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We here learn what we have already stated, — that Haggai and Zechariah were by God joined together, that they might confirm each other’s doctrine, for they had to do with a refractory people: besides, the people had to endure hard and arduous trials, so that they needed more than a common testimony to confirm them. Haggai commenced the work of his office in the sixth month; Zechariah shortly followed him, in the eighth month of the same year. It has already been shown who was the Darius mentioned here; though some interpreters dissent, we may yet learn from certain and indubitable proofs, that he was the son of Hystaspes. We shall again speak of this Darius, when a better occasion will offer itself: I wished only in passing to say thus much.
The word of Jehovah came to Zechariah. We have already said that the word of God comes in two ways to men. God addresses all from the least to the greatest; but in the first place he sends his word especially to his Prophets, to whom he commits the office of teaching. The word of God thus comes to private individuals, and it comes also to teachers, who sustain a public character, and become God’s interpreters or messengers. It was thus that God’s word came to Zechariah, not that he might keep to himself what God had said, but that he might be a faithful dispenser of his truth.
With regard to Zechariah, they are mistaken who regard him as the son of Jehoiadah, they are mistaken by Christ in Matthew 23:35. Zechariah is indeed said there to have been killed between the temple and the altar, and he is called the son of Barachiah: (9) but the counting of years will easily prove their mistake, who would have him to be the same Zechariah. The former, who is called in sacred history the son of Jehoiadah the priest, was slain under Joash. Let us now see how many kings succeeded him, and also how many years he reigned. That Zechariah must have been almost two hundred years old at the Babylonian exile, if he was alive, had be been a boy when he was stoned. Now this Zechariah, of whom we now speak, performed the office of a Prophet after the return of the people from exile. He must then have been not only more than a hundred and fifty years of age, but must have exceeded two hundred years when he died. The idea respecting the renascence of men, being a reverie of the Jews, is not worthy of a record, much less of a refutation. He is however called the son of Barachiah; but the probable conjecture is that Jehoiadah the priest had two names, and it does not appear that he was a prophet. However this may be, the Zechariah who was stoned in the temple by the order of the king, was the son of the high priest, and died more than a hundred years before the Babylonian exile. For we have said that this Darius was not the Mede who reigned with Cyrus, but the son of Hystaspes, who reigned a long time after, that is, after Cambyses and the Magi. Their want of knowledge is easily proved, who think that these Prophets were sent by God before the completion of the time mentioned by Jeremiah. As then the seventy years had elapsed, this Prophet was no doubt born after the time when the city was destroyed, the temple pulled-down, and the people led captive into Babylon. I come now to the doctrine itself.
(9) He is called the son of Ezra, chapter 5:1; but the word son, in Hebrew, means often a grandson or a descendant: “ Omnes qui in gradibus descendentibus sunt Hebraei filios vocant.” — Grotius.
Angry was Jehovah with anger against your fathers (10) The Prophet here refers to the severity of the punishment with which the Jews had been visited, in order that posterity might know that God, who so rigidly punishes the despisers of his word and instruction, ought not to be provoked. For by saying that God was angry with anger, he means, that God was in no common measure offended with the Jews, and that the very grievousness of their punishment was a clear evidence how displeased God was with them. But the object of the Prophet was to rouse the Jews, that they might begin seriously to fear God on seeing how dreadful is his wrath. The Apostle states it as a general truth, that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, (Hebrews 10:30 :) so also the Scripture speaks everywhere. But Zechariah mentions here to his own people a signal evidence of God’s wrath, which ought to justly to have smitten all of them with terror. He does not then speak here of a thing unknown, but reminds them seriously to consider how terrible is God’s vengeance; as a proof of this, their fathers had been deprived of their perpetual inheritance, they had suffered many degradations, and had also been harassed and oppressed by tyrants; in short, they had been nearly sunk in the lowest depths. Since then God has so severely dealt with their fathers, the Prophet bids them to know that God ought to be feared, lest they should grow wanton or indulge themselves in their usual manner, but that they might from the heart repent, and not designedly provoke God’s wrath, of which their fathers had so severe an experience.
(10) The words may be thus rendered, —
Wroth was Jehovah, With your fathers was he wroth.
This is more consistent with the characters of the Hebrew language than the usual rendering.
It then follows, Thou shalt say to them, Return ye to me, and I will return to you (11) The Prophet now expresses more clearly for what purpose he had spoken of God’s vengeance, with which he had visited his chosen people, even that their posterity might take heed to themselves; for the common proverb, “Fools by adversity become wise,” ought in this case to have been verified. For where there is really a teachable spirit, men become instantly attentive to what God says: but even when they are sluggish and slothful, it is a wonder, that when they are smitten, the strokes which they feel do not shake off at least in some degree their torpor. Hence the Prophet, after having spoken of the punishments which God had inflicted, exhorts the Jews to repentance.
It ought however to be observed, that our Prophet not only speaks of repentance, but shows also its true character, that the Jews might not seek carelessly to please God, as is commonly the case, but that they might sincerely repent; for he says, return ye to me, and I will return to you. And this was not said without reason, when we consider in what sort of delusions the Jews indulged themselves immediately after their return. We have seen that they became devoted to their private concerns, while the temple remained desolate; and we also know what sacred history relates, that they married heathen women, and also that many corruptions prevailed among them, so that religion almost disappeared. They indeed retained the name of God, but their impiety showed itself by clear signs. It is then no wonder that the Prophet sharply stimulates them to repentance.
It must at the same time be noticed, that we cannot enjoy the favor of God, even when he kindly offers to be reconciled to us, except we from the heart repent. However graciously, then, God may invite us to himself, and be ready to remit our sins, we yet cannot embrace his offered favor, except our sins become hateful to us; for God ceases not to be our judge, except we anticipate him, and condemn ourselves, and deprecate the punishment of our sins. Hence we then pacify God when real grief wounds us, and we thus really turn to God, without dissimulation or falsehood. Now the experience of God’s wrath ought to lead us to this; for extremely heedless are they who, having found God to be a Judge, do carelessly disregard his wrath, which ought to have filled their hearts with fear. “Let no one deceive you with vain words,” says Paul, “for on account of these things comes the wrath of God on the children of unbelief,” or on all the unbelieving. (Ephesians 5:6.) Paul bids us to consider all the evidences which God gives of his wrath in the world, that they may instruct us as to the fear of God; how much more then should domestic examples be noticed by us? For the Prophet speaks not here of foreign nations; but says, angry has God been with anger against your fathers. Since, then, it appeared evident that God had not spared even his chosen people, they ought, unless they were in the extreme refractory, to have carefully continued in obedience to the law. Hence the Prophet here condemns their tardiness, inasmuch as they had made so little progress under the chastisements of God.
We thus see that no excuse can be brought before God, if we do not make a right use of all the punishments by which he designs to recover us from our sins. We have referred to that general truth announced by Paul, that God’s judgment, executed on the unbelieving, ought to be feared; it hence follows that our insensibility is extreme, if we are not thoroughly moved when God teaches us by our own experience, or at least when he sets domestic examples before us, as when he punishes our fathers and others connected with us; for this mode of teaching comes much nearer to us.
But when the Prophet says, return ye to me, and I will return to you, he means, as I have before stated, that though God meets sinners, and is ready with extended arms to embrace them, his favor cannot come to those to whom it is offered, except a real feeling of penitence leads them to God. In short, the Prophet means, that though they had returned from exile, they could not expect a permanent state of safety, except they turned from the heart to him; for if they imitated their fathers, God had in readiness far severer scourges to chastise them; and they might also be again driven into exile. he then briefly reminds them, that if they wished to enjoy the incomparable kindness with which God had favored them, it was necessary for them seriously to return to him. Though, then God had already in part returned to them, that is, he had really proved that he was pacified and propitious to them, yet he had begun by many evidences to show that he was again offended with them; for their fruit had either withered through heat, or had been smitten by hail, as we have found elsewhere; (Haggai 2:17;) so that they had already labored for several years under want and other evils. God then had not so blessed them, that they could in every way recognize his paternal favor. This is the reason why the Prophet says, I will return to you when ye return to me.
We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet to be, that though God had delivered his people, they ought yet to have feared lest his wrath should suddenly burn against the ungrateful and the wicked, and that being not in full favor, they ought also to have known that God was still offended with them. So the Prophet shortly reminded them, that it was no wonder that God treated them with no great kindness, for they allowed no place for his favor, but provoked his wrath, like their fathers, inasmuch as they did not from the hear repent.
