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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 13

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

From this verse we again learn, that Zechariah promised the spirit of repentance to the Jews, so that they would find God still propitious to them, when their circumstances were brought to the verge of despair: for it would not have been enough for them to feel sorrow, except God himself became propitious and merciful to them. He had said indeed that the Spirit of grace and of commiserations would be poured forth; but he had not as yet taught clearly what he now adds respecting remission and pardon. After having then declared that there would be felt by the Jews the bitterest sorrow, because they had as it were pierced God, he now mentions the fruit of this repentance. And hence also appears what Paul means by sorrow not to be repented of; for it generates repentance unto salvation. When then our sorrow is blessed by the Lord, the end is to be regarded; for our hearts are thereby raised up to joy. But the issue of repentance, as Zechariah declares here, is ablution: and he alludes to the legal rites when he says,

A fountain shall be opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. We know that formerly under the law many washings were prescribed to the Jews; and when any one had become defiled, to wash himself was the remedy. It is certain that water was of no value to cleanse the heart; but the sins of men, we know, are expiated by the death of Christ, so that true ablution is by the blood which he shed for us. (167) Hence the types of the law ought no doubt to be referred to this blood. The meaning is that God would be reconciled to the Jews when they became touched with sincere sorrow, and that reconciliation would be ready for them, for the Lord would cleanse them from every defilement.

He speaks of a fountain opened; and he no doubt intimates here a difference between the law and the gospel. Water was brought daily to the temple; but it was, we know, for private washings. But Zechariah promises here a perpetual stream of cleansing water; as though he had said, “Ablution will be free to all, when God shall again receive his people into favor.” Though remission of sins was formerly offered under the law, yet it is now much more easily obtained by us; not that God grants a license to sin, but that the way in which our filth is cleansed, has become more evident since the coming of Christ. For the fathers under the law were indeed fully assured that God was so propitious as not to impute sins; but where was the pledge of ablution? In the sprinkling of blood, and that blood was the blood of a calf or a lamb. Now since we know that we have been redeemed by Christ, and that our souls are sprinkled with his blood by the hidden power of the Holy Spirit, it is doubtless the same as though God had not only set before our eyes our ablution, but also placed it as it were in our hands, while to the fathers it was more obscure or shown to them at a distance.

And he says, To the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He had before restricted God’s favor to that city, that he might goad the Jews, who had preferred their outward gratifications to so great a happiness; for they thought themselves happy in their exile, because they inhabited a pleasant and fruitful country, and enjoyed quietness and peace; and thus it happened that they despised the deliverance offered to them. Hence the Prophet promises here to the citizens of Jerusalem and to the royal family a fountain in which they might wash away their filth; for from Sion was the law to go forth, and from Jerusalem the word of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:2.) And we know that from thence were taken the first-fruits of the new Church. (168) What we have before seen respecting God’s favor being extended farther, is no objection; for both events were in their due order fulfilled, as God blessed the tribe of Judah, who trusted in his promises and returned to their own country, and afterwards extended wider his favor, and gathered into one body those who had been dispersed through distant parts of the world.

He adds, For sin and for uncleanness, or as some read, “for sprinkling,” which is by no means suitable, except the word “sin” be taken for expiation. The word is derived from נדד, nedad, but it often means sprinkling, sometimes uncleanness, and sometimes the uncleanness of women, and so some render it here. The verb signifies to remove or to separate; and hence נדה, nede, is the removal of a woman from her husband during her uncleanness, but it is applied to designate any uncleanness. It might indeed be taken here for the uncleanness of women, as an instance of a part for the whole; but I am led by the context to render it uncleanness. Now if we translate חטאת, chathat, sin, then נדה, nede, must be rendered uncleanness; but if the first be expiation, then the second may be sprinkling: and this meaning I am disposed to take, for under the law sins were cleansed by sacrifices as well as by washings. (169)

The import of the whole then is — that though the Jews had in various ways defiled themselves, so that they were become filthy before God, and their uncleanness was abominable, yet a fountain would be prepared for them, by which they might cleanse themselves, so as to come before God pure and clean. We hence see that it was the Prophet’s object to show, that the repentance of which he had spoken would not be useless, for there would be a sure issue, when God favored the Jews, and showed himself propitious to them, and already pacified, and even provided for them a cleansing by the blood of his only-begotten Son, so that no filth might prevent them to call on him boldly and in confidence; for instead of the legal rites there would be the reality, as their hearts would be sprinkled by the Spirit, so that they would be purified by faith, and would thus cast away all their filth.

(167) Jerome and Cyril say that the “fountain” is baptism; but Theodoret with more wisdom considered it to be the blood of Christ. Marckius regarded it as the grace of God flowing to us through the merits of the Redeemer, and applied for justification and sanctification. The word “fountain,” says Drusius, intimates the perennity and abundance of grace. — Ed.

(168) The house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were specifically mentioned, says Grotius, because they had grievously offended. The design seems to have been to point out those who had been most guilty, who had been themselves the murderers of their own Messiah. This fountain was yet opened for them. — Ed.


For sin and defilement, Newcome

For guilt and for uncleanness, Henderson

Our version cannot be mended “for sin and for uncleanness.” The latter word, [נדה ], has been strangely rendered by some. Its first meaning is removal or separation, which took place in case of uncleanness: but it is also used to designate the cause of removal, even uncleanness, and that generally, as we find from Ezra 9:11, where the “land” is said to be “unclean ([נדה ]) with the filthiness ([נדת ]) of the people,” or rather polluted with the pollution of the people “of the lands.” It is used in this text as synonymous with [טמא ], which means what is unclean, defiled, or polluted. See Ezra 6:21

This verse is most strangely rendered by the Septuagint, in a way quite unaccountable. The three other versions — Aq., Sym. , and Theod. , — are not very far from the original. — Ed.

Verse 2

Here the Prophet mentions another effect, which would follow the repentance of the people, and which the Lord also would thereby produce. There was to be a cleansing from all the defilements of superstitions; for the pure and lawful worship of God cannot be set up without these filthy things being wiped away; inasmuch as to blend sacred with profane things, is the same thing as though one sought to take away the difference between heaven and earth. No religion then can be approved by God, except what is pure and free from all such pollution. We hence see why the Prophet adds, that there would be an end to falsehoods and all errors, and to the delusions of Satan, when God restored his Church; for the simplicity of true doctrine would prevail, and thus abolished would be whatever Satan had previously invented to corrupt religion.

