Zechariah 12:10 – Circumstances of the Death of the Messiah?

Zechariah 12:10 is a short prophecy recognized by both Jewish and Christian authorities alike – but with a couple of twists. Bible translation versions of the Hebrew text are not the issue:

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

Translations of the Hebrew text word daqar as either “pierced” or “thrust him through” is the small difference of little consequence. The literal definition of daqar is:  “a prim. root; to pierce, pierce through.”[1]

To set 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. The developing scene in Jerusalem became the backdrop for the future centuries later when the Temple would be greatly enhanced by King Herod followed by the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth.

Messiah prophecy interpretations by Christian and Jewish authorities are typically where controversies originate. This time, however, disagreement about Zechariah’s prophecy started among the ranks of the Rabbis producing the Babylonia Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a.

Initial rabbinic discussion was centered on the topic of whether men and women should be separated during worship and mourning services. A Rabbi cited Zechariah 12:10 to support his position 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.

One inquisitive Rabbi looked at the entirety of Zechariah 12:10 and asked why the people were weeping and mourning – didn’t it made more sense that if the prophesy was about the death of the Evil Inclination, they should be rejoicing? The Rabbi argued that 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:[2]

Sukkah (52a)

“What is the cause of the mourning [mentioned in the last cited verse]?  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?”

With that question, the rabbinic dialog switched direction generating a new discussion around the prophetic context of the verse itself. Split on the meaning of the prophecy, several Rabbis took the side favoring the “Evil Inclination” view.[3] Another Rabbi characterized the alternative Messiah interpretation saying the Holy One would send the Messiah, the Son of David, begotten by God who would be slain but given eternal life and the inheritance of the nations.

Centuries later, the renowned sage Rabbi Rashi, whose commentary appears in The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, agreed with the rabbinic faction in Sukkah 52a who believed Zechariah 12:10 refers to the Messiah.[4]

“…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.”[5] – Rabbi Rashi

Three characteristic facets appear in Rashi’s commentary – “the Messiah” who is “slain” followed by deep mourning likened to the death an “only son.” Added to the unambiguous first part of the prophecy saying those in the “house of David” and “Jerusalem” will be blessed by his appearance results in the 5 defining details packed into a single verse.

Rashi’s preceding commentary, however, differs on the specific reference to “thrust him through” as the manner of the Messiah’s death. The Rabbi stated that “thrust him through” was 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.”

Literal interpretation views of the prophecy where the death of the Messiah who is pierced or thrust through does not, however, clearly indicate how daqar is inflicted – was it by means of nails or a weapon? The answer can be found through language analysis.[6]

Nine other times the Hebrew word daqar appears in the texts of the Old Testament or Tanakh including another in Zechariah.[7] In all instances, daqar is used in the context of wounds inflicted by a type of weapon such as a sword or spear. To be fully consistent with the word usage of daqar in all other instances, then Zechariah 12:10 specifically refers to being “thrust through” or “pierced” by a weapon.

John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth some 500 years after Zechariah’s prophecy describes how Jesus was both pierced by nails and had a spear thrust into his side as the witnesses looked upon him hanging on the cross.[8] Later, John described the resurrected Jesus suddenly appearing in a locked room where the Disciple Thomas touched the wounds in his hands and side exclaiming in confirmation, “My Lord and my God!”[9]

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 only begotten Son of God?[10]

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REFERENCES:

[1] “daqar.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/1856.html>
[2] Sukkah 52a.  Halakhah.com. Trans. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. n.d. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[3] CR “Jewish Messianic Interpretations of Zechariah 12:10.” Jews For Jesus. 2005. <https://jewsforjesus.org/answers/jewish-messianic-interpretations-of-zechariah-12-issues-prophecy>
[4] “Rashi (Solomon Bar Isaac).” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13862-solomon-b-isaac-rashi>
[5] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 12:10. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16216#showrashi=true>
[6] 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>
[7] Net.bible.org. “daqar.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=hebrew_strict_index:01856>
[8] John 19.  Net.bible.org. Greek text.  Strong. “nusso <3572>”  CR Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23.
[9] John 20.
[10] John 3:16.

