In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:
“The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?
“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”
These opening words of Zechariah are dated between Haggai’s oracles in 2:1 and 2:10, implying that both prophets functioned contemporaneously among the same small community in Jerusalem. The focus is more on Zechariah as the prophetic recipient of God’s word than on his audience, who are identified collectively as descendants of those who had suffered the event of exile. Zerubbabel and Joshua are not specifically mentioned here.
The message is a reminder of how God called their ancestors to turn away from evil ways through various prophets; but they took no notice. God’s people had failed to live in covenant relationship, to follow God’s commands; and eventually they experienced the consequences: the loss of their land, their monarchy and their temple. Only in exile had they realised the inevitability of this outcome. The choices they had made, leaving God out of their consideration, were as if they had pushed a self-destruct button. As the years passed those in exile had understood this dislocation as deserved punishment from God, that God hadn’t broken covenant with them and perhaps there was hope for a return, a future. They had turned back to God and the generation addressed by Zechariah are experiencing that hope fulfilled.
However Zechariah’s role is once more to challenge the people to return to God – don’t be like your ancestors. His message appeals to the community to keep covenant, to depend on God, to deepen their relationship with God; and it promises that God will prove faithful if they do.
This is a reminder that turning to God, becoming a Christian, making a commitment of faith, isn’t a one-off event. We are called, like Zechariah’s audience, to be wary of complacency regarding our relationship with God; to re-engage with God each and every day in thankfulness, confession and petition.
Faithful God, thank you that you never turn away from us, no matter how far we stray from your presence. Thank you for every experience of your unending loving kindness and promises fulfilled. Thank you for challenging us to draw closer to you, especially when we foolishly imagine that ‘all is well’. Save us from the dangers of complacency in our faith, through Christ your living word. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.