Zechariah: An Old Testament Lesson About New Testament Joy

…Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going…

Zechariah 8:21

While answering the Jews’ question about whether to continue their fast which they had started observing several times a year while in captivity (7:1ff), the Lord gave Zechariah an encouraging message for those who were rebuilding the temple and “have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present” when that project had begun (8:9b).  God wanted their hands to be “strong” (8:9a), reminding them that while times had been bad due to a poor economy and adversity from their enemies at the start of the temple construction due to their apathy and disobedience (8:10; cf. Hag. 1:6-11; 2:15-19), He would now “not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days” (8:11).  Now “there shall be a sowing of peace” as God allowed the crops of “the remnant of his people” (the minority of the Jews who had returned to Judea from Persia) to survive and be harvested (8:12; cf. Lev. 26:3-6).  (It’s possible that this specific prophecy has a double meaning, referring also to the “remnant” of these Jews’ descendants who would accept Christ as their Messiah – Rom. 11:5ff).  The “house of Judah and house of Israel” would no longer be “a byword of cursing among the nations” because God would “save” them and allow them to “be a blessing” (8:13a).  For these reasons, He wanted the temple rebuilders’ hands to “be strong” (8:13b).

Zechariah continued to give them an encouraging message from the Lord:  “…As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts, so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not” (8:14-15).  What did God want them to do?  “…Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord” (8:16-17).  This is more proof as to the unchanging nature of God.  He had wanted the same things from earlier generations (Gen. 6:5; Prov. 6:16-19; Mic. 2:1-3; Hos. 4:1-3), and He wants the same for Christians today (Eph. 4:25; 1 Tim. 5:21; 6:4; Rom. 13:8ff).

The prophet then gave the Jews God’s answer to their question about their fasts:  “And the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts.  Therefore love truth and peace’” (8:18-19).  Remember, God had not commanded these fasts.  The Jews had come up with their observance completely of their own accord.  They commemorated the coming of the Babylonian army (the tenth month – 2 Kings 25:1), the breach the Babylonians made in Jerusalem’s wall (the fourth month – Jer. 39:2), the burning of the temple (the fifth month – 2 Kings 25:8), and the killing of Gedaliah (the seventh month – 2 Kings 25:25).  God wanted them to observe them no longer.  Now they were commanded to feast instead of fast, and to do so with joy, gladness, and cheerfulness, loving truth and peace.  Their joy would motivate those in the cities around them to serve the Lord as well (8:20-23).

Christians, there is a reason the Lord wants us to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16).  Yes, there is a place for fasting in Christianity…but it is not to be advertised like our joy must be (cf. Matt. 6:16-18).  Our joy is evidence that we are spiritual (Gal. 5:22-23).  We are commanded to never grumble or complain; by doing so we “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15; cf. Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12), part of what motivates others to join us in serving God.  Let us take this to heart and make it part of the gospel we share!

— Jon

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