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Part II. THE ANSWER TO A QUESTION CONCERNING THE OBSERVANCE OF CERTAIN FASTS.
§ 1. A deputation comes from Bethel to ask whether a fast instituted in memory of the calamity of Jerusalem was still to be observed.
In the fourth year of King Darius. This happened, then, B.C. 518, nearly two years after the visions had occurred (Zechariah 1:7). In two years more the temple was finished (Ezra 6:15), and the work of rebuilding was now proceeding vigorously; it seemed a fit opportunity for inquiring whether, in this period of comparative prosperity and success, it behoved the people to continue the fast appointed in sadder times. The word of the Lord came. This is the usual formula for introducing a revelation (Zechariah 1:1), but it is here placed in a peculiar position, dividing the date into two parts. Keil connects the last clause, which gives the day of the month, with the next verse; but this is against the traditional accentuation, and is not required by the wording of Zechariah 7:2. The prophet first gives the date generally when the word came to him, and then defines it more accurately. Chisleu; Chislev (Nehemiah 1:1). This month corresponded to parts of November and December.
When they had sent unto the house of God. The Vulgate supports this version, Et miserunt ad domum Dei; the LXX. gives, Καὶ ἐξαπέστειλεν εἰς Βαιθὴλ Σαρασὰρ καὶ Ἀρβεσεὲρ ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες αὐτοῦ, "And Sarasar and Arbescer the king and his men sent to Bethel"—which is far from clear. But the temple is never called Beth-el, while a mission to the town Bethel would be unmeaning. So "Bethel" is to be taken as the subject of the sentence, thus: "Now Bethel (i.e. they of Bethel) sent." The persons named may be taken either as the deputation or as the persons meant by "they of Bethel." The former seems most likely to be intended. The Bethelites sent these men to Jerusalem to make the inquiry. The exiles returned each to his own city, as we read in Ezra it.; among them were many people of Bethel (Ezra 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32), which town they rebuilt (Nehemiah 11:31). They seem to have tacitly acquiesced in the spiritual supremacy of Jerusalem, notwithstanding the associations Connected with their own city. Sherezer. The names of the deputies are Assyrian; they seem to have retained them on their return. Sherezer, equivalent to Assyrian Sar-usur or Asur-sar-usur, "Asur protect the King," is the name borne by a sen of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:37). Regem-melech; "Friend of the King." The first half of the word is probably Assyrian. And their men. Certain persons associated with them in the business. To pray before the Lord; literally, to stroke the face of the Lord (Zechariah 8:21, Zechariah 8:22; Exodus 32:11); so Latin, mulcere caput. Hence it means, "to entreat the favour of God" for their city. This was one object of their mission. The other purpose is mentioned in the next verse.
The priests. They were addressed as interpreters of the Law (see Haggai 2:11, and note there). Which were in; rather, which belonged to. The prophets. Such as Zechariah, Haggai, and perhaps Malachi, through whom God communicated his will. Should I weep in the fifth month? The use of the first person singular to express a community or a people is not uncommon; here it means the Bethelites (comp. Numbers 20:18, Numbers 20:19; Jos 9:7; 1 Samuel 5:10, 1 Samuel 5:11). Weeping is the accompaniment of fasting (Judges 20:26; Nehemiah 1:4; Joel 2:12). This fast in the fifth month, the month of Ab, had been established in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The temple was burnt on the ninth or tenth of the month (see 2 Kings 25:8, 2 Kings 25:9; Jeremiah 52:12, Jeremiah 52:13). The only fast-day enjoined by the Law of Moses was the great Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month, Ethanim (Leviticus 23:26, etc.). But the Jews added others in memory of certain national events (see Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Isaiah 58:3, etc.). In Zechariah 8:19 mention is made of four extraordinary fasts instituted and observed during the Captivity, viz. on the ninth day of the fourth month, in memory of the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans; in the fifth month, in remembrance of the burning of the temple and city; in the seventh month, in consequence of the murder of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1, Jeremiah 41:2); and in the tenth month, in memory of the commencement of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (see note on Zechariah 8:19). Separating myself. Abstaining from food and pleasure. Vulgate, vel sanctificare me debeo, such separation or abstinence being regarded as a consecration to the Lord. The LXX. has not understood the passage, rendering, Εἰσελήλυθεν ὧδε ἐν τῷ μηνὶ τῷ πέπτῳ τὸ ἁγίασμα "The sanctification hath come in here in the fifth month." These so many years. All the seventy years of exile. There is, perhaps, some Pharisaical complacency in this assertion.
