Judgment on Phoenicia

1An Oracle: The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach and will rest upon Damascus—for the eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord— 2and upon Hamath too, which borders on it, and upon Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful. 3Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. 4But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire. 5Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. 6Foreigners will occupy Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. 7I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become leaders in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 8But I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch.

With this chapter, we begin the third major section of the book of Zechariah. The first section, chapters 1 through 6, consisted of Zechariah’s visions concerning Israel. The second section, chapters 7 and 8, primarily consisted of an answer by the Lord to a question posed by the Bethelites concerning fasting. The third section, chapters 9 through 14, consists of two oracles. The first oracle (chapters 9 through 11) speaks primarily of events around and about the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to Israel. The second oracle (chapters 12 through 14) speaks primarily speaks primarily of events around and about the second coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to Israel. Both oracles, by and large, speak of events future to Zechariah. However, many events described in these oracles are now in the past to us. In other words, many of the prophecies in these oracles have been fulfilled. So, as we study how some of the prophecies in these oracles already have been fulfilled, our faith is naturally strengthened that as yet unfulfilled promises, from these pages, will be fulfilled.

Both oracles have been given the same title, translated here "An Oracle". This translation does not convey as much as the actual Hebrew word conveys. The actual word also has the sense of "burden" (as it is translated in the King James Version). The sense of "burden" is appropriate, for these oracles speak of judgment. The first oracle begins by speaking of the judgment upon Phoenicia/Syria: "The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach and will rest upon Damascus—for the eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord— and upon Hamath too, which borders on it, and upon Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful. Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire. Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. Foreigners will occupy Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become leaders in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. But I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch" (vss. 1–8).

Much of the prophecy in verses 1 through 8 has been fulfilled. Many commentators (including myself) believe that the fulfillment of this prophecy of judgment upon the cities of Phoenicia and Syria was fulfilled when Alexander the Great marched down through these lands on his way to Egypt. Zechariah here tells us that the Lord had His hand in these conquerings of Alexander: "The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach and will rest upon Damascus—for the eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord—and upon Hamath too, which borders on it, and upon Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful" (vs. 1–2). The most surprising aspect of these prophecies of Zechariah for those who heard them at the time was probably the prophecy concerning Tyre: "Tyre has build herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire" (vss. 4–5). Tyre was considered invincible at that time. She had been besieged before, yet not conquered. The Assyrians besieged Tyre for five years, unsuccessfully. Then later, Nebuchadnezzar besieged for thirteen years, unsuccessfully. During Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, the entire city moved to an island about a half mile off the coast. Thus, here, Zechariah acknowledges that Tyre "was very skillful".

By moving to an island, Tyre had "built herself a stronghold". Not only had Tyre moved to an island, but she had surrounded the city on the island with a double wall that was 150 feet high [Moore, 140]. She had also, through commerce, become very prosperous. As Zechariah says: "She has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets." But it is a foolish thing to trust in one’s own riches, strength or skill. We can never be totally secure in our own riches, strength or skill. The Lord had marked Tyre out for destruction, and Alexander the Great was the human agent who carried out the Lord’s judgment. Alexander began a siege, but after a few months, grew impatient. He then struck upon the idea of building a causeway out to the island city. He used the remains of Tyre’s own mainland buildings to construct the causeway, and succeeded in conquering Tyre. The destruction of Tyre had a chilling effect on the neighboring cities: "Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither" (vs. 5). And indeed, Alexander went on to conquer these cities, as prophesied by Zechariah: "Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. Foreigners will occupy Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines" (vs. 6).

After verse 6, there seems to be a shift in the prophecy to the end-times, and the ultimate judgment of idolaters in Syria, together with the conversion of those who remain alive after the judgment: "I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become leaders in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites" (vs. 7). This shift of time in the midst of the prophecy may seem puzzling, but we often see this happen in Biblical prophecy. Most notably, in prophesies concerning the Messiah, we see events in the first coming often juxtaposed with events in the second coming, though the fulfillments of these events actually occur thousands of years apart. It is difficult for us, not having the eyes of prophecy that Zechariah or Jeremiah or Isaiah had, to conceive how these prophecies were received by the prophets. They apparently saw events and heard the word of the Lord without entirely understanding all the details of what they were seeing and hearing. They did not always have a clear vision of the timeline of the fulfillment of the prophecies they described, and so as they wrote these prophetic visions down, often events from different eras merge into the same prophecy. "It is quite in keeping with the character of Old Testament prophecy that there is no perspective observed, nor clear indications given of pauses and intervals… Like the traveller who from a great distance beholds a whole mountain range as one mountain, without discerning the different peaks, with the long valleys in between, so do the Old Testament seers often behold [events] without clearly discerning from their distant point of view the interval between [the events]" [Baron, 302].

In this case, there is one prophecy because, presumably, the judgment carried out by God through Alexander was but the commencement of the fulfillment of the entire prophecy given here. David Baron explains: "Here we are reminded once again that though the more immediate reference of the prophecy in this chapter was to Alexander’s march and conquests, it looked on and merges into a more distant future. Koehler rightly points out that this 7th verse was not fulfilled by the deeds of Alexander, ‘since neither the remnant of the Phoenicians nor the other heathen dwelling in the midst of Israel were converted to Jehovah through the calamities connected with his expedition.’ On this ground this German scholar regards the conquests of Alexander as the commencement of the fulfillment, which was then continued through the calamities caused by the wars of succession—the conflicts between the Egyptians, Syrians, and Romans—until it was completed by the fact that the heathen tribes within the boundaries of Israel gradually disappeared as separate tribes, and their remnants were received into the community of those who confessed Israel’s God" [Baron, 297].

Of consolation to the remnant who were, at the time of Zechariah’s writing, rebuilding the temple, is the prophesied protection of the Temple: "But I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch" (vs. 8). Indeed, Alexander’s marauding forces bypassed Jerusalem. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, claims that the deliverance of Jerusalem was the result of a dream Alexander had (see Josephus Antiquities XI:8:3–5). However, the ultimate fulfillment of this verse is, along with verse 7, yet future, for we know that the children of Israel were scattered once more by the Romans sixty years after the time of Christ.

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