(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 25)
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-eighth. 
    We said yesterday that the word "chovlim", the name given by 
Zechariah to the second rod, could not be rendered "destroyers," as 
all the Hebrews do; for God teaches us that he had fully and 
faithfully discharged the duties of a shepherd, so that the people 
perished through their own fault; and since God undertook the office 
of a shepherd, it could not have been said that he took a staff to 
destroy them: and there is also no doubt but that he connects this 
word with the other, "no'am", "beauty." And he says in the last 
place, that this rod called "chovlim" was broken, in order to show 
that the brotherhood between Judah and Israel was come to an end. 
Now what affinity can there be between destroying and uniting? It is 
then clear that the word "chovlim" is to be taken here for ropes, or 
    Let us now see why the Prophet calls one "Beauty," and the 
other "Ropes." Some think that the law of nature is designated by 
"no'am". and by "chovlim" the law of Moses, and those who render the 
word "Lines," such as Jerome, who gives here the right version, 
think that as the law was a hard yoke on the ancients, the rod was 
so called because it bound them fast. Others, as Jerome also does, 
refer to this passage of Moses, "When the Lord cast his line, he 
chose a place for Israel, and when the Highest divided the nations," 
&c. They then think that a line is taken for an inheritance. But the 
first interpretation is too remote and distorted; with regard to the 
second, as the Prophet puts the word in the plural number, it cannot 
be suitably taken for an inheritance, and, as we said yesterday, the 
following clause shows that the idea of union is included in it. 
    The meaning of the Prophet then is, that God had so performed 
his office of a shepherd towards his people, as to rule them in the 
best manner; this I understand by the word "no'am", beauty, for 
nothing could have been more perfect in beauty than the government 
which God had exercised over the Israelites; and hence he compares 
here his pastoral staff to beauty, as though he had said, "The order 
of things was so arranged that nothing could be imagined better." He 
then mentions unity or concord, and it was the highest favour that 
God gathered again the scattered Israelites so as to make them one 
body. It is indeed true, that few of the kingdom of Israel had 
returned to their own country, but it is yet evident that the 
remnant was not only from the tribe of Judah, from the half tribe of 
Benjamin, and from the Levites, but that there were others mingled 
with them. It was therefore a most appropriate representation, that 
not only a most beautiful order was established by God, but that was 
also added a brotherly concord, so that the children of Abraham were 
joined together in one spirit and in one soul. Since then they had 
so good a shepherd, the baser and less excusable was their 
ingratitude in shaking off his yoke, and in not suffering themselves 
to be ruled by his staff. 
    We now then see what the words of the Prophet mean, when he 
introduces God as furnished with two rods, even beauty and 
gathering. He then repeats what he had said before, I have fed, he 
says, the sheep, intimating, that it was not owing to him that he 
should not continue to rule them. It now follows - 
Zechariah 11:8 
Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul lothed 
them, and their soul also abhorred me. 
    At the beginning of the verse the Prophet continues the same 
subject, that God spared no pains in ruling the people, but 
patiently bore with many grievances; for it is the duty of every 
good and careful husband man to inspect often his flock, and to 
change his shepherd, when he finds him idle and inattentive to his 
duties. God then shows that he had exercised the greatest vigilance, 
for in one month he had rejected three shepherds, that is, he had 
within a short space of time often made choice of new shepherds, and 
substituted them for others, for one month is to be taken here for a 
short time, and the three shepherds signify many, indefinitely. When 
a husband man neglects his own flock, he may be deceived all the 
year round, should he meet with a thief or an inactive and worthless 
man. Since then God says, that he had changed his shepherds often in 
one month, he intimates what I have already said, that he took the 
greatest care of his flock, for he loved it, and omitted nothing 
necessary to defend it. And this circumstance especially aggravated 
the sin of the Jews, for they did not respond to so great a care on 
God's part; no, not when they saw that he watched night and day for 
their safety. 
