And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu;
Verse 1-ch. 8:23. - Part II. THE ANSWER TO A QUESTION CONCERNING THE OBSERVANCE OF CERTAIN FASTS. Verses 1-3. - § 1. A deputation comes from Bethel to ask whether a fast instituted in memory of the calamity of Jerusalem was still to be observed. Verse 1. - In the fourth year of King Darius. This happened, then, B.C. 518, nearly two years after the visions had occurred (Zechariah 1:7). In two years more the temple was finished (Ezra 6:15), and the work of rebuilding was now proceeding vigorously; it seemed a fit opportunity for inquiring whether, in this period of comparative prosperity and success, it behoved the people to continue the fast appointed in sadder times. The word of the Lord came. This is the usual formula for introducing a revelation (Zechariah 1:1), but it is here placed in a peculiar position, dividing the date into two parts. Keil connects the last clause, which gives the day of the month, with the next verse; but this is against the traditional accentuation, and is not required by the wording of ver. 2. The prophet first gives the date generally when the word came to him, and then defines it more accurately. Chisleu; Chislev (Nehemiah 1:1). This month corresponded to parts of November and December.
When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the LORD,
Verse 2. - When they had sent unto the house of God. The Vulgate supports this version, Et miserunt ad domum Dei; the LXX. gives, Καὶ ἐξαπέστειλεν εἰς Βαιθὴλ Σαρασὰρ καὶ Ἀρβεσεὲρ ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες αὐτοῦ, "And Sarasar and Arbescer the king and his men sent to Bethel" - which is far from clear. But the temple is never called Beth-el, while a mission to the town Bethel would be unmeaning. So "Bethel" is to be taken as the subject of the sentence, thus: "Now Bethel (i.e. they of Bethel) sent." The persons named may be taken either as the deputation or as the persons meant by "they of Bethel." The former seems most likely to be intended. The Bethelites sent these men to Jerusalem to make the inquiry. The exiles returned each to his own city, as we read in Ezra it.; among them were many people of Bethel (Ezra 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32), which town they rebuilt (Nehemiah 11:31). They seem to have tacitly acquiesced in the spiritual supremacy of Jerusalem, notwithstanding the associations Connected with their own city. Sherezer. The names of the deputies are Assyrian; they seem to have retained them on their return. Sherezer, equivalent to Assyrian Sar-usur or Asur-sar-usur, "Asur protect the King," is the name borne by a sen of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:37). Regem-melech; "Friend of the King." The first half of the word is probably Assyrian (see Schrader, 'Die Keilinschr. und Alt. Test.,' pp. 206, 417). And their men. Certain persons associated with them in the business. To pray before the Lord; literally, to stroke the face of the Lord (Zechariah 8:21, 22; Exodus 32:11); so Latin, mulcere caput. Hence it means, "to entreat the favour of God" for their city. This was one object of their mission. The other purpose is mentioned in the next verse.
And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?
Verse 3. - The priests. They were addressed as interpreters of the Law (see Haggai 2:11, and note there). Which were in; rather, which belonged to. The prophets. Such as Zechariah, Haggai, and perhaps Malachi, through whom God communicated his will. Should I weep in the fifth month? The use of the first person singular to express a community or a people is not uncommon; here it means the Bethelites (comp. Numbers 20:18, 19; Joshua 9:7; 1 Samuel 5:10, 11). Weeping is the accompaniment of fasting (Judges 20:26; Nehemiah 1:4; Joel 2:12). This fast in the fifth month, the month of Ab, had been established in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The temple was burnt on the ninth or tenth of the month (see 2 Kings 25:8, 9; Jeremiah 52:12, 13). The only fast-day enjoined by the Law of Moses was the great Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month, Ethanim (Leviticus 23:26, etc.). But the Jews added others in memory of certain national events (see Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Isaiah 58:3, etc.). In Zechariah 8:19 mention is made of four extraordinary fasts instituted and observed during the Captivity, viz. on the ninth day of the fourth month, in memory of the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans; in the fifth month, in remembrance of the burning of the temple and city; in the seventh month, in consequence of the murder of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1, 2); and in the tenth month, in memory of the commencement of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (see note on ch. 8:19). Separating myself. Abstaining from food and pleasure. Vulgate, vel sanctificare me debeo, such separation or abstinence being regarded as a consecration to the Lord. The LXX. has not understood the passage, rendering, Αἰσελήλυθεν ῶδε ἐν τῷ μηνὶ τῷ πέπτῳ τὸ ἁγίασμα "The sanctification hath come in here in the fifth month." These so many years. All the seventy years of exile. There is, perhaps, some Pharisaical complacency in this assertion.
Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying,
Verses 4-7. - § 2. In answer to the inquiry, the delegates are told that fasting is in itself an indifferent thing, but is to be estimated by the conduct of those who observe it. Verse 4. - Then came the word of the Lord. This formula marks the several portions of the answer to the inquiry (see ver. 8; ch. 8:1, 18). The present verse takes up the sentence in ver. 1, interrupted by the explanation of the object of the deputation (vers. 2, 3).
Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?
Verse 5. - Unto all the people of the land. The message was not for Bethel only, but for all the restored Jews, for whose satisfaction the question had been asked. And to the priests. The prophet was to make known to the priests God's will in this matter, it not being a mere ritual question. Fifth month (see note on ver. 3). The original question referred only to this fast; the answer embraces also another fast appointed by human authority. The seventh month. This fast was instituted in consequence of the murder of Gedaliah, B.C. 587, just seventy years ago, when the greater part of the remnant of the Jews, contrary to the prophet's warning, fled into Egypt to escape the punishment of the crime (2 Kings 25:25, 26; Jeremiah 41:2, 16, etc.). Did ye at all fast unto me? It was not by God's command, or to do him honor, that they fasted; not from hearty repentance or sorrow for the sins which had brought ruin upon their city and country; but from vexation at the calamity itself, and in a self-righteous spirit, with some idea of gaining merit by this punishment of the body; and God was not constrained by this formal observance to show them favour. Even to me. (For the forcible repetition of the pronoun, comp. Genesis 27:34; Proverbs 22:19; Haggai 1:4.)
And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
Verse 6. - When ye did eat, etc.; better, when ye eat and when ye drink. As in your fasts, so in your rejoicings and your daily life. Did not ye eat for yourselves, etc.? literally, Is it not ye who are eating and ye who are drinking? There the matter ends; it is self that is concerned, and there is no reference to God (comp. 1 Corinthians 8:8; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
Should ye not hear the words which the LORD hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain?
Verse 7. - Should ye not hear the words, etc.? A verb must be supplied. "Do ye not know the words?" or "Should ye not obey the words?" Syriac, Septuagint, and Vulgate, "Are not these the words?" By the former prophets (Zechariah 1:4). It had been a common cry of the prophets from early times that men must not put their trust in the observance of outward ceremonies, but attend to the cultivation of moral obedience and purity (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11, 12, 16, 17; Isaiah 58:3, etc.; Jeremiah 7:22, 23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8, where see note). When Jerusalem was inhabited. Before its destruction and the deportation of its inhabitants. He recalls the former prosperity to their memory, contrasting it with the present low estate, to remind them of all they had lost in punishment of disobedience. The south (Negeb). The southern part of Judaea was so called (see on Obadiah 1:19; and comp. Numbers 13:17; Joshua 15:21). The plain (Shephelah); the low land, along the coast of the Mediterranean (Joshua 15:33; 1 Macc. 12:38). The above districts comprise two of the three divisions of Judaea (Judges 1:9); the third, the mountain or hill country (Luke 1:39), is intended in the expression, "Jerusalem and the cities round about her." There was still a great dearth of population in the country, and the towns were not half inhabited, nor was the]and half cultivated.
And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying,
Verses 8-14. - § 8. The people are further reminded that they had been disobedient in old time, and had been punished by exile. Verse 8. - Unto Zechariah. The prophet speaks of himself in the third person, as in Zechariah 1:1. A further explanation of God's answer is next given. Some critics suppose that this verse is an interpolation, and that vers. 9, 10 are "the words" referred to in ver. 7.
Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:
Verse 9. - Thus speaketh; thus saith. The Lord hath always so said, and saith so now. Revised Version, thus hath the Lord of hosts spoken, saying. Execute true judgment; literally, judge ye judgment of truth; i.e. judge according to truth without bias or partiality. The same phrase occurs in Ezekiel 18:8. Exhortations to this effect are often found; e.g. Exodus 23:6, etc.; Deuteronomy 24:14; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Jeremiah 22:3. Show mercy. Kindness and love in general. Compassions. Pity for the afflicted.
And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.
Verse 10. - Oppress not the widow, etc. (Exodus 22:21, 22; Deuteronomy 10:18, 19); Vulgate, nolite calumniari, where calumniari is used in the sense "to vex, torment." Imagine evil against his brother in year heart. God's Law forbids even a thought of revenge or injury against a neighbour, for this is only the first step to wrong doing (comp. Micah 2:1). Septuagint, Κακίαν ἕκαστος τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ μὴ μνησικακείτω ἐν ταῖς καρδίας ὑμῶν, "Let none of you remember in your hearts the malice of your brother."
But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
Verse 11. - Pulled away the shoulder; they gave a stubborn, refractory shoulder, like an ox which refuses to have the yoke put on his neck, or draws hack when it feels the weight (Nehemiah 9:29; Hosea 4:16). Stopped their ears. Made their ears heavy. Τὰ ω΅τα αὐτῶν ἐβάρυναν (Septuagint); Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 59:1. Three degrees of obduracy are named in this verse: they refused to listen; they resisted the warners; they exhibited open contempt for them. The full climax is given in the next verse.
Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.
Verse 12. - They made their hearts as an adamant stone. They made their hearts as hard as a stone which could receive no cutting or engraving; no message from God could find entrance; and this from their wilful obstinacy. The word rendered "adamant," shamir, probably means "diamond," a stone so hard, says Jerome, as to break all metals to pieces, but to be itself broken by none; hence it is called adamas, "unconquerable." Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:9) notes that it is harder than flint (comp. Jeremiah 17:1). The LXX., paraphrasing, gives. Τὴν καρδίαν αὐτῶν ἔταξαν ἀπειθῆ, "They set their heart disobedient." The Law. The various enactments of the Mosaic system. In his Spirit; rather, by his Spirit. The leaching which the Spirit of God inspired the prophets to deliver (comp. Nehemiah 9:30; 2 Kings 17:13; Micah 3:8). And for the succession of prophets from Solomon to the Captivity, see note on Amos 2:11; and to those there enumerated, add Iddo, Shemaiah, Hanani, Micaiah, Huldah.
Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts:
Verse 13. - As he cried. As the Lord called to them by the prophets. Just retribution fell upon them (Proverbs 1:24, etc.; Isaiah 65:12, 13; Isaiah 66:4). So they cried, and I would not hear; rather, so they shall cry, and I will not hear. God will be deaf to their cry, and will give them up to their own ways (Jeremiah 2:28). In the protasis Jehovah is spoken of in the third person, in the apodosis he speaks in the first.
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.
Verse 14. - I scattered them; I will scatter them. What had happened in the past is a sign of what shall befall them in the future in punishment of like obduracy. The form of the sentence denotes that God is recounting what he had said to the people in past time; hence it is best to translate the verbs in the future tense. Scattered them with a whirlwind; Septuagint, ἐκβαλῶ αὐτούς, "I will cast them out;" Vulgate, dispersi eos (comp. Job 27:21; Amos 1:14). Nations whom they knew not. This is the usual phrase for people of strange tongue (Deuteronomy 28:33; Jeremiah 16:13). Thus the land was desolate. This was the result of God's threatenings. Some make the words of Jehovah continue to "nor returned," but the punctuation is against them. After them; i.e. after they were carried away in captivity. No man passed through nor returned. No one went to and fro - a picture of extreme desolation (comp. Isaiah 33:8; Jeremiah 9:12; and for the phrase, see Zechariah 9:8; Ezekiel 35:7). For they laid the pleasant land desolate. The pronoun refers to the disobedient Jews, their sin being the cause of the desolation; or the verb may be taken impersonally, "So the pleasant land was made desolate." "The pleasant land" is literally, "the land of desire." Septuagint, γῆν ἐκλεκτήν (Psalm 106:24; Jeremiah 3:19).