Bible Book List
Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

Here is, I. The title of this charter of promises made to God’s Israel; it is the burden of the word of the Lord, a divine prediction; it is of weight in the delivery of it; it is to be pressed upon people, and will be very pressing in the accomplishment of it; it is a burden, a heavy burden, to all the church’s enemies, like that talent of lead, Zech. 5:7, 8. But it is for Israel; it is for their comfort and benefit. As even the fiery law (Deut. 33:2), so the fiery prophecies and fiery providences that come from God’s right hand, come for them; the word that speaks terror to their enemies speaks peace to them, as the pillar of cloud and fire, which turned a bright side towards the Israelites, to direct and encourage them, but a black side towards the Egyptians, to terrify and dispirit them. Happy are those that have even the burdens of God’s word for them, as well as the blessings of it.

II. The title of him that grants this charter, which is prefixed to it to show that he has both authority to make these promises and ability to make them good, for he is the Creator of the world and our Creator, and therefore has an incontestable irresistible dominion. 1. He stretches out the heavens; not only he did so at the first, when he said, Let there be a firmament, and he made the firmament, but he does so still; he keeps them stretched out like a curtain, keeps them from running in, and will do so till the end come, when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll. No bounds can be set to his power who stretches out the heavens, nor can any thing be too hard for him. 2. He lays the foundation of the earth, and keeps it firm and fixed on its own basis, or rather on its own axis, though it is founded on the seas (Ps. 24:1), nay, though it is hung upon nothing, Job 26:7. The founder of this earth is no doubt the ruler of it, and judges in it, and those deceive themselves who say, The Lord has forsaken the earth, for, if he had, it would have sunk, since it is he that not only did lay its foundations at first, but does still lay them, still uphold them. 3. He forms the spirit of man within him. He made us these souls, Jer. 38:16. He not only breathed into the first man, but still breathes into every man the breath of life; the body is derived from the fathers of our flesh, but the soul is infused by the Father of spirits, Heb. 12:9. He fashions men’s hearts; they are in his hand, and he turns them as the rivers of water, and casts them into what mould he pleases, so as to serve his own purposes with them; and he can therefore save his church by inspiriting his friends and dispiriting his enemies, and will eternally save all his chosen by forming their spirits anew.

III. The promises themselves that are here made them, by which the church shall be secured, and in which all its friends may enjoy a holy security.

1. It is promised that, whatever attacks the enemies of the church may make upon her purity or peace, they will certainly issue in their own confusion. The enemies of God and of his kingdom bear a great deal of malice and ill-will to Jerusalem, and form designs for its destruction; but it will prove, at last, that they are but preparing ruin for themselves; Jerusalem is in safety, and those are in all the danger who fight against it. This is here illustrated by three comparisons:—

(1.) Jerusalem shall be a cup of trembling to all that lay siege to it, Zech. 12:2. They promise themselves that it shall be to them a cup of wine, which they shall easily and with pleasure drink off, and they thirst for its spoils, nay, they thirst for its blood, as for such a cup; but it shall prove a cup of slumber, nay, a cup of poison, to them, which, when they take it into their hands, and think it is all their own, they shall not be able to drink off: the fumes of it shall give them enough. When the kings were assembled against her, and saw how God was known in her palaces for a refuge, they trembled and hasted away; fear took hold upon them, as we find, Ps. 48:3-6. Thus Alexander the Great was struck with amazement when he met Jaddus the high priest, and was deterred thereby from offering any violence to Jerusalem. When Sennacherib laid siege against Judah and Jerusalem he found them such a cup of stupifying wine as laid all his mighty men asleep, Ps. 76:5, 6. Some read it, I will make Jerusalem a post of contrition or breaking. Those that make any attempts upon Jerusalem do but run their heads against a post, which they cannot move, but are sure to hurt themselves. The blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall (Isa. 25:4), broken by it, but not shaking it. God’s church is a cup of consolation to all her friends (Isa. 66:11), but a cup of trembling to all that would either debauch her by errors and corruptions or destroy her by wars and persecutions. See Isa. 51:22, 23.

