(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 16)
Lecture One Hundred and Forty-ninth. 
Zechariah 8:9-11 
9 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that 
hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which 
were in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of 
hosts was laid, that the temple might be built. 
10 For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for 
beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in 
because of the affliction: for I set all men every one against his 
11 But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the 
former days, saith the LORD of hosts. 
    The Prophet having taught us that God was reconciled to his 
people, does now seasonably exhort the Jews to prepare themselves 
for work and strenuously to exert themselves in erecting the temple, 
and also in building the city: for as we have stated, many were then 
become slothful, as they thought that they were soon to be destroyed 
by their enemies, and that what they built with great labour, toil, 
and expense, would be presently demolished. Hence it was that sloth 
had crept in, so that many had left off the building both of the 
temple and of the city: and we have also seen elsewhere, that they 
were too intent on building their own houses, and at the same time 
neglected the temple; for each looked to his own private advantage, 
and also to his own pleasures. The Prophet Haggai sharply reproved 
this indifference, (Hag. 1: 4;) and the Lord clearly showed that he 
had punished this their sloth; for they preferred their own houses 
to the temple, and through want of faith trembled, as though their 
restoration was a mockery. As then the people by their ingratitude 
had almost wiped away the recollection of their deliverance, the 
Prophet Haggai severely reproved them; and Zechariah now touches on 
the same subject. 
    Hence he says, that before they had begun the work of building 
the temple, the land was sterile, as though it was cursed by God, 
and that they were deprived of their hope, and that whatever they 
attempted proved useless; but that after they had begun, through the 
encouragement given them by the Prophets, to take courage to build 
the temple, things changed for the better, and that openly, so that 
it was easy to conclude, that God had been previously displeased 
with them, but that now he was favourable, as all things went on 
prosperously. This change then was a clear token both of God's 
displeasure and of God's favour; for he had justly chastised his 
people as long as they were under the influence of unbelief, so as 
not to proceed with the work of building the temple; and afterwards 
the favour of God had begun to shine on them, as God gave them 
abundance of provisions, and proved in various ways that he was now 
favourable to them. Zechariah therefore mentions these things, that 
they might proceed more cheerfully with their work, and not provoke 
God's wrath, which they had previously found to have been so much to 
their loss, and that they might seek to enjoy his blessing, which 
was now so manifest before their eyes. This is the import of the 
    He says, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Strengthened let be your 
hands. He exhorts them to perseverance: but as men become weak, and 
many things occur which enfeeble or break down their courage, he 
uses the word, strengthen; for it is often necessary to gather new 
strength, and to confirm a pious resolution. Let us now then learn 
to apply this doctrine to our own benefit, and let us understand 
what experience sufficiently teaches us, even this--that our hands, 
though at first well prepared, are yet soon relaxed, and as it were 
loosed, and even entirely fail, unless new strength be now and then 
attained; and that this is effected when we are animated by God's 
word, and rise superior to the trials which enfeeble us. And 
Zechariah will presently inform us whence this strength was to be 
sought, even from the promises which they had already heard from the 
Prophets; for he would have in vain exhorted them to persevere, had 
not the ground of confidence been mentioned. For when God is silent, 
our minds, though before abundantly ready and willing, must 
languish, and at length wholly fail. 
    We then see that there can be no courage in men, unless God 
supports them by his word, so that they may recover their lost 
strength and regain their alacrity. Had the Prophet only bidden them 
to take courage, they might have replied, that there was nothing in 
their circumstances to encourage them; but when the word of God was 
set before them, every excuse was taken away; and they were now to 
gird up the loins, and boldly to fight, inasmuch as God supplied 
them with weapons. 
    Be strong, he says, ye who hear in these days these words from 
the mouth of the Prophets. Though Zechariah is not often concise in 
his words, but in many parts diffuse, yet he is so here, and the 
whole verse is very emphatical; for after having said that they were 
not destitute of God's promises, he adds, "in these days," and also 
"these words." He intimates that they were not only taught a general 
truth, that they were to render obedience, but that God himself 
would be their leader to direct their steps and to show them the 
way: in a word, he omits nothing to enable them to proceed without 
difficulty with the work which they had begun. There is then an 
emphasis intended by the demonstrative, "these," "these;" for the 
Prophet intimates that God was continually speaking to them, and 
that he announced not only a general truth, but specific words, by 
which they might guide their feet and their hands in every action. 
And he says, that those words were heard from the mouth of the 
Prophets, for God intended honour to be done to his servants; and it 
is, as it has been often stated, a true test of faith, when God 
descends not himself from heaven, or does not appear to us in a 
visible form, but makes use of men as his ministers. Yet Zechariah 
briefly intimates, that the Prophets are not the authors of the 
promises, which are necessary to raise up, support, and stimulate 
our minds; for the Lord only employs their service; and this is what 
he means by the word mouth. 
