(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 27) Chapter 12. Lecture One Hundred and Sixtieth. Zechariah 12:1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. The inscription seems not to agree with what follows, for he does not denounce any evil on the chosen people in this chapter, but, on the contrary, comforts the miserable, and promises that God would provide for the safety of his Church. Since then Zechariah speaks only of God's favour and aid, he seems to have mentioned "burden" here improperly or unreasonably; for "masa", we know, is rightly to be taken for a threatening prophecy. It might indeed be said, that he promises that God would so deliver his Church as to teach it at the same time that it would be subject to many evils and trials: but I rather think that the Prophet's design was different, even to show that the Israelites, who had preferred exile to God's favour, would be punished for their sloth and ingratitude, because it was through their own fault that they were not again united in one body, and that they did not rightly worship God in their own country. Interpreters have heedlessly passed over this, as though it had nothing to do with the subject: but except this be borne in mind, what is read in this chapter will be altogether without meaning. I therefore consider that the Prophet here reproves those Israelites who had rejected what they had long desired, when it was offered to them from above and beyond all hope: for nothing was so much wished for by them as a free return to their own country; and we also see how ardently all the Prophets had prayed for restoration. As then the Israelites, given to ease, and pleasures, and their worldly advantages, had counted as nothing the permission given them to return, that they might again be gathered under God's protection, it was a base ingratitude. Hence the Prophet here reproves them, and shows that their success would be far otherwise than they imagined. We must also observe, that those who were dispersed in different parts, were retained by their torpidity, because they did not think that the state of the people would continue; for they saw, as they had before found, that Judea was surrounded by inveterate enemies, and also that they would not be a people sufficiently strong to repel the assaults of those around them; for they had already been accustomed to bear all things, and though they might have had some courage, they had completely lost it, having been oppressed by so long a servitude. Since then the ten tribes entertained these ideas, they did not avail themselves of the present kindness of God. Thus it was, that they wholly alienated themselves from the Church of God, and renounced as it were of their own accord that covenant, on which was founded the hope of eternal salvation. What then does Zechariah teach us in this chapter? Even that God would be the guardian of Jerusalem, to defend it against all violence, and that though it might be surrounded by nations for the purpose of assailing it, he would not yet suffer it to be overcome: and we shall see that many other things are stated here; but it is enough to touch now on the main point, that God would not forsake that small company and the weak and feeble remnant; and that however inferior the Jews might be to their enemies, yet the power of God alone would be sufficient to defend and keep them. If it be then now asked, why the Prophet calls the word he received a burden on Israel? The answer is plainly this, that the Israelites were now as it were rotting among foreign nations without any hope of deliverance, having refused to be gathered under God's protection, though he had kindly and graciously invited them all to return. Since then God had effected nothing, by stretching forth his hands, being ready to embrace them again, this was the reason for the burden of which Zechariah speaks; for they would be touched with grief and with envy when they saw their brethren protected by God's aid, and that they themselves were without any hope of deliverance. In short, there is an implied contrast between the ten tribes and the house of Judah; and this is evident from the context. Having now ascertained the Prophet's design, we shall proceed to the words. The burden, he says, of the word of Jehovah on Israel: Say does Jehovah who expanded the heavens, &c. Zechariah thus exalts God in order to confirm the authority of this prophecy; for no doubt the creation of heaven and earth and of man is here mentioned on account of what is here announced. We have elsewhere seen similar declarations; for when anything is said difficult to be believed, what is promised will have no effect on us, except the infinite power of God be brought to our minds. God then, that he may gain credit to his promises, bids us to raise up our eyes to the heavens and carefully to consider his wonderful workmanship, and also to turn our eyes down to the earth, where also his ineffable power is apparent; and, in the third place, he calls our attention to the consideration of our own nature. Since then what Zechariah says could hardly be believed, he prescribes to the Jews the best remedy - they were to raise upwards their eyes, and then to turn them to the earth. The expanse of the heavens constrains us to admire him; for however stupid we may be, we cannot look on the sun, and the moon and stars, and on the whole bright expanse above, without some and even strong emotions of fear and of reverence. Since then God exceeds all that men can comprehend in the very creation of the world, what should hinder us from believing even that which seems to us in no way probable? for it is not meet for us to measure God's works by what we can understand, for we cannot comprehend, no, not even the hundredth part of them, however attentively we may apply all the powers of our minds. Nor is it yet a small matter when he adds, that God had formed the spirit of man; for we know that we live; the body