Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the LORD.Ezra 3:8(NASB)
The people of Judah had been exiled in Babylon for 70 years, but as Scripture foretold, Cyrus the Great issued a proclamation at the end of the 70-year long exile. He explained that the Lord, the God of heaven, had appointed him to build Him a house at Jerusalem, in the land of Judah, and at that time the Jews were permitted to return to their promised homeland, to carry out the rebuilding work.
Although Israel were back in the land, it would not be until the Temple was rebuilt and functioning once more, with the Aaronic priesthood, the appropriate sacrifices, and appointed feast-days, that true fellowship with God could be restored. Israel had a covenant relationship with the Lord, but until they fulfilled the terms of the covenant and obeyed His laws and statutes, which included the reinstatement of Temple worship, they would remain out of fellowship with God, while their blessings would be withheld.
Although the foundation of the Temple had been started and generous donations had been made to cover the cost of its construction, there were various reasons that the building work was placed on hold. The returnees had become discouraged by their neighbours, who had moved into the area following their prolonged exile... and perhaps a failure to remember the importance of honouring God and obeying His commandments played a part in the delay.
But in the second year of their return, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the High Priest were challenged by Haggai the prophet, to complete the good work they had started. He reminded them that while they were living in lovely panelled houses, the House of the Lord continued to lie in ruins... and together with all who returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity, the rebuilding work was resumed once more.
The return of the exiles to their land to restore their Temple, had been prophesied by men like Jeremiah and Isaiah... while those that returned were encouraged and challenged by people like Haggai. But as we compare the chequered history of Israel with the never-failing faithfulness of God, there are many lessons we can learn from their behaviour, and many pitfalls we should avoid.
One priceless thing that rejoices our soul is the utter faithfulness of God to His people. Despite Israel's apostasy and her ungodly ways, He never failed them nor forsook them. Their lack of faith and foolish choices caused them to feel the sting of God's chastening fist, but He is long-suffering and kind, merciful, and of great goodness... and His providential hand was always there to protect and guide them back into the way of peace.
As we consider the world in which we live and the ungodly behaviour of many in the corridors of power today, we can give thanks that God is always in control of our lives, and the sovereign ruler of all, just as He was during the time when Israel returned to Jerusalem, to rebuild their Temple.
Another wonderful truth is that God can use the most unusual people and the most difficult situations in the fulfilment of His plans and purposes. In times past He used men like Pharoah and Herod, Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus the Great. He even uses the enemy of our soul to forward His purposes and plans, and we should be alert to His working in our lives, even those times when we don't understand or when He seems far away.
When we think how quickly Israel's joy in hearing that Cyrus allowed them to return to their homeland and supported them in the rebuilding of the Temple faded, how important it is that we do not allow the criticism and scorn of our immediate neighbours or the wider community to interfere in the good work that God is doing in our lives. How foolish to allow discouragement to adversely influence our Christian testimony.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the many lessons I can learn from the history of Israel - from both their failures, when they doubted Your Word, to their successes when they trusted Your promises. Help me to grow in grace and mature in the faith, and keep me from allowing the circumstance of life to affect my faith in You. Thank You that You are always in control and that You are a faithful God Who keeps His promises. Thank You that Your mercies are new every morning and I pray that You would use me in the furtherance of the gospel for Your greater praise and glory. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.