§ 2. In answer to the inquiry, the delegates are told that fasting is in itself an indifferent thing, but is to be estimated by the conduct of those who observe it.
Then came the word of the Lord. This formula marks the several portions of the answer to the inquiry (see Zechariah 7:8; Zechariah 8:1, Zechariah 8:18). The present verse takes up the sentence in Zechariah 7:1, interrupted by the explanation of the object of the deputation (Zechariah 7:2, Zechariah 7:3).
Unto all the people of the land. The message was not for Bethel only, but for all the restored Jews, for whose satisfaction the question had been asked. And to the priests. The prophet was to make known to the priests God's will in this matter, it not being a mere ritual question. Fifth month (see note on Zechariah 7:3). The original question referred only to this fast; the answer embraces also another fast appointed by human authority. The seventh month. This fast was instituted in consequence of the murder of Gedaliah, B.C. 587, just seventy years ago, when the greater part of the remnant of the Jews, contrary to the prophet's warning, fled into Egypt to escape the punishment of the crime (2 Kings 25:25, 2 Kings 25:26; Jeremiah 41:2, Jeremiah 41:16, etc.). Did ye at all fast unto me? It was not by God's command, or to do him honor, that they fasted; not from hearty repentance or sorrow for the sins which had brought ruin upon their city and country; but from vexation at the calamity itself, and in a self-righteous spirit, with some idea of gaining merit by this punishment of the body; and God was not constrained by this formal observance to show them favour. Even to me. (For the forcible repetition of the pronoun, comp. Genesis 27:34; Proverbs 22:19; Haggai 1:4.)
When ye did eat, etc.; better, when ye eat and when ye drink. As in your fasts, so in your rejoicings and your daily life. Did not ye eat for yourselves, etc.? literally, Is it not ye who are eating and ye who are drinking? There the matter ends; it is self that is concerned, and there is no reference to God.
Should ye not hear the words, etc.? A verb must be supplied. "Do ye not know the words?" or "Should ye not obey the words?" Syriac, Septuagint, and Vulgate, "Are not these the words?" By the former prophets (Zechariah 1:4). It had been a common cry of the prophets from early times that men must not put their trust in the observance of outward ceremonies, but attend to the cultivation of moral obedience and purity (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11, Isaiah 1:12, Isaiah 1:16, Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 58:3, etc.; Jeremiah 7:22, Jeremiah 7:23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8, where see note). When Jerusalem was inhabited. Before its destruction and the deportation of its inhabitants. He recalls the former prosperity to their memory, contrasting it with the present low estate, to remind them of all they had lost in punishment of disobedience. The south (Negeb). The southern part of Judaea was so called (see on Obadiah 1:19; and comp. Numbers 13:17; Joshua 15:21). The plain (Shephelah); the low land, along the coast of the Mediterranean (Joshua 15:33; Joshua 1:0 Macc. 12:38). The above districts comprise two of the three divisions of Judaea (Judges 1:9); the third, the mountain or hill country (Luke 1:39), is intended in the expression, "Jerusalem and the cities round about her." There was still a great dearth of population in the country, and the towns were not half inhabited, nor was the]and half cultivated.
§ 8. The people are further reminded that they had been disobedient in old time, and had been punished by exile.
Unto Zechariah. The prophet speaks of himself in the third person, as in Zechariah 1:1. A further explanation of God's answer is next given. Some critics suppose that this verse is an interpolation, and that Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah 1:10 are "the words" referred to in Zechariah 1:7.
Thus speaketh; thus saith. The Lord hath always so said, and saith so now. Revised Version, thus hath the Lord of hosts spoken, saying. Execute true judgment; literally, judge ye judgment of truth; i.e. judge according to truth without bias or partiality. The same phrase occurs in Ezekiel 18:8. Exhortations to this effect are often found; e.g. Exodus 23:6, etc.; Deuteronomy 24:14; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Jeremiah 22:3. Show mercy. Kindness and love in general. Compassions. Pity for the afflicted.
Oppress not the widow, etc. (Exodus 22:21, Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 10:19); Vulgate, nolite calumniari, where calumniari is used in the sense "to vex, torment." Imagine evil against his brother in year heart. God's Law forbids even a thought of revenge or injury against a neighbour, for this is only the first step to wrong doing (comp. Micah 2:1). Septuagint, Κακίαν ἕκαστος τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ μὴ μνησικακείτω ἐν ταῖς καρδίας ὑμῶν, "Let none of you remember in your hearts the malice of your brother."
Pulled away the shoulder; they gave a stubborn, refractory shoulder, like an ox which refuses to have the yoke put on his neck, or draws hack when it feels the weight (Nehemiah 9:29; Hosea 4:16). Stopped their ears. Made their ears heavy. Τὰ ὦτα αὐτῶν ἐβάρυναν; Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 59:1. Three degrees of obduracy are named in this verse: they refused to listen; they resisted the warners; they exhibited open contempt for them. The full climax is given in the next verse.
They made their hearts as an adamant stone. They made their hearts as hard as a stone which could receive no cutting or engraving; no message from God could find entrance; and this from their wilful obstinacy. The word rendered "adamant," shamir, probably means "diamond," a stone so hard, says Jerome, as to break all metals to pieces, but to be itself broken by none; hence it is called adamas, "unconquerable." Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:9) notes that it is harder than flint (comp. Jeremiah 17:1). The LXX; paraphrasing, gives. Τὴν καρδίαν αὐτῶν ἔταξαν ἀπειθῆ, "They set their heart disobedient." The Law. The various enactments of the Mosaic system. In his Spirit; rather, by his Spirit. The leaching which the Spirit of God inspired the prophets to deliver (comp. Neh 9:30; 2 Kings 17:13; Micah 3:8). And for the succession of prophets from Solomon to the Captivity, see note on Amos 2:11; and to those there enumerated, add Iddo, Shemaiah, Hanani, Micaiah, Huldah.
As he cried. As the Lord called to them by the prophets. Just retri-button fell upon them (Proverbs 1:24, etc.; Isaiah 65:12, Isaiah 65:13; Isaiah 66:4). So they cried, and I would not hear; rather, so they shall cry, and I will not hear. God will be deaf to their cry, and will give them up to their own ways (Jeremiah 2:28). In the protasis Jehovah is spoken of in the third person, in the apodosis he speaks in the first.
I scattered them; I will scatter them. What had happened in the past is a sign of what shall befall them in the future in punishment of like obduracy. The form of the sentence denotes that God is recounting what he had said to the people in past time; hence it is best to translate the verbs in the future tense. Scattered them with a whirlwind; Septuagint, ἐκβαλῶ αὐτούς, "I will cast them out;" Vulgate, dispersi eos (comp. Job 27:21; Amos 1:14). Nations whom they knew not. This is the usual phrase for people of strange tongue (Deuteronomy 28:33; Jeremiah 16:13). Thus the land was desolate. This was the result of God's threatenings. Some make the words of Jehovah continue to "nor returned," but the punctuation is against them. After them; i.e. after they were carried away in captivity. No man passed through nor returned. No one went to and fro—a picture of extreme desolation (comp. Isaiah 33:8; Jeremiah 9:12; and for the phrase, see Zechariah 9:8; Ezekiel 35:7). For they laid the pleasant land desolate. The pronoun refers to the disobedient Jews, their sin being the cause of the desolation; or the verb may be taken impersonally, "So the pleasant land was made desolate." "The pleasant land" is literally, "the land of desire." Septuagint, γῆν ἐκλεκτήν (Psalms 106:24; Jeremiah 3:19).
"And it came to pass in the fourth year of King Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah," etc. In the latter half of the last chapter we were told of an embassy to Jerusalem, which met with acceptance and honour. In the present passage we read of another, which meets with just the opposite treatment. The question asked by these messengers is not answered at all in this chapter. Not only so, those who ask it are indirectly rebuked for so doing. Why this remarkable difference of behaviour? Not in the surface, but in the sub-surface, view of affairs. So we will now try to point out—
I. THE SURFACE VIEW. At first sight what can appear more thoroughly deserving of approval than the inquiry here mentioned? This so, whether we consider:
1. Its object. What the men desire, apparently, is simply to know God's will—a desire which we find, in so many other cases, so very warmly approved (Acts 2:37; Acts 9:6; Acts 16:30; Luke 3:10, etc.).
