(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 
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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. 
    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