THE LAST THREE CHAPTERS OF Zechariah (chaps. 12-14) develop themes that appeared in chapters 9-11. But there is a rising intensity, signaled by the phrase “on that day,” repeated sixteen times. The climax is in the last chapter, where God’s universal kingdom is fully established.
Zechariah 12 is part of this rising intensity. The first part (12:1-9) is superficially easy to understand, but at one level its interpretation is difficult; the second part (12:10-13:1) is immensely evocative, and is cited in the New Testament.
(1) The first part pictures the formerly scattered exiles, now returned to Jerusalem, facing the onslaught of hostile nations. It appears that even Judah initially abandons Jerusalem: the NEB’s translation is probably right: “Judah will be caught up in the siege of Jerusalem.” Then the Lord intervenes and makes “Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling” (12:2). God confounds the cavalry charges (12:4), and the people of Judah take courage from the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites (12:5). As a result, the fact that they are among the enemy is turned to advantage: they are like fire that ignites dry tinder (12:6). The triumph is glorious (12:7-9).
So far, so good. But of what does this speak? The question cannot be answered without recourse to other Scriptures, to an entire way of putting the Bible together. Some think that this refers to empirical Jerusalem at some point in the future, with (presumably) suitable shifts from cavalry to something more modern. Others think this is an apocalyptic vision of final assaults on the people of God, on the citizens of the new Jerusalem. Does the next section shed light on the debate?
(2) The second section is in stunning contrast to the first. The house of David and the Jerusalemites have just been powerfully encouraged. Yet now God himself pours upon them a spirit of contrition (12:10), certainly not a spirit of triumphalism. They find themselves mourning for someone put to death in the city, and being cleansed from their sin and impurity by a new fountain “opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (13:1). Who is this person, pierced through, for whom the people mourn? The most natural reading of the Hebrew is that it is Yahweh himself: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn” (12:10). At one level the “piercing” can be understood metaphorically: Yahweh is “wounded” in exactly the same way that he is cuckolded in Hosea. But there is a more literal fulfillment, a more literal piercing (John 19:34, 37). What is the good of a merely military triumph unless the people of God mourn for what they have done to God—and discover that he has opened a fountain to cleanse them from their sin (13:1)?