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. Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 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.” – Zechariah 8:9-13
Welcome to the book of Zechariah! Zechariah was apparently a prophet during the reign of King Darius of Persia (~ 520 B.C.). Chronologically we are still about five centuries from the arrival of Christ on the scene, but as we will see this passage contains what I think is a reflection of Him. It was a time of returning and rebuilding for the former Babylonian exiles. Zechariah is addressing the remnant to help them reconnect with God through rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. The more I have read and chewed on this passage the more I am convinced there is a hidden well here to be plumbed that is deeper than the historical content being conveyed.
Zechariah calls on the people to get busy and rebuild the Lord’s temple, “Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.” I wonder if this statement has metaphorical and metaphysical meaning that transcends time and the physical activity of placing stone upon stone to rebuild a temple: “This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty”. The “this” in that sentence refers to the “strong hands”.
It sounds to me like the “strong hands” being described here are more than dexterous digits. What if they are a metaphor for putting faith in God into action through “rebuilding the temple”. God acknowledges that building and maintaining the temple in the past has been hard. “But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” God is making it clear in this passage that He has a new song to share with the remnant doing the rebuilding. This new way will make it easier to bear good fruit and be successful.
It seems like what is being discussed here is deeper than just reconstructing a building. It is about rebuilding and maintaining an intimate relationship with God. The temple is just a vehicle to achieve that goal that God has for His people. “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew.” The water reference here is to “dew”, a godly condensate. This dew from heaven will in some way empower and enable the “strong hands” to be successful in “rebuilding the temple” (their relationship with God).
If we think of this entire passage metaphorically it presents the Gospel in a nutshell. It is saying in essence God will send His spirit (the dew from heaven) to allow the remnant and their descendants (all faithful God-followers including me) to have “strong hands” (spiritual gifts?) to “rebuild the temple” (repent and return to right relationship with God). Of course I may be stretching this metaphor and passage way beyond its limits, but is an interesting way to ponder this concept of “strong hands” buried here in the words of a “minor prophet” 500 years before the Gospel was given.
The take home message for me is that God has empowered each of us with “strong hands” to rebuild our temples, our physical body and spirit. As Jesus taught the temple of God is actually in each of us which is both awe-inspiring and horrifying. The goal of our temple rebuilding process should be an intimate, and adventure-filled, relationship with God rather than a decorated altar in a stuffy old building.
Prayer: God grant us strong hands to continue to rebuild our bodies and spirits so that we can be in relationship with You.