The actions of Torah as the only word: Zechariah 13
The actions of Israel will declare the Lord’s teaching, the Torah, in the eschaton. First, though, he has to cut away humanity’s worst elements, and then he must purify what remains. When the Lord overturns every aspect of society, only then will people be willing to forsake their own ego to manifest Torah in all things. Reconstructing humanity, though, will require destruction and suffering–but the result will be worth it. Torah will become so obvious in the people’s merciful actions towards one another that no one will even need to prophesy; one would assume that a prophet in those times could only be teaching something other than–and so contrary to–Torah. Once the Lord brings humanity to its knees and Torah permeates everyone’s actions, the Lord will once again declare the people to be his own.
Following on the previous chapter, this section begins with cleansing (13:1). After the people changed their ways and wept for their enemies, the Lord allowed their sin and uncleanness to be cleansed with living water. The pure water confirmed the new state of their heart.
As the water purified the people, the Lord also removed the idols and prophets from the people (13:2-6). The objects of removal, prophecy and idolatry, make an unlikely pair, as prophecy sounds ok, while idolatry and an unclean spirit are clearly not ok. What do they share that both need to be removed? The passage goes on to display the seriousness of removing prophecy, as the parents are willing to remove it, even at the expense of dispatching their own child (13:3). Moreover, no prophet would claim to be a prophet, and would even deny it if others would ask (13:4-6).
No prophet is needed in this eschatological period because the Torah dominates all the people’s actions. The people would treat each other according to Torah, so much so that the nations would become jealous and want to move to Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:20-23). The people would manifest the Torah, and their actions would declare the Lord’s instruction. As a result, no prophesy declaring the word of the Lord, is necessary. Any word that coincided with the people’s actions would be redundant, and any word that did not coincide would be a lie for the speaker’s gain. In either case, the prophet constructs this word that is not Torah. Such a construction is the work of one’s hands, a word that does not save; in other words, it’s an idol.
In the end, the Lord would preserve his people from destruction, only to allow it to undergo testing and purification (13:7-9). The Lord would strike down the shepherd of the people to allow the flock to be vulnerable (13:7), and then he would kill off two-thirds of them (13:8). He put the remaining third in the fire, to be purified like gold (13:9). This test, like the water in Jerusalem, would also purify the people. They would show their pure loyalty to the Lord because they would ultimately turn to the Lord as their god, and he would respond as to his people. One hears the echo of Hosea 1 in the cry of the Lord to the people. Now that he made them vulnerable, subjected them to difficult purification, he declared them to be his people. Suffering has made the eschatological people the most reverent and loyal ever, further exhibiting their purity to a level never seen before.
All the people’s suffering has enactment of Torah as its goal. This process is painful: it requires the total destruction of every manifestation of the human ego. Torah would permeate the society through enactment by every individual as every individual looked out for the other rather than himself or herself. Speaking Torah aloud would become redundant. In the present of Zechariah, prophets are required to continue to teach Torah so that the people will gradually internalize this teaching. In the eschaton, the people would be clean. Their sin and uncleanness come from doing their own will, constructing their own idols, following their own teaching. Once they turned to mourn their enemies (Zechariah 12), they would have manifested purity through perfect manifestation of Torah.
Only one people, one will remains: Zechariah 14
Only one people would exist in the eschaton: the Lord’s. No longer would the people do their own will in contradiction to the Lord’s; those people would disappear. Every person would recognize that their origin came from the Lord as a symbolic Exodus. The Torah would permeate the city to such an extent that the people would live in a perpetual state of holiness. The cycle of violence and human suffering would end because every opponent of the Lord would melt away while the Lord’s people would thrive.
The scenario of Zechariah 13:7-9 played out again in 14:1-3, as a siege against Jerusalem. The Lord would rouse the nations against the city, leaving some Jerusalemite survivors, but then turn back to fight against the nations. This is the typical cycle we’ve seen all throughout the Book of the XII, although here in the abbreviated space of three verses.
Another epiphany descends on Jersualem in 14:4-9. The Lord’s appearance caused the mountains around Jerusalem to split and the valleys to fill in. This reminds the reader of the other epiphanies in the Book of the XII, especially Micah 1:2-4, characterized by nature melting before the Lord. In addition to crushing the mountains, the Lord would come with light, overshadowing the light of the sun and moon. Again, this reminds the reader of the first day of creation (Genesis 1:3-5), where there was light but no sun or moon. Jersusalem would also become a source of water, as rivers would flow in either direction from the city. The Lord would stand over all the earth as the only king and only deity. The eschaton would resemble the beginning of creation: water running through the land, no mountains, valleys, sun, or moon, but only the Lord.
The Lord promised to establish Jerusalem above the rest of the world as his city (14:10-11). The Lord flattened the entire world so that no place would stand above another–except his own city, where he would preside by means of his Torah among his people. The city would remain inhabited forever, never again to be destroyed. An eternal Jerusalem would be the capitol of the eschatological land.
Those who would stand against the capitol would melt away (14:12-15). The Hebrew word “rot,” as we see in the JPS and RSV translations, implies a plague. The word also means “melt.” The image of the nations in the plain melting away evokes a reversal of the image of the Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Rather than muscle and flesh joining onto bone, the flesh of the enemies of the Lord would melt away before the Lord. Jerusalem and Judah would despoil their enemies in a final battle. Moreover, not only would the nations melt but even their animals and livestock.
All the nations would prove their loyalty to the Lord annually, on the festival of Sukkot (the Hebrew word for “booths”) (14:16-19). Sukkot commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, as the people would remember their transitory state by living in temporary structures. In this way, Sukkot reflects similar ideas as the feast of Passover; as the food of Passover evokes the Exodus, so does the dwelling of Sukkot. In the eschaton, all the nations would act like Israel, as the recipients of the blessing of Exodus, and commemorate this feast as they bowed down to the Lord. Recognizing the temporary dwelling of the people in front of the only eternal city, Jerusalem, manifested the nations’ obediance to the only Lord.
Because the Lord’s presence would be manifest through the people’s actions of Torah, holiness would permeate Jerusalem in the eschaton (14:20-21). The everyday pots would reach the same level of holiness as the pots used in the temple to hold the sacrifices. All of the people would be holy enough to bring forth their offerings.
The final sentence offers a puzzle in Hebrew, because it could mean that there will no longer be a “trader” or a “Canaanite.” If the former is correct, it would emphasize that the people no longer have need of trade because now everyone is taking care of each other, and no one has any want. If the latter is correct, it would emphasize that everyone in the city is now Israelite. In Zecharaiah 9:5-7 the Lord declares that the Philistines would be “like a clan in Judah.” Perhaps in the present context, the Lord declared that anyone offering sacrifice to and obeying the Lord is an Israelite. In either case, though, Torah would underlie all activity in Jerusalem and be the source of their purity.
The eschatological people would belong entirely and exclusively to the Lord. They would obey him/Torah, and would be superlatively pure. The Lord would eliminate any individual or people who did not bow down to him. They would melt away into nothing. The ideal for the people is to serve one another so that no one would be in want, and no divide would exist any more among people. Other nations would be eliminated or assimilated, while Israel would be purified. The eschatological people would dedicate themselves completely to Torah, and dedication to Torah would define the eschatological people.