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Some think that at the beginning of this chapter the people are reproved for their unfaithfulness, because they conducted themselves towards God in a way they ought not to have done, as they had violated that sacred marriage which God had been pleased to contract with them; for it is a common mode of speaking for God to compare himself to jealous husbands, when he sees his Church dealing with him unfaithfully. But this meaning is inadmissible: for the verb קנא, kona, connected as it is here, is to be taken in a good sense, as signifying concern or affection, inasmuch as ל, lamed, means, “on account of,” or “for;” and we have in the first chapter a similar sentence; Zechariah 1:1 and it is evident that in many other places the meaning is no other, but that God burned with wrath against all the enemies of his Church, as he regarded his Church with singular love. Emulation then here does not mean jealousy, but is to be taken in a different sense, as signifying that concern which God had for the protection of his Church. The whole then of this chapter proves that God would be the defender of his people, and that such was his care for the safety of all the godly, that he resolved to oppose the whole world, if necessary, for their protection. This is the sum of the whole.
He then says, that the word of Jehovah came to him; (78) we hence learn, that this was a distinct prophecy. He adds, I have been zealous for Sion (for as we have said, the letter ל, lamed, is to be thus taken) with great zeal (79) This was indeed an incredible change, for God had for a time restrained himself, while the ungodly at their pleasure harassed the Church, so that they thought that they could do so with impunity. As God then had for some time remained at rest, what the Prophet says here could not have been easily believed, that is, that God would, through a sudden jealousy, undertake the cause of the Church. Hence the indignation, immediately subjoined, must be regarded with reference to enemies, as though he had said, that all the ungodly would now perceive what they had by no means expected, — that God was the protector of Jerusalem. It now follows —
(78) Many MSS. have [ אלי ], “to me,” after “hosts,” a reading confirmed by the Targum, Syriac, and the Septuagint. Barb. MS.; and it is no doubt the true one.— Ed.
(79) Newcome has followed our version. The rendering of Henderson is the same with that of Calvin, —
I have been zealous for Zion with great zeal.
The comparison is evidently what Calvin refers to above; it is the jealousy of a husband for the honor of his wife. Blayney has no good reason for saying that this verse refers to what was past, and the following to the state of things at that time; for the verbs in both instances are in the same tense, the perfect, which often includes the present, that is, the perfect up to the present time; as the future in Hebrew, and also in Welsh, includes the present as well as what is to come. If we say, “I have been jealous,” etc., we must add in the next verse, “I have returned,” etc. But it would be better in our language to use in both instances the present tense, “I am jealous,” etc., and, “I am retained,” etc. — Ed.
The Prophet now more clearly explains what he intended; but it was necessary to preserve this order — that enemies were to be by force ejected from their possession, and the Church delivered, before God could dwell in the midst of it; for how could God have proved that Jerusalem was under his guardianship and protection without having first subdued its enemies? It was not then without reason that the Prophet commenced with this promise — that God was prepared for war, and was burning with wrath, that he might deliver his Church from the hands of enemies. Then follows the fruit of the victory; for it would not have been enough for God to avenge the wrongs done to his chosen people, without gathering the dispersed and restoring the Church to its ancient condition. For it often happens that those who have been cruelly treated find an avenger; but no comfort, or very little comfort, comes to them, as they are made nothing better; but the Lord here refers to these two things — that he would take up arms to defend his chosen people, and also that he would become, as the case was, the defender and protector of the holy city.
The repetition of the sentence, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, almost in every verse, was no doubt intended for the purpose of strengthening their faith; for it was, as I have already said a thing incredible. It was then necessary to bring forward often the name of God, that the faithful might more readily give assent to the prophecy which they knew proceeded from God, even the God of hosts, whose power is infinite, and to whom nothing is difficult, as we shall find it presently stated.
And he says that he had returned; not that the accomplishment of this prophecy was then visible, but the decree is put for the reality. God had been, as it were, for a long time silent, while his people were exposed as a sport to their enemies; and he seemed then to be far away from Jerusalem, for the place was desolate and waste, yea, it was a scene of dreadful vengeance. God, then, during the whole of that time, seemed to have forsaken the place, according to the testimony of Ezekiel, who says, that God had removed from the temple, and that it was an empty place, and as it were profane. On this account he says now that he had returned; for he intended openly to show that it had not in vain been made the seat of his glory, when he had commanded his name to be there invoked. It is indeed true that mount Sion had never been forsaken by God; but no other opinion could have been formed, when there were there no altar, no sacrifices, and no people to worship God; for this is said with reference to divine worship; and the holiness of the mount was also nothing, except as far as God had consecrated it to himself. Hence these two things were connected — the holiness of the mount and the presence of God. It therefore follows that God, according to the judgment of men, was absent, when no religion appeared there, and the Jews offered there no sacrifices.
He further says, that he had returned, that he might dwell in the midst of Jerusalem (80) It was necessary to add this, that the Jews might be convinced that his return was not in vain; for many said that they foolishly made too much haste, and that though the commencement had been favorable, yet many troubles would come upon them in future, and that their building would be only for a short time, and that though they spent much toil and labor in rebuilding the city, it would yet be only for a season, as their enemies would shortly come and destroy their new edifices. Since then reports of this kind were spreading, it was necessary to support the minds of the godly, that they might be fully persuaded that God had returned to his people, and had become the restorer of his exiles for this end — that he might as before dwell at Jerusalem.
We now apprehend the Prophet’s object; it was as though he had said, that the people had not returned in vain to their country, but that they had been delivered by the authority of God, and that his dwelling at Jerusalem would be fixed and perpetual, as it had before been his habitation. We indeed know that the stability of the Church is not otherwise secured than by the presence of God, as it is said in Psalms 46:5, “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;” for the Church would not be less exposed to sudden and frequent destruction than other things, were it not that God, her support, dwells in her. And this is what our Prophet means here when he says, that God would dwell there.
He adds, And called shall be Jerusalem the city of truth, and the mount of Jehovah the mount of holiness (81) By the first clause the Prophet reminds us why God had for a time forsaken Jerusalem, even because it was a city given to falsehoods, wicked devices, deceits, and perverse counsels. As then the Jews had wholly degenerated from true religion, the Prophet intimates that the city became destitute of its guardian and protector, even of God himself. And for the same purpose are added the words, the mount of Jehovah shall be called the mount of holiness. For however proudly the Jews boasted that they worshipped God, they yet had profaned both the temple and the altar by their sins, as we have seen it proved by the Prophet Haggai. (Haggai 2:15.) Here then Zechariah indirectly reproves the Jews for having corrupted all purity by their frauds, and also for having, by the defilements of their sins, polluted Sion and the temple of God. At the same time he teaches us that God dwells in his Church where he sanctifies it.
Hence God is never idle while he dwells in his people; for he cleanses away every kind of impurity, every kind of deceit, that where he dwells may ever be a holy place. Therefore the Prophet not only promises here an external blessing to the Jews, but also shows that God performs what is far more excellent — that he cleanses the place where he intends to dwell, and the habitation which he chooses, and casts out every kind of filth. And since God promises to do this, we hence see that it is his own peculiar work and gift to cleanse all our impurities, and also to dissipate everything false and deceitful. The import of the whole is, that when God reconciles his people to himself, he not only brings an outward blessing of an earthly kind, but also something better and far more excellent, even the renewal of the heart and mind, and that when all things are polluted and filthy, he restores true and perfect cleanness and integrity.
We must further bear also in mind what I have already stated — that their sins are here intimated to the Jews, that they might be touched with shame, and seek repentance; for we have seen that they were very slow and tardy in this respect. It was then necessary to stimulate them that they might repent. For what the Prophet says clearly intimates that mount Sion had been profaned, though God had consecrated it to himself; for God’s worship had been there vitiated, and there was there no integrity; and that the faithful city, such at least as it ought to have been, had become full of falsehood and treachery; for truth is not to be confined to that fidelity which men ought to observe one towards another, but is to be extended to that sincerity which the faithful ought to possess as to the pure and sincere worship of God. This is the sum of the whole. It now follows —
(80) “The walls of the city were not dedicated, Nehemiah 12:27, till above sixty years after this prophecy.”— Newcome.
(81) This verse presents an example of an inverted order in the words, often met with in Scripture. Zion and Jerusalem are first mentioned, then Jerusalem and Zion. “Truth” here seems especially to mean faithfulness, as opposed to perfidy; for Jerusalem had become unfaithful and broken her covenant with God. “Holiness” included what was moral and ceremonial. — Ed.
