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A Vision of Four Chariots

1Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, 3the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong.11Or and the fourth chariot strong dappled horses 4Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.” 7When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, “Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth. 8Then he cried to me, “Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.”

The Crown and the Temple

9And the word of the Lord came to me: 10“Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. 11Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 12And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. 13It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ 14And the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder to Helem,22An alternate spelling of Heldai (verse 10) Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah.

15“And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

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Here we have another vision; and the Prophet distinguishes it from the former visions by saying, that he turned, as though he had said, that there had been some intervening time. They were not then continued visions, but he turned himself elsewhere, and then he raised up his eyes, and the Lord revealed to him what he now relates. But as the vision is obscure, interpreters have given it different meanings. They who think that the four Gospels are designated by the four chariots, give a very frigid view. I have elsewhere reminded you, that we are to avoid these futile refinements which of themselves vanish away. Allegories, I know, delight many; but we ought reverently and soberly to interpret the prophetic writings, and not to fly in the clouds, but ever to fix our foot on solid ground. Others think that those changes are meant which we know happened in Chaldea and Assyria. As Nineveh was overthrown that Babylon might be the seat of the empire, they suppose that this is meant by the first chariot, the horses of which were red. Then they think that the Persian empire is intended by the second chariot, as the Jews had at the beginning suffered many grievous evils. Afterwards by the white horses are signified, as they suppose, the Macedonian power, as Alexander treated the Jews with humanity and kindness. By the fourth chariot they understand the Roman Empire, and think that the horses are of different colors, because some of the Caesars raged cruelly against the Jews and the Church of God, and some of them showed more lenity. 6161     This is the view taken by Jerome, Cyril, Kimchi, Newcome, Blayney, and also by Grotius and Parkhurst, only that they consider the fourth chariot to represent, not the Romans, but the Syrians and Egyptians. See Parkhurst’s Lex., under [אמף]. Henderson confines all the chariots to the Medes and Persians, as referring to various changes and events until the reduction of Egypt by Xerxes, “the south country” being that land. The basis of every view which may be taken of the chariots, as Marckius justly observes, must be the interpretation given by the angel in verse 5; which some translate, “these are the four spirits of the heavens,” that is, angels, as in our version, followed by Newcome and Henderson; and others, such as Marckius and Blayney, “these are the four winds of heaven;” winds being rendered as a metaphorical expression for God’s judgments. See Jeremiah 49:36; Revelation 7:1-3; and also Psalm 148:8
   These are the only two renderings of which the words are capable; and the first seems the most appropriate. That God employs angels to execute his purpose both of mercy and of judgment, is a doctrine often taught in Scripture. See Psalm 104:4; Ezekiel 1:6; 23:24; Daniel 7:10; 10:21; Hebrews 1:7, 14. That angels are intended is the view taken by Piscator, Drusius, Henry, Scott, Newcome, and Henderson. It may be said, the chariots represented God’s purposes; the horses, the angels, and their different colors, the different works which they had to execute. See Revelation 6:1-8. “The mountains of brss” designate, as Calvin, Blayney, and many others think, “the firm and unalterable decrees of the Almighty.—Ed.
But I know not whether these things are well founded.

We see that the fourth chariot went to the south, and wandered through various regions, and almost through the whole world. As then this cannot be applied to Chaldea, the simpler view seems to be — that the four chariots signify the various changes which happened not only in Chaldea and among the Babylonians, but also in Judea and among other nations: and this may be easily gathered from the context. But as all these things cannot be stated at the same time, we shall treat them in the order in which the Prophet relates them. I shall now repeat what I have elsewhere said respecting the words, that he raised up his eyes, as intimating the divine authority of what is predicted. The words indeed signify that he did not bring forward what he had vainly imagined, nor adduce tales which he had himself fabricated, but he was attentive to what was revealed to him; and also that he was somewhat separated from common life in order to be an interpreter between God and men. Hence authority is here ascribed to the prophecy, as Zechariah did not come forth to speak of uncertain things, but as one sent by heaven, for he delivered nothing but what he had received from above.

He now says, that four chariots appeared to him, which came forth from mountains, and that the two mountains where the chariots were seen were mountains of brass. The Prophet no doubt understood by these mountains the providence of God, or his hidden counsel, by which all things have been decreed before the creation of the world; and hence he says, that they were mountains of brass, as they could not be broken. The poets say, that fate is unavoidable (ineluctable); but as this sentiment is profane, it is enough for us to understand it of God’s eternal providence, which is immutable. And here is most fitly described to us the counsel of God; for before things break forth into action they are inclosed as it were between the narrow passes of mountains, inasmuch as what God has decreed is not apparent, but lies hid as it were in deep mountains. Hence we then begin to acknowledge the counsel of God when experience teaches us, that what was previously hid from us has been in this or in that manner decreed. But it was not in vain that Zechariah adds, that they were mountains of brass; it was to teach us that God’s counsel is not changeable as foolish men imagine, who think that God is doubtful as to the issue, and is, as it were, kept in suspense: for according to their notions, events depend on the free-will of men. They entertain the idea that God foreknows what is to come conditionally: as this or that will not be, except it shall please men. And though they confess not that God is changeable, yet we gather from their dotages that there is in God nothing sure and certain. The Prophet therefore says here, that they were mountains of brass, because God has fixed before all ages what he has purposed to be done, and thus fixed it by an immutable decree, which cannot be broken by Satan, nor by the whole world.

