4 Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, 5 “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me? 6 When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? 7 Should you not have obeyed the words which the Lord proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?’ “
A delegation from Bethel inquired about Judah’s observance of fast days commemorating the siege and destructions of Jerusalem. Zechariah’s message critiqued their fasts during that time because the temple’s rebuilding should have been a time of celebration. Zechariah does not answer the delegation’s question until Zechariah 8:18-19.
Then the word of the Lord of hosts [armies] came to me [Zechariah], saying,
Although Zechariah gave the message, it was not his but the Lord’s.
“Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years,
God’s response through Zechariah was to all the people of Israel, not just to the small delegation.
The “fifth” month fast related to the murder of Gedaliah (the governor Nebuchadnezzar put in place after the fall of Jerusalem). A man by the name of Ishmael murdered him (Jer 41:43). The seventh month was Tishri, which was late September and early October.
The “seventy years” were the years spent in exile in Babylon. (Jer 25:11). Exiles observed two fasts during their time in Babylon, one in the fifth and the other in the seventh month.
did you really fast for Me—for Me?
God wants genuine worship, not ritual (Isa 1:11-17; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24). This was a rebuke of empty formalism without spiritual reality.
When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?
The group from Bethel did not come to truly worship but to draw attention to themselves by piety.
Should you not have obeyed the words which the Lord proclaimed through the former prophets
The “former prophets” referred to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. It is of far greater importance to listen to what God says through his messengers than to formally fast. The emphasis here is on the “words” the LORD proclaimed through the prophets. These “words” revealed long ago were the answer for the Bethelites, not some trumped-up system of fasting.
when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South [Negev] and the Lowland [the Shephelah] were inhabited?’ “
The Negev was a desert region south of Jerusalem. The Shephelah was to the west of Jerusalem, which was lower in elevation compared to the holy city.
It is necessary to deal with the heart before obedience.
God always rebukes meaningless ritual.
God gives the answer to the delegation from Bethel in Zechariah 8:19. This will literally take place during the Messianic Kingdom when Christ rules the earth. Instead of fasts, there will be feasts. There will be no mourning then over our failures but joy in what the Lord has done for us.
True repentance is not a formality. Outward worship is worthless without a right heart. Men want rules, but God gives principles for godly living under the direction of the Holy Spirit. God always requires reality over ritual. Men tend to ease their conscience by formal activity rather than inner change and heartfelt worship.