Holy to the Lord
Passage: Zechariah 14:12–21
Sermon from Zechariah 14:12-21 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Restoration & Return (Part 23)
Delivered on March 20, 2016
We’re on verses 12-21 this morning, and that means we’re wrapping up Zechariah, and what a fitting conclusion chapter 14 is to all that has gone before.
The Unity of Zechariah
I haven’t said anything about this until now—but there are some Bible scholars who don’t think that Zechariah’s ending fits with its beginning. Some would say that chapters 9-14 are so different from chapters 1-8, that they likely weren’t even written by the same author or even within the same historical setting. Of course, that also leads them to question the integrity of Old Testament prophecy, and divine inspiration, and so on.
Now, there are certainly other assumptions that have to be addressed in cases like this—such as one’s bias toward divine revelation for starters. But one thing is for certain: any plain reading of Zechariah’s ending shows a deep unity with its beginning.
In 1:15, God is angry with the nations, and here he executes judgment (14:12-13); in 2:9, God promises to plunder the nations, and here he does just that (14:14); in 1:17, God promises to establish Jerusalem, and here he exalts that city (14:10-11); in 2:12, God promises to make the land of Judah holy, and here he carries that out in full (14:20-21); in 2:11, many nations will gather at Jerusalem for worship, and chapter 14 ends on this note as well (14:16); and that’s only a few examples.
But I mention it to help you see that there’s no reason to question the unity or the integrity of Zechariah. It’s one piece with one message about God returning to his people and restoring all things through his King.
The End of the World
Today, Zechariah takes us to the end of the world once again. Verse 12 starts in the same place we began last week—the scene of that great battle where all nations gather against God’s people at Jerusalem. Same battle, but Zechariah sketches in a few more details on how the battle will go down and what the world will be like once the King takes his throne and rules over the nations. Verse 12…
12And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 13And on that day a great panic from the LORD shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other. 14Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. 15And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.
The Attacking Nations Defeated
Pause there for just a minute. Again, we’re back at the same battle mentioned in 14:1-2.[1. Several observations lead me to believe that Zechariah is recapitulating the battle of 14:1-2. First, the attacking nations are mentioned. Second, verses 13 indicates armies gathered for battle but who are then thrown into confusion. Third, verse 14 develops the theme already mentioned in 12:4-6, which also seems to indicate the end-time battle. Fourth, verse 16 speaks of survivors from the nations just as their will be survivors from Israel in 14:2. In terms of eschatological chronology, I would suggest the following order of events but by no means pretend to have it nailed down: a final battle affecting Jews and Gentiles (Zech 14:1-2, 12; cf. Rev 16:14-16); the nations at large decimated (Zech 14:3, 12-15; cf. Dan 7:12); a remnant from Jews and Gentiles preserved and protected (Zech 14:2, 16; cf. Zech 9:7; 13:8); the visible return of Jesus with his angels and people (Zech 14:3-5; cf. Rev 19); Jesus' visible rule on earth over the nations with many participating in perpetual worship and blessing while others suffer perpetual curse (Zech 14:17-19; cf. Dan 7:12; Ps 2:8-12; Rev 2:24; 19:15; 20:1-8); the presence of the King finally transforming the cosmic order (Zech 14:6-11); and holiness eventually pervading a non-structural, Eden-like temple-city that swallows Jerusalem, Judah, and the whole earth (Zech 14:7-8, 10, 20-21; cf. Ezek 40-48; Rev 21-22).] But now there’s more detail of how the attacking nations will be defeated: they will suffer plague, panic, and plunder on the great day of the Lord.
First, we see plague. The Lord used plagues to defeat Egypt in the exodus (Exod 9:14). We saw in verses 4-5 that Zechariah characterizes Jesus’ return in terms of a greater exodus. But with a greater exodus also comes a greater plague; and something to note about this plague is that it’s intertwined with several curses found in Leviticus 26: people rotting away in famine (Lev 26:39); wasting disease that consumes the eyes (Lev 26:16)—all for disobeying the Lord’s covenant.
The difference here is that the curses get ratcheted up: “their flesh will rot while they’re still standing on their feet.” They won’t gradually rot away because of famine. It’s sudden and without warning, kind of like leprosy would sometimes break out on people suddenly as a judgment from God. The soldiers don’t even fall to the ground while their flesh deteriorates before them. Sadly, in a nuclear world that’s not too hard to fathom. But this won’t be the result of nuclear weapons but the holy presence of an almighty God whose wrath is hot against his enemies.
