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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 9:9

9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

9. Exulta valde filia Sion, jubila fila Ierusalem: Ecce, rex tuus veniet tibi, justus et servatus ipse (vel, idem,) pauper, et equitans super asinum, et super pullum filium asinarum.

The Prophet here briefly shows the manner in which the Church was to be restored; for a king from the tribe and family of David would again arise, to restore all things to their ancient state. And this is the view given everywhere by the Prophets; for the hope of the ancient people, as our hope, was founded on Christ. Inasmuch then as things were as yet in a decayed state among the Jews, Zechariah here testifies that God had not in vain formerly spoken so often by his servants concerning the advent of a Redeemer, but that a firm hope was to be entertained, until the prophecies were in due time fulfilled. As then Zechariah has been hitherto speaking of the prosperous and happy state of the Church, he now confirms what he had said; and this was especially necessary, for they could not, as I have already said, have raised up their minds so as to feel confidence as to their salvation, without having a Mediator set before them. But as the faithful were then in great grief and sorrow, Zechariah here exhorts them to perseverance: for by bidding them to rejoice greatly, and even to shout for joy, he no doubt intimates, that though grief and sorrow took fast hold on their hearts, they ought yet to strive manfully, so as to receive the favor of God; for they must have a hundred times succumbed under their evils, had they not Christ before their eyes; not indeed in a carnal manner, but in the mirror of the word; as the faithful see in that what is far distant and even hidden from them.

We now then understand, first, why the Prophet here makes such a sudden reference to Christ; and secondly, why he does not simply exhort the faithful to rejoice, but encourages them greatly to exult as though they were already in a safe and most happy condition.

By the word king, the Prophet intimates, that except they thought God unfaithful in his promises, they were to entertain hope, until the kingdom of David, then apparently fallen, arose again. As God then would have himself acknowledged faithful, and his adoption counted fixed and ratified in the Messiah, it is no wonder that the Prophet now briefly refers to a king; for this mode of speaking was well known by the people. And we have also seen elsewhere, that when the Prophets speak of the safety of the Church, they mention a king, because the Lord designed to gather again the dispersed Church under one head, even Christ. And no doubt there would ever remain a dreadful dispersion, were not Christ the bond of union. He then says that a king would come. But he speaks not as of a king unknown; he only reminds them that God would be true and faithful to his promises. Now since the whole law, and adoption, must have vanished away, except Christ came, his coming ought to have been patiently waited for.

Further, that God's children might be more confirmed, he says also that this king would come to the people, the daughter of Sion, as though he had said, that God, for the sake of the whole Church, had fixed the royal throne in the family of David: for if the king was to come, that he might indulge in his own triumphs, and be contented with pomps and pleasures, it would have been but a small and wholly barren consolation: but as God in determining to send the Messiah, provided for the safety of the whole Church, which he had promised to do, the people might here derive solid confidence. It is not then a matter of small moment, when the Prophet teaches us, that the king would come to Sion and to Jerusalem; as though he had said, |This king shall not come for his own sake like earthly kings, who rule according to their own caprice, or for their own advantage:| but he reminds us, that his kingdom would be for the common benefit of the whole people, for he would introduce a happy state.

He afterwards states what sort of king he was to be. He first names him just, and then preserved or saved. As to the word, just, it ought, I think, to be taken in an active sense, and so the word which follows: Just then and saved is called the king of the chosen people, for he would bring to them righteousness and salvation. Both words depend on this clause, -- that there would come a king to Sion. If he came privately for himself, he might have been for himself just and saved, that is, his righteousness and salvation might have belonged to himself or to his own person: but as he came for the sake of others, and has been for them endued with righteousness and salvation; then the righteousness and salvation of which mention is made here, belong to the whole body of the Church, and ought not to be confined to the person of the king. Thus is removed every contention, with which many have foolishly, or at least, very inconsiderately, wearied themselves; for they have thought that the Jews cannot be otherwise overcome, and that their perverseness cannot be otherwise checked, than by maintaining, that nvs, nusho, must be taken actively; and they have quoted some passages of Scripture, in which a verb in Niphal is taken in an active sense. But what need there is of undertaking such disputes, when we may well agree on the subject? I then concede to the Jews, that Christ is saved or preserved, and that he is said to be so by Zechariah.

But we must see what this salvation is which belongs to Christ. This we may gather from what is said by the Prophet. We are not then to contend here about words, but to consider what the subject is, that is, that a just and saved king comes to his chosen: and we know that Christ had no need of salvation himself. As then he was sent by the Father to gather a chosen people, so he is said to be saved because he was endued with power to preserve or save them. We then see that all controversy is at an end, if we refer those two words to Christ's kingdom, and it would be absurd to confine them to the person of one man, for the discourse is here concerning a royal person; yea, concerning the public condition of the Church, and the salvation of the whole body. And certainly when we speak of men, we say not that a king is safe and secure, when he is expelled from his kingdom, or when his subjects are disturbed by enemies, or when they are wholly destroyed. When therefore a king, deprived of all authority, sees his subjects miserably oppressed, he is not said to be saved or preserved. But the case of Christ, as I have said, is special; for he does not exercise dominion for his own sake, but for the preservation of his whole people. Hence with regard to grammar, I can easily allow that Christ is called just and saved, passively; but as to the matter itself, he is just with reference to his people, and also saved or preserved, for he brings with him salvation to the lost; for we know that the Jews were then almost in a hopeless state.