    He now adds, Who were in that day in which was founded the 
house of Jehovah, in order to build the temple. Not much time had 
elapsed since they had begun again to build the temple, and the 
foundations had been laid; but the work had been discontinued 
through the unbelief of them all, and also through the private 
regard of each to his own interest. For as they were in suspense and 
doubtful, there arose sloth and indifference, and avarice possessed 
them, so that they despised the temple of God. But he says now that 
during that short time God often spoke to them by his Prophets with 
the view of correcting their delay and tardiness, for the Prophet 
mentions here as it were but one day, for the purpose of expressing 
how short the time had been. Less excusable then was their sloth, 
since God daily spoke to them and confirmed by new Prophets what the 
former ones had said. 
    It follows, For before these days there was no hire for man, 
and no hire for beast, no peace to passengers, because I had sent 
forth all men, each one against his friend. The Prophet mentions 
here, as I have already said, evidences of God's curse, by which the 
Jews might have learnt that he was displeased with their neglect in 
disregarding the building of the temple, for while omitting that 
they paid attention to their domestic affairs. He therefore reminds 
them of what might have made them to fear, lest they should go on 
still to provoke God; for they had been taught, to their great loss, 
not to excite in this manner his displeasure: and Zechariah, no 
doubt, as well as Haggai and Malachi, had often addressed the people 
on this subject; for we see how prone is the disposition of us all 
to relapse into forgetfulness when God in any measure relaxes in his 
discipline. We presently shake off every fear when exempt from 
evils. This is the reason why it is needful for us to be often 
reminded of those judgements of God which we have experienced, 
according to what is done here by Zechariah. 
    Before these days, he says, there was no hire for man, and no 
hire for beast; that is, there was no profit from the labour of men 
or of beasts. He takes it as granted, that men were not tardy in 
their work, and that beasts performed their labours, but that no 
fruit appeared. And whence was it the labour of men and of beasts 
was unprofitable, except from God's curse, as the law testifies? 
(Deut. 28: 8.) For when the Prophets speak of God's curse they refer 
to the law, and only apply to their present purpose what is stated 
generally in the law. As then God declares in the law that he will 
bless the work of the hands, Zechariah draws this inference that God 
was displeased when men and beasts toiled laboriously without any 
    He then adds, There was no peace. When men labour in vain, 
thirst and want of all things must follow; for though the labour of 
man, we know, is of itself of no value, yet when blessed by God it 
is the means of promoting fertility, so that the earth may supply us 
with food. On the other hand, when the labour of man is barren, even 
the earth itself refuses to bring forth fruit. It was then no light 
calamity when God visited the people with poverty and famine. But 
another evil is added, no less dreadful and even more grievous that 
the land was so harassed by enemies that no travelling was safe. 
Hence he says, that there was no peace to him who went out or to him 
who came in; that is, there was no free or peaceable travelling, but 
they were exposed to pillage and plunder. In a word, Zechariah 
teaches us here, that the Jews were under a curse both within and 
without, for the land disappointed those who cultivated it, as it 
yielded no fruit, and then they were exposed to hostile assaults. 
    With regard to the words, "min hatsar", some render them, on 
account of distress, "there was no peace on account of distress." 
But we may retain the proper meaning of the preposition "min", 
"there was no peace from distress;" that is, there were none safe 
from inconvenience and molestation. 
    The reason is added, Because God had sent forth all men, each 
one against his neighbour. The Prophet designedly subjoined this, 
that the Jews might know that these evils could not be ascribed to 
fortune, as though men did rise up thoughtlessly one against 
another. Hence he reminds them that their quietness was disturbed by 
the just and hidden judgement of God, for he can turn as he pleases 
the hearts of men; he now inclines them to humanity or to mercy, and 
then he turns them to madness and ferocity. That the Jews might know 
that they had to do with God, the Prophet declares here that men had 
been sent forth, that they might mutually rage and assault one 
    Hence they who use the word permit, not only take away from 
what the Prophet means, but wholly pervert his doctrine and 
extinguish its light altogether: for God does not say here that he 
was still when the Jews ill-treated one another; but he meant to 
have this attributed to his judgement. For when almost the whole 
world was hostile to a few men, and those related to one another, 
they ought surely to have been united among themselves; for 
necessity conciliates even the most alienated, and even pacifies 
those who have been previously the most violent enemies. Since, 
then, the Jews were assailed by foreign enemies, they ought to have 
been friends among themselves, or at least to have been so softened 
as not to be so hostile towards one another. As then they raged 
against their own bowels, so that no one spared his own friends, God 
more fully shows by this circumstance that he was the author of 
these confusions. And how God kindles the hearts of men to ferocity, 
and is yet free from all blame, has been explained elsewhere. God 
indeed executes his righteous judgements, when he sets men one 
against the other; and if we inquire into the cause and the end, we 
shall find that men are in this way justly punished. As then in 
God's judgements there ever shines forth the highest equity, there 
is no reason for men to try to implicate him in their own perdition, 
or to devolve on him a part of the blame. God then justly excites 
the hearts of men into madness, and yet men themselves bear the 
whole blame, though God draws them here and there against their 
will, and makes use of them as his instruments; for the hidden 
purpose of God does not excuse them, while nothing is less their 
object than to obey his word, though they are guided by his hidden 
operation. We know that no work pleases God, but when there is a 
willing obedience, which none of the reprobate ever render; and we 
also know that all works are to be judged according to the end 
designed. We must therefore consider what was the reason that God 
thus set men against one another, and what end he had in view. But 
we have elsewhere discussed this subject at large. 
