Zechariah began this last oracle with a vision of what many scholars describe as Armageddon. From there, Zechariah described what might be a vision of the Millennium, Christ’s thousand-year reign on earth. But from that glorious appearing, the prophet once again raised up the specter of unimaginable horror and terror, a time of supernatural disaster and calamity.
Now, at last, this final vision rests on a time of great celebration, when all shall be made “Holy to the Lord.”
Festival of Booths
In his previous vision of God’s gracious reign, Zechariah referenced fulfillment of spiritual themes in the Feast of Tabernacles (or Ingathering, or Booths). Now, the prophet envisioned a worldwide commemoration of this time of God’s abundant provision.
Then all who survive of 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 festival of booths.Zechariah 14:16 (NRSV)
There will be no more war.
Representatives from all the nations will come to worship at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Spoken of in four of the five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, was held annually on the fifteenth to twenty-first days in the seventh month (Tishri), which falls somewhere between September and October on our modern-day calendars.
- It was to be a week of celebration, beginning with a Sabbath day of complete rest, and ending with another Sabbath day of complete rest—potentially three full holidays.
- The people were to give thanksgiving for their harvests.
- All were to live outside for seven days in booths made of “fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook.”
- Each of the seven days, the people were to offer burnt sacrifices to God.
- Though the Sabbath days were to be observed as a “solemn convocation,” this was to be a time of great rejoicing, feasting and celebration.
- Everyone was to be included, for this festival had been commanded by God to be for “you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows resident in your towns.” In other words, even those who had no land to harvest (remember, the Levites were not given an inheritance in the land, but in God alone) were to be included in all the festivities and abundance God had bestowed through the nation’s corporate harvests.
God had commanded this yearly feast to commemorate the Hebrews’ journey through the wilderness from enslavement in Egypt, to a life of abundance and freedom in the Promised Land of Canaan. Now, this commemoration would be fulfilled in God’s redemption from enslavement to sin, corruption, and death into the abundance and joy of new, heaven-born life.
One of the reasons why this depiction seems more about a millennial reign than the final restoration of the entire cosmos has to do with Zechariah’s warning to those who might decide not to go to Jerusalem.
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 upon them.
And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the Lord inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.
Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.Zechariah 14:17-19 (NRSV)
It is a strange aside, is it not?
Is it a literal prediction about certain families in Egypt? Is it metaphorical of those who refuse to worship God? Is Egypt allegorical of those nations which choose to reject God’s rule?
Commentators have made sense of these verses by pointing out Moses’ reminder and instruction to the people as they stood at the border of Canaan, finally poised to enter the Promised Land.
Keep, then, this entire commandment that I am commanding you today, so that you may have strength to go in and occupy the land that you are crossing over to occupy, and so that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.
For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden.
But the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that the Lord your God looks after.
The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.Exodus 11:8-12 (NRSV)
God would withhold the rain from time to time when Israel strayed from their promises of faithfulness, fidelity, and fealty to God.
And I also withheld the rain from youAmos 4:7-8 (NRSV)
when there were still three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would be rained upon,
and the field on which it did not rain withered;
so two or three towns wandered to one town
to drink water, and were not satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
And so now, as sovereign over all the earth, and all people, God will use rain to remind those who turn away from the Lord that they are still subject to Christ’s reign.
Fulfillment of Consecration
On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the cooking pots in the house of the Lord shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar; and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice. And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.Zechariah 14:20-21 (NRSV)
Zechariah’s prophecy ends with an emphasis on holiness.
Everyone will want to have every aspect of their lives be holy, so that even the dishes will have Christ’s name on them.
- “Bells on horses.” Warhorses will now be consecrated unto God, as peaceful creatures, made holy to the Lord.
- “Every pot.” Every aspect of domestic and public life, personal habits and daily living will be consecrated unto God, having the glory of God, and the enjoyment of God at the center.
When the Lord gave God’s law to the people God said,
“For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”Leviticus 11:44 (NRSV)
Forty times, throughout the Hebrew and Christian testaments, items and people are rendered holy to God, and nine of those are commandments from God to be holy because God is holy. Your destiny and mine is to be holy, that is the process God is taking us through every day, with every situation, the refining as one refines silver and the testing as one tests gold.
Jesus Christ will return to judge and to reign
When the disciples asked Jesus when the time of the end would come, the Lord said it was not for us to know.
Jesus said to keep watch, stay alert, understand the signs. To us today, that can mean
- keep short accounts,
- look to make the most of every opportunity,
- commit to living for Jesus one day, or even perhaps one hour, at a time.
When Jesus returns, may He find us waiting to join Him, full of joy, experiencing the river of living water flowing through us, being illuminated by the light of the world, saying I do love You, Lord, I am ready to leave the wilderness and celebrate the Feast with You.