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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 12

Verse 1

The inscription seems not to agree with what follows, for he does not denounce any evil on the chosen people in this chapter, but, on the contrary, comforts the miserable, and promises that God would provide for the safety of his Church. Since then Zechariah speaks only of God’s favor and aid, he seems to have mentioned burden here improperly or unreasonably; for משא, mesha, we know, is rightly to be taken for a threatening prophecy. It might indeed be said, that he promises that God would so deliver his Church as to teach it at the same time that it would be subject to many evils and trials: but I rather think that the Prophet’s design was different, even to show that the Israelites, who had preferred exile to God’s favor, would be punished for their sloth and ingratitude, because it was through their own fault that they were not again united in one body, and that they did not rightly worship God in their own country. Interpreters have heedlessly passed over this, as though it had nothing to do with the subject: but except this be borne in mind, what is read in this chapter will be altogether without meaning. I therefore consider that the Prophet here reproves those Israelites who had rejected what they had long desired, when it was offered to them from above and beyond all hope: for nothing was so much wished for by them as a free return to their own country; and we also see how ardently all the Prophets had prayed for restoration. As then the Israelites, given to ease, and pleasures, and their worldly advantages, had counted as nothing the permission given them to return, that they might again be gathered under God’s protection, it was a base ingratitude. Hence the Prophet here reproves them, and shows that their success would be far otherwise than they imagined.

We must also observe, that those who were dispersed in different parts, were retained by their torpidity, because they did not think that the state of the people would continue; for they saw, as they had before found, that Judea was surrounded by inveterate enemies, and also that they would not be a people sufficiently strong to repel the assaults of those around them; for they had already been accustomed to bear all things, and though they might have had some courage, they had completely lost it, having been oppressed by so long a servitude. Since then the ten tribes entertained these ideas, they did not avail themselves of the present kindness of God. Thus it was, that they wholly alienated themselves from the Church of God, and renounced as it were of their own accord that covenant, on which was founded the hope of eternal salvation. (151)

What then does Zechariah teach us in this chapter? Even that God would be the guardian of Jerusalem, to defend it against all violence, and that though it might be surrounded by nations for the purpose of assailing it, he would not yet suffer it to be overcome: and we shall see that many other things are stated here; but it is enough to touch now on the main point, that God would not forsake that small company and the weak and feeble remnant; and that however inferior the Jews might be to their enemies, yet the power of God alone would be sufficient to defend and keep them.

If it be then now asked, why the Prophet calls the word he received a burden on Israel? The answer is plainly this, that the Israelites were now as it were rotting among foreign nations without any hope of deliverance, having refused to be gathered under God’s protection, though he had kindly and graciously invited them all to return. Since then God had effected nothing, by stretching forth his hands, being ready to embrace them again, this was the reason for the burden of which Zechariah speaks; for they would be touched with grief and with envy when they saw their brethren protected by God’s aid, and that they themselves were without any hope of deliverance. In short, there is an implied contrast between the ten tribes and the house of Judah; and this is evident from the context. Having now ascertained the Prophet’s design, we shall proceed to the words.

The burden, he says, of the word of Jehovah on Israel: Say does Jehovah who expanded the heavens, etc. Zechariah thus exalts God in order to confirm the authority of this prophecy; for no doubt the creation of heaven and earth and of man is here mentioned on account of what is here announced. We have elsewhere seen similar declarations; for when anything is said difficult to be believed, what is promised will have no effect on us, except the infinite power of God be brought to our minds. God then, that he may gain credit to his promises, bids us to raise up our eyes to the heavens and carefully to consider his wonderful workmanship, and also to turn our eyes down to the earth, where also his ineffable power is apparent; and, in the third place, he calls our attention to the consideration of our own nature. Since then what Zechariah says could hardly be believed, he prescribes to the Jews the best remedy — they were to raise upwards their eyes, and then to turn them to the earth. The expanse of the heavens constrains us to admire him; for however stupid we may be, we cannot look on the sun, and the moon and stars, and on the whole bright expanse above, without some and even strong emotions of fear and of reverence. Since then God exceeds all that men can comprehend in the very creation of the world, what should hinder us from believing even that which seems to us in no way probable? for it is not meet for us to measure God’s works by what we can understand, for we cannot comprehend, no, not even the hundredth part of them, however attentively we may apply all the powers of our minds.

Nor is it yet a small matter when he adds, that God had formed the spirit of man; for we know that we live; the body of itself would be without any strength or motion, were it not endued with life; and the soul which animates the body is invisible. Since then experience proves to us the power of God, which is not yet seen by our eyes, why should we not expect what he promises, though the event may appear incredible to us, and exceed all that we can comprehend. We now then understand why the Prophet declares, that God expanded thee heavens, and founded the earth, and formed the spirit of man (152) By saying “in the midst of him”, he means, that the spirit dwells within; for the body, we allow, is as it were its tabernacle. Let us proceed -

(151) Many of the Jews at this time were not returned. There were especially two returns — the first under Zerubbabel in the year before Christ 536; the second under Ezra in the year 457, seventy-nine years after the first. Now the date of this prophecy in our Bibles is 587, fifty-one years after the first return, and twenty-eight years before the second. Nehemiah, through whose influence the walls of Jerusalem were built and a great reform produced, returned about eleven years after Ezra. — Ed.

(152) It is usual to render the verbs here in the present tense. They are participles in Hebrew, which may often be rendered in the past tense. Dathius and Blayney so render them, “stretched out — founded — formed.”

The verse then would be as follows —

The burden of the word of Jehovah on Israel, Saith Jehvovah, who expounded the heavens, And founded the earth, And formed the spirit of man within him.

Though Marckius objects to the view taken by Calvin of the first line, yet the literal rendering, as given above, will admit of no other. It is a “burden” on, [ על ], Israel. It is true that “burden” may not always mean a judgment, but a weighty and important prediction; yet when followed by on, it can mean nothing else. See Genesis 13:29, and Genesis 9:25. It means a judgment too when another word comes after it, as in 9:25. It means a judgment too when another word comes after it, as, “The burden of Babylon,” Isaiah 13:1. It is therefore rendered here improperly “Prophecy” by Newcome, and “sentence” by Henderson. It is not indeed necessary to confine the word “Israel” to the ten tribes, for it is often used in a general sense, denoting the descendants of Israel generally, when the word “Judah” is not introduced. The persons referred to were, it may be, those who continued in exile, many of whom returned afterwards with Ezra, though I think they were the people of the land. We ought to remember that Zechariah prophesied between the two returns, and that though the temple was built at this time, yet Jerusalem was not protected by walls, and continued so till the time of Nehemiah, about 90 years after the first return. — Ed.