He however at the same time adds, that the king would be saved, not because he would be furnished with arms and forces, or that he would defend his people after the manner of men; for he says, that he would be poor He must then be otherwise preserved safe than earthly princes are wont to be, who fill their enemies with fear, who fortify their borders, prepare an army, and set up every defense to ward off assaults. Zechariah teaches us, that Christ would be otherwise preserved, as he would prove superior to his enemies through a divine power. As then he is poor, he must be exposed to all kinds of injuries; for we see, that when there is no earthly fortress, all the wicked immediately fly together as it were to the prey. If Christ then is poor, he cannot preserve his own people, nor can he prosper in his kingdom. It hence follows, that he must be furnished with celestial power, in order to continue himself safe, and in order to prevent harm to his Church; and this is what Zechariah will presently tell us, and more clearly express. It is now sufficient briefly to state his object.

He afterwards adds, Riding on an ass, the colt, the foal of an ass Some think that the ass is not mentioned here to denote poverty, for they who excelled in power among the people were then in the habit of riding on asses. But it seems to me certain, that the Prophet added this clause to explain the word ny, oni, poor; as though he had said, that the king of whom he spoke would not be distinguished by a magnificent and splendid appearance like earthly princes, but would appear in a sordid or at least in an ordinary condition, so as not to differ from the humblest and lowest of the people. He then bids the faithful to raise up their eyes to heaven, in order to come to the true knowledge of Christ's kingdom, and to feel assured that righteousness and salvation are to be expected from him. How so? Because he will be accompanied with nothing that may strike men with fear, but will serve as an humble and obscure individual. We may also here add, that righteousness and salvation must be understood according to the character of Christ's kingdom; for as the kingdom of Christ is not temporal or what passes away, we conclude that the righteousness he possesses is to be perpetual, together with the salvation which he brings. But I am not disposed ingeniously to speak here of the righteousness of faith; for I think, on the contrary, that by the word is meant here a right order of things, as all things were then among the people in a state of confusion; and this might be easily proved by many passages of Scripture.

The sum of the whole is, that the predictions by which God gave to his chosen people a hope of redemption were not vain or void; for at length in due time Christ, the son of David, would come forth, -- secondly, that this king would be just, and saved or preserved; for he would restore things into order which were in a disgraceful state of confusion, -- and thirdly, he adds, that this king would be poor; for he would ride on an ass, and would not appear in great eminence, nor be distinguished for arms, or for riches, or for splendor, or for number of soldiers, or even for royal trappings which dazzle the eyes of the vulgar: he shall ride on an ass

This prophecy we know was fulfilled in Christ; and even some of the Jews are constrained to confess that the Prophet's words can be justly applied to none else. Yet they do not acknowledge as the Christ of God the Son of Mary; but they think that the Prophet speaks of their imaginary Messiah. Now we, who are fully persuaded and firmly maintain that the Christ promised has appeared and performed his work, do see that it has not been said without reason that he would come poor and riding on an ass. It was indeed designed that there should be a visible symbol of this very thing; for he mounted an ass while ascending into Jerusalem a short time before his death. It is indeed true, that the Prophet's words are metaphorical: when he says, Come shall a king, riding on an ass, the words are figurative; for the Prophet means, that Christ would be as it were an obscure person, who would not make an appearance above that of the common people. That this is the real meaning is no doubt true. But yet there is no reason why Christ should not afford an example of this in mounting an ass.

I will adduce a similar instance: it is said in the twenty second Psalm, They have cast lots on my garments.' The metaphor there is no doubt apparent, which means that David's enemies divided his spoils. He therefore complains that those robbers, by whom he had been unjustly treated, had deprived him of all that he had: and fulfilled has this been in a literal manner, so that the most ignorant must acknowledge that it has not in vain been foretold. We now then understand how well do these things agree -- that the Prophet speaks metaphorically of the humble appearance of Christ; and yet that the visible symbol is so suitable, that the most ignorant must acknowledge that no other Christ but he who has already appeared is to be expected.

I omit many frivolous things, which in no degree tend to explain the Prophet's meaning, but even pervert it, and destroy faith in prophecy: for some think that Christ rode on an ass, and also on a colt, because he was to govern the Jews, who had been previously accustomed to bear the yoke of the law, and that he was also to bring the Gentiles to obedience, who had been hitherto unnameable. But these things are very frivolous. It is enough for us to know what the Prophet means. It afterwards follows --

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