(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 26)
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-ninth. 
Zechariah 11:14 
14 Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might 
break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. 
    There is here set before us the extreme vengeance of God in 
scattering his people, so that there would be no longer any union 
between the children of Abraham. We have seen that the Prophet took 
two staves or crooks to execute the office of a shepherd in ruling 
the people. The first staff he said was Beauty, because God had 
omitted nothing necessary to produce the best order of things. Now 
when this blessed mode of ruling was trodden under foot, then soon 
after followed the scattering of the people: and this is the reason 
why the Prophet says, that he broke the other rod, or his crook. We 
then see that this people by their ingratitude at length justly 
deserved to be left without any regular form of government, and also 
without any union. 
    As to the word "chavalim", we have before said that what the 
Rabbis teach us, that it means "destroyers," does not comport with 
the passage. But why should Zechariah say here that the rod was 
broken, that there should be no more union or fraternity between the 
kingdom of Judah and the ten tribes? We have already said, that this 
word by changing the points may have the meaning which has been 
mentioned; for "chevel" signifies a rope or binding. We must also 
bear in mind, that this is an instance of "last first" (husteron 
proteron;) for he told us before that God, bidding adieu to the 
people, demanded his reward; this then ought to have been first 
mentioned: but this inversion of order is common in Hebrew. This 
verse then we are to read, as though it was placed before the last 
mission, by which God laid aside the office of a shepherd. 
    I will come now to the passage in Matthew; for after having 
told us that the thirty pieces of silver were cast away by Judah, 
and that by them the Potter's Field was bought, he adds, that this 
prediction of the Prophet was fulfilled. He does not indeed repeat 
the same words, but it is quite clear, that this passage was quoted, 
"They gave," he says, "the thirty silvering, the price of the 
valued, whom they of the children of Israel have valued." (Matt. 27: 
9.) In substance then there is no doubt an agreement between the 
words of Matthew and those of the Prophet. But we must hold this 
principle, - that Christ was the true Jehovah from the beginning. As 
then the Son of God is the same in essence with the Father, and is 
with him the only true God, it is no wonder that what the Prophet 
figuratively expressed as having been done under the law by the 
ancient people, has been done to him literally in his own person: 
for as they had given to God thirty pieces of silver, a sordid 
price, as his just reward, so he complained that the labour he 
undertook in ruling them, was unjustly valued; and when Christ was 
sold for thirty pieces of silver, it was a visible specimen of this 
prophecy exhibited in his own person. 
    When Matthew says, that Christ was valued by the children of 
Israel, he charges the chosen people with impiety. The article 
"hoi", is to be here understood. The expression is indeed, "apo 
huion Israel"; but the sentence is to be taken in this sense, - that 
he was valued at so low a price, not by barbarous nations, but by 
the very people who were of the children of Israel and of the seed 
of Abraham, as though he had said, "This wrong has been offered to 
God, not by strangers, but by a people whom he had chosen and 
adopted as his peculiar possession; and this wickedness is therefore 
less excusable." 
    Then Matthew adds, "They gave it for the Potter's Field, as the 
Lord had commanded me." This part also well agrees with the 
prophecy. It is indeed certain that this money was not designedly 
given to buy a field, that the Jews might obey God; but we know that 
God executes his purposes by means of the wicked, though they 
neither think nor wish to do such a thing. But what does Zechariah 
say? Cast it, he says, to the potter; he does not say "To the field 
of the potter." But we have explained for what purpose God commanded 
the thirty silvering to be cast to the potter; it was, that he might 
get bricks or tiles to repair the temple; and this was said in 
contempt, or by way of ridicule. Such also was the visible symbol of 
this as to the purchase of the field; for the potter, the seller of 
the field, knew not what he was doing; the Scribes and Pharisees 
thought nothing of fulfilling what had been predicted. But that it 
might be made evident that Christ was the true God who had from the 
beginning spoken by the Prophet, God, by setting the thing before 
their eyes, intended that there should be a visible fact or 
transaction, that he might as it were draw the attention of the Jews 
to what is here said. The Prophet proceeds, - 
Zechariah 11:15,16 
15 And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of 
a foolish shepherd. 
16 For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not 
visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor 
heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he 
shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces. 
