The captives' inquiry respecting fasting. (1-7) Sin the cause of their captivity. (8-14)
Verses 1-7 If we truly desire to know the will of God in doubtful matters, we must not only consult his word and ministers, but seek his direction by fervent prayer. Those who would know God's mind should consult God's ministers; and, in doubtful cases, ask advice of those whose special business it is to search the Scriptures. The Jews seemed to question whether they ought to continue their fasts, seeing that the city and temple were likely to be finished. The first answer to their inquiry is a sharp reproof of hypocrisy. These fasts were not acceptable to God, unless observed in a better manner, and to better purpose. There was the form of duty, but no life, or soul, or power in it. Holy exercises are to be done to God, looking to his word as our rule, and his glory as our end, seeking to please him and obtain his favour; but self was the centre of all their actions. And it was not enough to weep on fast days; they should have searched the Scriptures of the prophets, that they might have seen what was the ground of God's controversy with their fathers. Whether people are in prosperity or adversity, they must be called upon to leave their sins, and to do their duty.
Verses 8-14 God's judgements upon Israel of old for their sins, were written to warn Christians. The duties required are, not keeping fasts and offering sacrifices, but doing justly and loving mercy, which tend to the public welfare and peace. The law of God lays restraint upon the heart. But they filled their minds with prejudices against the word of God. Nothing is harder than the heart of a presumptuous sinner. See the fatal consequences of this to their fathers. Great sins against the Lord of hosts, bring great wrath from his power, which cannot be resisted. Sin, if regarded in the heart, will certainly spoil the success of prayer. The Lord always hears the cry of the broken-hearted penitent; yet all who die impenitent and unbelieving, will find no remedy or refuge from miseries which while here they despised and defied, but which they then will not be able to bear.
Zechariah 7:1-14 . II. DIDACTIC PART, SEVENTH AND EIGHTH CHAPTERS. OBEDIENCE, RATHER THAN FASTING, ENJOINED: ITS REWARD.
1. fourth year of . . . Darius--two years after the previous prophecies ( Zechariah 1:1 , &c.).
Chisleu--meaning "torpidity," the state in which nature is in November, answering to this month.
2. they . . . sent unto . . . house of God--The Jews of the country sent to the house of God or congregation at Jerusalem. The altar was long since reared ( Ezra 3:3 ), though the temple was not completed till two years afterwards ( Ezra 6:15 ). The priests' duty was to give decision on points of the law ( Deuteronomy 17:9 , Matthew 2:4 ). Beth-el is here used instead of Beth-Jehovah, because the religious authorities, rather than the house itself (designated "Beth-Jehovah" in Zechariah 7:3 ), are intended. The old Beth-el had long ceased to be the seat of idol-worship, so that the name had lost its opprobrious meaning. "The house of the Lord" is used for the congregation of worshippers headed by their priests ( Zechariah 3:7 , Hosea 8:1 ). MAURER makes the "house of God" nominative to "sent." HENDERSON makes "Beth-el" so.
Sherezer--an Assyrian name meaning, "Prefect of the treasury."
Regemmelech--meaning, "The king's official." These names perhaps intimate the semi-heathen character of the inquirers, which may also be implied in the name "Beth-el" (Hebrew for "house of God"), so notorious once for its calf-worship. They sent to Jehovah's house as their forefathers sent to old Beth-el, not in the spirit of true obedience.
pray before the Lord--literally, "to entreat the face of," that is, to offer sacrifices, the accompaniment of prayers, to conciliate His favor ( 1 Samuel 13:12 ).
3. Should I weep in the fifth month--"I" represents here the people of God (compare Zechariah 8:21 ). This rather favors MAURER'S view, taking "the house of God," the congregation, as nominative to "sent." Their hypocrisy appeared because they showed more concern about a ceremony of human institution (not improper in itself) than about moral obedience. If, too, they had trusted God's promise as to the restoration of Church and State, the fast would have now given place to joy, for which there was more cause than for grief [PEMBELLUS].
to the prophets--Haggai and Zechariah especially. The tenth day of the fifth month was kept a fast, being the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 52:12-14 ). They ask, Should the fast be continued, now that the temple and city are being restored?
separating myself--sanctifying myself by separation, not only from food, but from all defilements (compare Joel 2:16 ) as was usual in a solemn fast.
