Zechariah 14, Part 4: The Splitting Mountain
Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr.
All Rights Reserved
On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward” (Zechariah 14:4).
Earlier installments in this series have noted the connection between Zechariah 14 and the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21). The thematic parallels are almost impossible to miss, and even “dispensationalists admit these connections.” This verse takes the correlation between the two texts to another level with a very concrete, geographical location – the Mount of Olives.
The Mount of Olives in Zechariah and Matthew
Zechariah 14:4 is last time the Mount of Olives is mentioned in the Old Testament, and Matthew 21:1 is the first time it’s mentioned Matthew’s Gospel. After this, everything ramps up dramatically in Matthew’s narrative. From the time Jesus’ feet touch the Mount of Olives (Matt. 21:1), He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt. 21:2-11), cleanses the temple (Matt. 21:12-17), gives a number parables that comprise His covenant lawsuit against Jerusalem (Matt. 21:18-22:14), answers the challenges of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 22:15-45), exposes their hypocrisy in a series of woes against them (Matt. 23), and gives the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25). From there, the events leading up to and including His death, burial, and resurrection transpire (Matt. 26-28). All of this transpires after He comes “to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives” (Matt. 21:1).
Having let the reader know that Jesus’ feet had touched the Mount of Olives, Matthew goes out of his way to point out that the Olivet Discourse itself takes place on that very mount (Matt. 24:1). This is in fact why we call it, “The Olivet Discourse.” Why is this significant? It’s significant because the Olivet Discourse is “a ‘retelling’ of Zechariah 14,” as Johnathan Menn puts it. And this is, perhaps, the most significant thing of all regarding the connection between Zechariah 14 and the Olivet Discourse. Jesus plants His feet on the exact spot where Zechariah said He would as He redelivers Zechariah’s message.
Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives and reiterated Zechariah’s words to the audience for whom those words had always been intended. Before they all passed away, the intended audience would see the prophecy come to pass. As surely as both Jesus and Zechariah had predicted, the city would be taken and destroyed. The time had come, the day had arrived, and God’s Son was standing on the Mount of Olives.
The Mountain Splits
Zechariah says that the Mount of Olives, upon which Jesus would stand, would be “split in two.” The modern approach to interpreting this verse tends to take these words literally. While this is not the intent of those who hold this view, the idea of a giant Jesus physically straddling a splitting mountain is borderline cartoonish. Extreme literalism does a horrible injustice to the splendor of the imagery being used in this verse. More to the point, it ignores the usage of similar language elsewhere in the Bible. When one reaches out from Zechariah 14:4 to grasp comparable passages, the literal approach comes up emptyhanded.
For example, John the Baptist said, “Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain be made low” (Lk. 3:5). A strictly literal interpretation would have John the Baptist, as the foreman on a job site, directing a major excavation project in first-century Palestine. In this particular case, no one takes the language literally. John’s meaning is clear: the long-awaited Messiah is on His way, and He’s going to level things out. All Christians understand this, and John was merely following a long tradition of employing mountain imagery to make his point. The Bible is replete in the use of this mountain imagery, as the following examples demonstrate.
God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble (Hab. 3:3-7).
Notice, this passage is a reference to a judgment coming of God. Like Zechariah 14:4, the passage mentions God’s “feet.” As Ken Gentry writes, “Judgment-coming passages often mention God’s feet as a symbol of deliverance for His People and the thwarting of their enemies (e.g., Ps. 18:9; Nah. 1:3).” The passage speaks of the mountains being scattered and the perpetual hills bowing. The point being: Habakkuk is recounting the power of God’s saving acts in the past, and none of this literally happened. Specifically, the passage refers to God delivering His People from the hands of the Midianites (Hab. 3:7).
With that said, the actual historical account of this deliverance is given in Judges 7:13-25. There is no mention in this passage of God coming down, of burning coals coming from His feet, of mountains being scattered, or of hills bowing. In Judges 7:13-25, Gideon simply takes 3 companies of 100 men, gives each man a trumpet, a pitcher, and a lamp, and they pursue the Midianites and defeat them. Nevertheless, Judges 7 and Habakkuk 3 are describing the same event. The book of Judges describes the event in the form of a straightforward, matter-of-fact historical narrative, whereas Habakkuk employs poetic and apocalyptic language in his description.
For behold, the Lord is coming forth from His place. He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him, And the valleys will be split, Like wax before the fire, Like water poured down a steep place (Mic. 1:3-4).
