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THE DAY OF THE LORD.
The eleventh book of the minor prophets is acknowledged on all sides to be the most difficult of all the prophets. Jews (Talmudists, cabbalists, and literalists) and Christians (fathers, orthodox divines, and rationalists) are all loud in their complaints with regard to the difficulties of interpreting this book. But, difficult as are all the preceding chapters, this chapter surpasses them all in obscurity. It is a chapter which seems to defy all historical explanation. We show in our Notes that the mention of “the earthquake in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah,” gives no secure trace of the date of the delivery of this prophecy; and before proceeding, we may observe that Ewald’s idea, that Zechariah 14:14 indicates that Judah is to take up arms against Jerusalem, is entirely erroneous. We may also dismiss as hardly worthy of notice literal interpretations of Zechariah 14:4; Zechariah 14:8; Zechariah 14:16, &c. But even when we have dismissed these preliminary difficulties, which come upon us from without, we have done but little to clear the way for a lucid interpretation of this chapter. (1) If we suppose the writer to have prophesied before the captivity of Judah, we are met by the following difficulties. Other prophets, who uttered their oracles before the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, always—while, with our prophet, they foretold the salvation of a part of the nation (see Zechariah 14:2)—spoke clearly of a deportation of the people, and a subsequent return, but of neither of these does our prophet say anything. He says nothing of deportation, and Zechariah 14:10-11 are the only ones that could, even by an immense stretch of imagination, be interpreted to refer to a return from captivity. Nor, again, can Zechariah 14:8-9 be fairly interpreted of the state of things at any period of Jewish history, either before the captivity or after the return. Witness the whole of the prophecy of Malachi to the contrary. (2) If we, on the other hand, suppose the prophet to be speaking of some catastrophes which were to take place after the return from the captivity, to what historical events could he have referred? An extract from Josephus, given in our Note on Zechariah 14:2, shows that if the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus was the subject of his prophecy, he was woefully deceived in his anticipations. But we cannot, from a priori considerations, suppose that he did literally refer to so distant an event. For though we hold that a prophet might foretell distant events, when there were already indications on the political horizon of coming storms—so that Zechariah, in his latter days, might well have foretold the victories of the Maccabees over the Greeks—and though a prophet might, through being imbued with the traditions of his order, foretell, hundreds of years before the event, circumstances in connection with the advent of the Messiah, we cannot imagine that a prophet could, when the Greeks were only just becoming of importance in the East, foresee, and in any way consciously foretell, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Compelled, then, by the lack of any historical fulfilment, and guided by the highly figurative language of the whole chapter, we decide to interpret it entirely in a figurative and Messianic sense. The prophet, amid the corruptions of his age, perceives that it is only by passing through the furnace of affliction that his nation can become sufficiently purified to be fit recipients of the spiritual blessings which the whole prophetic school, in one stream of unbroken continuity, had foretold should be the portion of Israel in the days of the Messiah. He foresaw the glorious Messianic “day”—he rejoiced to see that day; “he saw it, and was glad.” But what he sees, he sees from the Old Testament point of view. The greatest affliction that had as yet visited the nation was the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (comp. Josephus. Bel. Jud. x.), and accordingly, after the analogy of this catastrophe, the prophet draws the picture of the troubles which should precede the advent of the Messiah. It is true that there is here no definite reference to the Messiah, the spirit in which this chapter is conceived being that of the Psalms of the Theophany (96-99). God is here, as there, to appear in person to fight the battles of His people. But none the less, on that account, are those Psalms and this prophecy Messianic. The two ideas, viz., that of the reign of God Himself, and that of the reign of His anointed, run in parallel, and sometimes even in converging lines, but they never actually meet in the Old Testament. It remained for the Gospel revelation to show how the reign of Jehovah and that of the ideal David were to be combined in one Person. The prophet, in this chapter, by faith and inspiration, foresees, with no degree of uncertainty, that the day will come when Jehovah shall be One, and His name One; but the manner was not revealed until “these last days” to the Christian Church, while the complete fulfilment of this prophecy, and the full consummation of that day, will not take place until (1 Corinthians 15:28) God shall be all in all, and (Revelation 11:15) the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ.
(1) The day of the Lord cometh.—Better. A day cometh for the Lord—viz., on which He will signally manifest His glory. (Comp. Psalms 2:12, &c.) The second half of the verse gives with, as it were, one stroke of the pen the most vivid description of the first feature of this “day,” viz., judgment upon Jerusalem.
(2) This verse is but a further description of the event depicted in the second half of the preceding verse.
And the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.—This was the case (with regard to Judah) in the Chaldæan conquest (2 Kings 25:22). Whether or no this can be interpreted of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, we leave our readers to decide, after placing before them the following words of Josephus (Bel. Jud. vi. 9, § 2):—“And now, since his soldiers were already quite tired of killing men, yet there appeared to be a vast multitude still remaining alive, Caesar gave orders that they should kill none but those that were in arms and opposed them, but should take the rest alive. But, together with those whom they had orders to slay, they slew the aged and the infirm; but for those that were in their flourishing age, and who might be useful to them, they drove them together into the Temple, and shut them up within the walls of the court of the women, over which Caesar set one of his freedmen, as also Fronto, one of his friends, which last was to determine every one’s fate according to his merits. So this Fronto slew all those that had been seditious and robbers, who were impeached one by another; but of the young men he chose out the tallest and most beautiful, and reserved them for the triumph; and as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them in bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines. Titus also sent a great number into the provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed upon their theatres by the sword and by wild beasts; but those that were under seventeen years of age were sold for slaves.” We simply ask, what room is there for a remnant?