The Papists allege this passage in defense of free-will; but it is a most puerile sophistry. They say that the turning of God to men is the same as their turning to him, as though God promised the grace of his Spirit as a help, when men anticipate him. They imagine then that free-will precedes, and then that the help of the Spirit follows. But this is very gross and absurd. The Prophet indeed means that God would return to the Jews; for he shows that God would in every respect be a father to them, when they showed themselves to be dutiful and respectful children. We must therefore remember that God does not here promise the aid of his Spirit to assist free-will, and to help the efforts of man, as these foolish and senseless teachers imagine, but that he promises to return to the Jews to bless them. Hence the return of God here is nothing else than the prosperity which they desired; as though he had said — “Fear me from the heart, and ye shall not labor under hunger and thirst; for I shall satisfy you, as neither your fields nor your vines shall hereafter disappoint your hopes. Ye shall find me most bountiful, when ye deal with me in a faithful manner.” This is the meaning.
We must further bear in mind, that, according to the common usage of Scripture, whenever God exhorts us to repentance, he does not regard what our capacity is, but demands what is justly his right. Hence the Papists adopt what is absurd when they deduce the power of free-will from the command or exhortation to repent: God, they say, would not have commanded what is not in our power to do. It is a foolish and most puerile mode of reasoning; for if everything which God requires were in our power, the grace of the Holy Spirit would be superfluous; it would not only be as they say a waiting-mind, but it would be wholly unnecessary; but if men need the aid of the Spirit, it follows that they cannot do what God requires of them. But it seems strange that God should bid men to do more than what they can. It seems so indeed, I allow, when we form our judgment according to the common perception of the flesh; but when we understand these truths — that the law works wrath — that it increases sin — that it was given that transgression might be made more evident, then the false notion — that God requires nothing but what men can perform, comes to nothing. But it is enough for us to know, that God in exhorting us to repentance requires nothing but what nature dictates ought to be done by us. Since it is so, however short we are in the performance, it is not right to charge God with too much strictness, that he demands what is beyond our power.
The frequent repetition of God’s name by the Prophet is emphatical; it was done, that what he taught might more sharply goad the hearts of the people. Had he simply said, that he had a commission from above to remind the people of the punishments which their fathers had endured, and also to call them to repentance, this mode of teaching would not have so penetrated into their hearts, as when the name of God is so often brought before them — Thou shalt say, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Return to me, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will return to you, saith Jehovah of hosts. It surely behoved the Jews, when they heard God’s name pronounced three times, to awake and to consider with whom they had to do. For what can be more base or more disgraceful than for men, when God anticipates them and desires to be united to them, to refuse to respond and to devote themselves to his service?
It is at the same time evident, that the Prophet adopted a mode of speaking then in use: and we know that the language of the Jews underwent a change after their Babylonian exile. It lost that clearness and elegance which it possessed before: as it clearly appears from the style of those who wrote after the exile. I allow also that previously the Prophets exhibited not the same degree of eloquence; for Isaiah differs greatly from Jeremiah and from Amos. It is yet quite evident from the writings of the last Prophets, that the language had become somewhat muddy after the return of the people from exile. Let us now proceed —
(11) The verb, [ שב ], means to turn, and to return. Newcome retains our version, “turn,” but Marckius and Henderson adopt with Calvin the word “return,” though Henderson, in verse 4, has “turn.” The most suitable rendering seems to be “return,” as it intimates a departure, which was the case in both instances, with respect to the people, and also with respect to God. They had departed from God, and God had departed from them; they had also departed from God’s ways. “Return” therefore is the most appropriate term. — Ed.
In order to correct and to subdue the obstinacy of the people, he here upbraids them with having descended from wicked and perverse parents. The Jews, we know, too much flattered themselves; and we know that they were especially inflated with the vain boasting that they derived their origin from the holy fathers. But the Prophets had something else in view. We indeed know that when anything becomes customary, almost all become hardened and flatter themselves in their vice; for immorality is then counted almost as the law, and what is sanctioned by public consent seems lawful. Since then they had not ceased for many years to provoke the wrath of God, it was necessary to add this reproof, Be not like your fathers: for they no doubt imagined that God approved of them, as they were not worse than their fathers. But God shows that their fathers had been very wicked and perverse.
Let us learn from this passage, that the examples which are wont to be set up as a shield are so far from being of any weight before God, that they enhance our guilt: and yet we see that this folly infatuates many; for at this day the religion of the Papists seems to them holy and irreprehensible, because it has been handed down to them by their fathers. Hence, whenever they bring forward the fathers, they think it a sufficient defense against the charge of any errors. But nothing occurs more frequently in the Prophets than the truth, that examples tend more to kindle the wrath of God, when some men become the occasion of sin to others, and when posterity think that whatever has proceeded from their fathers is lawful.
But we must at the same time bear in mind the design of the Prophet, for he did not intend simply to show, that the Jews in vain alleged the examples of the ancient; but, as I have said, he intended to shake off their self-flatteries by which they lulled themselves asleep; and he intended especially to put down those evil practices, which by long use had prevailed among them. This then is the reason why he says, Be not like your fathers. The Spirit employs the same sentiment in many other places, especially in the ninety- fifth Psalm (Psalms 95:1), and also in other Psalms.
Then he says, that the Prophets, who had been sent by God, had cried to their fathers, but that they did not attend. As then contempt of the truth had for so many ages prevailed among the Jews, and as this impiety was not duly abhorred by them, since they thought themselves to be as it were in perpetual possession — these are the reasons why the Prophet expressly upbraids them with this, that God’s word had been formerly despised by their nation — cry then did the former Prophets. He also exaggerates again their crime and their sin, because God had often recalled them to himself but without success. Had the Prophets been silent, and had God applied no remedy for their defection, their ingratitude would not indeed have been excusable; but since Prophets had often been sent to them, in succession, one after the other, and each had endeavored to restore the wretched men to a state of safety, not to attend to their holy and serious admonitions, by which God manifested his care for their well-being, was a much more atrocious crime.
We hence learn, that when we find any people prone to this or that vice, it ought to be resisted with greater diligence; for Satan almost always employs this artifice — that when he finds us prone to this or that vice, he directs all his efforts to drive us headlong into it.
As then the Prophets had been for a long time despised by the Jews, Zechariah designedly brings before them that perverseness which had been too long known. cry then did the former Prophets, (12) saying Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, return ye, I pray, from your evil ways, and from your evil works; but they heard not nor attended. After having spoken of God’s kind invitation, which was a singular pledge of his love, since he thus manifested his concern for their safety, he shows on the other hand how unworthily the Jews had conducted themselves, for they obstinately rejected this favor of God. They were indeed more than sufficiently proved guilty; for by saying, Return ye, I pray, from your evil ways and from your evil works, he assumes it as a fact that the reproofs given were just. And he farther says, that they refused to hear. Hence their perverseness was less endurable; for though they were self-condemned, they did not yet repent, nor deigned to hearken to God. And he subjoins the words, nor did they attend; for by this repetition (13) is more fully expressed, not only their stupidity, but their strange madness, inasmuch as they had so rejected God, and closed up the door of his favor, as though they sought designedly to drive him far from them, lest he should come to them.
(12) This sentence is peculiar in its construction. Our version, “unto whom the former Prophets have cried,” gives the meaning, but not the form of the sentence, which perhaps can hardly be done except in Welsh; but in that language the idiom is exactly the same. The relative “whom,” [ אשר ] comes first, then the verb, followed by a pronoun having a preposition prefixed to it — “to them,” [ שמע ]. The literal rendering in English would be, “whom they called (or cried) to them, the Prophets the former.” The rendering in Welsh would be the Hebrew word for word —
(lang. cy) Y rhai y galwodd arnynt y prophwydi blaenorol
Calvin in his version renders [ אשר ], “ quia,” which is not correct; it ought to have been “ ouibus.” — Ed.
(13) It is not perhaps exactly a repetition. Newcome retains our version, “hear” and “hearken;” but Henderson has “hearken” and “give heed.” The first, [ שמע ], is the mere act of hearing; but the second, [ קשב ], means attention; it signifies to incline the ear so as to listen. The Jews had been unwilling to hear, or to give the least attention to what had been said to them. — Ed.
