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Accurately Understanding Zechariah 12:10

By Shlomo Phillips © October 25.2013 (last updated September 8, 2014)

There are certain verses in the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) that are often cited as evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and that the Bible teaches that our Mashiach will be abused and murdered. In this study we will consider one of these twisted verses. Identifying HaMashiach is very important. Recognizing false and failed Messiahs is just as important! HaShem has given us plenty of evidence to recognize HaMashiach when he comes. He has not yet come. But he will!

While we will be considering several verses our central focus here is on Zechariah 12:10. I wont be including the text of this chapter here here for brevity but I suggest reading it on your own. Here's a good online source for this chapter.

Zechariah 12:9: ...And it shall come to pass on that day...

What day?

It is vital to understand the Scriptures in context without preconceived notions. If the text says "therefore" look back to see what its there for. If it says "On that day" look back and see which day is being discussed. This seems obvious but it is amazing how many misunderstandings arise from not doing this.

Back at verse 1 Rashi tells us:

The prophecy of the word of the Lord: This is the completion of the word that he [i.e. Zechariah] began to speak about the retribution of those who devour Israel - Esau and his ilk.
So we need to look back further for the source of this retribution. While it is the theme of the entire book, going back one chapter will suffice:
Zechariah 11:1 Open your doors, O Lebanon, and let the fire consume your cedars.
11:2 Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, for the mighty ones have been spoiled. Wail, O oaks of the Bashan, for the fortified forest has gone down.
Like Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel and the other prophets, Zechariah 11:1- is speaking of the various powers HaShem overturned as he brought the Jews out of Babylon and back into Eretz Israel. This is the context of the retributions referenced.

Now back to chapter 12.

On 12:2 Rashi explains:

weakness: an expression of bewilderment, [it means] the clogging of the heart and the limbs, for, like man enwrapped in a garment, they have no strength, as in (Nahum 2:4), "And the cypress trees were enwrapped"; and (Isa. 3:19) "And the bracelets and the veils." In the language of the Mishnah (Shabbat 6:6) we find, "Arabian women may go out veiled...."
and also on Judah: the nations that will be in siege against Jerusalem will impose upon Judah, for the house of David will be inside and the gentiles will besiege them. And also, the children of Judah will come, against their will, to besiege Jerusalem. So did Jonathan render it [as cited below].
Zechariah 12:3 And it shall come to pass on that day that I will make Jerusalem a stone of burden for all peoples...
This is what happened. Ruling over the Jews was too much trouble!
Zechariah 12:4: ...On that day, says the Lord...
12:6 On that day I will make the princes
[plural] of Judah as a fiery stove among wood, and as a brand of fire among sheaves. And they [plural] shall consume on the right and on the left all the nations round about, and Jerusalem shall still stay in its place in Jerusalem.
We survived [let's eat!]!

On Zechariah 12:7 Rashi notes:

And the Lord shall first save the tents of Judah: Before the inhabitants of Jerusalem come out of the city, they shall have a salvation - to return to their tents and to their homes - and afterwards the salvation shall come to the inhabitants of the city. That is the salvation concerning which it is stated (14:3): "And the Lord shall go forth and wage war."
so that the boasting of, etc., shall not increase: to boast over them and to say, "You were saved only because of us."
Again, we're still talking about that same time period here; 'that day'.

For Christians "salvation" is always spiritual however in the Bible (and for Jews) its usually literal, physical. When this is not the case the context usually makes it clear. Consider this example:

Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed.
We continue with our main text:
Zechariah 12:8 On that day the Lord shall protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem...
When Y'shua (Jesus) was here HaShem was not actively "protecting" Jerusalem. The city was under Roman occupation and indeed fell to the Pagans shortly afterwards (in 70 CE). One of the major Messianic prophecies is that the Messiah will bring all Jews back to Israel, will cause the Temple to be rebuilt and will reestablish the Nation in ALL of the Land HaShem granted to Avraham, Isaac and Jacob. The opposite happened in the First Century.
Zechariah 12:9 And it shall come to pass on that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come upon Jerusalem.
Again, the opposite happened in the First Century. See note on verse 8 above.
(Judaica Press translation) Zechariah 12:10 And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. And they shall look to me because of those who have been thrust through [with swords], and they shall mourn over it as one mourns over an only son and shall be in bitterness, therefore, as one is embittered over a firstborn son.
"... they shall look to me [i.e. to HaShem] because of those who have been thrust through [with swords].

We confront two main difficulties in understanding this passage.

  1. Preconceptions: potentially on both the Jewish and the Christian side. Christians are invested in seeing Jesus here. Jews, not accepting the Christian claims, are not inclined to see him here.
  2. Possible biases in translations: arguably on both the Jewish and the Christian side.
The accepted Jewish translation of this verse best fits the context and literal meaning of the text as we will see below.

Compare the Judaica Press translation above with that of the Authorized King James Version (the NIV and most other Christian versions agree with the KJV here). Asterisks are added to note the words in debate:

12:10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall ** look upon me whom they have pierced,** and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
See the grammatical inconsistency in the KJV? "...look upon me whom they have pierced,** and they shall mourn for him..." To be consistent this should either say: 'look upon me... mourn for me'... (which the Hebrew does not support) or look upon him (or them)... mourn for him (or them). The pronouns in the KJV do not match.

The phrase the KJV translates as "look upon me whom they have pierced" in Hebrew reads:

Literally: