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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 1:7-11

7. Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,

7. Die vicesima quarta undecimi mensis, hic est mensis Sebath, anno secundo Darii, fuit sermo Iehovae ad Zachariam, filium Berechiae, filii Addo (vel, Iddo,) Prophetae, (vel, Prophetam; sed melius quadrat accusativus,) dicendo,

8. I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.

8. Vidi nocte, et ecce vir equitans super equum rufum, (vel, rubicundum,) et ipse stabat inter myrtos quae erant in profundo: post eum equi rufi, (vel, rubicundi, idem est nomen,) varii, (vel, medii coloris,) et albi.

9. Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be

9. Et dixi, Qui isti, Domine mi? Et dixit mihi Angelus qui loquebatur mecum, Ego ostendam tibi quinam isti sint.

10. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.

10. Et respondit vir qui stabat inter myrtos et dixit, Hi sint quos misit Iehova ad perambulandum in terra.

11. And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.

11. Et responderunt Angelo Iehovae qui stabat inter myrtos et dixerunt, Perambulavimus in terra, et ecce tota terra quiescit et transquilla est.

Here is related a second prophecy, connected with a vision. At the beginning God alone spoke and gave commission to his Prophet to reprove the Jews: he now confirms the prediction as to the reduction of the city; for to the word is added a vision, which is, as we have seen elsewhere, a sort of seal. As the vision is obscure it may be variously explained, but I shall endeavor to accommodate it, without any refinements, to our use; and so no ambiguity will remain, provided we seek to be soberly and moderately wise, that is, provided we aim at no more than what edification requires.

The Prophet says, that a vision was given him; and he saw a horseman among the myrtles sitting on a red horse; and with him there were horses red, variegated and white, and having no doubt riders. So I understand the passage; for extremely gross is the idea that the horses spoke. There were then, as it were, a troop of horsemen; but the Prophet says, that one appeared as the chief leader, who was accompanied by others. In the meantime an angel stood at the side of the Prophet, who led him, and showed to him his concern for the holy city and the chosen people. He then adds, that these horsemen had returned from an expedition; for they had been sent to review the whole world and its different parts. He therefore says, that they had returned from their journey, and also that the whole earth was quiet, that men enjoyed peace and tranquillity everywhere. At length he adds, that the angel of God cried out, How long, Jehovah, wilt thou not show mercy to Jerusalem? For the angel, touched with grief on hearing that all the heathens were enjoying rest, expostulates with God; for it seemed a very unbecoming and strange thing that the faithful alone should be oppressed with adversities, while others lived in peace and enjoyed their pleasures. There follows at length an answer from God, as we shall presently see.

But let us now enquire the Prophet's design. I regard this as the object -- that horsemen were presented to the Prophet, that he might know that God does not remain shut up in heaven and neglect the affairs of men; but that he has, as it were, swift horses, so that he knows what things are everywhere carried on. As then kings having horses at command, send their riders here and there, and bid them soon to return to them that they may know what to do; so the Prophet ascribes here to God the character of a chief sovereign, who inquires respecting all the affairs of men. It is indeed certain, that God receives no information from angels, for nothing is hid from him: nay, all things were fully known to him before he created angels. God, therefore, needs no such helps in order to know what is going on from the rising to the setting sun; but such a mode of speaking often occurs in scripture; and it is a common thing, that God assumes the character of man in order that he may more familiarly instruct us. Let us then especially bear in mind, that the riders who appeared to the Prophet were angels, who are ever ready to serve God. And they were sent here and there, not that they might declare to God any thing unknown to him, but that we may believe that God cares for human affairs; and that though angels appear not to us they are always engaged, and survey the world, so that nothing is done without the knowledge and will of God. This is one thing.

The Prophet says also, that the vision was given him in the night: he refers no doubt to what actually took place, and also to the manner in which he was taught; for though the vision was not given in vain, yet God meant that it should not be plain, in order that he might give by little and little a glimpse of hope to the Jews. As then God did not intend to exhibit in full light what he afterwards in due time taught them, the vision appeared in the night. And to the same purpose is what he says respecting the angels, that they were in a dark or deep place, and that they were among the myrtles. For to consider what is here said allegorically seems to me frivolous. I will, therefore, not refinedly discuss here the nature of myrtles: but as we know that the trees are dark and afford a thick shade, God intended, I have no doubt, by the sight of them, to produce an effect on the Prophet's mind, so that he might understand that the prophecy was yet obscure, and that the time for a plain and clear revelation was not come. There were then horsemen among the myrtles, that is, under these dark and shady trees; and also in a deep place and in a thick shade. We see how aptly these things correspond. Some think that by their colors is designated the state of the people, being that of sorrow and of joy; for though quietness in part was restored to the people, yet much darkness remained and much perplexity in their affairs: but as this idea is probable, I do not reject it, provided we retain what I have stated, that the obscurity of the Prophecy is noted by the deep valley and the myrtles.

There was one more eminent than the rest, and in this there is nothing unusual; for when God sends forth a company of angels, he gives the lead to some one: and this is the reason why one is described here as more illustrious than all the others. If we regard this angel to be Christ, the idea is consistent with the common usage of Scripture; for Christ, we know, being the head of angels, ever exercises such dominion over them, that in obeying God they do nothing but under his authority. It may be then that one angel assumed here a pre-eminence over the rest, that the Prophet might think of the Redeemer, who exercises power over angels and the whole Church.

