PULLED AWAY THE SHOULDER
Sunday September 12, 2021
Zechariah 7 concerns the peoples’ attitude towards obedience.
7 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu;
2 When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the Lord,
3 And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?
4 Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying,
5 Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?
6 And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
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?
8 And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying,
9 Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother:
10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.
11 But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
12 Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.
13 Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, says the Lord of hosts:
14 But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.
This chapter is about two years after Zechariah’s eight visions. The date is the 4th or 7th of December 518 B.C. according to the Gentile calendar.
God addresses the people concerning their observances and fasting surrounding their 5th-month fasts that they initiated during their 70 years of captivity in Babylon.
These were man-made observances in remembrance of the burning of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The account of this destruction is given in 2 Kings 25:8-9 and again in Jeremiah 52:12-13.
According to Zechariah 7:5 and 8:19 they had a number of other ritualistic, anniversary fasts.
In the 4th month, they remembered the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s army; 1
in the 7th month they remembered the murder of the governor Gedaliah, and the Jews with him; 2
and in the 10th month they remembered the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. 3
There is really only one fast required by the law – the Day of Atonement – in the 7th month. 4 This fast is called “The Fast” in Acts 27:9.
There was nothing wrong with fasting, but it had turned into an empty ritual.
True fasting is invisible, low-key, between us and the Lord.5
It should be in response to the leading of the Lord, and not a ritual or something done out of duty. It should be a private thing, not something for show. 6
And, it should be an act of humility.7
God’s answer to them here in Zechariah 7:4-6 and to us is,
“The the word of the LORD Almighty came to me:
Ask the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the 5th and 7th months for the past 70 years, was it really for Me that you fasted?
When you were eating and drinking were you not just feasting for yourselves?”
God bypassed their ritualism, traditions, and hypocrisy, and went straight to their hearts. You see, this whole man-made fasting thing wasn’t the issue, It was rather a much deeper issue – their attitude. God is challenging their attitude.
You see, God was responding to the question they asked in chapter 7 verse 3:
“They were to ask this question of the prophets and the priests at the temple of the LORD of Heavens’ Armies, Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?” (NLT)
They were wondering whether it was necessary to celebrate the fast that commemorates the destruction of the temple since the temple was being rebuilt.8
From God’s perspective, if they were looking to genuinely serve, honour and glory God, their question would not have come up.
So, God challenges their attitude. Challenges them about the reason for their rituals. “Did you really fast for Me?” If they were and are, then they would be following Isaiah 58:4-8 NIV.
“Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for laying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the kind of fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to cloth them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”
The above passage reminds us of God’s words earlier in our study of Zechariah when He addressed the people’s behaviour regarding unjust weight measures in the ephah or basket vision. The people couldn’t wait until their festival celebrations ended so they could get back to their stalls and begin peddling their dishonest merchandize once more.
Now, I am preaching to the choir here, for we have been blessed with good and faithful attitudes and busy ourselves with such things as listed above. But we must be on continual guard to check our attitudes during our “fastings” – are we doing it as unto Him or for ourselves?
In Zechariah, they were doing it for themselves. They were self-centered, and self-motivated, and they were indulging in man-made and useless religion.
I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:31:
“Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
God wants real inner changes not false outward appearances.9
In another section of Scripture God has a fearful warning for His people if they continue to neglect Him and turn away to false religious rituals. It is given in Hosea 2:8-9. (KJV)
“For she, [His people, His nation] did not acknowledge that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away My corn in its season, and My wine in its season, and will recover My wool and My flax given to cover her nakedness.”
We must remain absolutely grateful for His blessings. We must acknowledge Him in all our ways, and never forget all His benefits.10 We are to honour Him with our substance and with the firstfruits of our increase and our barns will be filled with plenty and our presses will burst out with new wine. 11
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifices. 12
Zechariah outlines what they should have done, and should be doing.
First, to “execute true justice.”
Secondly “to show mercy and compassion.”
Thirdly “to love mercy.”
Forth “do not oppress the widow or the fatherless.”
Fifth “do not oppress the alien or the poor.”
Sixth “let none of you plan evil in his heart.”
The Bible has so much to say concerning these six things of man.
The heart of the people is God’s central message here in Zechariah – the true intention of their fasting and ritual “worship.”
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts . . .all these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7:21-23. (See also Matthew 12:34-35 and Luke 6:45)
Our horizontal actions are evidences of what our vertical relationship is.13 Remember, faith without works is dead.