In what we considered yesterday Zechariah reminded the Jews of the conduct of their fathers, in order that they might not, by their continued sins, bring on themselves new punishments. Many interpreters think that the sentiment contained at the beginning of the fourth verse is now confirmed, your fathers, where are they? for it seems t them that God is here exulting over the Jews — “Think now what has happened to your fathers; are they not all gone and destroyed?” They suppose also that the Jews answer, taking the latter clause as spoken by them, “The Prophets also, have they not perished? Why do you mention to us the fathers? There is no difference between them and the Prophets; it is not therefore a suitable argument.” And then in the third place, they consider that God refutes the answer given by the Jews, “But my word and my statutes, what I had entrusted to the Prophets, have not been without their effect.” This view of the passage has been adopted by many, and by all of the most ancient interpreters; and those who followed them have been disposed to subscribe to it. (14) But more probable is the opinion of Jerome, who understands the latter clause of false Prophets, — “Your fathers and your Prophets, where are they?” as though God thus reproved the Jews: “See now, have not your fathers miserably perished, and also the Prophets by whom they were deceived?” Thus Jerome thinks that the object in both clauses is to shake off the delusions of the Jews, that they might not harden themselves against God’s judgments, or give ear to flatterers. This interpretation comes nearer to the design of the Prophet, though he seems to me to have something else in view.
I join the two clauses together, as they may be most fitly united — “Your fathers and my Prophets have both perished; but after their death, the memory of the doctrine, which has not only been published by my servants, but has also been fully confirmed, is to continue, so that it ought justly to terrify you; for it is very foolish in you to enquire whether or not the Prophets are still alive; they performed their office to the end of life, but the truth they declared is immortal. Though then the Prophets are dead, they have not yet carried away with them what they taught, for it never perishes, nor can it at any age be extinguished. The ungodly are also dead, but their death ought not to obliterate the memory of God’s judgments; but after their death these judgments ought to be known among men, and serve to teach them, in order that posterity may understand that they are not presumptuously to provoke God.” This seems to be the real meaning of the Prophet.
By saying, Your fathers where are they? and the Prophets do they live for ever? he makes a concession, as though he had said, “I allow that both your fathers and my Prophets are dead; but my words are they dead?” God, in a word, distinguishes between the character of his word and the condition of men, as though he had said, that the life of men is frail and limited to a few years, but that his truth never perishes. And rightly does he mention the ungodly as well as the Prophets; for we know that whenever God punishes the despisers of his word, he gives perpetual examples, which may keep men in all ages within the boundaries of duty. Hence, though many ages have passed away since God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, yet that example remains, and retains its use to this day; for the ruin of Sodom is a mirror in which we may see at this time that God is the perpetual judge of the world. Since then the ungodly have perished, the punishment with which God visited their sins ought not to be buried with them, but to be ever remembered by men. This is the reason why he says, “your fathers are dead: this you must admit; but as they had been severely chastised, ought ye not at this day to profit by such examples?” Then he says, “my Prophets also are dead; but it was my will that they should be the preachers of my truth, and for this end, that after their death posterity might know that I had once spoken through them.” To the same purpose are the words of Peter, who says, that he labored that the memory of what he taught might continue after he was removed from his tabernacle.“
As then,” he says, “the time of my dissolution is at hand, I endeavor as far as I can, that you may remember what I teach after my death.” (2 Peter 1:15.)
We now perceive the object of the Prophet.
(14) This notion was originated by the Targum. The second was adopted by Cyril and others, as well as by Jerome; but Drusius, Grotius, Mede, Marckius, Newcome, and Henderson agree with the view given by Calvin. — Ed.
He then immediately adds, But my words and my statutes (15) which I have committed to my Prophets, have they not laid hold on your fathers? We have seen that he made a concession in the last verse; but here God expressly declares what I have stated — that though men vanish, or are hence removed after a short time, yet heavenly truth is ever firm, and retains its own power. But the Prophet uses another form of expression, My words, he says, which I have committed to my servants, the Prophets, have they not laid on (16) your father? that is, “ought the remembrance of the punishment, by which I intended to teach you, and your children, and your grandchildren, that ye might not provoke my wrath as your fathers did, to be lost by you? Since the ye see the effect of my doctrine in your fathers, why do ye not consider, that as I am always the same, my words cannot possibly be in vain at the present day, or be without effect?” We now see how clearly the Prophet distinguishes between the word of God and the condition of men; for God does not declare what is empty, nor give utterance to words which produce no effect; but he executes whatever he has committed to his Prophets.
He then adds, They returned and said, (17) As Jehovah of hosts had purposed to do to us on account of our ways and our works, so he hath done. Added here is a confession, which ought to have perpetually stimulated the Jews, while they saw that the obstinacy of their fathers had been subdued by the scourges of God. It is indeed true, that though they been sharply chastised, many of them did not yet really repent. God however extorted from them the confession that they were justly punished. Even the ungodly then had been constrained to give glory to God, and to confess that they were justly treated as guilty; but their children became immediately forgetful — was this a stupidity capable of being excused? He at the same time indirectly warns posterity that they might not imitate the negligence of their fathers, who would not have repented had they not been severely chastised; but that they might, on the contrary anticipate the judgment of God. We then see why the Prophet mentions that the Jews, who had been severely treated, freely confessed that they had been chastised by the hand of God; but we must notice the words.
He says, that the fathers had returned. Though their repentance was not sincere, yet God intimates that such was their punishment that it drew from them the confession that is here mentioned. What then could their posterity mean? or how could they become so audaciously mad against God, when they saw that their fathers and their obstinacy had been, as it were, broken down by the severe strokes by which God had smitten them? He then subjoins, and said, As Jehovah hath prepared to do. They confessed that they suffered evils not through chance, but that the purpose of God was thus fulfilled, which they had previously despised and almost derided. They further confessed, that they justly suffered; and they referred to their works and to their course of life. Since, then, the father had made this confession, who had hardened themselves long in their sins, their posterity were wholly without excuse in going on still to their own ruin, in containing impenitent, though warned by examples so memorable. This is the import of the passage. It now follows —
(15) “ Statuta mea,” [ חקי ]; “ decreta,” Dathius; “decrees,” Henderson. The word means what is defined or appointed, as an order or a course, or a portion. It signifies here the portion defined and allotted to the Jews, the judgments denounced on them, which had been executed. They were God’s defined and allotted portions, what he had exactly described and defined by his Prophets. He says first, “my words,” a general term, and then, to express more distinctly what was intended, he adds, “my decrees,” or my appointments, or my allotted portions. — Ed.
(16) “Overtake” is adopted by Newcome and Henderson; “ supervenerunt “ — came upon,” Grotius. God’s judgments pursued and overtook them as a hunter his prey, or an enemy a flying enemy. — Ed.
(17) “ Adeo ut reversi dixerint — so that when they returned they said,” Jun. et Trem., and Piscator; “so that they turned and said,” Henderson. Newcome continues the question from the preceding line, “and did they not return and say?” The “return” here seems not to have been from a sinful course, but from exile. The confession was made by those who returned from Babylon. The sentence may be thus rendered, “when they returned, they said.” — Ed.
Here is related a second prophecy, connected with a vision. At the beginning God alone spoke and gave commission to his Prophet to reprove the Jews: he now confirms the prediction as to the reduction of the city; for to the word is added a vision, which is, as we have seen elsewhere, a sort of seal. As the vision is obscure it may be variously explained, but I shall endeavor to accommodate it, without any refinements, to our use; and so no ambiguity will remain, provided we seek to be soberly and moderately wise, that is, provided we aim at no more than what edification requires.
The Prophet says, that a vision was given him; and he saw a horseman among the myrtles sitting on a red horse; and with him there were horses red, variegated (18) and white, and having no doubt riders. So I understand the passage; for extremely gross is the idea that the horses spoke. There were then, as it were, a troop of horsemen; but the Prophet says, that one appeared as the chief leader, who was accompanied by others. In the meantime an angel stood at the side of the Prophet, who led him, and showed to him his concern for the holy city and the chosen people. He then adds, that these horsemen had returned from an expedition; for they had been sent to review the whole world and its different parts. He therefore says, that they had returned from their journey, and also that the whole earth was quiet, that men enjoyed peace and tranquillity everywhere. At length he adds, that the angel of God cried out, How long, Jehovah, wilt thou not show mercy to Jerusalem? For the angel, touched with grief on hearing that all the heathens were enjoying rest, expostulates with God; for it seemed a very unbecoming and strange thing that the faithful alone should be oppressed with adversities, while others lived in peace and enjoyed their pleasures. There follows at length an answer from God, as we shall presently see.
