- 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?
- Zechariah 7:1-3.
- 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.
- Zechariah 7:4-7.
- 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.”
- That’s terrifying.
- With all that in mind, what does God really want? Well, the next couple verses provide an answer.
WHAT DOES GOD REALLY WANT? Not empty ritual, but true mercy.
- Zechariah 7:8-9.
- There are a number of phrases you could use to summarize God’s statement here, but I’m going to use “true mercy.”
- They were focused on the religious rituals they were pursuing. God’s focus was elsewhere.
- This is a recurring theme in Scripture, especially notable in a number of Old Testament prophetic passages. Israel is complaining about God not helping them, God rebukes them for having wrong hearts, and Israel says “What are you talking about?” At this point, God’s response frequently goes to things like are mentioned here.
- [Review the list.]
- In one sense, these don’t seem to be religious items. They aren’t about church services or Temple sacrifices, or reading the Word. And yet here they are. Obviously these are evidence of a true faith.
- Lists like this are ones that we in the conservative Christian church in America need to pause to consider. Too often we define true faith in ways that lay these aside.
“WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US?”: God repeatedly sent ignored messengers.
- Zechariah 7:11-13.
- God then lets them know that this is not a brand-new news update. He’s been sending messengers.
a. v. 11 – “refused to pay attention.”
- They turned their hearts in other directions.
b. v. 11 – “turned their backs and stopped up their ears.”
- This takes it a step further. They knew what they were being called to do and turned away.
c. v. 12 – “hearts as hard as flint.”
- Here we have the end result. It’s not necessarily that they were actively rejecting God on a daily or weekly basis. Sometimes it’s that you reject Him often enough that your heart becomes numb to it and you go happily on without reservation.
- This is where the seventy years comes from. Walking on happily oblivious to the call from God.
- Where does this lead? Verse 13 tells us.
- This is not a childish response. “Oh yeah, well if you won’t answer my phone calls then I won’t answer yours!” No, this is where you end up when you are methodically walking away from God.
- When you pray, you’re asking for things that God can’t answer because your heart is so far from His. See as a prime example of this both the health and wealth gospel in America as well as the “American Dream” Christianity that is so prominent.
WHAT'S THE CONSEQUENCE? Divine discipline that brings repentance.
- Zechariah 7:14.
- This type of disobedience leads to discipline from God.
- When God does this, His desire is repentance.
- Israel went through this again and again. Blessing leads to disobedience leads to punishment leads to repentance leads to blessing. And repeat.
- Indeed, in this passage God is sharing these truths with the hope that His people will change their hearts.