Verse 2

Zechariah begins here to teach us what I have briefly explained, that Jerusalem would be under the protection of God, who would render it safe and secure against all enemies. But he uses here figurative terms, which make the point more evident. He says, that Jerusalem would be a threshold of bruising, or breaking. The word סף, saph, means a threshold almost everywhere in Scripture. But some think that it means here a cup, and then they translate רעל, rol, drunkenness, or fury. But as this word also means breaking, it is not unsuitable to say that Jerusalem is here called a threshold at which people stumble, so that he who comes against this threshold either breaks a bone or receives some other injury. At the same time the Prophet seems to express something more, that whosoever ascended to attack Jerusalem would meet with a stumbling block, by which he might have his legs broken or bruised. The meaning then is, that access to Jerusalem would be closed up, so that enemies would not overcome it, though they reached the walls and the gates, for they would stumble, as it is said, at the threshold.

If the other rendering be approved, the sense would be suitable, — that all the ungodly, while devising schemes against God’s Church, would be inebriated by their own counsels; yea, that their drink would be deadly to them: for the passions of men produce effects like drunkenness. When therefore the ungodly gather their forces against the Church, it is the same as though they were greedily swallowing down wine; for the drunken meet together to indulge in excesses. The meaning then would be, — that this immoderate drinking would be fatal to the nations. But I prefer the former view, — that though the gates of the holy city were open, or even an easy access were made through the walls, yet God would on every side be a defense, so that enemies would stumble, as we have said, at the very threshold and bruise themselves. And this promise was very necessary then, for Jerusalem was exposed to the assaults of all, as it could not have defended itself by moats or walls or mounds: but the Lord here promises that it would be a threshold of bruising

He then adds, Also against Judah, or over Judah, it shall be during the siege against Jerusalem. The Prophet, as I think, extends the promise to the whole land, as though he had said, “Though the compass of Jerusalem should not contain all the inhabitants, yet they shall be everywhere safe; for God will take them under his protection.” I wonder why some interpreters have omitted the preposition על, ol, and have translated thus, “Judah also shall be in the siege against Jerusalem:” and they elicit a meaning wholly different, even that some of the Jews themselves would become perfidious, who would not spare their brethren and friends, but become hostile to them, and unite their forces to those of heathen nations. But I consider the meaning to be the reverse of this, — that when Jerusalem shall be besieged, the Lord will put impediments everywhere, which will hinder and prevent the assaults of enemies. When God, he says, shall defend the holy city, even this very thing, (for I apply this phrase to God’s protection,) even this very thing shall be through the whole land; as though he had said, “God will not only be the guardian of the city alone, but also of the whole of the holy land.” (153) Now this must have sharply goaded the Israelites, seeing that they were excluded from having God’s aid, inasmuch asthey had not thought proper to return to their own country when liberty was freely given them. It follows —

(153) This has been found a difficult verse. The former part, as given in our version, “I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling,” etc., has been adopted by most, Drusius, Grotius, Marckius, Newcome, and Henderson, only some of them adopt “intoxication” instead of “trembling.” The word [ סף ] means both a threshold and a bowl or a cup. The Septuagint have taken the former sense, and the Targum the latter: but as [ רעל ] means shaking, trembling, confusion, occasioned by inebriety, it is more consistent to take the latter sense.

The latter part cannot certainly be construed according to our version, which is that of Piscator. Newcome’s rendering is literal, and according to the sense given by Jerome, Drusius, Castalio, Grotius, and Marckius; and it is the following —

And for Judah shall it (the cup) be, In the siege against Jerusalem.

This implies that Judah would turn traitorous to Jerusalem. It is somewhat singular that many MSS. read “shall be” in the feminine gender, [ תהיה ], and [ סף ], when it means a cup or bowl, is of that gender. Dathius proposes another view. He takes [ מצור ] agreeably to the Septuagint, [ περιοχη ], in the sense of a fortress, stronghold, or defense; and then the version would be,

And also with regard to Judah, He will be for a defense to Jerusalem.

But the most natural and obvious meaning is the previous one. — Ed.

Verse 3

Zechariah adds here another metaphor, which is very apposite; for when the ungodly made war against the holy city, the object was not to reduce it only to subjection, or to impose a tribute or a tax, or simply to rule over it, — what then? to cut it off entirely and obliterate its name. Since then such a cruelty would instigate enemies to assail the holy city, the Prophet here interposes and declares that it would be to them a most burdensome stone. He thus compares the enemies of Jerusalem to a man who attempts to take up a stone when he is too weak to do so. He then injures his own strength; for when a man tries to do what is too much for him, he loosens some of his joints, or breaks his sinews. The Prophet then means, that though many nations conspired against Jerusalem, and made every effort to overthrow it, they should yet at length find it to be a weight far too heavy for them: they should therefore break or lacerate their own arms, for their sinews would be broken by over-exertion. (154) Some explain the last clause more frigidly, “In tearing he will be torn,” as when any one takes up a rough stone, he tears his own hands. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, meant to set forth something more serious; and each clause would thus correspond much better; for as we have said, the object of the ungodly was to remove Jerusalem, so as not to leave a stone upon a stone: but God declares here that it would be too heavy a burden, so that they would find their own strength broken in attempting inconsiderately to remove what could not be transferred from its own place.

Now the reason for this prophecy is, because God was the founder of Jerusalem, as it is said,

Its foundations are in the holy mountains, love does the Lord the gates of Sion,” (Psalms 87:1;)

and again it is said,

Jehovah in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.” (Psalms 46:5.)

We must also remember what we have observed in the last verse: for though the heavens are in continual motion, they yet retain their positions, and do not fall into disorder; but were the heavens and the earth blended together, still Jerusalem, founded by God’s hand and exempt from the common lot of men, and whose condition was peculiar, would remain firm and unchangeable. We hence see why the Prophet says, that there would be no other issue to the ungodly, while attempting to overthrow Jerusalem, than to wound and tear themselves.

