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The Coming Ruler of God’s People


Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.



As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.


Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;

today I declare that I will restore to you double.

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The Prophet here briefly shows the manner in which the Church was to be restored; for a king from the tribe and family of David would again arise, to restore all things to their ancient state. And this is the view given everywhere by the Prophets; for the hope of the ancient people, as our hope, was founded on Christ. Inasmuch then as things were as yet in a decayed state among the Jews, Zechariah here testifies that God had not in vain formerly spoken so often by his servants concerning the advent of a Redeemer, but that a firm hope was to be entertained, until the prophecies were in due time fulfilled. As then Zechariah has been hitherto speaking of the prosperous and happy state of the Church, he now confirms what he had said; and this was especially necessary, for they could not, as I have already said, have raised up their minds so as to feel confidence as to their salvation, without having a Mediator set before them. But as the faithful were then in great grief and sorrow, Zechariah here exhorts them to perseverance: for by bidding them to rejoice greatly, and even to shout for joy, he no doubt intimates, that though grief and sorrow took fast hold on their hearts, they ought yet to strive manfully, so as to receive the favor of God; for they must have a hundred times succumbed under their evils, had they not Christ before their eyes; not indeed in a carnal manner, but in the mirror of the word; as the faithful see in that what is far distant and even hidden from them.

We now then understand, first, why the Prophet here makes such a sudden reference to Christ; and secondly, why he does not simply exhort the faithful to rejoice, but encourages them greatly to exult as though they were already in a safe and most happy condition.

By the word king, the Prophet intimates, that except they thought God unfaithful in his promises, they were to entertain hope, until the kingdom of David, then apparently fallen, arose again. As God then would have himself acknowledged faithful, and his adoption counted fixed and ratified in the Messiah, it is no wonder that the Prophet now briefly refers to a king; for this mode of speaking was well known by the people. And we have also seen elsewhere, that when the Prophets speak of the safety of the Church, they mention a king, because the Lord designed to gather again the dispersed Church under one head, even Christ. And no doubt there would ever remain a dreadful dispersion, were not Christ the bond of union. He then says that a king would come. But he speaks not as of a king unknown; he only reminds them that God would be true and faithful to his promises. Now since the whole law, and adoption, must have vanished away, except Christ came, his coming ought to have been patiently waited for.

Further, that God’s children might be more confirmed, he says also that this king would come to the people, the daughter of Sion, as though he had said, that God, for the sake of the whole Church, had fixed the royal throne in the family of David: for if the king was to come, that he might indulge in his own triumphs, and be contented with pomps and pleasures, it would have been but a small and wholly barren consolation: but as God in determining to send the Messiah, provided for the safety of the whole Church, which he had promised to do, the people might here derive solid confidence. It is not then a matter of small moment, when the Prophet teaches us, that the king would come to Sion and to Jerusalem; as though he had said, “This king shall not come for his own sake like earthly kings, who rule according to their own caprice, or for their own advantage:” but he reminds us, that his kingdom would be for the common benefit of the whole people, for he would introduce a happy state.

He afterwards states what sort of king he was to be. He first names him just, and then preserved or saved. As to the word, just, it ought, I think, to be taken in an active sense, and so the word which follows: Just then and saved is called the king of the chosen people, for he would bring to them righteousness and salvation. Both words depend on this clause, — that there would come a king to Sion. If he came privately for himself, he might have been for himself just and saved, that is, his righteousness and salvation might have belonged to himself or to his own person: but as he came for the sake of others, and has been for them endued with righteousness and salvation; then the righteousness and salvation of which mention is made here, belong to the whole body of the Church, and ought not to be confined to the person of the king. Thus is removed every contention, with which many have foolishly, or at least, very inconsiderately, wearied themselves; for they have thought that the Jews cannot be otherwise overcome, and that their perverseness cannot be otherwise checked, than by maintaining, that נושע, nusho, must be taken actively; and they have quoted some passages of Scripture, in which a verb in Niphal is taken in an active sense. 102102     The Septuagint, the Targum, and the Vulgate, render the word actively [σωζων] — Savior. It is so taken by Bochart, Grotius, Marckius, Dathius, Newcome, and Henderson. The reason given is, that there are instances of several verbs in Niphal having an active meaning. This is true; but this verb is found nineteen times in Niphal besides here, and invariably in a passive sense. This is quite sufficient to settle its meaning. Kimchi, Glassius, and Cocceius take this view. The last says that the reference is to his deliverance from his sufferings and his death. It is singular that this verse, at least a part of it, is quoted, and applied to Christ shortly before his crucifixion. Matthew 21:4,5. The two verses, 9th and 10th, are in a striking manner connected; there is a contrast between the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th, and a correspondence between the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 9th. The king shall ride lowly on an ass, — and the chariot and the horse shall be cut off; he shall be saved or preserved, — and the battle-bow shall be destroyed; then the correspondence, — he is righteous, i.e., just and faithful to his gracious promises, — and he shall speak peace to the nations; he is King, — and his dominion shall be from sea to sea. The two first lines are not to be included in the comparison, —

