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A Call for Justice and Mercy

1In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. 2Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord, 3saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

4Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: 5“Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? 7Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?”

8And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, 9“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” 11But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.11Hebrew and made their ears too heavy to hear 12They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. 13“As I22Hebrew he called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts, 14“and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.”


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There is no vision here, but the answer which Zechariah was commanded to give to the messengers of the captives: for he says that some had been sent from Chaldea to offer sacrifices to God, and at the same time to inquire whether the fast, which they had appointed when the city was taken and destroyed, was to be observed. But there is some ambiguity in the words of the Prophet, for it is doubtful whether the two whom he names, even Sherezer and Regem-melech, together with the others, had sent the messengers of whom mention is made, or they themselves came and brought the message from the captives. But this is a matter of no great moment. As to the question itself, I am disposed to adopt their view, who think that these two came with their associates to Jerusalem, and in the name of them all inquired respecting the fast, as we shall hereafter see. 6868     Grotius, Newcome, and others adopt this view; but Blayney justly says that [בית-אל] is nowhere used in Scripture for the temple; and therefore he, in accordance with the Septuagint for the temple; and therefore it as the name of the city so called, and situated in the tribe of Benjamin. So Drusius, Henderson, and others. Then the true version of the whole passage, and the most literal, would be the following:—
    

   2. When Bethel sent Sherezer and Regem-melech and its men to entreat the face of Jehovah, and to speak to the priests who were

   3. over the house of Jehovah of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, “Shall I weep in the fifth month, separating myself as I have done

   4. these so many years?” then came the word of Jehovah of hosts to

   5. me, saying, “Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying,”—

   “When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh, even

   6. these seventy years, fasting did ye fast to me, even to me? and when ye ate and when ye drank, were not ye yourselves the eaters

   7. and ye yourselves the drinkers? Were not these the words which Jehovah proclaimed by the former Prophets, when Jehovah was inhabited and peacable, and her cities around her, and when the south and the plain were inhabited?”

   “Bethel” here means the town; and therefore “its,” and not “his men,” is the proper version; and instead of “Shall I weep,” the most suitable rendering would be, “Shall we weep.” That the inhabitants of Judea are intended, and not messengers from Babylon, is quite evident from the fifth verse, “Speak to all the people of the land.” — Ed.
The Jews think that these were Persian princes; but this opinion is frivolous. They are thus accustomed to draw whatever occurs to the glory of their own nation without any discretion or judgment, as though it had been an object much desired by the Jews, that two Persian should go up to the temple. But there is no need here of a long discussion; for if we regard the Prophet’s design, we may easily conclude that these were Jews who had been sent by the exiles, both to offer gifts and to inquire about the fast, as the Prophet tells us. The sum of the whole then is, that Sherezer and Regem-melech, and their companions, came to the temple, and that they also asked counsel of the priests and Prophets, whether the fast of the fifth month was still to be observed.

It must first be observed, that though all had not so much courage as to return to their own country as soon as leave was given them, they were not yet gross despisers of God, and wholly destitute of all religion. It was indeed no light fault to remain torpid among the Babylonians when a free return was allowed them; for it was an invaluable kindness on the part of God to stretch forth his hand to the wretched exiles, who had wholly despaired of a return. Since then God was prepared to bring them home, such a favor could not have been neglected without great ingratitude. But it was yet the Lord’s will that some sparks of grace should continue in the hearts of some, though their zeal was not so fervid as it ought to have been. The same sloth we see in the present day to be in many, who continue in the filth of Popery; and yet they groan there, and the Lord preserves them, so that they do not shake off every concern for religion, nor do they wholly fall away. All then are not to be condemned as unfaithful, who are slothful and want vigor; but they are to be stimulated. For they who indulge their torpor act very foolishly; but at the same time they ought to be pitied, when there is not in them that desirable alacrity in devoting themselves to God, which they ought to have. Such an instance then we see in the captives, who ought to have immediately prepared themselves for the journey, when a permission was given them by the edicts of Cyrus and Darius. They however remained in exile, but did not wholly renounce the worship of God; for they sent sacred offerings, by which they professed their faith; and they also inquired what they were to do, and showed deference to the priests and Prophets then at Jerusalem. It hence appears, that they were not satisfied with themselves, though they did not immediately amend what was wrong. There are many now, who, in order to exculpate themselves, or rather to wipe away (as they think) all disgrace, despise God’s word, and treat us with derision; nay, they devise crimes with which they charge us, with the view of vilifying the word of the Lord in the estimation of the simple. But the Prophet shows that the captives of whom he speaks, though not so courageous as they ought to have been were yet true servants of God; for they sent sacrifices to the temple, and also wished to hear and to learn what they were to do.

He says first, that messengers were sent to entreat the face of Jehovah. Here by the word entreating or praying, the Prophet means also sacrifices. For it is certain that the Jews prayed in exile, as there could have been no religion in them had they not exercised themselves in prayer. But the mention made here is of that stated prayer, connected with sacrifices, by which they professed themselves to be God’s people. We may hence also learn, that sacrifices of themselves are of no great importance, since prayer, or calling on God, has ever the first place. Sacrifices then, and other offerings, were, as we may say, additions; (accessoria — accessions;) for this command ought ever to be regarded by the faithful,

“offer to me the sacrifice of praise.” (Psalm 50:14.)