He then adds, And assemble against them shall all nations. This, as we have said, was added in order to show, that though enemies flocked together from every quarter, God would yet be superior to them. This clause then contains an amplification, to encourage the faithful to continue in their hope with invincible constancy, though they saw themselves surrounded by hosts of enemies. It afterwards follows —

(154) Literally it is, —

All her lifters, cut they shall be cut, or, wounded they shall be wounded.

The whole verse is as follows, —

And it shall be in that day, That I will make Jerusalem A burdensome stone to all nations; All her lifters, wounded they shall be wounded, When gathered against her Shall be all the people of the land.


Verse 4

He pursues here the same subject, but in other words, — that multiplicity of means is in God’s hand, by which he can drive away and break down the fury of enemies. By the words horse and its rider, the Prophet, stating a part for the whole, means whatever is strong, and intimates that it can be easily overcome by divine power

He says first, I will smite every horse with stupor (155) Military strength, we know, is in horses and horsemen; but he says that the horses would be stunned, and the horsemen seized as it were with madness, so that they would destroy themselves, and could do no harm to the Church. He then confirms what he said before — that though the whole world conspired against the Church, there would yet be sufficient power in God to repel and check all their assaults and he mentions stupor, madness, and blindness, that the faithful might know that God can by hidden means either destroy or put to flight all their enemies. Though then God fights not with drawn swords, nor uses the common mode of warfare, yet the Prophet says, that he is prepared with other means to lay prostrate their enemies; for even the most powerful in the world cannot proceed so far as to confound their enemies by blindness and madness; but the Prophet here shows, that though no way appears to us by which God may deliver us, we are yet to entertain firm hope, for he can by his breath destroy all enemies, as he can render then blind, and take from them understanding, and wisdom, and strength.

Then he adds, I will open mine eyes on the house of Judah. A reason is here given why all enemies would be smitten with stupor and madness, because the Lord would have a regard for his Church; for to open the eyes means the same thing as to have a care for a thing. It had seemed good to God to neglect his people for a time, and this neglect was as it were an oblivion. Hence the saints often complain “How longs wilt thou sleep! how long wilt thou close thine eyes! Look down, O Lord, and see.” So in this place Zechariah means that God would yet care for his people, so as to subdue their enemies.

We may hence learn a useful doctrine — that, in the first place, there is nothing better for us than to be gathered under the shadow of God’s protection, however destitute of any fortress the Church may be, yea, were she to have innumerable enemies hostile to her, and to be without any strength to resist them. Though then the Church were thus grievously tried, and be in the midst of many dangers, and exposed even to death, let us learn from this passage that those are miserable indeed who through fear or cowardice separate themselves from her, and that they who call on God, and cast on him the care of their safety, shall be made blessed, though the whole world were mad against them, though the weapons of all nations were prepared for their ruin, and horses and horsemen were assembled to overwhelm them; for the defense of God is a sufficient protection to his Church. This is one thing. Then let us learn to exercise our faith, when God seems to cast us as it were between the teeth of wolves; for though he may not afford any visible aid, yet he knows how to deliver us, and possesses hidden means of help, which we may not perceive, because his purpose is to try our faith and our patience. And lastly, let us learn, that when God connives at our miseries, as though he had forgotten us, yet our hope, founded on him, can never be disappointed; for if we abide among his flock, he will at length open his eyes upon us, he will really show that he cares for our safety. It now follows —

(155) “With astonishing astonishment,” Newcome; “with consternation,” Henderson; rather, “with stunness” or “stupefaction,” a word more suitable to horses. — Ed.

Verse 5

He still continues the same subject — that however small and feeble the flock of God would be, it would yet have sufficient strength; for the Lord would stand on the side of those who fled to him. Though then Jerusalem was not as yet filled with citizens, and though there was but one city, yet Zechariah testifies that its strength would be invincible; but he speaks of the chiefs of Judah comparatively. Formerly, we know, it had a great number of men, and great armies were raised from that one tribe and the half tribe of Benjamin. Though then there were formerly many provinces, though the country was full of populous towns, yet almost Jerusalem alone had then begun to be inhabited: but the Prophet says here, that though the whole Church was gathered within the narrow bounds of one city, it would yet have sufficient strength to resist all the attacks of enemies.

Say then shall the chiefs of Judah; that is, though formerly the governors or commanders of thousands had forces in their several towns, yet now all would look to one city; for the land was nearly forsaken and without inhabitants; at the same time they were to entertain hope, for their strength was to be in the Lord. Some insert a conjunction, “Strength will be to me and to the citizens of Jerusalem;” but they pervert the meaning; for the Prophet meant to say in one sentence what I have stated — that the eyes of all would be directed to one city only, and that yet there would be sufficient ground for hope and confidence, for they would become strong, not in themselves, but in their God.

There is a change of number, when he says, a strength to me, for he had spoken of chiefs; it ought then to have been לנו, lanu, to us. But he now introduces each of them as speaking, as though he had said, “No one of the chiefs shall look to his own land, but, on the contrary, direct his eyes to the holy city, and be content with the defense of a few men.” Hence he says, In Jehovah of hosts, their God; for he means that God would be then the protector of that people whom he had for a time forsaken. And he calls him again the Jehovah of hosts, in order to set forth his invincible power, lest the minds of the godly should fail through fear, on seeing themselves far unequal to their enemies. (156) It follows —

(156) There is something unsatisfactory in the usual rendering of this verse. The words “shall say in their heart,” seem rather singular in this connection. There is one MS. which connects the preposition [ ל ] with “the inhabitants,” and this reading is countenanced by the Targum. Then the version would be, —

And say will the chiefs of Judah in their heart, — “Strength be to the inhabitants of Jerusalem Through Jehovah of hosts, their God.”

To stay in the heart is to pray, to utter a secret prayer; and the prayer is stated in the following lines. This was to show that there would be discord or emulation between Judah, the people of the country, and the city Jerusalem. And in the following verses we find both mentioned, as liable to envy, especially in verse 7. — Ed.

