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ByTyrell Haag

Defining Masculinity

A serious realist definition of masculinity would need to be more than a singular definition. It would need to be a single superstructure of concepts that explain the unity and diversity of male experience. The best definition of masculinity will maintain the ideal of the concept and still make space for the individuality of each man. To do this, we must first supply a single definition of masculinity, and thereafter unpack the complexity which makes this definition both match reality and workable for all men.

A Single Definition of Masculinity

Our initial definition of masculinity will be this: Masculinity is a man’s optimisation of his capacity for fitness. There are three simple elements to this definition: optimisation, capacity, and fitness. Let’s consider them in reverse order.


Fitness is the basic idea here. Fitness refers to one’s ability to fulfil a role or task and overcome barriers in the pursuit of a particular goal compared to other men pursuing the same goal. A high school student may be very competent in debating in his school’s debate club and utterly incompetent in a debate team at WITS. In both scenarios, his capability to overcome barriers is made up of his immediate peer context and his debating ability, both cultivated and natural. The barriers before him are not just logical and rhetorical, but competitive with peers, testable with regard to his lecturer, and formative with regard to himself. His fitness is measured by his fixed capacity to make logical deductions and follow arguments, combined with the production expected from him by his competitors, lecturers, and self.


Everyone has a ceiling of competence. We call it their capacity. This capacity is both fixed and flexible. A paralytic man will never run a 100m race in twelve seconds, but he may find a way to strengthen his muscles over which he has physical control. The better I get at Olympic lifts, the higher the ceiling of my fitness grows, even if that ceiling has a set growth cap beneath Matt Fraser’s.

It is here that the diversity of men, from individual to individual, finds its abstract home in defining masculinity. Not every man has the same capacity for fitness. Fixed and flexible ceilings for capacity are how we account for diversity among men.


Optimisation refers to making something as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible. It is purposefully rising to the top of one’s flexible ceiling of capacity through pursuing fitness.

This is the GPS of masculinity. Fitness is, to some degree, an intangible concept, and every man has some sort of capacity. But optimisation is always a choice. Optimisation, then, is the proper domain of responsibility. It is the hinge upon which the futures “great man” and “wasted potential” both turn.

The clear weakness of this definition for masculinity is that it could be copied and pasted onto a definition for “femininity.” This is also why masculinity cannot just have a simplistic definition but requires an expanded definition to fully grasp what we mean by “masculinity.”

An Expanded Definition of Masculinity

Let us consider how this definition really works itself out in an intricate and diverse world that accounts for every man everywhere. To do this, we must clarify the three facets of masculinity which make our singular definition possible. These aspects are, so to speak, what masculinity is made up of.

The three facets of masculinity are maleness, manliness, and manhood.


Maleness is biological masculinity—this is, most basically, a man’s XY chromosome. In the biological aspect, a man’s optimisation of his capacity for fitness reveals itself as the pursuit of the highest attainable strength, speed, lodging, sexual and hunting proficiency, and other body-oriented skills that are primal. These are the least complex capacities. This isn’t to say that one cannot pursue them in a profoundly sophisticated way, but rather that all other fitness relies upon and presupposes the basic optimisation of the ability to overcome the highest number of physical obstacles. This is why Scripture especially connects the biological aspect of strength with maleness, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Maleness is fixed. There is nothing refutable about the distinctiveness of male biology from female biology. It is, in fact, the only God-designed division in the human race (see Genesis 2–3). In this regard, maleness is the irreducible and crude evidence that the human species is divided along a single line—and not only are men men, but they equally are not women.

The distinction between maleness and femaleness is what allows masculinity and femininity to have the same definition, while differing significantly. That is: masculinity is a man’s optimisation of his capacity for fitness, and femininity a woman’s optimisation of her capacity for fitness. A man’s fitness is composed basically of a male genetic composition, from which the manly observable characteristics emerges. A woman’s fitness is composed basically of a female genetic composition, from which the female observable characteristics emerges.

Note that the formula is the same—the optimization of one’s capacity for fitness—but the variables are all different: male in one, female in the other, starting from different places, and running along parallel, but separate, paths.


Manliness is cultural masculinity—this is a man’s ability to climb a societal ladder and overcome more abstract barriers related to social wellbeing and existence. This fitness is fundamentally creative, touching areas like critical thinking, persuasion, and problem solving. If maleness is the masculine genetic composition, manliness is the masculine observable characteristics—the aspect of masculinity that crosses the fixed biological with the socially constructed.

Manliness is the cultural understanding of maleness that confirms the legitimacy of male fitness and measures their value. Manliness is the set of games used to test, nurture, and employ the brute capacity of maleness. So, while strength lies appropriately within the sphere of maleness, culturally defined manliness may quantify to what degree that strength can be reliably incorporated with other fitness in the form of work, combat, or provision.

So I would say that manliness is a social construct, but so is an enchilada—and culinary rules have been adapted through practice over time to the unchanging palates of human biology. In like fashion, manliness is “relative” in a sense—its customs vary from culture to culture—but it remains accountable to fixed, unchangeable physical realities.

