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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 11

Verse 1

This Chapter contains severe threatenings, by which God designed in time to warn the Jews, that if there was any hope of repentance, they might be restored by fear to the right way, and that others, the wicked and the reprobate, might be rendered inexcusable, and also that the faithful might fortify themselves against the strong temptation to despond on seeing so dreadful a calamity awaiting that nation.

This prophecy does not indeed seem consistent with the preceding prophecies; for the Prophet has been hitherto not only encouraging the people to entertain hope, but has also declared that their condition would be so happy that nothing would be wanting to render them really blessed: but now he denounces ruin, and begins with reprobation; for he says, that God had been long the shepherd of that nation, but that now he renounced all care of them; for being wearied he would no longer bear with that perverse wickedness, which he had found in them all. These things seem to be inconsistent: but we may observe, that it was needful in the first place to set before the Jews the benefits of God, that they might with more alacrity proceed with the work of building the temple, and know that their labor would not be in vain; and now it was necessary to change the strain, lest hypocrites, vainly confiding in these promises, should become hardened, as it is commonly the case; and also, lest the faithful should not entertain due fear, and thus go heedlessly before God; for nothing is more ruinous than security, inasmuch as when a license is taken to sin, God’s judgment impends over us. We hence see how useful and reasonable was this warnings of the Prophet, as he made the Jews to understand, that God would not be propitious to his people without punishing their wickedness and obstinacy.

In order to render his prophecy impressive, Zechariah addresses Libanon; as though he was God’s herald, he bids it to open its gates, for the whole wood was now given up to the fire. Had he spoken without a figure, his denunciation would not have had so much force: he therefore denounces near ruin on Lebanon and on other places. Almost all think that by Lebanon is to be understood the temple, because it was built with timber from that mountain; but this view seems to me frigid, though it is approved by the common consent of interpreters. For why should we think the temple to be metaphorically called Lebanon rather than Bashan? And they think so such thing of Bashan, though there is equally the same reason. I therefore regard it simply as the Mount Lebanon; and I shall merely refer to what Joseph us declares, that the temple was opened before the city was destroyed by Titus. But though that history may be true, and it seems to me probable, it does not hence follow that this prophecy was then fulfilled, according to what is said of Rabbi Jonathan, who then exclaimed, “Lo! the prophecy of Zechariah; for he foretold that the temple would be burnt, and that the gates would be previously opened.” These things seem plausible, and at the first view gain our approbation. But I think that we must understand something more solid, and less refined: for I doubt not but that the Prophet denounces complete ruin on Mount Lebanon, and on Bashan and other places. (129)

But why does he bid Lebanon to open its gates? The reason is given, for shortly after he calls it a fortified forest, which was yet without walls and gates. Lebanon, we know, was nigh to Jerusalem, though far enough to be free from any hostile attack. As then the place was by nature sufficiently safe from being assailed, the Prophet speaks, as though Lebanon was surrounded by fortresses; for it was not exposed to the attacks of enemies. The meaning is, — that though on account of its situation the Jews thought that Lebanon was not exposed to any evils, yet the wantonness of enemies would lead them even there. We have already said why the Prophet bids Lebanon to open its gates, even because he puts on the character of a herald, who threatens and declares, that God’s extreme vengeance was already nigh at hand.

(129) Both to Jewish and Christian expounders for the most part have regarded the temple as meant by Libanon; with whom Blayney and Henderson agree. But the whole context clearly favors the opinion of Calvin, which has been followed by Marckius and Henry. There is in what follows no allusion to the temple, but the “land,” verse 6, is expressly mentioned. The “cedars” evidently represented the chief men in the state, not in the temple, called in the second verse “the might” ones. Indeed the whole of what follows countenances this idea, that the Jewish state or land is what is intended. What has chiefly led to the notion, that the temple is intended, is the fact that it was built by cedars from Libanon: but the burning of the cedars mentioned here does not represent the burning of the temple, but the destruction of the chief men in the land of Judah; and this consideration alone is fatal to the notion. — Ed.

Verse 2

He then adds, Howl thou, fir-tree, for the cedar has fallen. No doubt the Prophet by naming Lebanon, mentioning a part for the whole, meant the whole of Judea: and it appears evident from the context that the most remarkable places are here mentioned; but yet the Prophet’s design was to show, that God would punish the whole people, so as not to spare Jerusalem or any other place. And then by the fir-trees and cedars he meant whatever then excelled in Judea or in other places; and for this reason he compares them to the cedars of Lebanon, as though he had said, “There is no reason for the fir-trees to regard themselves as beyond the reach of danger; for if he spares not the cedars what will become of the fir-trees, which possess no such stateliness and grandeur?”

We now then perceive the Prophet’s meaning as to the trees: but he includes, as I have said, under one kind, whatever was valuable in Judea; and this we learn more clearly from what follows: for he adds, Fallen have, or laid waste have been, the strong (130) Some read in the neuter gender, “Laid waste have been splendid things;” but I am inclined to regard persons as intended. The Prophet then now simply declares, that the vengeance of God was nigh all the great ones, whom dignity sheltered, so that they thought themselves in no danger. And for the same purpose he adds, Howl, ye oaks of Bashan. He joins, as we see, Bashan to Lebanon; there is then no reason for allegorising only one of the words, when they are both connected. And he says, For fallen has the fortified forest. Either this may be applied to Lebanon, or the Prophet may be viewed as saying in general, that there was no place so difficult of access, which would not be penetrated into, when the Lord should give liberty to enemies to destroy all things. Though then the density of trees protected these mountains, yet the Prophet says that nothing would obstruct God’s vengeance from penetrating into the inmost recesses of strongholds.

(130) The word means illustrious, stately, magnificent, glorious. It may apply to the cedars, or to the rulers or chief men, represented by the cedars, which is most probable: they are afterwards called shepherds and lions. — Ed.

Verse 3

He then adds, The voice of the howling of shepherds; for their excellency, or their courage, is laid waste. Here he has אדר, ader, and before אדירים, adirim, in the masculine gender. We see then that the Prophet confirms the same thing in other words, “Howl now,” he says, “shall the shepherds.” He intimates that the beginning of this dreadful judgment would be with the chief men, as they were especially the cause of the public ruin. He then says, that the dignity of the great was now approaching its fall, and hence he bids them to howl. He does not in these words exhort them to repentance, but follows the same strain of doctrine. By God’s command he here declares, that the shepherds who took pride in their power, could not escape the judgment which they had deserved: and as this is a mode of speaking usually adopted by the Prophets, I shall no longer dwell on the subject.

He afterwards adds, The voice of the roaring of lions. He no doubt gives here the name of lions, by way of metaphor, to those who cruelly exercised their power over the people. But he also alludes to the banks of Jordan, where there were lions, as it is well known. Since then lions were found along the whole course of Jordan, as it is evident from many passages, he compares shepherds to lions, even the governors who had abused their authority by exercising tyranny over the people: Fallen then has the pride or the excellency of Jordan. In short, it is now sufficiently evident, that the Prophet threatens final destruction both to the kingdom of Judah and to the kingdom of Israel. Both kingdoms were indeed then abolished; but I speak of the countries themselves. The meaning is — that neither Judea nor the land of the ten tribes would be free from God’s vengeance. (131) He afterwards adds —

(131) The whole passage, including the three first verses, is remarkably concise, striking, and poetical,—


1. Open, Lebanon, thy doors, That consume may the fire thy cedars:

2. Howl thou the fir-tree; For fallen is the cedar, Because the magnificent are wasted. Howl, ye oaks of Bashan; For come down is the forest, the fenced one.

