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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Zechariah 8:16, 17

Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 8:16, 17

16. These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates:

16. Haec verba quae facieties (Haec sunt, nam nomen [dvrym] est supervacuum, Haec sunt igitur quae facietis,) Loquimini veritatem, quisque cum socio suo; veritatem et judicium pacis judicate in portis vestris;

17. And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord

17. Et vir (et quisque) malum socio suo ne cogitetis in cordibus vestris; et jusjurandum mendacii ne diligatis; quia omnia haec sunt quae odio habeo, dicit Iehova.

Zechariah exhorts them here to true repentance, by showing that more things were to be hoped for than what they saw with their eyes; and at the same time he shows that it was not enough for them assiduously to build the city and the temple; but he requires other things, even that they should observe integrity and justice towards one another. We indeed know that the Jews were so given to their own ceremonies, that they thought that holiness existed in them: and this error Zechariah had before condemned, and now he inculcates the same truth, -- that if they wished to have God propitious to them, and also wished to enjoy continually that goodness which they had already tasted, they were to strive to secure it not only by sacrifices and other ceremonies, but especially by attention to justice and equity.

But the Prophet does not here mention every part of an upright life, but only refers to some things. This mode of speaking is quite common, as we have already often noticed. The Prophet then states a part for the whole; but still he includes generally the whole of the second table, when he says that these things were to be observed, even that they should speak the truth; that is, deal faithfully with one another, abstain from every falsehood and deceit, and from every kind of craftiness, -- and also that they should execute justice in their gates. And because he names neighbors here, it would be very absurd for anyone hence to conclude, that it is lawful to defraud strangers, or those with whom we have no near connection: but the Prophet by this term meant only to set forth the atrocious conduct of the Jews, who spared not even their friends and their brethren. Though then it is a wicked thing to deceive any one, even the farthest from us, it is yet a greater crime when one lies in wait for his near neighbor and brother: and we know that this mode of speaking occurs everywhere in the law; for God, in order to restrain us from evil deeds, has set before us that kind of sin which we are constrained by the impulse of nature to detest. Thus he speaks of secret hatred as being murder. Then the Prophet in this place meant more sharply to reprove the Jews, because such barbarity had prevailed among them, that no one regarded his neighbor, but raged as it were against his own bowels.

As to the words, truth and the judgment of peace, he intimates by them, that not only individuals were privately given to evil deeds, but that also the court of justice was full of frauds and wrong acts, while it ought to have been the sanctuary of justice. Though many may be perversely wicked among the people, yet their audacity and wickedness are always restrained, when the laws are put in force, and incorrupt judges rule. But the Prophet shows that the judges had become like robbers, for there was no integrity in the gates. He mentions truth first, for the judges craftily perverted all truth by misrepresentations, as it is commonly the case. For even the worst of men do not openly say that they approve of a wicked deed; but they find out disguises by which they cover their own baseness, and that of those who do wrong, whom they favor, when bribed with money. It is then necessary that truth should have the first place in courts of justice. By the judgment of peace he understands, when his own is given to every one. Some think that what is right is called the judgment of peace, because when mercenary judges condemn and oppress the innocent, and for gain's sake patronise what is wrong, many tumults often arise, and then open war ensues: but as the word peace has a wide meaning in Hebrew, we may take the judgment of peace as meaning only a calm and a rightly formed judgment. The Jews, we know, administered justice in the gates.

He afterwards adds, And think not evil every one against his friend. Here the Prophet not only condemns open wrongs, but also the hidden purposes of evil. We hence learn, that the law was not only given to restrain men as it were by a bridle, and that it not only contains a rule of life as to outward duties, but that it also rules their hearts before God and angels. The law is indeed really spiritual; and extremely gross and foolish are they who think that they satisfy the law of Moses, when they abstain from murder and theft and other evil deeds; for we see that the Prophets everywhere required a right feeling in the hearts as Zechariah does in this place, who reminds the Jews, that they were not to devise evil against their friends, no, not in their hearts. He might have omitted the last words; but he meant to condemn those frauds which were wont to be covered by many and various disguises. Though then men may not bring forth their wickedness, yet Zechariah shows that God will punish it; for whatever dwells within, however concealed it may be from the eyes of men, however hidden it may be in the depth of the heart, it must yet come to an account before God.

He adds another kind of evil, even perjury, And love not the oath of falsehood. He might have said, swear not to the injury of thy neighbor; but there is to be observed here a contrast between the perverted love of men and the hatred of God. As then God hates a false oath as all other frauds and falsehoods, so he forbids us to desire it: for if we wish to please God, we must see what he requires from us, inasmuch as we designedly provoke his wrath when we desire or covet what he declares that he hates. In a word, Zechariah shows that God would be propitious and kind to the Jews, provided they truly and from the heart repented, and attended to what was right and just -- not only to build the temple, to offer sacrifices, and to observe other rites, but also to form their life according to what integrity required; to labor not only by external acts to discharge their duties towards their neighbors; but also to cleanse their hearts from all hatred, all cruelty, and all depraved affections. It now follows --

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