God listens to those who listen to him. The proof of this is all over Scripture. Isaiah 66:2 offers a prime example when God says, “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Even more direct is a warning given by Zechariah.

Zechariah was a minor prophet who had a major impact, foretelling both the first and second comings of the Messiah. He was also employed by God to call the Israelites to repentance. Zechariah lived in the time following Israel’s exile, after the people had returned from Babylon. His name means “The Lord remembers,” and through his voice the Lord assured his own that, although he had chastened them for 70 years in Babylon, he had not forgotten them or the covenant he made with their forefathers.

Undoubtedly, Zechariah had heard of the captivity from his father, Iddo, who had returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua. Zechariah learned how the Persian king Cyrus had freed the captive Israelites and let them return to the Promised Land. By Zechariah’s time about 50,000 Israelites had returned to Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the Temple, which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, had begun. However, the rebuilding effort quickly met with opposition from without and discouragement from within. As a result, all work on the Temple simply ceased for more than a decade.

God then appointed two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, to call his people back to himself. Both men confronted dead religion. Haggai’s message focused on the rebuilding of the physical Temple while Zechariah admonished the people, saying, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). Two evidences of Israel’s backsliding were obvious.

First, they would not listen to the prophets whom God had sent. Zechariah had hardly picked up his quill when he warned: “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord” (Zechariah 1:4). Their rebellion displayed itself by an inattentiveness to God’s message. They had closed their ears to his prophets and effectively silenced God with their prideful independence.

Second, their religion had degenerated into mere outward performance. Following eight visions concerning the condition of Israel and the judgment to come, the prophet exposed their hypocrisy by asking pointed questions. Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, when you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:4-6).

Rather than longing for God their hearts had become hardened against him. As a result, their fasting and feasting were done for their own pleasure, not God’s glory. Divine correction was required to lead the people to repentance. Their greatest need was not more religion, but brokenness, repentance, and faith.

[This post is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Brass Heavens: Reasons for unanswered prayer.]