    Let us then now, in short, bear this in mind, that the Jews 
mutually harassed and distressed one another, not by chance, but 
because the Lord, who was their enemy and whose wrath they had 
provoked, had sent them forth as enemies among themselves. 
    He afterwards adds, But now, not according to former days, 
shall I be to the remnant of this people, saith Jehovah of hosts. 
Zechariah now reminds them that things had changed for the better, 
as it was evident that God was propitious to them. And if the cause 
of this change be asked, the answer is, the building of the temple. 
If nothing had been said by the Prophets, the Jews might have only 
conjectured, but every doubt had been removed; for God had 
threatened then with punishment which he afterwards inflicted, and 
then he exhorted them to repentance, and said that he would be 
reconciled to them: when the Jews rightly considered these things, 
they had no need of having recourse to conjectures. It was indeed 
fully evident that God regarded them with favour, and that the 
fruits of his favour were before their eyes; and they were thus 
encouraged to proceed with the work of building the temple. It now 
follows - 
Zechariah 8:12 
For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and 
the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their 
dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all 
these things. 
    Here Zechariah promises the continuance of God's favour, which 
the Jews had now begun to taste. God then had in part openly showed 
that he was a Father to the Jews, by dealing liberally with them: 
but in order more fully to strengthen them in their perseverance, 
Zechariah says that this favour would be continued. 
    And he says first, that there would be the seed of peace. Some 
think that it is called the seed of peace because the cultivation of 
the fields, while the assaults of enemies were dreaded, was 
deserted; no one dared to bring out his oxen or his horses, and then 
even when the husbandmen sowed their fields, it was not done as in 
seasons of quietness and security. As then the fields, when badly 
cultivated in times of war, do not produce a full crop, so they 
think that it is called the seed of peace, when husbandmen are 
permitted to employ necessary labour, when they are free from every 
fear, and devote securely their toils on the cultivation and the 
sowing of their fields. Others explain the seed of peace to be this 
- that it is so when neither storms, nor tempests, nor mildew, nor 
any other evils do any harm to the corn and fruit. But as "shalom" 
means often in Hebrew prosperity, we may so take it here, that it 
would be the seed of peace, that is, that the seed would be 
prosperous; and this interpretation seems to me less strained. It 
shall then be the seed of peace, that is, it shall prosper according 
to your labour; what is sown shall produce its proper fruit. 
    There is added an explanation - The vine shall yield its fruit, 
and the earth shall yield its increase, and the heaven shall yield 
its dew. We hence conclude that it was called the seed of peace, 
because the husbandmen gained their object when the earth, irrigated 
by the dew of heaven, was not sterile, and when the produce was 
abundant, when there was plenty of corn and wine, and of other 
things. There is then peace or prosperity as to the seed, when the 
corn grows according to our wishes, and comes to maturity, and when 
heaven responds to the earth, and withholds not its dew, as we have 
seen in another place. In short, God testifies that the remnant of 
his people should abound in all good things, for the heaven would 
not withhold from them its rain, nor the earth shut up its bowels. 
    But God ever recalls his people to himself, that they may 
depend on his blessing; for it would be a cold doctrine were we not 
persuaded of this - that the earth is not otherwise fruitful than as 
God gives it the power of generating and of bringing forth. We ought 
therefore ever to regard the blessing of God, and to ask of him to 
supply us with food, and to pray him every day, as we are taught, to 
give us our daily bread. But few do this from the heart, and hardly 
one in a hundred so turns his thoughts to God's hand as firmly to 
believe that he daily receives from him his daily food. We now 
understand what the Prophet means in these words. It now follows - 
Zechariah 8:13 
And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the 
heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, 
and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong. 
    He goes on with the same subject, and in this verse he states 
two contrary things, in order to render more clear what he teaches 
here - that while God was angry the earth was barren, and all things 
went on unhappily with the Jews; but that when God had begun to be 
reconciled, the earth had as it were changed its nature, and brought 
forth plentifully, and that they were in every way made blessed. 
