OBEDIENCE is BETTER than FASTING: Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, "Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me--for Me? When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? Should you not have obeyed the words which the Lord proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?'” (Zech 7:4-7)
Zechariah chapters 7 and 8 form a division by themselves, dealing with the subject of fasting. A delegation from Bethel came to inquire if they should continue to fast on the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem. They had been doing this for over seventy years. The answer to the above question is given in four distinct messages (7:4–7; 7:8–14; 8:1–17; and 8:18–23). In this first message, God reminds them that the fast in both the fifth and seventh months had been instituted by themselves, not by Him. Both their fasting and their feasting were for themselves, not for God. Before the destruction of Jerusalem, the former prophets had warned the people that God wanted righteousness and reality rather than rituals. The fasts were their idea, not God’s!
Prophet Zechariah’s answer, like the messages of earlier prophets, shows that God cares more for righteousness than religious forms. Zechariah reminds them that their fasting was intended to be symbolic of changed hearts demonstrated in changed lives. In and of itself their fasting, like their eating and drinking, did not affect God, but only themselves (v. 6).
We see here that God rebuked the false ritualism of the people for the past seventy years (vv. 4–7). God revealed that in neither their fasts nor their feasts has He been pleased, for their motives were wrong. God is never pleased with mere external formalities and conformities. God is a God of realism; and He demands inward reality! The point of this message is: Obedience is better than fasting. God is pleased by obedience, not by self-imposed fasts!
Biblical fasting is meant to be time taken from our normal routines of preparing and eating food to express humility and dependence on God during a time of prayer. The fast God wants is not as a ceremony but as a daily way of life. It means showing compassion and mercy and helping the poor and needy. God wants mercy, not sacrifice (Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21–24; Mic. 6:8; Matt. 15:1–9). This same challenge exists for us today. Attending church, Bible reading, prayers, sharing our faith — as crucial as these are — need to be matched by a lifestyle of obedience to God’s word, integrity and Christ-like character, especially in our dealings with others.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever." (Psalms 111:10)