We hence see how suitable is this representation when the Prophet says, that chariots went forth from mountains.

With regard to the chariots, we have seen elsewhere that angels are compared to horsemen; for these ride swiftly as it were through the whole world to execute what God commands them: so also whatever changes take place, they are called the chariots of God; for either angels are ready at hand to do anything in obedience to God, or the very events themselves are God’s chariots, that is, they are as it were swift heralds, who announce to us what was before unknown. Let us then know that all fortuitous events, as they are called by the unbelieving, are God’s chariots, are his messengers, who declare and proclaim what was before concealed from us. And there is not in this similitude or metaphor anything strained.

As to the color of the horses, interpreters, as I have already intimated, have toiled with great anxiety; and though I venture not to assert anything as certain, yet the probable conjecture is, that by the black and white horses are designated the Babylonians rather than the Persians, but for a purpose different from what interpreters have thought. For the reference must be to the Jews, when it is said, that black horses and then white horses went forth towards Babylon; for the Holy Spirit intimates, that liberty was given to the Chaldeans to harass the Jews and to fill all places with darkness. The blackness then of which the Prophet speaks signifies the calamities brought on the Jews. The whole of that time was dark, full of grief and sorrow, during which the Chaldeans possessed the oriental empire, and Babylon was the supreme seat of government or of the monarchy. A very different time afterwards succeeded, when the Babylonians were conquered and the Persian enjoyed the oriental empire. The color then was white, for the favor of God shone anew on the Jews, and liberty was immediately given then to return to their own country. We hence see that the Prophet rightly subjoins, that the color of the horses was white; for such was the favor shown to the Jews by the Persian, that the sun of joy arose on them, which exhilarated their hearts. But the Prophet makes no mention of the first chariot as going forth, and for this reason, as interpreters think, because the empire of Babylon was shell overthrown. But they are mistaken in this, as I have already hinted, because they refer not the colors to the state of God’s Church. Hence the Prophet, I doubt not, designedly omits the mention of the going forth of the first chariot, because the Jews had experienced the riding of God’s judgment in their own land, for they had been severely afflicted. As God then is wont to execute his judgment first on his own household, and as it is written, “judgment begins at his own house,” (1 Peter 4:17,) so he purposed to observe the same order in this case, that is, to chastise the sins of the chosen people before he passed over to the Chaldeans and other nations.

As to the last chariot, the Prophet says, that it went forth toward the south, and then it went elsewhere, and even through the whole world, for God had so permitted.

Now as to the meaning of this Prophecy nothing will remain obscure, if we hold these elements of truth — that all events are designated by the chariots, or all the revolutions which take place in the world — and that the blind power of fortune does not rule, as fools imagine, but that God thus openly makes known to us his own counsel. And why the horses are said to have been, some red, some black, some white, and some somewhat red, 6262     There are two words to designate the character of the horses belonging to the fourth chariot. The first is commonly rendered “grisled” or spotted, and by Henderson, “piebald:” and the second word is translated “bay” in our version and by Newcome; “grey,” by Henderson; and “strong” in the Vulgate, and by Jerome, Dathius, and Blayney. Strong, vigorous, robust, is its common meaning, and in no other instance it is found to designate a color. The Septuagint and the Targum have given it this sense; and it is rendered by the former, “particolored—[ψαρους],” the color of a starling, and by the latter, “ash-color—cinereos.” But there is no need in this case to depart from the ordinary meaning of the word, strong, robust; these horses being different from the others not only in color, but also in strength. The rendering of Aquila is “[κραταιοί]—strong.” Marckius would apply this term to all the horses, as it stands without a conjunction; but this cannot be, for in verse 7th “the strong ones” are evidently the same with the speckled or “the grisled ones” at the end of the 6th verse.—Ed. the plain answer is this — because God had sent forth his chariots over Judea, which was full of blood: by this then is meant the red color. But he shows also, that their enemies would have their time, and this had been in part fulfilled; for God had ridden over them with his chariots, having driven his wheels over their land when Nineveh was overthrown. And though the Spirit had not simply a reference to the Assyrians or the Chaldeans, as though he meant by the black color to designate the wars carried on among then, but rather the calamities brought by them on the Jews, yet I consider the black color to mean in general the terrible disturbances which took place through the whole of the least; and the Jews could not expect anything agreeable from that quarter, for shortly after a heavier weight fell on their heads. But in the third place the Prophet adds, that there were white horses, that is, when the time was accomplished in which God intended to deliver his Church.

