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Hypocritical Fasting Condemned
In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. 2Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men, to entreat the favor of the Lord, 3and to ask the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I mourn and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 4Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: 5Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves? 7Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, along with the towns around it, and when the Negeb and the Shephelah were inhabited?
Punishment for Rejecting God’s Demands
8 The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: 9Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; 10do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. 11But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. 12They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. 13Just as, when I called, they would not hear, so, when they called, I would not hear, says the Lord of hosts, 14and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and a pleasant land was made desolate.
Zec 7:1-14. II. Didactic Part, Seventh and Eighth chapters. Obedience, Rather than Fasting, Enjoined: Its Reward.
1. fourth year of … Darius—two years after the previous prophecies (Zec 1:1, &c.).
Chisleu—meaning "torpidity," the state in which nature is in November, answering to this month.
2. they … sent unto … house of God—The Jews of the country sent to the house of God or congregation at Jerusalem. The altar was long since reared (Ezr 3:3), though the temple was not completed till two years afterwards (Ezr 6:15). The priests' duty was to give decision on points of the law (De 17:9; Mt 2:4). Beth-el is here used instead of Beth-Jehovah, because the religious authorities, rather than the house itself (designated "Beth-Jehovah" in Zec 7:3), are intended. The old Beth-el had long ceased to be the seat of idol-worship, so that the name had lost its opprobrious meaning. "The house of the Lord" is used for the congregation of worshippers headed by their priests (Zec 3:7; Ho 8:1). Maurer makes the "house of God" nominative to "sent." Henderson makes "Beth-el" so.
Sherezer—an Assyrian name meaning, "Prefect of the treasury."
Regemmelech—meaning, "The king's official." These names perhaps intimate the semi-heathen character of the inquirers, which may also be implied in the name "Beth-el" (Hebrew for "house of God"), so notorious once for its calf-worship. They sent to Jehovah's house as their forefathers sent to old Beth-el, not in the spirit of true obedience.
pray before the Lord—literally, "to entreat the face of," that is, to offer sacrifices, the accompaniment of prayers, to conciliate His favor (1Sa 13:12).
3. Should I weep in the fifth month—"I" represents here the people of God (compare Zec 8:21). This rather favors Maurer's view, taking "the house of God," the congregation, as nominative to "sent." Their hypocrisy appeared because they showed more concern about a ceremony of human institution (not improper in itself) than about moral obedience. If, too, they had trusted God's promise as to the restoration of Church and State, the fast would have now given place to joy, for which there was more cause than for grief [Pembellus].
to the prophets—Haggai and Zechariah especially. The tenth day of the fifth month was kept a fast, being the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem (Jer 52:12-14). They ask, Should the fast be continued, now that the temple and city are being restored?
separating myself—sanctifying myself by separation, not only from food, but from all defilements (compare Joe 2:16) as was usual in a solemn fast.
5. Speak unto all—The question had been asked in the name of the people in general by Sherezer and Regemmelech. The self-imposed fast they were tired of, not having observed it in the spirit of true religion.
did ye … fast unto me?—No; it was to gratify yourselves in hypocritical will-worship. If it had been "unto Me," ye would have "separated yourselves" not only from food, but from your sins (Isa 58:3-7). They falsely made the fast an end intrinsically meritorious in itself, not a means towards God's glory in their sanctification. The true principle of piety, reference to God, was wanting: hence the emphatic repetition of "unto Me." Before settling questions as to the outward forms of piety (however proper, as in this case), the great question was as to piety itself; that being once settled, all their outward observances become sanctified, being "unto the Lord" (Ro 14:6).
6. did not ye eat for yourselves?—literally, "Is it not ye who eat?" that is, it is not unto Me and My glory. It tends no more to My glory, your feasting than your fasting.
7. Should ye not hear the words—rather, "Should ye not do the words," as their question naturally was as to what they should do (Zec 7:3); "hearing" is not mentioned till Zec 7:12. The sense is, It is not fasts that Jehovah requires of you, but that ye should keep His precepts given to you at the time when Jerusalem was in its integrity. Had ye done so then, ye would have had no occasion to institute fasts to commemorate its destruction, for it would never have been destroyed (Zec 7:9-14) [Maurer]. Or, as the Margin, "Are not these the words" of the older prophets (Isa 58:3; Jer 14:12) which threatened a curse for disobedience, which the event has so awfully confirmed. If ye follow them in sin, ye must follow them in suffering. English Version is good sense: Ye inquire anxiously about the fasts, whereas ye ought to be anxious about hearing the lesson taught by the former prophets and verified in the nation's punishment; penitence and obedience are required rather than fasts.
the plain—southwest of Jerusalem. They then inhabited securely the region most unguarded.
9. speaketh—implying that these precepts addressed to their ancestors were the requirements of Jehovah not merely then, but now. We must not only not hurt, but we must help our fellow men. God is pleased with such loving obedience, rather than with empty ceremonies.
11. pulled away the shoulder—literally, "presented a refractory shoulder"; an image from beasts refusing to bear the yoke (Ne 9:29, Margin).
Lord … sent in Spirit by … prophets—that is, sent by the former prophets inspired with His Spirit.
therefore … great wrath—(2Ch 36:16). As they pushed from them the yoke of obedience, God laid on them the yoke of oppression. As they made their heart hard as adamant, God brake their hard hearts with judgments. Hard hearts must expect hard treatment. The harder the stone, the harder the blow of the hammer to break it.
13. he cried—by His prophets.
they cried—in their calamities.
14. whirlwind—of wrath (Na 1:3).
nations whom they knew not—foreign and barbarous.
desolate after them—after their expulsion and exile. It was ordered remarkably by God's providence, that no occupants took possession of it, but that during the Jews' absence it was reserved for them against their return after seventy years.
they laid … desolate—The Jews did so by their sins. The blame of their destruction lay with themselves, rather than with the Babylonians (2Ch 36:21).
pleasant land—Canaan. Literally, "the land of desire" (Jer 3:19).