(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 21) Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-fourth. In yesterday's lecture the Prophet exhorted the Jews to assemble into that stronghold of which God was to be the guardian. And we have said that Jerusalem was then to the godly an impregnable fortress, though for the most part without walls, because the place was as it were sacred to God, and as under his care and protection. He now adds a confirmation of this truth, that they would be doubly more blessed who had resorted to Jerusalem than their fathers before their exile: for a comparison is no doubt made between them and their fathers. From the reign of David until the exile, God had proved by many tokens that he had a care for that people; he afterwards raised up, as it were, a new Church, that is, when a liberty to return was granted to the Jews. The meaning then here is, that if the fathers before they were driven from their country had experienced God kind and bountiful, those who had now returned to their country would find God much more bountiful towards his new Church. We now then understand what he means by double, even double happiness; for God would increase his blessings to the Jews, though their condition was then by no means desirable; nay, very hard according to the estimation of the world. But he says, that he declared from that day, intimating, that though the effect of this prophecy was not immediately apparent, yet he spoke with confidence; for they would in course of time find that nothing had been said to them in vain or rashly. The Prophet then shows - here, that he spoke with perfect confidence, and this in order to gain credit to the promise, lest the Jews should doubt that what they heard from the mouth of Zechariah should at length be made evident to them. Let us now proceed - Zechariah 9:13 When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim, and raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece, and made thee as the sword of a mighty man. God declares here that the Jews would be the conquerors of all nations, though they were then despised. That people, we know, were hated by all; and they were at the same time weak, and had hardly any strength, so as to be able to resist the wrongs done them on every side. As then this trial might have terrified weak minds, the Prophet says that the Jews would be as it were the bow and the quiver of God, so that they would be able to pierce all nations with their arrow; and that they would also be like a sword, which would wound and lay prostrate the strongest. We now perceive the meaning of the words, and see also the reason why the Prophet made this addition, even because the Jews were filled with terror on seeing themselves surrounded on every side by violent and strong enemies, to whom they were very unequal in strength. Now, these similitudes we know occur elsewhere in Scripture, and their meaning seems to be this - that the Jews would be the conquerors of all nations, not by their own prowess, as they say, but because the Lord would guide and direct them by his own hand. For what is a bow except it be bent? and the bow itself is useless, except the arrow be discharged. The Prophet then teaches us, that though the Jews could do nothing of themselves, yet there was strength enough in God's hand alone. I have bent for me, he says, Judah as a bow. The Lord reminds the Jews of his own power, that they might not regard their own strength, but acknowledge that they were made strong from above, and that strength to overcome their enemies would be given them. Hence he compares Ephraim to a quiver. But we have seen yesterday, that Judah and Ephraim are to be taken as the same; for as it had been a divided body, God intimates here, that when the Jews became again united and joined together, and when the ten tribes showed brotherly kindness towards the kingdom of Judah, then the people would be to him like a bow well furnished, being fully supplied with arrows. He afterwards adds, I will rouse thy sons, O Sion, against thy sons, O Javan. This apostrophe is more emphatical than if the third person had been adopted; for by addressing first Sion, and then Greece, he shows that he possesses power over all nations, so that he raises up the one and casts down the other, as he pleases. As to the word "yavan", we have elsewhere seen that it is to be taken for Greece, and now for all the countries beyond sea. Yet many think that the word Jonah is derived from this Hebrew word, and, as it often happens, is corruptly pronounced. But we may gather from many instances that "yavan" is put for Greece, or for distant countries, and specifically for Macedonia. It is then the same as though he had said - That the Jews would be superior to all heathen nations, even were they to unite together and bring vast forces from distant lands. For the Greeks could not have waged war in Judea with a small force; they must have brought with them large armies, to fight in a strange country and unknown to them. Nor could the Jews have attacked the Grecians or other remote nations, except they were favoured with aid from heaven. For this reason also he adds, that they would be like a sword, by which a strong man can destroy others of less power. Let us now go on - Zechariah 9:14 And the LORD shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord GOD shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south. He goes on with the same subject, but explains what I have said - that victory is promised to the Jews, not that which they could gain by their own power, but that which should happen to them beyond their expectation; for this is what is meant when he says, that God would be seen over them. For though the events of all wars depend on God, yet he is said to be seen where there is a remarkable victory, which