But he says, that the chariots not only went forth to the East, or to Babylon; but he says, that they also ran through the south, and then visited the whole world. That we may more fully understand this, we must regard the design of the Prophet. He meant here, no doubt, to bring some comfort to the Jews, that they might not succumb under their evils, however sharply God might chastise them. And Zechariah sets before them here two things — first, that no part of the earth, or no country, would be exempt from God’s judgments, for his chariots would pass through all lands; and secondly, that though the chariots of God, terrible in their appearance on account of the black and red color, had visited Judea as well as the north, yet the time had already come in which God, having been pacified, would change the state of things; and therefore, in the third place, he sets before them another color; for God’s chariot had been sent forth through Judea, and then God’s vengeance had visited Nineveh, and afterwards Babylon: only this had rested, because it had been already in part fulfilled, for God had removed the darkness and brought sunshine to the Jews, and that from Chaldea, inasmuch as the Persian, who then possessed the empire, had begun to treat the Jews with kindness. It now follows —

The Prophet asks the angel again; and by his example we are taught to shake off every indifference, and to render ourselves both teachable and attentive to God if we desire to make progress in the knowledge of these predictions; for if Zechariah, who had separated himself from the world and raised up his eyes and his mind to heaven, stood in need of the teaching and guidance of the angel to instruct him, how much folly and arrogance is it in us to trust in ourselves and to despise the gift of interpretation. But as angels are not sent to us from heaven to explain to us the prophecies, let us avail ourselves of those helps which we know is offered to us by God. There is here prescribed to us both docility, and reverence, and attention. Let us also remember, that as soon as men submit themselves to God, the gift of revelation is prepared for them; for it is not in vain that God is often called the teacher of babes. Whosoever then shall be disposed to learn with real meekness and humility, shall not be disappointed of his desire; for we see here that the angel performed his part in teaching Zechariah.

I come now to the words, The angel answered, These are four spirits, etc. Some give another rendering, These chariots go forth to the four winds, or parts of heaven; but this is forced, and the words simply mean, “these are four spirits.” The word spirit, I have no doubt, has led interpreters astray, for they have thought it frigid to call different events winds or quarters of the world. But I take this word in a different sense, that is, as designating the impulses of God. I do not then understand them to be four winds, but the secret emotions produced by God. Though God’s Spirit is one, yet all actions proceed from him, and whatever is done in the world can with no impropriety be attributed to his Spirit. It is yet certain, that the Prophet alludes to the four quarters of the world, as though he had said, that nothing happens in the world which has not been decreed in heaven; for God’s providence includes under it the whole world. Though then the universe is designated here, yet by the Spirit the Prophet means those secret movements which proceed from the eternal counsel and providence of God. And it is a very apt metaphor; for the word Spirit is set in opposition to fortune. We have already said, that profane men imagine that fortune possesses a blind power, but the Prophet says, that all revolutions seen in the world proceed from the Spirit of God, and that they are as it were his spirits or ambassadors. 6363     Provided we adopt [ב], countenanced by several MSS., and the Syriac, instead of [כ] in the received text, that is before the number “four,” this explanation is the most satisfactory. But if we take the received text, countenanced by a greater number of MSS., there will be another meaning to the sentence. Henderson’s version is —
   For as the four winds of heaven
Have I spread you abroad, saith Jehovah.

   But its connection with the foregoing he does not clearly print. The view taken by Drusius, followed by Grotius and Marckius, seems most satisfactory. They take the verb [פרש] in the sense of expanding, enlarging, setting at liberty, and that the reference is to the previous liberty granted to the Jews; and thus the connection with the foregoing line is obvious and natural —

   He! He!
Flee now from the land of the north, saith Jehovah;
For as the four winds of heaven
Have I expounded you, (or set you free,) saith Jehovah.

   They had been allowed liberty to go to any part of the world, which is signified by the four winds. The next verse is —

   He! Sion, escape,
Thou who dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.

   The two nations are compared to two women, dwelling one with another. — Ed.

We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet when the angel says, that these were the four spirits of heaven. And the word heaven is by no means added in vain, for the Prophet seems here to exclude all other causes, so that sovereignty might remain with God only. For though God works often by instruments, or intermediate causes, as they say, yet his own hidden decree ought to be placed first. This is the reason why he says that they were the spirits of heaven; he says it, that we may not think that God is dependent on the will of men, or is blended with the intervening causes, but that he himself has fixed whatever he has in his good pleasure determined. We hence see, that they who render the words, “into the four parts of heaven,” have not sufficiently considered the intention of the Prophet.

He then says, that they went forth from their station before the Lord of the whole earth. Now the Prophet calls that space between the two mountains of brass their station before God. Let us hence know that God does not adopt suddenly new counsels, and that he is not like us who, in emergencies or on occasions unlooked for, attempt this and then that; but that his course is very different, and that things in heaven do not revolve up and down, for the chariots here had a fixed and undisturbed station. For though they were chariots capable of moving quickly, they yet remained still and, as it were, fixed, until God permitted their going forth. We hence learn that when God seems to us to rest, he does not sit idly in heaven, as ungodly men foolishly talk, but that he there determines whatever he intends at a suitable time to do. And then when he says, that the chariots stood before God, we may hence conclude, that what seems to be contingently to us is fixed in God’s counsel, so that there is a necessity at the same time. How comes it, that the greater part of mankind think that all things are contingent, except that they continue looking at nature only? The will of man is changeable; then changeable is everything that proceeds from the will of man. The tree also either becomes scorched through heat, or dies through cold, or brings forth fruit. They hence conclude that everything is contingent, for there appears to be a changeable variety. When men thus judge of things by nature alone, it is no wonder that they think that contingency reigns in the world. But the Prophet distinguishes here between the things of nature and the counsel of God; for he says, that the chariots stood, and went forth when God commanded them. Was there no motion in the wheels? nay, the chariots were from the first ready to move, how was it then that they rested? even because they were detained by the secret purpose of God. Now when he sends them forth they show that celerity which was naturally in them. We hence clearly learn, that those things happen by nature which seem capable of being done in two ways, and that yet the counsel of God is always fulfilled, so that immutable necessity presides, which is at the same time hid from us. The Prophet adds, that the first chariot had red horses. I have now explained the whole of this: what is subjoined remains —

Zechariah explains here each part of the prophecy; but he shows at the same time that two of the chariots hastened towards Chaldea, that it might not be grievous to the Jews that they in the first place had to experience God’s judgment. He then shows that God sent his messengers to all parts; but that there had been, or were to be, remarkable and extraordinary changes, especially among the Babylonians. It hence appeared evident, that God had a care for his own people, who had been driven there into exile. And I leave already stated the reason why he speaks here of red horses; for they are mistaken who think that the first chariot was sent into Chaldea; for I consider that this refers to the Jews, with whom God’s judgment commenced. He then says, that two chariots went towards Babylon, the first was drawn by black horses, and the other by white, because of the kindness shown by the Persian, by whom a new light of joy was brought to the Jews.

With regard to the land of the south, the Prophet no doubt alludes to the Egyptians. But he afterwards adds, that the last chariot was conveyed elsewhere, even through the whole world. Some render אמוצים, amustim, strong; and this is the proper meaning of the word, for אמץ, amets, properly means to fortify, to strengthen; but as color is intended here, it seems probable to me that it means somewhat red, as some of the Rabbis teach us; for the Prophet mentioned another word before, ברדים, beredim, grilled. Hence some interpreters join together the two, and say that the horses were grisled, or spotted like hail, and then that they were אמוצים, amutsim, somewhat red. Jerome seems to me to have sufficiently refuted this opinion, because the other horses were אדמים, ademim, red, but these were of different colors. And further, it can hardly be suitable to say, that these alone were strong horses who drew this chariot; for we know that God so wonderfully exercised his power against the Chaldeans that two chariots went forth to them, and they would not have been drawn by weak and feeble horses. I hence think that their color is here designated, and the Prophet calls them once grilled, and then somewhat red.

But he says, that being not satisfied with the land of the south, they asked of God permission to go to and fro through the whole world. And though neither the devil nor the wicked regard God’s bidding, but are led, without knowing and against their will, wherever God drives them; yet the Prophet says, that they asked; for they could not overstep the limits prescribed to them. Though Satan asked, as to Job, to be allowed to do this and that, we are not yet too curiously to inquire whether Satan asks leave of God whenever he intends to attempt anything; for there is no doubt but that he is carried away by his violent rage to try in every way to overturn the government of God. But this only ought to satisfy us — that neither Satan nor the wicked can advance one inch, except as God permits them. The meaning then is, that after the last chariot went forth first to the land of the south, a permission was given to it to go through the whole world. He now adds —

From this verse we learn that the chief object of the vision was — that the Jews might know that the dreadful tumults in Chaldea, which had in part happened, and were yet to take place, were not excited without a design, but that all things were regulated by God’s hidden counsel, and also that God had so disturbed and embarrassed the state of that empire, that the end of it might be looked for. There is therefore no reason for any one too anxiously to labor to understand the import of every part of the prophecy, since its general meaning is evident. But why does the angel expressly speak of the land of the south rather than of the land of the north, or of the whole world? Even because the eyes of all were fixed on that quarter; for Chaldea, we know, had been as it were the grave of the Church, whence the remnant had emerged, that there might be some people by whom God might be worshipped. The angel then invites the Jews here to consider the providence of God, so that they might know that whatever changes had taken place in that country, had proceeded from the hidden counsel of God.

The words, they have quieted my spirit, are understood by interpreters in two ways. Some think that God’s favor towards his people is here designated, as though he had said, that he was already pacified; but others, by the word spirit, understand the vengeance of God, because he had sufficiently poured forth his wrath on the Chaldeans; and both meanings are well adapted to the context. For it was no common solace to the Jews, that God had poured forth his wrath on the Babylonians until it was satiated, as when one ceases not to be angry until he has fulfilled his desire, and this mode of speaking often occurs in Scripture. I am therefore disposed to embrace the second explanation — that God began to be quieted after the second chariot had gone forth; for he was then reconciled to his chosen people, and their deliverance immediately followed. That the Jews might know that God would be propitious to them, he bids them to continue quiet and undisturbed in their minds, until these chariots had run their course through the whole of Chaldea; for what the angel now says would be fulfilled, even that the Spirit of God would be quieted, who seemed before to be disturbed, when he involved all things in darkness, even in Judea itself. 6464     Grotius, Dathius, Newcome, and Henderson agree in the view given by Calvin, regarding “spirit” here in the sense of wrath or vengeance. See Judges 8:3; Isaiah 33:11. But Marckius and Blayney render it “wind,” as in verse 5th, in the sense of judgment. The latter renders the sentence thus — “See those that went forth against the north country have caused my wind to rest on the north country;” and he adds, “So [רוח] is used in Jeremiah 4:11,12; and [הנוח] signifies to cause to rest or abide, that is, to inflict. See Isaiah 30:32; Ezekiel 5:13; 24:13. And the same verb in Kal signifies to rest or settle upon, as a calamity doth. Exodus 10:14.”—Ed.

