Zechariah 7 | Return Your Hearts
1In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
- The Temple was destroyed in the fifth month and the people taken captive to exile, which is why they mourned and fasted in the fifth month
- But as the people were now returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the walls, they had a confidence that their punishment was now ending – hence the question ‘should we continue fasting’
- The question shows that they are not thinking about and reflecting upon their time in exile, but are simply doing the outward actions without any internal reflection
- The people still seem to only be worshipping God with their actions and words, not with their hearts!
4Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 5“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?
- God does not answer their question but instead reveals their motive behind the question – that they are only thinking of themselves!
- The people had been fasting, but not for God, for themselves and to see their situation bettered. It’s like they were doing the bare minimum to try and restore their freedom and prosperity
- If the fasting was not for God, then certainly the feasting was not for God!
- This is a lesson to us all that in times of spiritual fasting (hard times, sacrifice) and feasting (holidays, blessing etc) that we do it with a heart inclined towards God and for his glory.
- God wanted his people on his team, but a poor team player does the bare minimum asked of him and does it begrudgingly. His heart is not to make the team win, but to make his life easier
7Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’ ”
- This was not new information to the Jews, God’s prophets had continually been calling them to inward repentance and purity, not just the outward observance of rituals (Isaiah 58)
8And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other [in your hearts].’
- God reveals the way in which he wants his people to live, which all have to do with inward motivations and purity
- If the people had lived according to these values in the first place they would not have been punished with exile
- God desires a people that ‘after his heart’ and are a true reflection of his divine character, who administer justice, show mercy and compassion and bless instead of oppress
11“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
- This was the response of the people and the result of our sin – that we continually reject God and his authority over our lives
- They made their ‘heart as hard as flint’ so that their hearts could not resemble God’s heart
- This is a picture of all humanity and how in our sinful state we pay no attention to God, turn our backs towards him and block our ears
- The result of our sin and rejection of God is that it stirs up God’s wrath and anger against us
13“ ‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one travelled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’ ”
- The result of their sin is that the people were scattered among the nations – God thrust them from his presence
- The people had not given their hearts to God. Now they are returning because of God’s mercy. God is reiterating the same message to them and compelling them to ‘return their hearts to Him’.
The returning Israelites question Zechariah whether they need to keep mourning and fasting since their future is now looking more positive. Zechariah responds with a question, asking them whether their hearts are truly for God or only for their own self-interest. Zechariah calls them to return their hearts to God and live with justice, compassion and love.