7 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev.2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3 by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
4 Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? 7 Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothillswere settled?’”
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’”
(Zechariah 7:1-14 NIV)
It’s been nearly two years since Zechariah heard the last word from the Lord – from February 15, 519 BC to December 7, 518 BC. The last time the Lord spoke through Zechariah, it was through a rapid-fire series of eight visions.
In chapters 7 and 8, some Jewish visitors sent by their neighboring village pose a question to the priests and prophets in Jerusalem. The Lord responds to their question and gives them some other things to think about as well.
Verses 1 – 3 provide the background of the seekers. Bethel was a village about 12 miles north of Jerusalem, a half day’s journey by foot.
These delegates were not on a social call – this was official business. These men were here to ask an important question of Jerusalem’s religious leaders.
And what was their question (v. 3)?
Now that the Temple was nearly rebuilt, should they continue to mourn and fast over the destruction of Solomon’s Temple that occurred in the fifth month so many years ago (2 Kings 25:8-9)?
The Lord does eventually give a direct answer to the delegates’ question (8:18-19), but first, the Lord asks some questions, preaches a sermon through Zechariah, provides some related throughts, then preaches another sermon, all relevant to the context and questions of the seekers. The Lord definitely gave these seekers more than what they expected, making their trip worthwhile!
When the Lord speaks, He addresses not only the seekers asking the question, but also all the Jews in the land of Judah (v. 5). The Lord begins by challenging the delegates’ motives – why did they mourn and fast over the destruction of the Temple? Was their mourning and fasting for the Lord, or for themselves?
The delegates had asked about mourning and fasting in the fifth month over the destruction of Solomon’s Temple; the Lord also asked about their motives for mourning and fasting in the seventh month over the murder of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:25).
In verse 6, the Lord implies that the Jewish people mourned and fasted in self-pity, not in humility, repentance, and restoration of their relationship with the Lord.
In verse 7, the Lord gives the Jews a short history lesson – all the words of instruction were given by God’s prophets when Judah was still a sovereign nation, when God’s blessing was still over His people, and the land was still inhabited and productive.
And what were these words of instruction God gave to His people (vv. 9-10)?
- practice justice – but with God’s heart of desiring restoration
- show kindness and compassion (God’s love) to others
- don’t exploit the weak – care for them instead
- don’t wrong others – live in a healthy community that reflects God’s character
The Lord then reminded the Jews that their forefathers ignored His commands and hardened their hearts toward the Lord and toward each other (vv. 11-12). The consequences were God’s discipline on His people – they were scattered to the four winds, driven out of the Promised Land, and the land became desolate and unproductive.
The purpose of the mourning and fasting was to cause the Jews to seek the Lord and restore their relationship with Him, and to put their hope in Him once again.
As we’ll see in Chapter 8, the Lord then shows compassion and love for His people. But first, the people had to be reminded of the reasons behind the discipline. God showed them that discipline was not the same as punishment, and that He desired the Jewish people to be holy as He is holy, to be light and hope in a dark and troubled world.
May we live in such a way that others desire a relationship with Him – practicing justice, showing kindness and compassion toward others, looking out for the weak, and living in healthy community with others.