Focus on Torah, not on the temple: Zechariah 7-8

As the temple was being rebuilt, the people forgot what was most important: living according to Torah.  They thought the work was done when the temple was complete.  The Lord, therefore, needed to remind them that the destruction and rebuilding of the temple were distractions; the Torah is the correct frame of reference.  The temple was destroyed because of ignoring Torah, and adherence to Torah lay at the foundation of the eschatological city.

The temple destroyed, not rebuilt, is primary: Zechariah 7

Some individuals approached the Lord, misunderstanding the meaning of the temple.  They were wrongly wondering about the meaning of the rebuilding of the temple, not the meaning of its destruction.  Now that a new temple was rebuilt, a question arose: did the people still need to lament the destruction of the first temple (7:1-3)?  This took place in year 4, month 9, day four, of King Darius, about two years since the last date given (Zecharaiah 1:7), so the temple was probably well under way or finished being built.  (It took seven years to build the first temple; see 1 Kings 6:38.)  Messengers, or maybe dignitaries, come to ask the priests in Jerusalem.

The Lord reminded the people that he is not affected by fasting and that the people’s fasting is for the sake of the people (7:4-14).  The people fasted for 70 years, since the first temple was destroyed.  The intake of food did not benefit the Lord; its goal could only be to affect the people.  The people, however, did not understand how it should have affected them.

The Lord taught them consistently since before the first temple, and the people chose not to follow the teaching.  While the Lord wanted them to show justice to one another and compassion on the weak, they wilfully ignored him.  As a result of their turning a deaf ear to him, the Lord chose to turn a deaf ear to them, and so sent them into exile.  The land was destroyed.

The Lord changed the question of whether to fast, and brought into focus the reasons for the exile.  The people misplaced their focus.  Rather than think about the temple per se, the people needed to remember why the temple needed to be rebuilt.  As they wanted to refocus on a rebuilt temple, they needed to remember the destroyed temple.

Torah, not temple, is primary: Zechariah 8

The Lord would not deviate from his plan.  While his former plans taught the people harshly, his present plans would allow them to live peacefully.  The people would not live in ease, though, but would have a continuous duty to perform: carrying out the Torah.  The work of rebuilding the temple did not mean all the work was done; their obedience to Torah was the important action.  The safety and joy of Jerusalem because of the people living according to the Torah would attract the nations as was previously prophesied.

The Lord, in his desire to love Jerusalem, re-established her as a joyful, safe place (8:1-8).  The Lord was fiercely loyal to Jerusalem, like a husband to his wife.  Often, the relationship between deity and people is referred to metaphorically as a marriage.  A people who worships other gods resembles a wife who goes after other men.  In the present case, the Lord will live with his wife, and she will be faithful.  He will secure her and keep her safe.  The appearance of the very young show that their is abundance and safety in the city.  The old people display lack of war; people are reaching old age.  For those returning from exile, the Lord promises a city of ultimate safety.

The people have a responsibility, though, to follow the Torah (8:9-13).  The ones asking about the fast were curious about the deed of the temple that had been completed; the Lord needs to emphasize that the deed of the Torah was ongoing, that there was still work to do: “Let your hands be strong, you who hear in these days these words from the mouths of the prophets” (8:9).  The Lord will make this city prosper, as long as the people follow the Torah, the Lord’s teaching (8:10-13).  He made the people suffer as they treated each other unjustly, but the city will become a place where they are safe with one another as they follow the Torah and so flourish.

The Lord showed he is trustworthy in punishing the people, so he would be trustworthy in working for their good (8:14-17).  As he turned a deaf ear to their cries because of his decision to do evil to them, he would just as stubbornly carry out his plans to do good.  He only expects that the people will treat each other justly and with integrity.  As we have seen to this point, the people would be made up of those who want to follow the Lord’s will humbly.  The nature of the people, therefore, would keep them on track for this expectation.

As long as the people love honesty and integrity (also can be translated “peace”). the fasts will become feasts, because the reason for insecurity would be gone (8:18-19).  The emissaries wondered if the fasts could end because the temple was restored.  The Lord, though, retold why the temple was destroyed.  The people should not have been fasting because of the destruction of the temple, but because their forefathers’ insistence on ignoring the Torah caused its destruction.  While the temple was clearly restored, the reestablishment of the Torah was an open question.  They would have to make it so by acting justly to one another and taking care of the weak.  If they did so, the reason for fasting would be gone and feasting could resume–but because of Torah, not the temple.

The nations would envy the safe, just city of Jerusalem (8:20-23).  The nations would all want to come to the Lord, begging that the Jews take them along. (The term “Jew” is not common in the Old Testament.  It is used in early literature for “residents of Judah; Judahites” and in later literature as “Jew,” which would have previously been “Israelite.”  During the Persian period, the residents of Judah were beginning to be identified with Israelites.)  They would have heard that God is with the Jews, which would be apparent because the Torah would be the rule of the community who takes care of each other.

These words of the nations fulfil the promise made in Isaiah 7:11, about the son being born “Immanuel,” “God is with us.”  Moreover, it reverses the curse of Isaiah 4:1, where the destitute women grabbed hold of a single man for the sake of his name and to take away their reproach on the day that the Branch would rule a Jerusalem where all the city was holy.  The nations, therefore, would reveal the fulfilment of this promise.

The Lord would fiercely persevere with his plan to inaugurate a peaceful, joyous Jerusalem, but expected the people to follow Torah above all.  More concretely, the citizens would live in a new way compared to their forefathers, working hard to support each other and the weak in the city.  By fulfilling the Torah, the promise from Isaiah would be fulfilled as the nations desired to follow Israel to the city.

All hinges on following Torah

The people’s vision had to be refocused.  They asked about fasting with reference to the destruction of the temple, when they should have been asking with respect to the sins of their fathers.  The Lord had a plan for the eschatological city that he would follow no matter what.  All those who followed the Torah would live in the city.  Nations would hear about the peace and prosperity of the city of Torah, and those of the nations who wanted to follow this law would come to.

The hard work would continue.  The eschaton did not indicate the end of toil.  It pointed to an era where all work would strive towards harmony with one’s neighbor and care for the needy.

One comment

  1. Been enjoying this so much, Dr. Benton! Thank you for all the work you put into these posts and your lectures!!

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