After the precious promises we had in the foregoing chapter of favour to God’s people, their persecutors, who hated them, come to be reckoned with, those particularly that bordered close upon them.
I. The Syrians had been bad neighbours to Israel, and God had a controversy with them. The word of the Lord shall be a burden in the land of Hadrach, that is, of Syria, but it does not appear why it was so called. That that kingdom is meant is plain, because Damascus, the metropolis of that kingdom, is said to be the rest of this burden; that is, the judgments here threatened shall light and lie upon that city. Those are miserable upon whom the burden of the word of the Lord rests, upon whom the wrath of God abides (John 3:36); for it is a weight that they can neither shake off nor bear up under. There are those whom God causes his fury to rest upon. Those whom the wrath of God makes its mark it will be sure to hit; those whom it makes its rest it will be sure to sink. And the reason of this burden’s resting on Damascus is because the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel (or rather, even of all the tribes of Israel), are towards the Lord, because the people of God by faith and prayer look up to him for succour and relief and depend upon him to take their part against their enemies. Note, It is a sign that God is about to appear remarkably for his people when he raises their believing expectations from him and dependence upon him, and when by his grace he turns them from idols to himself. Isa. 17:7, 8, At that day shall a man look to his Maker. It may be read thus, for the Lord has an eye upon man, and upon all the tribes of Israel; he is King of nations as well as King of saints; he governs the world as well as the church, and therefore will punish the sins of other people as well as those of his own people. God is Judge of all, and therefore all must give account of themselves to him. When St. Paul was converted at Damascus, and preached there, and disputed with the Jews, then the word of the Lord might be said to rest there, and then the eyes of men, of other men besides the tribes of Israel, began to be towards the Lord; see Acts 9:22. Hamath, a country which lay north of Damascus, and which we often read of, shall border thereby (Zech. 9:2); it joins to Syria, and shall share in the burden of the word of the Lord that rests upon Damascus. The Jews have a proverb, Woe to the wicked man, and woe to his neighbour, who is in danger of partaking in his sins and in his plagues. Woe to the land of Hadrach, and woe to Hamath that borders thereby.
II. Tyre and Zidon come next to be called to an account here, as in other prophecies, Zech. 9:2-4. Observe here,
1. Tyrus flourishing, thinking herself very safe, and ready to set God’s judgments, not only at a distance, but at defiance: for, (1.) She is very wise. It is spoken ironically; she thinks herself very wise, and able to outwit even the wisdom of God. It is granted that her king is a great politician, and that her statesmen are so, Ezek. 28:3. But with all their wit and policy they shall not be able to evade the judgments of God when they come with commission; there is no wisdom nor counsel against the Lord; nay, it is his honour to take the wise in their own craftiness. (2.) She is very strong, and well fortified both by nature and art: Tyrus did build herself a strong-hold, which she thought could never be brought down nor got over. (3.) She is very rich; and money is a defence; it is the sinews of war, Eccl. 7:12. By her vast trade she has heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets, that is, she has an abundance of them, heaps of silver as common as heaps of sand, Job 27:16. Solomon made silver to be in Jerusalem as the stones of the streets; but Tyre went further, and made fine gold to be as the mire of the streets. It were well if we could all learn so to look upon it, in comparison with the merchandise of wisdom and grace and the gains thereof.
2. Tyrus falling, after all. Her wisdom, and wealth, and strength, shall not be able to secure her (Zech. 9:4): The Lord will cast her out of that strong-hold wherein she has fortified herself, will make her poor (so some read it); there have been instances of those that have fallen from the height of plenty to the depth of poverty, and great riches have come to nothing. God will smite her power in the sea; her being surrounded by the water shall not secure her, but she shall be devoured with fire, and burnt down to the ground. Tyrus, being seated in the midst of the water, was, one would have thought, in danger of being some time or other overflowed or washed away by that; yet God chooses to destroy it by the contrary element. Sometimes he brings ruin upon his enemies by those means which they least suspect. Water enough was nigh at hand to quench the flames of Tyre, and yet by them she shall be devoured; for who can put out the fire which the breath of the Almighty blows up?
III. God next contends with the Philistines, with their great cities and great lords, that bordered southward upon Israel.
1. They shall be alarmed and affrighted by the word of the Lord lighting and resting upon Damascus (Zech. 9:5); the disgraces of Israel had many a time been published in the streets of Ashkelon, and they had triumphed in them; but now Ashkelon shall see the ruin of her friends and allies, and shall fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron, concluding that their own turns come next, now that the cup of trembling goes round. What will become of their house when their neighbour’s is on fire? They had looked upon Tyre and Zidon as a barrier to their country; but, when those strong cities were ruined, their expectations from them were ashamed, as our expectation from all creatures will be in the issue.
