Uniform 06.22.2014: Staying Active in Between

Haggai 2:20-23; Zechariah 4:5-14

The church where I worship each Sunday is in a time of transition. Two weeks after my first visit more than a year ago, the small congregation sold their building and moved into a temporary facility, waiting for a more permanent solution to be revealed. Week after week, we sit together in the cozy courtroom of a law office, singing praises to God, giving offerings, and listening to our pastor’s message. In the first few services, we kept joking that our pastor should use a gavel to call us to order. I usually sit in the jury box, but I try not to pass judgment on elements of worship!

It wasn’t easy for many of the people to say good-bye to the place that had been their church for such a long time. But they are kind and adaptive and soon settled in to the new surroundings. When it became clear that the church was being led in the direction of merging with another small congregation, everyone got excited, thinking that the time at the law firm was coming to a quick end. The months have passed, though, and the church is still seeking the best partnership. Naturally, people are asking questions.

• Why is this process taking so long?
• How many more weeks will we have to meet at the law building?
• When will we enjoy a real piano, flowers in the sanctuary, and music from the choir loft again?
• Why hasn’t the merge team found the right church for us yet?
• Are we going to be stuck here in limbo forever?
• When will our congregation have a home of our own once more?

Our pastor and his team have done a great job of assuring the people. As the weeks went by and no merger opportunities arose, they began to direct our focus toward growing together rather than sitting and waiting. And then other questions were asked.

• What ministries can we offer right here, right now, even from this law firm?
• Which groups in our congregation are underserved? Who needs a Bible study class? Who feels led to teach it?
• What new curriculum could stimulate our kids even more?
• Who would like to volunteer to sit with our youngest children during worship?
• Does anyone have a gift or talent to share—singing, playing an instrument, leading a group in service to our community?
• What and whom do we want our church to be? How can we build ourselves into that kind of congregation?

For several weeks in our Uniform study, we’ve walked alongside the returned exiles. We know that they came back from Babylon to a ruined Jerusalem. Even their place of worship, their beloved temple, was little more than a pile of rubble. With the encouragement of their leaders, they decided to rebuild—the altar first, and then the other parts of the temple. It was exciting, but then the project began to stretch on and on. The people started to think it would never be finished and they would wait in limbo forever. God sent word through the leaders, however, promising that they would not only complete the project but would also complete it under the same leader who helped them start it. “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it,” God said (Zech 4:9).

With such a confident promise, how could the people sit still? How could they give up? How could they wait in limbo?

The same is true for us today in any kind of transition: church, job, finances, family, and others. It’s easy to get discouraged after lots of time passes and nothing seems to change, but the best thing we can do with our time as we wait for what comes next is keep moving. Keep praying, keep working, keep serving, and keep dreaming up new ways to build the kingdom of God right where we are.

Discussion

1. Have you ever worked on a long-term ministry or another kind of project? What was that like? How did you keep your focus and dedication as the weeks and months passed?
2. Have you ever been involved in a major transition—whether at church, work, or home? What did that involve, and how did you handle it?
3. Why do you think it’s so easy to get discouraged when we don’t see results as quickly as we expect?
4. What can we do to keep moving, to stay active, during the in-between period of a major transition?
5. How can our lesson texts encourage you as you move from one place to another—physically, emotionally, or spiritually?

Reference Shelf

The first oracle (4:6ab-7) begins with an introductory formula designating the oracle as YHWH’s word to Zerubbabel (4:6ab). The introduction is followed by an affirmation that what happens will come, “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of Hosts.” This motto inserts a sense of unease into the context, for it implies tension between someone wanting to do something by human power and YHWH stating that anything that happens will come from YHWH, not from human strength. Zerubbabel is the governor of Judah who is a descendant of Davidic kings (see discussion of Hag 1:1). What is not immediately clear is whether this line suggests that Zerubbabel wanted to use human power for some purpose or whether the message is offered as comfort to Zerubbabel. The second part of the oracle (4:7), however, clarifies that it is not directed against Zerubbabel since it portrays him in positive terms. Specifically, it portrays Zerubbabel as the one who will level “the great mountain.” The mountain has been interpreted in both physical and figurative terms, as a reference to the rebuilding of the rubble of the temple area. Thus, the image of Zerubbabel carrying the top stone while people shout “grace, grace” likely draws on a temple cleansing ceremony. This image of Zerubbabel and the temple construction also corresponds with the second oracle.

The second oracle (4:8-10a) affirms to the prophet that Zerubbabel will complete the rebuilding of the temple. The prophet is told that the work, which Zerubbabel began by laying the foundation, will be completed by Zerubbabel himself, and that this completion will be a sign to know the LORD had sent the prophet to Zerubbabel: “so that you will know that the LORD of Hosts has sent me to you.” This verification formula of the sending of the prophet appears four times in the vision cycle (2:9, 11; 4:9; 6:15), but the addressee changes. The first and last address the people using second masculine plural suffixes. Zechariah 2:11 addresses Lady Zion (second feminine singular), and 4:9 addresses Zerubbabel (second masculine singular). Alternating addressees in this verification formula does several things. First, its repetition to the people, Lady Zion, and Zerubbabel, undergirds the image of the prophet’s authority. Second, its use in 4:9 suggests that in its original setting the oracle was delivered by the prophet to Zerubbabel, not as part of the vision cycle. This setting furthers the impression that this oracular material has been added to the existing vision report to serve a particular purpose—that is, to introduce Zerubbabel into the context before the interpretation of the olive trees. In short, it serves the dual function of validating both the prophet’s veracity and the work of Zerubbabel on the temple. The need for undergirding the work of Zerubbabel becomes clear with 4:10.

Zechariah 4:10a presupposes that Zerubbabel met some measure of resistance in his efforts to rebuild the temple, specifically from those who saw that the results would be inglorious when compared to the glory of the former temple. Ezra 3:10-13 reports that the laying of the temple foundation elicited great joy from many and great lamentation from others, for the latter could remember the glory of the previous temple. However, the Ezra account likely refers more to the reputation of the glory of the previous temple than to people who had actually seen the previous temple. The Jerusalem temple had been destroyed sixty-seven years earlier, and only the oldest members of the community would have been able to recall actually seeing it. Undoubtedly, Ezra 3:10-13 implies that the foundation of the new temple was clearly not the size of the temple that had been destroyed. Moreover, the new temple may have seemed inadequate to some who would have preferred to wait for the resources to rebuild a temple comparable in size. Zerubbabel had apparently received permission and funding to begin the process and had decided to begin the rebuilding project instigated by Haggai some months earlier (see discussion of Zerubbabel in Haggai). In fact, Zechariah 4:10 seems to reflect the same perspectives as those addressed in Haggai 2:2-5, where the stature (if not also the size) of the temple project also raised concerns. Zechariah 4:10a adds to the support offered to Zerubbabel for undertaking the reconstruction, even in the face of internal resistance. Contextually, the reader of the vision report has now been introduced to Zerubbabel, a necessity for understanding the interpretation of 4:14, which associates the two anointed ones with the two olive trees in 4:12 and relates back to the elements of the vision in 4:1-7.

Resource

James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 855-56.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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