousness and holiness before God is depicted in an individualizing form as the extermination of idols and false prophets out of the holy land, because idolatry and false prophecy were the two principal forms in which ungodliness manifested itself in Israel. The allusion to idols and false prophets by no means points to the times before the captivity; for even of gross idolatry, and therefore false prophecy, did not spread any more among the Jews after the captivity, such passages as Neh 6:10, where lying prophets rise up, and even priests contract marriages with Canaanitish and other heathen wives, from whom children sprang who could not even speak the Jewish language (Ezr 9:2 ff.; Neh 13:23), show very clearly that the danger of falling back into gross idolatry was not a very remote one. Moreover, the more refined idolatry of pharisaic self-righteousness and work-holiness took the place of the grosser idolatry, and the prophets generally depict the future under the forms of the past. The cutting off of the names of the idols denotes utter destruction (cf. Hos 2:19). The prophets are false prophets, who either uttered the thoughts of their hearts as divine inspiration, or stood under the demoniacal influence of the spirit of darkness. This is evident from the fact that they are associated not only with idols, but with the "spirit of uncleanness." For this, the opposite of the spirit of grace (Zac 12:10), is the evil spirit which culminates in Satan, and works in the false prophets as a lying spirit (Kg1 22:21-23; Rev 16:13-14).
The complete extermination of this unclean spirit is depicted thus in Zac 13:3-6, that not only will Israel no longer tolerate any prophet in the midst of it (Zac 13:3), but even the prophets themselves will be ashamed of their calling (Zac 13:4-6). The first case is to be explained from the law in Deu 13:6-11 and Deu 18:20, according to which a prophet who leads astray to idolatry, and one who prophesies in his own name or in the name of false gods, are to be put to death. This commandment will be carried out by the parents upon any one who shall prophesy in the future. They will pronounce him worthy of death as speaking lies, and inflict the punishment of death upon him (dâqar, used for putting to death, as in c. Zac 12:10). This case, that a man is regarded as a false prophet and punished in consequence, simply because he prophesies, rests upon the assumption that at that time there will be no more prophets, and that God will not raise them up or send them any more. This assumption agrees both with the promise, that when God concludes a new covenant with His people and forgives their sins, no one will teach another any more to know the Lord, but all, both great and small, will know Him, and all will be taught of God (Jer 31:33-34; Isa 54:13); and also with the teaching of the Scriptures, that the Old Testament prophecy reached to John the Baptist, and attained its completion and its end in Christ (Mat 11:13; Luk 16:16, cf. Mat 5:17). At that time will those who have had to do with false prophecy no longer pretend to be prophets, or assume the appearance of prophets, or put on the hairy garment of the ancient prophets, of Elias for example, but rather give themselves out as farm-servants, and declare that the marks of wound inflicted upon themselves when prophesying in the worship of heathen gods are the scars of wounds which they have received (Zac 13:4-6). בּושׁ מן, to be ashamed on account of (cf. Isa 1:29), not to desist with shame. The form הנּבאתו in Zac 13:4 instead of הנּבאו (Zac 13:3) may be explained from the fact that the verbs לא and לה frequently borrow forms from one another (Ges. 75, Anm. 20-22). On אדּרת שׂער, see at Kg2 1:8. למען כּחשׁ, to lie, i.e., to give themselves the appearance of prophets, and thereby to deceive the people. The subject to ואמר in Zac 13:5 is אישׁ from Zac 13:4; and the explanation given by the man is not to be taken as an answer to a question asked by another concerning his circumstances, for it has not been preceded by any question, but as a confession made by his own spontaneous impulse, in which he would repudiate his former calling. The verb הקנה is not a denom. of מקנה, servum facere, servo uti (Maurer, Koehler, and others), for miqneh does not mean slave, but that which has been acquired, or an acquisition. It is a simple hiphil of qânâh in the sense of acquiring, or acquiring by purchase, not of selling. That the statement is an untruthful assertion is evident from Zac 13:6, the two clauses of which are to be taken as speech and reply, or question and answer. Some one asks the prophet, who has given himself out as a farm-servant, where the stripes (makkōth, strokes, marks of strokes) between his hands have come from, and he replies that he received them in the house of his lovers. אשׁר הכּיתי, ἅς (sc., πληγάς) ἐπλήγην: cf. Ges. 143, 1. The questioner regards the stripes or wounds as marks of wounds inflicted upon himself, which the person addressed had made when prophesying, as is related of the prophets of Baal in Kg1 18:28 (see the comm.). The expression "between the hands" can hardly be understood in any other way than as relating to the palms of the hands and their continuation up; the arms, since, according to the testimony of ancient writers (Movers, Phniz. i. p. 682), in the self-mutilations connected with the Phrygian, Syrian, and Cappadocian forms of worship, the arms were mostly cut with swords or knives. The meaning of the answer given by the person addressed depends upon the view we take of the word מאהבים. As this word is generally applied to paramours, Hengstenberg retains this meaning here, and gives the following explanation of the passage: namely, that the person addressed confesses that he has received the wounds in the temples of the idols, which he had followed with adulterous love, so that he admits his former folly with the deepest shame. But the context appears rather to indicate that this answer is also nothing more than an evasion, and that he simply pretends that the marks were scars left by the chastisements which he received when a boy in the house of either loving parents or some other loving relations.