Also “their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.” Twice Zechariah has used the “eyes” of the nations figuratively. Their eyes should be fixed upon the Lord (Zech 9:1), but instead their eyes were full of sin and idolatry (Zech 5:6; cf. Ezek 12:2). And the “tongue” many times in Scripture is what’s full of deceit, boasting, and blasphemy (e.g., Ps 5:9; 10:7; 12:3). They symbolize the nations’ false worship and false speech that deserve God’s judgment.
The plague is awful. It’s why the nations will cry out for the rocks and mountains to fall on them, and hide them from the face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16). They will want death but be forced to suffer. They will want to hide but will not be able.
They will panic, which is something else that leads to their defeat. If we go back to Leviticus 26:36-37 and Deuteronomy 28:20 we will also find panic to be one of the curses. Verse 13 says, “a great panic from the LORD shall fall on them.” And the response is very telling of the human heart, isn’t it? When the nations panic even friends become enemies. The nations start fighting each other (cf. Ezek 38:21-22; Zech 12:4). The Lord not only takes away their physical strength, their sight, and their speech, he also jeopardizes their unity. His judgments shred their social agreements and send them spiraling into chaos and madness.
Finally, there’s plunder. This is a reversal of how the battle began. In 14:1, the nations plundered God’s people. Now God’s people plunder the nations (cf. 2:9). All that the nations lived for, all that they found their meaning in, all the wealth they accumulated will be taken in a moment (cf. Ezek 39:10). In Haggai 2:7 the Lord says, “I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in…” God takes the nations’ riches and makes them his people’s inheritance—not because they deserve it but because their King will prove himself glorious over their enemies and generous towards the people he loves.
The additional plague against the animals may sound strange, but it’s yet another layer to the nature of the nations’ demise. If you recall, when God put the city of Jericho under the “ban,” his army was supposed to destroy not only the people but also the oxen, sheep, and donkeys (Josh 6:21). So also in verse 15, the plague will fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps (Zech 14:15). It’s another way of saying that the nations deserve divine extermination.
The word for “beasts” also appeared back in 2:4, but there it was a reference to the restored Jerusalem, a Jerusalem inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock [or beasts] in it. It’s the same Jerusalem of 14:11—an inhabited city that will never again experience a decree of utter destruction. But that security will not be true for anybody that opposes God’s city. For them, they will only experience plague, panic, and plunder, while facing divine extermination.
You may already be asking how such a defeat of the nations at the end of the world matters for your life today. But there’s plenty for us to consider. For starters, it gives us a clear picture of the Lord’s intolerance of sin. He’s not a slushy grandfather that just pats the nations on the head and says, “Boys will be boys.” He punishes rebellion. Nobody can truly stand in his holy presence lest his grace intervenes. The world becomes increasingly tolerant of sin. But that’s because they do not know this King.
The scene also gives us a good look at the way sin deceives people. These nations truly believe they can defeat the King of the universe. They truly believe their strength is greater, their armor is thicker, their weapons are better, their wealth is impressive. And in the end, God decimates them.
Don’t be fooled by sin. Don’t be deceived with the rest of the nations. Don’t get trapped in the grid through which they view the world—a grid that leads them to believe that God can be defeated. It’s the same old lie of the Serpent: “you will not surely die.” Oh yes you will, and that truth needs to be in your face before you sin, before you hate your brother, before you look at porn, before you fall in love with money, before you give in to temptation. The same sin crouching at the door of your life every day, is the same sin leading these nations to fight a battle that ends in the decimation of their humanity altogether. Don’t follow them. Don’t choose to rot with the world.
The Worthy King Worshiped
Rather, bow your knee to the worthy King. That’s where we’re going next—the worthy King worshiped. Look at verses 16-19, where we now get a picture of some among the nations worshiping the Lord…
16Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 19This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.
This section is somewhat more complicated, and one’s understanding of it largely depends on how you understand other passages fitting together, especially in terms of the end of time. But I’m persuaded that Zechariah is once again using categories from the past to speak of future realities that far surpass the old forms. He gives us a collage of Old Testament images.
It’s kind of like being a dad in the late 1800s. And as a dad, you promise to buy your son a horse and buggy when he turns 30. The horse and buggy is the best form of personal transportation you know of. Cars weren’t invented yet. But then thirty years go by. The son has his birthday, and dad buys him a Ford Model T. It’s not that the dad didn’t fulfill his promise to buy his son a horse and buggy. It’s that the dad fulfilled the promise to his son, but in ways that far surpassed the old form.
