(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 
    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. 
    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