Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Zac 7:1-3 describe the occasion for this instructive and consolatory "word of God," which was addressed to Zechariah in the fourth year of Darius, i.e., two years after the building of the temple was resumed, and two years before its completion, and therefore at a time when the building must have been far advanced, and the temple itself was possibly already finished in the rough. Zac 7:1. "It came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of Jehovah came to Zechariah, on the fourth (day) of the ninth month, in Kislev." In this definition of the time we are surprised first of all at the circumstance, that, according to the Masoretic accentuation, and the division of the verses, the statement of the time is torn into two halves, and the notice of the year is placed after ויהי, whilst that of the month does not follow till after התה דבר יי; and secondly, at the fact that the introduction of the occurrence which led to this word of God is appended with the imperfect c. Vav rel. (vayyishlach), which would then stand in the sense of the pluperfect in opposition to the rule. On these grounds we must give up the Masoretic division of the verses, and connect the notice of the month and day in Zac 7:1 with Zac 7:2, so that Zac 7:1 contains merely the general statement that in the fourth year of king Darius the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. What follows will then be appended thus: On the fourth day of the ninth month, in Kislev, Bethel sent, etc. Thus the more precise definition of the time is only given in connection with the following occurrence, because it was self-evident that the word of God which was addressed to the prophet in consequence of that event, could not have been addressed to him before it occurred. The rendering of the words in Zac 7:2 is also a disputed point. We adopt the following: Zac 7:2. "Then Bethel sent Sharezer and Regem-melech, and his people, to entreat the face of Jehovah, (Zac 7:3) to speak to the priests who were at the house of Jehovah of hosts, and to the prophets, thus: Shall I weep, abstaining in the fifth month as I have now done so many years?" As Bēth-ēl may either signify the house of God, or be the name of the town of Bethel, it may be taken either as accus. loci, or as the subject of the sentence. Against the first explanation, which is very widely spread, viz., "it sent to the house of God, or to Bethel, Sharezer," etc., or "they sent to the house of God Sharezer," etc., it may be argued not only that the prophet, in order to make himself intelligible, ought either to have written 'el Bēth-'ēl, or to have placed Bēth-'ēl after the object, but also that beeth-'eel cannot be shown to have been ever applied to the temple of Jehovah, and that it would have been altogether out of place to speak of sending to Bethel, because Jehovah could not be prayed to in Bethel after the captivity. We must therefore take bēth-'ēl as the subject, and understand it as denoting the population of Bethel, and not as a name given to the church of the Lord, since there are no conclusive passages to support any such use, as bēth Yehōvâh only is used for the church of God (see at Hos 8:1), and here there could be no inducement to employ so unusual an epithet to denote the nation. A considerable number of the earlier inhabitants of Bethel had already returned with Zerubbabel, according to Ezr 2:28 and Neh 7:32; and, according to Neh 11:31, the little town appears to have been soon rebuilt. The inhabitants of this city sent an embassy to Jerusalem, namely Sharezer and Rechem-Melech, and his men. The omission of the nota accus. את has indeed been adduced as an objection to this interpretation of the names as the object, and the names have been therefore taken as the subject, and regarded as in apposition to Bēth-ēl: "Bethel, namely Sharezer and Rechem, etc., sent;" that is to say, two men are mentioned in connection with Bethel, who are supposed to have acted as leaders of the embassy. But there is something so harsh and inflexible in the assumption of such an apposition as this, that in spite of the omission of the את we prefer to regard the names as accusatives. The name Sharezer is evidently Assyrian (cf. Isa 37:38; Jer 39:3, Jer 39:13), so that the man was probably born in Babylonia.
