During Zechariah’s third year of ministry, a delegation from Bethel came to Jerusalem to ask the priests and the prophets a question (see Zech. 7:1-3).
When they were in exile in Babylon, the people fasted during the fifth month to mourn the destruction of the temple (2 Kings 25:8-9). This was in addition to the fasts held in the fourth, seventh, and the tenth months (Zech. 8:19). In the fourth month, the breaching of the wall of Jerusalem was remembered (Jer. 39:2). The fast in the seventh month, the Day of Atonement, was the only fasting day commanded by God through Moses (see Leviticus 16). Finally, in the tenth month, the people mourned the siege against Jerusalem (Jer. 39:1). Because the exile was now over and the temple reconstruction almost was complete, the people wondered if it still was necessary to fast in the fifth month.
Read the Lord’s answer to them (Zech. 7:8-14). In what ways can the words here be applied to ourselves?
God’s answer through Zechariah is twofold: first, it is necessary that God’s people remember the past so that they do not repeat it. The Lord had warned the ancestors that He expected them to live in trust and obedience. The exile was punishment for their persistent rebellion. So, the people are summoned to learn from their past mistakes. Second, the Lord does not take delight in people’s hunger. When they fast and humble themselves before God, repentance and humility need to be reflected in what they do. To fast in order to feel sorry for oneself is a waste of time and effort. Fasting, among other things, should represent the kind of death to self needed in order to be able to put self aside and reach out and minister to the needs of others. “The spirit of true fasting and prayer is the spirit which yields mind, heart, and will to God.”—Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 189.
What are ways in which we can make valid religious practices, such as fasting and even prayer, become substitutes for what true Christian faith should be about? Bring your answer to class on Sabbath.