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Zechariah 14:1-21 | Werner Bible Commentary

Zechariah 14:1-21

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At a coming “day” or time, a “day” (“days” [LXX]) when YHWH purposes to take action, his people would be facing great distress. Jerusalem, representing God’s people, would come under vicious assault. In the midst of Jerusalem, those who launched the attack would then divide the “spoil” (“spoils” [LXX]) they seized. (14:1)

YHWH permits the nations to attack Jerusalem and, therefore, he is represented as gathering “all the nations against Jerusalem for war.” The attackers then seize the city, plunder the houses, rape the women, and take half of the people of the city into exile. As for the remaining half of the people, “they will not be cut off from the city.” In the Septuagint, two words for “not” emphatically express that the remaining ones will by no means be destroyed. Historically, nothing that parallels the developments portrayed in this chapter has yet occurred. For this reason, it may be concluded that the prophetic words relate to a future time of great distress for God’s people. (14:2)

YHWH will come to the defense of his people, going forth to fight against the attacking nations as he would fight in a day of war. Having demonstrated themselves to be enemies who are determined to annihilate God’s people, these nations will not escape the execution of his judgment. (14:3)

As far as his people are concerned, YHWH is depicted as opening up an escape route for them. In that “day” or time when he takes action, he is represented as standing upon the Mount of Olives, which is located opposite Jerusalem “on the east.” On the eastern side of Jerusalem lies a chain of limestone hills with three prominent summits, and the middle one of these is commonly considered to be the Mount of Olives. (See Mount of Olives for pictures of and comments about the site.) When YHWH’s “feet” are depicted as standing on it, the Mount of Olives is split in two (literally, “in its midst”), from “sunrise” (the east) to the “sea” (the Mediterranean) or to the west. The splitting of the Mount of Olives then forms a very “great” or wide valley (“chasm” [LXX]), which provides an escape route from Jerusalem. Additionally, half of the Mount of Olives is said to move “to the north,” and the other half “to the south.” (14:4)

It appears that the newly formed valley is called the “valley of my [God’s] mountains,” and to this valley the people would flee (seemingly because the geographical change that is represented as having taken place at the Mount of Olives blocked all other routes). The “valley of the mountains” through which the people flee is said to “touch” or “reach” Azel (a location that has not been identified with any known site). Their flight would be like that at the time of the earthquake which occurred during the reign of Judean king Uzziah. (14:5; regarding the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)

At the very time when it appears that his people could be facing annihilation, YHWH will come and “all the holy ones” with him (literally, “with you,” but “with him” in the Septuagint). These “holy ones” are his angels. (14:5)

The time for YHWH to take action with his angelic forces will prove to be a unique day. There “will be no light” (as if the sun did not then shine). According to the Masoreitc Text, also the “precious things” [a form of yaqár] will contract [qipa’óhn].” In Job 31:26, the Hebrew adjective yaqár (“precious”) is linked to the moon. This may provide a basis for understanding the “precious things” to be the moon and the stars. If the verb qipa’óhn is derived from the root qapháts, it could mean “contract” and so could indicate that the light of the moon and the stars would be contracted, diminished, or eclipsed. In this case, the unique day would be one without the light from the sun in the day and from the moon and the stars at night. It is also possible that the root for qipa’óhn is qapáh, which may mean “congeal,” “become rigid,” or “thicken.” This could suggest that the “pleasant things,” the moon and the stars, darken as if they were thickened or congealed. (14:6)

The Septuagint reads, “in that day [there] will not be light and cold and frost.” This could signify that there would be no sunshine in the day and no cold and frost during the night. In their interpretive renderings, translators often depart from the Hebrew text. “On that day there shall not be either cold or frost.” (NRSV) “On that day there shall no longer be cold or frost.” (NAB) “On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost.” (NIV) “On that day there will be neither heat nor cold nor frost.” (REB) “That Day, there will be no light, but only cold and frost.” (NJB) “In that day, there shall be neither sunlight nor cold moonlight.” (Tanakh) “It will be a bright day that won’t turn cloudy.” (CEV) In the verse that follows, the unique “day” is described as one with light at evening time. So it appears preferable to regard the words about there being no light to mean that the brightness of the day of deliverance for God’s people would prove to be so brilliant that it would appear as though the light of the sun and the light of the moon and stars had been eclipsed. (14:6)

The words there “will be one day” indicate that the unique day, a day “known to YHWH” as one belonging exclusively to him, is one of continuous brightness. There will not be a period of day followed by night, for at “evening time [there] will be light.” For God’s people, this unique day will result in relief from distress and bring blessings beyond measure. It will not be a day that will ever change to a time of darkness or gloom. (14:7)