2. Or its subject. They would learn God's will as to "fasting," i.e. as to one department of the proper worship of God. What, apparently, more proper and right (comp. Psalms 116:12; Micah 6:6, Micah 6:7; and contrast Numbers 15:30; 1 Kings 12:33; Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:23)?
3. Or its method; viz. that of going to God's "house" (verses 2, 3), and consulting his regular teachers, the "priests" (Le Zechariah 10:11; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Haggai 2:11; Malachi 2:7), and his occasional and extraordinary teachers, the "prophets" (Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 25:4, etc.).
4. Or its special occasion. Seventy years, as predicted (Jeremiah 25:11), having now elapsed since that burning of the temple on the tenth day of the fifth month (Jeremiah 52:13), in commemoration of which this fast of the fifth month had been instituted; and the renewed building of the temple, commenced in the second of Darius (Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1, Ezra 5:2), having now (in this fourth of Darius, see verse 1) so far advanced that the priers could live in it (see verse 3), what more natural and apparently opportune than this inquiry about the propriety of observing this fast any longer (comp. Daniel 9:1-3)?
5. Or its special channel, so to describe it. How peculiarly befitting, to all appearance, the particular messengers sent! And that, whether we understand them (with some) to be persons sent by the inhabitants of "Bethel" (translated in our version, "the house of God," in verse 2); a place so long and notoriously connected with idol worship and the contempt of God's will (see 1 Kings 12:32, 1Ki 12:33; 2 Kings 17:28; Amos 7:13); or whether, with others, judging from the Assyrian turn of their names, we suppose that they were Jews of the Captivity come up in person to make inquiry. In either case, such an inquiry, from such persons, seems eminently deserving of praise—at first sight.
II. THE SUB-SURFACE VIEW. Nevertheless, in all this same "fasting," about which they inquire, this Scripture, when further examined, shows us that their conduct had been only deserving of blame. This true, inasmuch as their conduct, during all that time, had been:
1. Never wholly in the right. "Fasting" is only valuable as an outward sign of repentance; but their repentance, during all "those seventy years" (verse 5), had never been true repentance, i.e. "repentance toward God." Note, "Did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?" in verse 5; and comp. Acts 20:21; also the "sorrow κατὰ Θεόν" of 2 Corinthians 7:10, and the sorrow of David (Psalms 51:4) and the prodigal (Luke 15:18), for the evil of sin, with the sorrow of Saul (1 Samuel 15:30), apparently for its consequences alone.
2. Always eminently in the wrong. Their solicitude, when engaged in their fastings, had not really been about God's pleasure and will: but it had been, and that most thoroughly, concerning their own; as much so, in fact, as when, at other times, they had eaten and drunk (2 Corinthians 7:6). So completely, we see, in some cases, may mere abstinence from food be one of the "sins of the flesh" (comp Matthew 6:16 and Isaiah 58:3-7),
3. Always inexcusably in the wrong.
(1) For having sinned thus against light. Long ago and often (see beginning of 2 Corinthians 7:7) God's "prophets" had warned their fathers against thus drawing nigh unto him with their lips only (Isaiah 29:13); and they had the remembrance and the record of this as their guide.
(2) For having sinned thus against experience. When these prophets had so spoken all was happy and bright, "Jerusalem" and the "cities round about" "inhabited" fully and in "prosperity," as also at that time, even those comparatively barren and country districts, "the south and the plain." How awfully different their condition during "those seventy years"! How loudly, therefore, their own experience, and, as it were, their own land itself, had admonished them! And yet how entirely in vain!
May not all this illustrate, further, for our own admonition?
