1. And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu;
1. Et factus est (datus est,) anno quarto Darii regis, sermo Iehovae ad Zachariam, quarta die mensis noni Chisleu;
2. When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the LORD,
2. Nam miserat in domum Dei (hoc est, Templum) Sareezer et Regem-melech et viros ejus ad deprecandam faciem Iehovae (aut, Miserat in domum Dei Sareezer et Regem-melech, in nominativo casu, et viri ejus ad deprecandam faciem Iehovae:)
3. And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?
3. Ad dicendum sacerdotibus qui erant in domo Iehovae exercituum, et Prophetis, dicendo, An flebo mense, quinto? Separabo me? quemadmodum feci his annis? (est turbata series verborum, quemadmodum solitus sum facere his annis?)
There is no vision here, but the answer which Zechariah was commanded to give to the messengers of the captives: for he says that some had been sent from Chaldea to offer sacrifices to God, and at the same time to inquire whether the fast, which they had appointed when the city was taken and destroyed, was to be observed. But there is some ambiguity in the words of the Prophet, for it is doubtful whether the two whom he names, even Sherezer and Regem-melech, together with the others, had sent the messengers of whom mention is made, or they themselves came and brought the message from the captives. But this is a matter of no great moment. As to the question itself, I am disposed to adopt their view, who think that these two came with their associates to Jerusalem, and in the name of them all inquired respecting the fast, as we shall hereafter see. The Jews think that these were Persian princes; but this opinion is frivolous. They are thus accustomed to draw whatever occurs to the glory of their own nation without any discretion or judgment, as though it had been an object much desired by the Jews, that two Persian should go up to the temple. But there is no need here of a long discussion; for if we regard the Prophet's design, we may easily conclude that these were Jews who had been sent by the exiles, both to offer gifts and to inquire about the fast, as the Prophet tells us. The sum of the whole then is, that Sherezer and Regem-melech, and their companions, came to the temple, and that they also asked counsel of the priests and Prophets, whether the fast of the fifth month was still to be observed.
It must first be observed, that though all had not so much courage as to return to their own country as soon as leave was given them, they were not yet gross despisers of God, and wholly destitute of all religion. It was indeed no light fault to remain torpid among the Babylonians when a free return was allowed them; for it was an invaluable kindness on the part of God to stretch forth his hand to the wretched exiles, who had wholly despaired of a return. Since then God was prepared to bring them home, such a favor could not have been neglected without great ingratitude. But it was yet the Lord's will that some sparks of grace should continue in the hearts of some, though their zeal was not so fervid as it ought to have been. The same sloth we see in the present day to be in many, who continue in the filth of Popery; and yet they groan there, and the Lord preserves them, so that they do not shake off every concern for religion, nor do they wholly fall away. All then are not to be condemned as unfaithful, who are slothful and want vigor; but they are to be stimulated. For they who indulge their torpor act very foolishly; but at the same time they ought to be pitied, when there is not in them that desirable alacrity in devoting themselves to God, which they ought to have. Such an instance then we see in the captives, who ought to have immediately prepared themselves for the journey, when a permission was given them by the edicts of Cyrus and Darius. They however remained in exile, but did not wholly renounce the worship of God; for they sent sacred offerings, by which they professed their faith; and they also inquired what they were to do, and showed deference to the priests and Prophets then at Jerusalem. It hence appears, that they were not satisfied with themselves, though they did not immediately amend what was wrong. There are many now, who, in order to exculpate themselves, or rather to wipe away (as they think) all disgrace, despise God's word, and treat us with derision; nay, they devise crimes with which they charge us, with the view of vilifying the word of the Lord in the estimation of the simple. But the Prophet shows that the captives of whom he speaks, though not so courageous as they ought to have been were yet true servants of God; for they sent sacrifices to the temple, and also wished to hear and to learn what they were to do.
He says first, that messengers were sent to entreat the face of Jehovah. Here by the word entreating or praying, the Prophet means also sacrifices. For it is certain that the Jews prayed in exile, as there could have been no religion in them had they not exercised themselves in prayer. But the mention made here is of that stated prayer, connected with sacrifices, by which they professed themselves to be God's people. We may hence also learn, that sacrifices of themselves are of no great importance, since prayer, or calling on God, has ever the first place. Sacrifices then, and other offerings, were, as we may say, additions; (accessoria -- accessions;) for this command ought ever to be regarded by the faithful,
|offer to me the sacrifice of praise.| (Psalm 50:14.)
He says, in the second place, that messengers were sent, that they might learn from the priests and the Prophets what was to them doubtful. We hence conclude, that it was no gross dissimulation, such as is found in hypocrites who pretend to pray to God, but that there was a real desire to obey. And, doubtless, when God's word and celestial truth are despised, there is then neither any real prayer, nor any other religious exercise; for unbelief pollutes and contaminates whatever is otherwise in its nature sacred. Whosoever then desires rightly to pray to God, let him add faith, that is, let him come to God in a teachable frame of mind, and seek to be ruled by his word. For the Prophet in telling us what was done, no doubt keeps to the method or the order observed by the captives. It was then worthy of praise that they not only were anxious to seek God's favor by prayers and sacrifices, but that they also sought to know what was pleasing to Cod. Nor was it a matter of wonder that they sent to Jerusalem on this account, for they knew that that place had been chosen by God as the place from which they were to seek the right knowledge of religion. Since then Jerusalem was the sanctuary of God, the captives sent there their messengers, particularly as they knew that the priests were the ambassadors of God, and that the interpretation of the law was to be sought from their mouth. They indeed knew that the time was not yet come when the doctrine of salvation was to be disseminated through the whole world.
