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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 7

 

 

Verses 1-3

Occasion of the prophetic utterance, Zechariah 7:1-3.

1. Fourth year — 518 B.C. (compare Zechariah 1:1; see on Haggai 1:1).

The ninth month — See on Haggai 2:10, and Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Time.” The last date mentioned (Zechariah 1:7) was nearly two years earlier. In this same month two years before Haggai had delivered two messages of promise (Haggai 2:10-23). The order of the words and the construction in Hebrew are peculiar; therefore many are inclined to omit 1b as a later addition and to connect 1a with Zechariah 7:2 so as to read, “And it came to pass in the fourth year of Darius that Beth-el sent.”

Zechariah 7:2-3 describe the occasion which called forth the utterance. The translation of Zechariah 7:2 is uncertain; R.V. reads, “Now they of Beth-el had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech, and their men, to entreat the favor of Jehovah.” Beth-el (R.V.), though meaning house of God (A.V.; compare Genesis 28:19) does not seem to be used of the temple. The form as well as the context require that it should be taken as the name of the well-known town and sanctuary of the northern kingdom, about ten miles north of Jerusalem (see on Amos 4:4), to which some exiles had returned (Ezra 2:1; Ezra 2:28). But is it in the nominative or in the accusative (of direction)? Should it be translated “Beth-el sent,” or “he sent to Beth-el”? The latter is improbable, for why should anyone send to Beth-el in the postexilic period, when Jerusalem was the only recognized religious center? If the text is correct Beth-el must be taken as the subject in the sense of men of Beth-el (so R.V.). If so, “Sharezer and Regem-melech” would be the object; the community in Beth-el sent these two men. Then the phrase “his men” (English versions read incorrectly the plural their) becomes peculiar, for the singular pronoun refers ordinarily to only one individual. This difficulty was evidently felt by the Revisers, for they place in the margin as an alternative, “Now they of Beth-el, even Sharezer, had sent Regem-melech and his men.” This may be a more accurate reproduction of the Hebrew, but Sharezer sounds peculiar in apposition to they of Beth-el. Hence some have thought that in the two words Beth-el and Sharezer (Isaiah 37:38) we have a corruption of what was originally a single proper name, perhaps Belsharezer, which is identical with Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1). Then Belsharezer would be the sender of Regem-melech. The former may have been some prominent citizen or official — it has been suggested, though with little probability, that he is no other than Zerubbabel — who, as the representative of the community, sought the advice of the prophets and priests. Others seek to remove the difficulty by taking Beth-el as the subject, Sharezer as the object, and Regem-melech not as a proper name but as an official title. “Now they of Beth-el sent Sharezer, the Regem-melech (friend of the king), and his men.” The title is found nowhere else. The present text, no matter how it is translated, presents difficulties. If it is emended the change to “Belsharezer sent Regem-melech and his men” is the most simple. Perhaps all we can say with certainty is that a delegation was sent from somewhere to consult the religious leaders, and that the coming of this delegation was the occasion of the prophet’s utterance.

The purpose of the sending of the emissaries was twofold: (1) To entreat the favor of Jehovah (R.V.) — Literally, to stroke the face of Jehovah, and thus make him favorably inclined. The metaphor seems to have originated at a time when it was customary to stroke or embrace the image of the deity to secure the divine favor. In the general sense of entreat the favor of God or man by presents, petitions, or other means the verb is used quite commonly in the Old Testament. (2)

Speak unto the priests… to the prophets Speak to is used in the sense of consult. It would seem that the two classes of religious workers possessed at this time equal authority, and that there was peace and good will between them. There is no indication of the opposition which was so prominent in the eighth century, and which appears again in the days of Malachi.

Should I weep in the fifth month — No matter who was the sender, the question was asked in the name of the community (see Zechariah 7:5). The fifth month was called Ab, on the tenth day of that month the city and temple were given up to the flames (Jeremiah 52:12-13; but compare 2 Kings 25:8-9). In commemoration of this terrible calamity a public fast and mourning was held annually by the later Jews on the ninth of Ab. As the new temple approached completion, many would ask themselves whether this fast and mourning should be continued.

