Ask ye of the LORD rain in the time of the latter rain; so the LORD shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.
Verses 1, 2. - § 4. A connecting link between the last section and the next. The condition for obtaining the promised blessings is that they are to be sought from the Lord, not from idols. Verse 1. - Ask ye of the Lord rain. The promise of abundance at the end of the last chapter suggests to the prophet to make a special application to the practice of his countrymen. They must put their trust in God alone for the supply of temporal as well as spiritual bounties. The latter rain was due at the time of the vernal equinox, and was necessary in order to swell the maturing grain (comp. Deuteronomy 11:14). The early rain occurred at the autumnal equinox. It was considered as a special manifestation of God's providential care that these periodical rains were received (see Isaiah 30:23; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23). So the Lord shall make bright clouds; rather, Jehovah maketh the lightnings. Thunderstorms accompany the periodical rains. Ye must ask of him, and ye shall have. Septuagint, Κύριος ἐποίησε φαντασίας," The Lord makes flashes" (of lightning?); Vulgate, Domiaus faciet nives, where the right reading is supposed to be nubes (comp. Psalm 135:7; Job 38:25, 26). Give them showers of rain. Abundant rain, as Job 37:6. The address is now in the third person. Grass. All vegetable food for man and beast, as in Genesis 1:11, 29; Psalm 104:14; Amos 7:2.
For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd.
Verse 2. - For. The prophet supports his exhortation to pray to Jehovah by showing the worthlessness of trust in idols. Idols; teraphim. What these were is not known for certain. They seem to have been images of human form and sometimes of life size, corresponding in some degree to the lares or penates of the Romans (Genesis 31:19; 1 Samuel 19:13). They were supposed to be capable of bestowing temporal blessings and giving oracles (Judges 17:5; Judges 18:5, 24; Ezekiel 21:21). Have spoken vanity. Gave worthless, misleading responses. The mention of teraphim in this passage is thought to indicate a date anterior to the Captivity; but the prophet is speaking of past events, of the results of these base superstitions in former, not present, time. Three kinds of superstition are mentioned. Septuagint, οἱ ἀποφθεγγόμενοι, "speaking" images. These are the first. Secondly come the soothsayers, the diviners, persons who pretended to predict the future (Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8; Ezekiel 21:21; Habukkuk 2:18). Have told false dreams; Vulgate, somniatores locuti sunt frustra; LXX., τὰ ἐνύπνια ψευδῆ ἐλάλουν, "spake false dreams." The Vulgate seems to be correct, "dreams, i.e. dreamers, spake deceit." This is the third class among the practisers of superstitious observances. They comfort in vain, when they promise temporal blessings (Job 21:34). Therefore they went their way as a flock. Because they trusted in these vain superstitions, the Israelites had to leave their own place, were led into exile like a flock of sheep driven away for sale or slaughter (Jeremiah 1:17). They were troubled. They were and are still oppressed by the heathen. Because there was (is) no shepherd. Because they had no king to guard and lead them, they fell under the power of foreign rulers, who ill treated and oppressed them (Ezekiel 34:5; Nehemiah 5:15).
Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.
Verses 3, 4. - § 5. The evil rulers set over them for their sins shall be removed, and Israel shall be firmly established. Ver. 3, - Mine anger was (is) kindled against the shepherds. These heathen rulers were indeed God's instruments in punishing his people, but they had exceeded their commission, and afflicted Israel in order to carry out their own evil designs, and now they themselves shall be chastised. Some commentators raise "the shepherds" to be the rulers of Israel civil and ecclesiastical, comparing Ezekiel 34:2, 5, etc. But the context leads us to consider them as those who took the place of rulers of Israel when she had no shepherd of her own (ver. 2). I punished (will punish) the goats (bellwethers); literally, will visit upon; i.e. will chastise. The same word (paquad) is used in the next clause in a good sense. The "goats" are the leading men, those powerful for evil, as Isaiah 14:9. Hath visited his flock. The reason why the evil shepherds are punished is because God visits his flock in love and care, to see their state and to relieve them from trouble (Zephaniah 2:7). The house of Judah here includes all the nation, to which it afterwards gave its name. Hath made (shall make) them as his goodly horse. The Israelites shall not only be delivered from oppression, but God shall use them as a stately war horse, richly caparisoned, to tread down enemies and triumph ever them. So he said before (Zechariah 9:13) that he would make Judah his bow and Ephraim his arrow. (For a description of the war horse, see Job 39:19-25; comp. Revelation 6:2; Revelation 19:14, where Christ is represented riding on a white horse, and his saints following him on white horses.)
Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together.
