(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 
    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 
    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. 
    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...

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