(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 20)
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-third. 
Zechariah 9:9 
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: 
behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; 
lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 
    The Prophet here briefly shows the manner in which the Church 
was to be restored; for a king from the tribe and family of David 
would again arise, to restore all things to their ancient state. And 
this is the view given everywhere by the Prophets; for the hope of 
the ancient people, as our hope, was founded on Christ. Inasmuch 
then as things were as yet in a decayed state among the Jews, 
Zechariah here testifies that God had not in vain formerly spoken so 
often by his servants concerning the advent of a Redeemer, but that 
a firm hope was to be entertained, until the prophecies were in due 
time fulfilled. As then Zechariah has been hitherto speaking of the 
prosperous and happy state of the Church, he now confirms what he 
had said; and this was especially necessary, for they could not, as 
I have already said, have raised up their minds so as to feel 
confidence as to their salvation, without having a Mediator set 
before them. But as the faithful were then in great grief and 
sorrow, Zechariah here exhorts them to perseverance: for by bidding 
them to rejoice greatly, and even to shout for joy, he no doubt 
intimates, that though grief and sorrow took fast hold on their 
hearts, they ought yet to strive manfully, so as to receive the 
favour of God; for they must have a hundred times succumbed under 
their evils, had they not Christ before their eyes; not indeed in a 
carnal manner, but in the mirror of the word; as the faithful see in 
that what is far distant and even hidden from them. 
    We now then understand, first, why the Prophet here makes such 
a sudden reference to Christ; and secondly, why he does not simply 
exhort the faithful to rejoice, but encourages them greatly to exult 
as though they were already in a safe and most happy condition. 
    By the word king, the Prophet intimates, that except they 
thought God unfaithful in his promises, they were to entertain hope, 
until the kingdom of David, then apparently fallen, arose again. As 
God then would have himself acknowledged faithful, and his adoption 
counted fixed and ratified in the Messiah, it is no wonder that the 
Prophet now briefly refers to a king; for this mode of speaking was 
well known by the people. And we have also seen elsewhere, that when 
the Prophets speak of the safety of the Church, they mention a king, 
because the Lord designed to gather again the dispersed Church under 
one head, even Christ. And no doubt there would ever remain a 
dreadful dispersion, were not Christ the bond of union. He then says 
that a king would come. But he speaks not as of a king unknown; he 
only reminds them that God would be true and faithful to his 
promises. Now since the whole law, and adoption, must have vanished 
away, except Christ came, his coming ought to have been patiently 
waited for. 
    Further, that God's children might be more confirmed, he says 
also that this king would come to the people, the daughter of Sion, 
as though he had said, that God, for the sake of the whole Church, 
had fixed the royal throne in the family of David: for if the king 
was to come, that he might indulge in his own triumphs, and be 
contented with pomps and pleasures, it would have been but a small 
and wholly barren consolation: but as God in determining to send the 
Messiah, provided for the safety of the whole Church, which he had 
promised to do, the people might here derive solid confidence. It is 
not then a matter of small moment, when the Prophet teaches us, that 
the king would come to Sion and to Jerusalem; as though he had said, 
"This king shall not come for his own sake like earthly kings, who 
rule according to their own caprice, or for their own advantage:" 
but he reminds us, that his kingdom would be for the common benefit 
of the whole people, for he would introduce a happy state. 
    He afterwards states what sort of king he was to be. He first 
names him just, and then preserved or saved. As to the word, just, 
it ought, I think, to be taken in an active sense, and so the word 
which follows: Just then and saved is called the king of the chosen 
people, for he would bring to them righteousness and salvation. Both 
words depend on this clause, - that there would come a king to Sion. 
If he came privately for himself, he might have been for himself 
just and saved, that is, his righteousness and salvation might have 
belonged to himself or to his own person: but as he came for the 
sake of others, and has been for them endued with righteousness and 
salvation; then the righteousness and salvation of which mention is 
made here, belong to the whole body of the Church, and ought not to 
be confined to the person of the king. Thus is removed every 
contention, with which many have foolishly, or at least, very 
inconsiderately, wearied themselves; for they have thought that the 
Jews cannot be otherwise overcome, and that their perverseness 
cannot be otherwise checked, than by maintaining, that "nosha" must 
be taken actively; and they have quoted some passages of Scripture, 
in which a verb in Niphal is taken in an active sense. But what need 
there is of undertaking such disputes, when we may well agree on the 
subject? I then concede to the Jews, that Christ is saved or 
preserved, and that he is said to be so by Zechariah. 
