Effort—Zachariah 7 (6/5th century B.C.)
James Tissot’s painting “The Flight of the Prisoners” illustrates Judah’s exile from Jerusalem.
The people of Bethel were tired. For seventy years they had been in prison. They served their time. They were model prisoners. They didn’t complain. They stayed out of trouble.
While in prison (Babylon) they grew very ceremonious. They thought it best to impress God with a visible religiousness. Perhaps, then, He would have mercy on them and let them go home.
So they decided the thing to do was to establish a somber fast day on the fifth month to remember the day the Temple burnt to the ground in Jerusalem. And so they turned joy to sorrow and fasted on the fifth month.
Soon, however, they wondered if it was enough. To play it safe they decided to create another fast day in the seventh month. Better to play it safe, right? And so they fasted on the seventh month as well, remembering the awful carnage, two months after the downfall of Jerusalem when Gedaliah rebelled.
Soon, however, they wondered if it was enough. Was God satisfied with just two fasts? They didn’t know. Better to be safe. So they started a tenth month fast which was a sad reminder of the day the siege of Jerusalem began. (It lasted two long years). They put on sackcloth and ashes and moaned and cried so God would be impressed.
Soon, however, they wondered if it was enough. Was God satisfied with just three fasts? Better to be safe. So they initiated a fourth-month one. This was a reminder to them of the terrible day the leaders in Jerusalem fled the city leaving it defenseless before the enemy. (All these fasts are mentioned in Jeremiah).
Finally, the happy day came. They were released from prison. They went home to Bethel. But they were tired of being religious. So they sent a delegation to Jerusalem and they asked God if they could quit all those fasts now.
And God told them He didn’t know what they were talking about! “…was it actually for Me that you fasted?” (Zach 7:5).
Learn a lesson. God is not impressed by religious activity. What He wants is all your love (Matthew 2:37), not more–
David R. Denny Ph.D.