But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts.
This section of the prophet Zechariah is a review of the history of Judah that led the nation into the seventy years of captivity in Babylon. It begins with request of the people of Bethel. They simply wanted to know if it was proper to observe the month of fasting that had become customary among the Jews to mourn their captivity in Babylon. Now that they were back in the land, they wondered what to do.
The answer is enigmatic. God replies first with a set of questions about priorities. He asks if the fasts were indeed for “Him” (Zechariah 7:5). He assumes that the taking of food and drink was for their own nourishment (Zechariah 7:6). He reminds them to look to the words of the prophets that came before the captivity (Zechariah 7:7).
Then God uses the occasion of this question to remind everyone what led to the Babylonian captivity. He let them know that the expectations for His people then had not changed. What God wanted for Israeli society then was the same expectation. They should be just, caring, kind, merciful, helpful to the poor and the orphaned, and hospitable to the stranger and the poor. (Zechariah 9-10). The generation that went into the exile had failed to do this.
The language used to describe that generation makes it clear that they deliberately chose to disobey God in these matters. They turned a stubborn shoulder. They covered their ears. It was not just a matter of negligence, but rather disobedience that dishonored God in the matter. And they knew what they were doing. They knew God had sent His command through the prophets. But they hardened their hearts to diamond density. That is what led to their judgment.
The message from this warning is to guard the heart. It is to maintain a tender willingness to hear and respond to God’s Word. It is to turn from selfish concerns and care for needs around us. This is what cultivates God’s desires for our hearts.