The Significance of “Small Things”

By Wayne Jackson

After the Hebrew people had spent seventy years in Babylonian captivity (c. 606-536 B.C.), according to the prophecy of Jeremiah (25:11), some 50,000 of them began a migration homeward to Canaan. Their leader was Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah.

Haggai and Zachariah were contemporary prophets at this time. Haggai’s mission was to encourage the Israelites to rebuild the sacred temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Chaldeans in 586 B.C. Zachariah’s prophetic task was to invigorate the spiritual lives of his Hebrew kinsmen. In a series of eight symbolic “visions,” the prophet brought his burning message to a listless people who had been remiss in divine responsibility.

In the fifth of these “visions,” Zechariah sought support for Zerubbabel’s effort to complete the work on the temple (an effort which had fallen on hard times – for the sixteen previous years). Apparently some (possibly a small group) complained that the work was too difficult for them, or that the project was insignificant compared to the original temple (cf. Ezra 3:12-13). Hence, Zechariah rebuked his people for having “despised the day of small things” (4:10). The prophet reminded the discouraged Hebrews that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by [Jehovah’s] Spirit” that great things may be accomplished (4:6).

Bible history is punctuated with examples of how the Lord’s people, with divine help, have achieved the greatest of goals with but “tiny” means at their disposal.

  1. Jochebed saved the life of her baby (Moses), and thus delivered a nation of slaves, by means of a small basket of woven reeds (Ex. 2:3). Later her illustrious son, by the use of a simple rod, would part the waters of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:16ff), allowing the Israelites to cross over into Sinai en route to Canaan.
  2. When Israel was about to enter the promised land, spies were sent to survey the hostile territory. Rahab, a woman of faith, received the spies and hid them. By the use of a small cord, she assisted their escape, thus facilitating that preparatory phase of the unfolding plan of redemption (Josh. 2:15; cf. Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25).
  3. In the days of the “judges,” Samson, by wielding the mere jaw bone of a dead donkey, saved his people from the hostile Philistines (Judg. 15:14ff).
  4. When Paul’s life was threatened by rebel Jews in Damascus, the apostle was delivered — not by powerful military intervention, but by a plaited basket in which he was lowered from an opening in the city wall (Acts 9:25; 2 Cor. 11:33).

One should never disdain the “small,” for the Almighty frequently uses such to accomplish great ends (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).

In 1845, Julia Fletcher Carney, a schoolteacher in Boston, was preparing a lesson for some Bible-school children. She wanted to emphasize the value of small things, and so she penned this “little” poem.

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean,
and the pleasant land.
So the little moments,
humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages,
of eternity.

The poem later was included in the McGuffey’s Reader and it became world famous.

Perhaps we could remind ourselves that “little things” are “big” things to many folks. A little smile, a little pat on the back, a little word of encouragement — these acts of kindness can lift a troubled spirit. In this sense, is there really any such thing as a “small” thing? Recently this writer sent a brief note to an aged brother, telling him how much his life had blessed me over the years. I received a message in return that simply said: “You made an old man smile.” Mission accomplished!

On the other hand, some folks think that the “little” transgressions in which they wantonly indulge do not amount to much — especially in comparison to murder, rape, and robbery. What they do not realize is:

Those reckless "little" sins, that are done with no concern,
Sear the haughty rebel's heart, as they smolder, then they burn.
Larger, larger, ever larger, does the mass of evil swell,
Like a snowball rolling down a hill -- into eternal hell!
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.