Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
In the fourth year of Darius - Two years after the series of visions, shown to him, and two years before the completion of the temple. Chisleu being December, it was the end of 518 b.c.
When they held sent unto the house of God - Rather, "And Bethel sent;" that is, the inhabitants of Bethel sent. "The house of God" is nowhere in Holy Scripture called Bethel. Bethel is always the name of the place. . The "house of God" is designated by historians, Psalmists, prophets, by the name, "Beth-elohim," more commonly "Beth-Ha-elohim, the God;" or "of the Lord," YHVH. Zechariah and Haggai use these names. It is not likely that the name, Beth-el, should have first been given to the house of God, when it had been desecrated by the idolatries of Jeroboam. Bethel also is, in the Hebrew order of the words, naturally the subject . Nor is there any reason why they should have sent to Bethel, since they sought an answer from God. For it would be forced to say that they sent to Bethel, in order that those at Bethel should send to Jerusalem; which is not said.
It were unnatural also that the name of the sender should not have been mentioned, when the names of persons inferior, because sent, are recorded . Bethel, in Nehemiah's time Neh 11:31, was one of the chief places of Benjamin. "Two hundred twenty and three of the men of Bethel and Ai" Ezr 2:28 had returned with Zerubbabel. The answer being to "the people" of the land, such were doubtless the enquirers, not those still in Babylon. The answer shows that the question was not religious, though put as matter of religion. It is remarkable that, whereas in the case of those who brought presents from Babylon, the names express some relation to God, these names are singularly, the one of a parricide son of Sennacherib Isa 37:38; Kg2 19:37, and of one, chief among the King of Babylon's princes ; the other probably a secular name, "the king's friend".
Osorius: "I do not see why under the name of Bethel, the city so called is not understood. For since Jerusalem was not yet fortified, the Jews chose them sites in various places, where they should be less harassed. All hatred was concentrated on that city, which the neighbors wished not to be restored to its former greatness. Other cities they did not so molest. Bethel then, that is, the assembly of the city, sent messengers to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God and consult the wise there."
To entreat the face of the Lord - They wished, it seems, (so to speak) to ingratiate themselves with God with an account of their past self-humiliation, on the day when the house of God was burned by Nebuchadnezzar. In regard to God, the word is always used of entreating Him by earnest prayer .
Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself? - "In the fifth month," from the seventh to the tenth day, Jerusalem was in flames, fired by Nebuchadnezzar. "He burnt the house of the Lord, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem and every great man's house he burnt with fire" .
Jerome: "Now since it is said that the temple is builded and we see that no cause of sorrow remaineth, answer, we pray, are we to do this or to change our sorrow into joy?"
Separating myself - This seems to be added, to intensify the fast which they had kept. The Nazarite was bound to "separate himself from wine and strong drink" Num 6:3, and so, they severed themselves to the Lord, and consecrated themselves to Him (Num. 5. See the note at Amo 2:11). These had severed themselves from food, from things pleasant, from pleasure, from sin, it may be, for the day, but not abidingly: they had not given themselves to God.
As I have done these so many years - Literally, "how many." As if, although they knew that they were seventy years, they could not count them.
Speak unto all the people of the land - They of Bethel had spoken as one man, as Edom said to Israel, "Thou shalt not pass by me" Num 20:18; and "the men of Israel said to the Hivite; Perhaps thou dwellest in the midst of me, and how shall I make a league with thee?" Jos 9:7. God gives the answer not to them only, but to all like-minded with them, "all the people of the land," the whole population (in our language); as Jeremiah says, "ye and your fathers, your kings and your princes and all the people of the land" Jer 44:21, and, "the scribe who mustered the people of the land." Jer 52:25.
When ye fasted and that, mourning - It was no mere abstinence from food (severe as the Jewish fasts were, one unbroken abstinence from evening to evening) but with real mourning, the word being used only of mourning for the dead (Gen 23:2; Gen 50:10; Sa1 25:1; Sa1 28:3; Sa2 1:12; Sa2 3:31; Sa2 11:26; Kg1 13:29-30; Kg1 14:13, Kg1 14:18; Ecc 12:5; Jer 16:4-6; Jer 22:18; (twice); Jer 25:33; Jer 34:5; Eze 24:16, Eze 24:23; Zac 12:10, Zac 12:12), or, in a few instances, , for a very great public calamity; probably with beating on the breast.
In the seventh month - The murder of Gedaliah, "whom the king of Babylon made governor of the land," completed the calamities of Jerusalem, in the voluntary, but prohibited exile to Egypt, for fear lest the murder should be avenged on them Jer. 41-43.
