(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 3) Lecture One Hundred and Thirty-sixth. Zechariah 1:12 12 Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years? The Prophet now shows that the angel who was his guide and teacher, became even a suppliant before God in behalf of the welfare of the Church. Hence the probable opinion is, that this angel was Christ the Mediator. For they who say that it was the Holy Spirit, who forms prayers in our hearts, seem to depart very far from the meaning of the Prophet: and it is nothing new, that Christ should exercise care over his Church. But if this view be disapproved, we may take any one of the angels to be meant. It is certain that it is enjoined them all to minister to the salvation of the faithful, according to what the Apostle says in the first chapter of the Hebrews; and indeed the whole Scripture is full of evidences, which prove that angels are guardians to the godly, and watch over them; for the Lord, for whose service they are ever ready, thus employs them: and in this we also see the singular love of God towards us; for he employs his angels especially for this purpose, that he might show that our salvation is greatly valued by him. There is then nothing wrong, if we say that any one of the angels prayed for the Church. But absurdly, and very foolishly do the Papists hence conclude, that dead saints are our advocates before God, or that they pray for us; for we never read that it is an office committed to the dead to intercede for us; nay, the duties of love, we know, are confined to the present life. When, therefore, the faithful remove from this world, having finished their course, they enter on a blessed life. Though then the case is different, yet the Papists foolishly pass from angels to the dead: for as it has been stated, the case of the faithful has been committed to angels, and they ever watch over the whole body, and over every member of it. It is then nothing strange that they offer prayers for the faithful; but it does not hence follow, that angels are to be invoked by us. Why does Scripture testify, that angels supplicate God for us? Is it that each of us may flee to them? By no means; but that being assured of God's paternal love, we may entertain more hope and confidence; yea, that we may courageously fight, being certain of victory, since celestial hosts contend for us, according to what appears from many examples. For when the servant of Elisha saw not the chariots flying in the air, he became almost lost in despair; but his despair was instantly removed, when he saw so many angels ready at hand for help, (2 Kings 6: 17;) so whenever God declares that angels are ministers for our safety, he means to animate our faith; at the same time he does not send us to angels; but this one thing is sufficient for us, that when God is propitious to us, all the angels have a care for our salvation. And we must further notice what is said by Christ, "hereafter ye shall see angels ascending and descending," (John 1: 51,) which means, that when we are joined to the head, there will thence proceed a sacred union between us and angels; for Christ, we know, is equally Lord over all. When, therefore, we are united to the body of Christ, it is certain that angels are united to us, but only through Christ. All this favour then depends on the one true Mediator. Far then is it from being the case, that Scripture represents angels as patrons to whom we may pray. The meaning then is what we have stated, when Zechariah says, that the angel thus prayed, O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah? We ought at the same time to notice the special import of the words, "how long," "'ad matay". The angel indeed afterwards explains himself, when he expressly mentions the term of seventy years. It was not then without design, or through a strong impulse of feeling, that the angel said, How long? but he had regard to a memorable prophecy, which was in the mouth of all the godly; for God had fixed seventy years for the exile of the people. Since the people knew that a time had been predetermined by God, he does net here supplicate God according to his own will, but only alleges the promise itself: and it is an usual thing with the saints to plead before God what he has promised to them. What indeed can better sustain our hope? and what can give us a greater encouragement in praying, than when we plead with God according to his promises? For God will have our prayers to be founded first on his gratuitous goodness, and then on the constancy of his faithfulness and truth. When therefore they thus address God, "O Lord, thou art true, and thou hast promised this to us; relying on thy word, we dare ask what otherwise we could not," - they certainly do not exceed the limits as though they prescribed to God a law, but anxiously seek to obtain what had been freely offered. We have seen that the angel does not here complain of delay, but that he founded his plea on that remarkable prophecy, in which God had fixed the term of seventy years for his people. The angel seems in this place to have indirectly blamed God for having too much delayed to bring help to his Church: but this mode of speaking, we know, frequently occurs in the prayers of the saints; they in a manner charged God with delay, that is, according to the perception of their flesh. But this is not inconsistent with the obedience of faith, since the faithful submit at length to the counsel of God. Hence, however familiarly they may often expostulate with