Zechariah: Prophecies About Alexander the Great, the Maccabees, and the Messiah

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!…

Zechariah 9:17a

After prophesying about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem centuries earlier (9:9-10), Zechariah has more prophecies to share with the “daughters of Zion” (v. 9) in verses 11-12:  “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.  Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”  This could have a dual meaning.  The Messianic application would point to the blood of Jesus freeing those who obey the gospel from the pit of sin, calling them to the stronghold of salvation in Christ and giving them the double blessing of forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life in heaven.  The more immediate application would be God – because of the covenant He had made with Israel at Sinai which had been ratified by blood (Ex. 24:4-8) – promising to bring home those Jews who were still captive in other countries during Zechariah’s day and give them twice as many blessings as the burdens they had experienced in captivity.

God then says, “For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow.  I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.  Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.  The Lord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar” (vs. 13-15).  History shows that Alexander the Great would lead the empire of Greece to conquer Palestine in 332 B.C., more than a century after Zechariah wrote this.  Alexander’s conquest would cause the pagan Grecian culture to have great influence among the Jewish nation, sowing the seeds of pagan idolatry once again.  As a backlash against this, violent conflict would break out during Greece’s rule of Palestine, most notably between the Syrian Seleucids and Judean Maccabees, in a successful effort to gain Jewish independence and keep the Jews faithful to Jehovah.  Commentator Homer Hailey attributes the Maccabean victories to “almost…a divine providential directing or intervention,” which would fit Zechariah’s prophecy that God would be fighting with them and protecting them in this conflict.

However, the end of the chapter alludes to yet another dual meaning with Messianic implications for all the prophecies in this section.  Zechariah foretells, “On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.  For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!  Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women” (vs. 16-17).  While it is certainly true that any and all victories over Seleucid and Grecian pagan influence by the Maccabees can be attributed to God saving them, it is also true that this paved the way for the Messiah to come not long afterwards, “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), and bring eternal salvation from sin to “the flock of his people” (cf. John 10:1ff; 1 Pet. 5:4; Heb. 13:20).  Commentator Wayne Jackson attributes Zechariah’s praise of “his goodness” and “his beauty” to God, and cites the references to the impact of the “grain” and “new wine” upon the “young men” and “women” as figurative illustrations of the spiritual prosperity enjoyed by His followers under the new covenant, an interpretation with which I agree.

Jackson’s summation of this section is insightful and is worthy of our own introspection:

“The temporal salvation of the nation prefigured the spiritual salvation of the ‘Israel of God’ (Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:27-29; 6:16) through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, physical Israel largely rejected their own Messiah.  And not enough in spiritual Israel give him the allegiance of which he is worthy.”

May we work with God’s help and grace to give our Lord the loyalty and obedience to which He is due!

— Jon

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