(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 1)
Lecture One Hundred and Thirty-fourth. 
Zechariah 1:1-3 
1 In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word 
of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo 
the prophet, saying, 
2 The LORD hath been sore displeased with your fathers. 
3 Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn 
ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith 
the LORD of hosts. 
    We here learn what we have already stated,--that Haggai and 
Zechariah were by God joined together, that they might confirm each 
other's doctrine, for they had to do with a refractory people: 
besides, the people had to endure hard and arduous trials, so that 
they needed more than a common testimony to confirm them. Haggai 
commenced the work of his office in the SIXTH month; Zechariah 
shortly followed him, in the EIGHTH month of the same year. It has 
already been shown who was the Darius mentioned here; though some 
interpreters dissent, we may yet learn from certain and indubitable 
proofs, that he was the son of Hystaspes. We shall again speak of 
this Darius, when a better occasion will offer itself: I wished only 
in passing to say thus much. 
    THE WORD OF JEHOVAH CAME TO ZECHARIAH. We have already said 
that the word of God comes in two ways to men. God addresses all 
from the least to the greatest; but in the first place he sends his 
word especially to his Prophets, to whom he commits the office of 
teaching. The word of God thus comes to private individuals, and it 
comes also to teachers, who sustain a public character, and become 
God's interpreters or messengers. It was thus that God's word came 
to Zechariah, not that he might keep to himself what God had said, 
but that he might be a faithful dispenser of his truth. 
    With regard to Zechariah, they are mistaken who regard him as 
the son of Jehoiadah, they are mistaken by Christ in Matt. xxiii. 
35. Zechariah is indeed said there to have been killed between the 
temple and the altar, and he is called the son of Barachiah: but the 
counting of years will easily prove their mistake, who would have 
him to be the same Zechariah. The former, who is called in sacred 
history the son of Jehoiadah the priest, was slain under Joash. Let 
us now see how many kings succeeded him, and also how many years he 
reigned. That Zechariah must have been almost two hundred years old 
at the Babylonian exile, if he was alive, had be been a boy when he 
was stoned. Now this Zechariah, of whom we now speak, performed the 
office of a Prophet after the return of the people from exile. He 
must then have been not only more than a hundred and fifty years of 
age, but must have exceeded two hundred years when he died. The idea 
respecting the renascence of men, being a reverie of the Jews, is 
not worthy of a record, much less of a refutation. He is however 
called the son of Barachiah; but the probable conjecture is that 
Jehoiadah the priest had two names, and it does not appear that he 
was a prophet. However this may be, the Zechariah who was stoned in 
the temple by the order of the king, was the son of the high priest, 
and died more than a hundred years before the Babylonian exile. For 
we have said that this Darius was not the Mede who reigned with 
Cyrus, but the son of Hystaspes, who reigned a long time after, that 
is, after Cambyses and the Magi. Their want of knowledge is easily 
proved, who think that these Prophets were sent by God before the 
completion of the time mentioned by Jeremiah. As then the seventy 
years had elapsed, this Prophet was no doubt born after the time 
when the city was destroyed, the temple pulled-down, and the people 
led captive into Babylon. I come now to the doctrine itself. 
here refers to the severity of the punishment with which the Jews 
had been visited, in order that posterity might know that God, who 
so rigidly punishes the despisers of his word and instruction, ought 
not to be provoked. For by saying that God was angry with anger, he 
means, that God was in no common measure offended with the Jews, and 
that the very grievousness of their punishment was a clear evidence 
how displeased God was with them. But the object of the Prophet was 
to rouse the Jews, that they might begin seriously to fear God on 
seeing how dreadful is his wrath. The Apostle states it as a general 
truth, that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the 
living God, (Heb. x.30:) so also the Scripture speaks everywhere. 
But Zechariah mentions here to his own people a signal evidence of 
God's wrath, which ought to justly to have smitten all of them with 
terror. He does not then speak here of a thing unknown, but reminds 
them seriously to consider how terrible is God's vengeance; as a 
proof of this, their fathers had been deprived of their perpetual 
inheritance, they had suffered many degradations, and had also been 
harassed and oppressed by tyrants; in short, they had been nearly 
sunk in the lowest depths. Since then God has so severely dealt with 
their fathers, the Prophet bids them to know that God ought to be 
feared, lest they should grow wanton or indulge themselves in their 
usual manner, but that they might from the heart repent, and not 
designedly provoke God's wrath, of which their fathers had so severe 
an experience. 