    Now the latter part of the verse is a complaint, for God begins 
to set forth how base had been the wickedness and ingratitude of the 
people, With weariness, he says, has my soul been affected by them, 
and their soul has hated mesa He speaks not now of the shepherds, 
and they are mistaken who so read the passage, as though God had 
repudiated the shepherds, because his soul w as wearied with them: 
on the contrary, he turns his discourse to the whole people, and 
begins to show how wicked they had been, who having been favoured 
with so many benefits, could not yet endure the best of shepherds. 
Hence he says, that his soul had been straitened by them, for he 
found no room made for his favours. Paul also, treating on this 
subject, expostulates with the Corinthians, and says, that he was 
ready to pour forth his heart and to open widely his mouth, but they 
themselves were straitened, and he felt himself these straitenings 
in his own heart. (2 Cor. 6: 11.) So also God complains here and 
says, that he was straitened by the Jews; for he found that his 
blessings were not rightly received, but as it were hindered, so 
great was the wickedness of the people. 
    He expresses more clear]y at the end that he was despised by 
them, They also have hated me. Now it was a contempt in no way 
excusable, when the Jews would not acknowledge how kindly and 
bountifully God had treated them. We now perceive the Prophet's 
design: after having related how kindly God had condescended to rule 
the people, he now says that this labour had produced no fruit, for 
the door for God's favours had been closed up. It afterwards follows 
Zechariah 11:9 
Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and 
that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat 
every one the flesh of another. 
    God now declares what had been briefly mentioned before, - that 
his judgement could not be deemed cruel, for the people had been 
extremely wicked, and their wickedness deserved extreme punishment. 
It seems indeed to be a simple narrative; but God here defends his 
own cause, for he had tried all means in ruling the people, before 
he had recourse to extreme rigour. Who indeed could now murmur 
against God? for he had been ever ready to undertake the office of a 
shepherd, and had so humbled himself as to take care of that people 
as his own flock, and had, in short, omitted no kind of attention; 
and yet he had been despised by that people, and even treated with 
derision. It was therefore an extreme indignity when they hated God, 
who had yet dealt with them with so much kindness. We hence see that 
God's judgement is here vindicated from every calumny; for the 
wickedness of the people was altogether inexcusable before God had 
renounced his care of them. 
    I said: the time must be noticed, for he intimates that he had 
not been too hasty in taking vengeance; but that as there was no 
longer any remedy, he had been constrained, as it were by necessity, 
to give up his office of a shepherd. I said then, I will not feed 
you; what is to die, let it die; what is to be cut off, let it be 
cut off. He here resigns his office of a shepherd, and intimates 
that he was innocent and free from all blame, whatever might happen. 
A shepherd is set over a flock for this purpose, - that he may 
defend it, even every sheep, both against the depredations of 
robbers, and the rapacity of wolves: but when he gives up his 
office, he is exempt from all blame, though afterwards the flock may 
be stolen or devoured by wolves and wild beasts. God then here 
openly declares, that it was not to be imputed to him, if the Jews 
perished a hundred times, for they refused to be ruled by him, and 
thus he was freed from the pastoral charge. What then is to perish, 
let it perish; that is, "Since they are not healable, and allow no 
remedy to be applied to their evils, I leave them; they shall find 
out what it is to be without a good shepherd." 
    We now see more clearly what I before stated, - that the 
wickedness and ingratitude of the people are here reproved, because 
they had rejected God, who was ready to be their shepherd, - and 
that the cause of the ruin which was nigh at hand, was in the Jews 
themselves, though they anxiously tried, but in vain, to transfer it 
to another. 
    He concludes with these words, And those which remain, even 
those who shall escape external attacks, let them eat one another, 
since they are not now sheep, but savage wild beasts. And this we 
know has been fulfilled; for the Jews at length perished through 
mutual discords, and no one spared his own brother; nay, the nearer 
the relationship, the more cruelly each raged against the other. 
Hence God's judgement, denounced by the Prophet, then appeared most 
openly, when the Jews perished through intestine broils and even 
slaughters. It then follows - 
Zechariah 11:10,11 
10 And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I 
might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. 
