“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
“Who hath despised the day of small things?”
Zerubbabel had begun to do that.
Poor Zerubbabel. The horizon was colored with blackness.
That Prince of Judah lived in a day of small things. The day had come for the captives of Judah to return from Babylon and go to the promised land. The decree of mighty Cyrus of Persia had been issued. They were free to go back! Some 50,000 people, equipped with at least 8,136 horses, camels, mules, and asses, laden with food and vessels from the former temple, began their long trek homeward. Traveling some 900 miles of deserted and barren land, a trip that lasted at least six months, they finally rested in the land flowing with milk and honey.
The glitter of the return soon paled.
While far removed from Canaan they had planned to build the temple at the outset of their return. In captivity they had hanged their harps on the willows, for they could not sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land. At the very thought of Zion their hearts grew lonesome and weary. Contemplating their return, they had determined that the very first structure to be built had to be the temple. The house of God was more important to them than their own comforts.
They had not reckoned, however, with the day of small things.
Zerubbabel had courageously led them back. Along with, Joshua the Priest, they had dedicated the altar unto the Lord. The completion of the temple, however, did not follow so quickly. The Samaritans to the north and the Edomites to the south began to work against them. Because the Samaritans were foreigners, brought into the land by Sargon II after Israel was taken into captivity, Zerubbabel and Joshua forbade them to help with the building of the temple. The house of the Lord had to, be built by the Jews, the people of God, not by strangers. This made them angry. The Samaritans resorted to political trickery and succeeded in bringing the building of the temple to a halt. The new emperor himself declared that they were political antagonists and therefore could not establish themselves in the land of Canaan.
These were the days of small things. A handful of faithful Jews, longing to build the house of God, were forced to stop. What was Canaan without the temple? Had they returned in vain? Was God going to sit in .the heavens and laugh at His people? Would the proud enemy be allowed to triumph over them?
With these questions thundering in his heart, Zerubbabe1 went to Zechariah. Could not the prophet of the Lord, the Oracle of God; explain to him what appeared to be unjust of God?
I suggest that we join Zerubbabel in this inquiry.
We too are often troubled in the day of small things.
We are after all, living in such a day right now. This may not be true for that which wrongfully calls itself church. The false church lives in the day of big things! The hope for one world church will soon be realized by those who pervert the calling of the church. Is not the church growing in numbers? Is there not every indication that the church today is making a real impact upon the life of society? In the eyes of nominal Christendom that church at long last has thrown off her infantile robes of an old fashioned gospel and now has clothed herself with a message that has appeal to modern man. Now the church will do great things; it will be the means to unite the whole world into one communion of brotherhood. To such people, we live in the day of great things.
This very fact makes it even more difficult for the true church of Jesus Christ. The church’s battle line is not only drawn between professed and open godlessness, but no less between pretended Christianity. While opposing every form of evil, the church today senses her limitations. We have not the means that the world or the false church have at their disposal. The teeming throng is not numbered with the faithful church. The rich and influential cannot be found to any great degree among God’s people. The brilliant scholar, the leading statesman, the heralded scientist, and the elite socialite are found among the wise and prudent of this world. By contrast one finds in the church the very lowly, the common man who lives from day to day with provision from God.
Because this is true, many children of God become frustrated. From every human point of view the church’s position is so precarious. Here is the thing! God has given to the church an explicit command. In the Old Testament God instructed Israel to worship Him in the temple: for that very structure was a concrete picture of His covenant fellowship with His people. Today the same God commands His church to preach the gospel to all nations, faithfully to administer the sacraments and to cut out the old leaven that corrupts the church from within. Sometimes, nevertheless, the very God that gives such commands seems to deal with His people in such a manner that they are not able to realize and perform these commands. God sometimes places boulders upon our pathway and these appear to us to be insurmountable. At such a time we become troubled. We cannot understand God’s dealings. We are inclined to despise the day of small things! To the remnant of Judah this centered in the building of the temple. Why would God make them struggle for 10, 15, yea, 20 years in trying to build such a necessary and worthwhile thing as a dwelling place for their God? Today we become concerned with the progress of the church’s mission. We are explicitly commanded to preach to all nations, yet we lack man power, we lack finances, and in some instances we lack the ability to enter into some countries at all. We need seminary students, we need Christian school teachers, we need money so that we can expand our witness, and yet having explicitly the command to do these things our hands feel as if they are tied. We are small, we are limited, we desire to do great things with limited power.
Let’s join Zerubbabel and ask Zechariah, how can these things be?
Zechariah couldn’t explain them.
God, however, could.
In a vision to Zechariah, God unfolded the mysteries of His will. There appeared the well known golden candlestick, a replica of the one that used to be in the Holy Place of the tabernacle. There were seven lamps upon the golden stand. Above the lamps there appeared a large bowl. From this bowl were strung seven pipes or tubes one to each of the seven lamps. On either side of the bowl was an olive tree, whose branches bent over the bowl.
The mechanics of this vision are plainly seen. The olive trees produced olive oil which served as the fuel for the lamps. When the branches hung over the bowl, the oil, as it were, dripped into the bowl and then flowed through the tubes by gravity flow into the lamps and supplied the necessary fuel for the lamps to burn.
The interpretation can be found without difficulty. In the Old Testament church the candlesticks represented the nature of the fellowship within God’s covenant. God came to earth and dwelled with His people under one roof. That dwelling, however, was not in darkness, it was in light, even as God is Himself the light. God made His people to shine as light in this world. Israel could not shine as light in the midst of the darkness of sin in themselves. Daily the Priest had to take the oil both morning and evening and add fuel to the lamps. This oil was the Old Testament picture of the Holy Spirit, who generates light in the people of God.