Zechariah 1:1-6 A word on Repentance
Zechariah was a close contemporary of Haggai. Verse 1 tells us whom the Lord used to convey this vital message, “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo.” If you glance back at Haggai you will find that he prophesies in the second year of Darius as well. The important dates in Haggai are as follows:
|1||6||2||The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (1:1)|
|24||6||2||The people began work on the house of the Lord (1:14b,15)|
|21||7||2||The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:1)|
|24||9||2||The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:10)
The foundation of the temple was laid (2:18)
The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:20)
Zechariah receives his word from the Lord in the 8th month of the 2nd year of Darius, so somewhere between Haggai 2:9 and Haggai 2:10 in about 520 BC. At this point the work is on-going but not yet finished. It will be helpful to review the history from the time of destruction of Jerusalem to the completion of the temple by the exiles on their return.
- Jerusalem destroyed and captives taken to Babylon in 586 BC.
- Exiles return in 536 BC.
- Work begins in the second year 535 BC (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 4:24, Ezra 5:1-2).
- Haggai and Zechariah receive words from the Lord in the 2nd year of Darius or 520 BC.
- The temple is finished in the 6th year of Darius or 516 BC exactly 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Israelites (Ezra 6:14-15).
Thus Zechariah is co-prophet alongside Haggai encouraging the work of rebuilding the temple. However, whilst Haggai seems to be encouraging the external work and the rebuilding programme, Zechariah’s prophetic word is aimed at the hearts or an inner work. That is not to say that Haggai was not concerned with heart work, but that his words were encouragements to build and work in the world as applications. Whereas Zechariahs’ focus was on the inner life as can be seen by the style of the prophecy with its visions and pictures and its burdens and oracles – Haggai is much more plain speaking and practical.
Our text acts as the introduction of the book and we shall draw four main themes as follows:
- The Lord of hosts is a God of wrath.
- True life is a life of repentance.
- Pay attention to your history!
- The power of the Lord’s word OR the faithfulness of the Lord.
- The Lord of hosts is a God of wrath:
“The Lord has been very angry with your fathers (Zechariah 1:2). Imagine the situation Zechariah witnessed and saw. The temple was in the process of being built but was nowhere near as majestic as the former one that was destroyed. All around in the city and surroundings were the evidence of the destruction wrought by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (see commentary of H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah, p.22).
Now verse 2 literally rendered is as follows: Angry was the Lord towards your fathers, with anger. The word ‘angry’ comes before and after, like bookends that surround the people – hence the emphatic ‘very angry’ in the NKJV. How is it that God can be angry? Isn’t He above this? We need to be careful that we do not transfer human views of anger to God – He is not capricious / vindictive / doesn’t lose control (see summary of God’s wrath by John Stott, ‘The Cross of Christ’).
Why was God angry with the fathers? The answer comes in verse 4, ‘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, declares the Lord.’ They would not listen to the Lord. Jeremiah (and other prophets) give us precise details of how this worked out but essentially this is the reason for God’s anger.
Is such a response fair? Well, we need to remember who God is and who we are! Here in our text are three explanations for God’s anger:
- He is ‘Lord’ (YHWH). He is the self-existent One – the I AM. We are the created ones, dependent, reliant and not self-existent.
- He is ‘Lord of hosts.’ This title is found 46 times in Zechariah. It occurs mostly in Jeremiah (71) and Isaiah (53) but these are much longer books. It also occurs 24 times in Malachi. The essential meaning is that God is Commander-in-Chief over all armies! All answer to Him! We are brought to consider the Lord’s sovereign power over all His works of creation. As Commander-in-Chief He has the power to execute His plan perfectly without any opposition. Whilst He allows opponents to do their worst, they do not realise that they are doing what God requires because He always makes good come from evil. Think of Exodus and Pharaoh! Think of Christ on the cross – taken by wicked men but fore-ordained of the Father.
- He brings / offers the word of the Lord. This points us to two things – first the revelation pf God which is 100% true, and second the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ (John 14:6). Now God’s word, the word of the Lord, will never fail. In fact, in our text we are told it will ‘overtake the fathers and prophets.’ Thus, from these three basic ideas, we note that God is: true, right, perfect, pure and holy. Thus, to not listen to God is tantamount to supreme folly. God is:
- Affronted that we do not listen to what is true, right, perfect, pure and holy.
- Horrified that we opt for sin, error, evil and all that which is other than what God would bring and suggest.
Would not a parent express the same indignation at a toddler who says, ‘No’ when asked to eat up their food and instead sprays it around the room onto carpets, walls and all over themselves and you? Would not a father be angry when his teenage son defies the best advice and goes off to binge, indulging in drink, drugs and loose living, only to end u on the run or in hospital? The Lord is very angry when people do not listen to Him.
