Zechariah chapter 7

We approached this chapter by first reading a lovely reference which has direct bearing on the chapter:

Isaiah 58:1-12
“'Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
   “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.'”

The above passage contains references to fasting and defines fasting from God’s perspective. The men in Zechariah 7 come to the prophet to enquire about the relevancy of the fast observed by the exiled Jews in Babylonia. This fast was to remember the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. They enquire as the Temple is being rebuilt and they question the necessity of continuing this particular fast. We can almost see their thought patterns revealed: “This fast has achieved its purpose! Why should we continue to observe it? We are wearied by all the weeping and fasting. Enough of this burden!”  However, God answers them in language very similar to Isaiah 58 (above) by stating that their fasting was instituted by themselves for themselves! They had invented this fast for it does not correspond to any Fast that God had instituted. This reminds us of the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-12 “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” This Pharisee even fasted twice a week! But his fasts only served himself to make him appear more pious and more religious to his human observers. God, however, is not fooled by such pretense and the Pharisee’s fasts were without worth in God’s eyes.

In Zechariah 7:11 we find the original Hebrew text painting an interesting image. God is speaking about the Jews in days past who refused to pay attention to His words spoken through His prophets. In verse 11 the word often translated as “backsliding” is more correctly translated (as in the KJV) as “pulled away the shoulder”. This gives us a much better understanding of the word “backsliding”.  Many times I have heard Christians say that they (or someone) are backsliding a bit. However, the Hebrew words make it very clear that 'backsliding' is a deliberate, conscious 'pulling back of the shoulder' (out of the yoke) – what a sobering thought! In this regard we looked at the following references:

Hosea 4:16 “The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the Lord pasture them like lambs in a meadow?” 
Nehemiah 9:29 “You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen.”

In Zechariah 7:13, we find a statement that Christians sometimes find hard to swallow: “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen.” We found that similar warnings appear several times in Scripture:
Proverbs 1:28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.”
Micah 3:4 “Then they will cry out to the Lord, but he will not answer them. At that time he will hide his face from them because of the evil they have done.”
Jeremiah 11:14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”
Jeremiah 14:12 “Then the Lord said to me, 'Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.'”

Those who refuse to yield to the Lord as Almighty God and deliberately and consciously ‘pull away the shoulder’ make a big mistake in assuming that God will always be there to listen to them.  However, we have those comforting words of Psalm 51:17 “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise.” May the Lord grant us the understanding by His Spirit to know Him for who He truly is so that our hearts will be acceptably broken and contrite before our most holy God. Hallelujah!