    But we must see what this salvation is which belongs to Christ. 
This we may gather from what is said by the Prophet. We are not then 
to contend here about words, but to consider what the subject is, 
that is, that a just and saved king comes to his chosen: and we know 
that Christ had no need of salvation himself. As then he was sent by 
the Father to gather a chosen people, so he is said to be saved 
because he was endued with power to preserve or save them. We then 
see that all controversy is at an end, if we refer those two words 
to Christ's kingdom, and it would be absurd to confine them to the 
person of one man, for the discourse is here concerning a royal 
person; yea, concerning the public condition of the Church, and the 
salvation of the whole body. And certainly when we speak of men, we 
say not that a king is safe and secure, when he is expelled from his 
kingdom, or when his subjects are disturbed by enemies, or when they 
are wholly destroyed. When therefore a king, deprived of all 
authority, sees his subjects miserably oppressed, he is not said to 
be saved or preserved. But the case of Christ, as I have said, is 
special; for he does not exercise dominion for his own sake, but for 
the preservation of his whole people. Hence with regard to grammar, 
I can easily allow that Christ is called just and saved, passively; 
but as to the matter itself, he is just with reference to his 
people, and also saved or preserved, for he brings with him 
salvation to the lost; for we know that the Jews were then almost in 
a hopeless state. 
    He however at the same time adds, that the king would be saved, 
not because he would be furnished with arms and forces, or that he 
would defend his people after the manner of men; for he says, that 
he would be poor. He must then be otherwise preserved safe than 
earthly princes are wont to be, who fill their enemies with fear, 
who fortify their borders, prepare an army, and set up every defence 
to ward off assaults. Zechariah teaches us, that Christ would be 
otherwise preserved, as he would prove superior to his enemies 
through a divine power. As then he is poor, he must be exposed to 
all kinds of injuries; for we see, that when there is no earthly 
fortress, all the wicked immediately fly together as it were to the 
prey. If Christ then is poor, he cannot preserve his own people, nor 
can he prosper in his kingdom. It hence follows, that he must be 
furnished with celestial power, in order to continue himself safe, 
and in order to prevent harm to his Church; and this is what 
Zechariah will presently tell us, and more clearly express. It is 
now sufficient briefly to state his object. 
    He afterwards adds, Riding on an ass, the colt, the foal of an 
ass. Some think that the ass is not mentioned here to denote 
poverty, for they who excelled in power among the people were then 
in the habit of riding on asses. But it seems to me certain, that 
the Prophet added this clause to explain the word "aniy", poor; as 
though he had said, that the king of whom he spoke would not be 
distinguished by a magnificent and splendid appearance like earthly 
princes, but would appear in a sordid or at least in an ordinary 
condition, so as not to differ from the humblest and lowest of the 
people. He then bids the faithful to raise up their eyes to heaven, 
in order to come to the true knowledge of Christ's kingdom, and to 
feel assured that righteousness and salvation are to be expected 
from him. How so? Because he will be accompanied with nothing that 
may strike men with fear, but will serve as an humble and obscure 
individual. We may also here add, that righteousness and salvation 
must be understood according to the character of Christ's kingdom; 
for as the kingdom of Christ is not temporal or what passes away, we 
conclude that the righteousness he possesses is to be perpetual, 
together with the salvation which he brings. But I am not disposed 
ingeniously to speak here of the righteousness of faith; for I 
think, on the contrary, that by the word is meant here a right order 
of things, as all things were then among the people in a state of 
confusion; and this might be easily proved by many passages of 
    The sum of the whole is, that the predictions by which God gave 
to his chosen people a hope of redemption were not vain or void; for 
at length in due time Christ, the son of David, would come forth, - 
secondly, that this king would be just, and saved or preserved; for 
he would restore things into order which were in a disgraceful state 
of confusion, - and thirdly, he adds, that this king would be poor; 
for he would ride on an ass, and would not appear in great eminence, 
nor be distinguished for arms, or for riches, or for splendour, or 
for number of soldiers, or even for royal trappings which dazzle the 
eyes of the vulgar: he shall ride on an ass. 