We hence learn what I have just stated — that God cannot be rightly worshipped, except all corruptions, inconsistent with his sincere and pure worship, be taken away. But we must at the same time observe, that this effect is ascribed to God’s word; for it is that which can drive away and banish all the abominations of falsehood, and whatever is uncongenial to true religion. As then by the rising of the sun darkness is put to flight, and all things appear distinctly to the view, so also when God comes forth with the teaching of his word, all the deceptions of Satan must necessarily be dissipated.

Now these two things ought especially to be known; for we see that many, who are not indeed ungodly, but foolish and inconsiderate, think that they give to God his due honor, while they are entangled in many errors, and refrain not from superstitions. Others, more politic, devise this way of peace — that they who think rightly are to concede something to tyrants and false Prophets; and thus they seek to form at this day a new religion for us, made up of Popery and of the simple doctrine of the gospel, and in this manner as it were to transform God. As then we see that men are so disposed to mix all sorts of things together, that the pure simplicity of the gospel may be contaminated by various inventions, we ought to bear in mind this truth, — that the Church cannot be rightly formed, until all superstitions be rejected and banished. This is one thing.

We may also deduce hence another principle — that the word of God not only shows the way to us, but also discovers all the delusions of Satan; for hardly one in a hundred follows what is right, except he is reminded of what he ought to avoid. It is then not enough to declare that there is but one true God, and that we ought to put our trust in Christ, except another thing be added, that is, except we warn men of those intrigues by which Satan has from the beginning deceived miserable mortals: even at this day with what various artifices has he withdrawn the simple and unwary from the true God, and entangled them in a labyrinth of superstitions. Except therefore men be thus warned, the word of God is made known to them only in part. Whosoever then desires to perform all the duties of a good and faithful pastor, ought firmly to resolve, not only to abstain from all impure doctrines, and simply to assert what is true, but also to detect all corruptions which are injurious to religion, to recover men from the deceptions of Satan, and in short, avowedly to carry on war with all superstitions.

This was what Zechariah had in view when he said, In that day, that is, when God would restore his Church, perish shall the names of idols, (170) so that they shall be remembered no more. By this last expression he sets forth more clearly what I have just stated, that the pure worship of God is then established as it ought to be, and that religion has then its own honor, when all errors and impostures cease, so that even the memory of them does not remain. It is indeed true, that superstitions can never be so abolished, so that no mention of them should be made; nay, the recollection of them is useful —

“Thou shalt remember thy ways,” says Ezekiel, “and be ashamed,” (Ezekiel 16:6.)

But by this form of speaking Zechariah means, that such would be the detestation of superstitions, that the people would dread the very mention of them. And hence we may learn how much purity of doctrine is approved by God, since he would have us to feel a horror as at something monstrous, whenever the name of an idol is mentioned.

He then refers to false teachers, I will exterminate, he says, the Prophets and the unclean Spirit (171) from the land. The connection here is worthy of being noticed; for it hence appears how all errors arise, even when a loose rein is given to false teachers. It is indeed true I allow, that the seed of all errors is implanted in each of us, so that every one is a teacher to deceive himself; for we are not only disposed to what is false, but rush headlong into it: it is the corruption of our nature. But at the same time when liberty is taken to teach anything that may please men, the whole of religion must necessarily be corrupted, and all things become mixed together, so that there is no difference between light and darkness. God then here reminds us, that the Church cannot stand, except false teachers be prevented from turning truth into falsehood, and from pealing at their pleasure against the word of God.

And this is what ought to be carefully observed; for we see at this day how some unprincipled men adopt this sentiment — that the Church is not free, except every one is allowed with impunity to promulgate whatever he pleases, and that it is the greatest cruelty to punish a heretic; for they would have all liberty to be given to blasphemies. But the Prophet shows here, that the Church cannot be preserved in a pure state, and, in a word, that it cannot exist as a healthy and sound body, except the rashness and audacity of those who pervert sound and true doctrine be restrained.

We now then understand the import of this verse — that in order that God may be alone and indeed be rightly worshipped, he will take away and banish all idols and all superstitions, and also, that he will exterminate all ungodly teachers who pervert sound doctrine.

He calls them first Prophets, and then unclean spirits. The name of Prophets is conceded to them, though they were wholly unworthy of so honorable a title. As ungodly men ever boast themselves in an audacious manner and hesitate not to pretend God’s name, that they may more boldly proceed in deceiving: hence it is, that Scripture sometimes concedes to them a name which they falsely claim. So also the word spirit is sometimes applied to them —

“Prove the spirits, whether they are of God: every spirit that denies that Christ has come in the flesh, he is a liar.”
(1 John 4:1.)

John doubtless adopted this mode of speaking according to common usage; for all false teachers claimed this title with great confidence, and maintained that all the errors they spread abroad were revealed to them by the Spirit.” Be it so then, but ye are lying spirits.”

Now then as to this title, there is no obscurity in what the Prophet means: and by way of explanation he adds the unclean spirit, that he might distinguish those vile men from the faithful ministers of God; as though he had said, “They indeed declare that they have drawn down the Spirit from heaven; but it is the spirit of the devil, it is an unclean spirit.” Now as Zechariah declares, that this would be in the Church of God, we learn how foolish the Papists are, who are content with the mere title of honor, and claim to themselves the greatest power, and will have themselves heard without dispute, as though they were the organs of the Spirit. What right indeed do they pretend? that they have been called by the Lord. The same reason might have been assigned by these unprincipled men, whom it was necessary to drive away, in order that the Church might rise again. It then follows that we are not to consider only what name a person has, or with what title he is distinguished, but how rightly he conducts himself, and how faithfully he performs his duties and discharges the office of a pastor. Let us proceed -

(170) [עצבים ], from [עצב ], to work, to labor, because of the labor taken to form and adorn them. As to the “names,” see Exodus 23:13; Deuteronomy 12:3; Psalms 16:4. — Ed

(171) Or, “the spirit which pollutes,” or, “the polluted spirit.” It is rendered “the unclean ([ακαθαρτον ]) spirit,” by the Septuagint, a phrase used often in the gospels. The word [טמא ], polluting, or polluted, stands opposed to [קדש ], holy, applied to the divine Spirit. If it be rendered polluting, the effect produced by it is designated, or, if polluted, the character of the Spirit itself. It is no doubt the same with the “lying spirit,” mentioned by Micaiah, 1 Kings 22:13. “He thus calls,” says Drusius, “either the emotions excited in the heart by the evil spirit, i.e., Satan, or the impure doctrine of the false prophets which proceeds from the impure spirit.” — Ed.

