16. The Sword of The Lord
The prophet’s work was done. Through a long series of visions he had traced the story of the deliverance of God’s people from captivity and oppression, their cleansing from defilement and the exaltation of the purified and dedicated "remnant" to be the Divine instrument for world evangelism. He had told of the restoration and rebuilding of the City of Peace, its investment by the forces of evil powers resisting the incoming Kingdom of Righteousness and the dramatic intervention of God Most High to overthrow the power of evil and take control of earthly affairs. There, at the point where the "kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Rev.11:15) the visions came to an end and left Zechariah contemplating the serene future in which the sovereignty of the Lord God was manifest to all and the knowledge of His glory beginning to cover "the earth…as the waters cover the sea." (Hab.2:14) But even in this sunlit scene there are some shadows, and the prophet has to take note of them before he closes his book at the point where absolute holiness pervades the Millennial Kingdom and evil is no more.
To this end he divides this final stanza of his story into three parts. In the first (Zech.14:12‑15) he looks back, as it were, to the dramatic intervention from above which has saved the Holy City and its people from the despoilers, and ruminates on the details of their destruction, the nature of the calamities by means of which they were defeated and the comprehensive and final nature of that defeat. Then he turns his attention to the early days of the Messianic era which is to follow, and in vv.16‑19 sees the peoples of earth rendering allegiance to their new King and acknowledging earth’s new centre of government. At the same time he warns of the consequences incurred by those who refuse to offer that allegiance. But this is only a temporary intermission, for in vv.20‑21 he sees holiness and righteousness supreme. The Temple of the Lord has become, as it was originally intended to become, a house of prayer for all nations, and in that house "prayer…shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised." (Psa.72:15)
So he talks of the judgment which has fallen upon the forces of evil, choosing descriptive symbols suited to the picture he has chosen in which to present that judgment, the destruction of a mighty host outside the walls of Jerusalem. "This shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes (sockets) , and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth." (ch.14:12)
This is the first of a threefold judgment; this verse pictures what is obviously a supernatural disaster falling upon the host, the intervention of the powers of Heaven to thwart their objective. Next in verse 13 comes internecine strife whereby the invaders fall upon each other and slay each other. Finally in verses 14‑15 the forces of Judah, the defenders of Jerusalem, are pictured as though they advance upon the demoralised enemy and gather all their possessions and equipment for themselves. But the commencement of this three‑fold judgment is from Heaven.
Their flesh consumes away as they stand, their eyes as they gaze, and their tongue—significantly singular and not plural, in their mouth. How should this be interpreted? Not literally, for if in verse 12 they thus vanish into nothingness they would hardly be in a position in verse 13 to turn weapons upon each other and destroy each other, neither would there be anyone for Judah in verse 14 to fight. Each verse must be understood as picturing one aspect or phase of this great debacle, and the entire four verses as enlarging in detail upon verse 3 of this chapter, the coming forth of the Lord to "fight against those nations."
The power which executes God’s purpose is celestial, from Heaven, but the hosts against whom it is wielded are very much of this earth. The vision demands that there is in the forefront of the conflict a solid phalanx of armed men surrounding the Holy Land with intention of going in to possess, backed up by all the resources of a world‑wide power determined to defy God. It is upon this whole combination that the mysterious catastrophe falls. "Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet;" (v.12) that could well refer to their man‑power and all their equipment of war, a mysterious whittling away of men, perhaps by spontaneous desertion or flight as in the days of Gideon or by pestilence as in the days of Sennacherib, the immobilising or loss of equipment by reason of adverse climatic conditions. In modern warfare tanks are often held fast in mud and rendered useless, planes grounded due to fog and snow, ships confined to harbour on account of hurricanes. It only needs the impact of some of the forces of Nature—wind, rain, snow, storm—to a degree of unprecedented severity to render all the might of the invading host powerless and frustrate all their fell (evil) designs. Quite possibly this is the manner in which their flesh will consume away as they stand upon their feet, and in line with this it may be expected that the eyes which consume away in their sockets may well stand for the intelligence service of the host, all their radio detectors and look‑out posts, all the means by which they evaluate the forward position and the situation of their intended victims and so plan their course of action. Even today it only needs a severe magnetic storm on the sun to disrupt the world’s radio communications for twelve hours; only a super snowstorm blanketing a wide area in white to render the most efficient aerial spy camera useless. The world of Noah’s day was brought to an end simply and solely—and most effectively—by the unaided forces of Nature. "The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" says Peter. (2 Pet.3:6) And if such unexpected and unexplainable disasters befall the confident host which, in Ezekiel’s vision of the same event, boasted that they were going in to an undefended land "to take a spoil, and to take a prey" (Ezek.38:12) what wonder that the tongue is consumed away in the mouth. The tongue, the voice of authority, the power of command, the direction and leadership of the entire adventure—silent, speechless! Is it of some significance that the noun is in the singular here; not "their tongues" but "their tongue"? The supreme control of these forces of evil, frustrated in its purpose by forces it can neither understand nor withstand, stands mute in the face of defeat.
