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Lesson 16: God’s Fountain for Cleansing (Zechariah 13:1-9)

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You’ve been working out in the yard on a hot summer day. Your sweaty body has attracted the dirt like a magnet. You’re caked with grime. You need to attend a wedding that afternoon, so you go inside, put on your best clean clothes, and head out the door.

Wait a minute! What’s missing? A shower! Nobody would just change clothes without first washing off the dirt and sweat. When you’re hot and dirty, nothing feels better than a shower.

This physical picture has a spiritual analogy, but there’s a difference. The entire human race reeks of sin in the presence of the holy God. But because we all smell the same, we tend not to notice how foul we really smell. Many go their entire lives without sensing their need for cleansing from sin. Others may think that their good works cover the foul odor of their sin, and so they put on their clean clothes without showering. But the Bible has great news:

God has graciously provided a fountain for sinners to be cleansed so that they may become His holy people.

That’s the message of Zechariah 13, which is closely connected with chapter 12. We saw there how God promised to save His people according to His purpose. The primary interpretation of these verses is with reference to the Jews (“the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” 12:10; 13:1). God promises to pour out on them “the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son” (12:10). When 13:1 begins, “In that day,” it refers to that day of great mourning in Jerusalem (12:11). Just prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ, God will pour out His Spirit on the Jews, so that, as Paul puts it, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).

But since the Gentiles have now been made partakers of the New Covenant through the gospel (Rom. 11:12-24; 15:8-12), the promises of Zechariah 12 & 13 apply to all people. For us, as well as for the Jews, God has opened a fountain for sin and for impurity. Everyone who is dirty and defiled by sin may come to God’s fountain for cleansing. Zechariah 13 makes four points:

1. We all need God’s fountain to cleanse us from sin and impurity (13:1).

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). If we compare ourselves with ourselves, we may conclude that we’re not very dirty: “I’m cleaner than the criminals in prison. I’m cleaner than the people who hang out in bars. I’m cleaner than my neighbor who doesn’t go to church. I’m cleaner than my family members, who have numerous faults that I could tell you about. I’m cleaner than those hypocrites who go to my church. Sure, I’ve got my faults, but I’m not filthy!”

But then, like Isaiah, we get a glimpse of the Lord, high and lifted up, and of the holy angels who never cease proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts,” and instantly we cry out, “I am undone!” One of the first evidences that God’s Spirit is at work in your heart is that you recognize your sinfulness in the presence of the holy God and your need for cleansing. Note three things about God’s fountain:

A. God’s fountain stems from His grace.

Israel pierced the Messiah whom God sent to save them (12:10)! They did not deserve His mercy or forgiveness, but God graciously provided a fountain to cleanse from sin and impurity. The Hebrew word for “sin” comes from a root meaning, “to miss” (Merrill Unger, Zechariah: Prophet of God’s Glory [Zondervan], p. 222). It is used of sins against other people and of sins against God. The word for “impurity” designates “that which is to be fled from or shunned” (ibid.). It was used of the ceremonial defilement of women on their menstrual cycle and of the defilement that came from touching a dead body. Together these words show that we all have missed God’s standard of holiness in our relationships with Him and with one another. And, our sins are repugnant and offensive to God. To try to cover our sins with our good works would be like putting on clean clothes over a filthy body.

If we are to be forgiven and cleansed, it can only come through God’s undeserved favor, His grace. Augustus Toplady put it this way in his hymn, “Rock of Ages”:

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior or I die!

B. God’s fountain is inexhaustible.

We don’t often see natural fountains or springs in dry Northern Arizona, but there is an impressive one at Fossil Springs. As I recall, it pours forth over a million gallons of water every day, feeding Fossil Creek. A fountain like that is fed from huge underground aquifers, so that it keeps flowing, even in times of drought.

That is a picture of God’s inexhaustible fountain for sin and for impurity. It flows and flows and flows. God has grace greater than all of our sins! You may be thinking, “But you don’t know how terrible some of my past sins were!” True, but God does know, and He opened this fountain for sin and for impurity. That fountain cleansed the sins of David, an adulterer and murderer. It cleansed the sins of wicked King Manasseh, who practiced witchcraft, offered his sons in the fire to false gods, and led Judah into horrible sin. It cleansed the sins of the chief of sinners, who described himself as “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” But he went on to say, “the grace of our Lord was more than abundant” (1 Tim. 1:13-15, italics mine). That same inexhaustible grace is available to you.

Charles Spurgeon (“The Open Fountain,” [Ages Software]) points out that it would be ludicrous for someone to protest, “I can’t bathe because I am too filthy!” It would be equally ridiculous to say, “I need to clean up myself before I come to this fountain!” God provides the fountain to cleanse the most foul, dirty, defiled sinners. Their dirt can never pollute this fountain, because it just keeps on flowing to wash away all of our filth.

