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Zechariah 1:12

12. Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?

12. Et respondit Angelus Iehovae et dixit, Iehova exercituum, quousque tu non misereberis Ierusalem et urbium Iehudah, quas sprevisti (vel, detestatus es; alii vertunt, quibus iratus fuisti; [זעם] utrumque significat; sed videtur melius quadrare prior ille sensus, quas ergo sprevisti) his septuaginta annis?

 

The Prophet now shows that the angel who was his guide and teacher, became even a suppliant before God in behalf of the welfare of the Church. Hence the probable opinion is, that this angel was Christ the Mediator. For they who say that it was the Holy Spirit, who forms prayers in our hearts, seem to depart very far from the meaning of the Prophet: and it is nothing new, that Christ should exercise care over his Church. But if this view be disapproved, we may take any one of the angels to be meant. It is certain that it is enjoined them all to minister to the salvation of the faithful, according to what the Apostle says in the first chapter of the Hebrews Hebrews 1:1; and indeed the whole Scripture is full of evidences, which prove that angels are guardians to the godly, and watch over them; for the Lord, for whose service they are ever ready, thus employs them: and in this we also see the singular love of God towards us; for he employs his angels especially for this purpose, that he might show that our salvation is greatly valued by him.

There is then nothing wrong, if we say that any one of the angels prayed for the Church. But absurdly, and very foolishly do the Papists hence conclude, that dead saints are our advocates before God, or that they pray for us; for we never read that it is an office committed to the dead to intercede for us; nay, the duties of love, we know, are confined to the present life. When, therefore, the faithful remove from this world, having finished their course, they enter on a blessed life. Though then the case is different, yet the Papists foolishly pass from angels to the dead: for as it has been stated, the case of the faithful has been committed to angels, and they ever watch over the whole body, and over every member of it. It is then nothing strange that they offer prayers for the faithful; but it does not hence follow, that angels are to be invoked by us. Why does Scripture testify, that angels supplicate God for us? Is it that each of us may flee to them? By no means; but that being assured of God’s paternal love, we may entertain more hope and confidence; yea, that we may courageously fight, being certain of victory, since celestial hosts contend for us, according to what appears from many examples. For when the servant of Elisha saw not the chariots flying in the air, he became almost lost in despair; but his despair was instantly removed, when he saw so many angels ready at hand for help, (2 Kings 6:17;) so whenever God declares that angels are ministers for our safety, he means to animate our faith; at the same time he does not send us to angels; but this one thing is sufficient for us, that when God is propitious to us, all the angels have a care for our salvation. And we must further notice what is said by Christ,

“hereafter ye shall see angels ascending and descending,”
(John 1:51,)

which means, that when we are joined to the head, there will thence proceed a sacred union between us and angels; for Christ, we know, is equally Lord over all. When, therefore, we are united to the body of Christ, it is certain that angels are united to us, but only through Christ. All this favor then depends on the one true Mediator. Far then is it from being the case, that Scripture represents angels as patrons to whom we may pray. The meaning then is what we have stated, when Zechariah says, that the angel thus prayed, O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah?

The angel seems in this place to have indirectly blamed God for having too much delayed to bring help to his Church: but this mode of speaking, we know, frequently occurs in the prayers of the saints; they in a manner charged God with delay, that is, according to the perception of their flesh. But this is not inconsistent with the obedience of faith, since the faithful submit at length to the counsel of God. Hence, however familiarly they may often expostulate with God, when he seems to delay and to withhold his aid, they yet restrain themselves, and at length feel assured that what God has appointed is best. But they thus pour forth their cares and their sorrows into the bosom of God, in order to disburden themselves. The angel now adopts this form when he says, “How long wilt thou not show mercy?” It is not however the complaint of unreasonable fervor, as that of the ungodly, who in praying accuse God, rage against him, and quarrel with his judgments. The angel then was not moved by any turbulent feeling, nor were the saints, when they adopted this mode of praying; but they did what God allows us all to do; they thus disburndened their cares and sorrows.

We ought at the same time to notice the special import of the words, “how long,” עד-מתי, od-mati? The angel indeed afterwards explains himself, when he expressly mentions the term of seventy years. 2121     The Hebrew literally is “this seventies year.” A similar anomaly is found in Welsh, “this ten year and sixty,” or “this sixty year and ten.” — Ed. It was not then without design, or through a strong impulse of feeling, that the angel said, How long? but he had regard to a memorable prophecy, which was in the mouth of all the godly; for God had fixed seventy years for the exile of the people. Since the people knew that a time had been predetermined by God, he does net here supplicate God according to his own will, but only alleges the promise itself: and it is an usual thing with the saints to plead before God what he has promised to them. What indeed can better sustain our hope? and what can give us a greater encouragement in praying, than when we plead with God according to his promises? For God will have our prayers to be founded first on his gratuitous goodness, and then on the constancy of his faithfulness and truth. When therefore they thus address God, “O Lord, thou art true, and thou hast promised this to us; relying on thy word, we dare ask what otherwise we could not,” — they certainly do not exceed the limits as though they prescribed to God a law, but anxiously seek to obtain what had been freely offered. We have seen that the angel does not here complain of delay, but that he founded his plea on that remarkable prophecy, in which God had fixed the term of seventy years for his people.

The angel seems in this place to have indirectly blamed God for having too much delayed to bring help to his Church: but this mode of speaking, we know, frequently occurs in the prayers of the saints; they in a manner charged God with delay, that is, according to the perception of their flesh. But this is not inconsistent with the obedience of faith, since the faithful submit at length to the counsel of God. Hence, however familiarly they may often expostulate with God, when he seems to delay and to withhold his aid, they yet restrain themselves, and at length feel assured that what God has appointed is best. But they thus pour forth their cares and their sorrows into the bosom of God, in order to disburden themselves. The angel now adopts this form when he says, “How long wilt thou not show mercy?” It is not however the complaint of unreasonable fervor, as that of the ungodly, who in praying accuse God, rage against him, and quarrel with his judgments. The angel then was not moved by any turbulent feeling, nor were the saints, when they adopted this mode of praying; but they did what God allows us all to do; they thus disburdened their cares and sorrows. 2222     This point has been frequently referred to by Calvin: but mistakes have arisen from not considering that no less than three events are coincident with this number, as it is clearly proved by Petavius, Prideaux, Bishop Newton, and others. From the first invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 1:1; Jeremiah 25:1-11, to the edict of Cyrus, 2 Chronicles 36:22, there were seventy years; the same time transpired from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Jeremiah 52:13, eighteen years after, to the second year of Darius Hystaspes, when a decree was made to rebuild the temple; and there were seventy years from the last captivity by Nebuzar-adan, Jeremiah 52:30, to the time when the temple was finished. “So that taking it,” says Prideaux, “which way you will, and at what stage you please, the prophecy of Jeremiah will be fully and exactly accomplished concerning this matter.” Probably the second period is what is here intended. — Ed.

I have said, that it is more suitable to the passage to say, that the cities had been despised by God: but if any prefers the other view, I will not contend; yet whosoever will minutely consider the intention of the Prophet, will, I think, readily assent to the idea, that the cities had been despised or rejected by God, because he gave them no sign of his mercy. 2323     The contrast seems to show that displeasure, or wrath, or flaming wrath, which [זעם], pity or compassion, is what is prayed for. God had been as it were angry or indignant, but now his pity is solicited. He is asked to show pity to a people to whom he had manifested extreme displeasure. “Compassionate” and “angry” are the two words used by Henderson; and “have mercy” and “had indignation,” by Newcome. The former appears to be the most appropriate rendering. Compassion or pity, and anger or wrath, seem to be the contrasts. — Ed. It now follows —


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