Zechariah 12:10 – the Messiah’s Manner of Death

Recognized as a prophecy by both Jewish and Christian authorities alike is Zechariah 12:10 – but with a few unusual twists. Within their own ranks, each debates the meaning of the prophecy as well as the translation of one word.

Zech. 12:10 “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.”  – Jewish Publication Society

Zech. 12:10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” – New King James Version

Setting the historical context, Zechariah authored his prophetic book by the same name soon after Zerubbabel, grandson of Jeconiah the last sitting king in the House of David, had led the Jews from Persia back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Centuries later, the “Second Temple” would be greatly enhanced by King Herod followed by the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth.

An interesting story in itself is the Rabbi debate found in the Babylonian Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a. Initially the rabbinic discussion was centered on the topic of whether men and women should be separated during worship and mourning services. Referring to Zechariah 12:10, a Rabbi said that men and women should be separated during services of mourning because of the “Evil Inclination,” the temptation that leads to misconduct, in this case lust

An inquisitive Rabbi asked why the people in Zechariah 12:10 were weeping and mourning if the prophesy was about the death of the Evil Inclination – should they not be rejoicing?[3] With that question, the rabbinic dialog switched direction generating a debate around the prophetic nature of Zechariah 12:10 itself: [1]

Sukkah (52a)“What is the cause of the mourning?” 

“R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point.  One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination. “It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; “but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this [it may be objected] an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?””[2]

One faction viewed the death of the Messiah by those who “thrust him through” was the true reason for the mourning, as deeply as a parent for the death of an only son. Rabbi R. Judah expounded a different view where the Holy One would slay the Evil Inclination in the presence of both the righteous and the wicked during the Messianic age.

Centuries later, the renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi, whose commentary appears in The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, partially agreed with the rabbinic faction in Sukkah 52a who believed Zechariah 12:10 refers to the Messiah.[3]

“…as one mourns over an only son: As a man mourns over his only son. And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.”[4] – Rabbi Rashi

Preceding it, Rashi’s commentary differed on the specific reference to “thrust him through” as the manner of the Messiah’s death. The Rabbi’s stated “thrust him through” to be a metaphor about Israel saying:  “And they shall look to Me to complain about those of them whom the nations thrust through and slew during their exile.”

Translations of the Hebrew text word daqar as either “pierced” or “thrust him through” is the difference between the two Jewish and most Christian Bibles. The literal definition of daqar is:  “a prim. root; to pierce, pierce through.”[5]

Jewish Publication Society and Complete Jewish Bible translations each say “thrust him through.” Christian Bible translations translate daqar as “pierced” excepting for four contemporary, simplified, sometimes paraphrased Bible translations.

Good News Translation and God’s Word Translation interpret daqar as “stabbed.” The Message and Contemporary English Version each translate the prophecy as piercing with a spear. One takes the middle road, Bible in Basic English says “wounded by their hands.” [6]

Interpretations of the prophecy, regardless if daqar is translated as “pierced” or “thrust through” does not clearly indicate how daqar is inflicted – was it by means of nails or a weapon? The answer can be found through language analysis.[7]

Nine other times the Hebrew word daqar appears in the texts of the Old Testament or Tanakh including another in Zechariah.[8] In all instances, daqar is used in the context of wounds inflicted by a type of weapon such as a sword or spear. Applying this word usage definition to Zechariah 12:10, the manner of death is by means of a weapon.

John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth describes how he was both pierced by nails and had a spear thrust into his side as the witnesses looked upon him hanging on the cross.[9] Later, John described the resurrected Jesus suddenly appearing in a locked room where the he invited the doubting Disciple Thomas to touched the healed wounds in his hands and in his side. Thomas accepted the opportunity, then exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”[10]

Were the Gospel accounts of the Jerusalem crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, born in the lineage of David, a fulfillment of the Zachariah 12:10 prophecy as the slain Messiah subjected to being daqar, the Son of God?[11]

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Sukkah 52a. Halakhah.com. Trans. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. n.d. pp 74-77, footnote #1-3. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[2] Sukkah 52a, p 75. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[3] “Rashi (Solomon Bar Isaac).” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13862-solomon-b-isaac-rashi>
[4] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 12:10. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16216#showrashi=true>
[5] “daqar.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/1856.html>
[6] Contemporary English Verson; Good News Translation; God’s Word translation; Zechariah 12:10. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/zechariah/12-10.htm>  The Message; Bible in Basic English. Zechariah 12:10. NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Zec&chapter=12&verse=10>
[7] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm> “Introduction to Text Analysis: About Text Analysis.”  Duke University | Libraries. 2017. <https://guides.library.duke.edu/text_analysis>  “What Is the Definition of Textual Analysis?” Reference.com. 2018. <https://www.reference.com/education/definition-textual-analysis-a95087916fcb24cb> Pfarrer, Mike “What is content analysis?” University of Georgia | Terry College of Business. 2012. <http://www.terry.uga.edu/management/contentanalysis>
[8] “daqar.” NetBible.org. Hebrew text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=hebrew_strict_index:01856>
[9] John 19. NetBible.org. Greek text. Strong. “nusso <3572>”  CR Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23.
[10] John 20.
[11] CR John 3:16.

