Zechariah 3, Was It For Me?

Intro: There is a time when the best thing a person can do is leave the past behind, with all its trouble and sorrow, and look ahead to the future. Certainly there are many who desire for such a time. They spend a lot of time looking back at their mistakes and live in regret and sorrow,

After 70 years of exile as a result of God’s judgment against their sin, the Jews of Zechariah’s day had many reasons to look back with regret and sorrow. In fact, they expressed this through the establishment of several fasts wherein they would put on the clothing of mourning and weep and lament their past.

I. Fasts of the Past: The Mosaic Law had established only one fast for Israel—the fast of the Day of Atonement “(afflict yourselves”). The requirement was only a part of that day’s observance.

A. But since the fall of Jerusalem 70 years earlier, the Jews of the exile had instituted a series of fasts designed around significant moments in the siege of Jerusalem.

      • On the seventeenth day of the fourth month, Thammuz (which corresponds roughly to our month of July), they mourned the capture of the city.
      • On the ninth day of the fifth month, Ab (which corresponds to our August), they remembered the burning of the city and the destruction of the beautiful temple by Nebuchadnezzar.
      • On the third of the seventh month, Tishri (October), they commemorated the assassination of Gedaliah and massacre of the eighty men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, as recorded in Jer 41:1-10.
      • On the tenth day of the tenth month, Tebeth (January), they fasted in memory of the day Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of the embattled city.
      •  The fasts were a means of keeping the memories of the past alive for the next generation, to recall the bad times when God withdrew His blessings.

B. But at the time of Zechariah’s prophecy, things were better. Jerusalem was being repopulated with God’s people, and even the Temple was being rebuilt (2 years since work resumed). This brings the question of the people to the priests and prophets (Zechariah) referenced in Zechariah 7:1-3

      • Zech 7:1-3Now in the fourth year of King Darius it came to pass that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev, 2 when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God, to pray before the Lord, 3 and to ask the priests who were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and the prophets, saying, “Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?”

II. Should I weep? – Zech 7:3 – “Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?” Keil identifies the fast referenced in their question as one associated with the destruction and burning of Jerusalem 70 years earlier. It would seem that whatever answer they received would also apply to the other fasts as well. (It is significant to note that none of these fasts were commanded by God, but rather were instituted by men. This may play a part in the answer Zechariah provides.) Those who sought God’s answer through the prophet may have expected a simple Yes, keep fasting, or no, you can forego the fasting. But God provides more. Our lesson today will be a review (and application) of God’s response. There seem to be at least 3 elements to the Lord’s answer (divided by the reoccurrence of “Thus says the Lord of Hosts“)

1. 7:4-7Who was it really for?
2. 7:8-14 – Do you remember WHY God removed His blessing in the first place?
3. 8:1-23Don’t Fear, God’s blessing will return (I am zealous for Zion)

      • 8:9-13 – Do what God is telling you to do today.
      • 8:14-23 – God will turn fasting into joy.

III. Was it for Me? – Zech 7:4-7 Then the word of the Lord 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 during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me — for Me? 6 When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? 7 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?'” God answers with His own question: Did you really do it for Me?

A. God wants them to honestly examine what they had been doing for the past 70 years. Were the fasts done for God, or for themselves? There are two possible applications here:

1. God was denouncing their fasting because it was not related to God commandments. These observances were of their design and therefore done to please themselves, not God. How can we know if what we are doing is pleasing to God? He must tell us. All else if what the apostle calls “self-imposed religion in Col. 2:23.

a. “should you not have?” – God’s answer is a rebuke of their disobedience to His commandments – even those things that had been spoken long ago through the former prophets (v. 7)

            • Burton Coffman states it this way…. “the message of Zechariah was directed not only to all the people, but particularly also to those priests who had invented the unauthorized fasts and led the people in the perversion of the worship of God. Through them, the message applies to all who would come afterward, even down to the present time. What people invent for themselves, by way of religious ordinances and devices, is worthless. Such are not “unto the Lord.” They, in fact, have nothing to do with God. “The answer to the question here is no.” The fasts were worthless, not because God disapproved of fasting in principle, but because these particular fasts were not related to God’s commandments. (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

2. God was denouncing their previous fasting because it was mere ceremony, disconnected from any devotion toward God or obedience to His words. In this sense they were doing for themselves and not for God. Again, the former prophets had often spoken of this to God’s people.

          • Read Isaiah 58 (200 years before Zechariah) – The fast that God chooses…

a. God often described true obedience in contrast to mere ceremony or outward religion: Samuel told King Saul: 1 Sam 15:22Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

b. What God condemns here is selfishly motivated religion – that which is said to be in the name of God, but is not really done for the sake of God. They were sorrowing, not because they had disobeyed the law of God, but because they were suffering for it. Like the criminal who says he is sorry he did it, but is really only sorry he got caught. There was no godly sorrow that precedes real repentance.

            • The ancient medieval preacher John Osorius commented here: “Ye fasted to yourselves, not to Me. For ye mourned your sorrows, not your misdeeds; and your public fast was undertaken, not for My glory, but out of feeling for your own grief. But nothing can be pleasing to God, which is not referred to His glory.
            • Matt 6:16-18 – 6 “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.

