ZECHARIAH

The Question About Fasting
Part Two
Zech. 8:1-23

. INTRODUCTION

As bleak as some of the warnings to Israel in chapter 7 are, the promises to Israel in chapter 8 are even brighter. God issues dire warnings to Israel in chapter 7 and then turns around promises a blessed future to Israel in chapter 8. What is going on here? Is God schizophrenic?

No, He is not. In these 2 chapters God is basically using the carrot and stick approach to motivate Israel to live for Him. As parents sometimes we have to use discipline in order to get our children to straighten up. That may or may not include corporal punishment. [Whereas some children are so sensitive that all it takes is for their dad to frown at them to make them straighten up, some children though are so headstrong that even severe beatings (which I do not recommend!) won't make a dent in their behavior.] On the other hand, some (not all) of these same children respond positively to positive reinforcement. When some children are promised a reward for good behavior, they immediately start acting good. The carrot works well with some children, while the stick works better with other. The wise parent knows his child well enough so that he will know which approach to take to ensure that his child acts right.

Well, God as a wise parent is taking the same approach here in Zech. 7 and 8. For some people all it takes is for God to promise them something good for them to straighten up. For others though God needs to use the stick. God may prefer the carrot approach; however, He is not beneath using the stick approach either, if using the stick means we straighten up. Well, God has used the stick approach in chapter 7; now He is going to offer the carrot to the Israelites in order to draw them to Him.

THE BASIS FOR GOD'S PROMISE OF BLESSING (8:1-2)

After all that the Jews had gone through, what would ever give them the idea that God really wanted to bless them? The Babylonians had devastated their lands. The Temple lay in ruins. Did any of these indicate that God favored the Jews at all?

Actually these disasters DID indicate God favored the Jews. There were other countries which actually acted more wickedly than Judah had before the Babylonian invasion, and yet God had not disciplined those countries (the book of Habakkuk raises just this very issue with God). The reason that God dealt severely with Israel is that He was ZEALOUS for her. God in many places claims that He is JEALOUS God when it comes to His people.

Where did this zeal come from? Earlier on God had entered into a contractual (covenant) relationship with Israel. When God met Moses and the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, not only did He commit Himself to the Israelites, they also committed themselves to Him. The best example we have of such a personal commitment is that of the marriage between a man and a woman. The man loves the woman so much that he commits himself to her, and vice versa.

Along with that commitment comes great passion. In fact great passion is what led the man to commit himself to the woman in the first place and vice versa. As a result whenever a woman breaks that commitment by sleeping with another man or a man breaks that commitment by sleeping with another woman, great passion is going to flow from the injured spouse. Everybody used to understand this. That is the reason in the past a woman would be found not guilty if she walked in on her husband with another woman and shot and killed both of them.

In the same way God passionately committed Himself to Israel. He will brook no rival in His relationship to Israel. Just like the wronged husband used to display great passion whenever his wife went astray, so God displays great passion whenever His bride goes astray. That's part of the package of being in a committed relationship with God, the only kind acceptable to Him. This zeal for Israel is the reason that God disciplined Israel.

The flip side to this though is also good. When we wrong God, His passion for us can lead us to suffering much pain. On the other hand, whenever we submit to God, we experience His great pleasure and blessing. Throughout most of the rest of the chapter Zechariah outlines what those pleasures and blessings are if we His people submit to Him.


THE BLESSINGS GOD WILL POUR OUT UPON A SUBMISSIVE PEOPLE (8:3-17)

God Will Come to Dwell Among Us (8:3)

First, God promises that if His people return to Him, then He will come to dwell in their midst. At first this does not sound all that amazing in light of the fact that the Jews were God's people and that God surely always dwelt in His Temple. The truth though was that even though the Jews were God's people, He did not automatically dwell among them, nor did He automatically dwell in His Temple. In one of the saddest passages in the OT Ezekiel (around 586 B.C.) sees the Glory or Presence of God moving from the Temple mound, across the Kidron Valley, to the Mount of Olives to the east of the Temple (Ezekiel 10). What did this vision mean? It meant that although the Temple was still the house of God, God had abandoned it. God had protected His people and the Temple for the past 300+ years, and yet they had consistently turned away from Him. They didn't want God; so He was leaving them. By leaving them, God was also opening up for them to be attacked and destroyed by the Babylonians. God had left the Temple mound about 70 years earlier. Now He was going to return if they would return to Him.

