And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?
Then came the word of the LORD of hosts unto me, saying,
Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?
And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?
The Jews had faithfully and with earnest sincerity fasted and mourned every year on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. With their return home and the prospects of rebuilding the Temple they approached the prophet to ask if they needed to continue with mourning.
God uses the prophet to rebuke them in that, though they had kept up this fast, they had not done it to God but for themselves. It was of no spiritual value.
It reminds me of a practice I understand takes place in Israel today where, on a certain day and certain time every year, an alarm sounds in Israel and every person young and old, male or female, stops for two minutes. The tradition is meant to remember the victims of the holocaust. It is a moving and heart wrenching tradition but it is in no way related to a relationship with God.
There is a kind of spiritual exercise that is self-focused rather than God focused. It is especially evident in eastern religions and among those who call themselves religious but do not believe in organized religion, but it also happens among members of bible believing Baptist churches. It is practice out of duty rather than real love for God. It is this duty that I believe molds Pharisees.
Truth is, if they had mourned out of love for God these Jews would not have needed to ask. They would either have kept up their practice for love of the Lord or else they would have seen that the purpose for this fast was now over and moved on to other ways to worship the Lord. They asked because they were looking for an excuse to quit and a scapegoat to blame it on if they should not have quit.