Verse 3

The same concession is made in this verse, where Zechariah speaks of the office of prophesying: he indeed confines what he says altogether to false teachers, for he takes it as granted that there was then no attention given to God’s servants, inasmuch as false spirits had conspired together, so that nothing pure or sound remained in the Church. As then a false and diabolical faction had then prevailed, Zechariah calls them Prophets as though they were all such, for they were heard as the Lord’s servants during that disorder of which mention is made. But he proceeds farther in this verse than before, and says, that there would be so much zeal in God’s children when renewed by his Spirit, that they would not spare even their own children, but slay them with their own hands, when they saw them perverting the truth of God.

Zechariah no doubt alludes to the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy 13:1 where God requires such a rigorous severity in defending pure doctrine, that a father was to rise up against the son whom he had begotten, that a husband was to lead his wife to death rather than to indulge his love and to pardon impiety, in case the wife solicited him or others to forsake God. The Lord then would have all the godly to burn with so much zeal in the defense of lawful worship and true religion, that no connection, no relationship, nor any other consideration, connected with the flesh, should avail to prevent them from bringing to punishment their neighbors, when they see that God’s worship is profaned, and that sound doctrine is corrupted. This was the rule prescribed by the law. Now after religion had been for a time neglected, and even trodden almost under foot, Zechariah says, that the faithful, when they shall have repented, would be endued with so much zeal for true religion, as that neither father nor mother would tolerate an ungodly error in their own son, but would lead him to punishment; for they would prefer the glory of God to flesh and blood, they would prefer to all earthly attachments that worship which ought to be more precious to us than life itself.

But it must at the same time be observed, that this zeal under the reign of Christ is approved by God; for Zechariah does not here confine what he teaches to the time of the law, but shows what would take place when Christ came, even that this zeal, which had become nearly extinct, would again burn in the hearts of all the godly. It then follows, that this law was not only given to the Jews, as some fanatics verily imagine, who would have for themselves at this day a liberty to disturb the whole world, but the same law also belongs to us: for if at this day thieves and robbers and sorcerers are justly punished, doubtless those who as far as they can destroy souls, who by their poison corrupt pure doctrine, which is spiritual food, who take away from God his own honor, who confound the whole order of the Church, doubtless such men ought not to escape unpunished. It would be indeed better to grant license to thieves and sorcerers and adulterers, than to suffer the blasphemies which the ungodly utter against God, to prevail without any punishment and without any restraint. And this is evident enough from the words of our Prophet.

And little consideration do they also show, who immediately fret from a regard to their own relatives. When faithful ministers and pastors are constrained to warn their people to beware of the artifices of Satan, they seek to bury every recollection of this, because it is invidious, because it leads to reproach. What if their children were to be drawn forth to punishment? How could they bear this, though they might remain at home; for they cannot attend to a free warning from their own pastor, when they find that impious errors are reproved, which we see prevailing, I say not in our neighborhood only, but also in our own bosom and in the Church. Let them then acknowledge their own folly, that they may learn to put on new courage, so that they may make more account of the glory of God, and of the pure doctrine of religion, than of their own carnal attachments, by which they are too fast held. And this is also the reason why the Prophet says, who have begotten him, and he repeats it twice: nor was it in vain that God had those words expressly added,

“The husband shall not suffer the wife who sleeps in his bosom to go unpunished; nor shall the father pardon his son whom he has begotten, nor the mother her own offspring, whom she has nourished, whom she has carried in her womb.”
(Deuteronomy 13:6.)

All these things are said, that we may learn to forget whatever belongs to the world and to the flesh, when God’s glory and purity of doctrine are to be vindicated by us. (172)

Now the Prophet shows clearly that all this is to be understood of false teachers, for he adds, For falsehood hast thou spoken in the name of Jehovah. And at the same time the atrocity of their sin is here pointed out; for if we rightly consider what it is to speak falsehood in the name of Jehovah, it will certainly appear to us to be more detestable than either to kill an innocent man, or to destroy a guest with poison, or to lay violent hands on one’s own father, or to plunder a stranger. Whatever crimes then can be thought of, they do not come up to this, that is, when God himself is involved in such a dishonor, as to be made an abettor of falsehood. What indeed can more peculiarly belong to God than his own truth? and it is his will also to be worshipped by us according to this distinction: God is truth. Now to corrupt pure doctrine — is it not the same thing, as though one substituted the devil in the place of God? or sought to transform God, so that there should be no difference between him and the devil? Hence the greatest of all crimes, as I have already said, does not come up to this horrible and monstrous wickedness. For how much does the salvations of souls exceed all the riches of the world? and then, how much more excellent is the worship of God than the fame and honors of mortals? Besides, does not religion itself, the pledge of eternal life, swallow up in a manner every thing that is sought in the world? But most sacred to us ought to be the name of God, the sanctifying of which we daily pray for. When therefore what is false is brought forward in the name of God, is not he, according to what I have already said, as it were violently forced to undertake the office of the devil, to renounce himself, and to deny that he is God?

We hence see the design of the Prophet, when he shows that there is no place for pardon, when the ungodly thus wantonly rise up to pervert pure doctrine, and so to confound all things as wholly to destroy true religion.

