And the Lord will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah.
In the last article in this series on Zechariah which studied the first three verses of chapter 12, we concluded that Zechariah’s prophesy about Jerusalem and Judah was figurative in nature and pointed to the New Testament church (Dan. 2:34, 44; Col. 1:13; Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:29; 6:16; James 1:1; Lk. 22:30; Heb. 12:22-23; cf. Rev. 21:2; 19:7; Rom. 7:4). Keeping that interpretation in mind, let us turn our attention to verses 4-6: “On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But for the sake of the house of Judah I will keep my eyes open, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the Lord of hosts, their God.’ On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves. And they shall devour to the right and to the left all the surrounding peoples, while Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in its place, in Jerusalem.”
If the Holy Spirit had a figurative prophecy of the church in mind when he inspired Zechariah to write this, then verse 4 is symbolically foretelling of the ultimate defeat of the enemies of the church. Just as Old Testament Israel’s enemies were vanquished (Ps. 76:6; Deut. 28:28; cf. Ex. 15:1ff), so will the enemies of Christianity meet the same dire fate (Rom. 12:19; Rev. 6:15-17; 1 Cor. 15:24-25; cf. Ps. 110:1). The “clans of Judah” (v. 5) – also called “governors,” “leaders,” and “chieftains” by other translations – would refer to the spiritual leaders of the New Testament church. In the first century church, this would be the apostles and prophets, alongside the elders, deacons, evangelists, and teachers (Eph. 2:20; cf. Phil. 1:1; Eph. 4:11-14), thus showing this prophecy to foresee that the leaders of God’s church would understand that any strength possessed by the church ultimately came from Jehovah. The New Testament shows that the apostles and prophets who proclaimed the gospel far and wide certainly were “like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves” (v. 6a). History shows that in spite of persecution from the religious leaders of the Jews and the governmental authorities in Rome, the church survived and remained “inhabited in its place” (v. 6b; cf. Dan. 2:44; Is. 2:2-4; Mic. 4:1-5; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22-23). Commentator Homer Hailey observed of this prophecy about the church, “All attacks of the enemy leave her unscathed; she will ever stand as the city of God in the midst of His people, unto whom all nations will come.”
Verse 7, quoted above, describes how those who dwell in “the tents of Judah” will receive salvation from God “first.” People who live in tents generally are not as well off as people who live in houses in the city. Most of the religious elite rejected the gospel, although not all did (cf. John 12:42; Acts 6:7). There were some in the higher stations of life who became faithful Christians like Cornelius, Lydia, and Philemon. However, as Paul later described, those most receptive to the gospel who generally tended to be first to obey were not “wise according to worldly standards,” nor “powerful” or “of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26; cf. Matt. 11:25; Mk. 12:37). Yet regardless of one’s financial or social status, within the church we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). If you were a Christian who was of royal blood (“the house of David”) or were wealthy enough to dwell in the city (“the inhabitants of Jerusalem”) instead of living in a tent out in the countryside of Judah, your “glory” (i.e., status) would be no different from your brother or sister in Christ who did live in those tents. Our Lord taught us that we must all serve each other and work together in serving Him (John 13:1-15; Eph. 4:15-16; 5:21).