He confirms what we have already stated, that the Jews would be safe under the hand and protection of God, as he would dwell among them. The cause of a safe and quiet state he made to be the presence of God. For when we have peace with the whole world, we may yet disturb one another, except the God of peace restrains us; inasmuch as mutual and intestine discord may harass us, though we may be spared by external enemies. It is then necessary in the first place, that the God of peace and salvation should dwell in the midst of us. But when we have the presence of God, then comes full security. Suitably then does the Prophet now say, that yet dwell would old men and old women the midst of Jerusalem: for since the time the Jews had returned, they had been harassed, we know, by continual wars; and it could hardly be expected that they could live long in a state of incessant troubles, while new fears were daily disturbing them. Since then they were thus in incessant and endless dangers, the Prophet gives them relief, and promises that there would be to them yet a quiet habitation, so that both men and women would live to extreme old age. Hence he says, There shall yet dwell, etc
Then he adds, a staff shall be to man for his age, or on account of multitude of days. This seems indeed to have been said with no great propriety; for it would have been much better had vigor been given them, so that men failed not through old age. Hence the weakness mentioned here seems to have been a sign of God’s curse rather than of his favor; and on this account the Lord promises by Isaiah, that old men would be vigorous and strong, (Isaiah 65:20;) so that they felt not the disadvantage of age. But the design of Zechariah, as we have already reminded you, was here different; for many by their daily complaints depressed the minds of the godly, declaring that they were deceived, and saying that Jerusalem would not long stand, as they were surrounded by so many enemies. Hence Zechariah shows, that the Jews would be in no danger of falling by the hand of enemies, as they would live securely without any external disturbances; for we know that many old men, half alive through age and supporting themselves by a staff, cannot be anywhere seen, except in a state of peace and quietness, undisturbed by enemies. (82)
We now then perceive the design of the Prophet, which was to show, that Jerusalem would be tranquil and in peace, and that this would be the fruit of God’s presence; for its citizens would die through years, and not through the violence of eternal enemies. To the same purpose is what follows —
(82) “Longevity and a numerous offspring were especially promised under the old dispensation, but uniformly in connection with obedience to the law. Deuteronomy 4:40; Isaiah 65:20.” — Henderson.
He repeats and confirms the same thing by another representation — that boys and girls would play in the streets and on the public roads, which could not be during the troublous time of war; for when arms clatter, the sound of trumpets is heard, and assaults of enemies are dreaded, every one keeps his children at home, and in public there is sad confusion, and few are found abroad; in short there is no cheerfulness even in children when fear is hanging over them. We hence see, that what is here promised is a state of quietness to Jerusalem; for God would keep off the onsets of enemies — not that Jerusalem was ever exempt from all evils, but that God’s defense was so effectual as to render them safe amidst many and various dangers.
It is not needful here anxiously to raise the questions — Whether it is lawful to play during times of peace? for the Prophet here took his language from the common habits of men, and even from the very nature of things; for we know that men give way to cheerfulness when no fear lays hold on their minds, and that play and sport are allowed to children. The Prophet meant only this, that though the Jews might then have something to do with various enemies, they would yet be in a state of peace and safety. He afterwards adds —
He sharply reproves here the lack of faith in the people; for as men are wont to measure whatever is promised by their own understanding, the door of entrance for these prophecies was nearly closed up when they saw that the fury of their enemies could by no means be pacified. They had indeed tried in various ways to check them, or at least to conciliate them; and we know that many edicts had been proclaimed in favor of the Jews by the kings of Persia; but such was the common hatred to them, that new enemies arose continually. On this account it is that the Prophet now blames their want of faith; and he points out, as by the finger, the source of their unbelief when he says, that they had no faith in God who spoke to them, because he promised more then what they could conceive to be possible. And this deserves notice, for if we wish to pull up unbelief by the roots from our hearts, we must begin at this point — to raise up our thoughts above the world; yea, to bid adieu to our own judgment, and simply to embrace what God promises; for his power ought to carry us up to such a height that we may entertain no doubt but that what seems to us impossible will surely be accomplished. What the Prophet calls “wonderful” is the same as impossible; for men often wonder at God’s worlds without believing them, and even under the false pretense of wonder deny his power. Hence when God promises anything, doubts immediately creep in — “Can this be done?” If a reason does not appear, as the thing surpasses our comprehension, we instantly conclude that it cannot be. We thus see how men pretending to wonder at God’s power entirely obliterate it.
When therefore the Prophet now says, If this be wonderful in your eyes, shall it be so in mine? it is the same as though he had said, “If you reject what I promise to you, because it is not in accordance with your judgment, is it right that my power should be confined to what you can comprehend?” We hence see that nothing is more preposterous than to seek to measure God’s power by our own understanding. But he seems to say at the same time, that it is useful for us to raise upwards our minds, and to be so filled with wonder, while contemplating God’s infinite power, that nothing afterwards may appear wonderful to us. We now perceive how it behaves us to wonder at God’s works, and yet not to regard anything wonderful in them. There is no work of God so minute, but that it contains something wonderful, when it is considered as it ought to be; but yet when raised up by faith we apprehend the infinite power of God, which seems incredible to the understanding of the flesh, we look down as it were on the things below; for our faith ascends far above this world.
We now see the true source of unbelief and also of faith. The source of unbelief is this — when men confine God’s power to their own understanding; and the source of faith is — when they ascribe to God the praise due to his infinite power, when they regard not what is easy, but being satisfied with his word alone they are fully persuaded that God is true, and that what he promises is certain, because he is able to fulfill it. So Paul teaches us, who says, that Abraham’s faith was founded on this assurance — that he doubted not but that he who had spoken was able really to accomplish his word. (Romans 4:20.) Hence, that the promises of God may penetrate into our hearts and there strike deep roots, we must bid adieu to our own judgment; for while we are wise in ourselves and rely on earthly means, the power of God vanishes as it were from our sight, and his truth also at the same time disappears. In a word, we must regard, not what is probable, not what nature brings, not what is usual, but what God can do, what his infinite power can effect. We ought then to emerge from the confined compass of our flesh, and by faith, as we have said, ascend above the world.
And he says, In the eyes of the remnant of this people, etc. By this sentence he seems to touch the Jews to the quick, who had already in a measure experienced the power of God in their restoration; for thirty years before their freedom had been given them by Cyrus and Darius, they regarded as a fable what God had promised them; they said that they were in a grave from which no exit could have been expected: they had experienced how great and incredible was God’s power; and yet as people astonished, they despaired of their future safety. This ingratitude then is what Zechariah now indirectly reproves by calling them the remnant of his people. They were a small number, they had not raised their banner to go forth against the will of their enemies; but a way had been suddenly opened to them beyond all expectation. Since then they had been taught by experience to know that God was able to do more than they could have imagined, the Prophet here justly condemns them for having formed so unworthy an idea of that power of God which had been found by experience to have been more than sufficient. He afterwards adds —
He pursues the same subject, and introduces a preface, very necessary in so confused a state of things; for it was very difficult to raise up desponding minds and to inspire them with confidence, when pressed down with fear and trembling. This is the reason why Zechariah repeats so often, that he declared nothing but God’s commands only.
Behold, he says, I will save, or deliver my people. As dispersion took away hope, the Prophet restores it, and says, that it would not be difficult to gather the people from all parts of the world, when God stretched forth his hand; and emphatical is the expression, I will deliver my people. God then does here exalt himself, that we may learn to exalt his power, and not to judge of it according to our own comprehension. I will deliver my people, he says, from the rising as well as from the setting of the sun. This sentence then is connected with the preceding, in which the Prophet briefly shows that the Jews erred and acted perversely, when they ascribed no more to God than what the judgment of their own flesh dictated, or what seemed probable according to the course of nature. As then he had taught them that great wrong is done to God except he is separated from men, and shines eminent above the whole world, he now adds, that God, with whom nothing is wonderful or difficult, had resolved to gather his people, and from their dispersion to restore them again to Jerusalem. The Prophet then says here nothing new, but rightly applies what he had just said of God’s infinite and incomprehensible power, which men absurdly attempt to inclose in their own brains, and to attach to earthly instrumentalities.
