(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 30)
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-third. 
Zechariah 13:2 
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that 
I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they 
shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and 
the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. 
    Here the Prophet mentions another effect, which would follow 
the repentance of the people, and which the Lord also would thereby 
produce. There was to be a cleansing from all the defilements of 
superstitions; for the pure and lawful worship of God cannot be set 
up without these filthy things being wiped away; inasmuch as to 
blend sacred with profane things, is the same thing as though one 
sought to take away the difference between heaven and earth. No 
religion then can be approved by God, except what is pure and free 
from all such pollution. We hence see why the Prophet adds, that 
there would be an end to falsehoods and all errors, and to the 
delusions of Satan, when God restored his Church; for the simplicity 
of true doctrine would prevail, and thus abolished would be whatever 
Satan had previously invented to corrupt religion. 
    We hence learn what I have just stated - that God cannot be 
rightly worshipped, except all corruptions, inconsistent with his 
sincere and pure worship, be taken away. But we must at the same 
time observe, that this effect is ascribed to God's word; for it is 
that which can drive away and banish all the abominations of 
falsehood, and whatever is uncongenial to true religion. As then by 
the rising of the sun darkness is put to flight, and all things 
appear distinctly to the view, so also when God comes forth with the 
teaching of his word, all the deceptions of Satan must necessarily 
be dissipated. 
    Now these two things ought especially to be known; for we see 
that many, who are not indeed ungodly, but foolish and 
inconsiderate, think that they give to God his due honour, while 
they are entangled in many errors, and refrain not from 
superstitions. Others, more politic, devise this way of peace - that 
they who think rightly are to concede something to tyrants and false 
Prophets; and thus they seek to form at this day a new religion for 
us, made up of Popery and of the simple doctrine of the gospel, and 
in this manner as it were to transform God. As then we see that men 
are so disposed to mix all sorts of things together, that the pure 
simplicity of the gospel may be contaminated by various inventions, 
we ought to bear in mind this truth, - that the Church cannot be 
rightly formed, until all superstitions be rejected and banished. 
This is one thing. 
    We may also deduce hence another principle - that the word of 
God not only shows the way to us, but also discovers all the 
delusions of Satan; for hardly one in a hundred follows what is 
right, except he is reminded of what he ought to avoid. It is then 
not enough to declare that there is but one true God, and that we 
ought to put our trust in Christ, except another thing be added, 
that is, except we warn men of those intrigues by which Satan has 
from the beginning deceived miserable mortals: even at this day with 
what various artifices has he withdrawn the simple and unwary from 
the true God, and entangled them in a labyrinth of superstitions. 
Except therefore men be thus warned, the word of God is made known 
to them only in part. Whosoever then desires to perform all the 
duties of a good and faithful pastor, ought firmly to resolve, not 
only to abstain from all impure doctrines, and simply to assert what 
is true, but also to detect all corruptions which are injurious to 
religion, to recover men from the deceptions of Satan, and in short, 
avowedly to carry on war with all superstitions. 
    This was what Zechariah had in view when he said, In that day, 
that is, when God would restore his Church, perish shall the names 
of idols, so that they shall be remembered no more. By this last 
expression he sets forth more clearly what I have just stated, that 
the pure worship of God is then established as it ought to be, and 
that religion has then its own honour, when all errors and 
impostures cease, so that even the memory of them does not remain. 
It is indeed true, that superstitions can never be so abolished, so 
that no mention of them should be made; nay, the recollection of 
them is useful - "Thou shalt remember thy ways," says Ezekiel, "and 
be ashamed," (Ezek. 16: 6.) But by this form of speaking Zechariah 
means, that such would be the detestation of superstitions, that the 
people would dread the very mention of them. And hence we may learn 
how much purity of doctrine is approved by God, since he would have 
us to feel a horror as at something monstrous, whenever the name of 
an idol is mentioned. 