Did ye at all fast unto Me, Me? - God emphatically rejects such fasting as their's had been, as something, unutterably alien from Him, "to Me, Me!" Yet the fasting and mourning had been real, but irreligious, like remorse for ill-deeds, which has self only for its ground. He prepares the way for His answer by correcting the error of the question. Osorius: "Ye fasted to yourselves, not to Me. For ye mourned your sorrows, not your misdeeds; and your public fast was undertaken, not for My glory, but out of feeling for your own grief. But nothing can be pleasing to God, which is not referred to His glory. But those things alone can be referred to His glory, which are done with righteousness and devotion."
And when ye eat and when ye drink, is it not ye who eat and ye who drink? - Conversely now that, after your return, ye feast for joy, this is no religious act; ye have all the good of it, there is no thanksgiving to God. Contrary to the apostle's saying, "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glow of God" Co1 10:31. "He eateth and drinketh to himself, who receiveth the nourishments of the body, which are the common gifts of the Creator, without the needy. And anyone fasts to himself, if he doth not give to the poor what for the time he withdraweth from himself, but keepeth it to be thereafter offered to his appetite. Hence, it is said by Joel, sanctify a fast. For to 'sanctify a fast' is to show an abstinence worthy of God through other good deeds. Let anger cease, quarrels be hushed. For in vain is the flesh worn, if the mind is not refrained from evil pleasures, since the Lord says by the prophet, "Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate ..." Isa 57:3-4.
Should ye "not hear" the words, or, Know ye "not the words?" The verb is presupposed in the emphatic question, as in, "Shall I, the blood of these men?" Sa2 23:17. David omits the word "drink" for abhorrence.
By the former prophets - Isaiah and Jeremiah , "when Jerusalem was dwelling abidingly," at ease, as the whole world then was, except herself, "and the south and the low-country," both belonging to Judah, were inhabited. The restoration then was still very incomplete, since he contrasts their then condition with the present, as inhabited or no. The mountain, the south, and the low country, known still by its name of Sephela to Greeks , made up the territory of Judah Jos 10:40, Jdg 1:9; Jer 17:26; Jer 32:44; Jer 33:13.
Instead of quoting the former prophets, Zechariah gives the substance of their exhortations, as renewed to himself.
Thus spake the Lord - that is, through the former prophets, for he goes on to speak of their rejection in the past. "Execute true judgment." He retains the words of Ezekiel. The injunction itself runs throughout the prophets. "Shew mercy" (as Isa 1:17, Isa 1:23; Isa 58:6-7; Jer 7:5; Eze 18:8; Hos 12:6, etc.), that is, tender love, to all; compassion, to the unhappy. Omit no act of love, God so loves the loving. Lap.: "Like Paul to the Romans Rom 13:9, he names only the duties to the neighbor, but understands what relates to God. For the love of our neighbor presupposes the love of God, from which it springs." Jerome: "After strictness of justice, let mercy to all follow, and specially to brethren, of the same blood and of one faith. Brother and neighbor we ought to account the whole human race, since we are all born of one parent, or those who are of the household of faith, according to the parable of the Gospel, "which willeth us to understand by neighbor, nor our kin, but all men" (Luk 10:30 ff).
And oppress not - He had commanded positive acts of love; he now forbids every sort of unlove. "He that oppresseth the poor," Solomon had said, "reproacheth his Maker. The widow, the orphan, the stranger, the afflicted" Pro 24:31, are, throughout the law, the special objects of God's care. This was the condition which God made by Jeremiah; "If ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt, then will I cause you to dwell in this, place" Jer 7:5-7. It was on the breach of the covenant to set their brethren free in the year of release, that God said; "I proclaim a liberty for you to the sword, to the pestilence and to the famine, and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth" Jer 34:17.
And let none of you imagine - that is, "devise, as, by Micah, God retorted the evil upon them. They "devised evil on their beds; therefore, behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks" Mic 2:1, Mic 2:3.
But they gave a backsliding shoulder - Like a restive animal, which would not endure the yoke, dull and stupid as the beasts: as Hosea says, "Israel slideth back like a backsliding heifer" Hos 4:16. Nehemiah confesses the same; "they gave a backsliding shoulder and hardened their neck and would not hear" Neh 9:29.
And made heavy their ears - Fulfilling in themselves what God foretold to Isaiah would be the result of his preaching, "make their ears heavy." The heart, which will not hearken, becomes duller by the outward hearing, as Paul says, "The earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; but that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected" Heb 6:7-8.
