(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 28)
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-first. 
Zechariah 12:7 
The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of 
the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do 
not magnify themselves against Judah. 
    The Prophet teaches us again, - that there is no need of helps 
when God stretches forth his hand to preserve his people; for he is 
alone abundantly sufficient. And the design of the verse is to show, 
that the Jews were to learn to acquiesce in God alone, though they 
might find themselves destitute of every earthly assistance; for 
when God purposes to save, he needs no help, as we have said; nor 
does he borrow any, as he by himself is fully sufficient. 
    But by the word, Tabernacles, the Prophet means, as I think, 
sheds, such as afforded but partial protection. It is indeed true 
that tents are called "sachot" in Hebrew; but the same is often 
meant by the "'ohalim", tents, which afforded a temporary 
accommodation; for they were not strongly built, as it is evident 
from many passages. I allow that all houses without any difference 
are sometimes called tabernacles, "'ohalim"; but the word properly 
signifies a tent, built as a temporary convenience; for it is said 
that the fathers dwelt in tents, when they had no fixed habitation. 
    Let us now see why the Prophet speaks of tents. He may have 
alluded to their dwelling in the wilderness; but as this may seem 
too remote, I consider that he simply refers to the tents in which 
the Jews dwelt when they had entered the land, after their 
deliverance from Egypt; for they must have been wonderfully 
protected by the hand of God, inasmuch as they had provoked all 
their neighbours and kindled the hatred of all against themselves. 
There were indeed some fortified cities; but for the most part they 
lived in villages, and the greatest part of the people were no doubt 
satisfied with their tents or sheds. Hence as the Israelites then 
had no defence, the Prophet now reminds them, that they were then 
protected by God alone, in order that they might believe that they 
should in future be safe and secure, as God would defend them to the 
end. There is then here an implied comparison between tents and 
fortified cities; and the Prophet bids them to consider what their 
fathers had formerly experienced, for God faithfully defended them, 
even when they were unprotected and exposed to the attacks of their 
    He says first, Jehovah will save the tents, &c.; as though he 
had said, "Know that your fathers were formerly defended by the hand 
of God, when they did not, as to the greater part of them, dwell in 
cities, but lived scattered in villages: since God then had been the 
preserver of his people many ages before a king was made, believe 
that he will be the same to you hereafter." But we must yet remember 
what we said yesterday, - that the Jews who had returned to their 
country had a promise of God's help, in order that the Israelites, 
who were retained by their own sloth in Babylon, might know that 
they were justly suffering punishment for their ingratitude, because 
they had not given glory to God, as they ought to have done, by 
committing themselves to his protection, and thus relying on his 
defence, so as not to seek other helps from the world: he will then 
save them, he says, as at the beginning; for as, the particle of 
similitude, is to be understood here. 
    He then adds, And hence boast shall not the honour of the house 
of David and the honour of the citizen of Jerusalem over Judah. This 
latter clause is added, I think, by way of explanation; and this is 
evident from the subject itself for God declares, that he would be 
the protector of the helpless, so that they would be no less 
victorious than if they possessed many armed soldiers, and were 
furnished with money and other necessaries to carry on war. For by 
comparing here the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem 
with Judah, he has no doubt a regard to this, - that though there 
was no kingdom and no fortified cities, there would yet be 
sufficient protection in him alone, so that he could by himself 
defend the people, though unarmed, and having no swords, nor power, 
nor any other requisite means. Boast then shall not the house of 
David: and this seems to have been mentioned designedly, for while 
they trusted in their own wealth and power, they did not rest on God 
as they ought to have done. 