Separating myself — Abstaining from meat and drink (Zechariah 7:5).


Verses 1-23

RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF MORAL AND CEREMONIAL REQUIREMENTS, Zechariah 7:1 to Zechariah 8:23.

After a silence of nearly two years the voice of Zechariah was heard again. In the fourth year of Darius a deputation came to the prophet inquiring whether the observance of the fasts instituted to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem was still obligatory (Zechariah 7:1-3). This question would suggest itself to many as the temple neared completion, and as the seventy years since the destruction of Jerusalem were drawing to a close. In reply the prophet points out that fasting is not an end in itself, that it is of value only as a means of increasing devotion and piety in the one who practices it (4-6). Then he turns the attention of the delegation to the ethical character of the divine demands, and points out that by disregarding these their fathers had brought upon themselves awful judgments (7-14). Reaffirming Jehovah’s jealousy for Zion, he pictures the glory and prosperity in store for Judah and Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:1-17). When these glories are realized the question of fasts will solve itself; they will be transformed into seasons of joy and rejoicing, to which multitudes will flock from all parts of the land; even the other nations will gladly join the Jews in their festivities (18-23).


Verses 4-6

Fasting not an essential element of true religion, 4-6.

The new revelation (Zechariah 7:4 ff.; see on Zechariah 1:1) has to do with this inquiry. 5.

Unto all the people — All were interested in the fast, hence all would be interested in the prophet’s teaching.

The priests — They were always the conservatives, the prophets the progressives; the former were prone to emphasize the letter of the law, the latter the spirit, and because they were not bound to the letter they were able to lead the people into new and higher truth, though in doing this they frequently encountered the most bitter opposition of the priests. The new message had to do with the spirit of the law; therefore it was only natural that it should pass from the prophet to the priests, who in turn might pass it on to the people. We have here an illustration of a fact noted by Beecher, “The record represents the prophets as the medium through which the torah is given from the deity; the priests as the official custodians and administrators of the torah; and both as the expounders and interpreters of torah.”

The… seventh month — The third day of this month was observed as a day of fasting and mourning in commemoration of the murder of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:25-26; Jeremiah 41:1 ff.).

Fifth — See on Zechariah 7:3.

Seventy years — In round numbers, seventy years had elapsed since the fall of the city.

Did ye at all fast unto me — Was the fast observed as a means of grace by which the people drew closer to God? Was Jehovah benefited in any way by their fasting? The pronoun is repeated for the sake of emphasis (Haggai 1:4). 6.

Did not ye eat for yourselves — Eating is of value only to the eater. Jehovah derives no benefit either from their fasting or their feasting, but they should know whether or not the one or the other is useful to them.


Verses 7-14

The true requirements of Jehovah, 7-14.

The vague answer, in 4-6, though it leaves, for the time being, the question unsolved, opens the way for a discourse, in which the prophet goes to the root of the matter and in which he gives the only true and satisfactory solution. He begins, in Zechariah 7:7, by calling attention to the things that are of real value in the sight of God.

Should ye not hear the words — The Hebrew has no verb, but it has been customary to supply it as do the English versions. It seems better, however, to follow LXX., Peshitto, Vulgate, the three most important ancient versions, and read, “Are these the words?” The words are given in Zechariah 7:9-10, and they form the starting point of an appropriate solution of the problem.

The former prophets — See on Zechariah 1:4.

Jerusalem was inhabited — At the time when all was prosperity, that is, before the exile.

South… plain — R.V., “South… lowland.” The Negeb and the Shephelah, two of the three divisions of Judah (Joshua 15:21; Joshua 15:33). The former was in the south, the other took in the foothills between the Central Range and the Maritime Plain. Disobedience to these words caused the loss of prosperity.