He then adds, I will restore them, and they shall dwell, he says, in the midst of Jerusalem. He again confirms what I have already stated, — that their return would not be in vain, though many said, that the Jews had done foolishly in having returned so quickly into their own country; and they condemned their determination, as though they had been suddenly carried away by extreme ardor. Hence the Prophet, in order to show that God had dealt faithfully with his people, promises them here a safe and a perpetual habitation at Jerusalem. They shall dwell, he says; that is, “As you now see that you have been gathered, so expect that God will be your protector, so as to render you safe, and to make Jerusalem to be again inhabited, as it had been formerly.”
He afterwards adds, They shall be to me for a people, and I shall be to them for a God. By these words the Prophet confirms what he has hitherto taught, when he now speaks of the renewal of the covenant; for the whole hope of the people depended on this one thing, — that God remembered the covenant which he had made with them. This covenant had indeed been broken, according to the usual language of Scripture; for the people, when removed into exile, thought that they were cast away and forsaken by God. As then the memory of this covenant had been buried as to the effect, or as they say, apparently, the Prophet, in order to confirm what he has already said, expressly declares, that they would be God’s people, and that he would be their God. We now then understand why he adds, “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people”.
In the last place he says, in truths and righteousness; that is, “settled and permanent shall be this felicity”: for when God shows that he cares for his people, then follow outward blessings, which are evidences of his favor. The Prophet adds, that this shall be in truth and righteousness; for God will not be propitious and kind to his people only for a short time, but will continue his favor to them to the end. As then God intended to establish the safety of the city, he testifies that he would be its God in righteousness, even in sincerity, in good faith, and without dissimulation, and also without any danger of changing. (83) And how this was to be fulfilled we shall hereafter see.
(83) Blayney and Henderson consider these words, “truth” and “righteousness,” as belonging as equally to the two foregoing sentences, as applying to the people as well as to God. But they seem more properly as applying to God, as truth connected with righteousness refers to his faithfulness, confirmed by his justice in the performance of his promise. God is true or faithful, and further, he is righteous or just, so that what he has promised will surely be fulfilled. See 1 John 1:9. — Ed.
The Prophet having taught us that God was reconciled to his people, does now seasonably exhort the Jews to prepare themselves for work and strenuously to exert themselves in erecting the temple, and also in building the city: for as we have stated, many were then become slothful, as they thought that they were soon to be destroyed by their enemies, and that what they built with great labor, toil, and expense, would be presently demolished. Hence it was that sloth had crept in, so that many had left off the building both of the temple and of the city: and we have also seen elsewhere, that they were too intent on building their own houses, and at the same time neglected the temple; for each looked to his own private advantage, and also to his own pleasures. The Prophet Haggai sharply reproved this indifference, (Haggai 1:4;) and the Lord clearly showed that he had punished this their sloth; for they preferred their own houses to the temple, and through want of faith trembled, as though their restoration was a mockery. As then the people by their ingratitude had almost wiped away the recollection of their deliverance, the Prophet Haggai severely reproved them; and Zechariah now touches on the same subject.
Hence he says, that before they had begun the work of building the temple, the land was sterile, as though it was cursed by God, and that they were deprived of their hope, and that whatever they attempted proved useless; but that after they had begun, through the encouragement given them by the Prophets, to take courage to build the temple, things changed for the better, and that openly, so that it was easy to conclude, that God had been previously displeased with them, but that now he was favorable, as all things went on prosperously. This change then was a clear token both of God’s displeasure and of God’s favor; for he had justly chastised his people as long as they were under the influence of unbelief, so as not to proceed with the work of building the temple; and afterwards the favor of God had begun to shine on them, as God gave them abundance of provisions, and proved in various ways that he was now favorable to them. Zechariah therefore mentions these things, that they might proceed more cheerfully with their work, and not provoke God’s wrath, which they had previously found to have been so much to their loss, and that they might seek to enjoy his blessing, which was now so manifest before their eyes. This is the import of the whole.
He says, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Strengthened let be your hands. He exhorts them to perseverance: but as men become weak, and many things occur which enfeeble or break down their courage, he uses the word, strengthen; for it is often necessary to gather new strength, and to confirm a pious resolution. Let us now then learn to apply this doctrine to our own benefit, and let us understand what experience sufficiently teaches us, even this — that our hands, though at first well prepared, are yet soon relaxed, and as it were loosed, and even entirely fail, unless new strength be now and then attained; and that this is effected when we are animated by God’s word, and rise superior to the trials which enfeeble us. And Zechariah will presently inform us whence this strength was to be sought, even from the promises which they had already heard from the Prophets; for he would have in vain exhorted them to persevere, had not the ground of confidence been mentioned. For when God is silent, our minds, though before abundantly ready and willing, must languish, and at length wholly fail.
We then see that there can be no courage in men, unless God supports them by his word, so that they may recover their lost strength and regain their alacrity. Had the Prophet only bidden them to take courage, they might have replied, that there was nothing in their circumstances to encourage them; but when the word of God was set before them, every excuse was taken away; and they were now to gird up the loins, and boldly to fight, inasmuch as God supplied them with weapons.
Be strong, he says, ye who hear in these days these words from the mouth of the Prophets. Though Zechariah is not often concise in his words, but in many parts diffuse, yet he is so here, and the whole verse is very emphatical; for after having said that they were not destitute of God’s promises, he adds, “in these days,” and also “these words.” He intimates that they were not only taught a general truth, that they were to render obedience, but that God himself would be their leader to direct their steps and to show them the way: in a word, he omits nothing to enable them to proceed without difficulty with the work which they had begun. There is then an emphasis intended by the demonstrative, “these,” “these;” for the Prophet intimates that God was continually speaking to them, and that he announced not only a general truth, but specific words, by which they might guide their feet and their hands in every action. And he says, that those words were heard from the mouth of the Prophets, for God intended honor to be done to his servants; and it is, as it has been often stated, a true test of faith, when God descends not himself from heaven, or does not appear to us in a visible form, but makes use of men as his ministers. Yet Zechariah briefly intimates, that the Prophets are not the authors of the promises, which are necessary to raise up, support, and stimulate our minds; for the Lord only employs their service; and this is what he means by the word mouth
He now adds, Who were in that day in which was founded the house of Jehovah, in order to build the temple. Not much time had elapsed since they had begun again to build the temple, and the foundations had been laid; but the work had been discontinued through the unbelief of them all, and also through the private regard of each to his own interest. For as they were in suspense and doubtful, there arose sloth and indifference, and avarice possessed them, so that they despised the temple of God. But he says now that during that short time God often spoke to them by his Prophets with the view of correcting their delay and tardiness, for the Prophet mentions here as it were but one day, for the purpose of expressing how short the time had been. Less excusable then was their sloth, since God daily spoke to them and confirmed by new Prophets what the former ones had said. (84)
(84) The verse may be thus rendered—
Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Strengthened be your hands, Who hear in these days Those very words from the mouth of the Prophets, Which ye heard in the day of founding the house Of Jehovah of Hosts, the temple, that it might be built.
As in a former instance, chapter 2:4, [ אלה ], repeated, should be rendered “these” and “those.” Blayney borrows after “which” the verb “ye heard,” from the former line; but Henderson considers [ דברו ] to be understood, “which were spoken.” The former is the most obvious. — Ed.
It follows, For before these days there was no hire for man, and no hire for beast, no peace to passengers, because I had sent forth all men, each one against his friend. The Prophet mentions here, as I have already said, evidences of God’s curse, by which the Jews might have learnt that he was displeased with their neglect in disregarding the building of the temple, for while omitting that they paid attention to their domestic affairs. He therefore reminds them of what might have made them to fear, lest they should go on still to provoke God; for they had been taught, to their great loss, not to excite in this manner his displeasure: and Zechariah, no doubt, as well as Haggai and Malachi, had often addressed the people on this subject; for we see how prone is the disposition of us all to relapse into forgetfulness when God in any measure relaxes in his discipline. We presently shake off every fear when exempt from evils. This is the reason why it is needful for us to be often reminded of those judgments of God which we have experienced, according to what is done here by Zechariah.
Before these days, he says, there was no hire for man, and no hire for beast; that is, there was no profit from the labor of men or of beasts. He takes it as granted, that men were not tardy in their work, and that beasts performed their labors, but that no fruit appeared. And whence was it the labor of men and of beasts was unprofitable, except from God’s curse, as the law testifies? (Deuteronomy 28:8.) For when the Prophets speak of God’s curse they refer to the law, and only apply to their present purpose what is stated generally in the law. As then God declares in the law that he will bless the work of the hands, Zechariah draws this inference that God was displeased when men and beasts toiled laboriously without any advantage.
