(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 11) Chapter 6. Lecture One Hundred and Forty-fourth. Zechariah 6:1-3 1 And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. 2 In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; 3 And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses. Here we have another vision; and the Prophet distinguishes it from the former visions by saying, that he turned, as though he had said, that there had been some intervening time. They were not then continued visions, but he turned himself elsewhere, and then he raised up his eyes, and the Lord revealed to him what he now relates. But as the vision is obscure, interpreters have given it different meanings. They who think that the four Gospels are designated by the four chariots, give a very frigid view. I have elsewhere reminded you, that we are to avoid these futile refinements which of themselves vanish away. Allegories, I know, delight many; but we ought reverently and soberly to interpret the prophetic writings, and not to fly in the clouds, but ever to fix our foot on solid ground. Others think that those changes are meant which we know happened in Chaldea and Assyria. As Nineveh was overthrown that Babylon might be the seat of the empire, they suppose that this is meant by the first chariot, the horses of which were red. Then they think that the Persian empire is intended by the second chariot, as the Jews had at the beginning suffered many grievous evils. Afterwards by the white horses are signified, as they suppose, the Macedonian power, as Alexander treated the Jews with humanity and kindness. By the fourth chariot they understand the Roman Empire, and think that the horses are of different colours, because some of the Caesars raged cruelly against the Jews and the Church of God, and some of them showed more lenity. But I know not whether these things are well founded. We see that the fourth chariot went to the south, and wandered through various regions, and almost through the whole world. As then this cannot be applied to Chaldea, the simpler view seems to be - that the four chariots signify the various changes which happened not only in Chaldea and among the Babylonians, but also in Judea and among other nations: and this may be easily gathered from the context. But as all these things cannot be stated at the same time, we shall treat them in the order in which the Prophet relates them. I shall now repeat what I have elsewhere said respecting the words, that he raised up his eyes, as intimating the divine authority of what is predicted. The words indeed signify that he did not bring forward what he had vainly imagined, nor adduce tales which he had himself fabricated, but he was attentive to what was revealed to him; and also that he was somewhat separated from common life in order to be an interpreter between God and men. Hence authority is here ascribed to the prophecy, as Zechariah did not come forth to speak of uncertain things, but as one sent by heaven, for he delivered nothing but what he had received from above. He now says, that four chariots appeared to him, which came forth from mountains, and that the two mountains where the chariots were seen were mountains of brass. The Prophet no doubt understood by these mountains the providence of God, or his hidden counsel, by which all things have been decreed before the creation of the world; and hence he says, that they were mountains of brass, as they could not be broken. The poets say, that fate is unavoidable (ineluctabile); but as this sentiment is profane, it is enough for us to understand it of God's eternal providence, which is immutable. And here is most fitly described to us the counsel of God; for before things break forth into action they are inclosed as it were between the narrow passes of mountains, inasmuch as what God has decreed is not apparent, but lies hid as it were in deep mountains. Hence we then begin to acknowledge the counsel of God when experience teaches us, that what was previously hid from us has been in this or in that manner decreed. But it was not in vain that Zechariah adds, that they were mountains of brass; it was to teach us that God's counsel is not changeable as foolish men imagine, who think that God is doubtful as to the issue, and is, as it were, kept in suspense: for according to their notions, events depend on the free-will of men. They entertain the idea that God foreknows what is to come conditionally: as this or that will not be, except it shall please men. And though they confess not that God is changeable, yet we gather from their dotages that there is in God nothing sure and certain. The Prophet therefore says here, that they were mountains of brass, because God has fixed before all ages what he has purposed to be done, and thus fixed it by an immutable decree, which cannot be broken by Satan, nor by the whole world. We hence see how suitable is this representation when the Prophet says, that chariots went forth from mountains. With regard to the chariots, we have seen elsewhere that angels are compared to horsemen; for these ride swiftly as it were through the whole world to execute what God commands them: so also whatever changes take place, they are called the chariots of God; for either angels are ready at hand to do anything in obedience to God, or the very events themselves are God's chariots, that is, they are as it were swift heralds, who announce to us what was before unknown. Let us then know that all fortuitous events, as they are called by the unbelieving, are God's chariots, are his messengers, who declare and proclaim what was before concealed from us. And there is not in this similitude or metaphor anything strained. As to the colour of the horses, interpreters, as I have already intimated, have toiled with great anxiety; and though I venture not to assert anything as