Now this is the first aspect of the threefold judgment; intervention from Heaven. The second is an earthly one; the hosts begin to fight with each other, "...a great tumult (panic) from the LORD shall be among them: and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbour, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbour." (ch.14:13) This is a case of history repeating itself: on more than one occasion in Israel’s history the people were delivered by reason of their enemies falling out with each other and engaging in fratricidal combat. The case of the deliverance under Jehoshaphat is perhaps the most noteworthy. "For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. And when Judah came...they looked…and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped." (2 Chron.20:23‑24) So in this case: a blind, unreasoning panic born of the inexplicable disasters and defeat they had experienced leads to internal dissension and strife in the multitude and they begin to war with each other. To what extent this conflict extends into the countries of the world from which this doomed host has been drawn it is not possible to say, but it may well be that in this verse we have a terse indication of the rapid break‑up and dissolution of alliances and associations between the political powers of this world which signals the final submission of these powers to the incoming Kingdom. If so, the third aspect of the judgment, the entry of Judah into the picture, is logically next in sequence.
"And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen (nations) round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance. And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule…of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague." (ch.14:14‑15) It may seem a little illogical to present Judah in this verse as fighting the enemy when all through the narrative the position is that Judah stands still and leaves the fighting to the Lord. There is no in harmony in reality. It is the Lord who comes forth from His place to render the invaders powerless; it is for the people of the land, here called Judah because that was the name of the people and the land in Zechariah’s day, to accomplish the subsequent "mopping‑up," to use a modern military expression, and to collect the spoil. Here again there is a parallel with the historical deliverance in the days of Jehoshaphat; after the Lord had destroyed the invading armies the people of Judah went out to clear up the battlefield and to gather in the spoil, "and they were three days in gathering of the spoil, it was so much." (2 Chron.20:25) So the picture here is that of the people having a definite part to play in the fight, even although that part involved, at first, remaining passive, in faith, in Jerusalem until the Lord had given victory. Then they could sally forth and collect the spoil. This can reasonably describe the aftermath of this great event when all nations on earth shall bring their tribute and offerings to the Holy Nation which has been so signally manifested as the beginning of the Divine Kingdom on earth. "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts." (Psa.72:10) And of course the greatest and most valuable "spoil" will be the sincere allegiance to earth’s new King of such among these nations as will accept the opportunity and become reconciled to God, in consequence of Israel’s evangelistic fervour. "The Gentiles (nations) shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (Isa.60:3) "Their seed shall be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed." (Isa.61:9 RV)
But all the paraphernalia of war, of strife, of man’s greed and selfishness and cruelty, will be destroyed, offered up to the Lord in a fervour of devotion and repudiation of evil. This is what is meant by the plague upon the horses, mules, camels and so on. In Old Testament days, when Israel had defeated a particularly obnoxious enemy they offered up to God the captured livestock and other spoils of war to indicate that they themselves were not to be defiled by contact with the accursed possessions of the idolaters. The valuable spoils were devoted to sacred purposes and the animals and perishable things destroyed by fire. A notable case is that of the booty taken by Joshua at the capture of Jericho. The gold, silver, copper and iron vessels went into the treasury of the Lord and the city with all its other contents was destroyed. Achan sinned by abstracting for his own use some gold and silver and a "goodly Babylonish garment" and suffered the death penalty in consequence, having "trespassed in the accursed thing." (Josh.7:1,21) It is for this reason that the Hebrew word cherem, meaning properly something devoted or consecrated to God, is also given the meaning of accursed or a curse, because the thing thus devoted is laid under a curse lest any should touch or take it, as did Achan. It has to be devoted to God and utterly destroyed, because it is inherently evil. Now this is the meaning of verse 15. The various beasts here enumerated were all part of the panoply of war—horses for chariots, mules and camels for carrying goods, and so on. As such they were part of the spoils of war and must be devoted to the Lord and destroyed because they are evil things. So the same plague falls upon them as upon the marauding host and thus all evil is destroyed from the land. Only the valuable things, the good things remain and these pass into the custody of the Holy Nation, which itself is already consecrated to God.