   9. Exult thou greatly, daughter of Zion; Shout thou daughter of Jerusalem: Behold thy King, he shall come to thee; Just, and saved shall he be; Lowly, and he shall ride on an ass, Even on a colt, the foal of an ass:

   10. And cut off shall I the chariot from Ephraim, And the horse from Jerusalem; And cut off shall be the bow of war; And he will speak peace to the nations; And his dominion shall be from sea to sea, And from the river to the extremities of the land.

    — Ed.
But what need there is of undertaking such disputes, when we may well agree on the subject? I then concede to the Jews, that Christ is saved or preserved, and that he is said to be so by Zechariah.

But we must see what this salvation is which belongs to Christ. This we may gather from what is said by the Prophet. We are not then to contend here about words, but to consider what the subject is, that is, that a just and saved king comes to his chosen: and we know that Christ had no need of salvation himself. As then he was sent by the Father to gather a chosen people, so he is said to be saved because he was endued with power to preserve or save them. We then see that all controversy is at an end, if we refer those two words to Christ’s kingdom, and it would be absurd to confine them to the person of one man, for the discourse is here concerning a royal person; yea, concerning the public condition of the Church, and the salvation of the whole body. And certainly when we speak of men, we say not that a king is safe and secure, when he is expelled from his kingdom, or when his subjects are disturbed by enemies, or when they are wholly destroyed. When therefore a king, deprived of all authority, sees his subjects miserably oppressed, he is not said to be saved or preserved. But the case of Christ, as I have said, is special; for he does not exercise dominion for his own sake, but for the preservation of his whole people. Hence with regard to grammar, I can easily allow that Christ is called just and saved, passively; but as to the matter itself, he is just with reference to his people, and also saved or preserved, for he brings with him salvation to the lost; for we know that the Jews were then almost in a hopeless state.

He however at the same time adds, that the king would be saved, not because he would be furnished with arms and forces, or that he would defend his people after the manner of men; for he says, that he would be poor 103103     Pauper, [עני], rendered “[πραυς], meek” by the Septuagint; “humble,” by Newcome; and “lowly,” by Blayney and Henderson, and also by Kimchi, and the Targum. It may either mean a depressed and poor condition, or, as Blayney says, “the humility of his temper.” Both were true as to the king mentioned here. He was poor in condition, riding on a colt, and lowly also in mind, of which his procession was an evidence. — Ed. He must then be otherwise preserved safe than earthly princes are wont to be, who fill their enemies with fear, who fortify their borders, prepare an army, and set up every defense to ward off assaults. Zechariah teaches us, that Christ would be otherwise preserved, as he would prove superior to his enemies through a divine power. As then he is poor, he must be exposed to all kinds of injuries; for we see, that when there is no earthly fortress, all the wicked immediately fly together as it were to the prey. If Christ then is poor, he cannot preserve his own people, nor can he prosper in his kingdom. It hence follows, that he must be furnished with celestial power, in order to continue himself safe, and in order to prevent harm to his Church; and this is what Zechariah will presently tell us, and more clearly express. It is now sufficient briefly to state his object.

