Fasting and Feasting
Open Your Bible
Zechariah 7:1-14, Zechariah 8:1-23, Jeremiah 31:33, Micah 6:7-8
This passage in Zechariah is beautiful. The people of Israel, just like all of us, keep missing the heart of the matter. For example, when I apologize to my husband for, say, driving the wheels of our bus into the tiny wall that separates the road from a 400-foot cliff drop in Glacier National Park, I’m tempted to just make a legalistic show of it. Once I’ve said the words, “I’m sorry,” I expect him to snap out of it, get back on the bus, and forgive me for my adventurous driving maneuvers. (The road was very narrow, you see.) We teach children this same formula of repentance:
“Say you’re sorry.”
“Okay, I forgive you.”
But just going through the motions of repentance does not true repentance make. In today’s passage, the residents of Bethel come to Jerusalem to ask about an upcoming fast. They’re prepared to go through the tired motions of keeping it, but they don’t mean it. Have you ever fasted “unto the Lord” but really just with an eye on your swimsuit-season prospects? Have you ever, like me, apologized with the goal of just getting on with it, instead of engaging in true sorrow and repentance over hurting someone?
We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad repentance and know what a mockery it is. Yet are we foolish enough to think that, somehow, by going through the motions, we can appease a holy and almighty God. God sees right through all of this, of course (Zechariah 7:5). He’s obviously not fooled by the sorry recitations of His people. But here’s the unexpected gorgeousness of His goodness: He doesn’t want to keep us fasting and dredging and reciting forever—these are just training tools. He wants to bring us into feasting and celebration. He wants us to reap goodness and abundance (8:12).
This is precisely why He calls His people to repent. Genuine repentance is never mere lip service. It is a transformation. It is a turning of heart, soul, mind, and strength from the folly and filth of sin to the hope and goodness of God. When the Lord of Armies declares His zeal and His jealousy for Jerusalem, it is a zeal and jealousy not only for His glory, but also for our good! The justice and mercy of God are not a contradiction, but a harmonious accord. Because of His faithful love, He would have us also “show faithful love and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:9). He comes to transform us, that we may be like Him, that we also may “love truth and peace” (8:19).
He is calling us away from fighting over the cereal on the floor under the kids’ table to join Him for the real meat and drink at the feast. He transforms us from petty and insincere beggars to dear children who dance and play in the congregation of His people (Zechariah 8:3–5). The fasting of genuine repentance, in God’s economy, always produces the joyful feast of salvation.