Zechariah Chapter Seven


Read Zechariah 7:1-3 – Should God’s Children Fast?


v.1 “And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu


            One of the unique characteristics of the prophecy of Zechariah is his close attention to the days, months and years of his visions and the happenings that he relates to us.  It has now been two years since the recording of his last vision but he has not been idle.  We find in the history of Jerusalem for this time period:


Ezra 6:14-15 “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.  15And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king


So just as the Apostle John tells us about Jesus:


John 20:30-31 “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:  31But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name


Likewise the Holy Spirit has caused the recording and preservation of these things in Zechariah for our learning.  God has chosen only these things from among all of the other things that must have happened during this span of time.


v.2 “When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the LORD,


            Two leaders and other men with them, representatives of a group of the Jews that returned from captivity, are sent to Jerusalem for the purpose of asking what was to them a very important question.  This group of Jews lived at Bethel, some ten or fifteen miles north and east of Jerusalem, the same Bethel that Jacob named in Genesis 28:19 and that was a center of pagan worship under the rulers of the Northern Kingdom (I Kings 12:28-29).


v.3 “3And to speak 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


            This important question concerned a practice that they had carried with them from the time that they were captive in Babylon.  In the fifth month of the year a time was spent in fasting and weeping for the sins of Israel that caused them to be carried away into captivity.  Now these men want the priests of God to determine for them whether they should continue in this practice.  The temple priests also had the responsibility for teaching the Mosaic Law.  So Israel was instructed to go to the priests when they had questions concerning the Law:


Deuteronomy 17:11 “According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left


Malachi 2:7 “For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the lord of hosts


            The date and time of this particular period of fasting and weeping coincided with the destruction of Jerusalem:


Jeremiah 51:12-13 “Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem,  13And burned the house of the LORD, and the king's house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men, burned he with fire


            So these Jews had kept up this practice of fasting and weeping throughout their captivity and for about twenty years afterward.  Now they have been restored to their homeland, the house of God and the city of Jerusalem are being rebuilt.  So they are now asking if it is appropriate to continue to fast and weep over its destruction.


Read Zechariah 7:4-7 – What is the Purpose of Your Fasting?


v.4-5 “Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying,  5Speak 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


God gives Zechariah a message, not just for those men who had come from Bethel, but for all of “THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND”.  The prophet is to address their question with “THE WORD OF THE LORD”, the same responsibility that we have today when we are asked questions concerning:


“…all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtueII Peter 1:3


He is to ask the same questions that Isaiah had asked in years past:


Isaiah 58:5 “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD


So God asks, who are you doing this fasting and weeping for?  Did you do it unto me, or as worship unto me or because of my commandment?  Or are you fasting and weeping for your own purposes?  Then he follows with another question:


v.6 “And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?”


            When you did eat and when you did drink, when you returned to your normal manner of living did you do that for me or did you do that for yourselves?  These men appear to be genuine in what they are doing and not like those that Jesus describes in:


Matthew 6:16 “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward


v.7 “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


            So God asks through his prophet “Should ye NOT hear THE WORDS WHICH THE LORD HATH CRIED”?  What did the prophets sent to Israel teach before her destruction, when the cities were occupied and the plains of the south were inhabited?  This reminds me of two other places where we are instructed to hear and obey God; first Samuel and Saul:


I Samuel 15:22 “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams


Matthew 23:2-3 “…The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:  3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do…”


Zechariah 7:8-14 – Obedience is Better than Fasting


v.8-9 “And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying,  9Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother


            They are to hear the words of the prophets; prophets such as Isaiah:


Isaiah 58:6-7 “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?  7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh


And those of Jeremiah:


Jeremiah 7:23 “But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you

Or that of Micah:


Micah 6:8 “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God


Just like us today; they were to hear and do as the Lord had commanded them to do.


v.10 “And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart


            God further reminds them of the provisions of the covenant under which they live:


Deuteronomy 24:17 “Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge


Their failure to do this prior to their destruction was one of the reasons that their nation had been destroyed.  It was part of what God had against Judah:


Jeremiah 5:28 “They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge


They are also not to imagine evil against their brother.  What is the prophet referring to here?  Again it is something his prophets condemned prior to their captivity that their ancestors refused to hear:


Micah 2:1 “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.


They were condemned because they laid awake at night thinking up things that they could do that were evil, ways perhaps to gain advantage in power or money; things that they would practice simply because they had the power in “THEIR HAND” to do so.


v.11 “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear


            Did you ever tap someone on the shoulder in order to get their attention to try to tell them something only to have them pull away and refuse to even hear what you wanted to say?  That is what the prophet is being told here.  Israel in times past had done just exactly that.  Jeremiah wrote:


Jeremiah 7:24 “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”


Or as the prophet Hosea describes:


Hosea 4:16  (ASV) “For Israel hath behaved himself stubbornly, like a stubborn heifer: now will Jehovah feed them as a lamb in a large place


And I remember very well what happened when a calf that was bigger than I was decided that it didn’t want to be led and planted all four feet and refused to budge.  This was the mindset of Israel and Judah, a mindset that God through Zechariah is warning them not to repeat.  They were like the men who stoned Stephen:


Acts 7:57 “But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord


v.12 “Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts


            Israel before her destruction and Judah before her captivity were like a stone in the way they responded to the word of God.  They refused to hear the prophets of God; they refused to hear the teaching of the law of God.  They were like those described by Jesus:


Matthew 13:15 “For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them


And this attitude toward the word of God had its consequences.


v.13 “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


            Because of their sin God warned Israel and Judah that he would not hear them when they pleaded for Him:


Isaiah 1:15 “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood


And again in Jeremiah:


Jeremiah 11:11 “Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them


God would not only ignore them, refuse to hear their pleas for his deliverance as He had always done, but he punished them as well.


v.14 “But 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


            As we have studied several times over the past few months, when God made his covenant with Israel he warned them of the consequences if they rebelled, turned against him or followed other gods.  They would be scattered to the four winds:


Deuteronomy 4:27 “And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you


The fruits of their labor would be enjoyed by their enemies and their land would become desolate.


Deuteronomy 28:33 “The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway


            So which was better?  Which did God prefer?  Should the returning Jews concentrate their efforts on the rituals of their worship to God, such as fasting, sacrifices and things of this nature?  Or should the returning Jews concentrate their lives and their efforts on obeying God’s commandments and living the kind of lives that the God expected his children to live?  Don’t misunderstand, we still are required to obey the commandments that God gives us; but did God command that the Israelite nation fast on a regular basis?  No he did not.  So was their weeping and fasting for the purpose of worship or service to God?  No it wasn’t, it was for their own purposes; it was something that they devised to show their humility and subservience to God.  They subjected themselves to weeping and fasting as a result of God’s punishment for their sins, begging and praying to God to remove that affliction.  God would prefer and prefers that his children obey his commandments, live their lives in harmony with him rather than sacrifice, fast or anything else that we might devise to show homage to him.

            Fasting is permitted.  A special time of prayer and withdrawal for the normal activities of this world may be conducted if we chose.  The apostle Paul regulates such activity in relationship to the marriage commitments in I Corinthians 7:1-5; but God does not command it.


William L. Schwegler, Sunset church of Christ, Shreveport, Louisiana; August 23, 2009