(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 24) Chapter 11. Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-seventh. Zechariah 11:1-3 1 Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. 2 Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down. 3 There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled: a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled. This Chapter contains severe threatenings, by which God designed in time to warn the Jews, that if there was any hope of repentance, they might be restored by fear to the right way, and that others, the wicked and the reprobate, might be rendered inexcusable, and also that the faithful might fortify themselves against the strong temptation to despond on seeing so dreadful a calamity awaiting that nation. This prophecy does not indeed seem consistent with the preceding prophecies; for the Prophet has been hitherto not only encouraging the people to entertain hope, but has also declared that their condition would be so happy that nothing would be wanting to render them really blessed: but now he denounces ruin, and begins with reprobation; for he says, that God had been long the shepherd of that nation, but that now he renounced all care of them; for being wearied he would no longer bear with that perverse wickedness, which he had found in them all. These things seem to be inconsistent: but we may observe, that it was needful in the first place to set before the Jews the benefits of God, that they might with more alacrity proceed with the work of building the temple, and know that their labour would not be in vain; and now it was necessary to change the strain, lest hypocrites, vainly confiding in these promises, should become hardened, as it is commonly the case; and also, lest the faithful should not entertain due fear, and thus go heedlessly before God; for nothing is more ruinous than security, inasmuch as when a license is taken to sin, God's judgement impends over us. We hence see how useful and reasonable was this warnings of the Prophet, as he made the Jews to understand, that God would not be propitious to his people without punishing their wickedness and obstinacy. In order to render his prophecy impressive, Zechariah addresses Lebanon; as though he was God's herald, he bids it to open its gates, for the whole wood was now given up to the fire. Had he spoken without a figure, his denunciation would not have had so much force: he therefore denounces near ruin on Lebanon and on other places. Almost all think that by Lebanon is to be understood the temple, because it was built with timber from that mountain; but this view seems to me frigid, though it is approved by the common consent of interpreters. For why should we think the temple to be metaphorically called Lebanon rather than Bashan? And they think so such thing of Bashan, though there is equally the same reason. I therefore regard it simply as the Mount Lebanon; and I shall merely refer to what Joseph us declares, that the temple was opened before the city was destroyed by Titus. But though that history may be true, and it seems to me probable, it does not hence follow that this prophecy was then fulfilled, according to what is said of Rabbi Jonathan, who then exclaimed, "Lo! the prophecy of Zechariah; for he foretold that the temple would be burnt, and that the gates would be previously opened." These things seem plausible, and at the first view gain our approbation. But I think that we must understand something more solid, and less refined: for I doubt not but that the Prophet denounces complete ruin on Mount Lebanon, and on Bashan and other places. But why does he bid Lebanon to open its gates? The reason is given, for shortly after he calls it a fortified forest, which was yet without walls and gates. Lebanon, we know, was nigh to Jerusalem, though far enough to be free from any hostile attack. As then the place was by nature sufficiently safe from being assailed, the Prophet speaks, as though Lebanon was surrounded by fortresses; for it was not exposed to the attacks of enemies. The meaning is, - that though on account of its situation the Jews thought that Lebanon was not exposed to any evils, yet the wantonness of enemies would lead them even there. We have already said why the Prophet bids Lebanon to open its gates, even because he puts on the character of a herald, who threatens and declares, that God's extreme vengeance was already nigh at hand. He then adds, Howl thou, fir-tree, for the cedar has fallen. No doubt the Prophet by naming Lebanon, mentioning a part for the whole, meant the whole of Judea: and it appears evident from the context that the most remarkable places are here mentioned; but yet the Prophet's design was to show, that God would punish the whole people, so as not to spare Jerusalem or any other place. And then by the fir-trees and cedars he meant whatever then excelled in Judea or in other places; and for this reason he compares them to the cedars of Lebanon, as though he had said, "There is no reason for the fir-trees to regard themselves as beyond the reach of danger; for if he spares not the cedars what will become of the fir-trees, which possess no such stateliness and grandeur?" We now then perceive the Prophet's meaning as to the trees: but he includes, as I have said, under one kind, whatever was valuable in Judea; and this we learn more clearly from what follows: for he adds, Fallen have, or laid waste have been, the strong. Some read in the neuter gender, "Laid waste have been splendid things;" but I am inclined to regard persons as intended. The Prophet then now simply