The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah/Chapter 11
(A) THE NEGATIVE ANSWER
And it came to pass in the fourth year of King Darius, that the word of Jehovah came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev. Now they of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech, and their men, to entreat the favour of Jehovah, and to speak unto the priests of the house of Jehovah of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years? Then came the word of Jehovah 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 in the seventh month, even these seventy years, did ye at all fast unto Me, even to Me? And when ye eat, and when ye drink, do not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? Should ye not hear the words which Jehovah cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited? And the word of Jehovah came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus hath Jehovah of hosts spoken, saying, Execute true judgment, and show kindness and com passion every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the sojourner, nor the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they might not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which Jehovah of hosts had sent by His Spirit by the former prophets: therefore there came great wrath from Jehovah of hosts. And it came to pass that, as lie cried, and they would not hear, so they shall cry, and I will not hear, saith Jehovah of hosts; but I will scatter them with a whirlwind among all nations which they have not known. Thus the land was desolate after them, so that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.
NEARLY two years had elapsed since that memorable night on which the series of eight visions were shown to the prophet in which are unfolded, as in a wonderful panorama, the thoughts and purposes of God concerning Israel and the nations from the beginning to the very end of this age when the word of Jehovah came again to Zechariah. The day, the month, and the year of this divine oracle are clearly given it was " in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev " (answering to December), " in the fourth year of King Darius"
The occasion when the prophet was inspired to utter this great and comforting prophecy, which stands separate and complete in itself, though going over in plain, verbal prophecy the same line of thought as unfolded by the visions, is clearly stated in the first three verses of chap. vii.
To understand the circumstances which brought about the very significant incident recorded in these verses, we have to remember that the fourth year of Darius was a time when things seemed to go well, and looked promising to the remnant who had returned to the land. Every hindrance to the completion of the building of the Temple had been removed by the royal decree of Darius, as recorded in Ezra vi. Even the city of Jerusalem, in spite of the desolations which still prevailed in some of its quarters, and the ruinous condition of its walls, was begin ning to improve and revive, and contained already some fine private residences, as we may judge from Hag. i. 4.
The question, therefore, naturally agitated the minds of the people whether, with these signs of apparent prosperity the restored remnant should continue to observe the days of national sorrow and fasting which had been instituted in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple, and the desolation of the land at the commencement of the seventy years captivity.
The initiative in bringing this point to an issue was taken by the inhabitants of Bethel, who sent a deputation of two of their prominent citizens, " with his men " (i.e., attendants or retainers of Regem-melech he being probably a man of importance), " to entreat the favour of Jehovah, and to speak unto the priests of the house of Jehovah of hosts, and to the propliets, saying, Should I (or, Shall I continue to ) weep in the fifth month, separating myself as I have done these so many years? "
One or two further explanatory notes are necessary on these first verses before we can proceed.
(i) It will be noticed that, together with the Revised Version, and almost all modern scholars, we discard the rendering given of the first line of the 2nd verse in the Authorised Version, namely, " When they sent unto the House of God" Now, Bethel does mean literally " House of God "; but it is never used of the Temple, but only and always of the well-known town of Ephraim, one of the great centres of the Israelitish idolatrous worship set up by Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Some commentators, with the Septuagint and some of the Jewish interpreters, have taken Bethel in the accusative, and have rendered the words, " When they (the Jews) sent to Bethel "; but no reason can be assigned for such a deputation being sent to Bethel, since the " priests of the House of Jehovah of Hosts," which all agree must mean the Temple, " and the prophets," whom the deputation was to consult, most certainly lived in and about Jerusalem. Besides, consider ing its previous history as a centre of Israelitish idolatry, the Jews were not in the least likely to have gone, or sent there, " to entreat the face of Jehovah." On the other hand, it is not only in accord with Bible history, but there is a special significance in a deputation coming from Bethel to Jerusalem. According to the original division of the land by Joshua, Bethel fell to Benjamin (Josh, xviii. 1 3); but at the great schism from the House of David under Jeroboam it went with that part of Benjamin which fell away with the northern tribes, and became the chief centre, as already stated, of the idolatrous worship set up by the son of Nebat, who built there a " sanctuary," or temple, in imitation of, and as a rival to, the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as a royal palace for his own residence (Amos vii. 1 3). It was overthrown and became desolate in the over throw, first of the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria, and again in the subsequent overthrow of Judah, and the desolation of the whole land by the Babylonians; but it was rebuilt after the partial restoration at the conclusion of the seventy years captivity, and a considerable number of the former inhabitants, mixed probably with some from the other tribes, once again settled in it (Ezra ii. 28; Neh. vii. 32, xi. 31).
