Today: [Zecheriah 7] How Often Should We Fast? In Zecheriah 7 a delegation of leaders come to the prophet inquiring about the continuance of certain holy days, and times of fasting that had been conducted during the captivity. Zecheriah challenges the validity of the question, pointing out far more important priorities among the people that were totally neglected, even while they feigned tender fidelity to the least religious observance.
[Zec 7:1-14 KJV] 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 Chisleu; 2 When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the LORD, 3 [And] to speak unto the priests which [were] in the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years? 4 Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying, 5 Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh [month], even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, [even] to me? 6 And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat [for yourselves], and drink [for yourselves]? 7 [Should ye] not [hear] the words which the LORD hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when [men] inhabited the south and the plain? 8 And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying, 9 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: 10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. 11 But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. 12 Yea, they made their hearts [as] an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts. 13 Therefore it is come to pass, [that] as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts: 14 But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.
In this chapter of Zecheriah a delegation of elders among the returnees to Jerusalem come before the priests and the prophets, including Zecheriah to ask a question regarding a traditional fast that had been conducted during the captivity in Jerusalem. The inquiry was this – should they continue to fast now that the city of Jerusalem was returned to the Jews and the temple was under construction? At the time this group appealed to the priests and Zecheriah, the restoration temple was not yet half completed.
There is mention of a 5th month fast which concerns the lament of captivity and a 7th month fast to mourn the assassination of Gedaliah, a Babylonian appointed governor whose death led the forced total depopulation of the southern kingdom at the beginning of the captivity. What is the answer to this question? This delegation shows that these men were serious about these religious observances, in view of the fact that they would not alter them without agreement from both the priesthood and the prophets at Jerusalem. It is important to point out however that under the law there is only one appointed fast on the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:29-34). In all there were four fast days added by religious authorities during the captivity including:
- 4th month, mourning the capture of Jerusalem.
- 5th month, mourning the burning of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
- 7th month, mourning the assassination of Gedaliah and 80 members of his administration.
- 10th month, mourning the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of the city of Jerusalem.
These religious observances are typical of the vestigial traditions of men that get added to the requirements actually imposed by the law of God. If God’s word calls for fasting one day out of the year, then why not add four more, just for good measure? It has been said that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day imposed upon the people their own religious laws around God’s laws in order that the people would not break God’s laws. In other words, religious traditions are established to help God out. All such thinking is rooted in the religious aspect of the fallen nature. In Gen. 3:2-3 when Eve recites to the serpent the prohibition regarding the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, she not only says they were forbidden to eat it (which was true), she goes on to say God doesn’t even want them to touch it. This is not correct. They were not instructed not to touch the tree, just forbidden to partake of it. This is man’s religious sense, contriving impositions and concepts relating to God that have nothing to do with God or anything He might actually require of us.
In years past, when home schooling first came into vogue in the Evangelical movement, there was much pressure placed upon parents to take their children out of public schools and either home school them, or put them in a Christian school sponsored by the local church. This emphasis became so strong that many leaders and churches suggested with thinly veiled language that if a mom and dad didn’t comply, they were in sin. Is this true? No of course not. What about Sunday School. There was a day that failure to attend Sunday School, or at least drop your children off at Sunday School on your way to the donut shop on Sunday morning, meant you were a backslider and often resulted in your voting rights in the annual church business meeting being degraded to non-member status.
Are you backslidden if you don’t go to Sunday School? Sunday school didn’t come into existence until the Industrial revolution when it was common for under age laborers to work 12-18 hours a day, 6 days a week in the sweat shop. That is not so today. Our children certainly need religious training and systematized bible study, but it isn’t the institution’s job to do this, it is actually the parent’s responsibility from a biblical perspective. These are just a few examples of religious tradition that evolves into a spiritual requirement to the point that what God actually desires and even commands in scripture is totally obscured. Whose job is it to train our children? It is the parent’s role. Not the pastor, not the children’s church worker, it is the parent’s job, just as it is the husband’s responsibility to wash his wife with the water of the word according to Eph. 5 before it is the pastor or some other minister’s responsibility to do so. This is how religious tradition creeps into the church that Jesus said renders the word of God of none effect.
Zecheriah in answering the question regarding these fast days circumvents the question altogether. He challenges the delegation that has come to him with the validity not only of their question but of the practice itself. In v. 5 he points out that these religious traditions were never for God Himself but were for the people. They were not fasting to God but lamenting the loss of their own personal blessing because of the idolatry that brought about the captivity in the first place. He goes on to remind them of the words of the prophets before the captivity and gives the true word of the Lord in place of any religious idea of a fast or other contrived false practices based on false piety:
- Execute true judgment
- Show mercy and compassion
- Oppress not the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, or the poor.
- Let none imagine evil against their brother.
These were all things God was calling upon the people to comply with, which v. 11 tells us these very leaders refused to hearken, stopping up their ears, all the while they feign absolute tender regard for the outward religious show as though they were the most compliant follower of God that could ever be imagined. Why is this? Because perverting judgment, forsaking mercy, oppressing the marginalized were a forgone conclusion in their thinking. They were not getting the answers they wanted because they were not asking the right questions. Because of this, Zecheriah points out that wrath came upon the forefathers of this generation of returnees, and even 70 years later they had not changed their minds.
They outwardly demonstrated, even in great sacrifice a willingness to follow God but where it mattered they were no different than their hard hearted, idolatrous fathers who shook their fist in God’s face, martyred the prophets and brought ruin and captivity upon God’s people.
What about our day? Are we to be concerned with how many days in a year we fast, or how many instances of mercy, compassion and just dealing we have initiated in our daily lives toward those who cannot benefit us in return? At the beginning of every year, there are often renewed efforts to establish prayer, fasting, church attendance etc., but what is the heart of God looking for? If we are going to resolve something for the year ahead let it be found in the words of Micah, that in the New Year let our commitment be, and our resolve to serve God expressed thusly:
[Mic 6:8 KJV] 8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
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