He adds, Pierce him shall his father and his mother who have begotten him. It is much harder to kill their son by their own hands than to bring him to the Judge, and to leave him to his fate. But the Prophet has taken this from the law — that so much zeal is required from the faithful, that, if it be necessary, they are to exterminate from the world such pests as deprive God of his own honor, and attempt to extinguish the light of true and genuine religion. It follows —

(172) From the tenor of the preceding and the following remarks, it appears evident that Calvin, in common with almost all the Reformers, considered that heretics are worthy of death, and that it is the duty of the Christian public to inflict on them this punishment. The defence then which has been unwisely set up for him, is without foundation. Toleration was not understood in his day. The Papists certainly can throw no stone at him, for he only adhered to a principle which he had derived from them, and defended it with arguments which have been often used by themselves. Nor is it a right for Protestants in the present day to fall foul on Calvin alone, since he held a principle which nearly all the Reformers maintained.

We see by what is here said how the principle was defended, that is, by borrowing what was peculiar to the old dispensation, and adding it to the New, forgetting, at the same time, the character of the gospel, that its weapons are not carnal, are not human force or power, but such as are mighty only through God to the pulling down of strongholds. “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” — Ed.

Verse 4

Zechariah proceeds with the same subject, but in other words and in another mode of speaking, and says, that so great would be the light of knowledge, that those who had previously passed themselves as the luminaries of the Church would be constrained to be ashamed of themselves. And he farther shows how it was that so great and so gross errors had arisen, when the whole of religion had been trodden under foot, and that was because Satan had veiled the eyes and minds of all, so that they could not distinguish between black and white.

And such ignorance has been the source of all errors under the Papacy. How great has been the stupidity of that people, as they have indiscriminately admitted whatever their ungodly teachers have dared to obtrude on them? And in their bishops themselves, and in the whole band of their filthy clergy, how great a sottishness has prevailed, so that they differ nothing from asses? For artisans, and even cowherds, surpass many of the priests and many of the bishops, at least in common prudence. While then there was such ignorance in these asses, there could not have been any difference made between truth and falsehood. And then when they put on fine rings, and adorn themselves with a forked metre and its ornaments, and also display their crook, and appear in all their pontifical splendor, the eyes of the simple are so dazzled, that all think them to be some new gods come down from heaven. Hence these prelates were beyond measure proud, until God stripped off their mask: and now their ignorance is well known, and no one among the common people is now deceived.

How then is it, that many are still immersed in their own errors? Because they wish to be so; they close their own eyes against clear light. The kings themselves, and such as exercise authority in the world, desire to be in their filth, and are indifferent as to any kind of abomination; for they fear lest in case of any innovation the common people should take occasion to raise tumults. As they themselves wish to remain quiet, hence it is that they defend with a diabolical pertinacity those superstitions which are abundantly proved to be so. And the people themselves neither care for God nor for their own salvation. Hence then it is, that almost all, from the least to the greatest, regard these asses, who are called prelates, as the most ignorant, and yet they submit to their tyranny. However this may be, the Lord has yet discovered the shame of those who had been a little while ago almost adored.

This is what Zechariah now declares, Ashamed, he says, shall all the Prophets be in that day, every one for his own vision, when they shall have prophesied. And the concession, of which we have spoken, is not without reason; for when the brawling monks about thirty years ago ascended their pulpits, or the prelates, who theatrically acted their holy rites, there was nothing, but what was divine and from heaven. Hence with great impudence they boasted themselves to be God’s messengers, his ministers, vicars, and pastors; though the name of pastors was almost mean in their esteem; but they were Christ’s vicars, they were his messengers, in short, there was nothing which they dared not to claim for themselves. The Prophet ridicules this sort of pride, and seems to say, “Well, let all their trumperies be prophecies; and all their babblings, let these be for a time counted oracles: but when they shall thus prophesy, the Lord will at length make them ashamed, every one for his vision. ”

It follows, And they shall not wear a hairy garment that they may lie; that is, they shall not be solicitous of retaining their honor and fame, but will readily withdraw from courting that renown which they had falsely attained. It appears from this place that Prophets wore sordid and hairy garments. Yet interpreters do not appropriately quote those passages from the Prophets where they are bidden to put on sackcloth and ashes; for Isaiah, while announcing many of his prophecies, did not put on sackcloth and ashes, except when he brought some sad message. The same also may be said of Jeremiah, when he was bidden to go naked. But it was a common thing with the Prophets to be content with a hairy, that is, with a sordid and mean garment. For though there is liberty allowed in external things, yet some moderation ought to be observed; for were I to teach in a military dress, it would be deemed inconsistent with common sense. There is no need of being taught as to what common decency may requite. The true Prophets accustomed themselves to hairy garments in order to show that they were sparing and frugal in their clothing as well as in their diet: but they attached no sanctity to this practice, as though they acquired some eminence by their dress, like the monks at this day, who deem themselves holy on account of their hoods and other trumperies. This was not then the object of the Prophets; but only that by their dress they might show that they had nothing else in view but to serve God, and so to separate themselves from the world, that they might wholly devote themselves to their ministry. Now the false Prophets imitated them; hence Zechariah says, they shall no more wear a hairy garment, that is, they shall no more assume a prophetic habit.

His purpose was, not to condemn the false Prophets for wearing that sort of garment, as some have supposed, who have laid hold of this passage for the purpose of condemning long garments and whatever displeased their morose temper; but the Prophet simply means, that when purity of doctrine shall shine forth, and true religion shall attain its own honor, there will be then no place given to false teachers; for they will of themselves surrender their office, and no longer try to deceive the unwary. This is the real meaning of the Prophet: hence he says, that they may lie. We then see that hairy garments are condemned on account of a certain end — even that rapacious wolves might be concealed under the skin of sheep, that foxes might introduce themselves under an appearance not their own. This design, and not the clothing itself, is what is condemned by Zechariah. He afterwards adds —

Verse 5

He describes repentance in this verse more fully. When Paul wished to exhort the faithful to newness of life, he said,

“Let him who has stolen, steal no more; but rather work with his own hands, that he may relieve the wants of others.”
(Ephesians 4:18.)

Paul notices two parts of repentance, — that thieves are to refrain from acts of dishonesty and wrong, — and that they ought to labor in order to aid others and relieve their wants. So also Zechariah mentions these two particulars, — that false prophets will give up their office, — and that they will then spend their labor in doing what is right and just, supporting themselves in a lawful and innocent manner, and affording aid to their brethren.

