April 7: Not by Might

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
   Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
   What are you, O great mountain?
   Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain;
      and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”
Zechariah 4:6-7

The prophetic writings of Zechariah were directed to returning refugees and exilees. The Israelites who had been taken in captivity to Persia were returning to their homeland, led by Zerubbabel. They finally made their way back to Jerusalem, but found the city in ruins, including the Temple.

For awhile at least, the people seem to be in despair. They doubt that they will ever be at home in Judah again; they worry that they will never again be in a fruitful relationship with their God.

In a series of eight night visions, God gives the people promises of comfort and support. One of the most striking is this assurance that the foundation of the Temple will be laid again: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” this will happen, says God.

In fact, this is a common theme which runs throughout all of Hebrew Scripture. The people of Israel are not mighty or powerful on their own; their success or prosperity is never chalked up to their own achievements. It is always God alone who accomplishes their victories, wins their battles, and ensures their survival.

Anytime the people began to trust their own power or might, they faced defeat, and God would call them back to faithfulness.

This morning, Americans awoke to the news of our fresh involvement in the Syrian conflict. Cruise missiles were launched from US warships to attack Syrian airfields. Our social media feeds and cable news programs are full of reassuring platitudes about our military power and might. We know that we have the strongest fighting force in the world, with the most up-to-date weapons and technology. We are armed and dangerous, strong and ferocious. We are ready to right every wrong and defend liberty and freedom.

But the words of the Lord, as spoken by Zechariah, ought to shake us from our self-confidence. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.”

In the midst of geopolitical intrigue and warfare, we must remember that God’s spirit is active in the world, and that it does not depend upon might and power, as we define might and power. 

We would do well to remember that Jesus himself, when faced with the violence of the Empire, refused to resort to the weapons used against him. Instead, he surrendered himself to God’s spirit, and was enabled to overcome death.

The work for justice depends upon our own reliance upon, and surrender to, the Spirit of God. When we fall back on the world’s own patterns of violence, we will fail.

Prayer: God, please protect the children of Syria today. Keep them safe from the violence of evil men and the bombs of well-intentioned men. Teach me how to trust you. Amen.

Justice Challenge: Today, every time you hear, read, or see something about the violence in Syria, stop and say a prayer for peace. Practice keeping the conflict in your mind all day without letting it become a source of anxiety.