(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 2) Lecture One Hundred and Thirty Five Zechariah 1:5,6 5 Your fathers, where [are] they? and the prophets, do they live for ever? 6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the LORD of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us. In what we considered yesterday Zechariah reminded the Jews of the conduct of their fathers, in order that they might not, by their continued sins, bring on themselves new punishments. Many interpreters think that the sentiment contained at the beginning of the fourth verse is now confirmed, YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? for it seems t them that God is here exulting over the Jews--"Think now what has happened to your fathers; are they not all gone and destroyed?" They suppose also that the Jews answer, taking the latter clause as spoken by them, "The Prophets also, have they not perished? Why do you mention to us the fathers? There is no difference between them and the Prophets; it is not therefore a suitable argument." And then in the third place, they consider that God refutes the answer given by the Jews, "But my word and my statutes, what I had entrusted to the Prophets, have not been without their effect." This view of the passage has been adopted by many, and by all of the most ancient interpreters; and those who followed them have been disposed to subscribe to it. But more probable is the opinion of Jerome, who understands the latter clause of false Prophets,--"Your fathers and your Prophets, where are they?" as though God thus reproved the Jews: "See now, have not your fathers miserably perished, and also the Prophets by whom they were deceived?" Thus Jerome thinks that the object in both clauses is to shake off the delusions of the Jews, that they might not harden themselves against God's judgements, or give ear to flatterers. This interpretation comes nearer to the design of the Prophet, though he seems to me to have something else in view. I join the two clauses together, as they may be most fitly united--"Your fathers and my Prophets have both perished; but after their death, the memory of the doctrine, which has not only been published by my servants, but has also been fully confirmed, is to continue, so that it ought justly to terrify you; for it is very foolish in you to enquire whether or not the Prophets are still alive; they performed their office to the end of life, but the truth they declared is immortal. Though then the Prophets are dead, they have not yet carried away with them what they taught, for it never perishes, nor can it at any age be extinguished. The ungodly are also dead, but their death ought not to obliterate the memory of God's judgements; but after their death these judgements ought to be known among men, and serve to teach them, in order that posterity may understand that they are not presumptuously to provoke God." This seems to be the real meaning of the Prophet. By saying, YOUR FATHERS WHERE ARE THEY? AND THE PROPHETS DO THEY LIVE FOR EVER? he makes a concession, as though he had said, "I allow that both your fathers and my Prophets are dead; but my words are they dead?" God, in a word, distinguishes between the character of his word and the condition of men, as though he had said, that the life of men is frail and limited to a few years, but that his truth never perishes. And rightly does he mention the ungodly as well as the Prophets; for we know that whenever God punishes the despisers of his word, he gives perpetual examples, which may keep men in all ages within the boundaries of duty. Hence, though many ages have passed away since God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, yet that example remains, and retains its use to this day; for the ruin of Sodom is a mirror in which we may see at this time that God is the perpetual judge of the world. Since then the ungodly have perished, the punishment with which God visited their sins ought not to be buried with them, but to be ever remembered by men. This is the reason why he says, "your fathers are dead: this you must admit; but as they had been severely chastised, ought ye not at this day to profit by such examples?" Then he says, "my Prophets also are dead; but it was my will that they should be the preachers of my truth, and for this end, that after their death posterity might know that I had once spoken through them." To the same purpose are the words of Peter, who says, that he laboured that the memory of what he taught might continue after he was removed from his tabernacle. "As then," he says, "the time of my dissolution is at hand, I endeavour as far as I can, that you may remember what I teach after my death." (2 Pet. i. 15.) We now perceive the object of the Prophet. He then immediately adds, BUT MY WORDS AND MY STATUTES WHICH I HAVE COMMITTED TO MY PROPHETS, HAVE THEY NOT LAID HOLD ON YOUR FATHERS? We have seen that he made a concession in the last verse; but here God expressly declares what I have stated--that though men vanish, or are hence removed after a short time, yet heavenly truth is ever firm, and retains its own power. But the Prophet uses another form of expression, MY WORDS, he says, WHICH I HAVE COMMITTED TO MY SERVANTS, THE PROPHETS, HAVE THEY NOT LAID ON YOUR FATHER? that is, "ought the remembrance of the punishment, by which I intended to teach you, and your children, and your grandchildren, that ye might not provoke my wrath as your fathers did, to be lost by you? Since the ye see the effect of my doctrine in your fathers, why do ye not consider, that as I am always the same, my words cannot possibly be in vain at the present day, or be without effect?" We now see how clearly the Prophet distinguishes between the word of God and the condition of men; for God does not