The Battle of Jerusalem
Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.--Jeremiah 46:28
Verse by verse study in Zechariah 14
Zechariah was one of the prophets of Israel after their return from the Babylonian captivity. His message deals with the future of the nation, their further travails and their final exaltation to the position God had planned for them.
The prophecy can be divided into four sections. It opens with a series of eight visions which many feel can be interpreted in chronological order and which outline the future of Israel in highly symbolic language. After a short description of the crowning of the priest (Zechariah 6:9-15) the prophet spends two chapters dealing with questions concerning the observation of religious feasts after their return from Babylon.
The balance of the book contains two "burdens" or oracles from the Lord. The first (chapters 9-11) relates to the first advent of the Messiah while the second "burden" (chapters 12-14) speaks of events concerning his second advent.
It is the last chapter of this closing oracle which forms the basis for this verse by verse study.
Jerusalem Attacked--Zechariah 14:1-3
Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
This gathering of the nations against Jerusalem appears to be the same gathering as referenced in Joel 3:1-3 and Revelation 16:14-16. The word "spoil" is an indication that this gathering may also be connected with that of Ezekiel 38:3-7 (see particularly Ezekiel 38:12, 13).
The indication of the Zechariah text is that the enemies of Israel will at first be successful in this battle against Jerusalem. The rout will appear to be so complete that, in the over confidence of victory, they divide the spoils in the midst of the city. It is customary for invading forces to carry the spoils to a safe haven before making the division of them among the conquerors. The danger always exists of some lingering foe who might seek to kill an invader during the division process.
While the rifling of the houses was to enhance the fortunes of the invaders, the ravishing of the women was a tactical move to humiliate the vanquished and defeat their spirits. Such atrocities as these are frequent even in our own day in the battles in the Balkan states and in the tribal warfare in Africa.
To understand the phrase "half of the city" which is taken into captivity, let us consider a passage in the book of Zephaniah: "In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid."--Zephaniah 3:11-13
Here we see two groups of people in Israel: one marked by fierce pride in their abilities and the other, afflicted and humble. The first of these two groups is taken away and is the same as described in Ezekiel 20:38, "And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD." The group of the city that is not taken--the meek and humble of Israel--appear to be the same as "the third part" that pass through the fire in the previous chapter (Zechariah 13:8, 9).
No details of how Jehovah will intervene are given. There is a clue, however, in the phrase that he will fight "as in the day of battle." During the time when Israel was governed by judges, a recurrent pattern developed. Frequent captivities were interspersed with frequent deliverances where the Lord fought for them. This pattern is recorded in Judges 2:16-19, "Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so. And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way."
To this agree the words of Isaiah 1:24-26, "Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city."
These "judges" and "counselors" were their faithful leaders of the past. The suggestion is that Israel's ancient prophets and judges will return through a resurrection and become the catalyst by which Jehovah will bring victory to Israel. Noting that these are called "princes" in Psalm 45:16, this same thought appears to be indicated in the words of Micah 5:5, 6 (RSV), "And this shall be peace, when the Assyrian comes into our land and treads upon our soil, that we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; they shall rule the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod with the drawn sword; and they shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border."
The Cloven Mount--Zechariah 14:4, 5
And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
The aftermath of God fighting for Israel is his standing upon the mount of Olives, showing his taking authority and beginning his reign. This appears to be the same picture as found in Daniel 12:1 where "Michael stands up." Although Michael refers to the son of God and Zechariah speaks of Jehovah himself standing on the mount, there is no real conflict. Isaiah 40:10 speaks of Jehovah's reign, stating that "his arm shall rule for him."
The mount of Olives is closely associated not only with Jesus, but with his kingdom as well. It was from the apex of this mount that he made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem as a king (Matthew 21:1). It was on this mountain that he answered his disciples questions about returning to set up his kingdom (Matthew 24:3). And it was from this eminence that he ascended into heaven (Matthew 26:30).
Now, in figure, we see this mountain cloven into two parts--half moving toward the north and half toward the south, leaving an east-west valley between the halves. It is at the conclusion of the battle of Jerusalem that we see God establishing his kingdom in two parts. The northern part relates to the spiritual phase, the church, and the southern part to the restored judges and counselors. These are the same two parts mentioned in Micah 5:5 as the "shepherds" (the church) and the "princes" (the restored prophets).
