Let Your Hands Be Strong
BY TIMOTHY LOPEZ
Key Verse 8:13
“Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”
In this passage, what we have is seemly the second part of God’s answer to the Jews’ question in chapter 7. If you recall, they were asking about their traditions of mourning and fasting. And if you recall, most of that chapter was an utter rebuke. Towards the end of that chapter the Jews from Bethel were probably scratching their heads wondering if coming down here to get rebuked was really such a good idea. But personally, I think it was the best thing they could have done. For, though they weren’t fasting for right reasons, they came to the prophets and priests of Israel with a right and pure heart. And this is the best thing that we can do in any stage of our life. And we might do well to do it more often. Verse 7:3 says, that they came to “Entreat the LORD” regarding their practices. This means that though others were in their company, and though others were in informed of their practices and faithful traditions, there was only one Person’s response that they were seeking. It was the Lord’s heart that they really wanted to understand in this predicament. And if you aren’t convinced that this was a noble act on their part, towards the end of Chapter 8, the Lord promises that many others from all around the world will come to God with this same heart. Verses 20-23 talk of people from all other nations that will want to come and “Entreat the LORD Almighty” with the remnant of Israel. So, Chapter 7 was a sharp rebuke, but the good news is Chapter 8 is much longer. That’s because it’s filled with blessing, encouragement and the redemptive promise that God has for all those that are willing and obedient. This shouldn’t surprise us, for we know and serve a God that is much more willing to bless than to curse. And more willing to be gracious than severe, all because He wants to bring us to repentance and salvation. And so that we can be a blessing and not a curse.
So, if you’ll look at this chapter, we’ll give a brief description of how it’s presented. You’ll see that it’s divided into two parts. Verse 1 and verse 18 mark those sections. And these verses read together exactly the same, “The word of the LORD Almighty came to me.” These verses are pretty much the same as verses 4 & 8 from the previous chapter. So, we could say that God gave Zechariah four words or four messages in response to the Jews from Bethel. And while the first two words were intended to leave his hearers with a deep sense conviction and warning, the second two are those of love, restoration, salvation and exhortation. So, this passage is a change in tone for Israel. Something else to note in this passage is the repetition of God’s character. Take a minute and count how many times you see the phrase, “the LORD Almighty” stated in this passage. If you have a different translation, it might read as the “the LORD of hosts.” I counted about 18 times. This phrase is used by the prophets many times to emphasize two things about God. Basically, that God Almighty is powerful to judge, and to bring about His promises.
Let’s read verses 2. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.’” Now Zion, in many ways refers to Jerusalem, or in relation to where Jerusalem is. And that’s true, but biblically speaking, Zion means Jerusalem in a redemptive state. So, from the beginning, we can conclude that this passage is about the kingdom of God. It’s about what it’s going to take, to bring about the establishment of God’s kingdom here on earth. And from here, this very verse, we can see the primary motivator is God through his own zeal or jealousy for it. In the Lord’s prayer that we sing every Sunday, the very first request we’re to ask is what? “…Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mat 6:10) This is God’s priority. This has been God’s agenda since the beginning of time. And He’s been burning with love and desire for His kingdom to be brought about ever since. Once His kingdom was established on earth, we are told in Genesis, that it a very good thing. Sometimes, as we’re on our walk with the Lord, we get distracted. Something tries to take our hearts off what the Lord is doing in our life. Though I don’t know what’s going in all our lives, I’m certain that the Lord wants to reign and rule in our hearts. One of the benefits about going through this stay-at-home order, is that it gives us a chance to pay attention to our homes and see if the Lord’s kingdom reigning there. I know for me personally, that there are many things that need to be done to bring about God’s reign in my home. What a good opportunity we have right now.
Let’s read verse 3, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.’” So, God who seemed to be greatly distant from Israel was now promising to dwell within them once again. Israel had many enemies it seems, but their sins against God and man were their worst. As this is what distanced themselves from Him. The same goes for us. But still, God in his one-sided grace had promised to return to Zion. Out of his one-sided love and grace, he promised to return. What’s important to note here is the effect of His return. The affect of His return is that of faithfulness and holiness. Some translations don’t say Faithful City but instead say the city of truth. What does that mean for us? Well, once we receive the gospel message, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts. How do we know that happens? Well he begins to work towards us walking faithfully with God. He works to bring about holiness in our life. He works to make us people of truth. We can say that we’ve received him, or we’ve been baptized by him. We can say that I’ve been in bible study since I was in the womb. But guess what? If we don’t have that great work in our hearts, then we might want to give that statement a second glance and ask for a mighty work of His Spirit within our hearts. Based off His promise, we know that he would receive us if we humbly repent and ask. Our Lord promised us, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk11:13)
Look at verses 4 and 5. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Now think about the times before Zechariah. The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months were to remember the destruction of Jerusalem. In order, these fasts commemorate key parts of this event. From when Jerusalem’s walls were breached, to its complete destruction. So, their view of Jerusalem, was pretty much a city of death, and not of the picture that the Lord paints here. Remember that Nehemiah, years after Jerusalem’s destruction, when the people had begun to return, he had mourned when he heard of catastrophic condition that the city was in as we moved to prayer. But the Lord promised that in Jerusalem’s redemptive state, when we return to God and God returns to us, the city would have the blessing of long life and security. People would live to be full of years, and the city be will safe enough so that kids can run and play without cause for worry. The redemptive Jerusalem will have utter peace in the fullest sense of the word.
