Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 30: Zechariah, Malachai, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-fifth
1. Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.
1. Petite a Iehova pluviam tempore serotino (vertunt;) Iehova faciet nubes, et pluvium imbrem dabit illis, cuique herbam in agro.
Zechariah, after having shown that God would be bountiful towards the Jews, so that nothing necessary to render life happy and blessed should be wanting, now reproves them for their unbelief, because they did not expect from the Lord what he was ready fully to bestow on them. As then it depended on them only, that they did not enjoy abundance of all blessings, he charges them with ingratitude: for though he exhorts them to prayer, there is yet an implied reproof. One by merely reading over the words may think that a new subject is here introduced, that the Jews are directed to ask of the Lord what he had previously promised them; but he who will more minutely consider the whole context, will easily find that what I have stated is true — that the Jews are here condemned, and on this account, because they closed the door against God’s favor; for they were straitened in themselves, as all the unbelieving are, who cannot embrace the promises of God; nor is it at all doubtful but that many made great complaints, when they found themselves disappointed of their wishes. They had indeed hoped for a most abundant supply of corn and wine, and had also promised to themselves all kinds of blessings, yet the Lord, as we have seen in the book of Haggai, had begun to withdraw his hand, so that they labored under want of provisions; and when mine and thirst oppressed them, they thought that they had been in a manlier deceived by God. On this ground the Prophet expostulates with them; they thrust from themselves, by their want of faith, the favor which had been prepared for them. We now then understand the Prophet’s meaning.
He bids them to ask rain of Jehovah. They ought indeed to have done this of themselves without being reminded; for though Christ has delivered to his Church a form of prayer, it ought yet to be as it were the dictate of nature to seek of God our daily bread; and it is not without reason that he claims to himself the name of a Father. The Prophet then does here reprove the Jews for their brutal stupidity — that they did not ask rain of the Lord. He adds, at the late season, that is, at spring time; for rains at two seasons were necessary for the corn, after sowing and before harvest, and whenever Scripture speaks of fruitfulness or of a large produce, it mentions rain at these two seasons. Zechariah in this place only refers to the vernal before harvest; for in that hot country the earth wanted new moisture, Ask, he says, rain at the beginning of summer.
Jehovah, he adds, will give it; he will make clouds, or storms, or boisterous winds, as some read; but it is evident from other passages that חזיזים, chezizim, means clouds, which are as it were preparations for rain. 116 He then says, that a shower would come with the rain; for some take גשם, gesham, for a shower, that is, heavy rain; but the Prophet introduces here the two words, as though he had said, that the rains would be continued until the ground was saturated and the dryness removed. Some translate, “the rain of a shower,” but this would be too strained. I prefer then this rendering, He will give rain, a shower, that is, abundant rain; to every one grass in the field, that is, so that there may be moisture enough for the ground. In short, he promises a plentiful irrigation, that drought might not deprive them of the hope of food and support. What I have stated will appear more clear from the following verse, for he adds —
2. For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd.
2. Certe simulacra loquuta sunt vanitatem, et divini viderunt mendacium, et somnia vanitatis loquuti sunt, frustra consolati sunt; ideo transierunt (vel, migrarunt) sicut oves (aut, grex,) humiliati sunt, quia nullus fuit pastor.
Here the Prophet, as I have said, confirms the truth, that the blame justly belonged to the Jews that God did not deal more liberally with them; for he shows that they had fallen into superstitions, and had thus turned away the favor of God, which was already certain and nigh to them. Zechariah does not here condemn foreign nations given to superstitions; but, on the contrary, he reproves the Jews themselves for leaving the true God, and for retaking themselves to idols, to soothsayers, and diviners, and for having thus preferred to feed on their own delusions, rather than to open the door to the favor of God, who had freely promised that he would suffer them to want nothing. As then God had kindly invited the Jews to himself, as he had showed himself ready to do them good, was it not the basest ingratitude in them to turn away to idols and to attend to magical delusions? for they might have safely acquiesced in God’s word. They would not have been deprived of their hope, had they been firmly persuaded that God had spoken the truth to them. As then they had done so grievous a wrong to God, as to run after idols, and after the crafts and impostures of Satan, the Prophet here deservedly condemns them for this wickedness.
Images, 117 he says, have spoken vanity, and diviners have seen falsehood, and have told dreams of vanity. He means, in short, that whatever means unbelieving men may try, they can attain nothing, and they will at length find that they have been miserably deceived by Satan. They have recourse to various expedients, for unbelief is full of bustle and fervor: “O! this will not succeed, I will try something else.” Thus the unbelieving wander, and resort to many and various expedients. But the Prophet teaches this general truth — that when men turn away from God, they have recourse to vain things; for there is no truth without God.
He afterwards adds, that on account of idols, as well as of diviners and magicians, consolation was given in vain; and this he confirms by the event, and says, that they had wandered as sheep, that they had been distressed, because there was no shepherd. The Prophet no doubt refers here to the time of exile, that the Jews might learn to be wise, at least by the teaching of experience; for they had known to their great loss, that without God there is no real and solid comfort: nor does he without reason upbraid them with the punishment which their fathers had suffered, for he saw that they were walking in their steps. Since then the Jews were imitating the depraved inquisitiveness of their fathers, the Prophet justly charges them, that they did not acknowledge what, by the event itself, was well known to all; for the common proverb is, that experience is the teacher of fools. Since they did not become wise even when smitten, their stupidity was more than proved. We now then perceive what the Prophet means.
But we must first notice, that when he bids them to ask rain of the Lord, he speaks of the kingdom of Christ, as all the Prophets are wont to do; for since the Redeemer, promised to the Jews, was to be the author of all blessings, whenever the Prophets speak of his coming, they also promise abundance of corn, and plentiful provisions, and peace, and everything necessary for the well-being of the present life. And Zechariah now follows the same course, when he declares that it was not owing to anything in God that he did not kindly supply the Jews with whatever they might have wished, but that the fault was with themselves; for they had by their unbelief, as it has been said, closed the door against his favor. We must yet ever remember what we stated yesterday — that whatever the Prophets have said concerning a blessed life, ought to be judged of according to the nature of the kingdom of Christ. It is a strained interpretation to say that rain is heavenly doctrine; and I do not say that Zechariah spoke allegorically, but he describes under this common figure the kingdom of Christ — even that God will fill his elect with all good things, so that they shall not thirst, nor labor under any want.
But at the same time we must bear in mind the exhortation of Christ —
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God; other things,” he says,
“shall afterwards be added.” (Mt 6:33.)
He then is strangely wrong who thinks that abundance of food was alone promised to the Jews; for God intended to lead them by degrees to things higher. The Prophet then no doubt includes here, under one kind, all things necessary for a happy life; for it is not the will of God to fill his faithful people in this world as though they were swine; but his design is to give them, by means of earthly things, a taste of the spiritual life. Hence the happiness of which Zechariah now speaks is really spiritual; for as godliness has the promises of the present as well as of the future life, (1Ti 4:8,) so the purpose of God was to consult the weakness of his ancient people, and to set forth the felicity of the spiritual life by means of earthly blessings.
It ought further to be carefully noticed, that the Jews are here exposed to derision, because they wandered after their own devices, when God was yet not far from them, and ready to aid them. Since God then showed himself inclined to kindness, it was a double wickedness in them that they chose to run after idols, magical arts, and the illusions of Satan, rather than to acquiesce in God’s word. And similar is the upbraiding we meet with in Jeremiah, when God complains that he was forsaken, while yet he was the fountain of living water, and that the people dug out for themselves cisterns, dry and full of holes. (Jer 2:13.) But as this evil is very common, let us know that we are here warned to plant our foot firm on God’s word, where he promises that he will take care of us, provided we be satisfied with his favor; nor let us thoughtlessly run after our own imaginations; for however our own counsels may delight us, and though some success may sometimes appear, yet the end will ever show us that most true is what Zechariah teaches us here — that whatever we may attempt will be useless and injurious too, for God will take vengeance on our ingratitude.
We must now also observe, that since Zechariah adduces an example of God’s vengeance, by which the Jews had found that they had foolishly sought vain consolations, we ought to take heed, lest we forget those punishments with which God may have visited us in order to restore us to himself: let us remember what we ourselves have experienced, and what has happened to our fathers, even before we were born. Thus then ought the faithful to apply their minds so as to recount the judgments of God, that they may derive profit from his scourges. He afterwards adds —
3. Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.
3. Super pastores iratus est furor meus; super hireos visitabo; quia visitabit Iehova exercituum gregem suum, domum Iehudah; et posuit (vel, ponet) eos, quasi equum decoris sui in praelio.
He had said that the Jews had been driven into exile, and had been oppressed by their enemies, because they had no shepherd; not indeed to lessen their fault, for they were wholly inexcusable, since they had wilfully renounced God, who would have been otherwise their perpetual shepherd: but he now turns his discourse to the false teachers, to the false prophets and to the wicked priests. Though then they were all unworthy of pardon, yet God here justly summons the shepherds first before his tribunal, who had been the cause of making others to go astray: as when a blind man leads the blind into a ditch, so ungodly pastors become the cause of ruin to others. We have elsewhere observed similar passages, in which God threatened priests and prophets with special punishment, because they had unfaithfully discharged their office; but yet he did not absolve the common people, for from the least to the greatest they were guilty; and it is also certain that men are punished for their obstinacy and wickedness, whenever God gives loose reins to the devil, and deceives them by ungodly teachers.
We now then see the order observed by the Prophet: At the beginning of the chapter he declares that the Jews were without excuse, because they had turned aside again to their own superstitions, though God had severely punished the sins of their fathers, and that thus they had profited nothing; he also shows that they were acting perversely, if they clamored against God, that he scantily or badly supported them, for they did not look for any thing from him, nor solicited by prayer what he was prepared willingly to grant them. Having thus reproved generally the wickedness of the whole people, the Prophet now assails the ungodly priests, and says that judgment was nigh both the shepherd and the he-goats.
He gives the name of pastors to wolves, which is a common thing. And here the Papists betray their folly, laying hold of words only, and claiming to themselves all power, because they are called pastors in the Church, and as though Antichrist was not to reign in the temple of God. Does not Zechariah give an honorable name to these wicked men who destroyed the Church of God? Yea, he brings a most heavy charge against them, that they scattered and trampled under their feet the whole kingdom of God, and yet he calls them pastors, even because they held the office of pastors, though they were very far from being faithful, and in no respect attended to their duties.
He then concedes the name of pastors to those who had been called to rule the people, and to whom this office had been divinely committed; and yet God declares that he would visit them, because they had elicited his just displeasure. The same is said of the he-goats, by which metaphorical name he means all those who were governors, or were in rank above the common people. Those who injured and cruelly treated the sheep had been called he-goats by other Prophets, and especially by Ezekiel (Eze 34:17.) So then he adds the he-goats to the pastors, because the poor and the lower orders had been led to ruin through their misconduct. And it hence appears how dear to God is the salvation of men; for he denounces vengeance on pastors, though they had not exercised tyranny except on men worthy of such punishment; for it was the just wages of their sins, that the Lord gave them wolves instead of shepherds. But though the Jews had merited such a judgment, yet God was angry with the pastors on account of his constant solicitude for his Church.
