We continue this verse-by-verse study of Zechariah chapters 1-8 here in Part 5, starting with chapter 7.
ZECHARIAH CHAPTER 7.
[As we'll see, Zechariah chapters 7 and 8 are tied together in content.] "In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD [Yahweh] came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. [[This date is a little more than two years after the date that Judah, under the leadership of Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, began to rebuild the temple (Hag. 1:12-15). The temple would not be completed for another two years, on the twelfth month of the "sixth year" of King Darius, the king of the Persian empire (Ezra 6:15).]] (2) Now the town of Bethel [Compare Ezra 2:28; Neh. 7:32; and 11:31; this town/city was twelve miles north of Jerusalem.] had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their [or, his] men to seek the favor of the LORD [Yahweh], (3) speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, 'Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain [The NIV has, "shall I mourn and fast." Under the Hebrew verb "nazar," which is translated "fast" by the NIV, the BDB Hebrew Lexicon gives the meaning as "consecrate my(self), i.e. by fasting." See Zech. 8:19.], as I have done these many years?' [["These many years" go back to the "fifth month" of the year 587/586 BC, to the time when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:8-10; Jer. 52:12-14). The people of Bethel were undoubtedly prompted to ask this question because the temple was well on the way to being rebuilt.]] (4) Then the word of the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts came to me, saying, (5) 'Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years [[Since it was now 518 BC, it had been almost exactly "seventy years" since the temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians (587/586 BC). The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in the "fifth month" was an extremely traumatic event in the life of Judah/Israel. In Israel today (and not just in Israel), Jews observe a day of mourning and fasting on the ninth day of the fifth month (the month of Ab). They are mourning the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians on that day; they are also mourning several other traumatic events that took place on that same day. ((I had a footnote: I'll quote part of what David Baron says on this topic ("Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah" [Kregel, 1981 reprint], pages 213, 214). "...according to the Talmud and Jewish historians, the following list of calamities all happened on the same day, namely: (1) On that day the decree went forth from God in the wilderness that the people should not enter the land because of their unbelief; (2) on the very same day of the destruction of the First Temple by the Chaldeans [Babylonians], the Second Temple also was destroyed by the Romans [in AD 70]; (3) on that day, after the rising of Bar Cochba, the city of Bethar was taken [by the Romans in AD 135; the Jews had rebelled against Rome], 'in which were thousands and myriads of Israel, and they had a great king [Bar Cochba] whom all Israel and the greatest of the wise men [including Rabbi Akiba] thought was King Messiah'; but (4) he [Bar Cochba] fell into the hands of the Gentiles, and they were all put to death, and the affliction was great, like as it was in the desolation of the Sanctuary [referring to the temple; by the Romans in AD 70]; and (5) and lastly, on that day 'the wicked Turnus Rufus...ploughed up the (hill of) the Sanctuary, and the parts round about it, to fulfil that which was said by Micah, "Zion shall be ploughed as a field." ' " In an article dealing with this day, jewishencyclopedia.com mentions "the drawing of the plow over the Holy City and the Temple a year later (that is, a year later than the fall of the fortress of Bethar in AD 135), in order to turn the place into a Roman colony...." The Jews also mourn the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 on this day, which occurred, they say, on this same day.))
