Focusing on Past Sins tends towards Self-indulgence

Zechariah 7 starts off with a delegation being sent, apparently from Babylon to Jerusalem with, of all things, a question about fasting. At this point, the temple was somewhere around halfway completed.
There are seven feasts that the Jews observed during their captivity, four of which recalled the destruction of the temple and their captivity:
  • 1) First enclosure of Jerusalem by the enemies’ lines
  • 4) the capture of the city
  • 5) destruction by fire of the Temple
  • 7) murder of Gedaliah.
The national life was depressed by this constant memory of disaster. These men knew that during their forced exile in Babylon they observed these feasts that remembered the tragic fall of Jerusalem. 
But now since God’s people were back in the land and the temple was nearly rebuilt, they wanted to know if it was appropriate to continue to these fasts of mournful remembrance.
(The matter brings up an issue relevant today: How long should we remember and mourn over our past? Should we do things to remember either our sin or the tragedies of the past?)
So representatives were sent to ask the views of the leaders. 
The delegation is not answered directly. Instead a word from God comes to Zechariah “to all the people of the land to the priests” (4). 
What is the purpose of their fasting? Is it really for the Lord? Or is it an expression of their own needs, like eating and drinking? Fasting must not be motivated by self-interest but by concern for the glory of God (4-7).
(This also shows us that when we cling to the memory of sin or tragedy in the past, we often do it out of simple self-indulgence. We do it for our self, not for the Lord.

Instead of actively remembering the sin or tragedy of the past, God wants us to focus on active obedience and an active walk with Him. 

“There is no need to observe the sad anniversaries of our sins and their accompanying punishment, if once we are assured of God’s free forgiveness. When He forgives and restores, the need for dwelling on the bitter past is over . . . Too many of us are always dwelling beside the graves of the dead past.” (Meyer))

Then in a second word from God, Zechariah calls on Israel to recognize the basic issue facing them. God’s real concern, as shown in the history of Judah before her fall, is that His people “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” 
What God wants is that they “do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of one another.” (9-10) Some among the people of God found it easier to fast a few days a year instead of truly treating others in a godly way. 
The issue is not fasts, but the willingness of this people to commit to a life that pleases God.
Interesting progression is mentioned in verses 11-12:

Refused to heed . . . shrugged their shoulders . . . stopped their ears . . . made their hearts like flint: 

Zechariah vividly describes a progression of rejection. It begins with simply refusing to heed God, then a self-justifying shrugging of their shoulders, then stopping their hears. It all ends with hearts as hard as flint.
Their disobedience and disregard for God led to scattering and desolation. This is always our fate when we allow religious rituals to take the place of a real relationship with God.
Lord Jesus, we hunger for a real relationship. Deliver us, or prevent us, from being ensnared by activities, rituals and past sins. We want to focus on You and Your word for us. 

You say You have a plan and a future for us, one of hope and brightness. Because You have cleansed us and forgiven us, help us to focus on You and strive towards the goal of this bright vision. I pray this for us as individuals, and also for us as a church. May we walk in obedience by showing mercy and compassion especially to the people in the Bright Zone.

May the Harringtons be recipients of Your mercy and grace through us. And if they be anywhere in this progression of rejection, that You would intervene and soften their hearts to You. Thank You for Your guidance, love and deliverance. Amen.
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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Trinka on March 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    This is interesting. When I think of the great victories in my life, they are so often tied to the great defeats … where God took something and turned it around and used it for my good. I find that any memory of a failing is almost always twinned with a memory of God’s deliverance …. thereby making regret a flip-flop into praise.Harringtons … a family working in the Bright Zone ministry?

    Reply

  2. Posted by Deborah on March 27, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Exactly! Kind of like your Psalm 84 thoughts! That’s what Zechariah 8 is all about (Step One to Step Twelve).But do you know what is like to be tempted to keep your past from moving forward. “God would never used me because I…” “I don’t deserve His love because I…” “If you only knew what I’ve done…”And God is saying, “yes, you were exiled for a long period of time, and yes it was because of your disobedience, but there is a new thing happening and things have been rebuilt, restored, raised up again, resurrected, renewed…so get back in the game and play your little heart out with joy!”St. Philip’s collected the names of everyone that lives and works in the Bright Zone and put them in a bucket for us to pick a name of a family from to pray for them. I don’t know the Harringtons except to say, they live in the Bright Zone!Glad you are feeling better pal!

    Reply

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