    He then refers to false teachers, I will exterminate, he says, 
the Prophets and the unclean Spirits from the land. The connection 
here is worthy of being noticed; for it hence appears how all errors 
arise, even when a loose rein is given to false teachers. It is 
indeed true I allow, that the seed of all errors is implanted in 
each of us, so that every one is a teacher to deceive himself; for 
we are not only disposed to what is false, but rush headlong into 
it: it is the corruption of our nature. But at the same time when 
liberty is taken to teach anything that may please men, the whole of 
religion must necessarily be corrupted, and all things become mixed 
together, so that there is no difference between light and darkness. 
God then here reminds us, that the Church cannot stand, except false 
teachers be prevented from turning truth into falsehood, and from 
pealing at their pleasure against the word of God. 
    And this is what ought to be carefully observed; for we see at 
this day how some unprincipled men adopt this sentiment - that the 
Church is not free, except every one is allowed with impunity to 
promulgate whatever he pleases, and that it is the greatest cruelty 
to punish a heretic; for they would have all liberty to be given to 
blasphemies. But the Prophet shows here, that the Church cannot be 
preserved in a pure state, and, in a word, that it cannot exist as a 
healthy and sound body, except the rashness and audacity of those 
who pervert sound and true doctrine be restrained. 
    We now then understand the import of this verse - that in order 
that God may be alone and indeed be rightly worshipped, he will take 
away and banish all idols and all superstitions, and also, that he 
will exterminate all ungodly teachers who pervert sound doctrine. 
    He calls them first Prophets, and then unclean spirits. The 
name of Prophets is conceded to them, though they were wholly 
unworthy of so honourable a title. As ungodly men ever boast 
themselves in an audacious manner and hesitate not to pretend God's 
name, that they may more boldly proceed in deceiving: hence it is, 
that Scripture sometimes concedes to them a name which they falsely 
claim. So also the word spirit is sometimes applied to them - "Prove 
the spirits, whether they are of God: every spirit that denies that 
Christ has come in the flesh, he is a liar." (1 John 4: 1.) John 
doubtless adopted this mode of speaking according to common usage; 
for all false teachers claimed this title with great confidence, and 
maintained that all the errors they spread abroad were revealed to 
them by the Spirit." Be it so then, but ye are lying spirits." 
    Now then as to this title, there is no obscurity in what the 
Prophet means: and by way of explanation he adds the unclean spirit, 
that he might distinguish those vile men from the faithful ministers 
of God; as though he had said, "They indeed declare that they have 
drawn down the Spirit from heaven; but it is the spirit of the 
devil, it is an unclean spirit." Now as Zechariah declares, that 
this would be in the Church of God, we learn how foolish the Papists 
are, who are content with the mere title of honour, and claim to 
themselves the greatest power, and will have themselves heard 
without dispute, as though they were the organs of the Spirit. What 
right indeed do they pretend? that they have been called by the 
Lord. The same reason might have been assigned by these unprincipled 
men, whom it was necessary to drive away, in order that the Church 
might rise again. It then follows that we are not to consider only 
what name a person has, or with what title he is distinguished, but 
how rightly he conducts himself, and how faithfully he performs his 
duties and discharges the office of a pastor. Let us proceed - 
Zechariah 13:3 
And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then 
his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou 
shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the LORD: and 
his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through 
when he prophesieth. 
    The same concession is made in this verse, where Zechariah 
speaks of the office of prophesying: he indeed confines what he says 
altogether to false teachers, for he takes it as granted that there 
was then no attention given to God's servants, inasmuch as false 
spirits had conspired together, so that nothing pure or sound 
remained in the Church. As then a false and diabolical faction had 
then prevailed, Zechariah calls them Prophets as though they were 
all such, for they were heard as the Lord's servants during that 
disorder of which mention is made. But he proceeds farther in this 
verse than before, and says, that there would be so much zeal in 
God's children when renewed by his Spirit, that they would not spare 
even their own children, but slay them with their own hands, when 
they saw them perverting the truth of God. 
