T. W. Chambers on Zechariah 14

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Commentary on Zechariah chapter 14, from: Talbot W. Chambers. The Prophet Zechariah. In: Johann Peter Lange. ed., A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: critical, doctrinal, and homiletical, Volume 14. Scribner, NY. 1874. pp. 109-113.


This concluding chapter of the Prophet has been very variously interpreted. Calvin, Grotius, and others supposed it to refer to the times of the Maccabees, which for a variety of reasons is scarcely possible. Marckius, following Cyril and Theodoret, applied its opening verses to the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus, and with him agree Lowth, Adam Clarke, and Henderson; but the circumstances here stated do not correspond with the facts of history, nor if they did, could the former part of the chapter be violently sundered from its plain connection with the latter part. The “later criticism” (Hitzig, Knobel, Maurer, Ewald, Bertheau, etc.), refer the passage to the period immediately preceding the Babylonish exile and the catastrophe then threatening Jerusalem; and when reminded of the contract between the prediction and the facts, appeal to the ethical aim and conditional nature of prophecy as fully accounting for this. But even admitting their principle, it does not apply here, for this chapter has nothing to say of sin and judgment, of repentance and conversion on the part of the covenant people, but only of their dreadful trials and glorious deliverance. Such a prediction, addressed to Judah in the last decennium before the exile, could have exerted no healthful influence, and certainly the glowing statements of the latter part of it have no counterpart in any experience of the restored people. It only remains then either with Wordsworth, Blayney, Newcome, Moore, Cowles, etc., to refer it to a period yet future, or with Hengstenberg, Keil, etc., to suppose that it describes in general terms the whole development of the Church of God from the commencement of the Messianic era to its close. In either case the chapter must be taken as figurative and not literal. The cleaving of the Mount of Olives in two for the purpose of affording escape to fugitives from Jerusalem; the flowing of two perpetual streams from the holy city in opposite directions; the levelling of the whole land in order to exalt the temple-mountain; the yearly pilgrimage of all nations of the earth to Jerusalem; and the renewal of the old sacrifices of the Mosaic ritual; these are plainly symbolical statements, but not therefore by any means unmeaning or useless. The chapter does not stand alone in the Scriptures. Parallels are to be found in Isaiah (lxv., lxvi.), Ezekiel (xxxviii., xxxix.), and Daniel (xii.), as well as in the closing book of the New Testament.

The Prophet begins with the account of an attack made upon the holy city by all nations, who, instead of being destroyed (like Gog and Magog in Ezekiel) before getting possession of the holy city, seize and plunder it and carry away half its population, and then are met and thwarted by Jehovah, who provides escape for his people. This feature of escape inclines one to regard the passage as an ideal picture of all the conflicts of the Church with its foes.

(a.) Vers. 1,2. The Attack. Ver. 1. Behold, a day cometh, etc. A day to Jehovah = one belonging to Him, appointed for the manifestation of his power and glory (cf. Is. ii. 12). The final result makes this abundantly plain. Thy spoil, etc. The Prophet addresses the city and says that her booty, not (as T. V. Moore, following the Targum, strangely imagines) that which she takes, but that which is taken from her, is leisurely divided among the conquerors in the midst of the city. The details implied in this general announcement are stated in the next verse.

Ver. 2. And I will gather …. ravished. Jehovah collected these nations just as He roused Pharaoh to pursue Israel (Ex. xiv. 4), in the same way and with the same result. The divine purpose presides over all human wrath and wickedness, and gains its ends, not only in spite, but often by means, of them. The rifling of the houses and dishonoring of the women are expressions taken from Is. xiii. 16, where they are used in reference to Babylon. And half of the city, etc. Only a part of the inhabitants are to be driven into exile, the rest remain. It was different at the Chaldean conquest of Jerusalem, for then the greater portion were carried away, and afterwards even “the remnant that was left” (2 Kings xxv. 11). The verse cannot therefore refer to that subjugation. Nor can it be applied to the overthrow of the holy city by Titus, who neither had all nations under his banner, nor left a half of the population in possession of their homes.

(b.) Vers. 3-7. The Deliverance. Ver. 3. Jehovah goeth forth …. battle. God Himself goes forth against these foes, and fights for his people as He is accustomed to do in a day of battle. The latter clause does not seem to refer particularly to the conflict at the Red Sea (Jerome, Hengstenberg), but rather to the Lord’s general course, as shown in many former instances (Keil, Köhler), Josh. x. 14-42; xxiii. 3; Judg. iv. 15; 2 Chron. xx. 15.