C. God’s fountain must be applied individually.

This fountain won’t do you any good if you look at it and think, “I wish my wife and kids would get under that water!” It won’t do you any good to stand there and think, “It probably would be refreshing to plunge in.” To receive the benefit of God’s fountain, you must look to Jesus and recognize that your sins put Him on the cross. As God’s Spirit opens your eyes to your true guilt before Him, you will mourn. But don’t stop there! Let that mourning motivate you to jump into God’s fountain. You’ve got to apply it individually to your heart. The instant that you do, you will know the joy of God’s forgiveness.

I like the outdoors, but I’m not a true outdoorsman, because I can’t stand to go for days without a shower. True outdoorsmen can hike for days with a heavy pack, sweating in the same underwear without taking a shower. Some of them are hearty enough to jump in a snow-fed stream to wash off, and I’ve done that when I was desperate. But I’m only good for a night or two in the backcountry before I am desperate for a warm shower.

To enter a relationship with the holy God, we must come to His fountain to cleanse us from our sins. And, we should take frequent showers to wash off the defilement of the sins that we commit after salvation. As 1 John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Come often to God’s fountain!

2. Cleansing from sin should lead to separation from sin (13:2-6).

Again the Lord repeats the phrase, “that day” (13:2, 4), which refers to the day just prior to Christ’s return, when He will make Jerusalem a cup of reeling to the peoples around and destroy the nations that come against her (12:2, 9). Also, in that day the Jews will mourn over their sin of crucifying Messiah (12:10-11). At that time, God declares that He will completely cut off idolatry, false prophets, and the unclean spirit that is behind such false prophecy (13:2 is the only occurrence of “unclean spirit” in the O.T.). The thrust of these verses is that those who have received God’s cleansing from sin must also be zealous to separate themselves from every form of sin. Or, in Paul’s words, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We dare not continue in sin that grace might abound!

The sin of idolatry in its most blatant form involves worshiping manmade statues or images as if they were God. While that sin may be much more prevalent in other countries, it is right here in Flagstaff, where we have an entire store devoted to selling idols! But, as J. I. Packer argues in Knowing God ([IVP, p. 39), the commandment not to make graven images also forbids worshiping the true God by images that supposedly represent Him. Packer shows how such images dishonor God by obscuring His glory and mislead men by conveying false ideas about God (pp. 40-41).

Packer goes further: “It needs to be said with the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment (p. 42, italics his). In other words, when people say, “I don’t like to think of God as Judge; I like to think of Him as my loving Father,” they are guilty of idolatry, because they are making God into their own image. We aren’t free to pick and choose which aspects of God’s attributes we like. We must submit to the revelation that God has given of Himself in His Word. Any deviation from that is idolatry.

Coupled with idolatry is false prophecy or false teaching, which is invariably demonically instigated. Being fallible humans, none of us teach the Bible infallibly. We should strive for greater accuracy and understanding, but in this life, we all will fall short. But there is a vast difference between errors or misunderstandings on minor points of doctrine and errors that pervert the nature of God and His salvation. Satan, the great deceiver, has always had his false teachers who infiltrate the ranks of God’s people to lead astray the unsuspecting.

We live in a day where even the evangelical church is downplaying the importance of sound doctrine. We hear statements such as, “Doctrine divides. Let’s come together on the things we agree on, not on the areas that divide us. They will know that we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrine.”

But look at verse 3. The Lord commends the fact that in this day when He removes false prophets from Israel, parents will pierce through even their own son when he prophesies falsely in the name of the Lord! “Pierce through” is the same Hebrew word used for piercing Messiah in 12:10. The Jews would have immediately thought of Deuteronomy 13:6-11, where Moses directed that “if your brother … or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul” entice you to serve other gods, not only were you not to listen to them. Moses said that you were not to pity him, spare him or conceal him, but rather, to kill him!

I am not suggesting that we are to apply such commandments literally, of course! We are not a theocratic nation, bound by such laws. But these commands should impress on us the importance of God’s truth and increase our zeal to hold firmly to sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). False teaching on the fundamentals of the faith is not just a different way of looking at things. It is eternally destructive to the souls of people. We must love God and His Word of truth so fervently that by way of comparison, we hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and even our own lives (Luke 14:26).

In 13:4-6, Zechariah illustrates how God will purge the land of false prophets. These men will be ashamed and will put off their hairy robes that they had worn to deceive people into thinking that they were true prophets. They will renounce their role as prophet and say instead that they were workers in the soil, sold as a slave in their youth.

But then someone notices the wounds between his arms (lit., “hands”; probably referring to his chest). Most likely, these were the wounds that false prophets inflicted on themselves in the frenzy of their worship or prayers (1 Kings 18:28; Jer. 47:5; 48:37). The false prophet’s response is subject to several interpretations. He may be making an excuse to dodge judgment, saying that he was wounded either by his parents or by friends (Hebrew = “those who love me”) in some accidental manner. Or, the wounds may have been inflicted by parents or friends out of loving discipline (Calvin’s view). Or, he is admitting that the idols were formerly his friends, but he now renounces them, either in repentance or out of fear of reprisal.

Whatever the interpretation of the illustration, the overall point of this section is that God will purge all sin from those who profess His name, and that we should be quick to judge all sin in our own lives. But, lest we fall into the common error that salvation is a matter of our own efforts to purge our lives from sin, Zechariah abruptly comes back to the only way that a fountain for cleansing can be opened:

3. God is the only one who can open a fountain for cleansing, and He has done so by killing His Shepherd (13:7a).

In chapter 11, Zechariah pictured the false shepherds of Israel in contrast with the Good Shepherd. In our text, the contrast seems to be that just as the false prophet endeavored to turn people from God, but was slain by his father, so the true prophet would be slain by His Father to turn people to God (Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible [Zondervan], X:528-529). Echoing the language of Isaiah 53 (and Ps. 22:15), which says that Messiah would be smitten of God and crushed by God, Zechariah pictures God as calling for the implement of death (sword) against His Shepherd, whom He also calls, “the man, My Associate.” In the garden, with reference to Himself, Jesus cited the phrase, “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered,” just before the disciples all left Him and fled (Matt. 26:31).

Woven into Zechariah 13:7 are several crucial theological concepts. First, God’s Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is both man and God. He had to take on our flesh in the incarnation or He could not die for the sins of the fallen human race. But in so doing, He did not cease to be what He is from eternity, the fulness of God (Col. 2:9).

“Associate,” in Hebrew, is used only in Leviticus, and in all cases of an equal, an associate, or neighbor (Unger, p. 232). The great German scholar, C. F. Keil, says that “God would not apply this epithet to any godly or ungodly man whom He might have appointed shepherd over a nation.” He goes on to state that this term means “community of physical or spiritual descent.” The one whom God calls His neighbor “cannot be a mere man, but can only be one who participates in the divine nature, or is essentially divine” (Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], p. 397). Jesus, speaking of Himself as the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the sheep, said in the same context, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jews recognized it as a claim to deity and took up stones to stone Him. They should have fallen at His feet in worship!

There is a sense in which evil men crucified the Good Shepherd, and they are accountable for doing so. But at the same time, such evil men, acting according to their own sinful choices, only fulfilled the sovereign purpose of God to provide a substitute for our sins (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). By putting His own Son to death in the place of sinners, God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). That God would strike His own Son for our sins shows both His great love for us and His utter intolerance of sin.

Thus Zechariah has shown that we all need God’s fountain to cleanse us from sin and impurity (13:1). Those who are cleansed from sin will be zealous to separate themselves from it (13:2-6). God Himself is the only one who can open a fountain for cleansing from sin, and He has done so by killing His Shepherd, Jesus Christ (13:7a). Finally, he shows that…

4. Those whom God cleanses from sin He purifies through the fires of affliction (13:7b-9).

The scattering of the sheep after the Shepherd is struck down refers initially to the apostles’ reaction to Jesus’ arrest. Beyond that, it refers to the dispersion of the Jewish nation after Titus destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Then God says that He will turn His hand “against the little ones” (NASB, NIV). The phrase can also be translated, “bring my hand back over the little ones.” It is used to express either judgment or salvation, depending on the context (Keil, p. 398). In light of verses 8 & 9, it probably here refers to God’s protection of the remnant of Jewish believers, both in history and especially during the Great Tribulation, when the majority of the nation (“two parts,” a general term for the majority) will perish, but God will bring the third part through the fire to refine them. The final result is, “They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Again, while the primary interpretation of these verses is for the Jews, they certainly apply to all of God’s people. He promises to preserve us, even though He takes us through the refining fires of affliction, so that we will share His holiness. I know that you can say with me that while affliction is never pleasant, it is during such times that I call upon the Lord with more intensity than at other times. When He answers me, He gives the assurance that I am one of His people, and I can then testify to others that He is my God. As the great hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” puts it:

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.


Here are some questions to ask yourself to apply these verses:

  • Have you come in faith to the fountain of Jesus Christ and His shed blood to cleanse your heart from sin and impurity?
  • Are you regularly confessing and forsaking your sin in accordance with God’s Word?
  • Are you looking daily to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who was willing to be put to death for your sins?
  • Are you striving to grow in holiness?
  • Are you growing to love and submit yourself to all of God’s truth and growing to hate false teaching?
  • Are you submitting to God as He refines you through trials, calling out to Him as your God, and knowing His assurance that you are His child?

If you feel dirty, remember that God’s fountain doesn’t maintain business hours. It is always open. As sinners, we may come for cleansing as often as needed, so that we may become a people for God’s own possession, set apart for Him.

Discussion Questions

  1. If all of our sins are forgiven at the cross, why do we need to come again and again for cleansing?
  2. How deeply must a person feel conviction for sin before trusting in Christ? Can there be genuine faith before there is genuine conviction of sin?
  3. How can we know which doctrines are worth fighting over and which doctrines should not divide us?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Prophecy/Revelation, Soteriology (Salvation)

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