Zechariah 7–8 The Question of Fasting.
Key Notes: Four annual fasts for Jerusalem. Root of anti-semitism. God's demand for righteousness. The pursuit of holiness.
This part of Zechariah is a series of four short revelations, each marked off by ...“the word of the Lord came to me....” It begins with an inquiry about fasting, but the prophet uses the occasion to give several important messages to all of his people.
7:1–7 Do you fast for yourself or for God?
7:8–14 Do you listen to God? What happened when Israel did not?
8:1–17 What God will do; what they must do.
8:18–23 Envision the future feasting.
7:1–7 It is now about two years since his eighth vision, and a delegation from Bethel comes to "stroke the Face of JHWH," and ask the priests and prophets: "Should I fast in the fifth month as I have for many years?'
The prophet addresses all Israel in his response:
Was your fasting in the 5th month and the 7th month for God or for yourselves?
And when you undid the fast and ate and drank, was it for God or for yourselves?
Did not God talk to Judah and Jerusalem about this before the exile?
Note that he added thr 7th month in his reply; later he will add two more, the 4th month and the tenth month when many fasted. These fasts were in mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem:
10th month: Beginning of the siege of Jerusalem.
4th month: Breach of the wall of Jerusalem.
5th month: Destruction of the Temple.
7th month: Murder of Gedaliah, Hebrew governor of the lands occupied by the Babylonians.
7 :8–14 Quite apart from that issue, God's will for Israel had been made plain by the prophets before the Exile:
Make true judgments.
Shew mercy and kindness to one another.
Do the oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger or the poor.
Do not plan evil against each other.
But Israel had ignored the instructions
•Pulled away their shoulder (rebelled).
•Stopped their ears (refused to listen).
•Made their hearts hard (stiffened).
• and so died or were scattered.
When I called, they did not answer. When they called I would not listen.
8:1–8 God’s jealousy for Israel is as important on the positive side as the negative. He plans to make a happy place for them. They will be re-assembled from the lands of exile to live in peace. A city of old people, full of boys and girls playing in the streets. Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, the Holy Mountain, the Mountain of the Lord of Hosts. God will live in the midst of them.
8:9–13 Before the Temple foundation was laid, there was no blessing on the land, rather economic and social disorder. But now a blessing is on the land and the people.
Zechariah is emphasizing what Haggai, Zechariah’s fellow prophet had said before: their economic work was futile because they were neglecting the Lord’s work. But their lives as exiles had also been under a curse.
“And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, so will I save you and you shall be a blessing.”
The roots of anti-Semitism have been discussed by scholars such as Jean Paul Sartre who apparently have little knowledge of Scripture. Gods' word must be put into the equation.
“You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.” Psa. 44:13; Deut. 28:37 and Jer. 42:18
But God expects them to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. “…do not oppress the sojourner….” 7:10
Did Israel have a near-fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy of blessing, or was it all intended for the distant Millennium?
It was a relatively quiet time in Judah during the time of the Persians; consequently, little is reported from this period. One clue is that the Jews were permitted to make their own coins. This implies political stability and a measure of independence as well as effective trade and commerce. Alexander of Greece was greeted with enthusiasm in Jerusalem, and there was relative peace until Antiochus Epiphanes began his oppression (about 170 BC).
8:14–18 The prophet makes God’s demand for righteous living again.
•Speak the truth.
•Give true judgments that make for peace.
•Do not plan evil in your hearts against each other.
•Hate false oaths.
God hates all these kinds of misdeeds.
When I called they did not answer. When they called I would not listen. 8:18–23
The final answer to the question about fasting is that the four fast days will become feast days. (Parenthetically, God tells them to "love truth and peace.")
Even more remarkably, people will come from all over to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem and beg His favor. People will cling to Jews and let them lead. “For salvation is from the Jews.” (Jn. 4:22)
I believe the fulfillment of this prophecy awaits Christ’s return.
The primary question that God asked the Jews is: Are you doing your religious exercises for yourselves or for Me? But why would anyone still living in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem fast for any other reason?
People can spend a good bit of their lives complaining. They bemoan their poor health, the bad times, disappointment in their children, the taxes, the wars. There is bad news everywhere, and groaning about it makes people feel better. Some have been known to hurt themselves in various ways as a sign of their misery and self-loathing. That kind of suffering and self-denial has little or nothing to do with God.
The detachment of religious practices from goodness and righteousness is a frequent theme in Scripture. Isaiah spent a chapter on fasting as God sees it:
“…they seek Me daily and delight to know My ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of Me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 'Why have we fasted and You did not see it? Why have we humbled ourselves and You take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers.” (Isa. 58:2–4)
“Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house….” (Isa. 58:6–7). The entire chapter (Isa.58) is worth reading.
Fasting in Isaiah's time had little to do with God. The really important things were being ignored, as Jesus told the Pharisees: “…you tithe mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faith.” (Matt. 23:23)
Jesus said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” twice (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, quoting Hos. 6:6).
Some famous OT references on the content of holiness are
Job 31:1–40 ~ “I have made a covenant with my eyes….”
Micah 6:8 ~ “What does the Lord require of you….”
Zech. 7:9 & 8:16 ~ “Make true judgments….”
Ezek. 18:5–9 ~ “Do not…lift your eyes to idols….”
The application to Christians is easily ignored because we are under grace and do not have to conform to religious laws. But doing the will of God is the path to holiness. Justice, mercy, kindness, truthfulness and goodness are the stuff of holiness. That is just as true under the New Covenant as it was in the Old. How we get there is by another route.
There are two parts to the pursuit of holiness: our personal discipline and God’s power.
"Believers know all their duties are weak, imperfect and unable to abide in God’s presence. Therefore, they look to Christ as the one who bears the iniquity of their holy things, who adds incense to their prayers, gathers out all the weeds from their duties, and makes them acceptable to God.” (The Discipline of Grace; God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. J. Bridges; Navpress,’94. p. 42)
“Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.” (Ibid. p.43.)