And the reason is also added, For visit will God his flock, the house of Judah; as though he had said, that he would not regard what the Jews were, but would regard his own election; for greatly valued by God is his own adoption; and as he had been pleased to choose that people, he could not have allowed them to be destroyed. When therefore he saw that his Church had been so much exposed to destruction through the fault of the pastors, he alleges here as a reason for his future vengeance, that he could not endure his favor to be brought to nothing; nor is it to be doubted but that he mentions here the house of Judah, because he had restored and consecrated that people to himself, that he might be served by them. He then takes away from the false pastors every pretense for an excuse, when he brings forward his own election, as though he had said, “Though this people had provoked me a hundred times, and deserved a hundred deaths, yet I intended you to be pastors, because the house of Judah has been made sacred to me.”
But the visitation of the flock is different from that of the shepherds; for God visits the reprobate, being armed with vengeance, and he visits his own people by aiding them. Now the visitation of the flock refers to the whole house of Judah: and this was owing, as we have said, to their gratuitous adoption; yet the Lord suffered many to rush headlong into ruin, because he delivered only his own elect. It is indeed a mode of speaking that often occurs in the Prophets — that God would help the children of Abraham, when he means only those who were Israelites indeed, and not the degenerated.
He adds that they would be as a splendid horse in war. A contrast is here no doubt implied between splendid horses and asses or oxen; for these shepherds who had tyrannically oppressed God’s people, are said to be like violent riders who ride on asses and shamefully abuse them, or like herdsman, who treat their own oxen inhumanely. God then says that he would ride his people in another manner, even as the horseman, who sits splendidly on his horse when going to battle: for even kings, after having ridden a horse in battle, do afterwards wish it to be well taken care of; and they show much solicitude for their horses, and even go to the stable that they may see, if possible, with their own eyes, that they are properly attended to. God then thus intimates, that he indeed required obedience from his people, and intended to retain his own right, to ride as it were on his own people; but yet that he would not oppress them, and that on the contrary he would make them like a splendid horse. We now then perceive why the Prophet turns his discourse here especially to the false shepherds, not indeed to extenuate the fault of the whole people, for none among them was worthy of pardon. It follows —
4. Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together.
4. Ab eo angulus, ab eo clavus, ab eo arcus belli, ab eo egredietur omnis exactor pariter.
There is here a confirmation of the last verse, but the metaphors are different; for he says, that the Jews would be fortified by every defense necessary for their security; nor is he inconsistent with himself. In the last chapter he indeed taught us, that though exposed to all kinds of wrongs, they would yet be safe through aid from heaven; but now he promises that there would come from them the corner-stone, the nail, the bow, and the exactor; and this seems a different doctrine; but it is the same as though he had promised, that though they stood in need of many helps, they would yet be sufficiently furnished, as God would be ready to aid them whenever there was need.
By the corner-stone he means the firmness of the building; from the Jews then shall be the corner-stone; that is, there shall ever be among that people those capable of carrying on the public government: then, from thee the nail; beams, we know, and other parts of the building, are fastened by nails, and we know also, that the ceiling is thereby made secure. Zechariah then mentions here all the supports which sustain a building from its very foundation. He afterwards adds, the bow of war, that is, what is necessary to overcome enemies; and, lastly, the exactor, one who has power over bordering nations, and demands tribute or tax from them, as conquerors are wont to do from their subjects. 118
We now see what the Prophet means — that when God would manifest his care for his people and openly show his favor, the Jews would be fortified by all kinds of help, so as to be well established, and that they would possess so much public authority as to have strength enough to resist all enemies; in short, that they would gain the fruit of conquest, and constrain all nations to be tributaries to them.
If any one asks when has this been fulfilled, my answer is, that some preludes of this were given when God raised up the Maccabees, and made the Jews again to live according to their own laws, and to enjoy their own rights; but no doubt the Prophet includes the whole course of redemption. As then God redeemed his people only to a small extent until Christ appeared, it is no wonder that Zechariah, in speaking of full and complete redemption, extends his words to the kingdom of Christ, and this was necessary. We hence learn, that the Church stands abundantly firm, and is also furnished with all needful things, while it continues under the protection of God, and that it is endued with sufficient power to resist all its enemies. It follows —
5. And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the LORD is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded.
5. Et erunt quasi fortes, (aut, gigantes,) calcantes in luto platearum in proelio; et proeliabuntur, quia Iehova cum ipsis; et pudefient ascensores equorum.
He confirms what I have already said — that the Jews would be victorious over all nations. Though the Church is fighting under the cross, she yet triumphs over all the wicked, partly by hope and partly by present success; for God wonderfully sustains it, and makes the faithful to possess their souls in patience; and he also protects them by his own power, and renders them safe amidst all the roarings and insatiable rage of their enemies. Since then God thus strengthens the minds of his people, and cherishes in them the hope of salvation, and also defends them against raging assaults, it is no wonder that the Prophet testifies that the church would be victorious, treading down, as a giant or a strong man, her enemies in the mire.
He gives the reason, For Jehovah will be with them; and this he said, that they might know that nothing in this case would be their own, but that they might, on the contrary, learn to depend on God’s aid alone. And he explains this still more clearly at the end of the verse, by saying, Ashamed shall be the riders on horses; 119 that is, their strength and velour, their use of arms and their skill in handling them, shall avail them nothing, for the Lord will lay prostrate, notwithstanding their arrogance and pride, all those wicked men who in their cruelty devour the faithful, and think that they have strength more than enough to destroy the Church: the Lord will cause all these things to pass away like mist.