3. The voice of the howling of shepherds! Because wasted is their magnificence; The voice of the roaring of lions! For wasted is the pride of Jordan.

There is a correspondence between “consume” and “wasted.” The Jewish rulers were called “shepherds” with regard to their office, and “lions” on account of their rapidity. Their “magnificence” was wasted, like that of the cedars when consumed by fire. The “pride of Jordan” were the trees growing on its borders, which afforded shelter for lions. These became wasted or destroyed, so that the lions could find there no receptacle. All these things intimate the entire destruction of the Jewish state. — Ed.

Verse 4

Here is given a reason why God purposed to deal so severely with his people — even because their obstinacy deserved no pardon. As then in the beginning of the chapter the Prophet threatened ruin to the Jews, so now he reminds them that their punishment was nigh, and that they could not be more gently treated, because their wickedness was wholly incurable. We now perceive the design of the Prophet; but he charges the Jews especially with ingratitude, because they responded so basely and shamefully to the singular benefits of God.

He says first, that he was bidden to feed the flock destined to the slaughter (132) Now the Prophet does not here relate simply what command he had received from God, but teaches us in general that God had ever performed the office of a good and faithful shepherd towards the Jews. The Prophet then assumes the character of all the shepherds, as though he had said, “There is no reason why this people should plead their ignorance, or attempt to disguise their own fault by other names and various pretences; for God has ever offered them a shepherd, and sent also ministers to guide and rule them: it is not to be ascribed to God that this people has not enjoyed prosperity and happiness.” There is now no need of spending much labor about this verse, as interpreters have done who confine what is here said to Christ alone, as one who had received this office from the Father; for we shall see from the passage itself that the Prophet’s words are by them forcibly wrested from their meaning.

Let it then be borne in mind, that his special object is to show — that God had ever been ready to rule this people, so that he could not have been accused by them of not having done what could have been possibly looked for or expected from a good shepherd. If any one objects and says, that this could have been said in other words, the plain answer is — that God’s perpetual care in his government had been fully shown; for he had not only himself performed the duties and office of a shepherd, but had also at all times set over them ministers, who performed faithfully their work. Since God then had so constantly and sedulously watched over the safety of the people, we see that their ingratitude was wholly proved. And by calling it the flock of slaughter, a reference is made to the time of the Prophet; for the Jews were then as though they had been snatched from the jaws of wolves, having been delivered from exile. They were then as dead sheep, whom the Lord had rescued; and we also know to how many troubles and dangers they had been constantly exposed. And hence appeared more clearly the goodness of God; for he was pleased nevertheless to exercise care over his flock. Then the Prophet enlarges here on God’s favor, because he had not despised his sheep though given up to the slaughter. The words might indeed be extended farther, as though the Prophet referred to what had already taken place, and they might thus be applied to many ages; but it seems to me more probable, that he mentions here what belonged to that age. Zechariah then teaches us why God was constrained to adopt extreme severity, even because he had tried all things that might have healed the people, and yet lost all his labor: when their wickedness became wholly incurable, despair as it were at length constrained God to exercise the severity mentioned here. This is, as I think, the meaning of the Prophet.

(132) This “slaughter” has reference to the ruin and destruction denounced in the previous verses, or to what was done by “the possessors” who slew them, verse 5. — Ed.

Verse 5

He afterwards adds another circumstance, which shows still further the wonderful and ineffable goodness of God, — that he had been a shepherd of a flock, which had not only been harassed by wolves and robbers, but also by its own shepherds. In short, the import of the whole is, — that though wolves and robbers had ranged with great barbarity among the people, yet God had always been their shepherd.

He then enlarges on the subject and says, that they who possessed them had killed them, so that they spared not. By these words the Prophet shows that the safety of the people had been deemed as nothing by their very leaders: they could not then by any excellence of their own have induced God to show so much kindness to them. But these words ought to be attentively noticed, — that when the flock was slain, the executioners or butchers themselves had no mercy, for they thought it was a spoil justly due to them. We see how God extols here his own goodness; for he had condescended to defend and rule and feed that people, who were not only despised in the world, but counted as nothing, and the slaughtering of them deemed a lawful prey: they sin not, (133) he says, that is, they are not conscious of exercising any cruelty, — Why? because they thought that they justly enriched themselves, while they were plundering so wretched a flock. The more base, then, and inexcusable was the ingratitude of the people, when after having been so kindly received and so gently nourished by God, they yet rejected all his favors and suffered not themselves to be governed by his hand. And it is material to observe here, that these contrasts tend greatly to exaggerate the sins of men, and ought to be considered, that God’s severity may not be blamed; for we know that many complain when God executes his judgments: they would measure all punishments by their own ideas, and subject God to their own will. In order therefore to check such complaints, the Prophet says, that though the flock was most contemptible, it had not yet been despised by God, but that he undertook the care of it.

The shepherds and masters said, Blessed be Jehovah. We are wont to give thanks to God when we really believe that the blessings we have come from him. The robber who kills an innocent man will not say, “Blessed be God;” for he on the contrary tries to extinguish every remembrance of God, because he has wounded his own conscience. The same may be also said of thieves. Hypocrites often profess the name of God; and they whose trade is cheating ever make a speech of this kind, “By God’s grace I have gained so much this year;” that is, after having acquired the property of others by deceit, cheating, and plunder, they give thanks to God! and at the same time they flatter themselves by self-deception, as though all were a lawful prey; for, forsooth! they are not proved guilty before a human tribunal. Now the Prophet here adopts this common mode of speaking, by which men, not conscious of doing wrong, usually testify that their gain is just and lawful.

(133) More correct is our version, “and held not themselves guilty.” The Targum gives the idea, “and say, there is no sin upon us.” The Septuagint have departed from the meaning of the verb, though the general import is retained, “and they repented not;” and the same may be said of Jerome, “and they grieved not.” The version of Henderson is not right, “And are not held guilty.” It is not what others thought of them, but what they thought of themselves, is evidently intended. — Ed.