    This prophecy we know was fulfilled in Christ; and even some of 
the Jews are constrained to confess that the Prophet's words can be 
justly applied to none else. Yet they do not acknowledge as the 
Christ of God the Son of Mary; but they think that the Prophet 
speaks of their imaginary Messiah. Now we, who are fully persuaded 
and firmly maintain that the Christ promised has appeared and 
performed his work, do see that it has not been said without reason 
that he would come poor and riding on an ass. It was indeed designed 
that there should be a visible symbol of this very thing; for he 
mounted an ass while ascending into Jerusalem a short time before 
his death. It is indeed true, that the Prophet's words are 
metaphorical: when he says, Come shall a king, riding on an ass, the 
words are figurative; for the Prophet means, that Christ would be as 
it were an obscure person, who would not make an appearance above 
that of the common people. That this is the real meaning is no doubt 
true. But yet there is no reason why Christ should not afford an 
example of this in mounting an ass. 
    I will adduce a similar instance: it is said in the twenty 
second Psalm, 'They have cast lots on my garments.' The metaphor 
there is no doubt apparent, which means that David's enemies divided 
his spoils. He therefore complains that those robbers, by whom he 
had been unjustly treated, had deprived him of all that he had: and 
fulfilled has this been in a literal manner, so that the most 
ignorant must acknowledge that it has not in vain been foretold. We 
now then understand how well do these things agree - that the 
Prophet speaks metaphorically of the humble appearance of Christ; 
and yet that the visible symbol is so suitable, that the most 
ignorant must acknowledge that no other Christ but he who has 
already appeared is to be expected. 
    I omit many frivolous things, which in no degree tend to 
explain the Prophet's meaning, but even pervert it, and destroy 
faith in prophecy: for some think that Christ rode on an ass, and 
also on a colt, because he was to govern the Jews, who had been 
previously accustomed to bear the yoke of the law, and that he was 
also to bring the Gentiles to obedience, who had been hitherto 
unnameable. But these things are very frivolous. It is enough for us 
to know what the Prophet means. It afterwards follows - 
Zechariah 9:10 
And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from 
Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak 
peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to 
sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. 
    The Prophet here expresses more clearly what he had briefly 
referred to by the word poor, and by the metaphor which we have 
explained. Hence he says, that there would be no horses, no 
chariots, no bows, no warlike instruments in Christ's kingdom; for 
tranquillity would prevail in it. The sum of the whole is, that 
Christ and his people would not be kept safe and secure by human 
defences, by means of many soldiers and of similar helps being at 
hand; but that God would restrain, and even compose and allay all 
warlike commotions, so that there would be no need of such aids. We 
now understand the Prophet's design. 
    But we must notice the language here used. God declares here 
that he would be the giver of peace, so that the Messiah would 
continue safe in his kingdom; I will cut off, he says; for it might 
have been objected - "If he is to be poor, what hope can there be of 
safety?" The answer is, because it will be God's work to restrain 
all the assaults of enemies. He means, in short, that the Messiah's 
kingdom would be safe, because God from heaven would check all the 
rage of enemies, so that however disposed they might be to do harm, 
they would yet find themselves held captive by the hidden bridle of 
God, so as not to be able to move a finger. 
    But after having said that the Jews and Israelites would be 
safe, though stripped naked of all defences, he adds, He will speak 
peace to the nations; that is, though he will not use threats or 
terrors, nor bring forth great armies, yet the nations will obey 
him; for there will be no need of employing any force. To speak 
peace then to the nations means, that they will calmly hear, though 
not terrified nor threatened. Some with more ingenuity make the 
meaning to be that Christ, who reconciles the Father to us, will 
proclaim this favour of reconciliation; but the Prophet, as I think, 
with more simplicity, says, that Christ would be content with his 
own word, inasmuch as the Gentiles would become obedient, and 
quietly submit to his authority. The import of the whole is, that 
Christ would so rule far and wide, that the farthest would live 
contentedly under his protection, and not cast off the yoke laid on 
    He states in the last place, that his dominion would be from 
sea to sea, that is, from the Red sea to the Syrian sea, towards 
Cilicia, and from the river, that is, Euphrates, to the extreme 
borders of the earth. By the earth we are not to understand the 
whole world, as some interpreters have unwisely said; for the 
Prophet no doubt mentioned those places already known to the Jews. 
