In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage, Zechariah, an Old Testament prophet writing in the political and historical context of the Persian rule of Judah, warns Christians in 2017 about the results of disobedience to God’s Word.
ZECHARIAH 7:7-14 (MSG) – “SETTING OUR JAWS IN DEFIANCE”
“Don’t you still have the message of the earlier prophets from the time when Jerusalem was still a thriving, bustling city and the outlying countryside, the Negev and Shephelah, was populated? . . . . The God-of-the-Angel-Armies said then and says now:
“‘Treat one another justly. Love your neighbors. Be compassionate with each other. Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor. Don’t plot and scheme against one another—that’s evil.’
“But did your ancestors listen? No, they set their jaws in defiance. They shut their ears. They steeled themselves against God’s revelation and the Spirit-filled sermons preached by the earlier prophets by order of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. And God became angry, really angry, because he told them everything plainly and they wouldn’t listen to a word he said.
“So [this is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies said] If they won’t listen to me, I won’t listen to them. I scattered them to the four winds. They ended up strangers wherever they were. Their ‘promised land’ became a vacant lot—weeds and tin cans and thistles. Not a sign of life. They turned a dreamland into a wasteland.”
When is the last time you read the book of Zechariah? I turned to it recently while waiting for my computer to warm up and was mesmerized. This prophet is talking my language! He says:
♥ Don’t you learn from history – even your own history? If you don’t live within the plan of God, you will suffer.
♥ The path to pleasing God is to treat others as God has treated us. We are asked respond to others with justice, love, compassion. We are not to take advantage of or plot against those who need our help. We are not to perch on the top of a mountain of pride looking down at those who don’t measure up.
♥ The people of God (even in 2017) are prone to defiance. We shut our ears, set our jaws, and harden our hearts. Like two-year-olds, we refuse to listen or we deliberately disobey.
♥ God has plainly told us how to behave. We have the Biblical record, the example of Biblical characters (many of whom had to learn from their mistakes), and our own consciences. We can’t plead ignorance when confronted with our bad behavior.
♥ If we don’t seek justice and love widely, we will bring devastation upon ourselves and our culture. Our shining cities will become empty lots, full of garbage. By having it our way, we will isolate ourselves from community and fellowship with others. We will be scattered by the four winds of selfishness, perfectionism, judgmentalism and “I-am-in-control-ism.”
♥ Examine your heart and behavior. Where and how are you being willful? What are your attitudes to those who don’t “measure up” to your idea of worthiness? How do your attitudes make your daily life worse?
♥ Listen to the national news, read the paper, watch TV, talk to others. When you hear examples of judgmentalism, blame, and plotting to increase power or wealth by decreasing the share of power or wealth of others, speak up!
♥ Reflect on what it would be like if God got tired of our behavior and left us to our own devices. What if God stopped listening, stopped forgiving, stopped blessing? What would that world look like? (A possible image might be the devastated island of Puerto Rico). Do you want to live in that world?
♥ Read chapters 1-8 of Zechariah. What are you called to do differently after your reading?
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“The name Zechariah means “Yahweh has remembered,” and a central message in this book is Yahweh’s desire for his children’s return – to the worship of their God, to a rebuilt city and Temple, and ultimately to the wonderful realization of God’s promises for them.
“Through the vivid language and imagery of this book [Zechariah], we may be spiritually formed. We receive a call we constantly and profoundly need – God’s call desiring relationships with us, calling us to return to him. We are reminded of the ultimate hope of our faith, in the Messiah who commands “peace to the nations (Zech 9:10) We are promised newness, enduring community, and God’s movement in the world on our behalf, even as we are reminded of the necessity of our action as well. May we participate in the community God is building of people “from nations of every language (Zech. 8:23, seeking in our lives and faith to “render . . . judgments that are true and make for peace” and to “show kindness and mercy to one another ” (Zech 8:16, 7:9). ( Rebekah Close LeMon in The Spiritual Formation Bible.)