Today I came across a very interesting passage of Scripture which has left my mind spinning. In Zechariah 7, the people ask the Prophets and the priests to inquire of the Lord regarding whether they should continue to fast on the fifth and seventh months, as they had done for some seventy plus years. The fasts were to commemorate the various stages of the destruction of Jerusalem and the seventy Captivity of the Hebrews in Babylon (from 606 B.C to 536 B.C.).
“Their question was: “Should we continue to mourn and fast in the fifth month of each year as we had been doing for so many years past?” Now it had been the habit of the people during the seventy years of captivity in Babylon to mourn and fast in four different months of the year. They fasted and mourned in the fourth month because it was the month when the city of Jerusalem had been broken into. “They also did so in the fifth month, which was the time the temple had been burned. They mourned and fasted in the seventh month as well because that was the time when Gedaliah, appointed by Babylon as governor, had been murdered; and because of this, the people had fled into Egypt. “And, finally, they did the same thing in the tenth month in remembrance of when Jerusalem had been besieged. So in these four months they had observed the habit of mourning and fasting.” (Stephen Kaung, Seeing Christ In Zechariah: God Has Spoken Series, 227-235 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc.)
With that context in mind, let me share the message of Zechariah (quoting from the Contemporary English Version):
Zechariah 7:4-14 (CEV)-4 It was then that the LORD All-Powerful told me to say to everyone in the country, including the priests: For seventy years you have gone without eating during the fifth and seventh months of the year. But did you really do it for me?
5 (SEE 7:4)
6 And when you eat and drink, isn’t it for your own enjoyment?
7 My message today is the same one I commanded the earlier prophets to speak to Jerusalem and its villages when they were prosperous, and when all of Judah, including the Southern Desert and the hill country, was filled with people.
8 So once again, I, the LORD All-Powerful, tell you, “See that justice is done and be kind and merciful to one another!
9 (SEE 7:8)
10 Don’t mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor, and stop making plans to hurt each other.”
11 But everyone who heard those prophets, stubbornly refused to obey. Instead, they turned their backs on everything my Spirit had commanded the earlier prophets to preach. So I, the LORD, became angry
12 (SEE 7:11)
13 and said, “You people paid no attention when I called out to you, and now I’ll pay no attention when you call out to me.”
14 That’s why I came with a whirlwind and scattered them among foreign nations, leaving their lovely country empty of people and in ruins.
Please notice a few things with me.
First, God answered the prayers of His people who were diligently seeking Him. Many in our world believe in a god who made the universe and now just sits back and watches to see what a mess we will make of it. This is the god of deism, who has no interest in the universe or the people that he made. This is not the true God who knows people in the most intimate way from the time that they are formed in the womb (Psalm 139). Known to God from eternity are all His works (Acts 15:18). The God of Creation loves His creatures (Acts 14:17). He delights in showing loving kindness, righteousness, and justice in all the Earth (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Micah 7:18). He promises to answer those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and who seek Him with their whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13; Ezra 7:10). This passage in Zechariah reminds us of these important characteristics of our Lord.
Second, God shows the people that the fasting the people had been doing had not truly been for Him. One of the main reasons for fasting was to show repentance. Many of the people who had been fasting had then gone back to their daily lives with no real turning from sin. Their religion was a show, where they served God one day and then lived for themselves and their own “pleasure.” God points out this same practice was taking place among His people then living, and it had also taken place during the lives of the people who had lived during the Captivity. We find explicit references to this in the Writings of the former Prophets, and God demonstrated His displeasure then as well. For example:
Isaiah 1:11-17 (CEV)-11 “Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don’t like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats.
12 “Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple!
13 Your sacrifices are worthless, and incense is disgusting. I can’t stand the evil you do on your New Moon Festivals or on your Sabbaths and other times of worship.
14 I hate your New Moon Festivals and all others as well. They are a heavy burden I am tired of carrying.
15 “No matter how much you pray, I won’t listen. You are too violent.
16 Wash yourselves clean! I am disgusted with your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong
17 and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need.”
Amos 5:21-22 (CEV)-21 I, the LORD, hate and despise your religious celebrations and your times of worship.
22 I won’t accept your offerings or animal sacrifices— not even your very best.
The only worship which God will accept is that which comes from a heart that is striving to live for Him. Worship without repentance is an abomination to God.
Third, look at what the repentance God calls us to must include: attempts to build, mend, and restore our relationships both with Him and with our fellow man. God was furious at the way the people were treating each other. They were fasting and seeking Him, then turning right around and mistreating their neighbors. This was wrong and God would not tolerate it. We cannot mistreat our neighbors and still be pleasing to the Lord. Isn’t this a constant theme of the entire Bible?
1 John 3:10-18-10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,
12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.
13 Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.
15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
It is not right to seek a close relationship with God while actively and without repentance hating and neglecting those who are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9-10). Instead, God calls us to true repentance.
Finally, I learn here that the main reason why God punished the Hebrews was because of their terrible sins, both against Him and against others. God is patient and longsiffering (2 Peter 3:9), and He will forgive any who repent and turn to Him (Ezekiel 18:20-23). However, when people stubbornly refuse to repent and when they continue to oppress and mistreat their fellow man, eventually God will bring justice and judgment (Luke 13:6-9).
Friends there is a Day of Judgement coming (Acts 17:30-31). With all of our good works, we cannot stand before God in the hope of earning salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet God loves us so very much that He sent His Son to become a perfect Sacrifice for us (Isaiah 53). Jesus had all of our sins imputed to Him on the cross of Calvary so that He could fully pay the penalty that we couldn’t pay. He offers to likewise impute His righteousness to all who will turn their lives completely to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). This death of Jesus, His burial, and His Resurrection on the third day are the basis of our hope, and serve as the main facts of the Gospel (literally, “Good News”). God has promised that all who will hear His Word (Acts 18:8; Romans 10:17), trust in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), turn away from sin and turn to God (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God before men (acts 8:37), and be baptized into Him (Mark 16:16) will receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Then as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), we begin living for God, seeking to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbors as ourself (Matthew 22:37-40). In other words, we strive to live faithfully to God (Revelation 2:10). When we fall short and sin after becoming a Christian (as we will at times-I John 1:8), God promises to forgive us when we repent of that sin and confess it to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9-2:2).
If you are not a Christian, I implore you to become one immediately. If you are an erring member of the church, I plead with you to turn your life back to the Lord today.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.