The Word Made Fresh
1On that day a fountain will open for the house of David and the people living in Jerusalem. They will be cleansed from the stain of sin.
2The LORD Almighty says, “On that day I will erase the names of the idols from the land so that they will be forgotten. And I will also remove the unclean spirits and their sinful practices. 3If other prophets should arise their own parents will tell them, ‘You speak lies in the LORD’s name. For that you shouldn’t be allowed to live.’ And they will put them to the sword when they utter their ‘prophesies.'”
4Every one of the prophets will be ashamed of the things they prophesy. They will no longer wear the hairy robes that they don to utter their deceptions, 5but instead they will each say, “I’m not a prophet. I am a farmer, and the land has belonged to me since I was a youth.” 6If anyone asks them about their wounds they will say, “These are the wounds I was given in the homes of my friends.”
7“Sword, wake up! Strike my shepherd,
the one who is my helper,” says the LORD Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep.
I will turn against the little ones.
8Two-thirds of the people of the land will be killed;
one-third will be left alive.
9I will put the remaining third in the fire
and purify them as silver is purified.
I will test them as gold is tested.
They will call on me and I will answer them.
I will declare, ‘These are my people.’
They will respond, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
1-6: Continuing the description of future events begun in 12:6 (“on that day”), Zechariah addresses the religious trappings of the old vs. the new Jerusalem. Idols will be forgotten, and prophets will be removed from the land along with the “unclean spirits,” which probably refers to that spirit or attitude under which idols were worshiped, and false prophets spoke. We are surprised to read that fathers and mothers will murder their own child for being a prophet, but this is in keeping with the last chapter where, in response to the murder of the unidentified first-born son, grieving was carried out privately in each home. As to the punishment given, see Deuteronomy 18:20, where false prophesy is a capital offense. It would appear that Zechariah is outlawing prophecy altogether, although it is possible to read the text as applying only to false prophecy. The false prophets will respond to this new strict construction of the Law by laying aside their hairy robes, the visible sign of the office of prophet in Zechariah’s time (copying Elijah’s mode of dress) and claiming that they are farmers and have been all their lives. The wounds on their chests may be a result of self-flagellation, although there is no direct evidence in the Bible that prophets engaged in that form of demonstration.
7-9: At 11:4 Zechariah was appointed by God to be “a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” but I think we would be mistaken to imagine he is predicting his own death here. Jesus quotes verse 7 when he tells his disciples that they will all forsake him (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27), and at John 10:18 he is quoted as saying, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Christians have long seen verse 7 as a messianic prophecy. Verses 8 and 9 remind us of Ezekiel (5:12) describing two thirds of the population being killed and one third scattered among the nations. Ezekiel, of course, was referring to the fate Judah and Jerusalem had undergone at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar some 70 years before the prophecies of Zechariah. Zechariah sees a different outcome of the surviving third: God will be their God and they will be God’s people (compare Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 14:11, 37:23, 37:27, and in the New Testament: Hebrews 8:10, Revelation 21:7).
God will allow sinfulness to increase only so long before stepping in to straighten us out. Sometimes we bring hardships down on our own heads. Whenever we find ourselves struggling to cope with the changing fortunes of life, we should think of our struggles as a test to examine and strengthen our faith.