Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi – Back from Exile
· 7:1 says we're in the 4th year of Darius now. People have been working on the temple for two years, and would complete it another two. They've started to remove the scars of destruction.
· In v.2, a delegation arrives from Bethel to ask whether they should continue to mourn and fast in the 5th month. v.4 mentions a fast in the 4th month, and 8:19 describes two more fasts. So, we have 4 fasts, in the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 10th months. The people were wondering they needed to keep observing these fasts.
· These fasts were instituted to observe events leading up to the Exile. We can read about these in II Kings 25. (25:1 -> 10th month -> siege of Jerusalem; 25:3-4 -> 4th month -> city was taken; 25:8-9 -> 5th month -> city was burned, Temple destroyed; 25:25 -> 7th month -> Gedaliah (governor) was assassinated)
· Nowhere in the Bible is it recorded that God commanded the people to observe these fasts. Apparently they took it upon themselves to observe these fasts, and that is the point of God's first reply in 7:5-6. It is obvious their hearts were not in the right place. God is saying a good measure of a person's heart in fasting is how they act in the days of fasting
· In the second reply, God points out the consequence of their stubborn hearts. vs. 9 and 10 show how they were supposed to live, by showing kindness to others around them. But vs 11-12 say the people did not to listen to God. v. 13 says God would not hear their prayers. They cried and mourned for 70 years and God would not hear them. v.14 says the people were scattered and it was their own fault.
· There was only one fast required in the Law of Moses, and that was on the Day of Atonement. But there are numerous examples of fasts on special occasions, usually because of sin or to ward off impending disaster. Religious fasting was a sign of mourning, with the objective of soothing God's wrath of winning His compassion. Apparently then, the Jews in exile were not careful to focus on their sin and why they were there. Perhaps just self-pity?
· In the NT, there are only 4 references to voluntary fasting, two by Jesus and two in Acts. Jesus was a Jew, and there is no reason to doubt he observed the public fasts, but Jesus never stressed fasting. In fact, Jesus was called "gluttonous". Matt. 6:16-18 is one of those two references from Jesus (The other is Matt. 9:14-17) This passage says fasting should be to God, it is an expression of inner devotion. In fact, people shouldn't know you are fasting.
· Isaiah 58:1-10 describes the proper attitude that one should have in fasting
· As we've seen so far, God doesn't just chastise and leave it at that. He is quick to encourage
· This chapter is another promise that God would be close to them. They will enjoy peace. (see verse 4) Note what name is used for God here.
· See the beautiful promises in vs. 19 and 23.
· Note how Chapter 8 comes full circle back to the matter of fasting.
For next week, read Zechariah 9-11