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Four Enduring Messages

Zechariah 7:4-5 4Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: 5“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?’”

Zechariah 7:8-10 8And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: 9“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’”

Zechariah 8:1-3 1Again the word of the LORD Almighty came to me. 2This is what the LORD Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”3This is what the LORD says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”

Zechariah 8:18-19 18Again the word of the LORD Almighty came to me. 19This is what the LORD Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”

Background Notes:

Zechariah was an Old Testament “post-exilic” prophet who ministered to the Jewish people when they returned from their 70 year exile in Babylon. Zechariah, along with the prophet Haggai, was called and used by God to motivate the people to complete the rebuilding of the Temple of the Lord which had been destroyed by the Babylonian armies in 586BC. In a series of eight visions, four messages and two “burdens,” Zechariah challenged and encouraged his contemporaries to continue the work of the Lord because great blessings were planned for the restored nation—both in Zechariah’s day and in the future.

In chapters 7 and 8, we have Zechariah’s four challenging messages to the Jewish people—two messages in each chapter. Notice that each message begins, “Then the Word of the Lord came to Zechariah…” (7:4, 7:8, 8:1 and 8:18). It is important to realize that these messages were the direct word of the Lord to the people through the prophet Zechariah, and each message builds upon or amplifies the previous messages.

Zechariah 7:1-3 tells us that the four messages are the Lord’s response to a question raised by a delegation of Jews from Bethel. These concerned Jews had traveled 10-15 miles to ask the priests and prophets in Jerusalem whether or not they should continue to mourn and fast in the 5th and 7th months, as they had done for many years. These sorrowful fasts were not commanded by the Lord in the Mosaic Law—they began after Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. The fast of the 5th month commemorated the destruction of Solomon’s Temple on the 9th day of Av. This same date is still remembered today by many Jews, since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70AD also occurred on the 9th of Av. This Hebrew month comes in July or August of our calendar year. The fast of the 7th month commemorated the assassination of Gedaliah who was the governor of Judah after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. You can read about this murder in Jeremiah 41.

The delegation from Bethel had kept these fasts for 70 years in Babylon, but were wondering if they should continue the commemorative fasts now that they had returned to the Land and the Temple was being rebuilt. The priests apparently didn’t have an answer. However, the Lord gave Zechariah the answer —but not a direct answer. In the four messages given through Zechariah, God exposed the hypocritical hearts of many of the people and showed how different the future will be, when Messiah’s kingdom will be set up and there will be no more need to fast.

Because hypocrisy is still a problem in the Church today, and because the peace of the Messiah’s literal kingdom on this earth is still in the future, Zechariah’s four messages are enduring messages. Each message speaks to the hearts of God’s people today.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points:

1. The Lord desires righteousness rather than ritual. 

Zechariah 7:4-7 contains the first message and it was a message of rebuke. In this first message the Lord rebuked the people for the way that they kept these fasts. The practice of mourning and fasting in commemoration of a terrible event was not wrong, but the Lord rebuked the priests and the people because they were keeping the fasts for insincere and selfish reasons. They were not fasting to the Lord as repentance for the past sins that led to the exile, or from true sorrow for the destruction of the Temple—their fasting was mere obligatory ritual. They were just going through the motions, and this was hypocrisy. Unfortunately the same was true for their celebration of many of the religious feasts as well. The people were eating and drinking for selfish reasons—their hearts were not right with God. Their lives were not characterized by righteousness, but by ritual.

What was true in Zechariah’s day is true today as well—the Lord hates hypocrisy. The Lord desires true righteousness, not religiosity. Why do you go to church? Is it just a weekly ritual, or do you go to church because you truly want to worship the Lord and learn from His Word? Are you bored and weary with church, attending for selfish reasons like “looking spiritual” to your friends, or because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do, or even because you’ve “always gone to church”? Where is your heart, really? The Lord desires righteousness rather than ritual!

2. The Lord desires compassion rather than complacency.

Zechariah’s second message is found in chapter 7, verses 8-14, and it was a message of repentance. Not only were many of the people just going through the motions when they fasted, but they were also falling back into their old ways of ignoring social justice and failing to show compassion for the poor and needy. That self-centered lifestyle was the very reason why God sent them into exile in Babylon for 70 years! God had sent many pre-exilic prophets to the nation with warnings about their selfish ways and predictions of the coming captivity. Remember the prophetic messages of Isaiah and Jeremiah and many other prophets? But the people didn’t listen. They shrugged their shoulders at God, refused to listen and turned their backs on Him (v11). If they had responded to the message of the prophets then, the Lord would have spared the nation from exile and His Temple from destruction, and obviously there would have been no need for the mourning and fasting of the 5th and 7th months.