This vision was given to Zechariah that he might inspire weak minds with better hope; for the Jews found that they were hardly pressed on every side by their neighbors, inasmuch as enemies rose up against them before and behind, so that there was no end to their troubles. Hence they who had returned from exile thought themselves wretched in such a state of things. They might indeed have lived in quietness among the Babylonians, and they had become accustomed to that kind of life, so that exile was not so very grievous to them. Thus then the favor of God was turned unto loathing, and was almost hated by them; for they thought it better to be deprived of their country, than to be daily exposed to new assaults. And further, the possession of the land was not of itself desirable, except with reference to the hope given them; that is, because God had promised by his Prophets that the kingdom of David would again be made glorious, and also that the grandeur and glory of the temple would be greater than ever before. When the Jews found themselves continually harassed by their enemies, they thought that all that had been promised was in vain. There is therefore no doubt but that many complaints and many clamors were everywhere raised. Hence that they might cease thus to murmur against God, this vision was given to the Prophet, in which he is bid to take silver and gold from four men, and to make two crowns to be set on the head of Joshua the high priest. The design was to make the Jews to feel assured, that the state of the people would be as safe as it was formerly, when the kingly office and the priesthood flourished: for these were the chief ornaments, or the two eyes, as it were, of the body — the priest, a mediator between God and men — and the king, sustaining the person of God in governing the people.

We hence see that by the two crowns is set forth the restoration of the Church: but we must also observe that the two crowns are placed on the head of Joshua, which was new and unusual. A mitre, we know, was given to the priests; and we know also that kings were adorned with a diadem; but no one individual was to wear a royal diadem and a sacerdotal mitre. Here then we find a union of royalty and priesthood in the same person, which had never before been the case; for God had in his law made a distinction between the two offices. We hence see that something unknown before is set forth by this prophecy, even this, that the same person would be both a king and a priest. For what Jerome says, among other things, that there might have been many crowns, is weak and frivolous; and further, he contradicts the words of the Prophet; for shortly after he subjoins, that there would be a counsel of peace between the two; that is, between royalty and priesthood. As to what the same author thinks, that there was one crown given to the high priest, it is also false; besides, he subverts as far as he can the whole doctrine of the Prophet. But I leave these trifles; for there is no ambiguity in Zechariah’s words when he says, that God commanded him to take silver and gold, that he might make two crowns to set on the head of the high priest. We now perceive the design of the Prophet as to the object of the prophecy, and also the meaning of the words.

Let us now inquire, why the Prophet was bid to take gold from four men; for he says, Take from the transmigration. The word הגולה, egule, is to be taken in a collective sense, as in many other places. Take then from the exiles, who have now returned from Babylon to their own country. But he afterwards mentions four men; and there is some abruptness in the passage, but nothing that obscures the meaning of the Prophet; for he says, Take frown Heldai, and from Tobiah, and from Jedaiah; and then he adds, go in that day, enter the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. The Prophet no doubt had been commanded to go to these four, and to enter the house of one of them; and this is evident from the end of the tenth verse, where he says, who have come from Babylon 6565     It is better to take the following words as a paranthesis, “and go thou on that day, go even into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah;” then the whole paragraph might be thus rendered,—

   10. Take from the exiles from Heldai, from Tobiah, and from Jedaiah, (and go thou on that day, go even into the house for Josiah the son of Zephaniah,) who have come from Babylon;

   11. Yea, take from them silver and gold, and make a large (or, a double) crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Josedech, the high priest.

   The first part is rendered by Henderson as above, and according to Calvin’s translation; but Newcome and Blayney follow our version, which does not seem to be correct; for the first “Take” is repeated, an dthen what the Prophet was to take is mentioned, having previously named the persons from whom the silver and the gold was to be taken.