declare what is empty, nor give utterance to words which produce no effect; but he executes whatever he has committed to his Prophets. He then adds, THEY RETURNED AND SAID, AS JEHOVAH OF HOSTS HAD PURPOSED TO DO TO US ON ACCOUNT OF OUR WAYS AND OUR WORKS, SO HE HATH DONE. Added here is a confession, which ought to have perpetually stimulated the Jews, while they saw that the obstinacy of their fathers had been subdued by the scourges of God. It is indeed true, that though they been sharply chastised, many of them did not yet really repent. God however extorted from them the confession that they were justly punished. Even the ungodly then had been constrained to give glory to God, and to confess that they were justly treated as guilty; but their children became immediately forgetful--was this a stupidity capable of being excused? He at the same time indirectly warns posterity that they might not imitate the negligence of their fathers, who would not have repented had they not been severely chastised; but that they might, on the contrary anticipate the judgement of God. We then see why the Prophet mentions that the Jews, who had been severely treated, freely confessed that they had been chastised by the hand of God; but we must notice the words. He says, that the fathers had RETURNED. Though their repentance was not sincere, yet God intimates that such was their punishment that it drew from them the confession that is here mentioned. What then could their posterity mean? or how could they become so audaciously mad against God, when they saw that their fathers and their obstinacy had been, as it were, broken down by the severe strokes by which God had smitten them? He then subjoins, AND SAID, AS JEHOVAH HATH PREPARED TO DO. They confessed that they suffered evils not through chance, but that the purpose of God was thus fulfilled, which they had previously despised and almost derided. They further confessed, that they justly suffered; and they referred to their works and to their course of life. Since, then, the father had made this confession, who had hardened themselves long in their sins, their posterity were wholly without excuse in going on still to their own ruin, in containing impenitent, though warned by examples so memorable. This is the import of the passage. It now follows-- Zechariah 1:7-11 7 Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which [is] the month Sebat, 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, 8 I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that [were] in the bottom; and behind him [were there] red horses, speckled, and white. 9 Then said I, O my lord, what [are] these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these [be]. 10 And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These [are they] whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth. 11 And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest. Here is related a second prophecy, connected with a vision. At the beginning God alone spoke and gave commission to his Prophet to reprove the Jews: he now confirms the prediction as to the reduction of the city; for to the word is added a vision, which is, as we have seen elsewhere, a sort of seal. As the vision is obscure it may be variously explained, but I shall endeavour to accommodate it, without any refinements, to our use; and so no ambiguity will remain, provided we seek to be soberly and moderately wise, that is, provided we aim at no more than what edification requires. The Prophet says, that a vision was given him; and he saw a horseman among the myrtles sitting on a red horse; and with him there were horses red, variegated and white, and having no doubt riders. So I understand the passage; for extremely gross is the idea that the horses spoke. There were then, as it were, a troop of horsemen; but the Prophet says, that one appeared as the chief leader, who was accompanied by others. In the meantime an angel stood at the side of the Prophet, who led him, and showed to him his concern for the holy city and the chosen people. He then adds, that these horsemen had returned from an expedition; for they had been sent to review the whole world and its different parts. He therefore says, that they had returned from their journey, and also that the whole earth was quiet, that men enjoyed peace and tranquillity everywhere. At length he adds, that the angel of God cried out, How long, Jehovah, wilt thou not show mercy to Jerusalem? For the angel, touched with grief on hearing that all the heathens were enjoying rest, expostulates with God; for it seemed a very unbecoming and strange thing that the faithful alone should be oppressed with adversities, while others lived in peace and enjoyed their pleasures. There follows at length an answer from God, as we shall presently see. But let us now enquire the Prophet's design. I regard this as the object - that horsemen were presented to the Prophet, that he might know that God does not remain shut up in heaven and neglect the affairs of men; but that he has, as it were, swift horses, so that he knows what things are everywhere carried on. As then kings having horses at command, send their riders here and there, and bid them soon to return to them that they may know what to do; so the Prophet ascribes here to God the character of a chief sovereign, who enquires respecting all the affairs of men. It is indeed certain, that God receives no information from angels, for nothing is hid from him: nay, all things were fully known to him before he created angels. God, therefore, needs no such helps in order to know what is going on from the rising to the setting sun; but such a mode of speaking often occurs in scripture; and it is a common thing, that God assumes the character of man in order that he may more familiarly