A Call for Kindness and Mercy

Thus says the LORD of hosts, 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” (vv. 9–10).

- Zechariah 7

As we continue our study of Zechariah, who foresaw many things that were to happen beyond his lifetime, we must also remember that his message had an original audience— the returned Jewish exiles—and an original purpose—to encourage the returnees in rebuilding the temple. Today’s passage addresses a specific situation during Zechariah’s lifetime, and the prophet’s response reveals the returned exiles’ commitment to God’s work.

Zechariah tells us that in the “fourth year of King Darius” a contingent from Bethel came to him to inquire about fasting. This was two years after the returned exiles had restarted the work of rebuilding the temple after the foundation had been left alone for some time (Zech. 7:1–3; see Ezra 3:8–6:12; Hag. 1:1–6; Zech. 1:1). Since we know that the rebuilt temple was completed in the “sixth year of the reign of Darius” (Ezra 6:13–15), the visit described in Zechariah 7 occurred about halfway through the temple’s reconstruction. Apparently, the people were getting weary from the work of rebuilding and even from their displays of piety, for they wanted to know if they could stop fasting during the fifth month, which was a fast to commemorate Babylon’s destruction of the temple (Zech. 7:3; see 2 Kings 25:8–9).

The prophet’s response tells us much about the true spiritual condition of the people. He essentially rebuked them for fasting not unto the Lord during the fifth and seventh months but for fasting to assuage their own consciences and to convince themselves of their devotion (Zech. 7:4–6). (The fast of the seventh month commemorated the murder of Gedaliah, the first Judean governor that Babylon appointed after the conquest of Jerusalem. See 2 Kings 25:22–26.) Clearly, the hearts of the people were not in the work and devotion that they were showing, which confirms the Lord’s word to Daniel that most of His people had not learned the lesson of exile and so the exilic conditions would continue (Dan. 9).

After this rebuke, Zechariah reminded the returned exiles of what the pre-exilic prophets had told them, namely, that one could not rest in mere religious formalism but had to have true faith that expresses itself in a heartfelt desire to keep God’s commandments. In particular, this means taking care of the defenseless and not devising evil against one’s neighbor (Zech. 7:7–14). These were some of the basic stipulations of the Mosaic law, and if the returnees could not obey them, they could be sent away from the Promised Land just as their ancestors were (Lev. 19:18; 26:27–33; Deut. 24:20–21).

Coram Deo

If we learn anything from the post-exilic community, it is the peril of not learning from God’s discipline. If we do not learn from His chastisement, we may suffer repeatedly. Thus, when we feel God’s disciplinary hand upon us, we should ask Him to teach us plainly the lessons that we must learn from our difficulties. Then we must put that learning into practice, even sharing with others what we have learned in order to help both them and us serve our Father better.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 5:7–14
Ezekiel 20:1–32
Luke 13:31–35
1 Corinthians 11:32

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