Fasting over God’s Executed Judgments Improper
1. When is the propriety of fasting, even over past events, questionable, and how does fasting and mourning affect one’s part in God’s work?
IS A TIME of prosperity the proper time for fasting? Especially so when this prosperity comes from the hand of the Creator of heaven and earth? If the God worshiped is pleased with his worshipers and is rejoicing in them, is it proper for his worshipers to be mourning, even over the past? Would not the sharing in His joy be more strengthening and enlivening to his worshipers to get on with his assigned work—rather than fasting and mourning? Nehemiah, a fifth-century governor of the Persian province of Judah, once said to the people at Jerusalem: “The joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.”—Nehemiah 8:10.
2. In almost two years since Haggai’s final prophecy, how many blessed harvests should the Jews have gathered in, and why?
2 The time that the above questions came up was in the fourth year of the reign of King Darius I of the Persian Empire, or in the year 518 B.C.E. Just twenty days less than two years prior to this time of inquiry, Jehovah by means of the prophet Haggai had said to the Jews who had just resumed working at the foundation of the second temple at Jerusalem: “Set your heart, please, on this from this day and forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the temple of Jehovah was laid; set your heart on this: Is there as yet the seed in the grain pit? And as yet, the vine and the fig tree and the pomegranate tree and the olive tree—it has not borne, has it? From this day I shall bestow blessing.” (Haggai 2:18, 19) Since then two blessed harvests should have been gathered from the land.
3. When and how did the delegation of men from Bethel raise the question of the fitness of fasting?
3 Now, when the question of fasting and mourning is raised, this time Jehovah answers by his prophet Zechariah. The prophet tells us: “Furthermore, it came about that in the fourth year of Darius the king the word of Jehovah occurred to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, that is, in Chislev. And Bethel proceeded to send Sharezer and Regem-melech and his men to soften the face of Jehovah, saying to the priests who belonged to the house of Jehovah of armies, and to the prophets, even saying: ‘Shall I weep in the fifth month, practicing an abstinence, the way I have done these O how many years?’”—Zechariah 7:1-3.
4. Over what event were those Bethelites evidently fasting in that fifth month each year?
4 Bethel was one of the towns that had been reestablished in the land of Israel by the Jews who returned from exile in Babylon. (Ezra 2:28; 3:1) When Sharezer and Regem-melech from there asked: “Shall I weep?” it meant every inhabitant of Bethel individually. For “O how many years” now the Bethelites had been celebrating a fast, an abstinence from food, in the fifth lunar month of each year. It was observed evidently on the tenth day of that month (Ab), in order to commemorate how on that day Nebuzaradan, the chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, after two days of inspection, burned down the city of Jerusalem and its temple. (Jeremiah 52:12, 13; 2 Kings 25:8, 9) But now that the faithful remnant of Jews were rebuilding the temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem and were about half through, should the Bethelites continue to hold such a fast?
5. What other fasts were those Bethelites observing yearly, and to commemorate what events?
5 Those Bethelites were also celebrating three other fast days. One of these was on the third day of the seventh lunar month (Tishri), to commemorate the assassination of Governor Gedaliah, who was of the royal house of King David and whom Nebuchadnezzar made governor of the land for the poor Jews who were allowed to remain after the destruction of Jerusalem. (2 Kings 25:22-25; Jeremiah 40:13 to 41:10) Another fast was observed on the tenth day of the tenth month Tebeth, to memorialize the day when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon began his long siege of Jerusalem. (2 Kings 25:1, 2; Jeremiah 52:4, 5) A fourth fast was kept on the ninth day of the fourth month (Tammuz), for that was the day when the Babylonians made a breach in the walls of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., and made their way into the doomed city.—2 Kings 25:2-4; Jeremiah 52:6, 7; Zechariah 8:19.
6. The first three events as commemorated were what expressions from Jehovah, and so what question properly arises?
6 The things commemorated by fasting down to the year 519 B.C.E., namely, the start of the siege of Jerusalem, the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the armies of Babylon, were all the execution of the judgments of Jehovah. Whereas the murder of Governor Gedaliah by a treacherous Jew was not the execution of a judgment from God, it did lead up to the utter abandonment and desolation of the land of Judah just as Jehovah had decreed. All these were mournful events for the disobedient Jews. But were the judgments executed by Jehovah things over which to fast and to mourn? Should the carrying out of God’s will be bemoaned? Is it an evil to be memorialized in sorrow?
7, 8. (a) To whom was Jehovah’s viewpoint on the question directly given? (b) Instead of there being fasting, what should have been done, and when this?
7 God’s viewpoint of the matter was given to his prophet Zechariah, not to the priests of whom Sharezer and Regem-melech had been sent from Bethel to inquire. Says the inspired Zechariah:
8 “And the word of Jehovah of armies continued to occur to me, saying: ‘Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, “When you fasted and there was a wailing in the fifth month and in the seventh month, and this for seventy years, did you really fast to me, even me? And when you would eat and when you would drink, were not you the ones doing the eating, and were not you the ones doing the drinking? Should you not obey the words that Jehovah called out by means of the former prophets, while Jerusalem happened to be inhabited, and at ease, with her cities all around her, and while the Negeb [Southland] and the Shephelah [Lowlands] were inhabited?”’”—Zechariah 7:4-7.
9. From what standpoint was their fasting for those seventy years and since then comparable with their own eating and drinking, and what would have been the better thing?
9 When the exiled Jews fasted during the seventy years of desolation of the land of Judah* and also during all these years since the remnant of them returned to their homeland, were they really fasting to Jehovah? Was it fasting that He could accept? Was it fasting that he had imposed upon them? Was it not a fasting over the destruction of things that he had condemned to destruction? These abstinences from food were just like their indulging in food and drink. They were eating for themselves. Similarly, they were fasting for themselves, because of the calamities that had come upon them for their not obeying the words that their God had called out by Jeremiah and other former prophets. Under such attitudes, how could they benefit spiritually from their fasting? How could such fasting make them more inclined to do God’s will? Obedience in the first place was better than fasting over the calamities that came upon them because of not obeying God right at the start.
10. Was it fasting that would straighten out matters, and what preventive measures should have been taken by those involved?
10 It is not fasting because of one’s troubles that straightens out matters with God. What does do this is one’s turning from the disobedient way and doing positive good according to God’s commands. On this score, let us note what Zechariah was further told to say: “And the word of Jehovah continued to occur to Zechariah, saying: ‘This is what Jehovah of armies has said, “With true justice do your judging; and carry on with one another loving-kindness and mercies; and defraud no widow or fatherless boy, no alien resident or afflicted one, and scheme out nothing bad against one another in your hearts.” But they kept refusing to pay attention, and they kept giving a stubborn shoulder, and their ears they made too unresponsive to hear. And their heart they set as an emery stone to keep from obeying the law and the words that Jehovah of armies sent by his spirit, by means of the former prophets; so that there occurred great indignation on the part of Jehovah of armies.’
11. Because the inhabitants had refused to hear him calling to them, what did Jehovah do to them, with what effect on the land?
11 “‘And so it occurred that, just as he called and they did not listen, so they would call and I would not listen,’ Jehovah of armies has said. ‘And I proceeded tempestuously to hurl them throughout all the nations that they had not known; and the land itself has been left desolate behind them, with no one passing through and with no one returning; and they proceeded to make the desirable land an object of astonishment.’”—Zechariah 7:8-14.
12. The repatriated Jews remaining on the land would now be by what course—by fasting or what?
12 That was straightforward speech to Sharezer, Regem-melech and the men with them from Bethel. Their beloved homeland had been left desolate for seventy years because of the badness and disobedience to God’s law calling for justice according to truth, for loving-kindness and mercies. Now their return from Babylon had discontinued the desolation of the land. They could remain in that land by a course opposite to that of their fathers, that of obedience. Fasting in memory of calamities would not do it. In connection with obedience, they must carry on with the temple work.
13. Why would fasting over mournful events that befell Jehovah’s people during World War I be improper, and so what is the proper course for us to take?
13 Are we today going to carry on mourning or fasting on days that are anniversaries of calamities or mournful events that befell Jehovah’s worshipers during World War I? If such things were judgments executed by Him for the delinquencies of His organized people, are these executions of divine judgment not right things, proper things? Mourning or fasting over such things expressing God’s righteous judgments is improper. We should not mourn or fast because we have suffered thereby. That would be self-centered—not a fasting to Jehovah, but a feeling sorry for ourselves. Learn the lessons from the past and apply them now! Then, with tears dried from our eyes, let us rejoice in Jehovah’s restored favor and forge ahead with his temple work!
The “seventy years” of observing fasts could not have begun after the first deportation of the Jews by the Babylonians in the year 617 B.C.E., for that would have been about nine years before King Nebuchadnezzar began the final siege of Jerusalem and also about eleven years before the breaching of the walls of the city (on Tammuz 9) and the destruction of the city (on Ab 10) and the assassination of Governor Gedaliah in the seventh month (Tishri), these mournful events being observed by the fast periods. Hence the “seventy years” of fasting began after these last three mournful calamities had taken place, in the year 607 B.C.E. This proves that the desolation of the land lasted for seventy years and that these “seventy years” began in 607 B.C.E. and ended in 537 B.C.E.—See Flavius Josephus’ book “Antiquities of the Jews,” Book 10, chapter 9, paragraph 7.