Zechariah 14, Part 6 (Zechariah 14:6-8)
Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (September 23, 2023)
All Rights Reserved
“On that day there will be no light; the luminaries will die out. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at the time of evening there will be light. And on that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter” (Zechariah 14:6-8).
Picking where the last installment left off, this sixth article on Zechariah 14 will cover verses 6-8. These three verses speak of disturbances in the natural order followed by living waters flowing out of Jerusalem year-round. Like the preceding verses, this section finds its fulfillment in the first century, with implications of ongoing fulfillment – as portions of Zechariah’s words speak to the realities of a fulfilled life under the New Covenant.
Day and Night are Reversed
In verses 6 and 7, the prophet speaks of a “unique day” in which “there will be no light” and the created order is in disarray. It’s an ominous time of cosmic portents that will bring light at the time of the evening (Zech. 14:6-7). When reading these verses, we’re immediately reminded of the words of another Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, who prophesied roughly 100 years prior to Zechariah. Jeremiah explains exactly what this role reversal between day and night meant for Old Covenant Israel:
This is what the Lord says, He who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— The Lord of armies is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs From Me,’ declares the Lord,
‘Then the descendants of Israel also will cease To be a nation before Me forever’” (Jer. 31: 36-37).
“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant will be broken…and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers…Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant…” (Jer. 33:19-20, 25-26).
Andrew R. Angel succinctly summarizes Jeremiah’s words: “…if the created order were ever to cease, then Israel would cease to be a nation.” Basically, Jeremiah is saying: if day turns into night, and night turns into day, this is an omen to ethnic Israel that God’s unique relationship with them was over. Zechariah is tracking on the same theme as the former prophet and letting his readers know that Jeremiah’s warning will in fact become a reality.
Day Turns to Night and Night Turns to Day
Day would turn to night, and night would turn to day – signaling the end of the Old Covenant era and the dawn of a whole new age in redemptive history. During the 40-year transition period in the first century, God providentially made sure that both portents couldn’t possibly be missed by those who rejected their Messiah. The first premonition came when they hung Jesus on the cross:
“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals one on his right and one on his left…And when it was about the sixth hour, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And while the sun’s light failed, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus called out with a loud voice saying, ‘Father into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last breath” (Lk. 23:33, 44-46; cf. Matt. 27:45).
Day had turned to night when they sealed their own fate by crucifying the Lord of glory. Next, night turned into day as the events of the Roman Jewish war began. These are the very events that would precipitate the destruction of the temple and wipe away the last vestiges of the Old Covenant forever. Josephus speaks of “star, resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.” In conjunction with this occurrence, he specifically notes a phenomenon which turned night into day:
“Thus also before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, 2 [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour.”
A classic song from our modern era asks the question:
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the signs?
This would have been a fitting tune for Josephus’ time. Sadly, he records the fact that most of the first-century Jews couldn’t read the signs as they unfolded.
Misreading the Signs
The strange phenomenon emanating from the temple, on that fateful night, was completely misinterpreted by those who should have known better. Josephus informs us that “this light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful” and they completely missed the fact that “the signal foreshadowed the desolation that was coming upon them.” They should have read Jeremiah. They should have read Zechariah. They should have known what this meant, but they didn’t.
Josephus tells us that the Zealots who remained in the city, along with “the miserable people” who were “persuaded by these deceivers…did not give credit to the signs that were so evident and did so plainly foretell their future desolation.” In other words, it went right over their heads. Josephus describes them as men “without eyes to see” or “minds to consider” the “denunciations that God had made to them.” The signs weren’t meant to signal their triumph, they were meant to signal their defeat.
Jesus put it this way: “The days are coming upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. And they will tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you. They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Lk. 19:44). The time of their visitation had come when day turned into night at the cross, and night turned into day as the war began. Just as Jesus had foretold, most of them didn’t recognize it.
The Time Between Night and Day
The darkness at Christ’s crucifixion should take our minds all the way back to the original darkness at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:2. Jesus came to make all things new (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5). He came to start all over again with a new creation. He established an infallible covenant, which would not be like the first one – that was fading away into darkness and obscurity (Heb. 8:13). Between the transition of the Old Covenant’s darkening and the New Covenant’s dawning, Paul told the Romans: “The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:2).
