An Oracle of the End-Times - I

1An Oracle: This is the word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: 2"I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. 4On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness," declares the Lord. "I will keep a watchful eye over the house of Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. 5Then the leaders of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God.’

6"On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume right and left all the surrounding peoples, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place.

7"The Lord will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem’s inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah. 8On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the Lord going before them. 9On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem."

This chapter begins the second Oracle from the Lord. The first oracle, comprised of chapters 9 through 11 of the book of Zechariah, primarily prophesied events that are now in the past to us. Those prophecies dealt with events just before, during, and just after the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to Israel. The second oracle, which is comprised of chapter 12 through 14 of the book of Zechariah, consists almost exclusively of prophecies of events that will occur during the end-times: events that will occur just before, during and just after the second coming of Christ. These events are denoted in many places in the book of Zechariah, and in many other places in the Bible, with the words, "On that day…"

As we will see, the Lord has reserved for Israel a primary role in the events of the end-times: "This is the word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: ‘I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling’" (vss. 1-2). In the recent history of Israel during Zechariah’s time, other nations were used as instruments of God’s judgment upon Israel. During the end-times, however, Israel will be used as an instrument to bring about God’s judgment upon ungodly nations, as the Lord makes "Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling."

For the people of Zechariah’s time, this prophecy may have seemed fanciful. For this reason, Zechariah introduces it with a declaration of God’s power and might: "The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares…" (vs. 1). "By rehearsing Yahweh’s works of the past, Zechariah assures his readers of God’s ability to fulfill the promises about to be revealed" [Baldwin, 116]. Certainly, any of these prophesied acts are lesser works as compared to creating the heavens and the earth. Note that, significantly, Zechariah treats God’s creative work as being on-going, for he uses the present tense to describe these works: The Lord "stretches out the heavens", "lays the foundation of the earth", and "forms the spirit of man within him." "God stretches out the heavens every day afresh, and every day He lays the foundation of the earth, which, if His power did not uphold it, would move from its orbit and fall into ruin" [Hengstenburg, in Baron, 425]. God’s work has not ended. As the Bible avers, God is intimately involved in His creation. "The Bible is ignorant of that philosophy which teaches that God has created the universe and wound up its machinery like a clock, and then left it to run on by its own inherent energies. From moment to moment He is exerting His power in maintaining the movements of visible things" [Moore, 189].

On to the promises: "I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves" (vss. 2-3). We see here that, though Israel will have the special blessing of God, and will be specially protected by God, this does not mean that Israel will be immune to trouble. In fact, the situation will seem extremely grim for Israel. Her capital, Jerusalem, will be "besieged", and she will be without allies, for "all the nations of the earth [will be] gathered against her." When we are given the privilege to be used by God as instruments to carry out His purposes, this does not mean that we will be immune to trouble. On the contrary, we may very well be led into trouble, so that the world may see and recognize the work of God, and in order that God may be glorified through His work.

Zechariah uses analogies for Israel, or more specifically Jerusalem (for Jerusalem is the center of activity in this passage), as he depicts her as two types of instruments of God. Jerusalem is an "immovable rock." The rock is so "immovable" that "all who try to move it will injure themselves." Jerusalem is also pictured as a "cup" of God’s wrath. The "cup" is an oft-used symbol of God’s wrath in the Bible (see Is. 51:17,22; Jer. 13:13; 25:15-28; 51:7). It’s a cup of drunkenness, which reduces men to "a state of helplessness and misery similar to that of a drunken, staggering, intoxicated man." [Kaiser, 400]. The next verses depict the confusion that this cup will bring: "‘On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will keep a watchful eye over the house of Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations’" (vs. 4). I find this passage interesting as it may apply to instruments of modern warfare. If we assume that the horses and riders are symbols of instruments of warfare, and we reflect how important vision and communication through instruments of technology are in modern warfare, I could speculate that this prophecy may be fulfilled by the Lord somehow crippling the technology of an army as it wages war on Jerusalem. Some sort of sudden and total loss of technological "vision" and communication in the midst of a battle would render an army virtually helpless and quite probably throw it into a panic, as described here.

Whatever way this prophecy is eventually fulfilled, it will be seen by the people of God as a miraculous work of the Lord: "Then the leaders of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God’" (vs. 5). It is a great blessing to have godly leaders, leaders who recognize and attribute to God the great things He has done. The "Then" in verse 5 suggests to me that the leaders at that time will first realize that the Lord was the source of Jerusalem’s strength. This realization will give the leaders the ability to fire up (so to speak) the people of Judah to victory: "On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves" (vs. 6). This leadership will spur Jerusalem to victory: "They will consume right and left all the surrounding peoples, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place" (vs. 6).

In the process of giving Judah the victory, the Lord will show that He is not a "respecter of persons" (see Acts 10:34), by saving first those who will be considered lowest in the eyes of the world: "The Lord will save the dwellings" (literally "tents") "of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem’s inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah" (vs. 7). Those on the outskirts, living in "tents", will be saved by the Lord before those living in the city of Jerusalem, and even before the leaders in Jerusalem. In this way, God will demonstrate that those on the outskirts are just as valuable to Him as the "sophisticated" who live in the city. Then, the Lord will exalt them all: "On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the Lord going before them" (vs. 8). In battle they will be invincible. They will go into battle as if their leaders were "the Angel of the Lord" Himself. And their invincibility will be proven: "On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem" (vs. 9).

This passage and, indeed, the rest of the book of Zechariah proclaim clearly that God is not finished with the people of Israel. We who revere the Word of God cannot help but realize this. The prayers of the church should ever be with Israel: that Israel would embrace the Word of God, and turn to their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

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