Verse 6

He then adds, And he who fed then has not spared them. The meaning is, that the people, according to the opinions commonly entertained, were not worthy of mercy and kindness. Hence, as I have said, the wonderful goodness of God shines forth more clearly; for he condescended to take the care of a flock that was wholly despised. (134) Then he says, I will not spare the inhabitants of the land; behold I will deliver, etc. To some it appears that there is here a reason given; for the Jews would have never been thus stripped, had not God been angry with them; as though he had said, that God’s vengeance was just, inasmuch as they were thus exposed to such atrocious wrongs. But according to my judgment God simply confirms what we have stated, — that his future vengeance on the Jews would be most just, because he had in feeding them so carefully labored wholly in vain. For though the Prophet has not as yet expressed what we shall hereafter see respecting their ingratitude, he yet does not break off his discourse without reason, for indignation has ever some warmth in it; he then in the middle of his argument exclaims here, I will not spare; for God had spared the Jews, when yet all men exercised cruelty towards them with impunity; and when they were contemptible in the sight of all, he still had regarded their safety. As then they had been so ungrateful for so many acts of kindness, ought not God to have been angry with them? This is then the reason why the Prophet introduces here in God’s name this threatening, Surely I will not spare them; that is, “I have hitherto deferred my vengeance, and have surpassed all men in kindness and mercy; but I have misplaced my goodness, and now there is no reason why I should longer suspend my judgment.” I will spare then no longer the inhabitants of this land

I will give, or deliver, he says, every man into the hand of his friend; as though he had said, “They are no longer sheep, for they will not bear to be ruled by my hand, though they have found me to be the best of shepherds. They shall now tear and devour one another; and thus a horrible dispersion will follow.” Now the Jews ought to have dreaded nothing so much, as to be given up to destroy themselves by mutual slaughter, and thus to rage cruelly against one another and to perish without any external enemy: but yet God declares that this would be the case, and for this reason, because he could not succeed with them, though willing to feed them as his sheep and ready to perform the office of shepherd in ruling them. (135)

He concludes by saying, They shall smite the land, and I will not deliver from their hand. He intimates in the last place that ruin without any remedy was nigh; for he alone was the only deliverer of the people; but now he testifies that their safety would not be the object of his care; for should he see them perishing a hundred times, he would not be moved with pity, nor turn to bring them help, inasmuch as they had precluded all compassion. It now follows —

(134) There are in this verse, the fifth, several anomalies. The verbs, except one, are in the singular, and the nouns, “possessors,” “sellers,” and “shepherds,” are in the plural number, and the pronoun affixed to “shepherds” is masculine, while that which is affixed to each of the two preceding words is feminine, referring to the antecedent, “sheep.” There are MSS. and early versions in which these anomalies are rectified; and it is but reasonable to adopt such corrections. The meaning of the verse is evident; and it may be that some of these anomalies are idiomatic. A plural noun in Welsh has commonly a verb in the singular number when placed after it, which is often the case. — Ed.

(135) There is one phrase omitted, “and unto the hand of his king;” that is “Antiochus,” says Grotius, —”Herod,” says Drusius, —”Caesar,” says Henderson. But no particular king seems intended, but a state of things is set forth, signifying the tyranny and oppression of the ruling power, which was verified in the condition of the Jews during a considerable period, until at last they were destroyed by one of the Caesars, the emperor of Rome. Inward discord, and the tyranny of those who ruled over them, characterised their history from the time of Antiochus Epiphanes until they were demolished as a nation by Titus and Vespasian. This seems to be the import of this prophecy. The singular number is used poetically: and this appears evident from the words which follow, “And they shall smite,” or rather pound to pieces, “the land.” The “king” is spoken of here as many — “they,” so that a succession of tyrants is meant. — Ed.

Verse 7

He resumes here the thread of the discourse, which he had shortly before broken off; for he sets forth what had not yet been sufficiently expressed — that the ingratitude of the people, with which obstinacy was especially united, deserved entire ruin, and that now there was no hope of pardon; for the paternal care of God had been most basely and most shamefully repudiated, as well as the kind favor which he had manifested to the people.

God then complains that he fed the flock. Some apply this to Zechariah; but, as I have said, God relates the acts of kindness which he had uniformly showed to the people, until they became wholly unworthy of his favor. Let us however remember that the Prophet speaks of the remnant; for he does not here recount the benefits of God in ancient times, but describes the state of the people after their return from their exile in Babylon. God seemed before to have committed this office to Zechariah — to feed them; but as I have already said, the design of that was no other than to make it evident that the whole fault was in the people; for they had thrust from them the kindness of God, and in a manner carried on war frowardly with God, so as to prevent any access for his favor. There is therefore here an expostulation in God’s name.

I have fed, he says, the flock of slaughter, even the poor of the flock. Some render לכן, on account of; but it may be taken in an explanatory sense: or we may give this rendering — “therefore the poor,” or, especially the poor. With regard to the meaning, God here intimates that he had manifested his care for the whole people, for he had hoped that there were a few sheep yet remaining worthy of having mercy shown to them. As then some poor sheep might have been found among the impure flock, God says, that having this hope, he did not deem it grievous or burdensome to undertake the office of a shepherd in ruling the people. I have then fed the flock of slaughter, even for this reason, he says, because there were some miserable sheep among them: I was therefore unwilling to forsake them, and preferred to try all means rather than to cast away even one little sheep, provided a single one were found in the whole flock. (136)

He says that he took two rods, that he called one נעם, nom, “Beauty,” and that he called the other חבלים, chebelim, “Cords,” rendered “destroyers” by those who adhere to the Hebrew points; but as חבל, both in the singular and plural, has the meaning of a rope or cord, the Prophet, I have no doubt, means by חבלים, chebelim, ropes or bindings. Grammar, indeed, does not allow this; but Zechariah did not set down the points, for they were not then in use. I indeed know with how much care the old scribes contrived the points, when the language had already ceased to be in common use. They then who neglect, or wholly reject the points, are certainly void of all judgment and reason; but yet some discrimination ought to be exercised; (137) for if we read here “destroyers,” there is no meaning; if we read “cords,” there is no letter changed, but only two points are altered. As then the subject itself necessarily demands this meaning, I wonder that interpreters suffer themselves to be servilely constrained, so as not to regard the design of the Prophet.

The Prophet then says, that he had taken two rods, that he might devote himself in a manner not common to the office of a shepherd. Shepherds were satisfied with one crook; for by rods he means here the crook used by shepherds. As then every shepherd carried his own crook, the Prophet says here that he was furnished with two crooks, or pastoral staffs, because the Lord surpassed all men in his solicitude in the office of ruling his people. But the remainder I must defer until tomorrow.

(136) This sentence has puzzled many, but needlessly. [ לכז ] has sometimes the meaning of [ כז ], certainly, surely, in truth, Jeremiah 5:2; and it may be rendered here “especially,” as Calvin does. The simple [ כז ] is used in a similar sense in verse 11, in connection with the same words in part, as here: them, to consider them as “the poor of the flock,” and not “the miserable sheep,” as rendered by Henderson. The rendering of Newcome gives the same meaning—”because of the poor of the flock.” He considers that [ לכז ] here signifies the same with [ למעז ], which is given in one MS., and agrees with the Syriac. — Ed.

(137) Grotius speaks in a similar strain of the Punctuists, and agrees with Jerome and others in regarding the word of a similar import with that stated by Calvin. The 14 verse is a sufficient confirmation. It is rendered “[ σχοινισμα ], bond,” by the Septuagint, Agg. and Sym. — “ funiculi, ropes or cords,” by the Vulgate. — “ devincientes, binders,” by Drusius and Marckius; and as in our version, “bands,” by Newcome and Henderson

Verse 8

At the beginning of the verse the Prophet continues the same subject, that God spared no pains in ruling the people, but patiently bore with many grievances; for it is the duty of every good and careful husband man to inspect often his flock, and to change his shepherd, when he finds him idle and inattentive to his duties. God then shows that he had exercised the greatest vigilance, for in one month he had rejected three shepherds, that is, he had within a short space of time often made choice of new shepherds, and substituted them for others, for one month is to be taken here for a short time, and the three shepherds signify many, indefinitely. When a husband man neglects his own flock, he may be deceived all the year round, should he meet with a thief or an inactive and worthless man. Since then God says, that he had changed his shepherds often in one month, he intimates what I have already said, that he took the greatest care of his flock, for he loved it, and omitted nothing necessary to defend it. (138) And this circumstance especially aggravated the sin of the Jews, for they did not respond to so great a care on God’s part; no, not when they saw that he watched night and day for their safety.

