The scent of impossibility lingers about YHWH’s most improbable achievements until the moment that they have become real in space and time, have become history, have become redemptive fact on the ground.
The prophetic book of Zechariah aligns with its larger cousin Isaiah in anticipating YHWH’s rescue of long-exiled Judah and his return of his bereft sons and daughters to the land that they believed to have slipped their grip forever.
Zechariah and Isaiah also envision the leveling of the insurmountable topography that—metaphorically speaking—stands between exile in Babylon and anything worthy of the label ‘Return’. Yet Zechariah goes beyond the familiar declaration that steep climbs and dark descents shall become for these home-bound travelers a level path. He allows himself to taunt the ‘great mountain’ that lies between exile and promise, between loss and recovery, between the death of a dream and its realization.
Narrating his encounter with an angelic messenger, the prophet writes:
Then he said to me, ‘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 forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’.”‘ (Zechariah 4:6–7 ESV)
Zerubbabel numbers among a select group of Judahite leaders who will find themselves the human agents of YHWH’s stubborn determination to look again upon his bereft Jerusalem and show her consoling mercies. His must have seemed a daunting task, indeed an impossibility shot through with potential for both catastrophe and shame.
Thus the angel’s encouragement, now become a prophet’s message.
The first part of this ‘word of the Lord to Zerubbabel’ is often quoted, and for good reason. The rhetorical taunt of the great mountain that follows is not.
Yet it manifests exquisitely the emerging confidence of a prophet that this thing shall be. That it has become YHWH’s purpose and therefore shall go forward, shall stand, unstoppable.
This confidence must have strengthened Zerubbabel-lian weak knees.
Who are you, O great mountain? You shall become a plain.
Indeed, the cry reverberates still, and strengthens the weak knees of us who know almost nothing of this strange-named Zerubbabel.
Before impossibilities, great mountains loom. But who are you, O great mountain?
When what was impossible has just now become a fact that we will tell to our grandchildren, we learn—slowly, if surely—to whisper to ourselves yet another word with Zecharian pedigree: ‘Grace, grace to it!’