These verses contain two precious promises, for the further encouragement of those pious Jews that were hearty in building the temple.
I. That a happy period should be put to their fasts, and there should be no more occasion for them, but they should be converted into thanksgiving days, Zech. 8:19. This is a direct answer to the enquiry concerning their fasts, Zech. 7:3. Those of them that fasted in hypocrisy had their doom in the foregoing chapter, but those that in sincerity humbled themselves before God, and sought his face, have here a comfortable assurance given them of a large share in the happy times approaching. The four yearly fasts which they had religiously observed should be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and solemn feasts, and those cheerful ones. Note, Joyous times will come to the church after troublous times; if weeping endure for more than a night, and joy come not next morning, yet the morning will come that will introduce it at length. And, when God comes towards us in ways of mercy, we must meet him with joy and thankfulness; when God turns judgments into mercies we must turn fasts into festivals, and thus walk after the Lord. And those who sow in tears with Zion shall reap in joy with her; those who submit to the restraints of her solemn fasts while they continue shall share in the triumphs of her cheerful feasts when they come, Isa. 66:10. The inference from this promise is, “Therefore love the truth and peace; be faithful and honest in all your dealings, and let it be a pleasure to you to be so, though thereby you cut yourselves short of those gains which you see others get dishonestly; and, as much as in you lies, live peaceably with all men, and be in your element when you are in charity. Let the truths of God rule in your heads, and let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”
II. That a great accession should be made to the church by the conversion of many foreigners, Zech. 8:20-23. This was fulfilled but in part when, in the latter times of the Jewish church, there were abundance of proselytes from all the countries about, and some that lay very remote, who came yearly to worship at Jerusalem, which added very much both to the grandeur and wealth of that city, and contributed greatly to the making of it so considerable as it came to be before our Saviour’s time, though now it was but just peeping out of its ruins. But it would be accomplished much more fully in the conversion of the Gentiles to the faith of Christ, and the incorporating of them with the believing Jews in one great body, under Christ the head, a mystery which is made manifest by the scriptures of the prophets (Rom. 16:26), and by this among the rest, which makes it strange that when it was accomplished it was so great a surprise and stumbling-block to the Jews. Observe,
1. Who they are that shall be added to the church—people, and the inhabitants of many cities (Zech. 8:20); not only a few ignorant country people that may be easily imposed upon, or some idle people that have nothing else to do, but intelligent inquisitive citizens, men of business and acquaintance with the world, shall embrace the gospel of Christ; yea, many people and strong nations (Zech. 8:22), some of all languages, Zech. 8:23. By this it appears that they are brought into the church, not by human persuasion, for they are of different languages, not by external force, for they are strong nations, able to have kept their ground if they had been so attacked, but purely by the effectual working of divine truth and grace. Note, God has his remnant in all parts; and in the general assembly of the church of the first-born some will be found out of all nations and kindreds, Rev. 7:9.
2. How their accession to the church is described: They shall come to pray before the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts (Zech. 8:21); and, to show that this is the main matter in which their conversion consists, it is repeated (Zech. 8:22): They shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. No mention is made of their offering sacrifices, not only because these were not expected from the proselytes of the gate, but because, when the Gentiles should be brought in, sacrifice and offering should be quite abolished. See who are to be accounted converts to God and members of the church: and all that are converts to God are members of the church. (1.) They are such as seek the Lord of hosts, such as enquire for God their Maker, covet and court his favour, and are truly desirous to know his mind and will and sincerely devoted to his honour and glory. This is the generation of those that seek him. (2.) They are such as pray before the Lord,—such as make conscience, and make a business, of the duty of prayer,—such as dare not, would not, for all the world, live without it,—such as by prayer pay their homage to God, own their dependence upon him, maintain their communion with him, and fetch in mercy and grace from him. (3.) They are such as herein have an eye to the divine revelation and institution, which is signified by their doing this in Jerusalem, the place which God had chosen, where his word was, where his temple was, which was a type of Christ and his mediation, which all faithful worshippers will have a believing regard to.
3. How unanimous they shall be in their accession to the church, and how zealous in exciting one another to it (Zech. 8:21): The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, as formerly when they went up from all parts of the country to worship at the yearly feasts; and they shall say, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord; I will go also. This intimates, (1.) That those who are brought into an acquaintance with Christ themselves should do all they can to bring others acquainted with him; thus Andrew invited Peter to Christ and Philip invited Nathanael. True grace hates monopolies. (2.) That those who are duly sensible of their need of Christ, and of the favour of God through him, will stir up themselves and others without delay to hasten to him: “Let us go speedily to pray; it is for our lives, and the lives of our souls, that we are to petition, and therefore it concerns us to lose no time; in a matter of such moment delays are dangerous.” (3.) That our communion with God is very much assisted and furthered by the communion of saints. It is pleasant to go to the house of God in company (Ps. 55:14), with the multitude (Ps. 42:4), and it is of good use to those that do so to excite one another to go speedily and lose no time; we should be glad when it is said to us, Let us go, Ps. 122:1. As iron sharpens iron, so may good men sharpen the countenances and spirits one of another in that which is good. (4.) That those who stir up others to that which is good must take heed that they do not turn off, or tire, or draw back themselves; he that says, Let us go, says, I will go also. What good we put others upon doing we must see to it that we do ourselves, else we shall be judged out of our own mouths. Not, “Do you go, and I will stay at home;” but, “Do you go, and I will go with you.” “A singular pattern (says Mr. Pemble) of zealous charity, that neither leaves others behind nor turns others before it.”
4. Upon what inducement they shall join themselves to the church, not for the church’s sake, but for his sake who dwells in it (Zech. 8:23): Ten men of different nations and languages shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, begging of him not to outgo them, but to take them along with him. This intimates the great honour they have for a Jew, as one of the chosen people of God, and therefore well worthy their acquaintance; they cannot all come to take him by the hand, or embrace him in their arms, but are ambitious to take hold of the skirt of his robe, to touch the hem of his garment, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. The gospel was preached to the Jews first (for of that nation the apostles were) and by them it was carried to the Gentiles. St. Paul was a Jew whose skirt many took hold of when they welcomed him as an angel of God, and begged him to take them along with him to Christ; thus the Greeks took hold of Philip’s skirt, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus, John 12:21. Note, It is the privilege of the saints that they have God with them, have him among them—the knowledge, and fear, and worship of him; they have his favour and gracious presence, and this should invite us into communion with them. It is good being with those who have God with them, and those who join themselves to the Lord must join themselves to his disciples; if we take God for our God, we must take his people for our people, cast in our lot among them, and be willing to take our lot with them.