Zechariah 7 Commentary Verses 8-14: Let’s turn our attention to Zechariah 7.
We’ll be continuing today in a section that began in the first verse of this chapter with a question. A few of the Jews had been sent by others to ask whether they should continue to mourn and fast commemorating the destruction of their temple around 70 years prior to this point.
And they get their answer. Well, they get four installments to their answer because God replies to their question with four separate responses.
Last time, we saw the first response that God gave to their question regarding whether they should keep weeping and fasting concerning the destruction of their temple and of Jerusalem.
And that first response basically probed the nature of their fasting. We saw that God was not at all impressed with their fasting because they did it selfishly.
In other words, because God had sent them to Jerusalem to build his temple and they had not done it but rather they were just living their lives for themselves – whatever they did – whether they ate or drank or abstained from these activities – it was all selfish. And God was not impressed.
Zechariah 7 Commentary: God’s Second Response (7:8-14)
And that brings us to God’s second response to their question about fasting in the 5th month. So, let’s read verses 8-14 of Zechariah 7 to start to understand the next point that God wants to make to these Jews of Zechariah’s day.
[Read Zec 7:8-14…]
So, this section breaks down into three major parts.
We have God’s original message to the Israelites of old – the commands he gave to his people before he had to send them into exile. That’s verses 8-10.
Then God details their response to that original message. And we come to discover that the people’s response to God’s message before the exile was stubborn rebellion. That’s verses 11-12a.
And finally, in this section we have God reminding these Jews that he was left with no choice but to punish them. And the way that he chose to punish them was by sending them out of their land. We see that in verses 12b-14.
Zechariah 7 Commentary God’s Original Message (8-10)
So, let’s look at God’s original message that went unheeded for a long time by his people. It’s a message that is very relevant to their question of whether they should mourn the destruction of their temple, because their original response to this message caused the destruction of that very temple!
8 ¶ [And/Then/Again] the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying,
9 [Thus speaketh/Thus has X said/X said] the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all/Almighty], saying,
So, the following content is something that God had already expressed in the past. We need to be clear on that. It’s not that the Jews of Zechariah’s day were being told this – no, this was the message that their ancestors heard. Here it is.
[Execute/Dispense/Exercise/Administer/Judge] [true/righteous (LXX)] [judgment/justice],
and [shew mercy/practice kindness/show brotherhood/deal mercifully] and compassions [every man to his brother/to each other/to one another]:
10 And oppress not the widow, nor the [fatherless/orphan], the [stranger/foreigner/alien], nor the poor;
[and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart./and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’/nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’/In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’]
So, the Lord is focused on how the Jews treated their fellow-man.
God’s first response to their question about fasting was to probe their relationship to him directly. Remember that he identified their selfish fasting and eating and how they were fasting – but that it wasn’t done … for him. That was the big emphasis – they were performing the religious activity of fasting – but it was not for the Lord that they were doing it.
Now in this new section, the Lord is focusing on the Jews’ mistreatment of their fellow humans. As Jesus stated, the great commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor. The Jews had not loved God as we saw in the last response from the Lord. And now here we’re told that they did not love their neighbor properly.
And God reminds the people that he gave their ancestors in a general way two positive commands and two negative commands that encouraged them to love their neighbor.
First, positively, the Lord commanded that these people execute true justice. He wanted them to see to it that justice was done – that everyone got fair and impartial treatment.
Second, positively again, the Lord commanded the Jews to treat each other with mercy and compassion.
Third, negatively, the Lord had told these people’s ancestors to not oppress those who were neediest and most helpless in society.
This is the opposite of the first command – to execute justice. Oppression of course is not justice.
And then fourth, negatively, the Jews had been commanded to not think up evil plots against each other.
And this would be the opposite of the second positive command given – to treat each other with mercy and compassion. Plotting and planning and scheming to ruin someone else is not the definition of mercy and compassion.
So, that’s what God wanted from these people’s ancestors – the Israelites from days of old. It’s not complicated – do what’s right, be kind – and then the opposite – don’t oppress the weak, don’t plan to do evil to others.
Simple. Right? Love your neighbor. That’s all. Not complicated or complex.
Zechariah 7 Commentary The People’s Original Response (11-12)
But the Jews of old demonstrate the wickedness of man’s natural heart. When it comes down to it, God shows us through their example of failures that it isn’t all that easy for sinful man to do right to – and to love – his neighbor.
And so, this message that God had been giving the Jews for centuries went unheeded before, according to verses 11 and 12.
11 But they refused to [hearken/pay attention],
[and pulled away the shoulder/and turned a stubborn shoulder/turning away stubbornly/stubbornly they turned their backs],
and [stopped/stopped up] their [ears, that they should not hear/ears from hearing/ears so they could not hear/ears].
12 Yea, they made their hearts as [an adamant stone/flint/hard as diamond],
[lest they should/so that they could not] [hear/obey] the [law/Torah], and the words which the LORD of hosts [hath/had] sent [in/by] his spirit [by/through] the [former/earlier] prophets:
So, this is a synopsis of how God’s chosen people for the most part received God’s words and instructions and corrections. And this is also how the natural man tends to treat any sort of communication from God.
It’s rejection in every way. In the realm of hearing, this rejection takes the form of refusal to hear. In the realm of the mind, it’s an unwillingness to pay attention to God’s words. Even physically, there is a turning away of the shoulder stubbornly in response to God giving his instructions to a lost person. Internally, it’s as if our natural heart could be intentionally hardened – as hard as diamond.
So, God commands all mankind to love his neighbor – a very reasonable command. It’s a command that we ourselves benefit from if all of us are following it, even!
But we’ve just seen the response of mankind to this reasonable demand of the Lord. Rejection and rebellion and stubbornness and closing off of every sense to receive such a good and right command.
The command to love is a command that’s broken every time a wife is not submissive to her husband. It’s broken every time a husband fails to love his wife. When children disobey their parents this command to love one’s neighbor is broken. When parents don’t love their children it’s disobedience to the Lord’s desires.
This disobedience to God’s command to love one’s neighbor fills the news each and every day. As I was preparing this message, I decided to look at some of the news headlines to demonstrate how we’re doing as a race on obeying God’s command to love our neighbor.
The initial headline was something about a presidential candidate (not our current president) being inappropriate with a woman. Does that sound like real love?
Another headline read something about the crisis at America’s southern border. And depending on your political slant you’re going to see there either a lack of justice or a lack of mercy and compassion – and you know what? Both of those have been condemned by the Lord earlier in this passage!
We have one political party in our country calling another “scaredy-cats.” Another headline speaks of two segments of America and how fierce each side is toward one another. There’s a headline about a South American country whose dictatorial leader has run the place into the ground. Another article tells of how a left-leaning group has been accused of racism and sexism.
And of course, to understand fully the content of these articles and how they relate to God’s command for people to love one another, we’d need to take more time than we have here. But the point is – mankind is doing very poorly in terms of our requirement to obey God’s desire that we love one another – that we, as this passage says, positively execute justice and show mercy and negatively don’t oppress and don’t plan evil schemes against our fellow man.
Zechariah 7 Commentary God’s Corresponding Judgement (12b-14)
And so, lastly in this second response of the Lord to this question about fasting, he speaks of how he had to punish his people of old for not obeying his commands to love one another.
therefore [came a/X came/X was poured out] great wrath from the LORD of hosts.
This is God’s reaction to sustained disobedience from man in general – and especially those who claim to be his people and yet don’t obey him – great wrath.
This is a constant theme throughout the Scripture.
We’re told in Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;”
In Ephesians 5:6 the Apostle Paul tells us, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” Now, what things bring the wrath of God? Immorality, impurity, and greed according to verse 3 of that chapter. Filthiness, silly talk, and course jesting, according to verse 4. Immorality, impurity, covetousness, and idolatry, according to verse 5. And some of these things are directed against God directly. And yet, a number of these sins are sins against mankind.
So, God’s response to the sustained unrepentant sin of man against man – especially from those who identify as his people – is eventually (after great patience) great wrath.
And so, this is what this ended up looking like for the Jews. What did God’s great wrath look like for ancient Israel?
13 Therefore it is come to pass, that as he [cried/called/cried out], and they would not [hear/listen/obey];
so they [cried/called/cried out], and I would not [hear/listen],
saith the LORD of hosts:
And this is only fair. God had called out to them in these matters. He was communicating with them through his prophets. But the people refused to listen.
And so, eventually the Lord put them in a situation where they would finally need to address him and ask him for help and deliverance – but he refused to listen to them. Just like they treated him, so he treated them.
So, the ultimate result of God’s wrath and refusal to listen to his wayward people was to remove them from the portion of creation that he had carved out especially for them.
14 But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not.
Thus the land [was/had become/was left so] desolate [after/behind] them, [that/so that] no man [passed through/was crossing through/could come] nor [returned/returning/go]:
[for/This is how] they [laid/made] the [pleasant/fruitful/choice] land [desolate/a waste].
And this last verse gets to the reason that these Jews had to come and ask the question they asked at the beginning of this chapter.
They came to ask the Lord if they should keep fasting in the fifth month. Why were they fasting in the fifth month? It’s because that’s when Babylon came – around 70 years previous to this – and they destroyed Jerusalem and sent the Jews out of their land.
That’s what God is talking about here! Sending his people out of their land and leaving the land desolate because of their sin.
And we mentioned already that this all happened because of God’s wrath. Constant and persistent disobedience to God’s commands to love one another brings God’s wrath especially to those who claim to be God’s people.
But for those of us who are God’s people through faith in his son, Jesus Christ, we have this wonderful word of assurance in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The message of Scripture is that we are terrible sinners – all of us. We do not love God and we do not love our neighbor. And because of this, wrath is coming on the sons of disobedience.
Who are the sons of disobedience? Everyone. Because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s unique moral perfection.
So, wrath is coming on everyone… unless, God has appointed you to salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ! He willingly suffered the penalty for my and your stubborn unwillingness to obey God’s reasonable commands.
And everyone is now welcomed to be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus Christ. Whoever wants to may come. It’s like John 3:36 says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” It’s as simple as that. Believe in Jesus Christ and you have life that never ends.
But the alternative is in the second part of that verse, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Two choices face all of us. The default is God’s wrath for our sin. The second merciful glorious choice is to put your full faith in God’s Son and receive eternal life.
The Jews of the Old Testament opted for the former choice. They would rather remain in their sin than believe God’s promises and submissively respond to his commands. And so, wrath came on them as an example for us.
And all of this so far in Zechariah 7 has been relatively negative for the Jews who came to ask the priests and prophets this question about fasting. They have been reminded how their ancestors had not loved God and had not loved their fellow man and so, they received wrath from God.
But – true to the nature of this book of Zechariah – there is hope! For the very next section says this – “KJV Zechariah 8:2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury. 3 Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain.”
So, things were bad because of the people’s sins. But God isn’t finished with them. And he’s going to show mercy to them once more. And so, we’ll hear more about God’s merciful return to his people next time.