Now the latter part of the verse is a complaint, for God begins to set forth how base had been the wickedness and ingratitude of the people, With weariness, he says, has my soul been affected by them, and their soul has hated me (139) He speaks not now of the shepherds, and they are mistaken who so read the passage, as though God had repudiated the shepherds, because his soul w as wearied with them: on the contrary, he turns his discourse to the whole people, and begins to show how wicked they had been, who having been favored with so many benefits, could not yet endure the best of shepherds. Hence he says, that his soul had been straitened by them, for he found no room made for his favors. Paul also, treating on this subject, expostulates with the Corinthians, and says, that he was ready to pour forth his heart and to open widely his mouth, but they themselves were straitened, and he felt himself these straitenings in his own heart. (2 Corinthians 6:11.) So also God complains here and says, that he was straitened by the Jews; for he found that his blessings were not rightly received, but as it were hindered, so great was the wickedness of the people.

He expresses more clearly at the end that he was despised by them, They also have hated me. Now it was a contempt in no way excusable, when the Jews would not acknowledge how kindly and bountifully God had treated them. We now perceive the Prophet’s design: after having related how kindly God had condescended to rule the people, he now says that this labor had produced no fruit, for the door for God’s favors had been closed up. It afterwards follows-

(138) This is a more satisfactory explanation than what has been by many offered; for most have made the attempt to fix on some three shepherds, either before or after this time. Jerome mentions Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; others have referred to the three sons of Josiah, to the three Maccabean brethren, and to the three last of the Asmonean princes. Cyril names the priests, civil rulers, and lawyers or scribes; and this is the explanation which Henderson prefers, and also Scott and Adam Clarke. Newcome has given no option. Blayney prefers another rendering, “and I set aside the authority of the shepherds,” but this cannot be admitted. The view given by Calvin is the most reasonable, and comports with the character of what was conveyed by vision. — Ed.

(139) My soul was grieved at them, and their soul also loathed me.— Newcome.

My soul loathed them, and their soul also rejected me. —Henderson

The first verb means grieved, vexed, or wearied, and not loathed. See Numbers 21:23 : Jude 10:16. “Wearied was my soul with them.” The verb in the next clause is only found here, and rendered “roared,” [ επωροντο ], by the Septuagint, (see Jeremiah 12:7,) and “despised,” by the Targum. It is said, that the word in the Talmud is used in the sense of despising and hating, and this idea suits this place, “and their soul also hast despised me.” — Ed.

Verse 9

God now declares what had been briefly mentioned before, — that his judgment could not be deemed cruel, for the people had been extremely wicked, and their wickedness deserved extreme punishment. It seems indeed to be a simple narrative; but God here defends his own cause, for he had tried all means in ruling the people, before he had recourse to extreme rigor. Who indeed could now murmur against God? for he had been ever ready to undertake the office of a shepherd, and had so humbled himself as to take care of that people as his own flock, and had, in short, omitted no kind of attention; and yet he had been despised by that people, and even treated with derision. It was therefore an extreme indignity when they hated God, who had yet dealt with them with so much kindness. We hence see that God’s judgment is here vindicated from every calumny; for the wickedness of the people was altogether inexcusable before God had renounced his care of them.

I said: the time must be noticed, for he intimates that he had not been too hasty in taking vengeance; but that as there was no longer any remedy, he had been constrained, as it were by necessity, to give up his office of a shepherd. I said then, I will not feed you; what is to die, let it die; what is to be cut off, let it be cut off (140) He here resigns his office of a shepherd, and intimates that he was innocent and free from all blame, whatever might happen. A shepherd is set over a flock for this purpose, — that he may defend it, even every sheep, both against the depredations of robbers, and the rapacity of wolves: but when he gives up his office, he is exempt from all blame, though afterwards the flock may be stolen or devoured by wolves and wild beasts. God then here openly declares, that it was not to be imputed to him, if the Jews perished a hundred times, for they refused to be ruled by him, and thus he was freed from the pastoral charge. What then is to perish, let it perish; that is, “Since they are not healable, and allow no remedy to be applied to their evils, I leave them; they shall find out what it is to be without a good shepherd.”

We now see more clearly what I before stated, — that the wickedness and ingratitude of the people are here reproved, because they had rejected God, who was ready to be their shepherd, — and that the cause of the ruin which was nigh at hand, was in the Jews themselves, though they anxiously tried, but in vain, to transfer it to another.

He concludes with these words, And those which remain, even those who shall escape external attacks, let them eat one another, since they are not now sheep, but savage wild beasts. And this we know has been fulfilled; for the Jews at length perished through mutual discords, and no one spared his own brother; nay, the nearer the relationship, the more cruelly each raged against the other. Hence God’s judgment, denounced by the Prophet, then appeared most openly, when the Jews perished through intestine broils and even slaughters. It then follows —

(140) The Targum renders the verbs in the future tense, “shall die — shall be cut off;” but the Septuagint and Jerome, in the imperative mood, as here. The verse may be thus rendered, —


9. And I said,—I will not feed you; She that is to die, shall die; And she that is to be cut off, shall be cut off; And the remainder shall devour, Each one the flesh of its (or her) fellow.

The dying,” or “the dead,” and “the cut off,” the literal rendering, clearly mean what was destined to die and to be cut off. Hence to render “cut off” here “missing,” as done by Blayney, is not at all necessary. — Ed.

Verse 10

He confirms the same truth, but a metaphor is introduced: for he says, that when he freed himself from the office of a shepherd, he broke the two rods, even Beauty and Gathering. He speaks of the first staff, because things were in a confusion in Judea, before the people were wholly cut off; for the dispersion did not immediately take place, so that there was no sort of social state among the Jews; but social order was so deranged, that it was sufficiently evident that they were not ruled by God. By degrees the purity of doctrine was corrupted, and a flood of errors crept in; superstition gained great strength. When things were in this state of confusion, the pastoral staff was broken, which is called, Beauty. This verse then contains no more than an explanation of the last: and hence also he says, That broken might be the covenant which I had made, that is, that it might be now quite evident that this people are not ruled by my hand and authority.

Some interpreters extend to the whole world what is here said of nations, and think that the same thing is meant by Zechariah as that which is said in Hosea 2:1, -that the Lord made a covenant with the beasts of the earth and the birds of heaven, that no harm should happen to his people; but the comparison is not suitable. It is then probable, that God here speaks only of the posterity of Abraham; nor is it to be wondered at that they are called nations, for even so Moses says,

Nations from thee shall be born,” (Genesis 17:6.)

and this was done for the purpose of setting forth the greatness of God’s favor; for the ten tribes were as so many nations among whom God reigned. It seemed incredible, that from one man, not only a numerous family, but many nations should proceed. The real meaning then seems to be, that God testified that he would no longer be the leader of that people; for when order was trodden under foot, the covenant of God was made void. Why indeed was that covenant continued, and what was its design, except to keep things aright, in a fit and suitable condition? Thus in the church, God regards order, so that nothing should be done rashly, according to every man’s humor. This then was the beginning of that dispersion, which at length followed when the people had fallen off from the order which God had appointed. (141)

(141) “All the nations” are considered to be the heathen nations by Michaelis, Newcome, and Henderson; but the meaning in this case is very obscure. Though the word here used, “peoples,” or nations, commonly designates the Gentile world, yet there are instances in which it is applied to the tribes of Israel. See Genesis 22:28; Joel 2:6 Blayney proposes to connect “all nations” with “cut asunder,” and renders [ אם ], “before,” “and cut it asunder, to break the covenant which I had made, before all the nations:” but interviewing clauses of this kind are quite foreign to the character of the Hebrew language. — Ed.