    Hence he says, As ye have been a curse, &c. Here again he 
mentions and reminds them how miserable they were while they minded 
only their private interest, and by neglecting the temple manifested 
their impiety and ingratitude; for what ought they to have been more 
ready to do when they returned to their country than to build the 
temple, and to offer there sacrifices to God, in order to avow him 
as the author of their deliverance? But the temple was neglected; 
and the Prophet concludes that they must have been extremely 
forgetful, if they did not consider what their condition was as long 
as they had no care for the temple; and he says that they had been a 
curse among the nations; that is, that they were an example of a 
curse, according to the threatening of the law. For it is a mode of 
speaking frequent in Scripture, that the people were a curse; and 
the common formula of cursing was - "Let the Lord curse thee as he 
does the Jews." Zechariah then says that the Jews had been a curse, 
that they had not only been smitten by God's hand, but that they had 
been given up to calamities, in order that they might become to all 
detestable, and bear in a manner signs of God's wrath imprinted on 
them. Whoever then at that time looked on a Jew, he might see that 
he had the appearance of bearing a curse. In short, Zechariah means 
that the Jews had been punished in a manner not common or usual, but 
that God had executed on them dreadful judgements, which made it 
evident to all that he was grievously offended with them. Ye have 
been then a curse among all nations. 
    He then adds, So I will save you, as ye shall be a blessing. 
The word save is introduced that God might more clearly set forth 
his favour, lest the Jews should think that the change had been 
effected by fortuitous change; for we know that men's thoughts soon 
change, and they feign this or that cause that they may obscure 
God's providence. God then, before he promises that they should be a 
blessing, says that he would save them. What it is to be a blessing 
may be easily learnt from the opposite clause. They are then said to 
be a blessing who bear evident tokens of God's favour and kindness. 
So the Prophet means, that when people wished to be prayed for, or 
when they wished well to one another, this would be the common form 
of their requests - "May God bless us as he blesses his chosen 
people: as the Jews are dear to God, so may he favour us with the 
same or similar kindness." Thus then we see that the Jews were a 
curse, when exposed to extreme reproaches; and that they became a 
blessing when God manifested towards them tokens of favour, and 
showed in reality, or by the effect, that he was pacified towards 
    He says, in the last place, Fear ye not; strengthened be your 
hands. He exhorts them to entertain hope, for fear stands opposed to 
confidence; and fear, proceeding from unbelief, cannot be otherwise 
dissipated but by God's promises made to us, which chase away all 
doubts. Rightly then does the Prophet teach us that the Jews had no 
reason to fear, for he declares that God was propitious to them. We 
indeed know that all fear cannot be wholly driven away from the 
hearts of men; for it would be necessary to deprive us of every 
feeling before we could regard dangers without fears. But though 
fear is natural to us, and occasions of fear ever occur to us, yet 
the fear of unbelief may be dispelled by faith; and hence it is no 
wonder that God condemns fear, when he promises salvation to his 
elect. But as I have said, we ought to observe that there is here a 
contrast between condemnable fear and that confidence which relies 
on God's word. We must also add, that the confidence of God's 
children is never so complete that they are free from all fear, even 
the fear of unbelief; but still we ought to struggle against it, so 
as not to be hindered in the course of our calling. And this we 
learn more fully from the end of the verse. 
    Strengthened be your hands. But why does the Prophet forbid the 
Jews to fear? even for this purpose, - that they might arouse 
themselves for the work which the Lord had allotted to them, and not 
allow fear to retard them or to prevent them to persevere. 
    We now then perceive how the faithful become prepared and ready 
to render service to God: sloth must first be shaken off - but how? 
even by having fear removed. What is the remedy for healing fear? 
even to recomb on the promises of God; for when our minds are 
composed, the hands and the feet and all the members will be ready 
to do their office. Alacrity both of mind and heart and of all the 
members follows, when fear is shaken off, and when men begin so to 
rely on God's word, as to know that his help is enough for them 
against all dangers, and to dread nothing, being convinced that the 
Lord will by his power remove all hindrances. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou sees us to be cold and 
frigid, when all our actions ought to be consecrated to thee, and 
all our members to be devoted to thy service in obedience to thy 
word, - O grant, that we may every day courageously strive against 
our natural indifference, and contend with all hindrances, and 
boldly repel all assaults which Satan may make, so that though our 
fervour may not be such as it ought to be, we may yet with sincere 
desire and genuine affection of heart ever advance in the course of 
our calling, until we reach the goal and be gathered into thy 
kingdom to enjoy the victory which thou hast promised to us, and 
with which thou also daily favourest us, until at length it be fully 
enjoyed, when we shall be gathered into thy celestial kingdom, 
through Christ our Lord. - Amen.

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 17...

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