(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 neighbour. 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 whole. 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 advantage. 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 another. 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 them. 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. Prayer. 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... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-16.txt .