4. Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter;
4. Sic dicit Iehova, Deus meus, Pasce gregem occisionis.
5. Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not.
5. Qui possident ipsum, occident (hoc est, occidunt) et non peccant; et qui vendit ipsum (gregem, vel, ipsas oves) dicit, Benedictus Iehova, et ditatus sum; et qui pascit eas, non parcit illis.
6. For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them
6. Quia (vel, certe) non parcam amplius incolis terrae, dicit Iehova; et ecce ego tradam (vel, trado, vel, venire faciens) hominem quemque in manum proximi sui, et in manum Regis sui; et conterent terram, et non eripiam e manu eorum.
Here is given a reason why God purposed to deal so severely with his people -- even because their obstinacy deserved no pardon. As then in the beginning of the chapter the Prophet threatened ruin to the Jews, so now he reminds them that their punishment was nigh, and that they could not be more gently treated, because their wickedness was wholly incurable. We now perceive the design of the Prophet; but he charges the Jews especially with ingratitude, because they responded so basely and shamefully to the singular benefits of God.
He says first, that he was bidden to feed the flock destined to the slaughter Now the Prophet does not here relate simply what command he had received from God, but teaches us in general that God had ever performed the office of a good and faithful shepherd towards the Jews. The Prophet then assumes the character of all the shepherds, as though he had said, |There is no reason why this people should plead their ignorance, or attempt to disguise their own fault by other names and various pretences; for God has ever offered them a shepherd, and sent also ministers to guide and rule them: it is not to be ascribed to God that this people has not enjoyed prosperity and happiness.| There is now no need of spending much labor about this verse, as interpreters have done who confine what is here said to Christ alone, as one who had received this office from the Father; for we shall see from the passage itself that the Prophet's words are by them forcibly wrested from their meaning.
Let it then be borne in mind, that his special object is to show -- that God had ever been ready to rule this people, so that he could not have been accused by them of not having done what could have been possibly looked for or expected from a good shepherd. If any one objects and says, that this could have been said in other words, the plain answer is -- that God's perpetual care in his government had been fully shown; for he had not only himself performed the duties and office of a shepherd, but had also at all times set over them ministers, who performed faithfully their work. Since God then had so constantly and sedulously watched over the safety of the people, we see that their ingratitude was wholly proved. And by calling it the flock of slaughter, a reference is made to the time of the Prophet; for the Jews were then as though they had been snatched from the jaws of wolves, having been delivered from exile. They were then as dead sheep, whom the Lord had rescued; and we also know to how many troubles and dangers they had been constantly exposed. And hence appeared more clearly the goodness of God; for he was pleased nevertheless to exercise care over his flock. Then the Prophet enlarges here on God's favor, because he had not despised his sheep though given up to the slaughter. The words might indeed be extended farther, as though the Prophet referred to what had already taken place, and they might thus be applied to many ages; but it seems to me more probable, that he mentions here what belonged to that age. Zechariah then teaches us why God was constrained to adopt extreme severity, even because he had tried all things that might have healed the people, and yet lost all his labor: when their wickedness became wholly incurable, despair as it were at length constrained God to exercise the severity mentioned here. This is, as I think, the meaning of the Prophet.
He afterwards adds another circumstance, which shows still further the wonderful and ineffable goodness of God, -- that he had been a shepherd of a flock, which had not only been harassed by wolves and robbers, but also by its own shepherds. In short, the import of the whole is, -- that though wolves and robbers had ranged with great barbarity among the people, yet God had always been their shepherd.
