The Coming Exile of Jerusalem in Zechariah 14

The book of Zechariah contains many prophetic visions. Several of them are among the most difficult to interpret of all prophetic texts.

Others yield more readily to inquiry, usually those that instruct us on events we already grasp—at least a little—from other biblical prophecies.

Zechariah 14:1 starts out by stating that the spoil taken from Israel will be divided among Israel. This naturally generates a question: when was the spoil taken from Israel?

Verse 2 explains that the Lord had gathered a group of nations against Jerusalem. At what point this happens, the text does not say. We only know that it had to have happened earlier, before verse 1. The battle went against God’s holy city and His holy people. The city was captured.

Spoil was seized, the same spoil that will later be “divided among” the Jews, per verse 1. This seizure of spoil is described in the phrase, “the houses plundered.”

Worse than the loss of their possessions, the women of Jerusalem are raped by their attackers. They are not abiding by the Geneva Convention, these attackers. They violate the rules of modern warfare and the standards of all civilized nations.

Half of the city is driven into exile. Half remains to suffer at the hands of the invaders.

Those who leave the city are probably to be identified with “the woman” who flees into the wilderness in Revelation 12. Encouragingly, those who make it to the “place prepared by God” (Revelation 12:6) are protected and nourished. They have escaped from Satan and from his henchman, the Antichrist (known in Revelation as “the beast”).

The half of the Jews who remain in Jerusalem will face the Great Tribulation, a period of suffering “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world” (Matthew 24:21). They will face the “overwhelming scourge”—possibly a reference to the return of the armies time and time again to rape, to pillage, to harass, and to enslave. Whatever this scourge entails, “It will be sheer terror to know what it means” (Isaiah 28:18-19).

Then—at last!—after the invading armies have had their way with the Jews of Jerusalem for what seems an eternity, the Lord rescues them. In my view, the rescue of Judea and Jerusalem happens before the events covered in the remainder of Zechariah 14. Several weeks or months after this rescue, “… the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations” (Zechariah 14:3). At that point, “the spoil taken from you will be divided among you” (Zechariah 14:1).

The rest of Zechariah 14 concerns the setup for this battle, the Lord’s triumph over “all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:12), and subsequent events—events that include the Thousand-Year Happiness, to which all the Lord’s brothers and sisters look forward with eager anticipation. By then all Israel will be saved, so both we and they will rejoice together in the Lord’s goodness and bask in His unfathomable glory and unsurpassed love. Hallelujah! Maranatha!

Scripture taken, unless otherwise noted, from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, Updated Edition (NASB), © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. All rights reserved.