God, when he seems to delay and to withhold his aid, they yet restrain themselves, and at length feel assured that what God has appointed is best. But they thus pour forth their cares and their sorrows into the bosom of God, in order to disburden themselves. The angel now adopts this form when he says, "How long wilt thou not show mercy?" It is not however the complaint of unreasonable fervour, as that of the ungodly, who in praying accuse God, rage against him, and quarrel with his judgements. The angel then was not moved by any turbulent feeling, nor were the saints, when they adopted this mode of praying; but they did what God allows us all to do; they thus disburdened their cares and sorrows. I have said, that it is more suitable to the passage to say, that the cities had been despised by God: but if any prefers the other view, I will not contend; yet whosoever will minutely consider the intention of the Prophet, will, I think, readily assent to the idea, that the cities had been despised or rejected by God, because he gave them no sign of his mercy. It now follows - Zechariah 1:13 13 And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me [with] good words [and] comfortable words. The Prophet shows here, that though God did not immediately on the first day stretch forth his hand to the miserable Jews, he was yet propitious to them. But we must notice, that God speaks only, and does not yet manifest his power. The Prophet's design must be here observed; for first he reminds the faithful that there was no reason for them to despair, or to be cast down with sorrow; for celestial angels prayed to God for them, and pleaded for their salvation. This is one thing. But a greater and fuller confirmation is added; for God testifies that he is ready to deliver the Jews, though he does not declare this immediately at first. And here we may remark, that it ought to be sufficient to sustain our hope and patience, when God testifies and affirms that he favours us, and that our salvation is dear to him, however miserable our condition may apparently be. God might indeed have immediately given a real proof to the Jews that the time had come to restore them to full prosperity: this he did not, but only made a promise. He gave words only: but his purpose was, by an actual trial, to prove the patience and obedience of his people, when he said that he had not forgotten his covenant, on which depended all the promises previously made. But the Prophet seems to allude to a prophecy of Isaiah in the fortieth chapter, "Comfort ye my people, saith your God." The Prophets had been for a long time silent: it was indeed right that the Jews should remain long struggling, as they had for so many years hardened themselves against all threatening, and even despised all God's judgements, according to what is said by Isaiah, "Let us eat and drink, tomorrow we shall die." (Is. 22: 13.) As then the obstinacy of the people had been so great, it was proper that they should long mourn without comfort. But Isaiah says, that the time would come when God would command his servants to comfort his people again as in former times. Zechariah says now, that God spoke consoling words. We hence learn, that the desires of the godly and the prayer of the angel had been heard; for redemption was now nigh at hand, according to what is said in the hundred and second Psalm, "It is time for thee, O God, to have mercy on Sion, for its time is come;" that is, "The seventy years are completed, which it has pleased thee to assign for our exile." It now follows - Zechariah 1:14 14 So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. Zechariah now mentions the chief consolation to which he had referred; for it would not have been sufficient to say in general, and in a few words without explanation, that God gave a kind answer to the angel. For we know how strong were those temptations with which the faithful had to struggle. It was then needful for them to be furnished, not with light weapons, in so arduous a contest. This is the reason why Zechariah more fully expressed the words by which God then strengthened the faith of his people. He says that the angel had spoken; and he thus intimates that the consolation was not given privately to the angel that he might keep it in his own bosom, but convey it to the whole people. This was not then a secret consolation but what the Lord intended to be proclaimed by his Prophets, according to what is said by Isaiah in the passage to which we have already referred - "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God." What God says, that he was moved with great zeal for Jerusalem and Sion, is according to the common language of Scripture. For as God cannot otherwise sufficiently express the ineffable favour which he has towards his elect he is pleased to adopt this similitude, that he undertakes the defence of his people according to what is done by a husband who fights with the greatest zeal for his own wife. This is the reason why he says that he was zealous for Jerusalem. And we ought especially to notice this mode of speaking, that we may not think that God is indifferent when he delays and defers his aid: for as we are hasty in our wishes so we would have God to be precipitant in the same manner; and we impute to him indifference when he does not hasten according to our desires. These doubts God checks when he testifies that he is zealous: for he intimates that his slowness did not proceed from neglect or because he despised or disregarded them; but that there was