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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 7

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-14

Instruction Regarding Fasting (7:1-14)

"In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month"; that is, in late November or early December of the year 518 b.c, nearly two years after the date of the visions, and two years before the completion of the rebuilding of the Temple. This word, unlike others in the book, came in response to a question raised by contemporaries of the prophet. As the passage is translated in the Revised Standard Version, the question appears to come from a group of visitors from Bethel. But the Hebrew text mentions no "people of Bethel" and refers rather to a certain "Bethel-Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men" who sent to inquire about the propriety of continuing the fast of the fifth month, which had been observed to mourn the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple. The visitors arrived in the ninth month, which fact suggests that they had left some point more distant than Bethel shortly after the fast in the fifth month; their names suggest that they were Jews from Babylon,

The reply of Zechariah (7:4-14) is blunt and forceful and goes beyond the question raised. In the first place, the prophet’s reply deals both with the fast which mourned the fall of Jerusalem in the fifth month and with the fast which commemorated the murder of Gedaliah in the seventh month, as briefly described in 2 Kings 25:25. Further, Zechariah’s reply is addressed to "all the people of the land" and to the priests, as well as to the visitors; it is likely that the most careful observances of the fast were in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem.

In and of themselves fasts do not please God. The former prophets had attempted to make clear the fact that God is not pleased by religious observances alone but demands right behavior. Fasts and feasts are of no real consequence to God, but serve the personal needs of those who participate in them. The prophet answers the visitors’ question obliquely, much in the manner of the earlier prophets: whether the fasts of the fifth month and the seventh month are continued or discontinued appears to be of no concern to God.

What concerns God is the right behavior of the people: "Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy ... do not oppress . . . and let none of you devise evil against his brother . . ." (Zechariah 7:9-10). In these words the prophet summarizes the message of the earlier prophets, endorsing their exhortations as being of continuing validity, and goes on to say that the people of Judah had refused to hear God’s Law and the words which the Lord had sent through his prophets. As a result "great wrath came from the Lord of hosts." The people were scattered among the nations and their pleasant land was left desolate. "As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear," says the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 7:13). The fasts of the past seventy years had been as ineffective as the preaching of the former prophets.

In this prophetic word the only gleam of hope is to be found in the reference to the seventy-year period. The inquirers arrived after the sixty-ninth commemoration of the fall of Jerusalem, and Zechariah’s reply seems to have cleared the way for the discontinuation of the fast in the seventieth year. The construction of the Temple was apparently by this time far enough along for some limited use of it or at least for optimistic expectation on the part of the priests and people. God’s hand had blessed his people, and now, if they will observe his laws and show mercy, his favor may show itself to them. The possibility of blessing is implied in the words of the prophet but not explicitly announced.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Zechariah 7". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/zechariah-7.html.
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