Zac 13:7. "Arise, O sword, over my shepherd, and over the man who is my neighbour, is the saying of Jehovah of hosts: smite the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; and I will bring back my hand over the little ones. Zac 13:8. And it will come to pass in all the land, is the saying of Jehovah; two parts therein shall be cut off, shall die, and the third remains therein. Zac 13:9. And the third will I bring into the fire, and melt them as silver is melted, and will refine them as gold is refined: it will call upon my name, and I will answer it; I say, It is my people; and it will say, Jehovah my God." The summons addressed to the sword, to awake and smite, is a poetical turn to express the thought that the smiting takes place with or according to the will of God. For similar personification of the sword, see Jer 47:6. רעי is the shepherd of Jehovah, since the summons comes from Jehovah. In what sense the person to be smitten is called the shepherd of Jehovah, we may see from the clause על־גּבר עמיתי. The word עמית, which only occurs in the Pentateuch and in Zechariah, who has taken it thence, is only used as a synonym of אח (cf. Lev 25:15) in the concrete sense of the nearest one. And this is the meaning which it has in the passage before us, where the construct state expresses the relation of apposition, as for example in אישׁ חסידך (Deu 33:8; cf. Ewald, 287, e), the man who is my nearest one. The shepherd of Jehovah, whom Jehovah describes as a man who is His next one (neighbour), cannot of course be a bad shepherd, who is displeasing to Jehovah, and destroys the flock, or the foolish shepherd mentioned in Zac 11:15-17, as Grotius, Umbr., Ebrard, Ewald, Hitzig, and others suppose; for the expression "man who is my nearest one" implies much more than unity or community of vocation, or that he had to feed the flock like Jehovah. No owner of a flock or lord of a flock would call a hired or purchased shepherd his ‛âmı̄th. And so God would not apply this epithet to any godly or ungodly man whom He might have appointed shepherd over a nation. The idea of nearest one (or fellow) involves not only similarity in vocation, but community of physical or spiritual descent, according to which he whom God calls His neighbour cannot be a mere man, but can only be one who participates in the divine nature, or is essentially divine. The shepherd of Jehovah, whom the sword is to smite, is therefore no other than the Messiah, who is also identified with Jehovah in Zac 12:10; or the good shepherd, who says of Himself, "I and my Father are one" (Joh 10:30). The masculine form הך in the summons addressed to the sword, although חרב itself is feminine, may be accounted for from the personification of the sword; compare Gen 4:7, where sin (חטּאת, fem.) is personified as a wild beast, and construed as a masculine. The sword is merely introduced as a weapon used for killing, without there being any intention of defining the mode of death more precisely. The smiting of the shepherd is also mentioned here simply for the purpose of depicting the consequences that would follow with regard to the flock. The thought is therefore merely this: Jehovah will scatter Israel or His nation by smiting the shepherd; that is to say, He will give it up to the misery and destruction to which a flock without a shepherd is exposed. We cannot infer from this that the shepherd himself is to blame; nor does the circumstance that the smiting of the shepherd is represented as the execution of a divine command, necessarily imply that the death of the shepherd proceeds directly from God. According to the biblical view, God also works, and does that which is done by man in accordance with His counsel and will, and even that which is effected through the sin of men. Thus in Isa 53:10 the mortal sufferings of the Messiah are described as inflicted upon Him by God, although He had given up His soul to death to bear the sin of the people. In the prophecy before us, the slaying of the shepherd is only referred to so far as it brings a grievous calamity upon Israel; and the fact is passed over, that Israel has brought this calamity upon itself by its ingratitude towards the shepherd (cf. Zac 11:8, Zac 11:12). The flock, which will be dispersed in consequence of the slaying of the shepherd, is the covenant nation, i.e., neither the human race nor the Christian church as such, but the flock which the shepherd in Zac 11:4. had to feed. At the same time, Jehovah will not entirely withdraw His hand from the scattered flock, but "bring it back over the small ones." The phrase השׁיב יד על, to bring back the hand over a person (see at Sa2 8:3), i.e., make him the object of his active care once more, is used to express the employment of the hand upon a person either for judgment or salvation. It occurs in the latter sense in Isa 1:25 in relation to the grace which the Lord will manifest towards Jerusalem, by purifying it from its dross; and it is used here in the same sense, as Zac 13:8, Zac 13:9 clearly show, according to which the dispersion to be inflicted upon Israel will only be the cause of ruin to the greater portion of the nation, whereas it will bring salvation to the remnant.