11 And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that 
waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD. 
    He confirms the same truth, but a metaphor is introduced: for 
he says, that when he freed himself from the office of a shepherd, 
he broke the two rods, even Beauty and Gathering. He speaks of the 
first staff, because things were in a confusion in Judea, before the 
people were wholly cut off; for the dispersion did not immediately 
take place, so that there was no sort of social state among the 
Jews; but social order was so deranged, that it was sufficiently 
evident that they were not ruled by God. By degrees the purity of 
doctrine was corrupted, and a flood of errors crept in; superstition 
gained great strength. When things were in this state of confusion, 
the pastoral staff was broken, which is called, Beauty. This verse 
then contains no more than an explanation of the last: and hence 
also he says, That broken might be the covenant which I had made, 
that is, that it might be now quite evident that this people are not 
ruled by my hand and authority. 
    Some interpreters extend to the whole world what is here said 
of nations, and think that the same thing is meant by Zechariah as 
that which is said in the second chapter of Hosea, - that the Lord 
made a covenant with the beasts of the earth and the birds of 
heaven, that no harm should happen to his people; but the comparison 
is not suitable. It is then probable, that God here speaks only of 
the posterity of Abraham; nor is it to be wondered at that they are 
called nations, for even so Moses says, "Nations from thee shall be 
born," (Gen. 17: 6.) and this was done for the purpose of setting 
forth the greatness of God's favour; for the ten tribes were as so 
many nations among whom God reigned. It seemed incredible, that from 
one man, not only a numerous family, but many nations should 
proceed. The real meaning then seems to be, that God testified that 
he would no longer be the leader of that people; for when order was 
trodden under foot, the covenant of God was made void. Why indeed 
was that covenant continued, and what was its design, except to keep 
things aright, in a fit and suitable condition? Thus in the church, 
God regards order, so that nothing should be done rashly, according 
to every man's humour. This then was the beginning of that 
dispersion, which at length followed when the people had fallen off 
from the order which God had appointed. 
    He concludes by saying, that in that way the covenant was 
broken. By which words he intimates that it was not by chance that 
the law was destroyed, and that the Jews departed from the just 
government of God, but that it was through the dreadful vengeance of 
God. In that day then: this is emphatical, as though the Prophet had 
said, "It ought not to be ascribed to chance that things have 
changed for the worse, for God has thus executed his judgement, 
after having with extreme patience borne with the wickedness of the 
people." And hence he adds, that the poor of the flock saw that this 
was the word of Jehovah. Here the Prophet briefly points out two 
things - that this was not commonly known as God's judgement, but 
that almost all with closed eyes overlooked what had happened; for 
the world contracts as it were hardness, and becomes wilfully 
obdurate under the scourges of God. All cry out that they are 
miserable, but no one regards the hand of the striker, as it is said 
elsewhere. (Is. 9: 13.) So also Zechariah charges here the Jews with 
stupidity; for though the greater part saw all things in confusion, 
yet they did not consider, but regarded almost as nothing the 
dreadful judgement of God. It must then be that men are extremely 
refractory, when they perceive not that they are chastised by God; 
yet the Prophet charges the Jews with this sottishness; for they 
regarded not this as the word of Jehovah, they did not believe that 
this was God's hand. But he says further, that the poor of the flock 
perceived this: and thus he shows, that while the body of the people 
followed the way to ruin, a few derived benefit from God's scourges; 
and thus it never happens, that God chastises without some 
advantage. Though then the reprobate obstinately resist God, and 
hesitate not to tread under foot his judgements, and as far as they 
can, render them void, there are yet some few who receive benefit 
and acknowledge God's hand so as to humble themselves and repent. 
    The Prophet, then, after having complained that the chief men, 
even those who were in honour and in wealth among the Jews, 
heedlessly despised God's dreadful judgement, makes this addition, 
that there were a few very poor and humble men, who regarded this 
judgement as not having come by chance, but through God, who became 
a just avenger, because his favour had been wantonly despised: The 
poor then of the flock knew this to be the word of Jehovah. 