The object of sending these men is given first of all in general terms: viz., להלּות את־פּני יי, lit., to stroke the face of Jehovah, - an anthropomorphic expression for affectionate entreaty (see at Psa 119:58), and then defined more precisely in Zac 7:3, where it is stated that they were to inquire of the priests and prophets, i.e., through their mediation, to entreat an answer from the Lord, whether the mourning and fasting were to be still kept up in the fifth month. Through the clause אשׁר לבית יי the priests are described as belonging to the house of Jehovah, though not in the sense supposed by Kliefoth, namely, "because they were appointed to serve in His house along with the Levites, in the place of the first-born, who were the possession of Jehovah" (Num 3:41; Deu 10:8-9). There is no such allusion here; but the meaning is simply, "as the persons in the temple, who by virtue of their mediatorial service were able to obtain an answer from Jehovah to a question addressed to Him in prayer." The connection with the prophets points to this. The question האבכּה is defined by the inf. absol. הנּזר, as consisting in weeping or lamentation connected with abstinence from food and drink, i.e., with fasting. On this use of the inf. abs., see Ewald, 280, a; הנּזר, to abstain (in this connection from meat and drink), is synonymous with צוּם in Zac 7:5. זה כּ מּה שׁנים: "these how many years," for which we should say, "so many years." Kammeh suggests the idea of an incalculably long duration. זה, in this and other similar combinations with numerical data, has acquired the force of an adverb: now, already (cf. Zac 1:12, and Ewald, 302, b). The subject to אבכּה is the population of Bethel, by which the men had been delegated. The question, however, had reference to a subject in which the whole community was interested, and hence the answer from God is addressed to all the people (Zac 7:5). So far as the circumstances themselves are concerned, we can see from Zac 7:5 and Zac 8:19, that during the captivity the Israelites had adopted the custom of commemorating the leading incidents in the Chaldaean catastrophe by keeping fast-days in the fifth, seventh, fourth, and tenth months. In the fifth month (Ab), on the tent day, because, according to Jer 52:12-13, that was the day on which the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by fire in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, though the seventh day of that month is the date given in Kg2 25:8-9 (see the comm. in loc.). In the seventh month, according to Jewish tradition, they fasted on the third day, on account of the murder of the governor Gedaliah, and the Judaeans who had been left in the land (Kg2 25:25-26; Jer 51:1.). In the fourth month Tammuz) they fasted on the ninth day, on account of the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the eleventh year of Zedekiah (Jer 39:2; Jer 52:6-7). And lastly, in the tenth month, a fast was kept on the tenth day on account of the commencement of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar on that day, in the ninth year of Zedekiah (Kg2 25:1 and Jer 39:1).
(Note: The later Jews kept the 9th Ab as the day when both the first and second temples were destroyed by fire; and in Mishna Taanit iv. 6, five disasters are enumerated, which had fallen upon Israel on that day: viz., (1) the determination of God not to suffer the fathers to enter the promised land; (2 and 3) the destruction of the first and second temples; (4) the conquest of the city of Bether in the time of Bar-Cochba; (5) the destruction of the holy city, which Rashi explains from Mic 3:12 and Jer 26:18, but which others refer to the fact that Turnus Rufus (either Turannius Rufus or T. Annius Rufus: cf. Schttgen, Horae hebr. et talm. ii. 953ff., and Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums, ii. 77) ploughed over the foundation of the temple. Also, on the seventeenth of the fourth month (Tammuz), according to Mishna Taan. iv. 6, five disasters are said to have befallen Israel: (1) the breaking of the tables of the law (Exodus 32); (2) the cessation of the daily sacrifice in the first temple from the want of sacrificial lambs (cf. Jer 52:6); (3) the breach made in the city walls; (4) the burning of the law by Apostemus; and (5) the setting up of the abomination, i.e., of an idol, in the temple (Dan 11:31; Dan 12:13). Vid., Lundius, Codex talm. de jejunio, Traf. ad Rhen. 1694, p. 55ff.; also in abstract in Mishna ed. Surenhus. ii. pp. 382-3.)
The question put by the delegates referred simply to the fasting in the fifth month, in commemoration of the destruction of the temple. And now that the rebuilding of the temple was rapidly approaching completion, it appeared no longer in character to continue to keep this day, especially as the prophets had proclaimed on the part of God, that the restoration of the temple would be a sign that Jehovah had once more restored His favour to the remnant of His people. If this fast-day were given up, the others would probably be also relinquished. The question actually involved the prayer that the Lord would continue permanently to bestow upon His people the favour which He had restored to them, and not only bring to completion the restoration of the holy place, which was already begun, but accomplish generally the glorification of Israel predicted by the earlier prophets. The answer given by the Lord through Zechariah to the people refers to this, since the priests and prophets could give no information in the matter of their own accord.