    Zechariah no doubt alludes to the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy, 
where God requires such a rigorous severity in defending pure 
doctrine, that a father was to rise up against the son whom he had 
begotten, that a husband was to lead his wife to death rather than 
to indulge his love and to pardon impiety, in case the wife 
solicited him or others to forsake God. The Lord then would have all 
the godly to burn with so much zeal in the defence of lawful worship 
and true religion, that no connection, no relationship, nor any 
other consideration, connected with the flesh, should avail to 
prevent them from bringing to punishment their neighbours, when they 
see that God's worship is profaned, and that sound doctrine is 
corrupted. This was the rule prescribed by the law. Now after 
religion had been for a time neglected, and even trodden almost 
under foot, Zechariah says, that the faithful, when they shall have 
repented, would be endued with so much zeal for true religion, as 
that neither father nor mother would tolerate an ungodly error in 
their own son, but would lead him to punishment; for they would 
prefer the glory of God to flesh and blood, they would prefer to all 
earthly attachments that worship which ought to be more precious to 
us than life itself. 
    But it must at the same time be observed, that this zeal under 
the reign of Christ is approved by God; for Zechariah does not here 
confine what he teaches to the time of the law, but shows what would 
take place when Christ came, even that this zeal, which had become 
nearly extinct, would again burn in the hearts of all the godly. It 
then follows, that this law was not only given to the Jews, as some 
fanatics verily imagine, who would have for themselves at this day a 
liberty to disturb the whole world, but the same law also belongs to 
us: for if at this day thieves and robbers and sorcerers are justly 
punished, doubtless those who as far as they can destroy souls, who 
by their poison corrupt pure doctrine, which is spiritual food, who 
take away from God his own honour, who confound the whole order of 
the Church, doubtless such men ought not to escape unpunished. It 
would be indeed better to grant license to thieves and sorcerers and 
adulterers, than to suffer the blasphemies which the ungodly utter 
against God, to prevail without any punishment and without any 
restraint. And this is evident enough from the words of our Prophet. 
    And little consideration do they also show, who immediately 
fret from a regard to their own relatives. When faithful ministers 
and pastors are constrained to warn their people to beware of the 
artifices of Satan, they seek to bury every recollection of this, 
because it is invidious, because it leads to reproach. What if their 
children were to be drawn forth to punishment? How could they bear 
this, though they might remain at home; for they cannot attend to a 
free warning from their own pastor, when they find that impious 
errors are reproved, which we see prevailing, I say not in our 
neighbourhood only, but also in our own bosom and in the Church. Let 
them then acknowledge their own folly, that they may learn to put on 
new courage, so that they may make more account of the glory of God, 
and of the pure doctrine of religion, than of their own carnal 
attachments, by which they are too fast held. And this is also the 
reason why the Prophet says, who have begotten him, and he repeats 
it twice: nor was it in vain that God had those words expressly 
added, "The husband shall not suffer the wife who sleeps in his 
bosom to go unpunished; nor shall the father pardon his son whom he 
has begotten, nor the mother her own offspring, whom she has 
nourished, whom she has carried in her womb." (Deut. 13: 6, 9.) All 
these things are said, that we may learn to forget whatever belongs 
to the world and to the flesh, when God's glory and purity of 
doctrine are to be vindicated by us. 
    Now the Prophet shows clearly that all this is to be understood 
of false teachers, for he adds, For falsehood hast thou spoken in 
the name of Jehovah. And at the same time the atrocity of their sin 
is here pointed out; for if we rightly consider what it is to speak 
falsehood in the name of Jehovah, it will certainly appear to us to 
be more detestable than either to kill an innocent man, or to 
destroy a guest with poison, or to lay violent hands on one's own 
father, or to plunder a stranger. Whatever crimes then can be 
thought of, they do not come up to this, that is, when God himself 
is involved in such a dishonour, as to be made an abettor of 
falsehood. What indeed can more peculiarly belong to God than his 
own truth? and it is his will also to be worshipped by us according 
to this distinction: God is truth. Now to corrupt pure doctrine - is 
it not the same thing, as though one substituted the devil in the 
place of God? or sought to transform God, so that there should be no 
difference between him and the devil? Hence the greatest of all 
crimes, as I have already said, does not come up to this horrible 
and monstrous wickedness. For how much does the salvations of souls 
exceed all the riches of the world? and then, how much more 
excellent is the worship of God than the fame and honours of 
mortals? Besides, does not religion itself, the pledge of eternal 
life, swallow up in a manner every thing that is sought in the 
world? But most sacred to us ought to be the name of God, the 
sanctifying of which we daily pray for. When therefore what is false 
is brought forward in the name of God, is not he, according to what 
I have already said, as it were violently forced to undertake the 
office of the devil, to renounce himself, and to deny that he is 
    We hence see the design of the Prophet, when he shows that 
there is no place for pardon, when the ungodly thus wantonly rise up 
to pervert pure doctrine, and so to confound all things as wholly to 
destroy true religion. 
