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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
ANALYSIS OF THE FOURTH SECTION.
A prominent feature of this final section (12.1-14.21) is the use of ‘it will come about’ and ‘in that day’. These occur as follows;
This emphasises that this section is about a future which is yet some way ahead. It will be noted that it follows the passage in which all God’s plans have been thwarted because the people have listened to false shepherds. Thus His promises previously given have been thrust into the future as far as their complete fulfilment is concerned. And their fulfilment will only take place because of the direct intervention of the Great Creator. His great and final plan can be delayed but it cannot be thwarted.
In this section there are no clear linguistic dividers, and we are therefore left to divide the section on the basis of the contents. This might be seen to be as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ Jerusalem is a problem for the nations but in the parallel Jerusalem becomes the source of salvation for the nations. In ‘b’ God’s prophet has been pierced, resulting in repentance and cleansing, and in the parallel God’s Shepherd is smitten, resulting in refinement. Centrally in ‘c’ the kind of false prophecy that has opposed Zechariah is exposed.
The Future of the House of David and the Dwellers in Jerusalem, the Servant Pierced, the Spirit Poured Out, The Superseding of Prophecy, the Fires of Refinement (12.1-13.9).
Zechariah’s experiences as previously described have brought home to him that the present time is not going to produce the hoped for golden age of God’s rule. The dream of the eight visions (1.7-6.15) which had promised so much of a purified Israel over whom would rule the Branch, appears to have turned sour. Instead of an Israel being established over whom the shepherd of Ezekiel is reigning (Ezekiel 37.15-28), it has ended up in the hands of false shepherds (11.4-17). His thoughts may well then have turned to the words of Isaiah depicting the coming Suffering Servant (Isaiah 50.4-9; 52.13-53.12), for having been himself rejected and valued at thirty pieces of silver he foresees the coming of a Great Prophet and Shepherd Who will be in contrast to the false prophets, yet One Who will face rejection and suffering as he has himself.
So he recognises that the future of Jerusalem, as a picture of the people of God, must first be one of woe before God’s glory is revealed. Tragedy must precede triumph.
His depiction of the future of ‘Jerusalem’ is now outlined. It will be noted that it assumes first the coming establishment of Jerusalem as an independent political centre under Nehemiah by the very nature of what is described. Without that it could never have the prominence suggested by this picture. (In Zechariah’s time it was still an unwalled huddle of buildings).
It then briefly recognises its chequered future. And finally it leads up to its future as the place from which salvation will be made available to the world and to its final experience of the blessing of God (14.3-21). Thus as in much of prophecy it contains a near and a far view. What is prophesied will apply through history but will culminate in the activity of the final days before the final establishment of God’s rule.
The prophecy is necessarily given in symbolic terminology, for the background necessary to present it as it is presented in the New Testament was absent. The prophet spoke, in terms that he knew, of what was in fact beyond his comprehension. How could he visualise a world wide church? Rather he saw in Jerusalem as representing God’s gathered people what we think of as ‘God’s church’ as surrounded by the world. And we should note that at that time it was God’s church, His ‘congregation’. He could only necessarily speak in limited terms, for the full plan of God would have been incomprehensible, both to him and to the people. But he knew the central facts, that there would be suffering before triumph, that in the end the people of God would achieve victory, security and safety and that the King would come who would establish the reign of God.
But what does the word ‘Jerusalem’ represent in these eschatological prophecies? In the near view it is the city, but it is the city seen as being the centre of the people of God. As we have seen earlier it is the city as representing the people of God (2.7). When men gathered against ‘Jerusalem’ they were gathering against all who then represented God, those who had, as it were, come together to re-establish the Kingly Rule of God. Thus it is not just the city as it was in itself that is in mind, for that constantly comes under the condemnation of the prophets. It is rather the idea behind it, the idea of the ideal Jerusalem as being the gathering place of God’s people. It is Jerusalem as the ideal centre of the true worship of God (compare Isaiah 2.2-3), with ‘those who dwell in it’ being seen as representing all who worship and obey Him truly.
It is the place from which, through its people, God’s truth will go to the world (Micah 4.2; Isaiah 2.3; 62.1). It is the place from which God will ‘roar’ and utter His voice when He brings judgment on the nations (Joel 3.16; Micah 1.2). It replaces the ark of the covenant as the throne of God (Jeremiah 3.16-17), until that throne is raised to Heaven at the resurrection of Christ. It is the place from which God Himself will establish His reign (Isaiah 24.23). So, linked with Jerusalem are thoughts which far transcend it, so that in the end it is itself transcended.
That this is so in Zechariah comes out in what we saw earlier, that ‘Zion’, which was often synonymous with Jerusalem, which was partly built on Mount Zion, could also be used as a description of the people of God far away from Jerusalem (Zechariah 2.7). It was clear then that the people represented the city even when far away. In other words in a very real sense Jerusalem, Zion, is ‘the people of God’ wherever they are.
That there is this difference is again emphasised in 12.6 where he says, ‘Jerusalem will yet dwell in her own place, even Jerusalem.’ Here the first ‘Jerusalem’ initially represents His people as the true worshippers of God, wherever they are, who have been away, but will now return home. And they are necessarily a symbolic people, for none who had actually dwelt in Jerusalem would by then necessarily be alive. Thus he is not thinking here of just anyone who lives in Jerusalem. He is thinking of the true, returned people of God, the Jerusalem who return to Jerusalem.
These distinctions are stressed and amplified in the New Testament where the heavenly aspect of Jerusalem is stressed. For Paul distinguishes the Jerusalem ‘which is in bondage’, the earthly city, from the Jerusalem ‘which is above’ (Galatians 4.25-26), the heavenly Jerusalem, when pointing out that Christians are the ‘children of promise’ (4.28). They are the true Jerusalem. And Hebrews speaks of ‘Mount Zion’ as being ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Hebrews 12.22). This leads on to the vision of the new Jerusalem, whose source is from Heaven, in ‘the new earth’ (Revelation 21.2, 10) and again represents the whole people of God. So in all this it is the idea that is behind Jerusalem that is prevalent, not the city of Jerusalem itself. (Compare the similar use in many references in Isaiah where there is the Jerusalem/Zion which is the city of God in contrast with ‘the world city’, the future glorious Jerusalem, which has eternal connections and will be part of the everlasting kingdom. See 1.27; 4.3-5; 12.6; 18.7; 24.23; 26.1-4; 28.16; 30.19; 33.5, 20; 35.10; 46.13; 51.3, 11, 16; 52.1; 59.20; 60.14; 61.3; 62.1, 11; 65.18, 19; 66.10, 13, 20).
And once we come to the New Testament Jerusalem is not so much a city as an idea, an idea closely aligned with the idea of the people of God. The old earthly Jerusalem has to be destroyed, and the real Jerusalem is the heavenly one with which His people are connected (Galatians 4.25-26). And that is what Zechariah has in mind when he thinks of ‘Jerusalem’.
Furthermore Peter also stresses the spiritual nature of ‘Zion’ when he speaks of the church of God as living stones in the new Temple which is His church, built on the chief cornerstone and note that it is laid ‘in Zion’ (1 Peter 2.4-7 based on Isaiah 28.16).
It is true that the prophets themselves saw their prophecies as necessarily relating to a ‘physical Jerusalem’. To them the people of God and Jerusalem were very much identified. But especially in the case of Isaiah it was very much an eschatological Jerusalem. His descriptions of it far exceed any possible conception of an earthly city. To him Jerusalem/Zion is synonymous with God’s people (‘we, the daughter of Zion’ - 1.9); it will be purged by the removal of the filth of the daughter of Zion - 4.4; it represents ‘the inhabitants of Jerusalem’ - 5.3; 8.14; 22.21; 28.14; 30.19; it is to arise and clothe itself in beauty - 52.2; it is a place of rejoicing where weeping is heard no more - 65.18-19); and it is from Jerusalem/Zion with its exalted, unearthly Temple, that God’s message will go out to the world (2.4; 62.6, 7). It is the Jerusalem/Zion which is the city of God in contrast with the world city. It is the future glorious Jerusalem, which has eternal connections and will be part of the everlasting kingdom (1.27; 4.3-5; 12.6; 18.7; 24.23; 26.1-4; 28.16; 30.19; 33.5, 20; 35.10; 46.13; 51.3, 11, 16; 52.1; 59.20; 60.14; 61.3; 62.1, 11; 65.18, 19; 66.10, 13, 20) .
It was, however, to be expected that the prophets would stop short of making it fully heavenly or seeing in it simply a picture of the people of God as such. They had no concept of Heaven. And they could not even conceive of a people of God not connected with Jerusalem. (It took the early church great searching of heart before they also did so). So as they peered with God’s help into the future, Jerusalem was their conception of the people of God. Surrounded on all sides by a wicked world they were God’s people, ‘Jerusalem’. The prophets had no full or detailed conception of an afterlife, or of a spiritual kingdom, or of living in a heavenly sphere, and did not think in those terms. Even when, rarely, resurrection is mentioned it is closely connected with this earth (Isaiah 26.19). So a Jerusalem purified and made spiritual, a perfected Jerusalem that fulfilled all the hopes of the prophets and the true people of God, was God’s ideal. It represented His true ‘congregation (church)’.
The idea of ‘Jerusalem’ both in the near view and in the far view therefore represented hope, deliverance, the congregation of Israel gathered together, the presence of God with His people, a centre of God’s rule, and the final fulfilment of what God intended His people to be. It was to be the fulfilment of all their expectations. And that was why inevitably it had in the end to become a heavenly city. For no earthly city, populated by earthly people, could achieve those expectations. We can therefore justly take the idea of Jerusalem as Paul did and see it as representing all God’s people wherever they were.
But the prophets could not wholly think like that, for, as mentioned above, there was then little specific detailed conception of an afterlife, or of a world-wide, ‘invisible’ kingdom. So to them it was in Jerusalem that they saw the fulfilment of all their hopes for the future, it represented the people of God surrounded by an antagonistic world, and it resulted in the triumph of God depicted in earthly terms which were never full worked out.
But in the end, the important question is not so much how the prophets saw it as how God intended it to be seen. And there the New Testament position is directly relevant. In the New Testament the idea of Jerusalem is related to what we call ‘Heaven’. Yet even ‘Heaven’, like ‘Jerusalem’ to the prophets, is but a name for the ideal future, the place where God dwells, the future home of His people. It simply recognises that the Jerusalem of the prophetic hopes could not be realised on earth. Thus Revelation finally amplifies it in terms of a ‘new Earth’.
So as we read Zechariah and the prophets we must see Jerusalem sometimes as it was and sometimes in terms of its heavenly ideal, as representing God’s whole people.
The Burden Of The Word Of YHWH (12.1a).
12.1a ‘The burden of the word of YHWH concerning Israel.’
Compare for this idea 9.1; Malachi 1.1. It is interesting that the proclamation of what YHWH will do is described as ‘concerning Israel’. Yet the detail following is concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Here ‘Israel’ is thus used to indicate the whole nation. The divisions (11.14) have been removed. Clearly God is ‘about to act’. (To Zechariah the words ‘Israel’, Ephraim’, ‘Joseph’, ‘Judah’ are to some extent interchangeable, all referring to the people of God).
But what was Israel? We must recognise that it was not just a nation comprising direct descendants of the twelve Patriarchs. Indeed it never was. They were probably always in the minority. It was a conglomerate nation. Probably the larger part of ‘Israel’ in Egypt consisted of the descendants of the ‘households’ of the patriarchs (Exodus 1.1) which would have included many servants and slaves from different races and backgrounds.
Then at the Exodus especially and specifically (Exodus 12.38, 48), and all through her history, peoples of many nations were adopted into Israel and became ‘true Israelites’ on the basis of the covenant with YHWH, tracing their ‘descent’ back to the patriarchs. Thus Uriah the Hittite was almost certainly ‘a true Israelite’ (2 Samuel 11.3 onwards). Indeed anyone who was willing to enter into that covenant could do so by renouncing their gods and submitting to the God of Israel. Israel was a composite nation but its people in fact soon found themselves looking back by adoption to their ‘descent’ from the patriarchs.