certain, yet the probable conjecture is, that by the black and white horses are designated the Babylonians rather than the Persians, but for a purpose different from what interpreters have thought. For the reference must be to the Jews, when it is said, that black horses and then white horses went forth towards Babylon; for the Holy Spirit intimates, that liberty was given to the Chaldeans to harass the Jews and to fill all places with darkness. The blackness then of which the Prophet speaks signifies the calamities brought on the Jews. The whole of that time was dark, full of grief and sorrow, during which the Chaldeans possessed the oriental empire, and Babylon was the supreme seat of government or of the monarchy. A very different time afterwards succeeded, when the Babylonians were conquered and the Persian enjoyed the oriental empire. The colour then was white, for the favour of God shone anew on the Jews, and liberty was immediately given then to return to their own country. We hence see that the Prophet rightly subjoins, that the colour of the horses was white; for such was the favour shown to the Jews by the Persian, that the sun of joy arose on them, which exhilarated their hearts. But the Prophet makes no mention of the first chariot as going forth, and for this reason, as interpreters think, because the empire of Babylon was shell overthrown. But they are mistaken in this, as I have already hinted, because they refer not the colours to the state of God's Church. Hence the Prophet, I doubt not, designedly omits the mention of the going forth of the first chariot, because the Jews had experienced the riding of God's judgement in their own land, for they had been severely afflicted. As God then is wont to execute his judgement first on his own household, and as it is written, "judgement begins at his own house," (1 Pet. 4: 17,) so he purposed to observe the same order in this case, that is, to chastise the sins of the chosen people before he passed over to the Chaldeans and other nations. As to the last chariot, the Prophet says, that it went forth toward the south, and then it went elsewhere, and even through the whole world, for God had so permitted. Now as to the meaning of this Prophecy nothing will remain obscure, if we hold these elements of truth - that all events are designated by the chariots, or all the revolutions which take place in the world - and that the blind power of fortune does not rule, as fools imagine, but that God thus openly makes known to us his own counsel. And why the horses are said to have been, some red, some black, some white, and some somewhat red, the plain answer is this - because God had sent forth his chariots over Judea, which was full of blood: by this then is meant the red colour. But he shows also, that their enemies would have their time, and this had been in part fulfilled; for God had ridden over them with his chariots, having driven his wheels over their land when Nineveh was overthrown. And though the Spirit had not simply a reference to the Assyrians or the Chaldeans, as though he meant by the black colour to designate the wars carried on among then, but rather the calamities brought by them on the Jews, yet I consider the black colour to mean in general the terrible disturbances which took place through the whole of the least; and the Jews could not expect anything agreeable from that quarter, for shortly after a heavier weight fell on their heads. But in the third place the Prophet adds, that there were white horses, that is, when the time was accomplished in which God intended to deliver his Church. But he says, that the chariots not only went forth to the East, or to Babylon; but he says, that they also ran through the south, and then visited the whole world. That we may more fully understand this, we must regard the design of the Prophet. He meant here, no doubt, to bring some comfort to the Jews, that they might not succumb under their evils, however sharply God might chastise them. And Zechariah sets before them here two things - first, that no part of the earth, or no country, would be exempt from God's judgements, for his chariots would pass through all lands; and secondly, that though the chariots of God, terrible in their appearance on account of the black and red colour, had visited Judea as well as the north, yet the time had already come in which God, having been pacified, would change the state of things; and therefore, in the third place, he sets before them another colour; for God's chariot had been sent forth through Judea, and then God's vengeance had visited Nineveh, and afterwards Babylon: only this had rested, because it had been already in part fulfilled, for God had removed the darkness and brought sunshine to the Jews, and that from Chaldea, inasmuch as the Persian, who then possessed the empire, had begun to treat the Jews with kindness. It now follows - Zechariah 6:4,5 4 Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord? 5 And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth. The Prophet asks the angel again; and by his example we are taught to shake off every indifference, and to render ourselves both teachable and attentive to God if we desire to make progress in the knowledge of these predictions; for if Zechariah, who had separated himself from the world and raised up his eyes and his mind to heaven, stood in need of the teaching and guidance of the angel to instruct him, how much folly and arrogance is it in us to trust in ourselves and to despise the gift of interpretation. But as angels are not sent to us from heaven to explain to us the prophecies, let us avail ourselves of those helps which we know is offered to us by God. There is here prescribed to us both docility, and reverence, and attention. Let us also remember, that as soon as men submit themselves to God, the gift of revelation is prepared