Deciphering Zechariah 14:5

An indepth analysis of Zechariah 14:5

The Popular Fable: Weighing the Evidence

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If you’re not up to speed yet on where Azal in Zechariah 14:5 is located, see Azal: A Longtime Mystery Rediscovered.

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In order to determine if the popular-fable version of Zechariah 14:1-5 is the correct reading, seven salient aspects of it require examination: (1) the Messiah battling the armies of all nations gathered against Jerusalem, (2) the Messiah standing on the Mount of Olives at his return, (3) a great valley splitting the Mount of Olives in half, (4) Jews fleeing Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives from enemy soldiers in the city and in the Kidron Valley, (5) a place called Azal located east of Jerusalem, (6) people fleeing from Uzziah’s earthquake, and (7) the Messiah coming with all resurrected Christians.

In regards to the first aspect, it can be argued that the event described in Zechariah 14:3 occurs at the Messiah’s second advent (cf. Revelation 16:14,16; 19:11-21). Popular fable adherents believe that this futuristic scenario establishes a definitive context for all of Zechariah 14 that proves all of its events occur in the future as well. Prima facie, this conclusion seems to be reasonable and unavoidable. However, when the next two verses (Zechariah 14:4-5) are thoroughly scrutinized within a factual context that clearly shows that all but one of those events occurred in the past (which scrutiny this study accomplishes), that reasoning becomes completely invalid. A temporal discontinuity also exists between a futuristic interpretation of Zechariah 14:3 and the preceeding two verses (Zechariah 14:1-2), which describe events identical to those that happened during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (i.e., city conquered and plundered by a consortium of armies and auxiliaries from throughout the empire; women raped; many enslaved, some freed). There is no legitimate reason to ignore that very weighty reality that is so accurately described in Zechariah 14:1-2, in order to project the fulfillment of this passage into the future based on an assumed scriptural context, that, as noted here and demonstrated throughout this study, has no basis in reality. Additionally, Zechariah 14:5 contains a temporal discontinuity within itself. The first part of the verse has already occurred (as mentioned), but the latter part concerning the Messiah coming with all resurrected Christians (which, by the way, is the seventh aspect of the popular fable) obviously occurs at some future time. Quite simply then, the temporal discontinuities in a futuristic interpretation of Zechariah 14:1-5 render the popular fable an impossibility.

See this blog for a compelling alternative interpretation that Zechariah 14:1-2 pertains to the sacking of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC (use Google Translate to translate from Dutch if necessary).

Some Things to Consider

Adjacent verses that describe prophetic events having very different time fulfillments are not uncommon in bible prophecy. Even temporal discontinuities within verses themselves are not without scriptural precedent (see Isaiah 61:1, cf. Luke 4:18). This characteristic is primarily due to the fact that all of the prophets saw the promised Messiah’s coming as a unitary event occurring at some distant time, without the slightest inkling that there would be two distinct manifestations having two distinct purposes separated by nearly two millenia. Therefore, all of their messianic visions were framed by a “flat” perceptual mindset that lacked the prophetic depth perception necessary to distinguish the specific timeframes of those visions’ various elements. Some aspects of those visions foretold a distant time, while others foretold a very distant time; but all was seen as a singular future occurrence. Consequently, they recorded what they saw on a flat canvas, so to speak, without temporal perspective.

For this reason, prophectic writings must be viewed through a hermeneutic lens that enables discernment of the dimension of time in their temporally flat format; just as contour lines on a flat, two-dimensional map enable discernment of planes of elevation in the vertical dimension. According to this hermeneutic model, Zechariah 14:3 would be analogous to a mountain (because it occurs in the future), and the Zechariah 14:1-2 and 14:4-5 pericopes would be analogous to valleys (because they occurred in the past). The verses occur side-by-side, but their actualizations are greatly separated in time; just as a mountain and valley floor physically touch each other, but their highest planes of elevation are separated by a wide gap. Together, all is a multi-dimensional revelation of the Messiah’s manifestation encompassing all of time, rather than just a linear expression of contiguous events at some contemporaneous interval. A factual context is the hermeneutic lens that brings the prophetic landscape described in Zechariah 14:1-5 into focus, because that frame of reference realistically fixes those prophetic events within the time continuum. Once that happens, the truth becomes self-evident.

Additionally, it needs to be considered that in Zechariah’s time prophetic visions were written without punctuation or verse designations, probably without paragraphs, and possibly even without spaces between words. Also it is probable that separate visions written at different times were recorded compactly together on a scroll to conserve space on the costly writing medium. The existent chapter/verse arrangement is a much later development that reflects certain theologians’ consensus on understanding, but not necessarily always what the author actually saw, or intended. The impact this has on exegesis is enormous. For example, assuming that no verse designations existed in the original text, what justifications are there for including the last part of Zechariah 14:5 (i.e., “and the LORD my GOD shall come, and all the saints with thee”) in that verse? That sentence makes as much sense, or more, when it is separated from Zechariah 14:5 and grouped with what follows in Zechariah 14:6.

