What are the four fasts mentioned in Zechariah 8:19? I thought the Jews were only required to fast on Yom Kippur.

Great question. Here is your passage: This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.” It helps also to look at the references to fasting in the previous chapter, so please take a moment to read Zech 7:1-10. And the Day of Atonement, just for reference, is required in Lev 16:29-31.

The best explanation I have heard is as follows:

  • The Babylonians breached the city wall on the 9th day of the 4th month. See Jer 39:2.
  • In the 5th month they destroyed Solomon's temple (587 BC). See 2 Kings 25:8.
  • The governor Gedaliah was assassinated in the 7th month. See 2 Kings 25:25; Jer 41:1.
  • And it was on the 10th day of the 10th month (of the previous year) that Nebuchadnezzar's siege started. See 2 Kings 25:1-2; Jer 39:1.

We should not underestimate the shock and trauma felt by the ancient Jews at the loss of their temple. The unthinkable had taken place—not because it was unavoidable, but because God's people persisted in idolatry, refusing to heed the warnings of his prophets.

Zechariah is written about 520 BC, more than 60 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Through his ministry, and that of fellow prophet Haggai, the temple had almost been rebuilt. That is why some were questioning the importance of continuing too observe these fasts. Besides, it would be easier to integrate with the Persian Empire by reducing the number of fast days. Zechariah had challenged their true motives for fasting.

Jesus did the same (Matt 6:16-18)!