Zechariah 13:2-6 – Impurity Removed

On that day” God will defeat the nations that assail Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:3-8).

On that day” God will grace Israel with the ability to mourn the one they pierced (Zechariah 12:9-13:1).

On that day” God will cleanse the land from idols and false prophets (Zechariah 13:2-6).

This is the eschatological hope of Israel. It envisions a time when God liberates Israel from the oppression of the nations, when Israel will mourn the pierced one, and when God will purify Israel. This happens at God’s initiative, by God’s grace and through God’s power.

Why was Yahweh’s servant pierced? This third message (Zechariah 13:2-6) in the first half of Zechariah’s oracle (Zechariah 12-14) provides an answer. Israel was impure due to idolatry and false prophets. Their idolatry and lying prophets led to the execution of Yahweh’s servant. Zechariah 10:1-3 also connected idolatry and false prophecy in the allusion to divination. Israel trusted its own prognosticators and the “spirit of impurity.”

It is important to note the contrast between the Spirit of God poured out upon Israel in Zechariah 12:10 and the “spirit of impurity” present in the land. This spirit is the role of lying prophets within Israel. This is not the end of prophecy in Israel—as if God will remove all prophets. Rather, it is the removal of the false prophets who are associated with idolatry. The severity of this judgment is highlighted by the death penalty. This echoes Deuteronomy’s instructions about how to treat false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:5). The cleansing will be so thorough and the obedience of Israel so devout that even parents will “stab” their child and put them to death for their false prophecies.

Why does Zechariah use this imagery? The clue is found in the verb “stab” which is the same verb for “pierced” in Zechariah 12:10. Just as the people “pierced” the servant of Yahweh, so parents will “pierce” their own children who are the servants (prophets) of idols. This is the language of reversal. Where God’s servant was once judged and executed, now the prophets hostile to God will be judged and executed (cf. Numbers 25:8 as well).

On that day, no one will want to be identified with those prophets. The false prophets will try to hide from this judgment. They will remove their prophetic garb (such as Elijah wore, 2 Kings 1:8) and deny their prophetic vocation by claiming they are farmers (an echo of Amos’ protestation, Amos 7:14), but they will be found out. Their “wounds” will tell the story. Idolatrous rituals often included self-inflicted wounds (as 1 Kings 18:28 illustrates). The point is that false prophets are so thoroughly judged that no one will want to participate in their activities or claim their status.

Reading this text through a Christian lens, we see God’s initiative to cleanse Israel in the light of their repentance (mourning) regarding the “pierced” one. God pours out the Spirit to accomplish this reality and turn the people away from idols. Christians hear this text in the light of Pentecost as Israel begins to mourn the “pierced” one. At the same time, the eschatological reality has not yet fully appeared. Idolatry has not yet been fully eradicated from Israel and humanity as a whole. Zechariah’s vision has not yet been fully realized.

Israel, and the nations, yet live in hope and await the day when God will cleanse Israel, the land and the whole earth from idolatry and lying prophets. God will yet again reign in Jerusalem through the house of David.

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