1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo: 2 “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.’” ~ Zechariah 1:1-4
We come today to the Old Testament book of Zechariah which is the next to the last book in the Old Testament. Zechariah includes Christ's priesthood, His humanity, His deity, His first coming, His rejection and betrayal, His return to Israel as the crucified one, and His Millennial reign. So, it can be said that Zechariah is the most Messianic book of the Old Treatment.
Zechariah was written to the people of Israel to let them know that the God of the Bible was on their side. Zechariah means “God remembers.” So, the book of Zechariah is all about God remembering His promises to His people.
The first six chapters of Zechariah include a series of visions. The purpose of these visions was to bring hope to the discouraged people of Israel. And, when the remnant returned to Israel from Babylonian captivity, they found themselves standing in the results of their failed legacy of disobedience. As a result, in 586, BC the Babylonian had come to take their land and to take them into captivity because they had forsaken the Lord and His culture. And, when they returned from exile some seventy years later, the people of Israel found themselves among the piles of bricks and rubble, reminders of what happens when we forsake the Lord.
In v.1-2 we read, "1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo: 2 “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors."
The name Zechariah means "the Lord remembers." His dad was named Berechiah which means "the Lord blesses." His grandpa's name, Iddo, means "at the appointed time." So their names brought an encouraging message to the believing heart. "At the appointed time, the Lord remembers and the Lord will bless."
When the book of Zechariah was written, the people of Israel were at a critical moment in their history. Eighteen years had passed since Cyrus the great had conquered the Babylonian Empire. You will remember that Daniel had said there would be four great world empires: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Babylon had come and gone. And, at this point in time, the Medo-Persian Empire was ruling. Cyrus the Great had conquered the Babylonians. Israel had been taken into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. and they had been in Babylon for 70 years when Cyrus made the decree that they could all go back to their land.
But, the Jews had become comfortable in Babylon, that foreign land, and many of them didn't want to return to the promised land. When they did return, only a small remnant of Jews went back to Israel from their Babylonian captivity. And, in seven months they had rebuilt the sacred altar, and they were again performing the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament. They were back with their worship commanded by God, and, by the beginning of the second year, they had actually begun to rebuild their temple.
After they had begun rebuilding their temple, their neighbors, the Samaritans, so hassled them about rebuilding the temple, they stopped building it. But, shortly afterwards, the king of the Samaritans was assassinated. And, when he was assassinated, one would think they would have taken advantage of the opportunity, but the Jews didn’t.
In response to this, since God wanted the temple rebuilt, He raised up Haggai who was a prophet at the same time as Zechariah. Haggai's ministry was to exhort the people to rebuild the temple. In fact, after preaching four messages encouraging the people to rebuild the temple, the people experienced revival.
In the midst of the revival, God raised up another prophet: Zechariah who came on the scene two months after Haggai. When we compare Zechariah 1:1 with Haggai 1:1, it’s very clear that it was two months later according to the Hebrew calendar. So, this book is a comfort to the Jews in the process of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.
In v.3-4 of today's text we read, "3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord."
Zechariah begins with this message of repentance because we can not enjoy the blessings of God without being defined by God. We do not access God's blessings while we are in rebellion to Him. He has given us His word for a reason. His word gives us His culture which is different than ours and that of this world. Throughout the Bible, the message is the same: When we turn from sin, we will know the blessing of God.
Given original sin, the place of God's blessing, the place of His mercy and grace has always been the place of our turning back to Him. We have all lived long enough on this earth to discover that our way does not garner the results that are substantive. We know that we must turn 180 degrees from our way to God's ways in order to come to that place which has the stamp of His blessing on it. And, to think that we can make it in this world any other way than His is just plain fooling ourselves.
Now, the prophecy of Zechariah began in the eighth month of the second year of Darius. It was in the eighth month, the month of Marcheshvan. In the Hebrew calendar that is October/November time. And, the Persian emperor that had released the Jews, because Cyrus had died. At that time Cyrus was succeeded by Cambyses but Cambyses didn’t have a child, so he committed suicide. And when Cambyses committed suicide, Darius became the new ruler. His reign began in 522 B.C., which means if this is the second year of Darius, it was written in 520 B.C. So, Darius was the king under whom Zechariah wrote.
You see, even though they were back repatriating their country, they had no king. And the king of the whole world at that time was Darius. So, Darius was really the king over Zechariah.
With the exception of two times in the Old Testament, the prophets always wrote saying they prophesied during the rule of a certain king in Israel. This is one of two that they didn't cite a king of Israel. The other prophet to write like Zachariah was Haggai. There was no king in Israel because it was being ruled by Gentiles. The rule of the Gentiles over Jerusalem has yet to end and it will end at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since 586 B.C., Jerusalem has been under the hands and the power and the control of Gentiles.
God’s wrath is always averted by the repentance of the people, when we come back to Him. God's wrath is always solved by the presentation of His grace. Having stated in v.1-3 the problem of God's wrath and the presentation of His grace, Zechariah turns to the people of Israel to plea for their repentance.
Again, in v.4, we read, “Do not be like your ancestors.” Evil is hereditary, each generation passes on the same evil patterns to their children. The people knew the results of their fathers’ sins, they knew their fathers had been slaughtered by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. And the ones that didn’t die were hauled off into captivity. And, here, Zechariah reminds these who had never lived in Israel to listen to God and be different than their ancestors.
In the book of Jude, we are told to, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” We are prone to wander outside of God's love. We are prone to be defined by the wrong loves. We must always be careful to continue to be defined and motivated by the love of God. We must not be defined by all of the so called loves out there that will only destroy us.
Finally, Thomas Merton once brilliantly said, "But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God's love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God."