Thus says the Lord of hosts: Let your hands be strong—you that have recently been hearing these words from the mouths of the prophets who were present when the foundation was laid for the rebuilding of the temple, the house of the Lord of hosts. For before those days there were no wages for people or for animals, nor was there any safety from the foe for those who went out or came in, and I set them all against one another. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.
Here, Zechariah brings his audience and us back down to earth. There is still plenty of work to be done; and perhaps there’s an oblique reminder of Haggai’s words that prompted the community to start rebuilding the temple as well.
There’s another reminder – of the ‘bad old days’ of hardship, fear of enemies and feeling alienated from God; days to which no one wants to return. The promise of God, says Zechariah, is a time of blessing and fruitfulness, the order of nature will be restored and peace, wholeness, stability will be their experience henceforth. Their reputation in the world as a nation abandoned by its god will be transformed as God’s scattered people are drawn back to form a new, faithful, community that is evidently receiving countless divine blessings.
However, the emphasis is on God’s intention that they become a blessing on the nations, when this time comes. This resonates with the call of Abraham (Gen.12:1-3) at the start of God’s work of salvation, through whom all nations would be blessed. God’s blessing doesn’t bestow privilege, nor is it designed to restore the recipient’s, or God’s, reputation. It’s always something to be received thankfully and used as a means of blessing others, to draw them into the same relationship with God that we enjoy.
Zechariah’s oracle ends as it began, ‘Let your hands be strong’, i.e., get on with the work that’s before you; and don’t be afraid.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God wants to bless us; and it’s scary to realise the responsibility that comes with divine blessing. Remember, God never asks of us more than we are capable of accomplishing with the risen Christ walking beside us. So rejoice as God’s beloved, blessed, children and get on with whatever work God has given you.
Gracious God, thank you for all the blessings that are ours. We know that we’ve done nothing to deserve them; and we are conscious of people both near and far who lack so much of what we frequently take for granted. We are truly grateful for your generous gifts of love. Help us to use everything we receive in ways that bring blessings to others, in the name of Jesus. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.