God, by the prophet, here gives further assurances of the mercy he had in store for Judah and Jerusalem. Here is line upon line for their comfort, as before there was for their conviction. These verses contain strong encouragements with reference to the difficulties they now laboured under. And we may observe,
I. Who they were to whom these encouragements did belong—to those who, in obedience to the call of God by his prophets, applied in good earnest to the building of the temple (Zech. 8:9): “Let your hands be strong, that are busy at work for God, you that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, and are not disobedient to them as your fathers were, in the former days, to the words of those prophets that were sent to them. You may take the comfort of the promises, and shall have the benefit of them, who have obeyed the precepts given you in the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid, when you were told that, having begun with it, you must go on, that the temple might be built; God told you that you must go on with it, and you have laboured hard at it for some time, in obedience to the heavenly vision. Now you are those whose hands must be strengthened and whose hearts must be comforted, with these precious promises; to you is the word of this consolation sent.” Note, Those, and those only, that are employed for God, may expect to be encouraged by him; those who lay their hands to the plough of duty shall have them strengthened with the promises of mercy; and those who avoid their fathers’ faults, not only cut off the entail of the curse, but have it turned into a blessing.
II. What the discouragements were which they had hitherto laboured under, Zech. 8:10. These are mentioned as a foil to the blessings God was now about to bestow upon them, to make them appear the more strange, to the glory of God, and the more sweet, to their comfort. The truth was the times had long been very bad, and the calamities and difficulties of them were many and great. 1. Trade was dead; there was nothing to be done and therefore nothing to be got. Before these days of reformation began there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beasts. The fruits of the earth (though it had long lain fallow, and therefore, one would think, should have been the more fertile) were thin and poor, so that the husbandman had no occasion to hire harvest people to reap his corn, nor teams to carry it home, for he could be scarcely said to have any. Merchants had no goods to import or export, so that they needed not to hire either men or beasts; hence the poor people, who lived by their labour, had no way of getting bread for themselves and their families. 2. Travelling was dangerous, so that all commerce both by sea and land was cut off; nay, none durst stir abroad so much as to visit their friends, for their was no peace to him that went out, or came in, because of the affliction. The Samaritans, and Ammonites, and their other evil neighbours, made inroads upon them in small parties, and seized all they could lay their hands on; the roads were infested with highwaymen, and both city and country with housebreakers; so that neither men’s persons nor their goods were safe at home or abroad. 3. There was no such thing as friendship or good neighbourship among them: I set all men every one against his neighbour. In this there was a great deal of sin, for these wars and fightings came from men’s lust, and this God was not the author of; but there was in it a great deal of misery also, and so God was in it a just avenger of their disobedience to him; because they were of an evil spirit towards him, a spirit of contradiction to his laws, God sent among them an evil spirit, to make them vexatious one to another. Those that throw off the love of God forfeit the comfort of brotherly love.
III. What encouragement they shall now have to proceed in the good work they are about, and to hope that it shall yet be well with them: “Thus and thus you have been harassed and afflicted, but now God will change his way towards you, Zech. 8:11. Now that you return to your duty God will comfort you according to the time that he has afflicted you; the ebbing tide shall flow again.” 1. God will not proceed in his controversy with them; I will not be to them as in the former days. Note, It is with us well or ill according as God is to us; for every creature is that to us which he makes it to be. And, if we walk not contrary to God as in the former days, he will not walk contrary to us as in the former days; for it is only with the froward that he will wrestle. 2. They shall have great plenty and abundance of all goods things (Zech. 8:12): The seed sown shall be prosperous, and yield a great increase; the vine shall give her fruit, which makes glad the heart, and the ground its products, which strengthen the heart; they shall have all they can desire, not only for necessity, but for ornament and delight. The heavens shall give their dew, without which the earth would not yield her increase, which is a constant intimation to us of the beneficence of the God of heaven to men on earth and of their dependence on him. It is said of a sweeping rain that it leaves no food (Prov. 28:3); but here the gentle dew waters the earth, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. And thus God will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. They are but a remnant, a residue, very few, one would think scarcely worth looking after; but, now that they are at work for God, he will take care that they shall want nothing which is fit for them. This confirms what the prophet’s colleague had said, a little before (Hag. 2:16, 19), From this day will I bless you. Note, God’s people, that serve him faithfully, have great possessions. “All is yours, for you are Christ’s.” 3. They shall recover their credit among their neighbours (Zech. 8:13): You