of itself would be without any strength or motion, were it not endued with life; and the soul which animates the body is invisible. Since then experience proves to us the power of God, which is not yet seen by our eyes, why should we not expect what he promises, though the event may appear incredible to us, and exceed all that we can comprehend. We now then understand why the Prophet declares, that God expanded thee heavens, and founded the earth, and formed the spirit of man. By saying "in the midst of him", he means, that the spirit dwells within; for the body, we allow, is as it were its tabernacle. Let us proceed - Zechariah 12:2 Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. Zechariah begins here to teach us what I have briefly explained, that Jerusalem would be under the protection of God, who would render it safe and secure against all enemies. But he uses here figurative terms, which make the point more evident. He says, that Jerusalem would be a threshold of bruising, or breaking. The word "saf" means a threshold almost everywhere in Scripture. But some think that it means here a cup, and then they translate "ra'al" rot, drunkenness, or fury. But as this word also means breaking, it is not unsuitable to say that Jerusalem is here called a threshold at which people stumble, so that he who comes against this threshold either breaks a bone or receives some other injury. At the same time the Prophet seems to express something more, that whosoever ascended to attack Jerusalem would meet with a stumbling block, by which he might have his legs broken or bruised. The meaning then is, that access to Jerusalem would be closed up, so that enemies would not overcome it, though they reached the walls and the gates, for they would stumble, as it is said, at the threshold. If the other rendering be approved, the sense would be suitable, - that all the ungodly, while devising schemes against God's Church, would be inebriated by their own counsels; yea, that their drink would be deadly to them: for the passions of men produce effects like drunkenness. When therefore the ungodly gather their forces against the Church, it is the same as though they were greedily swallowing down wine; for the drunken meet together to indulge in excesses. The meaning then would be, - that this immoderate drinking would be fatal to the nations. But I prefer the former view, - that though the gates of the holy city were open, or even an easy access were made through the walls, yet God would on every side be a defence, so that enemies would stumble, as we have said, at the very threshold and bruise themselves. And this promise was very necessary then, for Jerusalem was exposed to the assaults of all, as it could not have defended itself by moats or walls or mounds: but the Lord here promises that it would be a threshold of bruising. He then adds, Also against Judah, or over Judah, it shall be during the siege against Jerusalem. The Prophet, as I think, extends the promise to the whole land, as though he had said, "Though the compass of Jerusalem should not contain all the inhabitants, yet they shall be everywhere safe; for God will take them under his protection." I wonder why some interpreters have omitted the preposition "'al" and have translated thus, "Judah also shall be in the siege against Jerusalem:" and they elicit a meaning wholly different, even that some of the Jews themselves would become perfidious, who would not spare their brethren and friends, but become hostile to them, and unite their forces to those of heathen nations. But I consider the meaning to be the reverse of this, - that when Jerusalem shall be besieged, the Lord will put impediments everywhere, which will hinder and prevent the assaults of enemies. When God, he says, shall defend the holy city, even this very thing, (for I apply this phrase to God's protection,) even this very thing shall be through the whole land; as though he had said, "God will not only be the guardian of the city alone, but also of the whole of the holy land." Now this must have sharply goaded the Israelites, seeing that they were excluded from having God's aid, inasmuch as they had not thought proper to return to their own country when liberty was freely given them. It follows - Zechariah 12:3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. Zechariah adds here another metaphor, which is very apposite; for when the ungodly made war against the holy city, the object was not to reduce it only to subjection, or to impose a tribute or a tax, or simply to rule over it, - what then? to cut it off entirely and obliterate its name. Since then such a cruelty would instigate enemies to assail the holy city, the Prophet here interposes and declares that it would be to them a most burdensome stone. He thus compares the enemies of Jerusalem to a man who attempts to take up a stone when he is too weak to do so. He then injures his own strength; for when a man tries to do what is too much for him, he loosens some of his joints, or breaks his sinews. The Prophet then means, that though many nations conspired against Jerusalem, and made every effort to overthrow it, they should yet at length find it to be a weight far too heavy for them: they should therefore break or lacerate their own arms, for their sinews would be broken by over-exertion. Some explain the last clause more frigidly, "In tearing he will be torn," as when any one takes up a rough stone, he tears his own hands. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, meant to set forth something more serious; and each clause would thus correspond much better; for as we have said, the object of the ungodly was to remove Jerusalem, so as not to leave a stone upon a stone: but God declares here that it would be too heavy a burden, so that they would find their own strength broken in attempting inconsiderately to remove what could not be transferred from its own place. Now the reason for this prophecy is, because God was the founder of Jerusalem, as it is said, "Its foundations are in the holy mountains, love does the Lord the gates of Sion," (Ps. 87: 1, 2;) and again it is said, "Jehovah in the midst of her, she shall not be moved." (Ps. 46: 5.) We must also remember what we have observed in the last verse: for though the heavens are in continual motion, they yet retain their positions, and do not fall into disorder; but were the heavens and the earth blended together, still Jerusalem, founded by God's hand and exempt from the common lot of men, and whose condition was peculiar, would remain firm and unchangeable. We hence see why the Prophet says, that there would be no other issue to the ungodly, while attempting to overthrow Jerusalem, than to wound and tear themselves. He then adds, And assemble against them shall all nations. This, as we have said, was added in order to show, that though enemies flocked together from every quarter, God would yet be superior to them. This clause then contains an amplification, to encourage the faithful to continue in their hope with invincible constancy, though they saw themselves surrounded by hosts of enemies. It afterwards follows - Zechariah 12:4 In that day, saith the LORD, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness. He pursues here the same subject, but in other words, - that multiplicity of means is in God's hand, by which he can drive away and break down the fury of enemies. By the words horse and its rider, the Prophet, stating a part for the whole, means whatever is strong, and intimates that it can be easily overcome by divine power He says first, I will smite every horse with stupor. Military strength, we know, is in horses and horsemen; but he says that the horses would be stunned, and the horsemen seized as it were with madness, so that they would destroy themselves, and could do no harm to the Church. He then confirms what he said before - that though the whole world conspired against the Church, there would yet be sufficient power in God to repel and check all their assaults and he mentions stupor, madness, and blindness, that the faithful might know that God can by hidden means either destroy or put to flight all their enemies. Though then God fights not with drawn swords, nor uses the common mode of warfare, yet the Prophet says, that he is prepared with other means to lay prostrate their enemies; for even the most powerful in the world cannot proceed so far as to confound their enemies by blindness and madness; but the Prophet here shows, that though no way appears to us by which God may deliver us, we are yet to entertain firm hope, for he can by his breath destroy all enemies, as he can render then blind, and take from them understanding, and wisdom, and strength. Then he adds, I will open mine eyes on the house of Judah. A reason is here given why all enemies would be smitten with stupor and madness, because the Lord would have a regard for his Church; for to open the eyes means the same thing as to have a care for a thing. It had seemed good to God to neglect his people for a time, and this neglect was as it were an oblivion. Hence the saints often complain "How longs wilt thou sleep! how long wilt thou close thine eyes! Look down, O Lord, and see." So in this place Zechariah means that God would yet care for his people, so as to subdue their enemies. We may hence learn a useful doctrine - that, in the first place, there is nothing better for us than to be gathered under the shadow of God's protection, however destitute of any fortress the Church may be, yea, were she to have innumerable enemies hostile to her, and to be without any strength to resist them. Though then the Church were thus grievously tried, and be in the midst of many dangers, and exposed even to death, let us learn from this passage that those are miserable indeed who through fear or cowardice separate themselves from her, and that they who call on God, and cast on him the care of their safety, shall be made blessed, though the whole world were mad against them, though the weapons of all nations were prepared for their ruin, and horses and horsemen were assembled to overwhelm them; for the defence of God is a sufficient protection to his Church. This is one thing. Then let us learn to exercise our faith, when God seems to cast us as it were between the teeth of wolves; for though he may not afford any visible aid, yet he knows how to deliver us, and possesses hidden means of help, which we may not perceive, because his purpose is to try our faith and our patience. And lastly, let us learn, that when God connives at our miseries, as though he had forgotten us, yet our hope, founded on him, can never be disappointed; for if we abide among his flock, he will at length open his eyes upon us, he will really show that he cares for our safety. It now follows - Zechariah 12:5 And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God. He still continues the same subject - that however small and feeble the flock of God would be, it would yet have sufficient strength; for the Lord would stand on the side of those who fled to him. Though then Jerusalem was not as yet filled with citizens, and though there was but one city, yet Zechariah testifies that its strength would be invincible; but he speaks of the chiefs of Judah comparatively. Formerly, we know, it had a great number of men, and great armies were raised from that one tribe and the half tribe of Benjamin. Though then there were formerly many provinces, though the country was full of populous towns, yet almost Jerusalem alone had then begun to be inhabited: but the Prophet says here, that though the whole Church was gathered within the narrow bounds of one city, it would yet have sufficient strength to resist all the attacks of enemies. Say then shall the chiefs of Judah; that is, though formerly the governors or commanders of thousands had forces in their several towns, yet now all would look