Let’s read verse 6. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the LORD Almighty. To the remnant this will seem surprisingly wonderful. Because for them, it was so unlikely that Jerusalem would ever be restored. God’s people today are like a remnant in the world. And for us it will seem surprisingly wonderful when this world is restored. What separates the remnant of Israel from the rest of Israel, is the same as what separates the remnant of the world from the rest of the world. It’s faith in the Son of God. And today many of us are used to the way life is here and we have no other vision for anything better. We’re struggling to keep a vision of the kingdom of God so as to not settle for the world. So, we think it marvelous if God were to restore our land and our nation. We’d probably think it marvelous if he just revives our ministry, or our family, or own life. We think something like this is too good to be true. But to God there’s nothing surprising about this at all, as this was the original order of things when he created the world. We easily forget that the world we live in today was not the intended way of life. It was not the way life on earth was supposed to be. Originally our lives were to be a blessed life. We were to serve the will and mission of God, while loving and serving his creation, all the while trusting himself provided the necessities of life. But surely today, the Lord’s hand is not too short save. You never know you might be added to this most special remnant. So, keep on your toes. Keep loving the Lord and sharing his precious good news with others. Keep laying down life. You never know who’s watching, and who will be blessed by what they see.
Let’s read verses 7 and 8. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.” Unfortunately, I’m not too well versed in the God’s promises for the people of Israel specifically. But we can’t deny that He promises to redeem a remnant of Israel. This promise I think might even have a double application. As in it could’ve been for them then, but it could also refer towards the end of the age where God will bring a remnant of the Jews from all around the world to be redeemed. Redeemed, fundamentally means that we have been saved by Christ’s blood shed for our sins, so as have a faithful and righteous relationship with God.
Verse 9 says, This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the LORD Almighty.” Now “Let your hands be strong” was a common Hebrew idiom. It doesn’t literally mean, go lift some weights and get buff, any more than the saying “it’s raining cats and dogs” is literal. What it really means is let your heart be strong. Don’t be discouraged. It means to continue committed to this very great work. This is what the prophets were saying all along, since Zerubbabel laid the foundation of the temple. And this was also an encouragement for them to listen to and believe the prophets, even if they didn’t see God’s promises fulfilled immediately. The prophet’s word to them was God’s word to them at that time. God’s word to them was their source of keeping their heart strong. It’s amazing that in such a circumstance, they could look to Word of God to keep their hearts full of faith and hope. Even today, with so much uncertainty among us, we can be assured that the Word of God can help us to not have a fearful or discouraged heart in our present time.
Look at verses 10-13. In the past because of their enemies no one could lay down safely because God himself set one neighbor against another. But now God would no longer do that. God’s blessing would pour down from heaven. The promise is that while they were once a curse, now they would become a blessing. Once upon a time everyone spoke ill of Israel and wished ill of Israel. But God promised that they would no longer be a curse to them but a blessing. So, don’t be afraid. “Let your hands be strong”. It begins with don’t be afraid and ends with don’t be afraid. This promise stays true for us as well. What is it that keeps our hands from remaining strong? Is it past experiences? Is it seeing so little fruit for our labor now? Is there perhaps a social distance between us and the Lord? Whatever it is, we should be encouraged to resolve it, and put our hands back to the plow. As our Lord said, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Let’s read verses 14-15. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid.’” The Lord is reminding them on how just as he set his heart to bring disaster on Israel, as certain as that was, He will now set his heart to do good to them. There is no longer a need to earn the Lord’s favor in this matter. All the Lord’s wrath has been absolved. According to verses 16 and 17 they only need to live representing the heart of God. The times are similar today. It is a blessing to be on the side of grace instead of on the side of God’s wrath towards sin. Thankfully, our Lord drank the cup of God’s wrath in our place. We no longer are set up to endure it. We now just need to keep in step with the Spirit. Many of us know what those things are. But we are to love our fellow man. It grieves the Holy Spirit when we lie to each other; when we make bad judgments; when we live selfishly! The best way to plot evil against our neighbor is to just live selfishly. If we’re only about our life, our job, our school, our friends, our agenda, then we can be sure that that path is accompanied with lies and neglect of God, and certainly neglect of our neighbor.
Look at verses 19–23. They are the last message of God in response to Israel’s question on fasting. It’s amazing when you look at these answers. They may have initially had in mind to get an answer for their fasting. But God had graciously given them a whole more. Now the Lord will end on a world mission note. Read verses 19-23. So, the Israelites had a habit of mourning for their state. But their mourning wasn’t really for God. But even so God did not say go back and mourn properly. But he promises that as they continue living out the heart of God, loving truth and peace. These fasts would eventually become joyful and glad occasions. They were not here yet. But they now knew the way. It was almost as if they had a fresh start with God. A blank slate to get them back on track.
The Lord then makes a little more vivid a promise that he gave to Abraham long ago. Abraham would be a father of many nations and would be a blessing. If we’ve been paying any sort of attention to Israel for the past several decades, it’s no secret that this passage has not come into fruition yet. They have been passionately hated for some time by various nations and peoples. But this is a future promise that Israel will still be a blessing. We know that they are a blessing because of Christ. But God is not done with them yet. There will be a time where no one will wish ill of them. Powerful nations will be humbled by the presence of God with them and will want them to show them how to entreat the Lord. They be enamored by the presence of God with Israel and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.” The faithfulness of God is a beautiful thing.
Since we are in an age of grace, let us be encouraged, and make strong our hands for the work of building that he has set before us. I believe that this work has increased with the trying times that have come upon us. Many people are fearful. Many have needs. May we respond to the Lord’s call to be a blessing to our fellow neighbor. All the while seeking to plant hope in the kingdom of God. May the Lord’s kingdom come on earth. Bless you.