He then adds, There was no peace. When men labor in vain, thirst and want of all things must follow; for though the labor of man, we know, is of itself of no value, yet when blessed by God it is the means of promoting fertility, so that the earth may supply us with food. On the other hand, when the labor of man is barren, even the earth itself refuses to bring forth fruit. It was then no light calamity when God visited the people with poverty and famine. But another evil is added, no less dreadful and even more grievous that the land was so harassed by enemies that no travelling was safe. Hence he says, that there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in; that is, there was no free or peaceable travelling, but they were exposed to pillage and plunder. In a word, Zechariah teaches us here, that the Jews were under a curse both within and without, for the land disappointed those who cultivated it, as it yielded no fruit, and then they were exposed to hostile assaults.
With regard to the words, מן הצר, men etsar, some render them, on account of distress, “there was no peace on account of distress.” But we may retain the proper meaning of the preposition מן, mem, “there was no peace from distress;” that is, there were none safe from inconvenience and molestation. (85)
The reason is added, Because God had sent forth all men, each one against his neighbor. The Prophet designedly subjoined this, that the Jews might know that these evils could not be ascribed to fortune, as though men did rise up thoughtlessly one against another. Hence he reminds them that their quietness was disturbed by the just and hidden judgment of God, for he can turn as he pleases the hearts of men; he now inclines them to humanity or to mercy, and then he turns them to madness and ferocity. That the Jews might know that they had to do with God, the Prophet declares here that men had been sent forth, that they might mutually rage and assault one another.
Hence they who use the word permit, not only take away from what the Prophet means, but wholly pervert his doctrine and extinguish its light altogether: for God does not say here that he was still when the Jews ill-treated one another; but he meant to have this attributed to his judgment. For when almost the whole world was hostile to a few men, and those related to one another, they ought surely to have been united among themselves; for necessity conciliates even the most alienated, and even pacifies those who have been previously the most violent enemies. Since, then, the Jews were assailed by foreign enemies, they ought to have been friends among themselves, or at least to have been so softened as not to be so hostile towards one another. As then they raged against their own bowels, so that no one spared his own friends, God more fully shows by this circumstance that he was the author of these confusions. And how God kindles the hearts of men to ferocity, and is yet free from all blame, has been explained elsewhere. God indeed executes his righteous judgments, when he sets men one against the other; and if we inquire into the cause and the end, we shall find that men are in this way justly punished. As then in God’s judgments there ever shines forth the highest equity, there is no reason for men to try to implicate him in their own perdition, or to devolve on him a part of the blame. God then justly excites the hearts of men into madness, and yet men themselves bear the whole blame, though God draws them here and there against their will, and makes use of them as his instruments; for the hidden purpose of God does not excuse them, while nothing is less their object than to obey his word, though they are guided by his hidden operation. We know that no work pleases God, but when there is a willing obedience, which none of the reprobate ever render; and we also know that all works are to be judged according to the end designed. We must therefore consider what was the reason that God thus set men against one another, and what end he had in view. But we have elsewhere discussed this subject at large.
Let us then now, in short, bear this in mind, that the Jews mutually harassed and distressed one another, not by chance, but because the Lord, who was their enemy and whose wrath they had provoked, had sent them forth as enemies among themselves.
(85) Calvin has in this instance followed the Septuagint, and so has Newcome; but the Targum has “ propter hostem — on account of the enemy;” and the same is the most common meaning of the Hebrew; and such is the rendering of Drusius, Marckius, Dathius, and Henderson. We may give this literal version of the whole verse,—
10. For before those days, The hire of man, it was nothing; And the hire of beast, not any; And to the goer and the comer, No peace from the enemy; And I sent forth every man, Each one against his neighbor.
The word [ צר ] is perhaps more strictly an oppressor than an enemy, though it be often rendered by the latter word. The verb means to straiten, to confine, and thus to distress, to afflict, or to oppress. Not a foreign but a domestic enemy is here meant, as intimated in the two last lines. The “sending forth” shows that these enemies were robbers; and this is also evident from the statement that “goers” and “comers” were not safe. Hence our version and that of Newcome are wrong, in which “I set” is found instead of “I sent forth,” the proper meaning of the verb used here. “I sent” of Henderson is not quite correct, for the idea is not fully expressed. — Ed.
He afterwards adds, But now, not according to former days, shall I be to the remnant of this people, saith Jehovah of hosts. Zechariah now reminds them that things had changed for the better, as it was evident that God was propitious to them. And if the cause of this change be asked, the answer is, the building of the temple. If nothing had been said by the Prophets, the Jews might have only conjectured, but every doubt had been removed; for God had threatened then with punishment which he afterwards inflicted, and then he exhorted them to repentance, and said that he would be reconciled to them: when the Jews rightly considered these things, they had no need of having recourse to conjectures. It was indeed fully evident that God regarded them with favor, and that the fruits of his favor were before their eyes; and they were thus encouraged to proceed with the work of building the temple. It now follows —
Here Zechariah promises the continuance of God’s favor, which the Jews had now begun to taste. God then had in part openly showed that he was a Father to the Jews, by dealing liberally with them: but in order more fully to strengthen them in their perseverance, Zechariah says that this favor would be continued.
And he says first, that there would be the seed of peace. Some think that it is called the seed of peace because the cultivation of the fields, while the assaults of enemies were dreaded, was deserted; no one dared to bring out his oxen or his horses, and then even when the husbandmen sowed their fields, it was not done as in seasons of quietness and security. As then the fields, when badly cultivated in times of war, do not produce a full crop, so they think that it is called the seed of peace, when husbandmen are permitted to employ necessary labor, when they are free from every fear, and devote securely their toils on the cultivation and the sowing of their fields. Others explain the seed of peace to be this — that it is so when neither storms, nor tempests, nor mildew, nor any other evils do any harm to the corn and fruit. But as שלום, shelum, means often in Hebrew prosperity, we may so take it here, that it would be the seed of peace, that is, that the seed would be prosperous; and this interpretation seems to me less strained. It shall then be the seed of peace, that is, it shall prosper according to your labor; what is sown shall produce its proper fruit. (86)
There is added an explanation — The vine shall yield its fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and the heaven shall yield its dew. We hence conclude that it was called the seed of peace, because the husbandmen gained their object when the earth, irrigated by the dew of heaven, was not sterile, and when the produce was abundant, when there was plenty of corn and wine, and of other things. There is then peace or prosperity as to the seed, when the corn grows according to our wishes, and comes to maturity, and when heaven responds to the earth, and withholds not its dew, as we have seen in another place. In short, God testifies that the remnant of his people should abound in all good things, for the heaven would not withhold from them its rain, nor the earth shut up its bowels.
But God ever recalls his people to himself, that they may depend on his blessing; for it would be a cold doctrine were we not persuaded of this — that the earth is not otherwise fruitful than as God gives it the power of generating and of bringing forth. We ought therefore ever to regard the blessing of God, and to ask of him to supply us with food, and to pray him every day, as we are taught, to give us our daily bread. But few do this from the heart, and hardly one in a hundred so turns his thoughts to God’s hand as firmly to believe that he daily receives from him his daily food. We now understand what the Prophet means in these words. It now follows —
(86) It is not easy to know the precise meaning of this phrase, capable as it is of various explanations. Jerome, Grotius, and Marckius consider “the remnant,” mentioned in the preceding verse, as meant by the seed, “For the seed shall be peace,” or peacable, instead of being rebellious as before. The verse, as stated by Marckius, may be thus rendered, —
For to the seed of peace Shall the vine yield its fruit, etc.
But what seems most consonant with the whole passage, is to regard [ זרע ] as meaning seed-time or sowing, (Genesis 8:22,) and to consider [ שלום ] to be, in its ordinary sense, as signifying peace or peacable. It was said before, in verse 10, that there was no peace to goers and comers, such as went forth to labor in the field: but now there was to be a different state of things. Then the version would be, —
12. For the sowing-time will be peacable; The vine shall give its fruit, And the land shall give its increase, And the heavens shall give their dew: Yea, I will cause the remnant of this people To inherit all these things.
But most follow Calvin’s view: so do Newcome and Henderson.
Blayney considers [ זרע ] a participle, and construes the words in connection with the former verse, “I will not be to the residue of this people such as I was in former days,” (that is, a sower of discord, as verse 10,) “but a sower of peace.” This certainly makes the construction easier. — Ed.
