Zechariah 7 Summary, ritual fasts without reality
Summary: In answer to a question about fasts related to the fall of Israel, the LORD spoke through Zechariah and said that ritual without the spiritual reality is worthless, and hardening against Yahweh God and what he says is dangerous to our relationship with Him. He will discipline and judge. Communion and water baptism are church rituals with great meaning—do we observe them as true spiritual service or empty ritual?
Chapter 7. December 7, 518 BC, 22 months after Zechariah 1.7. The question posed by men of Bethel to the priests and prophets in Jerusalem was whether they should continue to mourn in the fifth month (Ab—August) on the ninth day in remembrance of the destruction of the temple, and also in the seventh month (Tishri—October) in memory of the death of Gedaliah (Zechariah 7.1-3)? The LORD’S answer was that when they fasted and mourned the past 70 years they were doing it for themselves instead of to honor and seek Him (Zechariah 7.4-7). A further word from the LORD to Zechariah reminded the people that the LORD has instructed the people to practice justice, compassion, and kindness (Zechariah 7.8-10). They refused. They hardened their hearts. So, God did the same to them as they did to Him. The people called for help and the LORD did not listen. He exiled the people (Zechariah 7.13-14).
- Zechariah 7.1-3. A delegation arrived on December 7, 518 BC from Bethel, about 12 miles north of Jerusalem, to question the priests and prophets about continuing the fasts. Recall that Bethel was the seat of pagan worship in Israel before Assyria defeated her. At least now they know that Jerusalem is the center of worship. The house of the LORD was about half finished at this time. For the last seventy years the people had been observing fast days in commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred on August 9, 586 BC (2 Kings 25.8-10). They also asked about the fast in commemoration of the assassination of Governor Gedaliah in the seventh month, October, probably 586 BC; some think between 586 and 581 BC (2 Kings 25.25; Jeremiah 41.1-2). Actually, according to Leviticus 16:29; 23:27, 29, 32, the only fast day that was commanded was the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. These extra fasts were of their own making. As we read this section we see that ritual had overtaken genuine worship of the Lord.
- Zechariah 7.4-7. The Lord’s answer (The word of the LORD) was that when they fasted and mourned the past 70 years they were doing it for themselves instead of to honor and seek Him. The people had appointed special days to commemorate events in the nations life. These fasts were helpful to them, but their own interests were more important to them than their interest in LORD, and they expected the LORD to honor them because of these rituals—“do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?” The rituals had no spiritual reality in their lives. They were not honoring the LORD through thoughtful and meaningful ritual; they were simply going through the motions.
- Zechariah 4.7. During prosperous times the former prophets had charged the people to follow the LORD and his word. Other prophets had warned of serious abuse of ritual (Isaiah 1.11-17, 58.3—he ministered to the Southern Kingdom about 740-685 BC; Hosea 6.6—he ministered to the Northern Kingdom about 760-722 BC; Amos 5.21-24—he ministered mainly to the Northern Kingdom about 790-755 BC; Jeremiah 22.21—he ministered to the Jerusalem and Judah about 627-582 BC). See also 1 Samuel 15.22-23. We tend to ignore the LORD and often become more interested in religious ritual instead of personal fellowship and Spirit led service when life is going well. The misuse of ritual often leads to people becoming self-centered and self-righteous and then the ignoring of right treatment of people around us. The next section expands on this.
- Zechariah 7.8-10. A further word from the Lord (The word of the LORD) to Zechariah reminded the people that the Lord has instructed the fathers (Zechariah 1.4) through the former prophets and he now instructs them to practice justice, kindness, compassion, to fellow Israelites; do not oppress the widow, orphan, stranger, or poor; and do not devise evil against one another.
- Zechariah 7.9. Justice: “you judge with true (אֱמֶת emet Strong 571) or faithful justice” (Isaiah 1.17; Amos 5.24). Make right decisions based on the law and what actually happened, not on reputation or bribes. Kindness is the word hesed (חֶסֶד hesed lovingkindness, mercy, loyal love). Compassion (רַחֲמִים rachmim, Strong 7356) is the word that expresses the motherly care for the unborn child.
- Zechariah 7.10. He brings out four groups that were more vulnerable to oppression: the widow, the orphan, the stranger—alien, foreigner, traveler—, and the unfortunate or very poor. And then he significantly forbids them to plan ways to harm each other; do not be trouble makers, conspirators, slanderers.
- Zechariah 7.11-12. The LORD had sent his word through the former prophets by his Spirit, but the pre-exilic fathers had refused to obey. Then the LORD judged the hard hearted and rebellious people by the exile to Babylon. Ezekiel 2 describes the exiles near Babylon about 80 years before Zechariah’s ministry. Rebellion is a dangerous condition. Note the progression Zechariah 7.11-12 details: refused to pay attention; turned a stubborn shoulder; stopped their ears; made their hearts like flint; and they could not hear; finally, wrath from the LORD. See Jeremiah 6.16-17 referring to Judah before the exile.
- See Nehemiah 9.29 which was about 444 BC, some 74 years after Zechariah’s message of chapter 7. Those returned exiles of Nehemiah’s day praised the LORD and confessed their sin. We learn that though refusal to listen to the word of the LORD through the prophets was a reoccurring event, people can and did return to the LORD. Rebellion does not have to be forever. Paul, writing to the church, warns of hardening ourselves against the LORD in Ephesians 4.17-20. Paul experienced the same negative volition to God’s word from the Jewish people. In Acts 28.25-27, he refers to this rejection of truth and uses Isaiah 6.9-10 to illustrate.
- Zechariah 7.13-14. The divine solution was that the LORD would not listen to their cry for help. Instead, he scattered them into exile, and the land became desolate. The discipline fit their negative volition which showed by their refusal to hear and obey. Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar was the instrument for the exile of the Southern Kingdom. God had warned them (Leviticus 26:14–43 and Deuteronomy 28:15–68; 2 Chronicles 36.16). Now will the post-exilic people do any better? The have the word of the LORD, their land, and the temple.
So what? application
- I have the word of the LORD. Do I listen and obey, or do I refuse to pay attention, turn away, stop my ears, and harden my heart against the LORD like many of the Hebrews did?
- I have the Holy Spirit. Do I listen to him as he speaks through his word? Am I walking by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, and in fellowship with the LORD?
- We no longer have prophets like Zechariah, but we have teachers. Am I teachable and do I concentrate on learning from them? Do I really pay attention? Do I write things down that will help me learn, believe, and apply?
- Do I treat others with justice, compassion, mercy, and stop making harmful plans?
- The church regularly observes communion and water baptism. Are they routine or do I appreciate the rituals? Neither one gives forgiveness or everlasting life. Do I observe them because I want something or to honor the LORD? Do I remember the LORD and his death and resurrection for me? What are these rituals all about—me or the LORD?