Palm Sunday, April 13
Zechariah 9: These latter chapters of the Book of Zechariah are so different in tone from the chronologically dated prophecies of the first eight chapters that some historians express doubt that this final part of the book even come from the hand of Zechariah. They speak of this section as "Second Zechariah."
Thus, this critical question about the Book of Zechariah is parallel to the question of the literary unity of the Book of Isaiah. Beginning with Chapter 40 of the Book of Isaiah, the authorŐs literary style and evident historical circumstances are so profoundly changed that historians of the text speak of "Second Isaiah."
It is foreign to the intent of these notes to investigate those critical questions. However they are to be answered, it is a fact that the books of Isaiah and Zechariah have come down to us as unified works, whatever the historical background of the material they contain. Consequently, each of these books is interpreted in these notes within the context of its own literary integrity. Rather than dissecting either book on the basis of literary perceptions which may be massively subjective, it seems more useful to interpret each part of each book within the context of that bookŐs integrity, just as the Sacred Text has come down to us.
That procedure declared, it is worth observing that this latter part of the Book of Zechariah, like the second part of the Book of Isaiah, contains more explicit prophecies of the Passion of our Lord, a circumstance indicating the propriety of reading these texts during Holy Week.
TodayŐs passage is such a text. Verse 9 declares, "Tell the daughter of Zion, ÔBehold, your King is coming to you, lowly and seated on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey,Ő" a passage that the Gospel according to Matthew understands as prophetic of the LordŐs triumphal entry into Jerusalem (21:5). The background of this passage is the story in 2 Samuel 15Ń17, where King David is portrayed fleeing from the rebellion of Absalom. Crossing the Kidron valley eastwards and ascending the Mount of Olives, David is the king rejected of his people, while a usurper is in full revolt. The King leaves in disgrace, riding on a donkey, the poor animal of the humble peasant. David is the very image of meekness in the face of defeat. In his heart is no bitterness; he bears all with patience and plans no revenge.
As he goes, David suffers further humiliation and deception from those who take advantage of his plight. One of his most trusted counselors, Ahitophel, betrays him to his enemies; another citizen curses and scorns him in his flight.
Moreover, in the description of David fleeing from Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, there is a striking contrast with the victorious Absalom, the usurper, who is driving "a chariot and horses with fifty men to run before him" (2 Samuel 15:1). Absalom represents worldly power and worldly wisdom, contrasted with the humility and meekness of the King.
Incorporating this image of David as a mystic prefiguration of the Messiah yet to come, Zechariah prophesied the messianic entry of Jesus into Zion. The Savior arrives by the very path that David used to flee from the Holy City. Riding the donkey, our Lord comes down westward from the Mount of Olives, crosses the Kidron Valley, and finally enters Jerusalem. He thus begins the week of His meekly borne sufferings, including betrayal by a friend and rejection by His people.
Monday, April 14
Zechariah 10: IsraelŐs worst enemies, over the years, had been the kings who failed properly to shepherd the people, along with the false prophets who abetted them (verse 2-3). These were the men chiefly responsible for the scattering of GodŐs flock at the time of JerusalemŐs downfall. This distinction between Israel and its rulers will be important over the next two chapters. Whereas the Lord will punish the latter, He Himself will undertake to provide for the former. From them will emanate the cornerstone, the tent peg, the bow of battle Ń all metaphors associated with the covenanted Davidic kingship (verse 4). This is a prophecy, of course, of IsraelŐs true King to come, identified with God Himself. This is the King whose entrance into Jerusalem was celebrated yesterday. He will restore the scattered (verses 8-11). In particular He will deliver them from their enemies, symbolized by the two powers traditionally governing the two ends of the Fertile Crescent, Assyria and Egypt (verse 11). In contrast to the wandering with which the chapter began (verse 2), GodŐs people will "walk in His name" (verse 12).