    As then the Jews had been elated with vain pride, while the 
dignity of the kingdom remained, and while they possessed wealth and 
warlike instruments, God here reproves this false confidence; for 
the Jews had thus obscured his gratuitous favour. For however great 
might have been the treasures collected by David and Solomon, and 
however formidable they might have been to their enemies and the 
neighbouring nations, they ought yet to have relied on the 
protection of God alone. Since then earthly helps had inflated their 
minds, God now reproves their vain conceit, and shows that the 
condition of the people would be no less happy, when no king sat on 
the throne, and no aids enlisted for the protection of the people; 
and therefore he declares, that though exposed to all evils, they 
should yet be safe and secure, for God would defend them. This is 
the reason why the Prophet says, that the royal posterity would not 
glory against Judah, though dwelling in tents, nor the citizens of 
Jerusalem, who were then as it were the courtiers: for as the royal 
seat was at Jerusalem, a sort of vain boasting was made by all the 
citizens. As then all of them despised the inhabitants of the 
country, when the condition of the city was illustrious, the Prophet 
says, the posterity of David and Jerusalem shall not hereafter glory 
against the people of Judah, scattered in the open fields. It then 
follows - 
Zechariah 12:8 
In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and 
he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the 
house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before 
    He goes on with the same subject; and he says that God would be 
like a shield to protect the Jews. For though the verb "yagan" is 
used here, yet as it is derived from "magen", which means a shield, 
that metaphor is to be understood here, - even that the Jews, though 
without power and without warlike instruments, would yet be safe 
under the protection of God, for he being their shield would be 
sufficient. And God is here indirectly opposed to all kinds of 
fortresses which men too anxiously seek, and on which they vainly 
depend. The Prophet then no doubt claims here for God a power, which 
in opposition to the whole world, and when no other help appears, 
would be found sufficient to subdue all enemies and to save his 
people. Jehovah then shall be, he says, a shield. 
    But there seems to be here something inconsistent; for he had 
said before that the Jews would be safe wherever they lived, though 
they did not dwell at Jerusalem; but now he confines this promise to 
the citizens of Jerusalem. The answer to this is plain: We observed 
yesterday, that the piety of those was commended who had preferred 
to undergo many and grievous trials in returning home, and then to 
expose themselves to many dangers, rather than to continue in exile, 
as in that case they wholly separated themselves from the temple. 
Now since this was the object of the Prophet, it is no wonder that 
he one while names the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and that at another 
time he includes generally all the Jews. And by saying in the last 
verse, that the citizens of Jerusalem were not to glory against the 
country people, scattered in the villages, he intended, in adopting 
this way of speaking, to humble the citizens of Jerusalem, but not 
to exclude them from the promise made to all: as God then was to be 
the defender of all, the Prophet returns again to Jerusalem. For as 
God had chosen there his sanctuary, it is not to be wondered that 
the place was precious in his sight. But it was yet necessary to 
take away all pride from the Jews, that they might not, as it has 
been said, trust in earthly aids and supports. This is the meaning, 
when he says, the protection of God shall be on the inhabitants of 
    He now adds - The feeble among them shall be like David. Some 
give a refined explanation - that as David, who was not trained up 
for war, and was by no means strong, being, almost a boy, yet slew 
the proud giant Goliath, so the feeble among the Jews, as they 
think, will, by God's power, be made victorious over their enemies. 
But this seems forced. The Prophet, then, I have no doubt, connects 
the whole together, and considers David as a king; for when David 
slew Goliath, he was yet a boy, remarkable for no velour. After he 
attained the kingdom, he became more eminent, we know, in every way, 
than all the kings of the earth. It is then this eminence which the 
Prophet has in view, when he says that the least and the most 
despised among them would be like David; as though he had said - 
"They shall all be endued with royal and heroic velour, not only the 
common people, but even those who seemed to be like women, and who 
possessed nothing that was manly; they would yet excel as David in 
heroic velour." 
    It then follows - And the whole house of David shall be as 
angels; that is, the royal posterity shall be remarkable for angelic 
velour. And it was necessary to add this, that the faithful might 
not think that the house of David, from which salvation was to be 
expected, would be reduced to nothing. For whatever had been 
promised to them might have vanished, were not that promise to stand 
firm, on which was founded the salvation of the whole people - "Thy 
house shall remain for ever." (Psalm 89: 37.) Now as Zechariah 
seemed to have cast down and wholly overthrown the royal house, it 
might have occurred to the minds of the faithful, "whence then shall 
arise our salvation? for it is certain that without Christ we are 
wholly lost." Now Christ was not to come forth, except from the 
house of David. The Prophet then does here opportunely declare, that 
the royal house would be most eminent, as though all the men 
belonging to it were angels. He puts down the word "'elohim", which 
also means God; but he adds in the same sentence - As the angel of 
Jehovah before their face. The Prophet compares here, no doubt, the 
posterity of David to the angel, who had been the leader of the 
people and the minister of redemption. That angel we conclude was 
Christ; for though God then appointed many angels to his people, yet 
Christ, as it is well known, was their prince and head. The Prophet 
then bids the Jews here to look for the perpetual aid of God, since 
in the royal house were not only angels, but even the very leader of 
the fathers, who had exercised the ineffable power of God in 
redeeming the people. 