Again, notice the language: God comes down, He treads upon the high places of the earth, the mountains melt underneath Him, and the valleys are cleft. In this passage, Micah is prophesying about the doom of Samaria (Micah 1:1), which took place in 722 BC when the Assyrians besieged and captured it. Micah’s usage of figurative language is as clear as his context. Samaria was taken as Micah prophesied, but the mountains of that region obviously didn’t melt. Micah is simply using the same literary device that was used by Habakuk and numerous other Scriptural writers.
Throughout the Bible, mountains tremble (Ps. 18:7; 46:3) and depart (Isa. 54:10). They melt like wax (Ps. 97:5; Mic. 1:4) and are crushed into dust (Isa. 41:15). Mountains are laid to waste and moved into the sea (Isa. 42:15; Ps. 46:2). They are thrown down to the ground (Ez. 38:20). Mountains are made glad (Ps. 48:11) and break forth into singing (Ps. 98:8; Isa. 44:23; 49:13; 55:12). Do mountains have emotions? Do they have vocal cords? God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the mountains of Israel (Ez. 36:1, 4, 6). Do mountains have ears? The Psalmist says, “The mountains skipped like rams, and the hills skipped like lambs” (Ps. 114:4, 6). Do mountains have legs? Can they literally skip? No one would answer “yes” to these questions. The usage of metaphor and symbolism is self-evident in passages such as these.
How is Zechariah 14:4 Any Different?
This being the case, the question now becomes: How is this language any different from the Mount of Olives splitting in half in Zechariah 14:4? Mountains can melt and be crushed, they can be moved and brought low, they can rejoice and sing, they can hear, and they can skip like animals. None of this is literal and everyone recognizes it. Yet, if a mountain is “splitting,” suddenly this must be understood literally? Where is the Biblical precedent for this? How does this make sense? If Scripture truly interprets Scripture, as all Christians agree, there is nothing elsewhere in Scripture to lead us to believe that the mountain splitting should be taken literally. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
The melting, crushing, and movement of the mountains symbolizes God’s judgment in these passages. And the mountains being glad, breaking into joyous song, and hearing the words of a prophet, symbolize God’s People. This is especially the case with respect to the mountains leaping and skipping like animals being set free. Malachi 4:2-4 says, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing on its wings. And you will break free, like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, they will be ashes under the soles of your feet…” (Mal. 4:2-4). In other words, Malachi has the people doing the same things that the other prophets have the mountains doing. People can literally do these things, mountains can’t. The mountains, therefore, are used as metaphors to signify both God’s judgment and God’s people.
Zechariah’s imagery of the splitting mountain symbolized both: 1) God’s judgment, and 2) God’s people. It makes perfect sense that this would represent the situation at the time of Christ. The first-century Jews would be forced to decide regarding the claims of Christ. The severance of the mountain characterized the severing effect that decision would have upon all involved. The outcome of their individual choice would make all the difference for them in terms of the judgment coming down the road. Jesus was “the stone which the builders rejected” (Matt. 21:42), that would crush those upon whom it fell (Matt. 21:44). That’s the judgment. His message would divide the father against son, and mother against daughter (Lk. 12:53). That’s the severing of the people. Zechariah captures it all through one vivid illustration.
Concerning this illustration, it’s quite appropriate that Zechariah pictures, not just any mountain being divided, but the Mount of Olives specifically. In other words, Zechariah was telegraphing the exact spot where Jesus would speak the pivotal words that would set everything into motion and change redemptive history forever.
The Great Divide and The Valley of Decision
Jesus’ powerful message would create a “great divide” among the people, and Zechariah portrays this through a picture of a large valley being cut straight through the splitting mountain. This coincides with the message of the Prophet Joel, almost 300 years earlier:
“Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining” (Joel 3:14-15).
We know from the Apostle Peter that Joel’s prophecies found their ultimate fulfillment in the “last days” of the first century (Acts 2:16-21). Stephen M. Thurstan does a nice job tying Joel 3 in with Zechariah 14 as both prophets’ messages converged:
“…a supernatural ‘highway’ is created by God wherein all natural obstacles are taken out of the way so that all peoples from all over the world can come to His holy mountain and city, the New Jerusalem from above that is also depicted for us in Zechariah chapter 14 and Joel chapter 3. None of these ideas being presented to us are to be taken literally, but are only natural ideas being used to convey a spiritual deliverance of God’s people using the analogies of past deliverances, animals or whatever, for illustrative purposes.”
In other words, the prophets used vivid imagery, based on natural geography, to convey spiritual truth.
