Summary: God has already won, and will always keep His promises. All we need to do is have enough faith to believe it!
In October of 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into space -- Sputnik. Russian scientists were thrilled at their achievement, even though they lost contact only 22 days later. In November of the same year, the Soviets launched another satellite -- this time, with the first living creature ever to orbit the Earth -- Laika, a Siberian husky-mix dog. Again, Russian scientists patted themselves on the back -- in only two months they proved that they could send a man-made object into space and that living creatures could survive in orbit! It was a technological marvel, and the world’s scientists were in awe.
Most of the world, anyway.
The Americans were not impressed -- they were supposed to be first! The United States was supposed to be the world’s leader in technology and freedom, and they were beaten into space by the Godless communists that all of the political leaders of the time told them to hate? That just can’t be!
Well, the space program had already started development on a satellite in 1955, so they hurried to finish so they could launch before the end of the year. Only two months after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, the United States prepared the Vanguard satellite for launch. They invited reporters from all over the world -- including the Soviet Union -- to see their amazing accomplishment.
It didn't exactly go well. The rocket made it a whole 4 feet off of the ground before falling straight back down and exploding. The United States was humiliated again -- in fact, just a few days later, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations asked if the United States was interested in receiving aid from the Soviet Union specifically reserved for “underdeveloped countries”. Yikes.
The United States was the laughingstock of the world. So, like anyone would in the face of humiliation, they got to work. In 1958 we successfully launched Explorer I, a reconstructed Vanguard satellite, Explorer III, Explorer IV, Pioneer I, and SCORE (the world’s first communications satellite). We kept launching rockets, learning as we went. In 1961, President Kennedy gave a speech to Congress, where he said the famous words: “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Of course, you guys all know how it ends -- in 1969 the United States was the first (and only) nation to successfully land a man on the moon and bring him back.
It would have been entirely too easy for us to give up after the failure in 1957, or the 18 failures in 1958, or the 9 failures in 1959, or the 13 failures in 1960…
The Americans working in the space program did not quit. Neither did the Israelites, though they tried to for a season. Last week we discussed the book of Haggai, where God sends his prophet Haggai to encourage the Israelites to continue building the temple. This week, we’re looking at the same historical event, but through the messages God gives to the prophet Zechariah.
The book of Zechariah can be split into two parts -- each one full of encouragement for the Israelites and their governor, Zerubbabel. The first part of Zechariah takes place at the same time as the book of Haggai -- chapters 1-8 is Zechariah encouraging the Israelites to continue rebuilding God’s temple in Jerusalem. We already know that story. Chapters 9 through 14, though, are meant to act as an encouragement to the Israelites after the temple was completed.
See, in many ways, the Israelites are like the Americans of the late 1950s. They were “God’s chosen people”, they expected to always get the best things in life thanks to that special status. But soon they were humiliated -- conquered again and again by one foreign nation after another. Finally, King Darius of the Persians decides to “allow” them to return to their homeland, even though they would still be subject to his rule. They needed permission to go home! This sounds an awful lot like what the Soviet ambassador said when he referred to the United States as an “underdeveloped nation”. The Israelites were being mocked through the use of polite words.
When they get back to their homeland, they start building the temple. But they stop -- it’s just too difficult. They got ahead of themselves, they say. We need to take care of our own families first, then we can go back to the temple. They’ve failed! This is like the attempted launch of the Vanguard rocket -- the temple only rose a few feet, then just stopped, hard.
At this point Haggai and Zechariah come into the picture. The Lord speaks through Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to continue on their mission to rebuild the temple. Then, He gives them several promises in Zechariah chapter 8: