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Lecture One Hundred and Sixty-second
We said in our yesterday’s lecture, that the words, They shall look to me whom they have pierced, are to be taken metaphorically, 163163 This principle of interpretation, which Calvin has elsewhere mentioned, is a very important one. What was metaphorically applied to God, or rather to the Messiah as the king and shepherd or Israel, before his appearance in the flesh, became afterwards literally true of him in his incarnate state. The people of Israel or the Jews, “pierced” him by their provocations while he was their king before his incarnation; they afterwards literally “pierced” him on Calvary. The same view may be taken, and is taken by Calvin, of many similar expressions borrowed from the Prophets and applied to Christ. — Ed. for the Prophet expresses here what he had said before — that the Jews would some time return to a sound mind, that is, when endued with a spirit of grace and of commiserations. For it is a true conversion when men seriously acknowledge that they are at war with God, and that he is their enemy until they are reconciled; for except a sinner sets himself in a manner before God’s tribunal, he is never touched by a true feeling of repentance. It is therefore necessary for us to remember, that God has been offended by us, and that we have, as far as we could, instigated him to destroy us, inasmuch as we have provoked his wrath and his vengeance. This then is the real meaning of the Prophet here: for the Jews, after having in various ways and for a long time heedlessly provoked God, would sometime be led to repentance, inasmuch as they would become terrified by God’s judgment, while no one of them thought previously that they had any account to render.
John says that this prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, when his side was pierced by a spear, (John 19:37;) and this is most true: for it was necessary that the visible symbol should be exhibited in the person of Christ, in order that the Jews might know that he was the God who had spoken by the Prophets; and we have elsewhere seen similar instances. The Jews then had crucified their God when they grieved his Spirit; but Christ also was as to his flesh pierced by them. And this is what John means — that God by that visible symbol made it evident, that he had not only been formerly provoked in a disgraceful manner by the Jews, but that at length in the person of his only-begotten Son this great sin was added to their disgraceful impiety, that they pierced even the side of Christ. It is indeed true, that the side of Christ was pierced by a Roman soldier, but, as Peter says, he was crucified by the Jews, for they were the authors of his death, and Pilate was almost forced by them to condemn him. (Acts 2:36.) So then the piercing of his side is justly to be ascribed to the Jews, for they executed what their mad impiety suggested by the hand of a foreign soldier.
But it must be observed, that the words of the Prophet are not cited by John with reference to repentance, for he does not speak there of repentance; but his object was briefly to show, that Christ is that God who had from the beginning spoken by the Prophets; for he says, They shall look to me. It is certain that the only true God, the creator of heaven and earth, declared this through his Spirit by the mouth of Zechariah. Then Christ is that same God. We do not, however, thus confound the persons; but we are to conclude that the essence of the Father and of the Son is simple and the same, which those wicked men, who now disturb the Church, attempt to deny. For they imagine that the Father is the only true God, and then they allow that Christ also is a God; but they devise a new kind of divinity, like a river issuing from a fountain. They therefore deny that Christ is the only true God; though they allow that he was begotten from eternity, they yet teach us that the essence of the Father and of the Son is not the same; and they regard Christ as some sort of phantom, I know not what; for they will never allow him to be that God, the author of this prophecy. They say, as they necessarily must say, that Zechariah spoke by his Spirit; but they even account for this by referring to the proximate and the second cause, inasmuch as God the Father employed his own Son. They, however, pertinaciously contend, that Christ is a God not of the same essence with the Father; for the word God, as they imagine, does not properly belong to any but to the Father.
But we clearly see how the Holy Spirit condemns this blasphemy; for he shows by the mouth of the evangelist, that he was not a kind of a second God, who was crucified, but that he was the God who spoke by Moses, and who thus declared himself to be the only true God, and affirmed the same by the mouth of Isaiah —
“My glory will I not give to another: I, I am, and none besides me.” (Isaiah 42:10:)
Now follows what we read in our last lecture, but time did not allow me to give an explanation: Lament, he says, shall they for him a lamentation as that for an only-begotten; and bitter shall they be for him as with a bitterness for a first-born. Zechariah goes on with the same subject; for he promises as before the spirit of repentance to the Jews, and mentions a particular kind of repentance; but by stating a part for the whole, he includes under this kind every part of it. The beginning of repentance, we know, is grief and lamentation. As then by the phrase, “They shall look to me,” he had not sufficiently expressed what he wished, he now explains his meaning more clearly by mentioning lamentation and grief, that God would at length grant the Jews repentance for heaving crucified Christ. The person indeed is changed; but we know that it is a common thing with the Prophets to introduce God as speaking, now in the first person, then in the second person. 164164 It is true that this is often the case; yet as John (John 19:37) quotes the preceding sentence from the Hebrew, and not from the Septuagint, and in a manner that implies the third person, we may regard “on me” as a mistake for “on him.” All the early versions are indeed in favor of “on me,” and also the best MS.; and swayed by these authorities, Dathius and Henderson have retained this reading; but Kennicott and Newcome, supported by some of the early fathers, and also by thirty-six MS., as stated by the last, have adopted “on him:” and this seems to be the best course. Neither Dathius nor Henderson gives a satisfactory solution of the difficulty as to the quotation of St. John. — Ed. If any one be disposed to think that there is a difference marked out here as to the person, I do not object; but I fear that it is a refinement that will not stand. At the same time we may state this explanation — They shall look to me whom they pierced. Was God the Father pierced? By no means; for he had not put on flesh in which he could have suffered; but this was done by his only begotten Son. Why then does the Father say, They shall look to me? the answer given is, because of the unity of the essence. It then follows — And they shall lament for him and be bitter for him. There is here a transition from the first to the third person; for though Christ is the same with the Father, yet different as to his person. But, as I have already said, I am not inclined to enforce this view; for the Hebrew mode of speaking seems to countenance the other opinion — that the Prophet first introduces God as the speaker, and then narrates himself, as God’s minister, what would take place.
But what I have just referred to is doubtless true — that repentance is here described by stating a part for the whole; for the first thing in order is sorrow, according to what Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 7:10; and the reason may also be gathered from what I have said — that it cannot be that sin will displease us, and we repent, except our guilt goad and wound us, while we acknowledge that God is an avenger of sins, and that we have to do with him; for when God the Judge comes forth to punish us, must we not necessarily be smitten with dreadful grief and alarm, yea, be almost so allowed up by it? Hence that bitterness that is mentioned; and hence lamentation; for it cannot be otherwise, when we dread God’s vengeance suspended over us.
But the Prophet, it may be said, seems to mean something else — that they will lament on account of Christ, and not on their own account. To this a ready answer may be given — that the fountain and cause of lamentation is pointed out; for ingratitude will constrain the Jews to lament, inasmuch as they will acknowledge that in their perverse obstinacy they had carried on war with God and his only-begotten Son. He does not then understand that the death of Christ would be bitter to them, as we are wont to shed tears and to lament at the death of a friend, or of a brother or of a son; but because they would know and feel that they had been extremely blind, and by their sins provoked God
Jerome thought that Christ is called the only-begotten with regard to his Divine nature, and the first-born, because he is the elder brother of all the godly, and the Head of the Church. The sentiment is indeed true, but I know not whether it be the sentiment of the Prophet in this passage. I therefore prefer to take this simple view of what is here said, — that the Jews, after having despised Christ, would at length acknowledge him to be a precious and invaluable treasure, the contempt of whom deserved the vengeance of God. Let us proceed -
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