(3) Then shall the Lord go forth.—In the hour of Israel’s direst need the Lord will appear as their champion, as of old. (Comp. Joshua 10:14-42; Joshua 23:3; Judges 4:15; 1 Samuel 7:10; and especially 2 Chronicles 20:15.)
(4) And his feet . . .—The language is, of course, figurative.
Shall cleave.—Earthquake is commonly represented as an accompaniment of the Lord’s appearing (Exodus 19:18; Isaiah 29:6; Ezekiel 38:19-20). The Mount of Olives shall be cleft eastward to westward, and its two halves will be removed northward and southward respectively, so that a valley will be formed between them.
(5) And ye shall flee to.—The Hebrew will not bear the rendering of Luther, “and ye shall flee before.” The Oriental Jews, Targ., LXX., &c., by a different vocalisation, read, “And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped;” but this reading is inappropriate. “My mountains,” the Mount of Olives, which is divided in twain by the advent of the Lord, he calls “my mountains” (Marg.). It seems that they would flee thither for fear of being overwhelmed in the destruction of Jerusalem, “for the valley of the mountains” will afford a ready place of refuge, for it “shall reach unto Azal.” Some suppose Azal to be a place near Jerusalem (some placing it to the west of the Temple-Mount, others to the east of the Mount of Olives), but others take the word as a preposition, and render it “very nigh.” In any case, they flee to the valley because of its convenient proximity.
The earthquake in the days of Uzziah is not mentioned in the sacred history, but it was an event that left such an impression on the popular mind that it became an era from which to date (Amos 1:1). “Similarly in Crete recent events are dated by such eras as in the year before the great earthquake.” (Blakesley’s Herodotus i. 263.) Thus the mention of this earthquake does not “fix the date of the prophecy to the days of Uzziah” as some commentators have affirmed. The second person, “ye fled,” need not be taken as referring directly to the persons addressed; but, considering the fact of the continuity of the national existence, may be understood as denoting the same nation at an earlier period, as in Joshua 24:5. Moreover, if we cared to dwell on the fact of the addition of the words “king of Judah” to the name of Uzziah, it might be taken to imply that the prophecy was delivered so long after the time of Uzziah that it was necessary for the prophet to remind his hearers who this Uzziah was.
Saints.—Better, angels. (Comp. Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalms 89:5 .)
With thee.—The change into the second person denotes the prophet’s own joyful waiting for his God’s advent. Some versions and MSS. read “with him.”
(6) That the light shall not be clear, nor dark.—Better, there shall not be light; the glorious ones (i.e., the heavenly bodies) shall fail (literally, become coagulated).
(7) One day.—i.e., an extraordinary, unique day. (Comp. Ezekiel 7:5.) “An evil, an only (literally, one) evil, behold, is come.” (Also Jeremiah 30:7.)
Not day, nor night.—But a kind of murky gloom, such as accompanies a sand-storm in the deserts of the East.
It shall be.—Better, there shall be. As the darkest hour precedes the dawn, so the climax of man’s direst need is the precursor of the day-spring of God’s saving power. And so now, when “at evening time” they shall be expecting the gross darkness of night to set in, suddenly they shall be flooded with the light of God’s salvation. This second half of Zechariah 14:7 is to Zechariah 14:6-7 (a) what Zechariah 14:3 is to Zechariah 14:1-2. In each case the brightness of the Theophany dispels the darkness of despair.
(8) Living waters.—The symbol of Divine knowledge and spiritual vitality (Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:0).
Former.—Or front, i.e., eastern (marg.)—meaning the Dead Sea.
Hinder.—i.e., western, meaning the Mediterranean. These boundaries denote the whole of the Holy Land.
In summer and in winter.—The stream shall be perennial, not drying up in summer, as the Eastern wadis do.
(9) All the earth.—In accordance with the context, we can only understand this in the sense of “all the land” (Zechariah 13:8). But though this is undoubtedly the meaning of the prophet, there is no reason why his words may not have a wider application than he himself ever contemplated.
Shall there be one Lord.—Better, Jehovah shall be One: i.e., “God shall be all in all.”
And his name one.—i.e., and He alone shall be worshipped as God.
(10) The land . . . from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem.—i.e., Judah, from north to south, as in 2 Kings 23:8 it is said, “from Geba to Beersheba.” Geba, modern “Jeba,” is about three hours north of Jerusalem. Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, not Rimmon in Galilee, which was north of Nazareth (Joshua 19:13), nor the rock of Rimmon, north of Jerusalem (Judges 20:45), but Rimmon, modern Umm er Rummanin, four hours to north of Beersheba.