WILL RETURN TO YOU. The Prophet now expresses more clearly for what 
purpose he had spoken of God's vengeance, with which he had visited 
his chosen people, even that their posterity might take heed to 
themselves; for the common proverb, "Fools by adversity become 
wise," ought in this case to have been verified. For where there is 
really a teachable spirit, men become instantly attentive to what 
God says: but even when they are sluggish and slothful, it is a 
wonder, that when they are smitten, the strokes which they feel do 
not shake off at least in some degree their torpor. Hence the 
Prophet, after having spoken of the punishments which God had 
inflicted, exhorts the Jews to repentance. 
    It ought however to be observed, that our Prophet not only 
speaks of repentance, but shows also its true character, that the 
Jews might not seek carelessly to please God, as is commonly the 
case, but that they might sincerely repent; for he says, RETURN YE 
TO ME, AND I WILL RETURN TO YOU. And this was not said without 
reason, when we consider in what sort of delusions the Jews indulged 
themselves immediately after their return. We have seen that they 
became devoted to their private concerns, while the temple remained 
desolate; and we also know what sacred history relates, that they 
married heathen women, and also that many corruptions prevailed 
among them, so that religion almost disappeared. They indeed 
retained the name of God, but their impiety showed itself by clear 
signs. It is then no wonder that the Prophet sharply stimulates them 
to repentance. 
    It must at the same time be noticed, that we cannot enjoy the 
favour of God, even when he kindly offers to be reconciled to us, 
except we from the heart repent. However graciously, then, God may 
invite us to himself, and be ready to remit our sins, we yet cannot 
embrace his offered favour, except our sins become hateful to us; 
for God ceases not to be our judge, except we anticipate him, and 
condemn ourselves, and deprecate the punishment of our sins. Hence 
we then pacify God when real grief wounds us, and we thus really 
turn to God, without dissimulation or falsehood. Now the experience 
of God's wrath ought to lead us to this; for extremely heedless are 
they who, having found God to be a Judge, do carelessly disregard 
his wrath, which ought to have filled their hearts with fear. "Let 
no one deceive you with vain words," says Paul, "for on account of 
these things comes the wrath of God on the children of unbelief," or 
on all the unbelieving. (Eph. v.6.) Paul bids us to consider all the 
evidences which God gives of his wrath in the world, that they may 
instruct us as to the fear of God; how much more then should 
domestic examples be noticed by us? For the Prophet speaks not here 
of foreign nations; but says, ANGRY HAS GOD BEEN WITH ANGER AGAINST 
YOUR FATHERS. Since, then, it appeared evident that God had not 
spared even his chosen people, they ought, unless they were in the 
extreme refractory, to have carefully continued in obedience to the 
law. Hence the Prophet here condemns their tardiness, inasmuch as 
they had made so little progress under the chastisements of God. 
    We thus see that no excuse can be brought before God, if we do 
not make a right use of all the punishments by which he designs to 
recover us from our sins. We have referred to that general truth 
announced by Paul, that God's judgement, executed on the 
unbelieving, ought to be feared; it hence follows that our 
insensibility is extreme, if we are not thoroughly moved when God 
teaches us by our own experience, or at least when he sets domestic 
examples before us, as when he punishes our fathers and others 
connected with us; for this mode of teaching comes much nearer to 
    But when the Prophet says, RETURN YE TO ME, AND I WILL RETURN 
TO YOU, he means, as I have before stated, that though God meets 
sinners, and is ready with extended arms to embrace them, his favour 
cannot come to those to whom it is offered, except a real feeling of 
penitence leads them to God. In short, the Prophet means, that 
though they had returned from exile, they could not expect a 
permanent state of safety, except they turned from the heart to him; 
for if they imitated their fathers, God had in readiness far severer 
scourges to chastise them; and they might also be again driven into 
exile. he then briefly reminds them, that if they wished to enjoy 
the incomparable kindness with which God had favoured them, it was 
necessary for them seriously to return to him. Though, then God had 
already in part returned to them, that is, he had really proved that 
he was pacified and propitious to them, yet he had begun by many 
evidences to show that he was again offended with them; for their 
fruit had either withered through heat, or had been smitten by hail, 
as we have found elsewhere; (Hag. ii, 17;) so that they had already 
laboured for several years under want and other evils. God then had 
not so blessed them, that they could in every way recognise his 
paternal favour. This is the reason why the Prophet says, I WILL 
RETURN TO YOU when ye return to me. 