instruct us. Let us then especially bear in mind, that the riders who appeared to the Prophet were angels, who are ever ready to serve God. And they were sent here and there, not that they might declare to God any thing unknown to him, but that we may believe that God cares for human affairs; and that though angels appear not to us they are always engaged, and survey the world, so that nothing is done without the knowledge and will of God. This is one thing. The Prophet says also, that the vision was given him in the night: he refers no doubt to what actually took place, and also to the manner in which he was taught; for though the vision was not given in vain, yet God meant that it should not be plain, in order that he might give by little and little a glimpse of hope to the Jews. As then God did not intend to exhibit in full light what he afterwards in due time taught them, the vision appeared in the night. And to the same purpose is what he says respecting the angels, that they were in a dark or deep place, and that they were among the myrtles. For to consider what is here said allegorically seems to me frivolous. I will, therefore, not refinedly discuss here the nature of myrtles: but as we know that the trees are dark and afford a thick shade, God intended, I have no doubt, by the sight of them, to produce an effect on the Prophet's mind, so that he might understand that the prophecy was yet obscure, and that the time for a plain and clear revelation was not come. There were then horsemen among the myrtles, that is, under these dark and shady trees; and also in a deep place and in a thick shade. We see how aptly these things correspond. Some think that by their colours is designated the state of the people, being that of sorrow and of joy; for though quietness in part was restored to the people, yet much darkness remained and much perplexity in their affairs: but as this idea is probable, I do not reject it, provided we retain what I have stated, that the obscurity of the Prophecy is noted by the deep valley and the myrtles. There was one more eminent than the rest, and in this there is nothing unusual; for when God sends forth a company of angels, he gives the lead to some one: and this is the reason why one is described here as more illustrious than all the others. If we regard this angel to be Christ, the idea is consistent with the common usage of Scripture; for Christ, we know, being the head of angels, ever exercises such dominion over them, that in obeying God they do nothing but under his authority. It may be then that one angel assumed here a pre-eminence over the rest, that the Prophet might think of the Redeemer, who exercises power over angels and the whole Church. With regard to the different colours the Prophet no doubt understood that they designated the offices allotted to angels, as some convey God's benefits, and others come armed with scourges and swords. For what was the design of the vision in which some riders appeared on white horses, some on red, and some on bay, (or, on those of a mixed colour, which is more probable,) except that God intended to show that he sent angels, not only that they might survey the state of things, but that they might also come to chastise men, or to be ministers of his benefits? Besides, it was God's purpose, as I have already hinted, to make it known, that nothing is carried on in this world but what is known by angels, who are his emissaries and agents. They said that the whole earth was then quiet, that is, the countries bordering on Judea, or the oriental regions. Hence a greater confidence might be entertained by the Jews, for with the prayer of the angel is connected a complaint - "God of hosts, what is thy purpose?" that is, "Is it thy will that all others should enjoy quietness and peace, while enemies are continually hostile and troublesome to thy people? Is it right that thy Church should be ever miserably distressed, while heathens, who have no care for religion, should be so bountifully favoured by thee? Is it not better that the memory of thy name should be extinguished, and that all worship should fall to the ground, than that so unjust a reward should be returned to thy servants?" We now see the design of the vision, even that the Jews might be assured that the distresses which they endured would not be perpetual. How so? because God slept not in heaven, but had his runners; and further, since his will was that all nations should be tranquil, he would no doubt have at length a regard for his own people, so as to deliver them from their troubles. Though then the vision is obscure, yet its design is not doubtful. Besides, if we are content with what is moderate, there will be found here nothing so perplexing but that we may easily learn at least the import of the Prophecy. But the curiosity of those interpreters has done much harm, who by examining every single syllable have advanced many puerile things. There is therefore nothing better than to attend to the design of the Prophet, and then to regard the circumstances of the time, and thirdly, to follow the analogy between the signs and things signified. I have said that angels are here introduced, because it would be difficult for us to ascend to the highest glory of God. God, we know, is not constrained by necessity to employ angels as ministers to execute his judgements, to punish men, or to confer benefits: for God himself is sufficient for all these things. Why then does he employ angels and make use of their ministration, if it be superfluous? The obvious answer is this - as we are prone to unbelief, we ever tremble in dangers, except we know that God is prepared with many forces to help us in time of need. When it is said in Psalm 24 that angels encamp around those who fear God, is it not a much more