4. Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord?
4. Et respondi et dixi ad Angelum, qui loquebatur mecum, Quid haec sunt, Domine mi?
5. And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.
5. Et respondi Angelus et dixit mihi, Hi quatuor spiritus sunt coelorum, egredientes e statione apud dominatorem cunctae terrae, (alii vertunt, Hi, vel, hae quadrigae, ad quatuor ventos coelorum egrediuntur e loco ubi stant apud dominatorem, etc.)
The Prophet asks the angel again; and by his example we are taught to shake off every indifference, and to render ourselves both teachable and attentive to God if we desire to make progress in the knowledge of these predictions; for if Zechariah, who had separated himself from the world and raised up his eyes and his mind to heaven, stood in need of the teaching and guidance of the angel to instruct him, how much folly and arrogance is it in us to trust in ourselves and to despise the gift of interpretation. But as angels are not sent to us from heaven to explain to us the prophecies, let us avail ourselves of those helps which we know is offered to us by God. There is here prescribed to us both docility, and reverence, and attention. Let us also remember, that as soon as men submit themselves to God, the gift of revelation is prepared for them; for it is not in vain that God is often called the teacher of babes. Whosoever then shall be disposed to learn with real meekness and humility, shall not be disappointed of his desire; for we see here that the angel performed his part in teaching Zechariah.
I come now to the words, The angel answered, These are four spirits, etc. Some give another rendering, These chariots go forth to the four winds, or parts of heaven; but this is forced, and the words simply mean, |these are four spirits.| The word spirit, I have no doubt, has led interpreters astray, for they have thought it frigid to call different events winds or quarters of the world. But I take this word in a different sense, that is, as designating the impulses of God. I do not then understand them to be four winds, but the secret emotions produced by God. Though God's Spirit is one, yet all actions proceed from him, and whatever is done in the world can with no impropriety be attributed to his Spirit. It is yet certain, that the Prophet alludes to the four quarters of the world, as though he had said, that nothing happens in the world which has not been decreed in heaven; for God's providence includes under it the whole world. Though then the universe is designated here, yet by the Spirit the Prophet means those secret movements which proceed from the eternal counsel and providence of God. And it is a very apt metaphor; for the word Spirit is set in opposition to fortune. We have already said, that profane men imagine that fortune possesses a blind power, but the Prophet says, that all revolutions seen in the world proceed from the Spirit of God, and that they are as it were his spirits or ambassadors.
We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet when the angel says, that these were the four spirits of heaven. And the word heaven is by no means added in vain, for the Prophet seems here to exclude all other causes, so that sovereignty might remain with God only. For though God works often by instruments, or intermediate causes, as they say, yet his own hidden decree ought to be placed first. This is the reason why he says that they were the spirits of heaven; he says it, that we may not think that God is dependent on the will of men, or is blended with the intervening causes, but that he himself has fixed whatever he has in his good pleasure determined. We hence see, that they who render the words, |into the four parts of heaven,| have not sufficiently considered the intention of the Prophet.
He then says, that they went forth from their station before the Lord of the whole earth. Now the Prophet calls that space between the two mountains of brass their station before God. Let us hence know that God does not adopt suddenly new counsels, and that he is not like us who, in emergencies or on occasions unlooked for, attempt this and then that; but that his course is very different, and that things in heaven do not revolve up and down, for the chariots here had a fixed and undisturbed station. For though they were chariots capable of moving quickly, they yet remained still and, as it were, fixed, until God permitted their going forth. We hence learn that when God seems to us to rest, he does not sit idly in heaven, as ungodly men foolishly talk, but that he there determines whatever he intends at a suitable time to do. And then when he says, that the chariots stood before God, we may hence conclude, that what seems to be contingently to us is fixed in God's counsel, so that there is a necessity at the same time. How comes it, that the greater part of mankind think that all things are contingent, except that they continue looking at nature only? The will of man is changeable; then changeable is everything that proceeds from the will of man. The tree also either becomes scorched through heat, or dies through cold, or brings forth fruit. They hence conclude that everything is contingent, for there appears to be a changeable variety. When men thus judge of things by nature alone, it is no wonder that they think that contingency reigns in the world. But the Prophet distinguishes here between the things of nature and the counsel of God; for he says, that the chariots stood, and went forth when God commanded them. Was there no motion in the wheels? nay, the chariots were from the first ready to move, how was it then that they rested? even because they were detained by the secret purpose of God. Now when he sends them forth they show that celerity which was naturally in them. We hence clearly learn, that those things happen by nature which seem capable of being done in two ways, and that yet the counsel of God is always fulfilled, so that immutable necessity presides, which is at the same time hid from us. The Prophet adds, that the first chariot had red horses. I have now explained the whole of this: what is subjoined remains --