Ver. 4. His feet stand …. south. The situation of the Mount of Olives — which is before Jerusalem — is not added as a geographical designation, which surely would be needless, but to indicate its suitableness for the position of one who intended to relieve the holy city. His feet touch it, and the effect is that of an earthquake (Ps. lxviii. 8; Nah. i. 5). The mountain is split through the middle latitudinally, so that the two halves full back from each other, one toward the north, the other toward the south. The consequence would be the formation of a very great valley running east and west. To one fleeing hastily from Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives presented an obstacle of no small importance, as it did to David once (2 Sam. xv. 20); and hence the provision here made for removing the difficulty.

Ver. 5. And ye shall flee …. Judah. The people will flee into the valley of my mountains, not the Tyropoeon (Jerome, etc.), but into the valley produced by the two halves of Olivet, which are properly called by Jehovah his, since He had just given them their separate existence (so nearly all critics). The reason why the fugitives should flee thither is that this level opening extends to Azal, which by almost all expositors, ancient and modern, is considered a proper name denoting a place near Jerusalem, but no trace of any such place now exists. Hengstenberg identifies it with the “Beth-Ezel” of Micah i. 11, and explains its meaning as = “standing still,” “ceasing,” so that what is promised is that the valley shall extend to a place which in accordance with its name will afford to the fugitives a cessation of danger. Köhler follows Symm. and Jerome in rendering it ad proximum, which he renders “to very near,” i. e., to the point where the fugitives actually are. It seems simpler to suppose that the term refers to a place east of Olivet, well known in the Prophet’s day, which by its position would show the valley to be long enough to furnish all needful shelter and escape for the fleeing people. The swiftness of the flight is expressed by comparison to that occasioned by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, which is referred to in Amos i. 1, but of which we have no other information. Some think that the fleeing arises from fear of being swallowed up with their foes by the earthquake (Hengstenberg, Keil); but it is more natural to refer it to fear of their enemies. The added clause, and Jehovah my God comes, etc., with the suffix of the last word in the second person, indicates the lively joy with which the Prophet hails the appearance of his God, so that as he sees in vision the shining retinue of his saints, he passes from indirect to direct address, and exclaims, all the saints with thee! The saints here, according to the analogy of other passages (Deut. xxxiii. 2, 3; Dan. vii. 9, 10; Matt. xxv. 31; Rev. xix. 14), are the holy angels, and not (Vitringa) both holy angels and holy men.

Ver. 6. And it shall be, etc. The former part of this verse is very plain, but the last two words are obscure. The Keri represents an early attempt to escape the difficulty by altering the text, giving; … instead of …. This was adopted by the old versions, which, besides, either assumed that … was synonymous with … cold, or maintained that the true reading was …. Then, rendering the former noun ice, they got the sense, “It will not be light, but (there will be) cold and ice” (Targum, Peshito, Symm., Itala, and so Luther). Some later critics adopting the same text coordinate the three nouns, and bring them all under the negation, thus, “There will not be light and cold and ice,” i. e., no alternation of them (Ewald, Bansen, Umbreit). But this is a very poor sense, unsustained by any analogy in Scripture, and without force in the connection. It is far better to adhere to the Chethib, in which the only grammatical difficulty is the combination of a feminine noun with a verb having a masculine suffix, which surely is not insuperable in Hebrew. יְקָר֖וֹת means here as elsewhere precious things, with the additional idea of splendor or brilliancy, as in Job xxxi. 26, where the moon is said to walk … = in brightness or magnificently. The mention of light just before suggests the thought of the stars or heavenly bodies in general, as what is intended by the glorious things. The verb then is taken in its primary sense, to be contracted (h. to curdle, to congeal), here = withdraw themselves. The whole verse then indicates a day of darkness. The lights of the earth will all disappear. What the former clause states in plain prose, the latter expresses more figuratively.

Ver. 7. And the day shall be one, etc. This verse continues the description of the sorrowful time just mentioned. The day shall be one in the sense of solitary, unique, peculiar. See the Lexicons. It is known to Jehovah, and by implication to no one else, in its true nature. Not day and not night = not an admixture of both, but neither, not a … at all, because the lights of heaven being put out, there are no means of determining what is day and what night. The whole order of nature is miraculously reversed. The expression at evening time, etc., is the antithesis of the declaration in Amos viii. 9, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will bring darkness upon the land in clear day.” At the time when according to the natural course of events darkness should set in, a bright light dawns. Some expositors compare with this verse Rev. xxi. 23-25, but the two passages are radically different. It is true not only at the end of all things, but at many a previous period in the history of the Church, that at evening time it becomes light. Some critics give the sense thus stated by Professor Cowles, “There is a gradation through three distinct stages: first, utter darkness; then, a dim twilight, like that of an eclipse; then, at the close, when you might expect darkness soon to cover the earth, lo, the effulgence of full and glorious day” (M. P., 374).

(c.) Vers. 8-11. Blessings from Jerusalem diffuse themselves over the whole land.

Ver. 8. Living waters shall, etc. A lively image of the abundance and preciousness of spiritual blessings, as is evident from analogous Scriptures and from the fact that here the water flows in two opposite directions at once, and that it runs not only in winter, but in summer, when usually in Palestine the streams are altogether dry. These waters come not from occasional rainfalls, but are living, i. e., proceed from perennial fountains, and so cover the whole land from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean with fertility and beauty. They issue from Jerusalem, the central point of the kingdom of God under the Old Testament, and here therefore appropriately standing for the Christian Church, which is that centre under the New Testament.

Ver. 9. And Jehovah shall be king, etc. Most expositors render “over all the earth,” but the connection before and after refers certainly to Palestine, and there seems no reason for departing from the usual rendering, and the less, inasmuch as beyond doubt Canaan here stands as a type of the kingdom of God in its fullest extent in this world. Of course the meaning is that He will be king not only potentia or de jure, but actu et de facto. In this sense He shall be one, i. e., recognized as such, and the same as to his name = outward manifestation of his nature. Not only will gross polytheism come to an end, but also that more refined system which regards all forms of worship as different but equally legitimate modes of worshipping the one Divine Being.

Ver. 10. All the land …. wine-presses. The whole land is to be leveled to a plain in order that Jerusalem may be elevated, and then the holy city is to be restored to its former grandeur. The article is emphatic in the plain, which in Hebrew always denotes the Arabah or Ghor, the largest and most celebrated of all the plains of Judaea, the great valley extending from Lebanon to the farther side of the Dead Sea. Geba was on the northern frontier of Judah (cf. 2 Kings xxiii. 8). Rimmon, distinguished from two other Rimmons on the north (Josh. xix. 13; Judg. xx. 45), by the added clause south of Jerusalem, was a city on the border of Edom, given up by Judah to the Simeonites (Josh. xv. 32; xix. 7). In consequence of this depression of all the surrounding country, Jerusalem becomes high. The capital seated on her hills shines conspicuous as the only elevation in a very wide region. Of course the physical elevation thus miraculously caused is only figurative of Jerusalem’s spiritual exaltation. An exact parallel is found in the repeated and remarkable prediction of Isaiah (ii. 2) and Micah (iv. 1), in which, however, no leveling takes place, but the temple-mountain is so elevated that it overtops all the mountains of the earth. Professor Cowles connects the plain closely with the two following words so as to got the sense “like the plain from Geba to Rimmon;” but there was no such plain, — the whole territory between these points being hilly in the extreme. The exaltation of Jerusalem is followed by a complete recovery from the ruin brought upon it by the capture and plunder mentioned in vers. 1, 2. The city shall dwell תַחְתֶּ֜יהָ = on its ancient site (cf. xii. 6), and have its old boundaries. These, as they are given here, cannot be determined with certainty. The last clause, From the tower …. wine-presses (… being supplied before …), is generally understood to give the extent north and south, the tower of Hanameel being at the northeast corner of the city (Neh. iii. 1; xii. 39), and the wine-presses in the royal gardens at the south side (Neh. iii. 15). As to the former clauses, the starting-point is Benjamin’s gate, whence some suppose that the line ran eastward to the first gate, i. q., old gate, (Neh. iii. 6), and westward to the corner gate (2 Kings xiv. 13), — the gate of Benjamin being on this supposition in the middle of the northern wall (Hengstenberg, Keil). Others with less probability make the corner gate simply a more precise definition of the place of the first gate (Hitzig, Kliefoth). It is to be hoped that the topographical explorations at present in progress on the site of Jerusalem will shed such light npon the whole subject as will make plain what now can be only conjecturally determined. Still, whatever may be the precise force of terms here used, the general sense is clear. The city shall have its former limits.

Ver. 11. And they shall dwell … secure. Instead of going out either as captives or fugitives, the inhabitants shall dwell securely and have no reason to dread further hostile attacks (Is. lxv. 19). The ground of this security is the exemption from the curse, the dreadful ban which always follows sin (Josh. vi. 18); and the cessation of this implies that the people are a holy nation. This clause is used (Rev. xxii. 3) in the description of the holy city, the new Jerusalem.

