RIGHTEOUS OR RELIGIOUS?
Dear God, often I come to you and your Word with my own preconceptions. Spirit of God, speak clearly your truth to my heart.
Read ZECHARIAH 7
Justice and Mercy, Not Fasting
7 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3 by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
4 Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? 7 Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘… what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’1
Two years after his visions, and with the Temple half-completed,2 Zechariah received from God a new word for the people. In exile, the Jews had added four extra fast days to their calendar.3 Two are mentioned here – one in the fifth month (v 3), marking the destruction of Solomon’s Temple,4 and another in the seventh month (v 5), commemorating the murder of Gedaliah, Nebuchadnezzar’s appointed governor over conquered Judah.5 People wondered: now the exile was over and building work on the new Temple was well under way, should they still observe these fasts? Zechariah delivers a challenging response from God…
Had those fasts not been mere expressions of self-pity rather than genuine manifestations of repentance and concern for God’s glory? Were they not empty rituals that failed to disguise the real cause of the exile in the first place – the sinful rebelliousness against which the pre-exilic prophets had, alas in vain, constantly warned them?6 The message voiced by those prophets was still applicable – man-centered religiosity was no substitute for God-honoring righteousness, issuing in the practice of ‘justice … mercy and compassion’ (v 9).
In my early years of church-planting ministry in Paris, a British Christian commented to me that what French believers needed was more church meetings! Besides the fact that the Parisian work rhythm made that impossible, my dear friend failed to realize that living out our lives in a way that promotes ‘justice, mercy, and compassion’ is as valid an expression of worship to God as attendance at church services. Genuine devotion to him is to be displayed as much in the workplace and in the home as in the house of prayer! Need more convincing? Read James 2:14–17!
‘Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words’ is a saying attributed to Francis of Assisi! Pray today for Christians evangelizing by both word and deed!
Sovereign Lord, enable me to be a doer of your Word, and not just a hearer.
1 Mic 6:8 2 Cf Hag 1:1; Ezra 6:15 3 Zech 8:19 4 Cf 2 Kings 25:8,9 5 2 Kings 25:22–26 6 Isa 58; Amos 5:21–24; Mic 6:6–8
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