(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 13)
Chapter 7. 
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-sixth. 
Zechariah 7:1-3 
1 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the 
word of the LORD came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth 
month, even in Chisleu; 
2 When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, 
and their men, to pray before the LORD, 
3 And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the LORD 
of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth 
month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years? 
    There is no vision here, but the answer which Zechariah was 
commanded to give to the messengers of the captives: for he says 
that some had been sent from Chaldea to offer sacrifices to God, and 
at the same time to inquire whether the fast, which they had 
appointed when the city was taken and destroyed, was to be observed. 
But there is some ambiguity in the words of the Prophet, for it is 
doubtful whether the two whom he names, even Sherezer and 
Regem-melech, together with the others, had sent the messengers of 
whom mention is made, or they themselves came and brought the 
message from the captives. But this is a matter of no great moment. 
As to the question itself, I am disposed to adopt their view, who 
think that these two came with their associates to Jerusalem, and in 
the name of them all inquired respecting the fast, as we shall 
hereafter see. The Jews think that these were Persian princes; but 
this opinion is frivolous. They are thus accustomed to draw whatever 
occurs to the glory of their own nation without any discretion or 
judgement, as though it had been an object much desired by the Jews, 
that two Persian should go up to the temple. But there is no need 
here of a long discussion; for if we regard the Prophet's design, we 
may easily conclude that these were Jews who had been sent by the 
exiles, both to offer gifts and to inquire about the fast, as the 
Prophet tells us. The sum of the whole then is, that Sherezer and 
Regem-melech, and their companions, came to the temple, and that 
they also asked counsel of the priests and Prophets, whether the 
fast of the fifth month was still to be observed. 
    It must first be observed, that though all had not so much 
courage as to return to their own country as soon as leave was given 
them, they were not yet gross despisers of God, and wholly destitute 
of all religion. It was indeed no light fault to remain torpid among 
the Babylonians when a free return was allowed them; for it was an 
invaluable kindness on the part of God to stretch forth his hand to 
the wretched exiles, who had wholly despaired of a return. Since 
then God was prepared to bring them home, such a favour could not 
have been neglected without great ingratitude. But it was yet the 
Lord's will that some sparks of grace should continue in the hearts 
of some, though their zeal was not so fervid as it ought to have 
been. The same sloth we see in the present day to be in many, who 
continue in the filth of Popery; and yet they groan there, and the 
Lord preserves them, so that they do not shake off every concern for 
religion, nor do they wholly fall away. All then are not to be 
condemned as unfaithful, who are slothful and want vigour; but they 
are to be stimulated. For they who indulge their torpor act very 
foolishly; but at the same time they ought to be pitied, when there 
is not in them that desirable alacrity in devoting themselves to 
God, which they ought to have. Such an instance then we see in the 
captives, who ought to have immediately prepared themselves for the 
journey, when a permission was given them by the edicts of Cyrus and 
Darius. They however remained in exile, but did not wholly renounce 
the worship of God; for they sent sacred offerings, by which they 
professed their faith; and they also inquired what they were to do, 
and showed deference to the priests and Prophets then at Jerusalem. 
It hence appears, that they were not satisfied with themselves, 
though they did not immediately amend what was wrong. There are many 
now, who, in order to exculpate themselves, or rather to wipe away 
(as they think) all disgrace, despise God's word, and treat us with 
derision; nay, they devise crimes with which they charge us, with 
the view of vilifying the word of the Lord in the estimation of the 
simple. But the Prophet shows that the captives of whom he speaks, 
though not so courageous as they ought to have been were yet true 
servants of God; for they sent sacrifices to the temple, and also 
wished to hear and to learn what they were to do. 
    He says first, that messengers were sent to entreat the face of 
Jehovah. Here by the word entreating or praying, the Prophet means 
also sacrifices. For it is certain that the Jews prayed in exile, as 
there could have been no religion in them had they not exercised 
themselves in prayer. But the mention made here is of that stated 
prayer, connected with sacrifices, by which they professed 
themselves to be God's people. We may hence also learn, that 
sacrifices of themselves are of no great importance, since prayer, 
or calling on God, has ever the first place. Sacrifices then, and 
other offerings, were, as we may say, additions; (accessoria - 
accessions;) for this command ought ever to be regarded by the 
faithful, "offer to me the sacrifice of praise." (Ps. 50: 14.) 
