The prophet again beholds all the nations gathered against Jerusalem. Also 12:1-9 speaks of a conflict between Jerusalem and all the nations. But there the enemies are described as smitten, cut in pieces; no mention is made of an initial Capture of the city by the adversary. But here the announcement is that “the city shall be taken, and the houses spoiled and the women raped and half of the city shall go forth into captivity.” Only then will Jehovah appear for the salvation of the remnant and for the setting up of His kingdom (1-7). From Jerusalem, the dwelling place of Jehovah, two streams of living water will go forth covering the whole land with blessing and fertility (8-11). The nations that have come to war against Jerusalem will be destroyed, and their wealth will be given to the covenant people (12-15). Those who escape will turn to Jehovah in true worship; those who refuse to do so will be smitten with drought (16-19). Jerusalem and Judah and all that is in them will be holy unto Jehovah (20-21). Such is the gospel of this chapter.
In the first stages of the conflict success will go to the enemies of the holy city. Jerusalem will be taken. That 12:1-9 makes no mention of this, but speaks only of the victory of the church over her adversaries does not warrant the conclusion that Chapter 14 describes a new conflict and is, therefore, an independent piece. That the two conflicts are one and the same fellows from this, namely, that both will take place in “that day,” by which is to be understood this present Christian dispensation.
Capture and deliverance of Jerusalem, 1-5
Behold, the day cometh unto Jehovah, and the spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
2. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem for battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses spoiled, and the women raped; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
3. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against these nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
4. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall be cleaved in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
5. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal; yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah King of Judah; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
1-3. These verses must be considered as a further expansion of 13:7-9. The Lord’s loving concern is always toward the remnant, the one third that remains in the land after the cutting off of the two thirds. But the one part is not yet free from dross. In the church there is still so much that is of sin. And so the need of purgation continues. How the Lord is always at work refining the gold is described in these verses (14:1-3). The reach of the prophecy of these verses extends to the end of time. They set forth realities of this present dispensation of time but in a language borrowed from conditions and forms of the dispensation of shadows. The language, therefore, is figurative. It’s the only language that our prophet knew; and it was the only language that the church of that day understood. “Behold,” says the prophet, “a day is about to come to Jehovah.” The day is the day of Jehovah so often mentioned by the prophets. It is the day appointed of Him for the manifestation of His power and majesty. In 1b Jerusalem is addressed, “And the spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.” The italicized expression denotes that the victory will be complete, the defeat overwhelming. The inhabitants of Jerusalem that died not in battle will be either in chains or in hiding. For the time being, therefore, they may be forgotten. So absolute is the mastery that will be gained, so thoroughly demoralizing. Such will be the magnitude of the calamity next to strike the holy city. And it will surely come to pass. For it is the Lord that speaks, saying what He will do. “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem for battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses plundered, and the women raped; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”
Gather He will the nations against Jerusalem for battle. Rightly considered, this the Lord had been doing through all the ages of the past—gathering the nations against Jerusalem for battle. For Jerusalem represented the church, and the church is the seed of the woman, centrally Christ. And the nations here are the brood of the serpent. And against this holy seed this brood was always gathered for battle—gathered of God for the first time as represented by Cain, then successively through the ages by the world that perished by the waters of the flood, the builders of the tower of Babel, the Egypt of the oppression, the Canaanites, the nations that dwelt on Israel’s borders, and finally the world powers. At the time of the utterance of this prophecy the Lord had but recently gathered the nations against Jerusalem for battle—the nations represented by the Babylonian world power. Then, too, the city was taken, the houses plundered, the temple destroyed and the spoil divided in the midst of the city. And Judah had gone into exile. But after the seventy years the Lord had turned the captivity of His people. The remnant was again in God’s country. A new temple had risen on the ruins of the old. But the breaches in the walls of the city had still to be mended and the gates repaired. Yet, not with standing, the voice of prophecy was again proclaiming, “For I (the Lord) will gather all the nations against Jerusalem.” How long, Lord? The reach of this prophecy extends to the end of time. The sufferings of which this prophecy speaks and foretells for the church are as actual in this last day as they have ever been. Surely, the antithesis is no longer Israel in contrast to the nations, as was the case when the church was still represented by the earthy Jerusalem, and was being gathered from the one nation only and this nation is the Jewish, and was limited to the earthy Canaan as the proper place of its abode. No, but Jerusalem, being but a shadow, the true worshippers were loosed from that city and sown among all the nations. And seeing that the blessings of Christ have now come unto the Gentiles, the nations themselves, principally the elect, are now the church. But there is still the world in the midst of which the church now dwells the world, the reprobated portion of humanity, the Babylon of the Revelations of John: knowing not the Father, it knows not His people. Surely, the church is as much an object of hatred in this last day as it ever has been. That in this world the true believers have many tribulations, that men revile them, and, persecute them, and say all manner of evil against them, falsely, for Christ’s sake, is basically the thought of this prophecy, and, therefore, also, basically its fulfillment in this last day. But there have been times in this Christian dispensation in which the prophecy was fulfilled almost to the letter. Such a time was the first three centuries of our Christian era. The Christians were convicted and put to death simply on the charge of hatred of humanity, and on the charge of their being Christians. Nero conceived of the idea of converting the punishment of the Christians into an amusement for the populace. Christians, covered with pitch or some other combustible material and nailed to posts of pine, were lighted and burned for the entertainment of the mob. Christians were daily harassed, tracked out, surprised in their most sacred assemblies. Or they were sent into exile and their property confiscated. All the pains which iron and steel, fire and sword, rack and cross, wild beasts and beastly men could inflict, were employed to induce the Christians to renounce Christ and burn intense at the heathen altars.
But the prophecy contains also an only comfort. In the first place half of the city shall go forth into captivity. This half is the carnal seed in the church. The Lord has prepared His fire—the fire of tribulations. And the fire bums hot. The city is taken; the houses are plundered; and the women ravished. But this carnal seed cannot endure. For they are not of Christ’s sheep. So they go forth from the presence of God and His people to serve in Baal’s temples. The church father Cyprian was amazed and appalled at the sight of so many faithful members of the church rushing to the temples of the pagan gods to burn intense at the heathen altars to escape the loss of their goods or free themselves from the penalty of death.
But the other half remained in the city, the Jerusalem which is above. Made to choose between Christ and death, they chose death. Being engrafted in Christ by a faith that is living and indestructible, they could and can not will to do otherwise. So is the church always purified in God’s fire. God’s fire, mark you. For that it is. For, according to our prophet, it is He who gathers those nations against Jerusalem, the world against the church, for battle. It could not well be different, seeing that those nations exist, body, soul, and spirit, not otherwise but by His power. In Him they live and move and have their being. Can the rod shake itself? Can the staff lift up itself, as if it were not wood? Those nations are so in His power that without His will they cannot move. Persecutions come by His hand. Those strokes are strokes laid upon the church by Him. Collectively, those nations are only a rod—the rod in His hand. And He loves His people, so loves them that He gave His only begotten Son.
In the second place, He goes forth to fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. This fight of the Lord against those nations must, surely, not be conceived of as having anything in common with a life and death struggle between two humans with the outcome uncertain. All those nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity, counted less than a drop in the bucket, small dust on the balance. They have no strength in themselves by reason of which they can shove God around, force Him in a corner. He takes away their breath, and they die, and return to their dust. He sends forth His spirit, and they are created. His fighting against those nations can only mean that He raises them up to show His great power in them in order that they may be destroyed of Him and thereby His people delivered and His name declared throughout all the earth. The reference is particularly to the kings of those nations. An outstanding example is the Pharaoh of the oppression. The Lord created Pharaoh. He caused him to be born, seated him in the throne of Egypt, turned his heart to hate Israel (Ps. 105), and sovereignly hardened his heart, so that he refused to let the people go. In a word, the Lord raised him up. And then He fought against Pharaoh. He multiplied His plagues in the land of Egypt. He sent the plagues upon Pharaoh’s heart. And Pharaoh was sore afraid, even confessing at one time that the Lord is righteous and that he and his people were wicked. Yet when there was respite, he again refused to release his hold upon Israel. And so, in the way of his persistent rebellion—for the Lord continued to harden his heart—he was cut off from the earth, he and his host, as the Lord had said, and said also to him, so that he was without excuse. And for this cause did the Lord raise him up, for to show him His power and that His name might be declared throughout all the earth.
