God’s Word for You
Zechariah 2:6-9 The apple of his eye
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 23, 2022
The remainder of this chapter is a poem with two parts. Verses 6-9 presents the overthrow of God’s enemies. Verses 10-13 proclaims the Lord’s power and authority, and his promise to dwell among his people.
6 “Oh, alas! Flee from the land of the north,”
declares the LORD,
“for I have spread you out
across the four winds of heaven,”
declares the LORD.
7 “Alas, O Zion!
Escape, you who live in the Daughter of Babylon!”
Now the prophet is crying out with the word of God. He calls out, Oh! Oh! in Hebrew, which is a pitiful, mournful word; listen to the old prophet mourning the dead man of God in 1 Kings 13:30: “Oh, my brother!” he cries as he buries him. Now Zechariah cries out the same way, crying out with the Lord’s own words: “Flee from the land of the north, for I have spread you out across the four winds!”
“Daughter of Babylon” means people who live there. It isn’t just one person, a single daughter, but all of the inhabitants. Compare the difference between the two daughters in Lamentations 4:22: “O daughter of Zion, your punishment will end; he will not prolong your exile. But, O daughter of Edom, he will punish your sin and expose your wickedness.” Zechariah will use this expression again in his most famous passage: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
The word “spread” (paras) normally means to spread out a garment (as in Ruth 3:9), or the spread wings of a statue like the cherubim covering the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:20). It can also be God spreading out the clouds (Job 26:9). Here it draws our attention to the Lord as the cause of this action, and with the particular aim or purpose of removing his people from Palestine in order to chastise them, but with another, gospel purpose in mind. Now he calls them out and calls them back. Why does he call them “from the north” and “from Babylon” (the same act as far as re-entering Canaan from Mesopotamia) when he spread them out over the four winds or compass-points of the world? The spreading out to Babylon was the most recent, and the place from which the Jews were still returning. Some had chosen to remain behind. The present king, Darius, would be succeeded by Xerxes, Esther’s royal husband (Esther 1:1), and we know that there were still Jews enough in Persia that they killed 500 enemies in the king’s city on the 13th day of Adar (Esther 9:6,12) and another 300 on the next day (Esther 9:16). But while God still watched over his people in distant lands, his desire was that they would come back to Israel, to Judah, and to Jerusalem. That was the place to which the Savior was coming.
8 For this is what the LORD of hosts says:
“After the glory
he sent me to the nations that plundered you—
It is usually the role of the pastor to explain the word of God and proclaim law and gospel to people. He shouldn’t burden them with the difficulty of the text. In this case, however, the difficulty should at least be pointed out so that differences in translations can be understood. How shall we understand the words “After the glory”? Should glory (cabōd) be taken in the sense of ‘giving glory’ (“he honored me,” NIV)? Or should “after” (ahar) be taken in the sense of “for the sake of”? I find Luther comforting here, and I have no reason to see the meaning any differently than his wisdom did: “The Holy Spirit, for good and sufficient reasons, wanted to speak obscurely here concerning Christ. So much we know for certain: this message is to come ‘after the glory’; that is what the words say: ‘after the glory,’ that is, subsequent to it, when the glory is past. The text does not tell, however, what kind of glory it means” (LW 20:192). The sending of the Savior was to follow, even closely follow (in relative terms) the return from the exile.
for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye—
This is one of the Bible’s many interesting idioms that has come down to us today so that most people don’t know that it’s a Biblical phrase at all, along with “drop in a bucket” (Isaiah 40:15), “my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9), “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23), “pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6) and so very many others. “The apple of God’s eye” goes back to Deuteronomy 32:10, with a retelling of the story of the Exodus, when Moses says that God watched over Israel: “He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” David asks God to keep doing that in Psalm 17:8, and Solomon asks his son, perhaps Rehoboam, to guard his proverbs “as the apple of your eye” (Proverbs 7:1-2), which we do well to take as a prophetic command from God to treat all of his holy word in that way.
The apple of one’s eye is really the pupil, which is the hole in your eye, the black circle, where the light goes in. It’s essentially what you see the world through. God is saying that when he sees the world, his people are always, always on his mind. “Whoever touches you touches the apple of God’s eye.” That is what God thinks of his spiritual Israel, which is the holy Christian church. This assurance is given to us for our constant comfort, and to build us up and be a solid post for us to hang on to in troubling times. When people are attacked because they have turned away from God’s word, they are being chastised by God himself. But when we are attacked because we have not turned away from God’s word and the doctrines of the holy Scriptures, when we know that our attackers don’t just despise us, they are really rejecting and attacking God, “who will deal terribly with them.”
9 Behold, I will wave my hand over them
and they will become plunder for those they enslaved.
Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me.
To “raise a hand” against someone is to prepare to strike them. But here the Lord says that he will wave his hand over the Gentiles, not to strike them, but to make a change, an amazing change, in the world and in human hearts. All of the plunder and wealth of the former enemies of God’s people will be brought within the church to use to God’s glory. God’s hand, waved over Gentiles and spreading his people out all among them, north, south, east, and west, brought his word to them. “Beyond all question,” Paul says, “the mystery of our religion is great… that Christ was believed on in the world!” (1 Timothy 3:16). So God stretches out his servants here and there in the world, right where the world would think that the gospel is more hated and unwelcome, but look at what grows from a single seed! It might be a tall shrub like the mustard plant in Luke 13, or it might be a whole forest of the “oaks of righteousness.” A worldly kingdom and the most foolish of rulers makes enemies of friends. But God in his wisdom makes friends of enemies, brings the gospel to Gentiles, who in turn hold out the gospel to the Jews who have fallen away from the true faith, as well as others all around the globe. This is what the message of forgiveness, life, and salvation truly does. It is the hand of God making a friend of sinners—even sinners like you and me.
Pastor Timothy Smith