You might have noticed that we’ve skipped two and a half chapters of Zechariah. The second half of chapter 6, which pictures the future union of the offices of Priest and King, we’ve discussed before. Chapter seven, which talks about how God prioritizes how we treat others over religious ritual, has the same theme of an earlier post as well. And finally chapter eight deals a lot with how the Lord is going to treat Israel in the future, and it’s really difficult for me to discuss that without wading into really tall grass and getting a minimum of practical return.
So that brings us to chapter nine. First I’d like to focus on the first two words in the passage, which are packed with a bunch of meaning. The NIV, quite frankly, is not the best translation here. It’s more than just a prophecy. Others translate it as an “oracle,” which gets closer. Literally it’s a “burden” that the prophecy is carrying. What do I get from this? A) The Lord placed this burden on him. Zechariah didn’t pick it up or take it on himself. Prophets are not volunteers; they're sovereignly called. B) It's a burden, not an unmitigated blessing. The Lord revealed things to prophets which he didn’t reveal to others, and most of the time these revelations weren't pleasant to think about. Also consider how often they were ignored, threatened, or outright persecuted (which was pretty often). C) Even though it was often a pretty rough job, a prophet couldn’t just drop this “burden” when the going got tough. Just ask Jonah about that. Every prophet had to carry their burden until the Lord determined that his servant had dispatched his duty. That’s why the Hebrew says it was a “burden.”
The chapter continues with a bunch of names which the casual reader isn’t familiar with. But that’s why I’m here: To do some of the heavy lifting for you. Let’s examine these verses phrase by phrase and see how we can apply it.
- We’re not sure what “Hadrak” is, but it seems to be Hatarikka, north of Hamath on the Orontes River. Damascus was the capital of Syria, one of Israel’s worst and most pernicious enemies. It was destroyed by Alexander the Great, which is probably at least a partial fulfillment of what follows.
- I love this phrase: “for the eyes of all people and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord.” When the Lord executes judgment on the nations, all eyes will see it. He might work privately in people’s lives, but when he brings a nation down, there’s no mistaking what’s he’s done.
- Hamath was a major city 125 miles north of Damascus on the Orontes River, also conquered by Alexander.
- Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician coastal cities. Speaking about Tyre, John MacArthur says: “This city was occupying an island one-half mile offshore, and thought itself to be invincible (cf. Isa 23:1-4). With walls 150 ft. high in some places, it was such an impregnable city that the Assyrian Shalmaneser besieged it for 5 years and failed to conquer it. Nebuchadnezzar tried for 13 years unsuccessfully. But Alexander, God's judgment instrument, using the rubble of the mainland city destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, built a causeway out to the island and destroyed it in 7 months (ca. 334-332 B.C.)."
- Despite being supposedly impregnable, their high walls and state-of-the-art security were no match for the Lord. They had been prideful, and of course “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
- Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron and Ashdod, as we discussed before (but I’m sure you’ve slept since then) were great cities of the Philistines, enemies of Israel since the time of the Judges. But here it gets very interesting. The Lord predicts that the time would come when these pagans would bring these people back to himself. The Jebusites were conquered by David and then absorbed into Israel. In other words, the Philistines, after God’s judgment, would be brought into his people.
The passage ends on a positive note on how the Lord will protect Jerusalem once again, but I want to end on the destruction of God’s enemies. I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: 1) God will ultimately destroy all of his enemies, one way or another. 2) His much-preferred method of destroying them is by turning them into his children and heirs.
Aren’t you glad?
Father God, I am very very glad that you’ve chosen to turn a rebel into an heir. Thank you.