Zechariah 14:1-15 – That Day is a New Day

The “behold” of Zechariah 14:1 (untranslated by the NIV) begins the second section of Zechariah’s second “oracle” (Zechariah 12-14). The first Section (Zechariah 12-13) was structured around the “day of the Lord” when God will renew covenant with Israel, defend Jerusalem, pour out the divine Spirit of grace, and cleanse the house of David from sin and idolatry. The second section (Zechariah 14) describes Yahweh’s triumph over the nations, the exaltation of Jerusalem and Yahweh’s reign over the whole earth.

The message of Zechariah is encouraging, promissory and climactic. At the time of Zechariah’s oracle Judah is a backwater province in the Persian Empire. It is unimportant, oppressed and impoverished. But Zechariah’s vision sees Jerusalem as the center of the world to which all the nations come to acknowledge the king of all the earth. It is a complete reversal. Whereas the Persian Emperor ruled the known earth from Mesopotamia at the time of Zechariah, in the future Yahweh will reign over the whole earth from Jerusalem.

The second oracle begins where the first one (Zechariah 9-11) left us, that is, Jerusalem is led by a “worthless shepherd” (11:17) whose self-interested leadership oppresses his own flock. This Jerusalem is filled with horrid leadership, false prophets and idolatry (Zechariah 13:2-6). That is the Jerusalem which is judged and whose plunder is divided among the nations (Zechariah 14:1).

The description of the destruction of Jerusalem by “all the nations” is typical of ANE descriptions of the fall of cities. In fact, this description echoes Isaiah’s vision of the fall of Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13:16). The city is besieged and captured, its spoils divided, half the city sent into exile, and women are sexually assaulted. “Raped and pillaged” signals the wholesale subjugation of the city by the nations. But that is not Yahweh’s final word.

Though Yahweh uses the nations to discipline Jerusalem, the warrior God of Israel will—“on that day”—fight against “those nations.” Zechariah, as in the previous oracle, uses the refrain “on that day” to describe what will happen.

On that day Yahweh will stand on the Mount of Olives. This north-south mountain ridge Is east of Jerusalem. When Yahweh appears on the mountain, mountains move as in the earthquake during the reign of Uzziah (cf. Amos 1:1-2; ca. 750 BCE). The ridge splits so that an east-west path is created. Through this pass survivors flee but also Yahweh enters Jerusalem with his “holy ones” (presumably those who had been previously exiled or scattered). Yahweh comes to Jerusalem!

On that day there will be no night. The language echoes Genesis 1, but on this day there is no “evening and morning” in the sense of night or darkness. It remains light. There is no darkness, that is, there is no more chaos. Yahweh reigns from Jerusalem and the world is filled with light. As in Revelation 22:5, Yahweh gives the light and there is no longer any night.

On that day living water will flow from Jerusalem. The city has no natural river. It depended on underground springs for its water supply. But when Yahweh arrives, the city will supply the land with “living (running) water” both east and west. The water, like the Nile in Egypt, will irrigate the land unlike anything known in ancient Judah. As in Revelation 22:1, Yahweh will provide “living water” for not only the city but for the whole earth.

On that day there will only be one King over the whole earth. Yahweh will reign from Jerusalem—the only Lord and King whose name alone is worthy of being called a “name.” Yahweh’s name will fill the earth. As in Revelation 22:3, the name of the Lord will be inscribed upon everything in the land, even the pots and pans (cf. Zechariah 14:20).

The result of these divine acts is dramatic. On the one hand, the surrounding land around Jerusalem—indeed, the whole province of Judah—will be flattened (like “Arabah”) and Jerusalem will be exalted as a city on a hill fully inhabited and with borders that remind readers of the city at its largest. The dimensions mentioned in the text are the dimensions of Jerusalem in the eighth century when the walled city was at its apex. The whole city is raised up above Judah which is now a plain where it once was wholly composed of hills. This is a massive geographical reconfiguration as it marks the prominence of Jerusalem in the whole earth.

On the other hand, Yahweh will strike the nations—those hostile to the reign of God in Jerusalem—with a plague that exceeds even the plague that Yahweh sent against Egypt. Their bodies will rot and the nations will flee in panic and confusion. Even the animals in the hostile camps are adversely affected by the trauma. But Jerusalem (and Judah!) will enjoy the spoils of the nations just as Israel did at the Exodus.

This deliverance will outstrip the Exodus itself. Not only does God strike the nations with a plague and plunder the nations, God chooses and exalts Jerusalem as the capital city of the whole earth. The reversal is pronounced. The province (Judah) and the city (Jerusalem) that in Zechariah’s time was absolutely insignificant internationally or regionally—some counties in the United States are larger than Judah was in the fifth century BCE—will, on that day, become the center of Yahweh’s reign on the earth.

2 Responses to “Zechariah 14:1-15 – That Day is a New Day”

  1.   jessepettengill Says:

    I wonder about the homiletic value of passages like this. Do we move up the ladder of abstraction and proclaim that God can bring victory out of defeat (even defeat brought on by poor choices) and hope out of despair? If we do not move up the ladder of abstraction are we left with a piece of nationalistic propaganda (albeit somewhat self-critical nationalistic propaganda)? Should we understand the raging and suffering of nations today as a divine cycle of correction and redemption? Is “on that day” an eschatalogical milestone, or is ‘on that day’ a prophecy with non eschatalogical horizons (or both)? Does presenting Jerusalem as the centerpiece for God’s future reign have any attraction or appeal in our expanding pluralistic reality here in the U.S., or is it an Achilles heel? Does such a triumphalist prophecy about God’s future promote a lassaiz faire attitude toward oppression (wait quietly and God will fix things) or does it promote an active resistance to injustice (work toward God’s better end)?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Good questions, Jesse. I don’t think it supports nationalism or passive attitudes toward oppression. In fact, part of Zechariah’s agenda throughout the book is judgment for the oppressors and the undermining of an ethnocentric understanding of the future. But all that would be too involving on a comment page. I think the homiletic value is at multiple levels, including speaking to the reasons for judgment against Jerusalem and the nations, thinking eschatologically at multiple levels (including the present), etc. I don’t see this as nationalistic in the sense of the “nations” but rather theocentric in the sense of Yahweh’s reign from Jerusalem (how, when, where, etc. is that eschatological hope fulfilled is a question to consider, and I will in a future post). Walking through this text with a small Bible study group has been fascinating, illuminating and motivating. I think it still speaks in many ways, and your questions are relevant questions for thinking about Zechariah both hermeneutically and homiletically.

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