THE BOOK OF ZECHARIAH
Don’t Be Stubborn and Not Obey God
Zechariah 7 SCC 3/27/11
How likely is it that your religious posturing is a sham? That is a question this passage forces us to ponder. Religious traditions we participate in can become a vehicle for self-centered and hypocritical self-fulfilling activity. It can serve my desire to look good or seem spiritual. It can become a way to be noticed, appreciated, respected, honored, and elevated. Erecting a façade of religious activity to serve my own purposes. Religious observance that is only superficial and self-serving. The danger is I dishonor God and all of my religious activity has no eternal value whatsoever. Since it is designed to serve my interests, and me there is nothing for which God can reward me. Lacking a sincere heart of devotion and disobeying the heart of God, I am left only with His discipline and not His favor. The previous visions had occurred in one night. The following revelation comes about 22 months later v 1.
THIS IS NO TIME FOR HYPOCRITICAL RELIGIOUS SELF-INDULGENCE 1-7
In 1:7 the visions begin the 24th day of the 11th month in the 2nd yr of King Darius. In 7:1 the messages begin on the 4th day of the 9th month of the 4th yr of King Darius. The significance of this timetable is to pinpoint the entrance of the Bethel delegation as the building of the Temple has been well underway. So the approach of this delegation prompts the word of the Lord to come to Zechariah in response to their inquiry.
Delegations Purpose 2
Bethel is just north of Jerusalem on what is called the Central Benjamin Plateau. This plateau extends from Bethlehem in the south to the Jezreel Valley in the north. It is essentially a ridge route in the heart of the country. This is where most of the Israelite population lived. Up in the hills and valleys of the ridges between the mountains. They had been pushed up into this area because of pressures from enemies like the Philistines on the western coast and marauding bands of Transjordan armies from the eastern boundaries. Now that the Exilic remnant has established itself and rebuilt the Temple, this group of postexilics from Bethel need what looks like some clarification about their religious practices from the more religious astute in Jerusalem.
Delegations Approach and Question 3
First, they inquire of the Lord through the priests and prophets as a matter of formality and legitimacy. They have a question that only the priests and prophets can answer for them. Second, their question is related to a religious practice they have been observing for many years, namely, that of weeping and fasting in the fifth month. Most likely this observance was of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple 70 years earlier (2 Kings 25:8). This was on the 7th day of the fifth month, so the next anniversary was just a few months away.
The problem is that these fasts were not part of the Mosaic Law, thus the inquiry directed to the priests and prophets who knew that Law. This practice had no sanction in Israel’s religious traditions, as did other holy days. Was it appropriate to create holy days to observe occasions that had arisen in the post-Moses period? No with an ecclesiastical structure back in place in Jerusalem it is possible to get an official ruling.
Prophets Answer 4-7
God speaks through His prophet not only to this delegation but extends it to all the people of the land and to the priests v 4-5a. So this becomes a teachable moment! What may have appeared to be an innocent question about the propriety of fasting was instead a question filled of hypocrisy. Instead of piety they were posturing. It’s likely this delegation was trying to impress the prophet more than gain instruction from him. God’s reply is a sharp rebuke.
First, their fasting and mourning was in the 5th and 7th month for 70 long years but had only been an empty exercise designed to enhance not God but an outward show and no inner content to benefit themselves v 5. They added another holy day to possibly commemorate the death of the 1st exilic leader, Gedaliah, who was assassinated by rebels (Jer 40:13-14) on the 7th month of a certain year (Jer 41:1). So for nearly 70 years these twin events of destruction of the Temple and assassination had been commemorated. The prophet’s rhetorical question betrays their motive—‘fasting, did you indeed fast to me, to me, indeed?’ Second, just as they fasted so they ate and drank for their own benefit and to their own satisfaction v 6. All of this religious activity failed to comply with or appreciate the demands of a holy and loving God. Third, this rebuke was also the history of the preexilic past, a time when Jerusalem, its suburbs, and even more distant parts of the realm were occupied and at rest v 7. This is not a new message. It was heard and ignored leading to depopulation and then desolation of the land. The Negev, now a desert wasteland, was habitable and prosperous then. The foothills or lowlands now empty and scarred were inhabited and fertile then. The people are squeezed between these desolations to scratch out a living in the crevices and mountaintops.
The message: If the mighty and prosperous Jerusalem and Judah were overthrown for failing to heed the word of God and follow the heart of God warned by earlier prophets, how much more important for Zechariahs audience to pay strict attention to his words while struggling for its very survival. This is not time for hypocritical self-indulgent religious activity.