    As this happened in the time of the Prophet, it is no wonder 
that at this day, even when God thunders from heaven and makes known 
his judgements by manifest proofs, the world should yet rush 
headlong into perdition, and become as it were stupefied in their 
calamities. In the meantime we ought to strive to connect ourselves 
with the miserable poor, who are deemed as the offscourings of the 
world, and so attentively to consider God's vengeance, that we may 
seriously fear and not provoke his extreme judgements, and thus 
perish with the wicked. 
    We must observe also the expression which Zechariah introduced 
before the last words, Who attend to me. He mentions it as a 
singular and a rare thing, that even a few deigned to consider the 
works of God. The chief wisdom of men, we know, is attentively to 
consider the hand of God; but almost all seem to be immersed in a 
state of stupor: when the Lord smites them, they stand as it were 
amazed, and never, as we have already said, regard the hand of the 
smiter; and when the Lord freely and kindly cherishes them, they 
exult in their own wantonness. Thus under every kind of treatment, 
they are untractable; for they attend not to God, but close their 
eyes, harden their hearts, and cover themselves with many veils; in 
short, we find the blindness of the world ever connected with 
perverseness, so that they in vain pretend ignorance, for they 
attend not to God, but on the contrary turn their backs on him and 
darken the clear light by their wickedness. 
    We now then see why this sentence is introduced, that the poor 
of the flock understand, because they apply their minds and devote 
their attention for the purpose of considering the works of God. It 
hence follows that the bulls, who with their horns fearlessly assail 
God, and that he-goats, who by their stench fill the air, continue 
in their brutishness, and derive no benefit from God's judgements, 
because they are wilfully and through their own wickedness wholly 
blind. It follows - 
Zechariah 11:12,13 
12 And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if 
not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 
13 And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly 
price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of 
silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD. 
    God now adds another crime, by which he discovers the 
wickedness of the people; for they estimated all the labour he had 
bestowed at a cry insignificant price. He had before complained of 
ingratitude; but more fully detected was the iniquity and baseness 
of the people, when they thus regarded as of no value the 
inestimable favour of God towards them. What the Prophet then says 
now is - that God at last tried them so as to know whether his 
benefits were of any account among the Jews, and that it had been 
fully found out, that all the labour and toil employed in their 
behalf, had been ill-spent and wholly lost. That Zechariah now 
speaks in his own person, and then introduces God as the speaker, 
makes no difference, as we said yesterday, as to the main subject; 
for his object is to set forth how shamefully the Jews had abused 
the favour of God, and how unjustly they had despised it. And yet he 
speaks as God's minister; for God not only governed that people 
himself, but also endued with the power of his Spirit many 
ministers, who undertook the office of shepherds. 
    He then says, that he came (and what is said properly belongs 
to God) to the people and demanded a reward, give me, he says, a 
reward; if not, forbear. He expresses here the highest indignation, 
as though one upbraided the wickedness and ingratitude of his 
neighbour and said, "Own my kindness, if you please; if not, let it 
perish: I care not; I see that you are wholly worthless and 
altogether unworthy of being so liberally treated: I therefore make 
no account of thy compensations; but at the same time it behaves 
thee to consider how much thou art indebted to me." So now does God 
in high displeasure speak here: "Give me at least a reward, that I 
may not have served you for nothing: you have misused my labour, I 
have borne with many wrongs and annoyances in ruling you; what is to 
be the compensation for my solicitude and care? I indeed make no 
account of a reward, for I am not a mercenary." He then adds, that 
they gave him thirty silverings. He mentions this no doubt as a mean 
price, intimating, that they wished by such a small sum to 
compensate for the many and inestimable favours of God; as when one 
hires a swineherd or a clown, he gives a paltry sum as his wages; so 
the Jews, as the Prophet says, acted towards God. At the same time 
by the mean price, a suitable reward only to a clown, he means those 
frivolous things by which the Jews thought to satisfy God: for we 
know how diligent they were in performing their ceremonies, as 
though indeed these were a compensation that was of any value with 
God! He requires integrity of heart, and he gives himself to us, 
that he may in return have us as his own. This then was the price of 
labour which the Lord had deserved. It would have been a suitable 
reward had the Jews devoted themselves wholly to him in obedience to 
his word. But what did they do? They sedulously performed ceremonies 
and other frivolous things. This then was a sordid reward, as though 
they sought to put him off with the reward of a swineherd. 
