WHEN FASTING TURNS TO FEASTING Part Five
Things that are very special often become common after a period of time. A young couple will often appear deeply in love but after marriage find their love has lost its zing and wonder where it went. A particular place that meant so much becomes common after several visits.
Even in spiritual things, that first love and zeal for Christ fades, and worship and service often become almost drudgery. The Lord’s table, which should bring our minds back to Christ and the cross, perhaps no longer stirs our souls as it once did. Reality often slides into ritualism. Yes, we go through the motions, but it is not like it used to be.
God’s people are often caught up in the motions and rituals. They get trapped into doing, rather than obeying. The Lord wants His people to have a tender heart toward Him. He desires that with implicit, simplistic faith we trust Him and be obedient to His Word. When we meet these requirements, He can bless our lives. The writer of old put it so well, “… Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
The Issue 7:1-3
The Immediate Situation
Two years had passed since that night on which Zechariah received his eight visions. The walls of the Temple were going up. The city of Jerusalem was experiencing a measure of prosperity again. The Jews were no longer down in the valley below the city looking up with hope. They were back home. God had begun to keep His promises made through the prophet. Things were much better.
A delegation was sent from the town of Bethel. Headed up by Sharezer and Regemmelech, it was dispatched to determine from the priests in Jerusalem whether or not they should continue the fast of the fifth month each year. Apparently, when the captivity had come nearly ninety years before, the Jews had established many fast days to commemorate certam national calamities. Some of them were:
- In the fourth month — a fast commemorating the final breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by Babylon,
- In the fifth month — a fast to remember the destruction of the Temple.
- In the seventh month — a fast to remember the murder of Gedaliah, the governor of Jerusalem during the captivity.
- In the tenth month — a fast to memorialize the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem.
The delegation had a reasonable question. Did they have to continue all this ritual which by now had lost its meaning? They were tired of all the weeping, fasting and separation. These practices were getting boring. What had once moved them to tears no longer had any effect on them. They were just going through the motions.
The Instruction 7:4-7
The priests never answered the question of the delegation from Bethel. The Lord gave His answer through the Prophet Zechariah. It came in the form of more questions and instructions. These would go much deeper than the matter of whether or not to continue to fast He would not only answer the men from Bethel, but would provide direction for the entire nation.
The Intention of the Fasts
Zechariah answered by questioning their motives. Do you fast for the Lord’s sake or your own? When you observe feast days, are they for your enjoyment or in appreciation for what the Lord has done? In other words, God was saying, “Where do I come in?” It becomes very clear that the Lord had no part in their ritual. It was purely a pity party bringing to remembrance their past calamities. The Lord had never instituted these fasts, nor was He remembered in them.
They were tired of all the weeping, fasting and separation. These practices were boring. What had once moved them to tears no longer had any effect on them. They were just going through the motions.
The Illumination of the People
Verse seven is the key to understanding the whole issue. Zechariah reminds the people that had they listened to the Word of God given to the former prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Amos, and Micah, they never would have gone into captivity in the first place, Then there would have been no need for these fasts. They should have been listening rather than going through meaningless ritual.
This was a reminder to the people of Zechariah’s day. They had just returned to the land from the captivity. God did not want them to fall into the same trap as their fathers, that of meaningless ritual. What He really wanted was for them to obey the Word of God. Faithful obedience to His Word always brings blessing. Today, we also need to learn this lesson taught in the New Testament by Paul, “Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The Lord is more interested today in our obedience, rather than our ritual.
The Inexcusable Disobedience 7:8-14
God had given the past generations inflexible commands as to how to obey and please Him, These are summarized very briefly in verses eight and nine.
They were to practice truth. They were to be fair and impartial. They were to exercise kindness and consideration, without taking advantage of the helpless. Neither were they to conjure up evil against their fellowman.
In fact, what the prophet said here is the essence of the entire Book of James. That, too, is summarized in one verse. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (Jas. 1:27).
The Indifferent Heart
In spite of God’s commands and promises of blessing for being obedient, their forefathers absolutely refused to listen. They were like an ox that would not take the yoke. They plugged their ears not to hear. They made their hearts as hard as a diamond.
Ritual they had! They went through all the motions. They went to the Temple. They observed the holy days. However, they would not listen to God’s message.
The Inflexible Judgment of God Upon Sin
The result of disobedience to God’s Word always brings judgment. Verse twelve tells us, “… therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.” This is the same Lord of hosts who had so many times previously helped the nation of Israel. He had been with them. He had fought and won their battles for them. But when the nation turned from obeying His Word, it was He who brought judgment upon them. These judgments were as follows:
- Though they cried out in prayer, He would not hear. Why should He listen? They would not listen to Him, The psalmist declares the same message, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). The principle is still the same today.
- They were scattered among the nations, thus losing their homeland.
- The land of milk and honey became desolate. It was denuded of trees, It was depopulated. There was nothing left but emptiness and desolation.
In chapter seven, there is no direct answer to the question about keeping the fast given to the delegation. Zechariah had diverted their minds from an insignificant question to far greater issues. His desire was to get them to face up to God’s Word and obey it. The last generation had refused to listen and suffered the consequences.
“Learn from your fathers’ mistakes,” Zechariah was crying out to the people. So soon after disaster they were turning back to a lifeless ritual that had destroyed their parents. If they would obey the Lord, the smaller problem of fasts would soon fall into its proper place.
The Inexhaustible Love of God For Israel 8:1-17
Zechariah seven and eight form an inseparable unit. Chapter seven gives us the negative aspect of God’s answer. The Lord of hosts dealt in judgment. But, in chapter eight, the picture changes. We see the positive side. It looks ahead to a day yet future. Though the term, Lord of hosts, is used sixteen times, here He will not judge, but bless. The question of whether or not to keep the fasts is answered in a way far greater than they ever anticipated. He will so bless His people in the future that they will do away with the fasts. They will experience only feasts instead.
The Return of the Redeemer
There is a day promised when the land of Israel will no longer know hardship, suffering, dispersion and decay. The Lord himself will lift the curse from the land. The Redeemer will personally return to the land with great fury poured out on her enemies. He will Himself dwell in Jerusalem. He will finally make it the holy city He has always desired it to be.
The Resultant Peace
Some of the greatest casualties of war are among civilians. Those who suffer especially hard are the elderly and the little children. Here, the Word promises peace in that the elderly and children will fill the streets.
The Regathering of His People Israel
In the day of Zechariah, a small group of Jews returned from Babylon. Here, we have His people returning from all over the world. The Hebrew of verse seven says, “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the sun.” They will not only return to Jerusalem, but as a nation, they will finally turn to the Lord, thus fulfilling Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel shall be saved. . . .”
The Restoration of Prosperity to the Land
The prophet cries out for the regathered nation to take courage. Times had been very hard. But, things will change. There will be a better day. Rain will come when needed. The harvests will be abundant. There will be national prosperity. In addition, Israel will no longer be a cursed people, but a blessed one instead. However, He reminds them to be faithful to His commands.
The Results of God’s Blessing 8:18-23
The original question of the delegates from Bethel was whether or not they should keep man-made fasts. No direct answer has been given so far. But, finally it comes. He tells them in verse nineteen that all their weeping and fasting was for naught. He will so bless them in the Millennium that their fasts will be turned to feast days. They will no longer sorrow and weep, but will be full of joy and gladness continually. There will be no need for fasting anymore.
Not only will Israel rejoice and feast, but people from all over the world will join with them. Christ will be on the throne in Jerusalem. The world will seek Him. They will join with the Jew in worship and prayer in their city. What a day that will be!
Finally, we have in verse twenty-three one of the greatest promises ever given to the Jewish people. Since the Gentiles will seek the Lord, and Christ will be in Jerusalem among His people, the world will rush to befriend a Jew. He (the Jew) will be like a magnet attracting the world to himself, and telling the nations of the reality of God in Christ.
A simple question regarding whether or not the people should keep a fast opens up these two chapters to some of the greatest promises of God ever given to His people.
The Jewish people were looking back. They were tied down to memories of defeat. What should they do? Keep on fasting? In essence, the Apostle Paul discusses the same problem and gives the answer. ” . . forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Dear Christian, are we tied to tradition? Are we bound by ritual? Are we living on past experiences? Let us look beyond them, trust the Lord and be obedient to His Word,for “… Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).