Zechariah 7 Commentary Verses 1-7: Let’s turn our attention to the 7th chapter of the book of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah.
Zechariah 7 begins a new section in this book. Up to this point, Zechariah started his book with a message from the Lord commanding the Jews to turn to him so that he might turn to them. Well, they turned, so he turned as well.
And part of that turning of God to his people has been all of those visions that he gave them in the first 6 chapters of this book.
But today in chapter 7 we start into new material. Because all of chapters 7 and 8 are one section in which some Jews ask Zechariah a question and then the Lord answers the question with four separate responses through his prophet Zechariah.
So, let’s read the section that we’ll cover today – verses 1-7 of Zechariah, chapter 7.
[Read Zec 7:1-7…]
Zechariah 7 Commentary: The Introduction (7:1-3a)
Now, let’s just notice this first verse once more. It serves to introduce this section of chapters 7 and 8…
KJV Zechariah 7:1 ¶ And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, [even in/which is] [Chisleu/Chislev/Kislev];
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Fourth Year of Darius
Now, there are a number of events in the Old Testament associated with this king mentioned in verse 1. But of all of those events, what we have here in the 7th chapter of Zechariah is the latest.
When Darius became king of Babylon or Medo-Persia, finally the Jews were able to start rebuilding their temple. It seems that the coming of this king allowed for the work on the temple in Jerusalem to start back up again – and until he was king the work had been hindered and abandoned.
We see mention of temple activity start back up again under the reign of Darius in that some priests were registered or recorded in his days as king.
It was actually in the first year of King Darius that Daniel the prophet – who was over in Babylon as Zechariah was in Israel – well, Daniel offered his now-famous prayer that caused the Lord to respond with his prophecy of the 70 Weeks.
The prophet Haggai gave three prophecies in the 2nd year of King Darius.
And the prophet whose book we’re now studying has already given two prophecies himself in he second year of this king.
And so now in this chapter we start to see material that is given the latest in the reign of King Darius. At this point we’re not in Darius’ first year or second year. But we’ve come to the fourth year of his reign. And it seems that this is actually the last we hear of this king in the Old Testament.
So, the setting to this section is that we’re in Year 4; Month 9; Day 4 of this Persian king.
And here’s what happened at that time in Zechariah’s life.
2 [When/Now] [they/the people of] [had sent unto/sent] [the house of God/Bethel] Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their [men/companions], to [pray before/seek the favor of/entreat] the LORD,
Zechariah 7 Commentary: House of God/Bethel
Now, this is saying either that people sent these men to “the house of God” or it’s saying that the people of “Bethel” sent these men – depending on the translation you have in front of you.
And this confusion is due to the fact that “Beth-El” translates literally as “House of God.” “Beth” is “house” in Hebrew and “El” is a word to address deity.
So, some translations say, “house of God” and others say “Bethel.”
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Sherezer and Regemmelech
Well, whatever translation you favor, the idea is still the same. There are these two men along with their entourage that are being sent by someone to seek God’s guidance on some matter.
And by the way, we don’t know anything else about these two men mentioned here. There are no references to them outside of this verse in Scripture.
So, these men are sent to seek the Lord. And we see next that they are being sent in order to ask a question to certain people.
3 [And to speak unto/speaking to/by asking] the priests [which were in/who belong to/of] the [house/temple] of the LORD [of hosts/WHO RULES OVER ALL/Almighty], and to the prophets, saying,
The content of their question comes up in the rest of this verse.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Priests and Prophets
But right now, we just need to realize that these men are sent to the priests and prophets in Jerusalem. They have a question of a religious nature and so, in Old Testament times, who else do you go to for advice on such matters but priests and prophets?
Zechariah 7 Commentary: In the House of the Lord
And these priests are in the house of the Lord or are in some other way affiliated with the temple.
Now, the reality is that the temple was not yet totally finished. We learn from Ezra 5:11 that the temple was completed in the 6th year of Darius in about 516 BC. And do you remember what year we’re in at this point in Zechariah 7? We’re in the 4th year of Darius – which would be around 518 BC. So, the temple is not yet completed at this point. How much of it was done? I don’t know. I’m guessing that a decent amount of the temple was finished.
