Baseline Weekly - Ears to Hear
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
The Lord recently spoke to me in a personal way through the book of Zechariah. Yes, you heard me right. Zechariah. If you have some time, I’d really encourage you to read through Zechariah chapter 7. In short, the chapter recounts a scene where the people of Israel have returned from exile in Babylon and they propose a question to the prophet Zechariah. The question at hand was fairly simple. Should Israel continue their religious traditions now that they have returned to their own land? Namely, they are concerned with additional feast days and special fasts that they had been practicing for years.
The Lord answers by asking, “Was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” (vv. 5-6). The Lord's response uncovers the hypocritical nature of Israel’s religious behavior. They were so focused on convincing themselves of their devotion to God by relying on some religious rituals, but they were completely missing the heart of God. They had neglected the actual work of restorative justice.
I can imagine the people of Israel scratching their heads at that moment thinking, “If we aren’t supposed to keep doing things like we’ve been doing them, then what are we to do?” Now if you’ve read the four gospels, you know that Jesus sometimes speaks in rather indirect ways and there are plenty of other moments in scripture where God seems to intentionally leave more room for interpretation. This is not one of those moments.
The Lord speaks through his prophet Zechariah with crystal clear language. “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (v. 9). After hearing this response, can’t you picture the people of Israel making some snarky comment like, “Well, that’s a rather broad statement. Who even is one another?”
But the Lord, in His mercy, outlines not only what Israel was to do, but also who they were to focus their efforts towards. The Lord makes his command even more specific: “Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other” (v. 10). The Lord makes it clear that these are people that matter to Him. These are categories that represent people who lack power, who are overlooked in society, and who experience oppression on a daily basis. He calls Israel to notice the reality of what’s happening around them and to respond by restoring justice.
However, this passage ends in a rather troubling way. Verse 11 says, “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears.” The people of Israel simply couldn’t hear it. They didn’t have “ears to hear,” to use Jesus’ language. They were so stuck in their ways with their blinders up; they just could not acknowledge the reality of the suffering around them. And in their stubbornness they made the conscious decision to look away.
The truth is, when I first read the end of this passage, my immediate response was, “Israel, you FOOLS! How could you be SO ignorant?! The Lord has been so patient with your people for so long!!! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???” But then my second response was to drop my shoulders and let out a chuckle when I realized that this is me. The people of Israel in this story is me. I too can get stuck in my ways, I too can be stifled by my own pride, and I too can be more concerned with being right rather than being loving.
The people of Israel needed transformed hearts. So do we.
If there was ever a time to listen to the prophetic voices in the Old Testament, I really believe it is right now. What I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is that it is so easy for me to point my finger and say, “You fool!” I realize there have been a variety of responses to the wounds that have been magnified over the past few weeks. But the thing I think most of us can agree upon is that – if we’re really honest – we all have the tendency to respond with a pointing finger, saying, “You fool!” Put simply, most of us are addicted to our own way of thinking. But the way of Jesus calls us to cultivate a different response, one that is characterized by humbly surrendering, patiently listening, and faithfully loving our neighbors.
We must remember that God is so merciful and loving with his children. He doesn’t leave his children alone and just hope that we figure things out. In His mercy, He gave Israel the Law. In His mercy, He raised up prophets – like Zechariah – to act as guides. In His mercy, He sent Jesus to be the ultimate example of how to live in His kingdom. And in His mercy, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and lead us on the path of righteousness. As we long to become people with “ears to hear” and people who restore justice, may we remember that our Helper is right at our side, speaking and leading, moment by moment.