The Prophets Call for Justice

The earlier prophets, Zechariah announces to post-exilic Judah, delivered the word of the Lord to their ancestors. The Spirit of God sent messages to them but they did not listen. Yahweh sent word after word to various prophets in the pre-exilic era but they did not listen.

The prophet describes them with three metaphors:

• They turned their backs like a stubborn animal who refuses a yoke.
• They stopped their ears so that they could not hear.
• They made their hearts as hard as flint (a rock that can sharpen knives).

They were insubordinate, inattentive and stone-hearted. They did not care. They were insensitive and uncaring about the plight of the poor in the land. They pursued injustice rather than loving their neighbors. They did not listen because they loved themselves more than their neighbors. Zechariah accuses post-exilic Judah of pursuing the same interests as pre-exilic Judah. The people had not changed.

Zechariah summarizes the message of the earlier prophets. It is a classic distillation of Amos (5:24), Hosea (4:1-3; 12:6), Micah (6:8), Isaiah (58:6-8) and Jeremiah (7:5-6). It is a stunning message about social responsibility—two prescriptions and two prohibitions.

• Administer true justice, or “justice and faithfulness”
• Show mercy (hesed) and compassion to one another
• Do not oppress the marginalized (widow, orphan, alien, or poor)
• Do not devise evil in your hearts against each other

This language rehearses the theme of social injustice so prominent in the prophets. In fact, the Hebrew “devise evil” is situated in a legal context in Zechariah 8:16-17. Those who were charged with protecting the marginalized are abusing their power for their own interests. Justice is perverted. The courts, even the priestly courts, facilitate the mistreatment of the widow, orphan, alien, and poor. Instead of mercy, compassion, justice, and faithfulness, the people “devise evil” against each other, literally “brothers.” Instead of loving their neighbors, they exploit them.

This perverts the essence of the Torah. It subverts Israel’s own history as an enslaved alien loved by Yahweh. Just as Yahweh loved Israel as an alien (a marginalized outsider), so Israel is to love the alien (the marginalized; cf. Deuteronomy 10:17-20). This is the very heart of God and embodies the greatest commandment–to love the Lord our God with our whole heart. We love God by loving our neighbor; we love God in our neighbor.

The sins of pre-exilic Israel continued in post-exilic Judah. Hadn’t the people learned their lesson? Don’t they remember how angry God was about such injustices? Zechariah reminds them.

In the midst of their injustice, God did not answer when they called because they did not listen when God called. God turned the tables. Whereas they did not show mercy and compassion to the strangers in their midst, so God made them strangers by scattering them to lands they did not know. Because Israel mistreated the homeless, they became homeless. Their beautiful land—a garden that God had prepared for his people—became a desolate region (cf. Jeremiah 3:19-21).

The message of Zechariah is a word from the Lord: “return to me and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:2). But Judah has not yet returned to God. Instead, they continue the practices of their forefathers; they have not heeded the warning or learned the lesson. Judah must become a nation for the poor; it must become a place of mercy and compassion, of truth and faithfulness, for the underprivileged.

Will Judah listen? Will we?

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