Of course, God has other attributes. God is:
The God of love (2 Corinthians 13:11)
The God of glory (Acts 7:2)
The God of patience (Romans 15:5)
The God of hope (Romans 15:13)
The God of peace (Romans 15:13, 16:20)
The God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10)
The Lord is also is described as the God who is:
true (John 3:33)
faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9)
holy (1 Corinthians 3:17)
a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29)
light (1 John 1:5)
love (1 John 4:8, 16)
None of these attributes are contrary or contradict the fact that God is a God of wrath. Consider these scriptures: John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6, Romans 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:9. Ezra puts it like this, “The hand of God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him, (Ezra 8:22b). The holy and pure God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) and He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He will consume utterly anything which is tainted with evil, sin or error. Think of it like this: if you had painted a perfect picture or baked a beautiful cake and decorated it, or if you had built a superb garden, what would you do or feel if someone wanted to scratch your picture, poison your cake, or overthrow your garden? We are God’s workmanship. We have ruined it, His picture, His garden! Sin, iniquity, error, transgression do this. They spoil and maim, they ruin and break up. Would that be acceptable to you? Or would you not be angry?
- True life is a life of repentance.
‘Therefore say to them, ‘Thus declares the Lordof hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts’ (Zechariah 1:3).
There are two key thoughts in verse 3 and they are quite clearly stated. The first is the command for the people to return to the Lord, and then there is the consequence, outcome or fruit – the Lord will return to the people. Before we go any further we must pause and declare the great grace and mercy of God here. The fathers (and all mankind, including us) do not listen to God. We are under His wrath. But He does not pour this out immediately! Isn’t that remarkable? Think of the countless warnings God gave to the people in Israel and Judah. Or think of the warnings the Lord gave to Pharaoh. Or what about the people in Noah’s day. The Lord gave ample warning that He would one day come and bring judgement for wickedness and sin. There have been many temporal judgements on the world or on nations, or even on individuals, and these act as warnings to us. One day there will be a final reckoning! We stand at that point in history where we can look back and see that God has poured out His wrath on the sinless substitute, Christ Jesus, at Calvary, and such propitiation (the diverting of wrath from us to another) is available.
The word rendered as ‘return’ in verse 3 means to ‘turnabout’ and signifies repentance – a change of mind and direction. You were walking in one way with one aim and purpose, but then you about face and walk in the opposite direction with a diametrically opposed way of thinking. Now verse 3 may appear to be somewhat of a surprise!
The Lord of hosts is calling the people who returned from Babylon to return to Him i.e. to repent. Now you may be thinking: wouldn’t those who came back from Babylon in 536 BC have been ones who wanted to see the Lord vindicated and glorified? Would not these be the zealous ones who sought the Lord rather than those who were left behind and settled in Babylon? Are not these the ransomed of the Lord who returned to Jerusalem with singing as prophesied by Isaiah? (Isaiah 53:10, 51:11). Perhaps. But we err greatly if we think that repentance is a one-off affair at the start of our walk with God. There are two things we need to bear in mind here:
First, our natural tendency / inclination is to drift from God. We can see this in a number of ways:
(a) think of the many exhortations to wake up, rouse yourself, stir up your gift and so on. If we did not drift away there would be no need for these calls.
(b) think of the many calls to ‘keep.’ For example:
- Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)
- Keep yourself pure )(1 Timothy 5:22)
- Keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27)
- Keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)
- Keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21)
(c) consider the scripture in Hebrews 2:1-3a.
(d) consider the sad and sorry fact that we continue to sin (even though we do not want to as believers). Read Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:18-25.
(e) Finally, hear the words of the apostle John in 1 John 1:8-10).
We sin, we struggle / wrestle with the flesh, we forget, we drift and we are assailed by Satan and the world. Such a state of affairs means that we should often repent. We need to draw near to God, come back to Him, forsake our sin, do everything we can to remember what God has done, fight the devil and the world, realign ourselves in accordance with God and His ways. We need to repent!
But there is another aspect to repentance which I fear is sorely missing today. It ought to be at the forefront of our evangelism. Second: repentance is the flip0of-faith. If faith is the ‘heads’ on a coin, repentance is the ‘tails.’ We are perhaps guilty of over-emphasising faith – trust in God. If we look at the message that Christ declared at the start of His ministry, we find that the emphasis is rather on repentance, (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32).
Repentance focuses our thought on turning around from our current course. We are going astray, walking down the wrong path, and not following the path of righteousness. Wherever repentance and faith are found together in Scripture, in all cases, repentance comes first: (Matthew 21:32, Mark 1:14b-15, Acts 19:4, Acts 20:21, Hebrews 6:1). We need to stop, re-consider, think again, and change our course of action – and that is where faith comes in. Asking a person to put trust in God whilst they are walking in the wrong way, that is, away from God – is not likely to succeed. We need to call people to turn around before they can place trust in God!