Verse 4. - The firmness and security of Judah, thus "visited," is announced in terms admitting of further application. Out of him came forth (shall come). Out of Judah, mentioned in ver. 3. Others, not so suitably, explain, "out of Jehovah," in contrast to Hosea 8:4. The succeeding figures are taken from the building and furnishing of a house. The corner. The cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16). From Judah herself shall come the prince on whom the whole edifice shall rest; i.e. primarily, she shall be independent of foreign rulers; and secondly, from Judah shall come the Messiah, "the Headstone of the corner" (Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20; Hebrews 7:14). Septuagint (taking the noun as a verb), καὶ ἀπ αὐτοῦ ἐπέβλεψε, "et ex ipso respexit" (Jerome). The nail. The word (yathed) is taken for the peg that fastens the cord of a tent, for a nail used in building with timber, or a peg for hanging up arms and utensils on the walls of a house. In whichever sense we take it here, it implies one who consolidates or upholds the political constitution (Isaiah 22:23, 24). The battle bow. The people shall themselves have arms and military skill to protect them against all assailants. Oppressor; rather, ruler, as Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 60:17. Judah shall have every leader necessary for all emergencies. Septuagint, πᾶς ὁ ἐξελαύνων ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ, "he that expelleth together;" Vulgate, omnis exactor simul. If the word be taken in the sense of these versions and the Authorized Version, the clause would mean that the Israelites shall subjugate their enemies, and oppress them, and exact tribute from them. The word (noges) usually means "taskmaster."
And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the LORD is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded.
Verses 5-7. - § 6. Thus equipped, Israel and Judah united shall triumph over their foes. Verse 5. - Which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets. "Their enemies" is supplied naturally from the context. Others take the participle "treading" intransitively, "treading upon street mire," the enemy being figuratively denoted by "mire." The Greek and Latin Versions give, "treading the mud in the streets" (comp. Psalm 18:42; Micah 7:10). They shall fight. They shall carry on long continued war successfully because God is with them. The riders on horses. The strong force of cavalry arrayed against them shall fall before Israel, and be put to shame. The Israelite forces were for the most part infantry, while the principal strength of their enemies consisted in cavalry (Daniel 11:40).
And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them.
Verse 6. - House of Joseph; i.e. Israel, or the ten tribes, called Ephraim in the next verse (see note on Amos 5:6). Israel and Judah alike shall share in the contest and the victory, under the protection of God. I will bring them again to place them. This is one word in Hebrew, which may mean either "I bring them again," or "I make them dwell." The Authorized Version unwarrantably combines both significations. Septuagint, κατοικιῶ αὐτούς, "I will settle them;" Vulgate, convertam eos. It is better taken here, in contrast with "cast off" in a following clause, in the sense of "I will cause them to dwell," i.e. in safety and comfort. As though I had not cast them off. The happy restoration shall make thrum forget former troubles and the calamities of their rejection (Isaiah 43:18, 19). Will hear them (Zechariah 13:9; Isaiah 58:9).
And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the LORD.
Verse 7. - They of Ephraim; i.e. as well as Judah, shall be heroes. Not many members of the northern kingdom returned at first from the Captivity; but the prophet gives the assurance that they shall come and prove themselves mighty warriors. As through wine. They shall hasten to the battle cheerfully and exultingly, like men refreshed and strengthened with wine (see Zechariah 9:15; Psalm 78:65, 66). Their children shall see it. Though unable to participate in the struggle, their children shall share the universal joy. Their heart shall rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 63:7; Isaiah 41:16; Joel 2:23; Habakkuk 3:18). Attempts have been made to find the fulfilment of these prophecies (ver. 3, etc.) in certain events of Maccabean times. Thus, according to Patritius, the sin for which the Hebrews surfeited such distress at the hands of the Seleucidae (ver. 2) was their imitation of heathen practices mentioned in 1 Macc. 1:13-15 and 2 Macc. 4:7-17, when the high priest purchased his office by a bribe, and the other priests followed Greek customs. The prophet is supposed to refer specially to this state of things when he says, "They were troubled because there was no shepherd. Mine auger was kindled against the shepherds." But we have shown above that Zechariah is here speaking of the past, not of the future. There is more verisimilitude in discerning the wars and victories of Judas, his brothers and successors, in the allusions of vers 4-7. The truth is that such descriptions suit many different events, and have various applications. Though their complete fulfilment may be expected only in Messianic times and circumstances, yet we may see many anticipatory and preparative transactions, which are meant to introduce the final accomplishment. The Jewish prophet is not always foretelling certain definite events. Oftentimes he is teaching, warning, and exhorting; and generally he is enunciating great principles, the truth of which shall be clear in the future, rather than predicting particular facts. Not unfrequently commentators have neglected this consideration, and sought too curiously to restrict the prophet's words to some one issue. It may be noted, further, that where the prophetic language concerning the destiny of the restored people seems to be exaggerated and not borne out by subsequent facts, the promises are always conditioned by the moral state of the recipients. If they answered fully and consistently to God's call, the result would be such as was predicted. That the event in all respects did not correspond with the high ideal previously announced must be attributed, not to the prophet's mistake, but to the people's waywardness and disobedience.
I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they have increased.