They were living during this unique time between the “night” of the Old Covenant and the “day” of the New Covenant, that both Jeremiah and Zechariah had prophesied about in ages past. Accordingly, Peter tells His readers to “pay attention” to the “prophetic word” as “to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your heart” (2 Pt. 1:19). And the light of that morning star shines forevermore in the hearts of true believers who live in the everlasting “day” of the New Covenant. There is “no more night” in the city (Rev. 22:5), and we are living out the fulfillment envisioned in Isaiah 60:1-3:
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa. 60:1-3).
Zechariah’s “unique day” imagery was meant to telegraph the idea that a new day would dawn, and everything would change. In a manner of speaking, it was “lights out” for Old Covenant Israel as the light of the New Covenant began to break forth into the world. Ethnic Israelites could be a part of this new creation, but only by leaving the shadows of the old creation in the darkness as it passed away.
In verse 8, Zechariah’s imagery shifts from light and darkness to water and seasons. Zechariah says, “And on that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter” (Zechariah 14:8). It’s impossible not to hear Zechariah’s reference to “living waters” being echoed in the words of Jesus on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles:
“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
According to Jesus, He is citing “Scripture” when He says that “living water” will flow from a person’s “innermost being.” The word translated as “innermost being” is koilia, and it literally means “belly” or “stomach.” As any commentary on John 7:37-38 will reveal, interpreters hit a major roadblock when trying to pin down the source of Jesus’ quotation. Elisabeth Johnson summarizes the issue: “The puzzling thing about Jesus’ statement in John 7:38 is that it is difficult to find a verse of Scripture that matches what Jesus says about rivers of living water flowing from the ‘belly.’ Many Scriptures have been suggested as a reference.”
David B. Curtis concurs: “The problem is that these words do not exactly quote any one particular passage in either the Hebrew Tanakh or in the Greek Septuagint translation. Yeshua may have phrased it this way because He wanted us to think of several different passages that are relevant which reference flowing streams of spiritual water.” Indeed, there is consensus among scholars that “no one Old Testament text” alone “fits the quotation” of Jesus in this passage.
Johnson and Curtis both point to Zechariah 14:8 as being among the passages which constitute Jesus’ combined Old Testament referent, and this is certainly the case. In fact, Zechariah 14:8 fits the bill more so than any other Old Testament passage. This in turn has major implications regarding the timing of fulfillment with respect to Zechariah’s prophecy. In order highlight the importance of Zechariah 14:8 as the preeminent passage in Jesus’ Old Testament quotation, it’s helpful to look at the other passages that are commonly believed to work into His words in John 7:37-38.
An Incomplete Picture
Typically, Isaiah 44:3, 55:1 and 58:11 are thought to comprise the combined Old Testament background of Jesus’ statement. While these three passages all contain elements of the spiritual-water motif, each of them falls short of completing the picture that Jesus presents in john 7.
Isaiah 44:3 speaks of water (i.e., God’s Spirit) being poured out on dry and thirsty ground (God’s people). Isaiah 55:1 speaks of water, wine and milk being given freely without cost. Isaiah 58:11 speaks of God’s provision being like “springs of water” and God’s people being as a “watered garden.” Without question, Jesus had Isaiah’s words in these verses in mind as part of the contextual backdrop for His proclamation in John 7:38. Nonetheless, these passages all lack one key element that Jesus’ statement includes. The Scriptural amalgam behind John 7:38 is left unfinished without Zechariah.
A More Complete Picture
Zechariah provides the crucial ingredient to the mixture of Old Testament references that is missing in Isaiah. Jesus does not merely speak of water, but He specifically speaks of living water. As Glenn Balfour writes, Zechariah 14:8 “holds a vital key,” namely, it’s “reference to living water.” With this in mind, Jeremiah 17:13 also contains the “vital key” (i.e., living water) and should be considered as another source for Jesus’ quotation:
“O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord” (Jer. 17:13).
While Isaiah provides a general backdrop for Jesus’ quotation, Jeremiah and Zechariah are more specific in that they mention not only “water,” but more precisely, “living water.” With that said, Zechariah 14:8 alone contains the last essential component in Jesus’ statement that is missing in even the Jeremiah text.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
As mentioned above, Jesus says that these “living waters” would flow from the believer’s “belly” or “stomach.” On the surface, this seems like a bizarre image – water flowing from a person’s belly? As Michael Houdmann says, “In John 7:38, Jesus makes a seemingly odd metaphorical statement.” Joel Marcus refers to it as “the strange circumstance that John describes,” and Maarten J.J. Menken states that “almost every possible solution has been tried out” to explain these words.
