I’ve been studying Zechariah lately and really enjoying it. Although at first glance, all the prophetic imagery can look kind of intimidating, it’s a wonderful book that gives us some amazing glances into the heart of God. (By the way, if you want to study Zechariah some time, I would definitely recommend this commentary.)
I’m in chapter four right now, and tonight I read a verse that I am very familiar with, but have obviously not given sufficient time to it yet. “For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:10).
Now, I’ve heard the first part of that verse a lot. Correction: I’ve heard something similar to the first part of that verse a lot. Generally it takes the form of, “Don’t despise the day of small beginnings.” That’s a great application, and ultimately, I believe it’s the point God is making. But rarely is it ever paired with the rest of the verse — and that makes all the difference.
You have to understand a little bit of the context into which Zechariah spoke. Judah had, not too long before, been released from the Babylonian captivity. Only a small percentage of the Jews actually chose to return to Jerusalem. So this relatively small group of zealous Jews, many of them Levites, returned to the Land with the goal of rebuilding the temple. Two years later, they had experienced so much in the way of financial difficulty, pressure from their neighbors, and the ever infamous political red tape (see Ezra 4 for this), that they shelved the temple work in order to take a while to simply focus on making ends meet in the ruins of Jerusalem.
Time went by. Fourteen years, to be specific. Things didn’t get any better. In fact, things seemed to steadily get worse. Haggai describes their doleful condition: “You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you cothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6).
To this group of bedraggled worshippers who had completely lost hope and lost focus, God raised up two contemporary prophetic voices, Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai got the people motivated to resume work on the temple. As shown above, he pointed out their condition, and identified the cause as their neglect of their mandate to build the house of God. The people of Judah responded with obedience, re-laying the foundation and resuming work on the temple, but things were still very, very hard, and their hearts were still heavy.
Enter Zechariah. Two months after Haggai’s first message, this prophet arose, having been given a message specifically designed to exhort and encourage the people of God in their work of rebuilding. There is much to be said about the first three chapters, which I will restrain from going into simply for the sake of space. But this brings us back to 4:10, and this wonderful verse from the Lord. “For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”
The little band of people in Jerusalem were struggling with some really small beginnings. They were a small company in a small city with a small income and a small temple — a temple which was still under construction. God asked them a rhetorical question which would exhort them not to despise these small beginnings. But note that God didn’t just give them the command in a vacuum. There was a beautiful reason to see something good in this lowly state.
The seven “eyes” of God are a prophetic picture which speak of God’s omniscience, His being able to see and know everything which occurs within creation. His eyes scan through the entire earth. He is keeping tabs on every situation. The mighty world power of Persia was in His view. The warring and rising and falling of nations was all happening under His watchful eye. He was even keeping track of things happening on continents beyond the then-known world. God is infinitely big. Creation is very big. It seems that there would be a million things more important, more urgent, and more impressive than a poor, struggling group of people in Jerusalem.
Yet it was that very group that had God’s rapt attention. Not only did they have His attention, but they had His delight. He, in His all-seeing-ness, rejoiced to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah.
This is where it gets even better. The plumb line was basically a weight hanging from a string, and it was the tool used to make sure that new walls were built level. Now, I don’t know much about construction, but I do know that checking the angle of the walls is something that had better happen very early on, or you’re sunk.
So look at this: God is not merely anticipating rejoicing over the finished product. He is not rejoicing over the placing of capstone or the hammering of the final nail. He is rejoicing to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
The temple wasn’t even all there yet. It had been two short months since work even resumed on the thing. The temple — which, by the way, was a lot smaller and simpler than Solomon’s — was not much to look at, and it would be quite a while before it would be much to look at. Yet the omniscient, omnipotent God, who we might assume to have better things to do, was rejoicing about the plumb line. He was delighted that they were saying “yes” and determining to do something about it. The God of all creation was one hundred percent behind the work of the builders, and actually excited about what they were doing.
This holds just as true today. So often, despite all our nice-sounding language, we still want to approach God having something to give Him, something to show Him, or something with which to impress Him. We often feel shame over our small beginnings, our weak little areas where we have said yes to God but have not made much progress. Maybe it’s been a few weeks, maybe it’s been a few years, but we look at what we’ve got… and then we look at where we want to be… then we look at where we’ve been, and it doesn’t seem that far away… Our well-meaning, but misdirected intentions render us discouraged of our journey and embarrassed to go before God about it.
But our God is amazingly generous and kind. He is not wanting a stellar performance. He just wants us to pick up the “plumb line” and go for it. His eyes scan the entire earth looking for people who will just do that much. He’s looking for people to delight in. He’s looking for small beginnings to bless. He isn’t waiting with folded arms for us to get our act together. He’s cheering us on. He’s behind us. He’s supporting us. He’s giving us extravagant favor. His heart is for us.
And that is why we don’t have to despise the small beginnings.