This pattern continued after the Exile, although not without tight restriction. It continued later, when the witness of ‘Israel’, scattered among the nations, impressed many Gentiles who were convinced by their teaching about the One God and were appreciative of their high moral code. Many of these became ‘proselytes’, entering into the covenant by being circumcised and where possible offering sacrifice, (and at some stage a ceremonial washing was introduced) and theoretically at least were then regarded as full Israelites, although with certain restrictions. Intermarriage and time would soon see them incorporated more directly. Some of them became respected Rabbis. Others, not willing to be circumcised, but desirous of worshipping the God of Israel and being part of the community of God, were called God-fearers. But in their case the Jews did not see them as becoming full members of Israel.
Furthermore under John Hyrcanus the remnant of Edom were forced to be circumcised and become Jews, and the same happened to the Gentile inhabitants of Galilee. It is quite clear then that to speak of Israel as the descendants of Abraham is in the main wishful thinking. Those who actually considered that they could prove that they were true descendants of Abraham actually saw themselves as superior.
And according to the New Testament from the moment that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost the ‘true Jews’, who believed in the Messiah, formed the new Israel, and many were gathered in to that true Israel from around the world, for the new church was indeed declared to be ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16), the converted Gentiles being grafted into the true people of God (Romans 11.17-28; compare Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.5-9). But the difference was that this was now on the basis that the Messiah had come, had been crucified as an offering for sin, and had risen again. Here were the new Jerusalem, the new people of God.
Indeed this was what the argument about circumcision in the church was all about. Could Christians become members of the true Israel without being circumcised? (Acts 15.5). Paul strongly argued that circumcision was no longer necessary, and that what mattered was circumcision of the heart (Romans 2.29; Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.11; Ephesisans 2.11-22), for they were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11), and were thus true Israelites. And this in the end became the established norm, confirmed officially by the Apostles (Acts 15.6-21) through the Holy Spirit (Acts 15.28-29).
Thus the firm teaching of the early church and of the New Testament is that Christians on receiving the Spirit and being baptised become full members of the true Israel, inheriting all the promises of God made to Israel (Ephesians 2.11-19; Galatians 3.7, 28-29 with 6.16). They were ‘grafted in’.
They also believed that those members of Israel who would not respond to Christ as their Messiah ceased to be members of the true Israel and were cut off (Romans 11.15-24). They were no longer part of the true Israel (Romans 9.6). Eschatalogically the true church of Christ thus become in reality the new Israel, the new Judah, the new Zion, the new Jerusalem as conceived of in the teachings of the prophets.
With these things in mind let us consider the words before us. What is the burden concerning the true Israel?
The Initial Future Of Jerusalem (12.1b-9)
12.1b ‘Thus says YHWH, who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.’
These words stress the greatness and wonder of what is to happen. It is the great Creator Who is about to act. They remind us of Isaiah 42.5. There YHWH God ‘has created the heavens and stretched them forth, has spread abroad the earth’ and ‘gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it’, so that in Isaiah 51.13 (compare 48.13) it is ‘YHWH your Maker’ Who has ‘stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.’ Thus the thought is of YHWH as creator of the heavens and the earth, and of the spirit of man, the life within him. It is describing the activity of the Onw Who is the source of all that is.
This stresses the greatness of YHWH and explains why He is able to do what follows. None other could do it but this Great Creator. (It is difficult to avoid the suggestion that Zechariah has read or heard these words of Isaiah).
12.2 ‘Behold I will make Jerusalem a cup of reeling to all the peoples round about, and on Judah also shall it be in the siege against Jerusalem.’
The future Jerusalem is first to be a ‘cup of reeling’. Before it can be a blessing it must first be a source of judgment to all who are outside it and come into conflict with it. As they come to try to ‘drink’ of it they must reel before it. And this applies not only to its enemies and those who besiege it but to Judah also, to those who think of themselves as part of ‘God’s people’. In reality this was necessarily so. Whenever Jerusalem was besieged Judah had to take the brunt of it (compare Sennacherib’s words, ‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took, and I shut up Hezekiah like a caged bird in Jerusalem’). So Jerusalem’s investiture meant suffering for those of Judah who had not taken refuge in Jerusalem, as well as for all those involved.
Now as we have suggested above this impact of Jerusalem demands first the fact of its future establishment by Nehemiah. The Jerusalem of Zechariah’s day, could not have had this impact, nor would it have been besieged in any large scale way. It had to become important first. So even in this picture God is promising a future for Jerusalem, when under Nehemiah it would become again a ruling city, a future which would have an impact on world history, and an impact that would include judgment on nations and the besieging of Jerusalem. This was the initial significance of the vision of Zechariah, a Jerusalem large enough and established enough to make an impact. It was Israel’s hope, but as a hope it could never finally be realised on earth because on earth it was peopled with sinners.
Note that this is depicted as relatively local, ‘the peoples round about’. It is not universal. So while the future Jerusalem is to become a blessing, and a stepping stone in the purposes of God, as indicated later, it will not be so at first. At first it will be a stumblingstone to all because men’s hearts are not right with God. Men will thus at first reel before Jerusalem. And they certainly did in the days of Nehemiah.
Furthermore it may be that we have to remind ourselves here that Scripture conceives of a coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem. In Daniel 9.26 such a destruction is connected with the death of the Messiah. So we learn that it is not only the future of Jerusalem that is somewhat bleak, but also that of the Messiah.
‘In the siege of Jerusalem.’ That is, in the time of, and as a consequence of, the siege of Jerusalem
But as well as being a picture of the Jerusalem that then was, it is also a picture of God’s people at all times. The enemy world will come against them, including even the so-called Christians who have ‘remained outside the walls’ (have not truly experienced the Spirit), and they will reel back because God will protect His people.
12.3 ‘And it will happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all the peoples. All that burden themselves with it will be lacerated, and all the nations of the earth will be gathered together against it.’
‘In that day.’ That is, in the day when Jerusalem is made a cup of reeling. The effects are thus emphasised. His city, His people, which were intended to be a blessing will become a burdensome stone, something hard to bear. The world is ever in conflict against God and that is epitomised by their attitude towards Jerusalem then, and God’s people now. Because of the rejection of the ideal that it stood for, it could only result in ‘reeling’ for the nations, and for the people of Judah themselves. Instead of being a blessing it would be a burden to them. They will be lacerated by it.
Note on Jerusalem.
The history of Jerusalem would ever be a history of trouble, and Jerusalem was certainly regularly a thorn of the flesh to those who sought to conquer and control it from this time onwards, whether Greek or Roman, Saracen or formal Christian, just as it had been for Israel. And this arose partly from the strong feelings it evoked, and partly from man’s misinterpretation of what it was meant to be. It still continues so today. Longed for by Judaism, coveted by Muslims, it is a centre of conflict and a destroyer of peace, because both see Jerusalem in the wrong light. They see a city central to an earthly faith, a faith which makes them fight, and kill, and hate. They fail to see that the real Jerusalem is now a heavenly city, represented on earth by its citizens who are at peace and save life, and love, and no longer connected with the stones and mortar on Mount Zion (Philippians 3.20). The faith of Jews and Muslims is still worldly, while the true Jerusalem is above.
And this situation was extended as a result of the death of the Messiah, for then it gained an expanded significance. As we know, its history from 70 AD onwards was fraught with troubles, and many nations suffered by contact with it, including Romans, Persians, Crusaders and Arabs. Instead of being the blessing to the world it should have been, it had become a burden hard to carry, a curse. The earthly Jerusalem was in slavery with her children (Galatians 4.25). For once Jesus Christ had been crucified and His message and salvation had gone out to the world the earthly Jerusalem had ceased to matter. It was an empty shell in which gathered all the ideas that were worst in world religions. It became a centre for all whose religion lacked true spirituality, for men to fight over, contradicting all it stood for.
For the truth is that while Jerusalem had originally represented the established centre of the worship of the true God, the place where God had met, and would meet, with man if he repented, in the end it became the place where His Son was crucified and yet from which went out the message of the spiritual reign of God (Isaiah 2.3). But the idea of Jerusalem arose to heaven with Him, for He embodied all that it represented. It became the ‘Jerusalem which is above’ (Galatians 4.26) This was Jerusalem’s success. But in all else it failed because of man’s blindness and hardness of heart. It is now but a memorial to Him for some, and a continuing religious burden for others.
So to the Jews it became a superstition. To their enemies it was the centre of the religion of the Jews. All who therefore sought to despoil it were thus deliberately putting themselves at enmity with the God of Israel. And whatever the outward profession, the conquest of Jerusalem was in the end, at all times, for men’s own gain and glory, for the fulfilment of superstition or the attaining of revenge. They therefore found it a burdensome stone and suffered for it, and they were finally crushed on it.
But, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel had previously made clear, none of the promises had meant that the physical city of Jerusalem with its Temple was inviolable. It was only when the people were in a state of covenant obedience that that applied (2 Kings 19.34). Thus there was the first destruction of it under Nebuchadnezzar followed by the exile; thus there were the activities of Antiochus Epiphanes when the Temple was desecrated one hundred and fifty or so years before the time of Christ; and thus, centuries after Zechariah, there came the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Titus thirty or so years after Jesus’ death. This would be followed by its further devastation when Bar Kochba rebelled against the Romans and its rebuilding as a pagan city, with all Jews excluded from it in 132 AD, a position reversed only in the time of Constantine (early 4th century AD). And it has suffered many times since. And Revelaion 11 depicts it in the last days as another Sodom and another Egypt, an enemy of God’s people (without naming it).
But this is not the glorious Jerusalem of the prophets. That is composed of God’s true people.
End of note.
‘All the nations of the earth will be gathered together against it.’ Compare Revelation 20.9 where such an idea is connected with ‘the camp of the saints (God’s people)’. It is the Jerusalem that represents the people of God which is a magnet to the peoples of the world, and which bears the brunt of its hatred. The people of God have been regularly subjected to such hatred throughout history.
So ‘the last days’ are also in mind here, for the gathering together of the nations against God’s people in the last days is a regular feature of the prophets, although not all the prophecies must be limited to that as we have seen. But in saying this we must recognise what Scripture means by ‘the last days’. We must remember that the New Testament writers declared that ‘the last days’, the days of the Messiah, had already come in their time (Acts 2.16 in context; 1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 1.2; 9.26-28; 1 Peter 1.10-12; 1.20; 4.7). So the fact is that we are in the middle of ‘the last days’ now, not living before them.
There was no reason why all the nations should gather against Jerusalem unless it symbolised something far greater than just the capital of a small country. Jerusalem had come to symbolise an idea, the idea of the whole people of God, the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ of Galatians 4.26, the Jerusalem not in bondage.
Note on the Jerusalem in Bondage.
In Galatians 4.25-29 Paul distinguishes the Jerusalem in bondage from the Jerusalem that is free. The one is like Hagar, the other like Sarah. The one the earthly Jerusalem the other the people of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
To the Jews the earthly Jerusalem is still a witness to the God of the covenant, a covenant that they hope will one day be renewed. It is the place where their hearts are, which was why the people themselves could be called ‘Zion’. They believed that it was only in he earthly Jerusalem that they could finally experience the glory of the coming Reign of God.
To the Christian it came to represent the spiritual witness of God in the world because it was there that Christ died and rose again. And because of this it became to many a sacred place. But then it became a place of superstition. Many forgot that Christ had risen and gone and that all that was there was an empty tomb, that the prophetic ideal Jerusalem was no more on earth. Thus Jerusalem became a bondage.
And to Islam it represents a witness to God as the place where, in their view, Abraham, their forefather, was ready to sacrifice His son. To all it is ‘a holy place’, a vivid reminder of the activity of God in the world. And it is the source of much that is devilish. It is Jerusalem rejected and in bondage.
As always when people are involved the reverence for it is regularly directed in the wrong direction. They reverence the place instead of the idea. Thus they fight and argue and pillage, fighting for a bit of land, failing to recognise that it was to the God of Jerusalem on high and His demands and requirements that they should look.
Today the Jews and the Arabs and even so-called Christians still fight over it. But in the eyes of God it has been displaced by His people Zion, the true people of God who are scattered worldwide.
End of note.