Verse 11

He concludes by saying, that in that day the covenant was broken. By which words he intimates that it was not by chance that the law was destroyed, and that the Jews departed from the just government of God, but that it was through the dreadful vengeance of God. In that day then: this is emphatical, as though the Prophet had said, “It ought not to be ascribed to chance that things have changed for the worse, for God has thus executed his judgment, after having with extreme patience borne with the wickedness of the people.” And hence he adds, that the poor of the flock saw that this was the word of Jehovah. Here the Prophet briefly points out two things — that this was not commonly known as God’s judgment, but that almost all with closed eyes overlooked what had happened; for the world contracts as it were hardness, and becomes wilfully obdurate under the scourges of God. All cry out that they are miserable, but no one regards the hand of the striker, as it is said elsewhere. (Isaiah 9:13.) So also Zechariah charges here the Jews with stupidity; for though the greater part saw all things in confusion, yet they did not consider, but regarded almost as nothing the dreadful judgment of God. It must then be that men are extremely refractory, when they perceive not that they are chastised by God; yet the Prophet charges the Jews with this sottishness; for they regarded not this as the word of Jehovah, they did not believe that this was God’s hand. But he says further, that the poor of the flock perceived this: and thus he shows, that while the body of the people followed the way to ruin, a few derived benefit from God’s scourges; and thus it never happens, that God chastises without some advantage. Though then the reprobate obstinately resist God, and hesitate not to tread under foot his judgments, and as far as they can, render them void, there are yet some few who receive benefit and acknowledge God’s hand so as to humble themselves and repent.

The Prophet, then, after having complained that the chief men, even those who were in honor and in wealth among the Jews, heedlessly despised God’s dreadful judgment, makes this addition, that there were a few very poor and humble men, who regarded this judgment as not having come by chance, but through God, who became a just avenger, because his favor had been wantonly despised: The poor then of the flock knew this to be the word of Jehovah

As this happened in the time of the Prophet, it is no wonder that at this day, even when God thunders from heaven and makes known his judgments by manifest proofs, the world should yet rush headlong into perdition, and become as it were stupefied in their calamities. In the meantime we ought to strive to connect ourselves with the miserable poor, who are deemed as the offscourings of the world, and so attentively to consider God’s vengeance, that we may seriously fear and not provoke his extreme judgments, and thus perish with the wicked.

We must observe also the expression which Zechariah introduced before the last words, Who attend to me. He mentions it as a singular and a rare thing, that even a few deigned to consider the works of God. The chief wisdom of men, we know, is attentively to consider the hand of God; but almost all seem to be immersed in a state of stupor: when the Lord smites them, they stand as it were amazed, and never, as we have already said, regard the hand of the smiter; and when the Lord freely and kindly cherishes them, they exult in their own wantonness. Thus under every kind of treatment, they are untractable; for they attend not to God, but close their eyes, harden their hearts, and cover themselves with many veils; in short, we find the blindness of the world ever connected with perverseness, so that they in vain pretend ignorance, for they attend not to God, but on the contrary turn their backs on him and darken the clear light by their wickedness.

We now then see why this sentence is introduced, that the poor of the flock understand, because they apply their minds and devote their attention for the purpose of considering the works of God. It hence follows that the bulls, who with their horns fearlessly assail God, and that he-goats, who by their stench fill the air, continue in their brutishness, and derive no benefit from God’s judgments, because they are wilfully and through their own wickedness wholly blind. It follows —

Verse 12

God now adds another crime, by which he discovers the wickedness of the people; for they estimated all the labor he had bestowed at a cry insignificant price. He had before complained of ingratitude; but more fully detected was the iniquity and baseness of the people, when they thus regarded as of no value the inestimable favor of God towards them. What the Prophet then says now is — that God at last tried them so as to know whether his benefits were of any account among the Jews, and that it had been fully found out, that all the labor and toil employed in their behalf, had been ill-spent and wholly lost. That Zechariah now speaks in his own person, and then introduces God as the speaker, makes no difference, as we said yesterday, as to the main subject; for his object is to set forth how shamefully the Jews had abused the favor of God, and how unjustly they had despised it. And yet he speaks as God’s minister; for God not only governed that people himself, but also endued with the power of his Spirit many ministers, who undertook the office of shepherds.

He then says, that he came (and what is said properly belongs to God) to the people and demanded a reward, Give me, he says, a reward; if not, forbear (142) He expresses here the highest indignation, as though one upbraided the wickedness and ingratitude of his neighbor and said, “Own my kindness, if you please; if not, let it perish: I care not; I see that you are wholly worthless and altogether unworthy of being so liberally treated: I therefore make no account of thy compensations; but at the same time it behaves thee to consider how much thou art indebted to me.” So now does God in high displeasure speak here: “ Give me at least a reward, that I may not have served you for nothing: you have misused my labor, I have borne with many wrongs and annoyances in ruling you; what is to be the compensation for my solicitude and care? I indeed make no account of a reward, for I am not a mercenary.” He then adds, that they gave him thirty silverings (143) He mentions this no doubt as a mean price, intimating, that they wished by such a small sum to compensate for the many and inestimable favors of God; as when one hires a swineherd or a clown, he gives a paltry sum as his wages; so the Jews, as the Prophet says, acted towards God. At the same time by the mean price, a suitable reward only to a clown, he means those frivolous things by which the Jews thought to satisfy God: for we know how diligent they were in performing their ceremonies, as though indeed these were a compensation that was of any value with God! He requires integrity of heart, and he gives himself to us, that he may in return have us as his own. (144) This then was the price of labor which the Lord had deserved. It would have been a suitable reward had the Jews devoted themselves wholly to him in obedience to his word. But what did they do? They sedulously performed ceremonies and other frivolous things. This then was a sordid reward, as though they sought to put him off with the reward of a swineherd.

(142) Drusius gives the sense, “ Nihil date — give nothing;” and Jerome, “ Aperte renute — openly refuse.” — Ed.

(143) “Rate my labors as a true shepherd. And they rated it contemptuously; thirty pieces of silver being the price of a slave. Exodus 21:32.” — Newcome.

(144) So Grotius says, “ Villa haec merces significat victimas et ritus sine pietate solida, — This means reward signifies victims and ceremonies without real piety.” — Ed.

Verse 13

Hence he adds, Jehovah said to me, throw it to the potter. “This truly is my reward! Cast it to the potter, that he may get some bricks or coverings to repair the temple; if there are any parts of the temple dilapidated, let the potter get thereby some bricks, or let any humble artisan have such a price for himself.” But he afterwards speaks ironically when he says, the magnificence and the glory of the price at which he had been estimated! “This is, forsooth! the magnificence of my price, though I had endured many toils! they now deal with me as with some mean swineherd, though I was their Lord and Shepherd: since then they seek thus craftily to satisfy me, and reproachfully offer me a paltry reward, and as it were degrade my glory and spit in my face, Cast, cast it, he says, to the potter; ” that is, let them repair the temple, in which they delight so much as if they were in heaven: for the temple is their idol; but God will be never nigh them while they act thus hypocritically with him. “Let them then repair the breaches of the temple and pay the price to the potter, for I will not suffer a price so unworthy of my majesty to be obtruded so disgracefully on me.”