The answer from the Lord divides itself into two parts, Zac 7:4-14 and ch. 8. In the first part He explains what it is that He requires of the people, and why He has been obliged to punish them with exile: in the second He promises them the restoration of His favour and the promised salvation. Each of these parts is divisible again into two sections, Zac 7:4-7 and Zac 7:8-14; Zechariah 8:1-17 and Zac 8:18-23; and each of these sections opens with the formula, "The word of Jehovah (of hosts) came to me (Zechariah), saying."
The first of these four words of God contains an exposure of what might be unwarrantable in the question and its motives, and open to disapproval. Zac 7:4. "And the word of Jehovah of hosts came to me thus, Zac 7:5. Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh (month), and that for seventy years, did ye, when fasting, fast to me? Zac 7:6. And when ye eat, and when ye drink, is it not ye who eat, and ye who drink? Zac 7:7. Does it not concern the words, which Jehovah has preached through the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and satisfied, and her towns round about her, and the south country and the low land were inhabited?" The thought of Zac 7:6 and Zac 7:7 is the following: It is a matter of indifference to God whether the people fast or not. The true fasting, which is well pleasing to God, consists not in a pharisaical abstinence from eating and drinking, but in the fact that men observe the word of God and live thereby, as the prophets before the captivity had already preached to the people. This overthrew the notion that men could acquire the favour of God by fasting, and left it to the people to decide whether they would any longer observe the previous fast-days; it also showed what God would require of them if they wished to obtain the promised blessings. For the inf. absol. see at Hag 1:6. The fasting in the seventh month was not the fast on the day of atonement which was prescribed in the law (Leviticus 23), but, as has been already observed, the fast in commemoration of the murder of Gedaliah. In the form צמתּני the suffix is not a substitute for the dative (Ges. 121, 4), but is to be taken as an accusative, expressive of the fact that the fasting related to God (Ewald, 315, b). The suffix is strengthened by אני for the sake of emphasis (Ges. 121, 3). In Zac 7:7 the form of the sentence is elliptical. The verb is omitted in the clause הלוא את־הדּברים, but not the subject, say זה, which many commentators supply, after the lxx, the Peshito, and the Vulgate ("Are these not the words which Jehovah announced?"), in which case את would have to be taken as nota nominativi. The sentence contains an aposiopesis, and is to be completed by supplying a verb, either "should ye not do or give heed to the words which," etc.? or "do ye not know the words?" ישׁבת, as in Zac 1:11, in the sense of sitting or dwelling; not in a passive sense, "to be inhabited," although it might be so expressed. שׁלוה is synonymous with שׁקטת in Zac 1:11. ישׁב, in the sense indicated at the close of the verse, is construed in the singular masculine, although it refers to a plurality of previous nouns (cf. Ges. 148, 2). In addition to Jerusalem, the following are mentioned as a periphrasis for the land of Judah: (1) her towns round about; these are the towns belonging to Jerusalem as the capital, towns of the mountains of Judah which were more or less dependent upon her: (2) the two rural districts, which also belonged to the kingdom of Judah, viz., the negeb, the south country (which Koehler erroneously identifies with the mountains of Judah; compare Jos 15:21 with Jos 15:48), and the shephēlâh, or lowland along the coast of the Mediterranean (see at Jos 15:33).
