Zechariah 7
Zechariah 7 Kingcomments Bible Studies

Introduction

The contents of Zechariah 7-8 is especially of practical significance. These chapters are as it were a short pause. They are easier to understand, but more difficult to put into practice. They emphasize a righteous life by the people of God in the light of their unfaithfulness in the past and the glory that will be their part in the future.

Zechariah 7-8 is divided into four parts. Each part begins with “the word of the LORD” coming to Zechariah (Zec 7:1; 8; Zec 8:1; 18).

The Word of the LORD Comes to Zechariah

After the memorable night in which Zechariah got his eight night visions, two years have passed. It will take another two years before the rebuilding of the temple is completed. In between, that is “the fourth year of King Darius” or the year 518 BC the word of the LORD comes to Zechariah. It happens at the beginning of the month Chislev. That month corresponds to a part of our month November and a part of December.

An Envoy With a Question About Fasting

There are two men coming from Bethel. They have Babylonian names, which seems to say that they were born in Babylon and are among the returnees (cf. Zec 6:10). They do not help in temple building, but now come to seek the favor of the LORD. It seems that their hearts go out to the temple and that they are saddened by its destruction.

Two years after the night visions, these men come to the priests with a question about fasting in the fifth month. The priests are supposed to be familiar with the law of God (Deu 17:9). They also address their question to the prophets. These will be Haggai and Zechariah. Their question concerns fasting in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC (Jer 52:12-13). They have been fasting for seventy years now, i.e. from the beginning of the exile. It is not a fast instituted by the LORD, but an own initiative of the people. Now that the new temple is almost ready, they ask whether it still makes sense to continue with it.

The background of the question is not entirely clear. There sounds some fatigue in the remark “as I have done these many years”. It has become a rut, a habit of which the usefulness is no longer recognized. The question has arisen whether it is still necessary to continue with it. If God wants it, He must say so. Then they will continue with it.

Man always wants to know what he is up to. He prefers to have rules, then he can stick to them and thus measure whether he is doing the right thing. Thus with us the question can arise: ‘Is it really that important to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday? If it has to be done, then it has to be done, but where does it say it has to be done?’ As a counter-question may be asked: ‘Why does this question arise, what is the cause of it?’ If the Lord’s Supper is nothing more than an obligation, it can also be celebrated once a year, or when it is convenient.

But God is not interested in outer habits. He wants to see what is in the heart for Him. That is why He gives principles, starting points, by which they can live their lives under the guidance of the Spirit. The answer to the question is therefore not ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

There is fasting in the fifth month (Zec 7:3) and in the seventh month (Zec 7:5). In the next chapter two more days of fasting are added (Zec 8:19).
1. The day of fasting in the fifth month is on the occasion of the capture of the city and the destruction of the temple (Jer 39:2; Jer 52:6-7).
2. The day of fasting in the seventh month is on account of – it is believed – the murder of Gedaliah, the man appointed by Nebuchadnezzar (2Kgs 25:8-9; Jer 51:1). That too is a catastrophe.

The question of the envoy is about fasting in the fifth month, in remembrance of the destruction of the temple. Now that the temple is almost rebuilt, fasting in remembrance of that seems no longer necessary. After all, with a rebuilt temple there is no reason anymore to continue to “weep … and abstain”. On the contrary, there is reason to rejoice. They would therefore no longer have to behave like Nazarites by separating themselves from the pleasant things of life that are permitted in themselves, such as food and drink (Num 6:3).

For Whom Have They Fasted?

The question has been put to the priests and prophets (Zec 7:3), but the LORD Himself answers through His prophet (Zec 7:4). It is an answer in two parts. The first part is in the remainder of this chapter and the second part is in Zechariah 8. In the first part He says what He expects of the people and why He was obliged to lead them into exile. In the second part He promises them that He will accept them again in His favor.

The question is asked in the singular “shall I …” (Zec 7:3), but the answer comes “to all the people of the land and to the priests” (Zec 7:5). The question is about fasting in the fifth month, but the answer includes fasting in the seventh month. In the seventh month Gedaliah was killed and the remains fled (2Kgs 25:23-25; Jer 41:1-3).

It appears from the answer of the LORD that these days of remembrance have been reduced to mere duties of religion. Fulfilling a duty only because it is proper is of no value to God. We can do something because it is a good habit. According to His habit the Lord Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Lk 4:16). But good habits become hollow and empty if we do them not for the Lord but for ourselves. Then the feasts of the LORD turn into feasts of the Jews (Lev 23:4-6; Jn 2:13; Jn 7:2).

The answer is therefore not whether or not they should continue. They are free to decide that for themselves. The answer relates to the why and how of their fasting. It is about whether we do things for the Lord or for ourselves. Fasting is renouncing what is permitted in itself, with the aim of dedicating oneself to the Lord.