We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet: and first we must bear in mind what I have stated, that here is described how irreclaimable had been the wickedness of the people: though rejected by God, when he had broken his rod, they yet esteemed as nothing the favors which they had experienced. How so? because they thought that they performed an abundant service to God, when they worshipped him by external frivolities; for ceremonies without a real sense of religion are frivolous puerilities in God’s presence. What then the Prophet now urges is, that the Jews wilfully buried God’s benefits, by which he had nevertheless so bound them to himself that they could not be released. And to the same purpose is what follows, Cast it to the potter: for he testifies that the price was of no value, nay, that he abominated such a reward as men paid hint when they dealt with him in such a reproachful manner; for as he says in Isaiah, it was a weariness to him —

I am disgusted with your festal days; why do you daily tread the pavement of my temple?” (Isaiah 1:12;)

and again he says,

He who slays an ox is the same as he who kills a man.” (Isaiah 66:3.)

God in these places shows, as here by Zechariah, that these sacrifices which ungodly men and hypocrites offer to him, without a right feeling of religion, are the greatest abominations to him, — why? Because it is the highest indignity which the wicked call offer, which is as it were to spit in his face, when they compare him to a potter or a swineherd, and think nothing of the reward which he deserves, and that is, to consecrate and really to devote themselves wholly to him without any dissimulation. When therefore men trifle with God and think that he is delighted with frivolous puerilities, they compare him, as I have said, to a swineherd, or to some low or common workman; and this is an indignity which he cannot bear, and for which he manifests hero by his Prophet his high displeasure. (145)

(145) These two verses are quoted in Matthew 27:9. On this subject see the Translator’s Preface prefixed to this Volume. Blayney needlessly labors to reconcile the wording of the two passages. The quotation is clearly, like many others, one of accommodation, or of likeness. The “price” here is evidently that for labor; but the “price” in Matthew is for blood. There is a similarity, and not identity, in the two cases: and the general meaning, and not the words are to be regarded. For “Prophesies,” as Marckius observes, are often quoted in the New Testament, not according to the expressions, [ κατὰ το ῥητὸν ], but according to the sense or meaning, [ κατὰ τὴν διάνοιαν ], accompanied with some illustration of the meaning derived from the event.” — Ed.

Verse 14

There is here set before us the extreme vengeance of God in scattering his people, so that there would be no longer any union between the children of Abraham. We have seen that the Prophet took two staves or crooks to execute the office of a shepherd in ruling the people. The first staff he said was Beauty, because God had omitted nothing necessary to produce the best order of things. Now when this blessed mode of ruling was trodden under foot, then soon after followed the scattering of the people: and this is the reason why the Prophet says, that he broke the other rod, or his crook. We then see that this people by their ingratitude at length justly deserved to be left without any regular form of government, and also without any union.

As to the word חבלים, chebelim, we have before said that what the Rabbis teach us, that it means “destroyers,” does not comport with the passage. But why should Zechariah say here that the rod was broken, that there should be no more union or fraternity between the kingdom of Judah and the ten tribes? We have already said, that this word by changing the points may have the meaning which has been mentioned; for חבל, chebel, signifies a rope or binding. We must also bear in mind, that this is an instance of “last first” ( ὕστερον πρότερον;) for he told us before that God, bidding adieu to the people, demanded his reward; this then ought to have been first mentioned: but this inversion of order is common in Hebrew. This verse then we are to read, as though it was placed before the last mission, by which God laid aside the office of a shepherd. (146)

I will come now to the passage in Matthew; for after having told us that the thirty pieces of silver were cast away by Judah, and that by them the Potter’s Field was bought, he adds, that this prediction of the Prophet was fulfilled. He does not indeed repeat the same words, but it is quite clear, that this passage was quoted,

They gave,” he says, “the thirty silvering, the price of the valued, whom they of the children of Israel have valued.” (Matthew 27:9.)

In substance then there is no doubt an agreement between the words of Matthew and those of the Prophet. But we must hold this principle, — that Christ was the true Jehovah from the beginning. As then the Son of God is the same in essence with the Father, and is with him the only true God, it is no wonder that what the Prophet figuratively expressed as having been done under the law by the ancient people, has been done to him literally in his own person: for as they had given to God thirty pieces of silver, a sordid price, as his just reward, so he complained that the labor he undertook in ruling them, was unjustly valued; and when Christ was sold for thirty pieces of silver, it was a visible specimen of this prophecy exhibited in his own person.

When Matthew says, that Christ was valued by the children of Israel, he charges the chosen people with impiety. The article ὁι, is to be here understood. The expression is indeed, ἀπὸ ὑιων Ισραὴλ; but the sentence is to be taken in this sense, — that he was valued at so low a price, not by barbarous nations, but by the very people who were of the children of Israel and of the seed of Abraham, as though he had said, “This wrong has been offered to God, not by strangers, but by a people whom he had chosen and adopted as his peculiar possession; and this wickedness is therefore less excusable.”

Then Matthew adds,

They gave it for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord had commanded me.” Matthew 27:7.

This part also well agrees with the prophecy. It is indeed certain that this money was not designedly given to buy a field, that the Jews might obey God; but we know that God executes his purposes by means of the wicked, though they neither think nor wish to do such a thing. But what does Zechariah say? Cast it, he says, to the potter; he does not say “To the field of the potter.” But we have explained for what purpose God commanded the thirty silvering to be cast to the potter; it was, that he might get bricks or tiles to repair the temple; and this was said in contempt, or by way of ridicule. Such also was the visible symbol of this as to the purchase of the field; for the potter, the seller of the field, knew not what he was doing; the Scribes and Pharisees thought nothing of fulfilling what had been predicted. But that it might be made evident that Christ was the true God who had from the beginning spoken by the Prophet, God, by setting the thing before their eyes, intended that there should be a visible fact or transaction, that he might as it were draw the attention of the Jews to what is here said. The Prophet proceeds, -

(146) There seems to be no necessity for this. The order is consistent as it is. The breaking of the first rod was the relinquishing of the ruling office; and the breaking of the second, which happened after the contemptuous price or reward had been offered, was the sending of an awful judgment — universal discord, instead of the union before preserved. The breaking of the brotherhood between Judah and Israel has been variously understood. Grotius and Newcome refer to past history, the separation of the ten tribes from that of Judah; but this cannot be understood here. Marckius, Henry, Scott, and Henderson agree in the main with Calvin, and consider that the interal discords are meant which prevailed among the Jews, who became united after their return from Babylon under one government, though many of them were descendants of the ten tribes. “When the staff of beauty,” says Henry, “is broken, the staff of bands will not hold long. An unchurched people will be soon an undone people.” — Ed.

