Bible Commentary: Zechariah 14

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Zechariah 14

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The Lord Will Come in Power to Reign Over All the Earth

Chapter 14 continues the prophecy of the previous two chapters and concludes the book of Zechariah. It portrays the coming of the Lord to take over the rule of the world.

The time frame is addressed right from the outset: "Behold, the day of the LORD is coming..." (verse 1). Actually, the literal Hebrew has "A day of the LORD" here (see NIV). The Expositor's Bible Commentary notes: "Although 'a day of the LORD' is not the usual construction for 'the day of the LORD,' it doubtless means the same thing; 'that day' occurs throughout the context (chs. 12-14). Perhaps this particular construction is used here to emphasize the fact that the 'day' is distinctively the Lord's" (note on verses 1-2). That is, the nations are having their day now, but a day is coming that will belong to God.

The Day of the Lord designates the time of God's intervention in human affairs to bring judgment on the nations and assume rule over the entire earth. In one sense, it denotes the final year prior to Christ's return—"the day of the LORD's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (Isaiah 34:8; compare Revelation 6:17). In a broader sense it represents the Lord's millennial rule—which is the sense given in Zechariah 14:8. And in the broadest sense it means that and eternity beyond.

The gathering of all nations to battle against Jerusalem (verse 2) ties directly back to the prophecy of 12:2-3. This concerns the final siege of Jerusalem, evidently coinciding with the time of the Lord's coming. The rest of Zechariah 14:2 seems to refer back to the beginning of the Great Tribulation of 13:8-9—perhaps to review the horrible events that have led up to this final siege. During the Tribulation, "the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city" (14:2, NIV).

This final point here does not necessarily mean that half of Jerusalem's Jews will be exiled and half will remain. For consider that of the current Jerusalem population of 600,000, only 400,000 are Jews. Using such figures, perhaps 300,000 Jews (half the city but three fourths of the Jewish population) would be evicted, leaving 100,000 Jews in the city. (If the percentage of Jews in the city's population changes drastically before the Tribulation, the percentages evicted and remaining would of course change as well.)

In response to the final siege against Jerusalem at the beginning of verse 2, God will powerfully intervene on behalf of His people, as shown in verse 3. "Just when it seems that all hope is gone, 'then the LORD' himself appears as 'divine warrior' and delivers his beleaguered people.... But who is this 'LORD'? When one compares this scene, including v. 4, with [that of the coming of Jesus Christ in] Acts 1:9-12 and Revelation 19:11-16, it would appear certain that 'the LORD' here is ultimately the Messiah" (Expositor's, note on Zechariah 14:3-5). Acts 1:11-12 shows that Jesus ascended to heaven from Mount Olivet—the Mount of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem—and that He would return in like manner. This seems to allude to the prophecy in Zechariah 14:4 that "His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives."

The mention of this rise overlooking the Temple Mount and Kidron Valley in between would have been important symbolically to Zechariah's immediate audience, as they already had the imagery in Ezekiel of the glory of God departing from the temple by route of this mountain (see Ezekiel 11:23). The divine presence, they are now informed, would return by the same route. Interestingly, the hill's soil "is well suited to the growth of olive trees which thrust their roots down into the brittle rock. Hence, in the Mishna and Talmud it is called the Mount of Anointing" (The Illustrated Family Encyclopedia of the Living Bible, Vol. 8, p. 98, quoted in Expositor's, note on Zechariah 14:3-5). Recall that the figure of olive trees and olive oil as a representation of anointing with the Holy Spirit occurs earlier in the book of Zechariah (see chapter 4).

When the returning Jesus Christ stands on the Mount of Olives, it will split in two, one half moving north and the other half moving south, thus creating a new valley running east to west between the two halves (14:4-5). The site of Azal to which the valley will reach has not been identified. It may be somewhere in the desert east of the summit of the Mount of Olives. On the other hand, it could be a place that will not exist until the valley is created. This new valley will provide a means of escape for the besieged remnant of God's people. Recall that God enabled His people to escape from ancient Egypt by parting the Red Sea for them. Now God will enable His people to escape their end-time oppressors by parting a mountain of solid rock! This also allows them to escape from the destruction God is about to bring on the besieging forces of the nations.

Note also the reference, " you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah" (verse 5). The prophet Amos dated his book with reference to that former earthquake (see Amos 1:1). As mentioned in the Bible Reading Program's introductory comments on Amos, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus says that this earthquake happened when King Uzziah sinned in attempting to offer incense (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 9, chap. 10, sec. 4), thus dating the former earthquake to about 751 B.C. This was around two and a half centuries before Zechariah 14 was written, so the former earthquake and the resultant evacuation of the people from Jerusalem must have been a rather monumental event for it to have lingered so long in the national memory (especially given the deportations of both Israel and Judah in the intervening years).