The Donkey Prophecy

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy about a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so unambiguous, there can be no other explanation other than exactly what it foretells. More precise even than the Micah prophecy foretelling the future Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah.[1]

Zech 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”(NKJV)

Not just any lowly donkey, it was prophesied to be a colt, a male; a foal, under a year old. At that age, the colt would be unridden, unbroken. Donkeys are known for their unruly and difficult behavior especially in unfamiliar and frightening scenarios.[2] Yet the future King of Israel was prophesied to bring salvation to Jerusalem riding one such unbroken donkey colt.

Written between 520 – 518 BC, the prophecy was issued about 80 years after the last king of Israel, Jeconiah, sat on the Throne of David. The Davidic royal dynasty ended when Jeconiah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 597 BC.[3]The king was deported to Babylon along with “the most distinguished men of the land, and the most valuable treasures of the Temple and the palace.”[4]

Decrees  issued by Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is the Hebrew history backdrop when Zachariah issued the prophecy.[5] Based on the historical timing, the prophecy could only be  about a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi agreed that the Zechariah donkey prophecy refers directly to the prophesied Messiah. In the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commenary the Rabbi’s commented, “It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah.”[6]

Scrolling forward 550 years sets the stage when Jesus of Nazareth was reaching the end of his 3-year ministry. Outside of Jerusalem, oddly some Pharisees warned Jesus that Tetrarch Herod wanted to kill him.

Brushing off the warning, Jesus replied that no prophet is killed outside of Jerusalem. The comment referred to the historical reputation of Jerusalem being known for killing the prophets sent by God.[7] It was an indicting condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders now primarily represented by the Pharisees.

One final comment by Jesus to the Pharisees included a prediction. The next time they would see him a well-known Jewish praise of salvation would be shouted, quoting from Psalms 118:16.[8]

LK 13:35 “… I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”(NKJV)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi in his commentary of the Micah 5:1(2) interpreted the Bethlehem prophecy to be about the Messiah. Quoting from Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone,” the Rabbi expounded that the verse refers to “the Messiah, son of David.”

Saturday night before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus was at a dinner event in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. In attendance were siblings Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and the 12 Disciples.[9]

Sunday, the next day, began the week that held a special Passover celebration. This particular year, Passover fell the day before the Sabbath causing a doubling of efforts on Preparation Day, now a day earlier, to accommodate the back-to-back work-restricted observances. John referred to this as a “high,” or “special” Sabbath, depending on the translation.[10]

One of the Disciples asked where they would be eating the Passover meal in Jerusalem? Jesus did not answer the question directly. Instead, he sent Peter and John ahead into Jerusalem to find both a donkey with its colt and a room where they could eat the Passover meal. No specific information was given, only clues.

Aimlessly entering the city looking for the clues Jesus had given to them, they found a tethered mother donkey with its colt.[11] If anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.”[12]

Peter and John found the mother donkey with its colt and were led by the man with the donkeys to a house with a an upper room prepared for the Passover. The owner allowed the Disciples to take the donkeys back to Jesus.

Entering Jerusalem for the last time, all four Gospel authors write about that Sunday when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.[13] The Sunday before Easter, it is known as “Palm Sunday” in Christianity.[14]

MT 21:6-9 “The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”(NIV)

Most Christian translations of Matthew 21:7 say that Jesus sat on “them” although it is highly unlikely he sat on two donkeys of different heights at the same time. The original King James Version translates the Greek text more succinctly:

MT 21:7 “And brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes and they set [him] thereon.” (KJV)

Matthew and John Gospel accounts both say that Jesus had asked them to find a mother donkey with its colt – if Jesus only wanted a donkey to ride, then he would have been expected to instruct the two Disciples to simply find a donkey. Instead, he told the two Disciples to find only a mother donkey with a colt and bring back both.

While neither of the Gospel accounts expressly state that Jesus sat on the colt rather than the mother donkey, logic further dictates that if the colt was not intended to be ridden, then no coats would be thrown of its back.

Both Gospels make reference to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy that explicitly states it would be a foal colt donkey.[15] If Jesus was not sitting on the colt, then the Zechariah prophecy was not fulfilled.

Riding on the back of a foal colt donkey into Jerusalem matched the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy. The prediction Jesus made a few days earlier also came to pass when Jesus entered Jerusalem and people shouted “”Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”[16]

Was this triumphal entry to Jerusalem no more than a two-fold coincidence – or was the Palm Sunday event the dual fulfillment of Messiah prophecies?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] CR Micah 5:1(2).
[2] “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
 [3] Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C. Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
[4] “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity>
[5] Ezra 1:1-3, 4:4-6, 6:14-15; Nehemiah 6:15; 12:45. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. 1850. Book XI, Chapter II. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. Commentary by William Whitson. < http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false > “Cyrus the Great.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Great>  “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[6] Zechariah 9:9. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Chabad.org. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16213/showrashi/true
[7] CR Matthew 23:19-39. Luke 13:31-35. I Kings 18:13-15; 19:14. 2 Chronicles 24:19-22; Jeremiah 26:7-16, 18-19, 20-23; 38:1-13.
[8] Matthew 23:37-39. Luke 13:31-35.
[9] John 12:1-2, 4. CR Matthew 26:6; Mark 11:1, 14:3; Luke 10:38-39, 19:29.
[10] John 19:31. BibleHub.com. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/john/19-31.htm>  CR Mark 15:42.
[11] Luke 19:28-37. CR Matthew 21:1-7.
[12] NASB, NKJV.
[13] Matthew 21:7; Mark 11:7; Luke 19:28; John 12:1.
[14] “Palm Sunday.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021.  <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Palm-Sunday>
[15] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15.
[16] Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13.