Academic Apologetics Theology
R. L. Solberg  

Zechariah 14: Law in the Millennium (Pt. 1)

Introduction

The theology of Torahism1 regularly misinterprets a handful of prophetic eschatological passages to support their belief that followers of Jesus are required to keep the entire Old Covenant law, including the dietary restrictions, the Torah feasts, circumcision, and the seventh day Sabbath. Zechariah 14:16–21 is one such prophecy. On the surface, the text seems to indicate the people of God will be keeping the Old Covenant law in the Millennium, particularly by making an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Booths (v. 16). The passage also implies the presence of a fully functioning temple, including an altar and sacrifices (vv. 20-21).

In this short passage, Zechariah concludes his prophetic vision (and his entire book) with a portrayal of the universal worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem during the Millennium. In this 3-part academic series, we will take an apologetic approach to this prophecy, offering an extensively researched presentation of the passage that seeks to understand it within its prophetic, literary, canonical, and biblical-theological contexts. In the final analysis, we will find that, while Zechariah’s oracle is true, it cannot be used as evidence that Christians are (or will be) required to keep the Old Covenant law. We will show that the various elements of the vision are best interpreted figuratively and that Zechariah’s propositions, when squared with the text of the NT, do not require the literal presence of the temple, altar, or sacrifices, nor the celebration of the Feast of Booths as given in the Torah. We begin with a thorough exposition of the text in question.

Exposition of Zechariah 14:16–21

Historical Context

The prophetic ministries of Zechariah and Haggai intersect, with both prophets sharing a focus on the reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple after the Babylonian exile (Ezra 5:1-2). Following the edict by King Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC, which sanctioned the repatriation of the Jews to their native land (2 Chron 36:22-23; Ezra 1:2-4), an initial Jewish cohort under the leadership of Sheshbazzar made the arduous journey back to Jerusalem, which has become part of the Persian province of Yehud (Ezra 1:5-11).2 In 536 BC, shortly after their return, reconstruction of the temple began but was quickly blocked by local opposition (Ezra 3–4). It was not until sixteen years later (~520 BC) that Haggai encouraged the Jews to resume rebuilding the temple (Hag 1:12-15). Around that same time, Haggai was joined in his ministry by the younger prophet Zechariah, who came from a priestly family.

The beginning of Zechariah’s ministry coincided with a period of significant upheaval in the Persian Empire. Following the death of Cyrus the Great (530 BC), his son and heir, Cambyses, died just eight years later (522 BC). Darius subsequently captured the throne and was forced to dedicate the first two years of his reign to quelling a succession of uprisings across the empire.3

Literary Context

The book of Zechariah is most commonly viewed as consisting of three distinct sections. Part A spans Chapters 1–6 and primarily records Zechariah’s eight night visions. Part B comprises Chapters 7–8, which are made up of warnings and appeals. Part C, where our passage is found, spans Chapters 9–14. This section principally focuses on Yahweh’s future plans for his people and Jerusalem.

Albert Wolters remarks, “The book of Zechariah is notorious for its obscurity. Although part B consists mainly of relatively straightforward exhortations and admonitions, parts A and C have been the despair of exegetes throughout the history of interpretation.”4 He further notes that part C is challenging to interpret because of its multifaceted array of divine promises and threats concerning the vague future of Jerusalem, Israel and the nations, “but often having no clearly identifiable referents in actual history.”5 Carroll Stuhlmueller describes part C as “one of the most obscure sections of the Bible, where the Hebrew text is often enough in damaged condition and where historical data, conveniently provided for us in the first part of Zechariah (chs. 1–8), is suddenly and completely missing.”6

For this reason, commentators have a wide range of opinions about the historical conditions Zechariah is speaking of, whether his prophecies have already been fulfilled, or if they envision a future age. Indeed, the eleventh-century Jewish commentator Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) professed that the prophecies of Zechariah would not be clear until the Messiah comes.7 Most modern scholars view Zechariah 14 as referring to eschatological events. Richard Phillips sees it as “a vision of Christ’s second coming to bring salvation to his own.”8 Barry Webb reads it as a prophecy of “the events that will usher in the end of history.”9 Charles Feinberg writes,

We have before us the depiction of the War of Armageddon. It is a day peculiarly the Lord’s when Jerusalem’s spoil will be divided in the midst of the capital. The day is so designated because in it God means to vindicate His justice and destroy the wicked. It is the day of the Lord as in prophecies of Joel, Zephaniah, Malachi, and elsewhere.10

Literary Themes

Despite the obscurity of much of Zechariah, several broad themes are readily evident, three of which directly impact our targeted passage. First is the centrality of Jerusalem. Indeed, the terms “Jerusalem” and “Zion” are evenly distributed throughout the book, occurring more than forty-five times. Wolters notes, “It is to Jerusalem that the remaining exiles are exhorted to return (Zech. 9:12), and it is to Jerusalem that all nations will eventually come to serve Yahweh (Zech. 14:16).”11

Second, there is a repeated theme regarding the future inclusion of all nations into Yahweh’s covenant people. “Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day and shall be my people” (Zech. 2:11). “Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem” (8:22). Moreover, in our targeted passage, we will see the nations, in the end, going up to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh.

Lastly are the prophecies of a coming messianic figure, “my servant, the Branch (צֶ֫מַח)” (Zech 3:8. Cf. 6:12-13). Indeed, the anticipation of a future Davidic king is still clearly present in Zechariah C.12 Paul Lamarche notes that, in many ways, Zechariah’s Branch echoes Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.13

Composition

Modern historical criticism ascribes at least four different authors to Zechariah C and dates the text widely, ranging from the eighth to the second century BC. Wolters comments, “The constituent parts of Zechariah were read with a view to hearing not the voice of God but rather the diversity of human voices, each reflecting its own milieu and agenda and detached from both its immediate and its macrocanonical context.”14 However, a scholarly consensus has arisen that the entire text of Zechariah could have been written in (or very close to) the lifetime of Zechariah, the sixth-century BC prophet.15

Additional trends in the interpretation of Zechariah include an emphasis on literary patterns and intertextuality. Due to the fact that the prophet would have had access to much of the OT canon, scholars have noted that he often alludes to earlier Scripture. This focus has been reinvigorated due to the modern capabilities of electronic searching and artificial intelligence (see, e.g., Stead). Of course, determining whether a potential textual connection between passages is merely coincidental or exegetically significant remains a matter of judgment for interpreters.

NT References to Zechariah 14

There are some citations from Zechariah C in the NT, though none come from our particular passage. Several quotes are applied directly to the ministry of Jesus. For example, “Behold, your king is coming to you…humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9, ESV) is alluded to in Mark 11 in reference to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in the same manner.16 This indicates that early Christians saw a link between the first coming of Jesus Christ and the expectations established in Zechariah 14.

Also cited in the NT are the ideas of looking “on him whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10, quoted in John 19:37; Rev. 1:7) and “strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered” (Zech. 13:7, quoted in Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27). In a more cryptic application, the mention of thirty pieces of silver in Zechariah 11:13 is quoted in reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Matt. 27:9).

The NT allusions to Zechariah Chapter 14 are equally ambiguous. The ESV translators see a correlation between 14:2, which speaks of the nations gathering against Jerusalem in battle, and Luke 21:24, in which Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem. The NIV translators see connections between 14:7–9 and some of the scenes in the book of Revelation (Rev. 11:15, 21:23–25, 22:1–2, 5). The NASB suggests a connection between 14:21, “Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of armies; and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and boil in them,” and Paul’s admonitions that “the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord” (Rom. 14:6–7), and “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The implied connection is not explicitly stated but is presumably related to the consumption of food and its holiness.

Zechariah C (Chapters 9–14)

Part C is commonly seen as comprising two oracles. However, the warnings and promises in these chapters are diverse and assorted, and it is not immediately obvious how (or if) they are related. Julia O’Brien categorizes them as “complex and uneven” and “at times reading as little more than a haphazard collection of pieces of prophetic tradition strung together by catchwords.”17 Wolters suggests such an assessment is too strong but acknowledges that “attempts to discern some overall literary pattern in their arrangement (e.g., Lamarche; Kline; Tidiman) have been unsuccessful.”18

Our targeted passage comprises the final paragraphs of the Second Oracle, which spans Chapters 12–14. Thus, we will briefly trace the flow of that prophecy in order to place the text of 14:16–21 in its proper context.

Zechariah’s Second Oracle

Zechariah 12:1 begins, “The oracle of the word of the Lord concerning Israel: This declares the Lord…” The text that follows over the subsequent three chapters presents a series of predictions that alternate between positive (promises) and negative (warnings). Zechariah’s primary focus in this oracle is on the people of Yahweh, as symbolized by the city of Jerusalem. A consistently recurring feature of this prophecy is the eschatological phrase “on that day,” which is found in seventeen of the forty-four verses that comprise these chapters.

After reminding the nations that they are nothing compared to God, “who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him” (12:1), Yahweh proclaims that those who attack Jerusalem will ultimately harm themselves (12:2-3). By His providence and strength, Jerusalem will defeat her enemies and secure their city (12:4-9). The text then abruptly shifts to a future event in which Yahweh will pour out a spirit of grace and mercy on His people so that “when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced” (12:10), it will cause great mourning. The change in pronoun in this statement reveals a close connection between Yahweh and the one who is pierced. Indeed, the apostle John later picks up this phrase as a prophecy of Christ (John 19:37).

The scene then shifts yet again. “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (13:1). Yahweh will remove the idols and the false prophets from the land (13:2). Yahweh next calls His sword against “my shepherd” and “the man who stands next to me” (13:7). Here, as with “him whom they have pierced” (12:10), we find another close identification with the Lord. Jesus will later direct this verse at Himself (Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27; John 16:32). The shepherd-less flock will then experience a severe trial: two-thirds will be struck down (13:8), and the remaining third will be refined and tested by fire (13:9). The third who were tested will ultimately be restored to a covenant relationship with Yahweh.

They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, “They are my people”;
    and they will say, “The Lord is my God.”

Zechariah 13:9b

This brings us to the final chapter of Zechariah and its dramatic description of the coming Day of the Lord. Here, the text once again focuses on Jerusalem. Initially, the Lord “gather(s) all the nations against Jerusalem to battle” (14:2), allowing them to terrorize and plunder the city. The next moment, “The Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle” (14:3). Zechariah subsequently employs seemingly apocalyptic imagery to communicate that the natural order of things will be upended.19

Yahweh will physically stand on the Mount of Olives, which “shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley” (14:4). Further, “On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost” (14:6), nor will there be day or night (14:7). Then “living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem,” and “it shall continue in summer as in winter” (14:8). On that day “the Lord will be king over all the earth” (14:9), and the surrounding countryside will be flattened into a plain, leaving Jerusalem alone perched high to “dwell in security” (14:11). On that day, Yahweh will strike everyone who waged war against Jerusalem with a horrible, flesh-rotting plague (14:12), leading to great panic and infighting (14:13). Even the animals will be plagued (14:15), and the “the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance” (14:14).

Before proceeding to our passage at the end of Chapter 14, let us take a moment to consider how we are to understand these diverse symbols and elements used by the prophet. What sort of future vision is Zechariah trying to paint? Mark Boda notes,

We must admit that grasping the structure of this fascinating passage has always been a challenge. Some have sought to explain the divergent elements by using the tools of form criticism and its focus on genre, redaction and tradition criticism and its focus on additions and revision, rhetorical criticism and its focus on structural markers (“on that day”), “narrative” flow, or chiastic design.20

Paul Hanson sees Chapter 14 as “the most advanced example of apocalyptic” and finds in its thematic composition the structure of the ancient “conflict myth”:

  • Threat (vv. 1– 2)
  • Conflict and victory (v. 3)
  • Theophany and procession (vv. 4– 5)
  • Peace (vv. 6– 8)
  • Manifestation of Yahweh’s universal reign (vv. 9– 11)
  • Covenant curses (vv. 12– 15)
  • Procession of the nations (vv. 16– 19)
  • Sacrifice and banquet (vv. 20– 21)21

By contrast, other scholars view the chapter as a montage or collection of disjointed themes. David Petersen, for example, finds a montage made up of ten distinct vignettes (vv. 1– 3, 4– 5, 6– 7, 8, 9, 10– 11, 12+15, 13–14, 16– 19, 20– 21).22 Paul Lamarche, usually a defender of structure and unity in Zechariah, sees 14:16–21 as almost a secondary addendum to the climactic narrative of 1–15.23 Magne Saebø views this chapter as sui generis (unique), a series of separate sections tied together thematically yet lacking compositional and editorial unity.24 It is from this enigmatic milieu of the apocalyptic Day of the Lord that our targeted passage emerges.

(Continued in Part 2)


Footnotes

1 Torahism is a growing theological movement within Christendom. This theology is held by a number of sects going by names such as Hebrew Roots, Torah-keepers, Torah-observant Christians, and Pronomian Christianity.

2 Albert Wolters, “Zechariah, Book of,” The IVP Bible Dictionary Series: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 1898.

3 Ibid., 1899.

4 Wolters, 1900.

5 Ibid.

6 Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Prophecy of Second Zechariah, Chs. 9–14.” In Rebuilding with Hope: A Commentary on the Books of Haggai and Zechariah (Grand Rapids Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 114.

7 An ironic statement in that it was made 1,000 years after his Messiah came. Christians might edit Rashi’s declaration to say that the prophecies of Zechariah will not be fully clear until the Messiah comes again.

8 Richard D. Phillips, Zechariah (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 242.

9 Barry G. Webb, The Message of Zechariah: Your Kingdom Come (Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 249.

10 Charles L. Feinberg. The Minor Prophets (Moody Publishers, 1990). Accessed April 30, 2024. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1541931&site=ehost-live&scope=site

11 Wolters, 1914.

12 A. R Petterson, Behold Your King: The Hope for the House of David in the Book of Zechariah (New York: T&T Clark International, 2009), 513.

13 Paul S. J. Lamarche, Zacharie IX–XIV: Structure Littéraire at Messianisme (Paris: J. Gabalda et Cie, 1961), 124–47.

14 Wolters, 1916.

15 See Boda; Hanson; Lamarche; Meyers and Meyers; O’Brien; Petersen; Reventlow; Sweeney.

16 It is also quoted in Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15.

17 Julia M. O’Brien, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Abingdon Press, 2004), 155.

18 Wolters, 1908.

19 The scholarly definition of “apocalyptic” literature is hard to pin down. However, the dramatic imagery of this chapter, with its depiction of a Divine Warrior conquering and reigning in a future version of the world, qualifies as generally apocalyptic in nature.

20 Mark J. Boda. Haggai, Zechariah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 520.

21 Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology. Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 172.

22 David L. Petersen, and Drew Stevens. Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi: A Commentary. First edition. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 137–39.

23 Lamarche, 102–4.

24 Magne Saebø, Sacharia 9–14, Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Nuen Testament, no. 34 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1969), 282, 307.

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