He goes on with the same subject, and in this verse he states two contrary things, in order to render more clear what he teaches here — that while God was angry the earth was barren, and all things went on unhappily with the Jews; but that when God had begun to be reconciled, the earth had as it were changed its nature, and brought forth plentifully, and that they were in every way made blessed.
Hence he says, As ye have been a curse, etc. Here again he mentions and reminds them how miserable they were while they minded only their private interest, and by neglecting the temple manifested their impiety and ingratitude; for what ought they to have been more ready to do when they returned to their country than to build the temple, and to offer there sacrifices to God, in order to avow him as the author of their deliverance? But the temple was neglected; and the Prophet concludes that they must have been extremely forgetful, if they did not consider what their condition was as long as they had no care for the temple; and he says that they had been a curse among the nations; that is, that they were an example of a curse, according to the threatening of the law. For it is a mode of speaking frequent in Scripture, that the people were a curse; and the common formula of cursing was — “Let the Lord curse thee as he does the Jews.” Zechariah then says that the Jews had been a curse, that they had not only been smitten by God’s hand, but that they had been given up to calamities, in order that they might become to all detestable, and bear in a manner signs of God’s wrath imprinted on them. Whoever then at that time looked on a Jew, he might see that he had the appearance of bearing a curse. In short, Zechariah means that the Jews had been punished in a manner not common or usual, but that God had executed on them dreadful judgments, which made it evident to all that he was grievously offended with them. Ye have been then a curse among all nations (87)
He then adds, So I will save you, as ye shall be a blessing. The word save is introduced that God might more clearly set forth his favor, lest the Jews should think that the change had been effected by fortuitous change; for we know that men’s thoughts soon change, and they feign this or that cause that they may obscure God’s providence. God then, before he promises that they should be a blessing, says that he would save them. What it is to be a blessing may be easily learnt from the opposite clause. They are then said to be a blessing who bear evident tokens of God’s favor and kindness. So the Prophet means, that when people wished to be prayed for, or when they wished well to one another, this would be the common form of their requests — “May God bless us as he blesses his chosen people: as the Jews are dear to God, so may he favor us with the same or similar kindness.” Thus then we see that the Jews were a curse, when exposed to extreme reproaches; and that they became a blessing when God manifested towards them tokens of favor, and showed in reality, or by the effect, that he was pacified towards them.
He says, in the last place, Fear ye not; strengthened be your hands. He exhorts them to entertain hope, for fear stands opposed to confidence; and fear, proceeding from unbelief, cannot be otherwise dissipated but by God’s promises made to us, which chase away all doubts. Rightly then does the Prophet teach us that the Jews had no reason to fear, for he declares that God was propitious to them. We indeed know that all fear cannot be wholly driven away from the hearts of men; for it would be necessary to deprive us of every feeling before we could regard dangers without fears. But though fear is natural to us, and occasions of fear ever occur to us, yet the fear of unbelief may be dispelled by faith; and hence it is no wonder that God condemns fear, when he promises salvation to his elect. But as I have said, we ought to observe that there is here a contrast between condemnable fear and that confidence which relies on God’s word. We must also add, that the confidence of God’s children is never so complete that they are free from all fear, even the fear of unbelief; but still we ought to struggle against it, so as not to be hindered in the course of our calling. And this we learn more fully from the end of the verse.
Strengthened be your hands. But why does the Prophet forbid the Jews to fear? even for this purpose, — that they might arouse themselves for the work which the Lord had allotted to them, and not allow fear to retard them or to prevent them to persevere.
We now then perceive how the faithful become prepared and ready to render service to God: sloth must first be shaken off — but how? even by having fear removed. What is the remedy for healing fear? even to recomb on the promises of God; for when our minds are composed, the hands and the feet and all the members will be ready to do their office. Alacrity both of mind and heart and of all the members follows, when fear is shaken off, and when men begin so to rely on God’s word, as to know that his help is enough for them against all dangers, and to dread nothing, being convinced that the Lord will by his power remove all hindrances.
(87) Calvin takes no notice of the words “House of Judah, and house of Israel.” This has occasioned difficulty to some interpreters. But Newcome thinks that “many of the ten tribes” returned with “the house of Judah” from captivity, and are here addressed. Henderson is of the same opinion, and adds these remarks — “They also (that is the house of Israel) returned to Palestine, [ בימים האלה ], in the very days (verse 15) to which it (the prophecy) refers. All attempts to discover them at more recent periods have proved utterly fruitless; and the idea that they must still exist somewhere in the world, and are still to be restored in their tribal state, has arisen from misconstruction of those prophecies which refer to the return from Babylon.” — Ed.
The Prophet confirms the truth in the preceding verse, when he said that there would be a wholly different lot to the Jews, as they would in every way be blessed. He shows the cause of the change; for God would begin to favor them, who had been before displeased with them. We indeed know that the Holy Spirit everywhere calls men before God’s tribunal, that they may know that no adversity happens to them, except through their sins. So also in this place Zechariah reminds us, that God had been angry with the Jews, because they had provoked his wrath. But now a promise is added, that God had turned; not that he had changed his mind, but he meant to show that he was pacified. (88) We indeed know that we are to judge of God’s love or hatred to us by outward things; for when God treats us severely, manifest tokens of his wrath appear; but when he deals kindly with us, then the fruit of reconciliation seems evident. According to this view does he now say, that God was of another mind than formerly towards the Jews; for he designed to show them kindness, having before sharply and severely chastised them. But we must more particularly consider each part.
He says, that as God had previously resolved to punish the Jews, he was now inclined to show mercy, and that they would find him as it were changed and different from what he had been. These verses, as I have said, are explanatory; for the Prophet had briefly promised that the Jews would be a remarkable example of being a blessed people, but he now shows why God had previously inflicted on them so many evils and calamities, even because their fathers had provoked his wrath. And when he says that he had visited them on account of the crimes or sins of their fathers, we must understand this of the body of the people. Superfluous then is the question which some interpreters moot, Whether God punished the children for the sins of their fathers, when yet he declares in another place, that the soul that sins shall die: for in this place the Prophet does not distinguish the fathers from the children, but intimates that God had not been propitious to the Jews, because they had before greatly provoked his wrath. There is yet no doubt, but that every one justly suffered the punishment of his iniquity. The import of the whole is, that the Jews gained nothing by evasion, for God had not without reason visited them, but had rendered a just reward for their sins. This is one thing.
What he adds, that God repented not for being thus angry, means the same as though he had said, that the Jews through their perverseness had only rendered God’s rigour inflexible. Zechariah then reminds us, that when men cease not to add evils to evils, and obstinately rush on as though they would make war with God, he then becomes as it were obstinate too, and according to what is said in the eighteenth Psalm, “deals perversely with the perverse.” The reason then why God declares that he had been implacable to his people, is, because the wickedness of those whom he had spared and long tolerated was become unhealable; for when he saw that they were wholly perverse, he armed himself for vengeance.
And hence we may gather a general truth, — that God cannot be intreated by us, except when we begin to repent; not that our repentance anticipates God’s mercy, for the question here is not, what man of himself and of his own inclination can do; as the object of Zechariah is only to teach us, that when God designs to forgive us, he changes our hearts and turns us to obedience by his Spirit; for when he leaves us in our hardness, we must necessarily be ever afflicted by his hand until we at last perish.
We must at the same time notice what I have also referred to, — that God here closes the mouths of the Jews, that they might not murmur against his severity, as though he had dealt cruelly with them. He then shows that these punishments were just which the Jews had endured; for it had not been for one day only, but for a continued succession of time, that the fathers had excited his wrath. The reason why he speaks of the fathers rather than of themselves is, because they had for a long series of years hardened themselves in their wickedness, and corruption had become in them as it were hereditary. He now says that he had turned; not that he was of another mind, as we have already said, but this is to be understood of what the people experienced; for God seemed to be in a manner different, when he became kind to them and showed them favor, having before manifested many tokens of vengeance.
(88) Some, as Drusius, Newcome, and Henderson, as well as our own translators, have regarded this verb “turned” as used here adverbially, as it is evidently in some places, “So again have I thought,” or purposed: but the construction here is not the same as when it occurs in that sense; and it is to be taken here in contrast to the not repenting in the preceding verse. God in the former instance did not turn, or change, or repent; but now he is said to have turned. I render the two verse thus,—
14. For thus saith Jehovah of hosts,— As I fully purposed to render evil to you, Because your fathers made me extremely angry, Saith Jehovah of hosts, And I did not repent;
15. So have I turned, and fully purposed in these days To do good to Jerusalem, And to the house of Judah; fear not.
The verb [ זמם ] is more than to think or to purpose; it being a reduplicate verb, it signifies to purpose firmly or fully. The Septuagint and the Syriac version supply and before it in verse 15. — Ed.