were a curse among the heathen. Every one censured and condemned them, spoke ill of them, and wished ill to them, upon the account of the great disgrace that they were under; some think that they were made a form of execration, so that if a man would load his enemy with the heaviest curse he would say, God make thee like a Jew! “But now, I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Your restoration shall be as much taken notice of to your honour as ever your desolation and dispersion were to your reproach; you shall be applauded and admired as much as ever you were vilified and run down, shall be courted and caressed as much as ever you were slighted and abandoned.” Most men smile or frown upon their neighbours according as Providence smiles or frowns upon them; but those whom God plainly blesses as his own, shows favour to and puts honour upon, we ought also to respect and be kind to. The blessed of the Lord are the blessing of the land, and should be so accounted by us. This is here promised to the house both of Israel and Judah; for many of the ten tribes returned out of captivity with the two tribes, and shared with them in those blessings; and, it is probable, besides what came at first, many, very many, flocked to them afterwards, when they saw their affairs take this turn. 4. God himself will determine to do them good, Zech. 8:14, 15. All their comforts take rise from the thoughts of the love that God had towards them, Jer. 29:11. Compare these promises with the former threatenings. (1.) When they provoked him to anger with their sins, he said that he would punish them, and so he did; it was his declared purpose to bring destroying judgments upon them, and, because they repented not of their rebellions against him, he repented not of his threatenings against them, but let the sentence of the law take its course. Note, God’s punishing sinners is never a sudden and hasty resolve, but is always the product of thought, and there is a counsel in that part of the will of God. If the sinner turn not, God will not turn. (2.) Now that they pleased him with their services; he said that he would do them good; and will he not be as true to his promises as he was to his threatenings? No doubt he will: “So again have I thought to do well to Jerusalem in those days, when you begin to hearken to the voice of God speaking to you by his prophets; and these thoughts also shall be performed.”
IV. The use they are to make of these encouragements.
1. Let them take the comfort which these promises give to them: Fear you not (Zech. 8:15); let your hands be strong (Zech. 8:9); and both together (Zech. 8:13), Fear not, but let your hands be strong. (1.) The difficulties they met with in their work must not drive them from it, nor make them go on heavily in it, for the issue would be good and the reward great. Let this therefore animate them to proceed with vigour and cheerfulness. (2.) The dangers they were exposed to from their enemies must not terrify them; those that have God for them, engaged to do them good, need not fear what man can do against them.
2. Let them do the duty which those promises call for from them, Zech. 8:16, 17. The very same duties which the former prophets pressed upon their fathers from the consideration of the wrath threatened (Zech. 7:9, 10) this prophet presses upon them from the consideration of the mercy promised: “Leave it to God, to perform for you what he has promised, in his own way and time, but upon condition that you make conscience of your duty. These are the things then that you shall do; this is your part of the covenant; th 3fd5 ese are the articles which you are to perform, fulfil, and keep, that you may not put a bar in your own door and stop the current of God’s favours.” (1.) “You must never tell a lie, but always speak as you think, and as the matter is, to the best of your knowledge: Speak you every man the truth to his neighbour, both in bargains and in common converse; dread every word that looks like a lie.” This precept the apostle quotes (Eph. 4:25), and backs it with this reason, We are members one of another. (2.) Those that are entrusted with the administration of public justice must see to it, not only that none be wronged by it, but that those who are wronged be righted by it: Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates. Let the judges that sit in the gates in all their judicial proceedings have regard both to truth and to peace; let them take care to do justice, to accommodate differences, and to prevent vexatious suits. It must be a judgment of truth in order to peace, and making those friends that were at variance, and a judgment of peace as far as is consistent with truth, and no further. (3.) No man must bear malice against his neighbour upon any account; this is the same with what we had Zech. 7:10. We must not only keep our hands from doing evil, but we must watch over our hearts, that they imagine not any evil against our neighbour, Prov. 3:29. Injury and mischief must be crushed in the thought, in the embryo. (4.) Great reverence must be had for an oath, and conscience made of it: “Never take a false oath, nay, love no false oath; that is, hate it, dread it, keep at a distance from it. Love not to impose oaths upon others, lest they swear falsely; love not that any should take a false oath for your benefit, and forswear themselves to do you a kindness.” A very good reason is annexed against all these corrupt and wicked practices: “For all these are things that I hate, and therefore you must hate them if you expect to have God your friend.” These things here forbidden are all of them found among the seven things which the Lord hates, Prov. 6:16-19. Note, We must forbear sin, not only because God is angry at it, and therefore it is dangerous to us, but because he hates it, and therefore it ill becomes us and is a very ungrateful thing.