    He says, in the second place, that messengers were sent, that 
they might learn from the priests and the Prophets what was to them 
doubtful. We hence conclude, that it was no gross dissimulation, 
such as is found in hypocrites who pretend to pray to God, but that 
there was a real desire to obey. And, doubtless, when God's word and 
celestial truth are despised, there is then neither any real prayer, 
nor any other religious exercise; for unbelief pollutes and 
contaminates whatever is otherwise in its nature sacred. Whosoever 
then desires rightly to pray to God, let him add faith, that is, let 
him come to God in a teachable frame of mind, and seek to be ruled 
by his word. For the Prophet in telling us what was done, no doubt 
keeps to the method or the order observed by the captives. It was 
then worthy of praise that they not only were anxious to seek God's 
favour by prayers and sacrifices, but that they also sought to know 
what was pleasing to Cod. Nor was it a matter of wonder that they 
sent to Jerusalem on this account, for they knew that that place had 
been chosen by God as the place from which they were to seek the 
right knowledge of religion. Since then Jerusalem was the sanctuary 
of God, the captives sent there their messengers, particularly as 
they knew that the priests were the ambassadors of God, and that the 
interpretation of the law was to be sought from their mouth. They 
indeed knew that the time was not yet come when the doctrine of 
salvation was to be disseminated through the whole world. 
    But the Prophet says, that the captives not only inquired of 
the priests, but also of the Prophets. It hence appears, that it was 
a thing commonly known, that God had raised up Prophets, which he 
had ceased to do for a long time. For it was not without reason that 
Isaiah said, that God would yet speak by his Prophets, when he would 
again comfort his people. (Is. 40: 1.) There had been then a 
mournful silence for seventy years, when no Prophets were sent 
forth, according to what is said in the book of Psalms, "our signs 
we see not, nor is there a Prophet among us." (Ps. 74: 9.) God 
indeed had been accustomed to lead the people as by an erected 
banner when they dwelt in the holy land, and Prophets continually 
succeeded one another in regular order, according to what the Lord 
had promised by Moses, "A Prophet will I raise up in the midst of 
thee," &c. (Deut. 18: 15.) From the time then in which they had been 
driven into exile, while looking there on one another, they could 
hear no voice to encourage them with hope, until new Prophets were 
again raised up beyond what they expected. And it was God's will 
that the Prophets should have their abode and habitation at 
Jerusalem, in order that he might gather the dispersed Israel; for 
had there been Prophets in Chaldea, many might hence lay hold of a 
pretext for their slothfulness: "Does not God dwell in the midst of 
us? what need is there of undertaking a difficult and toilsome 
journey? we shall indeed find nothing better at Jerusalem than in 
this exile; for God shows that he is present with us by his 
Prophets." It would have therefore been a great evil to the Jews to 
have Prophets in their exile. But when the captives heard that the 
gift of prophecy appeared again in the temple, they might have 
called to mind what their fathers had heard from the mouth of 
Isaiah, and also from the mouth of Micah, "from Zion shall go forth 
a law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem." (Is. 2: 3; Mic. 4: 
3.) We now perceive why Zechariah joined Prophets to priests. 
    But we must bear in mind what we have stated elsewhere that the 
prophetic was, as it were, an extraordinary office, when God took 
others as the ministers of his word besides the priests. For their 
work was sacerdotal; but God meant to condemn the priests by 
transferring the work of teaching to others, that is, when Prophets 
were taken from the common people, or from other families, and not 
from the Levitical tribe. It is not indeed true that all the priests 
were Prophets; but the office itself would not have been transferred 
to any other tribe, had not God thus punished the ingratitude of 
those who bestowed more labour on their own private concerns than on 
teaching the people. However this case may have been, it was an 
illustrious testimony of God's favour, that Prophets at that time 
had again been raised up. And this fact has been added - that they 
dwelt nowhere else but at Jerusalem, in order to encourage the 
dispersed to return, and to show to them that the place had not in 
vain been previously chosen by God. This is the reason why the 
Prophet expressly says, that the Prophets, as well as the priests, 
were in the house or in the temple of the Lord of hosts. 
