Should Ye Not Hear The Words Which Jehovah Cried By The Former Prophets?
In this modern day and age we like to think that we are unique, that we live in unique times, that the circumstances of our life and times are exceptional - basically, that we're special. As a part of this we always seem to want a special exemption from the rules that have bound everyone else. Especially when these rules restrict us in ways we don't think modern people in our situation should be restricted. We think that there is some new twist or detail that makes the old restrictive ways invalid for us, and that a new standard, one more to our liking - I mean, "more in keeping with modern times" - is needed.
A similar attitude was displayed among some of the remnant that returned from Babylonian captivity. If anyone was to make an argument that they lived in a new situation, it was them. They came back to a land left uninhabited for 70 years. In the time of their absence from the land they had picked up a number of new practices and traditions. Truly, they thought, lived in a new age, and some of their past no longer seemed to fit.
Over the past 70 years they had made several fasts for the people to observe. "The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth`" (Zech. 8:19) These fasts commemorated every major tragic event connected with the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The fasts were to remember Nebuchadnezzar laying siege to Jerusalem (10th month); the breaching of the walls (4th month); the burning of the Temple (5th month) and the murder of good governor Gedaliah (7th month).
Once back in the land, delegation from Bethel came "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?" (Zech. 7:3) The reason for this question was that the fifth month fast was to mourn the loss of the temple. Now the temple is rebuilt. Thus the question, do you mourn the loss of something after it is restored?
Before answering that question, God asked them why they were mourning. "`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?" (Zech. 7:5,6) Here is the fundamental problem with doing anything that God did not tell you to do - are you doing it for Him or for yourself? In answer to this question God said, "You're not doing it for Me." Making up rites that we are to perform regularly instead of having true repentance is an absolute guarantee of doing things wrong. We do for God what God said do. We do for man when we does what man said do - even if we invoke the name of God in it.
So what should they do? God said to listen to what was said before. "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?" (Zech. 7:7) What did God say to do? Hear the words of the old prophets back before things were wrecked in the judgments that came on the nation for their sins. In this new age God said to do the same things that He had said to do before. So maybe the new times are not that much different from the old ones after all. "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun." (Eccl. 1:9)
God had given them a set of instructions that were good for times past and also good for times NOW. "The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever." (Isa. 40:8) Many times we don't want to accept this. In this hyper-technical, highly nuanced, over-lawyered, find a loophole for everything world in which we live, we often bring the same approach to the scriptures. When these returnees to Judea asked for a revelation it was at least during the days of the prophets. Today, man keeps asking for new information even though God has told us that He has spoken (Heb. 1:2) and that this is His full revelation (2 Pet. 1:3, Jude 3).
When God referred these people back to the former prophets, He told them what they should be doing instead of fasting. "Thus hath Jehovah of hosts spoken, saying, Execute true judgment, and show kindness and compassion 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." (Zech. 7:9,10) There is no new and stunning revelation here and certainly no exemption from the former rules. They should just do the basic moral things that God has always told them that they should do. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Hosea, and others had each spoken of these things. The people the prophets days didn't really want to do them, "But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they might not hear." (Zech. 7:11) And there was a danger that the returnees would not want to do them. And there is a daily danger that people won't want to hear such instructions today either. But there isn't going to be any new revelation. Like those of old, we need to look to the "former prophets."
The generation of returnees was promised that if they would do these things that were told of old, instead of concentrating on all the days of mourning that they had made, God would richly bless them. "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace." (Zech. 8:19) Their days of mourning were a remembrance of the horrors that had come on them as punish from the Lord for unfaithfulness. But with a "love of truth" there would be no more occasions to mourn, as God would bless them with joy, gladness and cheerful feasts instead.
Which would you prefer? Which should they have preferred? Assuming we're all answered that we want the blessings, how do we get them? "Should ye not hear the words which Jehovah cried by the former prophets?" The words of Jehovah by the prophets are in the book. We don't need anything new. If it's new it means that God didn't say it in the past. Yet His revelation was good enough to guide those who went before, it is good enough now as well. He is from age to age the same. So is His word. And despite our think-so's, we pretty much are too.
By Jay Horsley
From Expository Files 8.6; June 2001