Fasting is never an end in itself. The only prescribed fasting day for Israel is the great Day of Atonement, to chasten their souls, to humble oneself before God because of their sins (Lev 16:19-34). If, during the four days of fasting, the people are aware of why things went the way they did with Jerusalem, they will turn to God in prayer for help.

But now the question sounds as to whether they really did it for God. It is a question that must have chilled them to the bone. That must also be the case with us. For whom do we do what we do? Is it really all just for the Lord? God is not concerned with religious customs in themselves, but with the motive, why someone does it.

For Whom Do We Eat and Drink?

What applies to fasting also applies to the time when there is not fasting, but eating and drinking (Zec 7:6). Just like fasting they have done the same for themselves and not for God. They have not involved Him in it. For us it is also about glorifying God in all things: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor 10:31; Rom 14:6b).

God has already pointed out the wrong fasting to His people through His prophets. Isaiah is such a prophet (Isa 1:11-17; Isa 58:3-7). But the people have not obeyed them. That is why God had to send His people into exile. Let them take that warning example to heart and listen to Zechariah now!

Zec 7:6-7 show that to God the issue is not whether people fast or not. The real fasting, the fast that pleases God, does not consist of a Pharisee abstinence from eating and drinking, but an observing of and living up to the Word of God. This is what the prophets preached to the people before exile.

This overthrows the idea that one can obtain the favor of God by fasting. It is left to them to decide whether or not they will stick to the fasting days mentioned above. Here we have a clear example of the great difference between Christendom and other religions. It is not primarily about what someone does, but why he does it; the motivation is decisive.

What Matters to God

The word of the LORD comes further to Zechariah (Zec 7:8). Through Zechariah He speaks to the people as “the LORD of hosts”. It is not about new announcements, but a repetition of what He has always said through His prophets. They have always rejected that message, but He repeats it. This shows His patience. What God has said in the past will always retains its power and therefore He can always come back to it.

The first thing that matters is that they “dispense true justice” (Zec 7:9). This applies in the first place to the judges. But it is also a word that every member of God’s people should take to heart. True justice is a judgment in which you can have confidence. It is impartial and corresponds to the facts. There is no seeking of one’s own advantage behind it. Here we see the attitude we have to take towards our brothers and sisters.

It follows from that attitude that we “practice kindness and compassion” to each other. We show this when we give our brothers and sisters what they need, both for the body and for the soul. This is worth much more to God than all the sacrifices that are made according to the law or all kinds of external service that happens without the heart being involved.

It is not only about hurting no one, but about helping the other (Zec 7:10). It is especially about the widows and the orphans and the strangers and the poor (Exo 22:22). They have no possibilities to provide for themselves and they have no one to rely on. If they act out of love, they will not hurt someone else, but on the contrary they will do good. For this they should not devise evil in their hearts against one another (cf. Mic 2:1).

Refusal to Pay Attention

The past shows how the people responded to God’s calls through His prophets (Deu 9:6; 13; 27). Their refusal to pay attention they have accompanied by a strong opposition to what God has said to them (Zec 7:11). They do not put their shoulders to it, but turn a stubborn shoulder (Neh 9:29). It is like an ox that doesn’t want a yoke put on its neck. Finally, they have stopped their ears so that they have become deaf to the voice of God. It is also a gesture of contempt for the Speaker.

The words of the prophets are those of the Spirit (Neh 9:20; 30). Not listening to the words of the prophets is the same as not listening to the words of God. Their stubborn refusal to listen stems deeply from the hardening of their hearts (Zec 7:12). They did not want to listen, they deliberately stopped their ears. Such an attitude can only cause great wrath with God.

Calling, but No Listening

If a man persistently refuses to listen to God, the time will come when man will call to God, but God will not listen (Pro 1:27-28; Isa 1:15; Mic 3:4; Jer 11:11; Jer 14:12). God has called them through His prophets, but they have not listened to them. The people have called to Him in the distress that God has brought upon them, but then He has not listened.

He had to scatter them with a storm wind (Zec 7:14). Because they did not need Him, He surrendered them to a company that does not know Him, so that through experience they would learn how bitter it is to be alienated from the love and mercy and care of God. The fact that the “pleasant land” has been turned into “a desolate” land is not attributed here to the enemy, but to the actions of Israel itself. It is due to their sins. Nobody could enter it anymore or return to it. It had become uninhabitable territory.

But there will always be a rest (Isa 10:20-22). God judges the whole, but always preserves a remainder, a remnant, alive that will form for Him the whole to which He fulfills His promises.

© 2021 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.



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