Zechariah 7:1-3 Ritual means nothing unless there is an inward spiritual reality that produces a response from the heart. This is exactly the problem surfacing in Zechariah 7 and 8. Religious observances had turned into lifeless ritual. It has been almost 2 years since Zechariah received the eight visions recorded in Zechariah 1-6. The walls of the Temple were going up, and the city itself was experiencing a measure of prosperity again. The Jewish people were no longer living in the Hinnom Valley for God had begun to keep the promises He had made through Zechariah.
A delegation of men was sent from the town of Bethel to ask the priests in Jerusalem if they should continue the fast and observe a day of weeping in the fifth month. When the Babylonian captivity came 90 years earlier, fast days were established to commemorate their national calamities. These fast days included:
1) a fast in the fourth month to commemorate the final breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
2) A fast in the fifth month to remember the destruction of the Temple.
3) A fast in the seventh month to remember the murder of Gedaliah, the governor of Jerusalem, placed in power by Nebuchadnezzar after the final deportation of the Jews and
4) A fast in the tenth month to memorialize the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. God had only commanded his people to observe one fast day—Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement” (Leviticus 16:29;23:27,29,32).
But the people had increased their burden by adding four more days. This tends to be the way of religion, spirituality is seen when we can have outward observances. This delegation had a reasonable question. Was it necessary to continue all this ritual? After all, the Jews were back in control of Jerusalem so these observances had lost their meaning. What had once been full of meaning was now no more than empty ritual.
Zechariah 7:4-7 We have no record of the priests answering but the Lord gave His answer through Zechariah. But the question really being asked here is are we serving ourselves or God? The answer came in the form of questions that questioned their motives in Zechariah 7:5-6.
The Lord asked, when they observe feast days, are they for your enjoyment or in appreciation for what the Lord has done? In other words, God was asking, where do I fit into your rituals? It was evident that the Lord had no part in them. The fast days were exercises in recalling their calamities. As we said the Lord never instituted these fasts and evidently He was not remembered in the observance of them.
In Isaiah’s time they asked ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls and You take no notice?’ ” (Isaiah 58:3). But if they wished to have a fast, Isaiah advised, here was one for them: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help your relatives, let go of those fraudulent contracts you forced others into, let the oppressed go free; there’s a “fast” if you want one. But that was not the sort of thing they were hoping God would say.
Isaiah’s point, and the point of this text, is that if we want to serve God rather than ourselves, there is a proper set of priorities to observe: obedience takes precedence over sacrifices; walking humbly with God is more important than scores of rituals (1 Samuel 15:22-23;Micah 6:6-8).
Zechariah 7:7 provides the key to understanding this issue: Zechariah reminded them that if they had listened to the Word of God given by the earlier prophets they never would have gone into captivity. The events remembered by their fasting would never have come about. Had they obeyed God’s Word, there would have been no calamities and no need for the fasts. God’s Word to them is very simple: listen to the prophets speaking Gods’ Word rather than going through meaningless rituals.
Zechariah 7:8-12 God had given past generations specific commands about how to obey and please Him and they are spoken in Zechariah 7:9-10. God’s people are to practice truth, to be fair and impartial, to exercise kindness and consideration, and not take advantage of the helpless or plot evil against other people. James or Jacob as he was then known summed this up in the New Covenant in James 1:27.
In spite these commands and promises of blessings for obedience, they and our fathers refused to listen will we? They were compared to an ox that would not take the yoke. They refused to hear His Word and their hearts became hardened. But they were been careful to retain their rituals. They went through all the motions of piety, went to the Temple, observed the holy days, and even added extra ones. In spite of their religious practices they were charged with refusing to listen to the message God had for them.
Nothing has really changed we do the same today. Disobedience to God’s Word inevitably results in judgment as Zechariah 7:12 states. This is the same Lord of hosts who had so many times previously helped Israel. He had been with them and had fought and won their battles for them. But when the nation turned from obeying His Word, He brought several judgments upon them.
Zechariah 7:13-14 Although they cried out in prayer, He would not hear. Why should He listen when they would not listen to Him? (Psalm 66:18). They were scattered among the nations, losing their homeland. This was a direct fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28. The land of milk and honey became desolate. As we said Zechariah never answered the question regarding the fasts.
Zechariah instead caused them to think about the underlying more important spiritual issues. He longed for them to turn back to God’s Word and obey it. The last generation had refused to listen and had suffered the horrible consequences. Learn from your father’s mistakes, Zechariah was saying. If they had only obeyed the Lord in important matters, the problem of fasts would have been easily disposed of. It is easy to get caught up with ritual and allow spiritual reality to slip away; religion can become more important than a relationship with the Lord and obeying His Word.