(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 31)
Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-fourth. 
Zechariah 13:6 
And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? 
Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of 
my friends. 
    Here the Prophet, in order to finish what we explained 
yesterday, says that such would be the discipline among the new 
people after having repented, that each in his own house would 
chastise his sons and relatives: and it is an evidence of perfect 
zeal, when not only judges perform their office in correcting 
wickedness, but when also private individuals assist to preserve 
public order, each according to his power. It is indeed true that 
the use of the sword is not allowed us, so that the offender may be 
punished by his neighbour: but as it was always allowed by the law 
of God, that when the matter did not come before a public tribunal, 
friends might inflict punishment, Zechariah, alluding to this 
custom, says, that though they who unjustly claimed the prophetic 
office and spread abroad false and impious errors, should not be 
visited with capital punishment, yet such would be their zeal for 
true religion, that friends would privately chastise such as they 
found to be of this character. 
    If any one objects and says, that these two things are 
inconsistent, - that false Prophets were punished with death, and 
that they were only chastised with stripes or scourges. To this I 
answer, that Zechariah does not speak precisely of the kind and mode 
of punishment, but says generally, that false teachers, even in the 
estimation of their parents, were worthy of death; and that if they 
were treated more gently they should yet suffer such a punishment, 
that they would through life be mutilated and ever bear scars as 
proofs of their shame. 
    We may at the same time gather from the answer what proves true 
repentance, Say will one, (it is put indefinitely,) or it will be 
said, What mean these wounds in thine hand? Then he will say, I have 
been stricken by my friends. The Prophet shows that those who had 
previously deceived the people would become new men, so as patiently 
to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are 
wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in 
itself severe, would bee counted mild, for they would be endued with 
such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected. Some apply this 
to Christ, because Zechariah has mentioned wounds on the hands; but 
this is very puerile; for it is quite evident that he speaks here of 
false teachers, who had for a time falsely pretended God's name. As 
then they say, that they were friends by whom they were smitten, 
they acknowledge themselves worthy of such punishment, and they 
murmur not, nor set up any complaint. It now follows - 
Zechariah 13:7 
Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my 
fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep 
shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. 
    It was pleasant and delightful to hear what the Prophet said at 
the beginning of the chapter, for he promised that a fountain would 
be opened, by which the Jews might cleanse away all their filth, and 
that God, having been reconciled, would be bountiful to them. As 
then he had promised so blessed and happy a state, what he had said 
before might have been so taken, even by the true and faithful 
servants of God, as though the condition of the Church were to be 
after that time free from every trouble and inconvenience; hence 
Zechariah anticipates such a conclusion, and shows that the happy 
state which he had promised was not to be so looked for, as it 
though the faithful were to be free from every affliction, for God 
would in the meantime severely try his Church. Though then God had 
promised to be bountiful to his Church, he yet shows that many 
troubles would be mixed up with its prosperity in order that the 
faithful might prepare themselves to endure all things. 
    This discourse may indeed appear abrupt, but its different 
parts harmonise well together, for God so regulates his benefits 
which he bestows on his Church in this world, as ever to try it in 
various ways. What is here said was especially necessary, since very 
grievous afflictions were nigh at hand: for, as it is evident from 
history, that nation was on the borders of despair when the coming 
of Christ approached. This then is the reason why the Prophet seems 
at the first view to join together things so contrary. For what he 
has hitherto promised tended to prepare the faithful to bear all 
things patiently, inasmuch as deliverance was nigh. But in the 
meantime it was needful that they should be expressly encouraged to 
persevere, lest they should succumb under the extreme evils which 
were not far distant. 
    The sum of the whole is, that before the Lord would cleanse his 
Church and bring it back to perfect order, very grievous calamities 
were to intervene, for a dreadful disorder there must be when God 
smites the very shepherds; and the apostrophe, when God addresses 
the sword, a thing void of reason, is very emphatical. It is much 
more striking than if he had said, "A sword shall be raised against 
my shepherds and against my ministers, so that the flock shall be 
dispersed." But the metaphor, as I said, is much more expressive, 
when God directs his words to the sword itself; A wake, watch, O 
sword, - how? against my shepherd. 
