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God’s Word for You

Zechariah 4:8-10 The plumb line

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 8, 2022

8 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

Zerubbabel was the governor. He would have been king of the Jews if the Jews had been allowed to still have a king reigning over them. However, since the exile, they were only permitted a local ruler, going back to the days of poor Gedaliah who was murdered and thrown into Asa’s cistern by misguided and sinful men who wanted a government other than the one God gave them, and who then forced Jeremiah and Baruch to travel with them to Egypt against the Lord’s warning (Jeremiah 41:2-18, 43:6-7). This was one of the many horrible things that happened in those last days of Judah. It left them almost completely leaderless. But God blessed the people when they were sent back, and the governorship suited their needs for the time being.

This message from God sets aside the vision of the candlestick for a moment and brings comfort about the immediate future: Zerubbabel, today’s governor, was there making sure that the temple foundation was laid, and he would be there for the completion of the temple. It would not take decades or more. It would soon be finished. In fact, the very act of Zerubbabel being there to complete the temple would be proof that Zechariah’s message was truly from the Lord: “You will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” This knowledge would be brought by the completion of the act.

10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. They will see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”

This verse is not about Israel’s enemies, but about the people of the land themselves. They were not happy about their smallness; the insignificance they felt at being such a tiny entity in the world. It was not just the comparative smallness of memory, the feeling I get when I visit the village I grew up in, most of which is in an area of ten blocks by six blocks, with a quiet school on one end of town and a sleepy main street on the other (the old City of David in Jerusalem was about five blocks by twelve). No, it was the smallness of everything. The walls were smaller. The buildings were smaller. Perhaps the gates were smaller by necessity. And the temple was quite a bit smaller. But what if the nation was smaller than it had been? What if the numbers of the people were fewer, the walls were shorter, and the temple was a little thing, nothing but a tent made of stone and cedar? God wants us to keep our attention on his word, not on our resources. The doctrines of the holy Scriptures do not become smaller or any less important. To have no other gods is still the First Commandment, and it is no less vital whatever the size of the group that believes it. We still put our trust in our infinite, omniscient, omnipotent and all-holy God. We still call on him believing with certainty that he hears us and that he will answer us, for to call upon God falsely is to call upon a false god. But to acknowledge his greatness and his infinity even as we make our prayers like little children speaking to their dear father is what he wants from us, as if to say to us, “My substance is not here; for what you see is but the smallest part and least proportion of me.”

Therefore the gospel flows like the neverending rush of a waterfall and dowses us with its pleasant, cool water, a constant reminder of the forgiveness of our sins and of the unending blessings of God. The attitude Judah had about its smallness will be set aside and turned into rejoicing. They will see the plumb line in the hand of their good governor.

A plumb line is a lump of metal known as a plumb bob held by a line. The Hebrew term, ha-even ha-bediyl, “the stone from the dross,” suggests that it was molded from the scoopings as they purified silver (silver deposits occur naturally with copper and lead). The non-silver portion, brought to the surface during boiling, was scooped away and could be tossed into the slag heap or could be used to make less elegant items such as tools or, in this case, a plumb bob, which was little more than a lump of metal, perhaps with a point at the bottom, with a hole or a groove for tying on a line. This line would present the true vertical angle of a building. Together with a T-square and a compass, the plumb line and the liquid level (an air bubble trapped in a glass or thin bone casing) were the more important tools for maintaining correct angles, walls, and corners in a building. To see the plumb line in the hand of the governor was to see him prove the correctness of the finished building.

But Zerubbabel stands in the place of Christ our King as we apply this vision to the Christian church. It is Christ who began the building and who will complete it, and it is Christ who will prove the rightness of the church, for the plumb line is truly in his hands.

10b “(These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.)”

The verse ends with this parenthetic sentence, a side comment from the angel or from the prophet himself, explaining one more thing in the vision. The “seven eyes” takes us back into the previous chapter, where a stone was laid that had seven eyes or facets. This connects the two chapters and the two visions as being about the two leaders of Judah: Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor. The eyes of the stone, the holy omniscience of God, ranges throughout the whole world. This is a reminder for us that God is always alert, always watching, and always looking out for us. “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:6); “He who watches over Israel will not slumber or sleep” (Psalm 121:4). And again, Solomon says: “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1). During their exile, the people of Judah knew that they were being chastised and punished: “The Lord himself has scattered them,” Jeremiah said, “he no longer watches over them” (Lamentations 4:16). But now God was promising to keep his eyes on his people. Not just one eye, as the saying goes, but both of them. In fact, because he is the Lord our God, he returns to the holy number of “seven” eyes. And if anyone needs to be kept from imagining God as a monster with seven eyes, then think, perhaps, of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, each with nothing more than a pair of eyes, making six, and a seventh to show that God is always united as a whole, and that the divine Persons do not act at variance against one another, but always together, always for precisely the same goal, just like the captain, helmsman and engineer of a ship.

The gospel brings Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the whole earth, wherever the gospel is preached as it ranges throughout the world. In the Bible, the known world was represented by the most distant lands.

The people most distantly south were probably the Cushites from south of Egypt, and perhaps considerably south. “The topaz of Cush” in Job 28:19 is a hint, since topaz is especially common in the southernmost countries of Africa: Namibia, Zimbabwe and other places.

The farthest place to the west was Tarshish, which is probably Cadiz, the port city in southern Spain on the Atlantic Ocean. This is the place to which Jonah was running (Jonah 1:3) and perhaps the place Paul wanted to visit when he talked about taking the gospel to Spain in Romans 15:28.

The most distant land to the north that the Bible mentions is probably Scythia (Colossians 3:11). This is the region north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, or modern Ukraine.

The most distant land to the east that is touched on in the Scriptures seems to be China, when Isaiah mentions people “from the land of Sinim” or China in Isaiah 49:12, although for some reason the NIV continues to translate this word “Aswan” in the latest edition.

These places—south Africa, Spain, Ukraine, and China—were the most distant lands in the Bible but of course the gospel has gone much further today. Most of us reading or hearing this devotion live outside of this circle, and we rejoice that the message of God’s forgiveness in Jesus has come even to us. For God watches over his people. “The Lord watches over the alien and the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9). He brings about his greatness in our smallness. He brings about his glorious blessings through the pitiful shame of the cross. And he continues to bless, and to bring, and to watch, all the days of our lives.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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