(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 forgiveness? 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 kind." 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. Prayer. 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 .