Summary: Our religious ritual can make us feel like we are the extra faithful when we are really failing to give God what He wants.
- We had several night visions one after the other in the chapters up to this point in Zechariah. As we come into chapter 7, two years have passed. And there are signs of progress on the temple – the walls are rising!
- So is everything great? Not exactly.
- The people of Bethel come with a question for the Lord. God has an answer for them, but it’s not the one they’re expecting.
THEIR "TIRED" QUESTION: Do we have to keep being extra faithful?
- Some men from Bethel (which means “house of God,” so there’s probably some symbolism going on there) comes to ask the priests if they have to continue to maintain the mourning fasting in the fifth month.
- At this point, some historical context is key.
- There was only one fast that was permanently mandated for Israel by the Mosaic Law. It concerned the Day of Atonement. Over time, though, Israel added other fasts for other significant occasions. This was almost certainly a well-intentioned pursuit.
- In this situation, the fast had been added to remember the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians. It had become a ritual.
- So they are coming to God through the priests to ask, “Do we have to continue to keep this extra fast?”
- This is an obvious issue in the modern church (as it has been throughout the church age).
- We add things onto our faith, they get to be comfortable routines, we get familiar with the ritual, and we get to where we can’t imagine our faith without them.
- An example? Let’s consider for a moment the service that we are in right now – the Sunday evening service. It’s so familiar to us that most of us presume it’s an obvious and undisputed sign of Christian maturity. Sunday evening services started in America in the early 1800s as an evangelistic outreach. Eventually, that evangelistic aspect died away (you’d be hard pressed to find an unsaved visitor in any Sunday evening service most weeks), but we maintained the service. Even now, for many of us the Sunday evening service is an obvious part of Christianity and we’d strongly object to getting rid of it. That would be heresy! But the truth is that the Bible doesn’t tell us to have multiple services on Sunday – and it doesn’t tell us not to. I’m not saying all this because I want to get rid of Sunday evening services – I think we have good ones – or to say that Sunday evening services are wrong – because they’re not – but rather to say that over time something additional becomes an essential part of being a faithful Christian.
GOD'S RESPONSE: Quit being extra faithful? You’re not being faithful.
- So Israel thinks they’ve been extra faithful and now they need a break. God does not share their opinion.
- God poses three questions.
a. v. 5 – Fasts.
- God asks, “Were the fasts for Me?” Well, who else could they have been for? They could have been to impress those around them. They could have been to feed their own spiritual pride. They could have been empty ritual.
- It looked like spiritual activity outwardly, but nothing was apparently going on in the heart.
b. v. 6 – Feasts.
- Many of you know that God had instituted a number of festivals in the Mosaic Law. They were opportunities to praise God, worship Him, and remember what He had done for them. These were big deals – multi-day events with substantial budgets.
- But here again we see that the original purpose was not being fulfilled. They were feasting for themselves. It’s a similar situation as we just noted in v. 5. The motives were wrong.
c. v. 7 – Weren’t you warned?
- Finally, God tells them that this is not a news flash. He warned them about this outcome with the earlier prophets. In fact, part of the reason that Israel went into captivity in Babylon runs along these lines.
- Notice that God never directly answers their question. Because they were asking the wrong question.
- I want to note that as troubling as these verses are, I haven’t yet discussed the four words I find the most troubling. It’s the words “the past seventy years.” Those words are terrifying.
- Why? It represents such a long time of going through a religious ritual and yet God here is rejecting what they’re offering.
- Often we presume that if we’ve been doing something for a long time in church or in our spiritual lives that the length of the time automatically means that God is pleased with our life or church offering. I mean, after all, we couldn’t be wrong for that long, right?! How horrible would that be – to spend seventy years doing a religious practice only to have God look at you and say, “That was a waste.”