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Questions About Fasting (Zechariah 7:1-6 ).
There may be a contrast intended here between those who had come from Babylon seeking news about the Branch, bringing gold and silver for his crown, who had had the joy of participating in a prophetic acting out of His crowning, and these people who had come from Bethel (or Babylon) simply concerned as to whether they needed to keep on fasting now that the Temple was nearly built.
The first revealed hearts of faith and hope, the second were self-seeking aggrandisement and self-saisfaction. However, in both cases the promise is given that a new Temple will be built (Zechariah 6:12; Zechariah 8:3; Zechariah 8:9), both are called on to hear the voice of God and obey it (Zechariah 6:15; Zechariah 7:8-14; Zechariah 8:16), both have in mind the the return of exiles and the nations coming to Zion to participate in the blessings of the new age (Zechariah 6:13; Zechariah 6:15; Zechariah 8:3-8; Zechariah 8:20-23). God does not limit His blessing to the wholly worthy.
‘And it happened in the fourth year of King Darius that the word of YHWH came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev.’
The timing of this incident is precisely dated in order to stress the historicity of the event. Chislev is the Babylonian name for the ninth month. King Darius was the king of Persia.
‘Now Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to entreat the favour of YHWH, and to speak to the priests of the house of YHWH of Hosts and to the prophets --.’
Here the emphasis appears to be on the fact that the query has come from Bethel, which had been where one of the two Northern altars had been built. There may be an intended play on the fact that Bethel means ‘house of God’. Those of ‘the house of God’ came to the house of YHWH to entreat favour from YHWH and to seek guidance from the priests and prophets, thus exalting the house of YHWH. For now the altar at Bethel was no more. It would seem from their purpose in coming that religious questions were being tightly controlled.
Note the mention of ‘priests -- and prophets.’ These were clearly connected to the house of YHWH in order to give guidance to the people. The fact that Zechariah replies might suggest that he was at this stage an official prophet (compare Zechariah 11:12).
Alternately we may translate ‘they had sent Bethel-Sharezer and Regem-Melech ---’. The idea might then be that they had come from those in exile to enquire at the house of YHWH. The names are suggestive of Babylonian names and it would explain why the question comes four months after the feast, the time taken to travel to Jerusalem. However the reply ‘to all the people of the land’ (Zechariah 7:4) would tie in with the question having come from Bethel.
‘Saying, “Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself as I have done these so many years?”
Their question was as to whether it was still necessary to weep on the fifth month for the destruction of the Temple in view of the fact that the Temple was being rebuilt, for this particular fast commemorated the burning of the Temple (2 Kings 25:8 on; Jeremiah 52:12 on). So their concern is lest this fast be no longer necessary in view of the work on the rebuilding of the Temple. But the reply given suggests that they see in this weeping something that is of particular merit to themselves as it stresses how faithful they have been through so many years. Instead of being sorrowful for sin while they are fasting they are rather proud of their punctilious observance of the fast and of the grief that they express.
Further Prophecies of Zechariah (Zechariah 7:1 to Zechariah 8:23 )
These prophecies occur approximately two years after the previous ones demonstrating that Zechariah’s ministry continued. It would appear that the Temple is at least partly built and functioning.
ANALYSIS OF THE SECOND SECTION.
This second section (Zechariah 7:1 to Zechariah 8:23) divides up as follows:
· Introduction (Zechariah 7:1-3).
· ‘Then came the word of the LORD of Hosts to me saying ---’ (Zechariah 7:4).
· ‘And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying ---’ (Zechariah 7:8).
· ‘And the word of the LORD of Hosts came saying ---’ (Zechariah 8:1).
· ‘And the word of the LORD of Hosts came to me saying --’ (Zechariah 8:18).
IN DEPTH ANALYSIS OF Zechariah 7-8.
a Introduction - the arrival of enquirers about the fasts which were in remembrance of the circumstances connected with the fall of Jerusalem (Zechariah 7:1-3).
a YHWH dismisses their fasts as hypocritical and calls on them to hear the words of the prophets (Zechariah 7:4-7).
b YHWH calls on them rather to live truly with a genuine concern for people’s needs, and not to overlook the fact that it was because their fathers failed to hear the prophets and do this that the land had become desolate (Zechariah 7:8-14).
b YHWH declares His deep concern for Jerusalem. He will return and live in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will be called the city of truth and its mountain the Holy Mountain (compareIsaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 2:1-4). It will be filled with people dwelling securely and He will bring back the exiles. And because His Temple has been rebuilt they will live in peace and prosper for He now purposes to do good for Jerusalem as long as they live truly with a genuine concern for people’s needs and are open and honest with each other (Zechariah 8:1-17).
a YHWH declares that the fasts of the past will become feasts of joy, and the nations will flock to Jerusalem to entreat God’s favour because they know that He is with His people (Zechariah 8:18-23).