LESSON: Remember that no religious practice or activity has self-value. There is no eternal value to anything we do religiously. Bible reading, church attendance, giving to the needy, being a good parent, abstaining from anything only have eternal value if and only if they are done with a correct motive of sincerity in my heart and obedience to God’s heart. What is the Word of God concerning a matter and am I obeying that. They had the word of the prophets. Where God has not spoken is my motive sincere before God or is it for my benefit? If it is for your benefit then don’t seek or expect God’s favor. He has none to give you. Delay your reward until eternity. Have sincere devotion with an audience of one. Seek no credit.
GODS DISGUST WITH RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY PROVOKES HIS WRATH 8-14
We have been hearing recently how ‘love wins’ meaning that God is love and God’s love will melt every single heart toward Him in Christ. This assumes that this is God’s only attribute. Essentially it hijacks God’s character, dispenses only one redefined aspect of it, and then says here is God. The trouble with this idea is that God is also holy, just, truth, omniscient, sovereign and so on. Here we see God’s wrath—his justice—meted out against his own people.
True Worship 8-10
God lays down the basis of true worship, which he has reiterated, again and again, to the people. Here are things to do: Dispense true justice. Practice kindness and compassion. Here are things not to do: oppress the widow, orphan, stranger, or poor. Nor devise evil in your hearts against one another (Micah 6:8; Isa 56:1; Eze 18:8; 45:9; Ex 22:22; Mic 2:1). All of these actions are found in Israel’s Law code. None of this is new or a surprise. These are the same demands God has made on His people from the beginning. Nothing has changed. In the distant past and recent history God’s people abandoned these principles and obligations and only pretended to comply. Their religious hypocritical practices were designed to mask their disobedience to God. They could look good by fasting and praying and commemorating, while they hated each other, cheated each other, robbed each other, killed each other, and sought revenge of one another. True worship was out of fashion.
Full Blown Rebellion 11-12
The response of earlier generations to God’s covenant demands was consistent and inflexible disobedience. The prophet describes it with 3 idioms; (1) a shoulder of stubbornness—they would not listen to God. (2) Made their ears heavy—insensitive to response. (3) Made their hearts as flint—unwilling to hear the truth. They had set themselves up for judgment. Neither Moses nor the prophets had made an impression v 12b. These words, by the way, were sent by the Spirit of God through the prophets, which connects their messages to inspiration v 12c. The former prophets also spoke by means of the Spirit of God. The result was predictable: God sent great wrath against them. This pattern was entrenched in Israel and Judah. There is no need for extrapolation the history is so obvious
Judgment Because of Rebellion 13-14
The practical result is that just as they would not listen when God called, now God would not listen when they called in their terror v 13. Instead of deliverance the earlier generations experienced the whirlwind of God’s wrath—a storm of fury that had driven them to lands they had never even heard of before v 14a. All had come to pass as God had prophesied as this post exilic group could attest trying to recover form the awful effects of their fathers sins. Twice it says the land had become desolate. It still is today. So desolate in fact that it appeared uninhabited then. Hardly a soul could be found criss-crossing for any reason. Commerce was dead. It is a land devoid of life and pleasure v 14b. The point—unless Zechariahs people, this bethel delegation, and the entire postexilic community understand how disgusted God is with religious observance that is only superficial and self-serving, hypocritical and self-indulgent, they can expect calamity and terror, in the form of God’s judgment as their forefathers had experienced. Don’t go there!
LESSON: First, give true worship in the form speaking out with God’s perspective of justice to all of those around us, in our extended families, friends and disciples. Do it in casual conversation and formal teaching. Practice kindness and compassion. Whereas justice is a response based on merit, compassion is a response, which ignores merit. Compassion is a combination of mercy and pity. Don’t take advantage of the poor or less fortunate people. Many are uninformed, desperate, and their life situations force them to live for today, which causes them to remain unwise. Chaos and survival does not produce wisdom. Wisdom is only available to those who can think about tomorrow. Never create an evil scenario in your mind against one another. If they are truly evil then give them God’s perspective on that not your own! This is true worship and undefiled religion (James 1:27).
Second, remember you are accountable to God for your religious observances. Don’t try to cover up your disobedience with your religious practices. You can attend Bible studies and hate your neighbor. You can serve in some official capacity and devise ways to exploit your business competition. You can participate in missions and ignore the needs of a poorer relative.