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As the prophet Zechariah proclaims the greatness of Jerusalem's mourning, he says:

12“All Israel will mourn, each clan by itself, and with the husbands separate from their wives. The clan of David will mourn alone, as will the clan of Nathan, 13the clan of Levi, and the clan of Shimei. 14Each of the surviving clans from Judah will mourn separately, and with the husbands separate from their wives. —12:12-14 (NLT)

This is a strange collection of named clans. Judah is broken down into separate clans, including the clan of David named separately. Levi is named together as a clan; and then both Nathan and Shimei are named. This is not the list that would expect upon hearing the phrase "the clans of Israel." Why are these particular clans named? Levi, Judah and David are well known; who are Nathan and Shimei?

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3 Answers 3

First, an important correction: the text here (at least the Masoretic version) does not actually mention Judah; that appears to be an editorial addition in the NLT. The text of v14 is:

כֹּל, הַמִּשְׁפָּחוֹת הַנִּשְׁאָרוֹת--מִשְׁפָּחֹת מִשְׁפָּחֹת, לְבָד; וּנְשֵׁיהֶם, לְבָד.

JPS 1917: All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.

So verses 12-14 call out the families of: David, Nathan, Levi, and the Shimeites (and then "all the families that remain").

There are two possibilities for Nathan: the prophet, and David's son. If "Shimeites" refers to David's son Shammua, that might suggest that Nathan means David's son for parallelism. Further, Rashi suggests (below) that "all the families that remain" means all the other families of the house of David; if he is right, then that's a further argument for Nathan not being the prophet.

If we follow that theory, then the text could have just said the house of David and that would have included everybody. Prophetic writings sometimes use parallel formations for poetic effect even if they are not logically necessary, so that could be what is going on here. I do not know, however, why Nathan and Shammua would be particularly singled out among David's sons.

This leaves the question of why the Levites, who are not David's tribe, would be called out specially. I weakly speculate that they, being the overseers of the temple, have a special relationship to Jerusalem; just as King David and his family is named, perhaps they are too. But Zechariah can be a pretty hard book to understand, so I could well be wrong.

The medieval scholar Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak) offers the following comments on these verses:

the house of Nathan: the prophet. Some say that it refers to Nathan the son of David, as it is said (II Sam. 5:14): “Shammua and Shobab, and Nathan and Solomon.”

the house of Levi: The priests and the Levites.

the family of the Shimeites: Shammua the son of David. Scripture first makes a generality about the house of David, and then it specifies each one.

All the remaining families: of the house of David.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

The only Shimei I know of is that man who cursed David when he was fleeing from Absalom.

So David and his men continued down the road, and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing as he went and throwing stones at David and tossing dust into the air. —2 Samuel 16:13 (NLT)

Several Nathans are named in the Bible, and most of them are not major characters. In this context, with David and Shimei, it is most natural to designate Nathan as the prophet from the same time period.

This verse implies a restoration of the Davidic kingship (a very important doctrine for the post-exilic period!) by its designation of the clans of Israel by people from his time. Judah and Levi were not from David's time themselves, but the Judahites and Levites were two of the main clans inhabiting Jerusalem. Remember, even though "Israel" was mentioned in verse twelve, this is the grief of Jerusalem from verse 11.

I can think of two reasons for the mention of Shimei.

  • He represents the inclusion of the other tribes of Israel (besides the Judahites and Levites) in the covenant of God, even though it is centered on Jerusalem.
  • He represents the restoration of rebellious Israelites. Shimei was a man who had committed supreme acts of treason; he hated the Messianic king1.

Also two reasons for the mention of Nathan:

  • He is the godly counterpart of Shimei. In the restoration of Davidic/Messianic kingship, God's people will be the righteous.
  • He is a prophet; priests (well, Levites) and kings (the clan of David) having already been mentioned. Thus the threefold office of Messiah is shown (it comes out in a number of ways in this book), the three offices which those who are in him participate in by their union with him.

Thus all the people of the true Israel are subsumed here: those were once wicked; those who are now righteous; those who are prophets; those who are priests; those who are kings. No one is left out2.

1 This is the essence of sin. The mourning in the passage is a true repentance over sin as a result of grace shown in Yeshua the Messiah (see verse 10; compare John 19:37, Revelation 1:7)

2The mystery not yet revealed in this passage, though, is that because the Christ will mediate in all three roles, those who were wicked will be righteous, and they will stand with him in his offices.

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An alternative to this edit (discussed here on meta) would be to add more supporting reasoning, joining the dots from the original text all the way through to the conclusions about Yeshua and the Christ. That's certainly possible, would be entirely acceptable, but is a little beyond me! –  Jack Douglas Dec 10 '13 at 19:32

I will keep my response focused on their identity as many other responses have included most of the other basic information.

It is important to look at this passage as a whole and to consider what is going on in it.

Zechariah 12:10-14 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land shall mourn, each family[a] by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14 and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves. (ESV, emphasis added)

So we must ask, who is this directed toward? The simple answer is that it was the Jews who were responsible for Christ's crucifixion. How is that connected to the houses that are named, those were we are told will mourn? Judah is not named directly. However, we are given the house of David, the house of Nathan, the house of Levi, and the family of Shimei. They all seem to be contemporaries of David, so the most natural identification is King David, the Prophet Nathan or David's son Nathan and Shimei. David is of the house of Judah. The Prophet Nathan's house is not known for certain, however other Nathans mentioned in Scripture, including a son of David, are all of the house of Judah. Here is a brief summary. While a historical Shimei is of the house of Levi, he is not contemporary with David. Rather the Shimei of 2 Samuel 16 and 19 who curses David but later repents to him would make more natural sense. The thing that makes this interesting is that this Shimei is of the house of Benjamin. So we have named here families from the tribes of Judah, Levi and Benjamin. If this isn't immediately familiar, those are in fact the tribes of the Southern Kingdom who are taken into exile and later return.

These are the ancestors of our modern Jews and this gives the prophecy a historical perspective that is unsurprisingly specific and accurate.

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