2. They shall themselves be ruined and wasted. (1.) The government shall be dissolved: The king shall perish from Gaza, not only the present king shall be cut off, but there shall be no succession, no successor, (2.) The cities shall be dispeopled: Ashkelon shall not be inhabited; the rightful owners shall be expelled, either slain or carried into captivity. (3.) Foreigners shall take possession of their land and become masters of all its wealth (Zech. 9:6): A bastard shall dwell in Ashdod; a spurious brood of strangers shall enter upon the inheritances of the natives, which they have no more right to than a bastard has to the estates of the legitimate children. And thus God will cut off the pride of the Philistines, all the strength and wealth which they prided themselves in, and which were the ground of their confidence in themselves and their contempt of the Israel of God. This prophecy of the destruction of the Philistines, and of Damascus, and Tyre, was accomplished, not long after this, by Alexander the Great, who ravaged all these countries with his victorious army, took the cities, and planted colonies in them, which Quintus Curtius gives a particular account of in the history of his conquests. And some think he is meant by the bastard that shall dwell in Ashdod, for his mother Olympia owned him begotten in adultery, but pretended it was by Jupiter. The Jews afterwards got ground of the Philistines, Syrians, and others of their neighbours, took some of their cities from them and possessed their countries, as appears by the histories of Josephus and the Maccabees, and this was foretold before, Zeph. 2:4; Obad. 1:20.
3. Some among them shall be converted, and brought home to God, by his gospel and grace; so some understand Zech. 9:7; as a promise, (1.) That God would take away the sins of these nations—their blood and their abominations, their cruelties and their idolatries. God will part between them and these sins which they have rolled under their tongue as a sweet morsel, and are as loth to part with as men are to part with the meat out of their mouths, and which they hold fast between their teeth. Nothing is too hard for the grace of God to do. (2.) That he would accept of a remnant of them for his own: He that remains shall be for our God. God would preserve a remnant even of these nations, that should be the monuments of his mercy and grace and be set apart for him; and the disadvantages of their birth shall be no bar to their acceptance with God, but a Philistine shall be as acceptable to God, upon gospel-terms, as one of Judah, nay, as a governor, or chief one, in Judah, and a man of Ekron shall be as a Jebusite, or a man of Jerusalem, as a proselyted Jebusite, as Araunah the Jebusite, 2 Sam. 24:16. In Christ Jesus there is no distinction of nations, but all are one in him, all alike welcome to him.
IV. In all this God intends mercy for Israel, and it is in kindness to them that God will deal thus with the neighbouring nations, to avenge their quarrel for what is past and to secure them for the future.
1. Thus some understand the Zech. 9:7; as intimating, (1.) That thus God would deliver his people from their bloody adversaries, who hated them, and to whom they were an abomination, when they were just ready to devour them and make a prey of them: I will take away his blood (that is, the blood of Israel) out of the mouth of the Philistines and from between their teeth (Amos 3:12), when, in their hatred of them and enmity to them, they were greedily devouring them. (2.) That lie would thus give them victory and dominion over them: And he that remains (that is, the remnant of Israel) shall be for our God, shall be taken into his favour, shall own him and be owned by him, and he shall be as a governor in Judah; though the Jews have been long in servitude, they shall recover their ancient dignity, and be victorious, as David and other governors in Judah formerly were; and Ekron (that is, the Philistines) shall be as the Jebusites, and the rest of the devoted nations, who were brought into subjection under them.
2. However, this is plainly the sense of Zech. 9:8; that God will take his people under his special protection, and therefore will weaken their neighbours, that it may not be in their power to do them a mischief: I will encamp about my house because of the army. Note, God’s house lies in the midst of an enemy’s country, and his church is as a lily among thorns; and therefore God’s power and goodness are to be observed in the special preservation of it. The camp of the saints, being a little flock in comparison with the numerous armies of the powers of darkness that are set against it round about, would certainly be swallowed up if the angels of God did not encamp about it, as they did about Elisha, to deliver it, Rev. 20:9; Ps. 34:7. When the times are unusually perilous, when armies are marching and counter-marching, and all bearing ill-will to Zion, then Providence will as it were double its guards upon the church of God, because of him that passes by and because of him that returns, that whether he return a conqueror or conquered he may do it no harm. And, as none that pass by shall hurt them, so no oppressor shall pass through them any more; they shall have no enemy within themselves to rule them with rigour, and to make their lives bitter to them with sore bondage, as of old in Egypt. This was fulfilled when, for some time after the struggles of the Maccabees, Judea was a free and flourishing state, or perhaps when Alexander the Great, struck with an awe of Jaddus the high priest, favoured the Jews, and took them under his protection, at the same time when he wasted the neighbouring countries. And the reason given for all this is, “For now have I seen with my eyes, now have I carefully distinguished between my people and other people, with whom before they seemed to have their lot in common, and have made it to appear that I know those that are mine,” This agrees with Ps. 34:15; The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous; now his eyes, which run to and fro through the earth, shall fix upon them, that he may show himself tender of them, and strong on their behalf, 2 Chron. 16:9.