declares, that the vengeance of God was nigh all the great ones, whom dignity sheltered, so that they thought themselves in no danger. And for the same purpose he adds, Howl, ye oaks of Bashan. He joins, as we see, Bashan to Lebanon; there is then no reason for allegorising only one of the words, when they are both connected. And he says, For fallen has the fortified forest. Either this may be applied to Lebanon, or the Prophet may be viewed as saying in general, that there was no place so difficult of access, which would not be penetrated into, when the Lord should give liberty to enemies to destroy all things. Though then the density of trees protected these mountains, yet the Prophet says that nothing would obstruct God's vengeance from penetrating into the inmost recesses of strongholds. He then adds, The voice of the howling of shepherds; for their excellency, or their courage, is laid waste. Here he has "adar", and before "adirim", in the masculine gender. We see then that the Prophet confirms the same thing in other words, "Howl now," he says, "shall the shepherds." He intimates that the beginning of this dreadful judgement would be with the chief men, as they were especially the cause of the public ruin. He then says, that the dignity of the great was now approaching its fall, and hence he bids them to howl. He does not in these words exhort them to repentance, but follows the same strain of doctrine. By God's command he here declares, that the shepherds who took pride in their power, could not escape the judgement which they had deserved: and as this is a mode of speaking usually adopted by the Prophets, I shall no longer dwell on the subject. He afterwards adds, The voice of the roaring of lions. He no doubt gives here the name of lions, by way of metaphor, to those who cruelly exercised their power over the people. But he also alludes to the banks of Jordan, where there were lions, as it is well known. Since then lions were found along the whole course of Jordan, as it is evident from many passages, he compares shepherds to lions, even the governors who had abused their authority by exercising tyranny over the people: Fallen then has the pride or the excellency of Jordan. In short, it is now sufficiently evident, that the Prophet threatens final destruction both to the kingdom of Judah and to the kingdom of Israel. Both kingdoms were indeed then abolished; but I speak of the countries themselves. The meaning is - that neither Judea nor the land of the ten tribes would be free from God's vengeance. He afterwards adds - Zechariah 11:4-6 4 Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; 5 Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not. 6 For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them. Here is given a reason why God purposed to deal so severely with his people - even because their obstinacy deserved no pardon. As then in the beginning of the chapter the Prophet threatened ruin to the Jews, so now he reminds them that their punishment was nigh, and that they could not be more gently treated, because their wickedness was wholly incurable. We now perceive the design of the Prophet; but he charges the Jews especially with ingratitude, because they responded so basely and shamefully to the singular benefits of God. He says first, that he was bidden to feed the flock destined to the slaughter. Now the Prophet does not here relate simply what command he had received from God, but teaches us in general that God had ever performed the office of a good and faithful shepherd towards the Jews. The Prophet then assumes the character of all the shepherds, as though he had said, "There is no reason why this people should plead their ignorance, or attempt to disguise their own fault by other names and various pretences; for God has ever offered them a shepherd, and sent also ministers to guide and rule them: it is not to be ascribed to God that this people has not enjoyed prosperity and happiness." There is now no need of spending much labour about this verse, as interpreters have done who confine what is here said to Christ alone, as one who had received this office from the Father; for we shall see from the passage itself that the Prophet's words are by them forcibly wrested from their meaning. Let it then be borne in mind, that his special object is to show - that God had ever been ready to rule this people, so that he could not have been accused by them of not having done what could have been possibly looked for or expected from a good shepherd. If any one objects and says, that this could have been said in other words, the plain answer is - that God's perpetual care in his government had been fully shown; for he had not only himself performed the duties and office of a shepherd, but had also at all times set over them ministers, who performed faithfully their work. Since God then had so constantly and sedulously watched over the safety of the people, we see that their ingratitude was wholly proved. And by calling it the flock of slaughter, a reference is made to the time of the Prophet; for the Jews were then as though they had been snatched from the jaws of wolves, having been delivered from exile. They were then as dead sheep, whom the Lord had rescued; and we also know to how many troubles and dangers they had been constantly exposed. And hence appeared more clearly the goodness of God; for he was pleased nevertheless to exercise care over his flock. Then the Prophet enlarges here on God's favour, because he had not despised his sheep though given up to the slaughter. The words might indeed be extended farther, as though the Prophet referred