Zac 13:8 and Zac 13:9 add the real explanation of the bringing back of the hand over the small ones. צערים (lit., a participle of צער, which only occurs here) is synonymous with צעיר or צעור (Jer 14:3; Jer 48:4, chethib), the small ones in a figurative sense, the miserable ones, those who are called עניּי הצּאן in Zac 11:7. It naturally follows from this, that the צערים are not identical with the whole flock, but simply form a small portion of it, viz., "the poor and righteous in the nation, who suffer injustice" (Hitzig). "The assertion that the flock is to be scattered, but that God will bring back His hand to the small ones, evidently implies that the small ones are included as one portion of the entire flock, for which God will prepare a different fate from that of the larger whole which is about to be dispersed" (Kliefoth).
On the fulfilment of this verse, we read in Mat 26:31-32, and Mar 14:27, that the bringing back of the hand of the Lord over the small ones was realized first of all in the case of the apostles. After the institution of the Lord's Supper, Christ told His disciples that that same night they would all be offended because of Him; for it was written, "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." The quotation is made freely from the original text, the address to the sword being resolved into its actual meaning, "I will smite." The offending of the disciples took place when Jesus was taken prisoner, and they all fled. This flight was a prelude to the dispersion of the flock at the death of the shepherd. But the Lord soon brought back His hand over the disciples. The promise, "But after my resurrection I will go before you into Galilee," is a practical exposition of the bringing back of the hand over the small ones, which shows that the expression is to be understood here in a good sense, and that it began to be fulfilled in the whole of the nation of Israel, to which we shall afterwards return. This more general sense of the words is placed beyond the reach of doubt by Zac 13:8 and Zac 13:9; for Zac 13:8 depicts the misery which the dispersion of the flock brings upon Israel, and Zac 13:9 shows how the bringing back of the hand upon the small ones will be realized in the remnant of the nation. The dispersion of the flock will deliver two-thirds of the nation in the whole land to death, so that only one-third will remain alive. כּל־הארץ is not the whole earth, but the whole of the holy land, as in Zac 14:9-10; and הארץ, in Zac 12:12, the land in which the flock, fed by the shepherds of the Lord, i.e., the nation of Israel, dwells. פּי־שׁנים is taken from Deu 21:17, as in Kg2 2:9; it is used there for the double portion inherited by the first-born. That it is used here to signify two-thirds, is evident from the remaining השּׁלישׁית. "The whole of the Jewish nation," says Hengstenberg, "is introduced here, as an inheritance left by the shepherd who has been put to death, which inheritance is divided into three parts, death claiming the privileges of the first-born, and so receiving two portions, and life one, - a division similar to that which David made in the case of the Moabites (Sa2 8:2)." יגועוּ is added to יכּרתוּ, to define יכּרת more precisely, as signifying not merely a cutting off from the land by transportation (cf. Zac 14:2), but a cutting off from life (Koehler). גּוע, exspirare, is applied both to natural and violent death (for the latter meaning, compare Gen 7:21; Jos 22:20). The remaining third is also to be refined through severe afflictions, to purify it from everything of a sinful nature, and make it into a truly holy nation of God. For the figure of melting and refining, compare Isa 1:25; Isa 48:10; Jer 9:6; Mal 3:3; Psa 66:10. For the expression in Zac 13:9, compare Isa 65:24; and for the thought of the whole verse, Zac 8:8, Hos 2:23, Jer 24:7; Jer 30:22. The cutting off of the two-thirds of Israel commenced in the Jewish war under Vespasian and Titus, and in the war for the suppression of the rebellion led by the pseudo-Messiah Bar Cochba. It is not to be restricted to these events, however, but was continued in the persecutions of the Jews with fire and sword in the following centuries. The refinement of the remaining third cannot be taken as referring to the sufferings of the Jewish nation during the whole period of its present dispersion, as C. B. Michaelis supposes, nor generally to the tribulations which are necessary in order to enter into the kingdom of God, to the seven conflicts which the true Israel existing in the Christian church has to sustain, first with the two-thirds, and then and more especially with the heathen (Zac 12:1-9, Zac 12:14). For whilst Hengstenberg very properly objects to the view of Michaelis, on the ground that in that case the unbelieving portion of Judaism would be regarded as the legitimate and sole continuation of Israel; it may also be argued, in opposition to the exclusive reference in the third to the Christian church, that it is irreconcilable with the perpetuation of the Jews, and the unanimous entrance of all Israel into the kingdom of Christ, as taught by the Apostle Paul. Both views contain elements of truth, which must be combined, as we shall presently show.