This reading serves as a transition between the visions of the present, (chapters 1-6) and those of the near future, (chapters 9-11), and the more distant future, (chapters 12-14). Chapter 7 discusses fasting over past disasters while chapter 8 focuses on feasting over future blessings. Zechariah’s messages or sermons were prompted by delegates from Bethel who posed a practical question. Zechariah did not answer this question until chapter eight (verses 18-19). Before he answered the question he asked a rhetorical question that focused on people’s self centered motives. Next he outlined God’s expectations for Israel and then he recounted what had happened to those who had previously disobeyed. The events of these two chapters occurred nearly two years after the visions of the first six chapters. The delegates who came to Zechariah were asking God to grant a petition or perhaps rule on a question. This would have been accompanied by some sort of sacrifice or offering. This question was not earth shattering but rather practical. This fast that was observed in the fifth month commemorated the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. and had been observed during the 70 years of Babylonian captivity. The people wanted to know if they should continue since they were now back home. Rather than answer right away Zechariah confronted the delegation with their selfish hypocrisy. The most important issue wasn’t procedural, it was to determine whether or not their heart’s desire was to please God and do His will. If not then it didn’t matter if they continued the fast or not.
According to Jeremiah the 70 years of exile were supposed to make up the Sabbath years of rest for the land that had gone unobserved for almost 500 years. While the summer fast lamented the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the early autumn fast was either the commemoration of Gedaliah’s assassination or the day of atonement. Biblical fasting is meant to be time taken from the normal routine of preparing and eating food, to express humility and dependence on God during a time of prayer. There was only one required fast in the law and that was on the day of atonement. Zechariah believed both the people’s fasting and their feasting was motivated by self interest rather than a desire to honor God. He questioned their behavior as being the same as that of their ancestors who were acting in the same manner. They too had been self serving and ignored the prophets the Lord had sent to move them to return to true worship of the one true God. The message Zechariah received from the Lord hi-lighted the same practical concerns many of the prophets raised, and it sounds a lot like Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 1:11-17, and Micah 6:8. Widows, orphans, the poor and foreigners did not have any legal protection so they were most often taken advantage of. For the prophets and the Lord, fasting and social justice go hand in hand. Sacrifices and worship are of no interest to the Lord if there is no practical piety involved.
Zechariah reminded the delegation that their ancestors ignored God’s commands, stubbornly turning away. But the Hebrew here signifies being haughty. In fact they were like little kids who put their fingers in their ears so they can’t hear. This placed the full responsibility upon the people for their obstinacy. This is the same expression that is used of pharaoh when he became stubborn and hardened his heart against God and refused to release the Israelites. Making their hearts as hard as stone or flint means to steel one’s self against the will of God. They did not want to hear God’s laws and commandments as taught and interpreted by the prophets. That is why God was so angry with the people. And because the people refused to listen to Him, now God will refuse to listen to them. The scattering of the Jews among the nations was one of the curses for violating the Mosaic covenant, (Deuteronomy 28:36-37). Because of their disobedience their land, which was once beautiful was then made desolate and mostly wild animals lived there. The beautiful or pleasant land was the land of God’s covenant promise to Abraham but the desolation was God’s judgement on their covenant unfaithfulness and idolatry.
Chapter eight is connected to chapter seven because of the fasting question, and the ethical demands of covenant faithfulness to the Lord. The tone and message shift from admonition and judgement to exhortation and restoration. True fasting would change to feasting. Again we see the Lord state His passion for Jerusalem but He is also passionate or zealous for his people. He longed to bless them with His presence and in turn desired their worship. Passion, jealousy, and zealousness are basic Old Testament elements of who God is. God’s passion identifies Him as a personal deity, not some abstract natural force. God is passionate for His word and for the people of His covenant, and His passion results in punishment for sin, restoration for repentance, and reward for the pursuit of righteousness. The great hope of the postexilic community was that the Lord would return to dwell among His people again. Here God announced “I AM returning”. He would return to Jerusalem not just because the temple had been rebuilt but because the Hebrew community had been purified. Jerusalem will be called the city of truth, a title that will happen only when the Messiah brings His glorious reign to that city. Then, the land will be holy. Isaiah compared Jerusalem to a faithful woman who became a prostitute. Now Zechariah shared Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem’s change into a faithful city, or a city of truth.