Northward and Southward Movement
This vivid imagery, based on natural geography, takes on even deeper significance regarding the northward and southward movement of Zechariah’s splitting mountain. For the ancient Israelite, north and south were far more than merely directional points on a map. As Bernard Batto puts it, these directional points carried “heavy mythic connotations.” Generally speaking, the south was viewed in a positive light, being associated with Yahweh and faithfulness to Him. The north, on the other hand, had negative connotations and was associated with apostasy, rebellion and idolatry.
Earlier, Habakuk 3:3 was cited as an example of the Biblical usage of mountain terminology. This same passage also serves as an indicator to show how the south was more than merely a spot on the compass, as well. According to that verse, the Lord came to His people from the south: “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah.” Teman is the Hebrew word for “south.” As John Calvin comments, “When they spoke of the south, they said Teman. And when the Jews wished to designate a wind from Africa, they said: ‘It is a Teman wind.’ “ Habakuk also mentions “mount Peran,” which is a mountain located to the south of Israel. According to the Bible then, God came to His people from the south.
The Lord Came to His People from the South
The tradition of the Lord coming from the south goes all the way back to Moses. Like Hababkuk, Moses specifically mentions Yahweh coming from mount Paran, and includes the southern region of Seir as well:
Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the sons of Israel before his death. He said: “The Lord came from Sinai, And He dawned on us from Seir; He has shone forth from mount Paran, in the midst of myriads of His holy ones (Deut. 33:1-2).
Accordingly, in her song, Deborah sings of the Lord coming from Seir and adds the southern region of Edom to her words:
LORD, when you went out from Seir, you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, the heavens dropped, and the mountains quaked at the presence of Yahweh… (Judges 5:4-5).
As these passages make clear, the south was associated with the Lord –it was from the south that He came and called His people to unto Himself. As John Gill commented, “God came from the South…and he is going before them in the wilderness, destroying their enemies, casting them out before them, and introducing them into the land of Canaan.”
The Evil Influence of the North
In stark contrast to this, the north would have been the “polar opposite” for an ancient Hebrew in more ways than one. Beyond Israel’s northern border lay places like Bashan, Sidon, Tyre, and Ugarit. “The worship of Baal was central in these places,” writes Michael Heiser, and the “fact that the center of Baal worship was just across the border was a contributing factor in the apostasy of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.”
The spiritual adultery stemming from the influence of the northern lands is evident in Ezekiel chapter 8. In a vision, Ezekiel is lifted “by the Spirit” and taken “to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north” (Ezek. 8:3). Ezekiel is told to lift his eyes toward the north, and he sees an “idol of jealously” at the northern gate (Ezek. 8:5). Then the Lord says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations” (Ezek. 8:6). These greater abominations included “women weeping for Tamuz” at the “north gate of the house of the Lord” (Ez. 8:14). Because of these and other abominations, the Lord declares: “I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them” (Ezek. 8:18).
The Movement of Zechariah’s Splitting Mountain
These glimpses into the world of ancient Israel help us to understand the associations that God’s people would have made with terms like “north” and “south.” When an Israelite thought of the north in theological terms, he or she would have recalled apostasy from the Lord, while the south would have brought to mind faithfulness to Him. It is quite fitting then that the great divide among the people, created by Jesus’ stance on the Mount of Olives, would have been symbolized by the splitting mountain moving in northward and southward directions, specifically. This reinforces the correlation between these directional points and the theological messaging that they convey – the difference between spiritual adultery and covenant loyalty.
According to Stephen in Acts chapter seven, the first-century Jews who rejected their Messiah were doing just as their fathers had done (Acts 7:51) when they served the host of heaven and worshiped false gods (Acts 7:41-42). In other words, Stephen’s message to them was that rejecting Jesus is equivalent to idolatry. Perhaps this is why Jesus told them, “You are of your father, the devil” (Jn. 8:44). Just as their fathers had a choice to make between following the Lord, who came to them from the south, or following the false gods of the pagan nations to the north, Jesus was now the final ultimatum between loyalty and apostasy. Stephen laid that ultimatum out early on in Acts, and Zechariah symbolized it through the movements of the splitting mountain even earlier in 520 BC.