Note how in ‘a’ questions are raised about the fasts and God condemns their keeping of them as hypocritical, and in the parallel the fasts will become feasts and will result in blessing for the nations. In ‘b’ the call is to live truly with a genuine concern for people’s need, reminding them that the failure to do this had brought desolation, and in the parallel the call is to live truly with a genuine concern for people’s needs, and then everything will be restored.
YHWH Charges Them With False Motives In Their Fasting (Zechariah 7:4-7 ).
‘Then came the word of YHWH of Hosts to me saying, “Speak to all the people of the land and the priests saying, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh month, even these seventy years, did you at all fast to me, even to me? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?’ ” ’
God’s reply through Zechariah is not just to the questioners. It is to all the people of the land and to the priests. It is uncompromising. During the whole seventy years they have abounded in fasts, and in feasts as well, but the truth is that their hearts were not directed rightly. Their fasting was all religious ritual and show. They expressed sorrow for what they had lost by the catastrophe, and they expressed grief over their present physical state, but what they mourned was their own loss, not the sins which had brought it about. Their fasts rather gave them great self-satisfaction and were for personal aggrandisement.
‘All the people of the land.’ Here this probably indicates all Jews in and around Jerusalem probably reaching at least as far as Bethel. It may indicate those who had initially returned and had helped to build the Temple, who now felt a little chagrined about the arrival of newcomers. In some cases the phrase can indicate a certain free property owning class with some say in affairs, but not here.
The fast on the seventh month may have been connected with the Day of Atonement. Alternately it may have been connected with the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor after the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:19).
We can compare with this attitude Jesus’ charge against the Pharisees (Matthew 6:16-18), that when they indulged in fasting, it did not result in them in turning to God in such a way as to become more responsive to His laws and more obedient to His moral requirements. They were rather taken up with themselves and their own religiosity and not with God (compare Luke 18:10-14). We can compare especially the words of Isaiah 1:10-20, which perfectly express what he is saying.
And the same applied at their celebrations of their feasts. They ate and drank, but it was not in true gratitude and response to God, but purely in self-indulgence and in self-commendation.
In other words it is not enough for us to have a vague sense of unworthiness. What God requires from us is a full awareness of our specific sins so that we face up to them and turn from them. Then we will recognise that we are rebels against God.
“Should you not hear the words which YHWH has cried by the former prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and her cities round about her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?”
This verse both looks back to what he has just said, and looks ahead to the following verses. He now stresses that the people have not yet awakened to their own real need to listen to what the former prophets had said. Those prophets had prophesied when all was well, when Jerusalem and the cities round about her were prosperous and well populated, and the South and the lowland were also well populated. But the people then had not listened to the prophets. They had not repented of their sins. They had not striven to obey their God. They had not ceased to do evil and learned to do well. They had not been concerned for the poor and needy. Rather their ways had been sinful, and they had not listened to the voice of God (see especially Isaiah 1:17).
So God’s stress is that instead of being concerned with questions of fasting the people now needed to consider their ways. Let them do what their fathers had failed to do, listen to the former prophets, repent of their sins and selfishness, admit their failure in their attitude towards God and sin, and respond to Him with a full heart, putting right what was wrong in their midst.
We are reminded by this that there is always a danger of our attitude to God becoming too superficial. We can be so caught up in religious activity that we neglect true goodness and compassion where it is most needed. And it is the latter that God requires. The Gospel is not a social Gospel, but it makes great social demands and should have great social effects.
God Calls The People To Righteous Living Rather Than Religious Zeal and Warns of the Consequences of Refusal (Zechariah 7:8-14 ).
What Zechariah is saying is now expressed in more depth.
‘And the word of YHWH came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has YHWH of Hosts spoken, saying ‘Give true justice, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother. And do not oppress the widow, nor the fatherless, nor the stranger, nor the poor. And let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” ’
‘Thus has YHWH of Hosts spoken.’ He had spoken through the former prophets as now He speaks through Zechariah. Thus the words of Zechariah carry all the weight of those of the former prophets.