Tuesday, April 15
Psalm 6: This psalm, used today for morning devotions,
takes sin very seriously. The sin spoken of here is deliberate, willful. It is not just a mistake; it is not something for which we simply apologize. It is, rather, a voluntary affront to GodŐs image in us. The taking away of sin required the shedding of ChristŐs blood on the Cross. This fact itself tells us how serious is this whole business of sin. It also suggests the propriety of praying this psalm in the context of the Cross. Holy Week was necessary because we were lost in our sins. This is a week about sin and death; otherwise there is no point to redemption and resurrection.
Sin has entered deeply into human experience, and it has left human beings in a very weakened state. It is felt in our inner frame, our very bones, as it were. The psalm goes on: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, Heal me, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled, but You, O Lord . . how long? Return, O Lord, deliver me. Oh, save me, for Your merciesŐ sake."
The psalmist then speaks of death, for by sin death entered into the world. Death is sin rendered visible. What we see death do to the body, sin does to the soul. Death is the externalizing of sin. Death is no friend. Apart from Christ, the Bible sees death as the realm where God is not praised. As the bitter fruit of sin, death is the enemy; indeed, it is the "final enemy," says 1 Corinthians 15:26. When the psalmist, then, prays for deliverance from death, he is talking about a great deal more than a physical phenomenon. Death is the "last enemy," the physical symbol of our sinful alienation from God: "For in death there is no memory of You; in the grave, who will give You thanks?"
Sin and death, then, form the context of this psalm, and these are the forces of Satan. Sin, death and Satan Ń such are the enemies of which the psalmist speaks: "My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity. . . Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled."
Spy Wednesday, April 16
Zechariah 11: Another passage from Zechariah invoked by Matthew in connection with the LordŐs Passion is Zechariah 11:13 Ń "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potterŐs field, as the Lord directed me" (Matthew 27:9f). Matthew cited this text as a prophecy fulfilled by Judas Iscariot in his betrayal of the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, the prescribed price of a slave (Exodus 21:32).
There is a curious confusion of words in this text of Zechariah, however, apparently seen by Matthew as pointing to deeper layer of meaning. In the traditional Hebrew reading, the Lord tells the prophet: "Cast it to the potter (el-hayoser)." Zechariah goes on to say, "So I cast it, in the house of the Lord, to the potter," a reading reflected in several modern translations. With the change of only one letter, however, the Hebrew text would read: "Cast it into the treasury (el-hahoser)" and "So I cast it, in the house of the Lord, into the treasury." This latter reading is followed by other translations.
Rather than choose between these two possible readings, however, the Gospel of Matthew conflates them, maintaining both the Temple treasury and the potter. Thus, Judas Iscariot, realizing the gravity of his betrayal but despairing of God's mercy, returns to the Temple and throws in the 30 shekels. The clinking of those silver coins, bouncing and rolling across the stone floor of the Temple, has been resounding in the ears of the Church for the past 2000 years, summoning every sinful soul back from the perils of final despair.
The Temple officials collect the coins. Their first thought is to put them into the Temple treasury (hahoser), but they are afflicted by a hypocritical scruple about such a use of blood-money. Instead, they take the coins and purchase the "field of the potter (hayoser)." The double disposition of these coins of Judas, the inspired Evangelist saw clearly, was a fulfillment of a prophetic word spoken centuries earlier in that mystic text of Zechariah.
This "field of the potter," perhaps so named because of broken sherds lying about in it, came to be known as the "field of blood," says Matthew, because it was purchased with blood-money. As such this field is a very rich symbol of Redemption. This obscure piece of real estate, bought with price of the blood of Christ, became a sort of down payment on that ultimate Redemption by which "the Lord's is the earth and the fullness thereof." By the price of His blood, Christ became the "Landlord," the Lord of the earth. All this Matthew saw in the prophecy of Zechariah.