After surveying the plethora of Old Testament texts that are thought to undergird the peculiar image of living water flowing from a person’s belly, specifically, Menken concludes that Zechariah 14:8 is the single passage that “best explains the final words of John 7:38.” Perhaps, this is not immediately obvious? Jesus said the living waters would flow from the bellies of believers, and Zechariah said the living waters would flow from Jerusalem. At first glance, the correlation between the two passages might not be apparent to our modern eyes. Once we understand how the city of Jerusalem was viewed by an ancient Israelite, however, the connection becomes as crystal clear as the waters being spoken of in the passage.
The Naval of the Earth
In his article on John 7:37-38, Balfour emphasizes that Zechariah’s “living waters” flow “out of Jerusalem,” and Jerusalem was regarded as “the naval of the earth” (Ezek. 5:5; 38:12). In fact, Paul Redditt points out that the boundary markers in Zechariah 14:8 and 10 are specifically meant to highlight this “depiction of Jerusalem as the navel of the earth.” The picture that Zechariah paints, then, is a picture of living water flowing from the naval of the earth.
Needless to say, water flowing from the belly and water flowing from the naval are nearly identical, for all intents and purposes. Consequently, Balfour’s article goes on to observe that Jesus “replaces Jerusalem with something else.” With “John 7:38 being a quotation primarily of Zechariah 14:8,” writes Balfour, the “imagery opens up” and the prophecy was “transferred from Jerusalem to the believer.”
The People and the City
Rather than a transferal “from Jerusalem to the believer,” a better way to understanding it might be as a transferal from the type or shadow to the antitype or reality. In other words, old earthly Jerusalem was merely a shadow or symbol of the new and heavenly Jerusalem. With that said, the New Jerusalem isn’t a literal city with geographical boundaries and physical walls; rather, the New Jerusalem is very much defined in terms of its citizenry – of its people.
This is most clearly seen by the dimensions of the city given in the book of Revelation. In John’s vision, the city is measured, and its length, height and width are all equal: 12,000 stadia (Rev. 21:15-16). This converts to 1500 miles long by 1500 miles wide by 1500 miles high. While much can be said about the significance of these dimensions, for the purpose of this article, attention is called the city’s length and width.
Its longitude and latitude equal the approximate size of the Roman Empire in the first century, the area that the Gospel had already reached by the time John penned the book of Revelation (cf. Rom. 10:18; 16:25-26; Col. 1:5-6; 23). In other words, there were now born-again believers throughout the entire Roman empire by this point in time. Consequently, the golden city had already expanded that far. John’s messaging is clear: where God’s People are, God’s City is.
As Robert H. Gundry explains, in Revelation 21, John transforms “Jerusalem into a symbol of the saints themselves… John is not describing the eternal dwelling place of the saints; he is describing them, and them alone.” Ken Gentry puts it this way: “The new Jerusalem is a symbol of the redeemed people of God in whom God dwells (Rev 21:3), much like the ‘temple’ in Paul’s writing often represents the people of God and not a physical building (1 Cor 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21).”
The New Testament’s progressive revelation concerning the New Jerusalem as God’s People is epiphanic in unveiling the connection between John 7:37-38 and Zechariah 14:8. Zechariah’s living waters flowing from Jerusalem find their fulfillment in Jesus’ living waters flowing from His people, who comprise the New Jerusalem.
The Feast of Tabernacles and Zechariah 14
The fact that Jesus spoke these words on that last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7:37) makes the connection to Zechariah 14 unmistakable. As Balfour puts it, “the Feast is the pivot on which 7:38 swings,” and “Zechariah 12-14 was a central passage in the Feast’s liturgy” with “Zechariah 14 being one of its prophetic Haphtaroth.” The Haphtaroth was the reading from the Prophets that followed the reading from the Law. In other words, Zechariah’s words would have been fresh on His listeners’ minds when Jesus stood and uttered His own words on “the last day of the great feast” (Jn. 7:37).