The valley was to provide a safe passage for the refugees from Jerusalem. It was a valley of blessing, stretching from Jerusalem to Azal. This Azal is probably to be identified with the Beth-Ezel (house of Azal) of Micah 1:11, a village some 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, about midway between Hebron and Beersheba (see also 1 Chronicles 8:37, 38). Beth-Ezel is situated in the highlands just west of the Judean mountains and thus is as far as any valley could go. Once reaching Azal, one is free from mountain terrain and has a clear passage to safety.
The ensuing flight for refuge is compared to the flight that happened in the days "of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah." Not much is know of this particular earthquake from a historic perspective. Dr. R. C. Wetzel says that this earthquake destroyed Tyre, Sidon, Ashdod, from Damascus to Gaza (A Chronology of Biblical Christianity, page 22). Albert Edersheim states that Josephus and other Jewish authorities connect this earthquake and the vision of God's glory (Isaiah 6) with the divine punishment for Uzziah usurping the offices of the high priest (The History of Judah and Israel, page 60).
In any event, the earthquake was still well known in the days of Zechariah (over 200 years later) and was used to date the prophecy of Amos (Amos 1:1).
In That Day--Zechariah 14:6-9
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light. And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.
Zechariah identifies four specific features which mark "that day" of the Lord:
The first of these shows how the kingdom will not be introduced precipitously upon the earth but will come in gradually. Peace will not instantly prevail upon the earth, but the clouds of trouble will slowly disperse. It will require the entire thousand years of this "day of the Lord" to fully bring about the bright prospects it promises. Thus it will not be until near the close of that day, at its eventide, that it will be light.
The picture of the promised blessing being as "living waters" is a recurrent one. It is elaborated upon in much detail in Ezekiel 47:1-12 and again in Revelation 22:1, 2, 17. The Ezekiel passage emphasizes the effect of these waters on the Dead Sea, sweetening them and making them potable (see also Joel 3:18). It also mentions that the river is lined with trees bearing all manners of fruits and with leaves of medicinal value. The Revelation account adds the information that the leaves are for the "healing of the nations" and enumerates the number of fruit as being twelve per month, equaling 144,000 in total (12 fruits x 12 months x 1000 years).
The image of half the waters flowing into the Dead Sea and half into the Mediterranean indicates that Jerusalem sits, as it were, on a continental divide. The waters proceeding both directions forms a pictorial representation of the forthcoming blessings spreading through all the world.
The New Jerusalem--Zechariah 14:10, 11
All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up, and inhabited in her place, from Benjamin's gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel unto the king's winepresses. And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.
As the north to south dimensions of all Israel are frequently stated as "from Dan to Beersheba" (Judges 20:1), so one could describe the north to south boundaries of Judah as being "from Geba to Rimmon." Geba is the border town between Judah and Benjamin, six miles north of Jerusalem, while Rimmon thirty miles southwest, lies near the southern border of Judah with Simeon. In other words, all of Judah would become a plain.
There is no need to take this in a literal sense. Rather, it seems to mean a leveling of society in the same way that is expressed in Isaiah 40:4, "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain." The proud and haughty would be brought low, or humbled, while the meek would be exalted and praised. But we notice that it is not a lowland plain, but rather one that "shall be lifted up." Israel will again assume a leadership role in the earth.
The four place names in our text appear to be located at the four corners of old Jerusalem--Benjamin's gate at the northwest corner, the "first gate" in the southwest, the "corner gate" at the northeast corner, and from the tower of Hananeel, also in the northeast, to the king's winepresses, in the southeast, near the pool of Siloam and the king's gardens.
Although the earlier verses of the fourteenth chapter refer to the preparations for a flight from Jerusalem, the time has come now to return and reinhabit the city. There is a noteworthy contrast between these verses and the situation before the final battle of verses one to three, which is also depicted in Ezekiel 38 and 39. There we have the appearance of safety: "And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates" (Ezekiel 38:11). Here we have actual safety. Any safety which is not dependent upon Jehovah is only a false sense of security.
The Plague of God--Zechariah 14:12-15
And this shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the LORD shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor. And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance. And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague.
