During the years that God’s people were in exile in Babylon, some observant Jews developed a custom of fasting to commemorate the month when the place of God’s presence in Jerusalem had been destroyed by invading armies. In the time of Zechariah they wondered whether they should continue with that practice now that a new temple was being rebuilt.
The Lord answered them with a question. “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month … was it for Me that you fasted?” A second probing inquiry from God concerned their times of feasting. “And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?”
How would they know whether they were living for themselves or for the glory of Jehovah? True repentance would be a more accurate indication of their spiritual condition than any prolonged habit of ceremonial holiness.
The Lord directed their attention to the words and history surrounding former prophets like Jeremiah. How had God instructed His chosen ones in earlier years before their deportation, and what was their response to His Word? The Lord had given their fathers simple directions consistent with His moral Law and His own character. “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” How had Judah reacted to these commandments? “They refused to pay attention.”
God’s children had been very stubborn during those earlier decades. “Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.” Jehovah had spoken to them, but they had ignored Him to their own peril. What was the discipline of the Lord concerning their rebellion? When “they called” out to Him, He “would not hear.” He “scattered them” among “the nations,” and their homeland “was made desolate.”
In every generation from the days of righteous Job to the present hour, distressed human beings have come to God with their questions. He confronts our confusion with His own simply clarity. Frequently His responses have to do with knowing and trusting Him. Like the apostle Paul, we are at our best when we learn to see grace in our sufferings, remembering that God has addressed our deepest needs through the life and death of His beloved Son. As Paul wrote from a prison cell in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed.” Our God is able to guard our lives and our ministries until the moment when our temporary afflictions are more than overwhelmed by the wonder of His eternal glory.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, Your people of old pretended to be diligent concerning matters of obedience to Your Law, yet they made up commandments that You had not given to them. Though they claimed to serve You, they would not listen to Your Word. Will we go the same way? Take away our hypocrisy. Soften our hearts to hear You. Make us generous to the poor, and use us as ambassadors of Your loving-kindness wherever You send us.