Verse 15

Here the Prophet teaches us, that when God shall renounce the care of his people there will be some weak form of government; but it is evident that God would no longer perform the office of a shepherd; as though he had said, that the people would be so deserted, that they would yet think themselves to be still under the protection of God, as we see to be the case among the Papists, who proudly make a boasting of this kind — “The Church is never forsaken by God.” Though the truth of God has been long ago completely buried, they yet hold that it is still the true Church, a Church filled with impious superstitions! As then the Papists glory in the title only, and are content with it, so the Jews, we know, boasted of their privileges; and these were their weapons when they sought to oppose and contend with the Apostles — “What! are not we the heritage of God? has he not promised that his sanctuary would be perpetual among us? is not the sacerdotal unction a sure and infallible proof of his favor?” As then the Jews made use of these foolish boastings against the Apostles, so also at this day the Papists hide all infamy under the title of Church. The same thing Zechariah here means by saying that he by God’s command took the instrument of a foolish shepherd (148)

The word כלי, cali, means in Hebrew any kind of instrument. Some regard it to be a bag with holes, but this is an unsuitable interpretation. By instrument, Zechariah, I have no doubt, means the implements of a shepherds by which he proves himself to be in that office. But he calls him at the same time a foolish shepherd, that we may allow that he was a shepherd only in disguise. The term shepherd is given here by way of concession, according to the usual manner of scripture; and we also at this day concede sometimes the name of Church to the Papists; and we farther concede the name of pastors to their milted bishops, but improperly. So also does Zechariah in this place; though he speaks of a shadow and thing of nought, yet he says that there would be shepherds in Judea; and he adds the reason — Because God would thus punish that wicked and ungrateful people: —

(148) This part determines the character of the whole vision; for the whole chapter is a vision, the first part being a denunciation of judgment executed in the final overthrow of the nation, and the remainder, from verse 4 to the end, being a symbolical vision, representing the dealings of God with the Jews in the interval, from the time referred to in the last chapter to the coming of the Messiah, or to the destruction of the Jewish polity by the Romans. Henderson seems disposed to regard Herod as “the foolish shepherd;” in that case the vision extends only to the advent of Christ; but if we regard this shepherd, as Blayney does, as denoting a succession of tyrannical rulers, then the vision extends to the very overthrow predicted in the three first verses of the chapter.

This view, which is that of Calvin, removes all difficulties, and affords a proof of the falsity of the opinion advanced by Mede — that this portion of Zechariah belongs to Jeremiah. That the Prophet personates God here, or the Messiah, as the ruler of the Jewish nation, previous to his appearance in the flesh, is evident from the fact that God identifies, as it were, himself with the Prophet. (verse 8 and 10.) God’s dealings with the Jews are symbolized in this vision in a way similar to what is done, as to the history of the Church, in the visions granted to John; the sticks, the breaking of them, the cutting off of three shepherds, the price or reward, and the foolish shepherd, are symbolical, setting forth the various dealings of God with their people, and their conduct towards him. As to the price, the very symbol was afterwards strikingly exemplified in the history of the Messiah. The Prohet is made to represent God in his two characters — as a beneficial ruler, producing order and unity, and as a judicial ruler, employing wicked and cruel tyrants to punish a refractory and rebellious people.

God commanded him (the Prophet) to perform a real action, and in a waking state, which was to be an intimation and a sign of that which was to happen in God’s dealings with Israel.” Abarbanel, quoted by M‘Caul, in his translation of Kimchi on Zechariah.

Verse 16

Behold, he says, I will set a shepherd in the land. God had now, as we have said, renounced the office of a shepherd; but he afterwards set over them wolves, and thieves, and robbers, instead of shepherds, that is, when he executed his dreadful judgment on the Jews: and he shows at the same time what sort of shepherds they would be who in future should possess power over them.

They were to be such as would not look after what had been cut off. Some consider the word הנכחדות, enecachedut, as signifying the sick sheep; but they are in my judgment mistaken; for careful shepherds seek what is lost, or what has disappeared from the flock; and this is what Zechariah means, for he says, he will not visit, that is, he will look after what has been cut off from the flock. Then he says, he will not seek הנער, enor, the young. Some explain this of fat lambs; but others more correctly of those which are tender, not as yet accustomed to follow the shepherd; for sheep by long use keep from going astray, but lambs are more apt to wander from the flock, and are easily scattered here and there. This is the reason why Zechariah makes it one of the duties of a good shepherd to seek what is yet young. He adds in the third place, the sick, What is wounded, he says, he will not heal: and lastly, he will not feed what stands, that is, what is sound. The word literally is, to stand; but it means full vigor or strength. What then is vigorous and sound he will not feed. He then says, The flesh, of the fat he will devour, yea, he will break their hoofs. By these words he amplifies the cruelty of the shepherd; for he will not be satisfied with the fat flesh, without breaking also the bones and the hoofs, as though his barbarity would exceed that of wolves and wild beasts.

We now then see the import of this prophecy: and it seems to have been added, that the Jews might not flatter themselves with an external and evanescent form of government, after having departed from God, and after the covenant which he had made with that nation, having been also renounced by him, so that he should be no longer their Father, or Guardian, or Shepherd. Hypocrites, we know, do not easily put off their obstinacy; though God’s vengeance should be manifest, yet we see how they harden themselves, especially when they can cover their wickedness under some false pretense, a striking example of which we observe among the Papists. We now then perceive the design of the Holy Spirit, when the Prophet is bid to assume the character, and take the implements, of a foolish shepherd.

If any one objects, and says that this was not suitable to a true Prophet of God, the answer is plain — the Prophet deviated not from the right course of his calling, though he assumed the character of a foolish shepherd, an instance of which we have already seen in Hosea, who was commanded to take a harlot, and to beget spurious children from one who had been infamous in her character. (Hosea 1:2.) As this was a vision presented to Hosea, it does not follow that he did anything disgraceful, so as to prevent him from exercising the office of a holy teacher. So also now, God simply shows to us what would be the fixture condition of that reprobate people.

It must further be noticed, that when anything of a right and good government remains in the external form, there is no reason to conclude from this that God is the ruler, for, as we have already said, it is a ridiculous and senseless glorying when men are inflated and take pride in mere titles or names of distinction. Let us then take heed, that those who bear rule be rightly called by God, and let them afterwards discharge their office faithfully, otherwise they may be a hundred times called pastors, after having attained this degree of honor, and be after all no better than wolves and robbers; for no one is a true pastor whom the Lord does not rule by his Spirit, and who is not his minister, and no ungodly pastors, however they may assume the title, can be called the ministers of God, when he has already, as we see here, forsaken the people.

It must at the same time be observed, that it happens not except through the just judgment of God, that things grow worse and worse, and at length become wholly degenerated; and those who loudly boast and seek to be esteemed by all as pastors, are altogether senseless, for God has not appointed them, and the whole filth of the Papal clergy is at this day a manifest evidence of God’s wrath and indignation, for he thus justly punishes the contempt of his word, and that perverseness by which the world thus awfully provoked him. Though God has been graciously calling the whole world to himself, we yet see how his favor has been rejected, and we also see how almost all have gone on in their obstinacy. God had indeed in his great goodness borne for some ages with this great wickedness, and when he began to punish the ungrateful, he did not break out to extreme vengeance, for he added to scourges heavier scourges, but at length he was constrained to make his wrath to flow like a deluge. Hence has arisen that dreadful confusion which is seen under the Papacy; and this is what the words of the Prophet mean when God declares here that foolish pastors would be set up by his command and through his power, as he would thus execute his judgment on the ungodly.