    The time is also mentioned, the fourth year of Darius, and the 
ninth month and the fourth day. The beginning of the year, we know, 
was in March; hence the month Chisleu was November, or a part of 
October and November, for they were wont to commence their months at 
the new moons. Of king Darius we have spoken elsewhere. He was not, 
indeed, the first Darius, the father-in-law of Cyrus, who 
transferred the monarchy to the Persian, but Darius the son of 
Hystaspes. Passed away then had the seventy years, for this, as it 
has been stated before, was the fourth king. 
    Let us now consider the question which the captives proposed to 
the priests. They asked whether they were to weep in the fifth 
month, and whether they were to separate themselves as they had done 
for seventy years and more; for some years, as we have seen, had 
elapsed beyond that number. We hence learn that a regular fast was 
observed from the time in which the temple was burned and the city 
destroyed. He speaks here only of the fifth month, but shortly after 
mention is made of the seventh month. It is evident from sacred 
history that the city was demolished and the temple pulled down in 
the fifth month. It is therefore probable that there was a day of 
mourning observed by the people in memory of that sad event. In the 
seventh month, though not in the same year, Gedaliah was slain, and 
the remainder of the people were driven into exile. As the land 
became then desolate, it is also probable that another fast was 
appointed, that they might yearly humble themselves before God, and 
suppliantly seek his pardon. Since then there was a reason for both 
fasts, it is evident that they could not have been condemned by the 
priests: nor is there a doubt, but that it was by the public consent 
of all, that they every year kept these days of weeping. We also see 
the end which God has in view in prescribing a fast, - that men in 
coming to him may feel true penitence, and remind themselves by 
their external appearance of their own guilt. As then the Jews 
observed this rule in their fasts, we must conclude that they 
pleased God; for these were religious exercises, by which they might 
have been led to repentance. 
    Now they inquired, whether they were to continue their weeping; 
for the temple had now been begun to be built as well as the city. 
Since the reason for their mourning had been, that the temple no 
longer stood where they might offer their sacrifices, and that the 
holy city had been demolished, it was then doubtless right to give 
thanks to God, and to feel joy, when an end came to their 
calamities. However, the captives ventured not to change anything 
without the authority and consent of the priests, so that they might 
all agree together. And thus they also testified that they were true 
members of the Church, as they had no desire to have anything 
different from others. 
    The word fast is not mentioned; but they asked, "Shall we 
weep?" Hence also it appears, that they were not so gross in their 
ideas as to think that the chief part of religion is fasting, as 
hypocrites do, who imagine that they honour God by abstaining from 
food, and thus mock God, who is a Spirit, with mere trifles, when it 
is his express will to be spiritually worshipped. We then plainly 
see, that the Jews were not imbued with this gross and foolish 
thought, when they established this annual fast; for they put 
weeping in the place of fasting. And why was this weeping, except 
that they went into God's presence conscious of their guilt and in a 
suppliant manner, and testified by external signs that they 
acknowledged their sins, so that they might obtain mercy and 
    They mentioned also consecration. The word "nazar", which means 
to separate, is variously explained: but here many interpreters 
confine it to abstinence from food, as though they had said, "Shall 
we separate ourselves from food?" This seems forced to me: I 
therefore prefer to apply it to sanctification; for we know that 
when a day was prescribed for fasting or for offering sacrifices, 
there was sanctification added. For though it became the Jews 
through their whole life to abstain from all defilements, yet we 
know that when a fast or any particular sacrifice was appointed, 
they were more diligent and solicitous to cast aside every 
pollution. We now then understand what the Jews had in view, and 
what they meant by these words. It now follows - 
Zechariah 7:4-9 
4 Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying, 
5 Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, 
When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even 
those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? 
6 And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for 
yourselves, and drink for yourselves? 
7 Should ye not hear the words which the LORD hath cried by the 
former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and 
the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and 
the plain? 
