Summary: In the prologue of his prophecy, Zechariah gives us the bad news that we have departed from God but also the good news that we can return to God.
Opening: I’m Not The One Who Moved. I want to tell you my third favorite joke of all time (I may have told it to you before; I’m not sure I have or not; but in any case I am going to tell it to you now): An older couple was riding in their older car. It was one of those cars that has the bench-style seat in the front, the kind of seat that doesn’t have a gear box or anything else between the driver and the passenger (not individual bucket seats like we have today but one continuous bench seat). As they came to a stop light, the woman, who was riding in the passenger side of the bench seat, looked into the car next to them. In that car was a younger couple. This younger couple was sitting real close to each other (they must have had a bench seat car, too); the girl was pressed right up against the guy; the guy had his (non-driving) arm around the girl, pulling her in; their heads were touching, their cheeks together; they were smiling. Seeing this, the woman turned to her husband, who was behind the steering wheel, and she pointed at the young couple, and she said, “Do you remember when we used to ride in the car like that? Why don’t we ride like that anymore? Why is there now all this space between us?” (She was sitting at one end of the bench seat, he at the other, so there was all this space between them, and she wanted to know why.) At that, her husband looked at her from behind the steering wheel and said, “Well, I’m not the one who moved.” (He couldn’t be the one who moved, of course, because he was behind the wheel, the same place he had always been; it had to have been the wife, the one complaining about the space between them, who had moved.)
That is my third favorite joke not just because it is funny or clever but because it is true; it contains or reveals a truth. Space or distance can and often does develop in relationships. It develops suddenly sometimes, it develops slowly at other times (which is how I think it happened with that older couple). But it develops. What once was a close relationship is now not so close. Where once two were right up against each other, now they are on opposite sides of the seat; they have drifted apart; they may not even be in the same vehicle anymore; the relationship may be no longer. That happens in marital relationships, it happens in other family relationships (parent & child, brothers and sisters), it happens in friendships.
And it happens in the relationship with God. We were meant to be in relationship with God (that’s our reason for being, what we were made for). And we are. But sometimes space develops between us and God (and Jesus and the Holy Spirit). We find that we’re not as close to God as we once were. We find that we have drifted from God. We may even find that we’re not even with God anymore (not in the same vehicle, not in any real relationship). That can happen, and when it happens it is us who made it happen. It can’t be God. He’s behind the steering wheel; He can’t move. So if there is space between us, if distance has developed, if drift has occurred, if the relationship isn’t as close as it once was, it must be us who moved. And it is.
Fortunately (or blessedly), we can always move back. The good news is that any space between us and God can be eliminated. The good news is that relationship with God can always be repaired. God Himself gives us this good news in the opening verses of the prophecy of Zechariah.
Read Zechariah 1:1-6
Return To Me. That’s what Zechariah says in Zechariah 1:1-6. That’s what God says in Zechariah 1:1-6. Zechariah the prophet is actually recording God’s words here. He is simply relating a message he has heard from God to the people of his day. So this is God speaking. And what God says is Return to me (verse 3). The message God has for the people of Zechariah’s day, the message which is really the message of the book (this is the prologue of the book, so this is the message or theme of the book) is return to me…and I will return to you. The space between you and God, in other words, the space that you have created, can be eliminated. You who have moved away from God can move back to God. That’s what God says. That’s the message.
That message was delivered/God said this sometime in October or November of 520 BC. Zechariah, like his contemporary and partner Haggai, gives us some pretty specific dates for his messages, so we know this one was delivered around then (that’s rather unique; we don’t have that benefit with most of the other prophets). And we further know that it was delivered to what some call “the postexilic community” and others call “the restoration community” (those are “the people of Zechariah’s day”). This community was the Israelites who had returned to the land of Israel at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. As you know, God allowed the nation of Israel to fall into the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC in order to wipe out idolatry from among them (they had become rampantly idolatrous; that needed to be stopped, and The Exile was the only way to stop it). The Babylonians destroyed everything, including The Temple, and carried most everybody away to Babylon (including Ezekiel and Daniel). 70 years later (give or take), Persia defeated Babylon (by God’s design) and allowed the Israelites to return and rebuild. They began to do so under the leadership of their governor Zerubbabel and their high priest Joshua (whom we will meet in the weeks to come). But they quickly stopped. They stopped because they encountered opposition (Ezra and Nehemiah give us that story) but they also stopped because they fell into what is apparently a spiritual lethargy (they just didn’t care about the spiritual/the walk with God that much) and/or a materialism (they cared a lot more about materialistic things, possessions and luxuries) (we get that from Haggai). These people had moved from God, in other words. They had drifted from God. They had allowed space to develop between themselves and God. They weren’t in close relationship with God anymore. They had done, in other words, the exact same thing their forefathers did. You see God describing that here in length. He spends a lot of time talking about these forefathers, that is, the idolatrous Israelites who experienced The Exile, and how they learned about moving from Him the hard way (that’s what we see in verses 2 and 4-6; that’s the main idea and reason for that discussion; God was telling these people, “You’re forefathers moved away from me, and look what happened; look what they learned.”). And what He wants these postexilic/restoration people to see is that they had done the very same thing. They had done it in a different way; they had become lethargic and materialistic rather than idolatrous, but they had done the same thing. They had moved away from God, distanced themselves from God, drifted from God, allowed space to develop between them and God, forsaken or lost their relationship with God. They were the last people on earth/in history you would think would do that (they were so small and frail; I would have thought they would have clung to God). But they did it.