    Most of our interpreters confine this passage to the person of 
Christ, because in Matth. 26: 31, this sentence is quoted, "Smite 
the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered:" but this is no 
solid reason; for what is said of a single shepherd ought probably 
to be extended to the whole order. When God says in Deut. 18: 15, "A 
prophet will I raise up from the midst of you," though mention is 
indeed made of one Prophet only, yet God includes all the Prophets; 
as though he had said, "I will never deprive you of the doctrine of 
salvation, but in every age will I show that I care for you, for my 
Prophets shall be ever present, by whose mouth I shall make it known 
that I am near you." This passage is quoted as referring to Christ, 
and very suitably, because all the Prophets spoke by his Spirit, and 
at length he himself appeared, and by his mouth the heavenly Father 
spoke familiarly with us, and fully explained his whole mind, as it 
is said in the first chapter to the Hebrews, "In various ways and 
often did God speak formerly to the fathers by the Prophets, but now 
in these last times by his only-begotten Son." As then Christ 
possesses a supremacy among the Prophets, and hence rightly applied 
to him are the words of Moses; so also as he is the head and prince 
of shepherds, this pre-eminence justly belongs to him. But what is 
said by the Prophet is however to be viewed as a general truth. In 
short, God threatens the people, and declares that there would be a 
dreadful disorder; for they would be deprived of their shepherds, so 
that there would be no government among them, or one in great 
    The word "'amit" is rendered by some, kindred, (contribulis - 
one of the same tribe,) by others, kinsman, (consanguineus - one of 
the same blood,) and by others, one connected, (co-haerens,) that 
is, with God; and they have considered that this passage cannot be 
understood of any but of Christ alone: but they have taken up, as I 
have said, a false principle. The Greek version has citizen ("ton 
politen,) and some render it, as Theodotion, kindred ("sumfulon - 
one of the same tribe.) Jerome prefers the rendering, one connected 
or united with me (cohaerentem mihi). The word, according to the 
Hebrews, means an associate, a neighbour, or a friend, or one in any 
way connected with us. God, I have no doubt, distinguished pastors 
with this title, because he gave a representation at himself by then 
to the people; and the more eminent any one is, the nearer, we know, 
he is to God: and hence kings and judges, and such as exercise 
authority, are called his sons. So also pastors are called his 
associates, for they spend their labour in building up the Church. 
He is the chief Pastor, but he employs his ministers to carry on his 
work. This is the reason why they are called the associates of God, 
that is, on account of the connection between them, for they are 
co-workers with God, as Paul also teaches us. In short, the Prophet 
calls pastors the associates of God in the same sense in which Paul 
calls them fellow-workers. (sunergous, 1 Cor. 3: 9.) 
    Having said that the sword was permitted, nay, commanded, to 
rise against the shepherd, he immediately adds, that the sheep were 
dispersed. We then see that in these words is set forth a calamity 
that was to be feared, and which the people were not able to escape, 
in order that the faithful might not be too much disheartened, as 
though God would disappoint them, but that they might stand firm 
amidst grievous troubles and violent commotions. Since then this 
disorder was nigh, Zechariah bids the faithful to continue firm and 
patiently, and quietly hope, until God showed himself again 
propitious to them, and those evidences of his favour appeared of 
which he had before spoken. We now see what the design of the 
Prophet was. But we must especially notice, that it is a sure 
presage of the people's ruin and destruction when pastors are taken 
from them; for when God intends to keep us safe, he employs this 
instrumentality, that is, he raises up faithful teachers, who rule 
in his name; and he rules them by his Spirit, and fits them for 
their rank and station: but when he strikes them, he not only 
forsakes the people, but also shows that he is the avenger of 
wickedness, so that the people themselves are destroyed. This is the 
import of the Prophet's words. 
    But this, as I have already observed, was fulfilled in Christ; 
for he accommodated the passage to himself when his disciples fled 
from him. Though they were but a small flock, being very few in 
number, yet they were scattered and put to flight. In that case 
then, as in a mirror, appeared how truly it had been said by 
Zechariah, that the scattering is nigh when a pastor is smitten. 