Now at the end of the verse the Prophet reminds us of the application of his doctrine, even to encourage the Jews, that they might go on with alacrity in the work of building the temple. But we have said that we ought to be armed with God’s promises, so that we may with courageous hearts follow wherever he may call us; for we shall all presently faint except we find that the hand of God is present with us. Since then we are by nature slothful and tender, and since inconstancy often creeps in, this is our only remedy, — that when we seek to go on in the course of our calling to the end, we know that God will be ever a help to us; and this is what the Prophet now teaches us. He then applies what he had before promised to its legitimate purpose, — to encourage the Jews to lay aside their fear, courageously to undertake their work, and to expect what was not yet evident, even a complete restoration. It follows —
Zechariah exhorts them here to true repentance, by showing that more things were to be hoped for than what they saw with their eyes; and at the same time he shows that it was not enough for them assiduously to build the city and the temple; but he requires other things, even that they should observe integrity and justice towards one another. We indeed know that the Jews were so given to their own ceremonies, that they thought that holiness existed in them: and this error Zechariah had before condemned, and now he inculcates the same truth, — that if they wished to have God propitious to them, and also wished to enjoy continually that goodness which they had already tasted, they were to strive to secure it not only by sacrifices and other ceremonies, but especially by attention to justice and equity.
But the Prophet does not here mention every part of an upright life, but only refers to some things. This mode of speaking is quite common, as we have already often noticed. The Prophet then states a part for the whole; but still he includes generally the whole of the second table, when he says that these things were to be observed, (89) even that they should speak the truth; that is, deal faithfully with one another, abstain from every falsehood and deceit, and from every kind of craftiness, — and also that they should execute justice in their gates. And because he names neighbors here, it would be very absurd for anyone hence to conclude, that it is lawful to defraud strangers, or those with whom we have no near connection: but the Prophet by this term meant only to set forth the atrocious conduct of the Jews, who spared not even their friends and their brethren. Though then it is a wicked thing to deceive any one, even the farthest from us, it is yet a greater crime when one lies in wait for his near neighbor and brother: and we know that this mode of speaking occurs everywhere in the law; for God, in order to restrain us from evil deeds, has set before us that kind of sin which we are constrained by the impulse of nature to detest. Thus he speaks of secret hatred as being murder. Then the Prophet in this place meant more sharply to reprove the Jews, because such barbarity had prevailed among them, that no one regarded his neighbor, but raged as it were against his own bowels.
As to the words, truth and the judgment of peace, he intimates by them, that not only individuals were privately given to evil deeds, but that also the court of justice was full of frauds and wrong acts, while it ought to have been the sanctuary of justice. Though many may be perversely wicked among the people, yet their audacity and wickedness are always restrained, when the laws are put in force, and incorrupt judges rule. But the Prophet shows that the judges had become like robbers, for there was no integrity in the gates. He mentions truth first, for the judges craftily perverted all truth by misrepresentations, as it is commonly the case. For even the worst of men do not openly say that they approve of a wicked deed; but they find out disguises by which they cover their own baseness, and that of those who do wrong, whom they favor, when bribed with money. It is then necessary that truth should have the first place in courts of justice. By the judgment of peace he understands, when his own is given to every one. Some think that what is right is called the judgment of peace, because when mercenary judges condemn and oppress the innocent, and for gain’s sake patronise what is wrong, many tumults often arise, and then open war ensues: but as the word peace has a wide meaning in Hebrew, we may take the judgment of peace as meaning only a calm and a rightly formed judgment. The Jews, we know, administered justice in the gates.
(89) Literally it is, “These the words which ye shall do.” The term “words” means here what the words contain, and may therefore be rendered, “commands,” or “do” may be translated “observe:” —
These are the commands which ye shall do, — Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor; The truth and the judgment of peace Pronounce in your gates.
Instead of “Pronounce,” Newcome has “Determine,” and Henderson, as in our version, “Execute;” the more literal rendering is “Judge:” but the verb often means to decide, to determine, to declare a thing as a judge, or to pronounce sentence in a cause. What they were required here was to pronounce what was true and right according to the law, an dto give such a judgment as was calculated to promote peace and concord, “by deterring the litigious,” as Newcome observes, “and punishing the evil doer.” Jerome, Drusius, Pemble, Henry, and Grotius, give the same view of “the judgment of peace;” but Henderson agrees with Calvin, and renders it “sound judgment.” The former view is most to be approved, as the latter is less distinct, for “true” and “sound” are nearly the same. “Let the judges,” observes Henry, “that sit in the gates, in all their judicial proceedings have regard both to truth and to peace; let them take care to do justice, and to accommodate differences, and prevent vexatious suits. It must be a judgment of truth in order to peace; and a judgment of peace as far as is consistent with truth, and no further.”
The words, “speak the truth,” Kimchi very beautifully explains thus, — “Speak not with one thing in your mouth and another thing in your heart.” — Ed.
He afterwards adds, And think not evil every one against his friend. Here the Prophet not only condemns open wrongs, but also the hidden purposes of evil. We hence learn, that the law was not only given to restrain men as it were by a bridle, and that it not only contains a rule of life as to outward duties, but that it also rules their hearts before God and angels. The law is indeed really spiritual; and extremely gross and foolish are they who think that they satisfy the law of Moses, when they abstain from murder and theft and other evil deeds; for we see that the Prophets everywhere required a right feeling in the hearts as Zechariah does in this place, who reminds the Jews, that they were not to devise evil against their friends, no, not in their hearts. He might have omitted the last words; but he meant to condemn those frauds which were wont to be covered by many and various disguises. Though then men may not bring forth their wickedness, yet Zechariah shows that God will punish it; for whatever dwells within, however concealed it may be from the eyes of men, however hidden it may be in the depth of the heart, it must yet come to an account before God.
He adds another kind of evil, even perjury, And love not the oath of falsehood. He might have said, swear not to the injury of thy neighbor; but there is to be observed here a contrast between the perverted love of men and the hatred of God. As then God hates a false oath as all other frauds and falsehoods, so he forbids us to desire it: for if we wish to please God, we must see what he requires from us, inasmuch as we designedly provoke his wrath when we desire or covet what he declares that he hates. In a word, Zechariah shows that God would be propitious and kind to the Jews, provided they truly and from the heart repented, and attended to what was right and just — not only to build the temple, to offer sacrifices, and to observe other rites, but also to form their life according to what integrity required; to labor not only by external acts to discharge their duties towards their neighbors; but also to cleanse their hearts from all hatred, all cruelty, and all depraved affections. It now follows —
He confirms the same truth, that such would be the restoration of the Church that all the memory of their sorrows would be obliterated. We have already said, that some fasts were observed by the Jews after the destruction of their city. Before two only were mentioned, but now the Prophet names four. In the fourth month the city was taken, and in the fifth the temple was destroyed and burnt down; in the seventh was Gedaliah slain, who had remained with the residue of the people who had been gathered by him; and the fast of the tenth month, as some think, was appointed when the city was besieged. If so, the fast of the tenth month preceded the rest, then followed the fast of the fourth month, in the third place the fast of the fifth month, and, lastly, the fast of the seventh month, on account of the death of Gedaliah.
These then were tokens of mourning to the time of the restoration; for when the city was besieged, God raised up, as it were, a sign of dreadful vengeance; and when Nebuchadnezzar broke through the wall of the city, it was then openly forsaken by God; after the burning of the temple there remained no hope, except that some of the common people continued in the land under the protection of Gedaliah. The root, as it were, of the people was cut off, but some thin fibres were remaining; and when even these were torn asunder, when all who could be found were led into exile, the favor of God had wholly disappeared as to the outward appearance. It behaved then the Jews to be in mourning and humiliation, that they might seek pardon from God. We shall not then say, that these fasts were without reason, and foolishly appointed by them, for they were at liberty to testify their sorrow; nay, it was an act of piety humbly in their guilt to deprecate the wrath of the celestial Judge, when they perceived that he was displeased with them. But God now promises joy, which was to extinguish all sorrow, as the rising of the sun drives away all the darkness of the night.
But the Prophet seems to allude to what he had before taught when he indirectly taunted the Jews, because they were too anxious about keeping fasts, while they neglected the main things. But the simple meaning is, that if the Jews really repented and sincerely sought to return to God’s favor, there would be an end to all their miseries, so that there would be no need of fasting.
