May 14, 2011

Minor Prophets XCI: Ritualistic Fasting & Sunday Afternoon Football

So what is God's problem with the people fasting in Zechariah 7:1-14?

This question often arises in our day to. To what extent do we allow the traditions of the past infiltrate our current pattern of approaching our God? When does tradition become vain repetition? Our Roman Catholic friends are quite guilty of this. Times change, should the church? The question is always posted, “Why do you do it that way?” Often the response is, “Because that is the way we have always done it!” If we would’ve stayed this course in the Church, we would still be paying indulgences to the Church.

The Jews in Babylon sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek to question Zechariah about spiritual worship. Zechariah turns their eyes away from the entrenched ritualism of the past to the promises of the future. We see in the literal and rhetorical question that is posed the heart of the issue. “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?” Ritual for the sake of ritual is just mindless action that has no value either to God or to the believer. Its like patting the screen of your television to put a fire out on the television show you are watching. Lots of emotion and movement but no practical use other than “window dressing” or “showy behavior”.

Zechariah (God) calls them in Zech 8:9 (after a delay) to deal with their heart condition or heart attitude. They are to, “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” It is here we see the echoes of Jesus Christ reverberating back through time from the New Testament just as they will echo into the future.

But as is so typical of God’s people, “they refused to pay attention. They turned their backs, covered their ears, made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words of the LORD Almighty sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets". As can be imagined, God was not happy. So…we have (or should I say they had) a problem.

If we move to Zechariah 7 we can compare it to Isaiah 58:1-12.
The messages are similar. There is a genuine sense of confusion by the people in Isaiah’s time. I sense that they are not sure why they are not receiving favor or answer from the Lord because they have “gone through the motions” and delivered what they thought the Lord wanted from them and now they had an entitlement mentality. I did, now You give…and they are totally missing the point.“Why have we fasted?" they say "and you have not seen it, we've we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” We later read in this unit that they go through the ritual but it means nothing to them because they still, “do as you please and exploit all your workers” their “fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists." These people fail to truly humble themselves.

Frankly, this sounds painfully reminiscent of some of our churches today in all denominations. The very act of going to church is the ritual. People physically show up but their minds are far way. They are more engaged in the afternoon football game or afternoon shopping trip than they are in the reverence and worship of the Almighty God. Then we hear a haunting accusation that should convict many in the Church today as it should have in the days of Zechariah also: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?”A damning and convicting question if you ask me. The flip side of this is: If they do away with this nonsense and malicious backbiting the Lord will guide them as always and He will satisfy their needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen their frame. He will repair walls and restore them. Unfortunately, human nature overrides as it did every time before and they stumble. Inevitably they reject their Messiah en masse as we will see in the Gospels. is sinfully wicked and depraved.

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