Now as the Prophet enumerates here those things which are inconsistent with the duty of a good shepherd, we may hence learn, on the other hand, what it is to rule the Church rightly and according to God’s will, and also what are the attributes or marks of a good pastor. Whosoever then would be owned as a good pastor in the Church, must visit those who have been cut off, seek the young, strive to heal the wounded, and feed well the sound and the vigorous; and he must also abstain from every kind of cruelty, and he must not be given to the indulgence of his appetite, nor regard gain, nor exercise any tyranny. Whosoever will thus conduct himself, will prove that he is really a true pastor. But what can be more preposterous than for those to be called pastors who have no flock under their care? who plunder, and gather, and accumulate what they afterward spend in dissipation?

As then it is quite evident, that all those under the Papacy who are called bishops, seek the office for no other end but that they may live sumptuously, without any care or labor, and indulge in pleasures, and also spend in the gratification of their lust what is unjustly got, — as then they are known to be idlers and cruel tyrants, such as the Prophet here describes, do we not clearly see how childishly they boast of their hierarchy, and at the same time declare that they derive their origin from the Apostles? For what sort of successor to Peter or to Paul, is he who exercises the most barbarous tyranny, and who thinks himself not bound to take care of the flock? We then see that there is at this day under the Papacy a striking representation of what the Prophet says here; there is a certain form of government, but God is wholly separated from such a mask or phantom. But we must also bear in mind, that the world suffers merited punishment on account of its ingratitude, when it is thus cruelly and shamefully treated; for it is but just that they who will not bear the easy yoke of Christ, should be made subject to the power of the Devil, and be trodden under foot and disgracefully oppressed by tyrants. This is God’s righteous judgment. The Church, we know, would not have been turned upside down had not the greater part rejected the doctrine of salvation, and shaken off all religion; hence God is in a manner constrained by so great and by such unbridled wantonness to renounce his office of a shepherd. It then follows —

Verse 17

In this verse the Prophet teaches us, that though God would inflict a deserved punishment on the Jews, yet the shepherds themselves would not escape his vengeance; and thus he reminds them, that even in such a confused and depressed state of things, he would still in some degree remember his covenant. He addresses the Shepherds themselves, for he speaks not of one, but of the whole number, as it has already been stated.

Woe to the baseless shepherd, he says; the word אליל, alil, means in Hebrew a thing of nought, and hence idols were called אלילים, alilim, nothings; “Those useless shepherds,” (149) he says, “who forsake the flock.” He again shows by an explicit term, that those whom he called shepherds were not worthy of so honorable a title. He then only concedes the name, for a shepherd who is not solicitous for the safety of his flock, clearly proves that he is really no shepherd. He then denounces on him a punishment, A sword, he says, on his right arm and on his right eye! By the sword he means any kind of punishment, by the arm is to be understood strength, and by the eye prudence. He means, “God will punish thee both in soul and body, for his curse shall be on thy strength and on thine understanding.” Hence he says, Dry up shall his arm. This seems not indeed to correspond with the metaphor of the sword, but it matters not, for the Prophet, as we have said, includes under that word every kind of punishment. Dry up then shall his arm, that is, all its vigor shall cease, so as to become like a piece of decayed wood; and his right eye, the soundness of his mind or his right understanding, shall by contracting be contracted; some read, shall be darkened; but the verb properly signifies, to wrinkle, as it appears from other places, and I can find no better way of expressing its meaning than by saying that the eye would be contracted. (150)

I have briefly explained the object of the Prophet, even that God would so punish the wickedness of the people, as not to allow those shepherds to escape whom he would employ as instruments in executing his vengeance. For though they were under the direction of divine power, we must yet hold this principle, that they had nothing in common with God; for mere ambition, avarice, and cruelty instigated them; and nothing was farther from their purpose than to obey God: but he extorted service from the unwilling and even the ignorant — for what end? that he might render to the ungrateful, the wicked, and the perverse, in their own sinful ways, the reward which they deserved. We then see that the design of God’s vengeance is just; and we also see that the instruments he employs are ungodly: there is therefore no reason for them to think that they shall be unpunished, because they accomplish God’s purpose, for they do not intend any such thing.

We must also bear in mind, that when the extreme rigour of God prevails, there still remains some evidence of his favor, for some seed, though few in number, is still perpetuated; for the Church is never so completely abolished as not to leave any remnants, for whose safety God is pleased to provide when he executes his vengeance, inasmuch as he stretches forth his hand at the same time against the ministers he has employed, because they had cruelly abused their power. So also at this day the milted bishops shall be made to know how precious to God is the safety of his Church; for though almost all the people and almost every individual are worthy of the most tyrannical cruelty, yet we know that some are found in that labyrinth for whom God has a care. Though then they who at this day possess power under the Papacy think themselves innocent, while they are robbers and wolves, they shall yet find that God is a righteous judge, who will visit their abominable cruelty: for the disorder of the Church is not its destruction, as God ever preserves some remnant.

We also see that the whole strength of men depends on the grace of God; and farther, that a sound mind proceeds from his Spirit: for since it is he who takes away from men both their strength and a right judgment, we hence conclude that to give these things is also in his power. Let men then know that in order to possess due courage and strength, they are to rely on the hidden power of God; and let them also know that in order to discern what is useful and profitable, they must be governed by his Spirit; and let those especially who bear rule be assured of this, that when they exercise power in peace, it is God’s singular gift, and that when they rightly govern their subjects, and are endued with sound discretion, it is wholly to be ascribed to an influence from above.

But it may be asked, how can this harmonise — that those who were before useless are deprived of understanding and strength? To this I answer — that it is the same as though the Prophet had said, that the baseness of him who was previously an useless shepherd would be made conspicuous to all. For however deficient they might have been in their office, they yet for a time deceived the simple multitude; nay, we see at this day how the milted bishops and abbots and their whole company by their delusive splendor, dazzle the eyes of most men: they believe that the Pope is the vicar of God, and the rest the successors of the apostles! But the Prophet here testifies, that when the ripened time shall come, their shameful conduct shall be made evident, so that all shall treat them with contempt, and that they shall become an abomination to all. Though then they may be counted wise and held in admiration, or at least in honor, yet Zechariah threatens them with the loss of both; for God’s curse lies on them, on their arms, and on their right eyes. This is the import of the passage. I shall begin the next chapter tomorrow.

(149) “Worthless shepherd,” is the version of Newcome, and Henderson, and also of Drusius, Bochart, Piscator, and Marckius. Our version follows Jerome, who renders it “ idolum — idol.” Parkhurst considers it in the sense of nought, nothing, vain, nothing-worth, and refers to Job 13:4, and Jeremiah 14:14. — Ed.

(150) To render the metaphor consistent, Dathius has rendered [ חרב ], not sword, but drought or dryness, which it sometimes means. Then the verse would be —


17. Woe to the worthless shepherd, Who forsakes the flock! A drought shall be on his arm, And on the eye of his right hand: ( i e. on his right eye:) His arm, withering it shall wither; And his right eye, shrinking it shall shrink.

Both Newcome and Henderson render the last line as in our version; but restraint, or contraction, or shrinking is the idea included in the verb. When there are no humors sufficient for the eye, it contracts, it shrinks, and this corresponds with the drought. — Ed.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.