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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 1:18-21

18. Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns.

18. Et sustuli oculos meos, et vidi, et ece quatuor cornua.

19. And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.

19. Et dixi ad angelum, qui loquebatur mecum, Qui isti? (hoc est, Qui sunt isti?) et dixit ad me, Haec sunt cornua quae ventilarunt Iehudah, Israel, et Ierusalem. (Ego conjungam etiam proximos versus)

20. And the LORD shewed me four carpenters.

20. Et ostendit mihi Iehova quatuor fabros.

21. Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it.

21. Et dixi, Cur isti? quid isti veniunt ad faciendum? (ad verbum, hoc est, Quorsum isti veniunt ut faciant?) et dixit dicendo, Haec sunt cornua quae ventilarunt Iehudah, ita ut nemo tolleret caput suum: et veniunti isti (fabri scilicet) ad terrendum (addo, cornua, quoniam relativum ['vtm] obscurum per se esset,) ut projiciant cornua gentium, quae sustulerunt cornu terram Iehudah, ut ventilarent eam.

Now follows another vision, by which God confirms what he had before testified to his Prophet. He then says, that though enemies should on every side rise up against the Church and cause it many troubles, there was yet a remedy in God's hand, as he would break in pieces all horns by his hammers. He compares the Gentiles, who had been hostile to the Jews, to horns; and he afterwards compares to workmen the other enemies, whose hand and labor God would use for the purpose of breaking down the efforts of all those who would be troublesome to the Church. The import of the whole then is, -- that though the Church would not be exempt and free from troubles, and those many, yet God would have in his hand those remedies by which he would check all the assaults of the wicked, however impetuously and violently they may rage against his miserable Church.

But let us see in the first place why the Prophet mentions four horns. The Jews refer to the Assyrians and the Babylonians, to the Persian, the Grecians, and the Romans; because we find in other places, and Daniel especially shows very clearly, (Daniel 2:32,) that there were to be four principal monarchies, by which God intended to give clear and memorable examples of his judgments. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, speaks here of the Moabites and of the Syrians, and of other nations, as well as of the Assyrians or Chaldees. They are then mistaken, as I think, who suppose that these four monarchies are intended here: but Zechariah says that they were four horns, because they arose from the four quarters of the world; for we know that the Jews were not harassed only on one side, but on the east and the west, on the north and the south. Since then enemies on every side joined their strength and their forces against the Jews, so that there was a cause for trembling from the four quarters of the world, that is, from all places around them, the Prophet says, that they had been scattered by four horns

This view, however, seems still frigid, because it was not necessary for the Prophet to state what was well known to all: but God intended to show that the nations which had been inimical and hostile to the Jews, had done nothing but through his hidden impulse, in order that the Jews might understand that these were so many scourges by which he purposed to chastise them.

But we must join the latter part, -- that God showed also to the Prophet four smiths, for these two visions are connected together. Whosoever then takes only the first part, acts very absurdly, for the meaning of the prophecy will not be thus evident. If then we would not mutilate what is connected, we must not separate what is added respecting the four smiths. Inasmuch then as the Jews had been on every side oppressed, God shows that he has remedies enough, and even from various quarters. The Prophet had seen four horns; he now sees four smiths, that is, he is made to know that God can immediately find means to check all disorders and tumults; for he can beat as it were on an anvil these horns, and break in pieces those which had previously scattered the Jews. The same view then is to be taken of the number four as in the former instance: for as the Chaldeans had raged against the Jews, so the Lord shows that he had enemies ready at hand, as he had already in part made it evident; for how was it that the Persian and Medes had so suddenly taken possession of Babylon, had they not been workmen whom God had employed to strike down the Babylonian horn? And whence was it that the Syrians, the Egyptians, and other nations had been made prostrate? It was because they were horns. But the Lord broke down the ferocity of so many nations by his many workmen, for he employed these as though they were hired and ready to do his service. We now apprehend the real object of the Prophet.

But though the Prophet intended by this prophecy to encourage and animate to patience his own nation, as the Spirit of God had given him this office; yet there is here set before us by the Lord as in a mirror, the real condition of the Church at this day. Let us not then wonder if the world rage on every side against the Church and if storms and tempests arise from the east as well as from the west: nor is it a new thing that many enemies from various parts unite together; and that God's Church should thus have to bear many assaults. This is one thing. In the meantime let this be our consolation, -- that God has many smiths at hand. Very apposite is the Prophet's metaphor; for the hardiness of the horns was formidable LO the Jews; but the Prophet intimates that there is hardness in the hammers, capable of breaking in pieces all horns. God then, though we may be struck by our enemies, will find smiths to break them in pieces; and this indeed is what we have found by experience. How comes it, that the small number of those who purely worship God continue to exist, notwithstanding the rage of enemies, and in spite of so many consultations and devices? For what do all monarchies desire more, or with greater avidity, than to extinguish the memory of the gospel? If then we enquire, what is the condition of the whole world at this day, we shall find that there is hardly a city or a people, or a monarch, or even one of the least princes, whose race is not exhibited against the Church. How then comes it, that they do not put forth their strength and demolish the Church, which by one breath might a hundred times fall to the ground? How is this, except that God by his handlers breaks the horns, and that by means of smiths?

And who are these smiths? They are also horns; for they all wish to destroy as much as they can the Church; but God does not permit them; on the contrary he excites them to mutual wars to destroy one another. Though then all these are horns, ready to assault the Church, and though it appears evident from the comparison that they are as it were furious and vicious bulls, and as much as they can unite together to scatter the Church, yet God gives hammers to two or three of them, and bids them to check the ferocity of their associates. While all these are intent on striking and dispersing the Church by their horns, the Lord calls them to a different work, and as I have said, bids them to be smiths that they may strike and break in pieces these horns, even their associates, with whom they had previously wickedly conspired. And it is certainly a wonderful instance of God's providence, that amidst so violent and turbulent commotions the Church should take breath, though under the cross; for except these hammers had broken the horns, we must have been pierced through, not only a hundred but a thousand times, and had been dashed into fragments. But God has turned aside their strokes and assaults by his hammers, and, as I have said, has employed his enemies for this purpose.

We now then see that this prophecy was not only useful in the age of Zechariah, but that it has been so in all ages, and that it ought not to be confined to the ancient people, but extended to the whole body of the Church.

But the Prophet, by saying that he asked the angel, sets before us an example of a truly teachable disposition. Though the Lord then may not immediately explain to us his messages, there is yet no reason for us in disdain to reject what is obscure, as we see to be done by many in our day; for when any thing seems ambiguous to them, they immediately reject it, and also complain that God's word is extremely difficult; and such blasphemies are uttered by many at this day. But the Prophet, though perplexed, did not yet morosely reject what God had showed; on the contrary, he asked the angels. Though the angels are not nigh us, or at least do not appear to us in a visible form, yet God can by other means afford us help when there is any perplexity in his word: he promises to give us the spirit of understanding and wisdom, whenever there is need; and we also know that the preaching of the word and the sacraments are helps to lead us to himself. If then we neglect not these helps which God affords us, and especially if we ask him to guide us by his Spirit, there will certainly be nothing obscure or intricate in the prophecies, which he will not, as far as it is necessary, make known to us. He does not indeed give the Spirit in an equal degree to all; but we ought to feel assured, that though prophecies may be obscure, there will yet be a sure profit derived, if we be teachable and submissive to God; for we find that Zechariah was not deprived of his request, as the angel gave him an immediate answer.

It must also be observed, that in one place he calls him Jehovah, and in another angel; and indeed he speaks thus indiscriminately of one and the same person. It hence follows that God appeared among the angels. But we must remember what I have already said, that this chief angel was the Mediator and the Head of the Church; and the same is Jehovah, for Christ, as we know, is God manifested in the flesh. There is then no wonder that the Prophet should indiscriminately call him angel and Jehovah, he being the Mediator of the Church, and also God. He is God, being of the same essence with the Father; and Mediator, having already undertaken his Mediatorial office, though not then clothed in our flesh, so as to become our brother; for the Church could not exist, nor be united to her God without a head. We hence see that Christ, as to his eternal essence, is said to be God, and that he is called an angel on account of his office, that is, of a Mediator.

The meaning is now evident: God declares that the horns were those which dispersed or scattered Judah as well as Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Israel: but that he had as many smiths, who would by force and by hammers, shatter these horns in pieces, though for a time they would greatly harass the Church. It must be also noticed that horn is to be taken differently when the number is changed: the Gentiles are called horns in the plural number to show their hardness or their strength; and they are then said to lift up their horn in the singular number to show that they ferociously exerted all their power to lay prostrate or to scatter the people of God. Then follows --

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