Having spoken already of the former part, he repeats the same thing again, I am not a prophet. It is then the first thing in repentance, when they who had been previously the servants of Satan in the work of deception, cease to deal in falsehoods, and thus put an end to their errors. Now follows the progress, — that they who lived before in idleness and in pleasures under the pretext of sanctity, willingly devote themselves to labor, and continue no longer idle and gluttonous as before, but seek to support themselves by just and lawful employment. It would not then have been enough for him to say, I am no prophet, had he not added, I am an husbandman; that is, I am prepared to labor, that I may support myself and aid my brethren.

A half reformation might probably succeed with many at this day. Were many monks sure that a rich mess would continue to them in their cloisters, and were also the milted bishops and abbots made certain that nothing of their gain and profit would be lost to them, they would easily grant a free course to the gospel. But the second part of reformation is very hard, which requires toil and labor: in this case the stomach has no ears, according to the old proverb. And yet we see what the Prophet says, — that those are they who truly and from the heart repent, who not only abstain from impostures, but who are also ready to get their own living, acknowledging that they had before defrauded the poor, and procured their support by rapine and fraud.

The Prophet no doubt speaks of impostors, who were then numerous among the Jews; and there were also women who boasted that they were favored with a prophetic spirit; and the true prophets of God had to contend with these sorceresses or wise women, who had ever intruded themselves during a confused state of things, and undertook the office of teaching. As then there were at that time many idlers who lived on superstition, rightly does the Prophet send them away to cultivate the land. So at this day there are many brotherlings who hide their ignorance under their hood, and even all the papal clergy, under the sacred vestment, as they call it; and were they unmasked, it might easily be found out, that they are the most ignorant asses. Now, as the Lord has abundantly discovered their baseness, were they to acknowledge that they have been impostors, what would remain for them, but willingly to do what they are here taught? that is, to become husband men instead of being prophets.

As to the end of the verse, some retain the word Adam; others render it man; and generally the word Adam means man in Scripture. But they who think that Zechariah speaks of the first man, adduce this reason, — that as this necessity of “eating his bread by the sweat of his face” (Genesis 3:9) was imposed on all mankind after the fall, so also all his posterity were thus taught by Adam their first parent; but this interpretation seems too far-fetched. I therefore take the word indefinitely; as though he had said, “I have not been taught by any master, so as to become capable to undertake the prophetic office; but I am acquainted only with agriculture, and have made such progress, that I can feed sheep and oxen; I am indeed by no means fit to take upon me the office of a teacher.” I take the passage simply in this sense.

With regard to the verb הקנני, ekenni, קנה, kene, means to possess, to acquire; but as the word מקנה, mekene, which signifies a flock of sheep or cattle, is derived from this verb, the most learned interpreters are inclined to give this meaning, “Man has taught me to possess sheep and oxen.” I am however disposed to give this rendering, as I have already stated, “Man has taught me to be a shepherd.” (173)

The import of the whole is, — that when God shall discover the ignorance, which would so prevail in the Church, as that the darkness of errors would extinguish as it were all the light of true religion, then they who repent shall become so humble, as to be by no means ashamed to confess their ignorance and to testify that they had been impostors as long as they had under a false pretense assumed the office of prophets. The Spirit of God then requires here this humility from all who had been for a time immersed in the dregs of falsehood, that when they find that they are not fit to teach, they should say, “I have not been in school, I was wholly ignorant, and yet I wished to be accounted a most learned teacher; at that time the stupidity of the people veiled my disgrace: but now the light of truth has shone upon us, which has constrained me to feel ashamed; and therefore I confess that I am not worthy to be heard in the assembly, and I am prepared to employ my hands in labor and toil, that I may gain my living, rather than to deceive men any longer, as I have hitherto done.”


For another man hath possessed me from my youth. —Newcome

For I have been in a state of slavery from my youth. —Henderson

The latter is a very loose paraphrase; the first is the literal rendering; “another” need not be have been put in. “Disclaiming all pretensions to the character of a prophet, he shall profess himself to be no other than a plain laboring man, employed in husbandry business by those whose property he had been, quasi adstrictus glebae , from his youth.” — Blayney.

The line may be rendered, as proposed by Parkhurst,

For man has purchased me in my youth.


Verse 6

Here the Prophet, in order to finish what we explained yesterday, says that such would be the discipline among the new people after having repented, that each in his own house would chastise his sons and relatives: and it is an evidence of perfect zeal, when not only judges perform their office in correcting wickedness, but when also private individuals assist to preserve public order, each according to his power. It is indeed true that the use of the sword is not allowed us, so that the offender may be punished by his neighbor: but as it was always allowed by the law of God, that when the matter did not come before a public tribunal, friends might inflict punishment, Zechariah, alluding to this custom, says, that though they who unjustly claimed the prophetic office and spread abroad false and impious errors, should not be visited with capital punishment, yet such would be their zeal for true religion, that friends would privately chastise such as they found to be of this character.

If any one objects and says, that these two things are inconsistent, — that false Prophets were punished with death, and that they were only chastised with stripes or scourges. To this I answer, that Zechariah does not speak precisely of the kind and mode of punishment, but says generally, that false teachers, even in the estimation of their parents, were worthy of death; and that if they were treated more gently they should yet suffer such a punishment, that they would through life be mutilated and ever bear scars as proofs of their shame.

We may at the same time gather from the answer what proves true repentance, Say will one, (it is put indefinitely,) or it will be said, What mean these wounds in thine hands? Then he will say, I have been stricken by my friends. The Prophet shows that those who had previously deceived the people would become new men, so as patiently to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in itself severe, would bee counted mild, for they would be endued with such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected. Some apply this to Christ, because Zechariah has mentioned wounds on the hands; but this is very puerile; for it is quite evident that he speaks here of false teachers, who had for a time falsely pretended God’s name. As then they say, that they were friends by whom they were smitten, they acknowledge themselves worthy of such punishment, and they murmur not, nor set up any complaint. (174) It now follows —

(174) This verse may be thus rendered —

When oneshall say to him,
arethese wounds in thine hands?”
Then he will say,
“Because I have been smitten at home by my friends,”

by my lovers, [מאהבי ].

