(Zechariah 14:12) What Does Zechariah Mean When He Says People’s Flesh, Eyes, and Tongues Will Consume Away After God Smites Them?

Posted Jan 11, 2023 by Ray Foucher in Questions Concerning God's Character

“And this shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.” (Zechariah 14:12)

What Is Meant By “The LORD Will Smite”?

The above verse is a fearful-sounding representation of the final fate of the lost at the end of the Millennium. The concept of “smite” in Scripture can also be used in the sense of “to get one’s attention” or “to convict the conscience” and not necessarily physically smiting (striking/killing) someone. Often when God is said to smite it is by withdrawing His protection. In the book of Jeremiah, we see that it is used of “smiting” with words (the tongue):

“Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.” (Jeremiah 18:18)

It is used in the sense of our conscience being smitten:

“And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart [conscience] smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.” (1 Samual 24:5)

“And David’s heart [conscience] smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” (2 Samuel 24:10)

This is the same effect as in this New Testament verse:

“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” (1 John 3:21)

The heart does not condemn; the conscience does not smite – if the person’s heart and actions are right with God. The accusers of the woman caught in adultery were smitten in this same sense:

“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9)

However, in their cases, there was no repentance; they ignored the voice of their consciences. Smiting can occur in attempts to correct or discipline but that would never be lethal. (You never correct your children by killing them):

“In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword hath devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion.” (Jeremiah 2:30)

“O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.” (Jeremiah 5:3)

Those verses connect “smitten” or “stricken” (from the same original word) with attempts at correction, unfortunately, without a positive response.

To smite is often used in the sense of a lethal blow. In some verses, God is said to smite when it is also clearly stated that someone else struck the blow. For example:

“And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel: and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men: all these drew the sword.” (Judges 20:35)

Here again we see the classic Hebrew idiom where God is said to “do” that which He only “permits” to be done. For more info on the biblical meaning of “smite” please my article on smiting at my website (characterofgod.org) and the article, Did the Angel of the LORD Kill Herod? on this site.

What is Meant By “Consume Away”?

Let’s now focus on the consuming away of the flesh, eyes and tongue. Is that speaking of a physical consuming? Some have seen it as people being exposed to the explosion of a neutron bomb. Here is such a description:

“When this bomb blows the release of the neutrons are lethal to humans and any other animal life around it. ... If you are within the blast radius what will happen to you is eerily similar to what Zechariah describes in chapter 14 of his prophecy. Any kind of flesh is destroyed by a kind of melting process as all the atoms are destroyed within it. Thus Zechariah’s description of something that rots flesh, eyes, and the tongue are often compared to what happens at the detonation of a neutron bomb.” (www.calvarychapeljonesboro.org/prophecynews/zechariah-14-neutron-bombs-and-gods-ultimate-purpose-for-israel)

However, as always, we need to consider whether the Bible has its own definition and whether that is different from the popular understanding. Let’s take note of a verse we referred to earlier:

“O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.” (Jeremiah 5:3)

Here we read that, after people were consumed, they still refused to receive correction. How can one willfully refuse to receive correction after they have been consumed? To “consume away” is from the Hebrew word מָקַק (maqaq) which means “to pine away.” The website www.dictionary.com gives these meanings for pine:

to yearn deeply; suffer with longing; long painfully

to fail gradually in health or vitality from grief, regret, or longing

Here are Bible verses that use the original Hebrew word “maqaq”:

“And they that are left of you shall pine away (maqaq) in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away (maqaq) with them.” (Leviticus 26:39)

“That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away (maqaq) for their iniquity.” (Ezekiel 4:17)

“And your tires shall be upon your heads, and your shoes upon your feet: ye shall not mourn nor weep; but ye shall pine away (maqaq) for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another.” (Ezekiel 24:23)

Notice, in the verse above, people are said to both “pine away” and “mourn” suggesting a close equivalence between those two actions.

“Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away (maqaq) in them, how should we then live?” (Ezekiel 33:10)

In this verse, “pine away” suggests even the threat of death ultimately caused by the guilt of sin. The following verse, with its use of terms similar to Zechariah 14:12, seems to relate:

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16)

It is interesting that John mentions three categories of sins that seem to line up with what is described as being consumed in Zechariah 14:12 (“Pride of life” is mainly expressed via the tongue as in bragging). Now notice the account of Satan’s three-fold temptation of Jesus:

“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

This temptation was of the lust of the flesh or Sensualism, to gratify the senses, in this case, the appetite:

“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone [the pride of life; Humanism].” (Matthew 4:5-6)

This was a temptation of the pride of life, or humanism and its presumptuousness. Imagine Jesus being on the pinnacle of the temple and the people below watching Him as He jumps off and lands without a scratch.

“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them [the lust of the eyes; Materialism]; And saith unto him, ‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’” (Matthew 4:8-9)

God has provided a way of escape from every temptation:

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Jesus used the Word of God to overcome each time Satan presented another temptation. In each case, He replied with “it is written” (Matthew 4:4,7,10) and an appropriate scripture.

Notice that Eve experienced these same three categories of temptation:

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [the lust of the flesh], and that it was pleasant to the eyes [the lust of the eyes], and a tree to be desired to make one wise [the pride of life], she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Genesis 3:6)

These were also the three areas in which the people of Sodom fell:

“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride [the pride of life], fulness of bread [the lust of the flesh], and abundance of idleness [the lust of the eyes, materialism] was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

There are three major categories of sin that can be summarized as follows:

This helps to make sense of what Hebrews says:

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

How could Jesus have been tempted in every way we have been tempted? He was never tempted to drive over the speed limit! “All points” is a reference to these broad categories, not to every little variation of temptation that might come our way. Thankfully, we do have a high priest who was also tempted in each of these categories of sin – and overcame.

And so the flesh, eyes and tongue being consumed is not literal, physical consumption. Rather, what is being described is people pining away, being overwhelmed by all the sins (in three main categories) that they have committed during their lifetime and did not turn from. The consumption is in more of a mental than a physical sense.

But for those of us who are "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), all confidence in one's achievements or actions — works of the flesh, all reliance on one's own desires — lusts of the eyes, and all confidence in one's own opinions or words — pride of life, will be removed or consumed. May we pray for such a consuming in our lives so we can depend entirely on the grace of God working through the Spirit of His humble Son in us.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves [achievements, desires and opinions]: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

Wherein is our boasting then? It is in Christ. Exactly where it should be.


For more info, please see the article entitled: Doesn’t the Bible Say That God Will Burn and Torture People “Forever and Ever”? and the book, The Lake of Fire and the Second Death by Ray Foucher.


Nepali translation of this article: (जकरिया १४:१२) जकरियाले मानिसहरूको मासु, आँखा र जिब्रोहरू परमेश्वरले तिनीहरूलाई प्रहार गरेपछि नष्ट हुनेछन् भन्‍नुको अर्थ के हो?