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Hypocritical Fasting Condemned


In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the L ord 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 L ord, 3and to ask the priests of the house of the L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord came to Zechariah, saying: 9Thus says the L ord 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 L ord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the L ord of hosts. 13Just as, when I called, they would not hear, so, when they called, I would not hear, says the L ord 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.

He therefore brings this charge against them, Have ye fasted to me? have ye eaten to me? as though he had said, “God regards not fastings, except they proceed from a sincere feeling and tend to a right and lawful end.” It was then the object of the Prophet to awaken the Jews, that they might not imagine that God was pacified by fasting or by any other frigid ceremonies, but that they might know that something more was required. And we see how prone mankind are to rely on external rites, and to think that they have rightly performed their duty to God when they have fasted. As then human nature labors under this disease, the Prophet is here sent to dissipate this delusion; which he does by declaring that fasting does not please God, or is acceptable to him, as though it were something meritorious, or as though there was in it any holiness.

He says first, that the word of Jehovah was given to him, that he might go to the people of the land and to the priests. We see the truth of what I have already said, that the answer was not directed to the captives, but to the very inhabitants of the land and to the citizens of Jerusalem, and for this reason, — because they thought that when the question respecting fasting was moved, the first and chief part of all religion was the subject of inquiry. Hence God, that he might strip them of this superstition, says, When ye fasted in the fifth month and in the seventh month, and during the seventy years, did ye fast to me — to me? for he has put an affix to the verb, צמתני, tsametni, and afterwards added אני, ani: as though he had said, “Was it to me that ye fasted? Shall I approve of such fasting?” There is an emphasis in the repetition, as though he had said, that there was no reason for the Jews to boast that they faithfully served God, and fully performed their duty, because they fasted twice in the year, for they had to do with that God who rejected such trifling things.

We hence learn that nothing is more preposterous than for men to judge of God’s worship according to their own notions, and to trust in themselves. It is indeed easy for us to deceive ourselves; for as we are earthly, so we may think that whatever glitters before our eyes is most acceptable to God. But the Prophet here reminds us, by one sentence, how frivolous are such self-pleasing thoughts; for God meets us with this question, “Have ye fasted to me? Are ye to be judges, and is it right for you at your pleasure to invent various modes of worship? But I remain always like myself, and not transform me according to what pleases you; for I repudiate everything of this kind.”

By saying, that to themselves they did eat and drink, he intimates that to eat and to drink, or to abstain from eating and drinking, are things wholly unconnected with the worship of God. Another sense may indeed be elicited, — that the Jews did eat as heathens did: and there will be in this case an indirect reproof, — that they sought to pacify God only twice in the year, and that during the rest of the time they were heedless and indulged themselves in excesses. We ought indeed to bear in mind what Paul says, that

“whether we eat or drink, all things ought to be done
to the praise of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.)

The law also expressly commanded the Jews to “feast before the Lord,” that is, not to taste food without thanksgiving, as though God were present. When, therefore, the Jews fasted themselves without any regard to God, it is no wonder that their fastings where rejected; for their course was not consistent. For though the godly do not always fast, yet while they partake most freely of meat and drink, they turn not away their thoughts from God, but on the contrary rejoice before him. They therefore eat and drink to God, as well as abstain on God’s account. But the Prophet shows here that the Jews did eat to themselves, and that hence their fasting was not regarded before God. This latter sense is not unsuitable: but as to the subject itself, it is enough for us to know, that the Prophet, as he had to deal with hypocrites, ridicules their superstition in their fastings, inasmuch as they thought that these were expiations by which their sins were blotted out, and that if they abstained for a day or two from meat and drink, God was thereby pacified.

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