(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 
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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. 
    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