For we know that remarkable oracle - "He shall reign from sea to 
sea." (Psalm 72: 8.) But God speaks of David only, and the words are 
the same as here; and there was no oracle more commonly known among 
the Jews. The Prophet, then, who adduces here nothing new, only 
reminds the Jews of what they had long ago heard, and repeats, as it 
were, word for word, what was familiar to them all. For we must bear 
in mind what I said at the beginning - that the Prophet here 
strengthens the minds of the godly, and on this account, because the 
Messiah, on whose coming was founded the gratuitous adoption of the 
people, as well as their hope of salvation, had not yet appeared. We 
now then understand the real meaning of this passage. He then adds - 
Zechariah 9:11 
As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy 
prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. 
    Here he applies his former doctrine to its right use, so that 
the faithful might emerge from their sorrow, and come to that joy 
which he had before encouraged them to entertain. He then addresses 
Jerusalem, as though he had said, "There is no reason for thee to 
torment thyself with perplexed and anxious thoughts, for I will 
accomplish what I have promised - that I would become a deliverer to 
my people." For this doubt might have occurred to them - "Why does 
he exhort us to rejoice, while the Church of God is still in part 
captive, and while those who have returned to their country are 
miserably and cruelly harassed by their enemies?" To this objection 
Zechariah answers in the person of God - that God would be able to 
deliver them, though they were sunk in the deepest gulf. We hence 
see how this verse harmonises with the other verses: he had before 
spoken of the happy state of the Church under Christ as its king; 
but as the condition of the people then was very hard and miserable, 
he adds, that deliverance was to be expected from God. 
    But we must observe, that a pronoun feminine is here used, when 
he says, even thou, or, thou also. Both the Latins and Greeks have 
been deceived by the ambiguity of the language used, and have 
thought that the words are addressed to Christ, as though he was to 
draw his captives from a deep pit; but God here addresses his 
Church, as though he had said, "Hear thou." And the particle "gam" 
is emphatical, meaning this - "I see that I do not prevail much with 
you, for ye are in a manner overwhelmed by your calamities, and no 
hope refreshes you, as you think yourselves visited, as it were, 
with a thousand deaths; but still, though a mass of evils 
disheartens you, or at least so far oppresses you as to render 
inefficacious what I say - though, in short, ye be of all men the 
most miserable, I will yet redeem your captives." But God addresses 
the whole Church, as in many other places under the character of a 
    He says, By the blood of thy covenant. This seems not to belong 
properly to the Church, for there is no other author of the covenant 
but God himself; but the relation, we know, between God and his 
people, as to the covenant, is mutual. It is God's covenant, because 
it flows from him; it is the covenant of the Church, because it is 
made for its sake, and laid up as it were in its bosom. And the 
truth penetrated more fully into the hearts of the godly, when they 
heard that it was not only a divine covenant, but that it was also 
the covenant of the people themselves: Then by the blood of thy 
covenant, &c. Some refer this, but very unwisely, to circumcision, 
for the Prophet no doubt had regard to the sacrifices. It was then 
the same as though he had said - "Why do ye offer victims daily in 
the temple? If ye think that you thus worship God, it is a very 
gross and insane superstition. Call then to mind the end designed, 
or the model given you from above; for God has already promised that 
he will be propitious to you, by expiating your sins by the only 
true sacrifice: And for this end offer your sacrifices, and that 
blood will bring expiation with it. Now since God has not in vain 
appointed your sacrifices, and ye observe them not in vain, no doubt 
the benefit will come at length to light, for I have sent forth thy 
captives. For God does not reconcile himself to men, that he may 
destroy or reduce them to nothing, or that he may suffer them to 
pine away and die; for why does God pardon men, but that he may 
deliver them from destruction?" 
