Chapter 32 - WHO WAS PIERCED?

Continued from Chapter 31

(Zechariah 12:10)

Christians have argued that the prophet Zechariah is speaking of Jesus when he declares: “And they shall look to Me whom they have pierced; then they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

They equate the “Me” with the “him” of verse 10 and connect both to Jesus at his supposed second coming. At that time, they expect the Jews will repent their allegedly having caused his death. Grammatically, the “Me” and the "him” cannot refer to the same individual. The author of the Gospel of John realized the untenability of the claim that Zechariah’s prophecy referred to Jesus. John changed the wording of verse 10 to make it conform to his belief. Thus, he wrote: “They shall look upon [him] whom they have pierced” (John 19:37).

Actually, there is no “him” in John’s text. Compare this with the citation based on verse 10 found at Revelation 1:7: “Every eye will see him, everyone who pierced him.” In Revelation the predicted looking to the one who was pierced is interpreted of the second coming of Jesus. But in John 19:37 the piercing is interpreted of the piercing of Jesus’ side with a soldier’s lance after his death and here Zechariah is expressly quoted, albeit with the change from “me” to “him.”

John’s wording not only disagrees with the Masoretic1 text but also is not in agreement with the Septuagint. The Greek interpretative reading found in the Codex Vaticanus and most other Septuagint manuscripts, “they shall look upon Me, because they have danced insultingly [=mocked],2 matches the “to me” reading of the Hebrew text. The Greek of the Vienna Codex (5th-6th centuries) is much closer to a literal rendering of the Masoretic text. But, let us look at the context of John’s statement. John writes: “The [Roman] soldiers therefore came … [and] one of the [Roman] soldiers pierced his [Jesus’] side with a spear.… For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of him shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They [the Roman soldiers] shall look on him whom they [the Roman soldiers] pierced’” (John 19:32-37). Both of these supposed fulfilments of Scripture have an immediate final fulfillment in the mind of the author of John. It is the Roman soldier who pierces the body and he and his fellow soldiers supposedly fulfill the Scripture.

There is not the slightest hint of a future fulfillment following an alleged second coming of Jesus. The original commandment concerning the paschal lamb given to the Israelites reads, “They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it” (Numbers 9:12). In the Gospel of John, this Torah commandment given to the Israelites becomes a prophecy fulfilled by the Roman soldiers! So too, Zechariah’s words spoken concerning God’s saving the Jewish people from their enemies is totally reinterpreted to find fulfillment in the contemporary actions of the Roman soldiers! The author of John attaches no significance to verse 10 as providing evidence for the supposed deity of Jesus or a future fulfillment.

The sentence structure in Zechariah 12:10 may appear confusing to those reading this verse in translation. However, it must be remembered that we are dealing here with an English rendering of biblical Hebrew, which has its own particular grammatical rules and usages. The translation “look to Me whom they have pierced” is correct. The relative clause “whom they have pierced” is in apposition to “Me,” the spokesman of the passage. The Hebrew word, et, that introduces the clause marks it as the object of the verb “look to”; the Hebrew word ’asher is always a relative pronoun in that context, and never the conjunction “because.” It should also be noted that the Hebrew clause “they have pierced” lacks the pronominal suffix “him.” Let us look at this verse in context. In Zechariah 12, we are told that God will defend His people and destroy their enemies. On that day: [T]hey [the nation of Israel, i.e., the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, mentioned at the beginning of verse 10] shall look to Me [God] whom they [the nations, spoken of in verse 9, that shall come up against Jerusalem] have pierced; then they [Israel] shall mourn for him [the slain of Israel as personified by the leader of the people, the warrior Messiah who will die in battle at this time].

Of course, God cannot literally be pierced. The idea of piercing God expresses the fact that Israel stands in a very special relationship to God among all the nations of the earth. God identifies with His people to the degree that He takes part figuratively in the nation’s destiny. To attack (pierce) Israel is to attack God. That is why God says: “Me whom they have pierced” even though it is the people of Israel and not God who is actually “pierced.” Accordingly, Isaiah says of God’s relationship to Israel: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9), and in Psalms 83:2-6 we see that the nations which hate God manifest that hatred by seeking to destroy the Jewish people. God’s presence in history is revealed in the continued survival of the Jewish people. There are many biblical passages which show that God identifies Himself with Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 12:14, Isaiah 49:25, Exodus 23:22, Zechariah 2:12-13).

As stated above, the Gentile nations shall look to God, whom they have attacked by the persecution, death and general suffering they inflicted on the nation of Israel (“him”), whose dead will be mourned by the surviving Jewish people. The rabbis of the Talmud saw this suffering personified in the leader of the people, the warrior Messiah, the son of Joseph (a descendant of Joseph’s son Ephraim), who will be slain at the time discussed in verse 10 (B.T. Sukkah 52a). All of the nation’s dead will be mourned, but the mourning over the death of the warrior Messiah symbolizes the collective grief as the people mourn for the fallen of Israel. Zechariah 12:10 does not equate Jesus with God in any way, nor does it say anything of a return by Jesus, or a mourning by the nation of Israel over his death.

1 Apparently to avoid what seems to be a reference to a “piercing” of God some later Hebrew manuscripts underwent scribal emendation so as to read “look to him whom they have pierced,” rather than “look to me whom they have pierced.” Initially, these late Jewish manuscripts show this in the marginal notes (kere), but eventually in some manuscripts the change was made directly in the body of the text itself. However, the oldest and best Hebrew manuscripts read “me” rather than “him.” 

2 This may reflect a misreading of the Hebrew root dqr, “to stab,” “to pierce,” as deriving from the root rqd, “to skip about.” In Hebrew the dalet and the resh are very similar.

© Gerald Sigal