Zechariah: Chapter 1:1-6
The Book Of Zechariah
Return To Me
Zechariah 1:1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying,
Zechariah received his first prophetic message in 520 B.C., just two months after Haggai began to call the nation of Israel to repentance (Hag 1:1). By the time Zechariah begins his ministry Haggai would have already delivered his 2nd message regarding the coming Messianic kingdom and promise of future blessings for the nation of Israel (Hag 2:1-9). By the time Zechariah receives his first message a genuine revival was already happening in the land of Israel. Thanks to the word of the Lord delivered by Haggai the beleaguered remnant of Israelites who returned from 70 years of captivity to Babylon began to fear the Lord, listen to his word, and rebuild the temple (Hag 1:12-15).
Zechariah dates his prophecy in the second year of Darius Hystaspes who was the king of Persia. Previous prophets typically dated their prophecies in the year of a king in either Judah or Israel. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were the final prophets sent to Israel before 400 years of divine silence and the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both Haggai and Zechariah date their prophecies according to the reign of a gentile ruler and Malachi opens without a specific date. This signifies the times of the gentiles had begun (Lk 21:24). This period stretches from the time of the exile to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar titled “king of kings” by Daniel (Dan 2:37); clear thru to the times of the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empire (Dan 7:4-7). The times of the gentiles culminate at the 2nd coming of Christ, who is not only the King of the Jews, but also the one true King of Kings (Rev 19:16) who will then restore authority to the nation of Israel.
We see that Zechariah was the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, many commentators have noticed a cryptogram of sorts between these 3 names. Recall from our introduction the name Zechariah essentially means “Yahweh remembers,” The name Berechiah means “Yahweh blesses,” and the name of Iddo has the idea of a set or appointed time. When put together the message is quite simple that Yahweh will bless Israel at his appointed time, a fitting theme for this book which contains the salvation of the nation (Zech 12:10).
Zechariah 1:2 “The LORD was very angry with your fathers.
This would have been obvious to the remnant after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The Lord allowed the Babylonians to lay siege to Jerusalem, destroy the glorious temple of Solomon, capture King Zedekiah and carry away the finest men and leaders of Judah into exile (2 Kings 25). The entire theocracy that God had provided for the Israelites was ruined. Just as Haggai counseled the remnant that returned to the land to consider their ways (Hag 1:5), Zechariah is now imploring the nation not to be like their rebellious ancestors (Zech 1:4). The group that has returned from exile does not have to be like their fathers they can experience the blessings of the Lord, but the prerequisite for that is for Israel to turn back to her God in repentance.
Zechariah 1:3 “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.
The use of the name the LORD of hosts three times emphasizes that the Lord who is calling the nation to repent is the commander of the angelic legions of heaven. This is the God who calls to the heavenly constellations, and they immediately stand at attention (Is 48:13). This is the God who one day heaven and earth will flee from the presence of (Rev 20:11), and he is calling his people to return to him. Previously the Lord commanded these same heavens to be astonished, appalled, and horrified at what the nation of Israel had done in apostatizing from him. They forsook the Lord the fountain of living waters, to replace him with broken wells that can hold no water, false gods that their forefathers never knew (Jer 2:12-13; Dt 32:17).
All three of the post exilic prophets focused on calling the nation of Israel to return to the Lord. Haggai counseled them to consider their ways and repent; Zechariah before offering a myriad of gracious promises to the nation of Israel warns them to return to God; and Malachi chastises the nation for turning away from the statutes of the Lord and urges them to return to him (Hag 1:5; Zech 1:3; Mal 3:7).
Notice that the Lord says, “return to me.” He does not merely call his children back to a formal system of religion but rather into a relationship with himself. Ceremony, temple worship, even the sacrificial system that points to Christ is worthless without a living relationship with God (Is 1:13). God seeks those to worship him in spirit and truth, with both mind and heart (Jn 4:23-24). This was always the problem with Israel, they worshipped the Lord with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (Mt 15:8). Yahweh is calling the nation back to himself, similar to a wife who was forsaken but now is offered forgiveness (Is 54:6).
What a marvelous paradox is contained in the opening verses of Zechariah! We see the Lord is angry and yet he calls the nation to return to him at the same time? How can God be a just judge who is angry at the wicked every day (Ps 7:11), and one who righteously hates all evildoers (Ps 5:5), yet call the nation to return to him? Furthermore, how can Israel accomplish this? Why would a nation turn back to a God who is justly furious with them? This is the heart of Zechariah’s message, furthermore it is the heart of God’s message, the focal point of all scripture and nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ!
The prophets counsel the nation of Israel to return to God because he has redeemed them! (Is 44:22). Zechariah is pointing the nation of Israel to return to the one whom they will pierce (Zech 12:10), the one they will sell for 30 shekels of silver (Zech 11:12-13), he understood the only way back to God was thru the promised Messiah. This is why he encourages them to rebuild the temple because the sacrificial system points to the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). As Jesus said, nobody can come to the Father except thru him, he is the only way to return back to God (Jn 14:6).
