“Like the angel of the LORD”
The angel of the LORD is mentioned one last time in Zechariah:
On that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that on that day the one who is weakest among them will be like David on that day, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD, before them.Zech. 12:8
While Zechariah 9-11 largely concerns Judah’s past and present circumstances, chapters 12-14 point to a glorious future for all Israel. The LORD tells the people “on that day” – a climactic future day mentioned sixteen times in Zechariah 12-14 – “the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD.” This passage not only equates the angel of the LORD with God; it makes the audacious promise that the house of David will, in some way, be a manifestation of Yahweh.
Vern Poythress explains:
To a casual reader, this claim might seem improbable. But it turns out to be perfectly true in the time of fulfillment. “The house of David” has its fulfillment in Christ, who is descended from David and sums up the whole line of kings. He is the climactic and permanent theophany.Theophany
New Testament writers focus on the Incarnation as fulfillment of God’s promise to come personally to us. Consider the apostle John’s testimony: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Later, Jesus confirms both his deity and his equality with God the Father: “Have I been among you all this time and you do not know me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
And the writer of Hebrews sums up the eternal significance of Jesus this way: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3).
Judgment, then restoration
Zechariah’s oracle, recorded in chapters 12-14, promises the future restoration of Israel but warns that salvation comes only after Yahweh has once again cleansed his people through judgment. In dark days to come, enemies again besiege Jerusalem. However, the LORD swoops in to destroy the attackers and deliver his people.
In addition, he makes all Israel as powerful as its heroic King David and infuses the weakest among the people with supernatural strength for battle. The same LORD who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth (12:1) comes to Israel’s rescue in dramatic fashion. This divine deliverance ultimately brings Israel to its knees as the people mourn over how they have rejected the LORD, who is their shepherd. Previously, the people proved unwilling and unable to fully return to Yahweh, but now the LORD pours out a spirit of grace that enables them to renounce their evil ways (12:10).
Consider how Zechariah prophesies the defeat of Judah’s marauding enemies at the hands of God:
First, the LORD makes Jerusalem “a cup that causes staggering for the people who surround the city” (12:2). This is a common figure of speech among the prophets to describe God’s judgment (cf. Isa. 51:17, 21-22; Jer. 25:15-28). Like marauders too intoxicated to carry away the spoils of battle, Israel’s enemies stumble away from Jerusalem empty-handed.
Second, the LORD makes Jerusalem “a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who try to lift it will injure themselves severely” (12:3). The metaphor of an immovable rock ensures the people that their city – the place God has chosen for himself – withstands the fiercest onslaught.
Third, the LORD strikes “every horse with panic and its rider with madness” (12:4). In a furious cavalry charge, Judah’s attackers are repelled and their elite military machinery – the war horse – is frozen with fear. God inflicts the riders with madness, from the Hebrew siggaon, which means “confusion” or “godly terror.” The curse threatened for covenant-breaking Israelites – “madness, blindness, and mental confusion” (Deut. 28:28) – is now thrust upon their enemies.
Fourth, Judah’s leaders think to themselves: “The residents of Jerusalem are my strength through the LORD of Armies, their God” (12:5). The people’s newfound vigor is tied to their covenant relationship with Yahweh. “This national expression of faith contrasts sharply with the cavalier attitude toward God evidenced by the faithless shepherd who cared nothing for the welfare of his flock (11:5).”9
Fifth, Yahweh makes Judah’s leaders like a “firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves; they will consume all the people around them on the right and the left” (12:6). The Hebrew kiyor (firepot) often refers to a basin used in worship at the tabernacle (Exod. 30:18) or for cooking sacrifices (1 Sam. 2:14). The link between the firepot’s use in worship and in judgment illustrates the consuming fire of God’s holiness (cf. Heb. 12:29).
Sixth, the LORD saves the tents of Judah first (12:7). This is so “the glory of David’s house and the glory of Jerusalem’s residents may not be greater than that of Judah.” In the kingdom to come, no one merits special status based on social or financial position. Yahweh regards all as precious (cf. Gal. 3:26-29).
Finally, the LORD promises to “defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that on that day the one who is weakest among them will be like David on that day” (12:8). Put another way, the feeblest citizens of the city become as strong as the mightiest king in Israel’s past, but not in their own power.
The coming coronation
All of this flows into the text that is our primary concern: “and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD, before them” (12:8). In this context, the house of David refers to those descended from King David, through whom God raises up a glorious future king to sit perpetually on the throne – the Messiah. Zechariah does not suggest that David’s descendants become divine; rather, they are the recipients of God’s supernatural strength, which empowers them to fight heroically. What’s more, one day they will witness the coronation of their promised King.