He says, in the second place, that messengers were sent, that they might learn from the priests and the Prophets what was to them doubtful. We hence conclude, that it was no gross dissimulation, such as is found in hypocrites who pretend to pray to God, but that there was a real desire to obey. And, doubtless, when God’s word and celestial truth are despised, there is then neither any real prayer, nor any other religious exercise; for unbelief pollutes and contaminates whatever is otherwise in its nature sacred. Whosoever then desires rightly to pray to God, let him add faith, that is, let him come to God in a teachable frame of mind, and seek to be ruled by his word. For the Prophet in telling us what was done, no doubt keeps to the method or the order observed by the captives. It was then worthy of praise that they not only were anxious to seek God’s favor by prayers and sacrifices, but that they also sought to know what was pleasing to Cod. Nor was it a matter of wonder that they sent to Jerusalem on this account, for they knew that that place had been chosen by God as the place from which they were to seek the right knowledge of religion. Since then Jerusalem was the sanctuary of God, the captives sent there their messengers, particularly as they knew that the priests were the ambassadors of God, and that the interpretation of the law was to be sought from their mouth. They indeed knew that the time was not yet come when the doctrine of salvation was to be disseminated through the whole world.

But the Prophet says, that the captives not only inquired of the priests, but also of the Prophets. It hence appears, that it was a thing commonly known, that God had raised up Prophets, which he had ceased to do for a long time. For it was not without reason that Isaiah said, that God would yet speak by his Prophets, when he would again comfort his people. (Isaiah 40:1.) There had been then a mournful silence for seventy years, when no Prophets were sent forth, according to what is said in the book of Psalms,

“our signs we see not, nor is there a Prophet among us.”
(Psalm 74:9.)

God indeed had been accustomed to lead the people as by an erected banner when they dwelt in the holy land, and Prophets continually succeeded one another in regular order, according to what the Lord had promised by Moses,

“A Prophet will I raise up in the midst of thee,” etc.
(Deuteronomy 18:15.)

From the time then in which they had been driven into exile, while looking there on one another, they could hear no voice to encourage them with hope, until new Prophets were again raised up beyond what they expected. And it was God’s will that the Prophets should have their abode and habitation at Jerusalem, in order that he might gather the dispersed Israel; for had there been Prophets in Chaldea, many might hence lay hold of a pretext for their slothfulness: “Does not God dwell in the midst of us? what need is there of undertaking a difficult and toilsome journey? we shall indeed find nothing better at Jerusalem than in this exile; for God shows that he is present with us by his Prophets.” It would have therefore been a great evil to the Jews to have Prophets in their exile. But when the captives heard that the gift of prophecy appeared again in the temple, they might have called to mind what their fathers had heard from the mouth of Isaiah, and also from the mouth of Micah, “from Zion shall go forth a law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3 Micah 4:3.) We now perceive why Zechariah joined Prophets to priests.

But we must bear in mind what we have stated elsewhere that the prophetic was, as it were, an extraordinary office, when God took others as the ministers of his word besides the priests. For their work was sacerdotal; but God meant to condemn the priests by transferring the work of teaching to others, that is, when Prophets were taken from the common people, or from other families, and not from the Levitical tribe. It is not indeed true that all the priests were Prophets; but the office itself would not have been transferred to any other tribe, had not God thus punished the ingratitude of those who bestowed more labor on their own private concerns than on teaching the people. However this case may have been, it was an illustrious testimony of God’s favor, that Prophets at that time had again been raised up. And this fact has been added — that they dwelt nowhere else but at Jerusalem, in order to encourage the dispersed to return, and to show to them that the place had not in vain been previously chosen by God. This is the reason why the Prophet expressly says, that the Prophets, as well as the priests, were in the house or in the temple of the Lord of hosts.

The time is also mentioned, the fourth year of Darius, and the ninth month and the fourth day 6969     Two years had elapsed since the “visions” recorded in the former chapters. — Ed. The beginning of the year, we know, was in March; hence the month Chisleu was November, or a part of October and November, for they were wont to commence their months at the new moons. Of king Darius we have spoken elsewhere. He was not, indeed, the first Darius, the father-in-law of Cyrus, who transferred the monarchy to the Persian, but Darius the son of Hystaspes. Passed away then had the seventy years, for this, as it has been stated before, was the fourth king.

Let us now consider the question which the captives proposed to the priests. They asked whether they were to weep in the fifth month, and whether they were to separate themselves as they had done for seventy years and more; for some years, as we have seen, had elapsed beyond that number. We hence learn that a regular fast was observed from the time in which the temple was burned and the city destroyed. He speaks here only of the fifth month, but shortly after mention is made of the seventh month. It is evident from sacred history that the city was demolished and the temple pulled down in the fifth month. It is therefore probable that there was a day of mourning observed by the people in memory of that sad event. In the seventh month, though not in the same year, Gedaliah was slain, and the remainder of the people were driven into exile. As the land became then desolate, it is also probable that another fast was appointed, that they might yearly humble themselves before God, and suppliantly seek his pardon. Since then there was a reason for both fasts, it is evident that they could not have been condemned by the priests: nor is there a doubt, but that it was by the public consent of all, that they every year kept these days of weeping. We also see the end which God has in view in prescribing a fast, — that men in coming to him may feel true penitence, and remind themselves by their external appearance of their own guilt. As then the Jews observed this rule in their fasts, we must conclude that they pleased God; for these were religious exercises, by which they might have been led to repentance.