Verse 6

He adds another metaphor for the sake of a further confirmation; for he says, that the chiefs of Judah would be like a melting pot: some render it a hearth, but improperly and without meaning. He afterwards compares them to a flaming torch, and heathen nations to wood and stubble or chaff. The Spirit speaks thus also in other places; and the reason is to be noticed; for when the ungodly assail the Church of God, all things seem to threaten its ruin; but God declares that they shall be like chaff or wood. “The house of Israel,” says Isaiah, “shall be a flaming fire, and shall consume all the wood of the forest:” so also in this place, “There shall be indeed a great host of enemies, assembled against Israel; but the Lord will consume them, for he will be like fire in the midst of his people, and his people also shall be through the secret power of the Spirit like a burning pot or a torch, which shall consume the chaff, in which there is nothing substantial.”

But the Prophet shows again that the deliverance of the Church is ever wonderful: and hence foolishly do they act who rely on human and earthly instrumentality, and wilfully bind God to their own ways; for whenever God promises to be their deliverer, their inquiry is, “But how can this be? whence will come this aid to us? how will the hand of the Lord be stretched forth to us? whence will he gather his army?” Inasmuch then as we are wont thus anxiously to inquire, and thus drive away from us the aid of God, let this truth, taught by the Prophet, be borne in mind, — that though enemies in great numbers may come upon us, they shall yet be like a heap of wood, and we like fire; for though we have no strength, yet the Lord by his hidden favor will cause that our enemies shall even, by coming nigh us, be consumed.

To the same purpose is the next similitude, — that they would be a torch in handfuls of chaff; for here also the singular number is used for the plural. Then follows an explanation, Consume shall they on the right hand, and on the left, all nations around. Zechariah seems here to ascribe an insatiable cruelty, and a revengeful passion to the faithful, who yet are to be influenced by a meek spirit, so that they may imitate their heavenly Father. But here he speaks not of their disposition and feeling, but only shows, that all the ungodly shall be frustrated in their expectation of success, and not only so, but that they shall also be destroyed. The more furiously then they assail the Church, the more sudden shall be their destruction; for though the faithful may wish to spare them, yet God, the righteous judge, will not spare them. In short, the work of God himself, as in other places, is ascribed to the Church.

In the last place he declares, that Jerusalem shall stand in its own place, where it was. There is here a sort of repetition; and it was made, because enemies thought, as we have already stated, that they could destroy Jerusalem so as wholly to obliterate it: but the Prophet on the other hand says, that it would be established in its own place, because God had chosen it as the place where he purposed to be worshipped, and he had chosen it, as it is often said by Moses, to commemorate his own name. In a word, he intimates, that the Church would be perpetually established: though all mortals conspired for its ruin and assailed it on every side, yet the sanctuary of God, as he had promised, would continue there still, even to the advent of Christ; for then, we know, Jerusalem was to be wholly destroyed, together with the temple, as an end was to come on all these things, and the world was to be renewed.

Verse 7

The Prophet teaches us again, — that there is no need of helps when God stretches forth his hand to preserve his people; for he is alone abundantly sufficient. And the design of the verse is to show, that the Jews were to learn to acquiesce in God alone, though they might find themselves destitute of every earthly assistance; for when God purposes to save, he needs no help, as we have said; nor does he borrow any, as he by himself is fully sufficient.

But by the word, Tabernacles, the Prophet means, as I think, sheds, such as afforded but partial protection. It is indeed true that tents are called סחות, sachut, in Hebrew; but the same is often meant by the אעלים, aelim, tents, which afforded a temporary accommodation; for they were not strongly built, as it is evident from many passages. I allow that all houses without any difference are sometimes called tabernacles, אהלים, aelim; but the word properly signifies a tent, built as a temporary convenience; for it is said that the fathers dwelt in tents, when they had no fixed habitation.

Let us now see why the Prophet speaks of tents. He may have alluded to their dwelling in the wilderness; but as this may seem too remote, I consider that he simply refers to the tents in which the Jews dwelt when they had entered the land, after their deliverance from Egypt; for they must have been wonderfully protected by the hand of God, inasmuch as they had provoked all their neighbors and kindled the hatred of all against themselves. There were indeed some fortified cities; but for the most part they lived in villages, and the greatest part of the people were no doubt satisfied with their tents or sheds. Hence as the Israelites then had no defense, the Prophet now reminds them, that they were then protected by God alone, in order that they might believe that they should in future be safe and secure, as God would defend them to the end. There is then here an implied comparison between tents and fortified cities; and the Prophet bids them to consider what their fathers had formerly experienced, for God faithfully defended them, even when they were unprotected and exposed to the attacks of their enemies.

He says first, Jehovah will save the tents, etc.; as though he had said, “Know that your fathers were formerly defended by the hand of God, when they did not, as to the greater part of them, dwell in cities, but lived scattered in villages: since God then had been the preserver of his people many ages before a king was made, believe that he will be the same to you hereafter.” But we must yet remember what we said yesterday, — that the Jews who had returned to their country had a promise of God’s help, in order that the Israelites, who were retained by their own sloth in Babylon, might know that they were justly suffering punishment for their ingratitude, because they had not given glory to God, as they ought to have done, by committing themselves to his protection, and thus relying on his defense, so as not to seek other helps from the world: he will then save them, he says, as at the beginning; for as, the particle of similitude, is to be understood here. (157)

He then adds, And hence boast shall not the honor of the house of David and the honor of the citizen of Jerusalem over Judah. This latter clause is added, I think, by way of explanation; and this is evident from the subject itself for God declares, that he would be the protector of the helpless, so that they would be no less victorious than if they possessed many armed soldiers, and were furnished with money and other necessaries to carry on war. For by comparing here the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem with Judah, he has no doubt a regard to this, — that though there was no kingdom and no fortified cities, there would yet be sufficient protection in him alone, so that he could by himself defend the people, though unarmed, and having no swords, nor power, nor any other requisite means. Boast then shall not the house of David: and this seems to have been mentioned designedly, for while they trusted in their own wealth and power, they did not rest on God as they ought to have done.