   As to the crown or crowns, various opinions have been entertained. The most consistent with the whole passage is that of Marckius, adopted by Hengstenberg and M‘Caul. He thinks that the plural here is used, as it is often in Hebrew, to express what is large, splended, great, or extraordinary, according to the following examples: [שמחות], gladnesses—great gladness, Psalm 45:15; [חכמות], wisdoms—chief wisdom or true wisdom, Proverbs 1:20; [חסדום], mercies—great mercy, Lamentations 3:22; [מוצאת], goings forth—remarkable going forth, Micah 5:2. To which instances may be added these two: [כהמות], beasts—a great beast, Psalm 73:22; and [עגלות], calves—a great calf, Hosea 10:5. In confirmation of this we find the very word here used in its plural form rendered “a crown” in Job 31:36; and it is followed here, in verse 14, by a verb in the singular number. A large, or a splendid, or a double crown is evidently what is meant. Joshua had his sacerdotal mitre before, see Joshua 3:5; and around this was a crown of gold, not of silver, see Exodus 28:36; 39:30; but in the present instance there was to be silver as well as gold. It was therefore an extraordinary crown, and designed clearly to denote what was extraordinary—a priest ruling on a royal throne.—Ed.
He had spoken only of Josiah the son of Zephaniah; and then he adds, that they had come from Babylon. I come now to the answer. Some interpreters think that these four men supplied the gold and the silver, because they were chief men among the people, and excelled others in piety. Hence they think that these four men were chosen, as a mark of distinction, to supply the gold and the silver to make the crowns: but I conjecture from the end of the chapter that their weakness is here pointed out, even because they were weak in faith and did not believe the promises of God, and thus disheartened others by their example. It is indeed certain that they were men in high authority, and excelled all others, so that the eyes of all were fixed on them; this is certain. But yet their want of faith is what is here reproved, because they did not attend sufficiently to God’s promises, and thought themselves disappointed of their hope; for they had left Babylon, where they enjoyed great abundance, and returned to the holy land, and found it uncultivated and desolate. There was indeed required great patience, when they had to plow among thorns and brambles; for that land, as I have already said, had not been regularly cultivated. Those indeed who had been sent from the East, dwelt here and there in it; but lions and wild beasts had come into it, so that the desolation of the land rendered much work necessary, when the Jews returned. I hence doubt not but that the Holy Spirit does here reprove these four men, who ought to have been leaders and standard-bearers to others; on the contrary, they broke down the confidence of the common people. And this, I say, may be learnt from the end of the chapter, where God commands the two crowns to be placed in the temple, to be a memorial to them, that they might see there the condemnation of their unbelief, as we shall show in its place.

The Prophet is bid to set the two crowns on the head of the high priest. This, as I have said, was intended as a symbol to denote the union of the two dignities in the person of Christ. It was necessary until the coming of Christ to select the high priest from the posterity of Aaron; and it was also required that the kings should be from the seed of David; so that we observe a distinction between the royal office and the priesthood, not only as to the persons, but also as to the families. It would have indeed been a strange thing to see a king from the tribe of Levi; and it would have been contrary to God’s appointed order to see a priest from the tribe of Judah and from the family of David. Since then the king was adorned with his own diadem, and since the high priest had his own proper mitre, what could this mean, but that the same man was to wear two crowns? Doubtless we observe that there is here some change in the past order of things, and that there is something unusual set forth. But there is nothing new in this, — that the Redeemer, who had been promised, should be eminent as a king and a priest; for this had been predicted in the hundred and tenth Psalm, “Jehovah said to my Lord, sit on my right hand,” — this is what belongs to the right of a king; it afterwards follows, “Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedec.” Though kings must then have been chosen from the family of David and the tribe of Judah, and though priests must have then been taken from the Levitical tribe, yet the Spirit foretold, that a king would come who was to be a priest, as had been the case with Melchisedec. This very thing is what the Prophet now confirms.

Zechariah being ordered to set the crowns on the head of Joshua, we are not so to regard this, as though Joshua had immediately undertaken the two offices of a king and a priest; for he was satisfied with his own: but the Prophet shows in the type what was to be looked for at the coming of the Messiah; for the time had not yet come, when Christ should receive the royal diadem, as it is said in Ezekiel, —

“Take away the diadem; set it aside, set it aside, set it aside, until he shall come, whose it is.” (Ezekiel 21:26,27.)

We here see that the Prophet points out a length of time, during which the royal diadem was to be trodden as it were under foot. Though the royal crown had not yet laid in the dust sufficiently long, yet the Prophet did nothing presumptuously; for the Jews could not have conceived in their mind what is here promised, had not the typical priest come forth, wearing the two crowns. Nor could this have been so suitable to the person of Zerubbabel; for though he was of the family of David, and was a type of Christ, he had not yet the name of a king, nor had he any regal power: he could not therefore have been so suitable a person. It is then no wonder that God brought forth the high priest Joshua, who was a type and representative of Christ; and he brought him forth with a double crown, because he who was to come would unite, according to what follows, the priesthood with the kingly office.

The vision is now explained; for if the chief priest, without this explanation, had been adorned with two crowns, there must have been much talk among the people, “What means this?” God here shows that what he has commanded to be done to Joshua does not belong to him, but has a reference to another, Thou shalt say to him, Behold the Man, Branch is his name. It is the same as though the Prophet had expressly testified that Joshua was not crowned, because he was worthy of such an honor, or because he could look for royal dignity; but that he was to bear this honor for a time, in order that the Jews might understand that one was to arise who would be both a king and a priest. Hence he says, that there would be a man, whose name was to be Branch