    Here the Prophet teaches us, that when God shall renounce the 
care of his people there will be some weak form of government; but 
it is evident that God would no longer perform the office of a 
shepherd; as though he had said, that the people would be so 
deserted, that they would yet think themselves to be still under the 
protection of God, as we see to be the case among the Papists, who 
proudly make a boasting of this kind - "The Church is never forsaken 
by God." Though the truth of God has been long ago completely 
buried, they yet hold that it is still the true Church, a Church 
filled with impious superstitions! As then the Papists glory in the 
title only, and are content with it, so the Jews, we know, boasted 
of their privileges; and these were their weapons when they sought 
to oppose and contend with the Apostles - "What! are not we the 
heritage of God? has he not promised that his sanctuary would be 
perpetual among us? is not the sacerdotal unction a sure and 
infallible proof of his favour?" As then the Jews made use of these 
foolish boastings against the Apostles, so also at this day the 
Papists hide all infamy under the title of Church. The same thing 
Zechariah here means by saying that he by God's command took the 
instrument of a foolish shepherd. 
    The word "keliy" means in Hebrew any kind of instrument. Some 
regard it to be a bag with holes, but this is an unsuitable 
interpretation. By instrument, Zechariah, I have no doubt, means the 
implements of a shepherds by which he proves himself to be in that 
office. But he calls him at the same time a foolish shepherd, that 
we may allow that he was a shepherd only in disguise. The term 
shepherd is given here by way of concession, according to the usual 
manner of scripture; and we also at this day concede sometimes the 
name of Church to the Papists; and we farther concede the name of 
pastors to their milted bishops, but improperly. So also does 
Zechariah in this place; though he speaks of a shadow and thing of 
nought, yet he says that there would be shepherds in Judea; and he 
adds the reason - Because God would thus punish that wicked and 
ungrateful people: Behold, he says, I will set a shepherd in the 
land. God had now, as we have said, renounced the office of a 
shepherd; but he afterwards set over them wolves, and thieves, and 
robbers, instead of shepherds, that is, when he executed his 
dreadful judgement on the Jews: and he shows at the same time what 
sort of shepherds they would be who in future should possess power 
over them. 
    They were to be such as would not look after what had been cut 
off. Some consider the word "hanichchadot" as signifying the sick 
sheep; but they are in my judgement mistaken; for careful shepherds 
seek what is lost, or what has disappeared from the flock; and this 
is what Zechariah means, for he says, he will not visit, that is, he 
will look after what has been cut off from the flock. Then he says, 
he will not seek "hana'ar", the young. Some explain this of fat 
lambs; but others more correctly of those which are tender, not as 
yet accustomed to follow the shepherd; for sheep by long use keep 
from going astray, but lambs are more apt to wander from the flock, 
and are easily scattered here and there. This is the reason why 
Zechariah makes it one of the duties of a good shepherd to seek what 
is yet young. He adds in the third place, the sick, What is wounded, 
he says, he will not heal: and lastly, he will not feed what stands, 
that is, what is sound. The word literally is, to stand; but it 
means full vigour or strength. What then is vigorous and sound he 
will not feed. He then says, The flesh, of the fat he will devour, 
yea, he will break their hoofs. By these words he amplifies the 
cruelty of the shepherd; for he will not be satisfied with the fat 
flesh, without breaking also the bones and the hoofs, as though his 
barbarity would exceed that of wolves and wild beasts. 
    We now then see the import of this prophecy: and it seems to 
have been added, that the Jews might not flatter themselves with an 
external and evanescent form of government, after having departed 
from God, and after the covenant which he had made with that nation, 
having been also renounced by him, so that he should be no longer 
their Father, or Guardian, or Shepherd. Hypocrites, we know, do not 
easily put off their obstinacy; though God's vengeance should be 
manifest, yet we see how they harden themselves, especially when 
they can cover their wickedness under some false pretence, a 
striking example of which we observe among the Papists. We now then 
perceive the design of the Holy Spirit, when the Prophet is bid to 
assume the character, and take the implements, of a foolish 
    If any one objects, and says that this was not suitable to a 
true Prophet of God, the answer is plain - the Prophet deviated not 
from the right course of his calling, though he assumed the 
character of a foolish shepherd, an instance of which we have 
already seen in Hosea, who was commanded to take a harlot, and to 
beget spurious children from one who had been infamous in her 
character. (Hosea 1: 2.) As this was a vision presented to Hosea, it 
does not follow that he did anything disgraceful, so as to prevent 
him from exercising the office of a holy teacher. So also now, God 
simply shows to us what would be the fixture condition of that 
reprobate people. 
