Zechariah 9 – The Coming of the King & The Mongols Nomad Conquerors

It is questioned on which conqueror was better, Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan. They were both military geniuses and fierce warriors and they both erred in the most important matters of life, neither of them worshiped You.  

And therefore, I can honestly say neither of them was the greatest of all, King David had them both beat.

A Psalm of David.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (Ps 23).

Most commentators believe that King David’s great masterpiece of faith, the twenty-third psalm was written when David was a youth, before he met the mighty Goliath in battle (1 Sam 17).

This great faith can sustain us and give us courage to stand up to all the problems of life.

“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

I know you that You will not walk away from those that walk with you:

“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Josh 1:5).

And by Your own words, I can’t believe anyone could have been a greater warrior then David:

“And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will” (Acts 13:22).

Alexander had some good fighting men, so let’s look at…

Zechariah 9
The Coming of the King

1 The burden of the word of the LORD in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the LORD.

Damascus commonly known in Syria as ash-Sham and nicknamed as the City of Jasmine is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo.

It borders Quneitra, Daraa and As-Suwayda to the south, Jordan to the east, Homs to the north, and Lebanon to the west. It is also the capital city of one of the country’s 14 governorates.

In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000 (2009 est.)

9:1-8 – probably a prophetic description of the Lord’s march south to Jerusalem, destroying – as Divine Warrior – the traditional enemies of Israel.  As history shows, the agent of His judgment was Alexander the Great.

“Hadrach” – Hatarickka, north of Hamath on the Orontes River.

“Damascus” – the leading city-state of the Arameans.

2 And Hamath also shall border thereby; Tyrus, and Zidon, though it be very wise.

“Tyrus, and Zidon” – Tyre and Sidon, Phoenician (modern Lebanese) coastal cities.  Their judgment is also foretold in Isa 23; Eze 26:3-14; 28:20-24; Amos 1:9-10.

3 And Tyrus did build herself a strong hold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets.

“Strong hold” – the Hebrew for this word is a pun on the Hebrew for “Tyrus” (meaning “rock” but also “siege enclosure”).  The stronghold was Tyre’s island fortress, which became a “rampart” for invading forces.  It fell to Alexander in 332 B.C.

4 Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and he will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire.

5 Ashkelon shall see it, and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited.

9:5-7 – the Philistine cities were greatly alarmed at Alexander’s steady advance.

6 And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines.

The Straight Street of Damascus, the Biblical “Street called Straight”

“Bastard” – people of mixed nationality; they characterized the post-exilic period.

7 And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.

8 And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes.

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

“Riding upon an ass” – a suitable choice, since the donkey was a lowly animal of peace, as well as a princely mount before the horse came into common use.  The royal mount used by David and his sons was the mule.  And of course, the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11).

10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

Ruins of the Jupiter Temple at the entrance of Al-Hamidiyah Souq

11 As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.

12 Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee;

13 When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim, and raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece, and made thee as the sword of a mighty man.

14 And the LORD shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord GOD shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.

15 The LORD of hosts shall defend them; and they shall devour, and subdue with sling stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar.

One of the rare periods the Barada river is high, seen here next to the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Damascus.

16 And the LORD their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land.

17 For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.

The Mongols
Nomad Conquerors

In the early 13th century, north of the medieval civilizations of China and Southeast Asia, a collection of nomadic clans coalesced into one of the largest and most fearsome of all empires: the Mongols.

A bronze paise offered save passage across Mongol trade routes.

For centuries, nomads on horseback had roamed the high plateaus of Central Asia. Their chilly, windswept lands ran from the Siberian tundra south to the Gobi Desert and from the Altai Mountains in the west to the Great Khingan Range in the east.

In the center were grasslands, steppes that just barely fed the cattle, sheep, and goats that the nomads drove north and south with the seasons.

Mongol clans shared the steppes with Turkic tribes to the west and Tatars to the east. In the 12th century, these Altaic-speaking peoples consisted of feuding groups ruled by chiefs, or khans.

Around 1162, a boy named Temujin was born to one of the clans. According to the 13th century Secret History of the Mongols, Temujin’s father, the tribal chief, was poisoned when Temujin was a child, and the boy, his mother, and his siblings struggled to survive by scavenging berries and rodents on the steppes.

Captured by an enemy clan and imprisoned in a wooden collar, Temujin supposedly escaped by using the collar to: knock his enemy senseless.

Whatever the accuracy of the early tales, there is no doubt that by the time he was a young man, Temujin had acquired a wife, a household, and a leadership position among the clans.  Through force and alliance, he pulled rival groups together under his sole control and built an army.

Genghis Khan is portrayed by a 13th century Chinese artist.

 Among the first to fall to his warriors was the rival Merkit tribe, which had brought Temujin’s wrath upon themselves when they had stolen his young wife, Borte.