The apostle Paul encourages us to consider the kindness and severity of God (Rom 11:22). The severity is clear in these opening verses. The Lord does not mince words, he clearly states he was not only angry with their fathers but extremely angry at that. The call to repent here is not a suggestion, it is a strict command given to them by the one their patriarch Abraham called the judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25).
However, in wrath the Lord always remembers mercy (Hab 3:2). The Lord promises that if they return to him, he will also return to them. This is the great end of redeemed humanity; every blessing, hope or dream a person could desire can be summed up in this promise. This was what we lost in the garden of Eden when we were banished from the Lord’s presence (Gen 3:24). This is what the temple (God’s house) signifies, dwelling with God again in perfect unity. This is why Christ had to die, and the great hope of the saints is that that one day we will see God again (Rev 22:4). Like the Psalmist we will be satisfied when we see his face (Ps 17:15). This is a promise from the God who cannot lie (Heb 6:18), and it was not written merely for Israel’s sake. My dear friend: return to God and by all the authority contained in the word of God he promises to return to you!
Zechariah 1:4 “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds."’ But they did not listen or give heed to Me,” declares the LORD.
The statement above gives us a summary of the career of the prophets. Before the Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom the Lord warned Israel and Judah to turn from their evil ways by the hand of all his prophets and seers (2 Kings 17:13). However, they did not listen but hardened their hearts and continued to make molten images and sacrifice their children to Molech, therefore the wrath of the Lord came upon them and all except the tribe of Judah were exiled to Assyria around 730 B.C. (2 Kings 17).
The tribe of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem then continued to sink further and further into rebellion for centuries. However, due to his compassion the Lord continued to warn them by sending numerous prophets, but they mocked the messengers of God, despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, and they were exiled to Babylon around 586 B.C. (2 Chron 36:14-21).
Now that the Lord has graciously brought a remnant back to the land the message is the same, return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds. Do not be like your fathers, do not harden your hearts as in the day of rebellion (Heb 3:8). This statement is meant to remove any false hope from hypocrites who tell themselves, “I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Dt 29:19); whereas the Lord has decreed that there is no peace for the wicked (Is 57:21). Scripture is clear God will not bless the rebellious.
After 400 years of divine silence John the Baptist arrived on the scene preaching repentance (Mt 3:8). The very first words of Christ’s public ministry echo the message of every prophet before him in that he commanded Israel to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Mt 4:17). He himself said unless you repent you will perish (Luke 13:3). Just before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he told the disciples that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:47). The message of repentance does not change because God does not change (Mal 3:6).
Zechariah 1:5 “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?
This is a rhetorical question; the nation was well aware from recent history that their
fathers died under God’s wrath for their rebellion (Jer 14:20; Lam 5:7). Even the prophets, the most faithful servants of the Lord could not escape death how much less the average citizen? Similar to how the high priest in Israel would offer a sacrifice for his own sin as well as the sins of the people (Heb 5:3), the message is that nobody is above the law of God.
What a wealth of wisdom there is to be learned in meditating upon these simple words, “do they live forever?”. Solomon said it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting for death is coming for us all (Eccl 7:2), it is appointed for all men to die and after that comes judgement (Heb 9:27). I pray the Lord teaches us all to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12), and turn to Jesus who offers us eternal life (John 10:28).
Zechariah 1:6a But did not My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers?
Their fathers were dead, and the former prophets were not around to warn them anymore. However, they have the benefit of seeing the word of God come to pass. When the judgements of God are in the earth, the inhabitants learn righteousness (Is 26:9). The word of God overtook their fathers, just as the curses contained in the law will overtake any covenant breaker (Dt 28:15). The Lord had done what he purposed; he fulfilled his word in overthrowing the nation in judgement (Lam 2:17). God’s word never returns to him void, whether his word blesses or curses it always accomplishes his eternal purposes (Is 55:11).
Hosea when calling the nation to repentance said the Lord had hewn them to pieces by the prophets and slain them by the words of his mouth (Hos 6:5). Jeremiah said due to them closing their ears the nation was unable to hear the words of God, his word became a reproach to them, they took no delight in it (Jer 6:10), they had rejected the word of God and therefor forfeited any true wisdom (Jer 8:9). The word of God is living and active, a discerner of our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts (Heb 4:12). Anyone who rejects the word of God does so at the peril of their own soul. To the children of God, the Bible is a love letter written by their Father, but to the children of the devil it is only a reminder of their coming judgement.
Zechariah 1:6b Then they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.’"’”