The mourning and fasting in the "seventh month" was done in remembrance of the murder of Gedeliah, who was the Jew the Babylonians left in charge in the land of Judah after they destroyed the temple, etc.; Gedeliah (and the Jews and Babylonians with him) was murdered by Jews shortly after the Babylonian armies left Judah (2 Kings 25:25, 26; Jer. 41:1-3). ((I had a footnote: The article on the ninth day of Ab at jewishencyclopedia.com mentions that the fast on the third day of Tishri (the seventh month), "the day when Gedaliah was assassinated" is still observed, as are the fasts on the seventeenth day of Tammuz (the fourth month), "when the first breach was made in the wall [of Jerusalem by the Babyonians]" and on the tenth of Tebet (the tenth month), "when the siege [of Jerusalem by the Babylonians] began." The fasts of the fourth and tenth months are mentioned in Zech. 8:19.))]], was it actually for Me that you fasted? (6) When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? [[God's response to the question of the people of Bethel that He spoke to "all the people of the land and the priests" shows that He resented some of the implications, attitudes, and motives behind the question of verse 3. (God knew, of course, what was in the hearts and minds of the Jews of that day, as He does with the Jews and Gentiles of every generation.) It seems they were putting the emphasis on what they had been doing for God for "these many years"; they probably were rather proud of themselves in a religious sort of way (didn't they merit God's favor?; hadn't they earned His blessing by their religious works?), and they undoubtedly were feeling sorry for themselves. Fasting to be effective must involve a sincere humbling of the heart before God that leads to true and deep repentance, where repentance is required.
God's response showed, for one thing, that what they had been doing - and that included what they were doing when they were eating and drinking as well as when they were mourning and fasting - they had been doing more for themselves than for Him. Instead of really understanding and putting the emphasis on the extreme seriousness of the sins of their forefathers and their unrepentance, and on their own sins and the need for repentance, and of being concerned on a deep level for the honor and glory of God, they were more concerned with the intensity and the longevity of the judgments that had come upon them. As we'll discuss under verse 12, God had warned Judah again and again through His prophets that intense judgments would come upon them, including the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem and the exile, if they did not repent. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God."]] (7) Are not these the words which the LORD [Yahweh] proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills were inhabited [The "Negev" speaks of the southern part of Judah; the "foothills" speak of the western part of Judah.]?" ' [[That is, the words which God has just spoken to the people of Judah (in verses 5, 6) dealing with the fact that they were living for themselves more than they were living for Him (they were not putting Him and His Word first place in their hearts and lives as they were required to do) had also been spoken (by God's prophets) to the people of Judah in the days before God's judgment fell (through the Babylonians) on account of their external religiosity and unrepentant hearts.
Rituals and religious works, very much including mourning and fasting, are totally unacceptable to God and worthless (or worse) if they are done (offered to Him) as a substitute for true repentance, where repentance is required, and for loving Him, obeying Him, and living for Him, from the hearts (in faith), in accordance with His Word, and by His enabling grace and for His glory. God's people (and that includes Christians) often try to substitute ritual for reality, but it will not work for good. (See, for example, 1 Sam. 15:22, 23; Isa. 1:1-31; 58:1-14; Hos. 6:6; and Amos 5:21-24). This doesn't mean that the Jews of Zechariah's day were as sinful as the Jews who lived in the days before intense judgment fell (the books of Haggai and Zechariah show that they had repented to some extent), but these words of verses 5-7 certainly contained a powerful warning to the Jews of Zechariah's day (and they contain a powerful warning for any of God's people who are doing something similar).]] (8) Then the word of the LORD [Yahweh] came to Zechariah saying, (9) 'Thus has the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts said, "Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; (10) and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." [[God spoke such words to all generations of Judah/Israel; for one thing, these commandments were included in the Mosaic Law, which all Jews were required to keep; but here in verses 8-10 (as the following verses show) the words "Thus has the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts said" refer to what God had said to the people of Judah/Israel who lived in the years preceding the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. Anyway, God certainly intended the Jews of Zechariah's day (and all God's people) to take these words to heart.]] (11) But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. (12) They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets [Compare, for example, 2 Chron. 36:11-21; Neh. 9:30; Jer. 5:1-31; 7:21-31; 8:4-7; 17:23; and Ezek. 2:3-3:11.]; therefore great wrath came from the LORD [Yahweh of hosts. [[The destruction of the temple and all that was involved in the Babylonian captivity came to pass in strict accordance with "the words which the LORD [Yahweh] proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous..." (verse 7). God had been calling Judah to repent for many years through many prophets and warning them that if they didn't repent He would chasten them very severely, including the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and the exile. See, for example, Jer. 4:19-31; 6:1-8:22; 26:1-15; Ezek. 4:1-5:17; 7:1-11:13; and Zech. 1:4-6; and there are many more such verses.