But the Prophet says, that the captives not only inquired of the priests, but also of the Prophets. It hence appears, that it was a thing commonly known, that God had raised up Prophets, which he had ceased to do for a long time. For it was not without reason that Isaiah said, that God would yet speak by his Prophets, when he would again comfort his people. (Isaiah 40:1.) There had been then a mournful silence for seventy years, when no Prophets were sent forth, according to what is said in the book of Psalms,
|our signs we see not, nor is there a Prophet among us.| (Psalm 74:9.)
God indeed had been accustomed to lead the people as by an erected banner when they dwelt in the holy land, and Prophets continually succeeded one another in regular order, according to what the Lord had promised by Moses,
|A Prophet will I raise up in the midst of thee,| etc. (Deuteronomy 18:15.)
From the time then in which they had been driven into exile, while looking there on one another, they could hear no voice to encourage them with hope, until new Prophets were again raised up beyond what they expected. And it was God's will that the Prophets should have their abode and habitation at Jerusalem, in order that he might gather the dispersed Israel; for had there been Prophets in Chaldea, many might hence lay hold of a pretext for their slothfulness: |Does not God dwell in the midst of us? what need is there of undertaking a difficult and toilsome journey? we shall indeed find nothing better at Jerusalem than in this exile; for God shows that he is present with us by his Prophets.| It would have therefore been a great evil to the Jews to have Prophets in their exile. But when the captives heard that the gift of prophecy appeared again in the temple, they might have called to mind what their fathers had heard from the mouth of Isaiah, and also from the mouth of Micah, |from Zion shall go forth a law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.| (Isaiah 2:3 Micah 4:3.) We now perceive why Zechariah joined Prophets to priests.
But we must bear in mind what we have stated elsewhere that the prophetic was, as it were, an extraordinary office, when God took others as the ministers of his word besides the priests. For their work was sacerdotal; but God meant to condemn the priests by transferring the work of teaching to others, that is, when Prophets were taken from the common people, or from other families, and not from the Levitical tribe. It is not indeed true that all the priests were Prophets; but the office itself would not have been transferred to any other tribe, had not God thus punished the ingratitude of those who bestowed more labor on their own private concerns than on teaching the people. However this case may have been, it was an illustrious testimony of God's favor, that Prophets at that time had again been raised up. And this fact has been added -- that they dwelt nowhere else but at Jerusalem, in order to encourage the dispersed to return, and to show to them that the place had not in vain been previously chosen by God. This is the reason why the Prophet expressly says, that the Prophets, as well as the priests, were in the house or in the temple of the Lord of hosts.
The time is also mentioned, the fourth year of Darius, and the ninth month and the fourth day The beginning of the year, we know, was in March; hence the month Chisleu was November, or a part of October and November, for they were wont to commence their months at the new moons. Of king Darius we have spoken elsewhere. He was not, indeed, the first Darius, the father-in-law of Cyrus, who transferred the monarchy to the Persian, but Darius the son of Hystaspes. Passed away then had the seventy years, for this, as it has been stated before, was the fourth king.
Let us now consider the question which the captives proposed to the priests. They asked whether they were to weep in the fifth month, and whether they were to separate themselves as they had done for seventy years and more; for some years, as we have seen, had elapsed beyond that number. We hence learn that a regular fast was observed from the time in which the temple was burned and the city destroyed. He speaks here only of the fifth month, but shortly after mention is made of the seventh month. It is evident from sacred history that the city was demolished and the temple pulled down in the fifth month. It is therefore probable that there was a day of mourning observed by the people in memory of that sad event. In the seventh month, though not in the same year, Gedaliah was slain, and the remainder of the people were driven into exile. As the land became then desolate, it is also probable that another fast was appointed, that they might yearly humble themselves before God, and suppliantly seek his pardon. Since then there was a reason for both fasts, it is evident that they could not have been condemned by the priests: nor is there a doubt, but that it was by the public consent of all, that they every year kept these days of weeping. We also see the end which God has in view in prescribing a fast, -- that men in coming to him may feel true penitence, and remind themselves by their external appearance of their own guilt. As then the Jews observed this rule in their fasts, we must conclude that they pleased God; for these were religious exercises, by which they might have been led to repentance.
Now they inquired, whether they were to continue their weeping; for the temple had now been begun to be built as well as the city. Since the reason for their mourning had been, that the temple no longer stood where they might offer their sacrifices, and that the holy city had been demolished, it was then doubtless right to give thanks to God, and to feel joy, when an end came to their calamities. However, the captives ventured not to change anything without the authority and consent of the priests, so that they might all agree together. And thus they also testified that they were true members of the Church, as they had no desire to have anything different from others.
The word fast is not mentioned; but they asked, |Shall we weep?| Hence also it appears, that they were not so gross in their ideas as to think that the chief part of religion is fasting, as hypocrites do, who imagine that they honor God by abstaining from food, and thus mock God, who is a Spirit, with mere trifles, when it is his express will to be spiritually worshipped. We then plainly see, that the Jews were not imbued with this gross and foolish thought, when they established this annual fast; for they put weeping in the place of fasting. And why was this weeping, except that they went into God's presence conscious of their guilt and in a suppliant manner, and testified by external signs that they acknowledged their sins, so that they might obtain mercy and forgiveness?
They mentioned also consecration. The word nzr, nezar, which means to separate, is variously explained: but here many interpreters confine it to abstinence from food, as though they had said, |Shall we separate ourselves from food?| This seems forced to me: I therefore prefer to apply it to sanctification; for we know that when a day was prescribed for fasting or for offering sacrifices, there was sanctification added. For though it became the Jews through their whole life to abstain from all defilements, yet we know that when a fast or any particular sacrifice was appointed, they were more diligent and solicitous to cast aside every pollution. We now then understand what the Jews had in view, and what they meant by these words. It now follows --