But let us now enquire the Prophet’s design. I regard this as the object — that horsemen were presented to the Prophet, that he might know that God does not remain shut up in heaven and neglect the affairs of men; but that he has, as it were, swift horses, so that he knows what things are everywhere carried on. As then kings having horses at command, send their riders here and there, and bid them soon to return to them that they may know what to do; so the Prophet ascribes here to God the character of a chief sovereign, who inquires respecting all the affairs of men. It is indeed certain, that God receives no information from angels, for nothing is hid from him: nay, all things were fully known to him before he created angels. God, therefore, needs no such helps in order to know what is going on from the rising to the setting sun; but such a mode of speaking often occurs in scripture; and it is a common thing, that God assumes the character of man in order that he may more familiarly instruct us. Let us then especially bear in mind, that the riders who appeared to the Prophet were angels, who are ever ready to serve God. And they were sent here and there, not that they might declare to God any thing unknown to him, but that we may believe that God cares for human affairs; and that though angels appear not to us they are always engaged, and survey the world, so that nothing is done without the knowledge and will of God. This is one thing.
The Prophet says also, that the vision was given him in the night: he refers no doubt to what actually took place, and also to the manner in which he was taught; for though the vision was not given in vain, yet God meant that it should not be plain, in order that he might give by little and little a glimpse of hope to the Jews. As then God did not intend to exhibit in full light what he afterwards in due time taught them, the vision appeared in the night. And to the same purpose is what he says respecting the angels, that they were in a dark or deep place, and that they were among the myrtles. For to consider what is here said allegorically seems to me frivolous. I will, therefore, not refinedly discuss here the nature of myrtles: but as we know that the trees are dark and afford a thick shade, God intended, I have no doubt, by the sight of them, to produce an effect on the Prophet’s mind, so that he might understand that the prophecy was yet obscure, and that the time for a plain and clear revelation was not come. There were then horsemen among the myrtles, that is, under these dark and shady trees; and also in a deep place and in a thick shade. We see how aptly these things correspond. Some think that by their colors is designated the state of the people, being that of sorrow and of joy; for though quietness in part was restored to the people, yet much darkness remained and much perplexity in their affairs: but as this idea is probable, I do not reject it, provided we retain what I have stated, that the obscurity of the Prophecy is noted by the deep valley and the myrtles.
There was one more eminent than the rest, and in this there is nothing unusual; for when God sends forth a company of angels, he gives the lead to some one: and this is the reason why one is described here as more illustrious than all the others. If we regard this angel to be Christ, the idea is consistent with the common usage of Scripture; for Christ, we know, being the head of angels, ever exercises such dominion over them, that in obeying God they do nothing but under his authority. It may be then that one angel assumed here a pre-eminence over the rest, that the Prophet might think of the Redeemer, who exercises power over angels and the whole Church.
With regard to the different colors the Prophet no doubt understood that they designated the offices allotted to angels, as some convey God’s benefits, and others come armed with scourges and swords. For what was the design of the vision in which some riders appeared on white horses, some on red, and some on bay, (or, on those of a mixed color, which is more probable,) except that God intended to show that he sent angels, not only that they might survey the state of things, but that they might also come to chastise men, or to be ministers of his benefits? Besides, it was God’s purpose, as I have already hinted, to make it known, that nothing is carried on in this world but what is known by angels, who are his emissaries and agents.
(18) “ Varii “ — [ שרקים ]; “ ψαροι — variegated, parti-colored,” Sept. ; “dun,” Newcome; “bay,” Henderson; “gilvus-ash color,” Bochart; “brown,” Blayney. It seems to have been a mixed color, between red and white, to denote a mixed state of things.“
They had horses to show their power and celebrity, and horses of different colors to intimate the difference of their ministries.” — Newcome.
They said that the whole earth was then quiet, (19) that is, the countries bordering on Judea, or the oriental regions. Hence a greater confidence might be entertained by the Jews, for with the prayer of the angel is connected a complaint — “God of hosts, what is thy purpose?” that is, “Is it thy will that all others should enjoy quietness and peace, while enemies are continually hostile and troublesome to thy people? Is it right that thy Church should be ever miserably distressed, while heathens, who have no care for religion, should be so bountifully favored by thee? Is it not better that the memory of thy name should be extinguished, and that all worship should fall to the ground, than that so unjust a reward should be returned to thy servants?” We now see the design of the vision, even that the Jews might be assured that the distresses which they endured would not be perpetual. How so? because God slept not in heaven, but had his runners; and further, since his will was that all nations should be tranquil, he would no doubt have at length a regard for his own people, so as to deliver them from their troubles.
Though then the vision is obscure, yet its design is not doubtful. Besides, if we are content with what is moderate, there will be found here nothing so perplexing but that we may easily learn at least the import of the Prophecy. But the curiosity of those interpreters has done much harm, who by examining every single syllable have advanced many puerile things. There is therefore nothing better than to attend to the design of the Prophet, and then to regard the circumstances of the time, and thirdly, to follow the analogy between the signs and things signified.
I have said that angels are here introduced, because it would be difficult for us to ascend to the highest glory of God. God, we know, is not constrained by necessity to employ angels as ministers to execute his judgments, to punish men, or to confer benefits: for God himself is sufficient for all these things. Why then does he employ angels and make use of their ministration, if it be superfluous? The obvious answer is this — as we are prone to unbelief, we ever tremble in dangers, except we know that God is prepared with many forces to help us in time of need. When it is said in Psalms 24:0 that angels encamp around those who fear God, is it not a much more effectual relief than if it had been simply said that God is our citadel? It is indeed said in many places that God is an unassailable fortress; but as many still continue to doubt when they hear that there is a sufficient defense for them in God, he consults now their weakness, and adds, “I come with a great host; I am not alone your helper, but there is a great army ready at my bidding. Whenever then it may please me a troop of angels, yea, many myriads shall assemble together.” When therefore God thus speaks, it is a mode of teaching suitable to the capacities of men. So now, when Zechariah sees many runners, who have been sent by God to perambulate and to survey the earth, it may with greater certainty be learnt that nothing is carried on without design or by chance in the world, but that all things come before God, and that the manner in which all things occur is set forth by the angels. In the same way is the representation given in the first chapter of Job (Job 1:1) All the sons of God, that is, angels, came before his throne; and also among them Satan came; for though he does not willingly obey God, yet while he perambulates the earth, he at the same time executes God’s judgments, though unwillingly. We now then see the reason why God did not himself appear, and testified to the Prophet, that whatever took place among the nations was known to him; but he shows that his runners rode swiftly through the whole earth, and returned afterwards to the heavenly tribunal, and proved that they had carefully performed their office.
Now the Prophet says, that he had this vision in the eleventh month, called Sebat, (20) and on the twenty-fourth day of the month; that is, in the third month after his first Prophecy. He had in the eighth month sharply reproved the Jews: now a consolation is added, lest they should despair, but know that they were still the objects of God’s care. And possibly the reproof referred to had been effectual; nay, it is probable, that the Prophet did not labor in vain in exhorting the Jews to true and sincere repentance. When therefore they had given some evidence of religion, we see that God afterwards treated them more kindly, and set before them the hope of a future deliverance.
With regard to the night time, it is of importance to observe, that though God does not always set forth with full clearness his predictions, they are not yet without instruction, provided we be attentive, and provided also we suffer ourselves, while in darkness, to be ruled by the spirit of knowledge. By whatever different means then God may teach his faithful people, he always teaches them something useful, provided they murmur not when any thing is for a time obscure, but wait for the day of full revelation. And this is the design of Paul’s admonition, “If ye think otherwise, this also will God reveal to you.” Let us then know that God’s manner of teaching is not always the same, but that his teaching is always profitable, provided the faithful retain due moderation and sobriety, and suffer themselves to be guided step by step by God. This observation is to be applied to the whole verse, when it is said, that the horses and the horsemen stood under the myrtles, and also in a low place.
