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Zechariah 12:10 - look to one; the one whom they pierced

by Bill Wong

 

 

 

Zechariah 12:10 – look to me, the one whom they pierced

 

 

This is the reading of Zechariah 12:10 in English Bibles:

 

Zechariah 12:

10   And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications:

     and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son,

     and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.     (AKJV)

 

 

Believers in Jesus as the Messiah understand this to mean it is God who is pierced, because He gave us His only-begotten son to pay the price for our transgressions as an atonement for sin.

 

However, many Jewish people do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah and say it is not God’s son who is pierced, but they generally hold the view that it is Israel (or even the Gentile nations) who only lament to God about those Jews who are slain during the end-time battle.

 

The major difference therefore of English Bible and Jewish/English Tanakh translations is:

 

In English Bibles, the speaker God is looked to and it is the speaker God/His son who is pierced.

 

In the Tanakh English translations, the people look to the speaker God about others (third party and plural) who are slain.

 

 

This is the reading of Zechariah 12:10 in Jewish translations of the Tanakh into English and we will note there are variations to their understanding:

 

Artscroll Stone:

10  I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitant of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. They will look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed; they will mourn over him as one mourns over an only [child], and be embittered over him like the embitterment over a [deceased] firstborn.

 

JPS:

10  But I will fill the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a spirit of pity and compassion; and they shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them as over a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born.

 

Koren Jerusalem:

10  But I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Yerushalayim, the spirit of grace and of supplication: and they shall look towards me, regarding those whom the nations have thrust through. And they shall mourn for him (that is slain) as one mourns for an only son, and shall be in bitterness over him, as one that is in bitterness for a firstborn.

 

 

We must note the following in these English translations of the Tanakh which highlight why there is such a difference with English Bibles:

 

 

1)

 

Two of the three translations refer to looking to God (except the JPS which says “lament”) about the slain who are in plural, but only the JPS follows through with this plural by describing the crying over these slain as also in plural: “and they shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them as over a favorite son”. The other two do not follow through with the initial plurality used to describe those slain, but instead shifts to the singular reference: “they will mourn over him” (Artscroll Stone); “they shall mourn for him (that is slain)” (Koren Jerusalem).

 

This discrepancy signifies the truth that the slain are not plural/many at all, but is singular/one person. This is supported within the verse itself, because the mourning is like the mourning over an only son. Also, some ancient rabbis as indicated in the Talmud, believe in two messiahs that will manifest in the end times and say Zechariah 12:10 refers to the first messiah, Messiah ben Joseph who will fall in battle. So the reference to one person who is slain and worthy of mourning as an only son is understood in the Hebrew itself.

 

The JPS usage of “lament to God” instead of “look to God” also serves to confuse the matter, because it distorts the meaning of the verse by using a different word/verb which thereby sets the stage for the verse to refer to a third party as the ones who are pierced/slain.

 

Here are some examples in the Hebrew writings which show that the Jews understood the slain to be one person and a messianic figure:

 

 

Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a

 

And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart....What is the cause of the mourning? -- R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained. The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.


It is well with him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep? - Soncino Talmud edition.

 

 

Ibn Ezra (12th c.)

All the heathen shall look to me to see what I shall do to those who pierced Messiah, the son of Joseph.

 

- A. M'Caul, Rabbi David Kimchi's Commentary Upon the Prophecies of Zechariah, Translated from the Hebrew with Notes, and Observations on the Passages Relating to the Messiah (London: James Duncan, 1837), p. 158.

 

 

Abrabanel (15th c.)

 

It is more correct to interpret this passage of Messiah, the son of Joseph, as our rabbis of blessed memory have interpreted in the treatise Succah, for he shall be a mighty man of valour, of the tribe of Joseph, and shall, at first, be captain of the Lord's host in that war, but in that war shall die.

 

- A. M'Caul, Rabbi David Kimchi's Commentary Upon the Prophecies of Zechariah, Translated from the Hebrew with Notes, and Observations on the Passages Relating to the Messiah (London: James Duncan, 1837), p. 159.

 

 

Rashi in his commentary to Sukkah 52a (11th c.)

 

The words, "The land shall mourn," are found in the prophecy of Zechariah, and he prophesies of the future, that they shall mourn on account of Messiah, the son of Joseph, who shall be slain in the war of Gog and Magog.