But however much of the temple was there or not, these priests had their headquarters stationed around the temple complex. And that’s where these visiting Jews that have come with a question for them – this is where they find these men.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: The Jews’ Question (7:3b)
So, what’s their question? Here it is in the rest of verse 3.
[Should/Shall] [I/we] [weep/mourn] in the fifth month, [separating myself/and abstain/fasting/and fast], as I have done [these so many/these many/over the] years?
So, these men want to know – should they mourn and fast / weep and separate themselves in the fifth month?
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Fifth Month
Now, what month are we in in this chapter? According to verse 1, we’re in the 9th month. So, these men are looking forward about 8 months and wondering if they ought to weep and fast in that month.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Fasting
So, the question that should immediately come to your mind is… Why are these men fasting in the 5th month? And why have they been doing this for so long? They say they’ve been doing this for “these so many years.” Why?
Well, a review of Jeremiah chapter 52 reveals that the 5th month was the very month in which Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. They burned the temple to the ground. And that all happened in the 5th month way back about 68 years prior to Zechariah 7.
And so, apparently the Jews as they were in exile in Babylon adopted this practice of fasting and mourning in the 5th month of the year. They were remembering year after year the destruction of their special city, Jerusalem. They were remembering the sin that had led to that destruction. And their response – at least the response of those who were more noble among them – was to be sad and to be so sad that they couldn’t eat.
Have you ever been there? To be so sad that you can’t even eat? And you’re just pouring out your bitterness to the Lord? And at the same time, you’re aware that your own sin has brought this sorrow to you. That’s where these Jews had been for almost 70 years – especially when the anniversary of the destruction of their city rolled around.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Should I?
So, why do they ask if they should keep doing this? Why would they even think that this practice should perhaps be halted?
Well, think of what’s going on at this time in their lives. The very city that had been invaded and destroyed by Babylon has been in the process of being rebuilt! And the Babylonians have sent these very people back to the very city that they once destroyed.
Also, consider that a central part of the rebuilding of Jerusalem had to do with rebuilding their temple. And at this point in history the Jews are apparently about 1 ½ to 2 years away from this temple being completely rebuilt.
And so, it makes sense for the Jews to wonder if they still ought to mourn and weep and fast – all commemorating the destruction of this place that is now almost completely rebuilt!
I mean, it’s like Mary and Martha and Lazarus. The sisters are weeping while their brother is dead. But when Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead… How inappropriate would it have been for Mary and Martha to keep weeping? When your dead loved one is raised from the dead, there’s no more cause for weeping!
And so, with the Jews of Zechariah’s day, they are wondering if they ought to keep weeping and mourning and fasting to remember the destruction of this city which in their days was being basically “resurrected.”
So, that’s their question. Should we keep commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem in the 5th month of the year?
Zechariah 7 Commentary: God’s Response
And God responds to the Jews’ question with four answers that take up the remaining material from here in verse 4 clear through to the end of chapter 8.
So, let show you how I’m getting four responses. Each response begins with this phrase “the word of the Lord came.”
Look at the very next verse – chapter 7, verse 4. “Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me.” And from there to verse 7 you have God’s first response to these people’s question.
Then look at verse 8 of chapter 7 – “And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah.” And so, from there to the end of chapter 7 you have God’s second response.
Look at chapter 8 and verse 1. “Again the word of the LORD of hosts came to me.” And from verse 1 to verse 17 you have God’s third response to these people’s question about fasting.
And last, look at chapter 8, verse 18. “And the word of the LORD of hosts came unto me.” And from there to the end of chapter 8 you have God’s last response.
OK – so, four responses over these two chapters to this one question of whether these people ought to continue fasting and mourning in order to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem about 70 years prior to this point in history.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: God’s First Response (7:4-7)
So, let’s look at God’s first response to this question. Verse 4 again.
4 Then came the word of the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all/Almighty] unto me, saying,
5 [Speak/Say/Ask this question] unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, [saying/as follows],
So, God is going to respond to their question with his own question.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Unto All the People
And he wants this question to go not just to those who asked. He doesn’t even want his question limited to the priests and prophets who had been approached by these men. No – the Lord wanted all of the people of the land to hear his question to them.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: The People’s Fasting was and is Self-Centered
And now we’ll get into the question itself. What does God want to ask these people that in some way is going to serve as an answer to their question about fasting and mourning in light of the destruction of Jerusalem?