Grant, Almighty God, that since constant fightings await us here, and our infirmities are so great that without thy power supporting us we cannot but fall every moment, — O grant, that we may learn to recumb on that help which thou hast promised, and which thou hast also offered to us, and dost daily offer through the Gospel in thine only-begotten Son; and may we distrust our own strength, yea, may we be overwhelmed with despair as to ourselves, not indeed that we may despond, but that we may look upward and seek the aid of thy Spirit, so that we may not doubt but that we shall be equal to our enemies, and even be victorious over them, until having at length finished our warfare, we shall reach that blessed rest which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only Son. — Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-sixth
6. And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them.
6. Et roborabo domum Iehudah, et domum Ioseph servabo, et redire (habitare) eos faciam; quia misertus sum eorum, et erunt ac si non abominatus fuissem eos; quia ego Iehova Deus eorum, et exaudiam eos.
Zechariah pursues the same subject, — that the work of redemption, the beginning of which the Jews saw, would not be incomplete, for the Lord would at length fulfill what he had begun. The Jews themselves could not acquiesce in those beginnings, which were not a hundredth part of what God had promised; it was hence necessary for them to raise up their minds above, that they might hope for much more than what was evident before their eyes.
And this truth is very useful to us, for we are wont to confine God’s promises to a short duration of time, and when we thus include him within narrow limits, we prevent him as it were to do what we stand in need of. Let then the example of the return of the people of Israel ever come to our minds, for the Lord had promised by his Prophets that they would become very eminent, and in every way rich and happy; but when this did not take place after their return to their country, many of the Jews thought that they had been deceived, as they had expected God to fulfill his word immediately, but they ought to have suspended their hope and expectation until Christ came to the world. On this then the Prophet now insists — that the Jews were to rest patiently, until the ripened time came, when the Lord would prove that he is not only in part but a complete redeemer of his people.
Now he says, I will strengthen the house of Judah, and the house of Joseph will I save. The kingdom of Israel, we know, had by degrees wholly fallen; for at first four tribes were driven into exile, and afterwards the whole people perished, so that all thought that the name of the ten tribes had become extinct. The Lord afterwards visited the kingdom with dreadful ruin. But it must be observed, that while the two kingdoms existed, they entertained grievous enmities towards each other; for the defection which happened under Jeroboam, ever made the Jews violently to hate their brethren, the Israelites, as they indeed deserved; for they had in a manner rejected God by rejecting the son of David, and became in a manner alienated from the body of the Church. Now then Zechariah promises something uncommon, when he says that the two peoples shall be united, so as to be again one, as before the defection: for the house of Joseph means the same as the house of Ephraim; and we know that by taking a part for the whole, the house of Ephraim is taken for the whole kingdom of Israel. We now then understand the Prophet’s meaning — that the state of the people would be happier than it had been since the ten tribes separated from the kingdom of Judah, or from the house of David; for God would gather for himself a Church from all the children of Abraham. 120
He then adds, I will bring them back and cause them to dwell. The verb here, הושבותים, eushebutim, is supposed to be derived from שב, sheb, or from שוב, shub; but they are mistaken who think these to be words of different meanings, because some refer to the one root, and others to the other; nor can this be maintained: but those who minutely consider the rules of grammar, say that the verb is a compound, and means that God would not only restore the ten tribes, but also make them to dwell, that is, give them a fixed habitation in their country. 121
He then adds, Because I have pitied them. Some read this in the future tense, but I retain the past, for the Lord assigns here a reason for their future gathering, even because he would deal mercifully with his people. He recalls then the attention of the Jews to the fountains of his mercy, as if he had said, “Though they have deserved perpetual ruin, He will yet hear their greenings, because he will be propitious to them.” As their calamity was an hindrance, which prevented the Jews from expecting any such thing, he adds, They shall be as though I had not cast them away. By which words he reminds them that the punishment which had been inflicted on the people, would be only for a time. He then bids them to take courage, though they were like the lost or the dead, for he would put an end to their miseries. And when God says that he had cast away his people, it ought to be taken according to the perceptions of men, as we have observed elsewhere; for adoption was unchangeable, but external appearance could have led to no other conclusion, but that the people had been rejected by God. The meaning of the Prophet is, however, clearly this — that though God had dealt severely with that people, and inflicted on them the heaviest punishment on account of their perfidy, yet his vengeance would not be for ever, for he would give place to mercy.
He adds another reason, For I Jehovah am their God. He means by this sentence that adoption would not be void, though he had for a time rejected the Jews: for by calling himself their God, he reminds them of his covenant, as though he had said, that he had not in vain made a covenant with Abraham, and promised that his seed would be blessed. Since then God had pledged his faith to Abraham, he says here that he would be the God of his people; not that they deserved anything, but because he had gratuitously chosen both Abraham and his seed.
He in the last place says, And I will hear them 122 He seems here to exhort them to prayer, that, relying on this promise, they might ask of God what had been promised. Though this verb is often taken in a sense not strictly correct, for God is said to hear those who do not flee to him; but what I have stated is more suitable to this place — that the people are stimulated to prayer, as God freely invites us to himself for this end, that is, that our prayers may harmonise with his promises. This is the meaning. It now follows —
7. And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the LORD.
7. Et erunt quasi gigas Ephraim, et laetabitur cor eorum sicuti a vino, et filli eorum videbunt et gaudebunt; exultabit core eorum in Iehova.
