Fasting in Sorrow or Fasting in Joy

Zechariah Eight


         Zechariah seven began with a small group of people asking about continuing to fast in sorrow. Zechariah eight closed with many nations fasting in joy. Zechariah chapter seven gave a picture of desolation. "But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate." (Zechariah 7:14) Zechariah chapter eight gave a picture of joy and hope. "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace." (Zechariah 8:19) The people of Zechariah's days were in the same danger that their fathers had experienced. Their empty practice of religion would cause them to suffer the same consequences as the previous generation. It was God's desire to return to Zion with joy and peace, not sorrow.


            The key expression in Zechariah eight is "the LORD of hosts." This great expression is found fifteen times in this chapter alone. This expression is found a total of 36 times in the book of Zechariah. The Lord of hosts is a title that suggests the military majesty of God as it relates to the individual. It suggests that most men will find their personal pride and might are as nothing compared to the Lord of hosts. God is powerful and jealous. He will accept and tolerate no rivals. God said, "I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury." When God dwelt with Jerusalem the city was transformed in a positive way. Truth, when obeyed, always makes life better. With God in control old people with walking sticks would once again sit around in Jerusalem. The children would again play in the streets. The picture of the old people and the children is a picture of a peaceful city that had been repopulated. Such a radical change in the city might be too difficult for men but it would not be hard for God. God had the power to both gather and prosper His people. God gathered His people from one end of the earth to the other in order to fill Jerusalem with people and with joy. God had promised that Jerusalem would be restored so now was the time for the people to be strong and faithful.


            God encouraged the people not to be afraid to rebuild. He wanted then to rebuild the city, the Temple and their spiritual lives. His desire was that they again become His submissive servants. In order to enjoy restoration and the promised prosperity they must live as covenant people. God reminded the people that His discipline had come against the Jews because of their bullheaded behavior. God wanted these Jews to know that what He said and did to their fathers was for them likewise. God showed the people that their obligation was to love their neighbor as themselves and to honor the Creator. The final words of the chapter come back to the fasts of faithful people. We see that fasting in sorrow will be turned into feasting with joy. The picture now is that all the reasons for the sorrowful fast was past and God is instructing them concerning correct fasting. No longer when the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months roll around will there be mourning; instead, there will be joyful and happy celebration. Things would be good and there would be a mass pilgrimage of the people of the earth to seek God at Jerusalem. The nations would want to join themselves to the Jew because they heard that God was with them.


            Old people and children -- Zechariah 8:1-8: It was God desire that "Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain." God wanted it understood that His glory had returned to the Temple and to Jerusalem. Even though the Temple and the city had not been rebuilt when He gave this promise it was as dependable as if it was already a present reality. The returned glory of Jerusalem was pictured as God said. The old people with walking sticks will once again sit around in Jerusalem. He pictured the children in the streets. He reminded them that this might seem impossible to the remnant that was left in Jerusalem but that it was not impossible for Him because He is the LORD of hosts. God promised to save those that had been scattered in other lands and bring them back to live in Jerusalem. He said, "I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness."


            Jerusalem enjoys prosperity -- Zechariah 8:9-13: The admonition from God is that the people should be strong, both spiritual and physically. They should set their hands to the work of God and complete the rebuilding of the Temple. While the Temple was in ruin the Jews missed out on many blessing from God. "Before that time, neither people nor animals were rewarded for their work, and no one was safe anywhere, because I had turned them against each other." God wanted the Jews to understand that He is the LORD All-Powerful (LORD of hosts) so they should never give up. The promise is that God will now bless the Jews with physical increase. The hearts of the people are again focused on God and His work. This will make it possible for Him to renew His blessing to them. The blessing increased slowly over the next several years. Simple things lead to a life of joy. The people were taught to love and serve God, work hard and grow spiritually. God promised the people that the punishment would end. God now promised that their crops and vineyards would be productive. He would allow the dew of heaven to fall upon their land. He would save and bless the people of Judah and Israel. They had been a curse to the nations, but now God would make them a blessing. So the message to the Jews is "do not be afraid or lose courage." 


            What God expected of Jerusalem -- Zechariah 8:14-17: God punished the ancestors of the Jews because they angered Him by their constant rebellion. The punishment that was brought on the Jews included the fact that someone else would enjoy the fruit of their labor. God did not hold back severe punishment from their fathers for their wickedness and these people could face the same consequences. At this point in history God told them "Now you no longer need to be afraid. I have decided to treat Jerusalem and Judah with kindness." God set forth some requirements if they were to enjoy His blessings. He said, (1) you must be truthful with each other, (2) You must give fair decisions that lead to peace when you are in court, (3) you must not plan evil things against others, and (4) you must not tell lies under oath. The focus is on the internal moral values and spiritual values. The right actions without the right heart are worthless. This sounds very much like what Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." (Matthew 23:23) Performing the externals when the heart is not right makes worship empty and vain.


            Coming to Jerusalem for worship -- Zechariah 8:18-23: We now return to the discussion concerning fasting. God told them that when they fasted He wanted it to be a time of celebration. The fast of the seventh month is the only one of their fasts mentioned in the Law of Moses. (Leviticus 23:23-26) What about fasting today? It seems that Jesus expected His disciples to fast at certain times. (Matthew 9:14-15) When Jesus was present He could give them answers to the problems of life. When He was taken away and there was the need for extra spiritual strength then would they fast. Fasting is a matter of private concern. (Matthew 6:16-18) The primary purpose of fasting is to give strength in times of adversity, sorrow, grief or even duty. It was God's desire that the people love truth and live at peace. This should result in joyful fasts, even in the fourth month, the fifth month, the seventh month, or the tenth month. Jews would go to Jerusalem from every city to worship. Others (Gentiles) would say to the Jews, "Let us go with you. We have heard that God is on your side."


                 Those that serve God are blessed and those that rebel are punished. Is it your desire to see the will of God done? If so it is time to become a Christian now! To become a Christian you must hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), believe in Jesus (John 8:24), repent of sins (Acts 17:30), confess Christ as Lord (Acts 8:37), and be baptized to be saved. (1 Peter 3:21) After bap­tism follow Jesus in faithfulness as He leads you home to heaven. (Revelation 2:10)