Saturday, June 08, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (21)

You will not find the expression “day of the Lord” in the Old Testament prior to the books of the prophets. Joel turns the phrase more frequently than anyone else, but Isaiah also uses it, as do Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Malachi and, of course, the prophet we are currently studying, where it appears exactly once, introducing the final chapter.

Naturally, that’s not all the Bible has to say about the day of the Lord. Not by a long shot.

A Day is Coming

Most frequently, a prophet introduces the subject with a single reference to “the day of the Lord” [yôm Yᵊhōvâ], then sprinkles the ensuing text with phrases like “in that day” and “on that day”, just in case we think he’s gone on to discuss something else. Rarely do they use such expressions to describe anything most would greet with enthusiasm. Isaiah associates it with destruction, Jeremiah with vengeance, and Joel with fear and trembling.

Contrary to the way we sometimes hear it used, the phrase “day of the Lord” does not refer uniquely to the end times global judgment event often called Armageddon. The prophets employ it as a euphemism for coming cataclysms to occur at various times and in various places. Ezekiel uses it to describe the Chaldeans sacking parts of Egypt, Isaiah uses it to describe the Medes slaughtering the Babylonians, and Zephaniah uses it to describe God’s judgment on Judah.

Most or all of these historical references point also to a greater and final day of the Lord associated with universal judgment and the end of this present age. Obadiah says, “the day of the Lord is near upon all nations”. And Malachi says, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” This future sense is how the readers of the New Testament understood it, except perhaps briefly in Thessalonica.

When we read “day of the Lord”, we ought not to think of a 24-hour day. “In that day” or “on that day” are best understood to mean “during that period”, which may be quite lengthy. For example, in 2 Thessalonians Paul corrects the mistaken notion that the day of the Lord had already come and associates it with both “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” in judgment on the world and “our [Christians] being gathered to him” as described in his previous letter, two events that may actually occur several years apart. We will also see Zechariah use the phrase to describe the millennial reign of Christ.

In any case, we should be in no confusion about that day. Though “day of the Lord” was often used of judgments that are now part of history, from a late New Testament perspective, only one great future “day of the Lord” remains.

III. Two Oracles (continued)

2/ Concerning Israel

Day of the Lord Overview

So then, before we launch into the final three chapters of Zechariah, I thought we ought to stop, take a breath and do a little overview of the prophet’s final oracle concerning the day of the Lord, which takes us from the nations’ final siege of Jerusalem into the millennial reign of Christ. Those readers eager to find the future of the church explicitly foretold will be disappointed, but those eager to read about Israel’s revival and final victory over the bitterest of enemies will find in these final chapters of Zechariah one of the most thorough overviews of the period in the entire Old Testament.

Just expect the last oracle to have lots to do with the city of Jerusalem and little to do with you or me.

The Expression “In That Day”

As mentioned earlier, Zechariah uses “day of the Lord” only once. My ESV obscures it slightly with the inexplicable translation “a day is coming for the Lord”, but in fact the underlying Hebrew expression is yôm Yᵊhōvâ, “the day of the Lord”. Other passages in Zechariah reference events from the day of the Lord, so the subject is not limited to just the final chapter, though of the 21 references to “that day” [yôm hû' yôm] in Zechariah, seventeen occur in the final three chapters, seven each in chapters 12 and 14 and three in chapter 13. All these refer to the same future period.

We also find “in that day” in 2:11, referring to the millennial reign, during which many nations will join themselves to the Lord. In 3:10 it refers to “a single day” in which the Lord promises to remove the iniquity of the land, and the blessings will be such that every Israelite will invite his neighbor to enjoy his vineyards and figs. In 9:16 it refers to the day in which the Lord will save Israel from its enemies, and in 11:11 it is historical, referring to the breaking of the covenant.

As Used in the Final Oracle

Here are the remaining seventeen occurrences of yôm hû' yôm, all from Zechariah’s final oracle concerning the day of the Lord, along with a brief summary of what he foretells in each case about that day:

  1. Jerusalem made a heavy stone to hurt the nations (12:3)
  2. The horses of the invading armies to be stricken with panic (12:4)
  3. The clans of Judah to devour the invaders (12:6)
  4. Jerusalem to be protected (12:8)
  5. The feeble enabled to fight (12:8)
  6. The Lord to destroy the invaders (12:9)
  7. Jerusalem to mourn for the murder of Christ (12:11)
  8. A fountain for cleansing opened for Jerusalem (13:1)
  9. Idolatry ended (13:2)
  10. Prophecy ended (13:4)
  11. The Lord Jesus to stand on the Mount of Olives and split it in two (14:4)
  12. A unique day, neither day nor night, with no light, cold or frost (14:6)
  13. Living waters to flow out of Jerusalem (14:8)
  14. The Lord to be “one” (14:9)
  15. A panic and a plague from the Lord on the invaders (14:13)
  16. “Holy to the Lord” inscribed on the bells of the horses (14:20)
  17. No more traders in the house of the Lord (14:21)

As can readily be seen from the variety of situations in which Zechariah uses yôm hû' yôm, “that day” includes both the final events of the great tribulation period and ongoing events to take place during the millennial reign of Christ (numbers 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17). It is all “the day of the Lord”.