Moving Through Zechariah 14
While the intent of uber-literalism isn’t to rob the passage of its depth of meaning, this is the net result as it completely misses the beauty and magnificence of Zachariah’s imagery. The key to understanding Zechariah 14:4 is connecting the dots between the images he uses and the usage of those images elsewhere in Scripture. When this is done, Zechariah’s splitting mountain is no different than the Psalmist’s skipping mountains, Micah’s melting mountains, or John the Baptist’s leveling mountains. None of this is to be understood literally, but all of it literally has profound theological implications when understood Biblically. The next installment will examine the theological implications of verse 5, as we continue to move through this fascinating chapter in Zechariah 14.
Be sure to get a copy of my book, Who Is This Babylon? for even more on the importance of Zechariah and how understanding Zechariah helps us to understand Revelation.
 https://bibleprophecy.com/articles/2012/06/05/zechariah-14-does-it-support-preterism-or-refute-it-1/  In fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.  Which will become very significant with respect to Zechariah 14:21  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.  Charlene McAfee Moss considers the fact that Jesus’s “apocalyptic discourse takes place on the Mount of Olives” to be among the “several layers” of the Zechariah “motif” in Matthew’s Gospel (The Zechariah Tradition and the Gospel of Matthew [Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008], pp. 148-149).  As Gary DeMar writes, “The verse states simply ‘in that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.’ We’re not told by Zechariah how He got to the Mount of Olives. Since we know that Jesus came to earth (John 1:14), and these events are described in the Old Testament, and Jesus did stand on the Mount of Olives, it’s logical to conclude that the reference to the Mount of Olives refers to Jesus’ first coming.
When did Jesus stand on the Mount of Olives during His ministry? The Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, is the fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4. The earliest Christian writers applied Zechariah 14:4 to the work of Christ in His day.” https://americanvision.org/1699/zechariah-history-prophecy-part-3/ Much speculation centers around the fact that the Mount of Olives supposedly sits on a fault line: https://chicagobible.org/in-zechariah-144-will-the-mt-of-olives-literally-be-split-or-is-it-a-symbolic-picture-nigeria/ https://www.tandemhope.com/blog/geographical-fault-line-at-mount-of-olives https://discussions.godandscience.org/viewtopic.php?t=38866  See: David Chilton, Paradise Restored (Tyler TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 229-230.  See: Ken Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, p. 472  As Ralph Woodrow writes, “It was not uncommon for prophets to use figurative expressions about the Lord ‘coming’ down, mountains trembling, being scattered, and hills bowing (Hab. 3:6, 10); mountains flowing down at his presence (Isaiah 64:1, 3); or mountains and hills singing and the trees clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12)” (Ralph Woodrow, His Truth is Marching On: Advanced Studies on Prophecy in the Light of History [Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1977], p. 110).
http://www.ralphwoodrow.org/ Stephen M. Thurstan, Jesus Concerning Israel, the Land, the Temple, and the City (Self-Published via Lulu, 2012), 9, Q: Gary DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14” (Unpublished Work in Progress, October 1, 2020), pp. 46-47.  Bernard Batto, Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1992), p. 159.  Habakkuk 3 Calvin’s Commentaries (biblehub.com)  Habakkuk 3:3 – Meaning and Commentary on Bible Verse (biblestudytools.com)  https://www.logos.com/grow/gog-magog-whats-evil-north/  Special thanks to Patricia Baliey, of https://preteristpapers.com/ , for making me aware of the significance of this passage in terms of the north and also for her editorial comments and suggestions regarding the draft of this article.  It might be tempting to think that Psalm 48:2 casts the north in a positive light, but it’s just the opposite. As scholars point out, Mount Zion isn’t much of a mountain, and it’s actually situated in the southern part of Israel. The Hebrew word for “north” is Zaphon, and Mount Zaphon was the location of Baal’s temple. Zaphon became a directional point specifically because this was the direction in which Baal’s temple was Stationed. Psalm 48:2, then, is polemical in nature. Contrary to the claims of the Baal worshipers, Yahweh was the true God and His temple in the south was the true north – in theological terms. The following peer-reviewed resources delve into this topic in some detail: Lessing, Reed, “The Holiness of Yahweh in Conflict with the Holiness of Baal Vis-À-Vis Mount Zion and Mount Zaphon” (Master of Sacred Theology Thesis 62, 1989); Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bibe (ST. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015): 226-228; H. Niehr, “Zaphon,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden; Boston; Cologne; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 927–29; Richard J. Clifford, The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament, Harvard Semitic Monographs 4 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972) 57–79, 131–60; C. Grave, “The Etymology of Northwest Semitic tsapānu,” Ugarit Forschungen 12 (1980): 221–29; E. Lipinski, “El’s Abode,” Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 2 (1971): 13–68.