(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 14) Lecture One Hundred and Forty-seventh. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, saying, The judgement of truth judge, and kindness and mercies show, every one to his brother. We have seen what the Prophet said of fasting, when messengers were sent by the exiles to enquire on the subject. It was a suitable opportunity for handling the question. For, as we then said, the people were so devoted to their ceremonies, as to think that the whole of religion consisted in fasting and in similar exercises. And as we are by nature prone to this evil, we ought carefully to consider what the Prophet has taught us - that fasting is not simply, or by itself, approved by God, but on account of the end designed by it. Having already shown to the Jews their error, in thinking that God could be pacified by ceremonies, he now reminds them of what God mainly requires in his law - that men should observe what is just and right towards one another. It is indeed true that the first part of the law refers to the service due to God; but it is a way which God has commonly adopted, to test the life of men by the duties of the second Table, and to show what this part of the law especially requires God then in this passage, as in many others, does not commend righteousness towards men so as to depreciate godliness; for as this far excels everything in the whole world, so we know that in rightly forming the life, the beginning ought ever to be made by serving God aright. But as the Prophet had to do with hypocrites, he shows that they only trifled with God, while they made much of external things, and at the same tinge neglected uprightness, and the duties of love We now then understand the Prophet's object. He had said in the last lecture that he brought forward nothing new, but only reminded them of what had been taught by other Prophets; and here he pursues the same subject - that God made more account of uprightness and kindness than of those legal shadows, which in themselves were of no moment. The judgement of truth, he says, judge. This could not have been extended indiscriminately to the whole people; but by these words the Prophet indirectly reproved the judges, because they committed plunder, either through favour or hatred, so that they decided cases not in a just and equitable manner. We then learn from the Prophet's words, that judgements were then given corruptly, so that the judge either decided in favour of a friend, or was bought by a price or a reward. As then there was no truth in the judgements given, but false pretences and colourings, the Prophet here exhorts them to execute the judgement of truth, that is, true judgement, when no respect of persons is shown, and when neither hatred nor favour prevails, but equity alone is regarded. He then addresses the whole people in common, and says, Show, or exercise, kindness and mercy, every one towards his brother. He not only bids them to abstain from doing any wrong, but exhorts them to show kindness; for it would not be enough to do no harm to any one, except each of us were also solicitous to assist our neighbours; inasmuch as it is the dictate of benevolence to help the miserable when necessity so requires. But we must recollect that a part is given twice for the whole in what the Prophet says: in the first place, he refers only to the second Table of the law, while he includes in general the rule by which our life is to be formed; and in the second place, he enumerates not every thing contained in the second Table, but mentions only some things as instances. It is however certain, that his design was to show that men are greatly deceived when they seek to discharge their duties towards God by means of external rites and ceremonies; and farther, that it is a true and substantial evidence of piety, when and one observes what is just and equitable towards his neighbour. He afterwards adds - Zechariah 7:10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. He mentions here some other duties, but for the same purpose of showing, that the fear of God is not proved by ceremonies, but by acting justly towards our brethren, and not by abstaining only from doing wrong, but by being ready to help the miserable. As widows, and orphans, and strangers are exposed as it were to plunder, Moses often in the law recommends them to favour, and shows that God cares for them, and will be their defender, when by one injured. So also the Prophet speaks here expressly of widows, and orphans, and strangers, that the Jews might understand, not only that they were to take heed, lest any one, being wronged, should complain, or lest any one should retaliate an injury, but that they were to observe integrity before God; for the ungodly are often terrified by fear, and refrain from doing mischief, because they know that there will be an avenger. Hence it comes that the rich and the opulent are safe from all injuries, because they are surrounded and fortified by strong defences; but the widows and the orphans are not thus able to repel wrongs. This is the reason why the Prophet prefers here to mention widows, and orphans, and strangers, rather than to speak indiscriminately of all the people. For the import of the whole is, as I have reminded you, that the fear of God is not really proved, except when a person cleaves to what is just and right, and is not restrained by fear or shame, but discharges his duty as it were in the presence of God and of his angels, so that he shows favour to the poor and miserable, who are without any to help them. But as I have elsewhere explained this subject more at large, it is enough now briefly to touch on it. Let us proceed - Zechariah 7:11,12 11 But they refused to hear, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. 