8 And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying, 
9 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgement, 
and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: 
    Here the Prophet tells us that he was sent to the people and to 
the priests, not so much to teach the messengers who came from 
distant lands, as to correct the vices of his own nation; for the 
Jews had then begun, according to their usual manner, to dissemble 
with God, and had glided, as it has elsewhere appeared, into many 
evil practices. And it appears evident, that God did not commit to 
Zechariah what the messengers might bring back to Chaldea; but that 
an occasion was taken to remind the Jews, that they were to look to 
themselves. It may have been the case, that the priests themselves 
and all the rest had begun to raise a controversy, "How is this? our 
brethren inquire, whether the fast is to be still observed:" and the 
opinions might have been various. But as this is doubtful, I leave 
it as such. We however see that the Prophet does not speak here 
respecting the captives, nor does he address to their messengers 
anything which they might convey to Chaldea, but turns his discourse 
to the priests and to the people. The sum of the whole is, that 
while the captives gave no mean testimony of their religion, God 
reproved the Jews, who had returned to their own country, for 
ingratitude, as they had already begun to pollute themselves. 
    He therefore brings this charge against them, Have ye fasted to 
me? have ye eaten to me? as though he had said, "God regards not 
fastings, except they proceed from a sincere feeling and tend to a 
right and lawful end." It was then the object of the Prophet to 
awaken the Jews, that they might not imagine that God was pacified 
by fasting or by any other frigid ceremonies, but that they might 
know that something more was required. And we see how prone mankind 
are to rely on external rites, and to think that they have rightly 
performed their duty to God when they have fasted. As then human 
nature labours under this disease, the Prophet is here sent to 
dissipate this delusion; which he does by declaring that fasting 
does not please God, or is acceptable to him, as though it were 
something meritorious, or as though there was in it any holiness. 
    He says first, that the word of Jehovah was given to him, that 
he might go to the people of the land and to the priests. We see the 
truth of what I have already said, that the answer was not directed 
to the captives, but to the very inhabitants of the land and to the 
citizens of Jerusalem, and for this reason, - because they thought 
that when the question respecting fasting was moved, the first and 
chief part of all religion was the subject of inquiry. Hence God, 
that he might strip them of this superstition, says, When ye fasted 
in the fifth month and in the seventh month, and during the seventy 
years, did ye fast to me - to me? for he has put an affix to the 
verb, "tsamtuni", and afterwards added "ani": as though he had said, 
"Was it to me that ye fasted? Shall I approve of such fasting?" 
There is an emphasis in the repetition, as though he had said, that 
there was no reason for the Jews to boast that they faithfully 
served God, and fully performed their duty, because they fasted 
twice in the year, for they had to do with that God who rejected 
such trifling things. 
    We hence learn that nothing is more preposterous than for men 
to judge of God's worship according to their own notions, and to 
trust in themselves. It is indeed easy for us to deceive ourselves; 
for as we are earthly, so we may think that whatever glitters before 
our eyes is most acceptable to God. But the Prophet here reminds us, 
by one sentence, how frivolous are such self-pleasing thoughts; for 
God meets us with this question, "Have ye fasted to me? Are ye to be 
judges, and is it right for you at your pleasure to invent various 
modes of worship? But I remain always like myself, and not transform 
me according to what pleases you; for I repudiate everything of this 
    By saying, that to themselves they did eat and drink, he 
intimates that to eat and to drink, or to abstain from eating and 
drinking, are things wholly unconnected with the worship of God. 
Another sense may indeed be elicited, - that the Jews did eat as 
heathens did: and there will be in this case an indirect reproof, - 
that they sought to pacify God only twice in the year, and that 
during the rest of the time they were heedless and indulged 
themselves in excesses. We ought indeed to bear in mind what Paul 
says, that "whether we eat or drink, all things ought to be done to 
the praise of God." (1 Cor. 10: 31.) The law also expressly 
commanded the Jews to "feast before the Lord," that is, not to taste 
food without thanksgiving, as though God were present. When, 
therefore, the Jews fasted themselves without any regard to God, it 
is no wonder that their fastings where rejected; for their course 
was not consistent. For though the godly do not always fast, yet 
while they partake most freely of meat and drink, they turn not away 
their thoughts from God, but on the contrary rejoice before him. 
They therefore eat and drink to God, as well as abstain on God's 
account. But the Prophet shows here that the Jews did eat to 
themselves, and that hence their fasting was not regarded before 
God. This latter sense is not unsuitable: but as to the subject 
itself, it is enough for us to know, that the Prophet, as he had to 
deal with hypocrites, ridicules their superstition in their 
fastings, inasmuch as they thought that these were expiations by 
which their sins were blotted out, and that if they abstained for a 
day or two from meat and drink, God was thereby pacified. 
