These two chapters of the prophecy concerns a request from the people of Bethel as to whether or not they should continue an annual fast held in the fifth month (7:1). At the time they asked this question, the fast was several months away. So it was not a last minute question.
Two years have passed since the previous message given through Zechariah. During that time, work on restoring the temple has been progressing. So it may have been the case that the people began to wonder about the relevance of the ongoing fast since it was connected to a concern for the nation’s past troubles, which now seemed to coming to an end.
The Lord’s response was to condemn their previous practice because they had not used the feasts of the fifth and seven months for obtaining fellowship with God. They had kept those feasts going for seventy years, yet there had been no inner repentance for the sins that brought on the judgment of the exile in Babylon. This had all been explained to their ancestors by the prophets who spoke for God before the exile began. They had been told to engage in acts of mercy towards the needy. But they had refused to obey; therefore God punished them and they went into exile (7:2-14).
Nevertheless, the Lord was determined to bless them. Although he had been angry with his people, he had now resumed dwelling among them. Through the prophet Zechariah, the Lord assured them of more prosperity to come (8:1-8). He reminded them that before they had begun to work on the Lord’s house, things had not gone well with them. Now it was different because they had responded to his commandments (8:9-13). Yet the message he was now sending was the same one that their ancestors had rejected. The Lord told them to engage in acts of mercy (8:14-17).
The prophet then answers directly the initial question regarding whether to keep the feast of the fifth month. His reply was yes, but in a different manner. It and the other fasts were to change into times of joyous feastings marked by truth and love. Moreover, others would come from all over the world to participate in those feasts (8:18-23).
There are three lessons for us. (1) In order to have a wonderful future Christians must have present divine restoration from the consequences of their previous disobedience. (2) We have to avoid formality in our services and should always check to see if our demeanor is suitable for the spiritual environment of the time. Fasting because of judgment was no longer appropriate for the inhabitants of Bethel. (3) The message is also encouraging because it informs us that God can come in blessing to a place where previously he had acted in judgement.