1. The exceeding deceitfulness of formalism. All God's people (they speak as one man in 2 Corinthians 7:3), and even, apparently, all God's ministers (the "priests," 2 Corinthians 7:5), being deceived thereby, in this instance, to so great an extent, and for so many years, and in such circumstances of trial (comp. John 18:28 with John 12:10, "Lazarus also;" and Matthew 27:4, Matthew 27:6),
2. The exceeding penetration of God's Word. Unmasking thus, and making plain, and bringing to light all these deeply hidden deceits (comp. Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 4:13; also Luke 12:2; Mat 9:4; 1 Corinthians 14:25; Psalms 50:21, end; Psalms 90:8). How easy, in short, to deceive ourselves! How impossible to mock God (see Galatians 6:7)!
"And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts," etc. The severe rebuke of the previous verses seems followed up in these verses by a very solemn yet very merciful warning, intended apparently to save the Jews from the various evils to which their hypocrisy had exposed them. The language of God to their fathers, as referred to in verse 7, appears still (note "thus spake," according to Pusey, Wardlaw, and others, in verse 9) the theme of discourse. And three successive points of importance, in connection with this language and its consequences, seem described to us here, viz.
(1) a most gracious purpose;
(2) a stubborn refusal; and
(3) a terrible doom.
I. A MOST GRACIOUS PURPOSE. What was it really that, by the "former prophets" (verse 7), God had demanded of men? Under one aspect, as before shown by us, "repentance towards" himself. Under another aspect, so it seems hem explained in verses 9, 10, only what was good for themselves. How many blessings, e.g; if God's laws had been really kept, and their fathers had only done as God asked of them, would have been found in the land! We may describe them as being chiefly four, viz.
(1) perfect and universal fairness of dealing;
(2) perfect kindness and generosity of dealing, as in brotherly love;
(3) special and peculiar kindness of dealing to those ("the stranger," etc.) needing it most; and
(4) total absence, in any cause whatever, of ill will in the heart. Could anything have been better? So true is it (Romans 7:12), that "the Law" is not only "holy," or worthy of God; and "just," or fair in its requirements; but "good," also, or kind in its object, and intended, in fact, for men's highest benefit.
II. A STUBBORN REFUSAL. How had this message of goodness and mercy been received in the days referred to?
1. With every outward sign of dishonour. Such as
(1) marked indifference, "refusing to hearken" (comp. Isaiah 30:9-11);
(2) open aversion, "pulling away the shoulder," as though saying, when special effort was made to gain their attention, "I am giving attention to something else;" and
(3) utter contempt, "stopping their ears," as much as to say, "I had rather hear nothing than listen to you" (comp. Acts 22:22).
2. With every inward feeling of rebellion to correspond. This shown:
(1) By their dread of its power. Notwithstanding their extreme unwillingness to hear, something of the meaning of God's gracious message would reach their understandings. Even if so, if they could help it, it should not penetrate to their consciences. So well were they aware of its power (see the words in verse 12, "As an adamant stone, lest [in this sense] they should hear"). What a testimony on their part! What a precaution!
(2) By their defiance of its authority. How many, as here implied, its claims to reverential submission! As being essentially a "law," or command; as containing "words" of command from the "Lord of hosts" himself, whom so many obeyed; as being his command in so express a manner, because delivered by messengers known to be appointed and inspired by himself (see, again, verse 12). All this in addition to the fact above noted of its being a message for "good." Yet to all this their unconquerable, i.e. "adamant," obstinacy refused to submit.
III. A TERRIBLE DOOM. When such condescending goodness met with so perverse a return, what could ultimately ensue but "great wrath "? According to the moral laws of God's spiritual kingdom, which are as fixed, could we only believe it, as the natural laws of his physical creation, here was a clear case of cause and effect. This is declared to us:
1. By the nature of the judgments. See how they correspond to the offence. Israel had refused to hear God. So God now refuses to hear the.
2. By the sentence of the Judge. God speaks of all that afterwards came upon them as being inflicted
(1) by his authority ("I scattered them," etc.;
(2) on their account ("The land was made desolate after them"); and even,
(3) in a certain sense, by the instrumentality of their transgressions ("They laid the land desolate;" comp. also Hosea 13:9; Malachi 1:9).
From this review of that portion of the past history of Israel here referred to, we get a sample of many other histories as they will appear at the last. This is true:
1. Of many individual lives. Lifelong entreaty, lifelong forbearance, lifelong rebellion, followed up by more than lifelong death, impossible as that sounds,—such will be in brief, and yet in full also, the history of many a soul.
