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.

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