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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 8:9-11

9. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.

9. Sic dicit Iehova exercituum, Roborentur manus vestrae, qui auditis in diebus his verba haec ex ore Prophetarum, qui (fuerunt) in die quo fundata est domus Iehovae exercituum, et templum extrueretur.

10. For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction: for I set all men every one against his neighbour.

10. Quia ante dies istos merces hominis non fuit, et merces jumenti nulla, et egredienti et venienti nulla pax ab angusta (vel, prae afflictione,) et emisi cunctos homines, quemque in socium suum.

11. But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the LORD of hosts.

11. At nunc non secundum dies superiores ego (agam) cum reliquiis populi hujus (agam non est in contextu, sed supplendum est,) dicit Iehova exercituum.

The Prophet having taught us that God was reconciled to his people, does now seasonably exhort the Jews to prepare themselves for work and strenuously to exert themselves in erecting the temple, and also in building the city: for as we have stated, many were then become slothful, as they thought that they were soon to be destroyed by their enemies, and that what they built with great labor, toil, and expense, would be presently demolished. Hence it was that sloth had crept in, so that many had left off the building both of the temple and of the city: and we have also seen elsewhere, that they were too intent on building their own houses, and at the same time neglected the temple; for each looked to his own private advantage, and also to his own pleasures. The Prophet Haggai sharply reproved this indifference, (Haggai 1:4;) and the Lord clearly showed that he had punished this their sloth; for they preferred their own houses to the temple, and through want of faith trembled, as though their restoration was a mockery. As then the people by their ingratitude had almost wiped away the recollection of their deliverance, the Prophet Haggai severely reproved them; and Zechariah now touches on the same subject.

Hence he says, that before they had begun the work of building the temple, the land was sterile, as though it was cursed by God, and that they were deprived of their hope, and that whatever they attempted proved useless; but that after they had begun, through the encouragement given them by the Prophets, to take courage to build the temple, things changed for the better, and that openly, so that it was easy to conclude, that God had been previously displeased with them, but that now he was favorable, as all things went on prosperously. This change then was a clear token both of God's displeasure and of God's favor; for he had justly chastised his people as long as they were under the influence of unbelief, so as not to proceed with the work of building the temple; and afterwards the favor of God had begun to shine on them, as God gave them abundance of provisions, and proved in various ways that he was now favorable to them. Zechariah therefore mentions these things, that they might proceed more cheerfully with their work, and not provoke God's wrath, which they had previously found to have been so much to their loss, and that they might seek to enjoy his blessing, which was now so manifest before their eyes. This is the import of the whole.

He says, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Strengthened let be your hands. He exhorts them to perseverance: but as men become weak, and many things occur which enfeeble or break down their courage, he uses the word, strengthen; for it is often necessary to gather new strength, and to confirm a pious resolution. Let us now then learn to apply this doctrine to our own benefit, and let us understand what experience sufficiently teaches us, even this -- that our hands, though at first well prepared, are yet soon relaxed, and as it were loosed, and even entirely fail, unless new strength be now and then attained; and that this is effected when we are animated by God's word, and rise superior to the trials which enfeeble us. And Zechariah will presently inform us whence this strength was to be sought, even from the promises which they had already heard from the Prophets; for he would have in vain exhorted them to persevere, had not the ground of confidence been mentioned. For when God is silent, our minds, though before abundantly ready and willing, must languish, and at length wholly fail.

We then see that there can be no courage in men, unless God supports them by his word, so that they may recover their lost strength and regain their alacrity. Had the Prophet only bidden them to take courage, they might have replied, that there was nothing in their circumstances to encourage them; but when the word of God was set before them, every excuse was taken away; and they were now to gird up the loins, and boldly to fight, inasmuch as God supplied them with weapons.

Be strong, he says, ye who hear in these days these words from the mouth of the Prophets. Though Zechariah is not often concise in his words, but in many parts diffuse, yet he is so here, and the whole verse is very emphatical; for after having said that they were not destitute of God's promises, he adds, |in these days,| and also |these words.| He intimates that they were not only taught a general truth, that they were to render obedience, but that God himself would be their leader to direct their steps and to show them the way: in a word, he omits nothing to enable them to proceed without difficulty with the work which they had begun. There is then an emphasis intended by the demonstrative, |these,| |these;| for the Prophet intimates that God was continually speaking to them, and that he announced not only a general truth, but specific words, by which they might guide their feet and their hands in every action. And he says, that those words were heard from the mouth of the Prophets, for God intended honor to be done to his servants; and it is, as it has been often stated, a true test of faith, when God descends not himself from heaven, or does not appear to us in a visible form, but makes use of men as his ministers. Yet Zechariah briefly intimates, that the Prophets are not the authors of the promises, which are necessary to raise up, support, and stimulate our minds; for the Lord only employs their service; and this is what he means by the word mouth

He now adds, Who were in that day in which was founded the house of Jehovah, in order to build the temple. Not much time had elapsed since they had begun again to build the temple, and the foundations had been laid; but the work had been discontinued through the unbelief of them all, and also through the private regard of each to his own interest. For as they were in suspense and doubtful, there arose sloth and indifference, and avarice possessed them, so that they despised the temple of God. But he says now that during that short time God often spoke to them by his Prophets with the view of correcting their delay and tardiness, for the Prophet mentions here as it were but one day, for the purpose of expressing how short the time had been. Less excusable then was their sloth, since God daily spoke to them and confirmed by new Prophets what the former ones had said.

