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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : Zechariah 6:1-3

Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 6:1-3

1. And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass.

1. Et conversus sum, et levavi oculos meos, et aspexi; et ecce quatuor quadrigae egressae e mdio duorum montium; et montes illi, montes aenei.

2. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses;

2. In quadriga prima equi rufi, et in quadriga secunda equi nigri,

3. And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses.

3. Et in quiadriga tertia equi albi, et in quadriga quarta equi grandinei. (vel, varii; mytsvm', robusti, sed potius subscribo eorum sententiae qui vertunt subrufos.)

Here we have another vision; and the Prophet distinguishes it from the former visions by saying, that he turned, as though he had said, that there had been some intervening time. They were not then continued visions, but he turned himself elsewhere, and then he raised up his eyes, and the Lord revealed to him what he now relates. But as the vision is obscure, interpreters have given it different meanings. They who think that the four Gospels are designated by the four chariots, give a very frigid view. I have elsewhere reminded you, that we are to avoid these futile refinements which of themselves vanish away. Allegories, I know, delight many; but we ought reverently and soberly to interpret the prophetic writings, and not to fly in the clouds, but ever to fix our foot on solid ground. Others think that those changes are meant which we know happened in Chaldea and Assyria. As Nineveh was overthrown that Babylon might be the seat of the empire, they suppose that this is meant by the first chariot, the horses of which were red. Then they think that the Persian empire is intended by the second chariot, as the Jews had at the beginning suffered many grievous evils. Afterwards by the white horses are signified, as they suppose, the Macedonian power, as Alexander treated the Jews with humanity and kindness. By the fourth chariot they understand the Roman Empire, and think that the horses are of different colors, because some of the Caesars raged cruelly against the Jews and the Church of God, and some of them showed more lenity. But I know not whether these things are well founded.

We see that the fourth chariot went to the south, and wandered through various regions, and almost through the whole world. As then this cannot be applied to Chaldea, the simpler view seems to be -- that the four chariots signify the various changes which happened not only in Chaldea and among the Babylonians, but also in Judea and among other nations: and this may be easily gathered from the context. But as all these things cannot be stated at the same time, we shall treat them in the order in which the Prophet relates them. I shall now repeat what I have elsewhere said respecting the words, that he raised up his eyes, as intimating the divine authority of what is predicted. The words indeed signify that he did not bring forward what he had vainly imagined, nor adduce tales which he had himself fabricated, but he was attentive to what was revealed to him; and also that he was somewhat separated from common life in order to be an interpreter between God and men. Hence authority is here ascribed to the prophecy, as Zechariah did not come forth to speak of uncertain things, but as one sent by heaven, for he delivered nothing but what he had received from above.

He now says, that four chariots appeared to him, which came forth from mountains, and that the two mountains where the chariots were seen were mountains of brass. The Prophet no doubt understood by these mountains the providence of God, or his hidden counsel, by which all things have been decreed before the creation of the world; and hence he says, that they were mountains of brass, as they could not be broken. The poets say, that fate is unavoidable (ineluctable); but as this sentiment is profane, it is enough for us to understand it of God's eternal providence, which is immutable. And here is most fitly described to us the counsel of God; for before things break forth into action they are inclosed as it were between the narrow passes of mountains, inasmuch as what God has decreed is not apparent, but lies hid as it were in deep mountains. Hence we then begin to acknowledge the counsel of God when experience teaches us, that what was previously hid from us has been in this or in that manner decreed. But it was not in vain that Zechariah adds, that they were mountains of brass; it was to teach us that God's counsel is not changeable as foolish men imagine, who think that God is doubtful as to the issue, and is, as it were, kept in suspense: for according to their notions, events depend on the free-will of men. They entertain the idea that God foreknows what is to come conditionally: as this or that will not be, except it shall please men. And though they confess not that God is changeable, yet we gather from their dotages that there is in God nothing sure and certain. The Prophet therefore says here, that they were mountains of brass, because God has fixed before all ages what he has purposed to be done, and thus fixed it by an immutable decree, which cannot be broken by Satan, nor by the whole world.

We hence see how suitable is this representation when the Prophet says, that chariots went forth from mountains.

