God listens to those who listen to him. The proof of this is all over Scripture. Isaiah 66:2 offers a prime example when God says, “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Even more direct is a warning given by Zechariah. Zechariah was a minor prophet who had a major impact, foretelling both the first and second comings of the Messiah. He was also employed by God to call the Israelites to repentance. Zechariah lived in the time following Israel’s exile, after the people had returned from Babylon. His name means “The Lord remembers,” and through his voice the Lord assured his own that, although he had chastened them for 70 years in Babylon, he had not forgotten them or the covenant he made with their forefathers. Undoubtedly, Zechariah had heard of the captivity from his father, Iddo, who had returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua.
Zechariah learned how the Persian king Cyrus had freed the captive Israelites and let them return to the Promised Land. By Zechariah’s time about 50,000 Israelites had returned to Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the Temple, which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, had begun. However, the rebuilding effort quickly met with opposition from without and discouragement from within. As a result, all work on the Temple simply ceased for more than a decade.
God then appointed two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, to call his people back to himself. Both men confronted dead religion. Haggai’s message focused on the rebuilding of the physical Temple while Zechariah admonished the people, saying, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). Two evidences of Israel’s backsliding were obvious.
First, they would not listen to the prophets whom God had sent. Zechariah had hardly picked up his quill when he warned: “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord” (Zechariah 1:4). Their rebellion displayed itself by an inattentiveness to God’s message. They had closed their ears to his prophets and effectively silenced God with their prideful independence. Second, their religion had degenerated into mere outward performance. Following eight visions concerning the condition of Israel and the judgment to come, the prophet exposed their hypocrisy by asking pointed questions.
Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, when you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:4-6).
Rather than longing for God their hearts had become hardened against him. As a result, their fasting and feasting were done for their own pleasure, not God’s glory. Divine correction was required to lead the people to repentance. Their greatest need was not more religion, but brokenness, repentance, and faith. What was the root cause of their mechanical rituals and their refusal to listen to God? It was the stubbornness of pride. The prophet repeats his initial description of his people.
But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets (7:11-12; NASB).
There is a tragic progression to be found in this glimpse of Israelite rebellion. At first they were simply willful in their opposition to God. They “refused to pay attention … turned a stubborn shoulder … stopped their ears.” All this was under their control. But soon things moved beyond their control. Their hearts became rock-hard, “like flint so that they could not hear.” They started out refusing to yield to God and ended up unable to yield to God. Their could not was caused by their will not. It gets worse from there. As a result, “great anger came from the Lord of hosts” (v 12), and then, in the most sobering words in the prophet’s entire book, God said, “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear” (v 13).
And so it is with us. When I will not becomes I cannot, it is a sure sign we have become slaves to stubbornness and our hearts are hardened, and we must repent before it is too late.
Earlier Posts in this Series
- 6 Common Reasons God Does Not Answer Our Prayers
- The Problem with Pet Sins
- Why Refusing to Resolve Conflict Hinders Prayer
- Religious Sins
- How a Husband’s Failure Short-Circuits His Prayers