On interesting note, we can probably distinguish between two kinds of manliness: fraternal manliness and paternal manliness. These are two ways of looking at the same fitness. Fraternal manliness measures fitness relative to other men, whereas paternal manliness measures the usefulness of a man’s fitness in the sphere of his responsibility for his family and community. Take the fitness of hand-to-hand combat, for example. With regard to other men, a man’s ability to fight with his hands is a primal motivation for other men not to disrespect him too much (fraternal manliness), while this same skill is a way of securing physical security for his family (paternal manliness). It is this paternal aspect of manliness and the responsibility of optimising it that makes sense of Douglas Wilson definition of masculinity: “The glad assumption of the sacrificial responsibilities that God assigned to men.”

Cultural masculinity (manliness) is something the Bible is concerned with preserving. In fact, breaking the cultural manifestations of masculinity is considered a sin. Note the law in Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” And observe what I believe is the New Testament repetition of this principle: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him” (1 Corinthians 11:14). Both of these teach the adoption of cultural norms that express manliness, or at least not breaking cultural norms relative to ones gender.

However, the aspects of fraternal and paternal manliness are also seen in Scripture. Consider the appeal to paternal manliness in 2 Samuel 10:12, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him” (see also 1 Samuel 4:9). Here, the appeal is to men in competition with other men but with the purpose of securing physical security for their families and the cities in view. Nehemiah 4:14 repeats the same paternal manliness idea: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” We also see a more complex expression of paternal manliness in 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

On the other hand, fraternal manliness seems to be behind the commitment shown in Jacob when he wrestled with the angel (read Genesis 32:22–31) and a blessing came because of his fraternal manliness. The angel said to him, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have striven with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob earlier showed the cultural practise of brute strength when, in Genesis 29:10, he single-handedly moved the stone off a well when a group of shepherds were waiting for more men to help them move it.


Manhood is individual masculinity. This is a man’s making manliness his own. It is in his manhood that a man makes games for himself which optimise the fitness of maleness and manliness. These higher fitness characteristics are soft relational skills such as sympathy, empathy, humility, and self-confidence, as well as beneficial skills such as emotional intelligence, goal-setting, and recovery from failure.

It is in this sphere that a man may also remove aspects of manliness ideals which are counterproductive to his manhood ideals. For example, a man may have made himself very strong through physical training (maleness) and winning physical confrontations (manliness), but this may be indicative of a underlying aggression that compromises his ability to be at peace with himself and with his family. Take for example the account of David and Abigail (1 Samuel 25). David had been disrespected by Nabal. Thus, with his strength and speed (optimised maleness), which had been forged in war and combat (optimised manliness), he went out to express fraternal manliness—to use these optimisations for fitness in wrecking Nabal. Abigail came and pleaded with him in great humility. This action had the effect of cultivating David’s manhood (individual masculinity) and he realised that he needed to tweak, in this instance, these aspects of manliness that would be counterproductive.

A man may therefore seek to optimise the complexity of his strength (maleness) and physical confidence (manliness) by seeking emotional security. By doing this, he learns that, in the same way that maleness fitness characteristics do not measure up to manliness competencies (if you are strong but dumb, or weak but smart, you will lack a degree of respect and confidence; see Saul as perhaps an example of this: strong but cowardly in 1 Samuel 10), so also manliness fitness characteristics do not measure to manhood fitness characteristics. Protecting and providing for one’s family, and winning competitive matches with peers, does not directly translate into being a good husband, father, friend, or person.

We see this idea in Scripture in places like Proverbs 4:10–15, which describes a father who protects his son by passing on wisdom, helping him build godly character, and teaching him to reject the lies and temptations of the world. This father protects not only his son but the generations that will follow as the wisdom he shares is passed on. Also, while the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:23 that “the husband is the head of the wife,” he quickly puts to rest any notions that this leadership allows for selfish male dominance. He completes the sentence with, “as Christ is the head of the church.” The passage goes on to say that husbands should love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). In addition, Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

In would be interesting in your reading of Scripture to see where this definition in its various substructures are exemplified for us. I think it is helpful in explaining and accounting for the standard realities of masculinity while allowing for individual expressions of it.

Note: The concepts of this article are a reworking and expansion of an article written by Paul Maxwell. Unfortunately at the time publishing I have been unable to find the original document and have been informed it is no longer available. This article was originally posted on my personal blog and has been cross-posted here for broader distribution.

ByTyrell Haag

Understanding Zechariah 14 (Part 6)

Today is our final look at Zechariah 14 (read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), in which we see the holiness of the Jerusalem to come. Verses 20–21 read:

And 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. And 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.

(Zechariah 14:20–21)

This passage has the peculiar reference to bells on horses, a strange thing to mention. It would have been strange to Zechariah’s audience as well. According to Leviticus 11, a horse was ceremonially unclean. Yet in this new Jerusalem, things that were once regarded as unclean are now not only clean but holy. The inscription on the horses’ bells is the same as that on the high priest’s turban. Consider the original giving of this inscription:

“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”

(Exodus 28:36–38)

The high priest in the Levitical priesthood wore a seal of holiness, which took away the lingering iniquity of the people’s consecrated gifts. Now, Zechariah sees a time when the most common everyday items would be as pure and consecrated as the garments that the high priest would wear in the holiest place of the temple (Exodus 29:29–30).

Clearly, this has implications for new covenant saints. The high priest’s holy crown, which he would bear before God’s own presence, prefigured the perfect holiness of Jesus, our High Priest (Exodus 29:6). Christ’s undefiled holiness makes the spiritual sacrifices of his people acceptable to God, but one day all our lives will overflow with radiant holiness. We will have not only the imputed righteousness of Christ, but we will be transformed to be holy as he is holy.

Zechariah then drives the point harder by bringing up pots and pans. The cooking pots in the temple are going to be as holy as the basins in front of the altar. Even the most common pot would become holy—holy enough for us in sacrifice.

If this is all speaking about a literal temple, why then is there no demand for the strict distinctions between holy and common? If this is what Ezekiel saw in his vision, why is it not a restored temple per the law? The notion that all things are alike holy (as Zechariah is driving home) totally contradicts the idea of a literal millennial temple. E. B. Pusey writes well when he says: “In this priestly-levitical drapery the thought is expressed, that in the perfected kingdom of God not only will everything without exception be holy, but all will be equally holy.”1

Zechariah ends by saying, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” (Some translations have “Canaanite.”) The background of this is probably from Nehemiah’s day when Tobiah the Ammonite had storage rooms within the temple courts and the Canaanite merchants from Tyre sold merchandise in Jerusalem on the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:4–9, 16, 20–21). With these considerations, Zechariah could be thinking about the pollution of merchants just as Jesus spoke against in the temple courts. MacKay explains,

The mention of the Canaanite is not to debar any on racial grounds, but on ethical and spiritual. “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).2

Through this series, I hope you can see that Zechariah’s prophecy is describing the removal of the present creation and the resultant establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.

  1. E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950), 414.
  2. John Mackay, MacKay, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: God’s Restored People (Fearn: Christian Focus, 1994), 319.
ByTyrell Haag

Understanding Zechariah 14 (Part 5)

Today is our penultimate study of Zechariah 14 (follow these links for Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4),  and we come to vv. 16–19. This passage speaks about what happens to the Gentile nations after the climactic events of the previous sections.

Then 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. And 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. And 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. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

(Zechariah 14:16–19)

Yesterday, we saw the terrible end of the nations who attack Jerusalem. There are Gentiles that are around after the Day of the Lord. Even though, previously, they were strangers and enemies to Israel and Yahweh, these remaining Gentiles now become worshippers with the Israelites. These Gentile surviving nations participate in a newly formed and ongoing celebration of the Feast of Booths. This pictures for us how the Old Testament Feast of Booths is wonderfully fulfilled and the depth of meaning behind it.

What does conversion of Gentiles to the new covenant look like? It is not circumcision or the mosaic law’s ceremonies, but rather the worship of the one true God. The phrase “go up” in v. 16 is a term used of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What new covenant reality is this old covenant language being used to express? If we take it in a literalistic fashion, it is a going backwards from what Jesus taught (John 4:23). No, it is expressing the same thing John sees in Revelation 7:9: a great multitude that no one could number from every tribe, tongue, and nation standing before the throne and worshipping the Lamb. John also notes that the multitude were holding palm branches in their hands, which echoes Christ’s triumphal entry in John 12. However, it also fits in with what is written in Zechariah 14:19 about the celebration of the Feast of Booths. On the first of this seven-day feast, the Israelites would “take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

Why this festival, though? Why is it singled out so? It is the last of the religious festivals of the Israelites, so in a way summed up the worship of the nation (cf. Deuteronomy 16 and Leviticus 23). It was also one of the festivals which aliens were permitted to participate in (Deuteronomy 16:14). At this time, people would live in booths made out of branches to remind them of the period Israel spent in the wilderness and how God preserved them and kept them (Leviticus 23:42–43). It was also a time to remember the Lord’s ongoing preservation of them in the harvest (Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13–15). Thus, this celebration was a rejoicing in what God had done and what he is doing now.

Considering this double rejoicing, it was a feast characterised by joy (Deuteronomy 16:14–15). That’s why the redeemed nations celebrate it with joy. We see here an eschatological significance of this festival as the former enemy nations now become worshippers and come together to give honour to their rightful King.

Most appropriately, the text puts a harvest celebration in juxtaposition to withholding rain. In 10:1 we see it is a blessing and Christ himself uses it as an example of kindness (Matthew 5:45). These things are withheld from the rebellious. In Deuteronomy 28:22–24, withholding of rain is named as one of the curses God would give for covenant disobedience. Here that same curse is made over the nations since God rules them all.

