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Zechariah 7

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Obedience Better Than Sacrifice An Answer to An Inquiry About Fasting The Lord Condemns Insincere Fasting A Question About Fasting
7:1-3 7:1-7 7:1 7:1-3
    7:2-3 A Survey of the Nation' Past
7:4-7   7:7 7:4-14
Disobedience Resulted in Exile   Disobedience, the Cause of Exile  
7:8-14 7:8-14 7:8-10  
    7:11-14  

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Chapters 7-8 form a literary unit. The theological issue is the Jews' covenant faithfulness (cf. vv. 9-13) vs. religious ritual (i.e. national fasting, cf. v. 3; 8:19).

 

B. God used the Jews' disobedience and subsequent dispersion for His own redemptive purposes (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38; Rom. 9-11). God will restore the Jews and welcome the nations to Himself (cf. 8:20-23).

 

C. The promised covenant renewal still requires obedience (cf. 6:15 and 8:16-17). The covenant requirements of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are the same.

1. repentance

2. faith

3. obedience

4. perseverance

The Old Covenant was based on human performance, but the New Covenant is based on a new heart and a new spirit from God (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38).

D. for a good discussion of fasting see New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 3, pp. 780-783.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:1-7
 1In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. 2Now the town of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to seek the favor of the Lord, 3speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, "Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?" 4Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, 5"Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? 6When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? 7Are not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills were inhabited?'"

7:1 "fourth year of King Darius" This is almost two years later than the initial eight visions (cf. 1:1,7). The dating of this chapter is very specific.

▣ "the fourth day of the ninth month" This would possibly be December 7, 518 b.c. (cf. UBS, A Handbook on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, p. 180).

▣ "Chislev" This is a month in the Babylonian calendar (cf. Neh. 1:1), approximately November or December.

▣ "the word of the Lord came to Zechariah" This phrase introduces a new revelation. It also seems to mark the paragraph divisions of this chapter. Zechariah did not choose the time or subject. This is YHWH's message (cf. v. 4).

The Hebrew word dbr (BDB 182) is used regularly for God's revelation (cf. 1:1,6,7; 4:6; 7:1,4,7,12; 8:1,18; 9:1; 11:11; 12:1).

7:2

NASB"the town of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech"
NKJV, NRSV"the people sent Sherezer with Regem-Melech"
TEV"the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech"
NJB"Bethel sent Sharezer"
JPSOA"Bethel-sharezer and Regem-melech. . .sent"
PESHITTA"sent to Bethel Sherezar and Rab-mag, and the king. . .had sent word to pray for him"

The Hebrew is very ambiguous. There are several theories: (1) King James translates "Bethel" as "the house of God," not a town; (2) RSV, TEV, NIV and JB have "Bethel," which is a cultic city about twelve miles north of Jerusalem and the center of calf worship during 922-722 b.c.; (3) NEB combines "Bethel" and "Sharezer" into one name. Similar compounds using Sharezer are found in Jer. 39:3, while compound names using Bethel are found in Babylonian documents and in the Elephantine Papyri (cf. W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, p. 169); (4) the term "Regemmelech" (BDB 920) means "the king's spokesman" in Ugaritic (the Syriac translation has "Rab-mag," which is an official title, cf. Jer. 39:3,13), which implies that Darius or influential Jews sent two men (i.e. Bether-Sharezer and Regem-Melech).

"to seek the favor of the Lord" This is the INFINITIVE construct of the Piel VERB (BDB 318 II, KB 316), which denotes the cessation of hostility (cf. Dan. 9:13), as well as the presence of God's blessing and acceptance (cf. Ps. 119:58). This same VERB is used in 8:21-22 for what the nations will seek from God.

7:3 "speaking to the priests. . .the prophets" The priests would refer to those who had returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua or Ezra. It is uncertain to whom "the prophets" refers. Haggai and Zechariah are the only ones known by name. I think both Joel and Obadiah were also early post-exilic prophets. Whomever they were these emissaries came to the representatives of the God asking about the continuance of a fast denoting the destruction of Jerusalem, now that the Jews had returned to Jerusalem.

"Shall I weep in the fifth month" This refers to a national day of mourning (fasting) which the Jews initiated to remember the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (cf. II Kgs. 25).

NASB"abstain"
NKJV"fast
NRSV, JPSOA"practice abstinence"
TEV, NJB"fasting"
PESHITTA"separating myself"

The term (BDB 634) in the Niphal means to "dedicate oneself to God," "treat with awe," or "fast." In this context "fast" is best. Context determines meaning!