Now they inquired, whether they were to continue their weeping; for the temple had now been begun to be built as well as the city. Since the reason for their mourning had been, that the temple no longer stood where they might offer their sacrifices, and that the holy city had been demolished, it was then doubtless right to give thanks to God, and to feel joy, when an end came to their calamities. However, the captives ventured not to change anything without the authority and consent of the priests, so that they might all agree together. And thus they also testified that they were true members of the Church, as they had no desire to have anything different from others.

The word fast is not mentioned; but they asked, “Shall we weep?” Hence also it appears, that they were not so gross in their ideas as to think that the chief part of religion is fasting, as hypocrites do, who imagine that they honor God by abstaining from food, and thus mock God, who is a Spirit, with mere trifles, when it is his express will to be spiritually worshipped. We then plainly see, that the Jews were not imbued with this gross and foolish thought, when they established this annual fast; for they put weeping in the place of fasting. And why was this weeping, except that they went into God’s presence conscious of their guilt and in a suppliant manner, and testified by external signs that they acknowledged their sins, so that they might obtain mercy and forgiveness?

They mentioned also consecration. The word נזר, nezar, which means to separate, is variously explained: but here many interpreters confine it to abstinence from food, as though they had said, “Shall we separate ourselves from food?” 7070     The word means literally “nazariting.” It was to do after the manner of the Nazarites, who abstained from all delicacies, and from society. It appears to have been abstinence as betokened grief and mourning; for so we find from the answer, “when ye fasted and mourned,” etc. The Targum’s version is, “When I restrained my soul from pleasures.” — Ed. This seems forced to me: I therefore prefer to apply it to sanctification; for we know that when a day was prescribed for fasting or for offering sacrifices, there was sanctification added. For though it became the Jews through their whole life to abstain from all defilements, yet we know that when a fast or any particular sacrifice was appointed, they were more diligent and solicitous to cast aside every pollution. We now then understand what the Jews had in view, and what they meant by these words. It now follows —

Here the Prophet tells us that he was sent to the people and to the priests, not so much to teach the messengers who came from distant lands, as to correct the vices of his own nation; for the Jews had then begun, according to their usual manner, to dissemble with God, and had glided, as it has elsewhere appeared, into many evil practices. And it appears evident, that God did not commit to Zechariah what the messengers might bring back to Chaldea; but that an occasion was taken to remind the Jews, that they were to look to themselves. It may have been the case, that the priests themselves and all the rest had begun to raise a controversy, “How is this? our brethren inquire, whether the fast is to be still observed:” and the opinions might have been various. But as this is doubtful, I leave it as such. We however see that the Prophet does not speak here respecting the captives, nor does he address to their messengers anything which they might convey to Chaldea, but turns his discourse to the priests and to the people. The sum of the whole is, that while the captives gave no mean testimony of their religion, God reproved the Jews, who had returned to their own country, for ingratitude, as they had already begun to pollute themselves.

He therefore brings this charge against them, Have ye fasted to me? have ye eaten to me? as though he had said, “God regards not fastings, except they proceed from a sincere feeling and tend to a right and lawful end.” It was then the object of the Prophet to awaken the Jews, that they might not imagine that God was pacified by fasting or by any other frigid ceremonies, but that they might know that something more was required. And we see how prone mankind are to rely on external rites, and to think that they have rightly performed their duty to God when they have fasted. As then human nature labors under this disease, the Prophet is here sent to dissipate this delusion; which he does by declaring that fasting does not please God, or is acceptable to him, as though it were something meritorious, or as though there was in it any holiness.

He says first, that the word of Jehovah was given to him, that he might go to the people of the land and to the priests. We see the truth of what I have already said, that the answer was not directed to the captives, but to the very inhabitants of the land and to the citizens of Jerusalem, and for this reason, — because they thought that when the question respecting fasting was moved, the first and chief part of all religion was the subject of inquiry. Hence God, that he might strip them of this superstition, says, When ye fasted in the fifth month and in the seventh month, and during the seventy years, did ye fast to me — to me? for he has put an affix to the verb, צמתני, tsametni, and afterwards added אני, ani: as though he had said, “Was it to me that ye fasted? Shall I approve of such fasting?” There is an emphasis in the repetition, as though he had said, that there was no reason for the Jews to boast that they faithfully served God, and fully performed their duty, because they fasted twice in the year, for they had to do with that God who rejected such trifling things.