Now, the special significance in this deputation from Bethel to the " House of Jehovah " in Jerusalem lies in the fact that it is, as J. P. Lange and Dr. Wright well point out, an evidence " that the lessons taught by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities were not lost upon the men of Bethel." The men who had formerly belonged to the northern ten-tribed kingdom no longer cherished hopes of a separate destiny, nor looked to a different centre than their brethren of Judah. " Notwithstanding the many sacred memories connected with their city, and the fact that it had been the seat of a Temple in the days of the Israelitish kingdom, to which the tribes of Israel had resorted in numbers, no attempt was now made on their part to dispute the legitimate right to Jerusalem being regarded as the only place where the sacrifices and services enjoined by the precepts of the Mosaic Law could be offered."
(2) Owing to the omission of the particle ns (etJi) after Bethel, which in such cases usually indicates the accusative, Ewald, Koehler, Dr. Wright, and others have taken the clause, " Sharezer Regem-melech and his men," as in apposition with Bethel, and have translated the 2nd verse thus: " And Bethel, that is Sharezer Regemmelech and his men, sent to entreat Jehovah," etc.; but we agree with Keil that there is something so harsh and inflexible in the assumption of such an apposition as this, that, in spite of the omission of the particle, it is preferable to regard the names as in the accusative, even as the Revised Version has done.
(3) As to the names of these men, it is a rather striking fact that, while those who came as a deputation from Babylon with the offering to the House of the Lord, in chap. vi. 915, bore names all expressive of some relationship to Jehovah, those who came from Bethel have foreign names which originally were associated with the false worship of their oppressors, " I -^P^ (Sharetser) was the name of one of the parricide sons of Sennacherib (Isa. xxxvii. 38), and also of one of the princes of Babylon who desolated Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple (Jer. xxxix. 313). The full Assyrian name was Nergal-Sarusur, or Nergal-Shar-Ezer, which, according to Schrader, means " May Nergal protect the king." Here Nergal, the name of the Assyrian false god, is dropped, but the prayer, originally idolatrous, is retained.
Dfn (Regent) is found as a proper name in I Chron. ii. 47. Gesenius explains Regem-melech as signifying " friend of the king." It may originally also have been an Assyrian name, though Regem has not been found in that language, but has been explained from the Arabic. But it is probable that, as in the case of Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael, so these men also, apart from the names bestowed upon them by their Gentile conqueror, in whose service they stood, had also their proper Jewish names; and the reason why their Babylonian or Assyrian names are given here is probably to mark them out as men of importance, who very likely held positions of office in the Court of Assyria or Babylon.
(4) The deputation, after entreating the favour of the Lord by presenting gifts and offerings, was instructed to address the inquiry " to the priests of the House of Jehovah of hosts," because according to the Mosaic institution they in all such matters were to teach Jacob God's judgments, and Israel His law (Deut. xxxiii. 8 10); or, as we have it in the beautiful picture in Mai. ii. 57, "the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth." That they should also consult " the prophets " that is, Haggai and Zechariah was very natural, since by their ministry, and its immediate powerful effect in rousing the people to the long-neglected task of rebuilding the Temple, they had indeed proved and authenticated themselves in the sight of the whole people to be " Jehovah's messengers in Jehovah's message " (Hag. i- 13).
(5) The question itself was, " Shall I (i.e., the city of Bethel} weep in the fifth month, separating myself (i.wn hinnazer like the Nazarite who separated himself, or abstained from strong drink and other bodily indulgences), as I have done these many years? "
The fast of the fifth month, which is the month of Ab, answering to August, is still observed by the Jews on the ninth day, in celebration of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; but, according to the Talmud and Jewish historians, the following list of calamities all happened on the same day, namely: (i) On that day the decree went forth from God in the wilderness that the people should not enter the land because of their unbelief; (2) on the very same day of the destruction of the First Temple by the Chaldeans, the Second Temple also was destroyed by the Romans; (3) on that day, after the rising under Bar Cochba, the city of Bethar was taken, " in which were thousands and myriads of Israel, and they had a great king whom all Israel and the greatest of the wise men thought was King Messiah "; but (4) he fell into the hands of the Gentiles, and they were all put to death, and the affliction was great, like as it was in the desolation of the Sanctuary; (5) and lastly, on that day "the wicked Turnus Rufus, who is devoted to punishment, ploughed up the (hill of the) Sanctuary, and the parts round about it, to fulfil that which was said by Micah, Zion shall be ploughed as a field. "
Here, however, the inquiry doubtless had reference only to the fast in celebration of the destruction of the First Temple by the Chaldeans, the continued observance of which, now that the new Temple was almost finished, might seem to them almost incongruous, especially as the prophets proclaimed that the restoration of the Temple would be a sign that Jehovah had once more restored His favour to His people. The question, as Keil observes, also involved the prayer " that the Lord would continue per manently to bestow upon His people the favour which He had restored to them, and not only to bring to completion the restoration of the Holy Place, but accomplish generally the glorification of Israel which had been predicted by the earlier prophets "; or, to quote another writer, " the question was in some respects similar to that asked by the Apostles of the Lord after His resurrection, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?
