4 “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.” ’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord. 5 “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 Yet surely My words and My statutes, Which I commanded My servants the prophets, Did they not overtake your fathers? “So they returned and said: ‘Just as the Lord of hosts determined to do to us, According to our ways and according to our deeds, So He has dealt with us.’ ” ’ ”
The Jews of Judah’s forefathers rejected God’s grace both by neglect and rejection. We can see their history in 2 Chronicles 36:14-16.
“Do not be like your fathers,
The warning here was for Zechariah’s contemporaries to not be like his preexilic forefathers.
To whom the former prophets preached, saying,
The “former prophets” here were the preexilic prophets who warned of impending exile to Babylon. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Habakkuk had all warned the earlier, unrepentant nation of Israel of the possibility of deportation. The reason God disciplines His people is that they reject His explicit message to them in His Word.
‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.” ’
God’s people must repent of their rebellion to forestall His judgment against them. The words above indicate the preexilic prophets and their warning about not repenting.
But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord.
The forefathers did not repent or respond to God’s Word. The words “heed Me” make it clear that God’s people rejected Jehovah, not simply the prophets.
“Your fathers, where are they?
Zechariah’s forefathers went into exile because they did not heed the warnings of the prophets. They did not have endless opportunities and time to repent. This is a warning about delayed repentance. The two following pointed questions surface the issue.
And the prophets, do they live forever?
The preexilic forefathers were no longer alive to warn the contemporaries of Zechariah. The opportunity to repent does not last forever. The warning of previous prophets who bore witness against rejecting God proved true. Yet, God’s people have God’s Word, as expressed in the next verse.
Yet surely My words and My statutes,
“Words” and “statutes” constitute both God’s threatened judgment and His decision to do what He said. Those in Zechariah’s day had an opportunity to learn from a previous generation. God’s Word stands as an eternal confrontation against aberrance. However, Zechariah’s purpose was to give encouragement about God’s blessing on them should they repent.
God’s Word lasts longer than its messengers. The fulfillment of His discipline outlived the prophets. That makes His Word patent. His Word is unchangeable in character.
Which I commanded My servants the prophets,
The prophets relayed a message of the coming certainty of judgment if Israel did not repent. God’s Word abides and vindicates those who are faithful to His Word (Is 55:11).
Did they not overtake your fathers?
God’s Word and warning caught up with the forefathers of Zechariah. His Word does not change; the sinner must change. God’s judgment overtook those who did not repent. Although the prophets died, God fulfilled His Word after their passing.
“So they returned and said: ‘Just as the Lord of hosts determined to do to us,
God did exactly what He said He would do in His warnings from the prophets. He does not change His character and standards.
According to our ways and according to our deeds, So He has dealt with us.’ ” ’ ”
Those in exile acknowledged that God did what He said He would do. The remnant left in Babylon repented after 70 years of judgment (Jer 31:18-19). God dealt with the remnant according to their actions.
A bad example is easily followed.
Since God’s Word is unchangeable and effective, this should be an adequate warning of stepping out of fellowship with God. His Word will eventually “overtake” the believer; he cannot escape God’s dealing with him. This is true with both cursing and blessing.
Believers have many object lessons of saints who fell into sin. Israel had that lesson as well (1 Co 10:11). The central issue of rejecting fellowship with God is the rejection of His revelation in the Bible. Many today either neglect what the Bible says or reject it outright. This is the point where God will “overtake” them with discipline (Ga 6:7). Sin is an infectious dynamic, like a virus among great populations. When sin becomes epidemic, then it becomes very easy for Christians to become infected.