We hence learn that nothing is more preposterous than for men to judge of God’s worship according to their own notions, and to trust in themselves. It is indeed easy for us to deceive ourselves; for as we are earthly, so we may think that whatever glitters before our eyes is most acceptable to God. But the Prophet here reminds us, by one sentence, how frivolous are such self-pleasing thoughts; for God meets us with this question, “Have ye fasted to me? Are ye to be judges, and is it right for you at your pleasure to invent various modes of worship? But I remain always like myself, and not transform me according to what pleases you; for I repudiate everything of this kind.”

By saying, that to themselves they did eat and drink, he intimates that to eat and to drink, or to abstain from eating and drinking, are things wholly unconnected with the worship of God. Another sense may indeed be elicited, — that the Jews did eat as heathens did: and there will be in this case an indirect reproof, — that they sought to pacify God only twice in the year, and that during the rest of the time they were heedless and indulged themselves in excesses. We ought indeed to bear in mind what Paul says, that

“whether we eat or drink, all things ought to be done
to the praise of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.)

The law also expressly commanded the Jews to “feast before the Lord,” that is, not to taste food without thanksgiving, as though God were present. When, therefore, the Jews fasted themselves without any regard to God, it is no wonder that their fastings where rejected; for their course was not consistent. For though the godly do not always fast, yet while they partake most freely of meat and drink, they turn not away their thoughts from God, but on the contrary rejoice before him. They therefore eat and drink to God, as well as abstain on God’s account. But the Prophet shows here that the Jews did eat to themselves, and that hence their fasting was not regarded before God. This latter sense is not unsuitable: but as to the subject itself, it is enough for us to know, that the Prophet, as he had to deal with hypocrites, ridicules their superstition in their fastings, inasmuch as they thought that these were expiations by which their sins were blotted out, and that if they abstained for a day or two from meat and drink, God was thereby pacified.

And the Prophet’s object is more evident from the next verse, when he says, Are not these the words which Jehovah proclaimed by the former Prophets? He confirms here his doctrine by many testimonies, that is, that God had already through successive ages exhorted the Jews to true repentance, and condemned their dissimulation, that they might not think that true religion was made up of fasting and of similar things. And this the Prophet did, not only to gain or secure to himself more credit, but also to render double the wickedness of the Jews; as though he had said, that they were apparently very anxious not to offend God, but that it was merely a false pretense; for had they from the heart wished to please God, they might have long ago learnt that fastings were of themselves of no moment, but that a beginning ought to be made with true religion and spiritual worship.

I have already mentioned, that possibly, when the question was raised by the captives, much disputing, as it is commonly the case, prevailed among the people. But as the Jews ever reverted to their old ways, being blindly attached to their frigid ceremonies, and thinking in this manner to propitiate God, the Prophet, for this reason, derides their preposterous labor and toil. “See,” he says, “the only question now is, whether there should be fasting, as though this were the principal thing before God; in the meantime godliness is neglected, and neglected is real calling on God, and the whole of spiritual worship is also esteemed by you as nothing, and no integrity of life prevails: for ye bite one another, plunder one another, wrong one another, and are guilty of lying: ye heedlessly close your eyes to such vices as these; and at the same time when fasting is neglected, ye think that the whole of religion falls to the ground. These are your old ways, and such were commonly the thoughts and doings of your fathers; and it appears evident that ye trifle with God, and that ye are full of deceits, and that there is not in you a particle of true religion. For God formerly spoke loudly in your ears, and his words were not obscure when he exhorted you by his Prophets; he showed to you what true repentance was, but effected nothing. Is it not then quite evident that ye are now acting deceitfully, when ye so carefully enquire about fasting?” We now perceive what force there is in this sentence, Are not these the words which Jehovah formerly proclaimed? For it was not enough to remind the Jews of true repentance; but this reproof was needful, in order more sharply to stimulate them; and it was wholly necessary to discover their hypocrisy, that they might not be too much pleased with external performances.

That they might not then object, that what they asked respecting God’s counsel was done with a good intention, the Prophet answers them, “Where are the words by which God had testified as to what can please him?” And for the same purpose he uses the word, קרא, kora, proclaimed: for he does not say, that God merely declared words by his Prophets, but that he uttered them loudly, and as it were with a full mouth. “See,” he says, “ye enquire as though ye were in doubt, and that the knot could hardly be untied, and as though it were a matter of great moment. God has indeed not only spoken, but has also cried aloud in the ears of your fathers; in the meantime ye tread under foot his teaching, or pass it by with closed eyes.” What does this mean? to enquire so anxiously about fasting, and at the same time to despise what is far more important? In a similar manner does Christ also condemn hypocrites, because they hesitated not to swallow a camel, while they were wont to strain at a gnat, (Matthew 23:24;) for in trifling things they dared not to attempt anything; but as to gross wickedness, they leaped over it as it were with the audacity of wild beasts. The object then of the Prophet’s words was to show that the Jews did not seriously and in earnest enquire respecting God’s will, but pretended to be very attentive to religion, while they openly, and with gross and headless audacity, rejected the true doctrine, which was by no means ambiguous, as God had by his many Prophets clearly taught them and their fathers what he required from them.

Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, 7171     Both Newcome and Henderson render the verb [אמר] here in the past tense — “Thus spake Jehovah of hosts;” and this seems right, as the reference is made to what the Lord had spoken by the former Prophets, as it appears from the 11th verse. — Ed. saying, The judgment of truth judge, and kindness and mercies show, every one to his brother. We have seen what the Prophet said of fasting, when messengers were sent by the exiles to enquire on the subject. It was a suitable opportunity for handling the question. For, as we then said, the people were so devoted to their ceremonies, as to think that the whole of religion consisted in fasting and in similar exercises. And as we are by nature prone to this evil, we ought carefully to consider what the Prophet has taught us — that fasting is not simply, or by itself, approved by God, but on account of the end designed by it. Having already shown to the Jews their error, in thinking that God could be pacified by ceremonies, he now reminds them of what God mainly requires in his law — that men should observe what is just and right towards one another. It is indeed true that the first part of the law refers to the service due to God; but it is a way which God has commonly adopted, to test the life of men by the duties of the second Table, and to show what this part of the law especially requires God then in this passage, as in many others, does not commend righteousness towards men so as to depreciate godliness; for as this far excels everything in the whole world, so we know that in rightly forming the life, the beginning ought ever to be made by serving God aright. But as the Prophet had to do with hypocrites, he shows that they only trifled with God, while they made much of external things, and at the same tinge neglected uprightness, and the duties of love

We now then understand the Prophet’s object. He had said in the last lecture that he brought forward nothing new, but only reminded them of what had been taught by other Prophets; and here he pursues the same subject — that God made more account of uprightness and kindness than of those legal shadows, which in themselves were of no moment.

The judgment of truth, he says, judge. This could not have been extended indiscriminately to the whole people; but by these words the Prophet indirectly reproved the judges, because they committed plunder, either through favor or hatred, so that they decided cases not in a just and equitable manner. We then learn from the Prophet’s words, that judgments were then given corruptly, so that the judge either decided in favor of a friend, or was bought by a price or a reward. As then there was no truth in the judgments given, but false pretences and colourings, the Prophet here exhorts them to execute the judgment of truth, that is, true judgment, when no respect of persons is shown, and when neither hatred nor favor prevails, but equity alone is regarded.

He then addresses the whole people in common, and says, Show, or exercise, kindness and mercies 7272     Rendered “kindness and mercy” by Henderson, but more correctly “mercy and compassion” by Newcome; or they may be rendered “mercy and sympathies.” The meaning is, “Do acts of mercy and of compassions,” or sympathies. — Ed. every one towards his brother. He not only bids them to abstain from doing any wrong, but exhorts them to show kindness; for it would not be enough to do no harm to any one, except each of us were also solicitous to assist our neighbors; inasmuch as it is the dictate of benevolence to help the miserable when necessity so requires. But we must recollect that a part is given twice for the whole in what the Prophet says: in the first place, he refers only to the second Table of the law, while he includes in general the rule by which our life is to be formed; and in the second place, he enumerates not every thing contained in the second Table, but mentions only some things as instances. It is however certain, that his design was to show that men are greatly deceived when they seek to discharge their duties towards God by means of external rites and ceremonies; and farther, that it is a true and substantial evidence of piety, when and one observes what is just and equitable towards his neighbor. He afterwards adds —

He mentions here some other duties, but for the same purpose of showing, that the fear of God is not proved by ceremonies, but by acting justly towards our brethren, and not by abstaining only from doing wrong, but by being ready to help the miserable. As widows, and orphans, and strangers are exposed as it were to plunder, Moses often in the law recommends them to favor, and shows that God cares for them, and will be their defender, when by one injured. So also the Prophet speaks here expressly of widows, and orphans, and strangers, that the Jews might understand, not only that they were to take heed, lest any one, being wronged, should complain, or lest any one should retaliate an injury, but that they were to observe integrity before God; for the ungodly are often terrified by fear, and refrain from doing mischief, because they know that there will be an avenger. Hence it comes that the rich and the opulent are safe from all injuries, because they are surrounded and fortified by strong defences; but the widows and the orphans are not thus able to repel wrongs. This is the reason why the Prophet prefers here to mention widows, and orphans, and strangers, rather than to speak indiscriminately of all the people. For the import of the whole is, as I have reminded you, that the fear of God is not really proved, except when a person cleaves to what is just and right, and is not restrained by fear or shame, but discharges his duty as it were in the presence of God and of his angels, so that he shows favor to the poor and miserable, who are without any to help them. But as I have elsewhere explained this subject more at large, it is enough now briefly to touch on it. 7373     There is one sentence passed by unnoticed, rendered thus by Newcome,—
   Neither imagine in your heart
Every man evil againsthis brother.

   Verbatim it is—

   And the evil of (or, evil to) man, his brother,
Devise ye not in your heart.

   They were not to devise or contrive in their hearts any evil or wrong to man, he being a brother. This sense is given in the Targum, and by Grotius, Henry, and others; but Henderson, following the Septuagint, gives another meaning; and his version or rather paraphrase is —

   And think not in your heart of the injury
Which one hath done to another.