6And the LORD my GOD shall come, and all the saints with thee. And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] the light shall not be clear, [nor] dark: 7But 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.
Zechariah 14:6-7, King James Version with revised verse numbering

And when considered in the light of the truths uncovered in this study, this verse grouping is the only one that makes sense.

Additionally, the possibility needs to be considered that the event described in Zechariah 14:3 occurred during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Hebrew syntax of Zechariah 14:3 can be interpreted as YHWH going forth to battle, not against, but IN the nations (בגוים), which is an accurate description of YHWH’s sending forth the consortium of Roman armies and auxiliaries from all nations to battle against Jerusalem on his behalf, as he had forewarned centuries earlier. This interpretation of Zechariah 14:3 fits the context established by the preceding two verses well, creates no temporal discontinuity amongst verses 1-3, and is supported by the fact that the same syntax occurs in Zechariah 14:14, where Judah is described in most bible translations as battling IN Jerusalem (בירושלם), not against it.

In regards to the second aspect, there is no scriptural evidence that the Messiah’s return advent will occur on the Mount of Olives, even though it’s commonly believed that Acts 1:11 testifies to that effect.

9And when [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. 12Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet [Mount of Olives], which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.
Acts 1:9-12, King James Version

This verse, however, only states that he will return in the same manner that he ascended, i.e., in clouds (cf. Revelation 1:7), and says nothing about where he will return. The Mount of Olives is merely assumed to be that location based on a misreading of the text (by reading into the text). Likewise, without a clear context it can only be assumed that Zechariah 14:4 refers to the Messiah standing upon the Mount of Olives at his return, rather than during his first advent. The book of Zechariah (and specifically chapter 14 in this case) doesn’t provide this context of itself, due to it being a hodgepodge of fragmentary visions. This study, however, does provide a factual context for the Zechariah 14:4-5 pericope that strongly indicates that all but one of the events described therein occurred in the past. Scripture provides unequivocal testimony that the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives nearly two millenia ago. Since that reality fulfilled an identical aspect of Zechariah 14:4 quite well (i.e., his feet standing on the Mount of Olives), no future fulfillment need be expected. And none is warranted considering the fact that neither Acts 1:11, nor Zechariah 14:4 (necessarily), witness of such an event. A future, dual fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4 is certainly possible, but realistically one is not to be expected or required due to its prior fulfillment.

In regards to the third aspect, there are several inactive geologic faults at various locations on the Mount of Olives, but there is no geologic evidence that these ever were, or ever will split to become, great valleys. One may split apart forming a great valley someday, but to say that one will contradicts geologic evidence and is purely speculation. Perhaps this sort of expectation imbues the local folklore, for geologist Bailey Willis, who witnessed the aftermath of the 1927 earthquake in Palestine, mentions in Earthquakes in the Holy Land (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Volume 18, June 1928, No. 2) that “exaggerated reports of great fissures in the ground near Jerusalem … were current in the city after the shock, but there was little evidence of their actuality”. Some, of course, will insist that the Mount of Olives will have to split apart forming a great valley someday because the bible says so. But that attitude stems from a lack of awareness that the verbs usually translated as “split” or “cleave” in Zechariah 14:4 (בקע, H1234; σχιζω, G4977) can also be translated as “rend” or “tear apart”, the significance of which will become apparent shortly. So there is no evidence that this aspect is true, but only speculation based upon how certain words were translated (i.e., בקע, H1234; σχιζω, G4977).

In regards to the fourth aspect, the notion of people fleeing Jerusalem from enemy soldiers there is an anachronism. Its plausibility is relegated to an ancient time in which soldiers used spears and swords, from which fleeing civilians could conceivably escape. But what chance would fleeing civilians have nowadays with powerful automatic weapons that are accurate to several hundred meters aimed at their backs? That’s right, zero. Surely the Messiah can come up with a better plan than that. Also, Moses and the children of Israel fled away from Pharoah and his armies to the divided Red Sea, yet Jerusalemites are to supposedly flee towards and through their enemies in the Kidron Valley to get to the divided Mount of Olives. That truly makes no sense. This notion has origins in the tradition that the Valley of Jehoshaphat referred to in Joel 3, in which the world’s armies are to be gathered and judged, is the Kidron Valley.

I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. … Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.
Joel 3:2, 12, King James Version

However, the Hebrew word used for “valley” in the Joel prophecy (עמק, H6010) refers to a wide, open valley, which is completely inappropriate to describe the narrow, ravine-like Kidron. The Kidron Valley is just too narrow and short between the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem to serve as a gathering place for all armies of the world. And modern militaries with tanks, artillery, helicopters, etc. would not deploy in a ravine, but on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, and in other stategically advantageous positions, just as the Roman armies did in 70 A.D. So from start to finish, these ideas are rubbish, and the fantasies of a bygone era.