Zechariah predicted that in the future Jerusalem would be inhabited and secure. The longevity of the citizens and the children playing in the streets suggests the city’s prosperity and divine blessing. Their once normal life will resume in the once decimated city. It is the return of God’s presence that brought peace and safety to the people. The rhetorical question in verse six implied that nothing is too marvelous for the Lord. God is able to do the impossible and the miraculous. Nothing is too hard for the God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. He will rescue His people from the ends of the earth to which they had been scattered. East to west signifies all parts of the earth here. And again we see God’s promise…they will be His people and He will be their faithful and just God. Verses 9-13 show the reversal of Jerusalem’s fortunes as the temple was rebuilt.
Just like God encouraged Joshua as the Israelites prepared to enter the promised land, God once again offers the encouragement to be strong and finish the task. The foundation of the temple was laid in 536 B.C. This was the initial work of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest. However, this project was quickly abandoned and not resumed until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prompted it some 16 years later. The neighboring people had opposed the rebuilding of the temple. Later enemies opposed Nehemiah rebuilding of the city wall. Zechariah recounted the desperate situation in Judaea before the work in the temple resumed. In the past the people had been subject to God’s discipline. In view of God’s gracious purposes and future plans for His people, they were called to be diligent in their present efforts to serve Him with sincere hearts. Peace, shalom, is an important theme underlying Zechariah’s message. God’s presence in the rebuilt temple would bring peace to Judah, and Zechariah used the agriculture cycle to representGod’s blessings. This would reverse the drought Haggai described. Once again there would be bountiful crops and enough dew to make them flourish. The small community that returned to Judah from exile was called the remnant. Theologically, this remnant was the bridge between God’s punishment and His promise of restoration. Twice God encourages the people to be strong and start building the temple. It is almost as though God cannot wait to have the temple once again so that He can be amid His people. How amazing is it that the creator of literally everything wants so badly to be in the midst of his people. But we see even more of God’s character in verses 14-15. Twice He used the word determined. First God was determined to punish the people for their sins and disobedience. And He did. But God is also determined to bless the city of Jerusalem and the people of Judah, the remnant. By repeating this word twice Zechariah emphasized God’s sovereignty.
As Zechariah winds down his messages he details the ethical obligations of a life of faith. He upheld the positive values of truth and justice and he condemned evil plans and false oaths. God expects His people to act with integrity and justice. All people were to be treated equally…justly. This will lead to peace among the people. In Zechariah’s time the people were guilty of the same sins that brought about the Babylonian exile. Such behavior put God’s plans for restoration in danger. God commanded the people to stop scheming, and telling lies. God hates these things. He ends with a series of statements that all begin with the words, “This is what the Lord of Heavens armies says”. It is here that the Lord finally answers the question brought by the delegation from Bethel. The fast in early summer commemorated the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls in 586 B.C. The midsummer fast lamented the burning of Solomon’s temple. The fast of autumn marked the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor of Judah. This could also be the day of atonement. The fast in winter recalled the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. These fasts will turn into feasts when God restores Israel and sets His glory among the nations. God encourages His people to love truth and peace.
What follows is Zechariah’s announcement of a great turning of the nations to God. During the Messianic era a multitude of people from many places will go to Jerusalem to seek the Lord. These Gentiles will be included among the people of God by faith. See Ephesians 2:13-19. People will come to Jerusalem seeking God’s blessings. In Hebrew the number 10 is used to both indicate a large number and a complete number. Because of the restoration and the blessings and peace of God’s people, many will look for Jews, grab hold of them and ask to go to Jerusalem with them. The good news has spread that God is once again amidst His people and many want to receive His blessings, repent, and believe.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W