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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Zechariah 7

 

 

Verses 4-7

DISCOURSE: 1248

OUTWARD SERVICES VAIN WITHOUT OBEDIENCE

Zechariah 7:4-7. Then came the word of the Lord of Hosts unto me, saying, 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? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did ye not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity?

THIS was an answer to a question which had been proposed to the prophet, by persons who had been sent from Babylon to consult him on a matter of considerable importance. The Jews, when carried captive to Babylon, instituted four annual fasts [Note: Zechariah 8:19.], two of which are mentioned in the text; that in the fifth month, in remembrance of the destruction of their temple and city by Nebuzar-adan, the Chaldean general; and the other, in remembrance of the murder of Gedaliah, who had been placed, as governor, over the poorer part of the Jewish population that were left in the land [Note: 2 Kings 25:8-10; 2 Kings 25:22-25.]. But the people were now restored to their land; and the temple was in part rebuilt; and therefore it was justly doubted, by those who yet remained in Babylon, whether it was proper to continue those fasts, now that the judgments on account of which the fasts were instituted were removed. This was a question which could not be satisfactorily answered, but by one who was inspired of God to declare his will respecting it. But before a direct answer was given to it, the prophet was instructed to reprove the whole nation, priests as well as people, for the manner in which those fasts had been observed. They are not blamed for instituting the fasts, but for the hypocrisy which they had manifested in the observance of them.

The reproof here given to the Jewish nation furnishes us with a fit occasion,

I. To inquire into the principles by which we have been actuated in our religious duties—

External acts are of no value in the sight of God, any farther than as they express the real dispositions of the mind. It is to the principle from which we act, and not to the mere act itself, that God looks: and it is to that that we also must look, in order to form a right estimate of our character. Consider then,

1. To whom we ought to have performed all our religious services—

[That “fasting and mourning” were religious services, is obvious: and that “eating and drinking”are here used in the same sense, is also obvious. The Jews were ordered by the Mosaic law to carry up their tithes, and their first-fruits, and their free-will offerings, to Jerusalem, and to eat them, in the temple before the Lord [Note: Deuteronomy 12:17-18.]: and not being able to carry them thither, they observed the same rites in Babylon. Hence we may properly notice our own religious services in general, whether those of greater solemnity, as public fasts, or those which are of more ordinary occurrence, both public and private: in all of them we ought to have had respect to God; to his will, as the cause; his word, as the rule; his glory, as the end [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.]. If not done for him, they are not acceptable to him: and the more entirely we have respect to him in them, the more pleasing they are in his sight. But if we examine our religious services in this view, how few will be found to have been such as God could accept! Enter distinctly into those three points — — — and then say what answer you can return to that searching interrogation, “Did ye perform them to me, even unto me?”]

2. To whom we have performed them—

[Self was the spring of all their services in Babylon; and self has been, for the most part, the true source of ours. With some they have been no more than a decent regard for the customs of the place wherein they live. With others, they have originated in pride, having been performed only to set a good example to others, or to gratify a self-complacent spirit in themselves. With others again, the observance of them has been prompted by self-righteousness, and a vain desire of establishing a righteousness of their own before God. With some too, it is to be feared, their services have been debased by, if not founded in, hypocrisy, having been little else than an endeavour to preserve a fair appearance before men, and to get advantage for the promoting of their temporal interests.

In any of these points of view, what is the principle that actuates us? Is it love for God, or zeal for his glory? No: it is self, and nothing but self; and inasmuch as we have performed religious services under any of these impressions, it must be said that we have done it “for ourselves,” and not for God. Of Pharisaic hypocrisy we would fondly hope, that it is not a common principle amongst us: but formality, and pride, and self-righteousness operate to a vast extent. O let us search and try ourselves in relation to these things — — — and we shall find abundant ground for humiliation, where perhaps we imagined there was cause for nothing but self-approbation and joy.]

That we may not perform our services in vain, I will proceed,

II. To shew what practice is necessary to the acceptance of them before Godm—

The prophet appealed to the Jews, whether their attention ought not rather to be called to the commands of God, which in their more prosperous state they had neglected, and which even now they overlooked?

This is the duty to which we are called—

[Under all circumstances, our first duty is to obey the commands of God: and to bring us to obedience is the end of all his dispensations towards us. If he gives prosperity, it is to encourage us to what is good; and, if he send adversity, it is to reclaim us from evil. Even in the gift of his only-begotten Son he aimed particularly at this, the reducing of men to a state of holy obedience, and of an unreserved devotedness to their God [Note: Romans 14:7-10. Titus 2:14.]— — —]

Without this, all services, of whatever kind they be, are of no avail—

[In numberless places is this declared by the voice of inspiration: the universal testimony of God’s prophets is, “that God has not such pleasure in sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord; but that to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The Prophet Isaiah in particular insists upon this truth, and in the strongest terms [Note: Isaiah 1:11-16; Isaiah 58:1-7.] — — — Indeed such is God’s abhorrence even of the most exalted services, if offered as a substitute for obedience, that he accounts them no better than idolatry and murder [Note: Isaiah 66:3.]. Our blessed Lord in like manner expresses his indignation against those who profess regard for him without manifesting it by a life of holy obedience: “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” And, as the prophet appealed to the Jews respecting this, so we would make our appeal to you, assured that, if conscience be allowed to speak, there can be but one sentiment on this subject. It is an incontrovertible and fearful truth, that “He is an empty vine, who bringeth forth fruit to himself [Note: Hosea 10:1.].”]

Let this subject be improved,

1. For our humiliation—

[Who amongst us does not, on a review of his past conduct, find abundant cause for self-condemnation in his religious duties? Who has not too much consulted self, and too little had regard to God? Truly, we all need one to “bear the iniquity of our holiest things,” as well as of the things which have been more palpably contrary to the will of God. Let us look to that adorable Saviour on whom all our iniquities were laid, and seek through him alone that gracious acceptance, which services like ours can never merit.]

2. For our direction in future life—

[It is good to serve the Lord: and we must not be discouraged because we cannot serve him so perfectly as we could wish. Self, that subtle enemy, will more or less intrude into all we do. But let us be on our guard against this evil principle, and beg of God to deliver us from it. Let us endeavour to get a deeper sense of our obligations to God our Saviour, for all the wonders of redeeming love. This will do more than any thing else to counteract our natural depravity, and to make us “live in all things, not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us, and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Zechariah 7:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/zechariah-7.html. 1832.

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