    He adds, Pierce him shall his father and his mother who have 
begotten him. It is much harder to kill their son by their own hands 
than to bring him to the Judge, and to leave him to his fate. But 
the Prophet has taken this from the law - that so much zeal is 
required from the faithful, that, if it be necessary, they are to 
exterminate from the world such pests as deprive God of his own 
honour, and attempt to extinguish the light of true and genuine 
religion. It follows - 
Zechariah 13:4 
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be 
ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither 
shall they wear a rough garment to deceive: 
    Zechariah proceeds with the same subject, but in other words 
and in another mode of speaking, and says, that so great would be 
the light of knowledge, that those who had previously passed 
themselves as the luminaries of the Church would be constrained to 
be ashamed of themselves. And he farther shows how it was that so 
great and so gross errors had arisen, when the whole of religion had 
been trodden under foot, and that was because Satan had veiled the 
eyes and minds of all, so that they could not distinguish between 
black and white. 
    And such ignorance has been the source of all errors under the 
Papacy. How great has been the stupidity of that people, as they 
have indiscriminately admitted whatever their ungodly teachers have 
dared to obtrude on them? And in their bishops themselves, and in 
the whole band of their filthy clergy, how great a sottishness has 
prevailed, so that they differ nothing from asses? For artisans, and 
even cowherds, surpass many of the priests and many of the bishops, 
at least in common prudence. While then there was such ignorance in 
these asses, there could not have been any difference made between 
truth and falsehood. And then when they put on fine rings, and adorn 
themselves with a forked metre and its ornaments, and also display 
their crook, and appear in all their pontifical splendour, the eyes 
of the simple are so dazzled, that all think them to be some new 
gods come down from heaven. Hence these prelates were beyond measure 
proud, until God stripped off their mask: and now their ignorance is 
well known, and no one among the common people is now deceived. 
    How then is it, that many are still immersed in their own 
errors? Because they wish to be so; they close their own eyes 
against clear light. The kings themselves, and such as exercise 
authority in the world, desire to be in their filth, and are 
indifferent as to any kind of abomination; for they fear lest in 
case of any innovation the common people should take occasion to 
raise tumults. As they themselves wish to remain quiet, hence it is 
that they defend with a diabolical pertinacity those superstitions 
which are abundantly proved to be so. And the people themselves 
neither care for God nor for their own salvation. Hence then it is, 
that almost all, from the least to the greatest, regard these asses, 
who are called prelates, as the most ignorant, and yet they submit 
to their tyranny. However this may be, the Lord has yet discovered 
the shame of those who had been a little while ago almost adored. 
    This is what Zechariah now declares, Ashamed, he says, shall 
all the Prophets be in that day, every one for his own vision, when 
they shall have prophesied. And the concession, of which we have 
spoken, is not without reason; for when the brawling monks about 
thirty years ago ascended their pulpits, or the prelates, who 
theatrically acted their holy rites, there was nothing, but what was 
divine and from heaven. Hence with great impudence they boasted 
themselves to be God's messengers, his ministers, vicars, and 
pastors; though the name of pastors was almost mean in their esteem; 
but they were Christ's vicars, they were his messengers, in short, 
there was nothing which they dared not to claim for themselves. The 
Prophet ridicules this sort of pride, and seems to say, "Well, let 
all their trumperies be prophecies; and all their babblings, let 
these be for a time counted oracles: but when they shall thus 
prophesy, the Lord will at length make them ashamed, every one for 
his vision." 