cannot be accounted for by men. When unequal armies engage, it is no wonder when one becomes victorious; and it may sometimes be that a less number overcomes a greater, even because it exceeded the other in courage, in counsel, in skill, or in some other way, or because the larger army fought from a disadvantageous position, or trusting in its own strength rushed on inconsiderately. But when consternation alone dejects one party and renders the other victorious, in this case the power of God becomes evident. And even heathens have thought that men are confounded from above when courage fails them; and this is most true. We now then understand why the Prophet says, that God would be seen over the Jews, even because they would conquer their enemies, not by usual means, not after an earthly manner, but in a wonderful way, so that it would appear evident to be the work of God. He then adds, Go forth shall his arrow as lightning. He again repeats and confirms what we have already observed that there would be no movement among the Jews, no celerity, but what would be like the sword, which lies quiet on the ground, except it be taken up by the hand of man, and what also would be like the arrow, which can do no harm except it be thrown by some one. We then see that the victory mentioned before is ascribed to God alone. And for the same reason he adds what follows, that Jehovah would come with the shout of a trumpet, and also, with the whirlwind of the south. In a word, he means that the work of God would be evident when the Jews went forth against the enemies by whom they had been oppressed and would still be oppressed. That they might not then compare their own with their enemies' strength, the Prophet here brings God before them, by whose authority, guidance, and power this war was to be carried on. And then, that he might extol God's power, he says, that he would come with the shout of a trumpet, and with the whirlwind of the south. Interpreters take the whirlwinds of the south simply for violent storms; for we know that the most impetuous whirlwinds arise from the south. But as the Prophet joins the whirlwinds of the south to the shout of a trumpet, he seems to me to allude to those miracles by which God showed to the Jews in a terrific manner his power on Mount Sinai, for the desert of Teman and Mount Paran were in that vicinity. We have seen a similar passage in the third chapter of Habakkuk, "God," he said, "shall come from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran." The Prophet's object was to encourage the Jews to entertain hope; for God, who had long concealed himself and refrained from helping them, would at length come forth to their aid. How? He reminded them in that passage of the records of ancient history, for God had made known his power on Mount Sinai, in the desert of Teman, and it was the south region with regard to Judea; and we also know that trumpets sounded in the air, and that all this was done that the Jews might reverently receive the law, and also that they might feel certain that they would be always safe under God's hand, since he thus shook the elements by his nod, and filled the air with lightnings and storms and whirlwinds, and also made the air to ring with the shouts of trumpets. It is for the same reason that the Prophet speaks in this passage, when he says, that God would make himself known as formerly, when he astonished the people by the shouts of trumpets, and also when he appeared in whirlwinds on Mount Sinai. He then adds - Zechariah 9:15 The LORD of hosts shall defend them; and they shall devour, and subdue with sling stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar. He expresses again the same thing in other words - that God would be like a shadow to his people, so that he would with an extended hand protect them from their enemies. Since the Jews might have justly felt a distrust in their own strength, the Prophet continually teaches them that their safety depended not on earthly aids, but that God alone was sufficient, for he could easily render them safe and secure. He also adds, that there would be to them plenty of bread and wine to satisfy them. He seems here indeed to promise too great an abundance, as by its abuse luxury came, for he says, that they would be satiated and be like the drunken; they shall drink, he says, and shall make a noise as through wine. Certainly those who drink wine moderately, do not make noise, but they are as composed and quiet after dinner as those who fast. Zechariah then seems here to make an unreasonable promise, even that of excess in meat and drink. But we have elsewhere seen that wherever the Holy Spirit promises abundance of good things he does not give loose reigns to men's lusts, but his object is only to show that God will be so bountiful to his children that they shall stand in need of nothing, that they shall labour under no want. Nay, the affluence of blessings is to try our frugality, for when God pours forth as it were with a liberal hand more than what is needful, he thus tries the temperance of each of us; for when in the enjoyment of great abundance, we of our own accord restrain ourselves, we then really show that we are grateful to God. It is indeed true, that cheerfulness for abundance of blessings is allowed us, for it is often said in the law, "Thou shalt rejoice before thy God," (Deut. 12: 18;) but we must bear in mind, that frugal use of blessings is required, in order that the gifts of God may not be converted to a sinful purpose. Then the Prophet does not here excite or stimulate the Jews to intemperance, that they might fill themselves with too much food, or inebriate themselves with too much wine; but he only promises that there would be no want of either food or drink when God blessed them as in former days. And this seems also to be specified at the end of