 

- A. M'Caul, Rabbi David Kimchi's Commentary Upon the Prophecies of Zechariah, Translated from the Hebrew with Notes, and Observations on the Passages Relating to the Messiah (London: James Duncan, 1837), p. 161.

 

 

Rabbi Moses Alshekh, chief rabbi of Safed (16th c.)

 

"I will do yet a third thing, and that is, that 'they shall look unto me,' for they shall lift up their eyes unto me in perfect repentance, when they see Him whom they pierced, that is Messiah, the Son of Joseph; for our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said that He will take upon Himself all the guilt of Israel, and shall then be slain in the war to make an atonement in such manner that it shall be accounted as if Israel had pierced Him, for on account of their sin He has died; and, therefore, in order that it may be reckoned to them as a perfect atonement, they will repent and look to the blessed One, saying, that there is none beside Him to forgive those that mourn on account of Him who died for their sin: this is the meaning of 'They shall look upon me.'"

 

 

The understanding that it is a singular Messiah who is pierced seems to be presented in the Soncino translation where “they have thrust him through” and “they shall mourn for him”:

 

Soncino:

10  And I will pour upon the house of David,

And upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

The spirit of grace and of supplication;

And they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through;

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 first-born.

 

 

 

2)

 

The reason why the Tanakh translations into English differ from the English Bibles is because these Tanakh translations use Hebrew grammar forms and syntax which do not exist in the Hebrew text. In fact, words are just added outright. It is the Jewish translations into English which distort the Hebrew and the translation. This is what causes the fundamental difference in translation and meaning.

 

In the English Bible, the one who is being looked to is the one who is pierced; this is why after they look upon him, the word “whom” immediately follows indicating the speaker is the one who is pierced. This is based on the correct Hebrew syntax.

 

However, all the Tanakh translations do not do this, but insert qualifying words between “looking to me” and “whom”, which are not correct Hebrew syntax and do not belong there. They also add other words. These additions change the meaning of the verse completely.

 

We see these additions below in red:  

 

English Bibles:

“and they shall look on me whom they have pierced…”

 

Artscroll Stone:

“They will look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed…”

 

JPS:

“and they shall lament to Me about those who are slain…”

 

Koren Jerusalem:

“and they shall look towards me, regarding those whom the nations have thrust through.”

 

Soncino:

“And they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through;”

 

 

The Hebrew language uses various verb forms and there is incorrect usage of the Hebrew verb form for “they pierced through”. This results in a wrong meaning of the verse from the very start that requires the use of “filler” words to “round out” the erroneous translation caused by using the incorrect verb form.

 

There is a passive form called the Niphal form which means that the subject is the one that receives the action indicated by the verb. In other words, the subject is the one that is acted upon. For example, in the sentence “The ball was thrown by the boy”, the ball is the subject that receives the verb action “was thrown”.

 

There is also an active form called the Qal form which means the subject is what causes or performs the action indicated by the verb. For example, the passive sentence above “The ball was thrown by the boy” could be rephrased in the active voice as “The boy threw the ball”. The boy is performing the action.

 

There is also a causative form which means that the subject causes something to happen, but does not actually perform the action.  

 

 

In Zechariah 12:10, the prophet Zechariah uses the active Qal form for the verb “they pierced through”. He does not use the passive form of the verb nor a causative form or anything in between. If he meant to use something other than the active form, like the passive or causative, he could have – but he clearly did not. This means that any English translation that uses a passive or causative translation is wrong.

 

This means that English Bibles are correct, because they use the correct active form : 

 

Who do they look at?  The one they pierced. 

 

 

However, the translations of Zechariah 12:10 by Artscroll Stone, JPS, Koren Jerusalem, and Soncino are all wrong since they use passive and causative forms and not the active as the prophet Zechariah specifically used.  The incorrect forms are attempts to hide the truth that the one they pierced is the one they are looking at, by trying to divert attention to something or someone else.

 

So let us look at all of them again:

 

English Bibles:

“and they shall look on me whom they have pierced…”

→ This uses the correct active form.

 

Artscroll Stone:

“They will look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed…”  

→ This is a combination causal and passive.

 

JPS:

“and they shall lament to Me about those who are slain…”

→  This is passive.

