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The Need Of Reality
The opening date for the second division of the prophecy of Zechariah is a little more than two years later than what we have been considering. In the meantime royal permission had been given for the completion of the temple, and the work went on with some degree of energy. See Ezra, 5th chapter. Already there had been some effort made to revive the ancient feasts, and likewise to keep the more modern fasts. Concerning one of the latter, a deputation of Jews came to consult Zechariah and the elders, both of the priests and prophets. Their Chaldean names tell that they had been born in captivity. As representatives of the people, “Sherezer and Regem-melech, and their men,” came “to pray before the Lord, and to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in. the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?” (vers. 2, 3).
There seems to have been propriety in the question. For the fast of the fifth month, as also for the fasts of the fourth, seventh and tenth months (chap. 8:19), there was no direct authority in the word of God, and the returned remnant had been learning to inquire, “What saith the Scriptures?” as to both command and teaching.
During their Babylonian sojourn they had kept the four fasts mentioned, commemorating various events in their past sad history, all connected with their punishment for their sins. None need doubt the piety that prompted the observance of these special seasons of humiliation before God.
The only trouble was, that formality so readily took the place of reality and genuine self-humbling in the presence of the Lord. On the tenth day of the fifth month Nebuzar-adan burnt the temple and the city of Jerusalem. On the yearly anniversary of that solemn event they fasted and wept, beseeching the Lord to have mercy, and restore the house and the city.
Naturally, now that they were again in the midst of Jerusalem’s ruins, and their prayer seemed answered in measure before their eyes as the house of God neared completion, the question of the righteousness of continuing the self-appointed fast of the fifth month came before them.
The word of the Lord of hosts came through Zechariah in reply. But there was no legislation regarding the fast at all: He neither forbade nor enjoined it. In itself, such a fast was without positive scriptural authority. On the other hand, it was in full keeping with the general tenor of the Word. It was extra-scriptural, rather than un-scriptural. If the people met in true self-judgment and brokenness of spirit before God on that day, or any day, it would have been acceptable. If they met simply as legally observing a fast which, after all, He had never appointed, it was a weariness of the flesh, and worthless in His sight. Therefore Zechariah presses home the need of reality. What had been their object and condition of soul as they kept the fasts in the past? When they commemorated the burning of the temple in the fifth month (2 Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 52:12), and the death of the faithful Gedaliah in the seventh month (2 Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 41:1, Jeremiah 41:2),35 did they at all fast unto Jehovah all the years of the captivity?
When, on the other hand, they kept the appointed feasts, in place of the fasts, was it His glory they sought? Or did they simply come together for social enjoyment, eating and drinking, without one thought of honoring Him whose power and grace they were supposed to be remembering? (vers. 6, 7).
Surely, if all before had been unreal and hollow, now, with such marked evidences both of divine grace and government before them, they should turn to God with all their hearts, remembering the words which He had cried by the former prophets, who had testified to their fathers before Jerusalem was destroyed, and when they dwelt therein in peace, and prosperity was in the land (ver. 7).
This is all the answer that was given for the moment. It was left to them to decide whether they should keep the fast or not. And this is most significant, and has a voice for us whose lot is cast in a similar day, if we will hear it, emphasizing the fact that mere formality will never do for God. He must see a true turning to Himself if He would find delight in the gathering together of His people. There may not always be chapter and verse for every practice, but God will graciously accept all that springs from true self-judgment, and that is not opposed to the plain letter of His Word. It has become the fashion in some places to ask, “Where is the scripture for a Bible-reading, or where the direct verse for gathering the young together to teach them the knowledge of the Bible, and thus to lead them to Christ?” We need not be troubled by such cold-hearted queries as these. Rather let the Sunday-school worker ask himself, or herself, “Why do I thus labor among the children? Is it with me but a weariness of the flesh, and a matter of form? Has it become simply legal drudgery, which I carry on because such work is now customary? Or do I seek thus to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ? Is my purpose so to minister Him to those young in years that their tender hearts may be drawn to Himself ere they become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin?” If this be the case, let there be no further question, but go on joyfully with your service, doing it heartily, as unto the Lord.
The same principle applies to the meeting appointed for the study of the Word, among believers. There is no direct scripture that such meetings are to be held at stated intervals; but there is plenty in the way of scripture warrant and example to make it clear that when such meetings are convened by earnest, loyal-hearted saints, who come together hungering for the precious truth of God, and ever letting it sit in judgment on them and on their ways, it is truly pleasing in His sight. Otherwise it is but a work of the flesh-religious flesh, no doubt, but flesh still, for all that.
And what has been said is equally true of the assembly-meeting of 1 Corinthians 14:0 and the meeting for the breaking of bread of 1 Corinthians 11:0 and Acts 20:7. It is quite possible to sit down at the Lord’s table, where the bread and wine speak of His body given and blood shed for us, and yet not eat the Lord’s Supper at all, because the mind is so fully occupied with other things that there is no true remembrance of Christ. One may go from the meeting-room eased in conscience because he has not neglected the table of the Lord, and superciliously regarding himself as superior to Christians whose light and privileges seem of a lower order, when all the time there has been nothing for God in it all, but the whole thing was a perfunctory and empty ceremony, detestable in His eyes, if indeed there has not been an actual eating and drinking of judgment to oneself.
But if there is to be reality when saints are gathered together, there must be righteousness in their daily lives. So Zechariah again speaks the word of the Lord, saying, “Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart” (vers. 9, 10). Solemn words are these! Would that they had been oftener called to mind by the people of God in all ages! He has said, “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees!” (Isaiah 10:1), yet how frequently has ecclesiastical authority been invoked to enforce the most palpably cruel and unholy decisions! Oh, the crimes that have been committed in the name of the Lord and His truth! The cruelties of those who have vaunted the exclusive mind of the Lord will make a terrible and a humiliating record at the judgment-seat of Christ. When will saints learn that nothing is of God which is unholy; that nothing is right which is not righteous; that nothing is bound, or ratified, by the Just One which in itself is unjust! Neither is anything to be owned as having divine sanction which outrages the mercy and compassions of Christ.
Because Israel forgot all this, and “made their hearts as an adamant stone,” the former prophets had been sent to warn them, and they would not hear; therefore great wrath came upon them. As they were indifferent to the cry of the distressed, and calloused as to the sorrows of the needy, God gave them over to learn in bitterness of soul what distress and need really meant. In the day of their anguished cry, He refused to hearken, even as they had refused to hear His voice of entreaty and warning. So they had been scattered with a whirlwind among all the nations (vers. 11-14). Would their children learn from the sad experiences of the past, or must they too be broken and driven forth because of indifference to the claims of the Holy and the True?
To Christians of the present day the same questions may well be put. May God give us grace to profit by the failures of the past, and to walk softly and in charity, according to truth, in the little while ere the Lord Jesus comes again!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Zechariah 7". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30