The Almighty God, His Immovable City, & His Strengthened People
Passage: Zechariah 12:1–12:9
Sermon from Zechariah 12:1-9 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Return & Restoration (Part 18)
Delivered on February 7, 2016
The World's Futile Campaign against God
Many of you are aware that the Iowa caucuses are now behind us, and the campaigns for various candidates on both sides are now ramping up for New Hampshire. Each leader is campaigning to win your support. They’re asking you to stand with them and support their political agenda and place your hope in what they’re confident that they can accomplish in the White House. They don’t merely cast goals, in case that they should be elected, they’re inviting you to view the world through their moral and political grid—some, of course, being better than others.
But there’s another campaign going on as well, and it’s much older than the current presidential race. Oh, it’s even older than America. It’s an ancient campaign we may not even think about all that often. All of us who are in Christ know about this campaign, because each of us were once part of it. Ephesians 2 says that we once “followed the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that’s now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
It’s a campaign that David described so well in Psalm 2, where the kings of the earth and the rulers plot and take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed. It’s a campaign that stretches across the ages since Adam fell into sin, and one that will end with a climactic gathering of all nations who will make war against God and his people. It’s a campaign that’s inspired by Satan himself and will one day reach its full personification through the deception of the Antichrist.
And even though Antichrist hasn’t shown up just yet, 1 John 2:18 says that his spirit is already at work: “as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it’s the last hour.” His final campaign is taking place to gather the nations against God and his people.
Zechariah 12 gives us a glimpse into the final battle, where all the nations gather against God. And Zechariah 12 shows us that if you belong to God’s people, then there’s no reason to fear defeat. The campaign of the pagan world against God—no matter how looming it may look and how strong it may become—it’s ultimately a lost cause, because God cannot be defeated and he will win the final battle for his people. Let’s read of it together, beginning in verse 1…
1The oracle of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him: 2“Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. 3On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it. 4On that day, declares the LORD, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But for the sake of the house of Judah I will keep my eyes open, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. 5Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the LORD of hosts, their God.’ 6On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves. And they shall devour to the right and to the left all the surrounding peoples, while Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in its place, in Jerusalem. 7“And the LORD will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah. 8On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them. 9And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
That last line—“and on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem”—that’s basically a summary statement of the whole passage. “On that day” refers not just to some indefinite time period, but to a particular future day when God delivers his people in a great battle.
Some take these events to refer to the capture of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC. Others say that it refers to the fall of Jerusalem by Rome in AD 70. Both of those events are certainly future to Zechariah’s prophecy. The only problem is that neither of those events fit all the details of this prophecy—especially in the way it speaks of God’s final defeat of all nations; and in the way that chapter 14 associates this same battle with the second coming of Jesus Christ (Zech 14:2-4; cf. Acts 1:11-12).
Also, Revelation 16:12-16 picture the Antichrist deceiving the whole world, and assembling them for battle on the great day of God Almighty just outside Jerusalem; and then the details of the cup of God’s wrath in Revelation 16:19, and the return of Christ and the defeat of the enemy nations in Revelation 19:17-21, seem to square better with the details of this prophecy. So I understand Zechariah to be speaking of the final battle outside Jerusalem at the return of Jesus Christ.
And essentially he’s telling them that God will win. Pagan nations will each send their representative forces to wage war—they’ll attempt to snuff out God’s chosen people—but God will destroy all of them and win the final battle. But the message is more than just, “God wins.” It’s also, “God cares for you.” He knows your weakness. He will strengthen you. He will keep his eye upon you. And if you belong to him by faith in Jesus Christ, then you too will win.
The Lord Reveals Himself as Creator
Some of these things will come out as we walk through our passage, but let’s begin first with the vision of God in verse 1. He is the Creator. It says, “Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him.” All three of these concepts come straight from Genesis 1 and 2. But what’s the point of revealing himself as Creator before revealing this final battle?
To reassure his people of his strength & control
A few reasons. If he stretched out the heavens and founded the earth, and not one person breathes apart from his say-so, wouldn’t you want to be on his side of the battle? I mean, when you really weigh it out—would you rather have all the nations, or have the one who gives them all breath? The words reassure the people of his strength over all the nations. Their very existence is in God’s hands. The right response is to forsake any trust in the world’s kingdoms and return to your Creator.