What is amazing is that we see just this same scenario operating in Matt. 23-24. According to John, Jesus was the place where God dwelt among men (John 1:14). Where Jesus was, God was because God indwells Jesus. After Jesus ministered to the Jews for 3 years, after they had repeatedly rejected Him, Jesus in turn rejected them. After their final rejection of Jesus, Jesus moved from the Temple, across the Kidron Valley to the Mt. of Olives just like in Ezekielís vision. Judgment was now about to fall upon Israel (Matt. 25).


Other Blessings Upon the Jews (8:4-17)

Zechariah next lists several other blessings God will bestow upon the Jews if they return and rebuild His Temple:

  1. Justice in the land: right now we are facing a serious crisis in our country. The question is, "What do we base our laws upon? Upon God or upon majority opinion?" Although this nation was founded upon the principle of separation of CHURCH and state, it was NOT founded upon the principle of separation of GOD and state. Because of this secularization in the judicial system we are being delivered judges who don't care about the Law; they care only about empathizing with THEIR people, people who agree with them, people they feel have been wronged. When this happens, justice is thrown out the window. God though promises to restore justice to Israel if they would return to Him. When God is present in our midst, justice dominates the way people treat each other.
  2. Rejoicing: Zechariah claims that the children will rejoice in the streets. Whatever else the presence of God in our midst brings, it always brings joy (if we are truly living for Him). When Jesus ushers the righteous into His kingdom, He says: "Enter into the JOY of your Master" (Matt. 25:22, 24).
  3. Long life: in addition to rejoicing Zechariah claims that long life will be another characteristic of people living in a restored Jerusalem. Both old men and old women will sit outside their homes watching the children play. Long life depends upon 2 things: peace and health. Apparently when Israel returns to the Lord, God will remove all conflict from her. Moreover, God will grant her health so that she may live much longer than she would have otherwise. How important is long life? It is THE promise, the FIRST promise, God attaches to one of His 10 Commandments, the 5th (Exodus 20:12).
  4. The fruitfulness of the land: before the conquest of Canaan God had promised that the Holy Land would be one flowing with milk and honey. Years of war had devastated the land. In the late 1940's when the Jews returned to the Holy Land they saw a land devastated by war and neglect, just the very kind of land the Jews of Zechariah's day saw. In the 1940's Israel was a land of swamps, primitive structures, etc. Within 20 years those swamps had been drained to produce one of the most fertile strips of land in the Middle East, the Jezreel Valley. This transformation of the land from barrenness to fertility was just the very thing God was promising the Jews of Zechariah's day if only they would return to the Lord.

To sum this up Zechariah claims that whereas in the past few years the nations claimed that the Lord had cursed Israel, now the nations will claim that Israel has become a beneficiary of God's blessings. She will finally experience fully the promise God had made to Israel's father, Abraham:

"I will bless you
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you, . . .
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3).

How much of a blessing will Israel experience if she returns to the Lord? Zechariah claims that when this day comes that each Jew will have 10 Gentiles who have attached themselves to him. The Gentiles will attach themselves to the Jews so that they too can experience the same blessings that the Jews themselves experience (the list of blessings above).

All of this sounds all so Old Testament and out of date, especially in light of the fact that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God. The only problem with that statement is that the church has NOT replaced Israel as God's people. The church has joined with Israel in becoming God's people, but she has never replaced Israel. The Gentile church is a joint-heir with the Jewish people. HOWEVER, and this is a big HOWEVER, although the church is joint-heirs with the Jewish people of God's blessings, the Jews, especially Jewish Christians, are first among equals. Throughout Romans Paul reiterates the phrase: "To the Jew FIRST and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). The day of the Gentile church is coming to a close; God will once more focus on the Jewish people in a dramatic fashion. There will be a massive turning of the Jew to Jesus before the end. They will finally experience fully God's promised blessing to Abraham and his seed (Rom. 11:25-36). On that day the Gentiles will flock around the Jews to receive the same blessings they will receive.


FINAL RESPONSE ABOUT THE QUESTION OF FASTING (8:18-23)

So should the Jews fast or not on those days of national remembrance? God's answer: "No!" Rather, they should turn those days and other ones like them into days of great feasting and rejoicing. God's hand of judgment had been removed from the people. He had restored them to bounty and plenty. It was now the time of rejoicing, not mourning.

Christ gives the same answer to you and me. When the Pharisees criticized Jesus because John the Baptist's disciples fasted while His did not, Jesus replied that His disciples were facing a different scenario than John's disciples were facing. Whenever a guest is at a wedding party, he does not fast whenever the bridegroom appears; rather he rejoices and celebrates. In the same way Jesus is the bridegroom who has come to woo His bride to Himself. The bridegroom is here. It is time to celebrate and rejoice! (see Mark