“…was it for me that you fasted?…”
Almost two years after he had received the eight visions from God (compare 7:1 to 1:7), “the word of the Lord came to Zechariah.” The “people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord” (7:2a). “Bethel” had been the city where Jeroboam had promoted idolatry centuries earlier (1 Kings 12:28-29), but the term itself literally means “house of God,” a reference to the temple which was still under construction at that time. Thus, it’s more likely that Jews involved with the temple had sent this delegation “to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets” (7:3a). Wanting to “entreat the favor of the Lord” (7:2b), they asked, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” (7:3b). “Abstain” refers to fasting (cf. 7:4ff). “The fifth month” was the time of year in which the temple and Jerusalem had been destroyed (2 Kings 25:8-11; Jer. 52:12ff). The Jews had apparently fasted and mourned on this day – and in the seventh month, as well as other times each year for similar reasons (7:5; cf. 2 Kings 25:25ff; Jer. 39:1-2ff; 41:1-3; 52:6ff; 2 Kings 25:1ff; Zech. 8:18-19) – all throughout the decades of their exile and wanted to know if they should continue to do so now that the temple was being rebuilt.
In response, God directed Zechariah to ask “all the people of the land and the priests” this question: “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” (7:4-6). These were significant questions, considering that in the entire Law of Moses, the covenant which the Jews were obligated to obey, God had commanded that they observe only one fast: the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27ff). If they were burdening themselves with something which God had actually not required of them, were they doing so for God…or for themselves? God’s questions to the Jews were rhetorical (cf. Prov. 30:6) and showed that their mourning and self-affliction from the times of fasting throughout their exile was not out of genuine, penitent regret of the sins they had committed which had led to their exile. Rather, it was done out of self-pity and a desire to show God how pious they were by their own standards instead of obeying His revealed will.
This is made clear when we see how the Lord had reminded them that this same admonition had been given to them “by the former prophets” at the time before their Babylonian captivity “when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous” along with the other cities in that area (7:7). Jeremiah and the other prophets had urged them to obey God’s will in those days, just as Zechariah did now by urging them to “render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (7:8-9; cf. Jer. 7:5; Mic. 6:8; Ezek. 18:8-9; et al). Yet they had refused to listen to them, choosing instead to stubbornly follow their own will which resulted in the punishment from God which “scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations they had not known” (7:11-14; cf. Heb. 12:3-13).
This is part of the Old Testament so that New Testament Christians can learn from it (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s thoughts and ways are not our own (Is. 55:8-9). Oftentimes “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). Many professed Christians have “itching ears…accumulat(ing) for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). They will be surprised on Judgment Day, all because they chose not to obey God (Matt. 7:21-27). May we not be among their number! Let us choose to follow the Bible and the Bible alone!