(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 
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. 
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 
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 
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. 
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 
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 
   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 
   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. 
   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