On two occasions at least we see the Lord using plagues in his battling for his people--against Egypt at the time of the exodus and in preparation for the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16). Some have noticed the similarity of the effects of this plague to the radiation emanating from the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While there may be some validity to such an interpretation, it is not the only explanation possible to these verses. Perhaps the symbols are to be taken in a metaphorical sense.
The eyes consuming in their holes is reminiscent of the punishment of the rebellious King Zedekiah by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Jeremiah 52:11). The eyes are connected in the Bible with greed (1 John 2:16). Greed is an apparent motive in this final battle of the ages, as is witnessed by the many references of the invaders to "take a spoil" (Ezekiel 38:12, 13).
The consuming of the tongue implies that the boastful words of the would-be conquerors shall come to naught. One of the graphic New Testament description of the final days is "gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:42). In either case, literal or symbolic, the text leaves no doubt that Jehovah will be victorious in this battle on behalf of Israel.
The plagues are not limited to the human population. All of the domesticated animals of transport are also stricken by these plagues, even as they were in the plagues on literal Egypt at the time of the exodus.
While the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and 39 stresses the spoils that are in Israel as an incentive for this invasion, the verse before us emphasizes that the invaders will also bring their riches and that these will be used in the setting up of the new kingdom. There are several other prophecies which mention this feature of the Battle of Armageddon. (See Isaiah 23:18, Haggai 2:7 (NAS), and the fall of Jericho in Joshua 6:24.)
No Rain--Zechariah 14:16-19
And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
The rule of God's kingdom will be the same as it was with ancient Israel. Obedience will bring prosperity. "And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out" (Deuteronomy 28:2-6). Likewise chastisement accompanied disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-19). In the passage under consideration the discipline is represented as lack of rain, something that is critically important in a desert climate.
The singling out of Egypt shows the universality of God's chastisements. Egypt is not dependent upon rains, its irrigation coming from the Nile which is fed by melting snows further south. In our text God is saying that if the withholding of rain is not the appropriate punishment, then he would send a plague which would be equally effective.
The specification of the feast of tabernacles is significant for at least two reasons. Originally this feast was to celebrate the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. In later times the feast took on agrarian importance, celebrating the fall harvest. Thus, not attending the feast of tabernacles was not to show appreciation for the crops of the land. All nations will need to learn that their prosperity is dependent upon obedience to Jehovah. It is also worthy of note that the feast of tabernacles fell just five days after the Day of Atonement, by which, typically, man's relationship to God is restored.
Bells and Pots--Zechariah 14:20, 21
In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the LORD's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.
In the days of the tabernacle the title HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD was reserved for the golden crown on the head of the high priest (Exodus 28:36). There also we find bells--on the fringe of the high priest's ephod (Exodus 28:33-35). Now this title would become so prevalent that it would even be found on the bells of the horses. The bells of the horses is reminiscent of the king's royal chargers in Esther 6:9, "And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor."
The proclamation of all mankind of HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD will be the highest honor of all mankind. That is the very object of the kingdom--to produce true holiness in all people. The lesson is captured well by Dr. Marvin Vincent: "In the kingdom of Christ each individual is a priest. The priests work is not limited to any order of the ministry. All may offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving . . . The consummation of this ideal appears in Revelation 21:22 where the heavenly Jerusalem is represented as without temple. It is all temple. It is the abolition of the distinction between holy and profane (Zechariah 14:20,21)nearer and more remote from Godthrough all being henceforth holy, all being brought to the nearest whereof it is capable, to him." (Word Studies in the New Testament)
It is the same lesson that is stressed by saying all of the common utensils of the people--"every pot in Jerusalem and Judah"--shall echo the same refrain of holiness. This is the lesson of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
And there shall be no more the Canaanite in the land. When the nation of Israel took possession of their promised land under Joshua, there were a number of cities in which they did not drive out the inhabitants. Now, in this antitypical possession, all the forces of evil would be removed. The conquest would be total and complete. There will be no gentile there. All will be Jews. They will become so by proselytizing to the religion of the kingdom.
"And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3).
What a day of rejoicing that will be! With the whole world willfully serving God and learning to live a life of holiness, there can be true peace on earth and true good will toward all men. How we can all look forward to the day when Zechariahs prophecy is completely fulfilled!