God's true prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel for example, had to contend with a large number of false prophets who kept telling Judah what they wanted to hear, that God would never let Jerusalem fall. Just like today, God's people have a strong tendency to accept God's promises of blessing and protection while ignoring or explaining away His warnings regarding judgment, even loss of salvation, if His people won't repent where repentance is required.]] (13) And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen [[Compare, for example, Prov. 1:20-33; Isa. 1:15; Jer. 11:9-14; and 14:10-12. The time came that when some of the people of Judah did repent to some extent, under the pressure of God's judgments, He did not withdraw His promised judgments, and Judah was carried into exile and the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed. ((I had a footnote: Those believing Jews who were righteous (like Jeremiah) and those few who truly repented in those days were not able to stop the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple, but God could bless such people, one way, or another, even in difficult circumstances, and (significantly) they were on the narrow path that leads to eternal glory.))]],' says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts; (14) 'but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated ["was left so desolate" NIV] behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.' " [[God had earlier scattered the people of the northern kingdom of Israel through the Assyrian world-kingdom; the capital city of Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722/721 BC. There is widespread agreement that the word "they" of the words "they made the pleasant land desolate" refers to the people of Judah and Israel; they were the ones ultimately responsible for the devastation of the promised land.]]
ZECHARIAH CHAPTER 8.
Zechariah chapter 8, which builds on chapter 7, is filled with good news regarding the ultimate future for Jerusalem and Judah. From our perspective it is clear that the prophecies deal mostly with the ultimate salvation of Jerusalem and Judah at the end of the age. This chapter also contains good news regarding the ultimate conversion, salvation, and blessing for the remnant of the peoples of the nations left after God's end-time judgment of the world. Most of the content of this chapter is a repeat of things already spoken in earlier chapters of Zechariah.
Zechariah 8:18, 19 strongly ties this chapter to chapter 7 in that it deals with the question of chapter 7, regarding whether the people of Judah should continue to mourn and fast the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians (in 587/586 BC). Here in chapter 8, as in chapter 7, that question isn't really answered for the people of Zechariah's generation, but they were informed that eventually "fasts of mourning" will become "feasts of rejoicing." God had not commanded Judah to mourn and fast on any of the four days mentioned in Zech. 8:19.
"Then the word of the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts came, saying, (2) 'Thus says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her." [[Compare Zech. 1:14-2:13. God's exceeding jealousy for Zion/Jerusalem/Judah/Israel and His great wrath against her enemies (including Satan and his hosts and those of mankind who continue to follow him) will result in the ultimate total salvation of Zion and the ultimate total overthrow, judgment, and removal of her enemies.]] (3) Thus says the LORD [Yahweh], "I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. [Compare, for example, Zech. 1:16, 17; 2:5, 10-12; and 14:3, 4, 8-10, 16-21.] Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth [[Compare Zech. 8:16, 19; Isa. 1:26. God's "truth," which permeates everything where He is fully reigning, includes His righteousness and holiness: Ephesians 4:24 speaks of the "righteousness and holiness of the truth."]], and the mountain of the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain." [Compare, for example, Zech. 2:5; 3:1-10; 5:1-11; 12:10-13:6; and 14:20, 21.] (4) Thus says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. [[The point is that, because of the presence of God and His full salvation and blessings, old men and old women will again dwell in Jerusalem. They won't be cut off by premature death or be forced to live in exile. The Bible speaks of great longevity in the millennial kingdom (cf. Isa. 65:20 [I had a two-paragraph footnote: Isaiah 65:17-25 are discussed on pages 56-59 of my paper on selected prophecies from the book of Isaiah on my internet site. One point I make there (and in other writings) is that I believe all the members of God's true Israel (which includes all true Christians) will be glorified by the time the millennial kingdom begins. The peoples of the nations (cf. Rev. 15:3, 4; 20:3), however, will not be glorified in the millennial kingdom and the potential for sin and death will still exist.
