16. And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land.
16. Et servabit eos Iehova, Deus ipsorum, in die illa quad gregem populum suum; quia lapides coronae elevati super terram ejus.
He continues the same subject, but uses various figures, that he might more fully confirm what then was incredible. He indeed reminds them that God would not save his people in an ordinary way, such as is common to men. He compares them to sheep, that they might know, as I have said already, that their salvation would come from heaven, as they were themselves weak, and had no strength and no power; for to show this was the object of this comparison. He declares then that the Jews would be saved, because God would supply them with every thing necessary to conquer their enemies; but that he would in a wonderful manner help their weakness, even like a shepherd when he rescues his sheep from the jaws of a wolf. For the sheep, which escapes death by the coming of the shepherd, have no reason to boast of victory, but all the praise is due to the shepherd. So also God says, that it will be his work to deliver the Jews from their enemies.
By saying, his own people, he seems to confine to his elect what appeared too general; for he had said save then will God. It is however certain that the people who were then small, had been cut off, so that the greater part had perished; but at the same time it was true that God was a faithful guardian of his people, for there were then many Israelites, naturally descended from their common father Abraham, who were only in name Israelites.
He then adds another similitude, -- that they would be elevated high, like precious stones in a crown, which are borne on the head of a king, as though he had said, that they would be a royal priesthood according to what is said in the law. He had said before, They shall subdue the stones, or, with the stones, of a sling. More correct seems to be the opinion of those who read with the stones of a sling, that is, that the Jews would conquer their enemies, not with swords, nor with arrows, but only with stones, in the same manner as Goliath was slain by David. Though not given to warlike arts, nor exercised in the use of arms, they would yet, as the Prophet shows, be conquerors; for their slings would be sufficient for the purpose of slaying their enemies. But some think that heathens and the unbelieving are compared to the stones of the sling, because they are worthless and of no account; which at the first sight seems ingenious, but it is a strained view. It is not at the same time improper to consider that there is here an implied contrast between the stones of the sling, and the stones of a crown; the Jews would cast stones from their slings to destroy their enemies, and they themselves would be precious stones. The Prophet seems here to represent the holy land as the chief part of the whole world. Elevated, he says, shall be the stones of crown over the land of God. Had he said over Egypt or over Assyria, the connection of the clauses would not have been so appropriate; but he names Judea, as the head of the world, and that the Jews, when prosperous and happy in it, would be like the stones of a crown, all the parts set in due order. In short, he shows, that the favor of God alone and his blessing, would be sufficient to render the Jews happy, as they would then excel in honor, enjoy the abundance of all good things, and possess invisible courage to resist all their adversaries.
Let us now enquire when all these things were fulfilled. We have said that Zechariah, by promising fullness to the Jews, gave them no unbridled license to indulge themselves in eating and drinking, but only expressed and extolled, in hyperbolical terms, the immense kindness and bounty of God to them. This is one thing.
But at the same time we must by the way consider another question: He says, that they would be like arrows and swords. Now as they were too much inclined to shed blood, he seems here to excite them in a manner to take vengeance fully on their enemies, which was by no means reasonable. The answer to this is plain -- that the Jews were not to forget what God prescribed in his law: for as when God promised large abundance of wine, and a plentiful provision, he did not recall what he had already commanded -- that they were to practice temperance in eating and drinking; so now when he promises victory over their enemies, he is not inconsistent with himself, nor does he condemn what he had once approved, nor abrogate the precept by which he commanded them, not to exercise cruelty towards their enemies, but to restrain themselves, and to show mercy and kindness. We hence see that we are not to judge from these words what is right for us to do, or how far we may go in taking revenge on enemies; nor to determine what liberty we have in eating and drinking. Such things are not to be learnt from this passage, or from similar passages; for the Prophet here does only set forth the power of God and his bounty towards his people.
Now again it may be asked, when has God fulfilled this, when has he made the Jews far and wide victorious and the destroyers of their enemies? All Christian expositors give us an allegorical explanation, -- that God sent forth his armies when he sent forth Apostles into all parts of the world, who pierced the hearts of men, -- and that he slew with his sword the wicked whom he destroyed. All this is true; but a simpler meaning must in the first place be drawn from the words of the Prophet, and that is, -- that God will render his Church victorious against the whole world. And most true is this; for though the faithful are not furnished with swords or with any military weapons, yet we see that they are kept safe in a wonderful manner under the shadow of God's hand. When adversaries exercise cruelty towards them, we see how God returns their wicked devices on their own heads. In this way is really fulfilled what we read here, -- even that the children of God are like arrows and swords, and that they are also preserved as a flock; for they are too weak to stand their ground, were not the Lord to put forth his power, when he sees them violently assailed by the wicked. There is then no need to turn the Prophet's words to an allegorical meaning, when this fact is evident that God's Church has been kept safe, because God has ever blunted all the weapons of enemies; yea, he has often by a strong hand discharged his arrows and vibrated his sword. For when Alexander the Great had passed over the sea, when he had marched through the whole circuit of the Mediterranean sea, when he had filled all the country with blood, he came at length to Judea; how was it that he left it without committing any slaughter, without exercising any cruelty, except that God restrained him? It will not weary you, if I relate what we read in Josephus; and it is true I have no doubt. He says, that when Alexander came, he was full of wrath, and breathing threats against those Jews by whom he had not been assisted, and who seemed to have despised his authority: after having thus given vent to his rage, he at length came into the presence of Jadeus the high-priest, and seeing him adorned with a mitre, he fell down and humbly asked pardon; and while all were amazed his answer was -- that God had appeared to him in that form while he was yet in Greece, and encouraged him to undertake that expedition. When therefore he saw the image or figure of the God of heaven in that sacerdotal dress, he was constrained to give glory to God. Thus far Josephus, whose testimony in this instance has never been suspected.
There is then no reason for any one to weary himself in finding out the meaning of the Prophet, since this fact is clear enough -- that God's elect have been victorious, because God has ever sent forth his arrows and vibrated his sword. At the same time there is another view of this victory; for alien and remote people were subdued by the sword of the Spirit, even by the truth of the gospel: but this is a sense deduced from the other; for when we apprehend the literal meaning of the Prophet, an easy passage is then open to us, by which we may come to the kingdom of Christ. These remarks refer to the abundance of provisions, as well as to the victory over enemies. It now follows --