We must also remember that the design of fasting is this, that those who have sinned may humble themselves before God, and go as suppliants before his throne, that they may confess their sins and condemn themselves. Fasting then is, as it were, the habit of criminals when they desire to obtain pardon from God; for Christ says, that there is no fasting at marriages and during festal days. (Matthew 9:15.) We then see that there is here promised a restoration which was to put an end to every former cause of sorrow among the people; not that these fasts of themselves displeased God, for they were appointed, as we have said, for a good purpose — that the people might thus exercise themselves in acts of piety, and also stimulate and support their hope till the time of their deliverance; but Zechariah pursues what he had begun — that God was now plainly reconciled, for he favored his people, and proved this by the blessings he bestowed.
With regard to festal days, we know that among other things they are expressly mentioned by Moses, “Thou shalt rejoice before thy God.” (Deuteronomy 12:18.) When therefore the Jews celebrated their festal meetings, it was the same as though they stood before God, and were thus fully persuaded that they were in his presence. Forasmuch then as God thus designed to exhilarate his people by festivals, the Prophet does not without reason say, that the fasts, which had been signs of mourning, would be turned into joy and into festal days. Moreover, the Prophet thus speaks, because the observance of the law, which prevailed while the people were in a state of security, had been interrupted in their exile — as though he had said, “As food expelled you to a foreign land, and made you while exiles from your country to grieve and mourn, so now being restored you shall have joy, and religiously keep your festal days.” And thus he indirectly reproves the Jews for having deprived themselves of their festal days, in which the law invited them to rejoice, for they had profaned them. God would not have suffered to be discontinued what he had commanded, had not religion been corrupted; for on this account it was that things changed for the worse, and that sorrow succeeded, which is here designated by fastings.
At length he concludes by saying, Love ye then truth and peace. By truth he means integrity, as we have said before; and Zechariah includes in this word the whole of what is just and right: for when our hearts are cleansed, then the rule of justice and equity is observed. When then we deal sincerely with our neighbors, all the duties of love freely flow from within as from a fountain. As to the word peace, it may be explained in two ways: either as in the former instance when he mentioned the judgment of peace in the sense of judgment rightly formed, and thus to love peace is to love good order; or it may be taken for God’s blessing, as though the Prophet said, “If ye wish to be in a good and prosperous state, observe integrity towards one another; for God will ever be present by his blessing, provided ye be sincere and faithful. (90) Ye have in a manner sought a curse for yourselves, and dried up as it were the fountain of God’s blessings by your wickedness and your frauds. If then truth reign among you, all felicity shall accompany it; for the Lord will bless you.” I shall not proceed farther now.
(90) It is better to regard “peace” here in its ordinary meaning, as opposed to strife and contention, as “truth” is to falsehood an deceit. They were to “love truth” and not falsehood, and also “peace” and concord, and not discord and contention.
The [ ו ], vau, at the beginning of this sentence has been variously rendered: “only” by Jerome and Drusius; “therefore” by Calvin and Blayney; “but” by Newcome and Henderson. But there is no need of all this. Let the whole passage be rendered in a perceptive form, and it may have its usual meaning as a copulative, as in the following manner,—
Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, — Let the fast of the fourth, and the fast of the fifth, And the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth month, Be to the house of Judah For exultation and joy, And for cheerful seasons; And love ye truth and peace.“
Exultation,” [ ששוז ], is the outward expression of joy; the most obvious thing is mentioned first, as often is the case in Scripture, and then the source from which it proceeds, even joy. “Cheerful” is literally “good,” — good seasons, or festivals, or solemnities. “The Hebrews,” says Grotius, “were wont to call those days good which were appointed for rejoicing.” This passage contains the answer to the inquiry mentioned in chapter 7:3; but the answer refers not only to one fast but to all the fasts which the Jews had instituted. — Ed.
The Prophet here extends his discourse still farther; for he promises not only the complete restoration of his chosen people, but also the propagation of the Church; for God, he says, will gather a Church for himself from many and remote nations, and unite many nations in one body. And this ought to have availed especially to animate the Jews, as they were thus taught that the temple was built, not only that God might be worshipped by one nation, but by all nations. Moreover, as before this time some had come from distant lands to worship God, the Prophet may seem here to have this in view by using עוד, oud, the adverb of time. (91) But he not only declares that some would come, as in the time of Solomon, but as I have already said, he promises here something more remarkable — that the temple would not belong peculiarly to the Jews, but would be common to all nations; for there is to be no language and no nation which is not to unite in the true worship of God. But let us consider the words of the Prophet.
He begins by saying, that God was the author of this prophecy; and this was said to secure credit. There was need, as we have said, of no common authority, since he was here speaking of what was incredible. There was only a handful of people returned to their country, and many dangers surrounded them almost every day; so that many, wearied with their present condition, preferred exile, and regret for their return had now crept into the minds of many, for they thought that they had been deceived. Since then the state of the people was such, there was need of something more than ordinary to confirm what is here said — that the glory of the second temple would be greater and more eminent than that of the first: It shall yet be, he says. Though a comparison is implied, there is yet no equality expressed, as though some few only would come. But as there had been no temple for seventy years, and as the temple, now begun to be built, was in no high esteem, but mean and insignificant, the Prophet says, that the time would yet come, when nations and inhabitants of great cities would ascend into Jerusalem. We may indeed render רבות, rebut, many or great, for it means both; but the Prophet, I think, speaks of great cities; and the reason will presently appear.
(91) There is a difficulty in the construction here. The best solution is that of our version, followed by Grotius, Newcome, and others; there is understood the auxiliary verb, “it shall be:” so the rendering would be,
Yet it shall be that come shall people And the inhabitants of many cities.
There is a similar instance in verse 23, where the auxiliary verb is to be understood, and [ אשר ] must be rendered that. — Ed.
It follows, Come shall the inhabitants of one to one, that is, the inhabitants of one city to another; saying, going let us go, etc. He means by these words, that there will be a mutual consent among all nations, so that they will stimulate one another, and thus unite together their exertions. We here see that the Prophet’s object was to encourage the Jews to entertain good hope, and thus to cause them to persevere, so that they might not doubt but that success would attend their work and labor, because the Lord would have himself worshipped at Jerusalem, not only by themselves but also by all nations. But as the Jews could not believe that nations could by force be drawn there, he teaches them, that their assembling would be voluntary; he says that those who had been before extremely refractory would be disposed to come of their own accord, so that there would be no need of external force to constrain them; for they would willingly come, nay, would excite one another, and by mutual exhortations stimulate themselves so as to come together to worship God at Jerusalem.
The ardor and vehemence of their zeal is to be noticed; for the Prophet says, that they would come of their own accord, and also encourage one another, according to what we have seen in the second chapter Zechariah 2:1, Lay hold will each on the hand of his brother, and say, let us go to the mount of the God of Jacob. But more is expressed in this place, for not only shall each one encourage his brother whenever met and an opportunity be offered, but he says that they will come from all quarters. We now then see the design of the Prophet in these words. And we hence learn, that faith then only produces its legitimate fruit when zeal is kindled, so that every one strives to increase the kingdom of God, and to gather the straying, that the Church may be filled. For when any one consults his own private benefit and has no care for others, he first betrays most clearly his own inhumanity, and where there is no love the Spirit of God does not rule there. Besides, true godliness brings with it a concern for the glory of God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet, when describing true and real conversion, says, that each would be solicitous about his brethren, so as to stimulate one another, and also that the hearts of all would be so kindled with zeal for God, that they would hasten together to celebrate his glory.
Then he adds, Let us go to entreat the face of Jehovah. The phrase is common in Scripture. But we must observe, that the Prophet in speaking of God’s worship, sets prayer in the first rank, for prayer to God is the chief part, yea, the main thing in religion. It is, indeed, immediately added, and to seek Jehovah: he explains the particular by the general; and in the next verse he inverts the order, beginning with the general. However, the meaning continues the same, for God seeks nothing else but that we should be teachable and obedient, so as to be prepared to follow wherever he may call us, and at the same time carefully to enquire respecting his will, as we have need of him as our leader and teacher, so that we may not foolishly go astray through winding and circuitous courses; for if we deem it enough to take presumptuously our own way, the endeavor to seek God will be superfluous. It must then be observed, that God is then only really sought when men desire to learn from his word how he is to be worshipped. But, as I have already said, the Prophet adds prayer here, for the design of the whole truth respecting salvation is to teach us, that our life depends on God, and that whatever belongs to eternal life must be hoped for and expected from him. (92) We now then understand the import of the whole.