And so eschatalogically the nations being gathered together against Jerusalem means that they are gathered together against God’s people, against His revelation of Himself in the world, here symbolised by Jerusalem, but including His children wherever they may be. They are against the people of God. For, as Revelation brings out, it is His true people who are the new Jerusalem and in the end it is against them that the nations of the world will be gathered. (See our commentary on Revelation 19-21 at Revelation.)
12.4-5 “In that day,” says YHWH, “I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness, and I will open my eyes on the house of Judah and will smite every horse of the peoples with blindness. And the chieftains of Judah will say in their heart, ‘The dwellers in Jerusalem are my strength in YHWH of Hosts their God.’
In the final analysis the enemies of Jerusalem will be rendered helpless. And there were times when this was true with the old Jerusalem. Jerusalem did survive invasion a number of times. But this vivid picture is really telling us that the world is powerless against His people. For none can in the end stand against the people of God old or new. Notice the contrast. YHWH’s eyes will be open on ‘Judah’ while, as a result, the eyes of their enemies’ horses will be blinded. They trusted in their horses (in other words material things) who could only fail them, the people of God are to trust in YHWH Who sees.
‘YHWH’s eyes will open on Judah.’ This indicates God’s protection of His people and can be seen in the light of the establishment of the New Covenant promised by Jeremiah (31.31-34) when the Spirit of grace and of supplication will be poured out (Zechariah 12.10). It occurred especially at the coming of John the Baptiser and Jesus Himself when He offered Himself to His people and many responded through the Spirit, and there is some reason to believe that before Christ’s second coming there is promised a further period of outpouring of the Spirit, with widespread conversions and renewing of the earthly ‘people of God’.
‘The dwellers in Jerusalem are my strength in YHWH of Hosts their God.’ Judah will now look not to their horses but to the ‘dwellers in Jerusalem’ as themselves strengthened by YHWH of Hosts, their God. It is important to see here that reference to Jerusalem is defined as meaning the dwellers in Jerusalem as empowered by YHWH. Here clearly, even in Zechariah’s eyes, we have an idealised Jerusalem, a spiritual Jerusalem, a Jerusalem which is ‘other-worldly’, a Jerusalem which is transcendent. (It is difficult to think of the people of Judah describing the inhabitants of Jerusalem as their strength in YHWH otherwise).
‘Judah’, being taken by God under His eye and responding to the truth symbolised by Jerusalem, represents here the reviving of certain of the people of God. And the New Testament makes clear what this Judah was. Initially in the coming of Christ God’s word went out to Galilee, away from Jerusalem. And it became the new Israel which was found in the true church, founded by the Jewish Messiah Himself, built on the Jewish Apostles, established first by His ministry throughout Palestine, becoming centred in Jerusalem, reaching out to the world with Jerusalem for its centre, and finally becoming a worldwide ‘Israel of God’, the living Temple of God and centre of His worship. Its members are incorporated into Israel and form the new Temple (John 4.21-24; Galatians 6.16; Romans 11.17; Ephesians 2.20-21). It is they then who will enjoy God’s protection.
And the people of God did indeed look to those who were dwellers in Jerusalem, who went out to the world with the Gospel and enjoyed protection from their enemies and experienced the blessing of God, representing all that ‘Jerusalem’ stood for. Thus the prophet rightly sees Jerusalem as the source of truth from God and foresees its great impact for good on the world.
12.6 ‘In that day will I make the chieftains of Judah like a pan of fire among wood, and like a torch of fire among sheaves, and they will devour all the peoples round about, on the right hand and on the left, and Jerusalem shall yet again dwell in her own place, even in Jerusalem.’
The picture of the triumph of the people of God continues. The pan of fire, placed among wood like a firelighter, brings the wood into flame; the flaming torch, set to the sheaves, sets them afire. Thus His people are impregnable. All who seek to attack them will be discomforted and dealt with severely. They will find more than their fingers burned.
‘Jerusalem shall yet again dwell in her own place, in Jerusalem.’ Here we have a play on the name Jerusalem. The ‘Jerusalem’ that is to ‘dwell in Jerusalem’ must signify people, as Zion signified people in 2.7. Thus we have confirmation that ‘Jerusalem’, like ‘Zion’, can mean the people it represents. And although they were far away from Jerusalem they would come home in security and safety. And those who were true among them became the foundation of the work of the Messiah.
Thus the prophet is declaring that Jerusalem will become ‘true’ again (Zechariah 8.3), it will become the city of truth. And this was so when Jesus and His disciples and many with Him took up their place in Jerusalem making it the centre from which the Gospel would flow out to the world. That is why it could not be that He perished outside Jerusalem (Luke 13.33 compare Matthew 16.21; Luke 9.51).
And, as we see in our own day the gathering of the Jews to Jerusalem, and among them as ever the remnant, the true people of God, genuine Hebrew Christians, it may yet be that there will be a prominent place for the physical Jerusalem in the purposes of God. For God has His own way of surprising us. But if so it will only be as it responds to Jesus Christ.
12.7 ‘In that day YHWH will also save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the dwellers in Jerusalem be not magnified above Judah.’
‘Will also save the tents of Judah first.’ The impact of Jesus the Messiah was first outside Jerusalem. His ministry, while touching Jerusalem, was mainly in Judea and Galilee. It was there that He had His most fruitful ministry. It was only then that He advanced, as it were, on Jerusalem and through His Apostles made it the centre of His ministry. God did not want Jerusalem to become a city above itself. Its purpose was for the work of God through it, not for its own glory.
There is a remarkable fulfilment of this in that those outside Jerusalem responded to Jesus Christ in multitudes, while His brothers and relatives (the house of David) and the members of Jerusalem were a little behind.
12.8 ‘In that day YHWH will defend the dwellers in Jerusalem, and he who is feeble among them at that day will be as David, and the house of David will be as God, as the Angel of YHWH before them.’
This magnificent picture again found its truth in the coming of Christ. Those who lived in that day thought at first that they had stamped out this bedraggled group of men led by their infamous teacher. But God defended them, and made them like David, strong and effective and irresistible. And the One Who led them was indeed seen to be ‘as God, as the Angel of YHWH’, for that is what He was.
12.9 ‘And it will happen in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.’
God promises that when He has established His people, centred in the ‘city of truth’, He will protect them from all nations. Battered they may be but they come under His protection. In the words of Jesus ‘you will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, and not a hair of your head will perish’ (Luke 21.17-18).
But ‘the last days’ will finally end in judgment. Thus judgment is regularly depicted in Scripture as a last great battle against the people of God. See especially for this Revelation 19.11-20. Here then God is declaring His judgment on all those who oppose what the ideal Jerusalem and the true people of God, headed by the Messianic king, stand for. Such will face the final judgment of God.
In prophetic eyes the nations come against ‘Jerusalem’ because of what it is, the symbol of God’s dwelling place, the centre of the people of God and source of the truth of God. They come as enemies of God and they come under the judgment of God. In the last analysis the fulfilment of this does not require a physical invasion of Jerusalem, although that may also be the case. It requires only enmity against the God of Jerusalem and His people.
As so often in Scripture we must see a literal and a spiritual fulfilment. Jerusalem was established, and the nations of the world did come against it, and it was at times amazingly delivered. But the deeper significance of it lies in Zion as the people of God..
The True and the False Prophets (12.10 - 13.9).
The way in which all this will take effect is now clearly laid out. A contrast is made between:
The Pouring out of the Spirit And The Repentance Brought About By Considering The Pierced One (12.10-1.31).
12.10 ‘And I will pour on the house of David and on the dwellers in Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplication, and they will look to me whom they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and will be in bitterness for him as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn.’
From now on in this section all the promises are to the ‘house of David’ and the ‘dwellers in Jerusalem’, and yet in this terminology the whole land is in mind (12.12; 13.2; 13.8). Once again we recognise that they are a symbolic, representative group representing the people of God as a whole.
This remarkable prophecy of the death of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, both on members of His own family, ‘the house of David’ (Acts 1.14), and on those appointed to take His message to the world, ‘the dwellers in Jerusalem’, can only fill us with awe and gratitude.
Jesus’ own brothers of the house of David did become true followers of Him. James the Lord’s brother became a prominent leader of the Jerusalem church and His other brothers also proved true to Him. They shared in the outpouring of the Spirit. And the Apostles became dwellers in Jerusalem, going out from there to the world. And they were indeed ‘like David’ both in boldness and in faithfulness.
Firstly the prophecy looks to the ‘piercing’ of One Who was in so close a relationship with God that He can describe it as the piercing of Himself. It is His true Prophet Who is to be pierced. It is His true Shepherd Who is to be smitten (13.7).
‘They will look on me whom they have pierced.’ In one sense they will be piercing God Himself. Yet that the piercing is of a human being comes out in the following phrases where the verse reverts to ‘him’ and describes One Who is mourned like an only son. This can only look back to the suffering Servant described by Isaiah 53 (we have noted earlier in the chapter his knowledge of Isaiah’s work). Here the prophet is thinking of One Who will suffer on behalf of God’s people, will offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and will be received by God as the victor. And while the reference to the only son is indirect, it is nevertheless significant. There will be mourning as for an only son. But there is also reference to the house of David which gives the verse Messianic significance. It is the time of the Messiah.
Secondly it looks to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, commencing in the life of Christ (Mark 1.10), continuing in the Upper Room (John 20), and wonderfully revealed to the world in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2). These events truly changed history and affected the whole world.
‘The Spirit of grace and of supplication.’ This must have in mind Joel 2.28 and Isaiah 44.3-5, and many similar passages, where God’s grace and favour is made known to men in the pouring out of the Spirit, causing them to walk in His ways and to prophesy. It is a picture of fruitfulness and of blessing, using the pouring down of rain as a symbol for the work of the Spirit. But here it goes a step further in recognising the direct connection with the suffering Servant.
‘Grace’. In Psalm 84.11 God’s grace is revealed in the fact that He withholds nothing from those who walk uprightly. All that we receive from God is through His grace, His undeserved favour, and that grace abounds to those who are His.
‘Supplication.’ In Jeremiah 36.7 supplication is directly linked with returning from evil ways. The idea here is of true repentance and submission to God. Thus those who experience this outpouring return to God and receive His favour and His Spirit.
‘Me whom they have pierced.’ The piercing is an indication that we are dealing with a Prophet (13.3). 13.3 would suggest that ‘piercing through’ was the recognised punishment for false prophecy. Thus the One Whom God would send was to be treated as a false prophet. The so-called people of God would reject Him and pierce Him, and by doing so they would accuse God Himself of being false. Thus He Himself would be pierced by their action, for the One Whom they rejected would be proclaiming His truth.
But once they had pierced Him there would be many who would be woken to the truth about Him. When the Spirit was poured down on them they would look on what had been done and they would mourn for Him and for their sinfulness.
‘And they shall mourn for him --.’ The theme of mourning is emphatically stressed in these verses in a number of ways and is clearly connected with the pouring out of the Spirit of grace and supplication, demonstrating that their hearts have been changed and that it is a mourning for sin and for the way in which they have offended God. It is the mourning of repentance from that sin and for what they have brought on the suffering Servant, and will result in their benefiting from the fountain for sin and uncleanness (13.1).
‘As one mourns for his only son’. They will recognise that they have done this to One Who should have been as dear as an only son. This is doubly stressed. He will be as dear to them as their firstborn sons.
12.13-14 ‘In that day there will be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddon, and the land shall mourn every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart, the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart, the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart, the family of the Shimeites apart, and their families apart, all the families that remain, every family apart and their wives apart.’
The depth of the mourning for sin is brought out by the continued emphasis. It has been compared with the mourning for a firstborn son, now further comparisons are made.
‘As the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddon.’ This clearly refers to some well known ceremony of mourning. The name Hadad-rimmon suggests connection with fertility rites, for Hadad is the god of storm (compare Baal) and Rimmon is similarly the chief god of Damascus (2 Kings 5.18). Such rites would include mourning as the dead deity was sought in order to bring him back to life for the renewal of the seasons (compare weeping for Tammuz in Ezekiel 8.14). Rites like these would often continue through the centuries long after their main meaning was forgotten.
