Here is, I. The foundation of Zechariah’s ministry; it is laid in a divine authority: The word of the Lord came to him. He received a divine commission to be God’s mouth to the people and with it instructions what to say. He received of the Lord that which also he delivered unto them. The word of the Lord was to him; it came in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, as a real thing, and not a fancy. For the ascertaining of this, we have here, 1. The time when the word of the Lord came first to him, or when the word that next follows came to him: it was in the second year of Darius. Before the captivity the prophets dated their writings by the reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel; but now by the reigns of the kings of Persia, to whom they were subjects. Such a melancholy change had sin made of their circumstances. Zerubbabel took not so much state upon him as to have public acts dated by the years of his government, and in things of this nature the prophets, as is fit, complied with the usage of the time, and scrupled not to reckon by the years of the heathen kings, as Dan. 7:1; 8:1. Zechariah preached his first sermon in the eighth month of this second year of Darius; Haggai preached his in the sixth month of the same year, Hag. 1:1. The people being readily obedient to the word of the Lord in the mouth of Haggai, God blessed them with another prophet; for to him that has, and uses well what he has, more shall be given. 2. The name and family of the prophet to whom the word of the Lord came; He was Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, the son of Iddo, and he was the prophet, as Haggai is called the prophet, Hag. 1:1. For, though in former ages there was one Iddo a prophet (2 Chron. 12:15), yet we have no reason to think that Zechariah was of his progeny, or should be denominated from him. The learned Mr. Pemble is decidedly of opinion that this Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, is the same that our Saviour says was slain between the temple and the altar, perhaps many years after the rebuilding of the temple (Matt. 23:35), and that our Saviour does not mean (as is commonly thought) Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, for why should Jehoiada be called Barachiah? And he thinks the manner of Christ’s account persuades us to think so; for, reckoning up the innocent blood shed by the Jews, he begins at Abel, and ends even in the last of the holy prophets. Whereas, after Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, many prophets and righteous men were put to death by them. It is true there is no mention made in any history of their slaying this Zechariah, but Josephus might industriously conceal that shame of his nation. Perhaps what Zechariah spoke in his prophesying concerning Christ of his being sold, his being wounded in the house of his friends, and the shepherd being smitten, was verified in the prophet himself, and so he became a type of Christ. Probably, being assaulted by his persecutors, he took sanctuary in the court of the priests (and some think he was himself a priest), and so was slain between the porch and the altar.
II. The first-fruits of Zechariah’s ministry. Before he came to visions and revelations, and delivered his prophetic discourses, he preached that which was plain and practical; for it is best to begin with that. Before he published the promises of mercy, he published calls to repentance, for thus the way of the Lord must be prepared. Law must be first preached, and then gospel. Now,
1. The prophet here puts them in mind of the controversy God had had with their fathers (Zech. 1:2): “The Lord has been sorely displeased with your fathers, and has laid them under the tokens of his displeasure. You have heard with your ears, and your fathers have told you of it; you have seen with your eyes the woeful remains of it. God’s quarrel with you has been of long standing, and therefore it is time for you to think of taking it up.” Note, The judgments of God, which those that went before us were under, should be taken as warnings to us not to tread in their steps, and calls to repentance, that we may cut off the entail of the curse and get it turned into a blessing.
2. He calls them, in God’s name, to return to him, and make their peace with him, Zech. 1:3. God by him says that to this backsliding people which he had often said by his servants the prophets: “Turn you to me in a way of faith and repentance, duty and obedience, and I will turn to you in a way of favour and mercy, peace and reconciliation.” Let the rebels return to their allegiance, and they shall be taken under the protection of the government and enjoy all the privileges of good subjects. Let them change their way, and God will change his. See Mal. 3:7. But that which is most observable here is that God is called here the Lord of hosts three times: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts. It is he that speaks, and therefore you are bound to regard what he says.” Turn you to me, saith the Lord of hosts (this intimates the authority and obligation of the command), and I will turn to you, saith the Lord of hosts—this intimates the validity and value of the promise; so that it is no vain repetition. Note, The consideration of God’s almighty power and sovereign dominion should both engage and encourage sinners to repent and turn to him. It is very desirable to have the Lord of hosts our friend and very dreadful to have him our enemy.
3. He warns them not to persist in their impenitence, as their fathers had done (Zech. 1:4): Be you not as your fathers. Instead of being hardened in their evil courses by the example of their fathers’ sins, let them rather be deterred from them by the example of their fathers’ punishment. We are apt to be governed very much by precedent, and we are well or ill governed according to the use we make of the precedents before us. The same examples to some are a savour of life unto life, to others a savour of death unto death. Some argued, “Shall we be wiser than our fathers? They never minded the prophets, and why then should we mind them? They made laws against them, and why should we tolerate them?” But they are here taught how they should argue: “Our fathers slighted the prophets, and God was sorely displeased with them for it; therefore let us the more carefully regard what God says to us by his prophets.” “Review what is past, and observe,”
(1.) “What was the message that God sent by his servants the prophets to your fathers: The former prophets cried to your fathers. cried aloud, and did not spare, not spare themselves, not spare your fathers; they cried as men in earnest, as men that would be heard; they spoke not as from themselves, but in the name of the Lord of hosts; and this was the substance of what they said, the burden of every song, the application of every sermon—Turn you now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings; the very same that we now preach to you. Be persuaded to leave your sins; resolve to have no more to do with them. A speedy reformation is the only way to prevent an approaching ruin: Turn you now from sin to God without delay.”
