The Hypocrisy of False Fasting
1 In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. 2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melech and their companions to seek the Lord’s favour 3 by asking both the priests of the temple of the Lord who rules over all and the prophets, “Should we weep in the fifth month, fasting as we have done over the years?” 4 The word of the Lord who rules over all then came to me, 5 “Speak to all the people and priests of the land as follows: ‘When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months through all these seventy years, did you truly fast for me – for me, indeed? 6 And now when you eat and drink, are you not doing so for yourselves?’” 7 Should you not have obeyed the words that the Lord cried out through the former prophets when Jerusalem was peacefully inhabited and her surrounding cities, the Negev, and the Shephelah were also populated?
8 Again the word of the Lord came to Zechariah: 9 “The Lord who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. 10 You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’
11 “But they refused to pay attention, turning away stubbornly and stopping their ears so they could not hear. 12 Indeed, they made their heart as hard as diamond, so that they could not obey the Torah and the other words the Lord who rules over all had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore, the Lord who rules over all had poured out great wrath.
13 “‘It then came about that just as I cried out, but they would not obey, so they will cry out, but I will not listen,’ the Lord Lord who rules over all had said. 14 ‘Rather, I will sweep them away in a storm into all the nations they are not familiar with.’ Thus the land had become desolate because of them, with no one crossing through or returning, for they had made the fruitful land a waste.”
C H Spurgeon
Zechariah 7:1. 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;
God’s prophets were not always in the spirit, and when the Word of God came to them, it was a notable day, and they marked it in their diary. I think that we, too, who are not prophets can remember some special time when God’s Word was peculiarly precious to us. We can put down “the fourth day of the ninth month.”
Zechariah 7:2-3. When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the LORD, 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?
On that day the Jews had kept a fast to commemorate the terrible calamity which happened to the temple in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. Now these people were living away in Babylon, and it occurred to them that, as the temple was now building and Jerusalem was restored, it was a question whether they ought to keep that fast any longer, it was not kept by divine command. It was a fast of their own inventing, and the question was whether they ought not to abandon it when things had so changed; so they sent messengers to the temple to inquire of the priests and of the prophets, and to pray to God himself. When we have a difficult question lying on the conscience, it is well to settle it, and not allow it to rest on the heart unsatisfied.
Zechariah 7:4-5. Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the filth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?
There is the point. You can fast to self. You can fast to your own pride. If we have no thought of honouring God in our fasting, there is nothing in it. The question is, “Did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?”
Zechariah 7:6. And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
If a holy feast is not kept with a view to God, it is not kept at all. It is a feast to yourselves. You have missed the mark altogether.
Zechariah 7:7. 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?
Well, what was that word? Zechariah has it fresh from God, and he states it.
Zechariah 7:8-10. And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: 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.
This is what God said — most just, most fit for God to require of his people.
Zechariah 7:11-12. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, they should not hear. 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.
And well there might. When God requires what is so just and so commendable, and men will not yield to it, and will not even hear about it, they deserve that God should grow wrathful with them.
Zechariah 7:13. 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:
The punishment of sin seems to be according to the sin itself. If men will not hear God, neither will God hear them.
Zechariah 7:14. 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.
Now, in the next chapter, the prophet goes on to speak not so much of the people’s sin as of God’s resolve to have mercy upon them. He speaks with gentle warnings, and with loving promises.