It also reassures them that he’s in control. The heavens and the earth don’t exist by their own will, neither does man. The battle isn’t happening because God lost control. No, everything happens under his sovereign control as Creator (cf. Zech 14:2).
To reassure them of his new-creation work
But even further is this: God is making a new creation. He reveals himself as the Creator at the beginning of chapter 12, because by the end of chapter 14 we’ll be in the new-creation kingdom of God. There’s just a few steps that need to take place before getting us there; and one of them is bringing order to the chaos. In the same way that God brought order to the cosmic chaos in Genesis 1—“the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep…and God said, ‘Let there be light’”—in the same way, he promises to bring order to the earthly chaos in Zechariah 12.
There is chaos among the nations, because they refuse to submit to the Lord’s rule (cf. Zech 1:15; 9:1-8). But he, as Creator, will so speak and so act that they’ll be removed. The days of their chaos will end. He created the world with words; now he’s recreating the world with words. God’s word through the prophet is history-shaping and history-determining—the rebellion will cease.
He Will Make Jerusalem an Immovable City
So, how will he end up removing this chaos? Well, first he’ll make Jerusalem an immovable city. Verses 2 and 3 bring this out. We get a picture of all the surrounding pagan peoples staging a siege against Jerusalem and even against Judah. You might recall from chapter 1 that the surrounding cities of Judah are closely tied with Jerusalem, so that whatever happens to Jerusalem also affects Judah (Zech 1:12, 17; 2:12). If Jerusalem falls, in other words, then Judah itself is finished.
But that’s not going to happen, because God won’t let it happen. We get a couple metaphors that say Jerusalem will actually withstand the onslaught of the nations. The first comes in verse 2: “I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples.” What’s a “cup of staggering”?
Throughout the Old Testament, drinking God’s cup, or his goblet, is largely a metaphor for suffering under God’s wrath. For God to pour out his cup was for him to enact his judgment against his enemies (Ps 11:6; Jer 25:15; 49:12; Hab 2:16). He forces them to gulp down his cup to the point of staggering in humiliating disillusionment (Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17; Jer 51:7). That much is going on here, only that Zechariah uses a different Hebrew word than normal. It’s not merely a goblet; it’s a much larger bowl, a basin—the idea being that the wrath will be plenty. All the surrounding peoples will gather against God and his people only to prove themselves fools forced to become drunk with God’s wrath (cf. Rev 14:10; 16:9; 18:6).
The other metaphor comes in verse 3: “On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves.” Two other places—both Daniel 2 and Psalm 118 (cf. Matt 21:42-43)—relate a stone to the final, unshakable kingdom of God’s Messiah, who we know is Jesus. Daniel 2 is especially helpful. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, and four world-kingdoms end up getting dashed to pieces by a stone that God raises up in the future. And this stone ends up growing into a mountain that fills the whole earth and lasts forever. That is the kingdom of Christ.
Zechariah seems to be building on that same imagery. Jerusalem will be like that final kingdom of Jesus. And while the nations may come against her, they will only hurt themselves in doing so. It’s true—when we get to 14:2 that part of the city will be taken at some point in this battle—but once the Lord steps in to fight, Jerusalem gets transformed. The point is that all attempts by the nations to conquer God’s people are ultimately futile. The campaign is pointless.
He Will Fight On Behalf of His Beloved People
Next, we see that God will fight on behalf of his beloved people. Verse 4, “On that day, declares the LORD, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness.” Think back to the exodus, where God tosses the horse and its rider into the sea (Exod 15:1, 21). The horse and its rider stand as a symbol for the enemies of God’s people—in this case, all the surrounding nations (cf. Ps 76:6; Jer 51:21; Hag 2:22).
“On that day, declares the LORD, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But for the sake of the house of Judah I will keep my eyes open, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness.”
There’s only one other place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew words behind panic, madness, and blindness all three occur. It’s in Deuteronomy 28:28, which says this: “The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind.” This is a curse pronounced against any Israelite who rebelled against God’s word. God is now enacting the curse on the enemies of his people…
Remember from Zechariah 2:4-5 how God removes the curse from his people to dwell with them in his new city. The way he removes the curse from his people—according to Galatians 3:13—is through the death of Jesus Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us.” And when that curse is gone, God is pleased to dwell with his people and protect them like a wall of fire all around.
The picture here is of the people of Judah in particular. And it appears that they’ve trusted in Jesus Christ by this point (cf. Jer 30:9; Dan 12:1; Zech 13:8-9). Zechariah 2:12 and 8:13 anticipate the Lord saving Judah in connection with his return. And, we can infer from other places in the Bible that God fights only for the people that he’s committed to through their covenant relationship with Jesus (e.g., Isa 59:19-20 [cited in Rom 11:25-27]; Zech 9:16; 10:6; Rev 19:7-21). And, Romans 11 seems to anticipate a future day when ethnic Israel undergoes conversion to Christ, so that when Jesus returns, he’s not coming to destroy Judah and Jerusalem for their unbelief, he’s coming to fight for them as his people (esp. Rom 11:12, 23, 25-27).[1. Romans 11 is a difficult passage, and has also been read by other dear Christians to mean something different than my conclusions here. Others have argued that the assertion, "all Israel will be saved," is talking about all the remnant within ethnic Israel who are saved throughout the present age stretching from Christ's resurrection to his return. However, while agreeing that a remnant of ethnic Israel is being saved throughout the present age, I am also persuaded that the salvation of that remnant still anticipates a future conversion of ethnic as a whole (though not necessarily every single individual Israelite). (1) "Israel" throughout Romans 11 is referring to the ethnic nation as a whole (cf. also Rom 9:1-6; 10:1). (2) The hardening of ethnic Israel as a whole seems to be lifted by God once the jealousy-provoking fullness of the Gentiles comes in (Rom 11:25). (3) Verses 12, 15, and 28 of Romans 11 seem to anticipate a future inclusion of ethnic Israel (cf. also "life from the dead" in Rom 11:15 with Ezek 37). (4) The citation from Isaiah 59:19-20 in Romans 11:26 seems to be associated with the future coming of Christ, not only to defeat the enemies of God's people but also to save those who will then belong to him (see esp. the Hebrew of Isaiah 59:19-20, where Christ comes to deliver those in Israel who have turned away from their iniquity, while Paul seems to make a complementary point by citing the LXX of Isa 59:20 alongside Jer 31:33-34). To be clear, upon this future conversion, all Israel will be incorporated into the true children of Abraham, or, the church, and be saved. They are not saved apart from their union with Jesus Christ by faith, but through their union with Jesus Christ by faith. Thus, by "Israel" in Zechariah 12:1 (along with Judah, the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem) the prophet seems to be speaking of the Israel who will later be incorporated into the church at the end of the age, and thus the gathering of the nations against Jerusalem isn't necessarily limited to ethnic Israel but may very well include Gentiles as well by this point (cf. Zech 2:4-5, 11; 8:22-23; 9:7). Zechariah only speaks to the remnant within ethnic Israel at this point, and so it makes sense that his application is made only to them. But at the end of time, all nations will seek to make war against God and all his people, whether those people are from the remnant within ethnic Israel united to Christ or from the nations united to the remnant by union with Christ.]
So, through their union with Christ, their curse has been removed. And God so loves them that he keeps his eye on them—that’s another way of saying that God gives attention to your needy state (e.g., Isa 37:17; Dan 9:18). He keeps his eye on them, while cursing their enemies. I can’t help but think how this also fulfills the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.” That promise plays out in the final battle. Nations make war against the true children of Abraham who are united to Christ and God curses their enemies.
He Will Strengthen His People to Win the Battle
But God isn’t the only one fighting. We also see that God will strengthen his people to win the battle (cf. Zech 9:15; 10:5; 14:14). Verse 5 basically says that much as the clans of Judah witness God strengthening Jerusalem. Literally, “[they] say in their hearts, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are a strength to me because of the LORD of hosts, their God.’” The Lord’s power is central to this victory. We cannot win the battle apart from the Lord. His work to save Jerusalem strengthens Judah to fight.
Verses 6-7 then use a couple of metaphors to depict how strong God’s people will be: like “a blazing pot in the midst of wood” and a “flaming torch among sheaves,” he says. Fire is regularly associated with God’s vengeance. We were already introduced to God burning the forest of false shepherds in 11:1 (cf. Zech 9:4). In Judges 15:4-5, Samson gets vengeance on the Philistines by tying torches to a bunch of foxes, and sending them out to burn down the grain. The idea is that God will so strengthen Judah that their enemies will burn up like chaff before them.
Also notice in verse 7 that God is just as concerned for his people fighting on the front lines as he is for the people in the city where he dwells. It says, “And the LORD will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah.” The idea is that he rewards everybody equally with victory. They’ll all get glory.
Then finally, in verse 8, the strengthening of God’s people reaches a climax: “On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them.”
The feeblest are those who barely have the strength to stumble along—they shall be like David. David was Israel’s ideal king: he struck down lions and bears to rescue the sheep (1 Sam 17:35-36); he ends up killing Goliath (1 Sam 17:41-54); and throughout his career he defeats many of Israel’s enemies (e.g., 2 Sam 8). But if we read carefully, what made David strong in every victory was the Lord’s presence and power upon him (1 Sam 17:37, 46; 2 Sam 7:9). For the feeblest to be “like David” was to say that they too would possess God’s presence and power. They too would be victorious, not because of anything in themselves but because of God.
Then he moves to the leadership, the house of David—they will be “like God, like the angel of the Lord,” it says. In places where the angel of the Lord appears—like when he leads Israel out of Egypt—you can’t hardly tell the difference between God and the angel (Exod 13:21; 14:19; 33:2). He even seems to be a manifestation of God’s very presence and power (Judg 2:1, 4; Ps 34:7; cf. Jude 5).
To say that the house of David will be “like God, like the angel of the Lord,” isn’t to say that they actually become God. The comparison is functional not identical (cf. 2 Sam 14:17, 20). Rather, it’s saying that God’s presence and power will so protect them that you won’t be able to tell the difference between their leadership and God’s.
This isn’t something we often think about, but God’s people will participate with him in the final devastation of enemy nations (cf. Ps 149:5-9; Dan 7:14, 18, 27). The Bible doesn’t give us a whole lot of detail on what that participation will look like, only that it’s going to happen, and that his grace will ensure we’re competent for the task.
We’re certainly not ready for that task right now—and as long as we’re on this side of the second coming, our calling isn’t vengeance but self-sacrifice in the path of love (Rom 12:19; Jas 1:20; 1 Pet 2:20-22). It’s only after we endure till the end that Jesus then gives us authority over the nations to rule them with a rod of iron, according to Revelation 2:26-27 (cf. Rev 19:14)—which is another example in Scripture where language that’s applied to God and his Son in the Old Testament also gets applied to those united to God’s Son (cf. Ps 2). Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron and so will his people. How? Because we will finally be like him (cf. 1 John 3:2).
How Future Victory Compels Us to Live Today
So this is how the final battle will transpire, and this is one way that God will begin his new-creation work. He will make Jerusalem an immovable city, he will fight on behalf of his beloved people, and he will strengthen them to win the battle. What could such a prophecy about the future mean for us today? Let me mention just a few things for us to take away.
There’s no hope for the campaign against God and his people
First of all, Zechariah 12 confirms that there is no hope for the campaign against God and his people. Our passage is a warning not to embrace the lies of the world’s campaign against God. Demons are feeding the world lies. They’re feeding people an interpretive grid that makes it believable that God can be defeated (Rev 16:13-14). God’s word reassures us that he will win. His kingdom alone will stand.
Are you somebody who is plotting against God and his people? Okay, perhaps you’re not plotting against God so overtly. But are you someone planning your life quite apart from Jesus’ kingdom and its righteousness? Are you embracing Jesus’ rule in your life instead of doing whatever you would’ve done anyway without him? Would your credit card statement and the way you spend your days reflect a love for Christ’s kingdom, or a love for another kingdom?
Do you actually see in this description of the nations fighting against God a picture of what your own sin looks like from day to day—that the harsh tone with your children, or your neglect of your wife, or your lust for another woman, or your laziness at work, or your bitterness toward a sister, or your lack of concern for the church, or your lack of compassion for the lost—do you see in all your sin a war against God? I’m not trying to spiritualize this passage, but only using this passage to reveal the true nature of our sin—it’s an assault on God and the people of his kingdom.
If we join the world’s campaign against God, we will be thoroughly disappointed on the last day. There’s no hope for those who campaign against God and his kingdom. If you find yourself living for another kingdom, then my plea is that of Jesus himself: repent, for the kingdom of God is near. Now is the day of God’s patience, when he invites all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. Put your trust in him as your Savior and Lord, and his eye will be open toward you. He will come to you in your needy state, and rescue you from his coming wrath, and make you a part of his victorious people. Come to him as you are, and he will be your salvation.