I’m indebted to Greg Beale for that illustration, but the same here: Zechariah is using categories from the past to speak of future realities that far surpass the old forms. For example, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is incredibly significant because that’s where the temple was located in Zechariah’s day, it’s where God dwelt and met with his people.
But in John’s Gospel, Jesus is the new and better temple (John 2:19-22). The glory of God tabernacles in Jesus (John 1:14). Jesus replaces the temple, and in a way that far surpasses the old form. And so it make sense that he would then tell the Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Why is that? Because Jesus is the place where the nations now meet with God.
So I see this as a picture of the nations perpetually coming to Jesus as their new and better temple. They’re coming into the divine presence which now finds its locus in the person of Jesus and the people he represents world-wide.
It’s theoretically possible that a physical temple might stand once again in the new age—depending on how you understand some of the prophecies like Isaiah 62:9 and especially Ezekiel 40-48. And you might even say that such a temple would serve a symbolic function until Jesus makes the entire earth his sanctuary.
But that’s harder for me to square with the book of Hebrews that says that the structures under the old covenant were but shadows of the far greater substance to come in Christ. Moreover, Zechariah has suggested before—and will do so again in just a minute—that not just Jerusalem, but the entire land of Israel will be transformed into God’s sanctuary, a kind of non-architectural temple full of the glory of Jesus (Zech 1:16-17; 2:4-5, 12; 6:13, 15; 8:4-5; 14:8, 21). This is the Jerusalem to which all nations will come, the one shining with the glory of Christ and that eventually consumes the world and transforms it into an Eden-like paradise, a cosmic temple.
Or take the Feast of Booths. The picture in verse 16 is that the annual Feast of Booths would be celebrated by the nations perpetually. The Lord had a couple of purposes for the Feast of Booths. One purpose was for the people to celebrate God’s abundant provision in the harvest after entering the Promised Land. The other purpose was for the people to remember God’s deliverance in the exodus. The Feast commemorated freedom from slavery and abundance in God’s land (Lev 23:33-43; cf. Deut 31:9-13).
Again, John’s Gospel presents Jesus fulfilling the Feast of Booths. That’s why it’s so prevalent in chapter 7 of his Gospel and Jesus makes a pronouncement about himself on the last day of that feast (cf. 7:2, 10, 14, 37). Not only is Jesus the one who delivers his people from slavery to sin (John 8:34-36), but anybody who believes in him will gain the abundance of his kingdom. He will give them the blessings of the Holy Spirit that become in that person, rivers of living water (John 7:37-39).
So I see this celebration of the Feast of Booths as a picture of the future—the nations celebrating what God has done for them in Christ. He delivered them from sin and brought them the abundance of God’s kingdom. It reminds me of the day that Zechariah 8:19 anticipated—a day when the Lord would fill his people with seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts (cf. Ezek 44:24). As Zechariah has been telling us all along—it’s a day when “every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree” (Zech 3:10; 9:17).
And this also fits with the way we should understand the rains too. It’s not merely talking about H2O. Rain already gets an imaginative expansion in the prophets, such that rains falling on the land become a picture of God pouring out blessings on his people in the end-time kingdom (e.g., Ps 68:8-10; Hos 6:3; Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 34:23-31; Joel 2:21-28). We looked at that extensively in 10:1 (cf. Gen 1:29; 2:5; Ezek 36:35).
So, the point here is that those who refuse to worship Christ will be perpetually cut off from God’s covenant blessings. Interestingly enough the curse of no rain also appears among the curses of Deuteronomy 28:22-24. The Lord’s curse will hang over them, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. It mentions Egypt in particular, but even Egypt has become a type for any nation opposed to the Lord (Zech 10:10, 11). The point is that no nation opposed to God would escape his perpetual curse.
Now, some have asked the question, how could it even be possible that such nations would exist under the reign of Jesus Christ on earth? And some have attempted to answer that question by saying that the idea here is hypothetical not actual. But others, like myself, would say it’s real and fits within the day that Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron—Psalm 2:8-12; Revelation 2:27 and 19:15. And it also seems consistent with the expectation in Daniel 7:12, when Christ takes away the dominion of the rebellious nations, “but their lives are prolonged for a season and a time” (cf. Ezek 38-39; Rev 20:7-10). You may not agree with the way I just laid that out, but this we can all agree on: no nation opposed to God will escape his perpetual curse.
