It can be very frustrating to begin a big project just to have it stopped against your will. Perhaps you have experienced this. You know how it goes. You commit emotionally to a project and you work on the planning process for a long time. Already you have invested a great deal of mental, physical, and emotional energy into it before any real work has begun. You are anticipating the big day to begin, and then, wham! Something happens that pulls the plug on the deal. How do you feel in that moment? What if the plug-pulling was due to one individual who was responsible for destroying all your plans? How do you feel toward that person? Now, add into the mix the idea that the project was a “God-project”; something that you were convinced was from God and for God. And yet, it gets confounded by some sort of interference.
This scenario can happen in all walks of life. You may have planned to go to school, but then a close relative gets ill and you have to care for them instead of enrolling. You want to have a child, but the test continues to stick that ugly straight line in your face. You have people make promises to contribute to a project, and, in the last minute, they bail.
There is one common thread in all of these scenarios…they are disappointing. When these setbacks hit, it is easy to begin a downward spiral of doubt and despair. We can begin to question whether God is really supportive of us, or if He is really there at all. We can be tempted to withdraw into ourselves and vow that we will never risk and never trust again.
This must have been how Zerubbabel felt when he was rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. He began his journey full of high hopes and expectations for doing a great thing for God in the holy city. After all, he carried in his hand the papers from the supreme king himself, assuring him safe passage and full cooperation from the local authorities surrounding Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, the further you travel on a 900 mile journey away from the capital city, the less powerful a piece of paper becomes. The fact was that in the 70 years since the citizens of Jerusalem had been led off to exile, the Canaanites had moved into the region and become quite comfortable. From the Canaanite perspective this land was their land and the Jews had been the oppressive invaders that had swept in and took it from them under the leadership of Joshua centuries before. They rejoiced when Babylon destroyed this city. The last thing they would ever want was for it to be rebuilt.
So, as Zerubbabel entered into the region surrounding Jerusalem with just a handful of people, he was entering into a very hostile situation in which a written edict from an emperor 900 miles away would mean very little. The project came against such fierce, vindictive opposition, that it shut down for 14 years. It was not until two prophets named Haggai and Zechariah came on the scene to encourage Zerubbabel and the people that the project was resumed and completed.
Here are a couple observations that may help us today:
1. Sometimes even God’s projects get interrupted and temporarily shut down. It is dangerous to judge God’s blessing and His will on a purely circumstantial basis. Just because a plan didn’t work the first time, it does not necessarily mean it was not the right plan. Sometimes we may have the right project, but the wrong timing.
2. Expect opposition. In the church we are trying to build the Kingdom of God – the temple – in our hearts and our community, and the enemy doesn’t like it. Do you think that Satan is going to sit around and say, “Oh look, Suzy is getting her heart right with God and is starting to build an authentic space of worship in her heart for Him? Isn’t that nice. I wish her well.” No way. He has invested too much time in tearing down the first temple and sending you into the exile of sin for you to waltz in and clean everything up. He’s going to get on the horn with every evil force that has surrounded your heart before and say, “Give her all you got, boys. Hit her with fear, doubt, loneliness, confusion, temptation, false accusation, miscommunication, fatigue, and busy-ness, whatever we know to be her weak spots. We’ve got to shut her down.”
3. Hold everything with open hands. The only way to make it through a project is to realize that it is God’s project and not yours. As soon as you invest your sense of self-worth in a project you have set yourself up for defeat. Before God can really use you in a project of any kind, He first needs to purge you of the need to have it. If you want to be successful in work, you need to die to that. If you want to have a child, you need to be willing to live without one. If you want to do something great, you need to be willing to be “nothing.”
4. Lean on God’s truth and His community to keep up your strength. In chapter 5 we see that it was the teaching of Haggai and Zechariah that inspired Zerubbabel to get back into the game and defy the opposition. These two men of God helped the people focus on the truth of God and the power and purpose of the Temple in the grand scheme of life. They re-sparked the vision in the hearts of the city. Not only did they speak the words of truth and hope, they also rolled up their sleeves and helped in the work itself. In our church, we need to be relentlessly devoted to saturating our minds with the truth of God’s word and passionately committed to being a support network for each other during the good and the bad times.
5. Ultimately, we need to trust in the sovereignty of God. When Zerubbabel was motivated to get back into the game they petitioned King Darius to research the archives of King Cyrus and see if he had, in fact, authorized this project. King Darius discovered that he had, and resumed the project in full force, binding the opposition with fear of death to stay away from the project. God will bring about His will. We need to remember that if it is God’s project it will get done, and it will get done in His timing and in His way. Our job is to not worry, but to simply follow and obey.