And, then, as to the various colors of the horses, it ought not to be deemed strange, that God should thus allot different offices to angels; for he does not always punish us by the ministry of Satan. He has celestial angels, when it pleases him, as executioners of his vengeance; and he sometimes employs devils for this purpose. However this may be, it is in his power to delegate angels as ministers of his kindness, or to send them to execute his vengeance, so that they appear in red color, or in some other. In conclusion, it ought also to be borne in mind, that angels do stand before the tribunal of God, after having diligently perambulated the earth, not after the manner of men: for it would be gross and puerile to imagine angels sitting on horses, inasmuch as they are spirits who are confined to no certain place; but as we cannot understand, according to our capacities, the celestial mysteries of God, it is necessary that such representations should be set before our eyes. however this may be, it ought to remain a fixed principle, that angels are always employed, for they survey the earth, that nothing may be done or carried on without design; and they are also sent with power and authority, so that they are, as it were, the hand of God: and at one time they execute his judgments, inflict punishments, as it has been said; and at another they come with blessings from God. This then is the meaning as to the horsemen. I cannot proceed farther: the rest I shall defer.
(19) The literal rendering is “All the earth sits and rests.” It is represented as a man sitting and quietly taking his rest. There was then peace throughout the Persian empire, which is set forth here as the whole earth.
(20) “This month corresponded with the latter end of January and beginning of February.” — Blayney.
The Prophet now shows that the angel who was his guide and teacher, became even a suppliant before God in behalf of the welfare of the Church. Hence the probable opinion is, that this angel was Christ the Mediator. For they who say that it was the Holy Spirit, who forms prayers in our hearts, seem to depart very far from the meaning of the Prophet: and it is nothing new, that Christ should exercise care over his Church. But if this view be disapproved, we may take any one of the angels to be meant. It is certain that it is enjoined them all to minister to the salvation of the faithful, according to what the Apostle says in the first chapter of the Hebrews Hebrews 1:1; and indeed the whole Scripture is full of evidences, which prove that angels are guardians to the godly, and watch over them; for the Lord, for whose service they are ever ready, thus employs them: and in this we also see the singular love of God towards us; for he employs his angels especially for this purpose, that he might show that our salvation is greatly valued by him.
There is then nothing wrong, if we say that any one of the angels prayed for the Church. But absurdly, and very foolishly do the Papists hence conclude, that dead saints are our advocates before God, or that they pray for us; for we never read that it is an office committed to the dead to intercede for us; nay, the duties of love, we know, are confined to the present life. When, therefore, the faithful remove from this world, having finished their course, they enter on a blessed life. Though then the case is different, yet the Papists foolishly pass from angels to the dead: for as it has been stated, the case of the faithful has been committed to angels, and they ever watch over the whole body, and over every member of it. It is then nothing strange that they offer prayers for the faithful; but it does not hence follow, that angels are to be invoked by us. Why does Scripture testify, that angels supplicate God for us? Is it that each of us may flee to them? By no means; but that being assured of God’s paternal love, we may entertain more hope and confidence; yea, that we may courageously fight, being certain of victory, since celestial hosts contend for us, according to what appears from many examples. For when the servant of Elisha saw not the chariots flying in the air, he became almost lost in despair; but his despair was instantly removed, when he saw so many angels ready at hand for help, (Genesis 6:17;) so whenever God declares that angels are ministers for our safety, he means to animate our faith; at the same time he does not send us to angels; but this one thing is sufficient for us, that when God is propitious to us, all the angels have a care for our salvation. And we must further notice what is said by Christ,“
hereafter ye shall see angels ascending and descending,” (John 1:51,)
which means, that when we are joined to the head, there will thence proceed a sacred union between us and angels; for Christ, we know, is equally Lord over all. When, therefore, we are united to the body of Christ, it is certain that angels are united to us, but only through Christ. All this favor then depends on the one true Mediator. Far then is it from being the case, that Scripture represents angels as patrons to whom we may pray. The meaning then is what we have stated, when Zechariah says, that the angel thus prayed, O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah?
The angel seems in this place to have indirectly blamed God for having too much delayed to bring help to his Church: but this mode of speaking, we know, frequently occurs in the prayers of the saints; they in a manner charged God with delay, that is, according to the perception of their flesh. But this is not inconsistent with the obedience of faith, since the faithful submit at length to the counsel of God. Hence, however familiarly they may often expostulate with God, when he seems to delay and to withhold his aid, they yet restrain themselves, and at length feel assured that what God has appointed is best. But they thus pour forth their cares and their sorrows into the bosom of God, in order to disburden themselves. The angel now adopts this form when he says, “How long wilt thou not show mercy?” It is not however the complaint of unreasonable fervor, as that of the ungodly, who in praying accuse God, rage against him, and quarrel with his judgments. The angel then was not moved by any turbulent feeling, nor were the saints, when they adopted this mode of praying; but they did what God allows us all to do; they thus disburndened their cares and sorrows.
We ought at the same time to notice the special import of the words, “how long,” עד מתי, od-mati? The angel indeed afterwards explains himself, when he expressly mentions the term of seventy years. (21) It was not then without design, or through a strong impulse of feeling, that the angel said, How long? but he had regard to a memorable prophecy, which was in the mouth of all the godly; for God had fixed seventy years for the exile of the people. Since the people knew that a time had been predetermined by God, he does net here supplicate God according to his own will, but only alleges the promise itself: and it is an usual thing with the saints to plead before God what he has promised to them. What indeed can better sustain our hope? and what can give us a greater encouragement in praying, than when we plead with God according to his promises? For God will have our prayers to be founded first on his gratuitous goodness, and then on the constancy of his faithfulness and truth. When therefore they thus address God, “O Lord, thou art true, and thou hast promised this to us; relying on thy word, we dare ask what otherwise we could not,” — they certainly do not exceed the limits as though they prescribed to God a law, but anxiously seek to obtain what had been freely offered. We have seen that the angel does not here complain of delay, but that he founded his plea on that remarkable prophecy, in which God had fixed the term of seventy years for his people.
The angel seems in this place to have indirectly blamed God for having too much delayed to bring help to his Church: but this mode of speaking, we know, frequently occurs in the prayers of the saints; they in a manner charged God with delay, that is, according to the perception of their flesh. But this is not inconsistent with the obedience of faith, since the faithful submit at length to the counsel of God. Hence, however familiarly they may often expostulate with God, when he seems to delay and to withhold his aid, they yet restrain themselves, and at length feel assured that what God has appointed is best. But they thus pour forth their cares and their sorrows into the bosom of God, in order to disburden themselves. The angel now adopts this form when he says, “How long wilt thou not show mercy?” It is not however the complaint of unreasonable fervor, as that of the ungodly, who in praying accuse God, rage against him, and quarrel with his judgments. The angel then was not moved by any turbulent feeling, nor were the saints, when they adopted this mode of praying; but they did what God allows us all to do; they thus disburdened their cares and sorrows. (22)
I have said, that it is more suitable to the passage to say, that the cities had been despised by God: but if any prefers the other view, I will not contend; yet whosoever will minutely consider the intention of the Prophet, will, I think, readily assent to the idea, that the cities had been despised or rejected by God, because he gave them no sign of his mercy. (23) It now follows —
(21) The Hebrew literally is “this seventies year.” A similar anomaly is found in Welsh, “this ten year and sixty,” or “this sixty year and ten.” — Ed.
(22) This point has been frequently referred to by Calvin: but mistakes have arisen from not considering that no less than three events are coincident with this number, as it is clearly proved by Petavius, Prideaux, Bishop Newton, and others. From the first invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 1:1; Jeremiah 25:1, to the edict of Cyrus, 2 Chronicles 36:22, there were seventy years; the same time transpired from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Jeremiah 52:13, eighteen years after, to the second year of Darius Hystaspes, when a decree was made to rebuild the temple; and there were seventy years from the last captivity by Nebuzar-adan, Jeremiah 52:30, to the time when the temple was finished. “So that taking it,” says Prideaux, “which way you will, and at what stage you please, the prophecy of Jeremiah will be fully and exactly accomplished concerning this matter.” Probably the second period is what is here intended. — Ed.
(23) The contrast seems to show that displeasure, or wrath, or flaming wrath, which [ זעם ], pity or compassion, is what is prayed for. God had been as it were angry or indignant, but now his pity is solicited. He is asked to show pity to a people to whom he had manifested extreme displeasure. “Compassionate” and “angry” are the two words used by Henderson; and “have mercy” and “had indignation,” by Newcome. The former appears to be the most appropriate rendering. Compassion or pity, and anger or wrath, seem to be the contrasts. — Ed.