The good news of this passage, though, is that some will escape. Some will enjoy his blessings. Zechariah says that some from the attacking nations are spared. Whether they’re spared in the battle itself or spared before the battle, it doesn’t say. All we know is that some rebels are spared, and that they used to be part of these attacking nations but now they’re characterized as a remnant. The same Hebrew word applied to the remnant in 13:8 and in 14:2 also appears here: “survivors.” They’ve become part of God’s true people; and they worship him.
I’m reminded of the way God spared Noah and his family, or Lot and his family, or Rahab and her family. Or the way God promised to spare some of the Philistines in Zechariah 9:7 and make them his remnant too—each of them right on the brink of destruction, but God shows them mercy. He spares them.
They’re just like us. We were part of the rebel nations too. We set ourselves against God’s city. We too were on the brink of destruction. But we were shown mercy in Christ. We were spared. And so we worship the Lord for our deliverance. Our King punishes evildoers, yes; but he also has mercy on some. And he has had mercy on us, who are in Christ.
He sent his only Son into the world to suffer under the curse that we deserved. He sent his only Son to break the shackles of our sin when we were enslaved. He sent his only Son to deliver us from the domain of darkness and bring us into his own kingdom. And his mercy should lead us to perpetual worship and celebration.
All that we are, all that we do, all that we enjoy, all that we invest ourselves in should be offered to God as our worship. Worship cannot be reduced to what we do on Sunday mornings. It cannot be reduced to an event from 10:30-12:00. No! Worship takes place in all that the Christian does to please his King, because his King reigns over all and is present in all. Yes, we gather in corporate settings on Sunday to sing hymns to one another, and to pray as one body, and to pour over the word, and to confess the ancient truths we treasure. But worship is so much more than that. And you know why? The presence of the King in your life sanctifies everything for the believer. He makes everything holy.
Everything Holy to the Lord
And that’s where we’re going next: everything holy to the Lord. Verse 20…
20And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. 21And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.
Again, old-covenant language to speak of future realities that far surpass the old forms. The book of Hebrews cannot fathom a sacrifice after Christ. Christ once for all gave his life on the cross and inaugurated the new covenant age, making the first one obsolete. And where there is forgiveness, there’s no longer any offering for sin. The point of the imagery here is not to envision a day when sacrifices will once again be offered. The point is to paint a picture of the future using categories that Zechariah’s audience were most familiar with.
And that future picture is this: when the King comes, his glory-presence would sanctify all things, would make all things holy to the Lord. What used to be true of and limited to the temple will actually pervade the whole land. Some of us need help with the word holiness. Many times when we think of holiness, we reduce it to the idea of moral perfection. But I doubt that’s all the seraphim have in mind when they never cease to cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” Is that all they mean? “Moral, moral, moral”? No, what they mean is that God is utterly set apart from all things. He’s in a category all by himself.
Or when a shovel or pot in the tabernacle or temple is consecrated, and made holy, is that all that holiness means: the shovel is now morally perfect? No, that’s not the point. The point is that it’s set apart exclusively for God. Same with the priests. What was inscribed on the golden plate on the priests’ turban? hwhyl vdq, “Holy to the Lord”—the same phrase that we see here. Only here, it’s applied to a horse, which was once considered an unclean animal under the Law. And it’s applied also to basic kitchenware—not only would the pots in the Lord’s house be holy, but every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts.
Meaning, in that day there won’t be any need to distinguish between the holy and the profane, or between what’s holy and what’s common, because everything will be holy. Everything will be set apart for God.
He advances that a little further by saying that there won’t even be “a trader in the house of the Lord,” which can also be translated, “a Canaanite in the house of the Lord.” For Israel on this side of the exile, the Canaanite was the epitome for idolatry. It was Canaan that they were supposed to conquer and rid of idolatry. But instead they were led astray by their idols. That will no longer be the case in the presence of the King. He would purify his land and his people from all idolatry. Everything is sacred in his kingdom.
This is what the end of the world is about. History isn’t cyclical—with everything just continuing as is forever. Rather, history is linear—with this God-ordained goal at the end—everything holy to the Lord. This is the goal for your life, Christian. Do you believe that? Ephesians 1:4 says that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy…before him. Even before the foundation of the world, God made holiness our destiny. And it’s not just our destiny, it’s part of who we are now in this life.
The church of Jesus Christ is an outcropping of the future kingdom. We have already been sanctified by the King. His blood consecrated us. We have already been set apart exclusively for God. We are “Holy to the Lord.” In the same way that the King’s presence will sanctify all things in the age to come, so he sanctifies all things in your life right now.