the verse, when he mentions the horns of the altar. He had previously said, that they would be full as the bowls were; but when he adds, "the horns of the altar," he no doubt reminds them of temperance, that they were to feast as though they were in God's presence. They were indeed accustomed to pour out the wine and the oil on the horns of the altar; but, at the same time, since they professed that they offered from their abundance of wine and oil some first-fruits to God, it behaved them to remember that their wine was sacred, that their oil was sacred, as both proceeded from God. The Prophet then declares, that the Jews would be thus enriched and replenished with all good things, and that they were yet to remember, that they were to live as in God's presence, lest they should by luxury pollute what he had consecrated to a legitimate end. He then adds - Zechariah 9:16 And the LORD their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land. He continues the same subject, but uses various figures, that he might more fully confirm what then was incredible. He indeed reminds them that God would not save his people in ah ordinary way, such as is common to men. He compares them to sheep, that they might know, as I have said already, that their salvation would come from heaven, as they were themselves weak, and had no strength and no power; for to show this was the object of this comparison. He declares then that the Jews would be saved, because God would supply them with every thing necessary to conquer their enemies; but that he would in a wonderful manner help their weakness, even like a shepherd when he rescues his sheep from the jaws of a wolf. For the sheep, which escapes death by the coming of the shepherd, have no reason to boast of victory, but all the praise is due to the shepherd. So also God says, that it will be his work to deliver the Jews from their enemies. By saying, his own people, he seems to confine to his elect what appeared too general; for he had said "save then will God". It is however certain that the people who were then small, had been cut off, so that the greater part had perished; but at the same time it was true that God was a faithful guardian of his people, for there were then many Israelites, naturally descended from their common father Abraham, who were only in name Israelites. He then adds another similitude, - that they would be elevated high, like precious stones in a crown, which are borne on the head of a king, as though he had said, that they would be a royal priesthood according to what is said in the law. He had said before, They shall subdue the stones, or, with the stones, of a sling. More correct seems to be the opinion of those who read "with the stones of a sling", that is, that the Jews would conquer their enemies, not with swords, nor with arrows, but only with stones, in the same manner as Goliath was slain by David. Though not given to warlike arts, nor exercised in the use of arms, they would yet, as the Prophet shows, be conquerors; for their slings would be sufficient for the purpose of slaying their enemies. But some think that heathens and the unbelieving are compared to the stones of the sling, because they are worthless and of no account; which at the first sight seems ingenious, but it is a strained view. It is not at the same time improper to consider that there is here an implied contrast between the stones of the sling, and the stones of a crown; the Jews would cast stones from their slings to destroy their enemies, and they themselves would be precious stones. The Prophet seems here to represent the holy land as the chief part of the whole world. Elevated, he says, shall be the stones of crown over the land of God. Had he said over Egypt or over Assyria, the connection of the clauses would not have been so appropriate; but he names Judea, as the head of the world, and that the Jews, when prosperous and happy in it, would be like the stones of a crown, all the parts set in due order. In short, he shows, that the favour of God alone and his blessing, would be sufficient to render the Jews happy, as they would then excel in honour, enjoy the abundance of all good things, and possess invisible courage to resist all their adversaries. Let us now enquire when all these things were fulfilled. We have said that Zechariah, by promising fulness to the Jews, gave them no unbridled license to indulge themselves in eating and drinking, but only expressed and extolled, in hyperbolical terms, the immense kindness and bounty of God to them. This is one thing. But at the same time we must by the way consider another question: He says, that they would be like arrows and swords. Now as they were too much inclined to shed blood, he seems here to excite them in a manner to take vengeance fully on their enemies, which was by no means reasonable. The answer to this is plain - that the Jews were not to forget what God prescribed in his law: for as when God promised large abundance of wine, and a plentiful provision, he did not recall what he had already commanded - that they were to practice temperance in eating and drinking; so now when he promises victory over their enemies, he is not inconsistent with himself, nor does he condemn what he had once approved, nor abrogate the precept by which he commanded them, not to exercise cruelty towards their enemies, but to restrain themselves, and to show mercy and kindness. We hence see that we are not to judge from these words what is right for us to do, or how far we may go in taking revenge on enemies; nor to determine what liberty we have in eating and drinking. Such things are not to be learnt from this passage, or from similar passages; for the Prophet here does only set forth the power of God and his bounty towards his people. Now again it may be asked, when has God fulfilled this, when has