As to this name, it has been explained elsewhere. I omit those refinements with which some are delighted; but as I have shown in another place, the simple and true reason why Christ is so called, is, because he was not like a tall tree, with deep and strong roots, but like a small plant. He is indeed called in another place, “a shoot from the root of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1.) But the meaning is the same; for that root of Jesse was obscure and of no repute. Besides, this kind of shoot has nothing in it that is illustrious. We hence see that Christ is called Branch, because his beginning was contemptible, so that he was of hardly any repute among heathens; nay even among his own nation. But God intimates at the same time, that this little plant would be set, as it were, by his own hand, and thus would gather strength. Though then the beginning of Christ was humble, yet God declares, that he would give vigor for continued growth, until he should attain to a great height. In this sense it is that Christ is called Branch: and we clearly conclude, that the minds of the people were transferred to Christ who was to come, that they might not fix their attention on Joshua, who was then but a typical priest. Say to Joshua, Behold the man, whose name is Branch. Where is that man? He does not speak of Joshua; he does not say, “Thou art the man;” but he says, Behold the man, whose name is Branch, that is, who comes elsewhere. We then hence learn, that these crowns were those of Christ, but given to Joshua, that the Jews might see in the type, what was as yet hid under hope.

He afterwards adds, He shall arise from himself, or grow up from his own place, literally, from under himself. Here also some have too refinedly philosophised, — that Christ arose from himself by his own power, because he is the eternal God. I think, on the contrary, that all human means are only excluded, as though the Prophet had said, that though Christ was like a little plant, he would yet grow up as though he had roots deeply fixed in the earth. There is indeed no doubt, but that Christ grew up by his own celestial power, and this is what the words of the Prophet include; but what he meant was this, — that Christ had nothing in his beginning calculated to draw the admiration of men. Though then Christ was only a shoot, yet God had sufficient power, that he should grow from his own place, 6666     And he shall branch out from his place,—Newcome. Henderson follows our version. The Targum’s version is remarkable, “Behold the man, Messiah is his name; who shall be revealed.” The metaphor is dropped, and revelation or manifestation was understood to be the meaning of “growing out of his place.” “Out of his place,” that is, “out of Bethlehem,” says Henry. “Out of David’s root, tribe and family,” says Adam Clarke.—Ed. that though human means were absent, it would yet be enough, that God should bless this branch, so as to cause it to grow to its proper height.

He then says, And he shall build the temple of Jehovah. This is a remarkable passage: it hence appears that the temple which the Jews had then begun to build, and which was afterwards built by Herod, was not the true temple of which Haggai had prophesied, when he said,

“The glory of the second house shall be greater
than that of the first.” (Haggai 2:9.)

For though the temple of Herod was splendid, yet we see what the Spirit declares in this place, — that to build the temple would be Christ’s own work. Hence no one, had he heaped together all the gold and the silver of the world, could have built the true temple of which Haggai prophesied, and of which Ezekiel has so largely spoken near the end of his book. Christ alone then has been chosen by the Father to build this temple. Christ indeed himself was a temple as to his body, for the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him, (Colossians 2:6;) but he built a temple to God the Father, when he raised up everywhere pure worship, having demolished superstitions, and when he consecrated us to be a royal priesthood.

We now then see what was shown to the Prophet, — that though the Jews were then exposed to many evils, to reproaches and wrongs, yet Christ would come to restore all things to a perfect order, that he would be not only a king but also a priest; and further, that his beginning would be obscure and despised by the world, and yet that he would attain without any earthly helps his own elevation; and, lastly, that his own proper office would be to build a temple to God.

He repeats the last thing which he had said, Even he shall build the temple of Jehovah. The Prophet seems here to reiterate to no purpose the same words without any additions of light: but it seems evident to me, that he meant in this way to confirm and sanction what seemed difficult to be believed. As the temple, then, begun at that time to be built, had but little splendor and glory connected with it, and could hardly be expected to become a better or more adorned building, the Prophet reiterates this promise, He, he shall build the temple of Jehovah; by which he means, “Let not your eyes remain fixed on this temple, for to look at it weakens your faith and almost disheartens you; but hope for another temple which ye see not now, for a priest and a king shall at length come to build a better and a more excellent temple.”

He afterwards subjoins, Bear shall he the glory, and shall sit and rule on his throne. He fully confirms what we have already referred to — that this man, who was to grow by God’s hidden power, would be made both a king and a priest, but by no earthly instrumentality. In the words, bear shall he the glory, there is no doubt an implied contrast between Joshua and Christ, the true priest. For Joshua, though he discharged in his time the office of a priest, was yet despised; but the Prophet bids his people to hope for more than what could have been conceived from the view of things at that time; for an illustrious priest was to come, full of royal dignity. And hence he adds, sit shall he and rule on his throne. This did not properly belong to the priesthood; but the Prophet affirms, that the man who was to come from above, would be a king, though he exercised the priestly office. He was then to be a priest, and yet to be on his throne and to rule as a king; and ruling is what belongs to a king and not to a priest.

