7. And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock.
7. Et pavi gregem occisionis, nempe (vel, ideoque) pauperes gregis: et sumpsi mihi duas virgas, unam vocavi Elegantiam (vel, Pulchritudinem;) et alteram vocavi Funiculos (alii vertunt, Perditores; de hac voce dicemus;) et pavi gregem.
He resumes here the thread of the discourse, which he had shortly before broken off; for he sets forth what had not yet been sufficiently expressed -- that the ingratitude of the people, with which obstinacy was especially united, deserved entire ruin, and that now there was no hope of pardon; for the paternal care of God had been most basely and most shamefully repudiated, as well as the kind favor which he had manifested to the people.
God then complains that he fed the flock. Some apply this to Zechariah; but, as I have said, God relates the acts of kindness which he had uniformly showed to the people, until they became wholly unworthy of his favor. Let us however remember that the Prophet speaks of the remnant; for he does not here recount the benefits of God in ancient times, but describes the state of the people after their return from their exile in Babylon. God seemed before to have committed this office to Zechariah -- to feed them; but as I have already said, the design of that was no other than to make it evident that the whole fault was in the people; for they had thrust from them the kindness of God, and in a manner carried on war frowardly with God, so as to prevent any access for his favor. There is therefore here an expostulation in God's name.
I have fed, he says, the flock of slaughter, even the poor of the flock. Some render Nkl, on account of; but it may be taken in an explanatory sense: or we may give this rendering -- "therefore the poor," or, especially the poor. With regard to the meaning, God here intimates that he had manifested his care for the whole people, for he had hoped that there were a few sheep yet remaining worthy of having mercy shown to them. As then some poor sheep might have been found among the impure flock, God says, that having this hope, he did not deem it grievous or burdensome to undertake the office of a shepherd in ruling the people. I have then fed the flock of slaughter, even for this reason, he says, because there were some miserable sheep among them: I was therefore unwilling to forsake them, and preferred to try all means rather than to cast away even one little sheep, provided a single one were found in the whole flock. 1
He says that he took two rods, that he called one Men, nom, "Beauty," and that he called the other Mylbx, chebelim, "Cords," rendered "destroyers" by those who adhere to the Hebrew points; but as lbx, both in the singular and plural, has the meaning of a rope or cord, the Prophet, I have no doubt, means by Mylbx, chebelim, ropes or bindings. Grammar, indeed, does not allow this; but Zechariah did not set down the points, for they were not then in use. I indeed know with how much care the old scribes contrived the points, when the language had already ceased to be in common use. They then who neglect, or wholly reject the points, are certainly void of all judgment and reason; but yet some discrimination ought to be exercised; 2 for if we read here "destroyers," there is no meaning; if we read "cords," there is no letter changed, but only two points are altered. As then the subject itself necessarily demands this meaning, I wonder that interpreters suffer themselves to be servilely constrained, so as not to regard the design of the Prophet.
The Prophet then says, that he had taken two rods, that he might devote himself in a manner not common to the office of a shepherd. Shepherds were satisfied with one crook; for by rods he means here the crook used by shepherds. As then every shepherd carried his own crook, the Prophet says here that he was furnished with two crooks, or pastoral staffs, because the Lord surpassed all men in his solicitude in the office of ruling his people. But the remainder I must defer until tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast hitherto so kindly showed thyself to be our Shepherd, and even our Father, and hast carefully provided for our safety, -- O grant, that we may not by our ingratitude deprive ourselves of thy favors, so as to provoke thy extreme vengeance, but on the contrary suffer ourselves to be gently ruled by thee, and render thee due obedience: and as thine only-begotten Son has been by thee set over us as our only true Shepherd, may we hear his voice, and willingly obey him, so that we may be able to triumph with thy Prophet, that thy staff is sufficient for us, so as to enable us to walk without fear through the valley of the shadow of death, until we shall at length reach that blessed and eternal rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only Son. -- Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Fifty-eighth
We said yesterday that the word Mylbx, chebelim, the name given by Zechariah to the second rod, could not be rendered "destroyers," as all the Hebrews do; for God teaches us that he had fully and faithfully discharged the duties of a shepherd, so that the people perished through their own fault; and since God undertook the office of a shepherd, it could not have been said that he took a staff to destroy them: and there is also no doubt but that he connects this word with the other, Men, nom, "beauty." And he says in the last place, that this rod called Mylbx, chebelim, was broken, in order to show that the brotherhood between Judah and Israel was come to an end. Now what affinity can there be between destroying and uniting? It is then clear that the word Mylbx, chebelim, is to be taken here for ropes, or cords.
Let us now see why the Prophet calls one "Beauty," and the other "Ropes." Some think that the law of nature is designated by Men, nom, and by Mylbx, chebelim, the law of Moses, and those who render the word "Lines," such as Jerome, who gives here the right version, think that as the law was a hard yoke on the ancients, the rod was so called because it bound them fast. Others, as Jerome also does, refer to this passage of Moses, "When the Lord cast his line, he chose a place for Israel, and when the Highest divided the nations," etc. They then think that a line is taken for an inheritance. But the first interpretation is too remote and distorted; with regard to the second, as the Prophet puts the word in the plural number, it cannot be suitably taken for an inheritance, and, as we said yesterday, the following clause shows that the idea of union is included in it.
The meaning of the Prophet then is, that God had so performed his office of a shepherd towards his people, as to rule them in the best manner; this I understand by the word Men, nom, beauty, for nothing could have been more perfect in beauty than the government which God had exercised over the Israelites; and hence he compares here his pastoral staff to beauty, as though he had said, "The order of things was so arranged that nothing could be imagined better." He then mentions unity or concord, and it was the highest favor that God gathered again the scattered Israelites so as to make them one body. It is indeed true, that few of the kingdom of Israel had returned to their own country, but it is yet evident that the remnant was not only from the tribe of Judah, from the half tribe of Benjamin, and from the Levites, but that there were others mingled with them. It was therefore a most appropriate representation, that not only a most beautiful order was established by God, but that was also added a brotherly concord, so that the children of Abraham were joined together in one spirit and in one soul. Since then they had so good a shepherd, the baser and less excusable was their ingratitude in shaking off his yoke, and in not suffering themselves to be ruled by his staff.
We now then see what the words of the Prophet mean, when he introduces God as furnished with two rods, even beauty and gathering. He then repeats what he had said before, I have fed, he says, the sheep, intimating, that it was not owing to him that he should not continue to rule them. It now follows --