It follows, For before these days there was no hire for man, and no hire for beast, no peace to passengers, because I had sent forth all men, each one against his friend. The Prophet mentions here, as I have already said, evidences of God's curse, by which the Jews might have learnt that he was displeased with their neglect in disregarding the building of the temple, for while omitting that they paid attention to their domestic affairs. He therefore reminds them of what might have made them to fear, lest they should go on still to provoke God; for they had been taught, to their great loss, not to excite in this manner his displeasure: and Zechariah, no doubt, as well as Haggai and Malachi, had often addressed the people on this subject; for we see how prone is the disposition of us all to relapse into forgetfulness when God in any measure relaxes in his discipline. We presently shake off every fear when exempt from evils. This is the reason why it is needful for us to be often reminded of those judgments of God which we have experienced, according to what is done here by Zechariah.

Before these days, he says, there was no hire for man, and no hire for beast; that is, there was no profit from the labor of men or of beasts. He takes it as granted, that men were not tardy in their work, and that beasts performed their labors, but that no fruit appeared. And whence was it the labor of men and of beasts was unprofitable, except from God's curse, as the law testifies? (Deuteronomy 28:8.) For when the Prophets speak of God's curse they refer to the law, and only apply to their present purpose what is stated generally in the law. As then God declares in the law that he will bless the work of the hands, Zechariah draws this inference that God was displeased when men and beasts toiled laboriously without any advantage.

He then adds, There was no peace. When men labor in vain, thirst and want of all things must follow; for though the labor of man, we know, is of itself of no value, yet when blessed by God it is the means of promoting fertility, so that the earth may supply us with food. On the other hand, when the labor of man is barren, even the earth itself refuses to bring forth fruit. It was then no light calamity when God visited the people with poverty and famine. But another evil is added, no less dreadful and even more grievous that the land was so harassed by enemies that no travelling was safe. Hence he says, that there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in; that is, there was no free or peaceable travelling, but they were exposed to pillage and plunder. In a word, Zechariah teaches us here, that the Jews were under a curse both within and without, for the land disappointed those who cultivated it, as it yielded no fruit, and then they were exposed to hostile assaults.

With regard to the words, mn htsr, men etsar, some render them, on account of distress, |there was no peace on account of distress.| But we may retain the proper meaning of the preposition mn, mem, |there was no peace from distress;| that is, there were none safe from inconvenience and molestation.

The reason is added, Because God had sent forth all men, each one against his neighbor. The Prophet designedly subjoined this, that the Jews might know that these evils could not be ascribed to fortune, as though men did rise up thoughtlessly one against another. Hence he reminds them that their quietness was disturbed by the just and hidden judgment of God, for he can turn as he pleases the hearts of men; he now inclines them to humanity or to mercy, and then he turns them to madness and ferocity. That the Jews might know that they had to do with God, the Prophet declares here that men had been sent forth, that they might mutually rage and assault one another.

Hence they who use the word permit, not only take away from what the Prophet means, but wholly pervert his doctrine and extinguish its light altogether: for God does not say here that he was still when the Jews ill-treated one another; but he meant to have this attributed to his judgment. For when almost the whole world was hostile to a few men, and those related to one another, they ought surely to have been united among themselves; for necessity conciliates even the most alienated, and even pacifies those who have been previously the most violent enemies. Since, then, the Jews were assailed by foreign enemies, they ought to have been friends among themselves, or at least to have been so softened as not to be so hostile towards one another. As then they raged against their own bowels, so that no one spared his own friends, God more fully shows by this circumstance that he was the author of these confusions. And how God kindles the hearts of men to ferocity, and is yet free from all blame, has been explained elsewhere. God indeed executes his righteous judgments, when he sets men one against the other; and if we inquire into the cause and the end, we shall find that men are in this way justly punished. As then in God's judgments there ever shines forth the highest equity, there is no reason for men to try to implicate him in their own perdition, or to devolve on him a part of the blame. God then justly excites the hearts of men into madness, and yet men themselves bear the whole blame, though God draws them here and there against their will, and makes use of them as his instruments; for the hidden purpose of God does not excuse them, while nothing is less their object than to obey his word, though they are guided by his hidden operation. We know that no work pleases God, but when there is a willing obedience, which none of the reprobate ever render; and we also know that all works are to be judged according to the end designed. We must therefore consider what was the reason that God thus set men against one another, and what end he had in view. But we have elsewhere discussed this subject at large.

Let us then now, in short, bear this in mind, that the Jews mutually harassed and distressed one another, not by chance, but because the Lord, who was their enemy and whose wrath they had provoked, had sent them forth as enemies among themselves.

He afterwards adds, But now, not according to former days, shall I be to the remnant of this people, saith Jehovah of hosts. Zechariah now reminds them that things had changed for the better, as it was evident that God was propitious to them. And if the cause of this change be asked, the answer is, the building of the temple. If nothing had been said by the Prophets, the Jews might have only conjectured, but every doubt had been removed; for God had threatened then with punishment which he afterwards inflicted, and then he exhorted them to repentance, and said that he would be reconciled to them: when the Jews rightly considered these things, they had no need of having recourse to conjectures. It was indeed fully evident that God regarded them with favor, and that the fruits of his favor were before their eyes; and they were thus encouraged to proceed with the work of building the temple. It now follows --

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