At length he concludes by saying, The counsel of peace shall be between the two. I do not think that the discords which had been between kings and priests are here indirectly reproved. I indeed allow that such discords had often been seen among that ancient people; but the Prophet had regard to something far different, even this — that the priesthood would be united with the kingly office. He therefore did not refer to different persons who were to be at peace together; but, on the contrary, spoke of things or of the two offices; there shall then be the counsel of peace between the two, that is, between the kingly office and the priesthood. 6767     There are especially two interpretations of this sentence; the one adopted by Calvin, and also by Jerome, Marckius, Drusius, Dathius, Scott, and Henderson; and the other is, that the “two” are Jehovah, and the Branch or Messiah, and that the “throne” mentioned is the throne of Jehovah. This is the interpretation of Vitringa, Cocceius, Henry, M‘Caul, and Adam Clarke. The objection of Dathius to the last view, that is, that Jehovah is the speaker, and therefore cannot be understood here as the third person is used, seems not to be valid, for the third person is used before in the words, “the temple of Jehovah.” But the first interpretation seems the most appropriate and significant — the concord and agreement between the two offers.—Ed. We hence learn that which I have already stated — that what is here promised had not been found under the law, and could not have been expected under it; and that the fulfillment of this prophecy is the renovation which took place at the coming of Christ. It follows —

They who think that the crowns were deposited with these four men, pervert the meaning of the Prophet; for they were, on the contrary, placed in God’s temple to be a memorial to them. It hence appears; that, as I have already said, they were not required to supply the gold, because they excelled all others in piety and holiness, but because it was necessary to condemn their want of faith, inasmuch as they thought that their hope was disappointed, as God did not immediately fulfill what he had promised. Let then these crowns, saith the Spirit, be a memorial to them, that is, that whenever they look on these crowns they may check themselves and know that their expectations are very unreasonable, and that they themselves are too hasty when they wish all prophecies to be accomplished in one day; and also that the whole people may know that they had complained without reason, as these suspended crowns shall be a memorial and a testimony. We now then see more clearly why the Prophet had been ordered to take gold and silver from these four men: it was, that he might make crowns, which were afterwards to be deposited in God’s temple. At length he adds —

The Prophet also states, that men would come from remote lands to contribute labor or wealth towards the building of the temple; for the word building may refer to either of these two things. Come then shall those from far. Before this time gifts had been presented by Gentile nations, but the temple was not built but by Solomon and his people. God then promises here something more, and that is, that helpers would assist in building the temple, who had been till then wholly aliens. It is indeed certain, that in the age of Zechariah contributions had been made by Cyrus; but the Prophet refers to nothing of this kind: he promises something more. It hence follows that this prophecy must necessarily be referred to the promulgation of the gospel; for then it was that strangers began to contribute their labor and their wealth towards building a temple to God. Though then Cyrus gave a large sum of money towards the erection of the temple, yet the allusion here is not to his liberality. And after Cyrus no stranger had been so liberal: for Herod, who raised up a great and a very splendid building, was not from far; nay, he wished to be thought one of the people. We then see that this prophecy cannot be otherwise referred than to the building of the spiritual temple, when Gentiles, formerly remote from God’s people, joined them as friends, and brought their labor to the work of building the temple, not with stones or wood, or with other corruptible materials, but with the doctrine and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

He then adds, ye shall know that Jehovah of hosts has sent me to you. Of this kind of knowledge we have spoken elsewhere. It indeed behaved the Jews from the first to feel assured respecting the truth of this prophecy; but when the effect or experience itself was added, they then began to know more clearly. It is then the same as thought the Prophet had said, “God, who speaks by my mouth, will not disappoint you, as he will at length accomplish what I now declare; and experience itself will be a witness that I have been a true and faithful Prophet.” And he calls Him the God of hosts, that the Jews, hearing that what he had said proceeded from Him whose power is infinite, might be confirmed in their faith. There was then no reason for them to doubt as to the accomplishment, for there is nothing that can resist God, when it pleases him to unfold his power.

It follows, If by hearing ye will hear the voice of Jehovah your God. Zechariah promises to the Jews here conditionally — if they became obedient to God, and continued in obedience to his word and in his doctrine; for unbelief deprives men of all participation in God’s favor. It is indeed true that had all become unbelieving, Christ would have come; for God as he is true would not change his purpose were the whole world to become false. Since then the faithfulness of God depends not on men, we ought not so to take what the Prophet says here, If ye will hear the voice of Jehovah, as though they could, by being unfaithful to God, have rendered void the accomplishment of this prophecy. Their defection, then, yea, that of the whole nation, could not have prevented Christ from coming forth in his own appointed time. But the Prophet had another thing in view, even this — that the Jews would become partakers of this blessing, or would enjoy, so to speak, this favor, if they embraced God’s promise, and obediently submitted to his law. For though Christ has already come as the Redeemer of the world, yet we know that this benefit is not come to all, and why? Because many through unbelief close the door against God and his grace through Christ. Hence the faithful alone really know that God has spoken, and really partake of his favor, and for this reason, because they hear his voice; that is, they first by faith receive what God offers, and then they fall not away from his truth, but continue in the obedience of faith to the end.

What the Prophet then had in view, was to show to the Jews that those things were spoken in vain, as to them, if they did not attend to God. And he shows the way in which they were to be attentive, even by hearing the voice of God, that is, by renouncing their own thoughts, and by not esteeming God untrue, though he promised what seemed incredible. If then they denied themselves, banished their own imaginations, wholly attended to God’s word, and believed what he had said as a Prophet, he assures them that they would really find that which he taught them to be true to their own salvation, even this — that Christ would come to be a king and a priest, to secure perfect happiness to his people.