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Zechariah 12:1

1. The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.

1. Onus verbi Iehovae super Israel: Dicit Iehova, qui expandit coelos, et fundavit terram, et formavit spiritum hominis in medio ejus.


The inscription seems not to agree with what follows, for he does not denounce any evil on the chosen people in this chapter, but, on the contrary, comforts the miserable, and promises that God would provide for the safety of his Church. Since then Zechariah speaks only of God’s favor and aid, he seems to have mentioned burden here improperly or unreasonably; for משא, mesha, we know, is rightly to be taken for a threatening prophecy. It might indeed be said, that he promises that God would so deliver his Church as to teach it at the same time that it would be subject to many evils and trials: but I rather think that the Prophet’s design was different, even to show that the Israelites, who had preferred exile to God’s favor, would be punished for their sloth and ingratitude, because it was through their own fault that they were not again united in one body, and that they did not rightly worship God in their own country. Interpreters have heedlessly passed over this, as though it had nothing to do with the subject: but except this be borne in mind, what is read in this chapter will be altogether without meaning. I therefore consider that the Prophet here reproves those Israelites who had rejected what they had long desired, when it was offered to them from above and beyond all hope: for nothing was so much wished for by them as a free return to their own country; and we also see how ardently all the Prophets had prayed for restoration. As then the Israelites, given to ease, and pleasures, and their worldly advantages, had counted as nothing the permission given them to return, that they might again be gathered under God’s protection, it was a base ingratitude. Hence the Prophet here reproves them, and shows that their success would be far otherwise than they imagined.

We must also observe, that those who were dispersed in different parts, were retained by their torpidity, because they did not think that the state of the people would continue; for they saw, as they had before found, that Judea was surrounded by inveterate enemies, and also that they would not be a people sufficiently strong to repel the assaults of those around them; for they had already been accustomed to bear all things, and though they might have had some courage, they had completely lost it, having been oppressed by so long a servitude. Since then the ten tribes entertained these ideas, they did not avail themselves of the present kindness of God. Thus it was, that they wholly alienated themselves from the Church of God, and renounced as it were of their own accord that covenant, on which was founded the hope of eternal salvation. 151151     Many of the Jews at this time were not returned. There were especially two returns — the first under Zerubbabel in the year before Christ 536; the second under Ezra in the year 457, seventy-nine years after the first. Now the date of this prophecy in our Bibles is 587, fifty-one years after the first return, and twenty-eight years before the second. Nehemiah, through whose influence the walls of Jerusalem were built and a great reform produced, returned about eleven years after Ezra. — Ed.

What then does Zechariah teach us in this chapter? Even that God would be the guardian of Jerusalem, to defend it against all violence, and that though it might be surrounded by nations for the purpose of assailing it, he would not yet suffer it to be overcome: and we shall see that many other things are stated here; but it is enough to touch now on the main point, that God would not forsake that small company and the weak and feeble remnant; and that however inferior the Jews might be to their enemies, yet the power of God alone would be sufficient to defend and keep them.

If it be then now asked, why the Prophet calls the word he received a burden on Israel? The answer is plainly this, that the Israelites were now as it were rotting among foreign nations without any hope of deliverance, having refused to be gathered under God’s protection, though he had kindly and graciously invited them all to return. Since then God had effected nothing, by stretching forth his hands, being ready to embrace them again, this was the reason for the burden of which Zechariah speaks; for they would be touched with grief and with envy when they saw their brethren protected by God’s aid, and that they themselves were without any hope of deliverance. In short, there is an implied contrast between the ten tribes and the house of Judah; and this is evident from the context. Having now ascertained the Prophet’s design, we shall proceed to the words.

The burden, he says, of the word of Jehovah on Israel: Say does Jehovah who expanded the heavens, etc. Zechariah thus exalts God in order to confirm the authority of this prophecy; for no doubt the creation of heaven and earth and of man is here mentioned on account of what is here announced. We have elsewhere seen similar declarations; for when anything is said difficult to be believed, what is promised will have no effect on us, except the infinite power of God be brought to our minds. God then, that he may gain credit to his promises, bids us to raise up our eyes to the heavens and carefully to consider his wonderful workmanship, and also to turn our eyes down to the earth, where also his ineffable power is apparent; and, in the third place, he calls our attention to the consideration of our own nature. Since then what Zechariah says could hardly be believed, he prescribes to the Jews the best remedy — they were to raise upwards their eyes, and then to turn them to the earth. The expanse of the heavens constrains us to admire him; for however stupid we may be, we cannot look on the sun, and the moon and stars, and on the whole bright expanse above, without some and even strong emotions of fear and of reverence. Since then God exceeds all that men can comprehend in the very creation of the world, what should hinder us from believing even that which seems to us in no way probable? for it is not meet for us to measure God’s works by what we can understand, for we cannot comprehend, no, not even the hundredth part of them, however attentively we may apply all the powers of our minds.

Nor is it yet a small matter when he adds, that God had formed the spirit of man; for we know that we live; the body of itself would be without any strength or motion, were it not endued with life; and the soul which animates the body is invisible. Since then experience proves to us the power of God, which is not yet seen by our eyes, why should we not expect what he promises, though the event may appear incredible to us, and exceed all that we can comprehend. We now then understand why the Prophet declares, that God expanded thee heavens, and founded the earth, and formed the spirit of man 152152     It is usual to render the verbs here in the present tense. They are participles in Hebrew, which may often be rendered in the past tense. Dathius and Blayney so render them, “stretched out — founded — formed.”
   The verse then would be as follows —

   The burden of the word of Jehovah on Israel,
Saith Jehvovah, who expounded the heavens,
And founded the earth,
And formed the spirit of man within him.

   Though Marckius objects to the view taken by Calvin of the first line, yet the literal rendering, as given above, will admit of no other. It is a “burden” on, [על], Israel. It is true that “burden” may not always mean a judgment, but a weighty and important prediction; yet when followed by on, it can mean nothing else. See 1 Kings 13:29, and 2 Kings 9:25. It means a judgment too when another word comes after it, as in 9:25. It means a judgment too when another word comes after it, as, “The burden of Babylon,” Isaiah 13:1. It is therefore rendered here improperly “Prophecy” by Newcome, and “sentence” by Henderson. It is not indeed necessary to confine the word “Israel” to the ten tribes, for it is often used in a general sense, denoting the descendants of Israel generally, when the word “Judah” is not introduced. The persons referred to were, it may be, those who continued in exile, many of whom returned afterwards with Ezra, though I think they were the people of the land. We ought to remember that Zechariah prophesied between the two returns, and that though the temple was built at this time, yet Jerusalem was not protected by walls, and continued so till the time of Nehemiah, about 90 years after the first return. — Ed.
By saying “in the midst of him”, he means, that the spirit dwells within; for the body, we allow, is as it were its tabernacle. Let us proceed -

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