Here the importance of true justice is brought out. We are reminded how earlier ‘swearing falsely’ had specifically been picked out as a failure of the times (Zechariah 5:4). If society is to prosper, fair and honest dealing in the means of obtaining justice must be an essential.
The attitude of men and women towards each other is then emphasised. They should demonstrate concern and love towards each other, and a willingness to understand and to forgive. They should be considerate and thoughtful towards one another. It should not be every man for himself, but every man for his brother.
The needs of the vulnerable are also stressed. The society may be struggling but it must not lose sight of its weaker members. Those who have no one to protect or care for them should be given full consideration and not be taken advantage of; the widows, left alone to fend for themselves; the fatherless, who have no father figure to protect and care for them; the stranger with no wider family to look to; the poor, who can wield no influence and struggle to survive. These should be treasured as giving an opportunity for showing love to God.
And finally warning is given of the danger of nursing grievances, of fostering envy, and of imagining evil in the heart. How often distress and disharmony are the result of hidden thoughts of the heart of which no one is aware, and how easily these grow until they take possession of a man’s ways and actions, often without a genuine cause.
‘But they refused to listen and pulled away the shoulder and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yes, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the Law and the words which YHWH of Hosts had sent by his Spirit by the hands of the former prophets, therefore came there great wrath from Yahweh of Hosts.’
But the people had refused to listen to the former prophets. They had ‘pulled away the shoulder.’ They had ceased to be willing to put in any effort. The picture may be of the oxen who refuses the yoke. Alternately it may be translated, ‘turned the shoulder’ i.e. behaved stubbornly.
They ‘stopped their ears.’ They were not even willing to give the message of the former prophets consideration. They did not want to hear. They ‘made their hearts as an adamant stone.’ They hardened their own hearts, always a sign of men going beyond the line past which repentance becomes very difficult. An adamant stone is a stone of especial hardness.
‘Lest they should hear the Law -- and the words of the former prophets.’ Already we are getting that distinction which would later become firm, ‘the Law and the prophets’, the word of God. But we must remember that the Law (or ‘Instruction’) is comprised of God’s own personal demands on His people to Whom He has shown His favour, not just a set of regulations set up as a standard to live by.
‘The words which YHWH of Hosts had sent by His Spirit --’. The Spirit of YHWH had spoken directly to and through the former prophets, and refusal to hear their words was therefore a direct refutation of the Spirit of YHWH.
‘Therefore there came great wrath from YHWH of Hosts.’ This was why the people had suffered so greatly, because their offence had been so great. They had been given every chance, and had not only refused it but had deliberately set their hearts against it. There can be no doubt that Zechariah is here saying to his hearers and readers that this is a lesson and a warning to which they must pay great heed, for, if they take the same attitude as their predecessors did, worse could happen to them. The wrath of God is still revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).
‘And it happened that as he cried and they would not hear, “so shall they cry and I will not hear,” said YHWH of Hosts.’
Note the change of person indicating personal conversation in the last part of the sentence.
‘In the same way as He cried and they would not hear.’ It was they who had started the process of not hearing. Up to that time God had been only too willing to hear. But they had closed their ears and refused to listen to Him.
“So shall they cry and I will not hear.” In the end God’s response is also to turn a deaf ear. They prayed, they fasted in the fifth month, but their prayer and fasting was superficial and not real. Had they become real at any time God would have heard. But real prayer results from repentance and a change of heart, from a true returning to Him. And this they would not, and in the end could not, do. It is one of the presumptions of man that God is always there whenever he deigns to call on Him. But here God Himself tells us that is not true. If we keep on dilly dallying when God is speaking to us there comes a time when He stops hearing us, and we stop being able to make a true response to Him. ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?’ (Hebrews 2:3).
“But I will scatter them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they have not known.” Thus the land was desolate after them with the result that no man passed through or returned, for they laid desolate the pleasant land (the land of desire).’
The result of God ceasing to hear was devastating. The rebellious and disobedient people were scattered among the nations. Among ‘all the nations whom they have not known.’ Peoples afar off and not close neighbours. They were transported, never themselves to return, and the land became desolate to such an extent that no one wanted to return and no one even wanted to pass through it. This is a slight exaggeration, but it establishes the point. So complete was the working of God’s wrath that it had rendered the land undesirable. Yet as we have seen earlier it was limited indignation. There was still a future for their descendants because the God of the covenant had not forgotten His promises.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 7". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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