What was said Zech. 7:7; that they should have heard the words of the former prophets, is here enlarged upon, for warning to these hypocritical enquirers, who continued their sins when they asked with great preciseness whether they should continue their fasts. This prophet had before put them in mind of their fathers’ disobedience to the calls of the prophets, and what was the consequence of it (Zech. 1:4-6), and now here again; for others’ harms should be our warnings. God’s judgments upon Israel of old for their sins were written for admonition to us Christians (1 Cor. 10:11), and the same use we should make of similar providences in our own day.
I. This prophet here repeats the heads of the sermons which the former prophets preached to their fathers (Zech. 7:9, 10), because the very same things were required of them now. “Thus does the Lord of hosts speak to you now, and thus he did speak to your fathers, saying, Execute true judgment.” The duties here required of them, which would have been the lengthening of the tranquillity of their fathers and must be the restoring of their tranquillity, are not keeping fasts and offering sacrifices, but doing justly and loving mercy, duties which they were bound to by the light and law of nature, though there had been no prophets sent to insist upon them, duties which had a direct tendency to the public welfare and peace, and which they themselves would be the gainers by, and not God. 1. Magistrates must administer justice impartially, according to the maxims of the law and the merits of the cause, without respect of persons: “Judge judgment of truth, and execute it when you have judged it.” 2. Neighbours must have a tender concern for one another, and must not only do one another no wrong, but must be ready to do one another all the good offices that lie in their power. They must show mercy and compassion every man to his brother, as the case called for it. The infirmities of others, as well as their calamities, are to be looked upon with compassion. Hanc veniam petimusque damusque vicissim—This kindness we ask and exercise. 3. They must not bear hard upon those whom they have advantage against, and who, they know, are not able to help themselves. They must not, either in commerce or in course of law, oppress the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, and the poor, Zech. 7:10. The weakest must not be thrust to the wall because they are weakest. No thanks to men not to deny right to those who are in a capacity to demand it and recover it; but we must, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake, give those their own who have not power to force it from us. Or it intimates that that which is but exactness with others is exaction upon the widows and the fatherless; nay, that not relieving and helping them as we ought is, in effect, oppressing them. 4. They must not only not do wrong to any, but they must not so much as desire it nor think of it: “Let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. Do not project it; do not wish it; nay do not so much as please yourself with the fancy of it.” The law of God lays a restraint upon the heart, and forbids the entertaining, forbids the admitting, of a malicious, spiteful, ill-natured thought. Deut. 15:9; Beware that there be not a thought in thy Belial heart against thy brother.
II. He describes the wilfulness and disobedience of their fathers, who persisted in all manner of wickedness and injustice, notwithstanding these exhortations and admonitions frequently given them in God’s name; various expressions to this purport are here heaped up (Zech. 7:11, 12), setting forth the stubbornness of that carnal mind which is enmity against God, and is not in subjection to the law of God, neither indeed can be. They were obstinate and refractory, and persisted in their transgressions of the law purely from a spirit of contradiction to the law. 1. They would not, if they could help it, come within hearing of the prophets, but kept at a distance; or, if they could not avoid hearing what they said, yet they resolved they would not heed it: They refused to hearken, and looked another way as if they had not been spoken to. 2. If they did hear what was said to them, and, as it seemed, inclined at first to comply with it, yet they flew off when it came to the setting to, and, like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, they pulled away the shoulder, and would not submit to the easy yoke and the light burden of God’s commandments. They gave a withdrawing shoulder (so the word is); they seemed to lay their shoulder to the work, but they presently withdrew it again, as those Jer. 34:10, 11. They were like a deceitful bow, as that son that said, I go, sir, but went not. 3. They filled their own minds with prejudices against the word of God, and had some objection or other ready wherewith to fortify themselves against every sermon they heard. They stopped their ears, that they should not hear, as the deaf adder (Ps. 58:4), and none are so deaf as those that will not hear, that make their own ear heavy, as the word is. 4. They resolved that nothing which was said to them, for the enforcing of these injunctions, should make any impression upon them: They made their hearts as an adamant-stone, as a diamond, the hardest of stones to be wrought upon, or as a flint, which the mason cannot hew into shape as he can other stone out of the quarry. Nothing is so hard, so unmalleable, so inflexible, as the heart of a presumptuous sinner; and those whose hearts are hard may thank themselves; they are of their own hardening, and it is just with God to give them over to a reprobate sense, to the hardness and impenitence of their own hearts. These stubborn sinners hardened their hearts on purpose lest they should hear what God said to them by the written word, by the law of Moses, and by the words of the prophets that preached to them; they had Moses and the prophets, but resolved they would hear neither, nor would the 1392 y have been persuaded though one had been sent to them from the dead. The words of the prophet were not regarded by them, though they were words which the Lord of hosts sent and directed to them, though he sent them immediately by his Spirit in the prophets; so that in despising them they affronted God himself and resisted the Holy Ghost. Note, The reason why men are not good is because they will not be so; they will not consider, will not comply; and therefore, if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.
III. He shows the fatal consequences of it to their fathers: Therefore came great wrath from the Lord of hosts. God was highly displeased with them, and justly; he required nothing of them but what was reasonable in itself and beneficial to them; and yet they refused, and in a most insolent manner too. What master could bear to be so abused by his own servant? Such an implacable enmity to the gospel as this was to the law and the prophets was that which brought wrath to the uttermost upon the last generation of the Jewish church, 1 Thess. 2:16. Great sins against the Lord of hosts, whose authority is incontestable, bring great wrath from the Lord of hosts, whose power is irresistible. And the effect was, 1. As they had turned a deaf ear to God’s word, so God turned a deaf ear to their prayers, Zech. 7:13. As he cried to them in their prosperity to leave their sins, and they would not hear, but persisted in their iniquities, so they cried to him in the day of their trouble to remove his judgments, and he would not hear, but lengthened out their calamities. Those that set God at defiance, in the height of their pride, when pangs came upon them cried unto him. Lord, in trouble have they visited thee. But God has said it, and will abide by it, He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination, Prov. 28:9; Prov. 1:24 Iniquity, regarded in the heart, will certainly spoil the success of prayer, Ps. 66:18. 2. As they flew off from their duty and allegiance to God, and were of desultory and unsettled spirits, so God dissipated them and threw them about as chaff before a whirlwind: He scattered them among all the nations whom they knew not, and whom therefore they could not expect to receive any kindness from, Zech. 7:14. 3. As they violated all the laws of their land, so God took away all the glories of it: Their land was desolate after them, and no man passed through or returned. All that country that was the kingdom of the two tribes, after the dispersion of the remaining Jews, upon the slaughter of Gedaliah, was left utterly uninhabited; there was not man, woman, or child, in it, till the Jews returned at the end of seventy years’ captivity; nay, it should seem, the very roads that lay through the country were deserted (none passed or repassed), which, as it had an intimation of mercy in it (though they were cast out of it, yet it was kept empty for their return), so for the present it made the judgment appear much the more dismal; for what a horrid wilderness must a land be that had been so many years uninhabited! And they might thank themselves; it was they that by their own wickedness laid the pleasant land desolate. It was not so much the Chaldeans that did it. No; they did it themselves. The desolations of a land are owing to the wickedness of its inhabitants, Ps. 107:34. This came of their wilful disobedience to the law of God. And the present generation saw how desolate sin had made that pleasant land, and yet would not take warning.