The prophet, having taught those that had returned out of captivity to attribute their deliverance to the blood of the covenant and to the promise of the Messiah (for they were so wonderfully helped because that blessing was in them, was yet in the womb of their nation), now comes to encourage them with the prospect of a joyful and happy settlement, and of glorious times before them; and such a happiness they did enjoy, in a great measure, for some time; but these promises have their full accomplishment in the spiritual blessings of the gospel which we enjoy by Jesus Christ.
I. They are invited to look unto Christ, and flee unto him as their city 4332 of refuge (Zech. 9:12): Turn you to the strong-hold, you prisoners of hope. The Jews that had returned out of captivity into their own land were yet, in effect, but prisoners (We are servants this day, Neh. 9:36), yet prisoners of hope, or expectation, for God had given them a little reviving in their bondage, Ezra 9:8. Those that yet continued in Babylon, detained by their affairs there, yet lived in hope some time or other to see their own land again. Now both these are directed to turn their eyes upon the Messiah, set before them in the promise as their strong-hold, to shelter themselves in him, and stay themselves upon him, for the perfecting of the mercy which by his grace, and for his sake, was so gloriously begun. Look unto him, and be you saved, Isa. 45:22. The promise of the Messiah was the strong-hold of the faithful long before his coming; they saw his day at a distance and were glad, and the believing expectation of the redemption in Jerusalem was long the support and consolation of Israel, Luke 2:25, 38. They, in their dangers and distresses, were ready to turn towards this and the other creature for relief; but the prophets directed them still to turn to Christ, and to comfort themselves with the joy of their king coming to them with salvation. But, as their deliverance was typical of our redemption by Christ (Zech. 9:11), so this invitation to the strong-hold speaks the language of the gospel-call. Sinners are prisoners, but they are prisoners of hope; their case is sad, but it is not desperate; yet now there is hope in Israel concerning them. Christ is a strong-hold for them, a strong tower, in whom they may be safe and quiet from the fear of the wrath of God, the curse of the law, and the assaults of their spiritual enemies. To him they must turn by a lively faith; to him they must flee, and trust in his name.
II. They are assured of God’s favour to them: “Even to day do I declare, when things are at the worst, and you think your case deplorable to the last degree, yet I solemnly promise that I will render double unto thee, to thee, O Jerusalem! to every one of you prisoners of hope. I will give you comforts double to the sorrows you have experienced, or blessings double to what I ever bestowed upon your fathers, when their condition was at the best; the glory of your latter state, as well as of your latter house, shall be greater, shall be twice as great as that of your former.” And so it was no otherwise than by the coming of the Messiah, the preaching of his gospel, and the setting up of his kingdom; these spiritual blessings in heavenly things were double to what they had ever enjoyed in their most prosperous state. As a pledge of this, in the fulness of time God here promises to the Jews victory, plenty, and joy, in their own land, which yet should be but a type and shadow of more glorious victories, riches, and joys, in the kingdom of Christ.
1. They shall triumph over their enemies. The Jews, after their return, were surrounded with enemies on all sides. They were as a speckled bird; all the birds of the field were against them. Their land lay between the two potent kingdoms of Syria and Egypt, branches of the Grecian monarchy, and what frequent dangers they should be in between them was foretold, Dan. 11:1-45. But it is here promised that out of them all the Lord would deliver them; and this promise had its primary accomplishment in the times of the Maccabees, when the Jews made head against their enemies, kept their head above water, and, after many struggles and difficulties, came to be head over them. It is promised, (1.) That they shall be instruments in God’s hand for the defeating and baffling of their persecutors: “I have bent Judah for me, as my bow of steel; that bow I have filled with Ephraim as my arrows, have drawn it up to its full bent, till the arrow be at the head;” for some think that this is signified by the phrase of filling the bow. The expressions here are very fine, and the figures lively. Judah had been taught the use of the bow (2 Sam. 1:18), and Ephraim had been famous for it, Ps. 78:9. But let them not think that they gain their successes by their own bow, for they themselves are no more than God’s bow and his arrows, tools in his hands, which he makes use of and manages as he pleases, which he holds as his bow and directs to the mark as his arrows. The best and bravest of men are but what God makes them, and do no more service than he enables them to do. The preachers of the gospel were the bow in Christ’s hand, with which he went forth, he went on, conquering and to conquer, Rev. 6:2. The following words explain this: I have raised up and animated thy sons, O Zion! against thy sons, O Greece! This was fulfilled when against Antiochus, one of the kings of the Grecian monarchy, the people that knew their God were strong and did exploits, Dan. 11:32. And they in the hand of an almighty God were made as the sword of a mighty man, which none can stand before. Wicked men are said to be God’s sword (Ps. 17:13), and sometimes good men are made so; for he employs both as he pleases. (2.) That God will be captain, and commander-in-chief, over them, in every expedition and engagement (Zech. 9:14): The Lord shall be seen over them; he shall make it appear that he presides in their affairs, and that in all their motions they are under his direction, as apparently, though not as sensibly, as he was seen over Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire when he led them through the wilderness. [1.] Isa. their army to be raised, or mustered, and brought into the field? The Lord shall blow the trumpet, to gather the forces together, to proclaim the war, to sound the alarm, and to give directions which way to march, which way to move; for, if God blow the trumpet, it shall not give an uncertain sound, nor a feeble ineffectual one. [2.] Isa. the army taking the field, and entering upon action? Whatever enterprise the campaign is opened with, God shall go forth at the head of their forces, with whirlwinds of the south, which were of incredible swiftness and fierceness; and before these whirlwinds thy sons, O Greece! shall be as chaff. [3.] Isa. the army actually engaged? God’s arrows