    It must further be noticed, that when anything of a right and 
good government remains in the external form, there is no reason to 
conclude from this that God is the ruler, for, as we have already 
said, it is a ridiculous and senseless glorying when men are 
inflated and take pride in mere titles or names of distinction. Let 
us then take heed, that those who bear rule be rightly called by 
God, and let them afterwards discharge their office faithfully, 
otherwise they may be a hundred times called pastors, after having 
attained this degree of honour, and be after all no better than 
wolves and robbers; for no one is a true pastor whom the Lord does 
not rule by his Spirit, and who is not his minister, and no ungodly 
pastors, however they may assume the title, can be called the 
ministers of God, when he has already, as we see here, forsaken the 
    It must at the same time be observed, that it happens not 
except through the just judgement of God, that things grow worse and 
worse, and at length become wholly degenerated; and those who loudly 
boast and seek to be esteemed by all as pastors, are altogether 
senseless, for God has not appointed them, and the whole filth of 
the Papal clergy is at this day a manifest evidence of God's wrath 
and indignation, for he thus justly punishes the contempt of his 
word, and that perverseness by which the world thus awfully provoked 
him. Though God has been graciously calling the whole world to 
himself, we yet see how his favour has been rejected, and we also 
see how almost all have gone on in their obstinacy. God had indeed 
in his great goodness borne for some ages with this great 
wickedness, and when he began to punish the ungrateful, he did not 
break out to extreme vengeance, for he added to scourges heavier 
scourges, but at length he was constrained to make his wrath to flow 
like a deluge. Hence has arisen that dreadful confusion which is 
seen under the Papacy; and this is what the words of the Prophet 
mean when God declares here that foolish pastors would be set up by 
his command and through his power, as he would thus execute his 
judgement on the ungodly. 
    Now as the Prophet enumerates here those things which are 
inconsistent with the duty of a good shepherd, we may hence learn, 
on the other hand, what it is to rule the Church rightly and 
according to God's will, and also what are the attributes or marks 
of a good pastor. Whosoever then would be owned as a good pastor in 
the Church, must visit those who have been cut off, seek the young, 
strive to heal the wounded, and feed well the sound and the 
vigorous; and he must also abstain from every kind of cruelty, and 
he must not be given to the indulgence of his appetite, nor regard 
gain, nor exercise any tyranny. Whosoever will thus conduct himself, 
will prove that he is really a true pastor. But what can be more 
preposterous than for those to be called pastors who have no flock 
under their care? who plunder, and gather, and accumulate what they 
afterward spend in dissipation? 
    As then it is quite evident, that all those under the Papacy 
who are called bishops, seek the office for no other end but that 
they may live sumptuously, without any care or labour, and indulge 
in pleasures, and also spend in the gratification of their lust what 
is unjustly got, - as then they are known to be idlers and cruel 
tyrants, such as the Prophet here describes, do we not clearly see 
how childishly they boast of their hierarchy, and at the same time 
declare that they derive their origin from the Apostles? For what 
sort of successor to Peter or to Paul, is he who exercises the most 
barbarous tyranny, and who thinks himself not bound to take care of 
the flock? We then see that there is at this day under the Papacy a 
striking representation of what the Prophet says here; there is a 
certain form of government, but God is wholly separated from such a 
mask or phantom. But we must also bear in mind, that the world 
suffers merited punishment on account of its ingratitude, when it is 
thus cruelly and shamefully treated; for it is but just that they 
who will not bear the easy yoke of Christ, should be made subject to 
the power of the Devil, and be trodden under foot and disgracefully 
oppressed by tyrants. This is God's righteous judgement. The Church, 
we know, would not have been turned upside down had not the greater 
part rejected the doctrine of salvation, and shaken off all 
religion; hence God is in a manner constrained by so great and by 
such unbridled wantonness to renounce his office of a shepherd. It 
then follows - 
Zechariah 11:17 
Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be 
upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried 
up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened. 
    In this verse the Prophet teaches us, that though God would 
inflict a deserved punishment on the Jews, yet the shepherds 
themselves would not escape his vengeance; and thus he reminds them, 
that even in such a confused and depressed state of things, he would 
still in some degree remember his covenant. He addresses the 
Shepherds themselves, for he speaks not of one, but of the whole 
number, as it has already been stated. 
    Woe to the baseless shepherd, he says; the word "'elil" means 
in Hebrew a thing of nought, and hence idols were called "'alilim", 
nothings; "Those useless shepherds," he says, "who forsake the 
flock." He again shows by an explicit term, that those whom he 
called shepherds were not worthy of so honourable a title. He then 
only concedes the name, for a shepherd who is not solicitous for the 
safety of his flock, clearly proves that he is really no shepherd. 
He then denounces on him a punishment, A sword, he says, on his 
right arm and on his right eye! By the sword he means any kind of 
punishment, by the arm is to be understood strength, and by the eye 
prudence. He means, "God will punish thee both in soul and body, for 
his curse shall be on thy strength and on thine understanding." 
