They Both Displeased God
Zechariah was given the work of strengthening the people, especially the leaders, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, for the task or rebuilding the Temple and establishing a strong state of God's people in a rebuilt Jerusalem. In order to get the people ready for this task he first calls them to repentance. "The LORD was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Return to Me," declares the LORD of hosts, "that I may return to you," says the LORD of hosts. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, saying, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds."' But they did not listen or give heed to Me," declares the LORD." (Zech.1:2-4)
Since this was the first generation back from Babylonian captivity, everything that they saw and did everyday in rebuilding life in Jerusalem should have made the truth that God had been displeased with them self-evident. But they still needed to be reminded of this starting point. They needed to come back to the Lord so that the Lord would return to them. They had gotten far from Him and garnered His displeasure by ignoring His prophets. As the people were told by another prophet Zechariah before they were cast into captivity, "Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, "Thus God has said, 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you."'" (2 Chron. 24:20) The first Zechariah was killed in the temple for this admonition. As the history records in the next verse, "So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD." (vs. 21)
But this generation of Jews was better than their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They were a purified remnant that God could work with. So they are offered full restoration -- not just of the land and temple, but of the full spirit of the people. The door to God was open and blessed were they if they would come. God's anger at them had passed, so the display of His anger now turns to the heathens.
The prophet is shown in a vision of four horsemen who patrol the earth. After their report that the earth is peaceful and quiet, the state of the Jews compared to the heathen nations. "Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, "O LORD of hosts, how long wilt Thou have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which Thou hast been indignant these seventy years?" And the LORD answered the angel who was speaking with me with gracious words, comforting words. So the angel who was speaking with me said to me, "Proclaim, saying, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion."'" (Zech. 1:12-14) God's compassion is returning to His people with whom He was so angry. But in order to show compassion on God's people, the enemies who had trampled Jerusalem must be punished for their evils. The Jews and pagans are opponents who cannot live in harmony; harm to one is help the other. This truth about God's people and the world is equally true concerning truth and error. To let error alone harms truth. To promote truth harms error. They cannot peacefully coexist. God gave a very kind answer to His people. It was time for things to be set right.
God didn't go punish the heathen without cause; they full well had it coming as well. "But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster." (vs. 15) The heathens, exemplified by the Babylonians (who had accomplished God's own purpose by first destroying the wicked Assyrians and being the instrument of punishment God used to punish His own people) and their immediate successors, the cruel Medo-Persians, were displeasing to God just as the Jews had been. They had their time of peace as God worked His wrath on the Jews, but now His attention turns back to them. So many times we take a short view of time and a limited view of circumstance. When we do this we see wicked people apparently at peace and we conclude that God must be happy with, or at least indifferent towards, them and their sins. But even with the ease these nations currently enjoyed, the Lord was still angry with them. God's anger had not been active, so they used His allowance of time to do more evil and heap up more punishment when His anger did come. We are to regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation (2 Pet. 3:15), but they had used it as a time of indulgence in sin.
Notice this one very important point: that although the timing was a slightly different, God was displeased with both the Jews and the heathens as each indulged in sin. The result was that the Jews went to captivity, and the heathens were "terrified and throw down." (Zech 1:21) Both were punished when needed. The Jews did not receive a pass because they were God's people, and the Gentiles were not overlooked because of their ignorance.
We likely understand God's anger with the heathen, but the prophet spent more of his time explaining about God's anger towards His own people. Although this is a concept that we are more likely to overlook, it is even more important for us to understand. The fact that God is displeased with the alien sinner, the heathen, the reprobate and the wicked, is both easy to understand and sometimes even comforting (2 Thess. 1:7,8). But the thought that God might be so angry with His own people can be downright unsettling - for it causes us to realize that this could be us. How many of the seven churches of Asia were pleasing to God? Which of the epistles of Paul to the churches did not contain admonition and chastisement? Some New Testament letters contain more reproach that encouragement. Why? Because in ancient times the people of God often displeased Him. Do we really expect the modern day to be any different?
Let us fully realize this possibility. We must understand that God is displeased with all sin no matter who does it. We often think of God's hatred of heathen sins, but then we casually dismiss those of our own. This will lead us to sure disaster just as it did the Jew. The result for them was that their grandchildren had to rebuild their city and temple once their hearts were purified. How many lives and congregations will we destroy, and how many pieces will we leave to be picked up, before we realize this truth? But for those who are ready to humble themselves and return to God there will be "gracious words, comforting words." (Zech 1:13) What will God's attitude be toward you? Your attitudes, and the life that develops, from them will make the difference.
By Jay Horsley
From Expository Files 8.5; May 2001