5. Speak unto all--The question had been asked in the name of the people in general by Sherezer and Regemmelech. The self-imposed fast they were tired of, not having observed it in the spirit of true religion.
seventh month--This fast was in memory of the murder of Gedaliah and those with him at Mizpah, issuing in the dispersion of the Jews ( 2 Kings 25:25 2 Kings 25:26 , Jeremiah 41:1-3 ).
did ye . . . fast unto me?--No; it was to gratify yourselves in hypocritical will-worship. If it had been "unto Me," ye would have "separated yourselves" not only from food, but from your sins ( Isaiah 58:3-7 ). They falsely made the fast an end intrinsically meritorious in itself, not a means towards God's glory in their sanctification. The true principle of piety, reference to God, was wanting: hence the emphatic repetition of "unto Me." Before settling questions as to the outward forms of piety (however proper, as in this case), the great question was as to piety itself; that being once settled, all their outward observances become sanctified, being "unto the Lord" ( Romans 14:6 ).
6. did not ye eat for yourselves?--literally, "Is it not ye who eat?" that is, it is not unto Me and My glory. It tends no more to My glory, your feasting than your fasting.
7. Should ye not hear the words--rather, "Should ye not do the words," as their question naturally was as to what they should do ( Zechariah 7:3 ); "hearing" is not mentioned till Zechariah 7:12 . The sense is, It is not fasts that Jehovah requires of you, but that ye should keep His precepts given to you at the time when Jerusalem was in its integrity. Had ye done so then, ye would have had no occasion to institute fasts to commemorate its destruction, for it would never have been destroyed ( Zechariah 7:9-14 ) [MAURER]. Or, as the Margin, "Are not these the words" of the older prophets ( Isaiah 58:3 , Jeremiah 14:12 ) which threatened a curse for disobedience, which the event has so awfully confirmed. If ye follow them in sin, ye must follow them in suffering. English Version is good sense: Ye inquire anxiously about the fasts, whereas ye ought to be anxious about hearing the lesson taught by the former prophets and verified in the nation's punishment; penitence and obedience are required rather than fasts.
the plain--southwest of Jerusalem. They then inhabited securely the region most unguarded.
9. speaketh--implying that these precepts addressed to their ancestors were the requirements of Jehovah not merely then, but now. We must not only not hurt, but we must help our fellow men. God is pleased with such loving obedience, rather than with empty ceremonies.
10. imagine evil--that is, devise evil. The Septuagint takes it, Harbor not the desire of revenge ( Leviticus 19:18 ). "Devise evil against one another" is simpler ( Psalms 36:4 , Micah 2:1 ).
11. pulled away the shoulder--literally, "presented a refractory shoulder"; an image from beasts refusing to bear the yoke ( Nehemiah 9:29 , Margin).
stopped . . . ears--( Isaiah 6:10 , Jeremiah 7:26 , Acts 7:57 ).
12. hearts . . . adamant--( Ezekiel 3:9 , 11:19 ).
Lord . . . sent in Spirit by . . . prophets--that is, sent by the former prophets inspired with His Spirit.
therefore . . . great wrath--( 2 Chronicles 36:16 ). As they pushed from them the yoke of obedience, God laid on them the yoke of oppression. As they made their heart hard as adamant, God brake their hard hearts with judgments. Hard hearts must expect hard treatment. The harder the stone, the harder the blow of the hammer to break it.
13. he cried--by His prophets.
they cried--in their calamities.
I . . . not hear--retribution in kind ( Proverbs 1:24-26 , Isaiah 1:15 , Micah 3:4 ).
14. whirlwind--of wrath ( Nahum 1:3 ).
nations whom they knew not--foreign and barbarous.
desolate after them--after their expulsion and exile. It was ordered remarkably by God's providence, that no occupants took possession of it, but that during the Jews' absence it was reserved for them against their return after seventy years.
they laid . . . desolate--The Jews did so by their sins. The blame of their destruction lay with themselves, rather than with the Babylonians ( 2 Chronicles 36:21 ).
pleasant land--Canaan. Literally, "the land of desire" ( Jeremiah 3:19 ).