He afterwards adds, Riding on an ass, the colt, the foal of an ass 104104     Literally it is, “the foal of she-asses,” which Kimchi explains, “the foal of one of the she-asses,” and adduces Judges 12:7, as an instance, where “in the cities of Gilead” means “in one of the cities of Gilead.” It is singular in the Septuagint, the Targum, and the Syriac. Th word is regarded by Grotius as including both sexes, “the foal of asses,” a pure foal, not a mule, its father and mother being of the asinine kind. So Newcome renders the phrase, “the foal of asses.” The probability is, that as the early versions give the singular, and as there seems to be no reason for the plural, it is a typographical mistake. — Ed. Some think that the ass is not mentioned here to denote poverty, for they who excelled in power among the people were then in the habit of riding on asses. But it seems to me certain, that the Prophet added this clause to explain the word עני, oni, poor; as though he had said, that the king of whom he spoke would not be distinguished by a magnificent and splendid appearance like earthly princes, but would appear in a sordid or at least in an ordinary condition, so as not to differ from the humblest and lowest of the people. 105105     Newcome suggests another reason, “As horses are used in war, Christ may be supposed by this action to have shown the humble and peacable nature of his kingdom.” — Ed. He then bids the faithful to raise up their eyes to heaven, in order to come to the true knowledge of Christ’s kingdom, and to feel assured that righteousness and salvation are to be expected from him. How so? Because he will be accompanied with nothing that may strike men with fear, but will serve as an humble and obscure individual. We may also here add, that righteousness and salvation must be understood according to the character of Christ’s kingdom; for as the kingdom of Christ is not temporal or what passes away, we conclude that the righteousness he possesses is to be perpetual, together with the salvation which he brings. But I am not disposed ingeniously to speak here of the righteousness of faith; for I think, on the contrary, that by the word is meant here a right order of things, as all things were then among the people in a state of confusion; and this might be easily proved by many passages of Scripture.

The sum of the whole is, that the predictions by which God gave to his chosen people a hope of redemption were not vain or void; for at length in due time Christ, the son of David, would come forth, — secondly, that this king would be just, and saved or preserved; for he would restore things into order which were in a disgraceful state of confusion, — and thirdly, he adds, that this king would be poor; for he would ride on an ass, and would not appear in great eminence, nor be distinguished for arms, or for riches, or for splendor, or for number of soldiers, or even for royal trappings which dazzle the eyes of the vulgar: he shall ride on an ass

This prophecy we know was fulfilled in Christ; and even some of the Jews are constrained to confess that the Prophet’s words can be justly applied to none else. Yet they do not acknowledge as the Christ of God the Son of Mary; but they think that the Prophet speaks of their imaginary Messiah. Now we, who are fully persuaded and firmly maintain that the Christ promised has appeared and performed his work, do see that it has not been said without reason that he would come poor and riding on an ass. It was indeed designed that there should be a visible symbol of this very thing; for he mounted an ass while ascending into Jerusalem a short time before his death. It is indeed true, that the Prophet’s words are metaphorical: when he says, Come shall a king, riding on an ass, the words are figurative; for the Prophet means, that Christ would be as it were an obscure person, who would not make an appearance above that of the common people. That this is the real meaning is no doubt true. But yet there is no reason why Christ should not afford an example of this in mounting an ass.

I will adduce a similar instance: it is said in the twenty second Psalm, ‘They have cast lots on my garments.’ The metaphor there is no doubt apparent, which means that David’s enemies divided his spoils. He therefore complains that those robbers, by whom he had been unjustly treated, had deprived him of all that he had: and fulfilled has this been in a literal manner, so that the most ignorant must acknowledge that it has not in vain been foretold. We now then understand how well do these things agree — that the Prophet speaks metaphorically of the humble appearance of Christ; and yet that the visible symbol is so suitable, that the most ignorant must acknowledge that no other Christ but he who has already appeared is to be expected.

I omit many frivolous things, which in no degree tend to explain the Prophet’s meaning, but even pervert it, and destroy faith in prophecy: for some think that Christ rode on an ass, and also on a colt, because he was to govern the Jews, who had been previously accustomed to bear the yoke of the law, and that he was also to bring the Gentiles to obedience, who had been hitherto unnameable. But these things are very frivolous. It is enough for us to know what the Prophet means. It afterwards follows —

The Prophet here expresses more clearly what he had briefly referred to by the word poor, and by the metaphor which we have explained. Hence he says, that there would be no horses, no chariots, no bows, no warlike instruments in Christ’s kingdom; for tranquillity would prevail in it. The sum of the whole is, that Christ and his people would not be kept safe and secure by human defences, by means of many soldiers and of similar helps being at hand; but that God would restrain, and even compose and allay all warlike commotions, so that there would be no need of such aids. We now understand the Prophet’s design.

But we must notice the language here used. God declares here that he would be the giver of peace, so that the Messiah would continue safe in his kingdom; I will cut off, he says; for it might have been objected — “If he is to be poor, what hope can there be of safety?” The answer is, because it will be God’s work to restrain all the assaults of enemies. He means, in short, that the Messiah’s kingdom would be safe, because God from heaven would check all the rage of enemies, so that however disposed they might be to do harm, they would yet find themselves held captive by the hidden bridle of God, so as not to be able to move a finger.

