Zechariah Chapter Seven
The Partially Completed Temple
Zec. 7:1 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came to Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu.
This is almost two years after Zechariah received the first set of visions when nothing but the initial foundation of the Temple lay among ruins in a desolate condition. From this point they would wait almost exactly two more years before the Temple was finished and dedicated. The date of the completion is recorded in Ezr. 6:15:
"And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king."*
* While Ezra 6:15 says it was the third day of the ninth month, the apocryphal book of 1 Esdras 7:5 gives a different day but the same month and year. "And thus was the house finished by the 23rd day of the month Adar in the sixth year of King Darius." It is accepted that Josephus is mistaken when he says the Temple was finished in the second year of Darius. He may have meant the setting forth on the work that completed it was begun in the second year of Darius. See Josephus, Against Apion I:23.
At the time this chapter in Zechariah was written the Temple was now partially built as seen in the next verses.
Zec. 7:2 When they had sent to the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the LORD,
"House of God." Hebrew "beth-el," . There is some question by commentators whether or not this phrase refers to the Temple. The construction is confusing and difficult to translate and "beth-el" could be the subject of the verb "he sent" which is third singular in Hebrew. It would then be "Bethel sent" or "the people of Bethel sent." This latter is the rendering of both the ASV and NIV. There is no clear indication of an object of the verb as is usual in Hebrew, thus the sentence is unclear and accounts for the difference in translations. The KJV and the Jewish translation by Harkavy says "house of God." The presence of a partially finished Temple would be implied. The presence of the same is clearly seen in the next verse and the fact of the Temple being then partially finished and in partial use does not depend on this verse.
Zec. 7:3 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? "House of the LORD." Hebrew "beth-YHWH," , clearly means the Temple. This is still two years before the Temple was completed and dedicated but two years after the inception of the work which coincided with the first visions of Zechariah. See notes on 4:9. Thus the Temple was built in stages and the finished portions were put to use immediately.
The partially finished Temple must have prompted the question that was brought: "Should we continue the fast that was appointed to mourn the loss of the Temple?" Now that portions of the Temple are complete and the restoration is well under way the question is posed that the reason for the fast may now be obsolete. This question is not to be answered immediately but is deferred to Zec. 8:18 where the question about fasting in general is addressed and not just this fast of the fifth month, which according to Jerome commemorated the burning of the Temple.
Zec. 7:4 Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying, 7:5 Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did you at all fast unto me, even to me?
Rather than answer the question directly Zechariah teaches a lesson on true internalized worship which is superior to external exhibitions like fasting.
Zec. 7:6 And when you did eat, and when you did drink, did not you eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? 7:7 Should you not hear the words which the LORD has 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?
"Did you not...for yourselves." These seem to be fasts that were appointed by the people without authority of prophets or other manifestation of the word of God. It is more important to hear and do the word of God than it is to demonstrate publicly your religious service.
"The first prophets" are those who warned of the coming exile and appealed for people not to trust in sacrifices and offerings and external formalism while they ignored the truth of the God whom they worshipped.
Zec. 7:8 And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying, 7:9 Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother: 7:10 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.
These are the truths that they did not have in them which should have resulted from sincere observance of the law. They are more important than fasting or any ritual observance, even commanded ritual observance.
Zec. 7:11 But they refused to listen, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. 7:12 Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts has sent in his spirit by the former prophets; therefore a great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
This is as direct a reference to Ezekiel and Jeremiah as could be expected, even to using the same figures of stopped ears, pulled shoulders and stone hearts. Zechariah therefore would be aware of the writings of Ezekiel and there are several places where he continues the thoughts in Ezekiel. The fall of Tyre is one of those, and the return of the "Skekinah" is another, and the combined twelve tribes in the restored nation of Judah is yet another example.
Zec. 7:13 Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, says the LORD of hosts:
The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others clearly warned of the coming punishment and exile and when it was too late God did not answer, and in the next verse Zechariah describes the seventy years of captivity.
Zec. 7:14 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.
"The pleasant land desolate." Desolate does not describe the ruined conditions but the absence of inhabitants
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