In Zechariah 4:6, The statement “Not by might nor by power but by my spirit” means that the Lord’s work is not established and carried out on the merits of human accomplishments. The success of God’s work depends, first of all, on the powerful action of God’s own Spirit.
This statement is recorded in a verse from the book of the prophet Zechariah, where we read: “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel: not by might nor by power but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
As the verse makes clear, this phrase was a statement of encouragement from the Lord to Zerubbabel. So it is important to briefly understand the context in which it appears. The Jewish people had returned to the city of Jerusalem after decades of captivity. They had the task of rebuilding the city and, especially at first, rebuilding the temple.
Then the Lord raised up valiant men to lead and encourage the remaining Jews in the task of rebuilding the temple and the consequent restoration of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel was one of those men. He was a legitimate descendant of King David and assumed the position of leader of Judah at that time. Alongside him was also the high priest Joshua who worked with Zerubbabel in rebuilding the temple.
But the people needed to be encouraged; he needed to know that despite his flaws and limitations, God would not fail to fulfill his purpose. So to encourage and communicate his will to those people, the Lord raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
Haggai’s prophetic ministry spoke much about the rebuilding of the temple; while Zechariah’s ministry, while also talking about rebuilding the temple, especially emphasized the future blessings that awaited the restored community.
Not by Might or Power
Opposition, discouragement, and impossibility formed the background of the declaration: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit”. The rebuilding of the temple had begun years before this declaration, but the work was not going smoothly. Internal and external opposition threatened the completion of the work. Furthermore, the people themselves were dejected and intimidated by their own limitations and incapacities.
Compared to the first temple that had been built during the reign of King Solomon, the situation of rebuilding the temple in the post-exile was completely different. In Solomon’s time, Israel was a mighty kingdom with innumerable resources.
Now, in Zerubbabel’s time, there was only one community that had survived the difficult years of exile. In Solomon’s time, there was a king on the throne of Jerusalem and the nation was sovereign. But in Zerubbabel’s time, humanly speaking, the nation was fragile and subjugated. However, although the throne of Jerusalem was empty – there was no official figure of a king in Judah – the throne of the universe was occupied. The Almighty God who rules history is the one who was taking care of all things.
So in order to explain His plan to that remnant community, God gave the prophet Zechariah eight night visions that dealt with the rebuilding work under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua (Zechariah 1:7-6:8). More precisely in the fifth vision, the Lord showed the prophet that the rebuilding of the temple would be completed, and nothing could stop this work.
But Zerubbabel and Joshua were limited human beings who did not have the resources to complete the work. Hence comes the Lord’s encouragement: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit. ”
In this expression, the word “strength” translates from the Hebrew hayil which indicates “skill”, “efficiency” and “human prowess”. This term is often applied in the military sense to emphasize the strength and bravery of an army. The word “violence” – or “power” in some translations – translates the Hebrew koah that indicates “power”, “vigor” and “human strength”.
But by my Spirit
When King Solomon built the first temple, he had an army of workers (1 Kings 5:13-18). With an almost unlimited supply of labor, there was no lack of resources for successful construction. Of course, that comfortable situation had also been provided by God. It was the Lord who had prospered during David’s reign and subsequently blessed Solomon’s rule. As a sovereign nation over other nations, Israel received tribute and amassed treasures that made possible splendor constructions.
But the Jews of Zerubbabel’s time did not have the strength, vigor, skill, and power that their ancestors had when they built Solomon’s temple. But they also felt disheartened by the fact that they had the task of rebuilding that temple that had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, without having resources to match the resources that were used in the original construction.
That’s why God said through Zechariah: “not by might nor by power but by my spirit”. The rebuilding of the temple would not take place by the strength of an army, nor by the individual strength of man, and even less by the abundance of resources. What would guarantee the success of that work was the power of God himself.
The people were discouraged, the opposition of the enemies was great and the economy of that post-exile community was broken. But that work would be finished; not by might nor by power but by the spirit of the Lord. Through the prophet Haggai the Lord assured the presence of his Spirit in the midst of that people: “My Spirit dwells among you; fear not” (Haggai 2:5).
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Not by might or power: a lesson for all of us
The statement, “not by might nor by power but by my spirit” is much more than a message to Zerubbabel. It serves as an encouragement to all who are engaged in the work of God; as well as a warning to all who think there is human merit in what is done for the Lord.
Only when we live by the Spirit and are guided by Him can we experience true spiritual success. The Spirit of the Lord is the source of every good virtue that we can show; his power is strength and vigor for every good work that we can do.
We must never fall into the error of thinking that the work of the Lord depends on the strength of our arm or the arrangement of our wisdom. Nor should we ever try to make strange alliances in an attempt to produce something good before God. Some people import resources from the world as if the Lord’s work depended on it.
As J. Baldwin says, only when the Spirit of God governs every detail can service glorify Him (Commentary on Haggai and Zechariah, 1972). In this sense, W. Wiersbe also says that only the work done by the power of the Spirit will glorify God and pass through the fire of his judgment (Expository Bible Commentary, 2001).
Therefore, let it be clear that there is no human strength, skill, or power that is sufficient to carry out the Lord’s work. So, in the face of all that we are willing to do, let the word of the Lord always be heard, which says: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit”. Let this declaration be our encouragement, our motivation, and also the warning that makes us rightly credit the glory for all the work we do to the one who really deserves to receive it: God himself.