The Prophet shows here, that though God did not immediately on the first day stretch forth his hand to the miserable Jews, he was yet propitious to them. But we must notice, that God speaks only, and does not yet manifest his power. The Prophet’s design must be here observed; for first he reminds the faithful that there was no reason for them to despair, or to be cast down with sorrow; for celestial angels prayed to God for them, and pleaded for their salvation. This is one thing. But a greater and fuller confirmation is added; for God testifies that he is ready to deliver the Jews, though he does not declare this immediately at first. And here we may remark, that it ought to be sufficient to sustain our hope and patience, when God testifies and affirms that he favors us, and that our salvation is dear to him, however miserable our condition may apparently be. God might indeed have immediately given a real proof to the Jews that the time had come to restore them to full prosperity: this he did not, but only made a promise. He gave words only: but his purpose was, by an actual trial, to prove the patience and obedience of his people, when he said that he had not forgotten his covenant, on which depended all the promises previously made.
But the Prophet seems to allude to a prophecy of Isaiah in the fortieth chapter,“
Comfort ye my people, saith your God.” Isaiah 40:1
The Prophets had been for a long time silent: it was indeed right that the Jews should remain long struggling, as they had for so many years hardened themselves against all threatening, and even despised all God’s judgments, according to what is said by Isaiah,“
Let us eat and drink, tomorrow we shall die.” (Isaiah 22:13.)
As then the obstinacy of the people had been so great, it was proper that they should long mourn without comfort. But Isaiah says, that the time would come when God would command his servants to comfort his people again as in former times. Zechariah says now, that God spoke consoling words. We hence learn, that the desires of the godly and the prayer of the angel had been heard; for redemption was now nigh at hand, according to what is said in the hundred and second Psalm, “It is time for thee, O God, to have mercy on Sion, for its time is come;” that is, “The seventy years are completed, which it has pleased thee to assign for our exile.” It now follows —
Zechariah now mentions the chief consolation to which he had referred; for it would not have been sufficient to say in general, and in a few words without explanation, that God gave a kind answer to the angel. For we know how strong were those temptations with which the faithful had to struggle. It was then needful for them to be furnished, not with light weapons, in so arduous a contest. This is the reason why Zechariah more fully expressed the words by which God then strengthened the faith of his people.
He says that the angel had spoken; and he thus intimates that the consolation was not given privately to the angel that he might keep it in his own bosom, but convey it to the whole people. This was not then a secret consolation but what the Lord intended to be proclaimed by his Prophets, according to what is said by Isaiah in the passage to which we have already referred — “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God.”
What God says, that he was moved with great zeal for Jerusalem and Sion, (24) is according to the common language of Scripture. For as God cannot otherwise sufficiently express the ineffable favor which he has towards his elect he is pleased to adopt this similitude, that he undertakes the defense of his people according to what is done by a husband who fights with the greatest zeal for his own wife. This is the reason why he says that he was zealous for Jerusalem. And we ought especially to notice this mode of speaking, that we may not think that God is indifferent when he delays and defers his aid: for as we are hasty in our wishes so we would have God to be precipitant in the same manner; and we impute to him indifference when he does not hasten according to our desires. These doubts God checks when he testifies that he is zealous: for he intimates that his slowness did not proceed from neglect or because he despised or disregarded them; but that there was another reason why he held them in suspense. We may therefore be fully persuaded that even when God withholds his aid he is not otherwise affected towards us than the best of fathers towards his own children; and further that the signs of his love do not appear because it is not always expedient for us to be delivered soon from our troubles. Let this then be our shield against all hasty desires, so that we may not indulge our too ardent wishes, or think that our salvation is neglected by God, when he hides himself for a time and does not immediately stretch forth his hand to help us. It follows —
(24) Marckius and Henderson have followed this rendering of Calvin, and on the ground of a distinction between [ ל ] and [ ב ] following the verb here when followed by [ ל ] as well as by [ ב ], see Genesis 20:10; Psalms 106:16. Our version, followed by Blayney and Newcome, is to be preferred here. There are two kinds of jealousy, as observed by Blayney: the one for disloyalty an unfaithful wife, Proverbs 6:34; and another for the honor and welfare of those whom we love when they are oppressed and wronged, Joel 2:18. God might have been said to be jealous for Jerusalem on either of these accounts. — Ed.
God here obviates the doubt which might have easily crept into the minds of the godly. “Why should he then give up the miserable Jews to the will of the Gentiles, and suffer these heathens at the same time to be in a quiet state and to enjoy their pleasures?” This indeed at the first view seemed very strange: if God had such a zeal towards Jerusalem, why did he not give some token at least of his favor? He therefore gives this answer, — That though the condition of the Gentiles was now better, there was yet no reason for the Jews to be discontented in their troubles, because they were to look forward to the end that was to come. It must further be noticed, that God speaks only here, and is not going forth prepared to execute his vengeance: and it is a real and just trial of faith, when God bids us to depend on his word.
The manner of speaking, used here deserves notice, God was angry with the quiet nations. It is not a superfluous repetition, when it is said, that the nations were quiet. Some render the word wealthy, but not so suitably; for as we have said before, the angel complained that while the whole world was tranquil, God severely chastised his Church alone. God then does here anticipate a temptation which would have otherwise distressed and even wholly disheartened the faithful; and he in effect says, “It is indeed true that the Gentiles all around are quiet, that there are no calamities, that there is no enemy, and that they are subject to no evils: this is no doubt true; but as I am angry, their happiness, while I am opposed to and displeased with them, is a curse.” God, then, does here elevate the thoughts of the godly, that they might know that happiness is to be found in his favor alone, and that whenever he is angry or displeased, though men may think themselves happy, and flatter themselves and exult in their condition, they are yet in a most miserable state; for all happiness is ruinous which does not flow from the fountain of God’s gratuitous love; in short, when God is not our Father, the more we abound in all kinds of blessings, the deeper we sink in all kinds of miseries. This then is the meaning, when God says that he was angry with the quiet nations.
What, then, is the application of this doctrine? That it behaved the Jews, though their condition was very hard according to the perception of men, to have yet acquiesced in the love of God, for they knew that he was their Father, and also, that though they saw their enemies happy, they were yet to regard it no otherwise than a cursed happiness. so also in the thirty-seventh Psalm, the faithful are bid not to envy the unbelieving, while they saw them flourishing in wealth and rolling in pleasures; for it behaved them to regard their end. Let us hence learn to raise up our thoughts to the contemplation of God’s hidden love, when he deals severely with us, and to be satisfied with his word, as we have there an indubitable evidence of his favor: nor let us envy our enemies and the wicked, however the whole world may applaud them, and they themselves luxuriate in their blessings, for we know that God is adverse to them.
A reason also follows, Because God was a little angry, and they helped forward the evil; that is, they exceeded moderation. The meaning is, that the reward of cruelty would be repaid to all the enemies of the Church, because they had exercised immoderate severity, when it was God’s purpose to chastise his children in a gentle and paternal manner.
It may be here first asked, How is it that God declares that he had been a little angry with his people, since his judgment, as pronounced by his servants, was most severe?“
Whosoever shall escape the famine, shall fall by the sword; whosoever shall escape the sword, shall fall among wild beasts.” (Ezekiel 14:14.)
And in many other places he declares the same, that there would be no hope of pardon to the people, but that they were all to perish; that is, the whole body: “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job,” he says, “were in this city, they shall deliver only their lives; but I will not hear their prayers for this irreclaimable people.” But the particle little, מעט, mot, must be applied to the elect: for though God in his dreadful vengeance consumed almost the whole people, yet a remnant, as we know, was preserved. This is the reason why God says, that he was but little angry with his people; for he speaks not of the reprobate and of that impure mass from which he purposed to cleanse his own house; but he has respect to his covenant. We now perceive for what purpose Zechariah says, that God was but moderately angry with his people.
