The book of Zechariah takes place in a tender moment in the story of the Israelites. The book is written to a group who has just returned from decades in exile. They are home, but their temple has been destroyed, their families have been fractured, and they are trying to figure out what it means to move forward.
They set about rebuilding the temple, but things are different than when they built the first, and they are working with limited resources and only with the permission of the empire that controlled Jerusalem. The temple they begin is modest, and not nearly as grand as the one they had before. In the book of Ezra it says the older members of the community wept as they began, because they remembered what the temple had been, and what they were building seemed so insignificant in comparison (Ezra 3:12).
Zechariah encourages those who “despised the day of small things” that God is still present and that the temple will be rebuilt. He explains how bigger and better things are to come not just for these Israelites, but for all of God’s people.
For those of us with big, God-given dreams about programs, missions, communities we want to build, it’s easy to empathize with the older Israelites. Maybe we had something we loved before the pandemic and now we’re beginning to rebuild and it feels disappointing or exhausting. We can have slow, faltering, unimpressive starts to programs, businesses, ideas and we want to give up. We can be tempted to believe that small beginning is a sign that God is not with us, that we misheard the call, or, if we are re-starting, that our best days are behind us. We think that if God is with us, things would be bigger, faster, better; but that just isn’t the story of how God works.
For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
Zerrubabel, the governor, eventually placed the capstone on the temple. They really could rejoice that they once again had a temple, even if it looked different than what they had before. That temple (the Second Temple) would stand for more than 500 years. That temple would be the very place where Jesus would one day question leaders, flip tables, and teach of God’s new covenant. The Israelites story had so many beautiful chapters ahead of them, bigger, better, and brighter than the story had been so far. But it started with a small beginning.
So, here, when we are in the days of small things, may we also take heart that God is present, and that just as the Israelites story was just beginning, so are ours.