for them; for it is not in vain that God is often called the teacher of babes. Whosoever then shall be disposed to learn with real meekness and humility, shall not be disappointed of his desire; for we see here that the angel performed his part in teaching Zechariah. I come now to the words, The angel answered, These are four spirits, &c. Some give another rendering, These chariots go forth to the four winds, or parts of heaven; but this is forced, and the words simply mean, "these are four spirits." The word spirit, I have no doubt, has led interpreters astray, for they have thought it frigid to call different events winds or quarters of the world. But I take this word in a different sense, that is, as designating the impulses of God. I do not then understand them to be four winds, but the secret emotions produced by God. Though God's Spirit is one, yet all actions proceed from him, and whatever is done in the world can with no impropriety be attributed to his Spirit. It is yet certain, that the Prophet alludes to the four quarters of the world, as though he had said, that nothing happens in the world which has not been decreed in heaven; for God's providence includes under it the whole world. Though then the universe is designated here, yet by the Spirit the Prophet means those secret movements which proceed from the eternal counsel and providence of God. And it is a very apt metaphor; for the word Spirit is set in opposition to fortune. We have already said, that profane men imagine that fortune possesses a blind power, but the Prophet says, that all revolutions seen in the world proceed from the Spirit of God, and that they are as it were his spirits or ambassadors. We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet when the angel says, that these were the four spirits of heaven. And the word heaven is by no means added in vain, for the Prophet seems here to exclude all other causes, so that sovereignty might remain with God only. For though God works often by instruments, or intermediate causes, as they say, yet his own hidden decree ought to be placed first. This is the reason why he says that they were the spirits of heaven; he says it, that we may not think that God is dependent on the will of men, or is blended with the intervening causes, but that he himself has fixed whatever he has in his good pleasure determined. We hence see, that they who render the words, "into the four parts of heaven," have not sufficiently considered the intention of the Prophet. He then says, that they went forth from their station before the Lord of the whole earth. Now the Prophet calls that space between the two mountains of brass their station before God. Let us hence know that God does not adopt suddenly new counsels, and that he is not like us who, in emergencies or on occasions unlooked for, attempt this and then that; but that his course is very different, and that things in heaven do not revolve up and down, for the chariots here had a fixed and undisturbed station. For though they were chariots capable of moving quickly, they yet remained still and, as it were, fixed, until God permitted their going forth. We hence learn that when God seems to us to rest, he does not sit idly in heaven, as ungodly men foolishly talk, but that he there determines whatever he intends at a suitable time to do. And then when he says, that the chariots stood before God, we may hence conclude, that what seems to be contingently to us is fixed in God's counsel, so that there is a necessity at the same time. How comes it, that the greater part of mankind think that all things are contingent, except that they continue looking at nature only? The will of man is changeable; then changeable is everything that proceeds from the will of man. The tree also either becomes scorched through heat, or dies through cold, or brings forth fruit. They hence conclude that everything is contingent, for there appears to be a changeable variety. When men thus judge of things by nature alone, it is no wonder that they think that contingency reigns in the world. But the Prophet distinguishes here between the things of nature and the counsel of God; for he says, that the chariots stood, and went forth when God commanded them. Was there no motion in the wheels? nay, the chariots were from the first ready to move, how was it then that they rested? even because they were detained by the secret purpose of God. Now when he sends them forth they show that celerity which was naturally in them. We hence clearly learn, that those things happen by nature which seem capable of being done in two ways, and that yet the counsel of God is always fulfilled, so that immutable necessity presides, which is at the same time hid from us. The Prophet adds, that the first chariot had red horses. I have now explained the whole of this: what is subjoined remains - Zechariah 6:6,7 6 The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them; and the grisled go forth toward the south country. 7 And the bay went forth, and sought to go that they might walk to and fro through the earth: and he said, Get you hence, walk to and fro through the earth. So they walked to and fro through the earth. Zechariah explains here each part of the prophecy; but he shows at the same time that two of the chariots hastened towards Chaldea, that it might not be grievous to the Jews that they in the first place had to experience God's judgement. He then shows that God sent his messengers to all parts; but that there had been, or were to be, remarkable and extraordinary changes, especially among the Babylonians. It hence appeared evident, that God had a care for his own people, who had been driven there into exile. And I leave already stated the reason why he speaks here of red horses; for they are mistaken who think that the first chariot was sent into Chaldea; for I consider that this