1 Now 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?”
In chapters 7 and 8, we have four explanatory messages. Zechariah 7:1-14 addresses the practical applications of Judah’s repentance. The first message dealt with the issue of fasting (Zech 7:1-3).
Two years had elapsed since Zechariah received his night visions. Chapter 7 brings us to the fourth year of Darius’ reign, the year 518 B.C.
Now 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,
The fourth year of King Darius was 518 BC. Two years had passed since Zechariah’s call to repentance (Zech 1:1). This was halfway through the reconstruction of the Temple (520-516 BC).
The month “Chislev” is the ninth month in the Hebrew calendar, which is late November and early December 518 BC in Western calendars.
God spoke to Zechariah about phony fasting worship. The phrase “the word of the LORD came to” is significant in relation to the fourth year of King Darius. It was a time of special divine revelation.
when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God [in Bethel],
Bethel was about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. “Bethel” means house of God. This group from Bethel was sent to offer sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem, which was in the process of being rebuilt (Ezra 3:10-13). They asked whether it was right to fast since the Temple was in the process of being rebuilt.
to pray before the Lord,
The remnant set up the altar immediately after their return from Babylon (Ezra 3:1-3).
and to ask the priests who were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and the prophets, saying,
The question of the delegation implied that it was no longer necessary to continue fasting in the “fifth month.” Ab, the fifth month, probably commemorated Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city and Temple (2 Kgs 25:8-10).
“Prophets” received direct revelation from God. The “priests” taught what the LORD said.
“Should I weep [mourn]in the fifth month [Ab] and fast as I have done for so many years?”
The fifth month was Ab, which was late July and early August. The group from Bethel sought the approval of religious leaders in Jerusalem for their fasting. Their question sought out the propriety of fasting as a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians (2 Kg 25:8; Jer 52:12).
Formal worship without reality is an abomination to God.
Ritualistic and liturgical religion can be a problem. People can go through the motions of worship without experiencing the reality of God. When the heart is right, then ritual can be proper. When the heart is wrong, ritual is deadly because it gives an appearance of genuine worship, but it is a phony act.