But it is mentioned, not to approve of the rites, but as a prime example of open and deep mourning which all would recognise. There may be some connection with the death of Josiah, the last great and favoured descendant of David to do what was right in the eyes of Yahweh. This took place in the valley of Megiddo, and may well have been remembered by appropriating such rites.
The mourning will be deep and personal for each family will be apart, and wives apart from their men. Prominent in the mourning will be the royal family and the priests. David, the head of the royal house, is mentioned and especially David’s son Nathan (2 Samuel 5.14; 1 Chronicles 3.5; Luke 3.31), and Levi the head of the priestly tribe, and especially the Shimeites (see Numbers 3.18, 21). Then the remainder of the people. The mourning will go right from the top to the bottom. It is noteworthy that the natural descent of Jesus and His family from David was through Nathan (Luke 3.31).
So the mourning for sin will reach to all parts of Israel, including members of the Messiah’s own family.
13.1 ‘In that day there will be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the dwellers in Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.’
The result of the piercing of the Messianic Servant will be the opening of a fountain for sin and uncleanness both for His own family and household and for those who ‘dwell in Jerusalem’, that is those whose hearts are true towards the God of Jerusalem.
The idea of a fountain for the removal of sin is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Elsewhere the idea of the fountain is as a fountain of life, or of living waters, which symbolise life through the Holy Spirit (Psalm 36.9; Proverbs 13.14; Isaiah 41.18; Jeremiah 2.13; 17.13; Joel 3.18).
But in mind here are almost certainly the words of Ezekiel in 36.24-29. ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. From all your filthiness and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart also I will give you and a new Spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you --- and I will save you from all your uncleannesses.’ The deep mourning and repentance of sin in 12.10-12 opens the way for God’s Spirit to work within them, and indeed shows that He has already begun to work within them. That work produces new life and results in the removal of sin and uncleanness through the waters from God’s fountain.
But sprinkled water as in Ezekiel is water that has been treated with the ashes of a heifer - Numbers 19.17 (see ‘the waters of expiation’ - Numbers 8.7) and thus cleanses through its sacrificial qualities. That is why it is ‘clean’ water. Thus this ‘fountain opened for sin--’ must be seen as connected with the piercing of the true Prophet with His shedding of blood interpreted sacrificially as in Isaiah 53, compare possibly 52.15.
The idea of sin being washed away by water is rare in the Old Testament. The ritual washings did not cleanse. They were only preparatory. When they were used men would ‘not be clean until the evening’. Something further was necessary. When David speaks of being washed from sin he parallels it with being purged with hyssop. His emphasis is on being cleansed through sacrifice, and always sprinkling involves sacrificial blood in one way or another.
So the prophet declares that there is coming a day of great repentance for sin resulting from the piercing of the Servant Messiah, a day of great spiritual renewal, and the provision of God’s final answer to the problem of sin and uncleanness.
The Cessation of the Guild of Prophets Because They Are No Longer True (13.2-3).
13.2 ‘And it will happen in that day,’ says YHWH of Hosts, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they will not be remembered any more, and I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.’
The final result of the purification and cleansing will be that idolatry and false prophecy will be removed from the land forever (compare 5.5-11). Even the memory of them will go. Truth will be victorious.
‘The unclean spirit.’ The spirit who speaks through the false prophets.
Thus the inference is that once the true Servant of God has come cultic prophecy will be a thing of the past for He will reveal the full truth and those who follow Him will receive the truth from Him.
13.3 ‘And it will happen that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother who begat him will say to him, “You will not live, for you speak lies in the name of YHWH.” And his father and his mother who begat him will pierce him through when he prophesies.’
Once the days of the Messiah are here there will be no room for the old cult of prophets. Any who set themselves up as such will be denounced even by their parents and they will be declared worthy of punishment.
‘And his father and his mother --- will pierce him through --’. This clearly connects with the piercing through of the True Prophet in 12.10. There the true prophet was pierced through because He was rejected by men. But God exonerated Him and identified Himself with Him. Here it is the turn of the false prophets, who played their part in His rejection, themselves to suffer the fate of a false prophet. This suggests that at the time of Zechariah false prophecy was dealt with in this way. We do not know of what the piercing through consisted but verse 6 suggests that it was connected with the hands.
The False Prophets Will Be Ashamed Of Having Been Prophets (13.4-6).
13.4-5 ‘And it will happen that the prophets will be ashamed every one of his vision when he prophesies, neither will they wear a hairy mantle to deceive. But he will say, “I am a tiller of the ground, for I have been made a bondman from my youth.” ’
It is clear that when some members of the prophetic cult prophesied they would wear a hairy mantle to depict themselves as following in the line of Elijah (2 Kings 1.8). In the coming days of the Messiah they ‘will be ashamed of their vision’, that is they will not tell anyone what they have seen. So they will cease wearing a hairy mantle in order to deceive people. Instead they will depict themselves as honest sons of toil, as tillers of the ground and as bondmen, bound to menial service and therefore not free. For they will be ashamed for it to be known that they were once prophets.
13.6 ‘And one shall say to him, “What are these wound in your hands?” Then he will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
When people see the wounds made in the hands of the false prophets by their parents, and hear them say they are tillers of the soil, their suspicions will be aroused, for they will recognise the punishment of a false prophet. So they will ask what the wounds are, and the false prophet will make an excuse. The excuse is double edged. On the one hand he tries to persuade them that he received them while partying with his friends. But on the other hand the statement is also true, for those who really so dealt with him were truly his friends for they caused him to cease his false profession.
The One True Prophet Who was falsely pierced (12.10) would also use these words. But in His case the words would be more ironic. He was wounded by those who had professed to be His friends (see verse 7).
The Righteous Shepherd Who Is God’s Fellow (13.7-9).
13.7 “Awake, Oh sword, against my shepherd, and against the man who is my fellow,” says YHWH of Hosts, “smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered and I will turn my hand on the little ones.”
This verse connects with the previous verse and with 12.10. From 12.10 - 13.7 we have the deliberate contrast between God’s true Prophet and the cultic false prophets centred in the old Jerusalem. The false prophets were pierced because of their false prophecies. The true Prophet was pierced because He was falsely rejected. The false prophets claim to have been smitten by their friends, the true Shepherd will be smitten by those who should have been His friends. Thus the true Shepherd was also to be pierced and smitten because of the perversity of men.
Here ‘smite’ is used, the same verb as is used of false prophets in verse 6, to contrast the smiting of the true Shepherd with that of the false. ‘Pierce’ was used in the contrast in 12.10 and 13.3.
The sword of judgment which had smitten the false shepherds (11.17) will also smite the true. This amazing verse then depicts the smiting of God’s true shepherd (compare Isaiah 53 which amplifies these words). The old Jerusalem’s last act before it is superseded will be to destroy the Shepherd of God.
In the background is God’s judgment on sin placed on the Shepherd (Isaiah 53.4-6) but the actual sword is wielded by His enemies, ironically the old dwellers in Jerusalem. The Shepherd is smitten by His supposed ‘friends’. But underlying it is that the One Who is the substitute for sin (Isaiah 53.5) must bear the judgment that is imposed on the enemies of God because He is made sin for us.
‘Awake, Oh sword.” In the end it is God Who controls and sends forth the sword of judgment. All is done under His sovereign hand. But it is wielded by His enemies, those who profess to be His friends, thus unconsciously bringing about the purposes of God..
‘My shepherd.’ The shepherd was familiar for his care and concern for his sheep, as feeder, guide and protector. It is a regular picture for God in the Old Testament (Psalm 23; 80.1; Isaiah 40.11; Jeremiah 31.10) and for those who serve in God’s place (Zechariah 11.4, 7; Numbers 27.16-17; Isaiah 63.11; Jeremiah 23.4) and especially for the Messiah (Ezekiel 34 23; 37.24). But as Zechariah has shown, many of the latter proved to be false shepherds (10.2-3; 11.5, 16-17 compare Isaiah 56.11; Jeremiah 25.33-37; 50.6; Ezekiel 34.2-10).
In the light of Ezekiel 34.23; 37.24 with Zechariah 12.10 and the use of ‘My’ we are justified in seeing in this smitten shepherd God’s servant, the ‘one shepherd’, the ‘David’ who was to come, in other words the Messiah.
‘And against the man who is my fellow.’ Literally, ‘the man who stands next to Me.’ This clearly suggests a God-appointed king and confirms that we have here the coming Promised One. It was always a problem for the Jews to reconcile this coming Promised One who would suffer under God’s hand with their expected triumphant Messiah. It is only in the coming of Jesus that we see the two reconciled. Yet the prophets had an awareness, although doubtless mystified, that this must be so.
‘Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered and I will turn my hand on the little ones (on the lambs).’ This verse is quoted by Jesus to describe the result on His disciples of His being seized (Matthew 26.31; Mark 14.27). The smiting of the shepherd always results in the scattering of the sheep and the destruction of lambs. And in the sovereignty of God it has often been so with His people, whether it be the Great Shepherd or His under-shepherds. But as the next verses make clear this is because it will have a refining effect which is for the good of His flock. God’s purposes are accomplished through suffering, and among the scattered sheep He raises up further under-shepherds.
13.8-9 “And it will happen that in all the land,” says Yahweh, “two parts in it will be cut off and die, but the third part will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They will call on my name and I will hear them. I will say, ‘It is my people’. And they will say, ‘YHWH is my God’.”
Here we have described the result of the smiting of the Shepherd. God’s future promises are not effective for all. The majority will not respond to God’s offer of mercy and will come under His judgment. This is depicted here in terms of a large proportion who die and a smaller proportion who go through refining fires and are purified.
Refining fires are also destructive fires. In Ezekiel 22.17-22 God declares that because of His wrath against His people Israel they will undergo the fire of His wrath. There is no suggestion there of its purifying effect although that may possibly be assumed from the process described, the purpose of which is to remove dross from metals. Ezekiel, however, describes Israel as mainly the dross, more in line with Jeremiah 6.29-30. Their concentration is on the judgment of a sinful people. Zechariah here recognises the destruction of a large proportion as dross but adds the thought of the fire as purifying the remnant who undergo it. So the idea is expanded and is not fully the same. For him there is room for mercy.
Malachi 3.1-3 and Isaiah 1.25-28 are more parallel with Zechariah. In Malachi 3.1-3 the concentration is on refining. After the sending of His messenger to prepare the way, YHWH comes to His Temple to purify the priesthood through refining fire, so that they are purified like gold and silver and become a true priesthood. This true priesthood was represented in the early church who became a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2.5, 9; Revelation 1.6).
Isaiah in 1.25-28 cites YHWH as declaring, ‘I will turn my hand on you and will purge away all your dross as with lye, and will take away all your tin.’ The result is then that the judges and counsellors are ‘restored’ and Jerusalem is called ‘the city of righteousness, the faithful city’, while transgressors and sinners are destroyed. This clearly reflects the meaning of Zechariah in respect of the ‘third part’.
Thus the smiting of the Shepherd results in judgment on the majority and the choosing out and refining of a minority. We may see this fulfilled in the consequences that came on the Jews after their rejection of the Messiah. In the war that began in 66 AD huge numbers of Jews were slaughtered, many by the sword, and others by crucifixion or death in the arena, But the true remnant who made up the church of Jesus Christ, although enduring much persecution prior to this, escaped the slaughter by fleeing from Jerusalem as Jesus had said.
‘A third part.’ Three was the number of completeness thus this means a proportion of the whole which is complete in itself. It is intended to mean a smallish minority and not to be applied literally. The exactness indicates the precision with which God chooses rather than being a mathematical declaration. This third part is to be purified through ‘fire’. The general idea behind this is suffering of one form or another. The bringing of man into a state acceptable to God is not something to be easily accomplished. In the words of Paul ‘tribulation produces patient endurance’ (Romans 5.3).
‘They will call on my name and I will hear them.’ The result of the refining will be genuine repentance so that they call on God from a true heart. Then He will hear them and respond.