Zechariah 8:5 pictures a time when children are still being born, before glorification. The peoples of the nations will apparently continue to bear children throughout the millennium, but not the people of God's true Israel, who will be glorified.]). There won't be any death in the eternal state (e.g., Rev. 21:4).]] (5) And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets." [See the footnote under verse 4.] (6) Thus says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight?" [cf. Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:17, 27] declares the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts. [["Those days" were still future. From our perspective we can see that they were thousands of years in the future. The prophetic words of Zechariah chapter 8 (like most of the prophetic words of the entire book of Zechariah) will not be fulfilled until the end of this age, after Judah/Israel submits to the Lord Jesus Christ and receives full salvation through Him.]] (7) Thus says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "Behold, I am going to save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; (8) and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness." [[Verses 7, 8 prophesy regarding God's saving the end-time remnant of the people of Judah/Israel who are scattered across the earth. (I had a footnote: Verses like Psalm 50:1; 113:3; and Mal. 1:11 demonstrate that the "land of the east" and the "land of the west" cover the entire earth/world.) See under Zech. 2:6. He will save them from worldwide dispersion and captivity, etc. and, much more importantly, He will save them with new-covenant salvation through Christ Jesus.]] (9) Thus says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "Let your hands be strong [[Compare Jud. 7:11; Isa. 35:3, 4 ("Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you' " NIV). Verse 13 includes the words, "Do not fear; let your hands be strong," and verse 15 includes the words, "Do not fear!" For these people to let their hands be strong was for them to resist fear and take courage, to put God first and to trust Him (which includes fearing Him rather than fearing anyone or anything else), and to be diligent to faithfully do (by His enabling grace) all that He required of them. That included finishing the temple, but that was only a small part of what God required of them. He always requires His people to put Him first in their hearts and to be obedient to Him in accordance with His Word. On the need for righteousness, see verses 16, 17.]], you who are listening in these days to these words from the mouth of the prophets, those [I would skip the comma and this word (those) which was added by the NASB in italics.] who spoke in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts was laid, to the end that the temple might be built. [Haggai and Zechariah were the prophets who spoke in the day that the foundation of the house of Yahweh (the temple) was laid that the temple might be built (Ezra 5:1, 2; 6:14 [cf. Ezra 3:1-13]; Hag. 1:12-15; and 2:15, 18).] (10) For before those days [the days before Judah repented and began to rebuild the temple] there was no wage for man or any wage for animal; and for him who went out or came in there was no peace because of his enemies, and I set all men one against another. [See Hag. 1:6-11; 2:14-19.] (11) But now [now that Judah had repented and the temple was being rebuilt] I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days [cf. Hag. 2:19]," declares the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts. (12) For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew [[God's grace and the repentance of Judah had brought peace to the land (they will sow and harvest in peace; contrast the no peace of verse 10); peace with God would yield, for one thing, peace for the seed planted in the land, including sufficient moisture, and the land will yield its produce (compare Lev. 26:3-10; contrast Lev. 26:16, 19, 20, 26; Hag. 1:6-11; and 2:16-19).]]; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things. (13) It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel [[Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) were a "curse among the nations" in that it was understood among the nations that Judah/Israel had been severely cursed, which led to the nations using Judah/Israel in a curse with words like, "May you be cursed as Israel/Judah has been cursed." Compare Isa. 65:15; Jer. 24:9; 29:18, 21, 22; and 42:18. God had promised in the Mosaic Law and throughout the Old Testament to curse Israel/Judah if they rebelled and turned their backs on Him (cf., e.g., Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 11:26-29; 28:15-68; 2 Kings 22:19; Jer. 29:15-20; and there are many more such verses).
