Even from the days of your fathers you are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you…
Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. And Zechariah has a similar expression (Zechariah 1:3), "Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." The direction to turn from the evil way is very familiar in the books of the prophets, and should be read in the light of their work as social and moral reformers. Some evil custom is indicated, which the people were turned to, and this the prophets anxiously endeavoured to get them turned from. This turning is the root idea of the terra "conversion," which should always be associated with conviction, or the sense of sin, and contrition, or sorrow for sin. Then properly comes conversion, or turning from sin. This is met by the remission of sin, and acceptance as free from sin. The word "conversion" is generally used for the whole process, but this use is apt to produce confusion of ideas. Special significance may properly attach to the turning from sin, because it is the recognized sign and expression of sincerity and earnestness. If a man gives up things he loves that are evil, there is good evidence that he is sincere. Reference in this passage is to the national loyalty to the Mosaic ordinances. By it the national piety could be tested. But they were manifestly turned from anything like a loving, hearty, spiritual obedience of those ordinances, such as God could approve and accept. Consequently his favour and blessing were manifestly turned from them.
I. MAN CANNOT RETURN TO GOD UNTIL GOD RETURNS TO HIM. While God holds aloof from the sinner, that sinner may feel remorse and misery. "His bones may wax old through his roaring all the day long;" but he will feel no penitence, no element of hope can enter into his distress. The first move always comes from God. Zacchaeus does not know that he is really seeking Jesus, until he discovers that Jesus is seeking him. Our Lord put this truth into his familiar expression, "No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him." It is the testimony of universal experience that God is always beforehand with us. And, rightly viewed, this shows us to be without excuse if we keep on in sin.
II. GOD CANNOT RETURN TO MAN UNTIL MAN RETURNS TO HIM. This puts the truth in paradoxical form; and yet it is precisely the statement of the text. God speaks. But he says he will not turn till man does. God is first in opening negotiation, and yet he says he must come second. Explain that God cannot do his gracious work in the man until the man is in that right moral state represented by penitence and turning to God. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
WEB: From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says Yahweh of Armies. "But you say, 'How shall we return?'