T. V. Moore comments, “In this future condition, the present mingled state of reward and punishment shall end. Now God sends rain on the just and the unjust, then he will separate the good and the evil, and render unto every man according to his works.”1

To say that the nations who do not celebrate the feast of Booths will not receive rain is simply another way of saying that those who will not follow Israel’s Lord will not receive his blessing. Why is Egypt mentions especially? Andrew Hill helps:

Egypt is singled out for mention, perhaps because it was the origin of the Hebrew exodus (of which the Feast of Tabernacles was to be a reminder, Lev. 23:43), and in the past it was a nation that ‘had suffered the most from the plagues at God’s hands. If it did not participate in the future, it would suffer again.2

In Isaiah, however, we see Egypt as sharing in worship with God’s people in the future. These pagans must then be converted (19:19–25). In our text in Zechariah, Egypt represents those who refuse to worship. In must be noted that Revelation uses Egypt as a type of Satanic world system, which persecutes God’s people. The trumpet and bowl judgements of God’s wrath all hearken to the plagues God sent on Egypt when Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. In Revelation 11:8, the city where the two witnesses are killed is symbolically named Egypt. Why would Egypt kill the witnesses? It is because of the plagues which come against Egypt, including drought (Revelation 11:6, 10). Today the prophetic witness of the church is a painful reminder to the unrepentant that already God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men who supress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In the future day that Zechariah sees, Egypt, as well as all unrepentant nations, will forever suffer the unmitigated plagues of God’s wrath (cf. Revelation 14:10–11; 15:1; 18:8; 21:8; 22:14–15, 18–19).

If, however, this feast is speaking about a literal reinstitution of the Feast of Booths, Lanier comments:

Are these interpreters ready to accept the restoration of the Old Testament feast with its offering of animal sacrifices? During the feast of tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, daily offerings of animals were made by fire, 199 animals of all kinds were offered, “besides the continual burn-offering, and the meal offerings thereof, and the drink offerings thereof” (Num. 29:12-38). Among these daily offerings was “one he-goat for a sin-offering.” Jesus is our sin-offering, and if we go back to offering he-goats for sin-offerings we must reject Jesus as a sufficient offering for our sins.3

It is a reading of Scripture as if Hebrews 9:10 was never written and the new covenant had never come: “They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.”

  1. Thomas V. Moore, A Commentary on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Geneva Series of Commentaries (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1993), 313.
  2. Andrew Hill, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Westmont: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015), 270.
  3. Roy Lanier, Firm Foundations, (1965), 633.
ByTyrell Haag

Understanding Zechariah 14 (Part 4)

Having previously, in our ongoing consideration of the Zechariah 14 prophecy, covered vv. 1–5 (here and here) and vv. 6–11 (here), we now move to a study of vv. 12–15:

And 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.

And 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. Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.

(Zechariah 14:12–15)

This forms part of a larger section that goes up to v. 19. In this chapter, Zechariah describes how the Lord secures final dominion of the nations.

This section is a flashback and bigger picture of the scene described earlier, where the Lord came to fight against Jerusalem’s enemies. His wrath was swift and gruesome as he destroyed man and beast where they stood. A plague eliminated large chunks of the armies while the surviving warriors turned their weapons on each other in terrified confusion, obviously echoing previous Old Testament battles where God had done a similar thing in defence of his people.

God promised a rotting disease-type of curse in the covenant curses made to Israel in the situation should they become disobedient (Leviticus 26:16–17, 25, 39; Deuteronomy 28:21–22, 25, 27–28, 59–61). This may be the allusion made to how Judah would have victory over her enemies. Now, however, those curses turned to Israel’s enemies.

There is so much military imagery in apocalyptic texts, and many anticipate a military conflict in the Middle East before the second coming of Christ. That, however, overlooks the deeper significance of related prophecies.

As I have already demonstrated, Jerusalem is a symbol for the church at the end of this age known as the tribulation. It is the church on earth, surrounded by enemies. Thus, the armies sent against her need not be the same forces as used in military campaigns, even though physical force may doubtlessly be involved.

There is additionally no need for them all to be gathered in one locale. Wherever the church is, the nations will assault her. John saw a vision of these nations as they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Revelation 20:9a). The camp of the saints are God’s people preserved in the wilderness of this world (Revelation 12:6, 14), which is also called the “beloved city.” To oppose her, these deceived nations marched up over the broad plain of the earth. This warfare is recapitulated for us in Revelation 11:7; 13:7; 17:14.

The vision Zechariah receives and gives is one of total decimation and terror among those opposing God and his people. All their military materials are brought to naught as the sword issues from Christ’s mouth (Revelation 19:15, 21). In their great confusion, they destroy each other. Verse 14 brings in the thought: “Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance.” At the end, the church faces her final battle. But as it is about to be overrun, the glorified church in heaven returns with the Lord in this final battle as the victorious armies of heaven (Revelation 19:8, 14). As was promised, as the spoils of the victory, they indeed inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

ByTyrell Haag

Understanding Zechariah 14 (Part 3)

Over the last two days, I have posted two articles (read part 1 here and part 2 here) considering the prophecy of Zechariah 14. So far, we have focused particularly on vv. 1–5. Today, we shift the focus a little to vv. 6–11.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost.  And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea.  It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.

The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. And it shall be inhabited, for there shall never again be a decree of utter destruction.  Jerusalem shall dwell in security.

(Zechariah 14:6–11)

In this part of the text, the Lord has arrived to rescue Jerusalem and he remains there forever. There is a mention of a phenomenon found in Revelation 21:25; namely, that there is no night there.

