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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.

Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, 7171     Both Newcome and Henderson render the verb [אמר] here in the past tense — “Thus spake Jehovah of hosts;” and this seems right, as the reference is made to what the Lord had spoken by the former Prophets, as it appears from the 11th verse. — Ed. saying, The judgment of truth judge, and kindness and mercies show, every one to his brother. We have seen what the Prophet said of fasting, when messengers were sent by the exiles to enquire on the subject. It was a suitable opportunity for handling the question. For, as we then said, the people were so devoted to their ceremonies, as to think that the whole of religion consisted in fasting and in similar exercises. And as we are by nature prone to this evil, we ought carefully to consider what the Prophet has taught us — that fasting is not simply, or by itself, approved by God, but on account of the end designed by it. Having already shown to the Jews their error, in thinking that God could be pacified by ceremonies, he now reminds them of what God mainly requires in his law — that men should observe what is just and right towards one another. It is indeed true that the first part of the law refers to the service due to God; but it is a way which God has commonly adopted, to test the life of men by the duties of the second Table, and to show what this part of the law especially requires God then in this passage, as in many others, does not commend righteousness towards men so as to depreciate godliness; for as this far excels everything in the whole world, so we know that in rightly forming the life, the beginning ought ever to be made by serving God aright. But as the Prophet had to do with hypocrites, he shows that they only trifled with God, while they made much of external things, and at the same tinge neglected uprightness, and the duties of love

We now then understand the Prophet’s object. He had said in the last lecture that he brought forward nothing new, but only reminded them of what had been taught by other Prophets; and here he pursues the same subject — that God made more account of uprightness and kindness than of those legal shadows, which in themselves were of no moment.

The judgment of truth, he says, judge. This could not have been extended indiscriminately to the whole people; but by these words the Prophet indirectly reproved the judges, because they committed plunder, either through favor or hatred, so that they decided cases not in a just and equitable manner. We then learn from the Prophet’s words, that judgments were then given corruptly, so that the judge either decided in favor of a friend, or was bought by a price or a reward. As then there was no truth in the judgments given, but false pretences and colourings, the Prophet here exhorts them to execute the judgment of truth, that is, true judgment, when no respect of persons is shown, and when neither hatred nor favor prevails, but equity alone is regarded.

He then addresses the whole people in common, and says, Show, or exercise, kindness and mercies 7272     Rendered “kindness and mercy” by Henderson, but more correctly “mercy and compassion” by Newcome; or they may be rendered “mercy and sympathies.” The meaning is, “Do acts of mercy and of compassions,” or sympathies. — Ed. every one towards his brother. He not only bids them to abstain from doing any wrong, but exhorts them to show kindness; for it would not be enough to do no harm to any one, except each of us were also solicitous to assist our neighbors; inasmuch as it is the dictate of benevolence to help the miserable when necessity so requires. But we must recollect that a part is given twice for the whole in what the Prophet says: in the first place, he refers only to the second Table of the law, while he includes in general the rule by which our life is to be formed; and in the second place, he enumerates not every thing contained in the second Table, but mentions only some things as instances. It is however certain, that his design was to show that men are greatly deceived when they seek to discharge their duties towards God by means of external rites and ceremonies; and farther, that it is a true and substantial evidence of piety, when and one observes what is just and equitable towards his neighbor. He afterwards adds —

He mentions here some other duties, but for the same purpose of showing, that the fear of God is not proved by ceremonies, but by acting justly towards our brethren, and not by abstaining only from doing wrong, but by being ready to help the miserable. As widows, and orphans, and strangers are exposed as it were to plunder, Moses often in the law recommends them to favor, and shows that God cares for them, and will be their defender, when by one injured. So also the Prophet speaks here expressly of widows, and orphans, and strangers, that the Jews might understand, not only that they were to take heed, lest any one, being wronged, should complain, or lest any one should retaliate an injury, but that they were to observe integrity before God; for the ungodly are often terrified by fear, and refrain from doing mischief, because they know that there will be an avenger. Hence it comes that the rich and the opulent are safe from all injuries, because they are surrounded and fortified by strong defences; but the widows and the orphans are not thus able to repel wrongs. This is the reason why the Prophet prefers here to mention widows, and orphans, and strangers, rather than to speak indiscriminately of all the people. For the import of the whole is, as I have reminded you, that the fear of God is not really proved, except when a person cleaves to what is just and right, and is not restrained by fear or shame, but discharges his duty as it were in the presence of God and of his angels, so that he shows favor to the poor and miserable, who are without any to help them. But as I have elsewhere explained this subject more at large, it is enough now briefly to touch on it. 7373     There is one sentence passed by unnoticed, rendered thus by Newcome,—
   Neither imagine in your heart
Every man evil againsthis brother.

   Verbatim it is—

   And the evil of (or, evil to) man, his brother,
Devise ye not in your heart.

   They were not to devise or contrive in their hearts any evil or wrong to man, he being a brother. This sense is given in the Targum, and by Grotius, Henry, and others; but Henderson, following the Septuagint, gives another meaning; and his version or rather paraphrase is —

   And think not in your heart of the injury
Which one hath done to another.

   But the original can hardly admit of such a construction: the former, no doubt, is the true meaning. — Ed.
Let us proceed —

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