The significance of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ statement about “living waters” is impossible to miss at this point. With Zechariah’s words echoing in their heads, Jesus’ words fell on their ears. Undoubtedly, He wanted them to make the connection between what they were thinking about on that day, and what they were hearing as He spoke. In John 7:37-38, Jesus is telling His followers that Zechariah 14:8 is fulfilled, first through Him, and second through them. Jesus is the source of the living water, and His people will become the conduit through which that water flows. Given the time and setting of Jesus’ statement, His original audience would have gotten it right away.
Living Out the Fulfillment
While the textual triggers in Jesus’ announcement recall a number of Old Testament passages, Zechariah 14:8 alone incorporates all the key elements – making it the target text. If in fact Jesus was announcing the fulfillment of Zechariah 14:8 in John 7:37-38, the implications are as clear as they as devastating to the Futurist interpretation of Zechariah 14. In verse 39, John says, “But this He said in reference to the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:39). That was then, this is now. Jesus has been glorified (Acts 3:13), and the Spirit has been given (Acts 2:4). Rather than waiting for the fulfillment of Zechariah’s words, we should be living it out.
The prophecy isn’t about literal water flooding the streets of earthly Jerusalem someday. It’s about living believers being the conduit through which God’s Spirit brings life to the lost and transforms the world. With the light of the morning star shining in our hearts (2 Pt. 1:19), and his glory upon us (Isa. 60:1-3), we illuminate the way for the nations (Rev. 21:24). As His image bearers in the new creation, the light of the lamb shines through us (Rev. 21:3), and the water of life flows from us (Jn. 7:37-38; Rev. 22:1). If we miss this by misunderstanding and misapplying Zechariah’s prophecy, we will miss all that God intends us to be. In this way, we’re not much different than those first-century Jews who missed what the signs being shown to them were intended to mean.
 See: William Cox, Biblical Studies in Final Things (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.,  1980), p. 62.
 , p. 138.
 From the song “Signs,” by the Five Man Electric band (Lyrics by Les Emmerson, 1971).
 Wars, 6.5.3.
 I’m indebted to Dr. Amy Castillo and theologian Kim Burgess for their insights regarding what follows in this section.
 Allen Garrick Identifies the correlation between Zechariah 14:7 and revelation 22:5 as being among the “numerous texts from Rev 19–22 that use material from Zech 14.7–11” (Allen, Garrick V. The Book of Revelation and early Jewish textual culture. Vol. 168. Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 208).
Balfour, Glenn. “The Jewishness of John’s Use of the Scriptures in John 6: 31 and 7: 37-38.” Tyndale Bulletin 46 (1995), p. 371; see also: Marcus, J. (1998). “Rivers of Living Water from Jesus’ Belly (John 7:38).” Journal of Biblical Literature, 117(2), p. 328.
 Johnson, Ibid; Curtis, Ibid.
 D.A. Carson calls particular attention to Isaiah 55:1 (The Gospel According to John [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991], pp. 322-323).
 Ibid., pp. 371, 373.
 , ibid., p. 329.
 Menken, Maarten JJ. “The origin of the Old Testament quotation in John 7: 38.” Novum Testamentum (1996): 160-175, pp. 161-162.
 Ibid., p. 170.
 Ibid., p. 373.
Paul L. Redditt, International Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament (lECOT): Zechariah 9-14 (Germany: Kohlhammer GmbH Stuttgart, 2012), pp. 133-134.
 Ibid., p. 373.
 Ibid., pp. 374-375.
 Balfour, Ibid., p. 374.
 “These dimensions, if taken literally, would mean that the base of the city would be about fifteen hundred miles
square—an urban center that would cover most of the western half of the United States—and that it would stretch fifteen hundred miles into space” (Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018], ePub, p. 217).
 See: Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018), ePub, p. 95; Jeffrey Marshall Vogelgesang, The Interpretation of Ezekiel in the Book of Revelation (Harvard University, 1985), p. 97; N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 194.
 Robert H. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People” (Novum Testamentum, Vol. 29, Fasc. 3 [Jul., 1987], pp. 254-264), pp. 255-256.
 Balfour, Ibid., p. 376; see also: J. Thackeray, The Septuagint and Jewish Worship: A Study in Origins (London, Milford: OUP, 1920), pp. 64-67.