Well, the Lord is going to probe the nature of this fasting that these people are engaged in.
God responds to them by pointing out that their fasting (or their abstaining from eating) – and even their engaging in eating – is all self-centered. And he goes on to state that this is what these people had been condemned for for a long time by the earlier prophets.
That’s a summary of God’s response. So, now let’s get into the details of the end of verse 5 to verse 7.
Now, first we see the Lord calling these people to account for their selfishness even in these religious rituals of theirs.
When ye fasted and [mourned/lamented] in the fifth and seventh month, [even those/these/through all these/of the past] seventy years, [did ye at all fast unto me, even to me/was it actually for me that you fasted/did you truly fast for me-for me indeed]?
Zechariah 7 Commentary: For Me?
And of course, the answer that God is expecting is a negative – “no, we have not really been fasting for you.” The Jews had then been apparently engaged in more of what the prophets of old condemned them for. They had been clinging to ritual without the heart reality to go along with it.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Ill: Church Attendance
And this is so easy to happen for God’s people. Let me ask you – why are you at church today? It’s a Sunday and here you and I are in a building that calls itself a church. And of course, we trust that a local expression of Christ’s body is indeed here in our midst and that we – the people who have been born-again through faith in Jesus Christ – that we make up this church.
And at our best, our answer is going to include wanting to worship the Lord. We’re going to say that we want to be a blessing to his people. We might even be so sophisticated in our theological knowledge that we say that we want to follow the New Testament pattern of assembling with believers in Christ on the first day of the week – and so, here we are!
Those are good answers. They are the correct answers. And yet, I think that we can acknowledge that sometimes those answers that we give for why we assemble on Sundays – we know they’re true – but that maybe it not what’s really in our hearts.
When it comes down to it, people all across the world are in churches for various reasons. A person who shows up at church could be there to look good. To look moral. Even though inwardly there is gross immorality, at least if you show up at church you can feel a little better about yourself. A person might show up at a church because – well – that’s just what my family has been doing for years or it’s just what I’ve been doing for years and it’s a comfortable routine at this point.
But those reasons don’t cut it. If you or I are assembled here today because of those or other selfish reasons that I haven’t mentioned, then we might be holding to some external ritual that the Lord even commands. But there’s not internal reality that fuels the ritual.
For these Jews, there was nothing wrong with fasting. God commends the practice in both Old and New Testaments. There’s nothing wrong with the practice of withholding food from yourself.
The problem was – and is in our day as well – when people practice religious rituals without the corresponding internal realities behind those rituals.
So, keep coming to church. But make sure that your reason for being here is right – that it’s not selfish and self-gratifying and self-glorifying. Or you might get a rebuke like this from the Lord.
OK, so the Jews’ fasting in the 5th and 7th months were selfish. They weren’t for the Lord.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Seventh Month
And by the way, did you notice that the Jews didn’t mention the 7th month – but the Lord did?
Now, the fast of the 5th month is a little easier to understand. But the reference to an additional fast in the 7th month is a little more difficult to identify.
I think that the best explanation of why the Jews were fasting in the 7th month is that according to Jeremiah 41:1 this was the month in which Ishmael – who was a royal heir – attacked and murdered Gedaliah who was the governor of the Jews after Babylon came in and destroyed Jerusalem.
From there you might recall that Ishmael basically kidnapped all the remaining Jews and tried to take them to another country. Then one of the Jewish leaders fought Ishmael. Ishmael fled. And then, against God’s will, the people who liberated the Jews from Ishmael brought them down into Egypt.
It was a total disaster. Disobedience on every side.
Ishmael’s antics and what followed was all a great national tragedy that was closely associated with the destruction of Jerusalem. And so, apparently, the Jews were mourning both of those events – the destruction of Jerusalem and the kidnapping-then-liberation-then-exile of the remaining Jews into Egypt.
And God says that in these seventy or so years that passed between those events and now, the ritual had become rote. The Jews were not fasting to be noticed by the Lord and answered.
But it’s not just their fasting – their abstaining from food – that’s been selfish. Their eating – their partaking of food – also has been full of self with a general disregard of the Lord.
6 [And when/When/And now when] [ye did eat, and when ye did drink/you eat and drink], [did not ye/do you not] eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
Zechariah 7 Commentary: For Yourselves
The point seems to be that especially before Zechariah and Haggai came and started preaching to these Jews, they had all been engaged in life as usual.
Now, these Jews were not sent to live life for themselves, but rather to do God’s work. They were supposed to be building the temple. They were commissioned by man (the Persian king) and by God to go do this.
But they became discouraged. There was opposition. So, the work went undone for some 16 years.
In that time – yes – these people had been eating and drinking and fasting – all for themselves. They were not living life with a regard for the Lord and his will and his plans and his purpose in this world. In New Testament terminology, these people had not been “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” They were merely engaged in “all these things” that Jesus promises to give us as we’re seeking first God’s interests.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Seeking First God’s Kingdom
So, let me ask you – are you seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? Let’s put it this way – what does God have you here for? Why does he have you in the house that you’re in? Why did he lead you to the work that you’re doing? Why are you and I in the cities that we find ourselves in?
Does God have us in these places so that we can make a name for ourselves? Did God put you where you are to punch the clock and to get your pay and to spend your money on living a pleasant life – ONLY? Is that all that this life is about? To live the American Dream?
Or has God put you and me where we are and when we are in order to influence various people around us for Christ? Hasn’t the Lord given you your paycheck in order to provide the needs of your family and the needs of others and the needs of his church? The money that he puts into your bank account and the time that he gives you and the family he’s given you and the acquaintances and the friends and all of these things – he wants you and me to use them – to do business with them for his kingdom.
And he’s going to have us give a report to him on how we’ve used these things in this life. Has it all been spent selfishly – your time and money and talents? Or have you and I been serving the Lord with these things? That will be determined at the judgement.
And for now, we still have time. Let’s not be found to be in the situation that these Jews are being accused of here – where everything they do is done with no thought about the Lord. Brethren, our lives are not our own. We’ve been bought with a price. And the only fair payback – that doesn’t even get close to a full repayment – is that we give our lives to the one who gave his life for us.
Now, this message that God is giving the Jews is not something new. No, in fact the preceding rebuke is just what these people have heard before from the earlier prophets. That’s what the Lord says in verse 7.
7 [Should ye not hear/Are not these/Should you not have obeyed]the words which the LORD [hath cried/proclaimed/cried out] [by/through] the [former/earlier] prophets, when Jerusalem was [inhabited and in prosperity/inhabited and prosperous/peacefully inhabited/at rest and prosperous], and the cities thereof round about her, [when men inhabited/and were inhabited/and were populated] the [south/Negev] and the [plain/foothills/Shephelah/western foothills]?
Zechariah 7 Commentary: Former Prophets
So, it’s not as if the Lord is dropping any new revelation on these people in a way. This kind of message, rebuking the people’s selfishness is what they’d been hearing for hundreds of years prior to the Lord giving them this message through Zechariah.
You might recall that in Isaiah 58 the Lord there criticizes the way in which the Jews had been fasting. Their fasting was selfish. Sounds like a familiar charge, doesn’t it?
Isaiah said that the Jews sought their own pleasure when they fasted. They got into fistfights on such days out of their own competing selfishness. That was not the kind of fast that the Lord wanted. And this is something that the Lord revealed somewhere around 300 years before Zechariah’s message here.
There’s also the reference in Amos 5 where the Lord rhetorically asks the Jews if they were sacrificing to him those 40 years they were wandering in the wilderness. And then he answers his own question by revealing that the Jews had been worshipping false gods when they were in the wilderness.
So, these are a few examples of “former” or “earlier” prophets that had said about the same things as what God is now saying through Zechariah.
The Jews’ religious rituals had been tainted by their own selfishness. It wasn’t about the God that they claimed to worship or seek as they fasted. What they were doing was removed from any internal heart reality.
And so, this is how God begins to respond to the Jews. They ask if they should keep fasting and mourning. And God declares that up to this point, their most sincere religious exercises have been done of out selfishness. In other words, God says, “I’m not impressed with what you’ve been doing.”
But, that’s only one-fourth of his total answer. Next time we’ll see him add more to his response.