Zechariah 7:8 is a repetition of Zechariah 7:4 and should perhaps be omitted; it certainly does not add anything, and Zechariah 7:9 is the natural continuation of Zechariah 7:7, for in Zechariah 7:9 are quoted the words of the former prophets. The introductory phrase of Zechariah 7:9 also seems superfluous, but it may be a part of the quotation. If it was supplied by Zechariah, it should be translated “thus spake,” for it introduces words spoken to past generations. Zechariah 7:9-10 make it clear that the principles of pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27) were the same in the Old Testament period as they are now, love to God and love to fellow men. Zechariah, in this discourse, emphasizes the latter.

Execute true judgment — Administer justice without respect of persons, according to the merits of the case (Amos 5:24; Hosea 12:6; Isaiah 1:17; compare Isaiah 5:23).

Show mercy and compassions — R.V. reads for the first “kindness.” See on Hosea 2:19; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8.

Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor — All these are persons who cannot defend themselves, and who in many cases have no friends to take their part; therefore they are placed under the special care of Jehovah (Exodus 22:21-24), and his followers are enjoined constantly to care for them (Isaiah 1:17; Micah 2:9; for the stranger see on Malachi 3:5).

Imagine evil — Plan to do evil (compare Zechariah 8:17; Micah 2:1; Jeremiah 4:14; Proverbs 3:29).

11, 12. The requirements could not have been made plainer, but the attitude of the people was disappointing.

They — The fathers (Zechariah 1:4).

Refused to hearken — They would pay no heed to the prophetic exhortations.

Pulled away the shoulder — Better, with margin R.V., “turned a stubborn shoulder” (Nehemiah 9:29). The metaphor is taken from the ox that refuses to have the yoke put upon its neck (Hosea 4:16).

Stopped their ears — Literally, made heavy their ears (Isaiah 6:10, so that they would not hear.

Their hearts as an adamant stone — So that no impressions could be made (Ezekiel 11:19).

Lest — The Hebrew construction is the same as in Zechariah 7:11, “that not.”

Law… words — These two words are used frequently by the prophets as synonyms; the former would be better translated “instruction,” or “teaching,” as in Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 2:3 (see on Hosea 4:6; compare Amos 2:4).

Which — Refers to both law and words.

In his spirit — Or, by; see on Joel 2:28.

The former prophets — As in Zechariah 7:7.

As a result of this disobedience great calamity fell upon the former generations.

Came a great wrath — Which found expression in judgments (see on Zephaniah 1:18, and references there). Though R.V.

reproduces more literally the Hebrew of Zechariah 7:13-14, A.V. is more successful in expressing the thought. The verses contain no direct threats against the prophet’s contemporaries; they describe the fate suffered by the fathers (for the Hebrew tenses compare G.-K., 107b, e), and they teach by implication that a similar attitude on the part of the present generation will bring a similar fate.

As he cried — Jehovah, through the prophets, in the manner suggested in Zechariah 7:9-10.

They — The fathers, who would not hear. The punishment was according to the lex talionis. When the fathers cried for help and deliverance Jehovah would not hearken to them.

I scattered them with a whirlwind — Suddenly and fiercely (see on Hosea 8:7; Amos 1:14).

Nations whom they knew not — The Assyrians and Chaldeans, who, as strangers, had no sympathy or compassion (Jeremiah 16:13; Jeremiah 22:28).

After them — After they were scattered as exiles and fugitives the land became desolate.

No man passed through nor returned — The country became so waste that no traveler cared to take his course through it (compare Zechariah 9:8; Exodus 32:27; 1 Kings 15:17).

For — Better, and so.

They laid… desolate — The subject may be either the indefinite they, the enemies, or the inhabitants of the land who, through their stubbornness and disobedience, attracted the judgment.

Pleasant land — Literally, the land of desire. At one time it was thought a very desirable land, “flowing with milk and honey” (Jeremiah 3:19; Deuteronomy 8:7 ff.). After the divine judgment had fallen no one cared to go near it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/zechariah-7.html. 1874-1909.

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