The major items I need to deal with in this passage include the light without heavenly bodies, the living water, the worldwide worship of Yahweh, the lifting of Jerusalem above the surrounding landscape, the security of Jerusalem’s population, and the absence of the curse.

The NASB helps us with vv. 6–7 with its translation: “the luminaries will dwindle.” The cessation of heavenly bodies has both a literal and figurative significance throughout apocalyptic and prophetic writing. It is particularly connected with events called “the day of the LORD” (see Joel 2:31; cf. Isaiah 13:9–13; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24–25; Luke 21:25; Revelation 6:12–13). Remembering God’s promise to Noah that the normal cycles of day and night would not stop so long as the earth endured (Genesis 8:22), here Zachariah is showing that, although the earth, as his readers understand it, has passed away, the holy and old city of Jerusalem will be part of the new creation.1

John Mackay speaks about the “living waters” saying:

Jerusalem was always poorly provided with water, but the renewed city is the source of a divinely provided supply. Zechariah here resumes the picture presented by Joel and Ezekiel of the temple as a source of water (Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:1–12). This is not just typical of physical change, but of the spiritual blessings that water represents. It is “living” water flowing freshly from a spring or fountain, and symbolic of true spiritual life given in salvation (Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:10; 7:38). This looks back to the river of Paradise, when “a river watering the garden flowed from Eden” (Genesis 2:10), and it looks forward to Paradise restored…. Truly “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (Psalm 46:4).

Unlike Ezekiel’s river which flowed only to the east (Ezekiel 47:1, an embarrassment for those who take both prophecies to refer to the same literal future event), the water splits half to the eastern sea, that is the Dead Sea, and half to the western sea, that is, the Mediterranean. In this way it is available for all the land. And it is available all the time, in summer and in winter. Many streams in Palestine were only winter torrents which dried up in the heat of summer, when the need for water was at its greatest. Not so this source of supply. It is available all the year round. There is no disruption of the bliss of the new creation “for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).2

This destruction of the heavenly bodies also ties in with 2 Peter 3:11–13, very clearly marking the coming of a new creation, not the half-baked continuing of the old. Verse 8 speaks of living waters going forth from Jerusalem in summer and in winter. Since summer and winter will occur only as long as the earth remains (Genesis 8:22), and as the earth will not remain beyond the coming of Christ in the same way as now (2 Peter 3:4, 10), it is obvious that the events of this verse cannot happen in a literal way after the return of Jesus.

We read in v. 9 of this worldwide, universal worship and submission to the only true God: “And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.” Night is gone. There is a river of living water. All the earth is worshipping the Lord. It is clearly connected with John’s vision of the eternal state in Revelation 21–22. If that doesn’t convince you that it’s not during the millennium, but during the eternal state, nothing is going to.

We turn our attention now to the prophecy about the holy city being raised above the levelled surrounding terrain. It has a clear parallel in Isaiah 2:2–3:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law,  and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

The words of that prophecy are also found in Micah 4:1–2, where they follow and contrast the Babylonian desolation of rebellious Jerusalem (Micah 3:11–12). God has removed his presence from Jerusalem because of her sin, but one day he will dwell forever in a purified Jerusalem, and that city will never be put to shame and will tower over the nations. The kingdom of that heavenly Zion will become a great mountain that fills the whole earth (see Daniel 2:35).

The geographical markers are significant. Listen to Bryan Gregory explain:

Before the exile, Geba and Rimmon denoted the northern and southern boundaries of Judah during the days of Josiah’s reform. In other words, the land will be restored to her preexilic, pre-disaster state, and being “leveled out,” will provide a geological setting for the crown jewel of the new creation, the city of Jerusalem…. The city itself will then be defined by distinct boundaries, stretching from the Gate of Benjamin (on the city’s northern side) to the place of the First Gate (the location of which is now lost but possibly denotes an old gate on the east side of the city), down to the Corner Gate (on the western side), and from the Tower of Hananel (probably near the northwest corner) down to the king’s winepresses in the south. The boundaries are not only a way of tracing the city’s limits but are more importantly an allusion to Jeremiah 31 where the Lord had promised that the city would be rebuilt from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate (Jeremiah 31:38). Part of the promise to Jeremiah was that the whole city would once again become holy, never again to be uprooted or demolished (Jeremiah 31:39–40; cf. Zechariah 14:20–21). In other words, the boundaries paint a picture of Jerusalem as a city entirely safe from the threat of violence.3

Zechariah was echoing Jeremiah’s promise in language the inhabitants of Jerusalem could understand. The promise that the holy city would remain in place from one wall to the other, and exalted above the whole land.

Verse 11 states that people will live in the city. Mackay explains,

In the period after the return from the Exile, there seems to have been an ongoing problem with population in Jerusalem. Many of those who returned preferred to live in the countryside and had to be forced to come to the capital (Nehemiah 7:4; 11:1–2). But there will be no problem about getting people to live in the capital when the king has returned to it.4

Regarding the curse, MacKay explains that it

refers to the “ban” which the Lord imposed on the cities of Canaan because of their great wickedness (Joshua 6:17–18; see also Malachi 4:6). The fate of God’s people for their rebellion had been understood in similar terms (Isaiah 43:28). But when the Lord returns to the city, “no longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3). His people will have been purified and will be ready to enter into his presence.4

Given these understandings, it should be clear that Zechariah’s prophecy fits far better within the context of the New Jerusalem, which “dwells in security” in the new creation, rather than a millennial Jerusalem, which will continue to experience day and night and the effects of the Adamic curse and will eventually be surrounded by some kind of Satanic coalition of nations planning her demise (Revelation 20:9).

  1. Mark J. Boda, The Book of Zechariah: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016),762–63. Boda also suggests an allusion in the Hebrew text to Genesis 1:3–5, implying a recreation. “This suggests that 14:7 refers to a day of recreation, with 14:6 returning the earth to a state prior to the creative activity in Genesis 1, and 14:7 initiating the process of creation in Genesis 1. This recreation day, just as the original creation day, is known only to Yahweh, in whose hands are the times and seasons (see Ecclesiastes 3). However, the fact that the light appears now in the evening suggests a clear shift in the cosmos, so that there is perpetual light and no night. This is a feature of texts envisioning a future idyllic age (cf. Isaiah 60:19–20; Revelation 21:25; 22:5).”
  2. John Mackay, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: God’s Restored People (Fearn: Christian Focus, 1994), 308–09.
  3. Bryan Gregory, Longing for God in an Age of Discouragement: The Gospel According to Zechariah (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 208–09.
  4. Mackay, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, 311.
  5. Mackay, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, 311.
ByTyrell Haag

Understanding Zechariah 14 (Part 2)

We began an examination of Zechariah 14 in a previous post, where we saw that there is good biblical reason to take “Jerusalem” as a reference to the new covenant church. Others are that we must surely take it to refer to the geopolitical capital of Israel. How do we decide whether to take it symbolically or literalistically?1 The options we have are a wooden literalism or a symbolic reading of this apocalyptic genre. As I said yesterday, the historical context of this apocalyptic literature gives us warrant for a symbolic reading. (For a clear biblical illustration of this, see the understanding given by Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-vision in Daniel 2:31–45.)

With a literalistic reading, Zechariah 14 is fulfilled in the midst of a battle called Armageddon, with Jerusalem in Palestine being invaded and taken with great force and violence. Thereafter, the Lord will return to brings vengeance upon those attacking his people. After the huge clean-up (the dead of all the unsaved nations are lying there), Jesus will take the throne of David and rule in Jerusalem for a thousand years. Revelation 19 describes the event further. The Lord still has people to rule over, even though those not in Christ are destroyed. There are, of course, the elect, and somehow some surviving non-believers.

If we take the above to be an accurate interpretation of events, with the antichrist as the leader of the nations, a glaring inconsistency seems to be introduced: The antichrist will at this time also be sitting in the temple at Jerusalem “proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Will the antichrist be outside the city attacking the antichrist within the city?

In this Revelation 19 / Zechariah 14 battle, all the nations will come against Jerusalem, which could mean the UN representing the world. The picture of this prophecy, then, is that the Lord of glory will come back to a decaying earth and govern a mixed population of glorified and unglorified people. Mixed in are a bunch of pretenders, who fake compliance with his holy will, but are secretly waiting till the thousand year period is over when they can finally openly rebel and seek to defeat the glorified, immortal saints and the all-powerful Jesus (per a premillennial reading of Revelation 20:7–9). That would be a literalistic reading.

Does a symbolic reading have any precedence or warrant in this text? If we look at some of the previous chapters, like chapter 12, it looks like a mixture of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and also Jerusalem at the end of the New Testament age before Christ’s second coming. Notice that, on the one hand, we see all those nations destroyed who come against Jerusalem (v. 9) and, on the other, in v. 10ff, we see the LORD pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplications: “When they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

This appears both to be the case in Acts 2:36–37 when Peter preached after Pentecost (resulting in repentance and life for the hearers), and again later–-this time with regard to the whole world—in Revelation 1:7: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” Then, however, it will result in the perdition of the ungodly.

So, chapter 12 has a mixture of Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension and the shock of the world at his second coming. (Here we see multiple fulfilments, as with the abomination of desolation.)

Similarly, in chapter 13:1, we get a picture: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” When was this fountain opened? Is it a literal fountain or a symbolic fountain? It seems clear that it was opened when Jesus was crucified. It wasn’t an actual fountain, but figuratively pictured as one. Under the old covenant, there were sprinklings for cleansing; now, there is an overflowing fountain pouring out cleansing power. Multitudes now have access to the cleansing blood of the Saviour by faith.

Chapter 13 thus has a symbolic fountain for all believers’ cleansing and, in 13:7, we have a symbolic sword smiting the shepherd (see Matthew 26:31) and scattering the sheep.

So, the question is, could the Lord’s return for his weary suffering people in chapter 14 also have a symbolic element? If Jerusalem and Zion are meant to be understood in their New Testament reality from a heavenly perspective, we also get a broader picture. If the heavenly Jerusalem is manifest worldwide as the camp of the saints (Revelation 20:9), then we have a picture of Armageddon that is in unison with all of Scripture.