(2.) Jerusalem shall be a burdensome stone to all that attempt to remove it or carry it away, Zech. 12:3. All the people of the earth are here supposed to be gathered together against it, some one time and some another; there has been a succession of enemies, from age to age, making war upon the church. But though they were all at once in a confederacy against it, and had formed a resolution to cut off the name of Israel, that it should be no more in remembrance (Ps. 83:4), they will find it a task too hard for them. Those that are for keeping up and advancing the kingdom of sin in the world look upon Jerusalem, even the church of God, as the great obstacle to their designs, and they must have it out of the way; but they will find it heavier than they think it is; so that, [1.] They cannot remove it. God will have a church in the world, in spite of them; it is built upon a rock, and is as Mount Zion, that abides for ever, Ps. 125:1. This stone, cut out of the mountain without hands, will not only keep its ground, but fill the earth, Dan. 2:35. Nay, [2.] It will break in pieces all that burden themselves with it, as that stone smote the image, Dan. 2:45. All that think themselves a match for it shall be cut in pieces by it. Some think it is an allusion to a sport which Jerome, upon this place, says was in use among the Jews, as among us: young men tried their strength, and strove for mastery, by heaving up great stones, which, if they proved too heavy for them, fell upon them, and bruised them. Those that make a jest of religion, and banter sacred things, will find them a burdensome stone, that it is ill-jesting with edged-tools, and though they make light of it (saying, Amos not I in sport?) they bring upon themselves an insupportable sinking load of guilt. Our Saviour seems to allude to these words when he speaks of himself as a burdensome stone to those that will not have him for their foundation-stone, which shall fall upon them and grind them to powder, Matt. 21:44.

(3.) The governors of Judah shall be among their enemies like a hearth of fire among the wood, and a torch of fire in a sheaf, Zech. 12:6. Not that their own passions shall make them incendiaries and firebrands to all about them; no; Zion’s King is meek and lowly, and all subordinate governors must be like him; but God’s justice will make them avengers of his cause, and theirs, upon their enemies. Those that contend with them will find it is like an opposition given by briers and thorns to a consuming fire, Isa. 27:4. It will go through them, and burn them together. It is God’s wrath, and not theirs, that is the fire which devours the adversaries. God’s fire is said to be in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem. Isa. 31:9. The enemies thought to be as water to this fire, to extinguish it and put it quite out; but God will make them as wood, nay, as a sheaf of corn (which is more combustible), to this fire, not only to be consumed by it, but to be made thereby to burn the more strongly. When God would make Abimelech and the men of Shechem one another’s destroyers fire is said to come out from the one to devour the other, Jdg. 9:20. So here, Fire shall come out from the governors of Judah to devour all the people round about, as from the mouth of God’s witnesses to consume those who offer to hurt them, Rev. 11:5. The persecutors of the primitive church found this fulfilled in it, witness Lactantius’s history of God’s judgments upon the primitive persecutors, and the confession of Julian the apostate at last. Thou hast overcome me, O thou Galilean! The church’s motto may be, Nemo me impune lacesset—He that assails me does it at his peril. If you are weary of your life, persecute the Christians, was once a proverb.

2. It is promised that God will infatuate the counsels and enfeeble the courage of the church’s enemies (Zech. 12:4): “In that day, when the people of the earth are gathered together against Jerusalem, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness;” and again, “I will smite every horse of the people with blindness, so that they shall be no way serviceable to them; blinding the horses will be as bad as houghing them.” The horses and their horsemen shall both forget the military exercise to which they were trained, and, instead of keeping ranks and observing the rules of their discipline, they shall both grow mad, and ruin themselves. The church’s infantry shall be too hard for the enemy’s cavalry; and those who were upbraided with trusting in horses shall be baffled by those who were forbidden to multiply horses.

3. It is promised that Jerusalem shall be re-peopled and replenished (Zech. 12:6): Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem. The natives of Jerusalem shall not incorporate in a colony in some other country, and build a city there, and call that Jerusalem, and see the promises fulfilled in that, as those in New England called their towns by the names of towns in Old England. No; they shall have a new Jerusalem upon the same foundation, the same spot of ground, with the old one. They had so after their return out of captivity, but this was to have its full accomplishment in the gospel-church, which is a Jerusalem inhabited in its own place; for, the gospel being to be preached to all the world, it may call every place its own.

4. It is promised that the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be enabled to defend themselves, and yet shall be taken under the divine protection, Zech. 12:8. See here in what method God preserves his church, and those that are his, from the gates of hell to and through the gates of heaven. (1.) He does himself secure them: In that day shall the Lord defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, not only Jerusalem itself from being taken and destroyed, but every inhabitant of it from being any way damaged. God will not only be a wall of fire about the city, to fortify that, but he will encompass particular persons with his favour as with a shield, so that no dart of the besiegers shall touch them. (2.) He does it by giving them strength and courage to help themselves. What God works in his people by his grace contributes more to their preservation and defence than what he works for them by his providence. The God of Israel gives strength and power to his people, that they may do their part, and then he will not be wanting to do his. It is the glory of God to strengthen the weak, that most need his help, that see and own their need of it, and will be the most thankful for it. [1.] In that day the feeblest of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be as David, shall be men of war, as bold and brave, as skilful and strong, as David himself, shall attempt and accomplish great things, as David did, and become as serviceable to Jerusalem in guarding it as David himself was in founding it, and as formidable as he was to the enemies of it. See what divine grace does; it makes children not only men, but champions, makes weak saints to be not only good soldiers, but great soldiers, like David. And see how God often does his own work as easily and effectually, and more to his own glory, by weak and obscure instruments than by the most illustrious. [2.] The house of David shall be as God, that is, as the angel of the Lord, before them. Zerubbabel was now the top-branch of the house of David; he shall be endued with wisdom and grace for the service to which he is called, and shall go before the people as an angel, as that angel (so some think) which went before the people of Israel through the wilderness, which was God himself, Exod. 23:20. God will increase the gifts and abilities both of the people and princes, in proportion to the respective services for which they are designed. It was said of David that he was as an angel of God, to discern good and bad, 2 Sam. 14:17. Such shall the house of David now be. The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be as strong and fit for action as nature made David, and their magistrates as wise and fit for counsel as grace made him. But this was to have its full accomplishment in Christ; now the house of David looked little and mean, and its glory was eclipsed, but in Christ the house of David shone more brightly than ever, and its countenance was as that of an angel; in him it became more blessed, and more a blessing, than ever it had been.

