This is the climax, as well as the conclusion, of message of Zechariah.It is the “mountain top” of Zechariah.
The first half of Zechariah promised God’s return to Jerusalem through the rebuilding of the temple (Zechariah 1-8; cf. 2:5). The eight visions promised renewal and prosperity for Judah and Jerusalem. But it also envisioned a time when the nations would live among the children of Jacob and know Yahweh (cf. Zechariah 2:11). The first half ends with nations coming to Jerusalem to know God (Zechariah 8:20-23).
The second half of Zechariah describes a day when Ephraim and Judah will fully inherit and inhabit the land promised to Abraham (Zechariah 9-14). Though Yahweh refines and purifies Israel through judgment, ultimately Yahweh will come to Jerusalem, defeat the nations and Yahweh will reign over the whole earth. This second half of Zechariah ends on the same note as the first half as the nations come to Jerusalem to know God (Zechariah 14:16-19).
In particular, on that day—an apocalyptic, eschatological day—Yahweh will pour out grace on Israel (12:10), rid the land of idolatry and false prophets (13:2, 4), stand on the Mount of Olives to level the hills of Judah and exalt the holy hill of Zion (14:3-5), rid the creation of darkness (14:6-7), water the land with a river flowing from Jerusalem (14:8-9), and reign “over the whole earth” (14:10). With the nations (evil) defeated and Jerusalem secured, Yahweh invites the “survivors from all the nations” to rest in the divine presence (14:16-21).
The survivors, presumably those who turned to God in the preceding drama, will make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem “to worship the King, Yahweh Almighty.” The whole earth now worships the God of Israel. This even includes Egypt (Zechariah 14:18). The echoes of the Exodus and the plagues upon Egypt in Zechariah 14:12-14 are now transformed into the gracious invitation and hope that Egypt will participate in the worship of Yahweh. This is a total reversal—Egypt comes to Jerusalem!
The climactic rhetoric of Zechariah 14:16-21 pictures a celebrative festival at Jerusalem to which the whole earth is invited. In fact, the specific feast is identified—it is the Feast of Tabernacles. Sometimes called the “feast of booths” because Israel lived in tents during the feast as a reminder of their wanderings in the wilderness, the festival was a time of rejoicing and gratitude.
The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates God as both Creator and Redeemer. Worshiping the Creator, the Feast rejoices over the fall harvest and thus acknowledges God as the provider of that harvest (Deuteronomy 16:13-17). But the Feast also anticipates the fall plantings and a harvest from the winter crop (which is celebrated at Pentecost). Consequently, the festival may have employed water rituals that involved prayers for rain as rain is necessary for the survival of crops in a land without irrigation (cf. John 7:38). Yahweh provides the rain (not Baal!). Rain was even necessary for Egypt since a drought in the southern highlands would prevent the flooding of the Nile. Rain here, however, may only symbolize the blessings of God in the land since living water now flows from Jerusalem itself. Whatever the case, the Festival expresses gratitude to the Creator who provides in this new day just as God did in the wilderness and as God did in creation.
The feast also celebrated Yahweh as Redeemer. For Israel the Feast of Tabernacles reminded Israel that God had delivered them from Egypt (Leviticus 23:39-43). Israel was freed from Egyptian slavery and now the whole earth has been liberated from the rule of the nations. The nations, though they exist presumably as ethnic groups, no longer reign; Yahweh reigns.
During the time of Nehemiah and Ezra, the Torah was read during the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:14-18). This not only informed the worshippers but it was also a renewal of their covenant with God. Just as Israel heard the law and agreed to keep it at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24), so at the Feast of the Tabernacles Israel again renews their allegiance to Yahweh alone. Astoundingly, now the nations will hear the law, enter into covenant with God and worship Yahweh. They will now participate in and become part of the story of Israel.
That day is a new day. When Egypt and all the nations come to Jerusalem, it is a new day. This newness spreads throughout the whole of life. “Holy to the Lord” becomes the common inscription, not only on the High Priest’s head plate (Exodus 28:36-38), but upon every cooking pot in the temple, even every pot in Jerusalem and Judah itself.
The Feast of Tabernacles involved fellowship offerings where the sacrifices offered were eaten at a meal by the worshippers (pictured in this text as boiled in the cooking pots). The need for cooking utensils would have been huge (the temple had an eating area for the priests, cf. Ezekiel 46:21-24), and every cooking utensil is deemed holy, that is, dedicated to the Lord. This is actually the breakdown of sacred and secular. When Yahweh reigns over the whole earth, everything is “Holy to the Lord.”
And the unclean become clean. Just as in creation there was no distinction between ritually clean and unclean animals, so in this new day there are no unclean animals. This is expressed by the opening note that even the “bells of the horses” will be inscribed “Holy to the Lord.” The horse, according to Leviticus (11:1-8), is an unclean animal, but it is no longer. On this day, it is holy to the Lord.
As the whole of Jerusalem and Judah is identified as “Holy to the Lord,” it is expected that nothing unholy would be found there. Consequently, “on that day, there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty.” The term “Canaanite” might refer to the ethnic group that Israel displaced in the Joshua Conquest, but it is more likely referring to a merchant class. This epitaph was used to describe (dishonest?) traders (cf. Hosea 12:7; Zephaniah 1:11; Zechariah 11:7; Isaiah 23:8; Prov. 31:24) and here used to refer to merchandisers within the temple complex. In other words, (dishonest?) traders will no longer participate in the temple business. There is no need; God will provide. Everything is “Holy to the Lord.”
The new day will sanctify all of Jerusalem and Judah. The nations will come to worship Yahweh and celebrate God’s goodness as Creator and Redeemer. Unclean will become clean, and everything is deemed “Holy to the Lord.” Everything belongs to Yahweh since Yahweh reigns over the whole earth.
When will these things be? Or, are they now? Or, have they already been? Next post, please.