Posted by: phillipmway | September 29, 2011

From Fasting to Feasting

In Zechariah 7 and 8 we read an account of a delegation traveling from Bethel to Jerusalem in order to question the priests and prophets regarding the observance of annual fasts in the nation of Judah. All throughout their captivity they had observed four fasts, each commemorating a specific date in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. One of these fasts, on the 7th day of the 5th month, remembered the destruction of the Temple. Now that a new Temple was being built and worship was about to be restored the people asked if they could stop holding these fasts. They were ready to move on and find closure from the remembrances and memorials of their time in captivity.

The Lord provided Zechariah with four answers to the question to be addressed to all the people. The first answer was given in the form of a question (7:4-7). The Lord asked the people, “When you fasted…did you really fast for Me – for Me?” The answer demonstrated that the people had been using the fasts as a superstitious ritual, believing that if they went through the motions then God would remember them and rescue them. The celebrations and memorials had become meaningless and self-serving.

The second answer was a statement (7:8-14) wherein the Lord told the people that He had sent His Word to them through the former prophets and they should have heeded His Word. This was a reminder that the true reason for the fasts was not the fall of Jerusalem, but the sin and hard heartedness that led to this judgment from the hand of God. The people cared more about the consequences of sin than the sin itself. The solution then was to move back toward living in such a way that there was justice and righteousness, mercy and compassion, and a lack of oppression and evil plans within the community. This points us to the truth that true religion is marked by acts of worship toward God that lead to acts of service and ministry toward others (James 2:14-17; Psa. 98:8-9; Micah 6:8; James 1:27).

The third answer (8:1-17) moves from rebuke to encouragement as the Lord assures the people that He loves them with a zealous love, demonstrated in His returning to His people, restoring the city and the Temple, and blessing the nation. God promises to restore truth, prosperity, and peace. Of course the true blessing here is found not in the abundance of things or of people as the nation is rebuilt, but is found in the fact that God is dwelling with them. His presence is the greatest blessing! He promises to once again dwell among His people on His holy mountain (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). In these promises the Lord gives the people a reason to believe and a motive for service to others – truth and godliness is demonstrated in how we serve others. Do we speak the truth? Do we strive to keep the peace? Do we despise deceit? True religion includes walking in the truth motivated by love for God and others.

The fourth answer (8:18-23) is another promise. The fasting will be replaced with feasting. The remembrance of sin and captivity will be transformed into celebrations of salvation and deliverance. From rebuke, conviction of sin, and judgment comes the fruit of repentance and restoration. In seeing how the people had sinned and neglected true worship, the prophet was able to encourage the people to once again place their trust in the Lord, to embrace His promises and obey His Word. The result would be the blessing of His presence now and promises of future blessings too great to imagine.

Looking back through history we run into difficulty. The fourth answer to the people’s question was that the fasting would be transformed into feasting, from mourning to celebration. But that did not happen. In fact, Judaism still today observes the four fasts from their time in captivity 2500 years ago. So when will the fasting turn to feasting?

There are numerous passages in the Old and New Testaments that allude to a restoration of Israel before the Second Coming of Christ. Several OT prophets make specific promises to the people of Israel and Judah, promises that cannot be explained away as having only a spiritual or allegorical fulfillment. And in the New Testament, we find a clear promise from the letter of Paul to the Romans where we are told that Israel has been hardened for a time so that the gospel might go out to the Gentiles, but later “all Israel will be saved.”

We see then that the fasts of Israel will be turned into feasting for both Jewish and Gentile believers, where the middle wall of separation (the distinction between Jew and Gentile) has been broken down as Christ has called people into His church from all nations.

We are told here in Zechariah 8 that people from all nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. The Jews will be known to have found restored favor with God, and together with Gentiles will minister before the Lord during His millennial reign.

The final answer to the question regarding true worship is the cry, “Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.” As James Boice wrote in his commentary on this passage, “Happy is the one who is among those who hear that call and go with Jesus.”

Join us this Sunday, October 2, as we examine the third and fourth answers given in Zechariah 8 in a message titled “The Holy Mountain”. Come, let us go to entreat the Lord and seek His face! Let us serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with singing!


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