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A Question Answered Negatively
The visions and prophecies of the first six chapters are connected with the eighth month of the second year of the reign of Darius (Zechariah 1:1). It is two years later when the question ofZechariah 7:3; Zechariah 7:3 arises. In this chapter the Lord answers the question negatively, and gives the positive answer in Zechariah 8:1-23.
The question is asked by men sent to the house of the Lord from Bethel (JND). They had been sent to pray and to ask the priests and prophets in Jerusalem, "Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?" The fast of the fifth month was in memory of the destruction of the first temple. Now the temple was being rebuilt (it was finished within two years after this: Ezra 6:15), was it necessary to continue this fast?
Bethel was one of the two centers where Jeroboam set up his idolatrous worship (1 Kings 12:28-29) when he separated the ten tribes from Judah and Benjamin. The Assyrian took the ten tribes into captivity before the temple was destroyed (2 Kings 17:6), yet here we find men of Bethel who were mourning the destruction of Jerusalem's temple. It is good to see this evidence of their being drawn back to Judah and the center of worship that God had established in Israel. God's temple now meant enough to them that they were mourning over its destruction, and were glad to see it being rebuilt.
The Lord answered this question through Zechariah. The answer was addressed not only to those who asked the question, but to all the people of the land, and to the priests particularly, who were commonly the representatives of the people. Yet the question is only partially answered in this chapter: the positive side of the answer awaitsZechariah 8:1-23; Zechariah 8:1-23. The answer begins (v. 5) in the form of another question, "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months, during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me - for Me?" The Lord adds a fast in the seventh month, which was another fast in memory of the murder of Gedaliah by Ishmael (Jeremiah 41:1-2). The Lord makes it a serious question as to whether these fasts were out of concern for His glory or whether Israel had selfish motives. On the other hand also, when instead of fasting they ate and drank, were they not doing this entirely for themselves and not eating and drinking to the glory of God? Whether or not the fasts had begun with proper motives, they did not continue that way. They had degenerated into mere formal and selfish observations, just as later on we read of "the Jews' Passover" (John 2:13) and "the Jews' feast of Tabernacles" (John 7:2), though these had been called "the feasts of the Lord" when instituted inLeviticus 23:4; Leviticus 23:4.
In verse 7 the Lord reminds Israel that He had spoken by the prophets in this same way to the nation before the captivity took place "when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous." Isaiah's prophecy is most pointed in this matter (Isaiah 58:3-7). He wrote in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, previous to Judah's captivity. They had before ignored God's messages and suffered for it. Let them take a warning that they may rightly respond now!
A FURTHER MESSAGE FROM GOD
The message from verses 4-7 has been one of serious reproof. The Lord gives another message beginning with verse 8, this time adding exhortation as to the proper attitude to accompany fasting, while showing that this attitude had been lacking in Israel. As a result the people were scattered among the nations.
If their fast was honestly for God, then they would show it in their attitude toward others. They would execute true judgment, being fairminded in their dealings, which would require showing mercy and compassion. They are told not to oppress the widow. Unscrupulous people will take cruel advantage of a widow's lack of knowledge as to business matters. The fatherless, the strangers and the poor also are in a position that leaves them vulnerable to such people. Yet this is negative: the New Testament goes much further than this, as for example Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all." We surely ought not merely to refrain from doing evil, but should positively do good.
Israel had refused to listen to God's prophets, but closed their ears against the truth of God's Word (v. 11). They had deliberately made their hearts as hard as a rock, so the law of God would make no impression, nor His Word sent by His Spirit through the prophets. For this reason the great wrath of God burned against them (v. 12).
Just as God cried loudly to Israel but they would not listen, so when at last they cry out in distress when suffering the results of their rebellion, so God said He would not listen (v. 13). Rather, in His righteous government, He scattered them from their land among many nations where they were strangers (v. 14). Since they did not want God, He put them in the company of those who did not know God, that they might learn by experience the bitterness of being away from the kindness and care of their faithful Creator. Their land was left desolate as an awesome governmental judgment from God, with not even travelers passing through it. This was true during the 70 years of captivity and has since been repeated when Israel rejected the Lord Jesus when He came in grace. Now, after many centuries, God is showing mercy in many returning to the land with the nation of Israel firmly established.
The negative side of the answer of God thus emphasizes that Israel had not learned to take to heart the significance of their fasting. Therefore they are not told to cease their fasting, for despite the little apparent revival God had given them, they had not learned the self-judgment God was seeking to teach them.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Zechariah 7". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34