4. Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying,
4. Et datus sermo Iehovae exercituum mihi fuit, dicendo,
5. Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?
5. Dic ad totum populum terrae et ad sacerdotes, dicendo, Quum jejunastis et planxistis in quinto et septimo (mense, subaudiendum est) et his septuaginta annis, an jejunando jejunastis mihi, mihi?
6. And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
6. Et quum comedistis, et quum bibistis, annon vos comedistis et vos bibistis?
7. Should ye not hear the words which the LORD hath 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?
7. Annon ad sermones quos clamavit Iehova in manu prophetarum priorum, quum esset Ierusalem quieta et opulenta (vel, quieta et tranquilla; diximus enim alibi de hac voce [ysvt] et urbes ejus per circuitus ejus, et meridies, et campestris regio quieta?
8. And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying,
8. Et factus est sermo Iehovae ad Zachariam, dicendo,
9. Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:
9. Sic dicit Iehova exercituum, dicendo, judiciam veritatis (hoc est, verum; non fallax, sincerum et integrum) judicate, et beneficentiam et misericordias facite quisque cum fratre suo.
Here the Prophet tells us that he was sent to the people and to the priests, not so much to teach the messengers who came from distant lands, as to correct the vices of his own nation; for the Jews had then begun, according to their usual manner, to dissemble with God, and had glided, as it has elsewhere appeared, into many evil practices. And it appears evident, that God did not commit to Zechariah what the messengers might bring back to Chaldea; but that an occasion was taken to remind the Jews, that they were to look to themselves. It may have been the case, that the priests themselves and all the rest had begun to raise a controversy, |How is this? our brethren inquire, whether the fast is to be still observed:| and the opinions might have been various. But as this is doubtful, I leave it as such. We however see that the Prophet does not speak here respecting the captives, nor does he address to their messengers anything which they might convey to Chaldea, but turns his discourse to the priests and to the people. The sum of the whole is, that while the captives gave no mean testimony of their religion, God reproved the Jews, who had returned to their own country, for ingratitude, as they had already begun to pollute themselves.
He therefore brings this charge against them, Have ye fasted to me? have ye eaten to me? as though he had said, |God regards not fastings, except they proceed from a sincere feeling and tend to a right and lawful end.| It was then the object of the Prophet to awaken the Jews, that they might not imagine that God was pacified by fasting or by any other frigid ceremonies, but that they might know that something more was required. And we see how prone mankind are to rely on external rites, and to think that they have rightly performed their duty to God when they have fasted. As then human nature labors under this disease, the Prophet is here sent to dissipate this delusion; which he does by declaring that fasting does not please God, or is acceptable to him, as though it were something meritorious, or as though there was in it any holiness.
He says first, that the word of Jehovah was given to him, that he might go to the people of the land and to the priests. We see the truth of what I have already said, that the answer was not directed to the captives, but to the very inhabitants of the land and to the citizens of Jerusalem, and for this reason, -- because they thought that when the question respecting fasting was moved, the first and chief part of all religion was the subject of inquiry. Hence God, that he might strip them of this superstition, says, When ye fasted in the fifth month and in the seventh month, and during the seventy years, did ye fast to me -- to me? for he has put an affix to the verb, tsmtny, tsametni, and afterwards added 'ny, ani: as though he had said, |Was it to me that ye fasted? Shall I approve of such fasting?| There is an emphasis in the repetition, as though he had said, that there was no reason for the Jews to boast that they faithfully served God, and fully performed their duty, because they fasted twice in the year, for they had to do with that God who rejected such trifling things.
We hence learn that nothing is more preposterous than for men to judge of God's worship according to their own notions, and to trust in themselves. It is indeed easy for us to deceive ourselves; for as we are earthly, so we may think that whatever glitters before our eyes is most acceptable to God. But the Prophet here reminds us, by one sentence, how frivolous are such self-pleasing thoughts; for God meets us with this question, |Have ye fasted to me? Are ye to be judges, and is it right for you at your pleasure to invent various modes of worship? But I remain always like myself, and not transform me according to what pleases you; for I repudiate everything of this kind.|
By saying, that to themselves they did eat and drink, he intimates that to eat and to drink, or to abstain from eating and drinking, are things wholly unconnected with the worship of God. Another sense may indeed be elicited, -- that the Jews did eat as heathens did: and there will be in this case an indirect reproof, -- that they sought to pacify God only twice in the year, and that during the rest of the time they were heedless and indulged themselves in excesses. We ought indeed to bear in mind what Paul says, that
|whether we eat or drink, all things ought to be done to the praise of God.| (1 Corinthians 10:31.)
