The Bible tells us that, even though Abel is dead, his faith still speaks to us. Well, Zechariah is dead too, but God still speaks to us through his words.

God’s message for us, through Zechariah, is “return to me, and I’ll return to you!” (Zech 1:3). That’s the message of his entire book. It’s a message for covenant people to be more faithful to Him.

We might object, “But I haven’t left God!” That’s what Zechariah’s audience thought, too.

We might think, “This is for other people! It’s not for me!” Well, that’s what they thought, too.

It’s what we always think—and we’re always wrong.

Zechariah begins his book with an introduction:

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, saying,

Zechariah 1:1

In order to express what’s happening in Zechariah’s day, I’ll ask and answer a few questions.

When is Zechariah preaching? Well, it’s about 519-520 B.C.

Where does Zechariah fit into the big picture of Israel’s history? For all practical purposes, the Babylonians conquered Judah in the last decade of the 7th century B.C. Jerusalem went through a brief period of passive resistance, but eventually rebelled and the Babylonians arrived in force to take the city. Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. The Babylonians carted prisoners off into exile throughout this entire period. There they stayed for a long time.

  • About 18 years before Zechariah’s ministry, in 538 B.C., the Persian king Cyrus let a large delegation return to Jerusalem to re-build the temple (Ezra 1).
  • 17 years before, in about 537 B.C., Daniel died in exile in Babylon. I’m certain he would have wished to return, but he couldn’t.
  • Zechariah begins preaching in about 520-519 B.C., along with Haggai.
  • Three or four years later, in 516 B.C., the returned exiles finally completed the temple.
  • 50 years after Zechariah’s ministry began, in the 470s, the events in Esther take place.
  • 70 years on, sometime in the mid 440s B.C., Nehemiah arrives from Persia and sets himself the task of re-building the walls of Jerusalem.
  • 90 years later, in the early 430s B.C., Malachi’s preaching ministry begins.

What’s going on in Israel right now? Well, you have desolation, destruction, and ruin. The city has lain vacant lo these 90 years or so. What do you think will happen to a city left empty for that long? It’s why I chose this picture to express something of the mess the exiles inherited when they arrived:

Foreigners occupy the land and the Israelites have no autonomy at all.[1] Stale dates on paper make us forget that 90 years means a lot of water under the bridge. Think on it. Transport yourself to 1930 …

  • Mickey Mouse cartoons first appear in newspapers.
  • Herbert Hoover is President
  • Al Capone is active in Chicago
  • It’s illegal to produce, import, transport or sell alcohol!

How about a real example; one closer to home? Consider the 1930 census data for a residence near my church, in Olympia, WA. Specifically, 118 Cushing St. Here’s the actual page from the 1930 census to which I’ll be referring[2]:

At that address in 1930, there lived Andrew and Ido Lillis. They were both immigrants from Finland, and their native language was Swedish. Ido was a homemaker, and Andrew was a laborer at the “Verneer Plant.” They had two children. The son, Lawrence (age 22), worked with his father as a fellow laborer at the “Verneer Plant.” The daughter, Edith (age 17), stayed home with her mother.

The burning question on the 1930 census was “do you have a radio set?” I must report the Lillis family did not own such a device!

Here is that very same address, today:

But, the catch is that structure from the picture was built in 1937. The home that census worker visited in 1930 is gone! I say all that to say this—90 years is a lot of water under the bridge. Things change. Entire generations live and die. Many people in Jerusalem don’t know, care or remember what used to be.

What’s Israel’s job? It’s pretty simple; (1) build a temple for God to be with them, and (2) start over by following the law because they love Him—don’t make the mistakes their fathers did! Well, what were their mistakes? We ought to know that, so we can avoid repeating them. Zechariah tell us:

 The LORD was very angry with your fathers …”

Zechariah 1:2

This doesn’t sound good—nobody wants the Lord to be angry with them. What did their fathers do? Why did they go into exile in the first place? Isaiah has some hints for us. I’m reaching for Isaiah here because Zechariah alludes to him two years later in his ministry (Zech 7:7).

Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

Isaiah 58:1

God doesn’t want Isaiah to hold back. He obviously has a serious problem with his people. He explains:

Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

Isaiah 58:2

The problems seem to be externalism and fakery. God now mocks what the people ask him:

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Isaiah 58:3

They want to know why God is “ignoring” them when they pray, when they fast, when they bring sacrifices. So, God tells them why:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.

Isaiah 58:3-4

There’s no brotherly love. No real covenant community.

Fasting like yours this day, will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Isaiah 58:4

When there’s no obedience, God ignores us.     

Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58:5

Of course not! God sees through externalism. If we really love God, we want to do what He says. Isaiah tells them to start showing love to their brothers and sisters; to show brotherly love to one another in the community (a la John the Baptist). God explains what will happen if they obey:

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah 58:9

None of this is news to many Christians. But let me ask you this—will God one day say speak to our grandchildren and say, “I was very angry with your fathers?”

We want to instinctively respond, “No, because we’re not like them!”

  • is that really true?
  • do you think Isaiah’s audience were a bunch of people who self-consciously hated God and wanted to be free from Him?
  • did they think God was angry with them?
  • or, did they think God was just fine with them?
  • did they deceive themselves?

Is the Lord angry with us? We want to reply, “I’m not like them, even if other Christians are!” But, God is dealing with groups, here. The churches in Revelation weren’t all full of “bad” people, you know. Sometimes the righteous suffer because of the sins of the larger group. Our individualism won’t save us.

So, I ask again—is the Lord angry with us? Let’s see what Zechariah has to say:

Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

Zechariah 1:3

God says they’ve left Him behind, and they don’t even know it! How have they done that? It’s an important question, because right now (today!) we’re doing variations on the same thing. How have the folks in Zechariah’s day “left” God? Ezra and Haggai tell us how.

Ezra tells us they didn’t listen to God, and then rationalized their sins away. The first wave of exiles returned and built a makeshift altar to worship God “for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands,” (Ezra 3:3). They re-instituted proper worship and laid a new temple foundation (Ezra 3:8-13). They rejected help from the syncretistic locals (Ezra 4:3), who then discouraged them, made them afraid, and bribed officials to hinder their work (Ezra 4:4-5). So, they stop working on the temple.

Haggai then weighs in. He and Zechariah practically began their preaching ministries together. What does God think about their failure and their rationalizations? By the time Zechariah and Haggai roll up on the scene, it’s been 16 years—what does God think about this?

Well … God isn’t happy. Even worse, God doesn’t care about their reasons.

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?

Haggai 1:4

What can they say to this? Not much. They had good reasons for being afraid. For being worried. For being scared. But, God doesn’t care. The time is never “right” to do what God wants. He told them:

Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD

Haggai 1:8

No matter what we think, we only honor and glorify God when we do things His way. And, in Zechariah and Haggai’s day, His way is to have a temple in which to dwell among His people. So, we do things His way or He takes no pleasure in us. We do things His way or we don’t honor Him.

God doesn’t care about our excuses. They might be real excuses, but He still doesn’t care. He wants us to get moving because He promises to help us along the way. The rest of Zechariah is full of encouragement to do just that. God has power over their circumstances.

He has power over ours, too.

But, now another question crops up in our minds as we mull this over. When you think about the real pressures Zechariah’s folks are facing, and the real obstacles in their way, and the fact that they’re probably not cartoon characters who self-consciously hate God … how did they “leave” Him in the first place?

Looking at what Ezra and Haggai said, it seems to go something like this:

  1. we chose to disobey (Hag 1:2-4)
  2. we rationalize our choice (Ezra 3,4)
  3. God doesn’t accept this—He rips our pious cloaks away (Hag 1:4)
  4. so, God takes no pleasure in us (Hag 1:8)
  5. and we dishonor Him (Hag 1:8)
  6. so, He calls us to return to Him (Zech 1:3)

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.

Zechariah 1:4

This sounds so simple, so easy. Well, when Jeremiah tried to preach truth to Israelites, a mob of priests and angry folks seized him and declared he must die (Jer 26:7-11)! We read this and think, “what idiots!”

We forget that we’re very good at seeing ourselves in the best possible light— sometimes a very false light. The Pharisees didn’t think they were hypocrites—why not? How does this rationalization work? How do we deceive ourselves?

  1. You stop looking to Him to figure out His standards. You make your own standards—even with good intentions.
  2. Then, you begin to drift away, all while thinking God’s happy with you. With no guardrails, you begin to edge off the road and into the ditch.
  3. Eventually, God’s word sounds strange and offensive to you. But, you’ve been without it for so long that you can’t see that.
  4. So, when you do hear the real truth again, or a call to repentance, or a call to faithfulness … you get angry!
  5. So, you see, the messenger is always the bigot, the hater, the fundamentalist, the intolerant one, the legalist—we’re the “righteous” ones!

So, when we read Zechariah’s words, what do we think about them? He told his people their fathers “did not hear or pay attention to me,” (Zech 1:4). Will we hear or pay attention to God?

If we skip the introspection and immediately scoff and say, “Whaddya mean!? We’re all fine here!” then we’re making their same mistake. Can any of us bring our lives before the Word of God and say with a straight face that there are no problems? Can any of us really hear God say, “Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds,” then look inside our hearts and minds, and say, “I’m good! Nothing to see, here!”?

Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?

Zechariah 1:5

Well, of course not! So, who should you listen to? Whose example is the best?

But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?