But after having said that the Jews and Israelites would be safe, though stripped naked of all defences, he adds, He will speak peace to the nations; that is, though he will not use threats or terrors, nor bring forth great armies, yet the nations will obey him; for there will be no need of employing any force. To speak peace then to the nations means, that they will calmly hear, though not terrified nor threatened. Some with more ingenuity make the meaning to be that Christ, who reconciles the Father to us, will proclaim this favor of reconciliation; but the Prophet, as I think, with more simplicity, says, that Christ would be content with his own word, inasmuch as the Gentiles would become obedient, and quietly submit to his authority. 106106     To “speak peace” is to anounce or proclaim peace, and not to produce peace. It is not to render people peaceable, but to declare the message of peace to them. It it the promulgation of the gospel. — Ed. The import of the whole is, that Christ would so rule far and wide, that the farthest would live contentedly under his protection, and not cast off the yoke laid on them.

He states in the last place, that his dominion would be from sea to sea, that is, from the Red sea to the Syrian sea, towards Cilicia, and from the river, that is, Euphrates, to the extreme borders of the earth. By the earth we are not to understand the whole world, as some interpreters have unwisely said; for the Prophet no doubt mentioned those places already known to the Jews. For we know that remarkable oracle —

“He shall reign from sea to sea.” (Psalm 72:8.)

But God speaks of David only, and the words are the same as here; and there was no oracle more commonly known among the Jews. 107107     The reference as to the “sea” may be also made to Exodus 23:31; and as to the “river” to Deuteronomy 11:24. The land promised to the Israelites is no doubt what is here described,” and Newcome renders the last clause “to the uttermost part of the land.” Though Henderson admits that the words are originally “descriptive of the utmost bound of the Hebrew kingdom,” yet he thinks that they are to be taken here in their widest meaning, as including the whole earth. — Ed. The Prophet, then, who adduces here nothing new, only reminds the Jews of what they had long ago heard, and repeats, as it were, word for word, what was familiar to them all. For we must bear in mind what I said at the beginning — that the Prophet here strengthens the minds of the godly, and on this account, because the Messiah, on whose coming was founded the gratuitous adoption of the people, as well as their hope of salvation, had not yet appeared. We now then understand the real meaning of this passage. He then adds —

Here he applies his former doctrine to its right use, so that the faithful might emerge from their sorrow, and come to that joy which he had before encouraged them to entertain. He then addresses Jerusalem, as though he had said, “There is no reason for thee to torment thyself with perplexed and anxious thoughts, for I will accomplish what I have promised — that I would become a deliverer to my people.” For this doubt might have occurred to them — “Why does he exhort us to rejoice, while the Church of God is still in part captive, and while those who have returned to their country are miserably and cruelly harassed by their enemies?” To this objection Zechariah answers in the person of God — that God would be able to deliver them, though they were sunk in the deepest gulf. We hence see how this verse harmonises with the other verses: he had before spoken of the happy state of the Church under Christ as its king; but as the condition of the people then was very hard and miserable, he adds, that deliverance was to be expected from God.

But we must observe, that a pronoun feminine is here used, when he says, even thou, or, thou also. Both the Latins and Greeks have been deceived by the ambiguity of the language used, 108108     Rather by following the Septuagint who changed the person of the verb “[ἐξαπέστειλας], though hast sent forth.” The pronoun “[συ], thou,” in Greek, has no gender, as in Hebrew. It was in this way that Theodoret, Cyril, and Augustine were led astray as to the sense of this passage. The Targum retains the reading of the Hebrew. — Ed. and have thought that the words are addressed to Christ, as though he was to draw his captives from a deep pit; but God here addresses his Church, as though he had said, “Hear thou.” And the particle גם, gam, is emphatical, meaning this — “I see that I do not prevail much with you, for ye are in a manner overwhelmed by your calamities, and no hope refreshes you, as you think yourselves visited, as it were, with a thousand deaths; but still, though a mass of evils disheartens you, or at least so far oppresses you as to render inefficacious what I say — though, in short, ye be of all men the most miserable, I will yet redeem your captives.” But God addresses the whole Church, as in many other places under the character of a wife.