With this in view, let’s look at a few features of the day of the Lord as described by Zechariah.


I won’t beat this concept to death as we just did a post on it recently, but you will certainly notice the complete absence of references to tanks, guns, ICBMs, drones and other weapons of modern warfare. Instead, we find the invading armies replete with swords, spears, horses, donkeys and camels. Whether, like other prophets, Zechariah is using terminology with which his original audience would be familiar to describe events that will actually turn out to have a modern aspect to them, or whether the nations will have cause to revert to ancient methods of warfare prior to the final siege of Jerusalem remains to be seen.


It is readily evident throughout these three chapters that at least some future Jews will be aware of their relationship to their ancestors in ways they are not today. Zechariah singles out the house of David for glory in battle. Moreover, when Israel finally repents of its treatment of Messiah so long ago, the various houses will self-segregate in mourning. The prophet names David, Nathan, Levi and Shimei as ancestors whose distant children will be able to self-identify with accuracy, and that is probably just for starters.

How the future remnant of Israel will acquire this level of certainty about their genetic pedigrees is a bit of a mystery. Numerous Jews today claim to be descended from David and Levi, including both Ashkenazi and Sephardic families, but the accuracy of their claims is not universally accepted. Obviously, the Lord never loses track of his people’s genetics no matter how many generations pass, as the genealogies of scripture attest, and he could easily enlighten the descendants of the various tribes about their genetic histories with a single word or thought, but that is not how the Lord works most of the time.

Advances in our understanding of DNA now make it possible to establish hereditary ties going back thousands of years. If, perhaps in digging on the Temple Mount, unimpeachable sources of ancient DNA were to be found, modern relational ties to Israel’s greats could be established non-miraculously even prior to Messiah’s return. Is this likely? Well, nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Idolatry and Prophecy

Chapter 13 tells us the day of the Lord will be characterized by the end of both idolatry and prophecy, which strongly suggests both will be prevalent in Israel during the great tribulation period in ways they are not today.

Revelation 11 speaks of two future witnesses of whom the olive trees and lampstand imagery in Zechariah 4 are prototypes. These prophets of God will testify in Jerusalem clothed in sackcloth during the 3-1/2 year period in which the nations trample the holy city, and where there are true prophets, there are always multitudinous false prophets trying to cash in as well. Historically, the fakes may outnumber the real deal by a factor of 450-1. The great tribulation in Israel will apparently be a prophetic renaissance until the returning Messiah puts an end to it all for good. One can easily see why: with Christ himself present, there will be no need for prophetic ministry, real or fake.

Likewise, the day of the Lord will feature an end to ongoing idolatry, especially in Israel. Here we are not talking about metaphorical idolatry such as greedy people engage in even now, but explicit public worship of false gods. Revelation 13 tells us the unregenerate worldwide will worship the beast as god on pain of death, and there is no reason to think anyone in Israel other than the remnant will resist his command. Christ’s arrival will also end all that nonsense for good.

Israelite Death

Speaking of death, the day of the Lord will feature unprecedented carnage, both among the nations and in the very necessary process of purifying Israel to be a people for God’s possession. In chapter 13, Zechariah tells us 2/3 of Israel “shall be cut off and perish” in the invasion. The city of Jerusalem will be taken and its women raped, and half the city will (briefly) go into exile prior to the Lord’s return. When Paul writes, “all Israel will be saved”, he means the purified remnant, not the unbelieving masses of beast-aligned Jews who will be judged with the world.

Millennial Glory

Finally, the day of the Lord will be a period of millennial glory during which not only are idolatry and prophecy brought to an end, but living waters will flow out of Jerusalem. Ezekiel describes this in what appear to be literal terms, with the now-Dead Sea becoming fresh where the river that flows from the temple enters it, swarming with fish and living creatures, its banks full of glorious fruit trees whose leaves heal. The details Zechariah gives are minimal but important. Even the bells of common horses will be inscribed with the words “Holy to the Lord”. Ordinary pots all over Jerusalem will be dedicated to the Lord and readily available for sacrificial use. The temple will never again see traders and merchants as it did during the Lord’s first advent.

Much more may be said about the millennial reign, but it is all part of “that day”.

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