shall go forth as lightning, so strongly, so suddenly, so irresistibly; his lightnings shall go forth as arrows and scattered them, that is, he shot out his lightnings and discomfited them. This alludes to that which God had done for Israel of old when he brought them out of Egypt, and into Canaan, and had its accomplishment partly in the wonderful successes which the Jews had against their neighbours that attacked them in the time of the Maccabees, by the special appearances of the divine Providence for them, and perfectly in the glorious victories gained by the cross of Christ and the preaching of the cross over Satan and all the powers of darkness, whereby we are made more than conquerors. [4.] Are they in danger of being overpowered by the enemy? The Lord of hosts shall defend them (Zech. 9:15); The Lord their God shall save them (Zech. 9:16); so that their enemies shall not prevail over them, nor prey upon them. God shall be unto them for defence as well as offence, the shield of their help as well as the sword of their excellency, and this as the Lord of hosts, who has power to defend them, and as their God, who is engaged by promise to defend them, and by the property he has in them. He shall save them in that day, that critical dangerous day, as the flock of his people, with the same care and tenderness that the shepherd protects his sheep with. Those are safe whom God saves. [5.] Did their enemies hope to swallow them up? It shall be turned upon them, and they shall devour their enemies, and shall subdue with sling-stones, for want of better weapons, those that come forth against them. The stones of the brook, when God pleases, shall do as great execution as the best train of artillery; for the stars in their courses shall fight on the same side. Goliath was subdued with a sling-stone. Having subdued, they shall devour, shall drink the blood of their enemies, as it were, and, as conquerors are wont to do, they shall make a noise as through wine. It is usual for conquerors with loud huzzas and acclamations to glory in their victories and proclaim them. We read of those that shout for mastery, and of the shout of a king among God’s people. They shall be filled with blood and spoil, as the bowls and basins of the temple, or the corners of the altar, were wont to be filled with the blood of the sacrifices; for their enemies shall fall as victims to divine justice.
2. They shall triumph in their God. They shall take the comfort and give God the glory of their successes. So some read Zech. 9:15. They shall eat (that is, they shall quietly enjoy) what they have got; God will give them power to eat it after they have subdued the sling-stones (that is, their enemies that slung stones at them), and they shall drink and make a noise, a joyful noise, before the Lord their maker and protector, as through wine, as men are merry at a banquet of wine. Being not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but filled with the Spirit, they shall speak to themselves and one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, as those that are drunk do with vain and foolish songs, Eph. 5:18, 19. And, in the fulness of their joy, they shall offer abundance of sacrifices to the honour of God, so that they shall fill both the bowls and the corners of the altar with the fat and blood of their sacrifices. And, when they thus triumph in their successes, their joy shall terminate in God as their God, the God of their salvation. They shall triumph, (1.) In the love he has for them, and the relation wherein they stand to him, that they are the flock of his people and he is their Shepherd, and that they are to him as the stones of a crown, which are very precious and of great value, and which are kept under a strong guard. Never was any king so pleased with the jewels of his crown as God is, and will be, with his people, who are near and dear unto him, and in whom he glories. They are a crown of glory and a royal diadem in his hand, Isa. 62:2, 3. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I make up my jewels, Mal. 3:17. And they shall be lifted up as an ensign upon his land, as the royal standard is displayed in token of triumph and joy. God’s people are his glory; so he is pleased to make them, so he is pleased to reckon them. He sets them up as a banner upon his own land, waging war against those who hate him, to whom it is a flag of defiance, while it is a centre of unity to all that love him, to all the children of God, that are scattered abroad, who are invited to come and enlist themselves under this banner, Isa. 11:10, 12. (2.) In the provision he makes for them, Zech. 9:15. This is the matter of their triumph (Zech. 9:17): For how great is his goodness and how great is his beauty! This is the substance, this the burden, of the songs wherewith they shall make a noise before the Lord. We are here taught, [1.] To admire and praise the amiableness of God’s being: How great is his beauty! All the perfections of God’s nature conspire to make him infinitely lovely in the eyes of all that know him. They are to him as the stones of a crown; but what is he to them? Our business in the temple is to behold the beauty of the Lord (Ps. 27:4), and how great is that beauty! How far does it transcend all other beauties, particularly the beauty of his holiness. This may refer to the Messiah, to Zion’s King that cometh. See that king in his beauty (Isa. 33:17), who is fairer than the children of men, the fairest of ten thousand, and altogether lovely. Though, in the eye of the world, he had no form or comeliness, in the eye of faith how great is his beauty! [2.] To admire and give thanks for the gifts of God’s favour and grace, his bounty as well as his beauty; for how great is his goodness! How rich in mercy is he! How deep, how full, are its springs! How various, how plenteous, how precious, are its streams! What a great deal of good does God do! How rich in mercy is he! Here is an instance of his goodness to his people: Corn shall make the young men cheerful and new wine the maids; that is, God will bless his people with an abundance of the fruits of the earth. Whereas they had been afflicted with scarcity to such a degree that the young men and the maidens were ready to swoon and faint away for hunger and thirst (Lam. 2:12, 21, 4:7, 8; 5:10), now they shall have bread enough and to spare, not water only, but wine, new wine, which shall make the young people grow and be cheerful, and (which some have observed to be the effect of plenty and the cheapness of corn) the poor will be encouraged to marry, and re-people the land, when they shall have wherewithal to maintain their families. Note, What good gifts God bestows upon us we must serve him cheerfully with, and must race the streams up to the fountain, and, when we are refreshed with corn and wine, must say, How great is his goodness!