to one city; for the land was nearly forsaken and without inhabitants; at the same time they were to entertain hope, for their strength was to be in the Lord. Some insert a conjunction, "Strength will be to me and to the citizens of Jerusalem;" but they pervert the meaning; for the Prophet meant to say in one sentence what I have stated - that the eyes of all would be directed to one city only, and that yet there would be sufficient ground for hope and confidence, for they would become strong, not in themselves, but in their God. There is a change of number, when he says, a strength to me, for he had spoken of chiefs; it ought then to have been "lanu", to us. But he now introduces each of them as speaking, as though he had said, "No one of the chiefs shall look to his own land, but, on the contrary, direct his eyes to the holy city, and be content with the defence of a few men." Hence he says, In Jehovah of hosts, their God; for he means that God would be then the protector of that people whom he had for a time forsaken. And he calls him again the Jehovah of hosts, in order to set forth his invincible power, lest the minds of the godly should fail through fear, on seeing themselves far unequal to their enemies. It follows - Zechariah 12:6 In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem. He adds another metaphor for the sake of a further confirmation; for he says, that the chiefs of Judah would be like a melting pot: some render it a hearth, but improperly and without meaning. He afterwards compares them to a flaming torch, and heathen nations to wood and stubble or chaff. The Spirit speaks thus also in other places; and the reason is to be noticed; for when the ungodly assail the Church of God, all things seem to threaten its ruin; but God declares that they shall be like chaff or wood. "The house of Israel," says Isaiah, "shall be a flaming fire, and shall consume all the wood of the forest:" so also in this place, "There shall be indeed a great host of enemies, assembled against Israel; but the Lord will consume them, for he will be like fire in the midst of his people, and his people also shall be through the secret power of the Spirit like a burning pot or a torch, which shall consume the chaff, in which there is nothing substantial." But the Prophet shows again that the deliverance of the Church is ever wonderful: and hence foolishly do they act who rely on human and earthly instrumentality, and wilfully bind God to their own ways; for whenever God promises to be their deliverer, their inquiry is, "But how can this be? whence will come this aid to us? how will the hand of the Lord be stretched forth to us? whence will he gather his army?" Inasmuch then as we are wont thus anxiously to inquire, and thus drive away from us the aid of God, let this truth, taught by the Prophet, be borne in mind, - that though enemies in great numbers may come upon us, they shall yet be like a heap of wood, and we like fire; for though we have no strength, yet the Lord by his hidden favour will cause that our enemies shall even, by coming nigh us, be consumed. To the same purpose is the next similitude, - that they would be a torch in handfuls of chaff; for here also the singular number is used for the plural. Then follows an explanation, Consume shall they on the right hand, and on the left, all nations around. Zechariah seems here to ascribe an insatiable cruelty, and a revengeful passion to the faithful, who yet are to be influenced by a meek spirit, so that they may imitate their heavenly Father. But here he speaks not of their disposition and feeling, but only shows, that all the ungodly shall be frustrated in their expectation of success, and not only so, but that they shall also be destroyed. The more furiously then they assail the Church, the more sudden shall be their destruction; for though the faithful may wish to spare them, yet God, the righteous judge, will not spare them. In short, the work of God himself, as in other places, is ascribed to the Church. In the last place he declares, that Jerusalem shall stand in its own place, where it was. There is here a sort of repetition; and it was made, because enemies thought, as we have already stated, that they could destroy Jerusalem so as wholly to obliterate it: but the Prophet on the other hand says, that it would be established in its own place, because God had chosen it as the place where he purposed to be worshipped, and he had chosen it, as it is often said by Moses, to commemorate his own name. In a word, he intimates, that the Church would be perpetually established: though all mortals conspired for its ruin and assailed it on every side, yet the sanctuary of God, as he had promised, would continue there still, even to the advent of Christ; for then, we know, Jerusalem was to be wholly destroyed, together with the temple, as an end was to come on all these things, and the world was to be renewed. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as the condition of all those who fight under the banner of the cross of Christ seems at this day hard and even miserable, - O grant, that relying on thy promises, by which thou encourages us, we may continually persevere, and not hesitate to remain in thy fold, though wolves lie in wait for us on every side, and robbers also and thieves furiously assail us, so that we may ever remain under the protection of thy hand, and never envy the children of this world on account of their pleasures, ease, and worldly advantages, but patiently bear to be agitated by constant fear, so that we may with quiet minds wait until thou showest to us, when we come to die, that our salvation is safe and secure in thy hand; and having thus at length passed through all troubles, we may come to that blessed rest, which thine only-begotten Son has procured for us by his own blood. - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 28... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-27.txt .