We shall read Zechariah 7 in two posts. In this message we read how God sees our fasting and praying acts. The people talk about the superficial physical acts of religious holiness. But God talks about the genuine love and reverential fear (respect and honor) for the awesome holy God in the heart of each individual believer. All acts of being religious before God must come out of a sincere heart towards God for Who He really is.
Summary notes of Zechariah 7:1-10
Background: After resuming building the temple for two years, the people sent men to ask the prophet (priest) whether they should continue (or stop) the fasting which they did yearly “on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction”. God replied them with a question to examine their hearts and asked whether they really fasted for God.
Note the attitude behind this kind of question (addressed to God!): The congregation asked, “should we continue to mourn and fast…as we have done for so many years?” They spoke to God as if they had been doing Him a favor, They also implied their weariness in doing the same thing yearly for many years (during their exile). They assumed that now that they had resumed building the temple, they were safe spiritually and physically.
Note how God responded:
- He replied to not just the three representatives but the whole congregation and the priests (their spiritual leaders).
- He questioned their motive of fasting or doing any religious acts.
- He told them He knew their real motive, so there was no need to pretend any longer. “Was it really for me that you were fasting?”
- He specified examples of their religious acts.
- Since they had asked, He added another thing they purportedly did for Him but was actually for themselves: “And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?”
- He further reminded them that this reply from Him was not a new message. “Isn’t this the same message the Lord proclaimed through the prophets in years past?” He was saying to them what was the point of asking God for decision when they would ignore His answers anyway?
- Being God, full of compassion and mercy, He again told them what He expected the acts that come out of a heart that truly fasts and prays before Him: “Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another”.
- Take note that God did not say no need to fast. True fasting, as led by the Holy Spirit, has effective spiritual implications which impact the physical world. (The powerful testimonies of Daniel and queen Esther were two of many good examples in the Bible).
Zechariah 7:1-10 New Living Translation (NLT) A Call to Justice and Mercy (Obedience Better than Fasting)
On December 7[a] of the fourth year of King Darius’s reign, another message came to Zechariah from the Lord. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech,[b] along with their attendants, to seek the Lord’s favor. 3 They were to ask this question of the prophets and the priests at the Temple of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction,[c] as we have done for so many years?”
4 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message in reply: 5 “Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn,[d] was it really for me that you were fasting? 6 And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves? 7 Isn’t this the same message the Lord proclaimed through the prophets in years past when Jerusalem and the towns of Judah were bustling with people, and the Negev and the foothills of Judah[e] were well populated?’”
8 Then this message came to Zechariah from the Lord: 9 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. 10 Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
Jesus’ teaching on fasting:
Matthew 6 Fasting to Be Seen Only by God
16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.[d]
Prophet Isaiah’s message on what God wants for fasting:
Isaiah 58:3-6 New King James Version (NKJV)
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?