With regard to the different colors the Prophet no doubt understood that they designated the offices allotted to angels, as some convey God's benefits, and others come armed with scourges and swords. For what was the design of the vision in which some riders appeared on white horses, some on red, and some on bay, (or, on those of a mixed color, which is more probable,) except that God intended to show that he sent angels, not only that they might survey the state of things, but that they might also come to chastise men, or to be ministers of his benefits? Besides, it was God's purpose, as I have already hinted, to make it known, that nothing is carried on in this world but what is known by angels, who are his emissaries and agents.

They said that the whole earth was then quiet, that is, the countries bordering on Judea, or the oriental regions. Hence a greater confidence might be entertained by the Jews, for with the prayer of the angel is connected a complaint -- |God of hosts, what is thy purpose?| that is, |Is it thy will that all others should enjoy quietness and peace, while enemies are continually hostile and troublesome to thy people? Is it right that thy Church should be ever miserably distressed, while heathens, who have no care for religion, should be so bountifully favored by thee? Is it not better that the memory of thy name should be extinguished, and that all worship should fall to the ground, than that so unjust a reward should be returned to thy servants?| We now see the design of the vision, even that the Jews might be assured that the distresses which they endured would not be perpetual. How so? because God slept not in heaven, but had his runners; and further, since his will was that all nations should be tranquil, he would no doubt have at length a regard for his own people, so as to deliver them from their troubles.

Though then the vision is obscure, yet its design is not doubtful. Besides, if we are content with what is moderate, there will be found here nothing so perplexing but that we may easily learn at least the import of the Prophecy. But the curiosity of those interpreters has done much harm, who by examining every single syllable have advanced many puerile things. There is therefore nothing better than to attend to the design of the Prophet, and then to regard the circumstances of the time, and thirdly, to follow the analogy between the signs and things signified.

I have said that angels are here introduced, because it would be difficult for us to ascend to the highest glory of God. God, we know, is not constrained by necessity to employ angels as ministers to execute his judgments, to punish men, or to confer benefits: for God himself is sufficient for all these things. Why then does he employ angels and make use of their ministration, if it be superfluous? The obvious answer is this -- as we are prone to unbelief, we ever tremble in dangers, except we know that God is prepared with many forces to help us in time of need. When it is said in Psalm 24 that angels encamp around those who fear God, is it not a much more effectual relief than if it had been simply said that God is our citadel? It is indeed said in many places that God is an unassailable fortress; but as many still continue to doubt when they hear that there is a sufficient defense for them in God, he consults now their weakness, and adds, |I come with a great host; I am not alone your helper, but there is a great army ready at my bidding. Whenever then it may please me a troop of angels, yea, many myriads shall assemble together.| When therefore God thus speaks, it is a mode of teaching suitable to the capacities of men. So now, when Zechariah sees many runners, who have been sent by God to perambulate and to survey the earth, it may with greater certainty be learnt that nothing is carried on without design or by chance in the world, but that all things come before God, and that the manner in which all things occur is set forth by the angels. In the same way is the representation given in the first chapter of Job (Job 1:1) All the sons of God, that is, angels, came before his throne; and also among them Satan came; for though he does not willingly obey God, yet while he perambulates the earth, he at the same time executes God's judgments, though unwillingly. We now then see the reason why God did not himself appear, and testified to the Prophet, that whatever took place among the nations was known to him; but he shows that his runners rode swiftly through the whole earth, and returned afterwards to the heavenly tribunal, and proved that they had carefully performed their office.

Now the Prophet says, that he had this vision in the eleventh month, called Sebat, and on the twenty-fourth day of the month; that is, in the third month after his first Prophecy. He had in the eighth month sharply reproved the Jews: now a consolation is added, lest they should despair, but know that they were still the objects of God's care. And possibly the reproof referred to had been effectual; nay, it is probable, that the Prophet did not labor in vain in exhorting the Jews to true and sincere repentance. When therefore they had given some evidence of religion, we see that God afterwards treated them more kindly, and set before them the hope of a future deliverance.

With regard to the night time, it is of importance to observe, that though God does not always set forth with full clearness his predictions, they are not yet without instruction, provided we be attentive, and provided also we suffer ourselves, while in darkness, to be ruled by the spirit of knowledge. By whatever different means then God may teach his faithful people, he always teaches them something useful, provided they murmur not when any thing is for a time obscure, but wait for the day of full revelation. And this is the design of Paul's admonition, |If ye think otherwise, this also will God reveal to you.| Let us then know that God's manner of teaching is not always the same, but that his teaching is always profitable, provided the faithful retain due moderation and sobriety, and suffer themselves to be guided step by step by God. This observation is to be applied to the whole verse, when it is said, that the horses and the horsemen stood under the myrtles, and also in a low place.

And, then, as to the various colors of the horses, it ought not to be deemed strange, that God should thus allot different offices to angels; for he does not always punish us by the ministry of Satan. He has celestial angels, when it pleases him, as executioners of his vengeance; and he sometimes employs devils for this purpose. However this may be, it is in his power to delegate angels as ministers of his kindness, or to send them to execute his vengeance, so that they appear in red color, or in some other. In conclusion, it ought also to be borne in mind, that angels do stand before the tribunal of God, after having diligently perambulated the earth, not after the manner of men: for it would be gross and puerile to imagine angels sitting on horses, inasmuch as they are spirits who are confined to no certain place; but as we cannot understand, according to our capacities, the celestial mysteries of God, it is necessary that such representations should be set before our eyes. however this may be, it ought to remain a fixed principle, that angels are always employed, for they survey the earth, that nothing may be done or carried on without design; and they are also sent with power and authority, so that they are, as it were, the hand of God: and at one time they execute his judgments, inflict punishments, as it has been said; and at another they come with blessings from God. This then is the meaning as to the horsemen. I cannot proceed farther: the rest I shall defer.

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