It’s time to move forward- Monday, 26th week in ordinary time – Zechariah 8:1-8
In order to understand today’s text you have to read Zechariah 7:1-7. In fact the whole of Zechariah 7:1- 8:23 is a series of oracles to answer a question asked in 7:3. What is this question? We know that it is 7th December 518BC. Sharezer and Regem-Melek are sent by the people of Bethel to ask the priests and the prophets to ask of the Lord if they “ should mourn and practice abstinence in the fifth month as they have done for many years?”
What’s going on? Why do the people not want to fast and abstain like they used to in the fifth month? And what is so special about the fifth month? To answer this we have to read 2 Kings 25:8-9 which says, “ on the seventh day of the FIFTH month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord” This therefore, was the day and month the people of Israel lost everything; cult, home and country.
Now the people are back from Babylon. By the time this text of Zechariah was written it has been 20 years since they have returned to Jerusalem and begun building the temple. The foundation was ready but then they got discouraged and stopped work on the temple. After a lot of messing around the finally began to build the temple in earnest in December 520 BC, two years later.The temple will be finished on 12th March 515BC in just over 2 years from the date that this text was written but for now, at this point of the text, they are about halfway through the building project.
So if we picture the situation we can imagine the building taking shape and good progress being made. People are noticing the change and how well the temple is shaping up and so in the light of the progress Sharezer and Regem-Melek ask a question on behalf of the people. Do we need to keep fasting? Do we need to keep on acting the way that we were? This is the context to today’s text. They seem to suggest that they have atoned for the ruin of the temple but God is clear when he asked the people if they had atoned for the reason that caused the ruin of the temple? That it seems was the real question. Are they still in their hearts the rebellious sinful people who do not need to fast for their sins now that a structure of worship is taking form and shape?
Yet the text of today we see God’s tenderness speaking to a people who want an exemption from fasting. Chapter8:1-23 from which our text is taken contains promises for the future. The themes in this section are repetitive because God has only one agenda, LOVE! God is jealous for Zion not jealous of Zion and he wants his people to come back to Zion. These two themes are found in our text of today.
The jealous love for Jerusalem or Zion and its inhabitants is seen in the imagery of old men and women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem like they used to do before the exile. This image of the elderly people in the streets is an essential component of Zechariah’s vision of a restored community. But then again there is the image of boys and girls playing in the streets. What does this vision mean?
Several families who had little children while they were in the Babylonian captivity and who had settled in Babylon did not want to make the arduous journey to Jerusalem. It was too risk trudging little children over miles and months to a home where they knew and perhaps remembered nothing of. The vision of Zechariah in today’s reading, reiterates God’s desire to have his people come back to Jerusalem.
At the heart of today’s text is man who is stubborn, sinful, rebellious and unwilling to love a God who never stops loving and forgiving. God is clear; it’s time to move forward.