Turn to the Lord
1 I am the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo.
In the eighth month of the second year that Darius was king of Persia, the Lord told me to say:
2-3Israel, I, the Lord All-Powerful, was very angry with your ancestors. But if you people will return to me, I will turn and help you. 4Don't be stubborn like your ancestors. They were warned by the earlier prophets to give up their evil and turn back to me, but they paid no attention.
5Where are your ancestors now? Not even prophets live forever. 6But my warnings and my words spoken by the prophets caught up with your ancestors. So they turned back to me and said, “Lord All-Powerful, you have punished us for our sins, just as you had planned.”
We all have things in our past that we would like to forget. Indeed, it is true that there are some things that are best forgotten. But our memories are important, for, as painful as they may be at times, they can teach us valuable lessons.
The oracles of the prophet Zechariah begin with an appeal to the people of Judah to remember their past. Writing at the same time and for the same reason as Haggai, he means to encourage them in their resettlement in the land and to spur them on in the rebuilding of the temple. But the memories are painful, for they centre on the waywardness and disobedience of their ancestors, and how this had incurred the Lord’s displeasure (v.2). “Don’t be stubborn like your ancestors,” they are warned (v.4).
Memory of the past can be a motivational factor in moving forward in life. The returned exiles are reminded how their ancestors refused to listen to the Lord or pay heed to His intentions as conveyed through law and prophecy. Israel’s rejection of the Lord and His messengers had resulted in their exile in Babylon in 586 bc. But does this mean that God had rejected them?
No. For now He sends them a prophet, Zechariah, whose name means ‘the Lord remembers’, and He once again delivers His word of promise: “If you people will return to me, I will turn and help you” (v.3). The shameful and distressing events of our past can yet be used for good if we would but see God’s hand in them, guiding us to repentance. “Come near to God” counsels James, “and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
God of our past and of our future, in whose hands we place our disappointments and our hopes, let not the chastening memories of our failures prevent us from knowing your power to forgive and to restore. Amen.
The Right Reverend Dr Stephen Andrews is the Principal and Helliwell Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Wycliffe College, Toronto. Prior to taking on this role in 2016, he was the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Algoma headquartered in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. He has an MDiv from Wycliffe College and a PhD from Cambridge University, where his research focused on Jewish readings of the Book of Genesis. Bishop Andrews is married to Fawna and has two married daughters and two grandchildren.