This is part two of a three part series on Zechariah 14, written by my good friend Robert Cruickshank, Be sure to read the first article also.
Zechariah 14, Part 2: The Siege of the City
Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (August 25, 2023)
All Rights Reserved
Karen Ogea and Chris Petersen (Editors) / Credits: Featured images by https://godawa.com/ (used by permission)
“For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be taken, the houses plundered, and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zechariah 14:2 ESV).
Verse 2 opens with a horrific scene: “the city will be taken, the houses plundered, and the women raped.” After this, the prophet tells us that “half of the city will be exiled.” Like the previous verse, this verse pulls us to the distant past to find the prophecy’s fulfillment. As one commentator notes, the disturbing events described in this verse are “identical to those that happened during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (i.e., city conquered and plundered by a consortium of armies and auxiliaries from throughout the empire; women raped; many enslaved, some freed).”
All Nations Attack Jerusalem
The passage says that “all the nations” will come “against Jerusalem” in “battle.” Arguing from the Futurist perspective, Tommy Ice says, “This does not sound like the Romans in A.D. 70,” and it “does not fit with what happened to Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when the Romans conquered Israel.” Likewise, Alex Dodson concurs: “Of course, Jerusalem was invaded in 70 AD but…what happened in 70 AD doesn’t seem to fit.” One popular website informs us that all “the nations of the world” will be involved in this attack upon Israel. The argument boils down to the notion that Zechariah 14 describes an attack by “all the nations of the earth, not just the Romans.”
On the surface, this reasoning may seem valid. However, there is no need to press this language to the extreme and imagine that it speaks of every single nation on the face of the planet. Scripture interprets Scripture, and this just isn’t how the expression, “all nations,” is used in the Bible.
The Phrase “All Nations” in the Bible
In its Scriptural usage, the phrase “all nations” is merely used, contextually, to refer to the nations adjacent to the subject. For example, 1 Chronicles 14:17 says that the Lord brought the fear of David upon “all nations.” Likewise, 2 Chronicles 32:23 says that Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was exalted in the sight of “all nations.” Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, Jeremiah 27:7 says, “all nations shall serve him.” It’s simply not the case that every nation in the entire world feared David, exalted Hezekiah, or served Nebuchadnezzar. The language is localized to mean the nations in proximity to Israel and not every nation from around the globe.
Likewise, in Psalm 118:10, David says, “All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord, I will surely cut them off.” Did every single nation that existed literally “surround” David? Did he literally cut off each and every nation on earth? The answer is “no,” and of course everyone recognizes this in passages such as these. With Scripture itself as our guide, it’s best to understand the phrase “all nations” as meaning “all manner of nations,” rather than “each and every nation.” Considering these observations, Zechariah would be saying that Jerusalem will be attacked by all manner of nations within the city’s geographical proximity.
A Consortium of Nations in AD 70
This is exactly what happened in AD 70. As Ken Gentry writes: “Zechariah 14:1–2 pictures the Roman imperial forces joining the various client kings who engage the Jewish War AD 67–70. This war is conducted by an empire of ‘nations’ (v 2), consisting not only of the Romans but the lands of Syria, Asia Minor, Palestine, Gaul, Egypt, Britain, and others. Client kings, such as Antiochus, Agrippa, Sohemus, Malchus, and Alexander, provide auxiliary forces for Rome during the Jewish War.”
When Zechariah therefore speaks of “all nations” coming against Jerusalem, it is a fitting term for the league of nations accompanying Rome’s decimation of the city. With this in mind, the actions of the Romans and their auxiliary cohorts would be considered war crimes by today’s standards. As the saying goes, “war is war,” and the collateral damage of the Roman-Jewish War reflects our passage from Zechariah.
Some Horrific Details
A dive into any of the historical writings that recount the events of the Roman-Jewish War reveals how identical those events truly were to Zechariah’s prediction. For example, 4 Ezra (also known as 2 Esdras) is a post-AD 70 Jewish writing preoccupied with the devastating effects of the city’s destruction in the aftermath of the war. Stressing the most lamentable results of the Roman onslaught, one passage from 4 Ezra in particular reads like a commentary on Zechariah 14:2:
Our psaltery is laid on the ground, our song is put to silence, our rejoicing is at an end, the light of our candlestick is put out, the ark of our covenant is spoiled, our holy things are defiled, and the name that is called upon us is almost profaned: our children are put to shame, our priests are burnt, our Levites are gone into captivity, our virgins are defiled, and our wives raped; our righteous men carried away, our little ones destroyed, our young men are brought in bondage, and our strong men are become weak (4 Ezra 10:22).