12 Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant-stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts has sent in his Spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. The Prophet here by referring to the fathers more sharply reproves the Jews of his age; for he saw that they differed but little from their fathers. The sum of what he says is, that the Jews in all ages dealt unfaithfully and perversely with God; for how much soever they boasted of their care and zeal for religion they yet sought to satisfy God only by vain trifles. This then was the Prophet's object. For it is certain that there ever had been some pretence to religion in that nation but it was mere dissimulation for they were in the mean time intent on their ceremonies and when God seriously remonstrated with them their obstinacy and perverseness before concealed instantly appeared. He therefore says that they refused to hear. He does not now accuse the dead except for this purpose to teach the people of his acre. He saw that they were solicitous about fasting at appointed seasons, while at the same time they regarded almost as nothing the main requirements of the law, even mercy, and justice, and uprightness. These are indeed the three things, which Christ mentions. (Matt. 23: 23.) He then intimates that this doctrine was not new, and that their fathers had been sufficiently warned and instructed, but that they wilfully, and as it were designedly rebelled against God. In short, he pulls off their mask of ignorance; for as men for the most part seek to extenuate their sins by the plea, that they had not been clearly or seasonably taught, the Prophet declares that there was not any excuse of this kind, because they had been refractory and untameable, they had refused to clear. To set forth more fully this perverseness, he afterwards says, that the shoulder of withdrawing had been presented by them. The Hebrews say that men serve with the shoulder, when they are submissive, and tractable, and willingly undergo the burden laid on them, according to what we have seen in Zeph. chap. 3. The Prophet now, on the contrary, says that the Jews had a refractory shoulder, as they refused to bear the yoke, but shook off every fear of God. The reason for the metaphor is this - that as burdens are carried on the shoulder, so the Lord lays the law on our shoulders, that the flesh may not lasciviate at pleasure, but be kept under restraint. He hence says, that they had presented a rebellious shoulder. The word "soreret" is properly rendered declining; but some render it perverse, and others contumacious: since the meaning is the same, I contend not about the word. It is enough to know that the contumacy of the Jews is what is here condemned; for they had been wholly unteachable, and had refused to submit to God and to his word. He afterwards mentions their ears, They made heavy their ears, lest they should hear. In short, the Prophet sought by all means to prove the Jews guilty, that they might not adduce anything to extenuate their sin: for they had in every way, with the most determined wickedness, refused to obey God, when his teaching was sufficiently clear and intelligible. He then comes to the heart, They made, he says, their heart adamant, or the very hardest stone. Some render it steel, and others flint. It means sometimes a thorn; but in this place, as in Ezek. 3: 9, and in Jer. 17: 1, it is to be taken for adamant, or the hardest stone. We now see that the Prophet's object was to show that the Jews had no excuse, as if they had fallen away through error or ignorance, but had ever wilfully and perversely rejected sound doctrine. The Prophet then teaches us that hypocrisy had been the sole hindrance to prevent them from understanding and following what was right. But it may be useful to notice the manner of speaking which the Prophet adopts in condemning the perverseness of the Jews, when he says, that they had refused attention to God. For we ought here to observe the connection between the fear of God and obedience, and on the other hand, between the contempt of the law and wilful rebellion. If then we would not be condemned for contumacy before God, attention must in the first place be given to his word, and afterwards the shoulders must be put under, so that we may bear submissively the yoke laid on us; and thirdly, we must listen with the ears, so that the word of God, preached to us, may not be lost, but strike in us deep roots; and lastly, our hearts must be turned to obedience, and all hardness corrected or softened. Then Zechariah adds, that the Jews had a stonily or an iron heart, so that they repudiated the law of God and all his Prophets. He gives the first place to the law, for they ought to have sought from it the whole doctrine of religion; and the Prophets, as it has been often stated, were only interpreters of the law. He afterwards mentions the words which had been sent by Jehovah through his Spirit and through his Prophets. By saying that God spoke by his Prophets, he meets an objection by which hypocrites are wont to cover themselves, when they reject the truth. For they object and say, that they would be willingly submissive to God, but that they cannot bear the authority of men, as though God's word changed its nature by coming through the mouth of man. But as hypocrites and profane men are wont to lessen the authority of the word, the Prophet here shows, having this pretext in view, that God designed to be heard, though he employed ministers. Hence by this kind of concession it is implied, that Prophets are middle persons, and yet that God so speaks by their mouth, that contempt is offered to him when no due honour is shown to the truth. And further, lest the baseness of men should withhold regard from the word, he mentions also the Spirit, as though he had said, that