The prophecies of Zechariah show (as do the prophecies of many other Old Testament prophets) that the remnant of Israel (the northern kingdom) will be saved at the end of this age. See Zech. 9:10-10:12 ("Ephraim" in 9:10, 13; 10:7 and the "house of Joseph" in 10:6 speak of the northern kingdom). (Zechariah chapters 9, 10 are discussed in chapters 12, 13 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture."]], so I will save you that you may become a blessing. [[After God saves Judah/Israel at the end of this age and removes the curse(s) (cf. Zech. 14:11), they will become a blessing, including becoming a blessing "among the nations" (contrast "curse among the nations" here in verse 13). The nations will know that Judah/Israel has been greatly blessed by God. For one thing, instead of using their name in a curse, the nations will be able to use their name in a blessing like, "May you be blessed as Judah/Israel has been blessed." (Compare Gen. 48:20; Ruth 4:11, 12.) Much more importantly (even if this idea wasn't necessarily included here in verse 13), after Judah/Israel is saved and greatly blessed by God, they will prove to be a great "blessing" to the repentant remnant of the peoples of the nations left after God's end-time judgment of the world (see, for example, Zech. 8:20-23; 2:11; 6:15; 14:16-21; Isa. 2:2-4; 60:1-22; 61:4-11; and 66:18-24 [These passages from Isaiah are discussed in my paper on selected prophecies from the book of Isaiah and/or in my paper "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" on my internet site.]] Do not fear [The Old and the New Testaments both speak much of the need to fear (sinning against) God; to fear anyone or anything else instead of God often leads to sinning against Him.]; let your hands be strong." [On these words see under verse 9.] (14) For thus says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "Just as I purposed to do harm to you [[These words speak of God's chastening judgments (the curses). The Hebrew could be translated "Just as I purposed to do EVIL to you." There is a contrast between these words and the words of the following verse, "I have again purposed to do GOOD to Jerusalem and the house of Judah." There is no idea, of course, of God's doing evil in the sense of His doing something wrong/sinful, but He repeatedly warns throughout the Bible that He will chasten His people with things that are not in themselves good. Chastening judgments (curses) are designed to wake up God's people and help motivate them to repent. When (if) God's people repent, chastening works for great good.]] when your fathers provoked Me to wrath," says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "and I have not relented, (15) so I have again purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear! [[These prophetic words were spoken to the repentant remnant (at least many of them had repented to some significant extent) that had begun to rebuild the temple in the days of Zechariah, and they had an important application for that generation, but the primary fulfillment of these words (the last few words of verse 12 on through verse 15) will not come to pass until the repentant end-time remnant of Judah/Israel submits to the Lord Jesus Christ (as pictured, for example, in Zech. 12:10-13:6; Rom. 11:25-27).]] (16) [Compare Zech. 7:9, 10.] These are the things which you should do [[We could translate "These are the things you must do"; it's very clear that God was not giving suggestions or options for His people to consider. This same truth applies, of course, to all the commandments in the Bible. The commandments mentioned here in verses 16, 17 were undoubtedly picked because they were often being violated in those days. The righteousness of God's people (by His grace through faith) always leads to blessings, ultimately the blessing of eternal glory. The sin of God's people robs Him of glory and leads to curses instead of blessings (in the worst-case scenario, sin leads to forfeiture of salvation and eternal damnation).]]: speak the truth [cf. Zech. 8:3; Eph. 4:25] to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. [[The "gates" of the ancient cities of Judah/Israel were where they had their law courts (cf. Deut. 16:18 [The margin of the NASB points out that "towns" in Deut. 16:18 is literally "gates."]; Deut. 21:19; Ruth 4:1-12; Isa. 29:21; and Amos 5:10-13).]] (17) Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another [cf. Prov. 3:29; Jer. 4:14; and Zech. 7:10], and do not love perjury ["Lit. 'false oath' " (margin of NASB). Compare Zech. 5:4; Mal. 3:5.]; for all these are what I hate [cf. Prov. 6:16-19; Mal. 2:16]," declares the LORD [Yahweh].'
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Zechariah chapters 1-8 and start the study of Malachi 2:17-4:6 in Part 6, starting with Zech. 8:18.