golden lampstand with oil burning flame - firefly
By David Parsons, Vice President & Senior Spokesman 

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zechariah 4:6-7)  

As we near the Feast of Tabernacles in October, our Feast theme this year has become all the more relevant: “By My Spirit, says the Lord!” 

When we chose this theme even before last year’s Feast, we did not know just how fitting it would now be. This was before the horrific massacres of October 7, which came as such a shock to us after visiting the Gaza border with 700 Feast pilgrims just two days earlier. Ironically, the last speaker at our Solidarity Rally in Sderot that day was an Israeli commander, Brig. Gen. Amir Avivi, who ended his security briefing with the words: “Israel’s victory is ‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.’” 

The ensuing war has caused much pain, grief, destruction and uncertainty across Israel. It also has reminded us that whenever the Jewish people are being restored to Eretz Israel, they must hold a trowel for building in one hand, and a sword for defending with the other. Such was the case when Joshua led the ancient Israelites in first possessing the Promised Land, and then again when Ezra and Nehemiah led them back to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. That just seems to be the pattern the Jewish people must accept and follow whenever they return to their ancestral homeland – even modern Israel today. 

There is another pattern that emerges as well from the biblical accounts of Israel’s returns to the Land, and it is connected to our Feast theme. Once back in the Land, Israel’s leaders always brought the people to a place of repentance and spiritual renewal regarding their covenant relationship with God. 

This pattern can be seen when the Israelites re-entered the Land from exile in Egypt. One of the first things Joshua did was to build an altar to God on Mt. Ebal and lead the people in repenting and renewing their vows at Sinai to worship and serve Him alone (Joshua 8:30-35). 

It also occurred when Nehemiah gathered the people in solemn assembly to repent for all the sins and rebellion that had caused their exile to Babylon, and to renew their covenant with God. Nehemiah chapter 9 records how they came together with “fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads… and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. (vs. 2-3) [O]ur fathers acted proudly [and] hardened their necks (v. 16)… Yet in Your manifold mercies, You did not forsake them in the wilderness (v. 19) … trouble… has come upon us… from the days of the kings of Assyria until this day (v. 32) … [but] You are just in all that has befallen us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have done wickedly.” (v. 33) 

The famous Cyrus Cylinder decree in cuneiform letters on display in the British Museum which corroborates the biblical accounts that Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. (Wikimedia Commons/Mike Peel-www.mikepeel.net) 

This solemn assembly took place around the altar of the Lord which Ezra had built. The first three chapters of the book of Ezra records how the Jews had authority from the first Persian king, Cyrus, to rebuild their Temple and restore the worship of Jehovah according to their law. Cyrus had not only empowered them with an official decree, he even returned the Temple treasures for use once more in the House of the Lord. So, the altar was set up, sacrifices renewed, feasts kept, and the foundation of the Temple was laid. 

But then Cyrus passed away and their grant of authority with him. The funds dried up. Opposition to the work also arose from the Samaritans and other local leaders, such as Sanballat and Tobias, who tricked the next Persian ruler to order a stop to the building. Meantime, some of the old timers who had seen the splendour of Solomon’s Temple complained that the glory of this house could not compare to the glory of the former house. Alas, frustration set in and work on the Lord’s House ceased. 

Indeed, for the next sixteen years the work languished, until the Lord restored a prophetic flow to the nation by sending the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage and inspire the people to finish the House of the Lord. This is recorded in the book of Ezra chapter 5, which adds that “the prophets of God [were] helping them.” 

The prophet Haggai came and proclaimed that the people should not compare the unfinished House with the former Temple, but they must “‘be strong… and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts… ‘My Spirit remains among you; do not fear! … I will fill this temple with glory… [and] the glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former…’” (Haggai 2:3-9) 

At the same time, the prophet Zechariah proclaimed this work would be completed not by might – that is, by the sword (although it helps); and not by power – that is, by royal decree or human authority (although that helps too); but the work would be completed “‘by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.” 

Indeed, the mountain of rubble where the Temple once stood would become a level plain, and the “capstone” – the finished work – would be brought forth with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!” (Zechariah 4:7) 

Zechariah also assured that the Israelite prince Zerubbabel had laid the foundation of the Temple, and his hand would finish it. (Zechariah 4:9) 

In chapter 4, Zechariah also sees a vision of two olive trees feeding a golden lampstand, which the angel later explains are “the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:2-3, 11-14) There are various interpretations and speculations about the two figures in this imagery, which the Apostle John also alludes to in Revelation 11 as the “two witnesses.” I have my own view on these two prophetic figures, but for now we will focus on the clear message of these passages: The nation of Israel will complete their mission, find their place of repentance, and be renewed in right relationship with God, but they first need a prophetic flow restored to the nation. 

In Israel’s modern-day return, the nation has yet to find that place of national repentance and recovery once back in the Land. Yet the prophets speak of it everywhere, for example in Joel 2:12-32. 

Hosea also foretells of this promised moment: “Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (6:1-2) The Hebrew word for “return” here connotes not only physical return but also teshuva, meaning repentance and return to God. 

I believe Revelation 11 also is an incredible passage assuring us that a powerful prophetic flow will be restored to Israel to bring them to that place of national repentance and to complete the redemptive work of God in this people.  

A clay seal from the Persian Period recently discovered in the City of David excavations which may depict the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. (Shai Halevy/Israel Antiquities Authority) 

Today, we need to pray that the people of Israel will not be cowered by the threats and relentless attacks of radical Islamist regimes and terror militias, but that they will defend themselves and keep possessing the Land and building up Jerusalem. We also need to pray for world leaders to become like Cyrus, and even Darius and Artaxerxes – each of whom were inspired by God’s Spirit, after all, to empower the Jews to build again the city and Temple in Jerusalem. 

Ultimately, it is not by the might of the sword, nor by the power of royal authority and human decrees, but it is by the Spirit of the Lord that Israel will reach its redemptive destiny in God. Let us pray for a restoration of the divine prophetic voice to the nation of Israel and its leaders in our day, and for willing hearts to hear and obey that promised prophetic voice. For it is only in obedience to that voice of the Lord that Israel will find its way through the opposition and obstacles ahead, even if all nations try to stand in the way. 

Main photo: an illustration of Zechariah 4 (Generated using Adobe Firefly/Photoshop. Golden Lampstand with oil and burning flame/Olive leaf branches/ Dripping golden oil).