Next to succumb to Temujin’s force were the Tatars; in a typical combination of ruthlessness and inclusiveness, Temujin ordered the killing of all Tatar males taller than the linchpin of a cartwheel, while adopting other Tatars as full members of his tribe.

By 1206, Temujin had conquered the Mongolian steppes. At an assembly of Mongol khans, he was named Genghis Khan, or Universal Ruler. According to the Secret History, the chieftains pledged:

“We will make you Khan: you shall ride at our head, against our foes. We will through ourselves like lightning on your enemies.  We will bring you their finest women and girls, their rich tents like palaces.”

Genghis Khan went on to lead one of the world’s most successful armies.  The warlord insisted that male children be trained in riding and archery almost from birth.  By promoting soldiers on merit and forcing warriors to report to him, not to clan leaders, he broke the division power of the tribal groups.

The army – at its peak containing no more than 125,000 Mongols – was divided into units of 10<000, 1,000, and 100 men.  A new discipline was enforced.  No more would raiders be allowed to invade a camp and then loot at leisure while the enemy fled; Mongol soldiers would pursue and annihilate the enemy first.

Mongol Empire

Wives and children of fallen soldiers would receive a share of the booty, ensuring their loyalty.

Genghis also molded Mongol society through his Great Yasa, a code of law governing proper behavior.  The death penalty awaited adulterers, spies, sorcerers, those who defiled water, and many other transgressors.

However, the code shows the leader’s respect for learning and his religious tolerance as well. 

“Khan decided that no taxes or duties should be imposed upon fakirs, religious devotees, lawyers, physicians, scholars, people who devote themselves to prayer and asceticism, muezzins and those who were the bodies of the dead,” noted later transcriptions of the code.

“He ordered that all religions were to be respected and that no preference was to be shown to any of them.  All this he commanded in order that it might be agreeable to Heaven.”

Having unified their forces, the Mongols turned their attention toward their prosperous Asian neighbors with  “their rich tents like palaces.”  Riding into northern China, the great Khan was held off for a while with bribes from the Jurchen emperor, but eventually the Mongol army broke through the Great Wall.

Driving refugees before them, the Mongols used captives as human shields as they besieged one city after another, starving and terrifying the inhabitants.  The Mongols were not above trickery and propaganda, promising at times to spare a city only to renege on their word, entering later and destroying it.

A Persian illustration depicts the tents of Genghis Khan’s nomadic camp.

Valuable craftsmen and specialists were captured and put to use.  Form Chinese engineers, the Mongols learned to build devastating siege weapons such as mangonels and trebuchets.  In 1215, they razed the Jurchen capital of Zhongdu. 

The treacherous Khan then returned to Mongolia to plan his next deadly attacks, leaving a general in charge of the Chinese territories.

For the next few years, the Mongols turned their attentions to lands to the west.  Attempting to open up a trade relationship with Persia in 1218, Genghis Khan sent envoys and merchants to the Khwarazm shah.

When the shah murdered his Mongol visitors, it so enraged the khan that he assembled a huge army and personally led it into Persia on a scorched-earth campaign, destroying city after city, massacring millions, even wiping out their irrigation system. Chroniclers told of mountains of skulls.

Not content with terrorizing the Persians, the Mongol armies also moved into Armenia, Ukraine, and the Crimea. There, for a time, they halted their westward expansion to look east again toward the rebellious Tanguts.

Genghis handily suppressed them in 1227, but then developed a fever and died. By the time of the great khan’s death, the Mongols controlled Central Asia from Persia to northern China.

After a brief power struggle among Genghis’s sons, the Mongol realm was divided among four heirs to form four khanates, in Central Asia, Persia, Russia, and China. Chief among his heirs was Ogodei, the new great khan.

Genghis Kahn hunting with falcons, from Chinese silk painting.

Building a Mongol capital city at Karakoram, on Mongolia’s steppes, Ogodei encouraged traders to pass through with their textiles and jewels and welcomed practitioners of various religions, including Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists.

As ambitious as his father, Ogodei sent armies under his sons and grandsons, guided by experienced generals, in two directions: toward Europe and Russia in the west, and toward Song- dynasty China in the east.

The Mongol horsemen swept ruthlessly across Russia, taking Moscow and Kiev and moving into Hungary European observers were horrified as they watched the advance of the seemingly unstoppable “hordes,” which spread “fire and slaughter wherever they went.”

But Mongol politics spared Europe from what might have been a history-changing invasion: Even as the path lay open to Vienna, Ogodei died, and all Mongol chiefs were recalled to a council to choose a new great khan.

The title passed to Genghis’s grandson Mongke, and after his death in 1259 to possibly the greatest of Genghis’s descendants: Khubilai Khan. Khubilai represented a new kind of Mongol: cultured and settled—though just as aggressive in war.

In 1271, Khubilai declared himself the new emperor of China and the progenitor of the Yuan dynasty, although it took him a few more years actually to subdue his tenacious Song opponents. Khubilai built a luxurious palace at his new capital of Khanbalik near the Yellow River—a city that eventually became Beijing.

