It’s Chislev, (late November to mid-December). Agents from Bethel come to Jerusalem to ask for advice on how to observe the holy days. Do we continue in penitence, as we have for the 70 years since exile, or in celebration?
Would anybody from Bethel ask advice from Jerusalem? Would ‘mainline now sideline’ churches ask ‘pentecostal evangelical’ pastors for advice? Bethel was Israel’s shrine, and Jerusalem was Judah’s, back in the day of divided kingdoms. The exile was focused on the elites of Jerusalem 587BCE – Israel fell in 721BCE.
Zechariah’s first response from God is a bit grumpy, accusing folks of acting for themselves, not for God. We are reminded of the ‘former prophets’ who told the people, after Moses, and before these Twelve and the major or ‘latter’ prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuels, Kings. We didn’t ever listen well, eh?
Zechariah’s second response from God is more focused on the ethical. The rules from God were clear. We all (not just Israel or Judah) stopped up our ears and refused to listen or respond. The consequences are called ‘the wrath of God’, evidenced by exile and diaspora (scattering).
This year, I am hearing a tone of reconciliation, of confession rather than accusation, in this response from Zechariah to the agents of Bethel. That may have more to do with me than with scripture. Do you hear what I hear?
Zechariah 7 (NRSV)
1 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev.
2Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men, to entreat the favour of the LORD,
3and to ask the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, ‘Should I mourn and practise abstinence in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’
4Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me:
5Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?
6And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves?
7Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, along with the towns around it, and when the Negeb and the Shephelah were inhabited?
The word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying:
9Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another;
10do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
11But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear.
12They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
13Just as, when I* called, they would not hear, so, when they called , I would not hear, says the LORD of hosts,
14and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and a pleasant land was made desolate.