About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Justice And Mercy, Not Fasting (ch. 7:1 - 14)  


The event of this chapter took place in 518 BC, two years after Zechariah’s night of visions.  We know this because in verse 1 we see that word of the Lord came to Zechariah in the fourth year of King Darius.


We see in verses 2 and 3 that certain men came from Bethel to ask the high priest if they should continue to mourn and fast in the fifth month as we “have done for many years?”  This was clearly a tradition the Jews were carrying on, and now they wondered if the tradition was necessary.  The tone of the phrase might suggest that they were getting tired of fasting.       


This particular fifth month fast was to remember the time when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and leveled it to the ground.  This was not a fast mandated by God.  It became a Jewish tradition. The only mandated fast God instituted was the fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).  God at times called Israel to repent and fast, but the only yearly fast according to the Law of Moses was the Day of Atonement.


 In verses 4 and 5 the word of the Lord came to Zechariah in the form of a question that would begin the dialogue to answer the question posed by the men from Bethe.  God asks, “when you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month for the last seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?”  This was supposed to be a thought provoking question.  The way the question is asked, the answer should be obvious, at least it is to us, maybe not to the Jews in Zechariah’s day.  The nature of the question implies that the fasting the Jews were doing was not for God or instituted by God, but was a mere tradition of men.


The seventy years spoken of here is the seventy years of Israel ’s captivity in Babylon.


In verse 6 God asks, “when you were eating and drinking, were you not feasting for yourselves?”  God answers His own question with a question that confirms what I’ve just said above.  It didn’t seem to matter to God, whether Israel was eating, drinking, or feasting, or even fasting, they weren’t doing these things unto God.


God was getting at the motives of Israel’s heart by asking these questions.  He was trying to get them to think about their motives in their religious rituals. 


In verse 7 God reminds Israel of the former years, when the prophets prophesied similar words from the Lord.  They were in rest, in peace and prosperity, but because their hearts weren’t right in the eyes of God, even though they went through the religious ritual, God judged them and sent them into captivity.


Verses 8 through 10 show another aspect to what God is saying.  The Jews were going through the ritual of fasting and mourning, but there were other things that they were neglecting.  The neglect of these things made their rituals useless in the sight of God.  And how true this is with the Christian church today.  We place more emphasis on ritual than the things we should be doing, and there were obviously things that the Jews were not doing as well.


In verse 9 God says to “administer justice, show mercy and  compassion to one another.”  This is similar to what James teaches in the New Testament, that is, faith without works is not faith.  You can do all the good and right rituals, but if you lack in justice, mercy and compassion, all your works and rituals are in vain.  Jesus said the same to the Pharisees many times.  Jesus was quite upset with the Jewish leaders because they failed to live justly and care for others as they should, even though they did all the religious things they could find to do.  Again, the same is true for us today. Evangelicals have complained over the years about the liberal church’s approach to these things.  Evangelicals say the liberal churches are too involved in social justice activity while they neglect God’s salvation.  That might well be true, but on the other hand, Evangelicals need to consider social justice matters along wit the faith they claim to have.


In verse 10 God continues by telling the Jews not to oppose the widows, fatherless, alien, or the poor, something James in the New Testament says to Christians as well.  It appears that the Jews were not only neglecting these groups of people, they were actually opposing them. 


In verse 11 God says that “they did not pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs…”  The word “they” refers to the Jews of old, prior to the Babylonian captivity.  They failed to hear the word of the Lord and do it, the same word that God was speaking to the Jews of Zechariah’s day. 


In  verse 12 God said to this present generation of Jews, that their forefathers did not hear the word of God spoken to them by the Spirit through the prophets of old.  For this reason God was very angry at Israel and that is why they were led into captivity.   God does get angry at His people.  He does act justly, and sin demands justice in the form of judgment.  This has always been the case with God and still is.  The cross of Christ has not changed this as some might think.


Verse 13 is interesting.  Some today don’t think that God acts this way today, and really didn’t back in Zechariah’s day either.  God says that when He called out to Israel they didn’t listen.  That’s a historical fact.  But when the time came for Israel to need help from God and they called out to Him, God responded in the same way they responded to Him.  He did not listen.  Once again, the same can still happen today.


All this resulted in God scattering the Jews throughout the known earth and leaving their land to decay as seen in verse 14.  God did this in times past.  He did it in 70 AD.  He’s done it with the church over the last two thousand years.  When His people get stubborn and go their own way, He’ll let them go and He will scatter them, leaving their land in total ruins.  How many churches have you seen fall into decay and ruin.  We may not have thought it, but most likely this was God’s judgment in action.


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