Glazed fritware – Islamic pottery – from the Ilkhanate era.

There, attended by his huge court, he received visitors from East and West and attempted to rule the resentful Chinese. The most famous of his guests, to modern  audiences, was the young Venetian merchant Marco Polo.

Arriving at Khubilai’s court in 1275, he became a favorite of the khan and stayed for 17 years.  His admiring accounts of the Mongols, published in his Travels, describe the wealth of Khubilai’s court, his many concubines, his herds of albino animals, his portable summer palace, and the curious (to Polo) use of paper currency.

Marco was impressed by the skill of Mongol warriors:

“They avail themselves of bows more than of any other things, for they are exceedingly good archers, the best in the world…They are good men and victorious in battle and mightily valiant and they are very furious and have little care for their life, which they put to every risk without any regard.”

The young Polo also noted the khan’s distinctly un-European welcome of various major religions—Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists—although Khubilai himself held to the shamanistic beliefs of his Mongol heritage.

Despite his accomplishments, Khubilai struggled as an administrator of his vast agricultural lands, so foreign to Mongol experience. The Mongol leaders and their Chinese subjects never blended well, holding each other in mutual disdain, and the Mongols ended the useful Confucian educational system.

Khubilai’s costly attempts to extend his empire east to Japan and south to Thailand, Burma, Java, and elsewhere failed repeatedly. The Japanese invasions were foiled twice by typhoons—to the Japanese, “divine winds.”

An earthenware figure of a cheeful actor in costume, from the Yuan Dynasty.

The Yuan dynasty faced economic problems with inflation inside China, as well as epidemics of bubonic plague, which spread to Europe. In 1368, 74 years after Khubilai’s death, Chinese rebels captured the Mongol capital at Khanbalik and the Mongols returned to the steppes.

In Persia, Mongol rule started brutally with the bloody siege of Baghdad in 1258, the death of the Abbasid caliph, and the massacre of more than 200,000 inhabitants. Further advances into Egypt and Syria were foiled by the Mamluk army; reportedly, the Mamluks led the Mongol horsemen into rocky territory, where their unshod horses suffered.

Meanwhile, they burned the grasslands that would feed the animals.  Under Hulegu, Khubilai’s brother, the Mongols settled in to rule Persia, but delegated most of the administration to Persian bureaucrats.

 Hulegu acknowledged his alliance to the great khan by naming his realm the Ilkhanate  (“subordinate khanate”). Fairly quickly, however, the Mongol invaders were assimilated into Persian culture. 

By 1295, the Ilkhan ruler Ghazan converted to Islam and replaced the Mongol code with the sharia, Islāmic law. Poor administrators there as elsewhere, the Mongols were overthrown in Persia by the nomad leader Timur and the Turks in the 14th century.

In Russia, the Mongols had a longer lasting influence. In part, this was because the societies they conquered were less sophisticated and closer to Mongol culture. Known as the Golden Horde, possibly because of Mongol leader Batu’s supposedly golden tent.

Mongol conquerors shepherd their prisoners and loot, including livestock, during the invasion of Hungary ion 1241.

The Russian Mongols ruled from The Urals into Siberia.  They prized the region’s pastures but had less use for its cities, viewing them primarily as sources of tribute.  They too, became gradually Islamicized, and like the Ilkhans, most were eventually overthrown by Timur’s invading forces in 1395.

In the Crimea, however, the Golden Horde Horde Mongols continued to occupy the land until the 20th century.

The khanate of Chagatai, smallest of the Mongol territories, encompassed the conquered cities of Bukhara and Samarkand and traditional nomadic pasturelands of Central Asia. Gradually the Chagatai Mongols, too, became assimilated and Muslim and, like their brethren in Persia and Russia, were overcome by Timur and his Turkish armies.

At its height in the 13th century, the Mongol Empire controlled territory from the Arctic Ocean to the Strait of Malacca, and from the Pacific Ocean to Hungary— between 11 and 12 million square miles.

Brilliant and pitiless warriors, the Mongols did not have the skills to successfully rule most of the lands they conquered. (“The empire was created on horseback, but it cannot be governed on horseback,” observed Ogodei).

A mounted Mongol archer, shown in a lithograph from a Chinese drawing.

They left little behind in terms of tangible culture: no distinctive architecture, literature, crafts, or religion. However, they appreciated skill and learning in others and went far toward integrating Eastern and Western cultures by maintaining trade routes and resettling captured peoples, particularly prized craftsmen and scholars.

Religions, foods, technologies, medicine, and more spread from east to west along Mongol roads. 

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Mongols is genetic. Researchers have traced a direct genetic link between the ruling Mongol family and about 8% of the men in the regions of the former Mongol Empire—meaning that about .5% of the world’s population today may be descended from Genghis Khan.

…what type of army did Genghis have?