Week 7 – Lessons from the Prophets Cont’d
Day 3 – Zechariah and the Fatherless: Zechariah 7,8
So, what about the fatherless? Where do they come into this whole picture? Once again, they are at the heart of the issue.
Apparently, during the time of the captivity the Jews had been observing a time of fasting to mark the major events that led them into their captivity: In the fourth month they marked the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:6,7), in the fifth month the burning of the temple (Jeremiah 52:12), in the seventh month the murder of Gedaliah, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land (Jeremiah 41:1,2) and in the tenth month the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:4,5). In Zechariah chapter seven, the people come to Zechariah with a question for God, “Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?”
God’s answer may have come as a bit of a surprise to the Jews. He didn’t say, “No, don’t worry, no more need to weep, you’re back in Jerusalem now.” He didn’t say, “Yes, keep on weeping so that the generations to come will remember what was done.” He said,
“When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” (7:5)
Instead of giving a “yes” or “no” on the action, he issued a challenge to their motive. He goes on to say, “And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?” What a rebuke! Just reading it brings up that sense of internal cowering that we feel as children, or even as employees, when our parents or employers call the whole group out on something and we all know that they are right.
Fasting and repentance are not always the same thing. It is possible to fast and have an unrepentant heart. Repentance is evidenced by giving heed to God’s Word, turning from our sins and walking in the way He has commanded us: God does not appreciate us replacing that with a fast. The Jews were essentially fasting and sorrowing over the consequences of their sin, not over the sin itself. God continues His rebuke by telling them what they should have been doing,
“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?”
Once again, it’s like a parent rebuking their children – “Why didn’t you do what I told you to do? Look where your disobedience has gotten you. And then, instead of going and doing it after I corrected you – what did you do? – you just sat on the floor in ashes and cried about it.”
God addressed this type of fasting in Isaiah 58, “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the band of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:5-7)
As God continues His answer to Zechariah, His words are basically a repeat of what He has already said to Israel through the prophets of old, “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show 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.” (7:9-10)
There is an undeniable, almost sickening, difference in the verses that follow these two passages. In Isaiah, God goes on to say, “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning; and thy health shall spring forth speedily…” (Isaiah 58:8) Obedience would be honored by blessing. But, in Zechariah the story is much different, “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that 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.” (7:11,12) The promises before were so much different than the realities after, not because God changed or was unjust, but because Israel had not obeyed. In their disobedience they lost their reward and gained judgment. It didn’t have to be that way, all that was needed was obedience.
In Zechariah 8, God tells of His commitment to restore Jerusalem’s blessing. In verses sixteen and seventeen, He tells the people what He desires them to do, “These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.” In a way, this verse is a predecessor to Christ’s summary of the law: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) God is drawing all of the many points of the law down to the issues of the heart. Here He is saying, I’ve already told you what sort of judgment you are to execute, now do it. I have already told you how to behave toward your neighbors, now do it.
The promised result is beautiful: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fitfth month, and the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month, shall be to the house of Judah for joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” (8:19)
What about us? Is repentance needed? Well, let’s examine ourselves. Where do we fall in these matters of ministering to the needy, the oppressed, the fatherless, the widows, the poor, the strangers? In so many cases we have neatly swept them under a rug of excuse: The social gospel excuse, the “their working the system” excuse, the “I dont’ have much myself I can’t help” excuse, the “that’s what government programs are for” excuse. God’s desire for us as His children is that our light shine forth as the morning, but that only comes as a result of obedience. Will we obey? Will we let him turn our fasting into feasting? Our sorrow into joy and gladness? Our mourning into dancing? OR will we continue on in Sodom’s other sins?
Up Next: Day 4: Orphaned – The Cold, Hard Facts
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