Verses 8-12. - § 7. The scattered people shall be gathered from all parts of the world, and dwell in their own land, under the protection of Jehovah. Verse 8. - I will him for them; σημανῶ αὐτοῖς," I will signal to them" (Septuagint); sibilabo eis (Vulgate). The slightest summons will bring them when God wills the return of the dispersed. The "hissing" is the whistling or tinkling with which bees are allured to swarm (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 7:18, 19). I have redeemed them. They were virtually delivered from captivity and exile, though all had not taken advantage of the deliverance. They shall increase as they have increased. The same promise is made in Ezekiel 36:10, 11. The allusion is to the marvellous growth of the Israelite nation in Egypt (Exodus 1:7, 12). The prophets often announce this fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5, etc.) after the return (see Isaiah 54:2; Hosea 1:10; Micah 2:12).
And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.
Verse 9. - I will sow them among the people (peoples). The "sowing" here does not mean scattering, but increase, and this was to go on while they were dispersed among the nations. The word is used in the same sense in Hosea 2:23; Jeremiah 31:27. This continued dispersion was a part of their discipline, a test of their loyalty to God. They shall remember me. In the countries where they are living they shall worship the Lord and observe his Law, and be a witness for him among the heathen. They shall live with their children (Ezekiel 37:14). The promised blessing is not for a time only, but perpetual. Turn again; i.e. return to their own land (Isaiah 35:10). It cannot mean, "turn to the Lord," for they are said already to remember the Lord, and their "conversion must precede the promise of life." The next verse describes the return more particularly.
I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them.
Verse 10. - Egypt... Assyria. It is certain that there was a large body of Jews in Egypt at this time (Jeremiah 43:6, 7); and to Assyria the ten tribes, who are here specially mentioned under the name Ephraim, had been deported. Besides this, Assyria is often used loosely for Western Asia or Babylonia, of which, after its submission, it formed a most important feature (see 2 Kings 23:29; Ezra 6:22; and in the Apocrypha, 1 Esdr. 7:15; Judith 1:7 Judith 2:1). In the 'Oracula Sibyllina,' the Assyrians are continually confused with Persians, Babylonians, and other Eastern nations. Egypt and Assyria are here used as types of the countries to which Jews had been banished (comp. Hosea 11:11). Gilead and Lebanon. A designation of the northern district of Palestine, on both sides of the Jordan, in which these tribes had been originally settled. This region had been most exposed to hostile attacks, and was the first to be depopulated. Place shall not be found for them (Isaiah 49:20). Josephus testifies to the teeming population of Galilee in later times ('Bell. Jud.,' 2:03, 1; 3:3, 2; 4:1, 2; 7:5). Septuagint, "There shall not even one of them be left behind," i.e. in exile.
And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up: and the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.
Verse 11. - He shall pass through the sea with affliction. In bringing his people back the Lord is ready to repeat the miracles of the Exodus. This is the general meaning of the passage; but the details present difficulties. For "he shall pass" the LXX. gives, "they shall pass through." But the reference is plainly to Jehovah, as the following clause shows. The next two words are in apposition, "the sea," "affliction." Revised Version, "the sea of affliction;" Septuagint, ᾿ν θαλάσσῃ στενῇ, "in a strait sea;" or, as the Hebrew cannot be so translated, "in a sea, a strait;" Vulgate, in maris freto. It seems best to take the two words simply as, "the sea, which is affliction." The Red Sea, through which Jehovah led his people, was a figure of the sufferings which they had endured in Egypt, and brought destruction upon their enemies (comp. Exodus 14:16, 17, 24, etc.). Smite the waves (Exodus 15:8; Isaiah 11:15, 16; Isaiah 51:10). The river. The Nile. The drying up of the waters of the Nile is a figure of the humiliation of the nations which have been guilty of enslaving the chosen people. The Nile. the representative of Egypt, is mentioned because of the allusion to the bondage in Egypt running through the paragraph. The pride of Assyria. Pride is noted as the characteristic of Assyria (comp. Isaiah 10:7, etc.; Ezekiel 31:3, 10). The sceptre. This may refer to the decadence of the power of Egypt, and the transference of royal authority to strangers; but, regarding the immediate context, we had better translate, "the rod of Egypt," and see in it an allusion to the oppression of the taskmasters during the sojourn in that land. All such tyranny shall be at an end (comp. Isaiah 10:24).
And I will strengthen them in the LORD; and they shall walk up and down in his name, saith the LORD.
Verse 12. - I will strengthen them in the Lord. I will strengthen them with myself - with my grace and power. They shall walk up and down in his Name. They shall live in obedience to, and dependence upon, the Lord (Micah 4:5, where see note). The Septuagint reads, "They shall boast themselves." So God will work wonders to deliver his people from the captivity of the devil, destroying all enemies, visible and invisible, which array themselves against him. This is the final fulfilment of the prophecy. The complete restoration from the Captivity is the immediate subject of the prophet's words; and between these two we may see a reference to the conversion of the Jews in the time of Christ and the apostles, which shall go on until the end.