The benefits of the special day or time will not be limited to God’s people who experience his deliverance. This is indicated by a development associated with Jerusalem. “Living waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea [the Dead Sea] and half of them to the western sea” (the Mediterranean). That water will not dry up during the hot summertime, but it will continue to flow in “summer” and in “winter” (“spring [LXX]. Water is essential for vegetation to grow and flourish. With “Jerusalem” being identified as the place from which the “living waters” flow, this points to YHWH as their source. So the “waters” may be regarded as representing life-giving provisions that come from him. Whereas Jerusalem with its temple was YHWH’s representative place of dwelling, the heavenly Jerusalem is his true residence from where all blessings are destined to come to the earth. When linked to the heavenly Jerusalem, the “waters” would include everything that humans need for eternal life, a life of an enduring relationship with God as persons forgiven of their sins on the basis of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death. (14:8; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

With all attackers of his people having perished, YHWH would become “king over all the earth.” This denotes that there would no longer be any competing sovereignties, but all would be subject to YHWH. In that “day” or time, “YHWH will be one and his name one.” He alone will then be acknowledged as God, and his name alone (not that of any other god) would ever be mentioned or invoked. (14:9)

From Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem, “all the land will be turned into a plain.” Geba is commonly identified with a site about 5.5 miles (c. 9 kilometers) northeast of Jerusalem, and Rimmon with a location over 40 miles (c. 65 kilometers) southeast of Geba. The entire region between these two cities is hilly and mountainous. For the area to become a plain would refer to a transformation that does not occur within a short period. Therefore, the development may be understood to represent the exaltation of Jerusalem. This aspect appears to be referred to as the lifting up of Jerusalem, for the city would then rise high above the plain. Being the location of the temple, Jerusalem anciently was YHWH’s representative place of dwelling, and the transformation of the former hilly and mountains area to a level plain in relation to Jerusalem may point to the lofty place true worship would come to occupy. (14:10; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Jerusalem is said to “sit” or “remain” on its site, “from the Gate of Benjamin [probably on the north side] to the place of the first gate [possibly the Gate of the Old City on the northwest side of the city], to the Corner Gate [west of the Gate of the Old City], and from the Tower of Hananel [probably near the Corner Gate] to the wine vats of the king.” (14:10)

With specific locations for the perimeters of Jerusalem having been mentioned, the assurance is given that the city would be inhabited. No more would there be a curse in it. The city would not become a “devoted thing” (“anathema” [LXX]) or a place designated for destruction (as in the past on account of the sins of the people). Jerusalem would “dwell in security,” indicating that God’s people would not be in fear of any enemy power. (14:11)

All attempts to harm God’s people would fail. Would-be attackers would be choosing a course of self-destruction comparable to placing themselves in an environment that would result in their being infected with a fatal disease. YHWH is represented as striking “all the people who war against Jerusalem” with a deadly plague. While they are still “standing” on their “feet,” their flesh will rot, as will their eyes in their sockets and the tongues in their mouths. Thus the eyes that looked with contempt and hatred on God’s people would disappear, and the tongues that were used to speak abusively of them would cease to exist. (14:12)

“In that day” or time when an assault is directed against Jerusalem or his people, YHWH will cause great confusion to befall the attackers. Each man will then “seize the hand of his fellow and his hand will be raised against the hand of the other,” bringing about mutual destruction. (14:13)

At that time, “even Judah will fight at Jerusalem.” If this means that people of Judah would join those of the other nations in the battle, it may be understood to indicate that persons professing to be God’s people would align themselves with enemies against those who truly are God’s approved people (as represented by Jerusalem). (14:14; see the Notes section.)

The Hebrew text does not identify who will be collecting the “wealth of all the nations round about.” Probably the implied message is that the people of Jerusalem would pile up the “wealth” the attacking force leaves behind — the gold, silver, and garments “in great abundance.” (14:14)

A plague like that upon the attackers (mentioned in verse 12) will befall the horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and every other animal that may be in the enemy camps. It should be noted that the animals in the military camps included animals used in warring and for carrying burdens. This illustrates that the prophetic words are to be understood as conveying a message expressed in language reflecting the then-existing circumstances and should not be regarded as literally portraying future developments. (14:15)

Among the people of “all the nations” that are referred to as coming against Jerusalem there apparently will be those who do not support the hostile action and who will survive. These “remaining ones” are portrayed as acknowledging YHWH as their God. From year to year, they are said to go to Jerusalem to “bow down” in worship to the “King, YHWH of hosts” (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]), or to the Sovereign with hosts of angels in his service, “and to observe the festival of booths.” (14:16)

The festival of booths was observed in the seventh Jewish month known as Ethanim or Tishri (mid-September to mid-October). It served to remind the Israelites that their ancestors had lived in booths or tents during their wandering in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt. During the some 40 years of their life in the wilderness, YHWH had cared for them and sustained them in an inhospitable environment. (14:16; Leviticus 23:39-43; Deuteronomy 8:15-18; 16:13-15)

Moreover, the festival of booths was also a joyous occasion and a time for expressing thanksgiving for the products of the harvest — the threshed grain, the olive oil, and the wine. It was a time for the people to praise YHWH as the one who had made it possible for crops to grow and who had blessed them. (Deuteronomy 16:13-15) Appropriately, therefore, the “festival of booths” was also known as the “festival of ingathering” or “harvest.” (Exodus 23:16) For people of the nations to observe the festival of booths would reflect their appreciation for YHWH as their God who makes bountiful provisions for sustaining life and for life itself and all the blessings associated therewith. (14:16)