The Lord's answer to this question through the mouth of His prophet divides itself into two parts the first, which may be described as the negative part of the answer, being contained in chap. vii. 414; and the second, or positive part, in chap. viii. Each of these two larger divisions is, however, again subdivided into two sections. The whole answer, thus falling into four parts, each of which begins with the words, "And the word of Jehovah of hosts came to me> saying" (vii. 4, 8, viii. I, 18) the usual formula, as has already been poiflkd out, by which the prophets authenticated their messages as being not of, or from, themselves, but from the mouth of the Lord.
We said at the beginning that, though these two chapters are a prophecy separate and complete in itself, it will be found on close examination to go over the same line of thought as unfolded in the series of visions in the first six chapters. The outstanding feature of this prophecy, even as it was of the visions, is that they are debharim tobhim, debharim nichummim (" good words, even comforting words," chap. i. 1 3). In both there are the consolatory anouncements that " Jehovah is jealous for Zion with great jealousy," and will " return to Jerusalem with mercies "; and that not only would the people be restored and the land be rebuilt, but that He Himself would dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, which should be known henceforth as the " city of truth " and " the holy mountain " the centre to which the Gentile nations shall come to seek Jehovah to be taught in His way.
But as the consolatory messages in the visions are introduced by a call to repentance, and the reminder that all their sorrows and troubles were occasioned by their disobedience to the words which Jehovah had spoken to them through the former prophets (chap. i. I 6), so also the wonderful prophecy of the future blessing of Israel and the future glory of Jerusalem in chap. viii. is preceded by what is practically also a call to repentance in chap. vii. 4-14, and the exhortation to give heed at last to the words of the same " former prophets."
But let us now examine in detail the different parts of the answer.
The first " word of Jehovah " which the prophet was commissioned to speak not only to the deputation from Bethel, but to " all the people of the land" whose thought the men of Bethel expressed, " and to the priests" who, instead of answering to the ideal " messengers of Jehovah of hosts " (Mai. iii. 5), and being able to give answer in such an emergency, had, in Haggai's and Zechariah's time, sunk to the same level as the people was designed to show the worthlessness before God of mere outword acts, or forms of repentance and piety, if the inner spirit of them be wanting.
" When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, even these seventy years, did ye at all fast unto Me, even Me f "
In these words the Lord overthrows the false notion which they may have entertained, which certainly the Jews now do entertain, that fasting in itself is a meritorious act. He admits that they had fasted long, " seventy years," and often, not only in the fifth but also " in the seventh month," which was the fast appointed for the murder of Gedaliah, which completed the calamities of Jerusalem, and led to the migration of the little remnant to Egypt for fear of the vengeance of the Chaldeans.
Moreover, they were very thorough and earnest about their fasts; they not only abstained from food (as in Jewish fasts still, which are one unbroken abstinence from food and drink from sunset to sunset), but they accom panied their fasting with mourning and lamentations the word used in the 5th verse being used for mourning for the dead or for special great public calamities and yet their observance of these fasts was a matter of utter indifference to God. Why? Because even in their fasting and mourning they were centred on themselves; they fasted not unto God. It was not the outward sign and accom paniment of true sorrow and repentance for sin, but of sorrow for their calamities. They were self-imposed, to begin with; and they regarded them, not only as intrinsi cally meritorious, but as an end in themselves rather than as the means of turning away from self and all idea of self-merit to the grace of God. And not only in their fasts but also in their feasts there was the same concentration on self and regardlessness of God. "And when ye eat and when ye drink, do not ye eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? " which is the very opposite of the apostolic exhortation, which really sums up the intention and spirit of the many precepts and commandments of the law " Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God"
But apart from the special message which they conveyed to those to whom they were originally addressed, and their application to the Jewish people at the time, there is a solemn lesson in these words which men at the present time, both Jews and Christians, should lay to heart. Are there not thousands now who are very zealous and regular in religious observances, and who think that they are acquiring great merit before God, to whom Christ in that day will say, " Depart from Me; I never knew you? " Did ye at all do it unto Me, even Me? Was it not for the most part will-worship and mere religiousness, without any knowledge of, or real regard for, the will of God?
