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.”
As we start this study of the book of Zechariah, it would be helpful to remember exactly why Zechariah was preaching. God wanted him to join the prophet Haggai in encouraging the Jews to rebuild the temple after their return to their homeland from Babylonian captivity. Some of the people who now lived in the land around Jerusalem did not like that the Jews were reconstructing their temple and tried to stop them (Ezra 4:1-5), even going so far as to persuade the Persian king Artaxerxes to force them to stop their work (Ezra 4:6-23). It would not be until Darius became king that they began to resume their work with his permission and protection (Ezra 4:24; 5:3-6:12), and this came about because Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to them (Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14-15). I encourage you to keep this historical background in mind as we study this book. It will be especially beneficial as we read further into the book about the various visions experienced by Zechariah.
As the book starts out, we find the prophet Zechariah calling upon the Jews to repent. This took place around the year 520 B.C., “in the eighth month of the second year of Darius” (1:1a). This would be the same Darius mentioned in the book of Daniel, the king who supplanted the Babylonian king Belshazzar (Dan. 5:30) and was politically maneuvered by Daniel’s enemies to cast him into the lion’s den (Dan. 6:1ff; cf. 9:1; 11:1). About a month after Zechariah gave the Jews his first message from God, “on the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius,” the prophet Haggai would join Zechariah in calling for Israel’s repentance (Hag. 2:10-14). This would place Zechariah’s first prophecy between Haggai’s second and third prophecies (Hag. 2:1, 10).
Zechariah informed the Jews, “The Lord was very angry with your fathers” (1:2). These would have been the Jews of the previous generation, those who had been taken into Babylonian captivity during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and when Daniel had been young. God wanted Zechariah to remind the Jews of this. He then directed Zechariah to “say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that I may return to you…”’ (1:3). He then directed Zechariah to proclaim, “‘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” (1:4). The Jews of Jeremiah’s day had refused to listen to the prophet’s pleas for them to repent and turn from their evil ways and wicked deeds (cf. Jer. 6:16). They had “continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy,” resulting in God punishing them by allowing Babylon to slaughter and pillage them and lead them into captivity (2 Chr. 36:15-21). Now, a generation later, God asked their descendants, “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not My words and My statutes, which I had commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers?” (Zech. 1:5-6a). God wanted the Jews to remember the calamities that had fallen upon their parents and grandparents. He wanted them to not make the same mistakes by remembering that God’s statutes and commands had “overtaken” their ancestors in the sense that they had been severely punished for their disobedience to God’s will.
The Jews took God’s warning to heart and chose to return to Him, acknowledging that God was right in how He had dealt with their nation (1:6b). This is recorded in Scripture to serve as an example to us, Christians (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). Let’s acknowledge the sins and shortcomings in our lives and choose to repent of them and return to God as these Jews did. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).