‘I will say, “It is my people”. And they will say, “YHWH is my God”.’ They will be accepted once again by God as His true people and they will respond to Him as truly their God. We can compare Hosea 2.23, and Jeremiah 31.33, the latter specifically demonstrating the effect of the refining as ‘having the law written in their hearts’ as a result of the new covenant God makes with His people. This latter is cited in Hebrews 8.8-12 as relating to the better covenant brought by Jesus Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 6.17-18).
Note. There are some who would relate this whole passage in Zechariah 12.1 to 13.9 only to the final days of the current age. They would cite ‘in that day’ as always meaning such a time. They then see it as relating only to the Jews with a resulting ‘end time’ revival among them and late response to the Messiah. And indeed we would not deny that all such might happen, for there are grounds elsewhere for thinking of this as a possibility, but we must not restrict it to that. Nor is that even necessary.
The New Testament makes clear that ‘that day’, the ‘last days’, began in New Testament times. The Apostles saw themselves as being in the last days, the time of the end, the times of the Messiah (Acts 2.16 in context; 1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 1.2; 9.26-28; 1 Peter 1.10-12; 1.20; 4.7). It is true that that time has extended so that we too are in the last days, but their insistence on this means that prophecies related to ‘the end days’ apply from their time onwards.
Thus Peter applies the prophecy of Joel 2.28 to Pentecost, and this is in line with the idea in Zechariah 12.10; Jesus Christ cites Himself as the smitten Shepherd (Matthew 26.31), and the fountain for sin and uncleanness was opened as a result of His death and resurrection. To restrict it to the ‘end times’ as meant by these interpreters is to limit its significance and to lose the glory of what has come about. And it is to ignore the insistence of the New Testament that the hopes of Israel find themselves fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and in His church, the elect remnant, the Israel of God.
The Triumph of YHWH (14.1-21).
In this final chapter Zechariah visualises the final triumph of YHWH. The whole world will be subject to Him, and will worship Him (verse 16). He will be King over all the earth (verse 9). The idea is of the introduction of the everlasting kingdom.
At this point we need to stop and consider what was in the mind of the prophet. He was not, of course, aware of the first coming of Jesus, apart from in the general terms of a coming Servant of YHWH, and a coming of David, and there was no way in which he could have anticipated the New Testament revolution which lifted Jerusalem up into Heaven (Galatians 4.21-31; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 14.1-6; 21.1 ff.) and at the same time made his words meaningful to his own generation. To them activities in the heavens meant the activities of the gods, something anathema to the prophets. Thus when he prophesies activities in the heavens he does so in earthly terms, and in terms of the ideas that the people would understand. But we are not intended to take them literally. To him ‘Jerusalem’ (Zion) represented the people of God wherever they may be (2.7), whilst the sacrifice of Christ on the cross banished for ever the notion of animal sacrifices. The feasts of the Jews represented the realities to which they pointed. Thus the Feast of Tabernacles is really portraying the pouring out of the Holy Spirit seen in terms of life-giving rain (John 7.37-39). It is surely significant that when the glory of YHWH stood on the mountain east of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 11.23, it was after His promise that He would gather His people and pour out His Holy Spirit on them (Ezekiel 11.17-20).
We may analyse chapter 14 as follows:
Thus here in Zechariah 14 we have a great final apocalyptic scene in which the triumph of God is revealed and the fulfilling of His final purposes is depicted. It can be paralleled with Revelation 12-22 where similar ideas are depicted.
What then are we to make of Jerusalem as mentioned in this chapter? To Zechariah and the people of his day Jerusalem was representative of the people of God (see especially 2.7 where ‘Zion’ were in Babylon). They could not even have visualised a worldwide gathering of God’s people. To them the words of Jesus ‘nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father’ (John 4.21) would have seemed like blasphemy. To them Jerusalem was the centre of the worship of the people of God, so much so that those who were true to YHWH in Babylon were spoken of as ‘Zion’ (2.7). But Jesus dismissed that idea of the centrality of Jerusalem, and pointed out that in future those who truly worshipped God would do so in Spirit and in truth wherever they may be (John 4.24). This is hugely important for it demonstrates the New Testament interpretation of Jerusalem. As Paul makes clear in Galatians 4.21-31 Jerusalem is now above, and its inhabitants are the true people of God, His church.
That Zechariah himself saw his words as somehow going beyond his own age comes out in that his concentration is on ‘Jerusalem’ and not on the Temple, whilst the ‘YHWH’s house’ that he does mention in verses 20-21 would appear to refer to the whole of Judah, for the pots are holy throughout Judah. This would indicate that the whole of God’s people are holy.
It is further confirmed by the indication in verses 6-7 of the cessation of day and night. There will be permanent day. The light of YHWH will have come (compare Isaiah 9.2; 60.1 ff.). Living waters will have gone out in all directions (verse 8), and YHWH will be King over all the earth (verse 9).
But here we are faced with a dilemma. Are we to see the descent of YHWH Himself on the Mount of Olives as occurring at the beginning of the last days, that is, at the time when the Messiah Himself, standing on the Mount of Olives in Luke 22.39 and parallels, faced up to the battle that lay ahead, thus referring to the great spiritual battle that took place in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Or are we to see it as His final coming in judgment to bring in the everlasting kingdom as depicted in the end chapters of Revelation? Certainly the latter part of this chapter may have the latter in mind, although we may also see it as indicating current worship, but ‘the last days’ began with the first coming of the Messiah. Thus this chapter may well be seen as a foreshortened view of two thousand years and more. And as we have seen Ezekiel 11.23 connects His standing on the mountain to the east of the city with the coming of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 11.19).
We need, however, to recognise that Zechariah is not here speaking of events literally. This is clear from the fact that night will cease, and there will be perpetual day (verses 6-7). Such a depiction is clearly symbolic. A world with perpetual day would be an impossible place for humans to live in. They would lack proper sleep. Indeed, Revelation 21.23-24; 22.5 see it as a depiction of the eternal state. It rather here indicates that the permanent light of God has come. Nor are we to see God as literally going forth to fight, except in the fact that He goes forth in His people. As in the depiction in Revelation 19.11-16 the fire of His eyes, and the sword of His words would be all that was required to accomplish victory. ‘His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives’ (verse 4) need only be an indication of His divine activity in bringing about what occurs. Strictly speaking YHWH has no feet, unless He takes on human form. His feet here are like ‘the arm of YHWH’, a depiction of YHWH’s power and sovereignty, and they especially depict His taking possession of what He stands on (compare Joshua 1.3). We may certainly see in it an interesting ‘coincidence’ in that when the king came at Jesus’ first coming He did literally and regularly stand on the Mount of Olives, but it certainly did not bring about major geographical disturbance. What it did portend in was spiritual disturbance throughout the world.
In contrast Jesus at His second coming is never depicted as standing on earth. His activity is seen as heavenly (Matthew 24.30-31; Mark 13.26-27; Luke 21.27; Revelation 14.14-16; 19.11-16). Nor could all nations gather at Jerusalem (verse 17). There simply would not be enough room for billions of people in the whole of Palestine. And as the idea lying behind it is the past gathering of the people of Israel to the Sanctuary for the feasts, we cannot speak of it as simply occurring through representatives, for the whole idea of the feasts was that all the men of Israel would gather. Anything less would not be a literal fulfilment.
That the whole of Judah would become a holy sanctuary, with all its pots being holy vessels (verse 21) is theoretically feasible, but it does not tie in with other descriptions of end time Jerusalem. Indeed it means that Jerusalem itself would have become relatively undistinctive, with the distinction of being God’s sanctuary applying to the whole of Judah. If taken literally this contradicts other prophecies. Furthermore there cannot be literal sacrifices of a type that would be in Zechariah’s mind, for he would have seen them as including an element of atonement. That was the significance of the shedding of the blood which was of prime importance with sacrifices. But that necessity has been done away in Christ. Indeed, the idea of atonement was central to the feast of Tabernacles, which was preceded by the Day of Atonement, for all the many sacrifices mentioned included an element of atonement. So the atonement achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross, makes any such sacrifices invalid. Note the specific sacrificial requirement in respect of it (Leviticus 23.36-37 with verse 27; Numbers 29.12-38). Nor can we legitimately speak of ‘memorial sacrifices’, for such sacrifices would not be what Zechariah was speaking about. They would be a spiritualising of sacrifices, not a literal fulfilment. Once we spiritualise them why have them at all? And that is especially so as in the future ideal kingdom there was to be no death (Isaiah 11.6-9).
So whatever view we take of Zechariah 14 it cannot be taken literally. The portrayal is based on the views of that day, in order to be intelligible to his hearers, but it requires things which lie beyond the possibility of literal fulfilment in our present world. If anything it requires the new heavens and the new earth in which dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3.13).
The Ravishing of Jerusalem (14.1-2).
We have already noted that Zechariah would see Jerusalem as symbolising the whole people of God. Indeed in 2.7 he describes God’s people in Babylon as ‘Zion’. Thus in the light of Jesus’ words in John 4.20-24, and in the light of the New Testament description of the true Jerusalem as being a heavenly Jerusalem, although incorporating God’s people on earth (Galatians 4.21-31), we are justified in seeing in Zechariah’s reference to Jerusalem an indication that he is speaking of God’s people worldwide, the true worshippers of YHWH (John 4.24).
14.1-2 ‘Behold, a day of YHWH comes when your spoil will be divided in your midst, for I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished, and half of the city will go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people will not be cut off from the city.’
‘A day of YHWH comes.’ A ‘day of YHWH’ occurs when God steps in to bring about His purposes. It is a phrase occurring often in the Old Testament and does not always mean that the final days are in mind. God has His day regularly through history. In Isaiah 13, for example, where the ‘day of YHWH’ is emphasised (13.6, 9, 13), what is being described is the destruction of Babylon by the Medes (verse 17 with verse 19) which took place in the days of Daniel the prophet (Daniel 5.30-31). God had His day against Babylon. Here it is the ‘day’ in which the peoples of the world reveal their enmity against God and God acts against them. This was future for Zechariah, but it is not necessarily future to us.
This description of the ravishing of Jerusalem certainly reminds us of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD with an army made up of many nations. Rome certainly represented a multiplicity of nations. And when Jerusalem was taken the spoils were divided up, houses were rifled and women were ravished. And large numbers were taken into captivity. Others remained to partially restore the wrecked city. But it was equally true of other invasions of Jerusalem, each in itself a reminder of the judgment of a holy God on an unholy people. Thus it is best to see in this a picture of the world’s opposition to the people of God.
‘And half of the city will go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people will not be cut off from the city.’ We are not here talking about exact fractions. The point is that a good proportion will be taken into captivity, with a reasonable proportion left behind. Some would still remain in the city. And that this must have been so in 70 AD comes out in subsequent history. But it is far more likely that this intended to represent the fact that, in the face of the world’s opposition, a proportion of God’s people will suffer excessively, with others finding life more normal.
That such a fall of Jerusalem was in the will of God is declared by Jesus in Mark 13; Matthew 24; Luke 21. It was foreshadowed in Daniel 9.26. And in Daniel 9.26 it is preceded by the cutting off of the Anointed One (Messiah). And it came about in 70 AD.
But the main point of these verses is not that, it is that the people of God will continually face devastating treatment at the hands of the nations. We may see this as partly fulfilled in the activities of Antiochus Epiphanes against the loyal Jews of his day. Then there was wholesale persecution, and large numbers of death and rapes. And the same was true of the history of the early church, commencing in Jerusalem (Acts 8.1 ff.), and going on in the continual persecutions that followed (Acts 14.22; Romans 8.35-36; 1 Thessalonians 3.3-4; 2 Thessalonians 1.5; 2 Timothy 3.12; 1 Peter 4.12-14; 5.10), and especially as revealed in Revelation 2.9-10, 13; and on through Revelation. The people of God would experience tremendous buffetings. We may consider the vivid description in Revelation 20.9, ‘and they (the nations) went up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints, and the beloved city’, where God’s people would be under worldwide attack.
The Going Forth of YHWH (14.3-5a).