The 7th verse begins in the Hebrew with the words, Halo eth haddebharim asher qara Yehovah to which most translators and commentators have supplied a verb, on the supposition that the sentence is elliptical, and have rendered it, " Should ye not hear the words which Jehovah hath cried," as the Authorised and Revised Versions do; or, " Should ye not do the words," etc., as Maurer and others translate; or, " Do ye not know the words," according to Ewald, Koehler, Pusey, and others. But the sentence is also capable of another rendering, which we are inclined to think is the correct one, namely: "Are not these the very things which Jehovah cried (that, is did He not have the same complaints to make, and the same remonstrances to address ), through the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity (or in safety ), and her cities round about her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited? " the three districts named being those into which the land of Judah was divided, namely, the Negebh, which is " the southern district," extending as far as Beersheba (Josh. xv. 21); the Shephelak, or "lowland" district, toward the west; and the "hill country of Judah," which is here included under " Jerusalem and the cities round about."
There are many Scriptures in the former prophets which bear witness to the truth of what Zechariah here affirms, namely, God's repudiation of mere outward acts of religious observances, and particularly of fasting, as being in any way pleasing to Him. " Wherefore have we fasted," we read, for instance, in Isa. Iviii., " and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge? " Then the answer, which is very much the same as in Zechariah, " Did ye at all fast unto Me, even Me? " " Behold in the day of your fast, you find your own pleasure. . . . Ye shall not fast as ye do this day to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackclotJi and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an accept able day to the Lord?" (Isa. Iviii. 35).
But it is quite true, as another writer observes, that reference is here made, not so much to the passages in the former prophets, in which fasting is specially referred to (as, e.g., the one from Isaiah just quoted) as to those numerous Scriptures in which the general principle was taught which was enunciated by Samuel in his question, " Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offering and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?" (i Sam. xv. 22, 23); or, as set forth in the words of the great lawgiver, " And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good" (Deut. x. 12, 13).
This that " to obey " is in God's sight " better than sacrifice," and " to hearken " " than the fat of rams," and that obedience to the great moral precepts of the law is infinitely more important than meaningless ceremonies and abstinence from meat and drinks, is brought out still more clearly in the second section of the first part of the answer (vers. 8-10).
" And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus hath the Lord of hosts spoken, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother: 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
Here we are reminded of Isa. Iviii. 6-12, and many other scriptures in the earlier prophets, where the Lord tells us the kind of fast in which He does takes pleasure " Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the* poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isa. Iviii. 6-8, R.V.).
But Zechariah, in the passage we are now considering (vers. 8-10), instead of quoting the exact words of the former prophets, gives the substance of their preaching on this subject in words renewed to himself by the direct inspiration of the Spirit of God.
We note also that it is particularly man's duties to his neighbours which are here summarised; but man's duty to God is presupposed, for even the precepts which inculcate love and mercy to our fellow-men, are enforced by the words, " I am Jehovah thy God" which remind us of our relation and obligations to Him, even as in the New Testa ment it is our debt of love and gratitude to Christ which is the impelling motive of love to the brotherhood. And let me remind you, dear reader, that Christians do have need to lay these moral precepts to heart, for though we are not under the law, the law of God is written on our hearts, and it is His purpose that the righteousness of the law should be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. Beside, whatever be our relation to the law of Moses, we are " under law to Christ," and it is in the New Testament that we are commanded to live and act justly and righteously, and to " have compassion one upon the other," and " to think no evil," which is the equivalent of the beautiful word we have in this passage in Zechariah, " Let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart."
But to return to our context. This was the summary of the teaching of the former prophets; the result is stated in vers. 1 1 and 12:" But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit by the hand of the former pro phets: therefore came there great wrath from the Lord of hosts?