    By the word sword, he means affliction; for though Christ was 
not slain by a sword, yet crucifixion and violent death are fitly 
designated by the word sword. 
    It follows at the end of the verse, And I will turn my hand to 
the little ones. Some consider that the little ones would be exposed 
to many evils, because the Lord would ever hold his rod in his hand 
to chastise them. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, meant what is 
far different, - that God would show mercy to them, when the body of 
the people had been as it were torn into many parts. For all the 
godly might have been wholly dejected when their shepherds were 
taken away, and when the people were become like a straying flock. 
God then comes to their aid, and testifies that his hand would be 
extended over the miserable and the poor ones, who had been almost 
overwhelmed by a mass of evils. 
    This passage is also very serviceable to us in the present 
state of the Church: for we see how God has lately cut off many 
pastors, so that what is called the Church is become like a 
mutilated body. We also see that God often deprives of good and 
faithful pastors those who have abused his truth, or with impious 
contempt rejected it. We might then in this case be terrified and 
cast off all hope of salvation, were we not to remember what 
Zechariah teaches us here, even that though the Church were 
contemptible in the world, and though the faithful were few in 
number, and all of them exposed to calamities, yet God's hand will 
be over them, so as to gather for himself again a Church from the 
torn members. This is the import of the whole. It follows - 
Zechariah 13:8 
And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two 
parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left 
    He goes on with the same subject; for he reminds the faithful, 
that though God had resolved to restore his Church, and though his 
blessing would be evident, yet very heavy afflictions were not far 
distant; as though he had said, "God will give you a serene heaven 
and a bland air, that the land may bring forth its fruit; but still 
there is a heavy tempest impelling, and ye shall not be exempt from 
storms and hail. But when God has laid waste a part of the land, he 
will bless you with corn and wine, so that you shall have sufficient 
support." So also in this place he says, "God will protect his 
Church, and will also be propitious to it, for he will wash away all 
the filth of wickedness, and will give to you faithful pastors, when 
he has removed the impostures of Satan: but in the meantime most 
grievous afflictions await you, and a hard state of things, and 
difficult to be borne, must be expected; for God will appear as 
though he intended to destroy his people: such will be the 
    For this reason he says, that there will be through the whole 
land the most grievous calamities: Two parts, he says, shall die; 
the third only shall remain. 
    We now see how all these things agree, and how the Prophet's 
words harmonise. In short, he means, that what he had before 
promised respecting the future favour of God, does not belong 
indifferently to all, or to the whole body of the people, but to the 
faithful, whom God will in a wonderful manner deliver from ruin; for 
of the people God will only save the third part, as he had already 
resolved to destroy the other two parts. The intention of the 
Prophet is now by no means doubtful. 
    But we hence conclude, that what God daily promises to his 
Church is not to be extended indiscriminately to all, for many 
falsely profess his name: but he knows his own, as Paul says, and 
therefore exhorts them to depart from iniquity. (2 Tim. 2: 16.) Let 
us then know that promises of God's favour do not appertain to 
hypocrites: for though he has decreed to deal kindly and graciously 
with his Church, he yet continues to diminish it, so that the third 
part only remains safe. Whenever then we speak of God's mercy 
towards his Church, and of his aid and help, let us ever bear in 
mind the cleansing of which Zechariah now speaks, that God will 
reserve the third part, while the greater portion ever runs headlong 
into ruin. It is then enough that the third part should be delivered 
from destruction. But this verse, as it has already appeared, ought 
to be applied to the kingdom of Christ. 
    Literally we read, the mouth of the two; but "pi" is to be 
taken metaphorically for part or portion. A part then of the two in 
it, or two parts in it, (the plural is joined with the singular, as 
often is the case,) shall perish, shall be cut off. The verb "karat" 
means to cut off; and then "gu'" signifies to die or to sink. Though 
he understands the same things by the two words, it is not yet an 
unmeaning repetition; for it might have seemed hard and unreasonable 
that only a third part of God's people should remain. This 
diminution of the Church might have disturbed the minds of many, and 
might have appeared incredible: hence the Prophet, in order to 
confirm what in itself seemed a paradox, says, they shall die, they 
shall perish; it has been so decreed, and you are not to contend 
with God; for given up to ruin shall the greater number be, while a 
few only shall remain: the third part then shall remain in it. It 
follows - 
Zechariah 13:9 
And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine 
them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they 
shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my 
people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God. 
    Zechariah proceeds further here, that when God shall cut off 
two parts of the people, he will yet save the third for this end - 
that it might be proved by various kinds of trials, and be made to 
bear many afflictions. With regard to the two parts, the Lord did 
not afflict them in order to turn them to repentance, but resolved 
wholly to destroy them. The third part then is reserved for 
salvation; and yet it is necessary even for them to be cleansed 
through many afflictions. 
    Very useful is this doctrine; for we hence first conclude that 
many, not only from the world, are led into perdition, but also from 
the bosom of the Church: for when three hundred shall profess to 
worship God, one hundred only, says Zechariah, will be saved. There 
are always among the people many hypocrites; nay, the grains lie hid 
in the midst of much chaff and refuse; it is therefore necessary to 
devote to ruin and eternal death a larger number than those who 
shall be saved. Let us then not envy the ungodly, though their 
prosperity may disturb us and cause us to grieve. (Ps. 37: 2.) We 
think them happy; for while God spares and supports them, they 
deride us and triumph over our miseries. But under this 
circumstance, the Holy Spirit exhorts us to bear patiently our 
afflictions; for though for a time the happiness of the ungodly may 
goad us, yet God himself declares that they are fattened in order to 
be presently slain, when they shall have gathered much fatness. This 
is one thing. 
    Then it is in the second place added, that after the greater 
part, both of the world and of the Church, (at least such as profess 
to belong to it,) shall be destroyed, we cannot be retained in our 
position, except God often chastises us. Let us then remember what 
Paul says, that we are chastised by the Lord, that we may not perish 
with the world; and the metaphors which the Prophet adopts here are 
to the same purpose; for he says, I will lead them through the fire. 
He speaks here of the faithful whom God has chosen into salvation, 
and whom he has reserved that they might continue safe: yet he says, 
that they shall be saved through fire, that is, hard trials. But he 
sets forth this still more clearly, He will prove them, he says, as 
silver and gold. The stubble and the chaff, as John the Baptist 
teaches us, are indeed cast into the fire, (Matt. 3: 12,) but 
without any benefit; for the fire consumes the refuse and the chaff, 
and whatever is corruptible. But when the gold and the silver are 
put in the fire and are purified, it is done that greater purity may 
be produced, and also that what is precious in these metals may 
become more apparent: for when the silver is drawn out of the mine, 
it differs not much from what is earthy. The same is the case with 
gold. But the furnace so purifies the gold and silver from their 
dross, that they attain their value and excellency. Hence Zechariah 
says, that when God casts his faithful people into the fire, he does 
this according to his paternal purpose in order to burn out their 
dross, and thus they become gold and silver who were before filthy 
and abominable, and in whom much dross abounded. We see then that 
the elect of God, even those who may be rightly counted his 
children, are here distinguished from the reprobate, however they 
may profess God's name and worship. 
    Now this passage is not inconsistent with that in Isaiah, "I 
have not purified thee as silver and gold, for thou hast been wholly 
consumed." (Is. 48: 10.) Though God tries his elect by the fire of 
afflictions, he yet observes moderation; for they would wholly faint 
were he to purify them to the quick. It is however necessary to pass 
through this trial of which the Prophet now speaks: and thus the 
state of the Church is here described - that it ought to be always 
and continually cleansed, for we are altogether unclean; and then, 
after God has washed us by his Spirit, still many spots of 
uncleanness remain in us; besides, we contract other pollutions, for 
it cannot be but that much contagion is derived from those vices by 
which we are on every side surrounded. 
    He now adds, He will call on my name, and I will answer him. 