he made the Jews far and wide victorious and the destroyers of their enemies? All Christian expositors give us an allegorical explanation, - that God sent forth his armies when he sent forth Apostles into all parts of the world, who pierced the hearts of men, - and that he slew with his sword the wicked whom he destroyed. All this is true; but a simpler meaning must in the first place be drawn from the words of the Prophet, and that is, - that God will render his Church victorious against the whole world. And most true is this; for though the faithful are not furnished with swords or with any military weapons, yet we see that they are kept safe in a wonderful manner under the shadow of God's hand. When adversaries exercise cruelty towards them, we see how God returns their wicked devices on their own heads. In this way is really fulfilled what we read here, - even that the children of God are like arrows and swords, and that they are also preserved as a flock; for they are too weak to stand their ground, were not the Lord to put forth his power, when he sees them violently assailed by the wicked. There is then no need to turn the Prophet's words to an allegorical meaning, when this fact is evident that God's Church has been kept safe, because God has ever blunted all the weapons of enemies; yea, he has often by a strong hand discharged his arrows and vibrated his sword. For when Alexander the Great had passed over the sea, when he had marched through the whole circuit of the Mediterranean sea, when he had filled all the country with blood, he came at length to Judea; how was it that he left it without committing any slaughter, without exercising any cruelty, except that God restrained him? It will not weary you, if I relate what we read in Josephus; and it is true I have no doubt. He says, that when Alexander came, he was full of wrath, and breathing threats against those Jews by whom he had not been assisted, and who seemed to have despised his authority: after having thus given vent to his rage, he at length came into the presence of Jadeus the high-priest, and seeing him adorned with a mitre, he fell down and humbly asked pardon; and while all were amazed his answer was - that God had appeared to him in that form while he was yet in Greece, and encouraged him to undertake that expedition. When therefore he saw the image or figure of the God of heaven in that sacerdotal dress, he was constrained to give glory to God. Thus far Josephus, whose testimony in this instance has never been suspected. There is then no reason for any one to weary himself in finding out the meaning of the Prophet, since this fact is clear enough - that God's elect have been victorious, because God has ever sent forth his arrows and vibrated his sword. At the same time there is another view of this victory; for alien and remote people were subdued by the sword of the Spirit, even by the truth of the gospel: but this is a sense deduced from the other; for when we apprehend the literal meaning of the Prophet, an easy passage is then open to us, by which we may come to the kingdom of Christ. These remarks refer to the abundance of provisions, as well as to the victory over enemies. It now follows - Zechariah 9:17 For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids. The Prophet here exclaims at the incredible kindness of God, that the Jews might learn to raise up their thoughts above the world, as they were to look for that felicity which he had before mentioned. We then see that by this exclamation a fuller confirmation is given to what had been said by the Prophet, as though his words were, - "No one ought to judge of God's favour, of which I have spoken, according to his own doings, or conduct, or experience; but on the contrary, every one of you ought to be filled with amazement at God's incredible kindness, and at his incredible beauty." But by the last word he understands the brightness or splendour, which appears in all God's favours and gifts. He then concludes by saying, that the abundance of corn and wine would be so great, that young men and young women would eat and drink together, and be fully satisfied. Here a frivolous question may be asked, whether Zechariah allowed the use of wine to young women. But he speaks not here, as I have said before, of God's blessing, as though it were an incentive to luxury; but what he means is, that the abundance of provisions would be so great as to be fully sufficient, not only for the old, but also for young men and young women. We know that when there is but a small supply of wine, it ought by right of age to be reserved for the old, but when wine so overflows that young men and young women may freely drink of it, it is a proof of great abundance. This then is simply the meaning of the Prophet: but something more shall be said to-morrow on the subject. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as we cannot look for temporal or eternal happiness, except through Christ alone, and as thou settest him forth to us as the only true fountain of all blessings, - O grant, that we, being content with the favour offered to us through him, may learn to renounce the whole world, and so strive against all unbelief; that we may not doubt but that thou wilt ever be one kind and gracious Father, and fully supply whatever is necessary for our support: and may we at the same time live soberly and temperately, so that we may not be under the power of earthly things; but with our hearts raised above, aspire after that heavenly bliss to which thou invites us, and to which thou also guides us by such helps as are earthly, so that being really united to our head, we may at length reach that glory which has been procured for us by his blood. - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 22... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-21.txt .