“Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? ” (Zechariah 1:5–6, ESV)
The Lord through the prophet Zechariah is asking this generation to look back at the example of the previous generations and learn from them. God used them as an example. Why? Because this generation still had the same root problem that the previous generation had, a problem that has existed since the days of Noah…
“…the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, ESV)
Then the Lord makes this point..”But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?”
To understand the full meaning of what he is saying only requires one to turn to Deut. 28 and read the whole chapter. The theme of this chapter is a list of blessings that will overtake the people if they are obedient, and curses that will overtake the people if they are disobedient. In other words, what the Lord spoke regarding our choices, will happen. It may seem that God is not acting on it now, but it will come to pass and the Lord’s judgment will come.
When Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, the southern Kingdom of Judah had them as an example.
“The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:6–10, ESV)
What about today, Paul had this to say in 1 Cor 10
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–13, ESV)
Not only is it an example, but it is written down for our instruction! What have we done with it? We change the terms to be more palatable, we redefine what God has called sin, we ignore the sections that don’t agree with our desires, and like Judah we justify our own folly by wrapping it in nice terms like freedom and grace. Don’t get me wrong, God is a God of grace, the entire Bible is full of His amazing grace, but it has become a tool we use to justify our own sinful desires.
God may desire for us to remember the failures of our previous generations, but He also desires us to look to Him and remember the amazing things He has done for us and not to forget the instruction he has provided for us to walk in…
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” (Luke 22:19, ESV)
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” (Deuteronomy 8:11–14, ESV)
“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (1 Chronicles 16:11–13, ESV)
“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’” (Deuteronomy 4:5–10, ESV)
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1–3, ESV)
This last verse is a wake up call, it suggests a body of believers who have a reputation of being alive, the people in the community surrounding them saw works that suggested that this was a vibrant active body of believers. This may also suggest that they to believed that they were alive. We are doing all the right things, we are growing, we are doing great things in the community around us…but, they were dead. This is a position of pride, and dare I say it is pride inside the body. We must be so careful today to remember this example that has been written down for our instruction. What did the Lord desire to see...
“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.”
Lord, help us to have a heart of humility, help us to seek after your instructions and not our traditions, help us to remember what we have received and heard, keep it, and repent.
A final thought from Charles Spurgeon:
“Repentance grows as faith grows. Do not make any mistake about it; repentance is not a thing of days and weeks, a temporary penance to be got over as fast as possible! No; it is the grace of a lifetime, like faith itself. God’s little children repent, and so do the young men and the fathers. Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon, All of Grace