Summary: God desires to curb the trend toward formalism in religion which is satisfied with meeting external observation. To obey the moral precepts & principles of the word is infinitely more important than ceremonies & man-made traditions.
ZECHARIAH 7: 1-7
RITUALISM VERSUS SPIRITUAL REALITY
The seventh and eighth chapters are the third distinct division of the prophecy. In the first portion was the call to national repentance and turning to the Lord for His Covenant blessings. After a national turning to God Zechariah was granted eight remarkable night visions which took him from the time in which he ministered to the coronation of Messiah over His world.
Approximately two years have passed since the night visions describing the future of Israel had been given. It is now 518 BC. The Temple was steadily rising before the people's eyes because the obstacles for the completion of the edifice were removed with the decree of Darius which confirmed the original decree of Cyrus (Ezra 6:1-14). The Nation's situation looked promising. Although the walls of Jerusalem were still in ruins and parts of the town were in desolation, the city and the surrounding country side were beginning to take shape again. The question naturally came to the minds of the people that since signs of apparent prosperity were beginning to abound should they continue to observe the days of national sorrow and fasting, which had been instituted in memory of the destruction of the Temple while they were captive in Babylon.
The Lord will again speak through Zechariah and grant an answer of far more depth and reach than was expected. God desires to curb the trend toward formalism in religion which is satisfied with meeting external observation (CIT). What God wanted from His people is true justice in their dealings combined with mercy and compassion for the weak. To obey the moral precepts and principles of the word is infinitely more important than ceremonies and man-made traditions [like abstinence from food and drink enacted while the people were in Babylon].
I. THE QUESTION OF THE FAST, 1-3.
II. THE QUESTION'S SELFISHNESS EXPOSED, 4-7.
A new Word of the LORD comes to Zechariah in verse 1. "Then it came about in the fourth year of Darius, that the Word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chis-lev."
As in the case of Zechariah's opening sermon a date is given according to the Babylonian calender. The fact that it was in the fourth year of Darius that this prophecy came is important. For by this time the decree of Darius given in Ezra 6:1-11 is being fulfilled and the harassment of those rebuilding the temple had been ordered to cease. The Temple is now about halfway completed and sacrifices have begun (Ezra 3:3). After a lapse of nearly two years with the resistance to rebuilding the temple ended Zechariah is again called to prophesy.
The occasion for the oracle is given in verse 2. "Now Bethel had sent Sha/re/zer and Re/gemme/lech and their men to seek the favor of the LORD."
Bethel (meaning house of God) was a well known city located some dozen miles north of Jerusalem. It was the place where Jeroboam set up the golden calves after the division of the tribes of Jacob into Judah and Israel (1 Kings 12:28, 13:1, Amos 7:13). It once had its own sanctuary and priests as an alternate place of worship to God's sanctuary. The coming of this delegation to Jerusalem for divine guidance shows that the severe correction of the Assyrian destruction and exile had done its work. Israel is united again and cured of idol worship.
Apparently Sha/re/zer and Re/gemme/leck were important leaders at Bethel because the other men are referred to as accompanying them on this mission. They are both Babylonian names which suggests they returned from Babylonian exile. The purpose of this mission was to seek -entreat- the favor of the LORD (lit. - to make sweet, pleasant, or stroke the face of the Lord). They came to those whom the LORD had appointed for such circumstances (Deut. 17:9-11; Ezek. 44:23-24; Mal. 2:7). with the question that is troubling them.
The delegation's question is found in verse 3. "Speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the LORD of Hosts, and to the prophets saying, "shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?"
The city of Bethel through its representatives inquires of the priests and prophets as to whether they should continue the self-imposed tradition of mourning and fasting or not. They wanted to be free of this custom.
The fifth month was the month the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple (2 Kings 25:9, Jer. 52:13). When the children of Israel went into captivity they established this time of mourning and fasting to commemorate this national calamity. (Thus they had been having this event for nearly 70 years). (The fifth month fast was only one of five fasts (7:5, 8:19) that were presently held concerning the fall of Jerusalem. [Tabeth fast for when the siege began, Thammuz - capture of city, Ab - burning of City and Temple, Tishri the 7th month - assassinations and massacre.] The O.T. required only one fast - Yom Kipper. Previously when the people apostated from the Lord and He sent chastisement God had been known to issue a call for a period of national fasting (Joel 1:13-14, Jonah). These calls to repentance were never intended to become an annual mechanical season of wailing and fasting.