It appears that the people of the nations who are represented as annually observing the festival of booths are included in “all creation” that will share “in the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20, 21) That the prophetic words about them relate to developments on earth is seemingly evident from the later mention of those who do not choose to be devoted to YHWH. (14:16)

Whosoever from the “families of the earth” that does not go to Jerusalem to “bow down” in worship “to the King, YHWH of hosts” (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]) forfeits his blessing. No rain will pour down for such ones, making it impossible for them to grow the crops essential for sustaining their life. According to the Septuagint rendering, “these [the ones who refuse to go up to Jerusalem to worship YHWH] will be added to those [the attackers from the nations who perished].” (14:17)

“If the family [tribe (LXX)] of Egypt” does not go up to Jerusalem for worship, there will be no rain for the Egyptians. Instead, there will be the “plague” (14:12) with which YHWH strikes the “nations that do not go up [to Jerusalem] to observe the festival of booths.” These words reveal that all who refuse to acknowledge YHWH as God and the giver and sustainer of life will face the same end as did those who attacked Jerusalem or God’s people. (4:18)

“This will be the sin of Egypt and the sin of all the nations that do not go up [to Jerusalem] to observe the festival of booths.” It appears that “sin” is here used to denote the consequence for the “sin.” Numerous translations are specific in conveying this significance in their renderings. “This horrible disaster will strike the Egyptians and everyone else who refuses to go there for the celebration.” (CEV) “This will be the punishment which befalls Egypt and any nation which does not go up to keep the feast of Tabernacles.” (REB) “Such will be the punishment for Egypt and the punishment for all the nations which fail to come up to keep the feast of Shelters.” (NJB) (14:19)

“In that day” or the time when people everywhere will be devoted to YHWH, his “holiness” or purity will be prominently acknowledged. Horses, once used primarily for warfare, will be instruments for proclaiming his holiness. Bells, probably suspended from the harnesses, will bear the inscription, “Holiness to YHWH.” According to the Septuagint, the inscription on the “bridle” will be “Holy to the Lord Almighty.” The inscription is the same one that appeared on the gold plate of the high priest’s turban (Exodus 39:30, 31), suggesting that even common things will be “holy” and testify to God’s holiness. Pots for general use in the “house of YHWH” would be sacred like the bowls used in connection with the service at the altar. (14:20)

“Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to YHWH.” This development would make it possible for the people to use their own pots for boiling meat from the animals that were sacrificed, eliminating the need for special pots. “In that day” or at that time, there will no longer be a “Canaanite in the house of YHWH of hosts” (“the house of the Lord Almighty” [LXX]) According to the Vulgate, the Canaanite is a merchant or trader (mercator). A number of translators have made this significance explicit in their renderings. “When that time comes, no longer will any trader be seen in the house of the LORD of Hosts.” (REB) “There will be no more traders in the Temple of Yahweh Sabaoth, when that Day comes.” (NJB) Any kind of commercial trafficking will not be permitted to defile the sacred precincts. It is possible that the reference to there being no Canaanite indicates that no unclean person would ever be found at the temple of YHWH, the holy God with hosts of angels in his service. (14:21)

The absence of traders has also been interpreted to mean that they would not be needed, as no one would have to buy any special pots for boiling the meat from animals that had been sacrificed. “Any one of the [pots] will be acceptable for boiling the meat of sacrificed animals, and there will no longer be a need to sell special pots and bowls.” (CEV) This meaning, however, is less likely, as commercial activity would defile the sanctity of God’s temple. (14:21; compare Mark 11:15-17.)


In verse 5, the Septuagint says that the “valley of my mountains will be blocked” and that the “valley of the mountains will be joined up to Iasol” and “will be blocked” as it was by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, the king of Judah. A number of translations have basically followed this reading in their interpretive renderings. “The valley between the hills will be blocked, for the new valley between them will reach as far as Asal. It will be blocked as it was by the earthquake in the time of King Uzziah of Judah.” (REB) “And the valley of the LORD’s mountain shall be filled up when the valley of those two mountains reaches its edge; it shall be filled up as it was filled up by the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah.” (NAB) “The valley between the hills will be filled in, yes, it will be blocked as far as Jasol, it will be filled in as it was by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.” (NJB)

The Septuagint rendering of verse 8 refers to the “first sea” and the “last sea.” This appears to be because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, making the “first sea” the Dead Sea (the eastern sea) and the “last sea” the Mediterranean Sea where the sun sets.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 10 suggests that the translator appears not to have understood the meaning of the Hebrew text. God is represented as “encircling all the land and the wilderness from Gabe [Geba] to Remmon [Rimmon] south of Jerusalem. But Rama will remain upon [its] place, from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the first gate, to the gate of the corners, and to the Tower of Ananeel, to the wine vats of the king.”

The reference in verse 14 to Judah fighting “at Jerusalem” could mean that this would be to defend the city. This, however, appears to be less likely. YHWH is portrayed as dealing directly with the attackers, and there is no mention of warriors from Judah battling against the forces of the nations.