The description of the fall of ‘Jerusalem’ is then followed by a scene which is portrayed in vivid and unforgettable colours. YHWH Himself will go forth to do battle with the nations, as He had in other days of battle, and He will stand astride the Mount of Olives on the East of Jerusalem, and that mountain will as a consequence divide in half, leaving a gulf between which will go from east to west, providing a way for men to flee from Jerusalem at the time of the coming of YHWH with all His holy ones with Him. Such apocalyptic descriptions occurred earlier in the prophets. In prophesying the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC Nahum said, ‘YHWH has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet --- the mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt, and the earth is upheaved at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it --- the rocks are broken asunder by Him’ (Nahum 1.3-6). But it did not happen literally, although it must have felt like it in Nineveh as the invading hordes broke in. It was depicting the tumult of the nations. Or again when prophesying the enveloping of the nations by Babylon Habakkuk could say of YHWH, ‘He stood and measured the earth, He beheld and drove asunder the nations, and the eternal mountains were scattered, the everlasting hills did bow --- you cleft the earth with rivers, the mountains saw you and were afraid --- the sun and moon stood still in their habitation --- you marched through the land in indignation -- you went forth for the salvation of your people’ (Habakkuk 3.6, 9-11, 12-13). It was not intended to be taken literally except in an invisible way.
14.3-4 ‘And YHWH will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet will stand in that day on the mountain of olive trees, which is before Jerusalem on the East. And the mountain of olive trees will cleave in the midst of it towards the east and towards the west, and there will be a very great valley. And half of the mountain will remove towards the north, and half of it towards the south.’
This scene does not necessarily follow the previous one time wise, and the Hebrew does not require it. It is simply seen as another event in the day of YHWH. And indeed the suggestion that the resultant valley will be a way to flee along (verse 5) may be seen as occurring prior to the destruction of ‘Jerusalem’ to enable men to flee from the disaster that is coming.
We see here a powerful contrast. On the one hand defeat for ‘Jerusalem’, and its rifling and humiliation, and on the other the picture of YHWH going forth triumphantly against the nations. When His people are most hard-pressed YHWH triumphs. It would appear that what happens to ‘Jerusalem’ has not prevented YHWH’s triumph, and indeed may be seen as a part of it. This was to be very true of subsequent history. The church would constantly face persecution and travail, and yet through it all God would march triumphantly forward accomplishing His purposes and providing for His people a way of escape.
In fact the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD as a consequence of the cutting off of the Anointed One was not a catastrophe for the church (although certainly the Jewish Christians saw it in that way at the time) it was rather the continuing of the new assault, the assault that had already gone out from Jerusalem to the world with the good news of the Messiah. For YHWH had come and taken His stand on the Mount of Olives in the person of the Son of God (Luke 22.39 and parallels), and from it He had made a way for His people to ‘flee’. And flee they had done with great success, proceeding against the nations with the sword of the word, and conquering them in the name of the Messiah (Acts 8.1-4). Thus when the nations proceeded against Jerusalem proper they found there only a disobedient people. The true people of God, the real Jerusalem, had fled.
It is significant that YHWH ‘appears’ on the Mount of Olives and not on the Temple Mount. The Mount of Olives was also where He had appeared when Jerusalem had previously been rejected (Ezekiel 11.23). As there, it was an indication that Jerusalem itself had been rejected and was doomed. YHWH was no longer ‘in His Temple’ He had forsaken the city. But it was also accompanied by the promise of the coming work of the Spirit.
To a world without understanding the standing of Jesus on the Mount of Olives as a man may not have appeared a very significant thing. But from an eternal point of view it signalled both the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and the beginning of the momentous events which were to shake the world. From there He would go to the cross, defeating all the powers of darkness, and then to the throne of Heaven. And from that moment the invasion of the world by His forces driven on by the Holy Spirit would begin, even while the people of God were regularly facing devastation.
We may also see another significance in what happens to the Mount of Olives. It divides in two, one half to the north and the other to the south. Thus the olive trees are propelled some in the one direction (towards the north - Syrian Antioch and beyond) and some in the other (towards the south - towards Egypt). Both Antioch and Egypt would become bastions of the people of God.
If we are to see the olive trees as His anointed ones in terms of chapter 4, then it would indicate that His servants (His anointed ones, the olive trees, compare 4.3, 12, 14) were despatched with His word both north and south, while those who flee through the valley go eastwards and westward, driven on by the divine earthquake which sent them forth, fleeing from a doomed Jerusalem with the good news of Christ (verse 4-6). And the way is made level before them to facilitate their task.
The subsequent verses confirm this interpretation. These servants of God took with them into the darkness of the nations the light of the world, a continuing light that would never cease (verses 6-7; Isaiah 42.6; 49.6), and living waters went out from Jerusalem to a thirsty and needy world (verse 8; Ezekiel 47; John 7.37-39). And the result would be that YHWH would become King over all the earth, over His invisible kingdom.
Here then has begun the final great confrontation between man and God. Two sides drawn up for battle (as in Revelation 19) and ‘Jerusalem’ in the midst, a confrontation which has taken place throughout history and will intensify in the last days. It began with the Messiah standing on the Mount of Olives, it will end with Him coming with His angels (Revelation 19).
‘Jerusalem’. We are faced here again with the meaning and significance of ‘Jerusalem’. As we have already observed, to the prophets the future apocalyptic Jerusalem was an idea. To interpret it as simply meaning Jerusalem as inhabited at some period in history is to miss the grand idea here, and to ignore the definitely apocalyptic nature of this passage. Consider for example the cessation of day and night (verse 7) and the cessation of the curse (verse 11). In Revelation no night and no curse indicates the eternal kingdom (Revelation 22.3, 5). Here it has in mind God’s permanent light shining on His people and their deliverance from the curse put on Adam. So half of ‘Jerusalem’ is to suffer the indignities of captivity. The other half is to continue unharmed. It pictures both the Jerusalem judged by God as in 70 AD, and the Jerusalem that would take God’s message out to the world as in Acts 1-12, suffering yet triumphant (just as it portrayed the exiles in Babylon - 2.7).
The prophet thus here has in mind ‘the end battle’, commencing in the time of the Messiah, as it goes on for two thousand years. YHWH against the great enemy, the world (and the one who lies behind the world - 1 John 5.19). The fact that it is ‘all nations’ that are gathered together as one against Jerusalem is further evidence of that (‘you shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake’ - Mark 13.13). This end battle commenced with the first coming of Christ and will continue to the end.
There was no way Zechariah could represent this in his day except as centring on Jerusalem, for to him it was Jerusalem that was the centre of God’s revelation to man and of man’s approach to God. To him if man was to attack God and His people it could only be by attacking Jerusalem. But what this really meant to him was that it was what represented God in the world that was subject to this attack.
As we have pointed out already, the prophets, who had nothing to say of an afterlife (with rare exceptions - and even then it was minimal - Isaiah 26.19; Daniel 12.2), and could have no conception of a worldwide people of God established around the world in large numbers, looked ahead to a world divided into two, Jerusalem, representing the people of God, both false and true, and the truth of God, and the worship of God, and the nations of the world representing those who were against God. Here then Jerusalem depicts the true people of God, and all that stands for God against the world. It could indeed be seen as ‘God’s kingdom’ at odds with the world. We can compare how God’s people are depicted as a city in Revelation 21.2 (as the bride of Christ).
Had they known Jesus’ teaching of ‘the Rule (or kingship) of God’ over His people, in the world, but invisible to the world, the prophets might have spoken differently. We, who can see the deeper significance of the Kingly Rule of God in the world, an invisible kingdom made up of all those who are truly His, battling with the world around, can the better understand what the picture is depicting. But the prophets had to portray it in semi-apocalyptic terms.
So the picture is of the great battle for the world’s soul. God and His people and His kingdom on one side and the world on the other. And we have in this verse the clear warning that suffering and conflict will endure right to the end.
There may also be in it the idea that even to the end His people will not have an easy time, for even to the end the people of God will see their ‘spoil’ taken from them and divided up, and many of the people of God will be subject to attack and will face vile treatment. Their property will be subject to seizure and destruction, their womenfolk will be treated as the prey of the world, and they will be subject to bondage and servitude.
But the fact that ‘the residue will not be cut off from the city’ reveals the symbolic nature of the description. All will suffer, but not all will suffer equally. Some will live in countries where they are in bondage and struggle to maintain their faith. Others will live where God is at least externally honoured and will enjoy the blessed atmosphere of ‘Jerusalem’.
History has revealed the truth of these words. Many have suffered and endured dreadful things for the name of Christ and of God. The world has ever been their enemy, and they have as it were been taken into the enemies’ camp. Others have had a much more pleasant and undemanding time, although enduring their own battles. And we have reason to believe, as Paul had, that things may well get worse before the end (2 Timothy 3.1-5).
But in the face of it all the people of God can hold up their heads for in the invisible world God has already triumphed, and this triumph will now be depicted. And in the end God will triumph in the visible world too when He comes to judge the world.
‘Then will YHWH go forth and fight against those nations as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet will stand in that day on the mountain of olive trees, which is before Jerusalem on the East. And the mountain of olive trees will cleave in the midst of it towards the east and towards the west, and there will be a very great valley. And half of the mountain will remove towards the north, and half of it towards the south.’
‘And YHWH will go forth--’. Note the comparison. Just as His people have ‘gone forth’ into captivity so YHWH ‘goes forth’ to fight on their behalf. He sees their need and their slavery and their weakness and He marches forward to deliver them.
This vivid picture sees YHWH Himself as coming on behalf of His people to fight against their enemies (compare 9.14-15). It is reasonable to assume that this activity connects with the coming of the Messiah and the pouring out of the Spirit in 12.6-13.1. That is how He goes forth. We have no real grounds for transferring this picture to the second coming of Jesus Christ. The prophet intends us to see here YHWH in all the fullness of His being.
‘YHWH will go forth and fight.’ The crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection is regularly set forth as a fight and a battle. By it He led a host of captives (Ephesians 4.8), He made a show of principalities and powers, triumphing over them in the cross (Colossians 2.15). (‘Principalities and powers’ means ‘the authorities’, both in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 3.10; 6.12; Titus 3.1). And YHWH was with Him. And that fight would continue through His church. We are to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2.3). We are to stand firm clothed in the armour of God (Ephesians 6.10-18).
‘As in the day of battle.’ This looks back to all the times when God has delivered His people. It includes the victory at the Red Sea and subsequent ‘battles’ in possessing the land, the victory of Joshua when the sun ‘stood still’, the victories of David including the vanquishing of Goliath, the slaying of the Assyrians at the siege of Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah, and many others.
‘His feet will stand in that day on the mountain of olive trees.’ This is a powerful anthropomorphism to denote His personal presence in a new way. He no longer rides His chariot throne in the heavens as in Ezekiel but has come to earth in order to act powerfully and effectively. YHWH Himself is here, not enthroned but standing ready for action. It is interesting to recognise that He is not seen as on the Temple Mount. The Temple has been abandoned. In Zechariah’s mind may have been the time when the angel of YHWH appeared at the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24.16). But there the anger was against Jerusalem, here it is against the nations of the world.
‘The mountain of olive trees.’ Reference to the mountain of olive trees may well have in mind the two olive trees in Zechariah 4.3 which represented the two anointed by God. But now instead of just two olive trees (‘anointed persons’) there are a multitude, a whole mountainful of olive trees, surrounding YHWH, ready to go forth in the service of YHWH, bearing the living water to the world (verse 8).
This mountain may also have been chosen specifically to avoid suggestion that there is reference to the Temple mount. The Temple is no longer significant. Where God acts is thus described as ‘before Jerusalem on the East’ (compare Ezekiel 11.23). It is surely significant that the prophet who so emphasised the rebuilding of the Temple in his own day (chapter 6) does not mention the Temple in his eschatological references, except by possible inference and even then with a widened meaning (verses 20-21). Here he has a wider view of God’s activities. He does not want us to see YHWH as descending into His Temple or restricted to the Temple but as descending to act in the world through His olive trees, His anointed people.
Nor must we be unmindful that it was on the Mount of Olives that Jesus sat and taught His disciples of the times to come leading up to the end of time (Matthew 24.3; Mark 13.3). It was a favourite place of His to which He went often to commune with His Father (John 8.1; Luke 22.39), including on that last fateful night when He prayed in His agony and won His battle against evil. Was this because He saw it as symbolising, as here, the triumph of God’s truth, and the place of God’s victory? Can we not say that when Jesus agonised on the Mount of Olives it was the prelude to YHWH Himself coming in His mighty power to act to change the world?