    Hence he adds, Jehovah said to me, throw it to the potter. 
"This truly is my reward! Cast it to the potter, that he may get 
some bricks or coverings to repair the temple; if there are any 
parts of the temple dilapidated, let the potter get thereby some 
bricks, or let any humble artisan have such a price for himself." 
But he afterwards speaks ironically when he says, the magnificence 
and the glory of the price at which he had been estimated! "This is, 
forsooth! the magnificence of my price, though I had endured many 
toils! they now deal with me as with some mean swineherd, though I 
was their Lord and Shepherd: since then they seek thus craftily to 
satisfy me, and reproachfully offer me a paltry reward, and as it 
were degrade my glory and spit in my face, Cast, cast it, he says, 
to the potter;" that is, let them repair the temple, in which they 
delight so much as if they were in heaven: for the temple is their 
idol; but God will be never nigh them while they act thus 
hypocritically with him. "Let them then repair the breaches of the 
temple and pay the price to the potter, for I will not suffer a 
price so unworthy of my majesty to be obtruded so disgracefully on 
    We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet: and first we 
must bear in mind what I have stated, that here is described how 
irreclaimable had been the wickedness of the people: though rejected 
by God, when he had broken his rod, they yet esteemed as nothing the 
favours which they had experienced. How so? because they thought 
that they performed an abundant service to God, when they worshipped 
him by external frivolities; for ceremonies without a real sense of 
religion are frivolous puerilities in God's presence. What then the 
Prophet now urges is, that the Jews wilfully buried God's benefits, 
by which he had nevertheless so bound them to himself that they 
could not be released. And to the same purpose is what follows, Cast 
it to the potter: for he testifies that the price was of no value, 
nay, that he abominated such a reward as men paid hint when they 
dealt with him in such a reproachful manner; for as he says in 
Isaiah, it was a weariness to him - "I am disgusted with your festal 
days; why do you daily tread the pavement of my temple?" (Is. 1: 
12,13;) and again he says, "He who slays an ox is the same as he who 
kills a man." (Is. 66: 3.) God in these places shows, as here by 
Zechariah, that these sacrifices which ungodly men and hypocrites 
offer to him, without a right feeling of religion, are the greatest 
abominations to him, - why? Because it is the highest indignity 
which the wicked call offer, which is as it were to spit in his 
face, when they compare him to a potter or a swineherd, and think 
nothing of the reward which he deserves, and that is, to consecrate 
and really to devote themselves wholly to him without any 
dissimulation. When therefore men trifle with God and think that he 
is delighted with frivolous puerilities, they compare him, as I have 
said, to a swineherd, or to some low or common workman; and this is 
an indignity which he cannot bear, and for which he manifests hero 
by his Prophet his high displeasure. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou ceases not, though provoked 
by our many sins, to discharge the office of a good and most 
faithful shepherd, and as thou continues in various ways to testify 
that Christ watches over us as one who has undertaken the care of 
our safety, - O grant, that we may be touched with the feeling of 
true repentance, and so profit under thy scourges, that by 
considering thy judgements, we may be really humbled under and 
mighty hand, and so submit to thee, that finding us teachable and 
obedient, thou mayest continue to rule us to the end, until after 
having been protected from all harms by the pastoral staff of thine 
only-begotten Son, we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which 
has been procured for us by his blood. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 26...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-25.txt