In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. 2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men, to entreat the favor of the LORD, 3 and to ask the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me; 5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? 7 When Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, with her cities round about her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited, were not these the words which the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets?” Zech. 7:1-7
It has been two years since the last string of visionary prophecies started. And it will be two more years before the temple is finished [Ezra 6: 14-15]. But everyone is aware that the job is almost done.
The people of Bethel want to know if they should continue to fast on the day the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, Tisha B’ Av or the ninth of Av. Av being the 5th month on the Hebrew calendar and roughly aligns with the Gregorian Calendar’s July.
FYI: Destruction of Jerusalem [2 Kings 25:8ff- Jer. 52:12ff] These two passages present slightly different details as to the date of the destruction of the city, the former putting it on the seventh, the latter on the tenth of the month. The explanation for this is that the Babylonians entered the temple on the seventh and looted it until the ninth, then they set it on fire and left it to burn until the tenth.
Their’s was a simple question, do we continue to fast? The LORD through Zechariah takes their question one step further, He ups the stakes. Not only does He address Tisha B’Av, which could be argued is the invention of men, but He also addresses Yom Kippur i.e. the day of atonement, the most Holy Day of the all the Holy Days in the Biblical Festivals.
And the LORD said to Moses, “On the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present an offering by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on this same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whoever is not afflicted on this same day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves; on the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your sabbath.” Lev. 23:26 -32.
The LORD asked them to examine their own motives. Why were they fasting? What were they hoping to accomplish? The obvious suggestion is that Yom Kippur as well as the lesser fasts were for themselves. A fast is for repentance. But they were doing these so they could get the temple, and their independent kingdom back. That is not what God wanted or wants. The Fast of Yom Kippur is not for bribing God. Not then and not now either. Prayers to God and the fasting are not ways to get what one wants from God, they are not for acquiring the things of this life, or the salvation of sinners, or the health and wealth of individuals. They are about morning for our inability to keep the commandments.
Yom Kippur is the only time in the great Cycles of Levitical Feast where one can get forgiveness for sins of commission, as the Theologians put it. Sin we meant to do. Not some sin that come from neglect or misunderstanding the rules. But those things we plotted in our hearts to do. It is a time to remember why God destroyed the temple, and beg for mercy. It is a time to seek God’s favor and help in not repeating the offense.
Then He goes after their attitudes on the Feast days as well, 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?. These feast days were suppose to be time that was spent in fellowship with God. One brought in the prescribed sacrifice to the temple the priest cooked it, the priest got the skins, God took the kidneys and entrails, and the people ate the rest, there is the Presence. On these days they were suppose to invite the poor to eat as well. But it seems that that was not a concern to the people at the time. They were eating and drinking for themselves.
He reminds them that His rules have not changed. His prophets have told them the same things for centuries. The people have forgotten why they had been sent to Babylon for 70 years [Jer. 25:11 ]. Most of the original people were now dead. And no one wants to tell their children just how sinful they were. The generations were not passing on the information. They had accidentally on purpose forgotten to pass on what the prophets had said and why they had said it.
The descendants seem to think that because they are back in the land and the temple is almost finished, that God is no longer going to judge them. They are like children who after a short time of good behavior hope that the restriction will be lifted or at least shortened. There was still a great deal of time left in the “seven times” judgment of Lev 26. They had only face two of the bestial empires. The full 2520 years of the penalty that must be faced.
Believers have faired no better. Many teach that one can bribe God with tithing. Or get saved by saying the magic words in the sinners prayer. Or get health by repeating a magic oaths. God asked us to give cheerfully. Salvation is not an act on our part, it is how we walk. The Great Physician never promised health in this life.
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? 2 You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. James 4:1 -10