    It follows, And they shall not wear a hairy garment that they 
may lie; that is, they shall not be solicitous of retaining their 
honour and fame, but will readily withdraw from courting that renown 
which they had falsely attained. It appears from this place that 
Prophets wore sordid and hairy garments. Yet interpreters do not 
appropriately quote those passages from the Prophets where they are 
bidden to put on sackcloth and ashes; for Isaiah, while announcing 
many of his prophecies, did not put on sackcloth and ashes, except 
when he brought some sad message. The same also may be said of 
Jeremiah, when he was bidden to go naked. But it was a common thing 
with the Prophets to be content with a hairy, that is, with a sordid 
and mean garment. For though there is liberty allowed in external 
things, yet some moderation ought to be observed; for were I to 
teach in a military dress, it would be deemed inconsistent with 
common sense. There is no need of being taught as to what common 
decency may requite. The true Prophets accustomed themselves to 
hairy garments in order to show that they were sparing and frugal in 
their clothing as well as in their diet: but they attached no 
sanctity to this practice, as though they acquired some eminence by 
their dress, like the monks at this day, who deem themselves holy on 
account of their hoods and other trumperies. This was not then the 
object of the Prophets; but only that by their dress they might show 
that they had nothing else in view but to serve God, and so to 
separate themselves from the world, that they might wholly devote 
themselves to their ministry. Now the false Prophets imitated them; 
hence Zechariah says, they shall no more wear a hairy garment, that 
is, they shall no more assume a prophetic habit. 
    His purpose was, not to condemn the false Prophets for wearing 
that sort of garment, as some have supposed, who have laid hold of 
this passage for the purpose of condemning long garments and 
whatever displeased their morose temper; but the Prophet simply 
means, that when purity of doctrine shall shine forth, and true 
religion shall attain its own honour, there will be then no place 
given to false teachers; for they will of themselves surrender their 
office, and no longer try to deceive the unwary. This is the real 
meaning of the Prophet: hence he says, that they may lie. We then 
see that hairy garments are condemned on account of a certain end - 
even that rapacious wolves might be concealed under the skin of 
sheep, that foxes might introduce themselves under an appearance not 
their own. This design, and not the clothing itself, is what is 
condemned by Zechariah. He afterwards adds - 
Zechariah 13:5 
But he shall say, I am no prophet, I am an husbandman; for man 
taught me to keep cattle from my youth. 
    He describes repentance in this verse more fully. When Paul 
wished to exhort the faithful to newness of life, he said, "Let him 
who has stolen, steal no more; but rather work with his own hands, 
that he may relieve the wants of others." (Eph. 4: 18.) Paul notices 
two parts of repentance, - that thieves are to refrain from acts of 
dishonesty and wrong, - and that they ought to labour in order to 
aid others and relieve their wants. So also Zechariah mentions these 
two particulars, - that false prophets will give up their office, - 
and that they will then spend their labour in doing what is right 
and just, supporting themselves in a lawful and innocent manner, and 
affording aid to their brethren. 
    Having spoken already of the former part, he repeats the same 
thing again, I am not a prophet. It is then the first thing in 
repentance, when they who had been previously the servants of Satan 
in the work of deception, cease to deal in falsehoods, and thus put 
an end to their errors. Now follows the progress, - that they who 
lived before in idleness and in pleasures under the pretext of 
sanctity, willingly devote themselves to labour, and continue no 
longer idle and gluttonous as before, but seek to support themselves 
by just and lawful employment. It would not then have been enough 
for him to say, I am no prophet, had he not added, I am an 
husbandman; that is, I am prepared to labour, that I may support 
myself and aid my brethren. 
