Book of Zechariah Chapter 7 Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Fasting, Justice And Mercy
Zechariah 1:1 occurred in "the eighth month of the second year of Darius." Here in Verse 1 of Chapter 7, it was "the fourth year of King Darius," when "the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev," a month that corresponds to parts of November and December. Two years had passed since God first spoke to Zechariah and established the man as His prophet.
In the latter portion of Chapter 6, we encountered a group of men who had recently come from Babylon: "Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah," bringing with them an offering for the soon-to-be built Temple. They were well received. Verses 2-3 of this chapter show us another delegation of visitors who would not be so well received: "Now the town of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to seek the favor of the Lord, speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, 'Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?'" The elders of the town of "Bethel" ("House of God") sent these men, with the purpose of asking a theological question of the priests. Godly people had been in Bethel, but the place had also been a hotbed of idolatry (1 Kings 12:27-33). More than seventy years had passed since the Babylonian captivity and the Temple was being rebuilt. The men asked, "The exiles are returning, should we continue to weep and fast?" It sounds like a legitimate question, but God would go to the motive behind it. "Sharezer and Regemmelech" are Assyrian names, no doubt left-overs from the uprooting of the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, centuries before. The northern group would later be called the "Samaritans."
Theological questions such as this one are being asked all the time, addressing issues about fasting, baptism, music, communion, and much more. Jesus met a Samaritan woman in John 4:20-24 & context, who asked such a question: "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place to worship Him." Jesus answered, "...true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." We get lost in words and theories...God intends us to love deeply, to "worship" the Lord.
In Verses 4-6, "Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me (to Zechariah), saying, 'Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? Are not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills were inhabited?'" What is YOUR question of the Lord, and what is your motive in asking it? When we actually meet the Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, we won't need to ask questions. He simply is the Lord...there is no other...and He is the answer to everything. Verse 7 is clear that the "former prophets" who came before Zechariah, answered all that the men needed. If you have access to a Bible, God's Word, you have even more answers than they did.
God's word is greater than fasting, opinions about baptism, communion and everything else. The question is really: Is YOUR HEART right before God? Have you trusted in Him? WHY do we perform those rituals? These men were concerned about outward things, but something deeper was needed: "Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah saying, Thus has the Lord of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another'" (Verses 8-10). James, a New Testament writer, a Galilean Jew who likely was a younger half-brother of Jesus, said: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
Our religious acts, our treatment of others and our words about them—all of this is important—but our hearts, our motives and our intentions must be right before a holy and loving God. As it says in Romans 6:13 & its context, you are to "present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." That we are to help those in need is seen throughout the Bible. When our hearts are made right by God, we will begin to want to apply the talents and abilities He has given us to help others. If you are intelligent, strong, capable, creative...if you have received gifts from His Holy Spirit...if you have money, power and position, use what you have and are to help others. As the Lord leads you—do it.
The trouble is that people usually prefer religious acts to God's will. We often like logic more than His leading. Theology, in simple or complex forms, can seem somehow "safer" than trusting in the Lord. The Samaritans, "Sharezer and Regemmelech," in these verses, heard the Word of the Lord, but in Verses 11-12, "they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts." We tend to surround ourselves with "safe" rules and regulations, preferring dogma to letting our hearts be naked before the Lord, responding to His good, loving and holy ways. These men rejected Him, and notice the result: "therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts." We are to trust in and follow the Lord. The alternative is unthinkable.
Note the danger in doing things "my way," as seen in the lives of the two Samaritan men in Verses 13-14: "'And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,' says the Lord of hosts; 'but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.'” Does your life seem like a "pleasant land" that has become "desolate?" If so, it is very possible that God is speaking to you right now. Let the words: "How could a good God let this happen?" be replaced with "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). He knows what He is doing...He loves you...and His intentions for your life are better than you could imagine. Unlike "Sharezer and Regemmelech," TRUST in the Lord.
Father, I give myself to You. I confess that I have tried to figure things out MY way, and it hasn't worked out well at all. I am Yours, Father. Please show me the way I should go and what I am to do. In Jesus Name. Amen.