A Study by Scott Sperling
Zechariah 13:7-9 -
The Last Days Summarized
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is close to me!”
declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones.
“In the whole land,” declares the Lord,
“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”
Here in Zechariah 13:7-9, the Lord (thought Zechariah) gives an introduction to the
final section of the book of Zechariah. This introduction summarizes the last days,
which Zechariah depicts in the final section of his book. The theme of this section is
“the judgment by means of which Israel will be finally purged and transformed
into the holy people of Jehovah” [Baron, 473]. In the summary: the Messiah is
struck down; the children of Israel are scattered, and suffer; when back in their
land, two-thirds are struck down; the remnant is purified; the remnant turns to
This introduction to the final section prophesies first the persecution of the Messiah:
“‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’
declares the Lord Almighty” (vs. 7). Here we have, in effect (since this is the
prophecy of God), the divine decree that Christ would die for our sins. It was not
an accident of history that Jesus died on the cross. It was part of God’s perfect plan,
as evidenced by the many Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would suffer.
The “shepherd” spoken of here is, of course, the Messiah. The Messiah as shepherd
is a recurring motif in the book of Zechariah. Other symbolism in this verse
indicates that the Messiah would die at the hands of authorities. “The sword is the
symbol of judicial power. The taking away of life being the highest function of
government, the sword, which is the instrument of violent death, was selected as
the symbol of these functions. The magistrate was called one who beareth the
sword (see Rom. 13:4), because he wielded judicial power. Hence the great doctrine
here set forth is, that the death of Christ was a judicial act, in which He endured the
penalty of that law whose penal power was symbolised by this sword of divine
wrath” [Moore, 213].
Jesus came to earth as the Messiah to His own people, the children of Israel, and
their rejection of Him led to the events that resulted in His death. And so, it is not
surprising that they would experience affliction as a result of rejecting Him. The
first adverse result was that the children of Israel were driven from their land and
scattered throughout the world, as prophesied here: “Strike the shepherd, and the
sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones” (vs. 7).
The prophecy of the “scattering” of the sheep was fulfilled in a couple ways. First,
immediately after Jesus’ arrest, His disciples scattered, leaving Jesus to suffer alone.
Jesus cites this verse as being fulfilled in this way: “Then Jesus told them, ‘This
very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “I will strike
the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered”’” (Matt. 26:31). Then
also, as I and many other commentators believe, this verse had further fulfillment in
the general dispersion of the children of Israel from the promised land. “The
scattering of the sheep must not be limited exclusively to the dispersion of the
disciples on the night of Christ’s arrest, but refers to that general dispersion that
should follow the death of Messiah” [Moore, 214]. The children of Israel not only
were scattered physically after the Messiah was stricken, they were also, in a sense,
scattered spiritually as a direct result of the death of the Messiah. The death of the
Son of God is a stumbling block to many children of Israel, even in light of the
many places where the suffering Messiah is prophesied in the Old Testament.
Verse 7 also succinctly predicts the suffering that the children of Israel would face
as they were dispersed throughout the world: “… and I will turn my hand against
the little ones” (vs. 7). Then in verse 8, the prophecy jumps to the end-times, after
the children of Israel have returned to the land, when they will face great affliction:
“‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and
perish; yet one-third will be left in it’” (vs. 8). Though two-thirds “will be struck
down”, yet, “one-third will be left.” God always leaves His remnant. Isaiah
prophesies similarly: “Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea,
only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed overwhelming and
righteous. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed
upon the whole land” (Isa. 10:22-23). This remnant, essentially the final remnant
taken from the children of Israel, will be precious to God. Yet they too will face
affliction. However, their affliction will be a cleansing affliction, similar to the
refining fire of silver or gold: “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine
them like silver and test them like gold” (vs. 9). This refining affliction will
achieve its goal. It will turn the hearts of the chosen remnant toward God: “They
will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (vs. 9). What a glorious day that will be!
The angels will surely be rejoicing when the remnant of God’s chosen people finally
turn their hearts back to God, and worship their Messiah, Jesus Christ, as Lord.
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Baldwin, Joyce G. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Downer’s Grove, IL:Inter-Varsity,
Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets. 2 Vols. in 1. Grand Rapids, MI:
Kregel Publications, 1983.
Calvin, John. A Minor Prophets, Vol. V. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986.
(Originally published in 1559).
Feinberg, Charles L. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody Press, 1990. (Originally
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical,
Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. 3 Vols. Grand
Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1993. (Originally published in 1866).
Kaiser, Walter. Mastering the Old Testament: Micah–Malachi. Dallas: Word, 1992.
© 1994-2017, Scott Sperling