    A half reformation might probably succeed with many at this 
day. Were many monks sure that a rich mess would continue to them in 
their cloisters, and were also the milted bishops and abbots made 
certain that nothing of their gain and profit would be lost to them, 
they would easily grant a free course to the gospel. But the second 
part of reformation is very hard, which requires toil and labour: in 
this case the stomach has no ears, according to the old proverb. And 
yet we see what the Prophet says, - that those are they who truly 
and from the heart repent, who not only abstain from impostures, but 
who are also ready to get their own living, acknowledging that they 
had before defrauded the poor, and procured their support by rapine 
and fraud. 
    The Prophet no doubt speaks of impostors, who were then 
numerous among the Jews; and there were also women who boasted that 
they were favoured with a prophetic spirit; and the true prophets of 
God had to contend with these sorceresses or wise women, who had 
ever intruded themselves during a confused state of things, and 
undertook the office of teaching. As then there were at that time 
many idlers who lived on superstition, rightly does the Prophet send 
them away to cultivate the land. So at this day there are many 
brotherlings who hide their ignorance under their hood, and even all 
the papal clergy, under the sacred vestment, as they call it; and 
were they unmasked, it might easily be found out, that they are the 
most ignorant asses. Now, as the Lord has abundantly discovered 
their baseness, were they to acknowledge that they have been 
impostors, what would remain for them, but willingly to do what they 
are here taught? that is, to become husband men instead of being 
    As to the end of the verse, some retain the word Adam; others 
render it man; and generally the word Adam means man in Scripture. 
But they who think that Zechariah speaks of the first man, adduce 
this reason, - that as this necessity of "eating his bread by the 
sweat of his face" (Gen. 3: 9) was imposed on all mankind after the 
fall, so also all his posterity were thus taught by Adam their first 
parent; but this interpretation seems too far-fetched. I therefore 
take the word indefinitely; as though he had said, "I have not been 
taught by any master, so as to become capable to undertake the 
prophetic office; but I am acquainted only with agriculture, and 
have made such progress, that I can feed sheep and oxen; I am indeed 
by no means fit to take upon me the office of a teacher." I take the 
passage simply in this sense. 
    With regard to the verb "hiknani", "kanah", means to possess, 
to acquire; but as the word "mekanah", which signifies a flock of 
sheep or cattle, is derived from this verb, the most learned 
interpreters are inclined to give this meaning, "Man has taught me 
to possess sheep and oxen." I am however disposed to give this 
rendering, as I have already stated, "Man has taught me to be a 
    The import of the whole is, - that when God shall discover the 
ignorance, which would so prevail in the Church, as that the 
darkness of errors would extinguish as it were all the light of true 
religion, then they who repent shall become so humble, as to be by 
no means ashamed to confess their ignorance and to testify that they 
had been impostors as long as they had under a false pretence 
assumed the office of prophets. The Spirit of God then requires here 
this humility from all who had been for a time immersed in the dregs 
of falsehood, that when they find that they are not fit to teach, 
they should say, "I have not been in school, I was wholly ignorant, 
and yet I wished to be accounted a most learned teacher; at that 
time the stupidity of the people veiled my disgrace: but now the 
light of truth has shone upon us, which has constrained me to feel 
ashamed; and therefore I confess that I am not worthy to be heard in 
the assembly, and I am prepared to employ my hands in labour and 
toil, that I may gain my living, rather than to deceive men any 
longer, as I have hitherto done." 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been pleased to draw us 
at this day, by the light of thy gospel, out of that horrible 
darkness in which we have been miserably immersed, and to render thy 
face so conspicuous to us in the person of thy only-begotten Son, 
that nothing but our ingratitude prevents us from being transformed 
into thy celestial glory, - O grant, that we may make such advances 
in the light of truth, that every one of us may be ashamed of his 
former ignorance, and that we may freely and ingenuously confess 
that we were lost sheep, until we were by thy hand brought back into 
the way of salvation; and may we thus proceed in the course of our 
holy vocation, until we shall at length be all gathered into heaven, 
where not only that truth shall give us light, which now rules us 
according to the capacity of our flesh, but where also shall shine 
on us the splendour of thy glory, and shall render us conformable to 
thine image, through Jesus Christ our Lord. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 31...

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