    We now then perceive the design of the Prophet: The import of 
the whole is, that God would so undertake the defence and protection 
of his people, as to be of himself sufficient, without any other 
aid; and also that the minister of salvation would be in the royal 
house itself; for as formerly, when their fathers were led out of 
Egypt, God had exercised his power through an angel, so now he had 
set over them a Mediator. And in accordance with this meaning he 
adds, "lefaneyhem", before their face." He bids the faithful to 
attend to the royal house, which was then deprived of all dignity, 
so that it had no power to help. Nothing indeed was then seen in the 
posterity of David but what was degrading, and even contemptible; 
and yet the Prophet bids them to expect salvation from that house, 
which was so brought down as to possess nothing worthy of being 
    We may now ask, when was this prophecy fulfilled? Zechariah 
does indeed predict great things; but in reviewing all histories, 
nothing of a corresponding character is to be found. It must 
nevertheless be observed, that this blessed and happy state ass 
promised to the Jews, because from them Christ was to arise, and 
also because Jerusalem was to be the mother of all Churches; for 
from thence the law was to go forth, and from thence God had 
determined to send forth the royal sceptre, that the son of David 
might rule over the whole world. Since the case was so, we may now 
easily understand how the condition of that miserable people would 
become happier and more glorious than under the rich and flourishing 
kingdom of David; for Christ would at length come, in whom complete 
happiness was to be found. 
    We may now also add this - that though few of the Jews embraced 
the favour of Christ, and the rest fell away, and thus gave place to 
the Gentiles, yet however small was the portion of the faithful, 
still the Prophet does not speak here hyperbolically, for the thing 
itself is what ought to be regarded; and that the Jews did not enjoy 
this blessed state, was owing to their own ingratitude; but this 
detracts nothing from the felicity described here by Zechariah. Let 
us proceed - 
Zechariah 12:9 
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy 
all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 
    The Prophet repeats again, that though ungodly and wicked men 
assailed the Church in great number on every side, God would yet be 
its defender. By saying, I will seek to destroy, &c., he means that 
God would he fully bent (intentum) to destroy, as men are wont to be 
anxious when they earnestly pursue an object. Lest then the faithful 
should think that they should perish through the disdain, or the 
neglect, or the forgetfulness of God, he says, that he would be 
their anxious defender. I will seek then, that is, I will be most 
earnestly solicitous, to destroy all the nations. 
    This promise no doubt extends far wider than to the Jews; for 
he prophesies here concerning the kingdom of Christ: for if we 
consider the state of the people during the whole of the intervening 
period, from their return to the coming of Christ, the Prophet will 
certainly appear to have given here a hope of something far greater 
than what had taken place. But he had a regard especially to Christ. 
Here then is promised a perpetual defence to the Church; and hence 
also proceeds confidence as to salvation, for God carefully watches 
over us, that he may effectually oppose all our enemies. 
    I only briefly touch on these things, which require long and 
minute consideration: but it is enough for me to show briefly the 
meaning of the Prophet, provided this be done clearly, so that each 
may then apply what is said to his own improvement. We may in the 
meantime learn also from the words of the Prophet, that the Church 
is ever to be disquieted in this world, for not only one enemy will 
cause trouble to it, but even many nations shall rise up against it. 
It follows - 
Zechariah 12:10 
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of 
Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall 
look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, 
as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for 
him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. 
    At the beginning of this verse the Prophet intimates, that 
though the Jews were then miserable and would be so in future, yet 
God would be merciful to them: and thus he exhorts them to patience, 
that they might not faint through a long-continued weariness. For it 
was not enough to promise to them what we have noticed respecting 
God's aid, except Zechariah had added, that God would at length be 
merciful and gracious to them after they had endured so many evils, 
that the world would regard them as almost consumed. 