As then the Jews had been elated with vain pride, while the dignity of the kingdom remained, and while they possessed wealth and warlike instruments, God here reproves this false confidence; for the Jews had thus obscured his gratuitous favor. For however great might have been the treasures collected by David and Solomon, and however formidable they might have been to their enemies and the neighboring nations, they ought yet to have relied on the protection of God alone. Since then earthly helps had inflated their minds, God now reproves their vain conceit, and shows that the condition of the people would be no less happy, when no king sat on the throne, and no aids enlisted for the protection of the people; and therefore he declares, that though exposed to all evils, they should yet be safe and secure, for God would defend them. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that the royal posterity would not glory against Judah, though dwelling in tents, nor the citizens of Jerusalem, who were then as it were the courtiers: for as the royal seat was at Jerusalem, a sort of vain boasting was made by all the citizens. As then all of them despised the inhabitants of the country, when the condition of the city was illustrious, the Prophet says, the posterity of David and Jerusalem shall not hereafter glory against the people of Judah, scattered in the open fields. It then follows —

(157) So is the rendering of the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Vulgate, and adopted by Dathius and Newcome. But the Hebrew, as it is, has been adhered to by Drusius, Marckius, and Henderson; and this is what the context seems to require: for the following words give the reason why the tents of Judah (which mean here the towns and villages of Judah according to Kimchi and to Grotius) were saved “first,” or at first, or in the beginning; and the reason is, — that the honor or the glory of the house of David and of the citizens of Jerusalem might not be magnified above that of Judah. This is clearly the meaning of the verse. The literal rendering is as follows,—


7. But save shall Jehovah the tents of Judah first, That the honor of the house of David, Even the honor of the inhabitant of Jerusalem, May be not magnified above that of Judah.

The “inhabitant” is the poetical singular. The word rendered “honor” is [ תפארת ], and in the first instance rendered “[ καύχημα ] — boasting,” by the Septuagint, and in the second, “[ ἔπαρσις ] — elevation,” or exaltation; and the Targum give a word of a similar import. But “glory” is the most common rendering: it is that of Marckius, Newcome, and Henderson. — Ed.

Verse 8

He goes on with the same subject; and he says that God would be like a shield to protect the Jews. For though the verb יגן, igen, is used here, yet as it is derived from מגן, megen, which means a shield, that metaphor is to be understood here, — even that the Jews, though without power and without warlike instruments, would yet be safe under the protection of God, for he being their shield would be sufficient. And God is here indirectly opposed to all kinds of fortresses which men too anxiously seek, and on which they vainly depend. The Prophet then no doubt claims here for God a power, which in opposition to the whole world, and when no other help appears, would be found sufficient to subdue all enemies and to save his people. Jehovah then shall be, he says, a shield (158)

But there seems to be here something inconsistent; for he had said before that the Jews would be safe wherever they lived, though they did not dwell at Jerusalem; but now he confines this promise to the citizens of Jerusalem. The answer to this is plain: We observed yesterday, that the piety of those was commended who had preferred to undergo many and grievous trials in returning home, and then to expose themselves to many dangers, rather than to continue in exile, as in that case they wholly separated themselves from the temple. Now since this was the object of the Prophet, it is no wonder that he one while names the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and that at another time he includes generally all the Jews. And by saying in the last verse, that the citizens of Jerusalem were not to glory against the country people, scattered in the villages, he intended, in adopting this way of speaking, to humble the citizens of Jerusalem, but not to exclude them from the promise made to all: as God then was to be the defender of all, the Prophet returns again to Jerusalem. For as God had chosen there his sanctuary, it is not to be wondered that the place was precious in his sight. But it was yet necessary to take away all pride from the Jews, that they might not, as it has been said, trust in earthly aids and supports. This is the meaning, when he says, the protection of God shall be on the inhabitants of Jerusalem

He now adds — The feeble (159) among them shall be like David. Some give a refined explanation — that as David, who was not trained up for war, and was by no means strong, being, almost a boy, yet slew the proud giant Goliath, so the feeble among the Jews, as they think, will, by God’s power, be made victorious over their enemies. But this seems forced. The Prophet, then, I have no doubt, connects the whole together, and considers David as a king; for when David slew Goliath, he was yet a boy, remarkable for no velour. After he attained the kingdom, he became more eminent, we know, in every way, than all the kings of the earth. It is then this eminence which the Prophet has in view, when he says that the least and the most despised among them would be like David; as though he had said — “They shall all be endued with royal and heroic velour, not only the common people, but even those who seemed to be like women, and who possessed nothing that was manly; they would yet excel as David in heroic velour.”

It then follows — And the whole house of David shall be as angels; that is, the royal posterity shall be remarkable for angelic velour. And it was necessary to add this, that the faithful might not think that the house of David, from which salvation was to be expected, would be reduced to nothing. For whatever had been promised to them might have vanished, were not that promise to stand firm, on which was founded the salvation of the whole people —

Thy house shall remain for ever.” (Psalms 89:37.)

Now as Zechariah seemed to have cast down and wholly overthrown the royal house, it might have occurred to the minds of the faithful, “whence then shall arise our salvation? for it is certain that without Christ we are wholly lost.” Now Christ was not to come forth, except from the house of David. The Prophet then does here opportunely declare, that the royal house would be most eminent, as though all the men belonging to it were angels. He puts down the word אלהים, aleim, which also means God; but he adds in the same sentence — As the angel of Jehovah before their face (160) The Prophet compares here, no doubt, the posterity of David to the angel, who had been the leader of the people and the minister of redemption. That angel we conclude was Christ; for though God then appointed many angels to his people, yet Christ, as it is well known, was their prince and head. The Prophet then bids the Jews here to look for the perpetual aid of God, since in the royal house were not only angels, but even the very leader of the fathers, who had exercised the ineffable power of God in redeeming the people.

We now then perceive the design of the Prophet: The import of the whole is, that God would so undertake the defense and protection of his people, as to be of himself sufficient, without any other aid; and also that the minister of salvation would be in the royal house itself; for as formerly, when their fathers were led out of Egypt, God had exercised his power through an angel, so now he had set over them a Mediator. And in accordance with this meaning he adds, לפניהם, lepeniem, “before their face.” He bids the faithful to attend to the royal house, which was then deprived of all dignity, so that it had no power to help. Nothing indeed was then seen in the posterity of David but what was degrading, and even contemptible; and yet the Prophet bids them to expect salvation from that house, which was so brought down as to possess nothing worthy of being noticed.

We may now ask, when was this prophecy fulfilled? Zechariah does indeed predict great things; but in reviewing all histories, nothing of a corresponding character is to be found. It must nevertheless be observed, that this blessed and happy state ass promised to the Jews, because from them Christ was to arise, and also because Jerusalem was to be the mother of all Churches; for from thence the law was to go forth, and from thence God had determined to send forth the royal scepter, that the son of David might rule over the whole world. Since the case was so, we may now easily understand how the condition of that miserable people would become happier and more glorious than under the rich and flourishing kingdom of David; for Christ would at length come, in whom complete happiness was to be found.

We may now also add this — that though few of the Jews embraced the favor of Christ, and the rest fell away, and thus gave place to the Gentiles, yet however small was the portion of the faithful, still the Prophet does not speak here hyperbolically, for the thing itself is what ought to be regarded; and that the Jews did not enjoy this blessed state, was owing to their own ingratitude; but this detracts nothing from the felicity described here by Zechariah. Let us proceed -

(158) The version of the Septuagint is, “[ ὑπερασπιεῖ ] — will over-shield,” or hold over the shield. — Ed.

(159) This is the rendering of the Septuagint, and not of the Hebrew. The stumbling, or stumbler, according to Kimchi, is the right version. “The fallen to decay,” as rendered by Blayney, is not to be admitted. “The stumbling” is the rendering of Drusius, Marckius, and Henderson. It was no doubt the weak or the feeble, but the act which betokens weakness is what the original expresses. — Ed.

(160) Both Genesius and Lee, according to Henderson, deny that angels are ever called [ אלהים ], though the Septuagint have often rendered the word “angels.” Here the Septuagint introduce the word house “as the house of God;” and the Targum has “princes;” and kings and princes are sometimes called “gods.” But the following lines settles the meaning, as it is evidently an explanation —


8. And the stumbling among them, in that day, Shall be like David, And the house of David like God, Like the angel of Jehovah before them.

The stumbling or weak was to be strong and valiant like David, and the descendants or David were to be like God, taking the lead and guiding, even like the angel who went before them in the wilderness, who afterwards approved as God manifested in the flesh. — Ed.

Verse 9

The Prophet repeats again, that though ungodly and wicked men assailed the Church in great number on every side, God would yet be its defender. By saying, I will seek to destroy, etc., he means that God would he fully bent ( intentum ) to destroy, as men are wont to be anxious when they earnestly pursue an object. Lest then the faithful should think that they should perish through the disdain, or the neglect, or the forgetfulness of God, he says, that he would be their anxious defender. I will seek then, that is, I will be most earnestly solicitous, to destroy all the nations

This promise no doubt extends far wider than to the Jews; for he prophesies here concerning the kingdom of Christ: for if we consider the state of the people during the whole of the intervening period, from their return to the coming of Christ, the Prophet will certainly appear to have given here a hope of something far greater than what had taken place. But he had a regard especially to Christ. Here then is promised a perpetual defense to the Church; and hence also proceeds confidence as to salvation, for God carefully watches over us, that he may effectually oppose all our enemies.

I only briefly touch on these things, which require long and minute consideration: but it is enough for me to show briefly the meaning of the Prophet, provided this be done clearly, so that each may then apply what is said to his own improvement. We may in the meantime learn also from the words of the Prophet, that the Church is ever to be disquieted in this world, for not only one enemy will cause trouble to it, but even many nations shall rise up against it. It follows —

Verse 10

At the beginning of this verse the Prophet intimates, that though the Jews were then miserable and would be so in future, yet God would be merciful to them: and thus he exhorts them to patience, that they might not faint through a long-continued weariness. For it was not enough to promise to them what we have noticed respecting God’s aid, except Zechariah had added, that God would at length be merciful and gracious to them after they had endured so many evils, that the world would regard them as almost consumed.

As to the effusion of the spirit, the expression at the first view seems hard to be understood; for what is it to pour forth the spirit of grace? He ought rather to have said thus, “I will pour my grace upon you.” But what he means is, that God would be merciful, for his spirit would be moved to deliver the Jews; for he compares the spirit of God here to the mind of man, and we know that Scripture often uses language of this kind. The phrase then, I will pour forth the spirit of grace, may be thus suitably expressed — “I will pour forth my bowels of mercy,” or, “I will open my whole heart to show mercy to this people,” or, “My Spirit shall be like the spirit of man, which is wont to move him to give help to the miserable.”

We now then understand the sense in which God may be fitly said to pour forth the spirit of grace. It may yet be taken in a more refined manner, as meaning that God would not only show mercy to his people, but also make them sensible of his mercy; and this view I am inclined to take, especially on account of what follows, the spirit of commiserations, or, of lamentations, for the word, תחנונים, tachnunim, commonly means lamentations in Hebrew. Some render it “prayers,” but improperly, for they express not the force of the word. It is always put in the plural number, at least with this termination: and there is but one place where we can render it commiserations, that is, in Jeremiah 31:9

In commiserations will I restore them.”

But even there it may be rendered lamentations consistently with the whole verse; for the Prophet says, “They shall weep,” and afterwards adds, “In lamentations will I restore them.” The greater part indeed of interpreters render it here, prayers; but the Hebrews prefer to translate it commiserations, and for this reason, because they consider that the spirit of grace is nothing else but simply grace itself. The spirit of grace is indeed grace itself united with faith: for God often hears the miserable, extends his hand to them, and brings them a most effectual deliverance, while they still continue blind and remain unconcerned. It is then far better that the spirit of grace should be poured forth on us, than grace itself: for except the spirit of God penetrate into our hearts and instils into us a feeling need of grace, it will not only be useless, but even injurious; for God at length will take vengeance on our ingratitude when he sees his grace perishing through our indifference. What then the Prophet, in my opinion, means is, that God will at length be so propitious to the Jews as to pour forth on them the spirit of grace, and then the spirit of lamentations, in order to obtain grace.

They who render the word prayers, do not, as I have already said, convey the full import of the term. But we may also take commiserations in a passive sense and consistently with its common meaning: I will pour forth the spirit of grace, that they themselves may perceive my grace; and then, the spirit of commiserations, that having deplored their evils, they may understand that they have been delivered by a power from above. Hence Zechariah promises here more than before; for he speaks not here of God’s external aid, by which they were to be defended, but of inward grace, by which God would pour hidden joy into their hearts, that they might know and find by a sure experience that he was propitious to them.