   But the original can hardly admit of such a construction: the former, no doubt, is the true meaning. — Ed.
Let us proceed —

The Prophet here by referring to the fathers more sharply reproves the Jews of his age; for he saw that they differed but little from their fathers. The sum of what he says is, that the Jews in all ages dealt unfaithfully and perversely with God; for how much soever they boasted of their care and zeal for religion they yet sought to satisfy God only by vain trifles. This then was the Prophet’s object. For it is certain that there ever had been some pretense to religion in that nation but it was mere dissimulation for they were in the mean time intent on their ceremonies and when God seriously remonstrated with them their obstinacy and perverseness before concealed instantly appeared.

He therefore says that they refused to hear. He does not now accuse the dead except for this purpose to teach the people of his acre. He saw that they were solicitous about fasting at appointed seasons, while at the same time they regarded almost as nothing the main requirements of the law, even mercy, and justice, and uprightness. These are indeed the three things, which Christ mentions. (Matthew 23:23.) He then intimates that this doctrine was not new, and that their fathers had been sufficiently warned and instructed, but that they wilfully, and as it were designedly rebelled against God. In short, he pulls off their mask of ignorance; for as men for the most part seek to extenuate their sins by the plea, that they had not been clearly or seasonably taught, the Prophet declares that there was not any excuse of this kind, because they had been refractory and untameable, they had refused to hear

To set forth more fully this perverseness, he afterwards says, that the shoulder of withdrawing had been presented by them. The Hebrews say that men serve with the shoulder, when they are submissive, and tractable, and willingly undergo the burden laid on them, according to what we have seen in Zephaniah 3:1. The Prophet now, on the contrary, says that the Jews had a refractory shoulder, as they refused to bear the yoke, but shook off every fear of God. The reason for the metaphor is this — that as burdens are carried on the shoulder, so the Lord lays the law on our shoulders, that the flesh may not lasciviate at pleasure, but be kept under restraint. He hence says, that they had presented a rebellious shoulder. The word סררת, sarret, is properly rendered declining; but some render it perverse, and others contumacious: since the meaning is the same, I contend not about the word. It is enough to know that the contumacy of the Jews is what is here condemned; for they had been wholly unteachable, and had refused to submit to God and to his word. 7474     
   And withdraw the shoulder,—Newcome.

   He adds, “The line occurs in Nehemiah 9:29. The metaphor is taken from beasts that decline the yoke. See Hosea 4:16.”

   And turned their back rebelliously,—Henderson

   He observes that “to turn the shoulder is equivalent to turning the back upon any one. The cause of such action is traced to a refractory, rebellious, and intractable disposition.”

   Literally it is—

   And gave (or presented) the shoulder of turning away.

   It is a metaphor taken, as some say, from refractory children or servants, who being admonished, despise and reject what is commanded them, as Drusius observes, by turning their backs. This is the most suitable view according to the context. Non-attendance to God’s word, and not insubordination, is the subject. They refused to hear, turned their backs, and pretended deafness, or conducted themselves as though they were deaf. Then the source of this conduct is mentioned; the heart was made as hard as adamant, so that they would not hear the law and the words sent by the Prophets. The want of attention is throughout the subject; and the evident fact is first referred to, in the various ways in which it displayed itself; and then it is traced up to an adamantine heart. This is often the way in which things are stated by the Prophets — the most palpable acts are first stated, then the most hidden participles. — Ed.

He afterwards mentions their ears, They made heavy their ears, lest they should hear. In short, the Prophet sought by all means to prove the Jews guilty, that they might not adduce anything to extenuate their sin: for they had in every way, with the most determined wickedness, refused to obey God, when his teaching was sufficiently clear and intelligible.

He then comes to the heart, They made, he says, their heart adamant, or the very hardest stone. Some render it steel, and others flint. It means sometimes a thorn; but in this place, as in Ezekiel 3:9, and in Jeremiah 17:1, it is to be taken for adamant, or the hardest stone. 7575     It occurs in this sense only here and in the two places referred to. Jerome says that it is a stone which breaks every metal, and can be broken by none; and that hence in Greek it is rendered [αδαμας], which means unconquerable. — Ed. We now see that the Prophet’s object was to show that the Jews had no excuse, as if they had fallen away through error or ignorance, but had ever wilfully and perversely rejected sound doctrine. The Prophet then teaches us that hypocrisy had been the sole hindrance to prevent them from understanding and following what was right.

But it may be useful to notice the manner of speaking which the Prophet adopts in condemning the perverseness of the Jews, when he says, that they had refused attention to God. For we ought here to observe the connection between the fear of God and obedience, and on the other hand, between the contempt of the law and wilful rebellion. If then we would not be condemned for contumacy before God, attention must in the first place be given to his word, and afterwards the shoulders must be put under, so that we may bear submissively the yoke laid on us; and thirdly, we must listen with the ears, so that the word of God, preached to us, may not be lost, but strike in us deep roots; and lastly, our hearts must be turned to obedience, and all hardness corrected or softened. Then Zechariah adds, that the Jews had a stonily or an iron heart, so that they repudiated the law of God and all his Prophets. He gives the first place to the law, for they ought to have sought from it the whole doctrine of religion; and the Prophets, as it has been often stated, were only interpreters of the law.

He afterwards mentions the words which had been sent by Jehovah through his Spirit and through his Prophets 7676     Literally it is, “By his Spirit, by the hand of the former Prophets.” Henderson justly remarks, “The double agency by which the divine will was communicated is recognised—that of the inspiring Spirit and that of the instruments inspired. — Ed. By saying that God spoke by his Prophets, he meets an objection by which hypocrites are wont to cover themselves, when they reject the truth. For they object and say, that they would be willingly submissive to God, but that they cannot bear the authority of men, as though God’s word changed its nature by coming through the mouth of man. But as hypocrites and profane men are wont to lessen the authority of the word, the Prophet here shows, having this pretext in view, that God designed to be heard, though he employed ministers. Hence by this kind of concession it is implied, that Prophets are middle persons, and yet that God so speaks by their mouth, that contempt is offered to him when no due honor is shown to the truth. And further, lest the baseness of men should withhold regard from the word, he mentions also the Spirit, as though he had said, that God had spoken not only by his servants, even mortal men, but also by his Spirit. There is then no reason for hypocrites deceitfully to excuse themselves, by saying, that they rebel not against God, when they depreciate his Prophets; for the power and majesty of the Holy Spirit appear and shine forth in the doctrine itself, so that the condition of men takes nothing away from its authority. This part was also added in order to condemn the Jews, because they had from the very beginning been seasonably warned, and it was only their own fault that they did not repent. For if the Lord had allowed them for a long time to go astray, there would have been some pretense for their evasions: but since God had tried to recall them to the right way, and Prophets, one after another, had been continually sent to them, their unfaithfulness, yea their iron perverseness, in obstinately refusing to obey God, was more fully discovered. This is the reason why Zechariah mentions here the former Prophets.

He then adds, that there was great wrath from Jehovah of hosts; by which sentence he reminded them, that it was no matter of dispute, as in case of a doubtful thing, whether their fathers had been wicked and disobedient to God; for he had sufficiently proved be punishments that he abominated their conduct; for this principle is to be held true that God does not deal unjustly with men when he chastises them, but that the demerit of crimes is to be estimated by the punishment which he inflicts. As then God had so severely chastised the ancient people, the natural conclusion is, that their wickedness had become intolerable. We now then see why the Prophet said that there had been great wrath from God; the reason was, that the Jews might not think that he had been lightly offended, as he had not been satisfied with a moderate punishment; for since his wrath had been so great, and since he had in so dreadful a manner punished the sins of the people, it follows, that their wickedness had been more grievous than what men considered it to have been.

There is also here an implied comparison; for the unfaithfulness of those who then lived was the worse, for this reason — because they took no warning from the calamities of their fathers, so as to deal with more sincerity with God. They knew that their fathers had been carefully and in various ways admonished; they knew that exile followed, which was an evidence of the dreadful vengeance of God. As then they were like their fathers, and had not put off their perverse disposition, they proved themselves guilty of greater and more refractory baseness, for they ought to have been influenced at least by fear, when they saw that God’s judgment had been so dreadful against obstinate men. It afterwards follows —

The Prophet sets forth more fully the dreadfulness of this punishment — that they in vain groaned and complained, for God was deaf to their complaints and cryings. When God in some measure fulminates and becomes soon reconciled, he does not seem to be greatly incensed, but when the miserable whom he afflicts by his hand, avail nothing by their entreaties and prayers, it then appears evident that God is in no common degree offended. This then is what the Prophet meant by saying, that they were not heard by God when they cried.

But we must notice what is said of their perverseness; for he says, that God had called, and that he was not heard by them. Now it cannot be deemed an unjust reward, that God should punish the contempt of his word; for how great is the honor by which he favors miserable wretches, when he invites them to himself, and most expressly invites them? When, therefore, the calling of God is thus rejected and despised, do not they who are so refractory deserve what the Prophet declares here — that they would have to cry in vain, as God would be deaf to their groanings?

As to the words, the change of person may embarrass the unlettered, but it is a mode of speaking common to the Prophets, for they assume the person of God in order to gain more authority to their doctrine; and they spoke sometimes in the third and sometimes in the first person: when in the first God himself speaks, and when in the third it is in the character of ministers, who declare and deliver, as it were from hand to hand, what had been committed to them by God. Hence the Prophet in the first clause speaks as God’s minister; he afterwards assumes his person, as though he were God himself. But this, as it has been said, was done with regard to the word delivered. It was, that as he called and they heard not, etc. Who called? It is not right to apply this, as some do, to the Prophet; he, therefore, charges here the Jews, no doubt, with the sin of turning a deaf ear to God’s word. So, he says, they shall call, and I will not hear. It might have been said, “so they shall call, and the Lord will not hear.” There is in the meaning, as we see, nothing obscure or ambiguous. 7777     The verse may be thus literally rendered —
    

   13. And it was, as he had called, and they heard not, So “call shall they do, and I will not hear,” Said Jehovah of hosts.