When Zechariah reports that the house of David will be “like the angel of the LORD,” he is tying this statement to the previous one. To be “like God, like the angel of the LORD” is to connect Yahweh to his covenant people. While the Israelites are forbidden from seeing the invisible God, there is a history of God manifesting himself to them in the angel of the LORD. Just as the angel of the LORD appears in a pillar of cloud and fire to protect and deliver the people from bondage in Egypt (e.g., Exod. 14:19), he comes again in the challenging postexilic days, enabling the weak to become strong and the fearful to become brave.
Even more exhilarating, the angel of the LORD comes one future day – not in another Christophany, but as God in human flesh. Born in Bethlehem to a virgin mother (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 7:14; Mic. 5:2; Matt. 1:18 – 2:1), he exhibits all the qualities of humanity while maintaining the fullness of deity (Col. 2:9).
He offers God’s kingdom to Israel but the nation rejects him, failing to recognize the time of his visitation (Luke 19:44). The leaders arrange his crucifixion outside Jerusalem’s walls and then offer hush money to silence eyewitnesses of his resurrection (Matt. 28:11-15). Their strident insistence that Jesus is a false prophet, along with their persecution of the newly birthed church, result in divine judgment in the form of a Roman siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, just as Jesus prophesied (Matt. 24:1-2).
Even so, the LORD remains faithful to his covenant promises. The closing verses of Zechariah 12 offer a preview of what transpires in the distant future when Israelites recognize their Savior and mourn their rejection of him. And it all begins at God’s initiative, as we read in verse 10. Notice that the LORD is speaking:
Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn.Zech. 12:10, emphasis added
Note first of all that God executes a divine reversal. He has poured out wrath on his people many times in response to their spiritual adultery. Now, he pours out a spirit of grace. While this could be a reference to the Holy Spirit, it seems more likely in this context that a spirit of grace describes the new heart God’s people come to possess. Ezekiel 36:26 has a similar theme. The LORD promises, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
The pierced one
As a result, Judah earnestly reflects on the one they have pierced. Who is this me in verse 10 – the one pierced? Two New Testament passages identify this person as Jesus. In explaining the spear wound in Jesus’ side, the apostle John recalls, “Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the one they pierced” (John 19:37). And in the opening verses of Revelation, John borrows from Old Testament passages to point to Jesus: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him” (Rev. 1:7; cf. Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10).
To be pierced (daqaru) in the Old Testament generally means to be stabbed with a sword or some other weapon (cf. Num. 25:7-8; Judg. 9:54), usually to the point of death (cf. Zech. 13:3). A parallel messianic passage employs a different Hebrew word (meholal) with the same application: “But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds” (Isa. 53:5).
Some Bible commentators contend that Yahweh is indeed the one pierced, but figuratively so by the people’s sinfulness. However, this fails to explain how such an insult may result in cleansing for sin (Zech. 13:1). Other interpreters seek to apply the prophecy to different historical figures, from Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, whom King Joash orders murdered, to Simon the Maccabee, who is assassinated in 134 BC. Still others tie this passage to Isaiah 53 and embrace the belief that the pierced one is the nation of Israel.
The New Testament brings clarity to the identity of the pierced one. It would be difficult for ancient Israelites to understand the Trinity, or to see how the second Yahweh figure – the angel of the LORD – would manifest himself in the flesh one day and bear the sin debt of humanity. As George Klein notes:
The New Testament, then, serves to specify the One who would fulfill what had remained enigmatic in the Old Testament, since the piercing of God with its concomitant cleansing from sin lay outside the understanding of those living before the advent of Christ. With the incarnation of Jesus, the prophecies come into sharp focus, finding their fulfillment.
As a result of seeing the Messiah as the pierced one, the Israelites “will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn” (12:10). The word mourn occurs in various forms five times in verses 10-12. Zechariah uses the Hebrew word yahid to express the idea of grieving the loss of an only child. The same word appears in Genesis 22 to explain Isaac’s status, and to help us understand the anguish Abraham feels when God demands the sacrifice of Abraham’s son of promise. The same word describes the loss of Jephthah’s daughter, whom he foolishly vows to sacrifice to the LORD (Judg. 11:34).
The point here is that Israel one day comes to its senses. The people finally see Jesus as the Messiah whom they rejected and crucified. They experience the most profound sense of loss. But in the depths of their grief, they turn to Jesus and receive the blood he shed on the cross as payment for the very sins that put him there. What an amazing reversal of fortune. And it’s all because of God’s grace.
Next: The angel of the LORD in the New Testament
This post is excerpted from Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the Lord, available from Amazon and other retailers.