With regard to the chariots, we have seen elsewhere that angels are compared to horsemen; for these ride swiftly as it were through the whole world to execute what God commands them: so also whatever changes take place, they are called the chariots of God; for either angels are ready at hand to do anything in obedience to God, or the very events themselves are God's chariots, that is, they are as it were swift heralds, who announce to us what was before unknown. Let us then know that all fortuitous events, as they are called by the unbelieving, are God's chariots, are his messengers, who declare and proclaim what was before concealed from us. And there is not in this similitude or metaphor anything strained.

As to the color of the horses, interpreters, as I have already intimated, have toiled with great anxiety; and though I venture not to assert anything as certain, yet the probable conjecture is, that by the black and white horses are designated the Babylonians rather than the Persians, but for a purpose different from what interpreters have thought. For the reference must be to the Jews, when it is said, that black horses and then white horses went forth towards Babylon; for the Holy Spirit intimates, that liberty was given to the Chaldeans to harass the Jews and to fill all places with darkness. The blackness then of which the Prophet speaks signifies the calamities brought on the Jews. The whole of that time was dark, full of grief and sorrow, during which the Chaldeans possessed the oriental empire, and Babylon was the supreme seat of government or of the monarchy. A very different time afterwards succeeded, when the Babylonians were conquered and the Persian enjoyed the oriental empire. The color then was white, for the favor of God shone anew on the Jews, and liberty was immediately given then to return to their own country. We hence see that the Prophet rightly subjoins, that the color of the horses was white; for such was the favor shown to the Jews by the Persian, that the sun of joy arose on them, which exhilarated their hearts. But the Prophet makes no mention of the first chariot as going forth, and for this reason, as interpreters think, because the empire of Babylon was shell overthrown. But they are mistaken in this, as I have already hinted, because they refer not the colors to the state of God's Church. Hence the Prophet, I doubt not, designedly omits the mention of the going forth of the first chariot, because the Jews had experienced the riding of God's judgment in their own land, for they had been severely afflicted. As God then is wont to execute his judgment first on his own household, and as it is written, |judgment begins at his own house,| (1 Peter 4:17,) so he purposed to observe the same order in this case, that is, to chastise the sins of the chosen people before he passed over to the Chaldeans and other nations.

As to the last chariot, the Prophet says, that it went forth toward the south, and then it went elsewhere, and even through the whole world, for God had so permitted.

Now as to the meaning of this Prophecy nothing will remain obscure, if we hold these elements of truth -- that all events are designated by the chariots, or all the revolutions which take place in the world -- and that the blind power of fortune does not rule, as fools imagine, but that God thus openly makes known to us his own counsel. And why the horses are said to have been, some red, some black, some white, and some somewhat red, the plain answer is this -- because God had sent forth his chariots over Judea, which was full of blood: by this then is meant the red color. But he shows also, that their enemies would have their time, and this had been in part fulfilled; for God had ridden over them with his chariots, having driven his wheels over their land when Nineveh was overthrown. And though the Spirit had not simply a reference to the Assyrians or the Chaldeans, as though he meant by the black color to designate the wars carried on among then, but rather the calamities brought by them on the Jews, yet I consider the black color to mean in general the terrible disturbances which took place through the whole of the least; and the Jews could not expect anything agreeable from that quarter, for shortly after a heavier weight fell on their heads. But in the third place the Prophet adds, that there were white horses, that is, when the time was accomplished in which God intended to deliver his Church.

But he says, that the chariots not only went forth to the East, or to Babylon; but he says, that they also ran through the south, and then visited the whole world. That we may more fully understand this, we must regard the design of the Prophet. He meant here, no doubt, to bring some comfort to the Jews, that they might not succumb under their evils, however sharply God might chastise them. And Zechariah sets before them here two things -- first, that no part of the earth, or no country, would be exempt from God's judgments, for his chariots would pass through all lands; and secondly, that though the chariots of God, terrible in their appearance on account of the black and red color, had visited Judea as well as the north, yet the time had already come in which God, having been pacified, would change the state of things; and therefore, in the third place, he sets before them another color; for God's chariot had been sent forth through Judea, and then God's vengeance had visited Nineveh, and afterwards Babylon: only this had rested, because it had been already in part fulfilled, for God had removed the darkness and brought sunshine to the Jews, and that from Chaldea, inasmuch as the Persian, who then possessed the empire, had begun to treat the Jews with kindness. It now follows --

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