   The Prophet relates what Jehovah had said when the Jews refused to hear him. The verb [אמר] here, as in a former instance, is to be rendered in the past tense. It is improperly rendered “saith” in our version, and also by Newcome and Henderson. The past tense is observed by Marckius. Then the beginning of the following verse is a continuation of what Jehovah had said—

    

   14. “And I will drive them as by a whirlwind Among all the nations whom they know not;” And the land became desolate after them, Without a passenger and without an inhabitant; Yea, they made the land of delight a desolation.

   The first two lines are literally thus—

   “And I will whirlwind them
Over all the nations whom they know not.”

   In the three last lines the Prophet states what the effect had been.

   Newcome says, that [ם], “them,” after “know,” is redundant. It is an instance of two pronouns, relative and personal, “whom they knew them not.” It is the same in Welsh, “Y rhai nad adwaenant hwynt.” — Ed.

The import of the whole then is, that God had not threatened in vain by his ancient Prophets; but that as he had denounced vengeance by the mouth of Isaiah, so it had been executed on the Jews, for they had without effect cried, and found God a severe judge, whose voice they had previously despised. We indeed know, that it is a truth often repeated, that the ungodly are not heard by God; nay, that their prayers are abominable; for they profane God’s name by an impure heart and mouth whenever they flee to him, as they approach him without faith and repentance. We then learn from these words, that those who perversely despise God’s word deservedly rot in their own calamities; for it is by no means right or reasonable that the Lord should be ready to hear the crying of those who turn a deaf ear to his voice. It follows —

Here the Prophet concludes what he had been speaking of God’s vengeance, by which he had fully proved, that the sins of that nation had arrived to such a pitch, that there was no room for pardon. Hence he says, that they had been dispersed; for so I prefer to render the word, and the context seems to require this. Interpreters vary as to its meaning; and, indeed, the Hebrews themselves say, that this is a difficult passage, for, according to the rules of grammar, the word can hardly be made suitable to the context. But let us first see what the Prophet treats of; and secondly, what meaning, as the word signifies various things, is the most suitable.

The Prophet no doubt refers here to God’s vengeance, as evidenced by the dispersion of the Jews among many nations, not only when they were driven into exile, but also when scattered in various parts of the world. The verb, taken transitively, is by no means doubtful in its meaning, for סער, sor, means to move one from a place, or to expel, and that by force, inasmuch as it is derived from whirlwind. As it may therefore be here a transitive verb, I see no reason why we should seek other meanings at variance with the design and object of the Prophet. He then says, that the Jews had been dispersed — how? among all nations, that is, through all parts of the world; and then among unknown nations. Now we know, that the farther the exile, the more severe it is, for neighbors for the most part are the most humane; and when one is removed far to a barbarous nation, he would rather a hundred times to die on his journey than to live at a great distance from his country, and among a people of new and strange habits. The meaning is, that the Jews had been severely visited by God, not only because they had departed from his true worship and holy fear, but because they had been perverse, had rejected all sound doctrine, and had been deaf and indifferent to all admonitions. It was then for this reason that they had been dispersed among all nations

He afterwards adds, that the land after them became desolate that no one passed through it. This circumstance also, that God devoted the land to desolation, proved more fully his wrath: for when God imprints marks of his vengeance on the land, and on other harmless things, necessary for man’s support, it becomes evident that he is not lightly displeased with men. He then intimates, that God was not satisfied with the exile and dispersion of that people, but that he intended that there should be also visible marks of their wickedness in the sterility and desolation of the land itself: and that land, we know, was very fruitful, both by nature and by God’s blessing; for he had promised to give to the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. When this fruitfulness was turned to sterility, such a change ought to have roused the minds of all to consider the dreadful judgment of God. We now then see why the Prophet says, that the land after them, that is, after their departure, became desolate; for they had polluted the land so far as to constrain it, though innocent, to bear the judgment of God.

And he says further, that the desirable land became a waste, even through their fault. God was indeed the author of that waste, but Zechariah imputes this calamity to the people, because they had provoked God’s wrath, and procured this evil for themselves; yea, they had involved the land itself as it were in the same guilt, for it was cursed by God, though they had been driven hence to another country. Desirable land was a name often given to Judea, not only on account of its fruitfulness, and the abundance of its produce, but because God had chosen it for himself: for though that land excelled other lands in many respects, it is yet certain that its chief excellency consisted in this, — that God honored it with peculiar favor.

Zechariah then condemns the Jews, not only because they had by their own fault extinguished the favor as to the produce of the land, but because they had corrupted the land itself, which had been so singularly favored as to have become the habitation of God. And hence we more fully learn how great was the enormity of their sins, which caused God to devote to desolation a land chosen by himself; for, as we have said, it was no common honor for that land, in which God designed to be worshipped by his chosen and holy people, to have been destined by him to be made like Paradise. But when such an honor was turned to shame and perpetual reproach, it was clearly a remarkable sign of God’s wrath: and hence also becomes evident the impiety of that people who, as it had been said, turned aside God’s favor from the land, that not only it did not bring forth its usual produce, but that it also became, as it were, a disgraceful spectacle, and filled all with horror on seeing it so desolate, where was previously seen the temple and the worship of God.




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