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Accurately Understanding Zechariah 12:10

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © October 25.2013 (last updated May 24, 2017)

Recorded Live on Facebook

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 ben David 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 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 rather than assuming. 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 Yeshua (Jesus) was here HaShem was not actively "protecting" Jerusalem as a free city of free people. The city was under heavy Roman occupation and indeed fell to the Pagans completely 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 throughout ALL of the Land HaShem granted to Avraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to all of people as an inheritance. 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 above 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: [they will] look [nabat] to me concerning whom or concerning that [et asher] [they have] staved or stabbed [daqar]. Therefore the Judaica Press version above is correct.

The excellent Stone Edition Tanach has this more concisely as:

Zechariah 12:10 I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. * They will look toward me because of those whom they have stabbed;* they will mourn over them as one mourns over an only [child], and be embittered over him like the embitterment over a [deceased] firstborn.
The accurate translation therefore is: "they will look to Me [HaShem] concerning those who they [others] have pierced and they will mourn for them [those pierced ones] as for a firstborn child."

In context this seems clear to me. The city had been overrun by its enemies and innumerable Jews had been killed with swords etc. When the Jewish people consider all those who have died due to their lack of faithfulness to HaShem and for their infighting (according to the Chofetz Chaim and other authorities) they will make teshuvah (i.e. they will repent) and realize that our hope of survival as a people and as individuals is emunah (i.e. active faith and trust) in HaShem alone. To translate this as the Christian versions makes no sense contextually, doctrinally,and misuses the Hebrew signifier et.

The phrase et asher is never translated as "whom" because et is not a stand alone term. Alone it is never translated. Think of et as an arrow pointing to the next word saying, "Here's the point!" It is therefore always related to 'another', for instance, "concerning whom" or "concerning that." This is because, as even the Christian reference Strong's Concordance notes at Ezekiel 36:27, et: is only used as a preposition or adverb as in near to; hence generally with, by, at, among, etc.: - against, among, before, by, for, from, in (-to), (out) of, with. Often with another preposition prefixed.

It is obvious that Mr. Strong saw this mistranslation because while he explains this point in his concordance at Ezekiel 36:27, he does not add it here (i.e. at Zechariah 12:10) however where the reader would see that this popular "proof text" does not read as commonly understood. This bias is one of the strikes against Strong's Exhaustive Concordance.

It appears that at times he knowingly allows inaccurate "proof texts" to stand unchallenged.

Therefore, in context, due to the many deaths, "concerning them," the Jews began to look to HaShem, as Rashi confirms:

a spirit of grace and supplications: That it should come into their mind to supplicate Me [i.e. HaShem], and they will be in My good graces....
they shall look to Me because of those who have been thrust through: Jonathan renders: And they shall supplicate Me because of their wanderings. And they shall look to Me to complain about those of them whom the nations thrust through and slew during their exile.
While Jonathan's version here is more of a paraphrase than a literal translation, it exemplifies the point being made by the prophet and by our sages. Following the destructions that took place in 70-72 CE the Parush or Rabbis held meetings to call the Jews to teshuvah and establish shul-based Rabbinic Judaism.

For clarification on Rashi's comment that: ... And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain ... please see my study Here:

Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph) is not HaMashiach (THE Messiah). He will be Mashiach ben David. It is ever our hope that such a time universal Jewish teshuvah will take place.

Understand that when people read or contemplate anything, the paradigms (defining core world view) they subscribe to will impact their understanding. This is human nature. Sincerely seeking to substantiate pre-existing beliefs it is completely understandable that Christian scholars try and establish their positions by referencing the Tanach (which they insulting refer to as the "Old Testament") however doing do reveals that they are more interested in religious profligation that seeking the Truth of HaShem and His Torah. After all, had Jesus been the Messiah he would have fulfilled the conditions established there. He did not. The quest for 'proof texts' must be conducted honestly. Otherwise one will believe a falsehood and teach it others.

The simple fact is that a mere glance out your window or at the headlines on your news feed proves that no one has thus far fulfilled the Messianic prophecies and requirements, no one.

Jeremiah 31 Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, and I will form a covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, a new covenant.
32 Not like the covenant that I formed with their forefathers on the day I took them by the hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, that they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, says the Lord.
33 For this is the covenant that I will form with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will place My law in their midst and I will inscribe it upon their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be My people.
32 And no longer shall one teach his neighbor or [shall] one [teach] his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know Me from their smallest to their greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will no longer remember."

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