 

Koren Jerusalem:

“and they shall look towards me, regarding those whom the nations have thrust through.”

→ This is passive.

 

Soncino:

“And they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through;”

→  This is causal.

 

 

So who is it really that is pierced and will invoke such great mourning? It is the same person who entered Jerusalem humbly upon a donkey and who will also appear above the end-time battle between Israel and the Gentiles. We are told of Him just a little earlier in Zechariah and notice that the description of the coming king is seamlessly spoken of in the same breath as both coming humbly on a donkey and waging war and sounding the trumpet/shofar (ram’s horn):

 

Zechariah 9:

9     Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you;

     righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10   I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off,

     and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

11   As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

12   Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

13   For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons,

     O Greece, and wield you like a warrior's sword.

14   Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning;

     the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.

15   The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones,

     and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar.

16   On that day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people;

     for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.   (ESV)

 

 

It is He whose feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives once more. In Acts 1 in the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament), He left from the Mount of Olives and it is to there He shall return in like manner:

 

Acts 1:

6     So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

7     He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

8     But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem

     and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

9     And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

10   And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,

11   and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,

     will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

12   Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem,

     a Sabbath day's journey away.           (ESV)

 

 

Since He was taken into heaven, His appearance will be in the sky as we saw in Zechariah 9, and then He will descend and once again plant His feet upon the Mount of Olives:

 

Zechariah 14:

1     Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.

2     For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered

     and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

3     Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.

4     On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east,

     and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley,

     so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.     (ESV)

 

 

The Book of Zechariah tells us the one who is pierced is God. The sin of man has always grieved God, but nothing is more painful than when God’s chosen people do not recognize the one whom He sent, His Messiah, and pierces His only son – the very one who both establishes Israel and destroys sin. To pierce His anointed one, His Messiah and son, is to pierce God Himself:

 

Psalm 78:

37   For their heart was not steadfast toward Him, Nor were they faithful in His covenant.

38   But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them;

     And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath.

39   Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, A wind that passes and does not return.

40   How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness And grieved Him in the desert!     (NASB)

 

Isaiah 63:

7     I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD,

     According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel,

     Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.

8     For He said, "Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely." So He became their Savior.

9     In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them;

     In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.

10   But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy,

     He fought against them.   (NASB)

 

Genesis 32:

29   Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?"

      And he blessed him there.

30   So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."   (NASB)

 

 

Did the angel of His presence save and redeem them or is it really God who does this through His angel? And again, does Jacob really wrestle with God or did he wrestle with someone who represented God? Hosea 12:4 tells us Jacob wrestled with an angel who represented God.

 

If the Tanakh tells us plainly that God can be grieved and people interact with His agents as if they were God Himself – even physically touching and grappling them as in the case with Jacob, then how much more is God truly pierced when His Messiah and only son whom He sends is rejected and killed/pierced by Israel, the apple of His eye?

 

We must understand that God’s Messiah and son is the purest form of agency God uses to deal with His people, where God sends a part of Himself to save His people. So to pierce His son is to pierce God:

 

Isaiah 59:

12   For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us,

     and as for our iniquities, we know them:

13   transgressing and denying YAHWEH, and turning away from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt,

     conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.

14   Justice is turned away backward, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and uprightness can't enter.

15   Yes, truth is lacking; and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. YAHWEH saw it,

     and it displeased him that there was no justice.

16   He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his own arm brought salvation to him;

     and his righteousness, it upheld him.

17   He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head;

     and he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle.

18   According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, wrath to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies;

     to the islands he will repay recompense.

19   So shall they fear the name of YAHWEH from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun;

     for he will come as a rushing stream, which the breath of YAHWEH drives.

20   "A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from disobedience in Jacob," says YAHWEH.     (WEB)

 

 

God’s chosen Messiah is the one through whom God subjugates and rules the nations. The King Messiah is not a mere man or an angel. He is part of God Himself – the one and only true son of God. The arm of the LORD/YHWH who becomes the intercessor and is pierced is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:

 

Isaiah 53:

1   Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  

2     For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty

     That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

3     He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide

      their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4     Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried;

     Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.

5     But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;

      The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.    (NASB)

 

  

 

Please see the conclusion to the Prophesied Messiah series: The Prophesied Messiah - Conclusion

 

Link to the Prophesied Messiah articles outline