    And the Prophet's object is more evident from the next verse, 
when he says, Are not these the words which Jehovah proclaimed by 
the former Prophets? He confirms here his doctrine by many 
testimonies, that is, that God had already through successive ages 
exhorted the Jews to true repentance, and condemned their 
dissimulation, that they might not think that true religion was made 
up of fasting and of similar things. And this the Prophet did, not 
only to gain or secure to himself more credit, but also to render 
double the wickedness of the Jews; as though he had said, that they 
were apparently very anxious not to offend God, but that it was 
merely a false pretence; for had they from the heart wished to 
please God, they might have long ago learnt that fastings were of 
themselves of no moment, but that a beginning ought to be made with 
true religion and spiritual worship. 
    I have already mentioned, that possibly, when the question was 
raised by the captives, much disputing, as it is commonly the case, 
prevailed among the people. But as the Jews ever reverted to their 
old ways, being blindly attached to their frigid ceremonies, and 
thinking in this manner to propitiate God, the Prophet, for this 
reason, derides their preposterous labour and toil. "See," he says, 
"the only question now is, whether there should be fasting, as 
though this were the principal thing before God; in the meantime 
godliness is neglected, and neglected is real calling on God, and 
the whole of spiritual worship is also esteemed by you as nothing, 
and no integrity of life prevails: for ye bite one another, plunder 
one another, wrong one another, and are guilty of lying: ye 
heedlessly close your eyes to such vices as these; and at the same 
time when fasting is neglected, ye think that the whole of religion 
falls to the ground. These are your old ways, and such were commonly 
the thoughts and doings of your fathers; and it appears evident that 
ye trifle with God, and that ye are full of deceits, and that there 
is not in you a particle of true religion. For God formerly spoke 
loudly in your ears, and his words were not obscure when he exhorted 
you by his Prophets; he showed to you what true repentance was, but 
effected nothing. Is it not then quite evident that ye are now 
acting deceitfully, when ye so carefully enquire about fasting?" We 
now perceive what force there is in this sentence, Are not these the 
words which Jehovah formerly proclaimed? For it was not enough to 
remind the Jews of true repentance; but this reproof was needful, in 
order more sharply to stimulate them; and it was wholly necessary to 
discover their hypocrisy, that they might not be too much pleased 
with external performances. 
    That they might not then object, that what they asked 
respecting God's counsel was done with a good intention, the Prophet 
answers them, "Where are the words by which God had testified as to 
what can please him?" And for the same purpose he uses the word, 
"kara'" proclaimed: for he does not say, that God merely declared 
words by his Prophets, but that he uttered them loudly, and as it 
were with a full mouth. "See," he says, "ye enquire as though ye 
were in doubt, and that the knot could hardly be untied, and as 
though it were a matter of great moment. God has indeed not only 
spoken, but has also cried aloud in the ears of your fathers; in the 
meantime ye tread under foot his teaching, or pass it by with closed 
eyes." What does this mean? to enquire so anxiously about fasting, 
and at the same time to despise what is far more important? In a 
similar manner does Christ also condemn hypocrites, because they 
hesitated not to swallow a camel, while they were wont to strain at 
a gnat, (Mat. 23: 24;) for in trifling things they dared not to 
attempt anything; but as to gross wickedness, they leaped over it as 
it were with the audacity of wild beasts. The object then of the 
Prophet's words was to show that the Jews did not seriously and in 
earnest enquire respecting God's will, but pretended to be very 
attentive to religion, while they openly, and with gross and 
headless audacity, rejected the true doctrine, which was by no means 
ambiguous, as God had by his many Prophets clearly taught them and 
their fathers what he required from them. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so inclined to 
dissimulation, we may learn strictly to examine ourselves, and to 
descend into our own consciences, so that none of us may sleep in 
self-delusion, but be so displeased with our hidden vices, as in the 
meantime to aspire after, and with every care and labour, to attain 
true religion, and so strive to devote ourselves wholly to thee, 
that we may groan under the burden of our sins, and so suppliantly 
flee to thy mercy, as at the same time to be touched with true 
penitence, until having at length put off the corruptions of our 
flesh, we shall be received into that purity which has been prepared 
for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 14...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-13.txt