refers to the Jews, with whom God's judgement commenced. He then says, that two chariots went towards Babylon, the first was drawn by black horses, and the other by white, because of the kindness shown by the Persian, by whom a new light of joy was brought to the Jews. With regard to the land of the south, the Prophet no doubt alludes to the Egyptians. But he afterwards adds, that the last chariot was conveyed elsewhere, even through the whole world. Some render "'amutsim" strong; and this is the proper meaning of the word, for "'amats" properly means to fortify, to strengthen; but as colour is intended here, it seems probable to me that it means somewhat red, as some of the Rabbis teach us; for the Prophet mentioned another word before, "berudim" grilled. Hence some interpreters join together the two, and say that the horses were grilled, or spotted like hail, and then that they were "'amutsim", somewhat red. Jerome seems to me to have sufficiently refuted this opinion, because the other horses were "'adomim", red, but these were of different colours. And further, it can hardly be suitable to say, that these alone were strong horses who drew this chariot; for we know that God so wonderfully exercised his power against the Chaldeans that two chariots went forth to them, and they would not have been drawn by weak and feeble horses. I hence think that their colour is here designated, and the Prophet calls them once grilled, and then somewhat red. But he says, that being not satisfied with the land of the south, they asked of God permission to go to and fro through the whole world. And though neither the devil nor the wicked regard God's bidding, but are led, without knowing and against their will, wherever God drives them; yet the Prophet says, that they asked; for they could not overstep the limits prescribed to them. Though Satan asked, as to Job, to be allowed to do this and that, we are not yet too curiously to inquire whether Satan asks leave of God whenever he intends to attempt anything; for there is no doubt but that he is carried away by his violent rage to try in every way to overturn the government of God. But this only ought to satisfy us - that neither Satan nor the wicked can advance one inch, except as God permits them. The meaning then is, that after the last chariot went forth first to the land of the south, a permission was given to it to go through the whole world. He now adds - Zechariah 6:8 Then cried he upon me, and spake unto me, saying, Behold, these that go toward the north country have quieted my spirit in the north country. From this verse we learn that the chief object of the vision was - that the Jews might know that the dreadful tumults in Chaldea, which had in part happened, and were yet to take place, were not excited without a design, but that all things were regulated by God's hidden counsel, and also that God had so disturbed and embarrassed the state of that empire, that the end of it might be looked for. There is therefore no reason for any one too anxiously to labour to understand the import of every part of the prophecy, since its general meaning is evident. But why does the angel expressly speak of the land of the south rather than of the land of the north, or of the whole world? Even because the eyes of all were fixed on that quarter; for Chaldea, we know, had been as it were the grave of the Church, whence the remnant had emerged, that there might be some people by whom God might be worshipped. The angel then invites the Jews here to consider the providence of God, so that they might know that whatever changes had taken place in that country, had proceeded from the hidden counsel of God. The words, they have quieted my spirit, are understood by interpreters in two ways. Some think that God's favour towards his people is here designated, as though he had said, that he was already pacified; but others, by the word spirit, understand the vengeance of God, because he had sufficiently poured forth his wrath on the Chaldeans; and both meanings are well adapted to the context. For it was no common solace to the Jews, that God had poured forth his wrath on the Babylonians until it was satiated, as when one ceases not to be angry until he has fulfilled his desire, and this mode of speaking often occurs in Scripture. I am therefore disposed to embrace the second explanation - that God began to be quieted after the second chariot had gone forth; for he was then reconciled to his chosen people, and their deliverance immediately followed. That the Jews might know that God would be propitious to them, he bids them to continue quiet and undisturbed in their minds, until these chariots had run their course through the whole of Chaldea; for what the angel now says would be fulfilled, even that the Spirit of God would be quieted, who seemed before to be disturbed, when he involved all things in darkness, even in Judea itself. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that since we are here exposed to so many evils, which often suddenly arise like violent tempests, - O grant, that with hearts raised up to heaven, we may acquiesce in thy hidden providence, and be so tossed here and there according to the judgement of our flesh, as yet to remain fixed in this truth, which thou wouldest have us to believe - that all things are governed by thee, and that nothing takes place except through thy will, so that in the greatest confusions we may always clearly see thine hand, and that thy counsel is altogether right, and perfectly and singularly wise and just; and may we ever call upon thee, and flee to this port - that we are tossed here and there, that thou mayest ever sustain us by thine hand, until we shall at length be received into that blessed rest which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 12... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-11.txt .