Zechariah 14, while making a comparison with the former earthquake, does not directly state that there will be an earthquake at the time of Christ's return. But the splitting of the mountain will surely cause one (or be the result of one otherwise brought about by God). We do know from elsewhere in Scripture that there will be an earthquake at the time of Jesus' second coming, and it could well parallel the events of Zechariah 14. Notice Revelation 16:18: "And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth." Interestingly, the Jordan River Valley, a few miles east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, lies along a major fault line, so the whole area has long been a significant earthquake zone.

At the end of Zechariah 14:5, we are told that God—again, in the person of Jesus Christ—will come with "all the saints." The word saints literally denotes "holy ones" and includes both God's holy angels and the spiritually converted human beings of this age resurrected to divine glory at Christ's coming.

Verses 6-7 describe a period of persistent darkness across many days, signifying the time of judgment. This parallels Joel 2:1-2: "For the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness" (see also Isaiah 13:9-10; Amos 5:18, 20; Zephaniah 1:14-15). But then the darkness will be broken and light will shine even at night. We should understand this both literally in the sense that God will clear the debris of global catastrophe from the atmosphere and figuratively in that the light of God's truth and character will be manifested and taught to mankind. Indeed, Jesus Himself is described in Scripture as the Light of the world—as are His followers.

Zechariah 14:8 describes living waters flowing from Jerusalem toward the eastern sea (the Dead Sea) and the western sea (the Mediterranean). "In contrast with the seasonal streams that flow only during the rainy season, these streams will irrigate the land in both summer and winter" (Nelson, note on verse 8). This parallels the description of the river of healing waters flowing from Jerusalem in Ezekiel 47 and Joel 3:18. While literal, the reference is also figurative of the Holy Spirit and salvation flowing from the divine Messiah (see Jeremiah 2:13; Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1; John 7:37-39; see also Revelation 22:1-2). It's also interesting that the city of Jerusalem was founded on a hill atop the Gihon Spring, a freshwater source that has provided the city with water for many centuries. Also, not very far away to the east, water flows out of the solid rock at the desert oasis of En Gedi, where David and his men at times hid out while being pursued by Saul. The limestone hills around Jerusalem are clearly underlain by underground water sources, so little stretch of the imagination is required to see God bringing these prophecies to pass.

Verse 9 foretells the hope of all God's people who pray, "Your Kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10)—the time when Jesus Christ will at last become King over the entire earth.

Verse 10 reveals some major topographical changes that the land of Judea will experience. The land around Jerusalem is to be leveled and the city itself raised. "Geba was six miles northeast of Jerusalem. Rimmon was about 35 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Benjamin's Gate was most likely the gate in the north wall of the city. The First Gate has not yet been identified. The Corner Gate probably marked the northwest limit of Jerusalem. The Tower of Hananel was probably a defensive fortification on the north wall" (Nelson, note on verse 10; see also Jeremiah 31:38). "The royal wine-presses were just south of the city" (Expositor's, note on Zechariah 14:10-11). Verse 11 gives the comforting message that Jerusalem will be reinhabited with its citizens secure, the great destruction of the last days having come to an end.

Verse 12 returns to the theme of the final battle over Jerusalem at Christ's return. God will send a "plague" to strike the enemy forces. The word plague today is often equated with disease and sickness, but it simply connotes a divine striking with judgment. Consider the 10 plagues that God brought on ancient Egypt, most of which were not sicknesses. The description of people's flesh dissolving while they stand on their feet in Zechariah 14:12 seems similar to that of the effect of a nuclear- or neutron-bomb explosion. But the main point is who causes the effect—"the LORD will strike all the people."

Verse 13 describes a great panic among the enemy forces that will lead to them attacking each other. As noted in the Bible Reading Program comments on Zechariah 12:4, this appears to be related to God's statement there that in the final battle He will strike every horse with confusion and blindness and their riders with madness. As previously mentioned, this could refer to a malfunction in the electronic sensors and guidance systems of modern war vehicles, leading to "friendly fire" instances among the enemy, sparking uncontrolled infighting. However it occurs, this will parallel ancient instances where God turned enemy troops besieging Jerusalem against one another (see 2 Chronicles 20; 2 Kings 18-19).