He declares the same in other words: he had said in the last verse, that he would strengthen both the house of Judah and the house of Joseph, that is, the ten tribes; he now speaks of Ephraim alone, but includes the kingdom of Judah; and he names Ephraim, not because he deserved to be honored, or to be preferred to the Jews, for Ephraim had become apostate; but because the return of the ten tribes was an event more incredible: this is clearly the reason why the Prophet expressly mentions Ephraim. 123 For even to the very destruction of the city and of the temple, God had continued to promise restoration to the Jews: the hope then of the Jews was certain and peculiar to themselves; but as to the Israelites, they were like a putrid carcass, for they had heard only something here and there, and received only some portion of the prophecies, as a grain of seed that falls outside of the field; for they were then as it were alienated from the people of God. We now then understand what the Prophet means by saying, that the Israelites would be like giants; for though they had been cast down by their enemies, and then driven in great dishonor and disgrace into exile, and had been exposed to all kinds of reproaches, and oppressed by extreme bondage; yet God promises them the strength of giants.
Now we have said that the words contain a part for the whole; for this promise no doubt belongs especially to the Jews: there is yet no mention of them, though they were first in rank, and had a better ground of hope as to their return, and the Lord had already given them some proof.
He says, Rejoice shall their hearts through wine; and see shall their sons and be glad; exult shall their heart in Jehovah. It is certain that they had already a cause for joy, as it is said in the book of Psalms,
“We became like those who dream,
when the Lord restored his captives.” (Ps 126:1.)
But the Prophet speaks here of a greater joy, that is, when they should see gathered all the tribes from their miserable and grievous dispersion: hence it is said in the same Psalm, “Gather, Lord, our captivity, like the stream in the south;” and then he adds, “They who sow in tears, in joy shall reap.” In part then did the faithful lament, and in part did they rejoice: the beginning of redemptions had raised their minds to joy; but on seeing their brethren still living under the tyranny of their enemies and having hardly a hope of restoration, they could not but mourn. Now the Prophet here declares, that their joy would be full, when their complete restoration came.
And he extends this joy to their sons; for it was needful to restrain their armor in expecting a full favor, as they ever closed up their way to God by their complaints, according to what we do when we give loose reigns to our wishes, for we then in a manner turn away from God. In order then to teach the people patience, the Prophet says, “Though ye see not this today with your eyes, yet your sons shall at length see it.” We now perceive that he here exhorts them to patience, that they might not anticipate with too much haste the promises of God.
Of the metaphor it is not needful to say much: he compares to the drunken, or to such as become cheerful through drinking, those who rejoice in the Lord, not that he expresses an approval of drunkenness, but because he wished to show that it would be no common joy, as though they were carried away beyond themselves. It would be then superfluous to move here the question, whether it be right to seek joy by drinking freely. It is indeed true that hilarity is connected with the lawful use of wine (Ps 104:15;) but as we are too prone to excess, we ought to restrain the lusts of the flesh rather than to seek some color of excuse for a sinful indulgence. But as I have said, this question does not belong to the present passage. It follows —
8. I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they have increased.
8. Sibilabo illis et congregabo eos, quia redemi eos; et multiplicabuntur sicuti multiplicait sunt.
The same is the object of this verse. By the word whistle, Zechariah means what it imports in other passages, — that it will not be an arduous world for God; for we are wont to measure his works by what our flesh understands. Since then the Jews might have easily raised this objection, — that their brethren were dispersed through various countries and among many nations, so that the assembling of them was incredible, the Prophet meets this objection and says, that God was able by mere whistling or by a single nod to restore them to their country. God is sometimes said to whistle for the wicked, when he constrains them unwillingly to do him service, and employs them as instruments to execute his hidden purposes; for when great armies daily assemble, it is no doubt through the secret appointment of God. When therefore trumpets sound and drums beat, the Lord whistles from heaven, to lead the reprobate here and there as it pleases him. But in this passage the Prophet simply means, that though God may not have many heralds nor an equipped army to open a way for his people, he will be satisfied with whistling only; for when it should please him, a free passage would be made for captives, though the whole world were to hinder their return. These two words then are to be joined together, I will whistle for them and gather them; as though Zechariah had said, that the nod of God would alone be sufficient, whenever he designed to gather the people. 124
He then adds, For I have redeemed them. Here also I retain the past time, as the verb is in the past tense: for God speaks of redemption already begun, as though he had said, “I have promised that your exile would only be for a time; I have already appeared in part as your Redeemer, and I will not discontinue my work until it be completed.” God then no doubt confirms here what I have stated, — that as he had begun in some measure to redeem his people, a complete redemption was to be expected, though the distressed could hardly believe this. But they ought to have felt assured, that God, as it is said in Ps 138:1, would not forsake the work of his hands. Hence by the consideration of what had commenced he encourages the Jews here to entertain confidence, so that they might with composed minds look for the end, and doubt not but that the whole people would be saved; for the Lord had already proved himself to be their Redeemer. 125 It is indeed true that this had not been fulfilled as to all the Israelites: but we must ever remember, that gratuitous election so existed as to the whole people, that God had notwithstanding but a small flock, as Paul teaches us. (Ro 11:5.) The Prophet at the same time intimates that Christ would be the head of the Church, and would gather from all parts of the earth the Jews who had been before scattered; and thus the promised restoration is to be extended to all the tribes. It afterwards follows —