"as I have done these many years" This again is an allusion to the 70 year prophecy of exile by Jeremiah (cf. 25:8-11; 29:10; Dan. 9:2,24; Zech. 7:5).

7:5 "say to all the people of the land" This is an idiom for the common, non-leadership (cf. Jer. 34:10; Hag. 2:4) people of God's covenant promise (i.e. Jews). For a good discussion of the way this idiom developed and changed through Israel's history see Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel: Social Institutions, vol. 1, pp. 70-72.

"seventh month" This refers to another national fast day to remember the death of Gedaliah, the appointed governor (cf. II Kgs. 25:25; Jer. 40:1-41:3). I think that possibly the ambiguous terms in v. 2 and the fast days commended (cf. 8:19) related to a delegation of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem to discuss the status of the official ritual calendar.

▣ "was it actually for Me that you fasted" God did not initiate these fasts and really they were done out of self pity more than worship (cf. Isa. 1:11-12; 58:1-12).

7:6 "when you eat and drink" This is sarcasm. They were fasting and/or feasting for themselves, not for God (cf. Isa. 29:13; Col. 2:20-33).

7:7 "the former prophets" See note at 1:4.

"when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous" This refers to the time before the Babylonian exile. Nebuchadnezzar conducted four deportations.

1. 605 b.c. - Daniel and his three friends

2. 597 b.c. - Ezekiel and 10,000 skilled Jews

3. 586 b.c. - Jerusalem and the temple destroyed and most of the remaining population exiled

4. 582 b.c. - after the death of Gedaliah the Babylonian military returned and exiled everyone they could find

 

"the Negev" This (BDB 616) refers to the uninhabited pasture land in southern Judea.

"the foothills" This is literally "Shephelah" (BDB 1050), which refers to the coastal plain along the Mediterranean.

At the time of Haggai and Zechariah neither of these geographical areas belonged to the returned Jews. Zerubbabel only controlled a small area around the city of Jerusalem.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:8-14
 8Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah saying, 9"Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; 10and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.'" 11But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. 12They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. 13And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen," says the Lord of hosts; 14"but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate."

7:8 Is this a textual marker to designate a new context? Joyce Baldwin, in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, says it is an editorial addition that misunderstood the unity of the passage (cf. p. 145).

7:9-10 The prophets always direct the people back to their covenant responsibilities. They are "covenant watch dogs"! Verses 9-10 go back to the Mosaic covenant and its social requirements.

As an example the Ten Commandants have requirements towards God (which they had violated, cf. vv. 9-10). The blessings of God as well as the cursings of God are related to covenant fidelity (cf. Deut. 27-29). These requirements and guidelines for life were not new or surprising to these returning Jews.

7:9 "Dispense true justice" There is a word play between the NOUN construct (BDB 1048) and the Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 1047, KB 1622). Covenant people are to treat each other fairly (cf. Micah 6:8). This particular phrase refers to judicial discussions (e.g. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:16-17; Prov. 31:9; Ezek. 18:8; 45:9), but has a wider metaphorical implication of appropriate covenant relationships between all the members of God's people. This very term is repeated in 8:16. Injustice offends God (cf. Hosea 4:1-6).

"kindness" This word is hesed (BDB 338), the special covenant NOUN which speaks of YHWH's longsuffering covenant loyalty (possibly best understood as family love). God is a faithful, loving God and He demands the same of His people. For a good discussion see New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 2, pp. 211-218.

"mercy" The term (BDB 933) originally had a family orientation ("from the womb"). This same term was used earlier in the angel's prayer to God about not having "compassion" for Jerusalem. The two terms, "kindness" and "mercy" are used in Dan. 1:9 to describe God's graciousness to Daniel through Nebuchadnezzar's overseer. As God treats us, we as His people should treat one another (cf. I John 3:16). Our attitudes and actions show to whom we belong!

7:10 "do not oppress the widow. . .the orphan. . .the stranger. . .the poor" The NEGATED VERB (BDB 798, KB 897) is a Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. Justice without partiality is a recurrent theme of the book of Deuteronomy (cf. 1:17; 10:17; 16:19; 24:14,17). God defends the defenseless.