The law also expressly commanded the Jews to |feast before the Lord,| that is, not to taste food without thanksgiving, as though God were present. When, therefore, the Jews fasted themselves without any regard to God, it is no wonder that their fastings where rejected; for their course was not consistent. For though the godly do not always fast, yet while they partake most freely of meat and drink, they turn not away their thoughts from God, but on the contrary rejoice before him. They therefore eat and drink to God, as well as abstain on God's account. But the Prophet shows here that the Jews did eat to themselves, and that hence their fasting was not regarded before God. This latter sense is not unsuitable: but as to the subject itself, it is enough for us to know, that the Prophet, as he had to deal with hypocrites, ridicules their superstition in their fastings, inasmuch as they thought that these were expiations by which their sins were blotted out, and that if they abstained for a day or two from meat and drink, God was thereby pacified.
And the Prophet's object is more evident from the next verse, when he says, Are not these the words which Jehovah proclaimed by the former Prophets? He confirms here his doctrine by many testimonies, that is, that God had already through successive ages exhorted the Jews to true repentance, and condemned their dissimulation, that they might not think that true religion was made up of fasting and of similar things. And this the Prophet did, not only to gain or secure to himself more credit, but also to render double the wickedness of the Jews; as though he had said, that they were apparently very anxious not to offend God, but that it was merely a false pretense; for had they from the heart wished to please God, they might have long ago learnt that fastings were of themselves of no moment, but that a beginning ought to be made with true religion and spiritual worship.
I have already mentioned, that possibly, when the question was raised by the captives, much disputing, as it is commonly the case, prevailed among the people. But as the Jews ever reverted to their old ways, being blindly attached to their frigid ceremonies, and thinking in this manner to propitiate God, the Prophet, for this reason, derides their preposterous labor and toil. |See,| he says, |the only question now is, whether there should be fasting, as though this were the principal thing before God; in the meantime godliness is neglected, and neglected is real calling on God, and the whole of spiritual worship is also esteemed by you as nothing, and no integrity of life prevails: for ye bite one another, plunder one another, wrong one another, and are guilty of lying: ye heedlessly close your eyes to such vices as these; and at the same time when fasting is neglected, ye think that the whole of religion falls to the ground. These are your old ways, and such were commonly the thoughts and doings of your fathers; and it appears evident that ye trifle with God, and that ye are full of deceits, and that there is not in you a particle of true religion. For God formerly spoke loudly in your ears, and his words were not obscure when he exhorted you by his Prophets; he showed to you what true repentance was, but effected nothing. Is it not then quite evident that ye are now acting deceitfully, when ye so carefully enquire about fasting?| We now perceive what force there is in this sentence, Are not these the words which Jehovah formerly proclaimed? For it was not enough to remind the Jews of true repentance; but this reproof was needful, in order more sharply to stimulate them; and it was wholly necessary to discover their hypocrisy, that they might not be too much pleased with external performances.
That they might not then object, that what they asked respecting God's counsel was done with a good intention, the Prophet answers them, |Where are the words by which God had testified as to what can please him?| And for the same purpose he uses the word, qr', kora, proclaimed: for he does not say, that God merely declared words by his Prophets, but that he uttered them loudly, and as it were with a full mouth. |See,| he says, |ye enquire as though ye were in doubt, and that the knot could hardly be untied, and as though it were a matter of great moment. God has indeed not only spoken, but has also cried aloud in the ears of your fathers; in the meantime ye tread under foot his teaching, or pass it by with closed eyes.| What does this mean? to enquire so anxiously about fasting, and at the same time to despise what is far more important? In a similar manner does Christ also condemn hypocrites, because they hesitated not to swallow a camel, while they were wont to strain at a gnat, (Matthew 23:24;) for in trifling things they dared not to attempt anything; but as to gross wickedness, they leaped over it as it were with the audacity of wild beasts. The object then of the Prophet's words was to show that the Jews did not seriously and in earnest enquire respecting God's will, but pretended to be very attentive to religion, while they openly, and with gross and headless audacity, rejected the true doctrine, which was by no means ambiguous, as God had by his many Prophets clearly taught them and their fathers what he required from them.