With this consideration God mitigates what was in itself hard and 
grievous. It is hard to see so many dreadful evils, when God treads 
under foot the greater part of the world, and when his vengeance 
bursts forth on the Church itself, so that his severity on every 
side fills us with fear. But this also is added - that we are daily 
to feel the fire, as though God meant to burn us, while yet he does 
not consume us. Hence the Prophet shows how these miseries are to be 
sweetened to us, and how sorrow becomes not too grievous; for we are 
tried by the cross and the scourges and chastisements of God in 
order that we may call on his name. Hearing follows calling; and 
nothing can be more desirable than this. The Prophet then proves 
from the happy effect, that there is no reason for the faithful to 
murmur against God, or impatiently to bear their evils, because 
being purified they can now really flee to him. 
    Were any to ask, whether God can by his Spirit only draw the 
elect to true religion? If so, why is this fire of affliction and 
hard trial necessary? The answer is, that he speaks not here of what 
God can do, nor ought we to dispute on the subject, but be satisfied 
with what he has appointed. It is his will then, that his own people 
should pass through the fire and be tried by various afflictions, 
for this purpose - that they may sincerely call on his name. We must 
at the same time learn that it is the true preparation by which the 
Lord brings back the elect to himself, and forms in them a sincere 
concern for religion, when he tries them by the cross and by various 
chastisements; for prosperity is like mildew or the rust. We cannot 
then look to God with clear eyes, except our eyes be cleansed. But 
this cleansing, as I have said, is what God has appointed as the 
means by which he has resolved to render his Church submissive. It 
is therefore necessary that we should be subject, from first to 
last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart 
call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we 
cannot make the effort to pray. But this consolation is ever to be 
applied to ease our sorrows, when our flesh leads us either to 
perverseness or to despair; let this remedy occur to us, that though 
chastisement is hard while it is felt, it ought yet to be estimated 
by what it produces, as the Apostle also reminds us in Heb. 12: 11. 
Let us especially know that the name of God is then seriously 
invoked, when we are subdued, and all ferocity, and all the 
indulgence of the flesh, are corrected in us: for we are like 
untamed heifers, as Jeremiah says, when God indulges us. (Jer. 31: 
18.) Hence the discipline of the cross is necessary, so that earnest 
prayer may become vigorous in us. 
    He shows at last how God may be invoked, for we are taught that 
he will be kind and propitious to us, whenever called upon. It would 
not indeed be enough for us to groan under the burden of 
afflictions, and to be thus awakened to prayer, except God himself 
allured us and gave us hope of favour. Hence the Prophet adds, I 
will say, My people they are; and they will say, Jehovah our God is 
he. The Prophet in short means, that unless the promises of God 
shine on us, and invite us to prayer, no sincere prayer can ever be 
drawn from us. How so? Because we first come to God by faith alone, 
and this opens the gate to us, and all prayers not founded on faith 
are rejected; and further, we know that men naturally dread the 
presence of God, and will do so until he gives them a taste of his 
goodness and love. Hence what Zechariah says here is especially 
worthy of notice, - that God's word precedes, so that we may follow 
with confidence, and be able to enter through the gate opened to 
prayer, for except he first says, "ye are my people," we cannot 
claim the privilege of entering into his presence and say, "thou art 
our God." For who has bound God to us, that he should be a God to 
us? even he himself; for he has bound himself to us when he promised 
that we shall be his people. There is then, as I have said, no right 
beginning to prayer until we are taught that God is ready to hear 
our prayers, as it is said in Ps. 65: 23, "Thou God hearest prayers, 
and all flesh shall come to thee." 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou sees that we are full of so 
many sinful desires, which defile whatever purity thou hast 
conferred on us by thy Spirit, - O grant, that we may daily profit 
under thy scourges, and so submit ourselves to be ruled by thee, as 
to become resigned and obedient, even when thou dealest with us with 
unusual severity; and may we ever taste of the sweetness of thy 
goodness in thy greatest rigour, and know that thou thereby 
providest for our safety, and leadest us towards perfect purity, 
from which we are as yet far distant, so that we may be obedient to 
thee in this world, and become hereafter partakers of that victory 
which Christ has procured for us, and enjoy with him his triumph in 
thy heavenly kingdom. - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Zechariah)

Continued in Part 32...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-31.txt