4 “‘Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the LORD; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts.
5 “‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!'”
When chaos erupts in a church body, it is easy to get discouraged by the events and to doubt our own effectiveness as leaders, as worshippers, as administrators, and even generally as members of that church group. We see the daunting task of unifying the people and rebuilding God’s house, and we wonder whether we are traveling the right path. It’s times like these that we need to look to the Bible and reflect upon the ways in which God strengthened His people in times of renewal and rebirth.
One of my pastor’s favorite passages in Scripture is this precious gem from the prophecy of Zechariah:
So he answered and said to me:
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.”
That is a great reminder that whatever work is before us for the Lord, He is with us, and whatever happens is not through any strength of ours but ONLY by His Spirit.
Zerubabbel was a leader of the Jews who had returned from Babylon to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Gospels (Matthew 1:13, Luke 3:27), Zerubabbel is mentioned in the lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and he is a descendant of David and Solomon. With Zerubabbel is a high priest named Joshua. The foundation of the temple had been laid just after the return from exile about seventy years before, but work had stopped because of opposition and discouragement. Then along came Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people with one simple thought:
Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, spoke the LORD’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says the LORD.”
Therefore thus says the LORD: “I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy…”
In today’s verse, the Lord God sends a direct word of encouragement to the leaders and the people. There are five messages of encouragement in this short and potent passage:
1) “Be strong, Zerubabbel” – The Lord is telling the secular leaders to be strong in the face of opposition, to stand up and defend the work that must be done. Although not a priest, it is still the role of Zerubabbel to lead the people in the holy work that must be done.
2) “Be strong, Joshua” – The Lord God has handed political power and leadership to Zerubabbel, but He has given Joshua authority over the spiritual well-being of God’s chosen people. Joshua needs to know that although his task is hard, the Lord is with him and will guide and strengthen him. God has given him the Word he needs, the law handed down since Moses. Now it is up to Joshua to steer the people in the path of righteousness, so their temple is built on the holy foundation of holy living.
3) “Be strong, all you people of the land” – Although the people may not feel like they have access to God directly, His Spirit is with them when they pursue His will. God will strengthen not just the leaders but also the followers when their work is done in His name.
4) “I am with you” – God had promised the Israelites that He would never leave them nor forsake them. (Deuteronomy 31:6,8 et al.) And so here He is again reminding them that He is still on their side, still around to strengthen them, still their champion in battle, still their comfort in times of despair.
5) “Do not fear” – David declared:
Psalm 27:1 (A Psalm of David)
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
So Haggai’s message is the same: Why are you afraid when the Lord Almighty is with you? Do not fear! Be strong!
But the most important part of today’s passage is two short works: “and work.” To have the strength of the Lord on your side means nothing if you are not doing His work. To be encouraged and knowing that God is with you is worthless without doing His work. To be the finest leader, the most encouraging teacher, the best bricklayer or carpenter or farmer means nothing if you are not doing the Lord’s work.
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;
24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
When the odds seem stacked against us in our work for the Lord, when it seems like the house of God is a house of cards falling all around us, when those we have relied on for strength and support have denied us or gone astray, “Be strong,” says the Lord of hosts, “do not fear, for I am with you.” Know that God truly will never leave nor forsake those who are called according to His purpose. Be encouraged, “AND WORK.”
Lord God Almighty, blessed be Your name in all the earth. Only by Your will and Your Word, the universe exists, we all live, and we who are chosen shall be saved. By Your will, You fashioned me in my mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made to reflect Your image, to glorify only You. I have fallen short of Your glory in my own will, but turn me now, O Lord, to Your will to revive the spirit of this land. Let me work for You as never before, strengthened by Your might and Your power and Your Holy Spirit. Amen.