Almost all of us, unless we are narcissists, occasionally suffer from feelings of insignificance. I remember how devastated I was at the age of 18 or so, when I first saw a tennis prodigy on television winning her first championship at the age of 16. There was something disconcerting about seeing someone shoot to the pinnacle of her profession, when I hadn’t even succeeded in picking one yet. This is funny to me now, but it wasn’t then. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have wanted to do something that would get our names in the record books. Something that would make us great or legendary. Instead, we find ourselves, the vast majority of us, in the middle of the daily grind. We do our apparently small deeds that are just like the countless small deeds that everybody else is doing, and sometimes we wonder if we are even capable of that much. The loss of a job or a failed relationship makes us wonder if even the ordinary is beyond us.
For those of us who have struggled to achieve the status quo, we have our kindred spirit in the Old Testament character, Zerubbabel. We are preparing to start a book study of Zechariah in my small group, and the preface to the book in my ESV study Bible pointed to Zechariah 4:10a as one of the key verses of the book: “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”
“Who is Zerubbabel?” you ask. And secretly you wonder, What is a plumb line?
Zerubbabel was a descendent of King David, a grandson of one of the last kings of that dynasty, and in a position to claim the throne himself, except that there was no throne to claim. The kingdom had been lost in the exile to Babylon. Now Judah was a tiny part of the great Persian Empire, and Zerubbabel was only a governor under the authority of an imperial government far away. Twenty years before, the Jewish people had returned to their homeland to find nothing but poverty and ruined cities. Nehemiah had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem so that the people could have a measure of security, but it fell to Zerubbabel to build a new temple — one that would be only a shadow of the beautiful edifice built by his ancestor, Solomon. There was a shortage of money and, of course, there were political obstacles. The prophet Haggai was delivering sermons to the Jewish people to stir up their enthusiasm to this work of rebuilding God’s house.
But the enthusiasm wasn’t there. They were a beaten people. The glory of Jerusalem had been stripped away. Even if they rebuilt the temple, it wouldn’t compare with the one that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. Besides, they were in a daily battle for survival. They were trying to rebuild a nation out of the ashes of their grandparents’ sin and failure. It seemed like all the great works of God had been done in the past. God had parted the Red Sea and demolished the walls of Jericho in the long ago, but now His people were grubbing weeds and stacking bricks. The still-chosen people of God were suffering from a profound case of nobody-ness. It seemed like a day of small things.
Then God began to speak to Zechariah through some of the most striking visions found anywhere in Scripture. God had not forgotten His people; His historic plan for them had not been abandoned. He would bless them again, and He would send them a King to restore their ruined kingdom. Did they feel insignificant? God was sending a King who would exalt the insignificant:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9 [ESV])
To Zerubbabel and his contemporaries, it must have seemed that their part in this unfolding plan of God was very small indeed. Yet God repeatedly assured Zerubbabel of his calling and his significance. “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!” (Zech 4:7 [ESV]). Zerubbabel was destined to succeed because the favor of God rested upon his work, and no obstacle would prevent him from finishing what he had started. The finished product might not be impressive to human eyes in the way that Solomon’s temple was impressive, but God would be pleased that Zerubbabel had done the necessary work to glorify God in his own generation. Zerubbabel was a blessed man.
Even more, God was going to change the perspective of those who saw and judged Zerubbabel’s labors. Those who despised the era in which they lived as a “day of small things” were going to get an attitude adjustment. They were going to see the favor of God, the grace of God, in the success of Zerubbabel, and God would have glory in the triumph of His people. What was required of Zerubbabel? There was one key ingredient to the promise. The people would rejoice to see him holding a plumb line. This was a tool used in the ancient world to make sure that a wall was straight. If the angle of a wall was off-center, the whole building was in jeopardy. As the leader of the people, it was Zerubbabel’s job to see the work was being done properly — to come behind the workers and verify that each part of the building was firm and straight. His diligence in the small things, and God’s blessing on the whole project, were the guarantees of success.
Should we feel insignificant then because God has called us to a task that seems small or unimpressive? The truth is that not one of us is in a good place to judge the value of our own work. After all, your high school history book was full of people of who were mighty and famous in their day, and yet not one piece of what they built has survived. Matthew Henry notes that Zerubbabel is a picture of Christ in that God promised that he would both start the temple and finish it. In the same way, Christ is the beginner and the finisher of our faith. He is both the cornerstone and the capstone of all that we seek to accomplish for God. Let us to look to Him and boast in the finished work of Christ. All that we do for Him will have significance. We will each look back on our own day of small things and cry, “Grace, grace.”