2. Of many individual communities; both nations and Churches. How many cities, kingdoms, empires, and races, once great on the earth, might have all that is really essential to their history told in a precisely similar way (see, for one example, Genesis 13:13; Genesis 18:20, Genesis 18:21; Gen 19:9; 2 Peter 2:8; Jude 1:7)! See a succession of examples in the succession of world empires in Daniel. See, also, as to religious communities, similar lessons taught by comparison of past and present condition of some of the Apocalyptic Churches.
3. Of the whole world of the ungodly. What a long history of gracious messages and of stubborn refusals will be found at the end of the whole completed history of the race of Adam and Eve (Romans 3:19, end; Jud Romans 1:14, Romans 1:15)!
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
God and men.
I. THE UNITY OF GOD'S PURPOSE. God's thoughts do not vary, though he varies his methods. His end for nations and individuals is always the same—advancement, not merely in knowledge and culture, but in moral goodness.
II. THE MERCIFULNESS OF GOD'S WARNINGS. At no time hath God left himself without wirelesses. By word and providence and in countless ways his warnings come. We see this in the past. (Zechariah 7:7, "former prophets.") So in the prosper. Every mercy has a voice calling for thankfulness. Every chastisement has a summons to moral thoughtfulness and prayer. There is no excuse for continuance in sin.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS. Persistence in transgression must bring punishment. God's laws fulfil themselves. Every rejection of God's counsels, every refusal of God's offers, every slighting of God's love, works for evil, blinding, hardening, alienating, bringing dire ruin nearer. Judgment is God's strange work, but it must come. "The pleasant land laid desolate."—F.
Shall we fast?
This question has been often asked down to our own day.
I. There are NATIONAL FASTS. These are rare, and only appointed under very solemn circumstances. In 1853, when cholera prevailed, the Presbytery of Edinburgh (Church of Scotland) suggested to Lord Palmerston, then Home Secretary, the propriety of ordering a national fast. His lordship, in his reply, recommended observance of natural laws rather than fasting. If this were attended to, all would be well. Otherwise pestilence would come, "in spite of all the prayers and lastings of a united but inactive nation." He does not seem to have understood that the two things were quite compatible. Prayer and inaction is folly; but prayer and action is the highest wisdom. Surely there is something grand and beautiful in a whole nation bowed in humility and supplication before the Most High. (Buckle, vol. 2, has a characteristic notice of this, where he falls into the odd mistake that in Scotland "fasting" meant abstinence from food!)
II. Then there are CHURCH FASTS. These are only binding on the members of the several Churches that appoint them. In Scotland it has for long been customary to have fast days in connection with the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; but as to this there is now a change. First their enforcement under penalties ceased; then the rigour of their observance was given up; then, from the necessities of modern life, and the knowledge that they were often the occasion of more evil than good, they have come in ninny cases to be discontinued. The question is one of Christian expediency, and requires to be dealt with both with wisdom and gentleness.
III. Besides these there is PRIVATE FASTING. As to this, no rule can be laid down (cf. Romans 14:5, Romans 14:6). But certain principles should be kept in view, such as that fasting has no virtue in itself; that what may be good for one Christian may not suit another; and that the great end of all such observances is spiritual good, "room to deny ourselves," a path "to bring us daily nearer God."—F.
God's education of the people.
I. THE MORAL RELATIONSHIP OF THE PEOPLE. We are not absolutely separate existences. Related through birth, custom, association, and in other ways, we are connected, we are parts of one great whole. Hence in a large degree we are what others have made us. This must be taken into account as a factor in life.
II. THE CONTINUOUS SPIRITUAL EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE. The past speaks to us as well as the present. We learn from the dead as well as the living. Above all, we have the Bible. It is God's book, for it is man's book. In it God speaks to us. Shows us what be was, and therefore what he is; what he has done, and therefore what he will do. Reveals the laws and principles of government, and thus makes manifest his will, and that the only way to reach our true destiny is by loving and doing his will.
