a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above


On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Idolatry Cut Off

2 On that day, says the L ord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. 3And if any prophets appear again, their fathers and mothers who bore them will say to them, “You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the L ord”; and their fathers and their mothers who bore them shall pierce them through when they prophesy. 4On that day the prophets will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; they will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive, 5but each of them will say, “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth.” 6And if anyone asks them, “What are these wounds on your chest?” the answer will be “The wounds I received in the house of my friends.”


The Shepherd Struck, the Flock Scattered


“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,

against the man who is my associate,”

says the L ord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered;

I will turn my hand against the little ones.


In the whole land, says the L ord,

two-thirds shall be cut off and perish,

and one-third shall be left alive.


And I will put this third into the fire,

refine them as one refines silver,

and test them as gold is tested.

They will call on my name,

and I will answer them.

I will say, “They are my people”;

and they will say, “The L ord is our God.”


Here the Prophet, in order to finish what we explained yesterday, says that such would be the discipline among the new people after having repented, that each in his own house would chastise his sons and relatives: and it is an evidence of perfect zeal, when not only judges perform their office in correcting wickedness, but when also private individuals assist to preserve public order, each according to his power. It is indeed true that the use of the sword is not allowed us, so that the offender may be punished by his neighbor: but as it was always allowed by the law of God, that when the matter did not come before a public tribunal, friends might inflict punishment, Zechariah, alluding to this custom, says, that though they who unjustly claimed the prophetic office and spread abroad false and impious errors, should not be visited with capital punishment, yet such would be their zeal for true religion, that friends would privately chastise such as they found to be of this character.

If any one objects and says, that these two things are inconsistent, — that false Prophets were punished with death, and that they were only chastised with stripes or scourges. To this I answer, that Zechariah does not speak precisely of the kind and mode of punishment, but says generally, that false teachers, even in the estimation of their parents, were worthy of death; and that if they were treated more gently they should yet suffer such a punishment, that they would through life be mutilated and ever bear scars as proofs of their shame.

We may at the same time gather from the answer what proves true repentance, Say will one, (it is put indefinitely,) or it will be said, What mean these wounds in thine hands? Then he will say, I have been stricken by my friends. The Prophet shows that those who had previously deceived the people would become new men, so as patiently to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in itself severe, would bee counted mild, for they would be endued with such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected. Some apply this to Christ, because Zechariah has mentioned wounds on the hands; but this is very puerile; for it is quite evident that he speaks here of false teachers, who had for a time falsely pretended God’s name. As then they say, that they were friends by whom they were smitten, they acknowledge themselves worthy of such punishment, and they murmur not, nor set up any complaint. 174174     This verse may be thus rendered —
   When one shall say to him,
are these wounds in thine hands?”
Then he will say,
“Because I have been smitten at home by my friends,”

   by my lovers, [מאהבי].

   Grotius, Blayney, and Henderson, consider the “wounds” or stripes, punctures or marks, to have been those made in honor of some idol, and ascribed to friends for the purpose of escaping punishment: but the obvious meaning is that stated by Calvin, — that they were the wounds inflicted by the nearest relatives, particularly mentioned in the 3rd verse, “and pierce him shall his father and his mother,” etc. Marckius, Adam Clarke, and Henderson, agree with Calvin in repudiating the notion that this verse is to be understood by Papal expositors: but Henry and Scott refer to the sentiment without condemning or approving it. Both Jerome and Theodoret refer, as it is done here, to the punishment inflicted by the parents; and it is strange that any sound expounder could do otherwise. — Ed.
It now follows —

It was pleasant and delightful to hear what the Prophet said at the beginning of the chapter, for he promised that a fountain would be opened, by which the Jews might cleanse away all their filth, and that God, having been reconciled, would be bountiful to them. As then he had promised so blessed and happy a state, what he had said before might have been so taken, even by the true and faithful servants of God, as though the condition of the Church were to be after that time free from every trouble and inconvenience; hence Zechariah anticipates such a conclusion, and shows that the happy state which he had promised was not to be so looked for, as it though the faithful were to be free from every affliction, for God would in the meantime severely try his Church. Though then God had promised to be bountiful to his Church, he yet shows that many troubles would be mixed up with its prosperity in order that the faithful might prepare themselves to endure all things.

This discourse may indeed appear abrupt, but its different parts harmonise well together, for God so regulates his benefits which he bestows on his Church in this world, as ever to try it in various ways. What is here said was especially necessary, since very grievous afflictions were nigh at hand: for, as it is evident from history, that nation was on the borders of despair when the coming of Christ approached. This then is the reason why the Prophet seems at the first view to join together things so contrary. For what he has hitherto promised tended to prepare the faithful to bear all things patiently, inasmuch as deliverance was nigh. But in the meantime it was needful that they should be expressly encouraged to persevere, lest they should succumb under the extreme evils which were not far distant.

The sum of the whole is, that before the Lord would cleanse his Church and bring it back to perfect order, very grievous calamities were to intervene, for a dreadful disorder there must be when God smites the very shepherds; and the apostrophe, when God addresses the sword, a thing void of reason, is very emphatical. It is much more striking than if he had said, “A sword shall be raised against my shepherds and against my ministers, so that the flock shall be dispersed.” But the metaphor, as I said, is much more expressive, when God directs his words to the sword itself; Awake, watch, O sword, — how? against my shepherd

Most of our interpreters confine this passage to the person of Christ, because in Matthew 26:31, this sentence is quoted,

“Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered:”

but this is no solid reason; for what is said of a single shepherd ought probably to be extended to the whole order. When God says in Deuteronomy 18:15,

“A prophet will I raise up from the midst of you,”

though mention is indeed made of one Prophet only, yet God includes all the Prophets; as though he had said, “I will never deprive you of the doctrine of salvation, but in every age will I show that I care for you, for my Prophets shall be ever present, by whose mouth I shall make it known that I am near you.” This passage is quoted as referring to Christ, and very suitably, because all the Prophets spoke by his Spirit, and at length he himself appeared, and by his mouth the heavenly Father spoke familiarly with us, and fully explained his whole mind, as it is said in the first chapter to the Hebrews

“In various ways and often did God speak formerly to the fathers by the Prophets, but now in these last times by his only-begotten Son.”

