Zechariah, Prophet of the Restoration

15. Jerusalem Exalted

Following Israel’s dramatic deliverance at Jerusalem, marked by the revelation of the Lord from Heaven and his assumption of kingly power, there is a kind of orderly procession of related events which have the effect of leading the whole world into the light and life of the Millennial Kingdom. Here in Zechariah’s 14th chapter there is a short passage, verses 6‑11, which has its place between the great deliverance and the full establishment of the Messianic reign over all the earth. Only after relating, in symbol, the nature of those happenings does the prophet bring his book to a close in the glories of the Kingdom itself. As with the previous part of the chapter, the physical setting of the prophecy is the literal city and its surroundings, and in fact these verses are closely connected with the earlier description of the besieged city, the advent of Israel’s deliverer, and the earthquake.

So, after completing his account of the Lord’s coming, with all his holy ones, the defeat of the besiegers and the salvation of the city, Zechariah says (vv.6‑7) "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: but it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light." Not a very lucid passage, but that is because some of the words have proved difficult to translate correctly, and even today scholars are dubious as to their meaning. It is evident that the verses refer to the entire "Day of the LORD" of chapter 14 so that this darkness followed by light at the end becomes a familiar picture. As Joel says in reference to this same period "the sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining" (Joel 3:15) and Amos "the day of the LORD (will) be darkness, and not light; even very dark, and no brightness in it" (Amos 5:20). The "one day known to the Lord" of verse 7 is an emphatic expression indicating that this day is a unique day, no other day is just like it; which is just what Jeremiah says in the same connection: "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it." (Jer.30:7) Very fittingly, therefore, do these two verses stand where they do. All that goes before them is the time of darkness, of battle and tumult and the overpowering of evil forces. That which comes after them is of the new day of light, of healing and rejoicing, of life and righteousness. In a very real sense the next verse, verse 7, can be said to picture the beginning of true Millennial blessing.

This verse is quite evidently relative to the coming of new life to the world. The King is now in control and the powers of his Kingdom begin to become evident. "It shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be." (v.8) The "former sea" (the sea in front) in Zechariah’s geography is the Dead Sea, east of Jerusalem. The "hinder sea" (behind) is the Mediterranean, on the west. "Living waters" are perennial streams, not flowing in the rainy season only, like so many rivers of the land, but there all the time, "in summer and in winter" so that they become truly rivers of life to the people. In symbol, therefore, rivers of life are to spring up in Jerusalem, one flowing eastward into the Dead Sea and the other westward to the Mediterranean. Zechariah is not the only prophet to take this theme. Joel, in the passage already quoted, follows the deliverance of Jerusalem by saying "a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim." (Joel 3:18) The valley of Shittim (acacias) was the name of the region where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea (as indicated by Micah 6:5 and Num.25:1) so that this river seen by Joel corresponds in symbol to the eastern stream seen by Zechariah. Ezekiel likewise saw a river proceeding from the restored Temple and going down into that same valley and so into the Dead Sea "which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed." (Ezek.47:1‑12 [v.8]) And, of course the vision of John in Rev.22:1‑2 comes readily to mind, the seer beholding a river of water of life proceeding from the Holy City, with trees of life on its banks, yielding fruit for food and leaves for "the healing of the nations." Quite evidently, therefore, we have here a vivid picture of the place of the restored and now victorious Holy Land and Holy Nation in the purposes of God, the agency by means of which all the Divine blessings, cleansing from sin and impartation of everlasting life, may come to the nations. Ezekiel and Joel saw this in terms of the cleansing of the land; the Dead Sea was to be made sweet that fish might live in its waters and vegetation surround its shores: but Zechariah was universal. He saw a second river of life making its way in the opposite direction to mingle its waters with the Great Sea which encompassed all the earth, so that eventually the whole world of mankind would draw benefit from its life‑giving waters. In no more eloquent fashion could the universal power of Messiah’s Kingdom, bringing life and health and freedom from sin to men in every place under the sun, be pictured than by this vision of the two rivers.

It is not generally realised that two such streams do actually at present exist although they are not perennial; they flow only in the winter. The Kidron [Nahal Qidron (Editor’s comment)], mentioned often in the Scriptures, rises on the north side of the city and flows alongside the eastern wall of the Temple, past the Pool of Siloam and in a south‑easterly direction to the Dead Sea. There is the prototype of Zechariah’s stream flowing into the "former sea". Then on the western side of the city, not far from the present railway station, there commences the Wady al Werd, a stream which flows westward, more or less following the railway, joining other streams en route until at last it falls into the Mediterranean, seven miles south of Tel Aviv, as the Wady Sorek [Nahal Sorek (soreq), in Arabic Wasi es‑Sarar]. This is the stream which gave the prophet his figure for that one which flows to the "hinder sea". In other words, he took as his picture two existing streams and made of them a symbolic scene—twin rivers of life carrying life‑giving energy and powers of healing to all the world in the day when God turns "to the people a pure language", that they may call upon him "to serve him with one consent." (Zeph.3:9)

There are some expositors who amplify the content of verse 8 regarding the two rivers to infer that there is to be a continuous waterway from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea via Jerusalem, and onward through the south valley to the Red Sea, so that Jerusalem becomes a seaport controlling world trade between Europe and the Far East. Why the Holy City should thus become involved with mundane world affairs does not readily appear and the connection of all this with God’s intention to make Jerusalem the earthly centre of Divine administration is far from obvious. In point of fact the idea is, physically, impracticable. Jerusalem stands more than two thousand feet above sea level, and no city at that elevation could ever be a seaport. The Jordan valley up to the Sea of Galilee is well below sea level so that such a waterway, if it ever came into being, would also flood an appreciable area of the Holy Land. This element of the prophecy is clearly a picture of two separate streams, each having its source in or near the City, flowing outward in opposite directions.

What wonder, then, that the Prophet should break out into the fervent declamation (speech) of verse 9 "And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one". He might well have had in mind the noble words of Psa.46:(6,10‑11) "the heathen (nations) raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. ‘Be still...I will be exalted among the heathen (nations): I will be exalted in the earth’. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." Zechariah in his vision beheld the reality of which these words were a poetic portrayal. Now the Lord had taken his great power and was reigning as King.

Once more the prophet turns his gaze upon the whole land of Israel, viewing it in his mind’s eye much as Moses must have seen it from the top of Mount Pisgah, and he sees the final effect of the earthquake in the promised exaltation of the mountain of the Lord’s house above the tops of the mountains. (Isa.2:2) In this vision he saw the sinking of the highlands of Judea into the plain so that Jerusalem stood proudly erect upon the twin hills of Mount Moriah and Mount Zion in the centre. Physically, the heights of Hebron to the south and Samaria to the north tower anything up to a thousand feet above Jerusalem, so that the expression "as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people" (Psa.125:2) is no figure of speech, but based on reality. Now, symbolically, all the heights of the country sink down to leave the Holy City towering supreme above. [author’s own version]"All the land shall become encompassed as the Arabah" (the plain of the Jordan valley) "from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem, and she" (Jerusalem) "shall be raised on high, and inhabited in her place". So is the opening phrase of verse 10. "Rimmon south of Jerusalem" was to the north of Beer‑sheba, forty‑five miles from Jerusalem, at the southern end of the Judean highlands; Geba—the name of several places in ancient Israel—a town seven miles north of Samaria, now called Jaba, at the northern end of the highlands where they begin to slope down into the valley of Megiddo, some forty miles north of Jerusalem. "Geba to Beersheba" is used in 2 Kings 23:8 as an expression indicating the full extent of the land; here in Zechariah it pictures the exaltation of Jerusalem in the Holy Land and in its extreme symbolic sense the prominence of the Holy Nation and the Holy Land in the sight of all the world, as the people and the city of the Great King. Both Isaiah and Micah spoke of Jerusalem being established in the tops of the mountains and exalted above the hills, using the same metaphor as did Zechariah, and in none of the three cases is anything other than the metaphorical meaning intended. Any suggestion that a literal fulfilment is implied would have to take into consideration the fearful havoc and destruction to which the restored and rebuilt Holy Land would be necessarily subjected if something like half its surface area were suddenly to be precipitated between two and three thousand feet downwards into the bowels of the earth.

But there is yet more to come in this cameo picture of Jerusalem’s prosperity. The same verse goes on to say that she shall be "inhabited" (or abide) "in her place, from Benjamin’s gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel unto the King’s winepresses". (v.10) What is to be made of this bit of geography? The inference is that the city as thus defined has up to this time lain desolate, or at least not in the possession of God’s Israel, but that from now on she shall be permanently established and take her place as the ruling centre of the land, and, according to verse 11 never again be disturbed: "men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited."

There is a certain amount of uncertainty about the precise boundaries of Solomon’s and Nehemiah’s Jerusalem: the eastern walls were practically those of the "Old City" today, but the northern wall was not so far north as at present, running more or less level with the north side of the Temple area, whilst the southern wall extended more to the south, as far as the Pool of Siloam. Zechariah’s description has to be understood in this context.

"Benjamin’s Gate"—also known as the Gate of Ephraim—seems at that time to have been located at the western end of the north wall, not far from the present Jaffa Gate. Some distance east of this point there had been in earlier times a gate known as the "Old Gate" or "First Gate", in Zechariah’s time long since blocked up—he calls it "the place of the First Gate" indicating that it was no longer there. There were several points on the wall to which the name "Corner" was applied but the easterly direction implied by this verse seems to demand that the "Corner Gate" here was at the point Nehemiah calls the "Corner"—the eastern end of the wall where it turned south by the Temple area. Today that point is marked by St. Stephen’s Gate. Hence the full width of the Old City as it was then, from west to east, was defined.

The Tower of Hananeel, one of the defensive structures on the wall, was about half‑way along the north wall, where the Tower of Antonia, the Roman garrison, stood in Jesus’ day, adjacent to the Temple. The "king’s winepresses" were in the gardens of Ophel, then bounded by the south wall. Hence the full length of the city, north to south, was thus indicated.

In this phrase, therefore, Zechariah is saying that the entire city, west to east and north to south, would be the possession of Israel and never again be disturbed or threatened. There can be no doubt that this promise is to be literally as well as spiritually fulfilled. In the latter respect, it is synonymous with the enduring prosperity of the Holy Nation as the Divine instrument in the earth for world conversion. In the former, Jerusalem has already spread over a greater area than that defined by Zechariah but the promise remains; west to east, north to south, to the utmost extent of the Holy City.

There is a rather intriguing parallel to this passage in the writings of Jeremiah. His celebrated 31st chapter, which speaks of the final restoration in the Holy Land and the New Covenant which God will make with His people, concludes with a promise which, obscure on the surface, well repays examination. "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the city shall be built unto the LORD from the tower of Hananeel to the gate of the corner. And the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, shall be holy unto the LORD; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever." (Jer.31:38‑40) Both prophets refer to much the same time in history; both take the city of Jerusalem as their stage; what is there in Jeremiah’s words which may add to what Zechariah has said?

"From the tower of Hananeel to the gate of the corner" obviously means the same as the similar expression in Zechariah; this is a promise of the rebuilding of the city, or the Temple, or both. Now Jeremiah departs from Zechariah. From this corner gate, which was at the north‑eastern corner of the Temple area, the measuring line is to "go forth" (go straight forward, is the meaning) over the hill called Gareb, sweep round in a curve (the meaning of "compass") to Goath, and then, including the valley of the dead and the fields of the river Kidron, come to the "corner of the horse gate toward the east". This corner was the south‑eastern corner of the Temple area. The area thus delineated by the measuring line would therefore apparently be the piece of land lying immediately to the east of the Temple—the Kidron valley and the Mount of Olives.

Gareb and Goath, as place names, appear nowhere else in the Bible and not one commentator or expositor, so far as can be ascertained, has done more than suggest they must have been places near Jerusalem. It has been necessary to embark upon a little original research therefore to find some meaning in this passage. The meaning of Ha‑Gareb is the "Mount of the Lepers", the word coming from a Hebrew root defining scabs or scurvy, and used for leprosy in Syriac. The only eminence on the east side of Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives, by which name it was known in the days of David, and again by Zechariah and later. But there is reason for thinking that in between these times it bore a more opprobrious (offensive) name. 2 Kings 23:13, relating to the time of Josiah, knows it as the "mount of corruption". That at least could be fitting for a place which was the habitation of lepers. The same chapter reveals that Solomon had built, on the Mount of Olives, idolatrous sanctuaries, "high places", for Ashtoreth and Chemosh and Molech; Josiah pulled them down and defiled them "with the bones of men". What more natural that in order to complete their desecration the mountain should at that time, or soon afterwards become a place to which lepers were banished and lived their lives, and so earn the name it bore in the days of Jeremiah?

So the line went out from the north side of the Temple over the Mount of Olives, and curved round to Goath. Another difficult word! It comes from the Hebrew term for the lowing of cattle—cows and oxen. "The place of lowing" would be its literal force. How to find where such a place was located in that day? 2 Kings 23:13 helps again here; the narrator says that the high places of Ashtaroth and the rest stood on the "right side" of the Mount of Corruption, i.e. on its southern aspect. Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, was usually represented as a cow. The measuring line, curving round Olivet to "Goath", would come to the place where Solomon built the idol sanctuary. The sanctuary itself was destroyed by Josiah; the place where it stood was still known in Jeremiah’s day, perchance, as the "place of lowing"—Goath. From there a straight line back to the Temple would bring in the countryside leading down to the river Kidron, include the valley running along the east wall of the Temple, used then as it has been ever since as a general cemetery for Jerusalem’s dead and also for the disposal of the ashes from the Temple sacrifices, and finish at the Temple south wall, exactly as described in Jer.31:40.

What then is the purpose of this geographical exercise? It evidently meant something very real to Jeremiah; can it mean as much to us?

As an addition and a sequel to Zechariah’s vision of the restored city it is full of meaning. Zechariah saw the Lord descend on the Mount of Olives and, as it were, advance upon the city from the great valley that had been created and enter the Temple, never more to depart. The valley itself was closed up, just as in Ezekiel’s parallel vision the East Gate was closed up, because the Lord had entered that way and never again could it be used by others. For all time that way is sacred. Now Jeremiah, seeing the city restored and knowing the Lord has come in, sees the whole tract of land thus hallowed by the Lord’s coming, that whole Mount of Olives, cleansed from its past defilements, measured and marked out and separated from secular uses that it might be, as he says in chapter 31:40 "holy unto the LORD". When one considers the stirring events in our Lord’s earthly life associated with the Mount of Olives, few would dispute that it could very properly be made a holy place in the new earth that is to be. The spiritual meaning is the more important; the coming of the Lord has sanctified for ever all that formerly was evil and unclean but now is cleansed and good, but a strictly literal fulfilment of this particular vision would also be entirely proper. Perhaps, one day, when the peoples of earth come up to Jerusalem to worship and go to see the place from which the Lord of all creation ascended to his Father, they will meet, in spirit if not in letter, with the injunction take "off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." (Exod.3:5)

(To be concluded)