Zechariah 10:1-12 — Hope for Ephraim

Judah, presently a small backwater province of the Persian Empire, is promised that its future borders will spill over into Philistia, Lebanon and Syria (Zechariah 9:1-8). The land will yield grain and new wine as God restores Judah (Zechariah 9:16-17). God will accomplish this through a king who will bring peace to the nations (Zechariah 9:9-10).

Zechariah brings hope to a despondent, discouraged Judah. The people of Judah have returned to the land from Babylonian exile, the temple has been rebuilt, and Judah awaits the glory of restoration. But it has not yet come. Further, what is the future of Ephraim (Israel), the northern kingdom that was taken into Assyrian exile? What will become of them? Will God show compassion on Ephraim just as he has on Judah? Is the promise for all twelve tribes?

The oracle about the land, king from Judah and the restoration of Judah continues in Zechariah 10 to include Ephraim. The Lord will have compassion on Ephraim just as he did on Judah (Zechariah 10:6; cf. 1:12-14).

However, a perennial problem exists. Judah is shepherdless, at least godly shepherds. Judah’s leaders continue to seek advice and counsel, to seek rain and blessing from sources other than Yahweh. Idolatry is yet a problem in Judah.

Rain is the lifeblood of Israel. Unlike Egypt with the Nile and the rivers of the Mesopotamia, there is no river in Israel that waters the soil and prepares it for planting and harvesting. The land of Palestine is wholly dependent upon rain (Deuteronomy 11:10-12). Since Baal is the god of the storm, Canaanites and ultimately Israel itself turned to Baal for rain.

Instead of asking Yahweh to bring the rain with its storm clouds, the leaders of Judah sought it through “idols,” “diviners,” and “dreams.” Divination was a frequent method of discerning the will of the gods in the ancient world (e.g., Ezekiel 21:21). The leaders of Judah had turned to these false hopes rather than seeking Yahweh and thus they are no shepherds at all.

Yahweh will resolve this problem. The true Shepherd, Yahweh, will raise up new leaders for his flock. God will punish the old leaders and make Judah like a proud war horse who is prepared for battle. They will be a cornerstone of a building, a peg for a tent and a battle bow. These rulers—perhaps a royal court that is associated with the king who is coming (9:9-10)—will defeat the enemies of God as mighty warriors because “the Lord is with them.”

In other words, though the present picture of Judah is nowhere near the idyllic scene of Zechariah 9 due to its corrupt leaders, God will yet act in the future to depose those leaders and raise up new ones who will lead God’s flock. They will make Judah like a proud war horse that defeats all foes.

But what is to become of Ephraim? Have the promises of God failed for all Israel or is only for Judah? The parallelism of Zechariah 10:6, God will make the house of Judah/Joseph strong/victorious, answers the question. The destiny of Judah is also the destiny of Ephraim. God intends to restore Ephraim as well.

Like Judah, Ephraim will become a mighty warrior (10:5, 7) and drink new wine (9:17; 10:7). Just as Judah’s children will play in the streets of Jerusalem (8:) and people joyfully celebrate feasts within its boundaries (8:19), so Ephraim’s children will see the joy of the coming work of God for them (10:7).

This blessing is rooted in God’s compassion for Ephraim (cf. Jeremiah 31:19-22). God, grieved by a series of faithless kings in the northern nation and by their adoption of Baal worship under Ahab, had sent them into Assyrian exile. It has seemed that for over two hundred years God had totally rejected them. But God is faithful and remembers his promise to Abraham; Yahweh is their God and they are his people. He will renew Ephraim and it will be as though he had never rejected them (10:6).

So, what will Yahweh do? He will whistle (translated “signal,” 10:8). Earlier in history, God had whistled to Egypt and Assyria to come and punish Israel (Isaiah 7:18), but now he whistles to his people living in Egypt and Assyria to come home. God will again gather his people through a new Exodus.

This action recalls the Abrahamic promise. When they return to the land, they will prosper and become so numerous that there is no room for them in the land. Judah, it should be remembered, was a lightly populated province, and the north was even less populated by Abraham’s descendents. The promise, however, is that so many will return that both Gilead (the region east of the Jordan River) and Lebanon (including the cities of Tyre and Sidon) will fill with Ephraim’s descendents. While Gilead was part of the original division of the land at the time of Joshua, it was sparsely populated. But Lebanon was never inhabited by Israel though it is part of the Abrahamic promise (Genesis 15:17) and was included in the border expansion of Zechariah 9:1-8.

The return of the Ephraimites will be like a new Exodus, just as Judah’s return from Babylon was as well. The pride of Assyria and Egypt will be humbled and Abraham’s descendents will pass through the seas and rivers on dry land. Ephraim will be renewed; they will be strengthened so that they might be a people who, in the name of Yahweh, “will walk” before  God (that is, live the life of God in the land). God will strengthen Ephraim (10:12) just as he will strengthen Judah (10:6).

When will this happen? Has it already happened? When Jesus walked the earth, the Jews believed they were still living in exile. These promises had not yet been fully realized. Abraham’s descendants stilled lived under oppression; the nations (Rome, in particular) ruled.

The Christian story claims to realize these promises, but there is significant disagreement about how they are realized. Some suggest these promises are realized spiritually through the church as the twelve tribes are restored as the people of God in the kingdom of God. Some suggest they will be realized through some kind of millennial reign either before or after the second coming of Christ. Others suggest they are realized in the new heavens and new earth.

So….we keep reading and hear the rest of the story that Zechariah announces.

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