effectual relief than if it had been simply said that God is our citadel? It is indeed said in many places that God is an unassailable fortress; but as many still continue to doubt when they hear that there is a sufficient defence for them in God, he consults now their weakness, and adds, "I come with a great host; I am not alone your helper, but there is a great army ready at my bidding. Whenever then it may please me a troop of angels, yea, many myriads shall assemble together." When therefore God thus speaks, it is a mode of teaching suitable to the capacities of men. So now, when Zechariah sees many runners, who have been sent by God to perambulate and to survey the earth, it may with greater certainty be learnt that nothing is carried on without design or by chance in the world, but that all things come before God, and that the manner in which all things occur is set forth by the angels. In the same way is the representation given in the first chapter of Job: All the sons of God, that is, angels, came before his throne; and also among them Satan came; for though he does not willingly obey God, yet while he perambulates the earth, he at the same time executes God's judgements, though unwillingly. We now then see the reason why God did not himself appear, and testified to the Prophet, that whatever took place among the nations was known to him; but he shows that his runners rode swiftly through the whole earth, and returned afterwards to the heavenly tribunal, and proved that they had carefully performed their office. Now the Prophet says, that he had this vision in the eleventh month, called Sebat and on the twenty-fourth day of the month; that is, in the third month after his first Prophecy. He had in the eighth month sharply reproved the Jews: now a consolation is added, lest they should despair, but know that they were still the objects of God's care. And possibly the reproof referred to had been effectual; nay, it is probable, that the Prophet did not labour in vain in exhorting the Jews to true and sincere repentance. When therefore they had given some evidence of religion, we see that God afterwards treated them more kindly, and set before them the hope of a future deliverance. With regard to the night time, it is of importance to observe, that though God does not always set forth with full clearness his predictions, they are not yet without instruction, provided we be attentive, and provided also we suffer ourselves, while in darkness, to be ruled by the spirit of knowledge. By whatever different means then God may teach his faithful people, he always teaches them something useful, provided they murmur not when any thing is for a time obscure, but wait for the day of full revelation. And this is the design of Paul's admonition, "If ye think otherwise, this also will God reveal to you." Let us then know that God's manner of teaching is not always the same, but that his teaching is always profitable, provided the faithful retain due moderation and sobriety, and suffer themselves to be guided step by step by God. This observation is to be applied to the whole verse, when it is said, that the horses and the horsemen stood under the myrtles, and also in a low place. And, then, as to the various colours of the horses, it ought not to be deemed strange, that God should thus allot different offices to angels; for he does not always punish us by the ministry of Satan. He has celestial angels, when it pleases him, as executioners of his vengeance; and he sometimes employs devils for this purpose. However this may be, it is in his power to delegate angels as ministers of his kindness, or to send them to execute his vengeance, so that they appear in red colour, or in some other. In conclusion, it ought also to be borne in mind, that angels do stand before the tribunal of God, after having diligently perambulated the earth, not after the manner of men: for it would be gross and puerile to imagine angels sitting on horses, inasmuch as they are spirits who are confined to no certain place; but as we cannot understand, according to our capacities, the celestial mysteries of God, it is necessary that such representations should be set before our eyes. however this may be, it ought to remain a fixed principle, that angels are always employed, for they survey the earth, that nothing may be done or carried on without design; and they are also sent with power and authority, so that they are, as it were, the hand of God: and at one time they execute his judgements, inflict punishments, as it has been said; and at another they come with blessings from God. This then is the meaning as to the horsemen. I cannot proceed farther: the rest I shall defer. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that since we live here as in thick darkness, and are also surrounded with so much darkness of ignorance, that we often entertain doubts as to thy providence, and think ourselves forsaken by thee whenever thou dost not immediately succour us, - O grant, that with our minds raised above, we may contemplate those things which thou hast once revealed to thy servant Zechariah, and not doubt, but thou lookest on us also and commandest thy angels to take care of us, and to raise us up in their hands, and to guide us in all our ways, yea, in all the crooked windings of this life, so that we may learn to commit ourselves to be wholly ruled by thee, and thus suffer ourselves to be drawn and turned here and there in the world, so as still to follow the way which thou hast pointed out to us, and to proceed straight towards the mark which thou hast been pleased to set before us, until we shall at length be gathered into that eternal rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 3... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-02.txt .