Judah’s Security

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Zechariah 12:1-14, Genesis 12:1-3, John 3:14-17

When we are being swept away by uncontrollable and terrifying circumstances, we search for an anchor, a declaration of truth, something we can cling to. This is true even when frightening events are relatively brief; their impact is felt long after that initial experience. The full force of this reality wallops us in this chapter of Zechariah. Jerusalem’s agony is palpable—a city in the path of violence, under siege, and attacked by all the nations. It’s hard to imagine the abject horror of their situation, especially for those of us who are blessed to live in peaceful, secure environments.

It’s no wonder then that the identity of the mighty Master of the Universe is pre-eminent. It is the Lord who stretched out the heavens, gave the earth its foundation, and shaped the spirits of humans, unpredictable though we may be. The clans of Judah, acting as a protective envelope around Jerusalem, emphatically restated this truth: “‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God’” (Zechariah 12:5). This is a perspective worth seizing, worth holding onto with all our might, especially when we feel beaten up. Our strength lies only in the Lord our God.

The people of Zechariah’s day knew their own recent history. Jerusalem had been under siege and the people had been taken captive to Babylon. This was the broken Jerusalem over which Jeremiah lamented (Lamentations 1:1–17). Some seventy years later, life in Jerusalem was still precarious. Even so, the prophet’s vision ranged far forward to a day of salvation and glory for Judah, for the house of David, and for Jerusalem. In the meantime, while Jerusalem would indeed be severely attacked, the people of the city would also be “a cup that causes staggering” and “a heavy stone” to all the surrounding nations (Zechariah 12:2–3). It’s a not-so-subtle warning to consider the consequences before attacking Jerusalem.

But now the picture takes an odd turn. The house of David and those who lived in Jerusalem would be compelled to plead for mercy as they look upon the Lord, the one they had pierced. That piercing reverberates into the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:36–37). This sense of calamitous loss and deep need for repentance overwhelms any triumph that might have surfaced in the immediately prior events—and that is as it should be.

Jerusalem and the whole land would mourn, but the greater emphasis is on each “house” by itself—the house of David and his son, Nathan; the house of Levi and his descendant, Shimei. Echoes of kings and priests. Women, traditionally the mourners (Lamentations 2:5; Jeremiah 9:17–22), were intentionally separate and profoundly engaged in the repentance necessary for the forthcoming cleansing fountain (Zechariah 13:1). And clearly, there is more to come.

Elaine A. Phillips received a BA in social psychology from Cornell University, an MDiv from Biblical Theological Seminary, and an MA in Hebrew from the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, where she and her husband, Perry, studied and taught from 1976–79. She holds a PhD in rabbinic literature, and teaches Biblical Studies at Gordon College. She also serves as a historical geography field instructor for Jerusalem University College. She has published a commentary on Esther in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; a devotional book, With God, Nothing Is Impossible; and, most recently, An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts.

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