There is a change in the phraseology of the remaining chapters of this book. Now the prophet is not merely proclaiming “the word of the Lord”; but rather, “the burden of the word of the Lord” (verse 1). By this term, we are prepared for tidings of sorrow and disaster which are about to fall on the nations that are here addressed. These burdens lay heavily upon the prophet’s soul; and there is a remarkable contrast between the visions of the earlier portion of his Book, and the predictions of the later chapters.
When Zechariah wrote this prophecy, the early troubles of the returned Jewish exiles in the reconstruction of their Temple, city, and government were drawing to an end. But they were hemmed in and pressed by the heathen nations and cities around them. It was for their encouragement, therefore, that the prophet here foretold an approaching invasion (verses 1-8) – before which, their strong and hostile neighbors would be swept away! All of these predictions were literally fulfilled – not many decades later – by the invasion of the great world-conqueror, Alexander the Great. Syria, Tyre, and the seaboard which included the cities of Philistia fell under his arms; but in the midst of all these conquests, Alexander spared Jerusalem – being much impressed by a dream, in which he was warned to not approach the city; as well as by a solemn procession of priests and Levites, which was headed by Jaddua the high priest.
But after these predictions of destruction, a stream of exalted prediction ensues, which is as sweet as the refrain of an angel’s hymn! (verse 9) As the Evangelist tells us, this glorious Messianic prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem in lowly triumph, at the beginning of the week in which He died. “Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy king cometh unto thee…” What sublimity there is in the prophet’s words, in which stress is laid upon the fact that the King Who saves us is lowly! His steed is not the richly decorated war-horse; but rather, He rides the humble donkey. And He needs neither chariot nor battle-bow for the overthrow of His foes; for He merely speaks peace unto the nations, as though He were waving His hands in priestly benediction over the troubled waters! (verses 9-10) Despite the arrogant claims of the great “world-conquerors” of history, it is Christ’s Kingdom alone of which it can be truly said that it is indeed a universal empire. “His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth!” (verse 10; Ps. 72)
Then follows this remarkable promise: “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee!” (verses 11-12)
In eastern lands, which are susceptible to long spells of drought, it is customary to hew cisterns out of the solid rock for the storage of water, so that preparation may be made in advance for the absence of the rain. When they are empty, they may be used for other purposes; and in the olden days, they provided a useful retreat or hiding-place from hostile enemies who periodically carried fire and sword to the peaceful farms and hamlets. Such use of the rock-hewn cisterns is referred to in the words of this promise. It seemed to the prophet as though the people might be compared to terrified peasants, who were sheltering in some dark, dry, mountain cistern that was hidden far up from the valleys; and who were dreading every day, lest their hiding-place should be discovered, and they themselves should be dragged out of it to their death.
In every age, God’s people have been thus imprisoned. Perhaps your bondage is that you have been caught in the snare of this world’s evil, as if some evil spirit has roped you with a lasso of undesirable circumstances. Maybe your dilemma is that even though there is no doubt about your relationship as a son or daughter of God, yet you suffer long and sad periods of experience where you seem to be bound as a slave of sin. Possibly you have fallen into deep despondency – partly as the result of ill health; and partly because you have looked away from the face of Christ, and turned your eyes to the winds and waves instead. The clear shining of His love is obscured; and at times, it is difficult to believe in anything except the pressure of your own dark thoughts.
All of God’s children are such prisoners of hope, and their hope rests upon the Blood of the Covenant (verse 11). “Because of the blood of thy covenant, I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit.” The shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God indicates that God has entered into a covenant-relationship with Him, and with all those whom He represents – namely, those who, by faith, are members of His Body, the Church. This covenant includes you if you simply believe in Him as yours, and are willing to be His forevermore. There is a special relationship between God and yourself – not because of your worthiness; but for the sake of His Son, the Good Shepherd, Who was brought again from the dead. Because of the Blood of the Covenant, God must deliver each of His imprisoned ones out of the pit. No matter what sad combination of disaster may have overtaken us; He is bound by the Covenant, and sealed by the blood of Jesus, to spare no effort until our soul is escaped from the snare in which it has been entrapped.
Lord Jesus, we confess that our sins have shut us up in a prison-house of bondage, but we thank You that the blood of Your covenant causes Your “prisoners of hope” to be redeemed and delivered from the pit! Amen.
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