Notice the wording of Zechariah 14:2: “I will gather all the nations.” Similar words in numerous places speak about the same event (Revelation 16:3, 14, 16; 19:19, 20:7–8 [since Revelation is structured by recapitulation, it is mentioned frequently]; Isaiah 66:16, 18; Joel 3:2, 11–12, 14-16; Zephaniah 3:8). All of these appear to refer to the same event: the nations against God’s people in an event called Armageddon (Revelation 16:16) or the battle of Gog and Magog (Revelation 19:17; Ezekiel 39:1, 6, 11, 17; Revelation 20:8). Is this a local battle in Jerusalem and its vicinity or a worldwide battle before the Great Day of Judgement and the eternal state?

The New Testament teaches that the final battle is against believers worldwide. Shall we interpret the vision of the New Testament by the vision of the Old dressed in imagery taken from the residents of Jerusalem? Or will we see the Old Testament prophecies as interpreted by the events revealed in the greater light given by Christ and his apostles?

Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog attack on Israel have never been fulfilled but, in Revelation 20, we see its fulfilment in a global campaign against God’s people (compare Revelation 19:17 with Ezekiel 39:19). These are universal attempts to destroy God’s people, though in the Old Testament prophecy designations are used like “Jerusalem,” “Israel,” and “Zion” to refer to God’s people. In the Old Testament, the destruction of Judah or Jerusalem would have been the destruction of all the people of God. Speaking of the opening verses of chapter 14, H. C. Leupold writes,

Nor is this a strictly literal historic account. The fact that “the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city” allows for a substantial remnant to remain in the city of God in spite of the most bitter ravages on the part of the foe. That is always the situation in the church.

This has been recorded chiefly for the purpose of preparing for the marvelous story of the Lord’s deliverance (vv. 3–5). The Lord now “goes forth” (yatsa). The parallel statement in Micah 1:3 suggests that this going forth is from heaven itself. The reference is again not to any particular instance when an individual deliverance was wrought for his own. One scene pictures the eternal truth that the Lord is continually going forth to deliver his own when their plight seems desperate. Yet this does not exclude the thought that there will ultimately be a day of final victory at the end of time.2

At this point, God appearing on the scene is described in terms that allow for any single deliverance that he may work for the good of his own as well as for his final coming. In fact, the latter is particularly under consideration, for the next section describes conditions in the final consummation.3

G. K. Beale writes helpfully on how God gathers his enemies for this climactic battle:

The purpose of the deception [of the world’s kings by the frogs / demons of Revelations 16:14] is “to gather them together for the war of the great day of God Almighty.” The same expression occurs in chapters 19 and 20, where it refers respectively to the beast and the dragon gathering kings together to fight against Christ at his final coming:

19:19 “the kings of the earth … gathered together to make [the] war”

20:8 “the nations … of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war”

16:14 “the kings of the whole inhabited earth … to gather them together for the war”

The reference here [16:14] is probably the same as in chapters 19 and 20: the confrontation between the forces of the beast and Christ at the end of the age. These three references to the war are based on OT prophecy, especially from Zechariah 12–14 and possibly Zephaniah 3, which predict that God will gather the nations together in Israel for the final war of history.4

The place for the final battle is called “Armageddon.” But could it not be used exactly how “Babylon” and “Euphrates” has been used? It is obviously so given then genre. Armageddon is not a specific geographical location but rather the whole world.

The battles in Israel associated with Megiddo and the nearby mountain are typological symbols of the last battle against the saints and Christ which happens through the earth.

One other key indicator of the symbolic nature is how Old Testament prophecies about the final battle in history always mention it in the vicinity of Jerusalem or Mount Zion, yet the plain of Megiddo is two days’ walk north of Jerusalem.

  1. I am using the phrase “literalistically” on purpose as opposed to “literal.” If the meaning of something is meant to be taken symbolically, then that is the literal meaning of that text. What some hermeneutic systems do is insist on the literalistic interpretation of a text and not the literal meaning, which, in this particular genre, I take to be symbolic.
  2. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah (Michigan: Baker, 1965), 260–61.
  3. Ibid., 263.
  4. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 834–35.
ByTyrell Haag

Understanding Zechariah 14 (Part 1)

This post marks the start of a series through Zechariah 14. I hope to show a biblically faithful and hermeneutically coherent way to handle this passage over the next few days. So join me on this journey through an exciting passage.

Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.  Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

(Zechariah 14:1–5)

The second verse of this passage puts the text into a helpful perspective: God will himself gather the nations together for battle against Jerusalem. This prophecy is repeated throughout Scripture in passages like Ezekiel 38:1–23; 39:1–6; Joel 3:2; Revelation 16:12–16; 19:19; 20:8–9. But Zechariah was not merely wasting space in the pages of Holy Scripture; he had a particular perspective in his prophecy.

The nations gathered to attack Jerusalem, and it seemed that, at first, they were successful. They captured half the city, plundered the houses, raped the women, and carried away half the inhabitants. The other half of the city, though, seem to have been spared. The reason for that is that the Lord himself appeared on the scene and caught the nations in their wicked act. God came in full battle array.

When he touched the ground outside the walls of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives split to form a valley—a way of escape for the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem.