III. THE GROWING RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PEOPLE. Increased knowledge. Larger experience. Grander opportunities. More may be learned, and therefore ought to be learned. Better lives may be lived, and therefore ought to be lived. Greater things may be done for the good of others and for the advancement of the cause and kingdom of the Lord, and therefore greater things ought to be done. Privilege is the measure of responsibility.—F.
The history of ungodliness.
I. GERM. The question is—Self or God, our own will or God's will. Must be settled. Pressed by prophet after prophet. The answer shows the state of the heart. "Refused to hear."
II. PROGRESS. There is growth in evil, as in good Stages. "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear."
1. Wilful refusal. "Pulled away the shoulder." Sinners will not submit to be guided by the higher will. Angry and fretted, they will not bow to God's yoke.
2. Insolent rejection. "Stopped their ears." Warnings and counsels are in vain. Pride rises to insolence. Refusal, to determined opposition and rebellion.
3. Settled obduracy. (Zechariah 7:12.) This implies a steady process. The bad is more and more gaining the mastery. Every fresh victory brings the time nearer when the evil becomes "unconquerable" (Greek adhamas).
III. CONSUMMATION. (Zechariah 7:13.) The end is come.
1. Ruined character.
2. Blasted life.
3. Hopeless future.
Oh! where is that mysterious bourne,
By which our path is crossed,
Beyond which God himself hath sworn
That he who goes is lost?
"How far may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end, and where begin
The confines of despair?
"An answer from the skies is sent,
'Ye that from God depart,
While it is called today, repent,
And harden not your heart.'"
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Religious beliefs that are right; religious services that are wrong.
"And it came to pass in the fourth year," etc. The preceding visions and symbolic actions recorded in this book occurred, we are informed, in the eighth month of the second year of King Darius. What is here recorded appears to have taken place in the ninth month of the fourth year of that king's reign—about two years later. The ninth month is here called Chisleu, and corresponds with the latter part of November and the first part of December. What was the prophet doing during these two years? We hear nothing of him, although we doubt not he was busy in his prophetic labours. Indeed, we are informed in the Book of Ezra (Ezra 6:14) that the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophecy of Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo. Their prophetic words stimulated the activities and prompted the efforts of the builders. Here is an account of a commission composed of two men, called Sherezer and Regem-melech, distinguished personages, no doubt, still remaining in Babylon, sent as envoys to the house of God, that is, the temple at Jerusalem; and their work there was "to pray before the Lord, and to speak unto the priests." It would be well, perhaps, to give Dr. Henderson's translation of these two verses; and his translation agrees with that of Keil: "And it came to pass in the fourth year of Darius the king, that the word of Jehovah was communicated to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev, when Babel sent Sherezer Regemelech and his men to conciliate the regard of Jehovah." Looking at these words homiletically, they present two subjects for thought—religious beliefs that are right, and religious services that are wrong.
I. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS THAT ARE RIGHT. There are three beliefs implied in this commission entrusted to Sherezer. What are they?
1. The efficacy of prayer. They were sent "to pray before the Lord," or, as in the margin, "to entreat the face of the Lord." That men can obtain by prayer to the Supreme Being what they could not obtain without it is one of the fundamental and distinctive faiths of humanity. Instead of being against the law of nature, it is one of the most uniform and settled laws of the moral world. Hence all men pray in some form or other. Prayer springs out of the sense of man's dependence upon his Creator; and that sense is built upon a fact beyond dispute or doubt.
2. The intercession of saints. These men were sent to pray before the Lord, not merely for themselves, but for others. Those who sent them proved thereby their faith in the power of man to intercede with God on behalf of his fellow. The intercession of saints is not a doctrine merely of the Roman Church; it is an instinctive belief in the human soul. Men not only implore the Deity for those whom they love, but others implore them to pray for them. How natural it is for a father to pray for his son! how natural, too, for a son to ask the father to pray for him, and friend to ask friend the same! Intercessory prayer is also a law of nature.
