A Delegation from Bethel

    Zechariah 7: 1 – 14 

In the fourth year of the reign of King Darius of Persia, a delegation was sent from Bethel to Jerusalem to “seek the favor of the Lord” (v.v. 1, 2). 

Verse three: “Speaking to the priests who belonged to the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, ‘Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?’” 

The men who came from Bethel were not so bound to the priests they ignored or didn’t trust the prophets, who by the gifts that has been given them, were well qualified to answer the question they asked. They were not so impressed by the words of the prophets they rejected the words of the priests. They spoke to both the priests and to the prophets, and, in consulting both; they gave glory to the Lord that one Spirit works in all called by the Lord. 

The delegation wanted to know if they should continue the fasts initiated by the priests and observed during the seventy years of captivity and the twenty years following Cyrus’ proclamation permitting the captives to return to their homeland. 

The captives observed four anniversary fasts, one in the fourth month, in remembrance of the breaking down of the wall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:6), another in the fifth month, in remembrance of the burning of the temple (Jeremiah 52:12-13), another in the seventh month, in remembrance of the killing of Gedaliah, which completed their dispersion, and another in the tenth month, in remembrance of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1). Here only one, that of the fifth month is mentioned.

The question seems to imply a readiness to discontinue the fast. The question that may have been on the delegation’s mind, but was not asked, would discontinuing the fast be evidence of a false sense of security or add to the displeasure of the Lord. In their present situation, the people were still in distress, and under the Lord’s displeasure. 

From the human viewpoint, the Lord has changed His method of dealing with His people, why continue the feasts? Since the Lord is returning to them in the way of mercy would, it not be proper to change their method of performing their duties as the children of the Lord? It seems as if the main concern of the delegation is the fast held on the fifth month, the remembrance of the burning of the temple. Now that the temple was almost completely restored is there any reason to keep this fast? However, having kept it for seventy plus years the delegation felt it would not be a good idea to discontinue the fast without approval from the priests and prophets. 

Should we abandon or alter a good and productive method of religious services, which we have found beneficial to others and ourselves because of the changes taking place in our society and the world? What should be our purpose for coming to the house of the Lord? The delegation’s purpose for coming to the house of the Lord was to pray and seek the will of God in this matter of the continuance of the fasts. Our purpose for coming to the house of the Lord should be to pray and seek the will of the Lord for our lives and to worship Him. It is not for entertainment. 

When we present our requests to the Lord, it must be with a readiness to receive instructions from Him. If we refuse to listen to what the Lord has to say to us, there is no way we can expect the Lord to accept our prayers. The question we should bring before the Lord is not, what will You do for me, but what can I do for You, even though You don’t need my help. 

In His answer to the question, the Lord of hosts asked the question, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?” 

Here is another of those questions, although not stated as such, “consider your ways?’ Consider what you are doing and why. The answer to the question involves not only the delegation, but to all the priests and people of the land. We are included in the answer. 

The Lord of hosts asked this question because the question the delegation from Bethel asked seems to be more concerned about the ceremony than about the substance of it. They seemed to be boasting of their fasting, and implying The Lord should have returned to them in mercy sooner then He did. It appears they are asking the Lord to give them a reason why He has not returned in mercy to them sooner than He did as the people in Isaiah’s day asked “Why have we fasted and You do not hear? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice? (Isaiah 58:3). 

What was the source of the question the delegation asked, unbelief? If they had given the fasts the credit that was due to them, there was no reason why they should doubt that they should lay the fasts aside, now that the occasion of them was over. Therefore, the first answer to the question is a very sharp reproof of their hypocrisy, directed not only to the people of the land but also to the priests who inaugurated the fasts, and were keeping them to serve some purpose of their own. The Lord of hosts wanted the priests and the people to know He was not made a debtor to them by these fasts. In fact, they were not acceptable to Him. 