to what had already taken place, and they might thus be applied to many ages; but it seems to me more probable, that he mentions here what belonged to that age. Zechariah then teaches us why God was constrained to adopt extreme severity, even because he had tried all things that might have healed the people, and yet lost all his labour: when their wickedness became wholly incurable, despair as it were at length constrained God to exercise the severity mentioned here. This is, as I think, the meaning of the Prophet. He afterwards adds another circumstance, which shows still further the wonderful and ineffable goodness of God, - that he had been a shepherd of a flock, which had not only been harassed by wolves and robbers, but also by its own shepherds. In short, the import of the whole is, - that though wolves and robbers had ranged with great barbarity among the people, yet God had always been their shepherd. He then enlarges on the subject and says, that they who possessed them had killed them, so that they spared not. By these words the Prophet shows that the safety of the people had been deemed as nothing by their very leaders: they could not then by any excellence of their own have induced God to show so much kindness to them. But these words ought to be attentively noticed, - that when the flock was slain, the executioners or butchers themselves had no mercy, for they thought it was a spoil justly due to them. We see how God extols here his own goodness; for he had condescended to defend and rule and feed that people, who were not only despised in the world, but counted as nothing, and the slaughtering of them deemed a lawful prey: they sin not, he says, that is, they are not conscious of exercising any cruelty, - Why? because they thought that they justly enriched themselves, while they were plundering so wretched a flock. The more base, then, and inexcusable was the ingratitude of the people, when after having been so kindly received and so gently nourished by God, they yet rejected all his favours and suffered not themselves to be governed by his hand. And it is material to observe here, that these contrasts tend greatly to exaggerate the sins of men, and ought to be considered, that God's severity may not be blamed; for we know that many complain when God executes his judgements: they would measure all punishments by their own ideas, and subject God to their own will. In order therefore to check such complaints, the Prophet says, that though the flock was most contemptible, it had not yet been despised by God, but that he undertook the care of it. The shepherds and masters said, Blessed be Jehovah. We are wont to give thanks to God when we really believe that the blessings we have come from him. The robber who kills an innocent man will not say, "Blessed be God;" for he on the contrary tries to extinguish every remembrance of God, because he has wounded his own conscience. The same may be also said of thieves. Hypocrites often profess the name of God; and they whose trade is cheating ever make a speech of this kind, "By God's grace I have gained so much this year;" that is, after having acquired the property of others by deceit, cheating, and plunder, they give thanks to God! and at the same time they flatter themselves by self-deception, as though all were a lawful prey; for, forsooth! they are not proved guilty before a human tribunal. Now the Prophet here adopts this common mode of speaking, by which men, not conscious of doing wrong, usually testify that their gain is just and lawful. He then adds, And he who fed then has not spared them. The meaning is, that the people, according to the opinions commonly entertained, were not worthy of mercy and kindness. Hence, as I have said, the wonderful goodness of God shines forth more clearly; for he condescended to take the care of a flock that was wholly despised. Then he says, I will not spare the inhabitants of the land; behold I will deliver, &c. To some it appears that there is here a reason given; for the Jews would have never been thus stripped, had not God been angry with them; as though he had said, that God's vengeance was just, inasmuch as they were thus exposed to such atrocious wrongs. But according to my judgement God simply confirms what we have stated, - that his future vengeance on the Jews would be most just, because he had in feeding them so carefully laboured wholly in vain. For though the Prophet has not as yet expressed what we shall hereafter see respecting their ingratitude, he yet does not break off his discourse without reason, for indignation has ever some warmth in it; he then in the middle of his argument exclaims here, I will not spare; for God had spared the Jews, when yet all men exercised cruelty towards them with impunity; and when they were contemptible in the sight of all, he still had regarded their safety. As then they had been so ungrateful for so many acts of kindness, ought not God to have been angry with them? This is then the reason why the Prophet introduces here in God's name this threatening, Surely I will not spare them; that is, "I have hitherto deferred my vengeance, and have surpassed all men in kindness and mercy; but I have misplaced my goodness, and now there is no reason why I should longer suspend my judgement." I will spare then no longer the inhabitants of this land. I will give, or deliver, he says, every man into the hand of his friend; as though he had said, "They are no longer sheep, for they will not bear to be ruled by my hand, though they have found me to be the best of shepherds. They shall now tear and devour one another; and thus a horrible dispersion will follow." Now the Jews ought to have dreaded nothing so much, as to be given up to destroy themselves by mutual slaughter, and thus to rage cruelly against one another and to perish without any external enemy: but yet God declares that this would be the case, and for this reason, because he could not succeed with them, though willing to feed them as his sheep and ready to perform the office of shepherd in ruling them. He concludes by saying, They shall smite the land, and I will not deliver from their hand. He intimates in the last place that ruin without any remedy was nigh; for he alone was the only deliverer of the people; but now he testifies that their safety would not be the object of his care; for should he see them perishing a hundred times, he would not be moved with pity, nor turn to bring them help, inasmuch as they had precluded all compassion. It now follows - Zechariah 11:7 And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock. He resumes here the thread of the discourse, which he had shortly before broken off; for he sets forth what had not yet been sufficiently expressed - that the ingratitude of the people, with which obstinacy was especially united, deserved entire ruin, and that now there was no hope of pardon; for the paternal care of God had been most basely and most shamefully repudiated, as well as the kind favour which he had manifested to the people. God then complains that he fed the flock. Some apply this to Zechariah; but, as I have said, God relates the acts of kindness which he had uniformly showed to the people, until they became wholly unworthy of his favour. Let us however remember that the Prophet speaks of the remnant; for he does not here recount the benefits of God in ancient times, but describes the state of the people after their return from their exile in Babylon. God seemed before to have committed this office to Zechariah - to feed them; but as I have already said, the design of that was no other than to make it evident that the whole fault was in the people; for they had thrust from them the kindness of God, and in a manner carried on war frowardly with God, so as to prevent any access for his favour. There is therefore here an expostulation in God's name. I have fed, he says, the flock of slaughter, even the poor of the flock. Some render "lachen" on account of; but it may be taken in an explanatory sense: or we may give this rendering - "therefore the poor," or, especially the poor. With regard to the meaning, God here intimates that he had manifested his care for the whole people, for he had hoped that there were a few sheep yet remaining worthy of having mercy shown to them. As then some poor sheep might have been found among the impure flock, God says, that having this hope, he did not deem it grievous or burdensome to undertake the office of a shepherd in ruling the people. I have then fed the flock of slaughter, even for this reason, he says, because there were some miserable sheep among them: I was therefore unwilling to forsake them, and preferred to try all means rather than to cast away even one little sheep, provided a single one were found in the whole flock. He says that he took two rode, that he called one "no'am", "Beauty," and that he called the other "chovlim", "Cords," rendered "destroyers" by those who adhere to the Hebrew points; but as "chaval" both in the singular and plural, has the meaning of a rope or cord, the Prophet, I have no doubt, means by "chovlim" ropes or bindings. Grammar, indeed, does not allow this; but Zechariah did not set down the points, for they were not then in use. I indeed know with how much care the old scribes contrived the points, when the language had already ceased to be in common use. They then who neglect, or wholly reject the points, are certainly void of all judgement and reason; but yet some discrimination ought to be exercised; for if we read here "destroyers," there is no meaning; if we read "cords," there is no letter changed, but only two points are altered. As then the subject itself necessarily demands this meaning, I wonder that interpreters suffer themselves to be servilely constrained, so as not to regard the design of the Prophet. The Prophet then says, that he had taken two rods, that he might devote himself in a manner not common to the office of a shepherd. Shepherds were satisfied with one crook; for by rods he means here the crook used by shepherds. As then every shepherd carried his own crook, the Prophet says here that he was furnished with two crooks, or pastoral staffs, because the Lord surpassed all men in his solicitude in the office of ruling his people. But the remainder I must defer until to-morrow. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast hitherto so kindly showed thyself to be our Shepherd, and even our Father, and hast carefully provided for our safety, - O grant, that we may not by our ingratitude deprive ourselves of thy favours, so as to provoke thy extreme vengeance, but on the contrary suffer ourselves to be gently ruled by thee, and render thee due obedience: and as thine only-begotten Son has been by thee set over us as our only true Shepherd, may we hear his voice, and willingly obey him, so that we may be able to triumph with thy Prophet, that thy staff is sufficient for us, so as to enable us to walk without fear through the valley of the shadow of death, until we shall at length reach that blessed and eternal rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only Son. - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 25... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-24.txt .