5. It is promised that there shall be a very good understanding between the city and the country, and that the balance shall be kept even between them; there shall be no mutual envies or jealousies between them; they shall not keep up any separate interests, but shall heartily unite in their counsels, and act in concert for the common good; and this happy agreement between the city and the country, the head and the body, is very necessary to the health, welfare, and safety of any nation. (1.) The governors of Judah, the magistrates and gentry of the country, shall think honourably of the citizens, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the merchants and tradesmen; they shall not run them down, and contrive how to keep them under, but they shall say in their hearts, not in compliment but in sincerity, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength, the strength of my country, of my family, in the Lord of hosts their God, Zech. 12:5. They will therefore, upon all occasions, pay respect and deference to Jerusalem, as the mother-city, the ruling-city, and the city that is to be first served, because they look upon it to be the bulwark of the nation and its strongest fortification in times of public danger and distress, which therefore they would all come in to the assistance of and come under the protection of, and this not so much because it was a rich city, and money is the sinews of war, nor because it was a populous city and could bring the greatest numbers into the field, nor because its inhabitants were generally the most ingenious active men, the best soldiers and the best commanders (of Zion it shall be said, This and that brave man were born there), but because it was a holy city, where God’s house and household, the temple and the priests, were, where his worship was kept up and his feasts were observed, and because it should now be more than ever a praying city, for upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem God will pour a spirit of supplication (Zech. 12:10); therefore the governors of Judah shall say, These are my strength; they are so upon the account of their relation to, their interest in, and their communion with, the Lord of hosts, their God. Because the Lord of hosts is in a particular manner their God (for in Salem is his tabernacle and his dwelling-place in Zion), therefore they shall be my strength. Note, It is well with a kingdom when its great men know how to value its good men, when its governors look upon religion and religious people to be their strength, and consider it their interest to support them, and learn to call godly praying people, and skilful faithful ministers, the chariots and horsemen of Israel, as Joash called Elisha, and not the troublers of the land, as Ahab called Elijah. (2.) The court and the city shall not despise, nor look with contempt upon, the inhabitants of the country; no, not the meanest of them, much less upon the governors of Judah; for God will put signal honour upon Judah, and so save them from the contempt of their brethren. As Jerusalem was dignified by special ordinances, so Judah shall be dignified with special providences. God says (Zech. 12:4), I will open my eyes upon the house of Judah, upon the poor country people. Proud men scornfully overlook them, but the great God will graciously look upon them and look after them. Nay, (Zech. 12:7), the Lord shall save the tents of Judah first. Those that dwell in tents lie most exposed; but God will remarkably protect and deliver them before those that dwell in Jerusalem. He will appear glorious in what he does for the inhabitants of his villages in Israel, Jdg. 5:11. Thus, in the mystical body, God gives more abundant honour to that part which lacked, that there may be no schism in the body (see 1 Cor. 12:22-25), which is the reason here given why the glory of the house of David, which has great power, and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who have great wealth, and both which live in great pomp and pleasure, may not magnify themselves against Judah and the tents of Judah, the dwellers in which work hard, and fare hard, and perhaps are not so well bred. Note, Courtiers and citizens ought not to despise country people, nor look with disdain upon those whom God opens his eyes upon and who are first saved, while it is so hard for the rich and great to enter the kingdom of God. If God by his grace has magnified the dwellers in the tents of Judah, having chosen the weak and foolish things of the world and chosen to employ them, we affront him if we vilify them, or magnify ourselves against them, Jas. 2:5, 6. This promise has a further reference to the gospel-church, in which no difference shall be made between high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, circumcision and uncircumcision, but all shall be alike welcome to Christ, and partake of his benefits, Col. 3:11. Jerusalem shall not then be thought, as it had been, more holy than other parts of the land of Israel.