Summary: In the fourth year of the reign of King Darius of Persia a delegation was sent from Bethel to Jerusalem to “seek the favor of the Lord.”
In the fourth year of the reign of King Darius of Persia a delegation was sent from Bethel to
Jerusalem to “seek the favor of the Lord.”
The men who came from Bethel were not so bound to the priests they ignored or didn’t trust the prophets. They were not so impressed by the words of the prophets they rejected the words of the priests. They spoke to both the priests and to the prophets, and, in consulting both, they gave glory to the Lord that one Spirit works in all who have been called by the Lord.
The delegation wanted to know if they should continue the fasts that were initiated by the priests and observed during the seventy years of captivity and the twenty years following Cyrus’ proclamation permitting the captives to return to their homeland.
In chapter eight verse nineteen we are told the captives observed four anniversary fasts, one in the
fourth month, in remembrance of the breaking down of the wall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:6), another in the fifth month, in remembrance of the burning of the temple (Jeremiah 52:12-13), another in the seventh month, in remembrance of the killing of Gedaliah, which completed their dispersion, and another in the tenth month, in remembrance of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem (2nd Kings 25:1). Here only one, that of the fifth month is mentioned.
The question seems to imply a readiness to discontinue the fast. The question that may have been on the delegation’s mind, but was not asked, would discontinuing the fast be evidence of a false
sense of security or would it add to the displeasure of the Lord. In their present situation the people were still in distress, and under the Lord’s displeasure.
From the human viewpoint there is something to be said in favor of discontinuing the fasts. The Lord has changed His method of dealing with His people. He is returning to them in the way of mercy and would it not be proper to change their method of performing their duties as the children of the Lord?
It seems as if the main concern of the delegation is the fast held on the fifth month, the remembrance of the burning of the temple. Now that the temple was almost completely restored is there any reason to keep this fast? But having kept it for seventy plus years the delegation felt it would not be a good idea to discontinue the fast without approval from the priests and prophets.
Should a good and productive method of religious services, which we have found beneficial to ourselves and others be abandoned or altered because of the changes taking place in our society and the world? What should be our purpose for coming to the house of the Lord? The delegation’s purpose for coming to the house of the Lord was to pray and seek God’s will in this matter of the continuance of the fasts. Our purpose for coming to the house of the Lord should
be to pray and seek the Lord’s will for our lives and to worship Him. It is not for entertainment.
When we present our requests to the Lord it must be with a readiness to receive instructions from Him. If we refuse to listen to what the Lord has to say to us there is no way we can expect the Lord to accept our prayers. The question we should bring before the Lord is not, what will You do for me, but what can I do for You, even though You don’t need my help.
In His answer to the question the Lord of hosts asked the question, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?”
Here is another of those questions, although it is not stated as such, “Consider your ways?’ Consider what you are doing and why. The answer to the question involves not only the delegation, but to all the priests and people of the land. We are included in the answer.
The Lord of hosts asked this question because the question the delegation from Bethel asked seem to be more concerned about the ceremony than about the substance of it. They seemed to be boasting of their fasting, and implying The Lord should have returned to them in mercy sooner then He did. It appears they are asking the Lord to give them a reason why He has not returned in mercy to them sooner than He did as the people in Isaiah’s day asked “Why have we fasted and
You do not hear? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice? (Isaiah 58:3).