We have already pointed out the parallelism between the line of thought in the consolatory message contained in chaps, vii. and viii. and that which is unfolded in the series of visions. The same is true also of the introductory addresses, or calls to repentance, which in each case pre cede the prophecies of hope and of future glory. The parallel to chap. vii. 814 is chap. i. 4-6. There also we read, " Be not as your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Return ye now from your evil ways and your evil doings; but they did not hear nor hearken unto Me, saith Jehovah." Here, however, the process of Israel's self-hardening and disobedience, which brought about the desolation of the land and the scattering of the people, is enlarged upon, (a] " They refused to hearken " or to give heed to the word of God through the prophets. (<) " They pulled away the shoulder" vayyitfnu khatheph soraretk, a Hebrew phrase which is found elsewhere only in that great confession in Neh. ix. 29, and means literally they offered a recusant, or unwilling, rebellious shoulder instead of serving Jehovah " with joyfulness and gladness of heart " (Deut. xxviii. 47), and finding His yoke easy and His burden light, (c) " And stopped their ears" *T*2pn (hikhbidu), literally, " made it heavy" the word being the same as in that solemn passage, Isa. vi. 10, " Make the heart of the people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed."
It is one of the terrible moral consequences of men turning away from doing the will of God, that the more they hear, the duller their perceptions become, so that in the end, though having eyes, they see not. (d] The final stage of this process of rebellious self-hardening is expressed in the first line of the 1 2th verse: " And they made their hearts as an adamant stone" It is not quite certain what stone is meant by T OB (shamir), but it was harder than flint (Ezek. iii. 9). In Jer. xvii. I it is rendered "diamond."
"It was hard enough to cut ineffaceable characters; it would cut rocks, but could not be graven itself or receive the characters of God."
Truly a fit figure to set forth the hardness and obduracy of the natural unregenerate heart. It is altogether hopeless, and nothing can be done to improve or soften it; the only hope for men in such condition being in this stony heart being altogether taken away by the power and grace of God, and in the creation within them of " an heart of flesh," responsive and impressionable to the Spirit and Word of God.
The enormity of the guilt of Israel is magnified by the fact that that which they refused to hear and to receive into their hearts in order to obey was the rnin (torak) " law," which we must take in the usual sense as describing the law of Moses, and the B 1 " 1 .^ (debharim), "words" of "the former prophets," neither of which originated with man, both being " sent by Jehovah of hosts through the Spirit "; which is a very remarkable incidental statement of the Bible's own claim to inspiration.
The human channel of communication used of God may be Moses, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or any of the other " prophets," but the wonderful things they spoke came not by the will of man, but these holy men of God " spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost " (2 Pet. i. 20, 21).
And the process of apostasy here described by Zechariah did not end with the rejection of the law and the words which God spoke through the prophets. It continued even after the partial restoration, as far as the great majority of the people was concerned. The climax was reached when, after the continued process of disobedience and self-harden ing, and because their hearts were already alienated from God, Israel turned their backs upon Him Who was not only the greatest of the prophets, but was Himself " the Word of God" "the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person."
Nor, alas! can Christendom boast or glory over the Jews, for its history, too, is one of continued rebellion, not only against the law and the prophets, but against the greater light of New Testament revelation, and culminates in the greatest apostasy in the history of the human race, when Satan shall be worshipped instead of God, and Anti christ preferred to Christ.
The consequence of this continued provocation of God and the hardening of their hearts against His word was that there came great wrath from Jehovah of hosts" for God is not mocked, and, however great and wonderful His patience and long-suffering, His anger is in the end poured out upon all who are obdurately impenitent.
On the last page of the Hebrew Bible which, as the books are there arranged, closes with 2 Chronicles we read these very sad and pathetic words: " Moreover all the chiefs of the priests, and the people, trespassed very greatly after all the abominations of the heatJien; and they polluted the Jiouse of the Lord which He had /tallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending; because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling-place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy " (2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-1 6) " till there was no remedy " and " there came great wrath from Jehovah."
How His wrath showed itself is next described: " And it came to pass as He cried (that is, called, remonstrated, and reasoned ivith them through tJte prophets ) and they luould not hear, so they shall cry " (in their distress and anguish) " and I will not hear " solemn and awful words, which have not only verified themselves in the terrible history of the Jewish people these past two thousand years, but are a warning to the individual sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, of whom similar language is used, when he hears God's voice, not to harden his heart and refuse to obey His word as Israel did, "in the provocation and the day of temptation in the wilderness," and who entered not into God's rest because of unbelief.
