Many parents have had a version of this conversation with their children: “If you don’t clean your room, you can’t have a friend over to play,” or “If you don’t return the car with a full tank of gas, you may not borrow it next weekend.” The child does not clean her room or return the car filled with gas—and then acts shocked by the consequence, as if mom and dad have issued some novel proclamation that no one could have predicted!
The exile of God’s people in 586 B.C. should not have come as a surprise. As we are reminded at the opening of Zechariah, the prophets had never shunned their difficult task of forecasting God’s judgment (v. 3). They had tried persuading God’s stubborn people to return to the Lord. But the people had not listened, had not paid attention, and now they had lost everything.
If one important theme of the Minor Prophets has been return, we see the two dimensions of that call to action in today’s reading. After their seventy years in exile, the people were returning to the land promised to their father, Abraham. But there is a deeper returning yet for them to complete—a returning of the soul, or repentance. “Return to me,” God insists. First, a full return to the Lord would mean, of course, purifying their religious practice. They could not worship idols and worship Yahweh at the same time. Second, repentance would also include forsaking sins committed against their neighbor, including the oppression of the poor.
God’s jealousy is fierce. Just as we saw in the book of Hosea, He is a husband to His people, and He will not willingly let His bride betray her vows of faithfulness.
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any areas where you need repentance. Are you trying to worship both God and something else—whether the good opinion of others or money or security? Do you need to practice concern for your neighbor—whether serving your literal neighbor next door or advocating for those who suffer in our society?