But one question has to be asked at this point. Is this very warlike and rather lurid picture of armies fighting each other in fashion of armies today, with all the bloodshed and suffering that is involved, really an accurate portrayal of the literal reality of things when the time comes for its enactment? Is the transition from the rule of the powers of this world to the peaceable and beneficent reign of Christ over the nations to be effected by such warlike means? Must the Lord stoop to human methods of overcoming one’s enemies to win their eventual allegiance? Is it by such artifices that He must effect the purpose expressed by the prophet "the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever"? (Isa.32:17)
There is no denying that many good Christians would see no inconsistency in such being the case. The old obsession of Armageddon, a time of indiscriminate slaughter of the evil‑doers and final triumph of the righteous, born, it must be admitted, of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan at the Exodus dies hard. But is this the way of the One who came once as Jesus of Nazareth, the Man of peace, and comes again as the King of peace? Has Heaven no artillery more effective than that of man’s devising?
A quiet consideration of this passage may suggest that Heaven has. In the first place it is admittedly basic that Israel’s defence against what is pictured as a marauding host is not with earthly weapons but in complete trust in and reliance upon the powers of Heaven. The parallel vision in Ezek.38 & 39 makes this clear. The Judah of v.14 does not fight with carnal weapons but with their faith in God; they dwell in undefended villages and they are supremely confident despite the menacing threat by the rest of the world.
The phraseology of v.12: blindness, deafness, physical inability, suggests a supernatural infliction rather than one imposed by force of arms. The horses, mules, camels, asses of v.15 must be metaphorical for such, customary as they were in the days of Zechariah, certainly have no place in modern physical warfare.
Whatever the reality, it must be one that the attackers can neither understand nor withstand—and whether they withstand or not, a battle fought with literal weapons is one they certainly can understand. The entire passage gives the impression of a concerted attack on the incoming Kingdom of Righteousness as represented in the one nation, Israel, which has taken its stand and pledged its faith in that Kingdom. That could conceivably include a military investment of the Holy Land but even if so Heaven can frustrate the attempt without the shedding of literal blood, and that perhaps is what is implied in this chapter. Behind that, it is more likely that the vision envisages a worldwide attempt to crush, by every possible political, commercial, financial, expedient, this one small nation centred on Jerusalem which has dared to express its utter faith in God by relying on His protecting power and thereby challenged all others.
After all, it does not seem very logical for the Lord God to destroy thousands of human beings in Armageddon only to resurrect them not so very long afterwards to introduce them to the Millennial Kingdom and invite their sincere conversion. Might just as well start the process immediately after their defeat when, with all opposition vanquished, the work of that Kingdom can start getting under way.
This is the end of the rule of evil in the earth. Sin has yet to be cleansed out of the hearts of men and this process will occupy the entire Messianic reign now to commence, but the outward practice of evil and oppression ceases henceforth. "In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth." (Psa.72:7) The enemies of the Lord have been overthrown, but in their overthrow they find that the Victor comes to heal, and with the destruction of all in the world that oppresses and afflicts mankind they are left with the opportunity to rebuild their lives on the principles of truth and righteousness, if they will. So the noble Messianic Psalm goes on "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth...He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth…All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him...men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed." (Psa.72:6‑17)
So that out of the turmoil and strife of a dying and doomed evil world a new world, wherein dwells justice and love, security and life, is born.
(To be concluded)