The themes of devastation, exile, and rape, loom large in both 4 Ezra 10:22 and Zechariah 14:2. These texts are mirror images of each other – one written before the fact, the other written after the fact.
A Revolting Image
Perhaps the most revolting image, in both 4 Ezra and Zechariah 14:2, is that of rape. As Caryn A. Reeder points out, “Rape is nearly a synonym for the capture of a city” in ancient times, and was a “consistent expectation in war.” Roman imperial art often highlights rape to show the “abasement of Rome’s enemies.” Steve Mason describes a modern relic from history’s past that demonstrates how rape served as a badge of honor for the Romans in their conquest of other nations. Intriguingly, “the Judeans” are specifically mentioned in the inscription:
A temple from Nero’s reign in Aphrodisias (modern Turkey) sported a football-field-sized promenade along which imperial victories over the world’s ethnē were portrayed. On the northern façade were statues of some fifty nations; by chance the inscription for the ‘ethnos of the Judeans’ is one of the few to have survived. The southern façade hosted mythical scenes portraying the emperors. In one, a heroically naked Tiberius escorts a bound prisoner half his size. In another Claudius, naked as a God, looms over a supine and helpless Britannia, grabbing her long hair as she struggles beneath him, one of her breasts exposed. Another scene features Nero towering over naked and distraught Armenia. These are potent images… soldiers lie dead, dying, and headless. Women, disheveled after implied rape, desperately try to protect their children.
All of these potent, revolting, and horrific images were telegraphed by Zechariah in the Old Testament centuries before they happened. Zechariah’s words were then echoed in the New Testament, centuries later, by Jesus Himself.
The Siege, the Houses, and the Women
Zechariah’s reference to the women of the city is the third item identified on his list of shocking events. The prophet highlights three key elements precisely in this order: 1) the siege of the city, 2) the reference to houses, and 3) the mention of women. Part of interpreting Scripture is recognizing patterns. This being the case, it’s no small coincidence that all three of these key elements occur, in the exact same sequence, in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mk. 13:14-17).
Jesus speaks of the siege of the city (Lk. 21:20) and the urgency of evacuating one’s house (Lk. 21:21; cf. Matt. 24:17; Mk. 13:15-16) and shows a heightened concern for women during this time (Lk. 21:23). In fact, the Roman temple images of raped women “desperately” trying “to protect their children” reflect Jesus’ own words: “woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days” (Lk. 21:23). Jesus echoes Zechariah, and both of their voices were echoed in AD 70.
As Jonathan Menn states, “the Olivet Discourse is a ‘retelling’ of Zechariah 14.” Coffman’s Commentary on the Bible puts it this way: “the subject under discussion” in Matthew 24 “is exactly the same as the theme of Zechariah here…There is such a resemblance between this chapter in Zechariah and that of Matthew 24, that it is safe to suppose that Jesus’ words in the New Testament may actually be understood…as an expansion and elaboration of this very prophecy.” In other words, whatever Zechariah 14 is talking about, Jesus is talking about (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21), and they’re both talking about the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Half the City is Exiled and Half Remains
Zechariah’s next statement continues the trend of a perfect match with the Olivet Discourse. He says, “half of the city will be exiled but the rest of the people will not be eliminated from the city.” Jesus put it this way: “At that time there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left” (Matt. 24:40).
These are two different ways of saying the same thing, and Zechariah and Jesus are both speaking of the same thing. Having said that, the context of both of their words once again coincides with the events of the first century. The idea of half the city being taken into exile is an apt depiction of the Jews’ situation at the end of the Roman-Jewish War. Those who remained in the city were killed and those who were taken were exiled. As D. A. Carson notes, there was never “so high a percentage of a great city so thoroughly and painfully exterminated and enslaved as during the Fall of Jerusalem.”
According to Josephus, 97,000 Jews were taken prisoner by the Romans. As if this were not jarring enough, the reason they were taken as prisoners is even more jarring. When all was said and done, Titus’ soldiers had “grown weary” and were “quite tired” of killing them. From there, the story goes from jarring to saddening. Having lost the interest and strength to continue murdering the Jews, Josephus tells us that the soldiers had “hoped to get some money by sparing them” but ended up selling “the rest of the multitude, with their wives and children, at a very low price.”