As then Christ possesses a supremacy among the Prophets, and hence rightly applied to him are the words of Moses; so also as he is the head and prince of shepherds, this pre-eminence justly belongs to him. But what is said by the Prophet is however to be viewed as a general truth. In short, God threatens the people, and declares that there would be a dreadful disorder; for they would be deprived of their shepherds, so that there would be no government among them, or one in great confusion.

The word עמית, omit, is rendered by some, kindred, (contribulis — one of the same tribe,) by others, kinsman, (consanguineus — one of the same blood,) and by others, one connected, (co-haerens,) that is, with God; and they have considered that this passage cannot be understood of any but of Christ alone: but they have taken up, as I have said, a false principle. The Greek version has citizen (τὸν πολίτην,) and some render it, as Theodotion, kindred (sumfulon — one of the same tribe.) Jerome prefers the rendering, one connected or united with me (cohaerentem mihi.) 175175     Much as been written about this word, but unnecessarily. It occurs about nine times in Leviticus, and nowhere else but here, and is rendered “neighbor,” and, “one another.” Leviticus 6:12; 18:20, etc. “Against the man who is near into me,” is Newcome’s version; Henderson’s is, “who is united to me;” and Blayney paraphrases the two words thus, “him that is next to me in favor and authority,” conceiving that the word [גבר], is not simply a man, but one superior to others in strength, power, or authority.” To deduce from this word an argument in favor of our Lord’s divinity seems an over-strained criticism. A neighbor, it is true, is one of the same nature with ourselves, but he is also a member of the same society, and of a similar station in the community, on which account he is especially called a neighbor. The view that Calvin takes of the word, is no doubt the correct one; and the same is taken by Newcome, Archbishop Secker, and Blayney The word, according to the Hebrews, means an associate, a neighbor, or a friend, or one in any way connected with us. God, I have no doubt, distinguished pastors with this title, because he gave a representation at himself by then to the people; and the more eminent any one is, the nearer, we know, he is to God: and hence kings and judges, and such as exercise authority, are called his sons. So also pastors are called his associates, for they spend their labor in building up the Church. He is the chief Pastor, but he employs his ministers to carry on his work. This is the reason why they are called the associates of God, that is, on account of the connection between them, for they are co-workers with God, as Paul also teaches us. In short, the Prophet calls pastors the associates of God in the same sense in which Paul calls them fellow-workers. (συνεργους 1 Corinthians 3:9.)

Having said that the sword was permitted, nay, commanded, to rise against the shepherd, he immediately adds, that the sheep were dispersed. We then see that in these words is set forth a calamity that was to be feared, and which the people were not able to escape, in order that the faithful might not be too much disheartened, as though God would disappoint them, but that they might stand firm amidst grievous troubles and violent commotions. Since then this disorder was nigh, Zechariah bids the faithful to continue firm and patiently, and quietly hope, until God showed himself again propitious to them, and those evidences of his favor appeared of which he had before spoken. We now see what the design of the Prophet was. But we must especially notice, that it is a sure presage of the people’s ruin and destruction when pastors are taken from them; for when God intends to keep us safe, he employs this instrumentality, that is, he raises up faithful teachers, who rule in his name; and he rules them by his Spirit, and fits them for their rank and station: but when he strikes them, he not only forsakes the people, but also shows that he is the avenger of wickedness, so that the people themselves are destroyed. This is the import of the Prophet’s words.

But this, as I have already observed, was fulfilled in Christ; for he accommodated the passage to himself when his disciples fled from him. Though they were but a small flock, being very few in number, yet they were scattered and put to flight. In that case then, as in a mirror, appeared how truly it had been said by Zechariah, that the scattering is nigh when a pastor is smitten.

By the word sword, he means affliction; for though Christ was not slain by a sword, yet crucifixion and violent death are fitly designated by the word sword.

It follows at the end of the verse, And I will turn my hand to the little ones. Some consider that the little ones would be exposed to many evils, because the Lord would ever hold his rod in his hand to chastise them. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, meant what is far different, — that God would show mercy to them, when the body of the people had been as it were torn into many parts. For all the godly might have been wholly dejected when their shepherds were taken away, and when the people were become like a straying flock. God then comes to their aid, and testifies that his hand would be extended over the miserable and the poor ones, who had been almost overwhelmed by a mass of evils.

This passage is also very serviceable to us in the present state of the Church: for we see how God has lately cut off many pastors, so that what is called the Church is become like a mutilated body. We also see that God often deprives of good and faithful pastors those who have abused his truth, or with impious contempt rejected it. We might then in this case be terrified and cast off all hope of salvation, were we not to remember what Zechariah teaches us here, even that though the Church were contemptible in the world, and though the faithful were few in number, and all of them exposed to calamities, yet God’s hand will be over them, so as to gather for himself again a Church from the torn members. This is the import of the whole. It follows —

VIEWNAME is study