4. Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the Lord
4. Ne sitis sicut patres vestri, quia clamarunt ad eos Prophetae superiores, sic dicit Iehovah exercituum, Revertimini quaeso a viis vestris malis, et ab operibus vestris malis; et mom audierunt, neque attenderunt ad me, dicit Iehovah.
In order to correct and to subdue the obstinacy of the people, he here upbraids them with having descended from wicked and perverse parents. The Jews, we know, too much flattered themselves; and we know that they were especially inflated with the vain boasting that they derived their origin from the holy fathers. But the Prophets had something else in view. We indeed know that when anything becomes customary, almost all become hardened and flatter themselves in their vice; for immorality is then counted almost as the law, and what is sanctioned by public consent seems lawful. Since then they had not ceased for many years to provoke the wrath of God, it was necessary to add this reproof, Be not like your fathers: for they no doubt imagined that God approved of them, as they were not worse than their fathers. But God shows that their fathers had been very wicked and perverse.
Let us learn from this passage, that the examples which are wont to be set up as a shield are so far from being of any weight before God, that they enhance our guilt: and yet we see that this folly infatuates many; for at this day the religion of the Papists seems to them holy and irreprehensible, because it has been handed down to them by their fathers. Hence, whenever they bring forward the fathers, they think it a sufficient defense against the charge of any errors. But nothing occurs more frequently in the Prophets than the truth, that examples tend more to kindle the wrath of God, when some men become the occasion of sin to others, and when posterity think that whatever has proceeded from their fathers is lawful.
But we must at the same time bear in mind the design of the Prophet, for he did not intend simply to show, that the Jews in vain alleged the examples of the ancient; but, as I have said, he intended to shake off their self-flatteries by which they lulled themselves asleep; and he intended especially to put down those evil practices, which by long use had prevailed among them. This then is the reason why he says, Be not like your fathers. The Spirit employs the same sentiment in many other places, especially in the ninety- fifth Psalm (Psalm 95:1), and also in other Psalms.
Then he says, that the Prophets, who had been sent by God, had cried to their fathers, but that they did not attend. As then contempt of the truth had for so many ages prevailed among the Jews, and as this impiety was not duly abhorred by them, since they thought themselves to be as it were in perpetual possession -- these are the reasons why the Prophet expressly upbraids them with this, that God's word had been formerly despised by their nation -- cry then did the former Prophets. He also exaggerates again their crime and their sin, because God had often recalled them to himself but without success. Had the Prophets been silent, and had God applied no remedy for their defection, their ingratitude would not indeed have been excusable; but since Prophets had often been sent to them, in succession, one after the other, and each had endeavored to restore the wretched men to a state of safety, not to attend to their holy and serious admonitions, by which God manifested his care for their well-being, was a much more atrocious crime.
We hence learn, that when we find any people prone to this or that vice, it ought to be resisted with greater diligence; for Satan almost always employs this artifice -- that when he finds us prone to this or that vice, he directs all his efforts to drive us headlong into it.
As then the Prophets had been for a long time despised by the Jews, Zechariah designedly brings before them that perverseness which had been too long known. cry then did the former Prophets, saying Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, return ye, I pray, from your evil ways, and from your evil works; but they heard not nor attended. After having spoken of God's kind invitation, which was a singular pledge of his love, since he thus manifested his concern for their safety, he shows on the other hand how unworthily the Jews had conducted themselves, for they obstinately rejected this favor of God. They were indeed more than sufficiently proved guilty; for by saying, Return ye, I pray, from your evil ways and from your evil works, he assumes it as a fact that the reproofs given were just. And he farther says, that they refused to hear. Hence their perverseness was less endurable; for though they were self-condemned, they did not yet repent, nor deigned to hearken to God. And he subjoins the words, nor did they attend; for by this repetition is more fully expressed, not only their stupidity, but their strange madness, inasmuch as they had so rejected God, and closed up the door of his favor, as though they sought designedly to drive him far from them, lest he should come to them.