This genre of Scripture is called “apocalyptic” literature. It is not narrative, nor is it didactic text. Apocalyptic literature is symbolic literature. One only needs to read the understanding given to Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-vision in Daniel 2:31–45: The prophecy was entirely couched in symbolic imagery. Tomorrow, I will make a post about why I believe there is good internal evidence in the immediate chapters to see this as symbolic language.

This prophecy is a message about the future people of God and foretells a time when they will be surrounded by enemies and overwhelmed by them. Zechariah uses the name “Jerusalem” because, at this time in God’s revelation, it was what the audience understood the people of God to be: Israel, the people of Jerusalem, where the temple of God was. This was an apocalyptic (symbolic) mention of Jerusalem, not a didactic or historical account.

Now, we are not free to make “Jerusalem” mean anything we want, but within the text of Scripture, as God progressively reveals himself, we are given the key to this apocalyptic use. Hebrews 13:14 reads, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” This clearly points beyond the earthly city of David. So who is in this city? Well, the New Testament church has already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22). We do not belong to the old Sinai covenant, which “corresponds to the present Jerusalem”; we are of the new covenant, corresponding to “the Jerusalem above” who is “our mother” (Galatians 4:24–26).

James pointed to the prophecy of Amos and confirmed that God had rebuilt and restored the ruined tabernacle of David so that the Gentiles may seek the Lord and be called by his name (Acts 15:13–18). The nations were now joining themselves to Zion, the redeemed city of God, the New Testament church of Jesus Christ.

If James and the other apostles could confidently use this hermeneutic with apocalyptic texts, so can we, and so should we. This, and other prophecies like, it are realised by the heirs and successors of the Old Testament Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel. None of this means we rewrite the prophecy or promise, or that the original audience was lied to, but rather that this prophecy is satisfied in a far fuller and proper extent.

If this Jerusalem is pointing to the church, it means that the church is the future people of God who are surrounded by enemies and seemingly overwhelmed. This picture then, of an ancient city being plundered, represents the church suffering terribly at the hands of her enemies—and yet there is always a remnant left.

Verse 4 mentions the return of the Lord to rescue his people and speaks of the Mount of Olives being the place of his arrival. This ought to remind us of the words in Ezekiel. The words “his feet” suggest that this is a theophany (appearance of God). It also mentions the the mountain that is “on the east” of Jerusalem. It would be a strange way to mention the location of a well-known hill, unless it is meant to connect in our minds with Ezekiel’s vision, when the Lord’s glory left Jerusalem and stopped “on the mountain that is on the east of the city” (Ezekiel 11:23).

The Lord, whose visible presence with his people had left, now returns in power, as prophesied in Ezekiel 43:2. But it doesn’t return to some reconstructed Jerusalem; it comes to the New Jerusalem, which, as I have pointed out above, is the reality of these visions—the city that bears the name, “The LORD Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35), a city made of saints who have conquered per Revelation 3:12: “I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Verse 4 goes further is that it pictures the Lord making an unexpected way of escape for his people. Verse 5 pictures them using it.

Now, there are other details, like the earthquake and the valley leading to Azel. If this is symbolic, should we expect Jesus to come to a hill called the Mount of Olives? After all, if Jerusalem is just an apocalyptic reference to the New Testament church, why the emphasis on geographical markers?

It seems most likely that these descriptions about earthquakes and a palace called Azel refer to the historical details of an earthquake during the reign of Uzziah. The prophet is drawing on those past details and the incredible power of that event to create a picture of what it will be like when the Lord returns to defend his city. The warrant for this is in v. 5: “And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.” So the prophecy is drawing on historical facts to paint pictures of future realities and feelings. That historical event is called up to compare something of what the Lord’s coming will be like, yet it will shake the entire earth (cf. Haggai 2:6–7; Hebrews 12:26–27).

If, however, this chapter refers to the literal return of Christ (i.e. the second coming) upon the mount of Olives, exactly who is it that will make that escape flight to the east when the mountain is cleft? It cannot be the wicked, for the Bible plainly teaches that they will be destroyed when the Lord returns (Matthew 25:31–46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9). Moreover, it cannot be the righteous, for they will be “caught up … in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Will the believing Jews be caught up in the air or flee through an earthquake valley? Is it unbelieving Jews that the Lord is rescuing or does he return to destroy unbelievers?

With this beautiful imagery, we must remember that the literal Mount of Olives may have a prominent role in the second coming of Christ. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus taught about the second coming while sitting on the Mount of Olives. Luke records that Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, at which time two angels declared that he would return in the same way they saw him leave (Acts 1:1–11). We have a precedent for this kind of fulfilment in that the Messiah came out of Bethlehem and Judah symbolically since it was David’s ancestral town and Jesus is David’s seed—but Jesus was also literally born in the city of Bethlehem.

A great summary of this text is found in the words of Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg:

It is very obvious that the whole account is figurative, and that the fundamental idea, the rescue of believers and the destruction of their enemies, is clothed in drapery borrowed from the local circumstances of Jerusalem.1

  1. Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, Vol. 4 (London: T. & T. Clark, 1858), 125​