(92) The 20 and 21 I render thus—
20. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts Yet it shall be that come shall people And the inhabitants of many cities; Yea, the inhabitants of one shall go to another, saying, “Going let us go to implore the favor of Jehovah; And to seek Jehovah of hosts, go also will I.”
The verb rendered “implore,” means to solicit with importunity, or earnestness. “To conciliate the regard of Jehovah,” as rendered by Henderson, is too much in the style of modern phraseology; nor is the meaning conveyed. Blayney’s version is better, “To supplicate the favor of Jehovah.” It seems more suitable to connect the words “to seek Jehovah,” with the last sentence. We find the two clauses in the next verse, but in an inverted order—
22. Yea, come shall many people and mighty nations To seek Jehovah of hosts in Jerusalem, And to implore the favor of Jehovah.—
But we must enquire also why he says, that the nations would come to seek God at Jerusalem, and there to call on him. The Jews foolishly imagine that God cannot be otherwise worshipped than by offering sacrifices still in the temple. But the Prophet had something very different in view, that the light of truth would arise from that city, which would diffuse itself far and wide: and this prophecy ought to be connected with that of Isaiah,“
A law shall go forth from Sion, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3.)
As then the doctrine of salvation which has filled the whole world flowed from that city, the Prophet says, that nations would come to Jerusalem, not that it would be necessary for them to assemble there, but because all were to seek there what could not be obtained elsewhere. Since then none could be accounted the children of God except they were brought up in that school and acknowledged that alone to be true religion which had its first habitation at Jerusalem, we hence see why the Prophet expressly mentions that city.
We must further bear in mind, that the temple was built for this end and purpose, — that the doctrine of salvation might continue there, and have there its seat until the coming of Christ; for then was fulfilled that prophecy in the hundred and tenth Psalm, “The scepter of thy power shall God send forth from Sion.” The Prophet here teaches us, that Christ would not be the king of one people only, whose power was to be confined to narrow limits, but that he would rule through the whole world, for God would extend his scepter to every quarter of the globe. As tell it behaved the Jews to have this end in view, the Prophet, in order to animate them that they might not fail in the middle of their work, says, that that place was sacred to God, so that salvation might thence be sought by the whole world, for all were to be the disciples of that Church who wished to be deemed the children of God.
But we ought carefully to notice what I have already referred to, the two things required in God’s worship — to seek him, and also to pray to him. For the superstitious, though they pretend great ardor in seeking God, yet amuse themselves with many delusions; for they hurry on presumptuously, and as it were at random, so that they seek not God, but leave him, and weary themselves without thought and without any judgment. As then the superstitious have no reason for what they do, they can not be said properly to seek God. But the faithful seek God, for they acknowledge that he is not to be worshipped according to the fancy of any one, but that there is a certain prescript and rule to be observed. To us then this is the beginning of religion — not to allow to ourselves liberty to attempt anything we please, but humbly and soberly to submit to God’s word; for when any one seeks and chooses an unfit teacher, he will not advance as he ought to do. But the Prophet shows, that all the godly succeed when they strive to be approved of God by confining themselves to his word, and by attempting nothing through their own promptings, but when they have such a discernment as not to blend, as it is said, profane with sacred things. The second chief thing is, to pray to God: and the Prophet thus reminds us why it is that God would have us especially to seek him. Nothing indeed results to his advantage and benefit from our efforts, but he would have us to seek him that we may learn to expect from him everything connected with our salvation. This seeking is also defined by the term prayer, and not useless is the word face, for though God is invisible, we yet ought not to wander with uncertainty, as it were through the air, when our purpose is to flee to him, but to go to him with full confidence. Unless then we are fully persuaded of what the Scripture teaches us — that God is ever nigh those who truly call on him, the door will be closed against our prayers, for God’s name will be profaned though we may express what we wish. As then the nearness of God ought to be impressed on our hearts when we prepare ourselves for prayer, the Scripture usually adopts this form, to entreat the face of God. But this is not to be understood of an ocular sight, but, on the contrary, of the conviction of the heart. Let us now proceed -
He pursues the same subject in this verse; for as he had before said, that the nations would willingly come to worship God, and that each would encourage his brother to undertake this pious and holy expedition, so he now adds, that ten men would lay hold on the border of a Jew’s garment: Ten men shall then take hold of the skirt of a Jew. He shows here more clearly what I have briefly referred to — that there would be no need of arms, or of any compulsion, in order to draw or compel the nations to engage in God’s service; for even ten would of themselves accompany one Jew; and it is a proof of a very great readiness when ten surrender themselves to be ruled by one. As one Jew could not be sufficient to draw so many nations, the Prophet declares that there would be everywhere a union of faith, so that those, before wholly alienated from God, would desire to join themselves as friends, or rather as companions to the Jews.
He says, From all languages. By these words he amplifies the miracle; for there cannot be a union between men far distant, especially when they are of different languages, as they are barbarians to one another. When the Prophet then says that they would come from all languages, and unite together, it more fully appears to be God’s work; for there is nothing here to be ascribed to human contrivances. It must then be that the hearts of those who cannot express their minds, and can hardly give a sign, are united together by the hidden power of the Spirit. We now perceive the Prophet’s object in this verse.
But he uses in the last clause a phrase different from the one he employed before — Let us go with you, for we have heard that with you is God. He had said, “Let us go to seek Jehovah, and to entreat his face;” but now he says “Let us go with you.” But yet he handles and confirms the same thing; for the nations could not have sought God without following the Jews going before them. For when any one separates himself from others, it so happens that he is led astray, and feeds on much that is very absurd, as we see to be the case with proud and morose men, who invent strange and monstrous things; for they shun society, and seem not to themselves to be wise, until they put off every feeling of humanity. The character then of faith has also this in it — that the elect, while they themselves obey God, desire to have many associates in this obedience, and many fellow-disciples in true religion. The Prophet thus intended to point out two things: be had said before — “Let us go to seek God;” and now — “We will go with you.” What else is this but to seek God? But he expresses more now — that the nations declare that they would come to seek God for this end — that they might learn from others, like rude beginners, who have their fellow-scholars as their teachers; so that every one who had made some progress, was to preside over others, and those as yet commencing, and still in the first elements of knowledge, were humbly to connect themselves with others better informed. Shame prevents many from making in this manner any advancement, and so they ever remain sunk in ignorance.
The Prophet at the same time not only commends humility, but also exhorts all God’s children to cultivate unity and concord. For whosoever tears asunder the Church of God, disunites himself from Christ, who is the head, and who would have all his members to be united together.
We now then understand that God ought to be sought in order to be rightly worshipped by us; and also, that he ought to be thus sought, not that each may have his own peculiar religion, but that we may be united together, and that every one who sees his brethren going before, and excelling in gifts, may be prepared to follow them, and to seek benefit from their labors. It is indeed true that we ought to disregard the whole world; and to embrace only the truth of God; for it is a hundred times better to renounce the society of all mortals, and union with them, then to withdraw ourselves from God; but when God shows himself as our leader, the Prophet teaches us that we ought mutually to stretch forth our hand and unitedly to follow him.
We have again to notice at the end of the verse what I have already referred to — that the nations would come, not compelled by force of arms or by violence, but drawn by hearing alone. We have heard. By hearing the Prophet means here the doctrine of salvation everywhere diffused; for there would be no care nor concern for worshipping were we not taught; for faith, as Paul says, is by hearing; and so prayer proceeds from faith. (Romans 10:17.) In short, the Prophet means that the knowledge of religion would be through the preaching of the truth, which would rouse all nations to the duty of worshipping God.
He now again confirms what we have also mentioned — that the Jews would have the precedence of all nations; for it appears that God would be among them. We hence see that primacy is not ascribed to the Jews in being leaders to others, because they excelled others by their own virtue or dignity, but because God presided over them. Then God is ever to be sought, though we may avail ourselves of the labors of men, and follow them when they show us the right way. We must ever bear this in mind — that those only exhort truly and honestly, who not only do so by word, but who really prove what they feel by their conduct; according to what the Prophet has said — Go will I also; and he says the same now — Let us go, or, we shall go with you. For many there are who are strenuous enough in stimulating others; but their vain garrulity appears evident; for while they bid others to run, they are standing still; and while they vehemently encourage others, they themselves delay and take their rest. Now follows —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Zechariah 8". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany