Today’s Chocolate: Equal Exchange Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper
Today’s Passage: Zechariah 7
Suddenly: narrative! Okay, mostly a monologue from God, but also some narrative. After six chapters of vision, we snap back to earth, where Sharezer and Regemmelech and their companions bring a question to the priests and prophets. They want to know whether to continue weeping and fasting, but God’s response…well, let’s check it out for ourselves.
In a word, God ain’t havin’ it. He gives Zechariah a response not just for Sharezer, Regemmelech, and their probably-equally-long-named companions from Bethel, but for the priests and the whole populace of the land: “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?” (5-6). God goes off for eleven of the chapter’s fourteen verses, utterly unimpressed at best with Israel’s cursory devotion.
What does God actually want? He spells it out clearly: “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (9-10). He wants people to act fairly, respect each other, and support those who are suffering or disadvantaged.
But Israel has a history of falling far short of God’s desires for humanity, just like the other nations. And if Sharezer and company think they’ve had a hard time of it for the past seventy years, God’s been equally disappointed. “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets” (12), God laments. And he gives back as good as he gets, saying, “And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen” (13). Should the people fast and mourn? God doesn’t give a direct answer, but he’s been mourning his people’s ethical failures and fasting from their worship. They’re not playing ball, and their hollow punch-clock rituals bring him no joy.
I think it’s worth noting that God isn’t disgusted by their religious practices in themselves. It’s not a contrast between religion and relationship; it’s a contrast between empty religion and religion with relationship. God wants us to live lives of order, structure, and obedience, but not with “following the rules” as an end in itself or as a way of serving ourselves. He wants our obedience to be vital, engaged, bettering the world around us through love for God and compassion for our fellow human beings.
God doesn’t want a cheap facsimile of our devotion. He wants the real thing.