But if the word תחנונום, tachnunim, be rendered commiserations, the meaning would be, as I have already stated, that the Jews, through the dictation and the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, would find God merciful to them; but if we render it lamentations, then the Prophet must be viewed as saying something more — that the Jews, previously so hardened in their evils, as not to flee to God for help, would become at length suppliants, because the Spirit would inwardly so touch their hearts as to lead them to deplore their state before God, and thus to express their complaints to Him: (161) and this view is more fully confirmed by what follows.

They shall look to me, he says, whom they have pierced. We then see here that not only an external grace or favor was promised to the Jews, but an internal light of faith, the author of which is the Spirit; for he it is who illuminates our minds to see the goodness of God, and it is he also who turns our hearts: and for this reason he adds, They shall look to me (162) For God, as I have already reminded you, deals very bountifully with the unbelieving, but they are blind; and hence he pours forth his grace without any benefit, as though he rained on flint or on and rocks. However bountifully then God may bestow his grace on the unbelieving, they yet render his favor useless, for they are like stones.

Now, as Zechariah declares that the Jews would at length look to God, it follows, that the spirit of repentance and the light of faith are promised to them, so that they may know God as the author of their salvation, and feel so assured that they are already saved, as in future to devote themselves entirely to him: they shall then look to me whom they have pierced. Here also the Prophet indirectly reproves the Jews for their great obstinacy, for God had restored them, and they had been as untameable as wild beasts; for this piercing is to be taken metaphorically for continual provocation, as though he had said, that the Jews in their perverseness were prepared as it were for war, that they goaded and pierced God by their wickedness or by the weapons of their rebellion. As then they had been such, he says now, that such a change would be wrought by God that they would become quite different, for they would learn to look to him whom they had previously pierced. We cannot finish today.

(161) The two words are thus expressed by the Septuagint, [ πνεῦμα χάριτος και οἰκτιρμου ] — “the Spirit of grace and of commiseration;” and in similar terms by the Targum. For the last word, Jerome, Drusius, and Piscator have “ deprecationum — of entreaties;” and our version, Newcome, and Henderson, “supplications.” Both these authors have “A spirit,” etc., as though an impulse or a disposition is meant by “Spirit,” as Grotius understood the expression: but “Spirit” here signifies the same as Spirit in Joel 2:28, “I will pour out my Spirit,” etc.; and is called “The Spirit of grace and entreaties” or supplications, because he, the divine Spirit, is the author of them. Renewing grace and sincere entreaties come from the Spirit. The latter word, derived from a reduplicate verb, signifies more than supplications; it means earnest supplications or entreaties. — Ed.

(162) Respicient ad me , [ והביטו אלי ]. The same phrase is rendered “look upon,” in Exodus 3:6; Numbers 21:8; and “look unto,” in Psalms 34:5; Isaiah 22:11 Newcome follows our version, while Henderson follows Calvin, “look unto me.” Inasmuch as the phrase admits of these two meanings, and as St. John, not following the Septuagint, interpreted it in the sense of our version, it ought to be so regarded — to look upon as an object before our eyes. — Ed.

Verse 11

The Prophet says nearly the same thing to the end of the chapter; but as the event was worthy of being commemorated, he embellishes it with many figurative terms. He then says, that the lamentation for the death of Christ would be like that after the death of Josiah; for they who would have Hadadrimmon to be a man’s name, have no reason for what they hold, and indulge themselves in mere conjecture. It is indeed agreed almost by all that Hadadrimmon was either a town connected with the plain of Megiddon, or a country near Jezreel. But as to what it was, it is a matter of no great consequence. I indeed believe that Hadadrimmon was a neighboring town, or a part of that country in which was situated the plain of Megiddon. (165)

We may now observe, that this comparison which the Prophet institutes is very apposite; for when Josiah was slain by the King of Egypt, it is said in 2 Chronicles 35:25, that an yearly lamentation was appointed. The Jews then were wont every year to lament the death of Josiah; for from that time it was evident that God was so displeased with the people, that they had no longer any hope of deliverance; nay, Jeremiah in his mournful song had special reference to Josiah, as it appears from sacred history. And, among other things, he says, that Christ our Lord, in whose life lived our life, was slain for our sins. Jeremiah then acknowledges that it was a special proof of God’s vengeance, that that pious king was taken away, and that the Jews were thus as it were forsaken, and became afterwards like a dead body, inasmuch as they only breathed in the life of Josiah: and at the same time he reminds us, that the kingdom, which God had intended to be the type and image of the kingdom of Christ, had as it were ceased to exist; for the successor of Josiah was deprived of all royal honor, and at length not only the whole dignity, but also the safety of the people, were trampled under foot. Hence, most fitly does the Prophet apply this lamentation to the death of Christ; as though he had said, — That the Jews lamented yearly the death of Josiah, because it was an evidence of the dreadful vengeance of God that they were deprived of that pious ruler; and that now there would be a similar lamentation, when they perceived that their light of salvation was extinguished, because they had crucified the Son of God, unless they humbly acknowledged their great wickedness, and obtained pardon.

We now then see the true meaning of the Prophet, when he says, that the lamentation in Jerusalem would be like that in Megiddon.

Were any to object and say, that the death of Christ was not accompanied with tears and mourning; I answer, — that the penitence of believers only is here described; for we know that a few only of the whole people were converted to God: but it is not to be wondered that the Prophet speaks generally of the whole nation, though he referred only to the elect of God and a small remnant; for God regarded those few who repented as the whole race of Abraham. Some mention the women of whom Luke speaks; but this seems too confined and strained: and we find also that that lamentation was forbidden by Christ,

Weep,” he says, “for yourselves and for your children, not for me.” (Luke 23:28.)

Since then Christ shows that that weeping was vain and useless, we may surely say that what is here said by Zechariah was not then fulfilled. And we must bear in mind what I have said before, — that by lamentation and sorrow is described that repentance with which the Jews were favored, not indeed all, but such as had been ordained to salvation by the gratuitous adoption of God. It follows —

(165) “ Jerome says that this (Hadadrimmon) was a place near Jezreel, called in his time Maximaniopolis. De Lisle places it near Megiddo, where Josiah was slain, over whom great lamentation was made, 2 Chronicles 35:22.” — Newcome.