another reason why he held them in suspense. We may therefore be fully persuaded that even when God withholds his aid he is not otherwise affected towards us than the best of fathers towards his own children; and further that the signs of his love do not appear because it is not always expedient for us to be delivered soon from our troubles. Let this then be our shield against all hasty desires, so that we may not indulge our too ardent wishes, or think that our salvation is neglected by God, when he hides himself for a time and does not immediately stretch forth his hand to help us. It follows - Zechariah 1:15 15 And I am very sore displeased with the heathen [that are] at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction. God here obviates the doubt which might have easily crept into the minds of the godly. "Why should he then give up the miserable Jews to the will of the Gentiles, and suffer these heathens at the same time to be in a quiet state and to enjoy their pleasures?" This indeed at the first view seemed very strange: if God had such a zeal towards Jerusalem, why did he not give some token at least of his favour? He therefore gives this answer, - That though the condition of the Gentiles was now better, there was yet no reason for the Jews to be discontented in their troubles, because they were to look forward to the end that was to come. It must further be noticed, that God speaks only here, and is not going forth prepared to execute his vengeance: and it is a real and just trial of faith, when God bids us to depend on his word. The manner of speaking, used here deserves notice, God was angry with the quiet nations. It is not a superfluous repetition, when it is said, that the nations were quiet. Some render the word wealthy, but not so suitably; for as we have said before, the angel complained that while the whole world was tranquil, God severely chastised his Church alone. God then does here anticipate a temptation which would have otherwise distressed and even wholly disheartened the faithful; and he in effect says, "It is indeed true that the Gentiles all around are quiet, that there are no calamities, that there is no enemy, and that they are subject to no evils: this is no doubt true; but as I am angry, their happiness, while I am opposed to and displeased with them, is a curse." God, then, does here elevate the thoughts of the godly, that they might know that happiness is to be found in his favour alone, and that whenever he is angry or displeased, though men may think themselves happy, and flatter themselves and exult in their condition, they are yet in a most miserable state; for all happiness is ruinous which does not flow from the fountain of God's gratuitous love; in short, when God is not our Father, the more we abound in all kinds of blessings, the deeper we sink in all kinds of miseries. This then is the meaning, when God says that he was angry with the quiet nations. What, then, is the application of this doctrine? That it behaved the Jews, though their condition was very hard according to the perception of men, to have yet acquiesced in the love of God, for they knew that he was their Father, and also, that though they saw their enemies happy, they were yet to regard it no otherwise than a cursed happiness. so also in the thirty-seventh Psalm, the faithful are bid not to envy the unbelieving, while they saw them flourishing in wealth and rolling in pleasures; for it behaved them to regard their end. Let us hence learn to raise up our thoughts to the contemplation of God's hidden love, when he deals severely with us, and to be satisfied with his word, as we have there an indubitable evidence of his favour: nor let us envy our enemies and the wicked, however the whole world may applaud them, and they themselves luxuriate in their blessings, for we know that God is adverse to them. A reason also follows, Because God was a little angry, and they helped forward the evil; that is, they exceeded moderation. The meaning is, that the reward of cruelty would be repaid to all the enemies of the Church, because they had exercised immoderate severity, when it was God's purpose to chastise his children in a gentle and paternal manner. It may be here first asked, How is it that God declares that he had been a little angry with his people, since his judgement, as pronounced by his servants, was most severe? "Whosoever shall escape the famine, shall fall by the sword; whosoever shall escape the sword, shall fall among wild beasts." (Ezek. 14: 14.) And in many other places he declares the same, that there would be no hope of pardon to the people, but that they were all to perish; that is, the whole body: "Though Noah, Daniel, and Job," he says, "were in this city, they shall deliver only their lives; but I will not hear their prayers for this irreclaimable people." But the particle little, "me'at", must be applied to the elect: for though God in his dreadful vengeance consumed almost the whole people, yet a remnant, as we know, was preserved. This is the reason why God says, that he was but little angry with his people; for he speaks not of the reprobate and of that impure mass from which he purposed to cleanse his own house; but he has respect to his covenant. We now perceive for what purpose Zechariah says, that God was but moderately angry with his people. But another difficulty meets us - In what sense did the nations help on the evil? For it hence follows, that the heathens were not restrained from raging immoderately and at their pleasure. And