Zechariah 7: 3b “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
In Zechariah chapter 7, we see a few of the Jews had been sent by others to ask whether they should continue to mourn and fast in remembrance of the destruction of the temple. At this point the work on the rebuilding of the temple was well underway. The fasts were held in the fifth month, when King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and in the seventh month, when Gedaliah, their governor was murdered and all the people fled as they were afraid of what the Babylonians would next do (2 Kings 25).
These dates held a significance to the people and for all the years during their forced exile they mournfully observed these days. But now, with the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem, the question was posed to Zechariah to inquire of the Lord if should they continue to observe these days of fasting and mourning.
God’s word through Zechariah addressing the people and the priests was not a simple yes or a no, but instead a reproach.
A reproach from God for selfish and insincere fasting. Why?
God questions their intent behind the fasts. Was it done for God? God points out that they live life more for themselves rather than God the rest of the time (verses 5 and 6).
They were clinging to ritual without true genuineness and heart reality that should go with it.
Hosea 6:6 says “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”.
Their hearts did not sincerely pursue God as they observed the fast over the years and neither did their behaviour reflect obedience the rest of the time and so the days of fasting were meaningless in God’s eyes.
The actions of a person do not always reflect the true state of their relationship with God.
For us: Let’s say, if we go to church on Sunday, we have to ask ourselves ‘why are we there’. To fulfil an obligation to the family that wants us to attend along with them? To look like an upright and moral person? To feel a little better about ourselves? Or do we attend out of habit because it has become a routine. Does our life led from Monday to Saturday reflect a life lived only for ourselves or with a focus on Jesus as the Lord of our lives?
Following rituals or habits without true meaning to it, is done not to glorify or please God but is done more so for the person doing it. In Mathew 6 we see Jesus talk about the motives behind fasting, praying and giving.
Mathew 6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
As we continue on in the chapter, we see that God’s word to them through earlier prophets was met with inattention and rebellion.
Zechariah 7:11-12 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So, the Lord Almighty was very angry.”
What words of God did they not heed – faithful covenant living consisting of a series of social, moral and ethical commands.
Zechariah 7:9-10 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
God already questioned their intent about fasting that highlighted their relationship to Him. And now, God shifts His focus to how their treat each other.
Jesus says in Mathew 22 that the two greatest commandments are to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and the second is to love your neighbour as yourself.
Mathew 22:36-40 “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The people found it easier to fast a few days instead of being obedient to HIM and treating others in the way God commanded. Their disobedience reflected on the state of their relationship with God.
True faith and the work of His grace in our hearts will reveal itself in our attitudes and behaviours especially to those around us.
1 John 4:11-12 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
What was the consequence of their disobedience – corresponding judgement.
Their disobedience and disregard for God and His word led them to flee their land and be scattered. And when they called, God did not listen to them because they did not listen when HE called them.
Hardness of heart towards God and His word does not happen overnight. It happens over a period of time and the more you do not listen to Him, the easier it gets to ignore His voice.
Let us always check our spiritual state and honestly ask ourselves if we are being real and honest with God, are we listening to His calling, to anything that He has been pointing out to us or are we reading His word just to fulfill a routine without waiting upon Him to speak and teach us through scripture.
Habits are good, but let not that which is good become meaningless by taking away the real purpose of those habits – communion with God, a true relationship with Him that refines and grows us and allowing Christ to flow through us with the presence of the spirit within us.