Also, Zechariah 14:5 does not state that anyone will flee to (or by, or through) a valley in the Mount of Olives. A preposition simply does not exist in the Hebrew text. The reason one does exist in most Western bibles is because their translators sought to conform that prophecy to a specific interpretation, and an extraneous preposition was required to do so. This unwarranted preposition, however, skews the syntax of Zechariah 14:5 into saying something it was never meant to say. This crucial facet will be covered in detail later.

In regards to the fifth aspect, there is uncertainty among popular fable adherents whether the place called Azal is near the wall of Jerusalem, or at the eastern end of the valley that splits the Mount of Olives in two. In either case, Azal would necessarily lie east of Jerusalem. There is no evidence, however, that Azal exists, or ever has existed, east of Jerusalem. To circumvent this inconvenient fact, some translators and critics have framed the phrase “to Azal” (אל־אצל) as an adverbial expression meaning “near to”, e.g., “the valley of mountains shall reach near to”. However, this awkward and unconvincing translation bears the impression of guesswork born of frustration, rather than the authority of truth. Other exegetes speculate that Azal will exist in the future at one end of the valley that splits the Mount of Olives in half. The key word here is speculate.

In regards to the sixth aspect, apart from Zechariah’s prophecy, the scriptures directly mention Uzziah’s earthquake in only one other place (Amos 1:1) in which nothing is said about people fleeing from it. Likewise, no historian has uttered a word about Judeans fleeing from this earthquake, even though a notable Jewish historian did document other details pertaining to that event (the significance of this fact is highly relevant, and should not be disregarded). The eighty priests in the temple after the earthquake were very concerned about getting Uzziah to leave the city because of his leprosy, but as far as can be discerned, weren’t concerned about fleeing anywhere (2 Chronicles 26:17, Antiquities of the Jews, 9.10.4). The only fleeing that appears to have occurred was after the earthquake when Uzziah fled from the wrath of GOD and the priests (2 Chronicles 26:20). If Zechariah was predicting that Jerusalemites would flee, it definately would have made more sense if he had said:

… yea, ye shall flee like as Uzziah king of Judah fled from before the priests and GOD in the days of the earthquake. …
Zechariah 14:5, Tongue-in-Cheek Version

Additionally, the sentence, “you shall flee as you fled”, has bad syntax. It is not believable that Zechariah would address future Judeans directly and refer to their ancestors indirectly both in the second person (i.e., you). A credible syntax would be something like, “You shall flee as your fathers fled”, in which past Judeans are referred to indirectly in the third person (i.e., they). TgJ testifies in favor of this allegation by inflecting the second instance of the verb in this phrase to the third person, i.e., “you shall flee just as the ones who fled”. This cannot be realized from the MT because both instances of the verb are inflected exactly the same. To circumvent this syntactic difficulty, it will be argued by some that Zechariah directly addressed the city of Jerusalem in an abstract or spiritual sense, both past and future, in the same manner that GOD many times addressed the nation of Israel, or Jerusalem itself for that matter. However this explanation is problematic because in it a plural verb inflection is used to address a singular Jerusalem. Also, for this scenario to be considered correct, there would have to have been an evacuation of Jerusalem during the earthquake, especially of as important a sector as the priesthood, because the popular fable says Jerusalem fled (“as you fled”). Zechariah 14:5 doesn’t say “after the earthquake”, but “from the presence of the earthquake” (literally, “from the face of the earthquake”), language which implies action immediate to the earthquake’s occurance. But that didn’t happen as indicated by the eighty priests in the temple before, during, and after the earthquake. Did Jerusalem flee during the earthquake, while her residents remained in the city? It’s absurd.

Also, how do people flee from the presence of an earthquake whose presence would be anywhere they fled? In actuality, people don’t flee from earthquakes; they flee from buildings and objects that could fall on them during earthquakes. But why would Zechariah refer to that as being memorable or significant nearly 200 years later? It doesn’t make any sense. The children of Israel fled from a great, human-swallowing crevasse during an earthquake after Korah’s rebellion in the wilderness (Numbers 16:32), but there is no evidence that anything like that happened in Uzziah’s day. It is not unreasonable at all to think that if something like this did occur, the same Jewish historian who documented Uzziah’s earthquake also would have mentioned such a momentous calamity. But he did not. Without any evidence then, to insist that something did happen because some people suppposedly fled is presumptuous.

So finally, the questions must be asked again, why would people have fled from Uzziah’s earthquake; and why would such an event be so significant that Zechariah would refer to it more than two hundred years later? It really doesn’t make any sense at all. Were they, perhaps, fleeing from an earthquake-caused landslide as it chased them down the hill?

Continue to next section: The Popular Fable vis-à-vis Apostolic Teaching

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Written by zechariahfourteenfive

October 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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