When we see God in all His holiness and purity and it causes us to tremble and quake, and we think, ‘What am I doing? I must be mad to pursue this sinful way!’ Then we think again and turn our lives from the old ways we have been pursuing – this is repentance towards God (in His holiness) and from dead works (our old sinful way). But then we also see Christ, and especially Him on the cross bearing our sin. When we see Him dying and rising we love Him and run to Him for help and salvation – this is faith in Jesus Christ.
(b) The Lord returns! Verse 3 is quite clear on the process. When a person responds to the command of the Lord to return, He will return to them. We get a clear picture of this if we look at the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11f). I’m sure you remember the story. The younger of the two sons wanted to have the inheritance from his father before the father died. He took it and went and spent it all on loose living. Ending up in a pigsty, eating the pigs’ food. But we then read that ‘he came to himself’ (Luke 15:17), that he decided to go back to his father saying that he had ‘sinned against heaven and before’ his father (Luke 15:18) and that he humbled himself, requesting to become ‘one of your hired servants’ (Luke 15:19). So the younger son arose and set off to return to his father, but then we read: ‘but when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20). Isn’t that wonderful?
The same basic truth / ideas is expressed more clearly by James, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’ (James 4:8). Such a statement is easy to repeat and grasp, especially with the story of the prodigal son we have just considered. However, it is important to give the statement its true context. James begins by pointing out that wars and fights come because of selfish lusts and desires and because we have a worldly and fleshly inclination but the Holy Spirit years within us jealousy. He then states that God is with the humble and lowly giving grace but He resists the proud – which thought seems to be an allusion to several OT and NT Scriptures (Job 22:29, Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Matthew 23:12, 1 Peter 5:5). Following this we read a series of 7 exhortations of which the third is the one we noted. These exhortations start with the word ‘therefore.’
(1) submit to God
(2) Resist the devil and he will flee from you
(3) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
(4) Cleanse your hands, you sinners and
(5) purify your hearts, you double-minded.
(6) Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
(7) Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:7-10).
It is clear from what James says that the essence of these imperatives is the nature of repentance. We need to humble ourselves by stopping our independent autonomous lifestyle, put on our armour of faith against the devil and avail ourselves of the cleansing power of the Cross and Christ. Now all that we have said is a part of our daily lives. Life is one of repentance from sin, error, evil and faith towards God and Christ.
- Pay attention to your history!
Zechariah 4-6. A view or reading of church history is often played down or ignored in many circles. Sometimes for very dubious reasons. But we ought to be students of church history is clear when you look at the length of time it took the Lord to reveal Scripture to us. Also we consider testimony to be an important tool or witness to faith – and church history is just that – testimonies of believers through the ages. Now these verses help us to understand how to read church history. We can consider the following lessons:
- Beware of your traditions.
- The reluctance to repent (or the need to always reform)
- Do not trust to mere men – trust in the word (the problem of personalities)
- Beware of your traditions. In verse 4 we hear an exhortation: “Do not be like your fathers.” It is natural to follow in the footsteps of fathers (and mothers). How often do you hear someone say, ‘He sounds just like his father!’ As Christians we are equally prone to follow in the footsteps of our forebears – our fathers in the faith. You may think this is a good thing but that is not necessarily the case Do you wonder why I say this? Have I gone mad? NO! Let me explain what I mean. We have fathers in the faith – believers who have gone before us and have walked the walk of faith before we came on the scene. Where can we see their walk of faith we ought to glory and rejoice and we ought to seek to emulate them. But where we see their faults and failings we ought to avoid these like the plague. But what do we do? Well in practice we simply continue the traditions that have been handed down. We are lazy and do not think deeply. In a lot of cases these traditions are time-bound and do not necessarily pass well from one age to the next. The fact is that God has no grandchildren and each generation must seek to follow the Lord afresh. That does not mean we ignore or belittle those who have gone before us – NO! But we live in this age and we must endeavour to follow Christ in this age. The truths and principles of Scripture NEVER CHANGE. But the application does change.
- The reluctance to repent (or need to always reform). Their fathers had the same privileges and advantages as the people in Zechariah’s day. They had the prophets who brought God’s word through preaching, and therefore they could hear what God had to say. They heard the call to repent from the Lord through the prophets (verse 4). But they did not act on this, they did not combine it with faith. They did not listen intelligently and they did not prick up their ears and do what was needed. I think the main problem is that we naturally assume that we are like trains which can only go forwards or backwards. Once we have ‘repented’ we think that all the work is done with. Instead we ought to realise that we are like a house that has fallen into great disrepair and need much renovation. When we are converted it is like being translated from one kingdom to another (Colossians 1:13). When we are born again it is like being a new creature with a new vision (John 3). But nobody goes from sinner to 100% fit for heaven overnight. There is a long proves of sanctification and we are all WOPs – works in progress. This means that for a long time we have to have our flooring replaced – our ground and foundation. We have to change our minds and allow the Lord to choose the pattern and structure for the floors of our lives. When that is done perhaps there is some time to allow it to settle but then the walls need repairing and repainting so that when people come to visit there is something good to see instead of cracks and mould, or peeling paint. Thus we need to always be ready to reform.
