Lay defenders of dispensationalism often point to Zechariah 14:4ff as an important component of their literalistic view of the eschatological future. Unfortunately though, this is one of the areas where dispensationalism runs aground with an embarrassing thud as they attempt their literalistic approach to prophecy. You might say that they stumble over the mountains as they try to walk through Scripture while wearing their literalistic glasses. Let’s see how this is so.
In Zechariah 14:4, 10 we read:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south…. All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin’s Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses.
According to dispensationalists this speaks of radical, literal topographical changes.
Samples from Dispensationalist Interpreters
As we expose the error of the dispensationalist analysis of Zechariah 14, let us consider the following statements from dispensationalist scholars:
F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah” in Bible Knowledge Commentary (1:1569) comments that this speaks of a “change in topography.”
John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (333) argues regarding the splitting of the Mount of Olives and the living waters flowing out of Jerusalem that “this makes clear that the Second Coming is a future event as the Mount of Olives is still intact.” He notes that “other topological changes will take place which apparently will elevate Jerusalem so that waters flowing will go half to the eastern sea, or the sea of Galilee, and half to the western sea, or the Mediterranean (v. 8).” He continues: “Included in the topographical changes will be the elevation of Jerusalem (v. 10).”
The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (1101) points out that “the mountain shall split in half, creating a rift valley from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea (v. 8)” and “the topography of the land will be changed, and Jerusalem will be elevated to even greater prominence (v. 10).”
Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (7:692, 693) speaks of the “topographical . . . changes” that occur, so that “the land around Jerusalem is to be leveled while Jerusalem is to be elevated.”
Exposé of Dispensationalist Exegesis
That they are missing the point of this (and related prophecies) becomes evident on the following considerations.
First, the presence of “living water” (Zech 14:8) should be a clue that something non-literal is going on here. Surely this is not a prophecy about literal H20flowing out of Jerusalem. Even in the Old Testament “living water” represents God’s salvation.
In Jeremiah 2:13 the Lord denounces Israel: “For My people have committed two evils: / They have forsaken Me, / The fountain of living waters, / To hew for themselves cisterns, / Broken cisterns, / That can hold no water.” He says basically the same thing in Jeremiah 17:13. But God is clearly not a literal “fountain of living [i.e., flowing] waters.” Rather this obviously speaks of his being the source of the water of life, that is, of salvation.
Though it lacks the adjective “living,” Isaiah 55:1 also mentions waters in a salvific sense: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; / And you who have no money come, buy and eat. / Come, buy wine and milk / Without money and without cost.” This obviously is an image of God’s offer of salvation. Such imagery also appears in Psalm 42:2 and 63:1.
In fact, in Isaiah 44:3 the prophecy provides a parallel that proves this point: “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land / And streams on the dry ground; / I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, / And My blessing on your descendants.” The poured out water is actually God’s poured out Spirit.
Furthermore, Jesus takes up this “living water” imagery in the New Testament. In John 4:10 he promises the woman at the well that he would give her “living water.” She must have been a dispensationalist because her response is literalistic in orientation: “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?” (John 4:11). You know Jesus’ response: “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). He is speaking of the “living water” of salvation.
Second, returning to Zechariah 14, the statement that “Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site” and “the land will be changed into a plain” cannot be literal (Zech 14:10). Any tectonic elevation of Jerusalem would destroy the city so that it would not “remain on its site.” Rather, this elevating of Jerusalem (with its temple) is an image of spiritual or moral or religious exaltation in world affairs.
For instance, consider Isaiah 2:2: “Now it will come about that / In the last days, / The mountain of the house of the Lord / Will be established as the chief of the mountains, / And will be raised above the hills; / And all the nations will stream to it” (cp. Mic 4:1). If this is taken literally we have a future temple in a Jerusalem that is elevated higher than Mt. Everest. This is incredible for Mt. Everest stands around 29,000 feet — or almost six miles high!
Mt. Everest (and all other similarly high mountains) is rather inhospitable as a place for a city with a temple. It is known for its high winds (they can even reach 177 mph on occasion, causing an annoyingly nippy wind chill effect), thin atmosphere (much lower concentrations of oxygen than at sea level, thus requiring most climbers to take oxygen tanks as they jog up its slope), snow falls accumulating to the depth of ten feet (ruining most basketball games because the goal is only ten feet high), and unbearably cold temperatures (ranging from -2 degrees to -76 degrees, making it difficult to haul in animals for the sacrifices — especially non-wooly animals like bulls and goats). Surely Jerusalem will not be changed to a place enduring such conditions! And how will the “living waters” flow under such circumstances (Zech 14:8)? Only Al Gore could possibly imagine a day in which we will witness a warm, welcoming environment on a summit as high as Everest.
To make matters worse, this eschatological setting will be the place for God’s “lavish banquet for all peoples”! In Isaiah 25:6 we read: “the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; / A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, / And refined, aged wine” (Isa 25:6). And this is not just a one-time expedition that all peoples on earth must make (we will not even contemplate the potentially crowded conditions on the summit during this picnic). After all, Zechariah 14:16 reports that in the eschatological Jerusalem all people must celebrate the Feast of Booths each year: “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.”
Many other problems present themselves to the literalist. But these are sufficient to expose the reducito ad absurdum of such exegesis. Whatever the texts means, it cannot mean what dispensationalists naively think it means. (For a treatment of Zechariah 14, please see my He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 481–85.)