So did the Lord go forth to fight against Egypt, representative of “those nations.” Such was the mercy of the Lord upon His people, however ill-deserving. In the words of the psalmist, He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His power to be known. He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up; so he led them through the depth, as through a wilderness. Then believed they (His people) his words; and they sang His praise” (Ps. 106). And the name of the Lord was declared throughout all the earth. And the Canaanites were terrified. For also upon their hearts the Lord sent the word of these same wonders. And they, too, were sore afraid. Their hearts did. melt, neither did there remain any courage in them, because of the Lords people; for they perceived that Israel’s God is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath (Jas. 2:11). But they did not, so we read, make peace with the children of Israel, save the Gibeonites. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses (Jos. 11:20).
It is to this warfare of God—His war against Egypt and the Canaanites of that day—that doubtless our prophet chiefly has reference when he says, “As when he fought in the day of battle.”
4. As he had in that day gone forth and fought against “those nations,” so will He again go forth and fight against “these nations” gathered of Him against Jerusalem. Needless to say, “those nations” are not literally anymore the Egyptians and the Canaanites of old. They are different nations. In this last day they are the world that lies in darkness. Yet, being one in spirit with the Egyptians and Canaanites of old, they are still, in this point of view, “these nations.” Always their striving is to destroy the church from the face of the earth. But it shall not happen. The Lord will go forth and fight against them, as when He fought in the day of battle. Besides, He will provide for the remnant a place of refuge.
Since Jerusalem is in the hands of the hostile nations Jehovah “cannot be represented as coming from mount Zion (compare Amos 1:2); He will come from His heavenly dwelling place (Joel 3:16), and take His stand upon the Mount of Olives, east of the city. The mount will cleave in halves as soon as Jehovah steps upon it. It will cleave from east to west; as a result the northern and the southern portions will be separated, and when they recede, the one to the north, the other to the South, a valley is formed that will serve as a way of escape for the remnant that is still in the city. The valley shall reach unto Azal. This is an obscure word. If it is the name of a place, which is not certain, it may be identified with Beth-ezel (Mic. 1:2), whose location is not known.
Whether the valley is to serve as a way of escape or a place of refuge is not clear. It is obvious that the whole description is figurative. If it was meant to be understood literally, the mount would have been made to undergo the described cleaving before the expiration of the Old Testament dispensation, seeing that Jerusalem is now above. But the mount has stood whole and entire unto this day. Besides, the valley that would result from its being thus worked upon would be much too small to serve the refugees either as a way of escape or as a place of refuge. For it is but a small hill. And would the refugees not be pursued by the enemy? What then may be the Gospel of this imagery? Is not the Lord through this figurative language declaring unto His people: I am thy God. Though from human standpoint your plight is hopeless, with me there is power to save. Fear not, therefore, I will surely deliver you out of all your troubles. This is here His word, His promise to His afflicted and distressed people. And of this promise Christ in His suffering and dying on the cross for His people was the fulfillment. For thereby He blotted out all their sins and delivered them from all His and their enemies. And being raised from the dead, with His people, and being set with them in the heavenly at the right-hand of the throne, and having received of the Father the promise of the Spirit, and having thereby been made of God for them sanctification and righteousness and redemption, is He not the way, their way of escape by which they come to, take refuge to, the Father, His Father and their Father in heaven?—the God of their salvation in Him.
5. “And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains.” They flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before them. They hide themselves in Christ and through Christ in God. And here they safely dwell. For here the enemy cannot pursue. And knowing the terror of the Lord, the judgments of God by which the city is being overtaken, they flee as they fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. This earthquake is again mentioned in Amos 1:1, but nothing more is known concerning it. But it must have been a serious calamity, a terrible manifestation of the wrath of God, or else the memory of it would not have remained alive after so many centuries.
Yes, the remnant flees to the valley of the mountains, as did the men of Judah, pricked in their hearts at hearing of Peter that “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” They said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what must we do?” “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” was Peter’s answer to them.
But in the meantime the Lord continues to lead “these nations” against His church, persists in bringing the remnant into the fire of tribulation. How long? Until Christ come and all His angels with Him to judge the quick and the dead. And then shall He once more go forth and for the last time fight against “these nations.” The earth shall be permanently cleansed of them, and to His little flock He will give the kingdom. And this little flock includes, surely, all the nations. For the nations, principally the elect, are blessed in Abraham, in Christ.