We need often to repent. Think on these verses: Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 4:20-24. Our minds, our inwards man needs to be renewed on a daily basis. Their fathers refused to do this! The Pharisees of Jesus’ day refused to reform and repent. Hebrews 4 is a warning about those who wandered in the wilderness and refused to obey God when it came time to enter the Promised Land. Are we the same when we hold onto outmoded forms and rituals? I think the great problem can be summed up like this: it is one of comfortableness and a settled nature. (See Zephaniah 1:12). The prophet Jeremiah spoke in a similar way concerning Moab (Jeremiah 48:11). Have we become too comfortable, predictable and unaware of God’s will and ways? (See what the Lord looks for in Isaiah 66:2, Isaiah 57:15, Philippians 2:5-8). Now the nation as a whole, and the kings and nobles in particular, did not repent even though Jeremiah made repeated calls from the Lord for them to do so. Nevertheless there were some who did. I am thinking of the likes of Daniel and others who were taken into captivity. Thus our text points to these as ones who turned back to follow the Lord (Zechariah 1:6). It may be worth looking at Daniel’s prayer in your own time – see Daniel 9:1f. In concluding this part – have a view of church history to see how people repented and reformed.
- The power of the Lord’s word or the faithfulness of the Lord. (Zechariah 1:5-6). The wrath of God leads us to repentance which is simply demonstrated throughout church history. Now we consider what does not alter. In verse 6 we have a contrasting word ‘yet.’ So in stark contrast to the fathers and the prophets we have God’s word. All men die. Even the good ones like prophets (Job 14:1-2, James 1:11). IN stark contrast the word of God lasts forever (Isaiah 40:6-8). IN our test it is put differently (see verse 5). It is sad to reflect that those who have gone before are truly gone. Some may think that they can ‘live on’ in their work, achievement, their monuments and so on. But these do no disguise the fact that they are in fact no longer here with us. We ought to realise that we are not all that.
But there is something which does last! The words and statutes of the Lord. Notice how this is put. First they are God’s, that is, they belong to God. They are ‘My words and My statutes.’ We must be very careful to recognise the origin of these words here. How sad it is that many simply consider these as the words of mere men scrambling around trying to make sense of things. What does God have to say? Read Isaiah 66:2. Do we tremble at God’s word? Really? Now this means we ought to be careful to look into the words of Scripture carefully.
Second, they are words and statues command by the commissioned. In other words, these words and statutes are not to be played around with or altered or held in contempt. No! They must be faithfully passed on. They must be held as dearly and as precious as the One who brought them into being. The prophets are given the title ‘My servants.’ A servant does not initiate things or produce a message from himself! No! He takes what he has been given and passes it on faithfully. But the prophets died. Just as the father did. So …
Third. They are the words and statutes that overtook the fathers and the prophets. God’s word is much more than simply long-lasting. It is eternal (Psalm 119:89). Such a though is obvious when you think about it. The eternal God can only utter words which are eternal. What God says is true and always will be. God never needs to qualify, adjust, correct, amend or alter anything He says at all. He has no plan B.
Contrast this with man’s words and statutes. How often do we have to alter or change our words and statutes? Think of the re-structuring of institutions such as education. One year a set of ‘words’ and ‘rules’ prevails as the guide for teaching and the next a new set is rolled out. Or think of government. One government lays its plans for legislation and the next repels and alters those laws in conformity with a new way of thinking! God’s words when once spoken, and God’s statutes when once written down, last for eternity. They are reliable, trustworthy and faithful. This last point is worth dwelling on.
Fourth. The words and statutes of God are immutable – they will never change. Here we are brought face-to-face with the faithfulness of God. We tend to think of faithfulness as something that is always positive. When we say someone is reliable, or trustworthy, what we mean is that they are on our side, they agree with our way of thinking. But true faithfulness is that quality or remaining true to your word. This means that when the Lord warns us of the consequences of wrong actions we can be absolutely sure that these will result. (See Deuteronomy 28. especially verses 33, 36 and 37).
- God, the Lord of hosts, the Almighty, Holy One of Israel is angry – very angry – about sin, rebellion and evil
- Repentance is a first course of action for all. Repentance and faith, coming back to the Lord daily, frequently (Matthew 11:28).
- The history of the true church is one of reform – repentance, turning back to the Lord. Revival.
- God’s word will outlast all of us! Ours is a passing moment in history. But God’s word will continue forever.
- Will we continually come back to the Lord and His word?