And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Zechariah 8:13
Dictionary.com defines “byword” as an object of general reproach, derision or scorn. Babylon succeeded in making sure Israel became that. Storming in the from the east, they ransacked the temple, destroyed the palace and pillaged cities and villages. Jerusalem, that city on a hill, became nothing more than a pile of rubbish. The walls broken down, the temple torn apart, this once great nation became a byword. The last thing burned into Judah’s mind was their king, Zedekiah, marched before the firing squad of his day, where he saw all of his sons executed, and then his own eyes gouged out so that his last visual memory would be the death of his own sons. Judah was a byword.
70 years later they returned. They sat among the rubble of the temple, unprotected by their broken city walls. Everywhere they looked they saw reminders of their sinful past…and the devastating consequences.
Somehow God looked amidst the rubble and saw restoration. Buried beneath layers of the past, God saw a future. He describes it in 8:4:
Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
I must confess this completely caught me off guard. I thought surely God would picture a military power, a burgeoning economic giant, an international powerhouse. No! Here, God’s idea of greatness is not power, but peace.
His words to them:
Fear not, but let your hands be strong.
Fear not. Though your last national memory was the execution of your king’s sons. Fear not. Though your grand temple lies in ruins. Fear not. Though your once grand palace is inhabited by rodents. Fear not. Though your city walls no longer protect you.
How can they not fear? God speaks.
As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
Whatever your most recent memory in the rearview mirror of your life, God’s word to you today is fear not. When panic strikes, fear not. When guilt assails, fear not. When bills mount, fear not. One final word from God–it’s the last verse of chapter 8.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (8:23)
Though you were once a byword (and we all were…that’s the Gospel), you’ll be a blessing. Fear not. God is with you.