The last verse of the 7th chapter shows the awful consequences of the " great wrath " which came from Jehovah:
(a) In relation to the people. " But I will scatter them"
D 1V9^1 (ve esa-areim " as with a whirlwind" or, " / will toss them ") " among all the nations w/iom they have not known "; who will therefore have no pity or compassion upon them a process which only began with the destruction of the First Temple and the seventy years captivity in Babylon, but has continued all through the centuries since, during which the Jewish nation continues to be " sifted," or " tossed about among all nations as corn is tossed about in a sieve " (Amos ix.) until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, and " He that scattered Israel shall gather him and keep him as a shepherd doth his flock."
(#) In relation to the land. "And tJie land was desolate (or most probably, shall be desolate] the perfect tense standing here for the future, or prophetic perfect ) after them, so that there shall be no one passing through or returning" (meobher umishabh) an idiom expressing the fact that the land shall be destitute of a population, so that there shall be none to pass to and fro, or " up and down " in it; a prophecy also which has not only verified itself during the seventy years captivity, but in the course of the many centuries since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, during which the land has in the providence of God been practically ^without a people, while the people has been ivithout a land.
Hitherto in vers. 13 and 14 God in the first person has been the speaker, but the last sentence with which the chapter closes seems to be a reflection or ejaculation of the prophet's, in which he gives God the glory by ascribing the desolation which has come upon the land as due entirely to their sins: "And they made the pleasant land" (eretz hemdah, a beautiful and true description of the promised land which is carried over from Jer. iii. 19) " a desolation "; for, just as all nature was involved in Adam's sin, and ever since the Fall " the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now " (Rom. viii.); so Palestine, which is indeed naturally " a delightsome " and fertile land, has in a special manner become involved in the sin of Israel, and lies desolate until the people's covenant relationship to God is restored, when the land shall once again, and more than ever before, flow with milk and honey, and " the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."
Now, in conclusion, to sum up the negative part of the answer to the question put by the deputation from Bethel. Its purport was as follows: There is no occasion as yet to abrogate the observances of the fasts in which you call to mind the calamities which you and your fathers have brought upon the land, by your evil ways and doings, for the underlying cause of the evil which came upon you namely, sin and rebellion against the word which God spake to you through the former prophets you have not yet truly repented of. Your fasting and mourning, however, are in themselves nothing to God so long as they are not the accompaniment of a real sorrow for sin, and a heartdesire to do His will as expressed in His moral law. Take warning, therefore, from the experience of your fathers who kept on hardening their hearts, until there was no more remedy, and great wrath from God came upon them lest the same, and something worse yet, happen to you. The positive part of the answer, which tells when and how the fasts shall be abrogated, yea, turned into feasts, follows in chap. viii.
- Compare chap. i. 7. From Ezra vi. 15 we learn that it was just about two years before the final completion of the Temple, which they were then building.
- The rendering "their men" in the Authorised and Revised Versions is not accurate according to the Massoretic text.
- mrr n 3 (" Beth Jehovah") is used altogether about two hundred and fiftynine times, and D-nSx rra (" Beth Klohim "), or D nSxn rva (" Beth ha-Elohim "), about fifty times in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Temple; but h* JV3 (" Bethel ") not once.
- The phrase J9 n^n (hilah penei) primarily signifies to "stroke the face," hence to entreat favour, or to appease, or propitiate. It is used of entreating the favour of the rich with gifts (Job xi. 19; Prov. xix. 6; Ps. xlv. 12), and is often used in reference to God. No intelligent reader is, of course, in any danger of misunderstanding these anthropomorphic expressions in the Bible when applied to God.
- Fasting and mourning were generally accompanied with weeping (comp. Judg. xx. 26; i Sam. i. 7; 2 Sam. i. 12; Ezra x. i; Neh. i. 4, etc.).
- See Maimonides yad ha-chazaqah, Hilchoth Taanith, c. 5. 8 Dr. C. H. H. Wright.
- Comp. chap. i. 14 with viii. 2; chap. i. 16 with viii. 3; chap. ii. 4 with viii. 4, 5; chap. ii. 10, II with viii. 3, 20-23.
- That is, they shook off the yoke which was sought to be laid upon them, "as if they had been a refractory heifer struggling with all its might against the yoke laid upon it." Wright; comp. Hos. iv. 16.
- The same we have in Nch. ix. 30; "And testifies! against (hem by Thy Spirit through the prophets."
- Prov. i. 24-33.
- See also Deut. xxviii. 49, 50, 64, 65; Jer. xvi. 13; and other places. Pusey rightly observes that the expressions "nations whom they know not," "whose tongue thou shall not understand" are meant to set forth the intensifica tion of their sufferings in captivity because the common bond between man and man, mutual speech, shall be wanting.