God’s Word for You
Zechariah 1:5-6 Turn to God
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 8, 2022
5 Your fathers? Where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded to my servants the prophets, didn’t they overtake your fathers?”
After saying in verse 4, “Don’t be like your fathers…,” the prophet asks: “Those fathers? Where are they now?” This is a law passage, to be sure, but what should we make of his follow-up question: “Do the prophets live forever?” No, they don’t, not as far as this lifetime goes. But the prophets were the ones who called “your fathers” to repentance. And this is a different kind of law. The prophets, men like Samuel and Elisha, were not men who were condemned for their sins, for they had faith in the coming Savior. Therefore, see how this passage folds back on itself:
a, Your fathers (where are they?)
b, The prophets are gone, too!
a, My words overtook your fathers
So to restore the prophet’s questions with a little added emphasis:
a, What happened to your fathers?
b, Aren’t even the prophets who warned them gone?
a, Didn’t God’s word, proclaimed by prophets (who themselves died), overtake and condemn your fathers for their sins and unbelief?
If the prophets themselves are subject to death, the wages of sin, then how much more were your fathers subject to death, who were called to repent and failed to repent, and not only death, but eternal death and suffering in hell! This little sermon preaches the beginning of repentance, which is sorrow over sin and the fear of punishment for sin. Repentance is necessary for all people. Jesus said: “Unless you repent, you will perish” (Luke 13:3,5). Now, each of us stumbles and falls into sin many times every day, and every hour. But God has given us repentance, and this way is open to us through the word of God, who says: “Turn to me, and you will be saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22).
The quotation marks that close the above verses reach back to verse 2. This was the prophet’s first brief sermon, although we would not be surprised if this was only the bare outline of what he actually said. We need to pay attention to this because the next sentence begins with “Then they repented,” which applies to the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judah at this time.
Then they repented and said, “Just as the LORD of hosts determined to deal with us for what our ways and deeds deserve, so has he done with us.”
The second part of repentance that follows sorrow over sin is faith. This faith trusts in God’s promises and trusts in God for all his blessings. Here the people of Judah have listened to Zechariah’s words and they have turned back to God in faith. This is shown by their words that acknowledge that what happened to their fathers was just and right, and that even the chastisement that they have received is also correct. Faith does not only rejoice over the enjoyable things God gives, but the necessary things that are not always so enjoyable, as well.
The Hebrew word for “repent” is used here: shuv. This means to turn around or to turn back. God calls us to stop sinning and to turn back to him. In the New Testament another word is used, metanoeo (μετανoέω), which means “to change the heart” and “to turn away from sin.” This is the word Jesus uses when he says that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matthew 12:41). They had a true change of heart and they changed their behavior and their evil ways (Jonah 3:10). This is what God is looking for in us.
As we read the Scriptures, we will see that “repent” usually means the entire act of repentance, that is, sorrow and faith (Matthew 3:1; Luke 13:5, 15:7). Sometimes it seems to only indicate the first part, regret and sorrow over sin. But in those cases it is usually coupled with another word that illustrates the second part, which is faith. So John the Baptist might preach “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15) because his congregation was new to the idea of salvation through faith, and Paul can preach “turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21) because he is describing his preaching throughout Macedonia and Greece which was with new converts and who needed to be taught both parts of true repentance.
A few centuries later, St. Ambrose showed his concern that the doctrine wasn’t taught or understood properly in Italy or anywhere else. He said: “It is easier to find a person who has preserved his innocence than one who repents appropriately.” It is the heart that God looks at (1 Samuel 16:7). Solomon seemed confused about the condition of the heart, for he writes in Proverbs 17:22 that “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” but then in Ecclesiastes 7 he says: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). But the context of those passages is different. In Proverbs 17, he is encouraging us about our lives among other people, because he talks about servants, sons, wicked neighbors, quarreling neighbors, grandchildren, friends, parents, and so on, and so there is a need to keep a cheerful heart in the middle of the sins of the sinners who surround us, for we have a Savior from our sins. Yet in Ecclesiastes he has brought you into a quiet room to talk about your reputation and the way you react when you are taken to account for your sins, and therefore sorrow over sins is needed. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). When you are among sinful people (that is, every day of your life) be more concerned about your own sins than about theirs, and when you are with them, be glad that they have heard of their Savior. If they haven’t, find whatever strange little pulpit that the Lord sets up for you and tell them about Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to eternal life. When you are alone, be equally concerned about your own sins, and pray that the Lord will lead you away from temptation and forgive your sins as well as the sins of the dear people in your family, the way that Job interceded for his children (Job 1:5). For it is the heart God looks at first, not the things that we do. His people were commanded by Haggai to rebuild the temple (Haggai 2:15), but God wanted them to rebuild it for the right reason, with faith in their hearts, so that it would serve them until the time the Savior would come. For God did not only make us to be called blessed, but to be blessed, and therefore we say with Luther: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ commands us to repent, he wants the whole life of the Christian to be constant repentance” (Ninety-Five Theses, 1517, Thesis 1). Our God wants our hearts and lives to turn away from sin every day, and to turn, turn and turn again to him.
Pastor Timothy Smith