weekly word – 3/28/24

Zechariah 7

We’ve made it through Zechariah’s visions in chapters 1-6. 

In chapter 7, we see a delegation from the city of Bethel coming to Jerusalem with a religious concern. They inquire of the priests as to whether they should continue to honor Tisha B’av, a fast commemorating the Babylonian burning of the Temple on the tenth day of fifth month, as recorded in Jeremiah 52:12-13.

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. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer, Regem-melech, and their men to plead for the Lord’s favor by asking the priests who were at the house of the Lord of Armies as well as the prophets, “Should we mourn and fast in the fifth month as we have done these many years?” (7:1-3)

The burning of the Temple was so horrific that this fast is embedded within Judaism still today. Yet the fast was never prescribed in the Old Testament. It was created to mourn the judgment of God on Jerusalem; but it focused on the destruction itself more than the sins which led to it.

When the delegation came to the priests, God chose Zechariah to intervene and give His response to them in verses 4-7:

Then the word of the Lord of Armies came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh months for these seventy years, did you really fast for me? When you eat and drink, don’t you eat and drink simply for yourselves? Aren’t these the words that the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and secure, along with its surrounding cities, and when the southern region and the Judean foothills were inhabited?”

In His response, God not only addresses Tisha B’av, but identifies another fast they had been observing: one in the seventh month, connected to an event recorded in 2 Kings 25:25-26. That event was Ishmael, an insurrectionist, murdering the final governor of Judah, who had been put in place by the Babylonian government. This was one of a series of dominoes that led to the downfall of Jerusalem.

But God’s rebuke is stinging. He accuses them of using this holy day to feast for themselves. He wants them to do all things for Him. Instead, their self-centered commemoration simply perpetuates the sinful attitude that led to Jerusalem’s downfall. 

In the final section, God redirects the Bethel delegation to focus on fulfilling His word instead of their tradition. He warns them against returning to their ancestors’ folly in verses 8-14:

The word of the Lord came to Zechariah: “The Lord of Armies says this: ‘Make fair decisions. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the resident alien or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder; they closed their ears so they could not hear. They made their hearts like a rock so as not to obey the law or the words that the Lord of Armies had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. Therefore intense anger came from the Lord of Armies. Just as he had called, and they would not listen, so when they called, I would not listen, says the Lord of Armies. I scattered them with a windstorm over all the nations that had not known them, and the land was left desolate behind them, with no one coming or going. They turned a pleasant land into a desolation.”

Instead of their fasts mourning the demise of their city, God wants the nation to recommit to following His word. Specifically, people of Israel must consistently honor the people who are made in His image. 

God begins by redirecting their judicial system: “Make fair decisions”. This a call for their courts to make true judgments in accord with the Law of Moses, rather than showing partiality or accepting bribes. 

Then God tells them to show “faithful love and compassion”, referring to His requirement that they love their neighbors as themselves (Leviticus 19:18). 

Finally, He reminds them of their duty to care for those who are helpless in a manner similar to Exodus 22:21-22: "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.”

After reminding the people of their ancestor’s stubborn response to these commands, God puts the blame for Jerusalem’s destruction squarely on them, “They turned a pleasant land into a desolation.” That is, if anything should be lamented, it should be the rampant wickedness that brought the destruction.

Passages like these remind us that we should prioritize God Himself, not our earthly goals. If we prioritize Him in all things, we'll find ourselves reflecting Jesus Christ, who sought to serve the needs of others above His own. In seeking to please God after the example of Christ, we will both fill our own lives with joy and bring pleasure to Him.

Pastor David