Even in relation to food and marriage, 1 Timothy 4:14 says this: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” That’s not to promote some kind of autonomous materialism or some kind of self-centered hedonism—“everything I deem holy is holy.” Rather, Paul is encouraging a kind of lifestyle that sees everything in relation to God and his goodness. Everything he created that is good becomes opportunity for us to give him thanks for it and opportunity to serve our neighbors with it. In this way, it becomes sanctified, holy, set apart for God.
How does that play out in your life? When people look into your life, are they getting a sneak-peak at Christ’s future kingdom on earth? When our neighbors look into the life of this church, what do they see? Do they see a gathering of people whose values and morals and treasures look no different than theirs? Or do they see the presence of the King sanctifying all things in your life, the presence of the King setting all things apart exclusively for his service and honor and the spread of his glory?
Do outsiders enter the life of our church gatherings, and our care groups, and, as 1 Corinthians 14:25 says, “the secrets of their hearts are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Richard Phillips asks, “What do you think you will like about heaven if you do not love holiness now?”
Brothers and sisters, we were not chosen to be left as we are. We are destined for the picture you see here of Christ’s kingdom: holy to the Lord. If this is the end of your story, what kind of life should you be living now? Is the story that you’re writing with your every word and deed—does it have this kind of ending? Or will it end with plague, panic, and plunder outside the Lord’s city?
If being holy to the Lord doesn’t excite you all that much, perhaps you’ve for too long dulled your spiritual awareness of what is truly marvelous and settled for the lesser pleasures in this world. It’s not worth living for what will only be stripped away from you in the end. Repent and give yourself to what is lasting in the kingdom of God. That doesn’t mean you become a monk, or you have to go to seminary, or you have to take on a leadership role in the church. It may mean that you just start seeing your life a little differently than before—that the presence of the King in your life sanctifies everything that you do and not just your Sunday morning.
Developing software for a company, filling up trucks with diesel, mowing the grass to make a living, changing a diaper…again, teaching a child Latin, serving a table at a restaurant, filling out tax forms for your company, working night-shift security, vacuuming the fellowship hall, visiting a friend in the hospital, knitting a scarf for a sister, studying hard for an exam, assessing the investments of your clients on the computer, driving a truck to make a delivery. If you belong to Jesus, the presence of the King is with you by the Holy Spirit, and in the same way his presence sanctifies all things in the age to come, so his presence sanctifies all that you do to bring him glory and love others now. This is why Paul can also say, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
Be Sober, Warn Others, Worship Christ, Live Holy
So the call to us this morning from Zechariah 14 is manifold. Zechariah has given us a glimpse of the end of the world. We’ve seen the righteous judgment of the King. He doesn’t tolerate sin; and all who choose to side with the world instead of siding with him will experience his perpetual curse. This should sober us when we think about our own temptations to sin. But it should also compel us to warn others of the King’s coming judgment, and then extend to them the hope of the gospel.
If you’re not a follower of Christ, I will warn you now: your story will not end well. You will forever be under God’s curse. Take his escape. Trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Plague, panic, plunder, divine extermination, the curse—it can all be escaped through trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and the reconciliation to God he provides through his death on the cross.
We’ve also seen that our King is worthy to be worshiped by all nations, and one day such worship will cover the earth. He will show mercy to some; and they will perpetually celebrate him in the abundance of his kingdom. For us who are in Christ, that worship has already begun. We are called to celebrate our deliverance. We are called to celebrate the abundant blessings of his forever-kingdom. We are called to keep coming to him in worship and adoration, surrendering our allegiance to him in all things.
And we’ve also seen that the reason we can do that is that the presence of the King in our lives sanctifies everything. We, you who are in Christ, are holy to the Lord. Before you open a book this week, thank the Lord for his goodness in allowing you to study in his presence. Before you sit down to eat this week, bless the Lord for giving you the privilege to eat and drink to his glory. Before you turn on the computer at work or look at your iPhone in the evening, pray that God will help you use those tools in sacredness—the King is with you. Before you enter a crazy house after a long day at the office, ask the Lord to make your responses and your attitudes a sneak-peak into the coming kingdom. Before you babysit your grandchildren, consider that every moment becomes opportunity to direct them to the reign of the King.
God is taking us to his city forever, where his presence will flood the earth with holiness. Let the end of the story shape how you live today: holy to the Lord.