He says, By the blood of thy covenant. This seems not to belong properly to the Church, for there is no other author of the covenant but God himself; but the relation, we know, between God and his people, as to the covenant, is mutual. It is God’s covenant, because it flows from him; it is the covenant of the Church, because it is made for its sake, and laid up as it were in its bosom. And the truth penetrated more fully into the hearts of the godly, when they heard that it was not only a divine covenant, but that it was also the covenant of the people themselves: Then by the blood of thy covenant, etc. Some refer this, but very unwisely, to circumcision, for the Prophet no doubt had regard to the sacrifices. It was then the same as though he had said — “Why do ye offer victims daily in the temple? If ye think that you thus worship God, it is a very gross and insane superstition. Call then to mind the end designed, or the model given you from above; for God has already promised that he will be propitious to you, by expiating your sins by the only true sacrifice: And for this end offer your sacrifices, and that blood will bring expiation with it. Now since God has not in vain appointed your sacrifices, and ye observe them not in vain, no doubt the benefit will come at length to light, for I have sent forth thy captives. For God does not reconcile himself to men, that he may destroy or reduce them to nothing, or that he may suffer them to pine away and die; for why does God pardon men, but that he may deliver them from destruction?” 109109     “The words,” says Newcome, “allude to the Jewish custom of ratifying covenants by the blood of victims.” It was called “thy” covenant, because it was a covenant made with the daughter of Sion. The meaning is, “the covenant ratified with thee by blood,” that is, of victims. see Exodus 24:6-8. The [ב] here means for, or on account of. The verse may be thus rendered —
   As to thee also, on account of the blood of thy covenant
Have I sent forth thy prisoners
From a pit without water in it.

   It was thought by Drusius and Newcome that the deliverance of the people from Babylon is here referred to, which is the most probable opinion, as the next verse seems to have been addressed to them. But Marckius and Henderson agree with Calvin, that the past tense is used for the future. — Ed.

We now perceive why the Prophet thus speaks of the blood of the covenant in connection with the salvation of the whole people. “Ye daily offer victims,” he says, “and the blood is poured on the altar: God has not appointed this in vain.” Now since God receives you into favor, that ye may be safe, he will therefore deliver the captives of his Church; I will send forth, he says, or, have sent forth thy captives: for he expresses here in the past tense what he would do in future.

I will send forth thy captives from the pit in which there is no water. He means a deep gulf, where thirst itself would destroy miserable men without being drawn forth by a power from above. In short, he means, first, that the Jews were sunk in the deep; and secondly, that thirst would consume them, so that death was nigh at hand, except they were miraculously delivered by God: but he reminds them, that no impediment would prevent God from raising them to light from the deepest darkness. We then see that this was added, that the Jews might learn to struggle against all things that might strengthen unbelief, and feel assured that they would be preserved safe, for it is God’s peculiar work to raise the dead. This is the meaning. He now adds —

Zechariah proceeds with the same subject. He bids the Jews suddenly to retake themselves to their fortress. There is no doubt but that he means by that term the holy land; nor do I oppose the opinion of those who think the temple to be intended: for Jerusalem and the whole of Judea is called a fortress, and for this reason, because God had chosen his sanctuary there. It is then the same, as though one wishing to collect a dispersed and straggling band of soldiers were to say, “To the standard, to the standard;” or, “To the troop, to the troop.” For though Judea was not then fortified, nay, Jerusalem itself had no high wall or strong towers, yet they had God as their stronghold, and this was impregnable; for he had promised that the Jews would be safe under the shadow of his wings, though exposed to the caprices of all around them. Nor does he here address them only who had returned, or the exiles who still remained scattered in the East; but by this declaration he encourages the whole Church, that they might be fully persuaded that when assembled under the protection of God, they were as fortified as though they were on every side surrounded by the strongest citadels, and that there would be no access open to enemies.

Return ye then to the stronghold. This could not have appeared unreasonable; for we know that when they were building the city their work was often interrupted; and we know also that the temple was not then fortified by a wall. But Zechariah teaches them, that in that state of things there was sufficient defense in God alone. Though then the Jews were not made safe by moats, or by walls, or by mounds, he yet reminds them, that God would be sufficient to defend them, and that he would be to them, as it is said in another place, a wall and a rampart. (Isaiah 26:1.)

But it is not without reason that he calls them the captives of hope; for many had wholly alienated themselves from God and altogether fallen away, so as to be unworthy of any promise. By this mark then he distinguishes between the faithful captives and those who had wholly degenerated and separated themselves from the family of God, so as no more to be counted among his people. And this ought to be carefully noticed, which interpreters have coldly passed by. They have indeed said, that they are called captives of hope, because they hoped to be saved; but they have not observed the distinction, by which Zechariah intended to convey reproof to the unbelieving Jews. It was therefore not without meaning that he directed his word to the faithful only, who were not only captives, but also captives having hope. I cannot finish today.