    We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet to be, that though 
God had delivered his people, they ought yet to have feared lest his 
wrath should suddenly burn against the ungrateful and the wicked, 
and that being not in full favour, they ought also to have known 
that God was still offended with them. So the Prophet shortly 
reminded them, that it was no wonder that God treated them with no 
great kindness, for they allowed no place for his favour, but 
provoked his wrath, like their fathers, inasmuch as they did not 
from the hear repent. 
    The Papists allege this passage in defence of free-will; but it 
is a most puerile sophistry. They say that the turning of God to men 
is the same as their turning to him, as though God promised the 
grace of his Spirit as a help, when men anticipate him. They imagine 
then that free-will precedes, and then that the help of the Spirit 
follows. But this is very gross and absurd. The Prophet indeed means 
that God would return to the Jews; for he shows that God would in 
every respect be a father to them, when they showed themselves to be 
dutiful and respectful children. We must therefore remember that God 
does not here promise the aid of his Spirit to assist free-will, and 
to help the efforts of man, as these foolish and senseless teachers 
imagine, but that he promises to return to the Jews to bless them. 
Hence the return of God here is nothing else than the prosperity 
which they desired; as though he had said--"Fear me from the heart, 
and ye shall not labour under hunger and thirst; for I shall satisfy 
you, as neither your fields nor your vines shall hereafter 
disappoint your hopes. Ye shall find me most bountiful, when ye deal 
with me in a faithful manner." This is the meaning. 
    We must further bear in mind, that, according to the common 
usage of Scripture, whenever God exhorts us to repentance, he does 
not regard what our capacity is, but demands what is justly his 
right. Hence the Papists adopt what is absurd when they deduce the 
power of free-will from the command or exhortation to repent: God, 
they say, would not have commanded what is not in our power to do. 
It is a foolish and most puerile mode of reasoning; for if 
everything which God requires were in our power, the grace of the 
Holy Spirit would be superfluous; it would not only be as they say a 
waiting-mind, but it would be wholly unnecessary; but if men need 
the aid of the Spirit, it follows that they cannot do what God 
requires of them. But it seems strange that God should bid men to do 
more than what they can. It seems so indeed, I allow, when we form 
our judgement according to the common perception of the flesh; but 
when we understand these truths--that the law works wrath--that it 
increases sin--that it was given that transgression might be made 
more evident, then the false notion--that God requires nothing but 
what men can perform, comes to nothing. But it is enough for us to 
know, that God in exhorting us to repentance requires nothing but 
what nature dictates ought to be done by us. Since it is so, however 
short we are in the performance, it is not right to charge God with 
too much strictness, that he demands what is beyond our power. 
    The frequent repetition of God's name by the Prophet is 
emphatical; it was done, that what he taught might more sharply goad 
the hearts of the people. Had he simply said, that he had a 
commission from above to remind the people of the punishments which 
their fathers had endured, and also to call them to repentance, this 
mode of teaching would not have so penetrated into their hearts, as 
when the name of God is so often brought before them--THOU SHALT 
behoved the Jews, when they heard God's name pronounced three times, 
to awake and to consider with whom they had to do. For what can be 
more base or more disgraceful than for men, when God anticipates 
them and desires to be united to them, to refuse to respond and to 
devote themselves to his service? 
    It is at the same time evident, that the Prophet adopted a mode 
of speaking then in use: and we know that the language of the Jews 
underwent a change after their Babylonian exile. It lost that 
clearness and elegance which it possessed before: as it clearly 
appears from the style of those who wrote after the exile. I allow 
also that previously the Prophets exhibited not the same degree of 
eloquence; for Isaiah differs greatly from Jeremiah and from Amos. 
It is yet quite evident from the writings of the last Prophets, that 
the language had become somewhat muddy after the return of the 
people from exile. Let us now proceed-- 
Zechariah 1:4 
Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, 
saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil 
ways, and [from] your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor 
hearken unto me, saith the LORD. 
    In order to correct and to subdue the obstinacy of the people, 
he here upbraids them with having descended from wicked and perverse 
parents. The Jews, we know, too much flattered themselves; and we 
know that they were especially inflated with the vain boasting that 
they derived their origin from the holy fathers. But the Prophets 
had something else in view. We indeed know that when anything 
becomes customary, almost all become hardened and flatter themselves 
in their vice; for immorality is then counted almost as the law, and 
what is sanctioned by public consent seems lawful. Since then they 
had not ceased for many years to provoke the wrath of God, it was 
necessary to add this reproof, BE NOT LIKE YOUR FATHER: for they no 
doubt imagined that God approved of them, as they were not worse 
than their fathers. But God shows that their fathers had been very 
wicked and perverse. 
