A Day of Small Things
We sometimes murmur, either with disappointment or resignation: "After all, it is a day of small things". It may be that we use this as an excuse to give up any form of service for the Lord, or even discourage others from attempting anything at all. Perhaps we forget that the text says: "For who hath despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4: 10).
There have been many times when it must have seemed difficult to carry on in a life of faith. When there arose in Egypt a king who did not know Joseph, and who ordered that all the Hebrew boys should be killed at birth, it might have discouraged Moses' parents from having a third child. Yet it was just this act of faith that is commended in Hebrews 11: 23, where we are told that they "were not afraid of the king's commandment". As we know, this child was the one chosen to deliver God's people from the power of Egypt.
Later, in the time of the Judges, when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes", we find faithful Gideon, raised up to deliver the Israelites from the power of Midian. We can understand why he says to the angel: "If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of?" (Judges 6: 13). How patiently the Lord dealt with him, and even gave him the signs that he asked for, to confirm his feeble faith. It was a day of small things, but God gave His people a wonderful victory through that young man of faith.
During the same difficult period there were parents who dared to name their little son Elimelech, "whose God is King". It was a day of ungodliness and unfaithfulness, and yet there were those that still looked for redemption in Israel, as we read of similar faithful ones at the time of the Lord's birth. Such names as Elkanah, "who God provided", and Hannah, "grace", shows that there were still some, in the day of small things, who trusted in a great God. We see in the historical books how their faith was rewarded.
Much later, when it seemed that all was lost-the temple was destroyed, the ark, and all the precious things that meant so much to the faithful Jews, had been carried away to Babylon, and even the bulk of the nation was in exile-we read of faithful men like Daniel and his friends, who would not defile themselves with the food that had been offered to idols, and we read of Daniel himself that "he continued", he persevered until the 70 years of exile were expired, and the prophecies of Jeremiah were fulfilled. In a day of small things there was one on whom the Lord could rely, as we read in Ezekiel 14: 14, where Daniel's name is coupled with Noah and Job as one that could be counted upon to be faithful to the end.
Of those that were privileged to return to the land of promise, we read of faithful men such as Ezra and Nehemiah, who were not afraid of the heathen adversaries, but trusted in the God of their fathers. We read in the book of Ezra of how they set the altar upon its bases, and they offered burnt offerings. They even kept the feast of tabernacles, although the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. When at last the foundations were there, we read that the people shouted and praised the Lord, although the older ones, who remembered the magnificence of Solomon's temple, could but shed tears at the weakness and insignificance of the new building. It was to these people that Zechariah and Haggai were sent, to encourage the workers, and to remind them of the faithful God who was still ready to bless them.
Of Nehemiah we read again and again how he prayed and worked, notwithstanding the enemies, of whom we read that "it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" (Nehemiah 2: 10). When these foes mocked them, Nehemiah replied: "The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we, His servants, will arise and build"
(Nehemiah 2: 20). Although the enemies tried all manner of ruses to stop the work, we read finally that the work was completed: "So the wall was finished" (Nehemiah 6: 15).
At the end of the book we read of the unfaithfulness of some of the priests, as well as the negligence of the people, who had not supported the Levites. The result of this double unfaithfulness was that Tobiah, the enemy, had taken possession of the very room in which the tithes ought to have been brought for the upkeep of the Levites. Nehemiah gave orders for the place to be vacated, and thoroughly cleansed, so that the Levites, and so God Himself, could have their, and His, portion.
Much later, in the time of Malachi, we see a terrible state of affairs. The temple was there; the offerings were brought; the services went on, just as they had in the time of Isaiah, but there was no heart in it. The offerings that were brought were merely the lame and worthless animals that were no good anyway. God said to them: "offer it now unto thy governor: will he be pleased with thee?" (Malachi 1: 8). Yet they dared to give to God "that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick" (Malachi 1: 13). They could even ask of God: "Wherein have we despised Thy name?" (Malachi 1: 6).
Does this say anything to us today? We go, no doubt, week by week to the meetings. We sing our hymns, we read out of the Bible, we say our "Amen" at the end of each prayer-but is there any more heart in it than in the time of Malachi? "Bring no more vain oblations", although addressed to Judah in the days of Isaiah, could well be the message to many of us to-day.
But God is faithful. He cannot deny Himself, and, just as He was mindful of His covenant with Israel, so He will never leave us nor forsake us. As He expresses it in Malachi's prophecy: "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Malachi 3: 6). So, in the midst of all their unfaithfulness, He could say to His people: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3: 10).
It is interesting to see that the name "Jehovah of hosts" is used twenty four times in the book of Malachi. We first read this name of God in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, when Elkanah went to worship the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. Hannah, his wife, too, used the same name when praying for a son in verse 11 of that first chapter. When Israel was at
its lowest ebb, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes, God made Himself known as the Lord of hosts, a contrast to their own weakness and insufficiency. This is seen in a particularly precious way in the well-known verses 16 and 17 of Malachi 3. In the midst of all the unfaithfulness the Lord saw those that feared Him, and spake often one to another. We are, perhaps, reminded of the two going home to Emmaus, when "Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them". What a delight to His heart to hear them speaking to each other about Him! So here in Malachi, "the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name". Again, in the last chapter of Malachi, when the day of judgment has been announced, we find an allusion to "you that fear My name". For the remnant in the days before the birth of our Lord this must have been a particular comfort. The Sun of righteousness would arise with healing in His wings.
We know, of course, that this prophecy is only partially fulfilled in the first advent, but it is encouraging to see that there were those, like Zacharias and Elisabeth, Simeon and Anna, who saw the fulfilment of their hopes in that blessed Child, and shared their joy with "all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem". May we, who have a still more blessed hope, be found among them that "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2: 12, 13).