(2.) “How little this message was regarded by your fathers: But they did not hear, they did not heed. They turned a deaf ear to these calls: They would not hearken unto me, saith the Lord. They would not be reclaimed, would not be ruled, by the word I sent them; say not then that you will do as your fathers did, for they did amiss;” see Jer. 44:17. Note, We must not follow the examples of our dear fathers unless they were God’s dear children, nor any further than they were dutiful and obedient to him.
(3.) “What has become both of your fathers and of the prophets that preached to them? They are all dead and gone,” Zech. 1:5. [1.] Your fathers, where are they? The whole generation of them is swept away, and their place knows them no more. Note, When we think of our ancestors, that have gone through the world and gone out of it before us, we should think, Where are they? Here they were, in the towns and countries where we live, passing and repassing in the same streets, dwelling in the same houses, trading in the same shops and exchanges, worshipping God in the same churches. But where are they? They are somewhere still; when they died there was not an end of them. They are in eternity, in the world of spirits, the unchangeable world, to which we are hastening apace. Where are they? Those of them that lived and died in sin are in torment, and we are warned by Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, to look to it that we come not to that place of torment, Luke 16:28, 29. Those of them that lived and died in Christ are in paradise; and, if we live and die as they did, we shall be with them shortly, with them eternally. [2.] The prophets also, did they live for ever? No, they are gone too. The treasure is put into earthen vessels, the water of life into earthen pitchers, often cracked, and brought home broken at last. Christ is a prophet that lives for ever, but all other prophets have a period put to their office. Note, Ministers are dying men, and live not for ever in this world. They are to look upon themselves as such, and to preach accordingly, as those that must be silenced shortly, and know not which sermon may be the last. People are to look upon them as such, and to hear accordingly, as those that yet a little while have the light with them, that they may walk and work while they have the light. Oh that this weighty consideration had its due weight given it, that we are dying ministers dealing with dying people about the concerns of immortal souls and an awful eternity, which both they and we are standing upon the brink of! It concerns us to think of the prophets that are gone, that were before us of old, Jer. 28:8. Those that were the glory of men withered and fell; but the word of the Lord endures for ever, 1 Pet. 1:24, 25. The prophets that are now, do we live for ever? (so some read it); no, Haggai and Zechariah will not be long with you, and prophecy itself shall shortly cease. In another world both we and our prophets shall live for ever; and to prepare for that world ought to be our great care and business in this.
(4.) “What were the effects of the word which God spoke to them by his prophets, Zech. 1:6. The preachers died, and the hearers died, but the word of God died not; that took effect, and not one iota or tittle of it fell to the ground.” As the rain and snow from heaven, it shall not return void, Isa. 55:11. He appealed to themselves; they knew very well, [1.] That the judgments God had threatened were executed upon their fathers, and they were made to feel what they would not believe and fear: “My statutes which I commanded my servants the prophets, the precepts with the penalties annexed, which I charged them with the delivery of, did they not take hold of your fathers?” Though God’s prophets could not fasten convictions upon them, the calamities threatened overtook them, and they could not escape them, nor get out of the reach of them. God’s words took hold of them as the bailiff arrests the debtor, and takes him in execution for contempt. Note, The unbelief of man cannot make the threatenings of God’s word of no effect, but, sooner or later, they will take place, if the prescribed course be not taken to prevent the execution of them. God’s anger will certainly take hold of those that will not be taken hold of by his authority; for when he judges he will overcome. [2.] That they themselves could not but own the accomplishment of the word of God in the judgments of God that were upon them, and that therein he was righteous, and had done them no wrong: They returned, and said (they changed their mind, and when it was too late to prevent the ruin of their nation they acknowledged), Like as the Lord of hosts thought to do unto us according to our ways and doings, to reckon with us for them, so has he dealt with us, and we must acknowledge both his truth and his justice, must blame ourselves only, and have no blame to lay to him. Sero sapiunt Phryges—It is late before the Phrygians become wise. This after-wit, as it is a proof of the truth of God, so it is a proof of the folly of men, who will look no further than they can see. They would never be persuaded to say in time, “God will be as good as his word, for he is faithful; he will deal with us according to our deserts, for he is righteous.” But now they see both plainly enough when the sentence is executed; now he that runs may read, and publish the exact agreement that appears between the present providences and the former predictions which then were slighted, between the present punishments and the former sins which then were persisted in. Now they cannot but say, The Lord is righteous, Dan. 9:11-13.
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