‘And the mountain of olive trees shall cleave in the middle of it.’ The valley that results goes from east to west, and the mountain moves towards north and south. Is this not an example of the mountains being made low and the valleys exalted (Isaiah 40.4) preparing the way for YHWH? Or is the aim to demonstrate that the olive trees, the anointed ones of YHWH, will go both north and south, in the directions of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the most prominent nations in their world.
But the rending of mountains can be seen as a sign depicting His great anger, see, for example, Nahum 1.5-6; Ezekiel 38.19-21 and His great power (Habakkuk 3.6). So here God demonstrates His anger and power to the nations who are ‘gathered against Jerusalem’, depicted in the rending of the mountain and in the sending out of His messengers thereby. He is angry because of their sin and rebellion.
There is no suggestion that this valley reaches as far as the sea. Only the mountain of olive trees is described as being affected. It is a symbol not a description of geological effects.
So we are probably to see the splitting of the mountain of olive trees as a parable and sign, and therefore as picturing the spiritual earthquake that took place at the first coming of Christ, when He defeated the powers of darkness. It was a time of earthquakes. A great physical earthquake did tear the Temple curtain in two, connected with the resurrection of many ‘saints who slept’ (Matthew 27.51-52). And the shape of the world was certainly transformed.
Verse 5 which follows has difficulties in translation for two possible translations are feasible depending on the meaning of the word ‘nstm’ which is repeated three times.
14.5a (1) ‘And the valley of my mountains will be stopped up. For the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel (or ‘reach the side of it’). Yes, it shall be stopped up as it was stopped up from the face of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah.’
The verb nstm can be translated ‘flee’ or ‘stopped up’ depending on the pronunciation in the original (and thus on the pointing, i.e. the providing of vowels which took place in written form long after the time of Christ). The meaning ‘stopped up’ may be read here. This was the reading that lay behind the rendering in the Septuagint, the major Greek Old Testament. The point would then be that the rending of the mountain is under YHWH’s control and the subsequent valley is stopped up at His behest before it tears apart the whole world. We should note that in Isaiah 40.4 the way was to be prepared for the Gospel by valleys being filled in and mountains being brought low.
The limit is set at Azel, an unknown but clearly limited destination. Alternately ‘will reach Azel’ may be translated ‘will reach the side of it’. The assurance is then given that the split will not be much greater than occurred in the earthquake in the days of Uzziah. Thus YHWH’s anger is revealed as being under tight control. There are of course now two mountains, which explains the plural for mountains.
Josephus refers to the earthquake in the time of Uzziah and its effects as follows: ‘And before the city, at a place called Eroge, half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king's gardens, were spoiled by the obstruction’ (Antiquities 9.10.4). Thus there was clearly a Jewish tradition of such an event which Zechariah probably calls on.
Alternately we may read:
14.5a (2) ‘And you will flee by the valley of my mountains. For the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel. Yes, you will flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.’
This alternative could indicate a flight which brings out the awe and majesty of YHWH. All flee before Him. Or it may mean that a way of passage had been made for the dwellers in Jerusalem so that they may flee, taking the Gospel with them. For this compare Acts 8.1. The fleeing from Jerusalem may then indicate the going out into the world with the truth of God caused by God’s action. Compare previous references to such flight (2.6; Isaiah 48.20) although those were from Babylon.
YHWH Will Come With His Holy Ones And Become King Over All The Earth (14.5b-9).
The progress of God’s purposes is now described. God will bring about a new work on behalf of His people, and will establish His Kingly Rule, and with Him will come a host of angels who are to be ‘ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation’ (Hebrews 1.14).
14.5b ‘And YHWH my God will come (go), and all the holy ones with you.’
It is YHWH of Hosts Who is here, and His hosts are with Him. Just as He came with His hosts for Elijah and Elisha, so He has come in even greater power for His people (2 Kings 2.11-12; 6.17 - note that the chariots were a symbol of God’s presence with His prophets, not transport for Elijah). It is possible that these words are what Jesus had in mind when He declares that had He so wished He could have called on twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26.53). He knew that they were there ready to act at YHWH’s command.
Or the idea may be that God would go forth with His saints (holy ones) spreading the good news of His Kingly Rule around the world.
‘With you’. This sudden change from the third person to the second is typical of Zechariah. Here he changes abruptly from viewing the scene to addressing God (compare on chapter 2.8, 9; 7.13 and on 12.6).
14.6-7 ‘And it will happen in that day that the light will not be with brightness and with gloom, but it will be one day which is known to YHWH. Not day and not night, but it will be that at evening time it will be light.’
If anything can warn us against taking these events too literally it is this. The ordinary sequence of night and day will cease. There will be continual light. There will no longer be periods of brightness followed by periods of gloom, but a period of continual day. We are reminded of Isaiah’s words, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of YHWH has risen upon you -- and nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising’ (Isaiah 60.1). Compare ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light --’ (words of Isaiah 9.2 applied to Jesus in Matthew 4.14-17).
‘One day which is known to YHWH.’ No longer days of men but a day of God, continual and unceasing, where there is no day or night. As Isaiah puts it, ‘the sun will no longer be your light by day, nor will the moon give light to you for brightness, but YHWH will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun will no more go down, nor will your moon withdraw itself, for YHWH will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be ended’ (Isaiah 60.19-20). Compare also, ‘the sun and moon stood still in their habitation’ (Habakkuk 3.11).
We may see the fulfilment of this in the presence of the One Who is the light of the world (John 8.12) and who makes us children of light (Luke 16.8; John 12.36; Ephesians 5.8; 1 Thessalonians 5.5). We have been transported from under the power of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). We walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1.7) for He is light (1 John 1.5). Compare also John 3.18-21.
That the presence of YHWH means that, for His people from then on, there will be continual light in the spiritual sense is wonderful and heart warming. And this depiction of continual light is taken up in the description of the eternal kingdom in Revelation 21.23-25, ‘and the city has no need of the sun, nor of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God did lighten it and its lamp is the Lamb -- there will be no night there’. John applies it to the present time when he says, ‘the darkness is past and the true light is already shining’ (1 John 2.8). As he said in his Gospel, ‘there was the true light, which lights every man, coming into the world.’ And as Jesus Himself said, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8.12). Here is the continual light untouched by darkness in reference to earth.
Thus the period of continual light in one way represents the light at present shining continually in the darkness through Him Who is the light, and in another refers to living in the eternal presence of the light of God.
14.7 ‘And it will happen in that day that living waters will go out from Jerusalem, half of them towards the eastern sea and half of them towards the western sea. In summer and in winter it will be.’
This picture of a great river issuing from Jerusalem in two directions providing water in both summer and winter, giving Jerusalem all the advantages of the Euphrates and the Nile rather than being dependent on rain, is again idealistic. It is a picture of God’s provision, of abundant supply and spiritual blessing.
We might not make too much of the fact that the waters are said to issue forth from Jerusalem in both directions were it not that this is made quite clear in Ezekiel 47, the passage which Zechariah must surely have in mind. This is no natural river but a river that flows from the house of God (Ezekiel 47.1) and from ‘Jerusalem’ itself (high above sea level). As it goes it deepens and expands. Wherever it goes life springs up and the Dead Sea, where nothing lives, is turned into a fisherman’s delight (Ezekiel 47.9-10). And because the water issues from the sanctuary fruit trees will have permanent life, producing fruit every month (Ezekiel 47.12).
This glorious river, like the apocalyptic Jerusalem itself, is symbolic of the truth of God going out to the nations bringing life wherever it goes. In John Jesus proclaims it as speaking of the Holy Spirit flowing through believers (John 7.37-39).
So the rivers are rivers of life, denoting the power of the Spirit at work, going out from Jerusalem through His people, in spite of the enmity of the nations. It is the outpouring of the spirit of grace and of supplication (12.10).
Should This All Be Taken Slavishly Literally?
The question may be asked as to whether it could all be fulfilled literally? There must, of course, be the theoretical possibility that an earthquake could split the Mount of Olives and continue splitting mountains from coast to coast causing a valley reaching both seas east and west, resulting in an equivalent to the Suez Canal. But that exaggerates the text and would flow by Jerusalem and not from it (and Ezekiel especially is very specific on this point), and it is not in accordance with the effects of the split in the Mount of Olives as described here. Nor does Zechariah link the two. Furthermore that would be a salt water canal not a refreshing, life-giving river as depicted here.
So in a book where vivid imagery has been present from the beginning speaking of divine horsemen, of supernatural smiths, of an angel measuring Jerusalem, of the crowning of Joshua in the heavenly courts, of a golden lampstand, of olive trees, of a flying ephod and of heavenly chariots, and here of a time of permanent day, the possibility of the language being intended to be wholly parabolic must be considered a probability.
End of Note.
14.9 ‘And YHWH will be king over all the earth. In that day will YHWH be one, and His name one.’
The purpose of YHWH’s activity is now confirmed It is that He might establish His rule over all the earth. This is the beginning of the Kingly Rule of God. And as Jesus made clear that Reign began with Him.
John the Baptiser declared ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (Matthew 3.2), and Jesus stressed that the Kingly Rule of God was available to those who sought it (Matthew 6.33). In His parables of that Reign He demonstrated how it would grow and grow as men responded to His word (Matthew 13; Mark 4.26-30), and His casting out of evil spirits demonstrated that the Kingly Rule of God had come to those who heard Him (Matthew 12.28). The coming of that Kingly Rule with power was revealed at the transfiguration, for it was present in the presence of Jesus (Mark 9.1). Thus when the Pharisees asked when the Kingly Rule of God would come Jesus replied, ‘the Kingly Rule of God is among you’ (Luke 17.21). Entry under the Kingly Rule of God was by being born of the Spirit (John 3.5), so that Paul proclaimed the Kingly Rule of God, teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28.31).
Of course this growth of the Kingly Rule of God will finally reach its culmination at the last judgment when God will be all in all. But that final day has not come here in Zechariah for there are still many things to be accomplished.
‘In that day will YHWH be one, and His name one.’ But in that day there will be no rival to God. Nothing and no one will be able to stand against Him. He will be supreme in His oneness (compare Deuteronomy 6.4). His name will not be shared with any other or applied to any other for all concentration will be on Him. And it is this glorious name, the name above every name, that Paul applies to Jesus Christ in Philippians 2.5-11 because it is His name.
In view of verse 10 many have suggested the possible translation, ‘YHWH will be king over the whole land’. But verse 12 makes clear that His sovereignty goes wider than that to reach the nations of the world, and in 16 onwards it is the whole world that acknowledges His rule.
The Consequences of YHWH’s Reign (14.10-21).
In Zechariah’s day when a king came to the throne he did not become king over a kingdom with neat boundaries and receive total control. Various rivals would be seeking to take the kingship and the boundaries would be disputed. A king ruled as far as his power went. This explains why in Israel, for example, after a long reign a following king would regularly have a short reign. His bid for power proved unsuccessful.
So when a new king declared his rule his first task was to establish himself against all other rivals. For a mild example of this see 1 Kings 1-2. Sometimes the fighting would be very bitter and last for a considerable period. He then had to exert his authority over the areas he sought to rule, and boundaries regularly changed when a new king came to power, depending on how powerful the forces he could control.
This was why it was the custom for kings in Judah at a certain point to take their selected heirs into joint kingship, a fact which explains many of the ‘dating problems’ in Kings and Chronicles. The hope was that it would enable a fairly smooth changeover.
And this is part of the picture we have here in Zechariah. Having become king over the earth YHWH now goes about to establish His rule. He wins men’s hearts by establishing prosperity (verses 10-11), He deals with those who have resisted against Him (v.12), He squashes civil war (verses 13-15) and He establishes peace (verses 16-21). Zechariah pictures this in terms of what he knows and understands. YHWH is still going about to establish His kingly rule as His people proclaim His word and take it to the nations.
14.10-11 ‘All the land will be turned as the Arabah, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem. And she will be lifted up and will dwell in her place, from Benjamin’s gate to the corner of the first gate, to the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. And men will dwell in it, and there will be no more curse, but Jerusalem will dwell safely.’