3. The special ability of some men to solve the religious questions of others. This Sherezer and Regem-melech appealed 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?" They wanted a certain religious question answered, and they appealed to a certain class of religious men who they believed had the power to do so. The question they asked was one of a selfish character, "Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?" From this it would seem that for seventy years during the period of their captivity they had, on certain days, wept, fasted, and humbled themselves before the Lord. Now that many had returned to their own land, and others were returning, they wanted to know whether all this fasting and humiliation would still be required. Would that which was done in Babylon be required in Jerusalem? Would not they in their own land be exonerated from such humiliations of soul? This was the question, and this question they addressed to the priests and the prophets. And they did it because they believed they had the special qualification to solve such problems. This also is an instinctive belief. All communities of men in all times and lands have had a certain class amongst them whom they regarded as qualified more than all others to answer the religious questions of the soul. Hence the existence of priesthoods. It may be that Heaven has never left in any age or country, any race, tribe, or community without such men amongst them, men gifted above their fellows, with a broad moral vision, far reaching intellect, and even prophetic genius. God teaches man by man.
II. RELIGIOUS SERVICES THAT ARE WRONG. The Jews had performed religious services; they had "fasted," they had "mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years." This was right enough so far as the form is concerned; but in spirit the service was wrong, hence here is the reproof: "Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye cat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?"
1. Their services were selfish. Mark the reproof: "Did ye at all fast unto me?" Was it not from selfish motives that ye did all this? Was it not with a view of obtaining release and securing my favour for yourselves? It is not because you have done the wrong thing against me. "It was not to me, even to me." The wrong you had done me was not thought of. Your outrages on morality, on the harmony of the universe, were not thought of at all. How much of the popular religion is of this type? The Almighty might well say to the conventional Churches of Christendom—You rear temples, you contribute property, you preach sermons, you offer prayers, you sing hymns; but it "is not unto me," it is not to me, it is all self. Whether you fast or feast in your religions services, it is all for "yourselves; it is not for me, not for me." Religious services that are wrong, where are they not?
2. Selfish motives the Almighty had always denounced. "Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain?" Always has the Lord Almighty denounced a selfish religion (see Isaiah 66:1-3; Jeremiah 25:3-7; Amos 5:21, Amos 5:27, etc.).—D.T.
Religion, genuine and spurious.
"And the Word of the Lord," etc. From this passage we infer three facts.
I. GENUINE RELIGION IS PHILANTHROPIC. (Isaiah 1:16, Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:7; Matthew 5:44.) "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute tree judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother," etc. Here is the ritual, the manifestation, the proof of genuine religion, and it is practical philanthropy. The sign and evidence of genuine religion is not in ceremonial observances or mere devotional exercises, but in the spirit of Christly morality, in doing good to men. St. John says, "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, and that because Christ laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). Our love to God is to be shown in the same way as God has shown his love to us, by self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice for our brother man. What is the true and healthy development of our love to God? The Church has too often acted as if its development was entirely theological; hence the battling for dogmas. It has too often acted as if its development was devotional, as if psalmody and prayers were the only true expression. It has too often acted as if proslytizing was the true development of love to God; hence the zeal to make converts to its faith. The text teaches, however, that self-sacrificing benevolence is the true development. "Whoso hath this world's good," etc. The case supposed by the apostle is that of a brother in distress, looked on by a brother possessing this world's goods, and rendering no help. John intimates that a man seeing his brother in need, having the power to help, and not helping him, cannot be a Christian. He may be a great theologian, a great pietist, a great propagandist, but no Christian.
II. SPURIOUS RELIGION IS INHUMAN. "But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear." This religious people not only neglected to do what they were commanded to do towards their fellow men, but the very reverse of that, "they refused to hearken," etc. The most inhuman force in the world is a spurious religion. All history shows this. Read the history of martyrdom as given by Fox or any other authentic historian. A spurious religion murdered the Son of God himself. A more cruel class of men I know not than religious men whose religion is not that of power, love, or a sound mind. Such men are ever ready to damn these who agree not with their narrow dogmas. Their dogmas make them as heartless as fiends. It makes their "hearts as an adamantine stone."
III. THAT AN INHUMAN RELIGION HAS A TERRIBLE DOOM. "Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts." God will make inquisition here for blood. "The cries of the persecuted and neglected enter into the ears of the Lord God of sabaoth." "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and be doth not resist you" (James 5:1-6). Because the religion of the Jews had become inhuman, Jehovah permitted them to be carried away into Babylon. "I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate." God will ever harden himself against those who have hardened themselves against their fellow men. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Zechariah 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent