Zechariah 7 – preached on 8 Jan 2012
We are now half way in the book of Zechariah – chapter 7 out of a book of 14 chapters.
A period of approximately 2 years have elapsed between chapters 6 & 7.
It is now about 518BC.
Things have gotten better for the Jews.
Relative peace is being experienced.
Their enemies have left them much on their own.
The construction of the temple is well on the way.
And it was in this context that the people starting asking some questions.
We shall study this chapter by asking 3 questions as follows:
1) What question did the people ask?
2) What was God’s answer to the question?
3) What lessons can we learn from this incident?
Let’s turn to the first question: What question did the people ask?
The answer is found in the 2nd part of verse 3:
…”Should I weep in the 5th month and fast as I have done for so many years?”
Verse 2 tells us that the people sent 2 representatives – Sherezer and Rege-Melech to ask this question.
To Whom did they direct this question?
They asked the LORD (v2), the priests and the prophets (v3).
This is certainly a good example for all of us.
When they were not sure about a spiritual matter, they did not assume, they asked.
This is very much like the behaviour of the Beareans in Acts 17:11.
When they were not sure of a certain matter, they “…searched the scriptures daily to find out whether the things that Paul spoke about were true.”
And the people asked it in a respectful manner.
First, they asked the LORD.
Then they asked the priests.
And then they asked the Prophets.
Now, why did the people ask such a question?
Well, the Jews have spent 70 years in Babylon.
They were there because the Babylonians invaded Israel and took many of them away as captives.
And as they were in a foreign land, they held special days of fasting to remember what had happened.
For example, at the beginning of the 10th month, they would remember the day in which Jerusalem was sieged.
In the 4th month, they would remember the breaking up of the walls of Jerusalem.
In the 7th month, they would remember how the Jews who were left in Jerusalem murdered the ruler placed there by Nebuchadnezzar.
And in the 5th month (which is the question they were specifically asking about here), they would remember how Nebuchadnezzar burnt down the temple.
This was especially emotional for those who witnessed the incident and valued temple worship.
So they did have quite a number of special days of fasting and consecration.
But it has been several years now since they started re-constructing the temple.
It was in the 4th year of the reign of King Darius (as we see in verse 1).
They have had several years of peace.
The enemies appear to be filtering away.
The construction of the temple is now well on the way, although it is still not completed yet.
Hence, in view of this, should they still continue to carry out their day of consecration and fast in the 5th month?
Should they continue to set aside a day every year to remember the destruction of the temple?
It was a valid question since there was such history that surrounded the practice.
But there were “pros” and “cons” to such a practice.
Some felt that this practice should continue because they must never forget that the temple was once destroyed.
Some may feel that they should use the occasion to humble themselves because God had kept them humble through that experience.
But there were others who felt that they need not since the temple is now being re-constructed.
Soon, the temple would be up again, so why continue with such a remembrance?
Yet others were feeling that God was dealing with them differently now – there was no need for that fast any more.
In any case, these fasts were not commanded by God so there is really no need for us to hold them.
So that was the question that they people asked…”Should I weep in the 5th month and fast as I have done for so many years?”
What was God’s answer to this question? – our second heading for today.
God first responded to them with a series of counter-questions.
This is found in verses 5-7.
V5 – “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘when you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me – for Me?”
If I were to paraphrase this, it would sound something like this:
What was in your heart when you fasted and mourned during the 70 years?
Were you doing it as a means to an end?
Or were you doing it as an end to itself?
Were you doing it so that God would bless you?
Were you doing it so that you can earn some favour from God?
Or did you really do it to seek me, to know me, to draw near to me and to honour Me?
V 6 – “When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?”
In other words, although there was a lot of ceremony, were you effectively doing it for yourselves?
It appears that you got your entire objective in these observances wrong.
V7 – “Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?”
Do you remember the prophets who preached to you before your captivity in Babylon?
Prophets like Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah?
Do you remember their warnings?
If you have listened to them, you would have averted the destruction that came upon you.
You should have used your time in exile to search your hearts.
You should have used your time in exile to understand what went wrong that resulted in your exile.
You should have done some deep soul-searching in seeking after Me.
So God first responded to the question by Sherezer and Rege-Melech with a series of counter-questions.
And right after these series of questions, God drove home the point to them as to what He really wanted from the people.
You see this in verses 9-10:
9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion, Everyone to his brother.
10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart. Against his brother.’
Why did God specifically zero in on such actions such justice, mercy, compassion?
Why the widow, fatherless, alien (or foreigner), the poor?
Why didn’t God say – I want you to worship Me in spirit and in truth?
It is because these actions were practical demonstrations of whether they were self-centred or God-centred.
When a person is self-centred, he will be full of his own interest, his concern will all be about himself.
How rich am I? How much more can I gain? What will I eat tomorrow? How far am I from the top position?
In effect, such self-interests are very subtle and intangible idols that make us break the 1st commandment of God.
And from breaking the first commandment, one sin will lead to another.
Self-centredness leads to covetousness and then theft and before you know it, it becomes murder in your heart.
The 1st commandment is broken, then the 10th, then the 8th and then the 6th.
And all these eventually manifest themselves in having no mercy or compassion to one’s neighbour.
I don’t care about justice or fairness as long as I win.
I will bull-doze away all those who are slowing me down regardless of whether they are related to me.
Why care about mercies or compassion if I may potentially lose out doing this?
And as an individual or society proceeds along those lines, there will be no concern for those who are in need.
The widows, the fatherless, the foreigners, the poor – these will be exploited and neglected.
These people whom God has made in His image are neglected by His very own that He has also made in His image.
What a sad reality that actually happened to the Israelites.
God sent prophets to warn the Israelites about such behaviour, but their hearts soon became hardened.
Verse 12: ”… refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.”
In the midst of their self-pursuit, they thought they were religious by praying and participating in worship.
They thought they were praying, but actually God was not listening – verse 13.
And God sent judgement upon them.
And they were taken over by their enemies.
What a sad situation.
What a humbling outcome.
May God be merciful and not let this happen to us.
Which brings me to our 3rd and final question for today – What lessons can we learn from incident?
There are many lessons we can learn from Zech 7, but there are 3 things I want to point out here:
First, we are reminded by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 10:31 – “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Should the Israelites continue to observe their fasting ceremonies on the 4th, 5th, 7th and 10th months?
In our context today, should we today for example hold special worship services during Easter, Christmas and New Year’s day?
Should we hold special days or fast on Palm Sunday, Church Anniversary, etc.?
Well, there’s no explicit command for us to hold these services.
The pattern we have to emulate is the gathering of the saints in the New Testament on the Lord’s Day.
That remains as the so called “mandatory” activity we ought to have.
But we ought to gather together as often as possible so that we can encourage each other in the faith according to Heb 10:22 and Acts 2:42.
And in this Church, there are 2 important activities that we encourage all of you to give priority to.
These are our worship service & Bible studies on the Lord’s Day and our prayer meetings on Wednesdays.
Occasionally, we also have other fellowship activities which you should also attend.
But whether to have or not to have special services during Easter, Christmas and New Year’s day is not the question.
The more important question is this: “what is the intent of our hearts when we hold these meetings?”
Are we just trying to occupy our calendar with activities for people to meet with one another?
Are we just trying to create opportunities for our people to serve in different ministries?
Or do we genuinely want to use the occasion as a platform to bring the gospel to the unsaved?
Do we genuinely want to use the opportunities to remember what the Lord has done for us and to seek Him?
…Whether we eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The glory of God should be our utmost consideration in whatever we do or do not do.
Secondly, I want you to observe how God answers prayers.
When Sherezer and Rege-Melech brought their question to God in prayer, God answered them.
The answer that they received was probably not what they expected.
But the kind of answer they received was really what they needed.
It was the kind of answer that nails the root of the problem.
And it was the kind of answer that would really bring them back to God.
My Christian friends, are you serious about prayer?
If you are, you got to be serious about the kind of answers that you will get.
If you pray that God will make you patient, you got to be prepared for what may come your way.
You are going to encounter all kinds of frustrating situations that tests your patience.
You are going to face all kinds of experiences that reveal what kind of person you really are.
And when you have come to realise how dreadful you are, you remember why Jesus had to die on the cross.
And when you realised how indebted you are to Him, you realise how you must now live for him.
And you realise how you must therefore be more patient with people around you because God was so patient with you.
Those of you who are parents, I trust you pray often for your children.
Have you agonised over them in your prayers?
I tell you, the more I pray for my children, the more I see of myself in them.
The bad habits, the stubbornness, the pride, the laziness – oh, if God were to chastise me the way I feel they have to be disciplined, I would be doomed.
But I thank God that Christ was victorious over sin and death.
And Christ was merciful to me even though I am full of stubbornness, pride and laziness.
How much more I should be patient when dealing with my children and show them the way of grace.
How much more I realise that their greatest need is not better time discipline, but the simple message of Christ and Him crucified.
How much more I wish they would see the patience of Christ to me and to them.
And that changes so much about how I would pray for them.
And that is the mystery of prayer, my friends.
Sometimes, God does not change the situation.
Instead, He changes you.
Sometimes, He causes you to see the situation in a different light.
Sometimes He reveals more about Himself to you.
Sometimes He shows you your real areas of need.
And He shows you your sin.
Your sin which you must repent of, else you will get no peace.
Have you been wrestling in prayer recently?
How has God been dealing with you in that prayer request?
God answers prayers – sometimes in the most mysterious ways.
But always for His glory and for His purposes, which our darkened minds simply cannot comprehend.
Thirdly and finally, I want you to realise that God is more concerned about your heart than external form.
The prophets have mentioned this many times.
God wants obedience and not sacrifice.
A broken spirit and a contrite heart – these are things that God will not reject – Ps 51:17.
One of the things that worries me is that we can come for worship week after week, year after year till it becomes a ritual and a formality.
Then some may start saying that worship is boring.
Perhaps we should inject more life into it.
Perhaps we should introduce more things that we do during worship.
Perhaps we should sing more new songs.
Friends, remember, what God wants is obedience and not sacrifice.
What is your reason for coming to worship God each week?
Are you doing it to please your parents?
Are you doing it so that God will bless you?
Or did you really come to seek God, to know God, to draw near to God and to honour God?
As we come for worship each week, come with prayer and preparation of your heart.
Pray for yourself – that God will use this time as means of grace to you.
Pray for those involved in the worship – the worship leader, the preacher, the translator, the pianist – that they may be God’s instruments for His glory and not their own.
Pray for the other worshippers – that they too will be true worshippers who will be blessed and not cursed.
May God be gracious to us and help us to do what really pleases Him.
My God speak to us and be pleased with our worship and service.
Let us sing a hymn in closing.