God had spoken not only by his servants, even mortal men, but also by his Spirit. There is then no reason for hypocrites deceitfully to excuse themselves, by saying, that they rebel not against God, when they depreciate his Prophets; for the power and majesty of the Holy Spirit appear and shine forth in the doctrine itself, so that the condition of men takes nothing away from its authority. This part was also added in order to condemn the Jews, because they had from the very beginning been seasonably warned, and it was only their own fault that they did not repent. For if the Lord had allowed them for a long time to go astray, there would have been some pretence for their evasions: but since God had tried to recall them to the right way, and Prophets, one after another, had been continually sent to them, their unfaithfulness, yea their iron perverseness, in obstinately refusing to obey God, was more fully discovered. This is the reason why Zechariah mentions here the former Prophets. He then adds, that there was great wrath from Jehovah of hosts; by which sentence he reminded them, that it was no matter of dispute, as in case of a doubtful thing, whether their fathers had been wicked and disobedient to God; for he had sufficiently proved be punishments that he abominated their conduct; for this principle is to be held true that God does not deal unjustly with men when he chastises them, but that the demerit of crimes is to be estimated by the punishment which he inflicts. As then God had so severely chastised the ancient people, the natural conclusion is, that their wickedness had become intolerable. We now then see why the Prophet said that there had been great wrath from God; the reason was, that the Jews might not think that he had been lightly offended, as he had not been satisfied with a moderate punishment; for since his wrath had been so great, and since he had in so dreadful a manner punished the sins of the people, it follows, that their wickedness had been more grievous than what men considered it to have been. There is also here an implied comparison; for the unfaithfulness of those who then lived was the worse, for this reason - because they took no warning from the calamities of their fathers, so as to deal with more sincerity with God. They knew that their fathers had been carefully and in various ways admonished; they knew that exile followed, which was an evidence of the dreadful vengeance of God. As then they were like their fathers, and had not put off their perverse disposition, they proved themselves guilty of greater and more refractory baseness, for they ought to have been influenced at least by fear, when they saw that God's judgement had been so dreadful against obstinate men. It afterwards follows - Zechariah 7:13 Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts. The Prophet sets forth more fully the dreadfulness of this punishment - that they in vain groaned and complained, for God was deaf to their complaints and cryings. When God in some measure fulminates and becomes soon reconciled, he does not seem to be greatly incensed, but when the miserable whom he afflicts by his hand, avail nothing by their entreaties and prayers, it then appears evident that God is in no common degree offended. This then is what the Prophet meant by saying, that they were not heard by God when they cried. But we must notice what is said of their perverseness; for he says, that God had called, and that he was not heard by them. Now it cannot be deemed an unjust reward, that God should punish the contempt of his word; for how great is the honour by which he favours miserable wretches, when he invites them to himself, and most expressly invites them? When, therefore, the calling of God is thus rejected and despised, do not they who are so refractory deserve what the Prophet declares here - that they would have to cry in vain, as God would be deaf to their groanings? As to the words, the change of person may embarrass the unlettered, but it is a mode of speaking common to the Prophets, for they assume the person of God in order to gain more authority to their doctrine; and they spoke sometimes in the third and sometimes in the first person: when in the first God himself speaks, and when in the third it is in the character of ministers, who declare and deliver, as it were from hand to hand, what had been committed to them by God. Hence the Prophet in the first clause speaks as God's minister; he afterwards assumes his person, as though he were God himself. But this, as it has been said, was done with regard to the word delivered. It was, that as he called and they heard not, &c. Who called? It is not right to apply this, as some do, to the Prophet; he, therefore, charges here the Jews, no doubt, with the sin of turning a deaf ear to God's word. So, he says, they shall call, and I will not hear. It might have been said, "so they shall call, and the Lord will not hear." There is in the meaning, as we see, nothing obscure or ambiguous. The import of the whole then is, that God had not threatened in vain by his ancient Prophets; but that as he had denounced vengeance by the mouth of Isaiah, so it had been executed on the Jews, for they had without effect cried, and found God a severe judge, whose voice they had previously despised. We indeed know, that it is a truth often repeated, that the ungodly are not heard by God; nay, that their prayers are abominable; for they profane God's name by an impure heart and mouth whenever they flee to him, as they approach him without faith and repentance. We then learn from these words, that those who perversely despise God's word deservedly rot in their own calamities; for it is by no means right or reasonable that the Lord should be ready to hear the crying of those who turn a deaf ear to his voice. It follows - Zechariah 7:14 But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate. Here the Prophet concludes what he had been speaking of God's vengeance, by which he had fully proved, that the sins of that nation had arrived to such a pitch, that there was no room for pardon. Hence he says, that they had been dispersed; for so I prefer to render the word, and the context seems to require this. Interpreters vary as to its meaning; and, indeed, the Hebrews themselves say, that this is a difficult passage, for, according to the rules of grammar, the word can hardly be made suitable to the context. But let us first see what the Prophet treats of; and secondly, what meaning, as the word signifies various things, is the most suitable. The Prophet no doubt refers here to God's vengeance, as evidenced by the dispersion of the Jews among many nations, not only when they were driven into exile, but also when scattered in various parts of the world. The verb, taken transitively, is by no means doubtful in its meaning, for "sa'ar" means to move one from a place, or to expel, and that by force, inasmuch as it is derived from whirlwind. As it may therefore be here a transitive verb, I see no reason why we should seek other meanings at variance with the design and object of the Prophet. He then says, that the Jews had been dispersed - how? among all nations, that is, through all parts of the world; and then among unknown nations. Now we know, that the farther the exile, the more severe it is, for neighbours for the most part are the most humane; and when one is removed far to a barbarous nation, he would rather a hundred times to die on his journey than to live at a great distance from his country, and among a people of new and strange habits. The meaning is, that the Jews had been severely visited by God, not only because they had departed from his true worship and holy fear, but because they had been perverse, had rejected all sound doctrine, and had been deaf and indifferent to all admonitions. It was then for this reason that they had been dispersed among all nations. He afterwards adds, that the land after them became desolate that no one passed through it. This circumstance also, that God devoted the land to desolation, proved more fully his wrath: for when God imprints marks of his vengeance on the land, and on other harmless things, necessary for man's support, it becomes evident that he is not lightly displeased with men. He then intimates, that God was not satisfied with the exile and dispersion of that people, but that he intended that there should be also visible marks of their wickedness in the sterility and desolation of the land itself: and that land, we know, was very fruitful, both by nature and by God's blessing; for he had promised to give to the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. When this fruitfulness was turned to sterility, such a change ought to have roused the minds of all to consider the dreadful judgement of God. We now then see why the Prophet says, that the land after them, that is, after their departure, became desolate; for they had polluted the land so far as to constrain it, though innocent, to bear the judgement of God. And he says further, that the desirable land became a waste, even through their fault. God was indeed the author of that waste, but Zechariah imputes this calamity to the people, because they had provoked God's wrath, and procured this evil for themselves; yea, they had involved the land itself as it were in the same guilt, for it was cursed by God, though they had been driven hence to another country. Desirable land was a name often given to Judea, not only on account of its fruitfulness, and the abundance of its produce, but because God had chosen it for himself: for though that land excelled other lands in many respects, it is yet certain that its chief excellency consisted in this, - that God honoured it with peculiar favour. Zechariah then condemns the Jews, not only because they had by their own fault extinguished the favour as to the produce of the land, but because they had corrupted the land itself, which had been so singularly favoured as to have become the habitation of God. And hence we more fully learn how great was the enormity of their sins, which caused God to devote to desolation a land chosen by himself; for, as we have said, it was no common honour for that land, in which God designed to be worshipped by his chosen and holy people, to have been destined by him to be made like Paradise. But when such an honour was turned to shame and perpetual reproach, it was clearly a remarkable sign of God's wrath: and hence also becomes evident the impiety of that people who, as it had been said, turned aside God's favour from the land, that not only it did not bring forth its usual produce, but that it also became, as it were, a disgraceful spectacle, and filled all with horror on seeing it so desolate, where was previously seen the temple and the worship of God. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast adopted us for this end, that we may show brotherly kindness one towards another, and labour for our mutual benefit, - O grant, that we may prove by the whole tenor of our life, that we have not been called in vain by thee, but that we may so live in harmony with each other, that integrity and innocence may prevail among us; and may we so strive to benefit one another, that thy name may be thus glorified by us; until having at length finished our course, we reach the goal which thou hast set before us, that having at last gone through all the evils of this life, we may come to that blessed rest which has been prepared for us in heaven by Christ our Lord. - Amen (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 15... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-14.txt .