NASB, JPSOA"the stranger"
NKJV, NRSV"the alien"
TEV"foreigners"
NJB"the foreigner"
PESHITTA"the proselyte"

This is the Hebrew term (BDB 158) which denotes a resident alien. These were free people, not slaves, but they had limited civil rights. God was seen as their protector and defender as He was for all socially deprived and poor people (cf. Exod. 22:21-24; Deut. 10:18). A special third year tithe was received locally to aid society's needy (cf. Deut. 14:28-29).

For a good discussion of Israelite social order see Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel: Social Institutions, vol. 1, pp. 69-79.

▣ "do not devise evil in your hearts" This VERB (BDB 362, KB 359) is another Qal IMPERFECT used as a JUSSIVE. This refers to legal procedures (cf. 8:17) with an emphasis on proper attitude and motives. Treat others with respect as fellow covenant partners. Evil is always self-centered; love is always others-centered!

7:11-12 This is a series of four parallel phrases describing the attitudes of disrespect and disobedience of God's people.

1. "they refused to pay attention"

2. "they turned a stubborn shoulder" (cf. Neh. 9:29)

3. "they stopped their ears from hearing" (cf. Jer. 5:21; 6:10)

4. "they made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear"

5. also note v. 13a and compare Isa. 6:9-10

 

7:12 "they made their hearts like flint" This Hebrew term (BDB 1038 I) refers to some kind of very hard material like corundum or diamond (cf. Jer. 17:1). It is used metaphorically here of the hardness of the Jewish ancestors' hearts toward God. This same metaphor of hardness is used in a positive way in Ezek. 3:9 for God equipping the prophet to face strong opposition.

This is active refusal to listen and heed God's word and will (the opposite of shema). God's people were in open, active, willful rebellion!

▣ "sent His Spirit through the former prophets" This refers to the inspiration of the OT prophets (cf. 1:4; 7:7; Neh. 9:20,30) by the agency of the Holy Spirit (cf. I Pet. 1:11; II Pet. 1:21; "the God breathed" of II Tim. 3:16).

Often in the OT the Spirit is a way of referring to God (e.g. Ps. 139:7-8; Isa. 40:13; 60:10-11) or God's creative activity (e.g. Gen. 1:2). God energizes humans to perform tasks with His strength and wisdom (e.g. Exod. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31,34; Jdgs. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:54; 14:6,19; 15:14).

The OT does not clearly reveal the NT concept of three divine persons with one essence, but it does begin to reveal a personal plurality in deity. The problem is that plurality and monotheism are hard to reconcile. The church is forced to articulate a triune unity because of the NT affirmations of:

1. the deity of Jesus

2. the personality of the Spirit.

 

See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at 4:6.

"therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts" This willful disrespect and disobedience caused the curse of Deut. 28 to become a reality (cf. Dan. 9:1-19).

This disobedience with its resulting wrath (cf. v. 14) caused the nations to misunderstand God and His redemptive purposes (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).

7:13 "God called" God called to them through the covenants, the Exodus, the temple, and the prophets (cf. Hos. 11:2), but they would not obey!

▣ "they called and I would not listen" Now the tables are turned! God called and they would not hear, now they call for God's help, but He will not hear (cf. Isa. 1:15), not only because of their covenant disobedience, but also their covenant hypocrisy (cf. Isa. 1:11-15). If they would truly repent, YHWH would respond (cf. Isa. 1:16-20).

7:14 "I scattered" God is in control of history! This refers to the Exile.

This VERB (BDB 704, KB 762) is a Piel IMPERFECT. In the ancient world a military defeat meant the defeat of the national god. Israel and Judah's defeat was not because of YHWH's weakness, but their sin (cf. Dan. 9). It was YHWH who caused both the Assyrian (cf. Isa. 10:5) and Babylonian exiles (cf. Jer. 51:20-24).

▣ "the land is desolated" The covenant promises were rescinded (cf. Deut. 27-29). The Covenant has always been conditional on God's grace and an appropriate human response.

God brought desolation (cf. Jer. 4:6) so that He could bring restoration to a repentant people. Judgment is an act of love (cf. Heb. 12:5-13).

NASB"no one went back and forth"
NKJV"no one passed through or returned"
NRSV"no one went to and fro"
TEV"no one living in it"
NJB"no one came or went"

This unusual phrase is found only in Zech. 7:14 and 9:8. Zechariah is using ?? divided into two literary units (chapters 1-8 and 9-14). This unusual phrase appears in both units and thereby becomes evidence for the unity of the book by one author.