Maundy Thursday, April 17
Zechariah 12: The prophecies in this chapter begin with the great catastrophe of which the epicenter is Jerusalem. Jerusalem becomes the instrument of the divine wrath (verse 2). It is at Jerusalem that the Lord defeats His enemies (verses 3-6; Psalms 45 ; 47 ; 76 ; Isaiah 17:12-14; Joel 2:1-20). In deed, this is the very week when He defeats them. It is at Jerusalem that the House of David has its definitive triumph over its truest enemies (verse 7), being made like unto God (verse 8). At the same time, there will be weeping in the Holy City, lamentation as though for an Only Son, who has been pierced with a spear on the Cross (verse 10). It is in His defeat that the House of David claims its defining victory over sin and death. This is the prophecy fulfilled in John 19:37 and remembered again in Revelation 1:7. Commenting on this chapter of Zechariah in the third century, Hippolytus of Rome wrote: "For the people of the Hebrews shall see Him in human form, as He appeared to them when He came by the holy Virgin in the flesh and as they crucified Him. And He will show them the prints of the nails in His hands and His feet, and His side pierced by the spear, and His head crowned with thorns, and His honorable Cross." This chapter thus continues the theme of the LordŐs Passion and Death.
Good Friday, April 18
Zechariah 13: Maintaining his emphasis on the LordŐs Passion and Death, the prophet goes on to speak of the striking of the Shepherd and the consequent dispersal of His disciples (verse 7), a text interpreted for us in Matthew 26:31 (cf. Mark 14:27; John 16:31). This is the event by which the false gods are defeated (verse 1). These are the demonic forces brought to naught by the death of the First Born. Questioned about the marks of the wounds in His flesh, the Lord responds, "These wounds I received in the house of My friends" (verse 6). Cyril of Alexandria wrote in the fifth century that "when the Only Begotten Word of God ascended into the heavens in the flesh to which He was united, there was something new to be seen in the heavens. The multitude of holy angels was astounded, seeing the King of glory and the Lord of hosts being made in a form like ourselves. . . . Then the angels asked this, ÔWhat are these wounds in Your hands?Ő And He said to them, ÔThese wounds I received in the house of My friends.Ő" These are the wounds that He will show to His disciples after His resurrection. He bears these wounds in his glorified flesh forever, as He stands before the Father, "as though slain," being the one Mediator between God and man (Revelation 5:6).
Holy Saturday, April 19
Zechariah 14: A nun from Gaul, named Egeria, who visited the Christians at Jerusalem in the late fourth century, left us a description of the various liturgical practices of that ancient church. In the course of it, she described how, on Ascension Thursday, the believers gathered on the Mount of Olives, from which Jesus had ascended into heaven. And what did they do? They read the entire account, from the Gospel according to John, of the LordŐs suffering and death. This remarkable detail reveals how closely the Christians of old to be the various actions of the Lord by which we were redeemed. They did not think of redemption as taking place solely on the Cross, where the price of our sins was paid by our LordŐs blood (1 Peter 1:19), but as involving also the other events integral to the mystery of the Cross. The accomplishing of our redemption included also the event we celebrate today, Holy Saturday, when Jesus descended into the nether world to free the bondsmen whom Satan held there (3:19). It included likewise His rising from the dead of Easter, inasmuch as Jesus "was delivered up for our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" (Romans 4:25). As was suggested by EgeriaŐs account of the celebration of Ascension Thursday, the mystery of our redemption included also our LordŐs ascent into heaven and His taking His throne at the right hand of the Father, having been made for ever a priest according to the order of Melchisedech. This latter theme, of course, provides the major images of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
With this in mind, we should not be surprised that the Book of Zechariah, in the final chapter of its section dealing more explicitly with the sufferings of our Lord, prophesies the LordŐs standing on the Mount of Olives (verse 4), which are symbolically divided, much as He once divided the Red Sea and the River Jordan. His ascent from the Mount of Olives will cause to flow the living waters of redemption (verses 8-9) and the reunion of all GodŐs people in the Holy City (verses 14-21).