He then enlarges on the subject and says, that they who possessed them had killed them, so that they spared not. By these words the Prophet shows that the safety of the people had been deemed as nothing by their very leaders: they could not then by any excellence of their own have induced God to show so much kindness to them. But these words ought to be attentively noticed, -- that when the flock was slain, the executioners or butchers themselves had no mercy, for they thought it was a spoil justly due to them. We see how God extols here his own goodness; for he had condescended to defend and rule and feed that people, who were not only despised in the world, but counted as nothing, and the slaughtering of them deemed a lawful prey: they sin not, he says, that is, they are not conscious of exercising any cruelty, -- Why? because they thought that they justly enriched themselves, while they were plundering so wretched a flock. The more base, then, and inexcusable was the ingratitude of the people, when after having been so kindly received and so gently nourished by God, they yet rejected all his favors and suffered not themselves to be governed by his hand. And it is material to observe here, that these contrasts tend greatly to exaggerate the sins of men, and ought to be considered, that God's severity may not be blamed; for we know that many complain when God executes his judgments: they would measure all punishments by their own ideas, and subject God to their own will. In order therefore to check such complaints, the Prophet says, that though the flock was most contemptible, it had not yet been despised by God, but that he undertook the care of it.
The shepherds and masters said, Blessed be Jehovah. We are wont to give thanks to God when we really believe that the blessings we have come from him. The robber who kills an innocent man will not say, |Blessed be God;| for he on the contrary tries to extinguish every remembrance of God, because he has wounded his own conscience. The same may be also said of thieves. Hypocrites often profess the name of God; and they whose trade is cheating ever make a speech of this kind, |By God's grace I have gained so much this year;| that is, after having acquired the property of others by deceit, cheating, and plunder, they give thanks to God! and at the same time they flatter themselves by self-deception, as though all were a lawful prey; for, forsooth! they are not proved guilty before a human tribunal. Now the Prophet here adopts this common mode of speaking, by which men, not conscious of doing wrong, usually testify that their gain is just and lawful.
He then adds, And he who fed then has not spared them. The meaning is, that the people, according to the opinions commonly entertained, were not worthy of mercy and kindness. Hence, as I have said, the wonderful goodness of God shines forth more clearly; for he condescended to take the care of a flock that was wholly despised. Then he says, I will not spare the inhabitants of the land; behold I will deliver, etc. To some it appears that there is here a reason given; for the Jews would have never been thus stripped, had not God been angry with them; as though he had said, that God's vengeance was just, inasmuch as they were thus exposed to such atrocious wrongs. But according to my judgment God simply confirms what we have stated, -- that his future vengeance on the Jews would be most just, because he had in feeding them so carefully labored wholly in vain. For though the Prophet has not as yet expressed what we shall hereafter see respecting their ingratitude, he yet does not break off his discourse without reason, for indignation has ever some warmth in it; he then in the middle of his argument exclaims here, I will not spare; for God had spared the Jews, when yet all men exercised cruelty towards them with impunity; and when they were contemptible in the sight of all, he still had regarded their safety. As then they had been so ungrateful for so many acts of kindness, ought not God to have been angry with them? This is then the reason why the Prophet introduces here in God's name this threatening, Surely I will not spare them; that is, |I have hitherto deferred my vengeance, and have surpassed all men in kindness and mercy; but I have misplaced my goodness, and now there is no reason why I should longer suspend my judgment.| I will spare then no longer the inhabitants of this land
I will give, or deliver, he says, every man into the hand of his friend; as though he had said, |They are no longer sheep, for they will not bear to be ruled by my hand, though they have found me to be the best of shepherds. They shall now tear and devour one another; and thus a horrible dispersion will follow.| Now the Jews ought to have dreaded nothing so much, as to be given up to destroy themselves by mutual slaughter, and thus to rage cruelly against one another and to perish without any external enemy: but yet God declares that this would be the case, and for this reason, because he could not succeed with them, though willing to feed them as his sheep and ready to perform the office of shepherd in ruling them.
He concludes by saying, They shall smite the land, and I will not deliver from their hand. He intimates in the last place that ruin without any remedy was nigh; for he alone was the only deliverer of the people; but now he testifies that their safety would not be the object of his care; for should he see them perishing a hundred times, he would not be moved with pity, nor turn to bring them help, inasmuch as they had precluded all compassion. It now follows --