The Arabah is basically the Jordan trench, the rift valley from the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) (Deuteronomy 3.17; Joshua 11.2; 12.3) to the Gulf of Aqabah (Deuteronomy 1.1; 2.8), which is well below sea level. The Dead Sea is called the Sea of Arabah (Joshua 3.16; 12.3; Deuteronomy 4.49; 2 Kings 14.25).
‘From Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem.’ This was the way in which Zechariah indicates that he is speaking of the land around Jerusalem (there was no specific name for it). Basically he is declaring that ‘Jerusalem’, the people of God, will be surrounded by fruitfulness.
‘All the land will be turned as the Arabah.’ The idea is that all the land will be lowered to the level of the rift valley, thus becoming, by virtue of the new river running through it, farmable, fruitful and prosperous. Instead of a mountainous region there will be flat plain. This is the equivalent of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 35.1-2, ‘the wilderness and the solitary place will be glad, and the desert will rejoice and blossom as the rose’. Indeed this levelling of the land was to be preparatory to the coming of God’s chosen One (Isaiah 40.3-5, cited concerning the first coming of Jesus in Luke 3.4-6).
The only exception is Jerusalem, whose boundaries are carefully outlined in order to indicate with what exactness God watches over His people, and which will be lifted up and exalted, taking her rightful place over all (compare Isaiah 2.2; Micah 4.1). Men will dwell in it, the curse will be removed and Jerusalem will dwell safely.
This is, of course, an idealistic picture. Judah was a mountainous country. This had contributed to her comparative security over the centuries, but she must often have looked with envy at the fruitful plains. Now that YHWH is king she will be levelled out with only Jerusalem exalted. We can ignore the geographical problems (the Dead Sea and the Arabah are well below sea level) because it is not to be taken literally. Like the river previously this has a spiritual significance. The river spoke of life, this speaks of prosperity and blessing. The people of YHWH will prosper in their spirits and enjoy fullness of blessing.
The exaltation of Jerusalem (compare Isaiah 2.2) pictures the triumph of God’s truth and the final evidence that He, the One God, rules over all. The curse is overturned (compare Genesis 3.14-19) and man can begin again. ‘Jerusalem’, His people, can now dwell in safety for she needs no protecting mountains because YHWH is her defence. It represents the blessing and security of the people of God.
The removal of the curse may have reference to Genesis 3. The curse will have been dealt with through the cross. On the other hand ‘no more curse’ may indicate that there will now be no need for the flying scroll (5.1-4). God’s people are now fully obedient to His will. Compare also 8.13.
Jesus defined all this in terms of the Reign of God, invisible yet effective (Luke 17.21), the security of His people (‘the very hairs of your head are all numbered’ - Matthew 10.30; Luke 12.7), the prosperity they would enjoy (Matthew 6.25-34) and the final triumph of God at His second coming.
14.12 ‘And this will be the plague with which YHWH will smite all the peoples that have warred against Jerusalem. Their flesh will consume away while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will consume away in their sockets, and their tongue will consume away in their mouths.’
This vivid picture, based on Zechariah’s experiences of dreadful diseases to which there was no cure, describes the awfulness of the judgments of God. The strength of those who oppose Him and His people will be dissipated. Their eyes will be darkened. Blindness was regularly the way by which men were prevented from doing evil (Genesis 19.11; 2 Kings 6.18). Their tongues would become ineffective. Again it is not the literal idea but the spiritual significance that matters. Those who stand against God’s truth and against His people will wither away spiritually, be blind to truth, and have nothing worth saying. And finally they will be judged and condemned and face the wrath of God. To take up a stance against the people of God is no light thing.
14.13-15 ‘And it will happen in that day that a great tumult from YHWH will be among them, and everyone of them will lay hold of the hand of his neighbour, and his hand will rise up against the hand of his neighbour, and Judah also will fight in (or ‘against’) Jerusalem, and the wealth of all nations round about will be gathered together, gold and silver and clothing in great abundance. And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of all the beasts that shall be in those camps, as this plague.’
Zechariah wants us to be aware that the nations are not to be seen as united through all this. There will be great disagreement and squabbling among them, they will fight each other and the means of their prosperity, their very beasts of burden, will be plagued. Man has ever been thus.
‘And Judah will also fight in Jerusalem.’ The phrase is ambiguous. It could indicate Judah also fighting against Jerusalem, or it could indicate that they had gathered in Jerusalem in order to fight off the enemy. In view of the previous reference to neighbour fighting against neighbour the likelihood is that the former is in mind. This would serve to confirm that Jerusalem represents the people of God, with Judah representing the Jews, the idea being that even the Jews will be against God’s true people, something which, of course, happened in 1st century AD. On the other hand it may indicate that the people of God (‘Judah’) will prosper as they take their stand in ‘Jerusalem’ and gather up the treasures of the nations, plentiful in the greatest luxuries. Then it would be in deliberate contrast with verse 2. The positions have been reversed. The enemy are defeated and the people of God triumph. The luxuries are of course spiritual luxuries. The idea is that finally the world will lose everything, and the people of God will gain everything.
It is probably best if we translate as ‘Judah will fight against Jerusalem’. If so this is a remarkable indication that even Judah will fight against the people of God. And in the first century AD it was the Jews who were the implacable enemies of Christians (Revelation 2.9). It was often they who denounced the Christians in times of persecution.
14.16-19 ‘And it will happen that everyone who is left of all the nations who came up against Jerusalem will go from year to year to worship the king, YHWH of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it will be that whoever of all the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the king, YHWH of Hosts, on them there will be no rain. And if the family of Egypt does not go up, and does not come, nor will it be on them. There will be the plague with which YHWH will smite the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.’
‘Everyone who is left of all the nations who come up against Jerusalem’ following God’s judgment on the nations. This would suggest reference to the believing remnant. Some of those who originally set off opposing God’s people have eventually come to believe. That is why they now come to worship YHWH.
‘Keeping the Feast of Tabernacles’ is mentioned three times, once positively and twice negatively. It is clearly central to Zechariah’s message. This is because the feast of Tabernacles was seen as the Feast which, coming before the rainy season, was the cry to God for plentiful rain over the coming months which would guarantee fruitful fields following. It was at the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus stood and declared that for those who drank of Him, out of their innermost being would flow rivers of living water (John 7.37-39). So as Zechariah looks forward to times of great spiritual refreshing he thinks in terms of the Feast of Tabernacles. But in the light of New Testament revelation it could not be a literal fulfilment. The Feast of Tabernacles was a Feast in which constant offerings were made for atonement. However, once our Lord Jesus Christ had offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all the Old Testament such feasts were redundant.. What did survive in the case of the Feast of Tabernacles was the looking to God for abundant rain, the rain of the Holy Spirit (John 7.37-39).
Indeed we notice that those who do not observe the Feast will have no rain. Even though they were believers they would be barren because they were failing to worship God. And the Egyptians who could rely on the Nile instead of rain are punished differently for that reason, with a repetition of the plague that had destroyed the nations (verse 12).
It was not by coincidence that Jesus chose the Feast of Tabernacles to make His great declaration about the coming of the Holy Spirit like life-giving water (John 7.37-39). He had specifically in mind this passage, combined with Ezekiel 47.
Thus once again the picture is symbolic and we do not need to consider the logistics of how all the people in the world can gather in Jerusalem and Judah at one time. The point is that under the Kingly Rule of God constant submission to Him and true worship of Him will result in the outpouring of spiritual blessing, the ‘rain’ of the Holy Spirit (which the baptisms of John and Jesus signified) as promised regularly in the prophets (Isaiah 32.15; 44.3-5; 55.10-11; compare Joel 2.28), and those who refuse look to the Holy Spirit will become spiritually dried up, parched and withered.
It should perhaps be noted that the keeping of the Feasts was an essential part of God’s covenant with His people. It constituted continual submission to and renewal of that covenant. When the people failed to observe the Feasts they failed to observe the covenant. Thus covenant renewal is at the centre of the significance of this passage in Zechariah. Men will continually renew their covenant with YHWH. When we keep our harvest festivals, and renew our covenant with God at the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion) and at covenant meetings, we are fulfilling God’s requirement here. But we must beware lest it become just a formality for then it ceases to have meaning.
14.20-21 ‘In that day there will be on the bells of the horses HOLY TO YHWH and the pots in YHWH’s house will be like the bowls before the altar. Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to YHWH of Hosts, and all those who sacrifice will come and take of them, and seethe in them. And in that day there will be no more a Cananean in the house of YHWH of Hosts.’
This final description brings out the symbolism of the whole passage. It is not only the inner sanctuary of YHWH and its contents that will be holy to Him, set apart and unapproachable because of His ‘otherness’, but every pot in His house, yes and every pot both in Jerusalem and in Judah, and every bell on the harness of their horses. The whole of God’s people will be equally ‘holy’ and will be the house of YHWH.
‘Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah.’ This demonstrates that by ‘the house of YHWH’ Zechariah means not the Temple but the whole people of God (see 9.8; Hosea 8.1). This is confirmed by the fact that the pots in the house of YHWH would be ‘like the bowls before the altar’. This would not have been said of pots within the Holy Place. They would have been seen as more holy than the pots before the altar.
‘And all those who sacrifice will come and take of them, and seethe in them.’ In Exodus 29.31 it is the ram of consecration that is seethed in a holy place when Aaron and his family were consecrated to their positions as priests of YHWH. This is the only place where seething (cooking) is specifically commanded with regard to sacrifices. Thus in the light of the context here we have here the idea of an overall priesthood, with all the people of Jerusalem and Judah seen as priests. Seething is also indirectly connected with the offering of the firstfruits where it simply means cooking (Exodus 23.19; 34.26).
Zechariah could only think of worship in these terms. To him and to the people the offering of sacrifices was central to worship. There could be no worship without them. And his emphasis is therefore on the widespread nature of the sacrifices. But now that our Lord Jesus Christ has offered Himself up once and for all, causing to cease for ever the offering of atoning sacrifices, the idea is rather of the nations coming and responding to the sacrifice of Christ. They will come to His people in order to experience the benefit of His sacrifice, and in order to partake of Him. (As we have said before this cannot signify so-called ‘memorial sacrifices’. Such sacrifices would not be a literal fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy, for he was undoubtedly speaking of atoning sacrifices.
‘In that day there will be no more a Cananean (or Canaanite) in the house of YHWH.’ The word Cananean can also be translated as ‘trafficker, merchant’. This looks back to the traffickers in the sheep of 11.5, 11 (see on that section), the leaders who misused God’s people. Never again will God’s people be subject to such careless treatment.
But as the house of YHWH represents the people of YHWH it is possible that this does indicate the exclusion of Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7.1-2). But not literally, as the universalism of the passage demonstrates. It is what the Canaanites represented that is in mind. They represented idolatry, and idolatry in its crudest form. There can be no place for such in God’s kingdom. The idea would then be that only Canaanites who have ceased to be Canaanites will be welcome.
So we have here a picture of purified worship, of an extended overall priesthood which knows nothing of the Levites, and of worldwide submission to God, in contrast with those who have faced judgment and are miserably destroyed, the result of the activity of the people of God through the Holy Spirit, and pointing forward to when all will be complete and God will be all in all. This glorious feast of Tabernacles depicts the worldwide successes of the people of God and God’s final triumph as described in the physical terms of Zechariah’s day.
So Zechariah takes us through the whole history of God’s people from his day onwards. The return from exile, the building of the Temple, coming suffering, the need for godliness, the coming of the Prophet Messiah, the pouring out of the Spirit, the establishing of the Reign of God and the continuation of that reign with His people as the new Temple, and finally the eternal state where the Temple has been replaced by the people of God, and where God is all in all.
He does it, of course, in terms of what he knows and understands, but there can really be no question that in his final chapters he goes beyond the literal to the symbolic. There was no other way in which he could proclaim what he had to proclaim, for it went beyond the bounds of this world and he knew only of this world. But what he did foresee was the final triumph of God as King, and the gradual final submission of all to Him.
It was left to the New Testament to explain it more fully.
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