The word used here for repented is similar to when the Lord called the nation to return to him (Zech 1:3). In our Haggai commentary we learned that a genuine revival was already taking place in the land of Israel by the time of this message. The people under the preaching of Haggai; feared the Lord, obeyed his voice, and began to rebuild the temple all based on the gracious provision of God’s spirit (Zech 1:12-15). Now just two months into the building project Zechariah is reinforcing the need for repentance and we see the people genuinely returning to the Lord. The people acknowledge the judgements of God against them were righteous, based on their own ways and deeds. Similar to the thief on the cross who merely admitted he was suffering justly and receiving the recompense for his own evil deeds (Luke 23:41). Genuine repentance involves a condemnation of oneself in order to vindicate the righteous judgement of God.
To summarize these verses in their historical context; Zechariah is about to unfold a myriad of promises meant to comfort the nation of Israel (Zech 1:13). Prophecies concerning the salvation of the nation, the coming King who will redeem them, the recompense of God upon their enemies and many more. However, before he does that, he makes it crystal clear that these promises are only for those who repent. Similar to the prophet Isaiah who said, “Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness. But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, And those who forsake the LORD will come to an end (Is 1:27-28). Just like Moses, Zechariah lays down a choice before the nation, life or death, a blessing or a curse and calls upon them to choose life (Dt 30:19).
I pray that we all may have a heart similar to the apostle Paul, who desired to see the Jewish people saved (Rom 10:1), or rather like the Lord Jesus Christ who wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41). Unfortunately, this revival was only for the remnant not the nation as a whole. The faithfulness of Israel was like the dew upon the grass which is heavy in the morning but gone within a few hours (Hos 6:4). However, a time is coming when the Lord Jesus Christ will save them and cause them to return to him as a nation (Zech 10:6).
Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
We have spoken much about repentance today; we will now conclude with a brief explanation of this term as well as some application from these verses that I pray will be edifying for the church. The importance of this doctrine cannot be overstated as scripture is clear that repentance is a foundational teaching regarding Christ (Heb 6:1). Repentance is granted by God (Acts 11:18); along with faith as two separate parts of the gracious gift of salvation (Eph 2:8). Repentance includes a genuine change of mind regarding the heinous nature of sin, prompted by the conviction of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 7:10); which results in mourning for and turning from sinful ways and thoughts, and turning to the Lord for free pardon based upon the merits of Christ alone (Is 55:6-7). Repentance is not sinless perfectionism but rather a change in direction (1 John 1:7); it is turning to God from Idols, to serve the living and true God (1 Thess 1:9).
When speaking about repentance it is important to separate the difference between the initial repentance that God grants as a part of conversion which leads to life (Acts 11:18); and the continual daily repentance that is described as bearing fruits in keeping with repentance (Mt 3:8; Acts 26:20). Scripture is clear that all of salvation comes from the Lord (Jon 2:9), it belongs to him (Ps 3:8), he can bestow it on whomever he decides to be gracious to (Rom 9:15). However, when a sinner has been granted repentance by God it is a part of his new nature, he is a new creature in Christ who now naturally continues to repent (2 Cor 5:17). When you continue to practice righteousness, you manifest you have really been born again, that you are a child of God. Whereas if you practice lawlessness, you manifest you are a child of the devil (1 John 3:7-10).
Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
This message was not merely given for the sake of Israel but for all of God’s children. I would like to conclude by applying the opening message of Zechariah to the church for the purposes of evangelism. We see that the word of the Lord was audibly delivered to Zechariah (1:1), does that apply to us? Absolutely not, however we have something better. We have every word God chose to speak and record to the human race revealed in the entire cannon of scripture (Gen 1:1-Rev 22:21). Christ has come and he has opened his mouth and revealed things to us that were hidden since the foundation of the world! (Mt 13:35).
Remember that the Lord revealed to Israel he was very angry with them (1:2), while at the same time calling them to return to him (1:3). Let’s use this as an example and never hide the wrath of God from sinners for the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life (Prov 14:27). Never be ashamed of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ who warned repeatedly that hell is a place where the fire is never quenched (Mk 9:44). While at the same time calling people to return to God because Christ came into the world in order to satisfy the demands of God’s justice, atone for the sins of his people, and extinguish the flames of God’s wrath (Rom 3:25).
Just as Zechariah reminded the Jewish people that they could not escape the judgements of God contained in his word (1:4-6a). Even so, let us warn every person who will hear us that unless you repent you will all perish (Luke 13:3). That all those who continue in sin and refuse to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will have their part in the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). Just as the word of God overtook the nation of Israel in judgement so too these words will overtake every Christless soul the moment they die.
Let us labor to remind people of the goodness and severity of God (1:3). The same God coming back in flaming fire taking vengeance (2 Thess 1:8), is the one who died naked on a cross! Oh, my friends, return to him! The same Lamb whom sinners will be tormented in the presence of for all of eternity (Rev 14:10); and at whose wrath the kings of the earth will one day flee from (Rev 6:12); this very same Lamb is offering to be your shepherd today and lead you to springs flowing with the water of life (Rev 7:17). Here is his message to you today: Come! For anyone who comes to him will not be cast out; return to him and he will return to you!