David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
ZECHARIAH 7 - OBEDIENCE IS BETTER THAN RITUAL
A. Confronting the sin of religious hypocrisy.
1. (Zechariah 7:1-3) A question about fasting.
Now in the fourth year of King Darius it came to pass that the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev, when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God, to pray before the LORD, and to ask the priests who were in the house of the LORD of hosts, and the prophets, saying, “Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?”
a. In the fourth year . . . on the fourth day of the ninth month: On December 4, 518 B.C. a delegation came to Jerusalem with a question about fasting. At this point, the temple was somewhere around halfway completed.
b. Should I weep in the fifth month and fast: The fast in the fifth month remembered the destruction of the temple (2 Kings 25:8-9). Zechariah also mentions a fast in the seventh month (Zechariah 7:5), which remembered the murder of Gedaliah, the last act of rebellion against the Babylonian governor of Judah (2 Kings 25:25).
i. The Law of Moses only commanded one fast day, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-34). In addition to this day, during the exile the Jewish people instituted four more feasts to remember key dates in the tragic defeat of their nation. Here are the additional feasts:
ii. Psalms 137 beautifully - and powerfully - describes the sadness of heart that made the exiles remember their sin and tragedy with these additional days of fasting.
c. To ask the priests who were in the house of the LORD: These men knew that during their forced exile in Babylon they observed these feasts that remembered the tragic fall of Jerusalem. Now since God’s people were back in the land and the temple was rebuilt, they wanted to know if it was appropriate to continue to these fasts of mournful remembrance.
i. The matter brings up an issue relevant today: How long should we remember and mourn over our past? Should we do things to remember either our sin or the tragedies of the past?
d. As I have done for so many years: These additional fasts were not commanded by God, but instituted by man. Yet because they were traditionally practiced for so long (at least 70 years), they developed an authority of their own. They thought, “We’ve done this for so many years, we may as well keep doing it.”
2. (Zechariah 7:4-7) Hypocrisy in fasting is rebuked.
Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me; for Me? When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?’“
a. Did you really fast for Me; for Me? God’s word through Zechariah rebuked the people of God for what their fasting had become - indulgent pity-parties instead of a time to genuinely seek God. Their lives were not right when they did eat and drink - that they did for themselves, not for the LORD. A few days of fasting every year could not make up for the rest of the year lived for yourselves.
i. This also shows us that when we cling to the memory of sin or tragedy in the past, we often do it out of simple self-indulgence. We do it for our self, not for the LORD.
b. Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed: Because their hearts were not right with God, their rituals were not right before God. Everyday obedience would make their times of fasting meaningful, but their neglect of everyday obedience made their fasting hypocritical.
i. “It was easy to spend fast-days mourning their losses, but harder to face up to God’s continuing demands.” (Baldwin)
ii. Instead of actively remembering the sin or tragedy of the past, God wants us to focus on active obedience and an active walk with Him. “There is no need to observe the sad anniversaries of our sins and their accompanying punishment, if once we are assured of God’s free forgiveness. When He forgives and restores, the need for dwelling on the bitter past is over . . . Too many of us are always dwelling beside the graves of the dead past.” (Meyer)
iii. Through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous: If their ancestors had been obedient they would have never needed to fast, and their land wouldn’t have been conquered and desolate.
c. And the South and the Lowland were inhabited: Here, the South refers to the Negev, the desolate desert near the Dead Sea. This area wasn’t always desolate; before Israel’s disobedience, it too was prosperous and inhabited.
B. What God wants: people who will listen and obey.
1. (Zechariah 7:8-10) The conduct God desires.
Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’ “
a. Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion: In Zechariah 7:7 the prophet rebuked the people of God and their ancestors for a basic neglect of obedience. Now Zechariah describes the kind of obedience God wanted, beginning with decent and loving treatment of our neighbor.
b. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother: Some among the people of God found it easier to fast a few days a year instead of truly treating others in a godly way. Their bad relationship with others demonstrated a fundamentally bad relationship with the LORD.
2. (Zechariah 7:11-12) The rebellious reaction of God’s people.
“But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.”
a. Refused to heed . . . shrugged their shoulders . . . stopped their ears . . . made their hearts like flint: Zechariah vividly describes a progression of rejection. It begins with simply refusing to heed God, then a self-justifying shrugging of their shoulders, then stopping their hears. It all ends with hearts as hard as flint.
i. When you meet people with hearts like flint, you know they did not become that way overnight. There was a gradual, certain progression to their present place of hardness.
ii. Baldwin on shrugged their shoulders: “Israel had turned a stubborn shoulder, like an animal that stiffened every muscle in its effort to refuse the yoke.”
b. Refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets: In their hardened state, they just didn’t want to hear God’s word. When we lose our hunger for God’s word it is a sobering evidence of the progression of rejection and hardness of heart.
i. Zechariah didn’t doubt that the Spirit of God genuinely inspired his words and the words of other prophets.
3. (Zechariah 7:13-14) God’s judgment on their disobedience.
“Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts. “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land became desolate after them, so that no one passed through or returned; for they made the pleasant land desolate.”
a. Just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen: Since God’s people refused to listen to God, God would refuse to listen to and answer their prayers. This is just another good reason to stay under the teaching of God’s word - so that our prayers will be answered.
b. I scattered them with a whirlwind: “This refers to the swift victories and cruel conduct of the Chaldeans towards the Jews; they came upon them like a whirlwind; they were tossed to and fro, and up and down, everywhere scattered and confounded.” (Clarke)
c. Thus the land became desolate after them: Their disobedience and disregard for God led to scattering and desolation. This is always our fate when we allow religious rituals to take the place of a real relationship and daily obedience towards God.
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