And what was the reaction of the people upon hearing the word of the LORD through Zechariah? – rejection! And all these are acts of their will.
- “They refused to heed.”
“To whom will I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot give heed. Behold, the word of the LORD is a reproach to them; they have no delight in it.” Jeremiah 6:10.
- “They pulled away the shoulder.” This speaks of the stubborn ox that refused to be yoked. In the midst of a “hissy fit” have you ever responded to someone who cares for you, placing a comforting hand upon your shoulder by immediately pulling your shoulder away? This is the picture.
We are to break every oppressive yoke from off others and ourselves, however this speaks to the “yoke of the LORD.” Listen to Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30.
“Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
He was speaking this concerning the burden – the yoke – of ritualistic religion. His heart was not haughty nor proud but rather meek and lowly and he sought to create in each of us a similar heart.
As we relinquish our religious struggles to him we do indeed find rest for our souls. His yoke is easy compared to that pressed down upon the people by the Scribes and Pharisees and was indeed light.
But they shrugged off His hand from their shoulders. I trust that we do not do the same when we feel the touch of Holy Spirit upon our shoulder.
- “They stopped up their ears.” Another action of the will. Listen also to 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts will they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they will turn away their ears from the truth, and will be turned unto fables.”
Notice that again their actions are actions of the will. They don’t like what they are hearing – sound doctrine – because it interferes with their own lusts. So they seek out teachers who will tell them what they desire to hear. Itching ears seek attention and gratification. Always seeking the next “new thing” like radar dishes constantly probing the air waves for the next delicious sound-bite.
- “They have made their hearts as an adamant stone.”
Adamant – H8068 – a sharp stone such as flint or briar, thorns.
While their itching ears seek words to sooth their lusts, they are also sealed by flint and briar to the words of the LORD. Again, this starts with a choice, and an act of the will. The words of the LORD bounce off their ears of flint like so many sparks that fail to set afire their cold dry hearts. And thorns entangle and burst any words of admonition.
They have made their hearts so hard and cold that they cannot be molded into the character of God. The phrase, from Isaiah 64:8,
“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter, and we the work of Your hands.”
means very little to them.
God formed them as a nation from the clay pits; moulded them for decades into a people chosen and blessed. Jesus spit upon a handful of clay to give one of their own sight. They acknowledged once that they were indeed only clay, and that their GOD was their Potter.
And in conclusion the LORD reminds the people that since His crying out to the people went unheard so too now He would not hear their cries to Him. I can’t imagine hearing that from the lips of the LORD!
Hebrews 3 verses 3 and 8 implores us not to harden our hearts to the voice of the LORD.
But now, the clay has hardened! And Zechariah 7 ends with the prophecy that, even as the second temple is rising with its bricks hardening, there will come a second, more severe scattering of His people.
So, for us today, what do we take away from this?
God desires truth in our inward parts, Psalm 51:6: “Behold, Thou desires truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part You will cause me to know wisdom.”
Notice we have inward parts plural. We need to be truthful in our minds, hearts, souls and spirits. Do we accept the truth about ourselves; the truth about God?
God desires honesty in all our dealings with each other, 1 Timothy 2:2: “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty.” That we deal honestly with each other especially if we find ourselves in a position of authority, during our day to day activities.
God desires that our worship be heart-felt and not ritual driven, John 4:23: “But the hour comes and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him.”
To worship God in spirit is to have a one-on-One approach to worship. It is not a showy thing nor is it an activity of routine. How often did Jesus emphasize this very thing. How often did He step aside, out of the limelight, to worship the Father.
Celebrations are good if they are God-centered, but worship is something entirely different. God created each of us alone and in secret, intimately, and His desire is for us to return and spend a moment in His presence to worship Him for Who He is and for His mighty loving deeds. Let us each draw near, Amen.
1 Jeremiah 39:1-2; 52:6-7
2 2 Kings25:25; Jeremiah 41:1-3
3 2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 39:1
4 Leviticus 16:29-31;23:27-32; Numbers 29:7
5 Jeff Blake 26 Oxbrook.org
6 Matthew 6:16-18
7 Luke 18:11-12
8 Jeff Blake 26 Oxbrook.org
9 Psalm 51:6
10 Proverbs 3:6
11 Proverbs 3:9
12 Proverbs 21:3
13 Jeff Blake 26 Oxbrook.org