    Let us learn from this passage, that the examples which are 
wont to be set up as a shield are so far from being of any weight 
before God, that they enhance our guilt: and yet we see that this 
folly infatuates many; for at this day the religion of the Papists 
seems to them holy and irreprehensible, because it has been handed 
down to them by their fathers. Hence, whenever they bring forward 
the fathers, they think it a sufficient defence against the charge 
of any errors. But nothing occurs more frequently in the Prophets 
than the truth, that examples tend more to kindle the wrath of God, 
when some men become the occasion of sin to others, and when 
posterity think that whatever has proceeded from their fathers is 
    But we must at the same time bear in mind the design of the 
Prophet, for he did not intend simply to show, that the Jews in vain 
alleged the examples of the ancient; but, as I have said, he 
intended to shake off their self-flatteries by which they lulled 
themselves asleep; and he intended especially to put down those evil 
practices, which by long use had prevailed among them. This then is 
the reason why he says, BE NOT LIKE YOUR FATHERS. The Spirit employs 
the same sentiment in many other places, especially in the ninety- 
fifth Psalm, and also in other Psalms. 
    Then he says, that the PROPHETS, who had been sent by God, had 
cried to their fathers, but that they did not attend. As then 
contempt of the truth had for so many ages prevailed among the Jews, 
and as this impiety was not duly abhorred by them, since they 
thought themselves to be as it were in perpetual possession--these 
are the reasons why the Prophet expressly upbraids them with this, 
that God's word had been formerly despised by their nation--CRY then 
DID THE FORMER PROPHETS. He also exaggerates again their crime and 
their sin, because God had often recalled them to himself but 
without success. Had the Prophets been silent, and had God applied 
no remedy for their defection, their ingratitude would not indeed 
have been excusable; but since Prophets had often been sent to them, 
in succession, one after the other, and each had endeavoured to 
restore the wretched men to a state of safety, not to attend to 
their holy and serious admonitions, by which God manifested his care 
for their well-being, was a much more atrocious crime. 
    We hence learn, that when we find any people prone to this or 
that vice, it ought to be resisted with greater diligence; for Satan 
almost always employs this artifice--that when he finds us prone to 
this or that vice, he directs all his efforts to drive us headlong 
into it. 
    As then the Prophets had been for a long time despised by the 
Jews, Zechariah designedly brings before them that perverseness 
which had been too long known. CRY then DID the FORMER PROPHETS, 
ATTENDED. After having spoken of God's kind invitation, which was a 
singular pledge of his love, since he thus manifested his concern 
for their safety, he shows on the other hand how unworthily the Jews 
had conducted themselves, for they obstinately rejected this favour 
of God. They were indeed more than sufficiently proved guilty; for 
WORKS, he assumes it as a fact that the reproofs given were just. 
And he farther says, that they refused to hear. Hence their 
perverseness was less endurable; for though they were self- 
condemned, they did not yet repent, nor deigned to hearken to God. 
And he subjoins the words, NOR DID THEY ATTEND; for by this 
repetition is more fully expressed, not only their stupidity, but 
their strange madness, inasmuch as they had so rejected God, and 
closed up the door of his favour, as though they sought designedly 
to drive him far from them, lest he should come to them. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only once embraced us in 
thy paternal bosom, when it pleased thee to offer to us the 
salvation obtained by the death of thine only-begotten Son, but 
continuest also daily to invite us to thyself, and also to recall 
the wandering to the right way--O grant, that we may not always 
remain deaf and hardened against thy warnings, but bring to thee 
hearts really submissive, and study so to devote ourselves to thee, 
that it may be evident that we have not received thy grace in vain; 
and may we also continue in the constant fruition of it, until we 
shall at length fully attain that blessed glory, which having been 
obtained for us, id daily set before us by the teaching of the 
Gospel, that we may be confirmed in it. May we therefore make such 
continual advances, through the whole course of our life, that 
having at last put off all the corruptions of our flesh, we may be 
really united to thee in that perfect purity to which thou invitests 
us, and which we hope for, through the grace of thine only Son.-- 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 2...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-01.txt