this place has been also laid hold of by that miscreant, who has been lately writing against God's providence, holding that the wicked become wanton by means of God's hand and power, and are not thereby restrained. But this is extremely foolish; for the Prophet here does not regard what the nations were able to do or had done; but, on the contrary, he speaks of their cruelty, that they thought that there ought to have been no end until the memory of that people had been obliterated. And this is the reason why Isaiah says, "Thou hast not seen her end." He therefore upbraids the unbelieving, that they did not calculate rightly as to the end of the Church; for the unbelieving furiously attempted to destroy it, as though that promise could be made void, "My mercy I will not take away." Since the unbelieving did not see her end, because it was the Lord's will ever to preserve some remnant among his chosen people, the Prophet says, that they helped forward the evil. We now then perceive the intention of the Prophet, and see that the object is no other but to sustain the hope of the faithful, until what they heard from the mouth of God really took place. Let us proceed - Zechariah 1:16 16 Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. This is a confirmation of the last prophecy, - that God purposed to put an end to his chastisement, as it is said by Isaiah, "They have received at Jehovah's hand double for all their sins." For in these words God reminds us that he was satisfied with the punishment he had inflicted on his people, like a father, who thinks that he had been sufficiently severe and rigid in punishing his son. So now, Thus saith Jehovah, I have returned to Jerusalem in mercies: for it was necessary to give the people the hope of pardon and reconciliation, that they might look forward with confidence. Hypocrites very quickly raise up their crests as soon as a kind word is addressed to them; but the faithful, being conscious of what is wrong, and having their sins before their eyes, do not so easily take courage; nor can they do so, until they are convinced that their sins are buried, and that they themselves are freed from guilt. Hence the Prophet says, that God had turned to Jerusalem, that the Jews might know that the punishment with which God had visited them was to be only for a time. But in the meantime he exhorts them to humility: for the people could not from this prophecy entertain any hope, except they duly considered that they had suffered justly, because they had provoked God's wrath. Hence the Prophet reminds them that what they had hitherto endured was to be imputed to their sins; but that God yet intended to treat them in a paternal manner; for, as I have already stated, he had promised that his mercy towards his elect and faithful would be perpetual. Hence he says, that he had returned in mercies to Jerusalem.. He then adds, My house shall be built in it; and over Jerusalem shall a line be stretched forth. Line, "kawh" is to be taken for a perpendicular line, as in Is. 28: 17, and in other places. There is here an addition of "he", for as it has been elsewhere said, the language had become somewhat degenerated. The import of the whole is, that there was a hope of the temple and of the city being built, because God had returned into favour with the people. There are then two things to be noticed, - that God was now pacified towards Jerusalem, - and that the fruit of reconciliation would be the building of the temp]e, the establishment of divine worship and of the dignity of the kingdom. The Prophet teaches us at the same time, that the building of the temple was not to be expected but as an instance of God's gratuitous favour, so that the Jews might know that every hope would have been cut off, had not God been pleased to abolish their guilt. This doctrine ought also to be extended to the state of the Church at all times: for whence comes it that the Church remains safe in the world? Nay, how is it that it sometimes increases, except that God indulges us according to his infinite goodness? For we cease not daily to provoke him, and deserve to be wholly exterminated from the world. There would then be no Church, were not God to preserve it in a wonderful manner through his goodness and mercies, and also to restore it when it seems to have wholly fallen. He at length adds - Zechariah 1:17 17 Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem. I cannot finish to-day. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that though we are continually tossed here and there by various trials, and Satan ceases not to shake our faith, - O grant, that we may yet stand firm on the promise that thou hast once given us, and which thou hast also confirmed through thine only-begotten Son, even that thou wilt ever be propitious and reconcilable to us, so that we may not despair in our greatest troubles, but relying on thy goodness may utter our groans to thee, until the ripened time of our deliverance shall come: nor let us in the meantime envy the evanescent happiness of thy enemies; but patiently wait, while thou showest that the chief object of desire is to have thee propitious to us, and that accursed is every good thing which the ungodly receive while they provoke thee and make thee angry, until Christ shall at length reveal to us the real happiness and glory of thy Church, when he shall appear at the last day for our salvation - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 4... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-03.txt .