What the priests and people were doing was not wrong. They did it in the right way. The Lord was not charging them with omission or neglect of their duty. He was charging them with a wrong intent. He was telling them those who come seeking God’s mercy must first be willing to admit their faults, a hard thing to do. Those who are zealous for the performance of a duty ought to examine themselves faithfully whether they have the right attitude regarding the duty. They must ask themselves, why I am doing what I am doing. 

The Lord of hosts appeals to the consciences of the delegation. They will be a witness against them if they have not been sincere in the performance of their duty and their worship of the Lord. They need to understand and we need to understand, there is One who is far greater then the consciences. One who knows the heart and knows all things will be a witness against them. 

The Lord of hosts makes it very clear what they did was not for Him but for themselves. In their fasting and worship, there was a form of godliness but they lacked life, soul, and power. The stress was upon the repetition of the rituals instead upon the worship of the Lord. Even those who were seeking to please the Lord and obtain His favor, and sincere in their intention to find favor in His sight were wanting. This is why in the sight of the Lord their fasts was a mockery and provoked Him. They were using the fasts as a covering for their sin. There fasts were like Jezebel’s fast, or as the Pharisees’ fasts that rested in outward expressions of humiliation while their hearts were not humble.  

If our fasting and praying, though frequent and long do not bring us into a stronger relationship with the Lord. If they do not increase godly sorrow for our falling short of the glory of the Lord and our mistakes and alter the temper of our minds and the course of our lives for the better, they do not at all answer the purpose of fasting and prayer. They have the same purpose of eating and drinking. Something we have always done. 

In verse seven, the priests and the people are told what the Lord of hosts has said is not something new. The question seems to imply they have forgotten. 

Verse seven – “Are not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills in inhabited?” 

The good thing the captives should have done they left undone. On their fast days, the captives wept and separated themselves from their daily activities as a sign of their sorrow for the judgments they were under. This was not enough. What they should have done was search the Scriptures and they would have seen the reason for God’s controversy with their fathers, and might have taken warning by their miseries not to tread in the steps of their iniquities.

The delegation asked, “Shall we do as we have done, in fasting, the answer is no. You must do what you have not done, repent of your sins and change your lifestyle. This is what Zechariah is calling the people to do, just as the former prophets called the fathers to do. 

The affliction that has come upon the people was to wake them up. Bring them to repentance. Put in their minds the former flourishing state of their country: Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous as well as the cities and country around Jerusalem. However, the Lord, by the prophets, cried out to the fathers, “amend your ways and doings, or else your prosperity would soon be gone.” Zechariah told them, “you should take notice of that, and understand that what was required of them for the preventing of the judgments they didn’t do. If you don’t do what is required of you for the removal of the judgments all you’re fasting and weeping signify nothing.” The words of Zechariah agree with those of the former prophets. Whether people are in prosperity or adversity, they must leave their sins and do their duty; this must still be the message of every sermon. 

Zechariah dealt with the fathers’ disobedience and what was the consequence of it in chapter one and now here again. The disobedience of others and the consequences should be a warning to us. God’s judgments upon Israel of old for their sins were written for admonition to Christians (1 Corinthians 10:11). 

In verses nine and ten, Zechariah preached the sermons the former prophets preached to the fathers of the priests and the people because the same things were required of them now. 

Verses nine and ten – “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’” 

The duties that are required of the priests and the people here would have lengthening the tranquility of their fathers. The children must fulfill the duties that are required of the priests and people to restore their tranquility. They will not restore their tranquility through the keeping of fasts and offering sacrifices but by doing the duties that, they were bound to do by the light and law of nature. Judges must administer justice impartially, according to the maxims of the law and the merits of the cause, without respect of persons and execute the sentence they have decreed. Neighbors must have a tender concern for one another, and must not only do one another no wrong, but must be ready to do one another all the good that lie in their power. They must extend mercy and compassion to their brothers. The infirmities of others, as well as their calamities, they are to look upon them with compassion. They must not deal harshly with those whom they have advantage over and who, they know, are not able to help themselves. They must not business transactions oppress the widow, the fatherless, the stranger and the poor. The must not oppress the weak or take advantage of them. They must not only do no physical harm to others but also must not imagine evil against others in their hearts or wish it. The law of God lays a restraint upon the heart, and forbids the entertaining, forbids the admitting, of a malicious, spiteful, ill-natured thought (Deuteronomy 15:9). 