But another difficulty meets us — In what sense did the nations help on the evil? For it hence follows, that the heathens were not restrained from raging immoderately and at their pleasure. And this place has been also laid hold of by that miscreant, who has been lately writing against God’s providence, holding that the wicked become wanton by means of God’s hand and power, and are not thereby restrained. But this is extremely foolish; for the Prophet here does not regard what the nations were able to do or had done; but, on the contrary, he speaks of their cruelty, that they thought that there ought to have been no end until the memory of that people had been obliterated. And this is the reason why Isaiah says, “Thou hast not seen her end.” He therefore upbraids the unbelieving, that they did not calculate rightly as to the end of the Church; for the unbelieving furiously attempted to destroy it, as though that promise could be made void, “My mercy I will not take away.” Since the unbelieving did not see her end, because it was the Lord’s will ever to preserve some remnant among his chosen people, the Prophet says, that they helped forward the evil. We now then perceive the intention of the Prophet, and see that the object is no other but to sustain the hope of the faithful, until what they heard from the mouth of God really took place. Let us proceed -
This is a confirmation of the last prophecy, — that God purposed to put an end to his chastisement, as it is said by Isaiah, “They have received at Jehovah’s hand double for all their sins.” For in these words God reminds us that he was satisfied with the punishment he had inflicted on his people, like a father, who thinks that he had been sufficiently severe and rigid in punishing his son. So now, Thus saith Jehovah, I have returned to Jerusalem in mercies: for it was necessary to give the people the hope of pardon and reconciliation, that they might look forward with confidence. Hypocrites very quickly raise up their crests as soon as a kind word is addressed to them; but the faithful, being conscious of what is wrong, and having their sins before their eyes, do not so easily take courage; nor can they do so, until they are convinced that their sins are buried, and that they themselves are freed from guilt. Hence the Prophet says, that God had turned to Jerusalem, that the Jews might know that the punishment with which God had visited them was to be only for a time.
But in the meantime he exhorts them to humility: for the people could not from this prophecy entertain any hope, except they duly considered that they had suffered justly, because they had provoked God’s wrath. Hence the Prophet reminds them that what they had hitherto endured was to be imputed to their sins; but that God yet intended to treat them in a paternal manner; for, as I have already stated, he had promised that his mercy towards his elect and faithful would be perpetual. Hence he says, that he had returned in mercies to Jerusalem
He then adds, My house shall be built in it; and over Jerusalem shall a line be stretched forth. Line, קוה, kue, is to be taken for a perpendicular line, as in Isaiah 28:17, and in other places. There is here an addition of ה, he, for as it has been elsewhere said, the language had become somewhat degenerated. The import of the whole is, that there was a hope of the temple and of the city being built, because God had returned into favor with the people. There are then two things to be noticed, — that God was now pacified towards Jerusalem, — and that the fruit of reconciliation would be the building of the temple, the establishment of divine worship and of the dignity of the kingdom. The Prophet teaches us at the same time, that the building of the temple was not to be expected but as an instance of God’s gratuitous favor, so that the Jews might know that every hope would have been cut off, had not God been pleased to abolish their guilt.
This doctrine ought also to be extended to the state of the Church at all times: for whence comes it that the Church remains safe in the world? Nay, how is it that it sometimes increases, except that God indulges us according to his infinite goodness? For we cease not daily to provoke him, and deserve to be wholly exterminated from the world. There would then be no Church, were not God to preserve it in a wonderful manner through his goodness and mercies, and also to restore it when it seems to have wholly fallen. He at length adds —
I was not able in my last lecture fully to explain the verse in which the Prophet says that he was commanded by the angel to cry again, that God had returned to Jerusalem in mercies. The design of the words is this, — that though it was difficult to believe the restoration of Jerusalem, it was yet to be fully expected, for the Lord had so appointed. But he enlarges on what I have before stated; for the blessing of God is extended to the cities of Judah, though an express mention is made only of Jerusalem. Yet cities, he says, shall wear out through abundance of blessings; for so I think the verb תפוצנה, tephutzne, is to be taken, as futs means to spread, and also to wear out, and to break. Some elicit a forced meaning, that cities would spread themselves; others, that they would be separated, that is, that security would be so great, that cities, though distant from one another, would be in no danger or fear. But the meaning of the Prophet is clear, unless we designedly pervert it in a matter so manifest and easy. The cities, he says, shall be worn out or wearied through abundance of blessings, or as we say, elles seront entassees; for where there is a great heap, there is crushing. He therefore says, that so great and so full would be the abundance of all things, that the corn would press down itself, and that the vessels would hardly contain the vintage. We now perceive what the Prophet means, — that Jerusalem would yet be made complete, and also that other cities would be filled with all good things, because God would extend his favor to the whole people. (25)
He then adds, Comfort Zion will yet Jehovah, and he will yet choose Jerusalem. The particle פוף, oud, yet, is repeated; for the suspension of favor, of which we have before spoken, might have somewhat prevented the faithful from realising the promise. As then God’s favor was for a time hid, the angel declares, that such would be the change, that God’s goodness and love towards his chosen people would again shine forth as in former days.
As to the word “chosen,” it must be observed, that it is applied, not in its strict sense, to the effect or the evidence of election; for God had chosen before the creation of the world whom he had designed to be his own. But he is said to choose whom he receives into favor, because their adoption seems obliterated in the eyes of men, when there appears no evidence of his paternal favor. As for instance, whenever we read that God had repudiated his own people, it is certain, as Paul says, that the calling of God is without repentance, (Romans 11:29 :) nor does he declare this only of the secret election of each, but also of that general election, by which God had set apart the race of Abraham from the rest of the nations. At the same time many of Abraham’s children were reprobates, as he instances in the case of Esau and of others: yet the election of God was unchangeable; and hence it was that there remained still some hope as to that people, that God would at length gather to himself a Church from the Jews as well as from the Gentiles, so that those who were then separated might be hereafter united together. Since then the calling of God is without repentance, αμετα μελητος, how is it that the Lord is often said to choose, and is also said to reject his chosen? These expressions refer to the outward appearance of things. God therefore will secure his own election to the end; but as we cannot otherwise perceive but that we are rejected by God when he turns away his face from us, he is said to choose again those whom he has repudiated, that is, when he really and by a clear evidence proves that he has not forgotten their first adoption, but that he continues unchangeable in his purpose.
We now then understand what the Prophet means. I have more fully dwelt on this point, because it is necessary to understand this great truth, — that whatever blessings God confers on his own people proceed from eternal election, that this is a perpetual fountain, and yet that election is catachrestically (26) applied to its evidences or effects, as also rejection is to be taken in the same sense for outward punishment, which seems at the first view to be an evidence of rejection, though it be not really so. Let us now proceed -
(25) The verb here used is rendered, “shall be filled,” by the Targum; “shall abound,” by Jerome; “ διαχυθησονται — shall be spread out,” by the Septuagint; “shall spread themselves,” by Grotius; “shall be spread abroad,” by Newcome; “shall overflow,” by Henderson. There are here two ideas; one derived from the Targum, and the other from the Septuagint. The original verb means properly to burst out, to dilate, to spread; and the line may be rendered.
Burst out again shall my cities through abundance.
The reference seems to be to their enlargement, and not to their multiplicity, as Newcome thinks, and that through abundance of blessings, literally, “though good,” [ מטוב ], or good things, the poetical singular instead of the plural. — Ed.
(26) Καταχρηστικως, forcedly, contrary to usage or what is strictly correct. — Ed.
Now follows another vision, by which God confirms what he had before testified to his Prophet. He then says, that though enemies should on every side rise up against the Church and cause it many troubles, there was yet a remedy in God’s hand, as he would break in pieces all horns by his hammers. He compares the Gentiles, who had been hostile to the Jews, to horns; and he afterwards compares to workmen the other enemies, whose hand and labor God would use for the purpose of breaking down the efforts of all those who would be troublesome to the Church. The import of the whole then is, — that though the Church would not be exempt and free from troubles, and those many, yet God would have in his hand those remedies by which he would check all the assaults of the wicked, however impetuously and violently they may rage against his miserable Church.
But let us see in the first place why the Prophet mentions four horns. The Jews refer to the Assyrians and the Babylonians, to the Persian, the Grecians, and the Romans; because we find in other places, and Daniel especially shows very clearly, (Daniel 2:32,) that there were to be four principal monarchies, by which God intended to give clear and memorable examples of his judgments. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, speaks here of the Moabites and of the Syrians, and of other nations, as well as of the Assyrians or Chaldees. They are then mistaken, as I think, who suppose that these four monarchies are intended here: (27) but Zechariah says that they were four horns, because they arose from the four quarters of the world; for we know that the Jews were not harassed only on one side, but on the east and the west, on the north and the south. Since then enemies on every side joined their strength and their forces against the Jews, so that there was a cause for trembling from the four quarters of the world, that is, from all places around them, the Prophet says, that they had been scattered by four horns
This view, however, seems still frigid, because it was not necessary for the Prophet to state what was well known to all: but God intended to show that the nations which had been inimical and hostile to the Jews, had done nothing but through his hidden impulse, in order that the Jews might understand that these were so many scourges by which he purposed to chastise them.