3. Zech 7:9-10 – “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.’… In a further answer to the question on their fasting, God calls on the people to pursue true obedience by showing mercy to the oppressed (like Isa. 58) and he uses two lines of argument:

IV. Do Not Harden Your hearts against God’s Word. – the Prophet reminds them of the reason WHY God had removed His blessing, causing them to institute days of fasting in the first place. . Zech 7:11-12But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. 12 Yes, they made their hearts like flint, 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.

A. Their fathers had hardened their hearts (stopped their ears…refusing to hear) against the clear words of God and disobeyed His law. In essence God told this present generation, do not make the same mistake, and you will have no reason to be sorrowful or fast again.

V. Fasting Will Turn to Joy… His second line of argument is the promised blessing of God’s people. In chapter 8 God tells the people He is zealous for Jerusalem, His city (8:2) – Zech 8:3 – “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the Lord of hosts, The Holy Mountain.’

A. The people are told not to be afraid, but continue to obey God. He will bring the joy back. (old men and women living without fear, and children playing in the streets again) In a direct connection to their original question Zechariah says… Zech 8:19 – Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘The fast of the fourth month, The fast of the fifth, The fast of the seventh, And the fast of the tenth, Shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts For the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.’ There is a sense in which these promises were fulfilled in the restored remnant of Zechariah’s day. But the fuller meaning looks forward to the days of the Messiah, Jesus.

      • The entire prophecy of Zechariah is Messianic; and, although many of the prophecies of Messiah’s times also had material fulfillment in some of the immediate blessings that fell on the literal city of Jerusalem, nevertheless, the burden of this chapter and of the whole book relates to the blessings in Christ.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

1. Contrary to the millenialists, Zechariah is not predicting a future restoration of a nationalistic Israel or a literal Jerusalem. This seems evident from the apostolic references to prophecies of Zechariah and others. In the N.T. Christians are called “The Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), the “Chosen People” (1 Pet. 2:9), ” the “Royal Priesthood“, (1 Pet. 2:9) even “The Twelve Tribes” (James 1:1) and the Jerusalem from above (Gal. 4:26). God’s people are no determined by race but rather by their allegiance to Jesus. A covenant is surely in view here, but it is the “New Covenant” prophesied in Jer 31:31-35. The writer of Hebrews certainly depicts the fulfillment of this new city and covenant as the time of the preaching of the Gospel in the N.T. Heb 12:22-24 – But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. Note: In this connection, it should always be remembered that no Jew was ever excluded from this covenant on account of his race, any more than he ever qualified for membership in it on account of his race.

B. “grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man…” Before we close, consider one further picture of a restored and blessed Israel. Zech 8:20-23 20 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Peoples shall yet come, Inhabitants of many cities; 21 The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord, And seek the Lord of hosts. I myself will go also.” 22 Yes, many peoples and strong nations Shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, And to pray before the Lord.’ 23 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”‘”

1. What an improbable prediction in Zechariah’s day. The rest of the world (Gentiles) seeking the God of Israel, and coming to Jerusalem – a city with no military or political power, no completed Temple, no walls. I want to take a minute and read from the words of Thomas Moore, as he describes the fulfillment of this prophecy:

          •  “When this prediction was uttered nothing seemed more hopelessly improbable than its fulfillment. The Jews were a poor, despised, obscure tribe in the heart of Syria, whose existence was only known to the mighty world by their furnishing a trophy to the victorious areas of Babylon. Greece was just riding in the firmament of human history, and as she ascended to her brilliant zenith her track was marked by the sweeping of the phalanxes of Alexander and the legions of Antiochus over the hills and valleys of Judea. And yet this prophecy remained unfulfilled. Rome was then in the rugged feebleness of her world-nursed infancy and slowly continued to grow until she reached that gigantic stature in which she ruled the earth, and her conquering legions under Pompey again swept over this fated land and even desecrated the places of her holy solemnities. Five hundred years rolled away, and yet this prophecy remained unfulfilled, indeed seemed farther from fulfillment than when it was uttered. “But at length the time arrived, and there came to Jerusalem ‘men out of every nation under heaven—Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians’—all came up to Jerusalem to seek the face of Jehovah, and from the lips of a Jew they heard words that caused them to cry out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall I do?’ They scattered to their own homes again and carried with them the strange words that had so deeply moved their souls, and being followed by these wonder-working men, there soon began to work a new life among the nations of the earth, and this life took hold in its origin and efficacy upon a Jew. Greece with her polished dialectics, Rome with her mailed mightiness, Asia with her soft voluptuousness—all submitted to the authority of a Savior who was a Jew; all rested their hopes for eternity upon a Jew; and soon received as divinely inspired the words and writings of men who were Jews. And for nearly two thousand years the mightiest intellects and largest hearts of the race have breathed the spirit and studied the words of men who were Jews and have sought as the most precious boon of existence the privilege of being covered with a robe of righteousness that was wrought by the divinely incarnated hands of one who is of the seed of Abraham after the flesh, though as to his higher nature, God over all, blessed forever. And at this day there are literally men of all nations and kindreds and tribes and people who are laying hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, and casting in their lot with those whom God chose to be a people for himself, and resting their hopes on that crucified Jew, who is the Saviour of the world.” (from Boice Expositional Commentaries,)

Conclusion: grasping the skirt is a gesture naturally used to entreat assistance and protection. (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary) God was zealous for His people. He would send them a Savior. Those who submitted to Him in true obedience would be protected. Matt 28:18-208 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.