The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Zechariah 7

Zec 7:1

Zec 7; 8: Questions concerning fasting. Another prophetic message came to Zechariah from the Lord in 518 BC. The fourth day of the ninth month would have been in early December. Chislev is the Babylonian name of the month. This message (Zec 7; 8) came to the prophet almost two years after he received the eight night visions (cp Zec 1:7) and about halfway through the period of temple reconstruction (520-515 BC). A question posed by representative Israelites provided the occasion for God to give four messages through Zechariah. They all deal with the issue of empty ritualism, which the original question introduced.

"As early as Zec 1:3-6 it was clear that Zechariah was interested in the spiritual renewal of the postexilic community. Here he deals further with this problem. The purpose of Zec 7; 8 is to impress on the people their need to live righteously in response to their past judgment and future glory" (EBC).

Zec 7:2

BETHEL: About 10 miles north of Jerusalem (cp Ezra 2:28; Neh 7:32; 11:31).

Zec 7:3

SHOULD I MOURN AND FAST IN THE FIFTH MONTH, AS I HAVE DONE FOR SO MANY YEARS?: Cp Mal 1:9. These men wanted to know if they should continue to observe a fast that had become traditional but which the Mosaic Law did not require. (The only fast that the Mosaic Law prescribed was on the Day of Atonement: Lev 16:29; 23:27-32.) Coming as they did from a place long associated with apostate worship (1Ki 12:29-33; 2Ki 10:29; Jer 48:13; Amos 3:14; 4:4; 7:13), these men would be particularly concerned to determine orthodox practice on behalf of those who sent them.

There were four fasts that the Jews in exile had instituted to commemorate various events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC (cp Zec 8:19). The one in the fifth month memorialized the destruction of the temple (cp 2Ki 25:8-10). Since the temple was almost complete (cp Ezra 6:16), did the LORD want His people to continue to fast? The people knew that the captivity would last 70 years (Jer 25:11,12), and 68 of these had already passed. It seemed to them that fasting over the destruction of the temple might be inappropriate since the LORD had enabled them to rebuild the temple and reestablish worship. The question was a reasonable one.

"What may have appeared to be an innocent question about the propriety of fasting was instead a question fraught with hypocrisy, as Yahweh's response puts beyond any doubt. It therefore appears that the query to Zechariah by the Bethelites may not have been so much a matter of piety as it was of posturing. May it not be that the delegation was trying more to impress the prophet than to gain instruction from him?" (Merrill).

Zec 7:4

Vv 4-7: The first message. "Note that the inquiry put by the Bethel committee is not being answered directly. In fact, throughout Zec 7; 8 no direct answer is offered. The reason is: the question is not an important issue. However, the attitude revealed by that question is of sufficient moment to receive exhaustive treatment" (Leupold).

Zec 7:5

WHEN YOU FASTED AND MOURNED IN THE FIFTH AND SEVENTH MONTHS FOR THE PAST SEVENTY YEARS, WAS IT REALLY FOR ME THAT YOU FASTED?: The LORD spoke to Zechariah, and he proceeded to inform the messengers, all the people in the land, and the priests. The issue that the messengers had raised had widespread implications for the whole nation. The Lord asked rhetorically if the people had really observed the fasts that they had instituted in the fifth and seventh months for 70 years for His benefit or for themselves. (Seventy years is a round number for the length of the Captivity.) The fast in the seventh month commemorated the assassination of Gedaliah (2Ki 25:25; Jer 41:2). Evidently the people had turned these events into occasions for self-pity over their physical condition rather than engaging in prayer and genuine spiritual repentance.

Zec 7:6

AND WHEN YOU WERE EATING AND DRINKING, WERE YOU NOT JUST FEASTING FOR YOURSELVES?: They were simply perpetuating the selfishness for which former prophets had rebuked their ancestors.

Zec 7:7

ARE THESE NOT THE WORDS THE LORD PROCLAIMED THROUGH THE EARLIER PROPHETS WHEN JERUSALEM AND ITS SURROUNDING TOWNS WERE AT REST AND PROSPEROUS...?: The prophets in view had lived before the captivity when the whole land and its cities were still full of inhabitants (eg, Isa 58:3-9; Joel 1:14; 2:12). Now there were far fewer Israelites occupying the land.

AND THE NEGEV AND THE WESTERN FOOTHILLS WERE SETTLED?: The Negev to the south of Beersheba and the foothills (Shephelah) toward the Mediterranean coast were grazing and agricultural areas in which the returnees had not yet settled.

Zec 7:8

Vv 8-14: The command to repent.

Zec 7:13

Vv 13,14: Since the forefathers refused to listen to the Lord's Spirit when He called to them (cp Neh 9:20,30; 2Pe 1:21), the Lord refused to listen to them when they called to Him in prayer (cp Jer 11:11-14). Instead He scattered them among many nations, as though a windstorm had blown them off the Promised Land (cp Deu 28:36,37,64-68; Hos 13:3). As a result, the land had become desolate with none of the Israelites returning to it during the Captivity (cp Deu 28:41,42,45-52). This desolation of the formerly "pleasant land" of Israel was due to the sin of the people (cp Psa 106:24; Jer 3:19; Dan 11:16,41).

"While Zechariah may well not have answered the original enquiry directly, he had nevertheless taken up the very essence of ritual in the heart of the worshiper, which was that the outward form of religious activity was useless and lifeless without an accompanying spirit of obedience, confession and repentance" (Ellis).

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