ZECHARIAH 12-14 INTRODUCTION
The first question that sprang to mind when I approached these three chapters was whether chapters 12 and 13 were details which outlined the same event as that recorded for us in chapter 14. Even more, whether 13:7-9 might be totally distinct from both of the passages since the talk of a shepherd being struck and two-thirds of the land being wiped out didn’t easily fit into the context of either (the first passage has no Israelite casualties upto this point and the second speaks only of the city and uses a half rather than two thirds).
The conclusion I found myself being drawn towards was that chapters 12-13 did stand as one complete unit even though the last few verses raised a few eyebrows - the NEB moves these verses to follow immediately after 11:17 presumably because of the reference to the shepherd, but there is no textual evidence to support this. As you will see when you read my comments on the two chapters, these final three verses have to be interpreted into the events which precede them and shouldn’t be allowed to stand as events that take place after. Even so, there is good justification for seeing them as being a separate short prophecy which separates the two main passages though I have not done so in these notes.
Nine times in chapters 12 and 13 the formula ‘On that day’ is used (12:3,4,6,8,9,11,13:1,2,4) which binds the passage together into one event in world history (though I am not saying this to suggest that prophecy is pre-written history!) rather than events that span numerous occasions.
Chapter 14’s ‘Behold a day of the Lord is coming’ (14:1) does nothing to glue the entire three chapters together and makes what appears to be a natural break with what precedes it, even though the formula ‘On that day’ is used a further seven times (14:4,6,8,9,13,20,21).
The context also favours a break being inserted between these passages. Whereas chapters 12 and 13 tell the story of an abortive attempt by the nations’ armies to destroy Jerusalem by marching through the land until they arrive at the city to besiege it, chapter 14 opens with the overthrow of the city as an already established event (or, perhaps, just starting to occur), then going on to outline the kingdom of the Lord that will be set up at that time.
Though 12 and 13 do speak of half the inhabitants of the land being killed, Jerusalem is not overwhelmed as it is in 14 and the implication is that, even though a foreign invading army overcomes most of the land, in the end God will fight through the Judahites and Jerusalemites to push them back. 14, on the other hand, speaks of the city being taken and exiles fleeing from the advance before the Lord Himself (rather than the Lord moving through Israelite forces) comes to fight against their enemies - strikingly dissimilar and not easy to harmonise as being the same event.
Other differences do abound such as 12:3 speaking of the nations coming while 14:2 that the nations are gathered, the former implying that they come as a result of their own freewill while the latter implies that God will be the hand that brings them to battle - these two points, however, are not necessarily dissimilarities and can be viewed as ‘cause and effect’ rather than mutually exclusive actions.
Jerusalem is attacked but not taken in 12-13 but in 14:1-2 it is attacked, taken and despoiled. And, again, in 12-13, God’s presence is implied and seen through the defeat of the nations’ armies but no visible physical presence is being manifested whereas in 14:4 God is visibly seen.
There are marked similarities, however, but the dissimilarities seem to exclude an adequate harmony. The most striking similarity is the participation of Judah in the attack upon Jerusalem (12:2, 14:14 - though the latter may mean that Judah fights ‘in’ Jerusalem rather than ‘against’ it, which certainly would tie in with the information in chapter 12 that, in the midst of the battle, Judah changes its allegiance to fight on the side of the Jerusalemites); the judgment upon the nations are also very closely related (12:3-4, 14:12-15). Yet, having said that, even though the similarities are so close to one another, they do not have to be referring to the same event in world history.
Neither does it follow that ‘all the nations’ of both 12:3 and 14:1 refers to the same army when they’re at different points in their conquest of Israel and Jerusalem. There may be a very great time gap between the close of chapter 13 and the commencement of chapter 14. The only thing that we can be fairly sure about is that the events of chapter 14 do follow, in time order, the events of the preceding chapter for, in this last chapter, we have a universal Kingdom being ushered in - something that, in my mindset, means the end of the present world order.
I have, therefore, divided up my comments on this passage to cover chapters 12 and 13 (by interpreting 13:7-9 into the context of the preceding verses. I have made some assumptions in my interpretation which, although I have stated them as fact, need to be held with a loose hand) and then chapter 14 which, in my opinion, is a fitting conclusion to the Book, seeing as it seems to detail the final restoration of all things back under the Sovereignty and control of God.
There are points here that are necessary to be interpreted in the light of Christ. Zech 12:10 is directly cited in John 19:37 and Rev 1:7, while Zech 13:7 was used by Christ Himself at the time of His betrayal into the hands of the Jewish leaders in Mtw 26:31. Zech 14:8 is also alluded to in John 7:37-39 while 14:9 must be the hope of every christian the world over - that the Lord God might put down evil men and establish His righteous Kingdom with enforcement throughout the world.
Finally, how are we to understand the passage in the context in which it was given?
When I looked at the studies of the seven churches in the book of Revelation, I noted that an important and fundamental part of the interpretation must necessarily deal with the background of the seven churches in question, their history and contemporary setting in which they found themselves.
Here, it is not possible to do that.
Accepting that the same Zechariah who was responsible for the opening chapters was responsible for these also, we could still envisage the prophet as writing them over a space of several decades and, because we have no date assigned to these writings, they could equally well have been given at the start of his ministry as at the end of his life.
These three chapters, then, really stand on their own without context applicable to them. These certainly do speak of the ‘end times’ (whatever we might understand by that term) and point us towards the Lord’s intention (which I’m sure has not changed) to bring all things under His control once more as it was in the Creation at a future point in time through one man who is also God Himself.
Though we may struggle to understand them in the light of what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 24 or when compared with the testimony of the book of Revelation, they bear witness to the final salvation of one generation of Jews and the establishment of a visible Kingdom through Jesus Christ when interpreted into the NT.
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