From Judah will come the cornerstone, the tent peg, the bow for battle, and all the rulers. [Zechariah 10:4 (NLT)]
In the Old Testament, “cornerstone” as a metaphor for the Messiah is found in Psalms, Isaiah, and Zechariah. In Zechariah 10, the prophet describes Israel’s need for purification because of their idolatry, fortune-tellers, and false prophets. Holding the nation’s leaders responsible for these transgressions, Zechariah says the people are like lost sheep without a shepherd. Proclaiming the arrival of the ”Lord of Heaven’s Armies” who will look after the flock, the prophet says he’ll come from Judah and describes him as a cornerstone, tent peg, and battle bow.
Nowadays, cornerstones are more ornamental or commemorative than functional. In the first century, however, the cornerstone was the first squared stone in the foundation of any structure. Determining the position of the rest of the foundation, every other stone in the wall was aligned to it and a properly set (or true) cornerstone was essential to the structural integrity of any building. The Messiah as cornerstone would be the first and most important stone in God’s Kingdom and would provide a reliable and firm foundation for His people.
While cornerstone is a familiar Messianic metaphor, tent peg and bow are not. At first, the image of the Messiah as a tent peg seems strange but, if you’ve ever pitched a tent, you know its purpose. Pounded into the ground, tent pegs are fastened to the ropes holding up the tent and must be set securely or the tent will sag, rip, or even collapse. Even today’s freestanding dome tents need tent pegs or stakes to keep them from blowing away in the wind. The tent peg is as important to a tent’s stability as a cornerstone was to a building’s. Just as the peg fastened the tent to the ground and kept it from collapsing, so the Messiah’s rule would secure Israel to Himself and keep His people upright.
The third metaphor is that of a battle bow: an offensive weapon symbolic of military power. As God’s warrior, the Messiah would fight to save His people. Whether it would be a physical or a spiritual battle is less clear. The bow, however, is associated with more than warfare; it is connected with God’s power in judgment and speaks of a Messiah who would deliver judgment.
We then come to the fourth term in this short verse: rulers. The original Hebrew had no punctuation and it’s unclear if this is a metaphor. Some commentators believe it refers to the Messiah and means that He will be the rulers of rulers. Many others disagree because the word translated as ruler was nagas which wasn’t used for a rightful king. It meant tyrants, taskmasters, or oppressors. Rather than a metaphor for the Messiah, they interpret this to mean that the Messiah would defeat every oppressor of His people. In either case, the people of Judah interpreted Zechariah’s words to mean the Messiah would wage physical war on the nations that oppressed them. The Messiah, however, wasn’t about an earthly kingdom and earthly oppressors. As Judah’s cornerstone, tent peg, and battle bow, the Messiah would wage war on the nation’s true enemy and oppressor—the tyrant Satan and sin. The Messiah would strengthen His people and, in His might, they would find salvation!