Harder than adamant - The stone, whatever it be, was hard enough to cut ineffaceable characters : it was harder than flint . It would cut rocks; it could not be graven itself, or receive the characters of God.
This is the last sin, obduracy, persevering impenitence, which "resisted the Holy Spirit" Act 7:51. and "did despite to the Spirit of grace" Heb 10:29. Not through infirmity, but of set purpose, they hardened themselves, lest "they should convert" Isa 6:10 and be healed. They feared to trust themselves to God's word, lest He should convert them by it.
Lest they should hear the law and the words which the Lord God sent by His Spirit by the hand of the former prophets - The Holy Spirit was the chief agent; "by His Spirit;" the inspired prophets were His instruments; by the hand of. Nehemiah confesses the same to God: "Thou didst protest to them by Thy Spirit by the hand of Thy prophets" Neh 9:30. Moses was one of the greatest prophets. The law then may be included, either as delivered by Moses, or as being continually enforced by all the prophets. Observe the gradations:
(1) The words of God are not heard.
(2) The restive shoulder is shown; people turn away, when God, by the inner motions of His Spirit or by lesser chastisements, would bring them to the yoke of obedience. Osorius: "They would not bear the burden of the law, whereas they willingly bore that most heavy weight of their sins."
(3) Obduracy. Osorius: "Their adamantine heart could be softened neither by promises nor threats." Therefore nothing remained but the great wrath, which they had treasured to themselves against the day of wrath. And so Zechariah returns to that, wherewith his message and visions of future mercy began, the great wrath which fell upon their fathers Zac 1:7.
Osorius: "'I sought not,' He says, 'for your tears; I enjoined not bitterness of sorrow; but what, had they been done, the calamity, for which those tears were meet, had never befallen you. What was it which I admonished you formerly by the former prophets to recall you from sin? What I bid you by Zechariah now. This I preach, admonish, testify, inculcate upon you. '"
And it came to pass - that is, this which God had said, "As He cried and they heard not, so shall they cry and I will not hear, saith the Lord of hosts." God had often said this. "It shall be too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of justice." So Wisdom had said by Solomon; "then, that is, when distress and anguish cometh upon them, they shall call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, and they shall not find Me" Pro 1:27-28. So by Isaiah, "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of bloods" Isa 1:15. So by Hosea, Hos 5:6, by Micah Mic 3:4, by Jeremiah Jer 11:14; Jer 14:12. It was one message which was verilied in every day of chastisement, "there will be a 'too late;'" not a final "too late," until the end of ends comes, but a "too late" for them, a "too late" to avert that particular judgment of God, whereby the sinner's earthly trial and future were changed permanently .
But I scattered them - Rather, "And I will scatter them." The saying continues what God had said that he had said, and which had come to pass. Among all nations whom they knew not. So God had repeatedly said by Jeremiah, "I will cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, ye nor your fathers; where I will not show you favor" (Jer 16:13; add Jer 15:14; Jer 17:4). This was the aggravation of the original woe in the law: "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand, a nation of fierce countenance" Deu 28:49-50. There was no mitigation of suffering, when the common bond between man and man, mutual speech, was wanting.
That no man passed through nor returned - Literally, "from passer through and from returner;" as in the prophecy of Alexander's march and return, "because of him that passeth by and of him that returneth" Zac 9:8; and of Seir God saith, "I will cut off from him, passer-through and returner" . As we say, there shall be no traffic more through her.
And they made the pleasant land desolate - They were the doers of what they by their sins caused, by bringing down the judgments of God. Heretofore the land which God had given them, had been in our language "the envy" of all who knew it now they had made it into a desolation, one wide waste Joe 1:7; Isa 13:9; Jer 2:15; Jer 4:7; Jer 18:16; Jer 19:8; Jer 25:9; Jer 50:3; Jer 51:29.
Dionysius: "What is said in the beginning of the chapter against Jews who abstained indiscreetly, applies mystically to all, not inward, but rude Christians, who not being diligent enough but rather negligent about acts of piety and inward prayer and reformation of the powers of the soul, account highly of bodily exercises and outward observances, and use no slight scrupulosity as to things of less moment, and do not attend to the chief things, charity, humility, patience meekness. On these it must be inculcated, that if they wish their fasts and other outward exercises to please God, they must judge true judgment, and be compassionate, kind, liberal to their neighbors, keep their mind ever steadfast in God, cast away wholly all hardness of heart, and be soft and open to receive within them the word of God. Otherwise their land will be desolate, that is, deprived of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and they scattered amid various vices." Jerome: "That which was formerly a pleasant land, and the hospice of the Trinity, is turned into a desert and dwelling-place of dragons."