(27) Some of the Rabbins, Jerome, Vatablus, and latterly Blayney, have adopted this view; but it is wholly inadmissible. The single reason that the past enemies of the Jews are here referred to, is a sufficient refutation. The number four is differently accounted, for by Cyril and some others. It is explained of the four principal enemies of the Jews — Pul, Shalmenezar, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar. But what Calvin says seems most satisfactory. “Why four? to denote that these kingdoms had many enemies, enemies on every side, Ezra 4:1; Nehemiah 4:7.” — Newcome. With this view Theodoret, Marckius, and Henderson also agree. — Ed.
But we must join the latter part, — that God showed also to the Prophet four smiths, for these two visions are connected together. Whosoever then takes only the first part, acts very absurdly, for the meaning of the prophecy will not be thus evident. If then we would not mutilate what is connected, we must not separate what is added respecting the four smiths. Inasmuch then as the Jews had been on every side oppressed, God shows that he has remedies enough, and even from various quarters. The Prophet had seen four horns; he now sees four smiths, that is, he is made to know that God can immediately find means to check all disorders and tumults; for he can beat as it were on an anvil these horns, and break in pieces those which had previously scattered the Jews. The same view then is to be taken of the number four as in the former instance: for as the Chaldeans had raged against the Jews, so the Lord shows that he had enemies ready at hand, as he had already in part made it evident; for how was it that the Persian and Medes had so suddenly taken possession of Babylon, had they not been workmen whom God had employed to strike down the Babylonian horn? And whence was it that the Syrians, the Egyptians, and other nations had been made prostrate? It was because they were horns. But the Lord broke down the ferocity of so many nations by his many workmen, for he employed these as though they were hired and ready to do his service. We now apprehend the real object of the Prophet.
But though the Prophet intended by this prophecy to encourage and animate to patience his own nation, as the Spirit of God had given him this office; yet there is here set before us by the Lord as in a mirror, the real condition of the Church at this day. Let us not then wonder if the world rage on every side against the Church and if storms and tempests arise from the east as well as from the west: nor is it a new thing that many enemies from various parts unite together; and that God’s Church should thus have to bear many assaults. This is one thing. In the meantime let this be our consolation, — that God has many smiths at hand. Very apposite is the Prophet’s metaphor; for the hardiness of the horns was formidable LO the Jews; but the Prophet intimates that there is hardness in the hammers, capable of breaking in pieces all horns. God then, though we may be struck by our enemies, will find smiths to break them in pieces; and this indeed is what we have found by experience. How comes it, that the small number of those who purely worship God continue to exist, notwithstanding the rage of enemies, and in spite of so many consultations and devices? For what do all monarchies desire more, or with greater avidity, than to extinguish the memory of the gospel? If then we enquire, what is the condition of the whole world at this day, we shall find that there is hardly a city or a people, or a monarch, or even one of the least princes, whose race is not exhibited against the Church. How then comes it, that they do not put forth their strength and demolish the Church, which by one breath might a hundred times fall to the ground? How is this, except that God by his handlers breaks the horns, and that by means of smiths?
And who are these smiths? They are also horns; for they all wish to destroy as much as they can the Church; but God does not permit them; on the contrary he excites them to mutual wars to destroy one another. Though then all these are horns, ready to assault the Church, and though it appears evident from the comparison that they are as it were furious and vicious bulls, and as much as they can unite together to scatter the Church, yet God gives hammers to two or three of them, and bids them to check the ferocity of their associates. While all these are intent on striking and dispersing the Church by their horns, the Lord calls them to a different work, and as I have said, bids them to be smiths that they may strike and break in pieces these horns, even their associates, with whom they had previously wickedly conspired. And it is certainly a wonderful instance of God’s providence, that amidst so violent and turbulent commotions the Church should take breath, though under the cross; for except these hammers had broken the horns, we must have been pierced through, not only a hundred but a thousand times, and had been dashed into fragments. But God has turned aside their strokes and assaults by his hammers, and, as I have said, has employed his enemies for this purpose.
We now then see that this prophecy was not only useful in the age of Zechariah, but that it has been so in all ages, and that it ought not to be confined to the ancient people, but extended to the whole body of the Church.
But the Prophet, by saying that he asked the angel, sets before us an example of a truly teachable disposition. Though the Lord then may not immediately explain to us his messages, there is yet no reason for us in disdain to reject what is obscure, as we see to be done by many in our day; for when any thing seems ambiguous to them, they immediately reject it, and also complain that God’s word is extremely difficult; and such blasphemies are uttered by many at this day. But the Prophet, though perplexed, did not yet morosely reject what God had showed; on the contrary, he asked the angels. Though the angels are not nigh us, or at least do not appear to us in a visible form, yet God can by other means afford us help when there is any perplexity in his word: he promises to give us the spirit of understanding and wisdom, whenever there is need; and we also know that the preaching of the word and the sacraments are helps to lead us to himself. If then we neglect not these helps which God affords us, and especially if we ask him to guide us by his Spirit, there will certainly be nothing obscure or intricate in the prophecies, which he will not, as far as it is necessary, make known to us. He does not indeed give the Spirit in an equal degree to all; but we ought to feel assured, that though prophecies may be obscure, there will yet be a sure profit derived, if we be teachable and submissive to God; for we find that Zechariah was not deprived of his request, as the angel gave him an immediate answer.
It must also be observed, that in one place he calls him Jehovah, and in another angel; and indeed he speaks thus indiscriminately of one and the same person. It hence follows that God appeared among the angels. But we must remember what I have already said, that this chief angel was the Mediator and the Head of the Church; and the same is Jehovah, for Christ, as we know, is God manifested in the flesh. There is then no wonder that the Prophet should indiscriminately call him angel and Jehovah, he being the Mediator of the Church, and also God. He is God, being of the same essence with the Father; and Mediator, having already undertaken his Mediatorial office, though not then clothed in our flesh, so as to become our brother; for the Church could not exist, nor be united to her God without a head. We hence see that Christ, as to his eternal essence, is said to be God, and that he is called an angel on account of his office, that is, of a Mediator.
The meaning is now evident: God declares that the horns were those which dispersed or scattered Judah as well as Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Israel: but that he had as many smiths, (28) who would by force and by hammers, shatter these horns in pieces, though for a time they would greatly harass the Church. It must be also noticed that horn is to be taken differently when the number is changed: the Gentiles are called horns in the plural number to show their hardness or their strength; and they are then said to lift up their horn in the singular number to show that they ferociously exerted all their power to lay prostrate or to scatter the people of God. Then follows —
(28) The word, [ חרשים ], is of general import, and means artificers, or workmen either in iron, brass, stone, or wood. It is rendered “workmen” by Newcome and Henderson, and “carpenters” in our version. They may be viewed here as signifying skillful men, fitted to do the work assigned to them. The terms used to designate what they were to do, would lead us to this supposition; they were to “drive away” and to “thrust away.” It was not then a work suitable to any particular trade: hence, “skillful men,” would be perhaps the most suitable rendering.
To give the meaning of terrifying to [ החריד ] seems not suitable here: the idea must be similar to that included in [ ידות ], which is not introduced as explanatory. To cause to fly or to move quickly, is the most common meaning of the first verb, so that it may be rendered, “drive or hurry away:” and the other verb means to throw or cast out, to hurl, to thrust forth or away. It seems to note a stronger action, or a greater force than the former.
There is here an evident instance in which [ אלה ] being repeated must be rendered, those and these; there is otherwise a confusion in the passage. I offer the following version: —
21. And I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said, saying, “Those are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no one lifted up his head; and these are come to drive them away, — to thrust away the horns of the nations, which have raised the horn over the land of Judah, to scatter it abroad.”
Notwithstanding this difference as to the literal rendering of this verse, yet the general drift of Calvin’s remarks remains the same. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Zechariah 1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany