Academic Apologetics Theology
R. L. Solberg  

Zechariah 14 (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

Worshiping Yahweh (14:16–21)

Following the defeat of everyone who waged war against Jerusalem, who were stricken with a flesh-rotting plague (14:12) and relieved of their gold, silver, and garments (14:14), we read this:

16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 

The defeated nations will make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh as King. The prophet is picking up the declaration he made just a few verses earlier, “The Lord will be king over all the earth” (14:9). Boda notes, “Specific mention is made of the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast is a celebration of God as Creator and Redeemer, the One who provided the harvest (Deut. 16:13– 17) and also rescued his people from Egypt (Lev. 23:39– 43).”1 This raises a question. In the Torah, there were three feasts for which every male Jew was required to go up to Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16). Why is Sukkot singled out?

         Hanson traces the rise of prominence of this specific feast among the Israelites to the era of the monarchy.2 Indeed, by the time of the Persian era in which Zachariah lived, Sukkot had become the high point of the Jewish religious year. This was a joyful fall festival, lasting seven days, that signaled the end of the agricultural year when the harvest had been gathered in (Deut. 16:13–15). The Lord commanded, “You shall rejoice in your feast” (Deut. 16:14). During this time, each family was commanded to construct sukkah—a small temporary shelter—and dwell in it for seven days (Lev. 23:42–43). Living in these small shelters for a week served as a tangible reminder that the success of the Israelites in the land came through the grace of Yahweh. Sukkot was given to commemorate God’s provision and remind His people that He can be trusted to meet their needs. Thus, this festival was a special occasion in which the Israelites gathered to worship Yahweh and celebrate His goodness to them in both the past and present. Webb notes,

It is the perfect climax to the book of Zachariah, combining the twin themes of journey’s end and harvest home. And what a harvest this is! It is people–formally enemies, but now worshipers–gathered in from all the nations, to worship, at last their rightful Lord and king.3

Indeed, Zechariah indicates that the festival will be celebrated by both Israel and the survivors of the nations, Jews and Gentiles, worshiping God as one people. Jamieson et al. note, “To the Gentiles, too, it will be significant of perfected salvation after past wanderings in a moral wilderness, as it originally commemorated the ingathering of the harvest.”4 The notion that the Gentile nations will ultimately be part of Yahweh’s covenant people is a repeated theme in Zechariah.

How should we understand the prophet’s mention of the Feast of Booths? Is this literal or figurative language? Given the fantastic nature of Zechariah’s second oracle, particularly the apocalyptic imagery of Chapter 14, as well as the physical impossibility for literally “everyone who survives of all the nations” (14:16) to spend a week in the city of Jerusalem every year, a figurative understanding of the text is merited. Perhaps it is figurative in the sense that it will ultimately be fulfilled by representatives from every nation who go up to Jerusalem rather than “everyone who survives.” It is also possible that the feast itself is symbolic of something else. Such is the nature of biblical prophecy, which we will examine in greater detail after working through this passage.

Austel Hermann takes a more literal interpretation and offers three reasons that the celebration of the Feast of Booths is appropriate.

(1) It follows shortly after the great day of atonement, a day of national repentance and forgiveness for sins; (2) it is a thanksgiving festival commemorating the end of centuries of homeless exile; (3) as a harvest festival it acknowledges the gracious providence of God in both the physical and the spiritual realms.5

Duane Lindsey takes a different view of the feast, suggesting that,

Millennial religious worship will not be a restored Judaism but a newly instituted worldwide religious order embracing both Jews and Gentiles. It will center in Jerusalem and will incorporate some features identical with or similar to certain aspects of Old Testament worship.6

Notably, the Feast of Booths is portrayed as synonymous with (or perhaps symbolic of) worship in Jerusalem. Zechariah’s prophetic narrative reveals the need to go up to Jerusalem: That is where King Yahweh will be, and the reason for the journey is to worship Him. From a New Testament perspective, we envision Christ ruling on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:13, 16; Luke 1:32) in Jerusalem (Isa. 24:23). O’Brien notes, “Survivors of the nations are judged only on whether or not they observe Sukkot.”7

The Feast of Booths was given to commemorate Yahweh’s rescue of His people through the Exodus, but in the end, it is Jesus Christ who will be praised for leading His people into the ultimate promised land of salvation.8 Phillips adds,

This feast alone possessed an eighth day, which many believe pointed to the eternal state beyond the resurrection, of which Revelation 21:3 says, “Behold, the dwelling place [tabernacle] of God is with man. He will dwell [tabernacle] with them.”9

There is perhaps another aspect to Zechariah’s mention of this particular festival. Could this have been understood as an enthronement? Walton, et al. write,

Although an enthronement festival per se is unattested in Israelite practice, it is often assumed to have existed, and, if it did exist, it would most logically have been connected to the Feast of Tabernacles…That would especially be significant in this context as the nations are expected to attend in order to acknowledge the kingship of Yahweh.10

Perhaps the strongest argument against the idea of Zachariah’s Feast of Booths as an enthronement festival is that he describes it as a recurring event.

17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 19 This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

There will be consequences for those who do not worship the Lord. This text indicates that Zechariah is prophesying of a Millennium in which human beings will still be free to refuse Yahweh’s commands. Indeed, it implies that there will still be some level of rebellion on the Earth. Not everyone will go up to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. As Webb remarks, “They will maintain their defiance to the end; and for them there will be no victory, and no joy, but want (no rain), plague and punishment.”11

What is the purpose of the stated punishment? Rather than destruction or enslavement, the oracle speaks of the withholding of resources that Yahweh alone controls. Here, again, we are faced with the issue of figurative language. Is Zachariah making a statement about rain? Or is he to be understood as speaking more generally about blessings? Hermann holds the latter view.

Since this festival is in part an acknowledgment of God as King and as gracious Provider, to refuse to participate is to refuse to acknowledge God. The punishment fits the crime, since withholding rain results in crop failure. No amount of modern technology can counteract the withholding of God’s blessing on the land.12

Michael Butterworth considers this “stern punishment for those who refuse the opportunity to join with Yahweh’s people in worship and feast.”13

Verse 18 raises a question as to why Egypt is singled out. The mention of “Egypt” and “plague” in the same sentence would undoubtedly invoke a specific memory for the Israelites to whom Zechariah was prophesying. As Israel’s first foe—who enslaved them and from whom Yahweh dramatically rescued them—Egypt is a representative nation. “If it remains hostile, as in the days of Israel’s bondage in Egypt, then she merits and will suffer plague (as previously).”14 The majority of commentators also note that Zechariah likely included a plague for Egypt (in addition to a lack of rain) is because that nation was “not seriously affected by a lack of rain because of its reliance on the Nile for agriculture.”15

To close this passage, and the book of Jeremiah as a whole, the prophet paints a picture of purity and holiness.

20 And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. 21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.

Here again, we are faced with the challenge of determining the degree of figurative language used by the prophet. Is the prophet communicating a literal state of affairs related to horses and kitchenware? Or is he using images that he and his readers were familiar with—bells, horses, the “house of the Lord,” temple ware, sacrifices—to paint a picture of an ultimate era in which the people of God are holy and wholly dedicated to Him?

Exodus 28:36–38 gives instructions for affixing the inscription “Holy to the Lord” on the headpiece of the high priest; in the New Jerusalem, even horses wear this mark of consecration for service to God. Ordinary cooking pots become as sacred as bowls that hold offerings presented at the altar.16

Wolters sees the prophet’s language as describing a situation in which the holiness of Yahweh encompasses even the smallest details. “The category ‘Holy to the Lord’ will no longer be restricted to the cult; it will be extended to ordinary kitchen utensils and mundane horse tack.”17 Although there remains, in some sense, a “house of the Lord of hosts” (14:21b), even utensils and daily items will be considered set apart and holy to Yahweh. This designation had formerly been restricted to the head plate of the high priest. Thomas McComiskey notes,

So pervasive will be the rule of righteousness in the new order that even the most common objects will be holy to God. Nothing will belong to the sphere of the common or profane. Even the trappings on the horses will be holy to God.18

Indeed, the reference to the “bells of the horses” (v. 20) is noteworthy in light of the fact that horses were considered ritually unclean according to Leviticus 11:3. “In this new Jerusalem that which was unclean will be made clean.”19 Mark Boda sees these verses as transforming the ritual categories of Torah in “a shift necessitated by a new phase of redemptive history, that is, a shift in the operation of the cult in the coming age.”20 Hanson goes further, viewing these verses as speaking against the priesthood at the Jerusalem temple.21

The final verse contains a statement made even more enigmatic by its use of the Hebrew word כְּנַעֲנִי (kna’anî). Verse 21 says, “There shall no longer be a kna’anî in the house of the Lord.” The interpretative challenge introduced by kna’anî is that this word can mean “Canaanite” or “tradesman,”22 and the context in which Zechariah uses it does not offer much clarity. A survey of English translations shows that even professional translation committees disagree on the intended meaning of that word. Many render kna’anî as “Canaanite” (KJV, ASV, AMP, CSB, LSB, NASB, NET, NIV), while many others use “merchant” (CEB, CJB, ERV, GNT, NABRE) or “trader” (ESV, ICB, LEB, NCB, NRSV, RSV, TLB).

Because kna’anî can indicate merchants who bought and sold goods (cf. Isa. 23:8; Prov. 31:24), and this was a known role in the context of the temple for worshippers who did not (or could not) carry their offering on their pilgrimage to the temple (or who needed utensils for their sacrifices), it seems best to understand kna’anî in this context as referring to merchants/traders. Boda concurs.

This verse indicates, then, that there will be no more room for such merchants, who may have abused worshipers through exorbitant prices, or there will be no more need for them because of the availability of sacred utensils or the expansion of the types of offerings acceptable to Yahweh.23

Joyce Baldwin describes it this way: “Once the King comes, moneymaking will no longer mar the temple courts, nor merchants’ greed take the joy out of sacrificial giving.”24 Fee and Hubbard see the fact that kna’anî can be translated either as “Canaanites” or “traders” as strengthening Zechariah’s message. “The absence of both types of people from the ideal temple signifies the absolute purity of the religion practiced there (cf. Matt. 21:12–13; Acts 21:27–29).”25 Webb takes a similar view. “So the presence of holiness and the absence of the ‘Canaanite’ are two sides of the same reality–perfect purity. Here at last is the complete fulfillment of the promise of chapter 3 that the sin of the land will be removed in a single day (3:9).”26 Whether kna’anî is meant to refer to Canaanites or merchants, the lack of such persons in the house of the Lord presages the purity of the worship that will happen there.

With that, Zechariah brings his second oracle (as well as his entire book) to a climactic end. His dramatic imagery of the Millennial age invokes the Divine Warrior as a holy King who causes the cosmos to shudder. Creation and the nations alike shall bend their knee to His mighty reign as it issues forth from His house in Jerusalem. Yahweh’s people—which will come to comprise all nations—will be cleansed and will continually express their believing loyalty to their King through annual worship in His holy presence. Boda captures the contemporaneous effect of this vision well. “To a people who have lived under the abusive thumb of the superpowers of their day, this is a word of comfort indeed.”27 How, then, should Christian today understand this vision?

(Continued in Part 3)


1 Boda, 528.

2 Hanson, 386. (See Ezra 3:4; Nehemiah 8:14–17.)

3 Webb, 193-4.

4 Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 735.

5 Hermann J. Austel, “Zechariah,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 702.

6 F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1571.

7 O’Brien, 187.

8 Phillips, 245.

9 Phillips, 245.

10 Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Zec 14:16.

11 Webb, 194.

12 Austel, 702.

13 G. Michael Butterworth, “Zechariah,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 882.

14 Butterworth, 882.

15 Boda, 528.

16 Gordon D. Fee and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., eds., The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 485.

17 Wolters, 1914.

18 Thomas E. McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: Commentary, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 3:1163.

19 Boda, 528.

20 Boda, 530.

21 Hanson, 104-5.

22 Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 485.

23 Boda, 529.

24 J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Tyndale, 1972), 208.

25 Fee and Hubbard, 485.

26 Webb, 195.

27 Boda, 529.

What do you think?

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial