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Zechariah 12:12-14

12. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart;

12. Et lugebit terra, familiae, familiae seorsum; familia domus Davidis seorsum, et uxores eorum seorsum;

13. The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart;

13. Familia domus Levi seorsum, et uxores eorum seorsum; familia Simei seorsum, et uxores eorum seorsum;

14. All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.

14. Omnes familiae residuae, familiae, familiae seorsum (hoc est, singulae familiae seorsum,) et uxores eorum seorsum.


Zechariah seems to have used more words than necessary to complete his subject; for he appears to be diffuse on a plain matter: but we ought to attend to its vast importance; for it seemed incredible, that any of that nation would repent, since they had almost all been given up to a reprobate mind. For who could have thought that there was any place for the favor of God, inasmuch as all, as far as they could, even from the least to the greatest, attempted to involve Christ in darkness? When therefore the Sun of Righteousness was as it were extinguished by the Jews, it seemed probable that they were a nation repudiated by God. But the Prophet here shows, that God would be mindful of his covenant, so that he would turn to himself some of all the families.

Lament, he says, shall the land. This indeed we know did not take place as to the body of the people, but God, to whom a small flock is precious, denominates here as the whole land the faithful, who had felt how grievously they had sinned, and were so pricked in their hearts as though they had pierced the Son of God. (Acts 2:37.) And though the Jews had destroyed themselves, yet through special and wonderful favor, three thousand were converted at one sermon by Peter; and then many in Greece, Asia Minor, and in the East, repented, and many Churches arose everywhere, as though God had created a new people. If these things be rightly viewed by us, we shall not think it unreasonable that Zechariah promises repentance to the whole land.

What he said before of Jerusalem ought not to be so taken as though he confined what he said to one city, but under this name he includes the whole nation, dispersed through distant parts of the world.

He says now, that this lamentations would be in every family apart. By which word he means, that it would not be a feigned or pretended ceremony, as when one begins to weep and draws tears from the eyes of others. The Prophet then testifies that it would be real sorrow, for one would not imitate another, but every one, impelled by his own feeling, would really grieve and lament. This then is the reason why he says that families would lament apart. Indeed the faithful ought to stimulate others by their example and encourage them to repent, but in a congregation hardly one in ten prays in earnest for pardon and really laments on account of his sins. Since therefore men are thus born to hypocrisy, and are confirmed in it by the whole practice of their the, it is no wonder that the Prophet, in order to set forth real sorrow, represents here every family by itself; as though he had said, “The family of David shall know that it had sinned, and the family of Levi, though it may not observe such an example, shall yet inwardly acknowledge its guilt.” We now see why Zechariah repeats the word apart so often.

By saying, that the women wept apart, he means no doubt the same thing with what we find in the second chapter of Joel (Joel 2:1)

“Go forth let the bridegroom from his chamber,
and the bride from her recess.”

Men in grief, we know, withdraw from all pleasures and all joy. As then men usually separate themselves from their wives during the appointed time of public grief or mourning, the Prophet makes the women to be by themselves: he intimates at the same time that the women would not wait until the men showed then an example of mourning, but that they would of themselves, and through a feeling of their own, be inclined to lament.

But we must bear in mind what I lately said, — that the grief which the Jews felt for the death of Christ is not what is described, but rather that by which they were touched when God opened their eyes to repent for their own perverseness; for the death of Christ, we allow, is a cause of joy to us rather than of sorrow, but the joy arising from Christ’s death cannot shine in us until our guilt really wounds us through God’s appearing to us as a threatening judge. From this sorrow there arises the desire to repent and the true fear of God. Hence it is, that God himself will give us joy, for he will not have us, as Paul says, to be swallowed up with sorrow; he lays us prostrate, that he may again raise us up.

Now, why he names the house of Levi, and the house of Shimei, or of Simeon, and the house of David, and the house of Nathan, rather than the other tribes, is uncertain: yet it seems to me probable that by the family of David he means the whole tribe of Judah, and the same by the family of Nathan. As to the tribe of Levi it excelled in honor on account of the priesthood, but no honor belonged to Simeon. Why then are Issachar and Reuben the first-born, and the other tribes omitted here? It might indeed have been, that there were then remaining more from the tribes of Simeon and Levi than from the tribe of Zebulon or of Issachar or of Reuben; but this is uncertain, and I am not disposed to make much of mere conjectures. But I am inclined to think that the family of David and the tribe of Levi are here mentioned not for the sake of honor but of reproach, because the royal family and the priests were those who crucified Christ, and pierced God in the person of his only-begotten Son. Jerome conjectures, that the family of Nathan is named, because he was a celebrated Prophet and eminent above others, and that the Prophets are designated by him. He says that many teachers arose from the tribe of Simeon; but I know not where he got his information, for he adduces no proofs. 166166     What he says in substance is, that the family of David represented the royal order — of Nathan, the prophetic — of Levi, the sacerdotal — and of Simeon, the order of teachers, as from that tribe many of them had proceeded. The same view was taken by Theodoret and Cyril. It was thought by Marckius that Nathan the son of David is meant, who represented, not the royal line, but his other descendants, and that Shimei belonged to the tribe of Levi, and represented the Levites, not the priestly line; see Numbers 3:18; and Henderson’s view is the same. But Blayney though that they were all the progenitors of our Savior. Luke 3:29-31.
   Instead of “Shimei,” the Septuagint, the Arabic, and Syriac, have a “Simeon,” which Newcome, adopts as the true reading. Three MS., the Syriac, and the Targum, supply “house” before it.

   Was not this prophecy literally fulfilled in the time of Ezra? His return, and the reformation he effected, were several years posterior to the time when this prophecy was delivered. The brief account, given in the ninth and tenth chapters of Ezra, clearly intimates a state of things similar to what is here described. See especially chapters 9:1-4; 10:1,9,14; and the names of those who had transgressed, 20-44. The priestly line of Levi and those of inferior order are mentioned, and also those “of Israel,” denominated “princes and rulers” in chapter 9:2. We hence see a reason for the lamentation of the “wives,” and these apart. — Ed.

But I am satisfied with the simple view already given, — that the Prophet by mentioning certain families meant to include the whole people, and that he does not omit the royal family nor the priests, because they were especially those who crucified Christ: and we know that Christ descended from Nathan, though Jerome thought the Prophet to be intended here rather than Nathan, one of Christ’s progenitors: but these things are of small moment.

He says in the last place, that this lamentation would be common to all the remaining families. Though few had returned, except those from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, and from the tribe of Levi, yet Zechariah, as I think, means here by the remaining families, the elect who had been miraculously delivered from the common ruin; for blindness had so prevailed, that the rejection of the whole people on the part of God was evident. Under this designation then I consider the remnants of grace, as Paul says, to be included; as though the Prophet had said, that he had spoken of sorrow, not with regard to the whole nation indiscriminately, but to that part which was a remnant according to the gratuitous election of God. Now follows —

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