    We now perceive why the Prophet thus speaks of the blood of the 
covenant in connection with the salvation of the whole people. "Ye 
daily offer victims," he says, "and the blood is poured on the 
altar: God has not appointed this in vain." Now since God receives 
you into favour, that ye may be safe, he will therefore deliver the 
captives of his Church; I will send forth, he says, or, have sent 
forth thy captives: for he expresses here in the past tense what he 
would do in future. 
    I will send forth thy captives from the pit in which there is 
no water. He means a deep gulf, where thirst itself would destroy 
miserable men without being drawn forth by a power from above. In 
short, he means, first, that the Jews were sunk in the deep; and 
secondly, that thirst would consume them, so that death was nigh at 
hand, except they were miraculously delivered by God: but he reminds 
them, that no impediment would prevent God from raising them to 
light from the deepest darkness. We then see that this was added, 
that the Jews might learn to struggle against all things that might 
strengthen unbelief, and feel assured that they would be preserved 
safe, for it is God's peculiar work to raise the dead. This is the 
meaning. He now adds - 
Zechariah 9:12 
Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I 
declare that I will render double unto thee; 
    Zechariah proceeds with the same subject. He bids the Jews 
suddenly to retake themselves to their fortress. There is no doubt 
but that he means by that term the holy land; nor do I oppose the 
opinion of those who think the temple to be intended: for Jerusalem 
and the whole of Judea is called a fortress, and for this reason, 
because God had chosen his sanctuary there. It is then the same, as 
though one wishing to collect a dispersed and straggling band of 
soldiers were to say, "To the standard, to the standard;" or, "To 
the troop, to the troop." For though Judea was not then fortified, 
nay, Jerusalem itself had no high wall or strong towers, yet they 
had God as their stronghold, and this was impregnable; for he had 
promised that the Jews would be safe under the shadow of his wings, 
though exposed to the caprices of all around them. Nor does he here 
address them only who had returned, or the exiles who still remained 
scattered in the East; but by this declaration he encourages the 
whole Church, that they might be fully persuaded that when assembled 
under the protection of God, they were as fortified as though they 
were on every side surrounded by the strongest citadels, and that 
there would be no access open to enemies. 
    Return ye then to the stronghold. This could not have appeared 
unreasonable; for we know that when they were building the city 
their work was often interrupted; and we know also that the temple 
was not then fortified by a wall. But Zechariah teaches them, that 
in that state of things there was sufficient defence in God alone. 
Though then the Jews were not made safe by moats, or by walls, or by 
mounds, he yet reminds them, that God would be sufficient to defend 
them, and that he would be to them, as it is said in another place, 
a wall and a rampart. (Is. 26: 1.) 
    But it is not without reason that he calls them the captives of 
hope; for many had wholly alienated themselves from God and 
altogether fallen away, so as to be unworthy of any promise. By this 
mark then he distinguishes between the faithful captives and those 
who had wholly degenerated and separated themselves from the family 
of God, so as no more to be counted among his people. And this ought 
to be carefully noticed, which interpreters have coldly passed by. 
They have indeed said, that they are called captives of hope, 
because they hoped to be saved; but they have not observed the 
distinction, by which Zechariah intended to convey reproof to the 
unbelieving Jews. It was therefore not without meaning that he 
directed his word to the faithful only, who were not only captives, 
but also captives having hope. I cannot finish to-day. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as we do not at this day look for a 
Redeemer to deliver us from temporal miseries, but only carry on a 
warfare under the banner of the cross, until he appear to us from 
heaven to gather us into his blessed kingdom, - O grant, that we may 
patiently bear all evils and all troubles: and as Christ once for 
all poured forth the blood of the new and eternal covenant, and gave 
us a symbol of it in the Holy Supper, may we, confiding in so sacred 
a seal, never doubt but that he will be always propitious to us, and 
render manifest to us the fruit of his reconciliation, when after 
having supported us for a season under the burden of those miseries 
by which we are now oppressed, thou gatherest us into that blessed 
and perfect glory, which has been procured for us by the blood of 
Christ our Lord, and which is daily set before us in the gospel, and 
laid up for us in heaven, until we at length shall come to enjoy it 
through the same, our Lord Jesus Christ. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 21...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-20.txt