Verse 12

Zechariah seems to have used more words than necessary to complete his subject; for he appears to be diffuse on a plain matter: but we ought to attend to its vast importance; for it seemed incredible, that any of that nation would repent, since they had almost all been given up to a reprobate mind. For who could have thought that there was any place for the favor of God, inasmuch as all, as far as they could, even from the least to the greatest, attempted to involve Christ in darkness? When therefore the Sun of Righteousness was as it were extinguished by the Jews, it seemed probable that they were a nation repudiated by God. But the Prophet here shows, that God would be mindful of his covenant, so that he would turn to himself some of all the families.

Lament, he says, shall the land. This indeed we know did not take place as to the body of the people, but God, to whom a small flock is precious, denominates here as the whole land the faithful, who had felt how grievously they had sinned, and were so pricked in their hearts as though they had pierced the Son of God. (Acts 2:37.) And though the Jews had destroyed themselves, yet through special and wonderful favor, three thousand were converted at one sermon by Peter; and then many in Greece, Asia Minor, and in the East, repented, and many Churches arose everywhere, as though God had created a new people. If these things be rightly viewed by us, we shall not think it unreasonable that Zechariah promises repentance to the whole land.

What he said before of Jerusalem ought not to be so taken as though he confined what he said to one city, but under this name he includes the whole nation, dispersed through distant parts of the world.

He says now, that this lamentations would be in every family apart. By which word he means, that it would not be a feigned or pretended ceremony, as when one begins to weep and draws tears from the eyes of others. The Prophet then testifies that it would be real sorrow, for one would not imitate another, but every one, impelled by his own feeling, would really grieve and lament. This then is the reason why he says that families would lament apart. Indeed the faithful ought to stimulate others by their example and encourage them to repent, but in a congregation hardly one in ten prays in earnest for pardon and really laments on account of his sins. Since therefore men are thus born to hypocrisy, and are confirmed in it by the whole practice of their the, it is no wonder that the Prophet, in order to set forth real sorrow, represents here every family by itself; as though he had said, “The family of David shall know that it had sinned, and the family of Levi, though it may not observe such an example, shall yet inwardly acknowledge its guilt.” We now see why Zechariah repeats the word apart so often.

By saying, that the women wept apart, he means no doubt the same thing with what we find in the second chapter of Joel (Joel 2:1)

Go forth let the bridegroom from his chamber, and the bride from her recess.”

Men in grief, we know, withdraw from all pleasures and all joy. As then men usually separate themselves from their wives during the appointed time of public grief or mourning, the Prophet makes the women to be by themselves: he intimates at the same time that the women would not wait until the men showed then an example of mourning, but that they would of themselves, and through a feeling of their own, be inclined to lament.

But we must bear in mind what I lately said, — that the grief which the Jews felt for the death of Christ is not what is described, but rather that by which they were touched when God opened their eyes to repent for their own perverseness; for the death of Christ, we allow, is a cause of joy to us rather than of sorrow, but the joy arising from Christ’s death cannot shine in us until our guilt really wounds us through God’s appearing to us as a threatening judge. From this sorrow there arises the desire to repent and the true fear of God. Hence it is, that God himself will give us joy, for he will not have us, as Paul says, to be swallowed up with sorrow; he lays us prostrate, that he may again raise us up.

Verse 13

Now, why he names the house of Levi, and the house of Shimei, or of Simeon, and the house of David, and the house of Nathan, rather than the other tribes, is uncertain: yet it seems to me probable that by the family of David he means the whole tribe of Judah, and the same by the family of Nathan. As to the tribe of Levi it excelled in honor on account of the priesthood, but no honor belonged to Simeon. Why then are Issachar and Reuben the first-born, and the other tribes omitted here? It might indeed have been, that there were then remaining more from the tribes of Simeon and Levi than from the tribe of Zebulon or of Issachar or of Reuben; but this is uncertain, and I am not disposed to make much of mere conjectures. But I am inclined to think that the family of David and the tribe of Levi are here mentioned not for the sake of honor but of reproach, because the royal family and the priests were those who crucified Christ, and pierced God in the person of his only-begotten Son. Jerome conjectures, that the family of Nathan is named, because he was a celebrated Prophet and eminent above others, and that the Prophets are designated by him. He says that many teachers arose from the tribe of Simeon; but I know not where he got his information, for he adduces no proofs. (166)

But I am satisfied with the simple view already given, — that the Prophet by mentioning certain families meant to include the whole people, and that he does not omit the royal family nor the priests, because they were especially those who crucified Christ: and we know that Christ descended from Nathan, though Jerome thought the Prophet to be intended here rather than Nathan, one of Christ’s progenitors: but these things are of small moment.

(166) What he says in substance is, that the family of David represented the royal order — of Nathan, the prophetic — of Levi, the sacerdotal — and of Simeon, the order of teachers, as from that tribe many of them had proceeded. The same view was taken by Theodoret and Cyril. It was thought by Marckius that Nathan the son of David is meant, who represented, not the royal line, but his other descendants, and that Shimei belonged to the tribe of Levi, and represented the Levites, not the priestly line; see Numbers 3:18; and Henderson’s view is the same. But Blayney though that they were all the progenitors of our Savior. Luke 3:29.

Instead of “Shimei,” the Septuagint, the Arabic, and Syriac, have a “Simeon,” which Newcome, adopts as the true reading. Three MS., the Syriac, and the Targum, supply “house” before it.

Was not this prophecy literally fulfilled in the time of Ezra? His return, and the reformation he effected, were several years posterior to the time when this prophecy was delivered. The brief account, given in the ninth and tenth chapters of Ezra, clearly intimates a state of things similar to what is here described. See especially Ezra 9:1; and the names of those who had transgressed, Ezra 10:20. The priestly line of Levi and those of inferior order are mentioned, and also those “of Israel,” denominated “princes and rulers” in Ezra 9:2. We hence see a reason for the lamentation of the “wives,” and these apart. — Ed.

Verse 14

He says in the last place, that this lamentation would be common to all the remaining families. Though few had returned, except those from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, and from the tribe of Levi, yet Zechariah, as I think, means here by the remaining families, the elect who had been miraculously delivered from the common ruin; for blindness had so prevailed, that the rejection of the whole people on the part of God was evident. Under this designation then I consider the remnants of grace, as Paul says, to be included; as though the Prophet had said, that he had spoken of sorrow, not with regard to the whole nation indiscriminately, but to that part which was a remnant according to the gratuitous election of God. Now follows —

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Zechariah 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.