Reading: Zechariah 4
THOSE who are engaged in the work of God often face insurmountable difficulties and problems. There is always, in fact a prepared way ahead, but it can only be seen by the eyes of faith. It lies just there, where the mountain stands, for the prepared way and the insuperable difficulties are concurrent experiences. It is not that there is first a great problem, then that is solved, and consequently the way is opened for continuance. No, it is rather that the difficulties remain, but through the midst of them a prepared way is opened.
Zerubbabel and Joshua had begun to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem on the site of the ruins of Solomon’s temple which had been burned down by Nebuchadnezzar. In many respects theirs was a desperate venture. The workers were few and the enemies were many. So great was the opposition that for a long while they gave it up and the work stopped. It seemed to them as if they were facing a very great mountain. They could not climb over it; they could not get through it; and neither could they find a way round it. It completely barred their way and halted all hopes of progress. Then one day they heard what the Lord had to say about their situation. It was quite simple, and yet entirely different from human words or counsel. By this word of the Lord they surmounted the insurmountable, accomplished the impossible.
“… Not by might nor by power …”
The Lord’s word insisted that the work did not require their might or power. These were the first words they heard, and they cast an entirely new light on their hopeless situation. They had become discouraged because they had neither power nor strength, but now the Lord proclaimed to them that they should not let this worry them, for it was a good thing, an advantage, and a condition for their really being able to accomplish something for Him. Does it seem a surprising word? We might ask, ‘Is it not God’s intention that we shall have power and strength?’ Yes, but only in His way, and His power needs to be made perfect in weakness. The one who has might and power, will lack God’s backing, but the one who has neither might nor power can prove how God allows His Spirit to work so that mountains of difficulty are removed.
Paul understood this. That is why he was able to take pleasure in his own infirmities, and even glory in them. He had discovered that when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Zerubbabel did not understand it until he heard the message of the prophet Zechariah. No one naturally understands this; that is why God keeps having to say it. Thus we see that Joshua and Zerubbabel were really well placed, for their hopeless situation made a platform for God. When by the preaching of the Word they realised this, then real faith blazed up in them, and they were doubtless very grateful. Perhaps, like Paul, they rejoiced. At any rate their eyes were opened and they saw the situation in an altogether new light.
“… but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts …”
The Lord of hosts commands ten thousand times ten thousand. However great the mountain, it is no problem to Him. If He allows His Spirit to work in power what will become of that great mountain? It will become a plain. The conditions which make this miracle possible are, partly, that there should be no human power or might, for otherwise men would immediately claim their share of the glory for the miracle; and partly that in the midst of human weakness there is an opportunity for living faith, based on the Word of God and leading to acts of faith. Such conditions were present. Zerubbabel and Joshua, in the promising situation of total weakness and helplessness, received the Word of God in living faith and went to work in the face of the huge mountain of difficulties which confronted them.
“… Who art thou, O great mountain …?”
We note that God addressed the mountain as though it were a person. Behind the mountain of problems and difficulties He saw His great adversary who always opposes His work. Zerubbabel could only see the insoluble problems and the people who were fighting against him: God saw Satan himself. Our real battle is against the unseen powers of darkness. It is Satan and his agents who seek to bar the way in front of us, and it is also [47/48] they who work to deprive us of our courage and faith. At first we tremble when we realise this, for Satan is a terrible opponent. Nevertheless even while we tremble we must be careful not to give way to panic, for God has something further to say and it is important to hear His voice and to hold on to His Word in our hopeless situation.
“… before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain …”
We might have expected to hear God say, ‘Before Me thou shalt become a plain’ but on the contrary He said what would surprise both Zerubbabel and us: ‘Before that weak and discouraged Zerubbabel who is almost ready to give up, thou shalt become a plain’! That huge mountain of insurmountable difficulties raised up by Satan, was to be smoothed down into a plain before the weak and demoralized little Zerubbabel. It was a wonderful pronouncement — shattering for Satan but most enheartening for God’s servant. It was a fact even before it was seen, for truly the promises and pronouncements of God are facts which faith can lay hold of.
The prophet Isaiah had said something similar long before Zechariah: “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” (Isaiah 41:14-15). Here also mountains and hills were to disappear before powerless ‘worms’ who would be changed into sharp threshing instruments by the hand of God upon them. This is what our God is like. He is the Lord of hosts. Why then are we always so eager and fretful to be big and strong?
“… that stand by the Lord of the whole earth …”
How did it happen? Did the mountain suddenly disappear as if by the touch of a magic wand? Of course God could flatten any mountain to the ground by the word of His power, but usually He does not do so, for if he did we would not learn to believe Him and to walk and work by faith. At any rate He did not cause Zerubbabel’s mountain to disappear all at once. The work had commenced with a beginning that was very small, especially in comparison with the enormous mountain, but God promised that the hands which had started should continue the work and finally finish it. So it happened that as he worked, the mountain gradually disappeared, and by the time he came to lay the topstone it had completely vanished — it had become a plain. The mountain was there, then, but it was as if each stone which was laid made it diminish steadily, until finally it ceased to be.
We often make the mistake of asking the Lord to remove the mountain of difficulties and expecting Him to do so before we will take up the task to which He has called us. We pray, but the difficulties remain just as great, so we pray again — perhaps we pray for power — but nothing is changed, so we settle down to wait. We can continue like this to the end of our days without anything happening, as if it were the Lord who was holding things up. How much better to read the Word of the Lord in quietness and prayerfulness, stilling our restless tensions and then moving forward in the simple obedience of faith! This is the way in which God’s work will be done.
If we ask who can function in this way the answer is, only those “who stand before the Lord of all the earth”, like Joshua and Zerubbabel. It was their relationship with the Lord which enabled them to carry out His work against all odds. They were more occupied with Him than with their difficulties, and as a result they surmounted them. They were more occupied with Him than with their own lack of might and power, and as a result He was their strength and might. They looked to Him, and therefore He looked upon them and solved their problems. They expected everything from Him, and they received even more than they expected. They began with a great mountain and they finished with a much greater God.