Maccabean Prophecy

11As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. 12Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. 13I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword.

14Then the Lord will appear over them; His arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; He will march in the storms of the south, 15and the Lord Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. 16The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of His people. They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown. 17How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.

Zechariah continues his Oracle here. He began the Oracle with a prophecy concerning Israel’s hostile neighbors (Zech. 9:1–8) that (I believe) was fulfilled during the time of Alexander the Great. While speaking of God’s protection of Israel during that time, Zechariah transitioned to a prophecy concerning the Savior of Israel, the Messiah Jesus Christ (Zech. 9:9–10), which spoke of both comings of Israel’s King. Here, Zechariah turns again to prophesy an event that has been fulfilled in (as we look back) Israel’s history: "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword" (vss. 11–13).

The clue to when this prophecy was fulfilled comes in verse 13: "I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword." This verse clearly speaks of a military conflict between the Israelites and Greece. From the time of Zechariah, up to our present day, there has only been one such conflict between the Israelites and Greece, and that came just after the time of Alexander when the Seleucid kings ruled over both Greece and the land of the Israelites.

After Alexander the Great died, his empire was split up by his generals. One of these generals was Seleucus. He was the first of the Seleucid kings, who ruled over mainly the eastern portions of Alexander’s empire. At various times, through various conflicts, the Holy Land came under the control of the Seleucids. The Seleucid kings ruled ruthlessly, and offended the Israelites by desecrating the priesthood and the Temple in various ways. The Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes "suspended daily sacrifices, abolished the Sabbath, destroyed copies of the Scriptures, forbade circumcision, and erected pagan altars. To crown it all, in December, 167 B.C., he introduced the cult of the Olympian Zeus into the temple by setting up a pagan altar and offering swine’s flesh on it… Against this offensive and autocratic rule, the areas of Judah and Ephraim (that is, the northern and southern parts of the ancient Jewish nation) were indeed roused, as Zechariah prophesied (vs. 13). The spark was struck in Modien, a little town in the hill country northwest of Jerusalem. A Syrian officer had demanded that the people make pagan sacrifices. But when a Jew came forward to make the sacrifice, a local priest named Mattathias rose up and killed both the Jew and the Syrian. [Matthias and his sons, with others began a guerilla war. After Mattathias died, his son Judas Maccabeus took over]…. Judas won stunning victories against a number of Antiochus’s generals and eventually occupied Jerusalem and purified the Temple. The Maccabees were able to achieve a century of Jewish independence that lasted until the coming of the Roman ruler Pompey in 63 B.C" [Boice, 196].

With this historical background, we can analyze and understand this prophecy: "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from a waterless pit" (vs. 11). The Israelites were effectively "prisoners" under the rule of Antiochus. The Lord promised to "free" them "because of the blood of [His] covenant." The "blood of [His] covenant" is the blood of the system of atoning sacrifices that God established in the Law. The rebellion by the Israelites against Antiochus began in response to Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple. The desecration made impossible the carrying out of the blood sacrifices established in God’s Law. So, "because of the blood of [His] covenant," the Lord came to the aid of the Israelites against Antiochus.

The Israelites are told to "Return to [their] fortress", the Lord. They are prisoners who have "hope" through the promises of the Lord: "Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you." One way the Lord promises to "restore" them is by uniting them in battle against Greece: "I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim." Once hostile with each other, Judah and Ephraim, according to the prophecy, will work together—Judah as bow, Ephraim as arrow—through the Lord.

The Lord, in giving the prophecy, speaks to both Israel and Greece directly: "I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword." God is the God of all nations. God speaks to all nations; He controls all nations. In Zechariah’s time, many tribes and countries would worship a "local" god, a god that specifically protected them. The God of the Israelites, the True and Living God, has always been the Lord of all.

The Lord promises to aid the Israelites in this battle in a powerful way: "Then the Lord will appear over them; His arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; He will march in the storms of the south, and the Lord Almighty will shield them" (vs. 14). However, although the Lord would aid the Israelites, they, as it would appear to the world, would be the underdog: "They will destroy and overcome with slingstones." The reference to "slingstones" is clearly an allusion to David fighting Goliath. And indeed, the Maccabees were certainly the underdogs against the vast Seleucid empire.

Not only was help in the battle promised, victory was also promised: "They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of His people" (vs. 15–16). Indeed, God was true to His promise. The Maccabeans scored a miraculous victory, and won self-rule for the Israelites for a time. That time was a time of prosperity for the Israelites, as the Lord prophesied through Zechariah: "They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women" (vs. 16–17)—a symbolic picture of prosperity ("grain") and joy ("new wine"). True to the Lord’s promise, "the Maccabean rule was one of such prosperity as to fulfill the terms of this prophecy, and designate its era as one of the bright pages in the Hebrew annals" [Moore, 156].

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