Give thanks for our rescue in Christ
Shouldn’t a passage like this also lead us to give thanks for our rescue in Christ? First of all, we were all once part of the campaign against God. We were all dead and once separated from God in our sins. We all once followed the spirit that’s now at work in the sons of disobedience. We were no better off than these Gentile nations that we’re reading about here warring against God.
Shouldn’t we give thanks that God rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son? Shouldn’t we give thanks that he didn’t leave us ignorant to the truth, but opened our eyes to see his glory in Christ? We don’t deserve to be on the winning side of the battle, and when we look at the nations’ folly in this text to fight against God, we should actually see a picture of our own folly had God not placed us into Christ.
These promises aren’t directly for you, they’re given to the remnant in Israel (Zech 8:6, 11, 12; 9:7; 12:1). Ah, but in and through Christ, they do become ours. The only way we Gentiles benefit from these promises is through Jesus Christ. He’s the ruler from Judah to whom belongs the obedience of all the nations (Gen 49:10). He’s the descendent from David’s house who not only fights like God, but is himself God (Matt 1:1, 23; John 1:1-3).
Yet before he came to destroy the nations, he came first to rescue his people. On the cross he did two things for us to make these promises our own. He became our propitiation—that means he drank the cup of God’s wrath in our place. We deserved to gulp down his wrath on the last day along with the rest of the nations, but in Christ God’s wrath against us was satisfied once and for all on the cross.
Moreover, Ephesians 2:12-13 say, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [Think, you who would’ve gathered against God on the last day had it not been for grace!] have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
He not only propitiates God’s wrath, but he makes us a part of his covenant people. And to be reconciled to God and to his people is also to participate in his final victory. So give thanks for your great rescue in Christ. Eat the bread and drink the cup this morning not with dread but with thanksgiving. In Christ, God’s eye is open to you.
Live each day ready & faithful to God
Third, live each day ready and faithful to God. I’m taking my cue from Jesus here. In Matthew 24, Jesus teaches his disciples about the end of times and the coming of the Son of Man (cf. Rev 6:15-17). But shortly after that teaching, he then goes on to teach the disciples how to live until that final day comes.
They must be ready. He even tells a parable of ten virgins. Five of them were foolish and didn’t take any oil for their lamps. And five were wise because they did take flasks of oil for their lamps.
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there won’t be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (Matt 25:1-11).
What characterizes those who truly know the Lord? Or better, what characters those who are known by the Lord? It’s far more important to be known by the Lord. What characterizes them? Readiness to meet him.
No matter how long he’s delayed, his people wait patiently, they refuse to give up hope in his appearing, and they remain expectant of his arrival. Is that true of you? Are your days characterized by readiness to meet Jesus? That doesn’t mean you resort to some kind of monkish lifestyle; it has more to do with whether he’s the one you long to see from day to day. If that’s not true of you, you won’t be able to convince him to let you in once the door is shut.
We must also be faithful as the final day draws near. Watchfulness for the last day is never a passive endeavor in Scripture. Jesus and the apostles insist that if Jesus’ kingdom alone will be the last one standing, then every moment of our lives should be invested in his kingdom. What does that look like?
Zechariah gave us some good starting places already in 7:9-10 and in 8:16-17. God tells us to invest in his kingdom like this: show kindness and mercy to one another; speak the truth to one another; render judgments that make for peace; do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor. You may have been thinking something big, something more to add on this week, something that looks super-spiritual, some specific vocational direction. But investing in God’s kingdom is less about what you do and more about Who you represent in all that you do.
So invest in God’s kingdom by maintaining integrity at work tomorrow, and do it for the Lord. If somebody wants to compromise truth to win a buck, call it what it is and refuse to participate. Show kindness to your brothers and sisters in the church, and have mercy on them in times of need. Speak the truth to one another in love at Care Group this week, and use words that fit the occasion and give grace to those who hear. Use judgment as a parent that will make for peace with your children. Ask God to grow your compassion for the oppressed in society and to give you wisdom in knowing how to care for them. Perhaps the Lord will use you this week to rescue someone else from the campaign of the world that opposes God.
The point is that every day we’re given until the last day, should be one we give to our Savior. The Lord’s Supper is a gracious reminder of this as well. We eat this bread and drink this cup until he comes again.
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