A Prophecy, a Donkey, a Psalm

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy about a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so specific, there is no way to explain it away – it either happens or it doesn’t.[1] It could only be seconded by Micah’s prophecy that the future Ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah.[2]

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) 

Riding on a lowly donkey, not just any donkey – a colt which is a male; a foal which is under a year old – that was unridden, unbroken. Donkeys are known for their unruly and difficult behavior especially in unfamiliar and frightening scenarios, yet the King bringing salvation to Jerusalem was prophesied to ride one such unbroken donkey colt.[3]

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 that ended when he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 597 BC.[4] 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.”[5]

Decrees  issued by Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is the Hebrew history backdrop when the prophecy was issued by Zachariah.[6] His prophecy, based on the timing, could only be referencing a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

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. Jesus brushed off the warning saying that surely no prophet is killed outside of Jerusalem referring to its historical reputation for killing or trying to kill prophets of God.[7]

Telling the Pharisees to send a message back to Herod implying he wasn’t worried, Jesus said he would be busy for the next three days healing and casting out demons, but then…  Jesus predicted the next time they would see him, it would be under special circumstances:[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)

If Jesus was to fulfill Zechariah’s specific Messiah prophecy saying the King would arrive on a male donkey foal, he just made the prophetic event even more specific and challenging to fulfill. Quoting from Psalms 118:26, Jesus prophesied the next time he came to Jerusalem the people would be rejoicing:

PS .118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.”(NKJV)

Psalms 118 is one of several referencing salvation.[9] Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi’s commentary of Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy refers to the Psalm saying it is written about: “the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.’”[10] Ironically, the Rabbi omits the Messiah reference in his direct commentary of Psalms 118.[11]

A few days later before entering Jerusalem while approaching the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples into the village ahead telling them they would find a tethered donkey colt with its mother that had never been ridden and to bring it back to him.[12] If anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say “the Lord has need of it.”[13] Not knowing where to look nor the owner’s identify, they found the colt with its mother and its owner who asked the question just as predicted.

Sunday beginning Passover week, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. Matthew and Luke wrote about Jesus riding on the donkey colt. All four Gospel authors write about that day, known as Palm Sunday, of which the eyewitness, John, wrote:[14]

JN 12:12-13  “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!””(NKJV)

Shouting “Hosanna!” people of the crowd quoted Psalms 118:26 praising Jesus, laying down their outer garments and placed palm branches in his path.[15] In its reference article entitled “Hosanna,” the JewishEncyclopedia.com cites the Gospel of John and references Matthew 21:42 which quotes Psalms 118:22-23: 

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm— and then called him “the King of Israel.” … The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah (see Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxviii. 17, 21, 22; comp. Matt. xxi. 42).”[16]

“Hosanna” is a shortened version of the Hebrew saying “Anna Adonai hoshi-‘ah-nna.” The word is a customary cry of joyful celebration tracing to ancient times when a marching procession would wave branches of palm, myrtle and willow each day of the Sukkot festival.[17]

Last of the three annual Hebrew pilgrimage feasts, Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths – is a dual celebration of the harvest festival and the Hebrews emerging from 40 years in the wilderness after Sinai when God temporarily dwelled in the Tabernacle tent.[18] Seventh day of the festival called “Hoshaana Rabbah” meaning “Great Salvation” closes the period of judgment which began during the festival on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.[19]

Coming full circle back to the prophecies of Zechariah and by Jesus days earlier, riding into Jerusalem on the back of an unbroken male donkey foal, people hailed Jesus as their King of salvation quoting from Psalms 118. Was this no more than a multi-faceted coincidence – or was Palm Sunday the multiple fulfillment of Messiah prophecies?

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References:

[1]  Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.”  Hebrew Root. n.d.  <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm
Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html
> Micah 5:2 (Jewish Bible Michah v.1).
[3] “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
[4] Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
 
[5] Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity
[6] 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. 2018.  <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[7] 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] “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13051-salvation>
[10] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. “Michah – Micah – Chapter 5.” v1. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191#showrashi=true>
[11] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. “Tehillim – Psalms – Chapter 118.” v122. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16339#showrashi=true>
[12] Luke 19:28-37. CR Matthew 21:1-7.
[13] NASB, NKJV.
[14] Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[15] Matthew 21:8; Luke 19.36.
[16] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna>
[17] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. 
[18] Rich, Tracey R. “Sukkot.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d.  <http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm>
[19] “What is Sukkot.”  Chabad.org. 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4784/jewish/What-is-Sukkot.htm>