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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Zechariah 11:17

17. Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.

17. Heus pastor inutilis! deserens gregem! gladius super brachium ejus, et super oculum dextrum ejus; brachium ejus arescendo arescet, et oculus dexter ejus contrahendo contrahetur, (alii obscurando obscurabitur.)

In this verse the Prophet teaches us, that though God would inflict a deserved punishment on the Jews, yet the shepherds themselves would not escape his vengeance; and thus he reminds them, that even in such a confused and depressed state of things, he would still in some degree remember his covenant. He addresses the Shepherds themselves, for he speaks not of one, but of the whole number, as it has already been stated.

Woe to the baseless shepherd, he says; the word 'lyl, alil, means in Hebrew a thing of nought, and hence idols were called 'lylym, alilim, nothings; |Those useless shepherds,| he says, |who forsake the flock.| He again shows by an explicit term, that those whom he called shepherds were not worthy of so honorable a title. He then only concedes the name, for a shepherd who is not solicitous for the safety of his flock, clearly proves that he is really no shepherd. He then denounces on him a punishment, A sword, he says, on his right arm and on his right eye! By the sword he means any kind of punishment, by the arm is to be understood strength, and by the eye prudence. He means, |God will punish thee both in soul and body, for his curse shall be on thy strength and on thine understanding.| Hence he says, Dry up shall his arm. This seems not indeed to correspond with the metaphor of the sword, but it matters not, for the Prophet, as we have said, includes under that word every kind of punishment. Dry up then shall his arm, that is, all its vigor shall cease, so as to become like a piece of decayed wood; and his right eye, the soundness of his mind or his right understanding, shall by contracting be contracted; some read, shall be darkened; but the verb properly signifies, to wrinkle, as it appears from other places, and I can find no better way of expressing its meaning than by saying that the eye would be contracted.

I have briefly explained the object of the Prophet, even that God would so punish the wickedness of the people, as not to allow those shepherds to escape whom he would employ as instruments in executing his vengeance. For though they were under the direction of divine power, we must yet hold this principle, that they had nothing in common with God; for mere ambition, avarice, and cruelty instigated them; and nothing was farther from their purpose than to obey God: but he extorted service from the unwilling and even the ignorant -- for what end? that he might render to the ungrateful, the wicked, and the perverse, in their own sinful ways, the reward which they deserved. We then see that the design of God's vengeance is just; and we also see that the instruments he employs are ungodly: there is therefore no reason for them to think that they shall be unpunished, because they accomplish God's purpose, for they do not intend any such thing.

We must also bear in mind, that when the extreme rigour of God prevails, there still remains some evidence of his favor, for some seed, though few in number, is still perpetuated; for the Church is never so completely abolished as not to leave any remnants, for whose safety God is pleased to provide when he executes his vengeance, inasmuch as he stretches forth his hand at the same time against the ministers he has employed, because they had cruelly abused their power. So also at this day the milted bishops shall be made to know how precious to God is the safety of his Church; for though almost all the people and almost every individual are worthy of the most tyrannical cruelty, yet we know that some are found in that labyrinth for whom God has a care. Though then they who at this day possess power under the Papacy think themselves innocent, while they are robbers and wolves, they shall yet find that God is a righteous judge, who will visit their abominable cruelty: for the disorder of the Church is not its destruction, as God ever preserves some remnant.

We also see that the whole strength of men depends on the grace of God; and farther, that a sound mind proceeds from his Spirit: for since it is he who takes away from men both their strength and a right judgment, we hence conclude that to give these things is also in his power. Let men then know that in order to possess due courage and strength, they are to rely on the hidden power of God; and let them also know that in order to discern what is useful and profitable, they must be governed by his Spirit; and let those especially who bear rule be assured of this, that when they exercise power in peace, it is God's singular gift, and that when they rightly govern their subjects, and are endued with sound discretion, it is wholly to be ascribed to an influence from above.

But it may be asked, how can this harmonise -- that those who were before useless are deprived of understanding and strength? To this I answer -- that it is the same as though the Prophet had said, that the baseness of him who was previously an useless shepherd would be made conspicuous to all. For however deficient they might have been in their office, they yet for a time deceived the simple multitude; nay, we see at this day how the milted bishops and abbots and their whole company by their delusive splendor, dazzle the eyes of most men: they believe that the Pope is the vicar of God, and the rest the successors of the apostles! But the Prophet here testifies, that when the ripened time shall come, their shameful conduct shall be made evident, so that all shall treat them with contempt, and that they shall become an abomination to all. Though then they may be counted wise and held in admiration, or at least in honor, yet Zechariah threatens them with the loss of both; for God's curse lies on them, on their arms, and on their right eyes. This is the import of the passage. I shall begin the next chapter tomorrow.

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