5. Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?
5. Patres vestri, ubi sunt? et prophetas, an in perpetuum vivent?
6. But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the Lord of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.
6. Atqui verba mea et statuta mea, quae mandavi servis meis prophetis, annon apprehenderunt patres vestros? et reversi sunt et dixerunt, Sicut cogitaverat Iehova exercituum facere nobis secundum vias nostras, et opera nostra, ita fecit nobiscum.
In what we considered yesterday Zechariah reminded the Jews of the conduct of their fathers, in order that they might not, by their continued sins, bring on themselves new punishments. Many interpreters think that the sentiment contained at the beginning of the fourth verse is now confirmed, your fathers, where are they? for it seems t them that God is here exulting over the Jews -- |Think now what has happened to your fathers; are they not all gone and destroyed?| They suppose also that the Jews answer, taking the latter clause as spoken by them, |The Prophets also, have they not perished? Why do you mention to us the fathers? There is no difference between them and the Prophets; it is not therefore a suitable argument.| And then in the third place, they consider that God refutes the answer given by the Jews, |But my word and my statutes, what I had entrusted to the Prophets, have not been without their effect.| This view of the passage has been adopted by many, and by all of the most ancient interpreters; and those who followed them have been disposed to subscribe to it. But more probable is the opinion of Jerome, who understands the latter clause of false Prophets, -- |Your fathers and your Prophets, where are they?| as though God thus reproved the Jews: |See now, have not your fathers miserably perished, and also the Prophets by whom they were deceived?| Thus Jerome thinks that the object in both clauses is to shake off the delusions of the Jews, that they might not harden themselves against God's judgments, or give ear to flatterers. This interpretation comes nearer to the design of the Prophet, though he seems to me to have something else in view.
I join the two clauses together, as they may be most fitly united -- |Your fathers and my Prophets have both perished; but after their death, the memory of the doctrine, which has not only been published by my servants, but has also been fully confirmed, is to continue, so that it ought justly to terrify you; for it is very foolish in you to enquire whether or not the Prophets are still alive; they performed their office to the end of life, but the truth they declared is immortal. Though then the Prophets are dead, they have not yet carried away with them what they taught, for it never perishes, nor can it at any age be extinguished. The ungodly are also dead, but their death ought not to obliterate the memory of God's judgments; but after their death these judgments ought to be known among men, and serve to teach them, in order that posterity may understand that they are not presumptuously to provoke God.| This seems to be the real meaning of the Prophet.
By saying, Your fathers where are they? and the Prophets do they live for ever? he makes a concession, as though he had said, |I allow that both your fathers and my Prophets are dead; but my words are they dead?| God, in a word, distinguishes between the character of his word and the condition of men, as though he had said, that the life of men is frail and limited to a few years, but that his truth never perishes. And rightly does he mention the ungodly as well as the Prophets; for we know that whenever God punishes the despisers of his word, he gives perpetual examples, which may keep men in all ages within the boundaries of duty. Hence, though many ages have passed away since God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, yet that example remains, and retains its use to this day; for the ruin of Sodom is a mirror in which we may see at this time that God is the perpetual judge of the world. Since then the ungodly have perished, the punishment with which God visited their sins ought not to be buried with them, but to be ever remembered by men. This is the reason why he says, |your fathers are dead: this you must admit; but as they had been severely chastised, ought ye not at this day to profit by such examples?| Then he says, |my Prophets also are dead; but it was my will that they should be the preachers of my truth, and for this end, that after their death posterity might know that I had once spoken through them.| To the same purpose are the words of Peter, who says, that he labored that the memory of what he taught might continue after he was removed from his tabernacle.
|As then,| he says, |the time of my dissolution is at hand, I endeavor as far as I can, that you may remember what I teach after my death.| (2 Peter 1:15.)
We now perceive the object of the Prophet.
He then immediately adds, But my words and my statutes which I have committed to my Prophets, have they not laid hold on your fathers? We have seen that he made a concession in the last verse; but here God expressly declares what I have stated -- that though men vanish, or are hence removed after a short time, yet heavenly truth is ever firm, and retains its own power. But the Prophet uses another form of expression, My words, he says, which I have committed to my servants, the Prophets, have they not laid on your father? that is, |ought the remembrance of the punishment, by which I intended to teach you, and your children, and your grandchildren, that ye might not provoke my wrath as your fathers did, to be lost by you? Since the ye see the effect of my doctrine in your fathers, why do ye not consider, that as I am always the same, my words cannot possibly be in vain at the present day, or be without effect?| We now see how clearly the Prophet distinguishes between the word of God and the condition of men; for God does not declare what is empty, nor give utterance to words which produce no effect; but he executes whatever he has committed to his Prophets.
He then adds, They returned and said, As Jehovah of hosts had purposed to do to us on account of our ways and our works, so he hath done. Added here is a confession, which ought to have perpetually stimulated the Jews, while they saw that the obstinacy of their fathers had been subdued by the scourges of God. It is indeed true, that though they been sharply chastised, many of them did not yet really repent. God however extorted from them the confession that they were justly punished. Even the ungodly then had been constrained to give glory to God, and to confess that they were justly treated as guilty; but their children became immediately forgetful -- was this a stupidity capable of being excused? He at the same time indirectly warns posterity that they might not imitate the negligence of their fathers, who would not have repented had they not been severely chastised; but that they might, on the contrary anticipate the judgment of God. We then see why the Prophet mentions that the Jews, who had been severely treated, freely confessed that they had been chastised by the hand of God; but we must notice the words.
He says, that the fathers had returned. Though their repentance was not sincere, yet God intimates that such was their punishment that it drew from them the confession that is here mentioned. What then could their posterity mean? or how could they become so audaciously mad against God, when they saw that their fathers and their obstinacy had been, as it were, broken down by the severe strokes by which God had smitten them? He then subjoins, and said, As Jehovah hath prepared to do. They confessed that they suffered evils not through chance, but that the purpose of God was thus fulfilled, which they had previously despised and almost derided. They further confessed, that they justly suffered; and they referred to their works and to their course of life. Since, then, the father had made this confession, who had hardened themselves long in their sins, their posterity were wholly without excuse in going on still to their own ruin, in containing impenitent, though warned by examples so memorable. This is the import of the passage. It now follows --