Zechariah’s Call for Judah’s Return
“The word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah…saying…’Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me” (vv. 1–4).- Zechariah 1:1-6
Returning to our chronological overview of the Old Testament prophets, today we come to the second post-exilic prophet whose words are recorded in Scripture. Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, was sent to the people of Judah after the return from Babylon to encourage the people to rebuild God’s temple and to give them a vision of things that were still to come.
Zechariah was Haggai’s contemporary (Ezra 5:1–2), but whereas Haggai originally delivered his prophecies over several months, Zechariah’s ministry lasted for years, beginning in about 520 BC. Because we do not know anything about the prophet except his immediate ancestry and the meaning of his name—“Yahweh remembers”—the duration of his career is not certain. Commentators agree, however, that it lasted until at least 516 BC, when the rebuilt temple was completed, and many of his visions foresee events to come after that year. This has New Testament confirmation. The Gospels’ passion accounts quote from Zechariah 9–14 more often than they do any other portion of Scripture. Without at least a basic grasp of Zechariah’s prophecy, our understanding of Christ’s atonement will be impoverished.
As a contemporary of Haggai, Zechariah was instrumental in awakening the Jews from their slumber in 520 BC to rebuild the temple. As long as God’s house remained unfinished, the people were being disobedient to the Lord’s commands regarding old covenant worship. And since heartfelt obedience to the Almighty’s commands is the fruit of true love for Him (John 14:15), leaving the temple unfinished in and of itself was not the real problem. Instead, an unfinished temple with no evident concern to complete the work indicated that the essential problem was a problem of the heart. Such is the case with all sin.
Due to the problem being one of the heart, we are not surprised to find Zechariah open his book with a call to repentance. Included in this call is a reference to the forefathers of the restored community who were kicked out of the Promised Land for their impenitence (Zech. 1:1–5b). Zechariah asks some rhetorical questions: Where were their fathers? Where were their (false) prophets? Had they not been destroyed? No answers are given because the small, struggling post-exilic community knew the answers—the impenitent forefathers and false prophets were gone, brought to an end in exile for their rejection of God’s Word. The implicit warning is that the same judgment was possible for Zechariah’s generation should they ignore the Lord’s true prophets just as their forefathers did.
The opening verses of Zechariah’s book contain warnings to the people for breaking the law, warnings that prompted the people to show repentance. When God warns His people of their sin, that is always His goal, namely, their repentance. Matthew Henry comments on this passage that the warnings of God’s law are the necessary prerequisite of the gospel. Let us not be afraid to hear the warnings of Scripture, but let us look to them that we might be pointed again and again to Christ.
Passages for Further Study
Ezekiel 3:16–21; 18;
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