My father had a plumb line in his box of tools. Perhaps builders use something more sophisticated nowadays, but this simple string with a weight on the end does the trick. In fact, it has been used for centuries to ensure that walls are straight.
In the Old Testament, the first temple built by Solomon was glorious and no doubt had straight walls. However, when the nation fell and the people were taken into exile, their beloved symbol of faith was destroyed. Only after God straightened out their lives, were they restored to their land. Then they began the task of building a new temple.
In the eyes of the builders, this new structure didn’t seem like much. They hoped to return to their former glory, but it didn’t look as if this would happen. The Lord encouraged them through His prophet Zechariah.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel…” (Zechariah 4:8–10)
Whether rebuilding or starting something new, I often want to start with big and grand. Rather than beginning with something simple, I tend to select the most difficult pattern or project. Those starting a new business are often thinking like that too. They want a big office and fancy stationery before becoming established in sales and reputation.
The ancient Israelites may have felt like that because they also had another problem. Their moral decline had brought God’s judgment of being carried away by a godless people to live in a godless place of idolatry. This consequence of their apathy and waywardness brought them to the realization that they needed to be faithful to their true God. They wanted the glory they had known before they had fallen away from their devotion, not this small beginning of a temple. While their “despising of small things” could have been mere discouragement, I wonder if their attitude meant something else.
When I fall or fail in my spiritual walk with the Lord and repent, I want to come back to that relationship with the joy and oblivion to my sinfulness that I had before it tripped me. However, that is not the way repentance and restoration works. When I’ve messed up, instead of starting again where I left off, God wants humility and a deeper awareness of my great need of grace. He may restore me to “what” I was doing before, but the “why” must change, or my sense of needing God must change. He wants me to drop all vain ambition and my hopes to be something great. Instead, I must be content to do even the smallest things for God and not despise even the least that He gives me.
Not only that, after failure and restoration God wants me to more carefully measure my righteousness by the plumb line of Jesus Christ. Instead of seeing my success and value by whatever I measured it before, I’m to stand against His straightness and realize how bent and crooked I am without Him.
The prophet promised Israel that they would complete their temple and rejoice, and that they would see the plumb line of God. He promises me that He will finish what He started in me, and that I too will rejoice. More importantly, He wants me to remember that His standard for success is Jesus, and that in my desire to measure up to that standard, it is acceptable to start small.