Zechariah 14:14 states that Judah will fight at the time of the final battle, then seizing the spoil of the defeated enemies. Yet ultimate victory will come not through force of arms but through the awesome, supernatural intervention of Jesus Christ already mentioned. The plague of verse 12 is referred to again in verse 15 as consuming enemy transport animals and livestock.

All to Keep the Feast of Tabernacles and Be Holy 

Verse 16 brings us to the time when the smoke of war has cleared and the reign of the Messiah has been established. The nations will have suffered severe judgment but the people among them who remain to this time will be given the opportunity, along with Israel, of enjoying a close relationship with the Almighty King of all the earth.

All nations will be required to observe the annual Feast of Tabernacles. This clearly proves that this festival, along with God's other feasts listed in Leviticus 23, are not just for the Israelites but are, rather, for all humanity. Indeed, the Feast of Tabernacles pictures this wonderful future period pictured in Zechariah 14—the time when all nations will be brought under the reign of Christ to experience joy and peace for 1,000 years. (To learn more about God's feasts and our duty to observe them today, send for or download our free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)

The nations going up annually to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles does not mean that every person in every nation is to go to Jerusalem every year. Rather, the Feast will be observed globally, with each nation sending a representation to Jerusalem. The point of verse 16 is to draw a contrast. Those of the nations who came against Jerusalem will now come to worship there. Just as God in formerly bringing "all nations" against Jerusalem did not bring every single person among them there, so the nations going to Jerusalem to worship at the Feast does not mean every single person among them will go there each year.

God "next unfolds what will happen to the recalcitrant nations that refuse to send delegations on this annual pilgrimage to worship the King in Jerusalem: The blessing of rain will be withheld from them (v. 17; according to Deuteronomy 28:22-24, this was one of the curses for covenant disobedience). [One commentator] relates v. 17 to 9:11-10:1, 'where an adequate rainfall is connected with the prosperity of the Messianic era.' Unger...observes: 'In Ezekiel 34:26 the word {'rain'} is used figuratively of spiritual blessing, and Zechariah's usage, while literal, does not exclude the spiritual connotation.' This principle is illustrated in v. 18 with Egypt" (Expositor's, verses 17-19). Some read verse 18 as saying that Egypt would receive a different plague for noncompliance than lack of rain since it depends not on regular rainfall but on the annual flooding of the Nile. Yet this inundation itself requires sufficient rainfall upstream—and verse 19 appears to say that Egypt and other nations will receive the same punishment if they disobey, pointing back to the lack of rainfall in verse 17.

Such measures will be for the ultimate good of those afflicted. It will wake them up to understand who Christ really is. Also, even though they may go to learn from Him unwillingly at first, they will nevertheless be afforded an opportunity to learn that they would have unwisely denied themselves. Eventually, most will be grateful for this discipline and will freely and enthusiastically join in the worship of God.

As Expositor's notes on verses 20-21, they "may be summed up like this: There will be holiness in public life ('the bells of the horses,' v. 20), in religious life ('the cooking pots in the LORD's house,' v. 20), and in private life ('every pot in Jerusalem and Judah,' v. 21). Even common things become holy when they are used for God's service. So it is with our lives. 'Holy to the Lord was engraved on the plate of gold worn on the turban of the high priest (Ex. 28:36) as an expression and reminder of his consecration, but it was meant to be true of all Israel (Exodus 19:6; Jeremiah 2:3)'.... So God's original purpose for Israel (Exod 19:6) will be fulfilled....

"While the Hebrew for 'Canaanite' can also mean 'merchant' (cf. NIV mg.)—possibly referring either to 11:5 or to the kind of activity condemned by Jesus in Matthew 21:12-13 (cf. John 2:13-16)—'Canaanite' seems the better translation for this context [—not in the sense of physical descent but in contrast to holy purity]. 'Canaanite' would then represent anyone who is morally or spiritually unclean—anyone who is not included among the chosen people of God (cf. Isaiah 35:8; Ezekiel 43:7; Ezekiel 44:9; Revelation 21:27)." Indeed, God appears to be drawing a parallel between the establishment of His Kingdom in Zechariah 14 with ancient Israel's conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan. When the ultimate Joshua (Jesus) leads spiritual Israel to victory over the nations of spiritual Canaan (this evil world)—to dispossess them from the Promised Land of this whole earth—there will be no more spiritual Canaanites (rebellious, idolatrous nations) left to defile the house of the Lord. Instead, all will be holy.

The end-time and millennial prophecies that God gave through Zechariah must have been wonderfully encouraging to the Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and they are certainly sobering and inspiring for all of us who look forward in faith to their fulfillment. We hope the fulfillment will be soon!