The fathers of the priests and the people were obstinate and headstrong. They persisted in their transgressions of the law purely from a spirit of contradiction to the law. If it were possible, they would not listen to what the Lord told the prophets to say to them. If they could not avoid hearing what they said, they resolved they would not heed it and looked another way as if the prophet had not spoken. If they did hear what the prophet said to them, and, as it seemed, inclined at first to comply with it, when it came time to respond to what they heard like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke they pulled away and would not submit to the easy yoke and light burden of the Lord’s commandments. On the other hand, they submitted for a short time. They were like the son that said, I go, but did not go. They filled their own minds with prejudices against the word of God, and had some objection to every sermon they heard. They stopped their ears so they could not hear what the prophets had to say to them. 

There is no one as deaf spiritually as those that will not hear the word of the Lord. No matter what they hear or see has an impact upon them. No one is so hard as the heart of a presumptuous sinner and those whose hearts are made hard by their own hardening, and it is just thing that God does when He gives them over to a reprobate sense, to the hardness and impenitence of their own hearts. These stubborn sinners hardened their hearts on purpose lest they should hear what the Lord has to say to them by the written word, by the Law of Moses, by the words of the prophets. They did not regard the words of the prophets, though they were words that the Lord of hosts sent to them, though He sent them immediately by His Spirit in the prophets. In their rejection of the words of the prophets, they insulted the Lord, resisted the Holy Spirit, and grieved Him. The disobedience of the fathers resulted in unanswered prayers, scattering, and desolation. 

Verses thirteen and fourteen – “And it came about that just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen, says the Lord of hosts; but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolate behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.” 

The Lord was highly displeased with His people and His displeasure was just. He required nothing of them but what was reasonable in itself and beneficial to them, yet they refused to honor Him, and in a most insolent manner too. What master would be so abused by His servant and not punish him? Such an implacable enmity as this to the law and the prophets was that which brought the wrath of the Lord upon His people. Sins against the Lord of hosts, whose authority is incontestable, bring the wrath of the Lord of hosts, whose power is irresistible, upon the abusing servant. The effect of the abuse, as they ignored the word of the Lord of hosts He ignored their prayers. As He cried out to them in their prosperity to leave their sins and they would not hear, but persisted in their iniquities, so they cried out to Him in the day of their trouble to remove His judgments, He would not hear them, but lengthened out their calamities. But the Lord has said it, and will abide by it, “He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). Iniquity in the heart will certainly spoil the success of prayer (Psalm 66:18). 

As they rejected their duty and allegiance to the Lord, the Lord threw them about as chaff before a whirlwind among the nations where they could not expect to receive any kindness. They violated all the laws of their land, so God took away all the glories of it: All the country that was the kingdom of the two tribes, after the dispersion of the remaining Jews, upon the slaughter of Gedaliah, were uninhabited. There was not man, woman, or child, in it, until the Jews returned at the end of seventy years’ captivity. The Lord kept the empty for their return. For the present, the judgment appears much more dismal; for what a horrid wilderness must a land be that had been so many years uninhabited. However, the people must understand it was by their own wickedness the pleasant land is desolated. It was not so much the Assyrians and Babylonians that did it they did it themselves. 

The desolation of a land is always due to the wickedness of its inhabitants (Psalm 107:34). This desolation of the land came because of their willful disobedience to the law of God. The present generation saw how desolate sin had made that pleasant land, and they were rejecting the call to return to the Lord.

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