Grotius, Blayney, and Henderson, consider the “wounds” or stripes, punctures or marks, to have been those made in honor of some idol, and ascribed to friends for the purpose of escaping punishment: but the obvious meaning is that stated by Calvin, — that they were the wounds inflicted by the nearest relatives, particularly mentioned in the 3rd verse, “and pierce him shall his father and his mother,” etc. Marckius, Adam Clarke, and Henderson, agree with Calvin in repudiating the notion that this verse is to be understood by Papal expositors: but Henry and Scott refer to the sentiment without condemning or approving it. Both Jerome and Theodoret refer, as it is done here, to the punishment inflicted by the parents; and it is strange that any sound expounder could do otherwise. — Ed.

Verse 7

It was pleasant and delightful to hear what the Prophet said at the beginning of the chapter, for he promised that a fountain would be opened, by which the Jews might cleanse away all their filth, and that God, having been reconciled, would be bountiful to them. As then he had promised so blessed and happy a state, what he had said before might have been so taken, even by the true and faithful servants of God, as though the condition of the Church were to be after that time free from every trouble and inconvenience; hence Zechariah anticipates such a conclusion, and shows that the happy state which he had promised was not to be so looked for, as it though the faithful were to be free from every affliction, for God would in the meantime severely try his Church. Though then God had promised to be bountiful to his Church, he yet shows that many troubles would be mixed up with its prosperity in order that the faithful might prepare themselves to endure all things.

This discourse may indeed appear abrupt, but its different parts harmonise well together, for God so regulates his benefits which he bestows on his Church in this world, as ever to try it in various ways. What is here said was especially necessary, since very grievous afflictions were nigh at hand: for, as it is evident from history, that nation was on the borders of despair when the coming of Christ approached. This then is the reason why the Prophet seems at the first view to join together things so contrary. For what he has hitherto promised tended to prepare the faithful to bear all things patiently, inasmuch as deliverance was nigh. But in the meantime it was needful that they should be expressly encouraged to persevere, lest they should succumb under the extreme evils which were not far distant.

The sum of the whole is, that before the Lord would cleanse his Church and bring it back to perfect order, very grievous calamities were to intervene, for a dreadful disorder there must be when God smites the very shepherds; and the apostrophe, when God addresses the sword, a thing void of reason, is very emphatical. It is much more striking than if he had said, “A sword shall be raised against my shepherds and against my ministers, so that the flock shall be dispersed.” But the metaphor, as I said, is much more expressive, when God directs his words to the sword itself; Awake, watch, O sword, — how? against my shepherd

Most of our interpreters confine this passage to the person of Christ, because in Matthew 26:31, this sentence is quoted,

“Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered:”

but this is no solid reason; for what is said of a single shepherd ought probably to be extended to the whole order. When God says in Deuteronomy 18:15,

“A prophet will I raise up from the midst of you,”

though mention is indeed made of one Prophet only, yet God includes all the Prophets; as though he had said, “I will never deprive you of the doctrine of salvation, but in every age will I show that I care for you, for my Prophets shall be ever present, by whose mouth I shall make it known that I am near you.” This passage is quoted as referring to Christ, and very suitably, because all the Prophets spoke by his Spirit, and at length he himself appeared, and by his mouth the heavenly Father spoke familiarly with us, and fully explained his whole mind, as it is said in the first chapter to the Hebrews

“In various ways and often did God speak formerly to the fathers by the Prophets, but now in these last times by his only-begotten Son.”

As then Christ possesses a supremacy among the Prophets, and hence rightly applied to him are the words of Moses; so also as he is the head and prince of shepherds, this pre-eminence justly belongs to him. But what is said by the Prophet is however to be viewed as a general truth. In short, God threatens the people, and declares that there would be a dreadful disorder; for they would be deprived of their shepherds, so that there would be no government among them, or one in great confusion.

The word עמית, omit, is rendered by some, kindred, (contribulis — one of the same tribe,) by others, kinsman, (consanguineus — one of the same blood,) and by others, one connected, (co-haerens ,) that is, with God; and they have considered that this passage cannot be understood of any but of Christ alone: but they have taken up, as I have said, a false principle. The Greek version has citizen (τὸν πολίτην,) and some render it, as Theodotion, kindred (sumfulon — one of the same tribe.) Jerome prefers the rendering, one connected or united with me (cohaerentem mihi .) (175) The word, according to the Hebrews, means an associate, a neighbor, or a friend, or one in any way connected with us. God, I have no doubt, distinguished pastors with this title, because he gave a representation at himself by then to the people; and the more eminent any one is, the nearer, we know, he is to God: and hence kings and judges, and such as exercise authority, are called his sons. So also pastors are called his associates, for they spend their labor in building up the Church. He is the chief Pastor, but he employs his ministers to carry on his work. This is the reason why they are called the associates of God, that is, on account of the connection between them, for they are co-workers with God, as Paul also teaches us. In short, the Prophet calls pastors the associates of God in the same sense in which Paul calls them fellow-workers. (συνεργους 1 Corinthians 3:9.)

Having said that the sword was permitted, nay, commanded, to rise against the shepherd, he immediately adds, that the sheep were dispersed. We then see that in these words is set forth a calamity that was to be feared, and which the people were not able to escape, in order that the faithful might not be too much disheartened, as though God would disappoint them, but that they might stand firm amidst grievous troubles and violent commotions. Since then this disorder was nigh, Zechariah bids the faithful to continue firm and patiently, and quietly hope, until God showed himself again propitious to them, and those evidences of his favor appeared of which he had before spoken. We now see what the design of the Prophet was. But we must especially notice, that it is a sure presage of the people’s ruin and destruction when pastors are taken from them; for when God intends to keep us safe, he employs this instrumentality, that is, he raises up faithful teachers, who rule in his name; and he rules them by his Spirit, and fits them for their rank and station: but when he strikes them, he not only forsakes the people, but also shows that he is the avenger of wickedness, so that the people themselves are destroyed. This is the import of the Prophet’s words.