The low price was because those to be sold “were very many” but “the buyers were few.” Thus, they were “sold for little or nothing.” In short, they were sold “for a trifling price per head, as supply was far in excess of demand,” as Josephus puts it. At that point, it wasn’t even worth the Romans’ time to try and sell them anymore. In the end, the vast multitude of Jews remaining alive were simply put into bonds and taken to the mines of Egypt to work as free labor. The final fate of these first-century Jews is as tragic as it is heartbreaking, and it fulfills yet a third Biblical prophecy that’s not been mentioned up to this point.
Back to Egypt: Prophecy Comes Full Circle
When all was said and done, the remaining Jewish captives had come full circle and returned to where it all began with their ancestors so long ago. They returned to Egyptian oppression because no one else would even pay money to have them as slaves. Hauntingly, this fulfills the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 28:68. Moses foresaw their apostacy centuries before and foretold of their eventual fate to the very last detail:
“And the Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I said to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer” (Deut. 28:68).
In the end, it ended where it all began – just as Moses had foreseen.
What Moses, Zechariah, and Jesus spoke of in signs and portents, Josephus recorded as history. This prophecy is fulfilled on the pages of history, not on the headlines of today. While one can do nothing but grieve for those Jews of so long ago, the good news for modern-day Jews is that the rape, plunder, and exile prophesied by Zechariah do not lie ahead in their inevitable future. The good news for modern-day believers is that the precise fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, along with the prophecies of Jesus, and Moses, serves as a tremendous apologetic demonstrating the divine inspiration of Scripture. From the siege of the city to the sad outcome of the survivors, it was all foretold in exact detail by God’s prophets long before it happened.
 Special thanks to Daniel E. Harden for his input and suggestions.
 “Deciphering Zechariah 14:5: The Truth Hidden Right in Front of Our Eyes” (February 10, 2010): http://zechariahfourteenfive.wordpress.com/ Q: Gary DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14” (Unpublished Work in Progress, October 1, 2020), p. 9.
 Gary DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14” (Unpublished Work in Progress, Copyright © Gary DeMar October 2, 2018), p. 13.
 In and of itself, the “all” in Scripture is most often best understood in the relative sense (all manner of) rather than the absolute sense (each and every). For example, Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthains 10:23 is that all manner of things are lawful for him. In Romans 14:2, the meaning is that one person has faith to eat all manner of things. In 1 Timothy 2:4, we are to pray for all manner of men. In other words, men from differing ranks and classifications in society. In these three examples, understanding “all” in the absolute sense would lead to absurdity.
 https://postmillennialworldview.com/2021/05/11/zechariah-14-in-postmillennialism-2/ Likewise, Daniel Morais comments: “In vs. 2, Zechariah predicts that the LORD will ‘gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it.’ The Roman army that attacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was not exclusively Roman. It consisted of a number of auxiliary cohorts. These auxiliary cohorts consisted of soldiers that were not Roman citizens and thus were comprised of a diverse array of ethnic groups.” https://www.revelationrevolution.org/zechariah-14-fulfilled-a-preterist-commentary/#easy-footnote-3-156
 Reeder, Caryn A. “Wartime Rape, the Romans, and the First Jewish Revolt.” Journal for the Study of Judaism 48.3 (2017), p. 370.
 Ibid., p. 364.
 Reeder, Ibid., p. 364. See also:
 Steve Mason, A History of the Jewish war: AD 66-74 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 103.
 Jonathan Menn, Biblical Eschatology, 2nd ed. (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications,  2018), p. 446; Q: Gary DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14” (Unpublished Work in Progress, October 1, 2020), p. 9.
 Wars, 6.9.3. Regarding the accuracy of this number, Steve Mason writes, “Josephus claims that 1.1 million Judaeans died in the siege of Jerusalem, most having come from outside, and that another 97,000 were taken prisoner. Admitting that his numbers will seem incredible, he cites the dodgy census that Cestius requested from the priests to convince Nero (6.414–28; Chapter 5). But the walled city, only about 2.5 km2 (1 sq. mi), lacking highrise buildings and including large public spaces, could not have accommodated more than about 20,000 to 30,000, perhaps 50,000 including all surrounding villages” (Steve Mason, A History of the Jewish War: AD 66-74 [New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016], p. 438).
 Wars, 6.8.2; 6.9.2
 Wars, 6.8.2.
 Josephus, Ibid.
 Flavius Josephus, The War of the Jews and the Destruction of Jerusalem, p. 484, note 28.
 Wars, 6.9.2.