(d.) Vers. 12-15. The destruction of the hostile nations. The Prophet here pauses in his account of the blessings destined for the purified Church, to set forth more fully the punishment of the ungodly.

Ver. 12. This will be the plague …. month. … according to usage always denotes an infliction from the hand of God. The stroke here is the most terrible that can be conceived, — the whole frame rotting away even while the man stands upon his feet, i. e., is alive. To emphasize still more the condition of these living corpses, the Prophet adds the rotting of the eyes which had spied out the nakedness of the city of God, and of the tongue which had blasphemed God and his people. The singular suffixes are of course to be taken distributively.

Ver. 13. A great confusion from Jehovah. Another means of destruction is civil discord. The allusion appears to be to a panic terror cansing such confusion that each turns his hand upon the other. Instances occur in Israelitish history. Judg. vii. 22; 1 Sam. xiv. 20 (and behold, every man’s sword against his neighbor, and there was a very great מְהֽוּמַת = confusion), 2 Chron. xx. 23. Seize the hand denotes a hostile grasp, and the next clause graphically depicts the effort of the assailant to give a home thrust.

Ver. 14. And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem, etc. An old and widely accepted view translates the final words of the first clause, “against Jerusalem” (Targum, Jerome, Kimchi, Luther, Calvin, Cocceius, and most of the moderns). But this is so flatly against the context, that it must be
rejected, even though it be admitted that … after … usually points out the object of attack. In one case at least (Ex. xvii. 8), the preposition has a local sense, and this is true also of Is. xxx. 32, according to Ewald’s explanation of the Kethib in that passage. We therefore understand the clause as teaching that Judah = the whole covenant people, will take part in the conflict and carry it on at Jerusalem (LXX., Markius, Hengstenberg, Kleifoth, Keil, Köhler). The consequence of this will be the overthrow of the foes and the capture of all their costly possessions. Apparel. As fashions in the East did not and do not change as they do with us, garments of all kinds were kept in great number, and constituted a large part of oriental wealth (Job xxvii. 16, Matt. vi. 19, Jas. v. 2).

Ver. 15. And so … the plague of the horse, etc. This verse amplifies the crime and punishment, since it shows the guilt of these foes to be such that even their possessions are overtaken by the divine curse. The case is illustrated by the example of Achan, whose oxen and sheep and asses were burned, along with himself and his children (Josh. vii. 24).

(c) Vers, 16-19. The remnant of the heathen shall be converted.

Ver 16. All that is left … tabernacles. The prophet states, with an evident allusion to Is. lxvi. 23, that those of the heathen who are not destroyed will all go up yearly to the sanctuary of Jehovah to observe one of the great feasts. This, of course, is figurative, as the most intrepid literalist will scarcely maintain that all nations could by any possibility accomplish such a feat. Henderson seeks to avoid the difficulty by supposing that they will go up in the person of their representatives. But even this ingeneous device fails to meet the terms used by Isaiah, l. c., where all flesh is said to come every Sabbath and every new moon. The verse is simply a striking method of depicting the entrance of the heathen into the kingdom of God. Why is the feast of tabernacles specified? Not because it occurred in autumn, which is the best season of the year for travelling (Theodoret, Grotius, Rosenmüller); nor because this feast was the holiest and most joyfnl (Koster. V. Ortenburg, Pressel); nor because of its relation to the ingathering of the harvest (Köhler); nor because such a festival could be observed without any compromise of the principles of the New Dispensation (Henderson); but rather in view of its interesting historical relations (Dachs, C. B. Michaelis, Hengstenberg). It was a feast of thanksgiving for the gracious protection afforded by the Lord during the pilgrimage of his people through the desert, and for their introduction into the blessings of the land of Canaan. In like manner the nations will celebrate the goodness which has brought them through their tedious and perilous wanderings in this life to the true and everlasting kingdom of peace and rest. Carrying out this figurative representation, the prophet adds a penalty to be inflicted upon all absentees.

Ver. 17. Whoso of the families …. no rain. Rain seems to be mentioned as one of the principal blessings of God, that by which the fruitfulness it produced which occasions the joy of the harvest. It therefore appropriately stands here to represent the whole class of providential favors. Compare the notes on x. 1. It shall be withheld from those who fail to fulfill their duties to Him. See a similar threat, upon Israel, in Deut. xi. 16, 17. Pressel calls attention to the fine use of the word family in this verse in connection with Jehovah as king, indicating that then the various nations of the earth shall be considered as so many families of the one people of God.