9. And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.
9. Et seminabo eos in populis, et in remotis partibus recordabuntur mei, et vivent cum fillis suis t revertentur.
He continues the same subject, and employs here a most suitable metaphor — that the dispersion of the people would have a better issue than what any one then could have conceived, for it would be like sowing. The verb for scattering or sowing is often taken in a bad sense; for when people rested in their country, they ought then to have considered that they were living under God’s protection. Dispersion, then, was an evidence of a curse, and it is often so taken by Moses. Now God uses it here in an opposite meaning, as though he had said, that he would at his pleasure turn darkness into light. The meaning then is, that the people had been dispersed through God being angry with them, but that the issue of this dispersion would be joyful; for the Jews would dwell everywhere, and be God’s seed, and thus be made to produce abundant fruit. We then see that the meaning is, that God’s favor would surpass the wickedness of the people; for those would bear fruit who had been scattered, and scattered because God would no longer exercise care over them, and defend them in the promised land. As God then had so often threatened by Moses that he would scatter the Jews, he now says in another sense, that he would sow them, and for this ends that they might everywhere produce fruit. 126
It was an instance of the wonderful grace of God, that he so ordered his dreadful judgment as to make the dispersion, as it has been said, a sowing of the people; for it hence happened, that the knowledge of celestial truth shone everywhere; and at length when the gospel was proclaimed, a freer access was had to the Gentiles, because Jews were dispersed through all lands. The first receptacles (Hospitia) of the gospel were the synagogues. We see that the apostles everywhere went first to the Jews, and when a few were converted, the door was now opened that more might come, and Gentiles were also added to the Jews. Thus the punishment of exile, which had been inflicted on them, was the means of opening the door for the gospel; and God thus scattered his seed here and there, that it might in due time produce fruit beyond the expectation of all; and this consideration availed not a little to moderate the impatient desires of the people; for the Prophet intimates that this alone ought to have satisfied them — that their exile would be productive of good, for the Lord would thereby gather much people to himself. Had the Jews been confined within their own borders, the name of the God of Israel would not have been heard of elsewhere; but as there was no part of the East, no part of Asia and of Greece, which had not some Jews — and they inhabited many cities of Italy — hence it was that the Apostles found, as we have said, wherever they came, some already prepared to embrace the gospel.
He afterwards adds, They shall remember me in distant lands. He shows the manner how the memory of God would be preserved: though the Jews sacrificed not in the temple, though they dwelt not in the holy land, they would yet ever worship the only true God; as then the seed cast on the ground, though it may not appear, and seem even to be wholly lost, being apparently consumed by rottenness, does yet germinate in its season, and produces fruit; so God teaches us, that the memory of his name will occasion this people to fructify in their dispersion. But as God promises this, we hence learn that it is through his singular kindness that we cherish piety in our hearts, when he sharply and severely chastises us. When therefore we cease not to worship God, it is certain that we are kept by his Spirit; for were this in the power of man, this promise would be useless, and even absurd.
He says further, They shall live with their sons, and shall return. He again speaks of sons, that the Jews might not make too much haste; for we know that men, having strong desires, hurry on immoderately. That they might not then prescribe time to God, the Prophet reminds them that it ought to have been enough for them that the Lord would quicken them as it were from the dead, together with their children. He however promises them a return, not that they would return to their own country, but that they would be all united by the faith of the gospel. Though then they changed not their place, nor moved a foot from the lands where they sojourned, yet a return to their country would be that gathering which would be made by the truth of the gospel, as it is well known, according to the common mode of speaking adopted by all the Prophets. It follows —
10. I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them.
10. Et reducam eos e terra Egypti, et ex Assur (ex Assyria) congregabo eos; et ad terram Gilead et Libani adducam eos; et non invenietur illis.
He confirms the same prediction — that though the Jews were like broken pieces, they were yet to entertain hope of their return and future restoration, since God was able to gather them from the remotest parts whenever he stretched forth his hand. He then names Egypt and Assyria, that the Jews might know that the redemptions here promised is equally open to them all, however far separated they might be. For though Egypt was not very far from Assyria, yet they who had fled to Egypt were regarded with more dislike than the rest, who had been forcibly driven into exile; for God had pronounced a curse on the flight of those who sought refuge in Egypt. Since then they were hated by the others, and as a hostile discord existed between them, the Prophet says that the gathering of which he speaks would belong to both. 127
He then adds, that such would be the number of men, that there would be no place for them; for so ought these words to be understood, There shall not be found for them; that is, “They will cover the whole land,” according to what we have observed elsewhere. It is said in Isaiah, “Secede from me,” not that the faithful, when God shall increase his Church, will molest one another, or desire to drive away their brethren; but by this mode of speaking Isaiah means that the Church will be filled with such number of men that they will press on one another. So also now Zechariah says, that the number of people will be so great, that the place will be hardly large enough for so vast a multitude. It follows —
11. And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up: and the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.
11. Et transibit in mari afflictio, et percutiet in mari fluctus; et arescent omnes profunditates fluminis: et dejicietur superbia Assur, et sceptrum Egypti recedet.
The Prophet confirms what he had said respecting the power of God, which is so great that it can easily and without any effort lay prostrate all the mighty forces of the world. As then the impediments which the Jews observed might have subverted their hope, the Prophet here removes them; he reminds the Jews that God’s power would be far superior to all the impediments which the world could throw in their way. But the expressions are figurative, and allusions are made to the history of the first redemption.