But this, as I have already observed, was fulfilled in Christ; for he accommodated the passage to himself when his disciples fled from him. Though they were but a small flock, being very few in number, yet they were scattered and put to flight. In that case then, as in a mirror, appeared how truly it had been said by Zechariah, that the scattering is nigh when a pastor is smitten.

By the word sword, he means affliction; for though Christ was not slain by a sword, yet crucifixion and violent death are fitly designated by the word sword.

It follows at the end of the verse, And I will turn my hand to the little ones. Some consider that the little ones would be exposed to many evils, because the Lord would ever hold his rod in his hand to chastise them. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, meant what is far different, — that God would show mercy to them, when the body of the people had been as it were torn into many parts. For all the godly might have been wholly dejected when their shepherds were taken away, and when the people were become like a straying flock. God then comes to their aid, and testifies that his hand would be extended over the miserable and the poor ones, who had been almost overwhelmed by a mass of evils.

This passage is also very serviceable to us in the present state of the Church: for we see how God has lately cut off many pastors, so that what is called the Church is become like a mutilated body. We also see that God often deprives of good and faithful pastors those who have abused his truth, or with impious contempt rejected it. We might then in this case be terrified and cast off all hope of salvation, were we not to remember what Zechariah teaches us here, even that though the Church were contemptible in the world, and though the faithful were few in number, and all of them exposed to calamities, yet God’s hand will be over them, so as to gather for himself again a Church from the torn members. This is the import of the whole. It follows —

(175) Much as been written about this word, but unnecessarily. It occurs about nine times in Leviticus, and nowhere else but here, and is rendered “neighbor,” and, “one another.” Leviticus 6:12, etc. “Against the man who is near into me,” is Newcome’s version; Henderson’s is, “who is united to me;” and Blayney paraphrases the two words thus, “him that is next to me in favor and authority,” conceiving that the word [גבר ], is not simply a man, but one superior to others in strength, power, or authority.” To deduce from this word an argument in favor of our Lord’s divinity seems an over-strained criticism. A neighbor, it is true, is one of the same nature with ourselves, but he is also a member of the same society, and of a similar station in the community, on which account he is especially called a neighbor. The view that Calvin takes of the word, is no doubt the correct one; and the same is taken by Newcome, Archbishop Secker, and Blayney

Verse 8

He goes on with the same subject; for he reminds the faithful, that though God had resolved to restore his Church, and though his blessing would be evident, yet very heavy afflictions were not far distant; as though he had said, “God will give you a serene heaven and a bland air, that the land may bring forth its fruit; but still there is a heavy tempest impelling, and ye shall not be exempt from storms and hail. But when God has laid waste a part of the land, he will bless you with corn and wine, so that you shall have sufficient support.” So also in this place he says, “God will protect his Church, and will also be propitious to it, for he will wash away all the filth of wickedness, and will give to you faithful pastors, when he has removed the impostures of Satan: but in the meantime most grievous afflictions await you, and a hard state of things, and difficult to be borne, must be expected; for God will appear as though he intended to destroy his people: such will be the scattering.”

For this reason he says, that there will be through the whole land the most grievous calamities: Two parts, he says, shall die; the third only shall remain

We now see how all these things agree, and how the Prophet’s words harmonise. In short, he means, that what he had before promised respecting the future favor of God, does not belong indifferently to all, or to the whole body of the people, but to the faithful, whom God will in a wonderful manner deliver from ruin; for of the people God will only save the third part, as he had already resolved to destroy the other two parts. The intention of the Prophet is now by no means doubtful.

But we hence conclude, that what God daily promises to his Church is not to be extended indiscriminately to all, for many falsely profess his name: but he knows his own, as Paul says, and therefore exhorts them to depart from iniquity. (2 Timothy 2:16.) Let us then know that promises of God’s favor do not appertain to hypocrites: for though he has decreed to deal kindly and graciously with his Church, he yet continues to diminish it, so that the third part only remains safe. Whenever then we speak of God’s mercy towards his Church, and of his aid and help, let us ever bear in mind the cleansing of which Zechariah now speaks, that God will reserve the third part, while the greater portion ever runs headlong into ruin. It is then enough that the third part should be delivered from destruction. But this verse, as it has already appeared, ought to be applied to the kingdom of Christ.

Literally we read, the mouth of the two; but פי, pi, is to be taken metaphorically for part or portion. A part then of the two in it, or two parts in it, (the plural is joined with the singular, as often is the case,) shall perish, shall be cut off. The verb כרת, caret, means to cut off; and then גוע, guo, signifies to die or to sink. Though he understands the same things by the two words, it is not yet an unmeaning repetition; for it might have seemed hard and unreasonable that only a third part of God’s people should remain. This diminution of the Church might have disturbed the minds of many, and might have appeared incredible: hence the Prophet, in order to confirm what in itself seemed a paradox, says, they shall die, they shall perish; it has been so decreed, and you are not to contend with God; for given up to ruin shall the greater number be, while a few only shall remain: the third part then shall remain in it. It follows —

Verse 9

Zechariah proceeds further here, that when God shall cut off two parts of the people, he will yet save the third for this end — that it might be proved by various kinds of trials, and be made to bear many afflictions. With regard to the two parts, the Lord did not afflict them in order to turn them to repentance, but resolved wholly to destroy them. The third part then is reserved for salvation; and yet it is necessary even for them to be cleansed through many afflictions.

Very useful is this doctrine; for we hence first conclude that many, not only from the world, are led into perdition, but also from the bosom of the Church: for when three hundred shall profess to worship God, one hundred only, says Zechariah, will be saved. There are always among the people many hypocrites; nay, the grains lie hid in the midst of much chaff and refuse; it is therefore necessary to devote to ruin and eternal death a larger number than those who shall be saved. Let us then not envy the ungodly, though their prosperity may disturb us and cause us to grieve. (Psalms 37:2.) We think them happy; for while God spares and supports them, they deride us and triumph over our miseries. But under this circumstance, the Holy Spirit exhorts us to bear patiently our afflictions; for though for a time the happiness of the ungodly may goad us, yet God himself declares that they are fattened in order to be presently slain, when they shall have gathered much fatness. This is one thing.

Then it is in the second place added, that after the greater part, both of the world and of the Church, (at least such as profess to belong to it,) shall be destroyed, we cannot be retained in our position, except God often chastises us. Let us then remember what Paul says, that we are chastised by the Lord, that we may not perish with the world; and the metaphors which the Prophet adopts here are to the same purpose; for he says, I will lead them through the fire. He speaks here of the faithful whom God has chosen into salvation, and whom he has reserved that they might continue safe: yet he says, that they shall be saved through fire, that is, hard trials. But he sets forth this still more clearly, He will prove them, he says, as silver and gold (176) The stubble and the chaff, as John the Baptist teaches us, are indeed cast into the fire, (Matthew 3:12,) but without any benefit; for the fire consumes the refuse and the chaff, and whatever is corruptible. But when the gold and the silver are put in the fire and are purified, it is done that greater purity may be produced, and also that what is precious in these metals may become more apparent: for when the silver is drawn out of the mine, it differs not much from what is earthy. The same is the case with gold. But the furnace so purifies the gold and silver from their dross, that they attain their value and excellency. Hence Zechariah says, that when God casts his faithful people into the fire, he does this according to his paternal purpose in order to burn out their dross, and thus they become gold and silver who were before filthy and abominable, and in whom much dross abounded. We see then that the elect of God, even those who may be rightly counted his children, are here distinguished from the reprobate, however they may profess God’s name and worship.

Now this passage is not inconsistent with that in Isaiah,

“I have not purified thee as silver and gold, for thou hast been wholly consumed.”
(Isaiah 48:10.)

Though God tries his elect by the fire of afflictions, he yet observes moderation; for they would wholly faint were he to purify them to the quick. It is however necessary to pass through this trial of which the Prophet now speaks: and thus the state of the Church is here described — that it ought to be always and continually cleansed, for we are altogether unclean; and then, after God has washed us by his Spirit, still many spots of uncleanness remain in us; besides, we contract other pollutions, for it cannot be but that much contagion is derived from those vices by which we are on every side surrounded.

He now adds, He will call on my name, and I will answer him (177) With this consideration God mitigates what was in itself hard and grievous. It is hard to see so many dreadful evils, when God treads under foot the greater part of the world, and when his vengeance bursts forth on the Church itself, so that his severity on every side fills us with fear. But this also is added — that we are daily to feel the fire, as though God meant to burn us, while yet he does not consume us. Hence the Prophet shows how these miseries are to be sweetened to us, and how sorrow becomes not too grievous; for we are tried by the cross and the scourges and chastisements of God in order that we may call on his name. Hearing follows calling; and nothing can be more desirable than this. The Prophet then proves from the happy effect, that there is no reason for the faithful to murmur against God, or impatiently to bear their evils, because being purified they can now really flee to him.

Were any to ask, whether God can by his Spirit only draw the elect to true religion? If so, why is this fire of affliction and hard trial necessary? The answer is, that he speaks not here of what God can do, nor ought we to dispute on the subject, but be satisfied with what he has appointed. It is his will then, that his own people should pass through the fire and be tried by various afflictions, for this purpose — that they may sincerely call on his name. We must at the same time learn that it is the true preparation by which the Lord brings back the elect to himself, and forms in them a sincere concern for religion, when he tries them by the cross and by various chastisements; for prosperity is like mildew or the rust. We cannot then look to God with clear eyes, except our eyes be cleansed. But this cleansing, as I have said, is what God has appointed as the means by which he has resolved to render his Church submissive. It is therefore necessary that we should be subject, from first to last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make the effort to pray. But this consolation is ever to be applied to ease our sorrows, when our flesh leads us either to perverseness or to despair; let this remedy occur to us, that though chastisement is hard while it is felt, it ought yet to be estimated by what it produces, as the Apostle also reminds us in Hebrews 12:11. Let us especially know that the name of God is then seriously invoked, when we are subdued, and all ferocity, and all the indulgence of the flesh, are corrected in us: for we are like untamed heifers, as Jeremiah says, when God indulges us. (Jeremiah 31:18.) Hence the discipline of the cross is necessary, so that earnest prayer may become vigorous in us.

He shows at last how God may be invoked, for we are taught that he will be kind and propitious to us, whenever called upon. It would not indeed be enough for us to groan under the burden of afflictions, and to be thus awakened to prayer, except God himself allured us and gave us hope of favor. Hence the Prophet adds, I will say, My people they are; and they will say, Jehovah our God is he. The Prophet in short means, that unless the promises of God shine on us, and invite us to prayer, no sincere prayer can ever be drawn from us. How so? Because we first come to God by faith alone, and this opens the gate to us, and all prayers not founded on faith are rejected; and further, we know that men naturally dread the presence of God, and will do so until he gives them a taste of his goodness and love. Hence what Zechariah says here is especially worthy of notice, — that God’s word precedes, so that we may follow with confidence, and be able to enter through the gate opened to prayer, for except he first says, “ye are my people,” we cannot claim the privilege of entering into his presence and say, “thou art our God.” For who has bound God to us, that he should be a God to us? even he himself; for he has bound himself to us when he promised that we shall be his people. There is then, as I have said, no right beginning to prayer until we are taught that God is ready to hear our prayers, as it is said in Psalms 65:2, “Thou God hearest prayers, and all flesh shall come to thee.”

(176) I would render the first lines of this verse thus —

And I will bring the third part into the fire,
And will purify them as he who purifies silver,
or, as the purifier of silver,

And will try them as he who tries gold,
or, as the trier of gold.

The participle following “as” I regard as active, and not passive, as made by the Punctuists. — Ed.

(177) The singular number “he,” or rather “it,” refers to “the third part” at the beginning of the verse. Henderson, renders these lines literally, “It shall invoke my name,” etc. According to our version and Newcome, this is partly done. It would be better in a translation to adopt the plural throughout —

They shall call on my name,
And I will answer them;
And I will say, “My people are they;”
And they will say, “Jehovah is our God.”

There is a conversive [ו ] wanting before “say” in the third line, for the verb is in the past tense; it is supplied by the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Arabic. Here is an instance of manifest omission, not supported by any MS., but by the early versions. — Ed.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Zechariah 13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/zechariah-13.html. 1840-57.
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