Ver. 18. And if the family of Egypt go not up, etc. The menace of the preceding verse is repeated with especial application to Egypt. Many have sought the reason of this particular specification in the natural peculiarities of Egypt, which, being indebted for its fertility not to rain but to the Nile, might seem to be exempt from the threatened drought. But surely, apart from other considerations, this has no force nor application, when it is remembered that even the Nile is dependent upon rains at its source. It is far more natural to attribute the mention of Egypt to its historical relations to Israel as their hereditary foe. The old enemy of the Church shall either join the procession Zionward, or else feel the retributive curse.

Ver. 19. This shall be the sin of Egypt. “This,” namely, that no rain falls on them. Hence many adopt the version of חַטַּ֣את in the English Bible, punishment (Targum, Calvin, Henderson), and appeal to Lam. iii. 38, iv. 6, Is. xl. 2. But it is at least doubtful it the word ever has this sense (see on Lam. iv. 6), and accordingly the difficulty is avoided by taking it = sin, including its consequences (Hengstenberg, Keil, Kohler). The inseparable connection between sin and punishment is well expressed in Num. xxxii. 23. The foregoing passage does not require us to believe that at the period spoken of there will still be godless heathen who refuse to acknowledge and worship Jehovah. It may be simply a rhetorical enforcement of the thought that all ungodliness will then entirely cease.

(f.) Vers. 20, 21. Jerusalem becomes thoroughly holy.

Ver. 20. There shall be on the bells … altar. מְצִלּ֣וֹת, variously rendered by ancient authorities, is now acknowledged to mean bells, which were suspended from horses and mules for the sake of ornament. The phrase inscribed upon these, Holiness to Jehovah, is that which was engraved upon the diadem of the high priest (Ex. xxviii. 36). This does not mean that these bells should be employed for religious worship, or used to make sacred vessels (Jewish Critics, Cyril, Grotius); nor that the horses and other means of warfare should be consecrated to the Lord (C. B. Michaelis, Hitzig, Ewald, Maurer); but that the distinction between sacred and profane should cease (Calvin, Hengstenberg, Keil, etc.). Even the smallest outward things, such as have no connection with worship, will be as holy as those which formerly were dedicated by a special consecration to Jehovah. Of course this involves the cessation of the Levitical Economy. An advance upon this thought is contained in the second clause. Not only shall everything profane become holy, but the different degrees of holiness shall cease. The pots used for boiling the sacrificial flesh shall be just as holy as the sacred bowls which received the blood of the piacular victims. The two kinds of utensils stood at opposite points of the scale of sanctity; to put them on the same level was to say that all would not only be holy, but alike holy. Calvin on this passage cites with ridicule the opinion of Theodoret, that the former part of the verse was fulfilled when Helena, the mother of Constantine, adorned the trappings of a horse with a nail of the cross! Such trilling was too much even for Jerome.

Ver. 21. And every pot …. in that day. Here the thought is carried yet farther. Not only shall the temple-pots be equal to sacrificial bowls, but every common pot in the city and throughout the land, will become as sacred as the utensils of the temple, and be freely used by all for sacrificial purposes. The substance of the thought is the same, only more emphatic. This now is repeated in the closing words, — no more a Canaanite in the house of Jehovah. כְנַעֲנִ֥י does not mean a merchant, as in Job xl. 6, Prov. xxxi. 24 (Targum, Aquila, Jerome, Grotius, Bunsen, Hitzig), for there are no indications that traders in Old Testament times frequented the holy courts for traffic; nor literal Canaanites by birth, such as Gibeonites and Nethinim, who were employed in the lower functions of the temple service (Drusius, V. Hoffman, Kliefoth), for these classes lost none of their former esteem after the restoration; but the term is used as an emblematic designation of godless members of the covenant nation. Canaan was cursed among Noah’s children, and his descendants were under the ban (Deut. vii. 2, xx. 16, 17). To say that these should no more be found in the Lord’s house, is simply to say that all its frequenters should be righteous and holy. Professor Cowles says, “Canaanite was the common Hebrew word for trafficker, merchant, — a business in bad repute among the Hebrews because so much associated with fraud and deceit. See Hos. xii. 7, 8.” I am quite unwilling to believe that the voice of inspiration put such a stigma upon a necessary and honorable occupation as this explanation implies. Besides, to say that the love of filthy lucre shall no more pollute the sanctuary, is far less than to say that no form of sin of whatever kind shall be found there. Further, such a view is excluded by the obvious analogy between these two closing verses of Zechariah and the statements in the concluding passages of the Apocalypse, where it is plain that universal holiness is promised as the characteristic feature of the kingdom of God in its final consummation.