Zechariah 1:6

They certainly did. Their fathers refused to listen, for whatever reason, because of whatever rationalization, because of whatever excuse. So, God did just what He said He would—He brought discipline!

God isn’t speaking to unbelievers, but to believers—to covenant people. If you’re a Christian, then you’re a covenant member and God is speaking to you just as surely as He spoke to Zechariah’s audience.

Picture that ruined building again:

As Zechariah’s audience surveyed a landscape that looked quite a bit like this, then thought about their duty to build a newer, cruder temple, they might have thought, “God isn’t here! Not in all this mess!” But, He is there … and He’d like to be there more often.

So, too, we Christians might look at our lives, which may look a bit like that picture. Ruined. Scarred. Messy. In need of some extensive renovation. Disobedient. We might mutter to ourselves, “God isn’t here! Not in the mess that’s my life!” But, He is there … and He’d like to be there more often!

So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for pour ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”

Zechariah 1:6

Eventually, some of their fathers repented, in the end—will we?

Zechariah’s message is deceptively simple. It’s a warning against externalism. So, return to God, and He’ll return to you. God says, in effect:

If you love me, then act like it—because I love you! Prepare your hearts to meet me, because first I’m gonna build my house, and then I’m gonna go to my house, and I want my people to serve me with right and loving hearts!

If you’ve a covenant member, a Christian, then your job is to consider how you’ve left God, and then return to Him—He’s full of mercy! But, how do you do that, exactly?

You do it by asking yourself two questions:

  1. What is one way in which I’ve left God?
  2. How will I return to Him today?

Zechariah spoke in general terms in this message. He meant for his people to raise their eyebrows, and consider their own lives. Whoever you are, there is at least one way in which you’re not being faithful to God. What is it? How will you return to Him?

Remember, we do things His way or He takes no pleasure in us. We do things His way, or we don’t honor Him. Remember the steps-towards self-delusion that Ezra and Haggai taught us:

  1. we choose to disobey (Hag 1:2-4)
  2. then, we rationalize our choices (Ezra 3, 4)
  3. and God doesn’t accept this—He sends His word to us to rip our pious cloaks away (Hag 1:4)
  4. so, He takes no pleasure in us (Hag 1:8),
  5. because we dishonor Him (Hag 1:8),
  6. so we must return to Him

So, I ask again:

  1. What is one way in which you’ve left God?
  2. How will you return to Him today?

Remember, it’s always the deceptively “simple things” that God cares about. Two years later, Zechariah will go on to chastise the people for their lack of brotherly love (Zech 7:8-10). These might seem like “little things,” but they’re actually the most important things.

What is “the thing” in your life? Zechariah says, “you guys don’t have to respond like our fathers did!” And neither do we. He told his people, “you guys don’t have to be self-deceived like they were!” And neither do we.

I say it again—God is speaking into our hearts and souls just as surely as He spoke to those folks in Jerusalem in 519 B.C. Zechariah says, “If you won’t hear God, then He won’t hear you!” And it’s the same for us.

So, again, I offer this challenge from this passage:

  1. What is one way in which you’ve left God?
  2. How will you return to Him today?

But, it’s harder than that. Answer the “how” question to the fourth level. Answer it four times in order to get a “real” answer.

I’ll demonstrate.

Let’s say I decide I’ve “left” God because I don’t show the right kind of love to my wife that scripture commands. I want to fix that. So, here goes:

  • Level one. “I’ll show better love to my wife.” This is cute, but worthless. There’s nothing specific here. It’s a well-meaning bit of nothingness, like a bite of cotton candy. That’s not good enough. I have to ask myself “yeah, and how will I do that?”
  • Level two. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by listening to her more.” That’s also cute. It’s only a bit less worthless than the first attempt. But, at least I’ve now identified a target. I can show better love by listening more. Great. So, what does that mean, exactly?
  • Level three. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by making dedicated time to talk with her more.” Getting better, but there’s still way too much wiggle room. What does that mean?
  • Level four. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by scheduling a 30-minute walk with her 2x per week and never breaking it.” Now we’re talking. Something specific, measurable, realistic … and real.

We each need to “return to God” in some way. What’s your way? How will you do it? Be specific! Answer the question four times in order to get a real answer that’ll actually mean something.

If we return to Him, then He’ll return to us.



[1] The exiles found themselves in a much-reduced geo-political situation. Even perhaps 130 years later under Nehemiah’s governorship, “Judah comprised an area covering roughly nine hundred square miles,” (Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998], 171).

[2] “United States Census, 1930,” database with images. Retrieved from FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RZX-99N?i=1&wc=QZFW-8V7%3A648803901%2C650883001%2C650323301%2C1589282463&cc=1810731) Washington > Thurston > Olympia > ED 32 > image 2 of 20; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s