Shall be turned as a plain.—Better, as the plain, called in Hebrew the Hâ Arâbâh, and now in Arabic Al Ghor. It extends with some interruptions from the slopes of Hermon to the Elamitic gulf of the Red Sea.
And it.—viz., Jerusalem. The idea of the lifting up of Jerusalem is suggested by its geographical position, situated, as it is, in a nest of mountains (Psalms 125:2). The language is, of course, figurative, and denotes the religious prominence of Jerusalem. The very name of Jerusalem at the present time, Al Kuds, “the holy place,” is so far a testimony to the truth of the prophecy, in that the nations, by adopting this appellation (Jerusalem ha Kedoshah) from the Jews, acknowledge the holy city to have been the fountain-head of religious knowledge.
In her place.—Comp. Zechariah 12:6.
Benjamin’s gate was doubtless in the northern wall.
The place of the first gate was, perhaps, at the north-eastern corner, and “the corner gate” at the north-western corner (2 Kings 14:13; Jeremiah 31:38). Thus this description denotes the whole breadth of the city, from east to west.
The tower of Hananeel (Jeremiah 31:38; Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 12:39) was at the north corner of the city; and “the king’s wine-presses,” no doubt, in the king’s gardens, at the south end of the city (Nehemiah 3:15); thus these latter are the northern and southern boundaries.
(11) Utter destruction.—Better, ban. (Comp. Malachi 4:6; Revelation 22:3.)
(12, 13) In the description of the plague, and confusion, and rout with which the hostile nations are to be smitten, the prophet had in mind several historical events: e.g., Exodus 9:14; Psalms 37:36; 1 Samuel 5:9; 1 Samuel 14:20; Isaiah 22:5.
(14) Judah.—Then, taking courage from the panic which had struck their adversaries, the whole people of Judah—not merely those who had escaped out of the city, but also those outside the walls—fight once more “at Jerusalem,” or in its very streets,” against the terror-driven, plague-stricken, God-confounded foe” (Wright).
And the wealth. . . .—Oriental armies always march with quantities of gold, silver, and other valuables. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 20:25; and for an instance in India, year of the Hejra 964, see Al Badaoni’s Reign of Akbar, Transl. pp. 9, 10.)
(15) The war-horse (see Note on Zechariah 9:9) and beasts of burden (see Note on Zechariah 9:9) are to be included in the destruction, even as were the cattle of Achan (Joshua 7:24).
(16) Go up . . . to worship.—The judgment on the nation is to be remedial. The result of it is to be that they will earnestly embrace the worship of the one only true God. “The Feast of Tabernacles” (lasting from the 15th to the 22nd of Tishri) is called par excellence “The Feast.” The chief object in its observance is, from a material point of view, the thanksgiving for the in gathering of the harvest and vintage. On the 21st (called Hosha’na Rabba) the Jews always pray that the coming year may not be one of drought. It is most appropriate, then, that the prophet should represent the nations of the earth as joining the Jews in keeping their festival, which is that on which the Lord is especially praised as the beneficent God of nature. This prophecy is, of course, not to be taken literally. The prophet is merely foretelling in Old Testament language the future in gathering of the nations. Our Lord refers to the gathering of people into the kingdom of heaven as a harvesting (John 4:35).
(17) No rain.—Though the worship of the Lord is to become universal, apostacy is not regarded as impossible. The punishment for such deflexion is spoken of in such figurative language as suits the symbolic description of the nations’ conversion.
(18) That have no rain.—This is an impossible rendering of the original. We must read these words in connection with those which follow, and either take the clause as interrogative, and render, then will not (nonne?) the plague fall upon them wherewith, &c.,” or we must, with LXX. and six Hebrew MSS., omit the negative, and render, then shall fall on them the plague wherewith, &c. Lange (quoted by Wright) has observed rightly that if the family of Egypt were to be punished by the deficiency of water, the Abyssinians, even though they attended the feast at Jerusalem, would have to suffer at the same time, as Egypt can only suffer from scarcity of water in connection with all the lands in the south of that country. The fact, then, that the withholding of rain is described as the particular punishment of the nations that will not go up to the feast is sufficient proof that the prophecy is not to be taken in its literal sense.
(19-21) We cannot see, as many commentators affirm, that these concluding verses clearly indicate a passing away of everything that is distinctly Levitical. They only state that in that day there will be a general elevation of everything in sanctity. Even “the bells upon the horses” will, like the plate of gold on the mitre of the high priest, have inscribed on them “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Exodus 28:36, &c.). The pots of the sanctuary in which the “peace offerings” were cooked will be raised to the grade of sanctity of the bowls in which the blood was caught; and ordinary pots will be raised to the grade of sanctuary pots. Neither can we see in this passage a promise of the restoration of the Mosaic ritual, for the whole chapter is composed in most unmistakably figurative language.
(20) Canaanite, in reference to the early days of Israel’s existence, denotes alien, unbeliever. The word implies just what “Jew,” would in the present day to an illiberal German or Russian, or Cáfir, or Frangi (Frank) to an orthodox Moslem.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Zechariah 14". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25