    As to the effusion of the spirit, the expression at the first 
view seems hard to be understood; for what is it to pour forth the 
spirit of grace? He ought rather to have said thus, "I will pour my 
grace upon you." But what he means is, that God would be merciful, 
for his spirit would be moved to deliver the Jews; for he compares 
the spirit of God here to the mind of man, and we know that 
Scripture often uses language of this kind. The phrase then, I will 
pour forth the spirit of grace, may be thus suitably expressed - "I 
will pour forth my bowels of mercy," or, "I will open my whole heart 
to show mercy to this people," or, "My Spirit shall be like the 
spirit of man, which is wont to move him to give help to the 
    We now then understand the sense in which God may be fitly said 
to pour forth the spirit of grace. It may yet be taken in a more 
refined manner, as meaning that God would not only show mercy to his 
people, but also make them sensible of his mercy; and this view I am 
inclined to take, especially on account of what follows, the spirit 
of commiserations, or, of lamentations, for the word, "tachanunim" 
commonly means lamentations in Hebrew. Some render it "prayers," but 
improperly, for they express not the force of the word. It is always 
put in the plural number, at least with this termination: and there 
is but one place where we can render it commiserations, that is, in 
Jer. 31: 9 - "In commiserations will I restore them." But even there 
it may be rendered lamentations consistently with the whole verse; 
for the Prophet says, "They shall weep," and afterwards adds, "In 
lamentations will I restore them." The greater part indeed of 
interpreters render it here, prayers; but the Hebrews prefer to 
translate it commiserations, and for this reason, because they 
consider that the spirit of grace is nothing else but simply grace 
itself. The spirit of grace is indeed grace itself united with 
faith: for God often hears the miserable, extends his hand to them, 
and brings them a most effectual deliverance, while they still 
continue blind and remain unconcerned. It is then far better that 
the spirit of grace should be poured forth on us, than grace itself: 
for except the spirit of God penetrate into our hearts and instils 
into us a feeling need of grace, it will not only be useless, but 
even injurious; for God at length will take vengeance on our 
ingratitude when he sees his grace perishing through our 
indifference. What then the Prophet, in my opinion, means is, that 
God will at length be so propitious to the Jews as to pour forth on 
them the spirit of grace, and then the spirit of lamentations, in 
order to obtain grace. 
    They who render the word prayers, do not, as I have already 
said, convey the full import of the term. But we may also take 
commiserations in a passive sense and consistently with its common 
meaning: I will pour forth the spirit of grace, that they themselves 
may perceive my grace; and then, the spirit of commiserations, that 
having deplored their evils, they may understand that they have been 
delivered by a power from above. Hence Zechariah promises here more 
than before; for he speaks not here of God's external aid, by which 
they were to be defended, but of inward grace, by which God would 
pour hidden joy into their hearts, that they might know and find by 
a sure experience that he was propitious to them. 
    But if the word "tachanunim" be rendered commiserations, the 
meaning would be, as I have already stated, that the Jews, through 
the dictation and the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, would find God 
merciful to them; but if we render it lamentations, then the Prophet 
must be viewed as saying something more - that the Jews, previously 
so hardened in their evils, as not to flee to God for help, would 
become at length suppliants, because the Spirit would inwardly so 
touch their hearts as to lead them to deplore their state before 
God, and thus to express their complaints to Him: and this view is 
more fully confirmed by what follows. 
    They shall look to me, he says, whom they have pierced. We then 
see here that not only an external grace or favour was promised to 
the Jews, but an internal light of faith, the author of which is the 
Spirit; for he it is who illuminates our minds to see the goodness 
of God, and it is he also who turns our hearts: and for this reason 
he adds, they shall look to me. For God, as I have already reminded 
you, deals very bountifully with the unbelieving, but they are 
blind; and hence he pours forth his grace without any benefit, as 
though he rained on flint or on arid rocks. However bountifully then 
God may bestow his grace on the unbelieving, they yet render his 
favour useless, for they are like stones. 
    Now, as Zechariah declares that the Jews would at length look 
to God, it follows, that the spirit of repentance and the light of 
faith are promised to them, so that they may know God as the author 
of their salvation, and feel so assured that they are already saved, 
as in future to devote themselves entirely to him: they shall then 
look to me whom they have pierced. Here also the Prophet indirectly 
reproves the Jews for their great obstinacy, for God had restored 
them, and they had been as untameable as wild beasts; for this 
piercing is to be taken metaphorically for continual provocation, as 
though he had said, that the Jews in their perverseness were 
prepared as it were for war, that they goaded and pierced God by 
their wickedness or by the weapons of their rebellion. As then they 
had been such, he says now, that such a change would be wrought by 
God that they would become quite different, for they would learn to 
look to him whom they had previously pierced. We cannot finish 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as we are this day surrounded with 
enemies, and without any defence, so that our safety seems to be 
every moment in danger, - O grant, that we may raise up our hearts 
to thee, and being satisfied with thy protection alone, may we 
despise whatever Satan and the whole world may threaten us with, and 
thus continue impregnable while carrying on our warfare, so that we 
may at length reach that happy rest, where we shall enjoy not only 
those good things which thou hast promised to us on earth, but also 
that glorious and triumphant victory which we shall partake of 
together with our head, even Christ Jesus, as he has overcome the 
world for us, in order that he might gather us to himself, and make 
us partakers of his victory and of all his blessings. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 29...

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