Now what about the new generation that had returned from captivity? Would they show compassion and mercy for the widows and the orphans and those who were oppressed, or would they resume the lifestyle that led to the captivity? And what about us? Do we show compassion and care for those who are in need, or are we busy with our own lives, “feathering our own nests,” and caring only for our own interests? Recently a Christian who wanted to discuss the politics of the Middle East wrote to our website. After several e-mails back and forth, we told him that if he really wanted to help meet the needs of some of these people, we could help him contact some of our friends who are both Arab and Jewish believers in the region. We haven’t heard from him since. Did he really care about needy people, or did he just want to argue politics?

Having concern and compassion for the poor and helpless is not just a mandate for God’s people of Old Testament times. His people today also need to be concerned about social problems. For example, James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” We must not be indifferent or unconcerned about social issues, or merely discuss the problems of needy and oppressed people—we should do something to help! If you’re wondering what you can do, just start thinking about people you know who could use a helping hand, and then go and do something to help them! In addition, your local church can help you find Christian ministries through which you can encourage and share with people who are in need, both in this country and abroad. Remember, the Lord desires compassion (not just talk!) rather than complacency.

3. The Lord will turn problems into peace.

 Zechariah’s third message (8:1-17) was a message of restoration for both the near future and the far future. In fact, the promised restoration and rebuilding of the Temple that took place under the leadership of Zerubbabel anticipated and looked ahead to the full restoration and blessing to come in the reign of the Messiah. In verses 9-17, the Lord promised immediate blessing to the people of Zechariah’s day. The problems and opposition that they had faced when they first returned from captivity and started rebuilding would be removed. Their land would be prosperous and the people would be blessed instead of disciplined (v15). All God asked of them was this: “Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor and do not love to swear falsely” (v16-17). In other words, if they wanted God’s blessing, He asked that they practice truth, justice and peace.

The Lord’s requirements for holy living then should speak to the hearts of God’s people today. Each of us should take a good look at our lives. Is my life characterized by truthfulness, or do I practice subtle deceptions with my family, my boss and my friends? Am I fair and just with others in business dealings, or am I known for being shrewd and dishonest? Am I a peacemaker, or do I cause disruption in every fellowship I attend? The Lord’s requirements of truth, justice and peace are just as applicable today as they were in the 6th century BC.

The immediate restoration and blessing in Zechariah’s day anticipated the greater restoration and blessing to come with the Messiah, and that’s covered in the first part of the message. Because the Messiah was rejected at His first coming, the complete fulfillment of the prophecy in verses 1-8 awaits the second coming of Christ and His millennial kingdom. “Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain” (v3). People of all ages will be at peace in Jerusalem, and the city streets will be filled with children playing (v4-5). That certainly isn’t the situation in Jerusalem today—her citizens face many problems and violent opposition. But in the future, all the difficulties and the opposition will be replaced with blessing and peace when the Lord returns.

We know this prophecy was not fulfilled in past times because verse 7 says that the Lord will bring His people back from the east and the west. Jews have never returned to Israel from the west until modern times. And this is just the beginning! Great blessing will take place in the future, when the Jewish people return to the Lord, and when the Lord Himself “will return and dwell in Jerusalem” (v3). The Lord will turn problems into peace.

4. The Lord will turn fasts into feasts.

 
Zechariah’s fourth message (8:18-23) was a message of rejoicing! Two more fasts are mentioned in verse 19. The fast of the 10th month remembered the siege of Jerusalem, and the fast of the 4th month recalled the capture of Jerusalem. Zechariah’s message from the Lord is that all these sorrowful and empty fasts will be turned to happy festivals and joyous feasts when the Messiah sets up His glorious kingdom on earth. Then there will be no more need to fast!

The fasts mentioned in Zechariah’s messages commemorated events that took place in the past because of the faults and shortcomings of the ancient nation of Israel, but all that will be forgotten with the feasts of the future kingdom. Then all believers worldwide will come up to Jerusalem to pray and celebrate (v20-22). In that day, Israel will be a channel of blessing for the nations of the world. There will be no hatred or anti-Semitism then (v23). What a great day that will be! The original question of the delegation from Bethel was answered by the Lord’s messages through Zechariah. The Lord will turn fasts into feasts!

Practical Application:

What seems like a big deal to us is only “another day at the office” for the Lord!

That’s essentially what Zechariah 8:6 means: “’It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to Me?’ declares the Lord Almighty.” In other words, don’t get the idea that these wonderful prophetic blessings of the future will be hard for God to accomplish. No way! God is God! The predictions of great blessing and all problems solved may have seemed unbelievably wondrous to the people of that day, but not for God—it’s the norm for him! How true that is for us today. I trust that your God is not too small! Have you had the faith to see God at work in your and in your fellowship? Or have you only heard about the great work of the Lord in the lives and ministries of others? You too can experience the wonderful works and blessings of the Lord in your life and in your family and in your church and your fellowship groups. No matter what difficulties, problems or opposition we face, God is able to handle any and all of them! “God can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), “With men it is impossible, but not with God. With God, all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). What seems like a big deal to us “just another day at the office” for the Lord!
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