v1. “The burden of the word of the LORD in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof”.
‘Burden’ in the Hebrew is literally ‘that which is lifted up’, the focus being upon the lifting up of the voice. It thus means a declaration, an oracle, words uttered forth, and is used in the Bible for declarations of God’s judgement. So it has been rendered ‘burden’ in the sense of a denunciation hard to bear, a lifting up of the voice which comes down heavily upon those who hear it. God’s declaration, His burden of denunciation, is upon or against “the land of Hadrach”.
Hadrach “denote(s) a land hostile to the covenant nation … and (is) … a symbolical (description) … of the Medo-Persian Empire” . Zechariah is currently under the authority of that empire, an empire basking in great power, but he is foretelling its destruction in the future by Alexander the Great. So it is obviously wise and expedient for Zechariah not to mention the fall of the empire by using its normal name, because that would sound like sedition and rebellion. So he uses instead this symbolical name of Hadrach, which is derived from two Hebrew words meaning strong and weak. “The land of Hadrach is (called) the land of … Strong/Weak, (because it is) a land which is now strong and mighty, but when impending judgement shall fall, (it) will at once be weakened and laid low” .
So Zechariah’s burden is his announcement that judgement is coming upon that great world empire which is currently in power. Damascus, the capital of Syria, is going to be a particular focus of this coming judgment. Syria is part of the Medo-Persian empire, and Damascus is a very key city within the empire; it was a wealthy city and was “where the Persian monarch had stored up all his treasures . Damascus, we ate told here, will be the rest, or resting place, of the judgement of God.
v1. “… when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the LORD”.
‘Man’ here means the heathen world in contrast to Israel. The Medo-Persians, considered as part of the whole God-rejecting world, will have to look upon the actions of Israel’s God, whether they wish to or not. The Lord is going to exact His vengeance upon them. The eyes of the tribes of Israel were toward the Lord as a matter of course, but when God’s judgement comes, the Medes and Persians will have no choice but to consider also the deeds of Israel’s God. This God-rejecting world in which we live today, although it does not believe in the providence of God, is nevertheless subject to it, and will at times be forced to consider His mighty acts in history, whether they wish to or not.
v2. “And Hamath also shall border thereby; Tyrus, and Zidon, though it be very wise”.
Zechariah now goes on to speak of various parts of the Medo-Persian empire, particularly because they are nations which are more close to and have had interactions with Israel. Hamath was a Syrian province to the north of the Damascus region. Hamath also will come under judgement, as will Tyre and Zidon, two Phoenician ports situated on the Mediterranean coast to the north of Israel. Tyre was c25 miles to the south of Zidon. The two cities are usually grouped together, Tyre becoming the most prominent of the two. So here it is not just Zidon being described as “very wise”, but Tyre also, indeed chiefly. Tyre was a highly prosperous, island-based city state. How wise and secure it felt itself to be in its economic might, and in its military defences, both natural and manufactured. Indeed, Tyre has been described as “the emporium of the world (and it is called in Isaiah ‘a mart of the nations’” (Isaiah 23:3) . This exaltation led to a sense of no dependence upon God. What wisdom in trade and commerce Tyre, but it was “the wisdom of this world (which) is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). For all its prosperity, Tyre was a wicked, unbelieving nation which defied the one true God, and so was ripening itself for judgement.
v3. “And Tyrus did build herself a strong hold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets”.
Tyre was a virtually impregnable island fortress situated some half a mile from the mainland. So it boasted the natural defence of the sea, along with a 150ft high wall all around it. As well as being a prosperous trading centre in its own right, Tyre also possessed colonies around the Mediterranean, thus enhancing her power. She was renown for her production of purple dye, glass-making, weaving, and engraving of stone. The citizens of the Phoenician town of Gebal, which was also under Tyre’s control, are mentioned in Ezekiel as being skilled in shipbuilding, and it was the ships of Tyre which transported to the nations the grain which was grown in the fertile region of the River Nile.
v4. “Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and he will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire”.
The word ‘Behold’ means that something unexpected and highly significant is about to be announced. Here is “the burden of the word of the Lord”; it was falling upon Tyre. For all her worldly elevation, she was a nation under God’s judgement. Her economic might and invincible location will not save her, when God resolves to move against her. The downfall spoken of here finally came to pass in the time of Alexander the Great, who built a causeway across half a mile of sea to besiege the island fortress. It had taken Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon no less than 13 years to capture the old city of Tyre, but Alexander the Great would island achieved it in seven months in 332BC . Tyre is a very appropriate picture for us of the whole unbelieving, anti-Christian world system which prevails all around us, and which defiantly elevates itself against God. Indeed, the king of Tyre in Scripture is actually a prophetic forerunner of the Antichrist, one who sets himself up as God, a man who is the very embodiment of God-defying, Christ-rejecting wickedness. Let us see what the Lord told Ezekiel to pronounce concerning Tyre,
“Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God … Behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas” (Ezekiel 28:2,7–8).
So we learn there that the king of Tyre actually claimed divine status. This was Satan’s great sin, wanting to be like God, and all societies today which reject the authority of the one true Trinitarian God are part of the same satanic rebellion. Today, nations might possess mighty economic strength, but if they set themselves against the one true faith of Jesus Christ, they will be brought crashing down, as will indeed the whole Christ-rejecting world.
v5. “Ashkelon shall see it, and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited”.
These are cities of the Philistines, which had been powerful military fortifications. So Zechariah’s message of denunciation now moves on to them. The Philistines will hear of Tyre’s downfall, which they thought invincible, and will be terrified, for they would be next in line in Alexander the Great’s march southwards towards Egypt. They had presumed upon the ongoing strength of Tyre, but this “expectation shall be ashamed”; it shall fail them. Gaza will no longer have any king ruling over it and Ashkelon will cease to be populated. The Philistines had been inveterate enemies of Israel, but God’s judgement upon them must now inevitably come. “Everything shall be taken from them on which … they (had) based their pride : their power, their fortified cities, and their nationality” .
v6. “And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines”.
Ashdod was another Philistine city. The word ‘bastard’ here means those with no legal right to inherit will nevertheless possess Ashdod, this particular city being used as a token for them all. In other words, foreigners will take over these Philistine strongholds. The Philistines had been contemptuous of the power of Israel’s God, but their confidence will be brought crashing down.
v7. “And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth”.
The Philistines are being personified here as a single individual, and their idolatrous practices are especially being emphasised. The words ‘blood’ and ‘abominations’ refer to the sacrifices which they ate as part of their idol worship. The Lord will come against them in vengeance for their idolatry.
7. “… but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite”.
This second half of verse 7 is particularly significant, because it speaks of hope for the Philistines in the midst of the terrifying judgements upon them. “A remnant of the Philistines (will) be left for the God of Israel” . Certain Philistines who escape destruction will over time submit to Israel’s God, and will join themselves to Israel’s people. This is a looking forward to the times of the gospel. In Acts 8:40 we read,
“Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:40).
Azotus is what the Romans called Ashdod .However, even before our Lord’s coming, the ancient historian Josephus tells us that “many of the Philistines became proselytes to the Jewish religion” .The word ‘governor’ here means the head of a clan. We are told that the Philistine “shall be as a governor in Judah”. This means that certain Philistines will be so assimilated into the people of God that some will even take up the special status equivalent to the head of clan in Israel. These longstanding enemies of God’s people for centuries will finally come to trust in the one true God of Israel.
Likewise, we are further told in this verse 7 that the Philistine city of Ekron will become as the Jebusites, who inhabited Jerusalem when it was brought under subjection by David, but who subsequently embraced Israel’s God and became part of Israelite society. This is all a prophetic pointing forward to the Gentiles being brought into the kingdom of God through faith in Christ, and the destruction of all those who oppose the kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
v8. “And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth : and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes”.
“The army” here refers to an invading army hostile to God’s people, who are described as God’s ‘house’. The Lord will defend them from the army which passes through and which later returns to inflict further damage. These words would have a specific fulfilment in the time of Alexander the Great’s passage through Israel on his way to Egypt, and again to his return from Egypt, and to the fact that on both occasions Jerusalem was spared from destruction, but they have a broader reference to God’s purpose for Israel in sending to her the promised Messiah. This verse, and indeed verses 1 to 8 generally, “looks far beyond the conquests of Alexander … (and speaks of) the (protection of the) people of God in all ages” . Through Israel remained as a national and ethnic entity between Zechariah’s day and the coming of Christ, and this in itself was the protection of the Lord, the promise here of no oppressor passing through them any more is only properly fulfilled in Christ. After all, the Romans would conquer Palestine in 63BC. But the kingdom which Christ will set up, though it will be much assailed, will never be undermined by oppressors. Of God’s true Israel the Lord Jesus Christ said,
“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). God’s people, though confronted by many enemies, can never be destroyed. Back in chapter 2 we had a similar statement of God’s special protection for His people :
“For I, saith the LORD, will be unto (Jerusalem) her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her … for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:5,8).
Believers today are the apple of God’s eye, the object of His peculiar care. Many Christians in our time are viciously persecuted, but a day of reckoning is fast approaching. All those who are so confident in their independence of God have a rude awakening awaiting them.
So in these prophetic words of Zechariah there is deep encouragement for God’s true people. These verses 1-8 are a statement that this Christ-rejecting world will not get away with its wickedness. This unbelieving world system, with its persecuting governments and its false religions, cannot survive.
This system has various manifestations throughout history, e.g. as Hadrach or Syria here in v1, as Tyre in v2-4, as the land of Philistines in v5-7, and in various other forms throughout the Bible : Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome. Those who escape from it to Zion, the true church, will be kept safe. In every age there is new Rome, a new Babylon, a Christ-rejecting world system assaulting the people of God, but in the destruction here of the Medo-Persian empire, and of Tyre and of the Philistines, we see the triumph of the Church of Christ. God says at the end of verse 8, “I have seen with my eyes”. “This (is a) statement … of God’s immanence in history” , His sovereign control over all events and circumstances. Let us think of Tyre : how prosperous, the centre of the world’s economy. They thought that they were so wise, but they defied God and were brought crashing down. God will encamp about His own house, says verse 8. This refers to the church of Christ, of which Paul declares, “We are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
1 Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrikson, Vol. 10, p325
2 Christology of the Old Testament. E. W. Hengstenberg, T&T Clark, Vol. 3, p376
3 Lectures on the Prophecy of Zechariah, R. Wardlaw, Tentmaker, p185
4 Lectures on the Prophecy of Zechariah, R. Wardlaw, Tentmaker, p188
5 New American Commentary, Zechariah, G.L. Klein, B&H, p265
6 C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. 10 vols.; (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), paragraph 31363.
7 Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrikson, Vol. 10, p329
8 New American Commentary, Zechariah, G.L. Klein, B&H, p267
9 Lectures on the Prophecy of Zechariah, R. Wardlaw, Tentmaker, p197
10 The Minor Prophets, T.E. McComiskey, Baker Academic, p1163
11 The Minor Prophets, T.E. McComiskey, Baker Academic, p1163