Category Archives: Zechariah

Yahweh is a warrior

The motif of Yahweh as a divine warrior is clearly established in the Hebrew Bible. Following the paramount event of deliverance in the life of Israel, the exodus, Moses says that “Yahweh is a man of war; Yahweh is his name” (Ex 15:3). In the deliverance of his people, Yahweh himself waged war against their captors, leading the people of Israel to himself, and establishing his reign forever.

The progression of the Hebrew Bible further promulgates the reality of Yahweh’s warfare. Yet it becomes clear that the object of his warfare is not limited to those outside the camp of Israel. Anticipated in the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68, Yahweh warned Israel of the results of covenant infidelity, the climax of which was seen in the exile in 587 BC at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar II. Yahweh is the God who fights both for his faithful covenant people and against them in their rebellion.

In the context of Zechariah, this theme is elucidated mostly clearly in chapter 14, which opens with Yahweh’s congregation of foreign armies against Jerusalem for war. The warrant for such judgment is not clearly stated in the text, but may be assumed from the cyclical nature of covenant infidelity frequented in the Book of the Twelve. The spiritual adultery found at the opening of Hosea reaches its end point here on the Day of Yahweh.

The horrors of this day of judgment can hardly be stomached by modern hearers, as the city is razed, houses are plundered, women are sexually assaulted, and a portion of the population goes into a second exile. Yet, when put in perspective, the devastation brought on that day is not what is due the people for their offense against their God. For the fact that a remnant is left is a testimony of Yahweh’s mercy. As the Scripture makes clear, sin has severe consequences.

And though judgment is often found on the lips of Israel’s prophets, hope is never far behind. After bringing judgment upon rebellious Israel, Yahweh goes out to fight with the very nations he has brought against her.  And it becomes clear that he is no ordinary opponent, for he has the cosmos as his arsenal. The effect of his warfare is the universal recognition of his sovereignty, as he leads a new exodus and establishes a new Eden, free from any future conflict.

The warfare of Yahweh in Zechariah 14 functions to demonstrate his devotion to his own name, vindicating his justice against those who violate the covenant, as well as his rich mercy in causing the reconstructed city to be at peace. These dual themes are not simply found under the old covenant, but are most clearly seen on the cross of Jesus Christ, where the Father waged war on the Son as judgment for the sins of his covenant people. Now, those who have been saved through judgment have the hope of a new Eden, where God himself will dwell. The good news of gospel is that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith, because Jesus was crushed by the warfare of the Father for the sins of his people. Jerusalem will indeed dwell in security.

For more on the Divine warrior motif in the Bible, see the following resources:

Tremper Longman and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior, Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).

Philip R. Bethancourt, “Christ the Warrior King: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Analysis of the Divine Warrior Theme in Christology” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011.

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The Literary Structure of Zechariah 14:1-11

Structuring communication is unavoidable, whether in oral or written form. Just as every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, so it is with the texts of the Hebrew Bible. J.T. Walsh once made the claim that “the ‘meaning’ of a work of literature is communicated as much by the structure of the work as by surface ‘content.’”

Discerning the literary structure of Zechariah has kept scholars busy for some time, leaving a manifold witness of proposals in their wake. Here I will offer my thoughts on the structure of one individual passage: Zechariah 14:1-11.

While some prefer to isolate literary sections based on thematic connections, the fourfold use of one that day (“on that day”) appears to be a more solid foundation. The formula, occurring in vv 4, 6, 8, 9, functions to point forward to the events that will occur on the Day of Yahweh introduced in verse one. Yet, the formula does not strictly occur at the beginning of each new section, but rather, functions to bookend particular sections. A hard break need not be drawn based on the formula’s inclusion, as may be seen in vv 4 and 8, but one may be content to see the literary device as reiterating the temporal nature of the Day of Yahweh. The resulting literary structure can be outlined as follows:

I. The Warfare of Yahweh (1-5)

  • Yahweh’s warfare against Jerusalem (1-2)
    • Declaration of the Day of Yahweh in Judgment (1)
    • The Gathering of nations against Jerusalem (2a)
    • The Devastation of the City (2b)
    • The Exile of half the population (2c)
    • The Preservation of a remnant (2d)
  • Yahweh’s warfare on behalf of Jerusalem (3-5)
    • Yahweh’s warfare against the oppressive nations (3)
    • The arrival of Yahweh leading a new exodus (4-5)

II. The Reign of Yahweh (6-11)

  • Recreation of the Cosmic Order (6-7)
  • Restoration of Eden (8)
  • Reestablishment of Theocracy (9)
  • Exaltation and inhabitation of Jerusalem (10-11)

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An Elusive Text

We have all been in that place where we have read a text numerous times only to confess our ignorance of the passage’s meaning. This semester my project is to present a paper to Dr. Peter Gentry on Zechariah 14:1-11, a notably difficult text. It is never a good sign when theologians such a Martin Luther abruptly conclude their commentary  right before your passage. Though he did go on to compose another commentary on Zechariah that handles the text, he began his discussion of chapter 14 with the caveat, “Here, in this chapter, I give up. For I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.”

The difficulty of the passage is aggravated not only by several text-critical problems, but also in identifying historical realities. In a 2002 article, Al Wolters points to seven major interpretations that have been set forward for Zechariah 14, ranging from  a historical fulfillment in the Maccabean era (ie. Ephraem Syrus) to a entirely future fulfillment (ie. standard Dispensational view). Some have also argued that the genre of Zechariah does not necessitate a fulfillment in time and space, but can be understood as a progressive spiritual reality in the church age.

Over the next several posts I hope to present some of my conclusion on the text, as well as implications for preaching and teaching Zechariah.

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