The second word of the Lord recals to the recollection of the people the disobedience of the fathers, and its consequences, viz., the judgment of exile, as a warning example. The introduction of the prophet's name in the heading in Zac 7:8 does not warrant the strange opinion held by Schmieder and Schlier - namely, that our prophet is here reproducing the words of an earlier Zechariah who lived before the captivity - but is merely to be attributed to a variation in the form of expression. This divine word was as follows: Zac 7:9. "Thus hath Jehovah of hosts spoken, saying, Execute judgment of truth, and show love and compassion one to another. Zac 7:10. And widows and orphans, strangers and destitute ones, oppress not; and meditate not in your heart the injury of every brother. Zac 7:11. But they refused to attend, and offered a rebellious shoulder, and hardened their ears that they might not hear. Zac 7:12. And they made their heart diamond, that they might not hear the law and the words which Jehovah of hosts sent through His Spirit by means of the former prophet, so that great wrath came from Jehovah of hosts." כּה אמר is to be taken as a preterite here, referring to what Jehovah had caused to be proclaimed to the people before the captivity. The kernel of this announcement consisted in the appeal to the people, to keep the moral precepts of the law, to practise the true love of the neighbour in public life and private intercourse. Mishpat 'ĕmeth, judgment of truth (cf. Eze 18:8), is such an administration of justice as simply fixes the eye upon the real circumstances of any dispute, without any personal considerations whatever, and decides them in accordance with truth. For the fact itself, compare Exo 22:20, Exo 22:21; Exo 23:6-9; Lev 19:15-18; Deu 10:18-19; Deu 24:14; Isa 1:17; Jer 7:5-6; Jer 22:3; Eze 18:8; Hos 12:7, etc. רעת אישׁ אחיו, the injury of a man who is his brother (as in Gen 9:5); not "injury one towards another," which would suppose a transposition of the אישׁ = אישׁ רעת אחיו. In Zac 7:11, Zac 7:12 the attitude of the people towards these admonitions of God is described. Nâthan kâthēph sōrereth: to give or offer a rebellious shoulder, as in Neh 9:29. The figure is borrowed from an ox, which will not allow a yoke to be placed upon its neck (cf. Hos 4:16). To make the ears heavy (hikhbı̄d), away from hearing, i.e., so that they do not hear (cf. Isa 6:10). To make the heart diamond (shâmı̄r), i.e., as hard as diamond. A stony heart is a heart not susceptible to impressions (cf. Eze 11:19). The relative אשׁר before shâlach refers to the two nouns named before, viz., tōrâh and debhârı̄m, though we need not on that account take tōrâh in the general sense of instruction. God also sent the law to the people through the prophets, i.e., caused them to preach it and impress it upon their hearts. The consequence of this obduracy of the people was, that "there arose great wrath from Jehovah" (cf. Zac 1:2; Kg2 3:27).
This wrath is described in Zac 7:13, Zac 7:14. Zac 7:13. "It came to pass: as he cried and they did not hear, so will they cry and I shall not hear, said Jehovah of hosts. Zac 7:14. And I will scatter them with a whirlwind over all nations, who did not know them, and the land is laid waste behind them, so that no one passes to and fro. And thus they made the choice land a desert." The form of the address changes in Zac 7:13. Whereas in the protasis the prophet is still speaking of Jehovah in the third person, in the apodosis he introduces Jehovah as speaking (so will they cry, and I, etc.) and announcing the punishment, which He will inflict upon the rebellious and has already inflicted in their captivity. This address of God is continued in Zac 7:14 as far as וּמשּׁב. The opinion, that the address terminates with לא ידעוּם, and that והארץ commences the account of the accomplishment of the purpose to punish, is not so much at variance with the circumstance, that in that case the last two clauses of Zac 7:14 would say essentially the same thing, as with the fact that והארץ וגו cannot, from its very form, be taken as an account of the accomplishment of the divine purpose. The perfect nâshammâh in this clause does not preclude our connecting it with the preceding one, but is used to set forth the devastation as a completed fact: the land will be (not become) waste. The infliction of the punishment is expressed in Zac 7:13 in the form of a divine talio. As they have not hearkened to the word of God, so will God, when they call upon Him, namely in distress (cf. Hos 5:15), also not hear (cf. Jer 11:11), but whirl them like a tempest over the nations. The form אסערם is the first pers. imperf. piel for אסערם or אסערם, and Aramaic (cf. Ges. 52, 2, Anm. 2). On the nations whom they do not know, and who will therefore have no pity and compassion upon them, compare Jer 22:28; Jer 16:13. מעבר וּמשּׁב (cf. Zac 9:8), that not one goes to and fro in the desolate land; lit., goes away from a place and returns again (cf. Exo 32:27). In the clause ויּשׂימוּ וגו the result of the stiff-necked obstinacy of the fathers is briefly stated: They have made the choice land a desert ('erets chemdâh, as in Jer 3:19 and Psa 106:24), so that they have brought upon the land all the calamity which is now bewailed upon the fast-days.