Pass through the sea shall distress. As God formerly gave to his people a passage through the Red Sea, (Ex 14:21;) so the Prophet now testifies that this power was unchangeable, so that God could easily restore his people, though the sea was to be dried up, and rivers were to be emptied. He says first, Pass shall distress through the sea, that is, spread shall distress, etc., for so the verb עבר, ober, is to be taken here. Pass then shall distress through the sea, 128 that is, the Lord will terrify the sea, and so shake it with his power that the waters will obey his command. But he afterwards explains himself in other words, He will smite the waves in the sea. He means that God’s command is sufficient to change the order of nature, so that the waters would immediately disappear at his bidding. He then adds, All the depths of the river shall dry up; some read, “shall be ashamed,” deriving the verb from בוש, bush; but it comes from יבש, ibesh: and this indeed means sometimes to be ashamed, but it means here to dry up. Others regard it as transitive, “The wind shall dry up the depths.” But as to the object of the Prophet, the passive or active sense of the verb is of no moment; for the Prophet no doubt means here, that there would be so much force in the very nod of God as to dry up rivers suddenly, according to what happened to Jordan; which being smitten by the rod of Moses dried up and afforded a passage to the people.
He at length speaks clearly, Cast down shall be the pride of Asshur, and the scepter of Egypt shall depart. In the preceding metaphor Zechariah alludes, as I have said, to the first redemption, as it was usual with all the Prophets to remind the people of the former miracles, that they might expect from the Lord in future what their fathers had witnessed. He now however declares, that God would be the Redeemer of his people, though the Assyrians on one side, and the Egyptians on the other, were to attempt to frustrate his purpose; for they could effect nothing by their obstinacy, as God could easily subdue both. He at last adds —
12. And I will strengthen them in the LORD; and they shall walk up and down in his name, saith the LORD.
12. Et reborabo eos in Iehova; et in monime ejus ambulabunt, dicit Iehova.
Here at length he includes the substance of what we have noticed, that there would be sufficient help in God to raise up and support his people, and to render them victorious over all their enemies. He had already proved this by saying, that God had formerly sufficiently testified by many miracles how much superior he was to the whole world; but he briefly completes the whole of this proof, and shows, that the Jews, provided that they relied on God and expected from him what he had promised, would be sufficiently strong, though the whole power of the world were to rise up against them.
He also mentions the name of God, They shall walk, he says, in his name, that is, under his auspices. In short, there is here an implied contrast between the name of God and the wealth and the forces of their enemies, which might have filled the minds of the faithful with fear, and cast them down. Hence the Prophet bids the Jews to give the glory to God, and not to doubt but that they would be victorious, whatever hindrance the world might throw in their way. And by this word walk, he means a continued course of life, as though he had said, that the people indeed had returned from exile, that is, in part; but that more of them were to be expected, for the Lord had not only been a leader in their return, but that he would be also their perpetual guardian, and defend them to the end.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are constrained continually to groan under the burden of our sins, and the captivity in which we are held justly exposes us to continual trembling and sorrow, — O grant, that the deliverance, already begun, may inspire us with the hope, so as to expect more from thee than what we can see with our eyes; and may we continually call on thee until thou completes what thou hast begun, and puttest to flight both Satan and our sins, so that being in true and full liberty devoted to thee, we may be partakers of that power which has already appeared in our head, until having at length passed through all our contests, we may reach that blessed rest, where we shall enjoy the fruit of our victory in Christ our Lord — Amen
The word in the singular number is found twice, in Job 28:26, Job 38:25, and rendered “lightning.” Scott, the versifier of the book of Job, renders it “blaze” or “flash of lightning,” deriving it from an Arabic word which means to cut a thing like the jagged edge of a leaf. It is then the zigzag flash of lightning. Marckius renders it here “coruscations;” Dathius and Henderson “lightnings.” To avoid the connection of two words of similar import, the arrangement of the verse may be different, —
Ask ye from Jehovah rain in the latter season;
Jehovah, who makes the flashes and the rain,
Will a shower give to you,
To every one grass in the field.
“To you,” [לכם]; so read many MSS., about fifteen, and the Syriac. — Ed.
Literally, “the teraphims.” See Hosea 3:4, vol. 1 page 130. They were household gods, called Penates by the heathens. “Images” is the rendering of the Targum of Onkelos, and “worshippers of images” of Jonathan in this place. Jerome has “simulacra — images.” Parkhurst derives the word from [רפה], an appaller, they being the objects of dread of fear. Gesenius, from an Arabic word, which means to “live in comfort,” they being viewed as the givers of happiness. Lee, from an Ethiopic word, signifying a “remnant, a survivor,” and thinks that they mean “relics.” Whatever may be the meaning of the word, they were no doubt a sort of household gods, made, as Aben Ezra says, in a human form, and consulted, says Kimchi, as to future events.
There are three kinds of idolatrous and superstitious practices mentioned here — the images which were consulted as oracles, the pretenders to visions, and the dreamers of dreams; but all that was spoken, and seen, and dreamt, was vain, and false, and useless. — Ed.
As to “the corner-stone,” [פנה], the view given here is correct. The chiefs of the people are in several places called “the corner-stones of the people.” See [Jud 20:2; 1Sa 14:38; Isa 19:13. “The angle or corner,” says Blayney, “metaphorically denotes the chief personage in the community, on whom its strength and security principally depend.”
With regard to the “nail,” rendered “peg,” by Henderson, the correct idea seems not to be given. The word [יתד], signifies two things — the hooked stake, fixed in the ground, by which tents were fastened — and the hooked nail or peg affixed to the sides of rooms, and put in the wall when built, so as to form a part of the building, and on which household stuff and instruments of war were suspended. The first is probably here intended, as it fastened and secured the tent, so the inferior officers of the state, next to the leaders or chiefs, were a strength to the community. See Lowth on Isa 22:23. See Ezr. 9:8, Ezek. 15:3
“Exactor” is the most common meaning of [נגש]; but here, as in Isa 60:17, it seems to signify a ruler, a military chief, or a conqueror, as the “corner-stone” denotes the civil chief.