Hence he says, Dry up shall his arm. This seems not indeed to 
correspond with the metaphor of the sword, but it matters not, for 
the Prophet, as we have said, includes under that word every kind of 
punishment. Dry up then shall his arm, that is, all its vigour shall 
cease, so as to become like a piece of decayed wood; and his right 
eye, the soundness of his mind or his right understanding, shall by 
contracting be contracted; some read, shall be darkened; but the 
verb properly signifies, to wrinkle, as it appears from other 
places, and I can find no better way of expressing its meaning than 
by saying that the eye would be contracted. 
    I have briefly explained the object of the Prophet, even that 
God would so punish the wickedness of the people, as not to allow 
those shepherds to escape whom he would employ as instruments in 
executing his vengeance. For though they were under the direction of 
divine power, we must yet hold this principle, that they had nothing 
in common with God; for mere ambition, avarice, and cruelty 
instigated them; and nothing was farther from their purpose than to 
obey God: but he extorted service from the unwilling and even the 
ignorant - for what end? that he might render to the ungrateful, the 
wicked, and the perverse, in their own sinful ways, the reward which 
they deserved. We then see that the design of God's vengeance is 
just; and we also see that the instruments he employs are ungodly: 
there is therefore no reason for them to think that they shall be 
unpunished, because they accomplish God's purpose, for they do not 
intend any such thing. 
    We must also bear in mind, that when the extreme rigour of God 
prevails, there still remains some evidence of his favour, for some 
seed, though few in number, is still perpetuated; for the Church is 
never so completely abolished as not to leave any remnants, for 
whose safety God is pleased to provide when he executes his 
vengeance, inasmuch as he stretches forth his hand at the same time 
against the ministers he has employed, because they had cruelly 
abused their power. So also at this day the milted bishops shall be 
made to know how precious to God is the safety of his Church; for 
though almost all the people and almost every individual are worthy 
of the most tyrannical cruelty, yet we know that some are found in 
that labyrinth for whom God has a care. Though then they who at this 
day possess power under the Papacy think themselves innocent, while 
they are robbers and wolves, they shall yet find that God is a 
righteous judge, who will visit their abominable cruelty: for the 
disorder of the Church is not its destruction, as God ever preserves 
some remnant. 
    We also see that the whole strength of men depends on the grace 
of God; and farther, that a sound mind proceeds from his Spirit: for 
since it is he who takes away from men both their strength and a 
right judgement, we hence conclude that to give these things is also 
in his power. Let men then know that in order to possess due courage 
and strength, they are to rely on the hidden power of God; and let 
them also know that in order to discern what is useful and 
profitable, they must be governed by his Spirit; and let those 
especially who bear rule be assured of this, that when they exercise 
power in peace, it is God's singular gift, and that when they 
rightly govern their subjects, and are endued with sound discretion, 
it is wholly to be ascribed to an influence from above. 
    But it may be asked, how can this harmonise - that those who 
were before useless are deprived of understanding and strength? To 
this I answer - that it is the same as though the Prophet had said, 
that the baseness of him who was previously an useless shepherd 
would be made conspicuous to all. For however deficient they might 
have been in their office, they yet for a time deceived the simple 
multitude; nay, we see at this day how the milted bishops and abbots 
and their whole company by their delusive splendour, dazzle the eyes 
of most men: they believe that the Pope is the vicar of God, and the 
rest the successors of the apostles! But the Prophet here testifies, 
that when the ripened time shall come, their shameful conduct shall 
be made evident, so that all shall treat them with contempt, and 
that they shall become an abomination to all. Though then they may 
be counted wise and held in admiration, or at least in honour, yet 
Zechariah threatens them with the loss of both; for God's curse lies 
on them, on their arms, and on their right eyes. This is the import 
of the passage. I shall begin the next chapter to-morrow. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast hitherto so patiently 
endured, not only our sloth and folly, but also our ingratitude and 
perverseness, - O grant, that we may hereafter render ourselves 
submissive and obedient to thee; and as thou hast been pleased to 
set over us the best of shepherds, even thine only-begotten Son, 
cause us willingly to attend to him, and to suffer ourselves to be 
gently ruled by him; and though thou mayest find in us what may 
justly provoke thy wrath, yet restrain extreme severity, and so 
correct what is sinful in us, as to continue to the end our 
Shepherd, until we shall at length, under thy guidance, reach thy 
heavenly kingdom; and thus do thou keep us in thy fold and under the 
guidance of thy pastoral staff, that at length being separated from 
the goats, we may enjoy that blessed inheritance which has been 
obtained for us by the blood of thy beloved Son. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 27...

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