READ: Zechariah 7-8
THINK: 2 years have passed since the eight night visions that make up the first 6 chapters of Zechariah, and work on the temple is progressing nicely when the events of these 2 chapters take place. A delegation from Bethel comes to Jerusalem to seek God’s favor and ask a really practical question of Zechariah: should they keep up with some certain Jewish fasts or are those fasts no longer necessary?
Why the question? Well, these fasts weren’t included or required by the book of the law. Instead, the fast of the 4th month, 5th month, 7th month, and 10th month were all related to specific events during the fall of Jerusalem when it was besieged and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (like when he broke into the city, when he destroyed the temple, etc.). The delegation of Bethel realized that Jerusalem and the temple were now being rebuilt so they wondered whether God still wanted them to fast in mourning over it’s destruction. And on the surface that wasn’t a ridiculous question.
But Zechariah’s answer is powerful – for the delegation, for the entire nation of Israel, and for us thousands of years later. He points out that the reason their ancestors were exiled to Egypt was because of their spiritual poverty. They went through the motions with the law but their hearts chased after pagan gods and the things of the world. And then he points out that the very fasts that are being discussed are perfect examples of that. People aren’t engaging them to honor God. They’re engaging them to check off the boxes of spiritual performance, trying to somehow be good enough for God and earn his approval, even though the fasting is something they don’t really want to do.
And Zechariah powerfully points out to the people the fact that God never asked them to perform a bunch of tasks – he never ever required these fasts in the first place – but he did ask them to be merciful and compassionate to one another. Essentially, the people of Israel get called out for reducing faith to a number of boxes to be checked and tasks to be accomplished. And God says, “No! That’s not the point. It isn’t about performing the rituals or going through the motions! Faith in me is about allowing me to transform your heart to the point where you reflect me to your world and show my love to the widows and the orphans and the broken.”
I think it’s really easy for us to do the same thing Israel did. To allow our faith to be more about what we do than who we are. And when we do that we tragically miss out on the big idea.
ASK: In what ways have you reduced faith to a list of tasks to be performed? In what ways have you allowed your Christianity to be about ritual rather than relationship?
PRAY: Spend some time in confession today, and thank God for never giving up on us!