In a series of sentences, which have only one verb, our mode is to put the verb in the first clause; but the Hebrew set it in the last, as we find to be the case here, as well in the last verse of the last chapter. This verse then ought to be rendered thus—
From him shall come forth the corner-stone,
From him the stake,
From him the bow of war,
From him only every conqueror,
From him every ruler altogether.
Henderson says, that this refers to the numerous cavalry of the SyroGrecian army. See 1Ma 3:39. — Ed.
The opinion of those who regard this prophecy as having been accomplished in the history of the Jews before the coming of Christ, is that “the house of Joseph” were those of the ten tribes who had joined themselves to the tribe of Judah. So Grotius says, and Henderson observes, “It is clear from the reference thus made, that part, if not most of all the tribes, returned and took possession of their patrimonial lands after the captivity. But Scott and Adam Clarke, though they allow that this prophecy was in part fulfilled when the Jews successfully resisted their SyroGrecian enemies, yet think that its full accomplishment is yet future; while Calvin evidently considers that a spiritual union in Christ is intended, conveyed in a language borrowed from the civil condition of the Jews. — Ed.
Kimchi says that [ישב], to dwell, and [שוב], to return, are included in this verb; but of such amalgamation there are no examples. The true reading no doubt is either [והשבתים], “and I will restore them,” supported by six MSS. the Targum, the Syriac, and the Vulgate; or [והושבתים], “and I will settle them,” supported by the Septuagint. — Ed.
Literally it is, “and I will answer them,” [ואענם];—[και ἐπακούσομαι αυτοις]—”and I will hear them,” is the Septuagint; but the proper meaning of the verb is to answer; and so Henderson renders it. — Ed.
The words literally are, —
And they shall be like a valiant man of Ephraim.
So the Septuagint, only the “valiant man” is taken in a collective sense, “And they shall be like the warriors ([μαχηται]) of Ephraim.” With this corresponds the Targum and the Syriac. The fact is, that the words cannot be grammatically rendered otherwise. — Ed.
The word rendered here “whistle,” is rendered “hist,” by Lowth, in Isa. 5:26, Isa. 7:18; and he quotes Cyril, who says, “it is a metaphor taken from the practice of those who keep bees; who draw them out of their hives into the fields, and lead them back again by a hiss or a whistle.” This is probable, for it is connected in Isa 7:18 with the fly and the bee. Grotius takes the metaphor from the whistle of the shepherd, by which he collects his sheep. — Ed.
The verb for “redeem” is in the past time, preceded by [כי], for, because, or when. The Septuagint give the future time, “because I shall redeem them.” Jun. and Trem., and Piscator read thus, “when I shall redeem them.” There is a similar phrase in verse 6, and in a like manner connected, which may be rendered in the same way, “when I shall pity them,” instead of, “for I have pitied them:” for [כי], as well as [ו], has sometimes a conversive power, at least it turns the past to a future time. — Ed.
The sowing here, as admitted by all, evidently means scattering; yet the verse is rendered differently. Dathius and Henderson render the first [ו] “though,” and the second “yet.” This and the following verse may be thus translated —
9. Though I shall scatter them among the nations, Yet in remote parts shall they remember me; And they shall live, even their children, and return:
10. Yea, I will restore them from the land of Egypt, And from Assyria will I gather them; And to the land of Gilead and Lebanon will I bring thm, And no place shall be found for them.
“And they shall live” I take to mean, that they should live, not themselves, but in their children. But Dathius and Newcome follow the Septuagint — “And they shall cherish (or, preserve) their children,” which the Hebrew will not bear; and Marckius and Henderson give the same version with Calvin — “And they shall live with their children.” — Ed.
This promise of restoration from Egypt and Assyria is considered by Grotius, Dathius, and Henderson, as having been fulfilled literally. Grotius says that one hundred and twenty thousand were restored from Egypt [a larger number than what was restored from Babylon] by Ptolemy Philadelphus, and that many were restored from Assyria by Alexander, the son of Antiochus Epiphanes, and by Demetrius; and he refers to Josephus’s of the Fathers, and some moderns, such as Marckius and Henry, viewed the prophecy as fulfilled in a spiritual sense, that is, in the spiritual restoration of the Jews, the language being taken from what belonged to a temporal restoration. But Scott and Adam Clarke seemed disposed to regard this prophecy as yet to be fulfilled, in the restoration of the Jews to their own land, as well as to the faith of the gospel. — Ed.
So Pagninus, Drusius, and the Syriac. The Septuagint, the Arabic, the Vulgate, and also Jerome, give a different version — “And he shall pass through the narrow sea,” or, “through the straits of the sea;” and this is the obvious meaning of the Hebrew, which is literally, “and he shall pass through the sea of straitness,” or narrowness, i.e., through the (or a) narrow sea; the allusion is evidently to the Red Sea, which is narrow. Henderson connects [צרה] as a verb with the following line —
He shall cleave and smite the waves of the sea.
He derives the peculiar sense of “cleaving” from the Chaldee [צרא]: but this is not necessary, for the other meaning is quite suitable, and countenanced by good authorities. Blayney give this version —
And some shall pass over the sea to Tyre;
which is quite without any meaning in this connection, there being nothing in the passage to lead us to Tyre. — Ed.