Chapter 19: The Return Home

Have you ever had to recreate something that was lost? There is a certain feeling of futility that you could ever reproduce what once was. Think of the student who spends days crafting a detailed research paper, only to lose all his work when his computer crashes. Writing it all out again feels like torture. Yet there is always the possibility that something greater than the first could now be created. There is new wisdom and broader experience the second time around. In the same way, when the Israelites returned from exile to rebuild the Temple, there were mixed feelings of futility and joy in the midst of a renewed sense of vision for the future of their people.

You have to give them credit for starting off on the right foot. Their first order of business was to make worship primary, so they rebuilt the altar and laid the foundation for the house of God, immediately sacrificing burnt offerings in accordance with the Law. Like the Israelites, when worship is our starting place, when God and his rule are the foundation for our lives and our church, then we open the doors to all the possibilities he has for us. As worship leads us to weep with sorrow over what has been lost and shout with joy over what has been found, just as the Israelites did, it is then that we can witness to the nations of the holiness and mercy of God.

Often, when true worship is taking place, the Enemy and the forces of darkness come out to squelch or redirect that worship. Sadly, at the first sign of opposition, though the Israelites initially seemed like they were going to stand their ground, they ended up allowing the surrounding peoples to discourage and prevent them from continuing to build. Instead, they redirected their hard work into building their own houses and wealth. In essence, they lost sight of the larger Story, the bigger picture of God’s glory among the nations, and chose to become engrossed in their own little lives.  How quick we are to do the same! Any little thing — a job loss, sickness, hardship in ministry, ridicule from nonbelievers, or even being offended by another believer — can trigger our instincts to draw inward, hoard our money and possessions, look to just our own families, and ignore the greater mission of building God’s Kingdom on earth. We stop living in the freedom of Christ, with a vision for his redemption of all the earth, and instead are imprisoned by our own fears, distractions, and selfishness.

Yet, as God prophesied through Haggai, this never results in us finding the prosperity and well-being we seek. The result is that we only become more keenly aware of the scarcity in our lives. We plant much but harvest little, eat but never have enough, drink but never have our fill, clothe ourselves but can’t stay warm, and earn wages that slip through our fingers. God tells us clearly that when we do not make the building of his house first in our lives, all of our labor will ultimately be in vain. We will not acquire what we seek. But what does Jesus say? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

So what was it about Haggai’s and Zechariah’s prophecies that reawakened the hearts of the people to return to their work on the Temple? I believe it was the vision they painted of Israel once again being the instrument of God’s blessing and influence among the nations. Though fear and scarcity may cause us to want to shrink inward, ultimately God has designed us to live wholeheartedly for something greater than ourselves. And when the people of God obeyed in faith, fearing God rather than man, that is when the decree of King Cyrus to rebuild the Temple was rediscovered and once and for all silenced anyone who might have opposed them. Let us also trust that when we live wholeheartedly for God, building his temple more securely in our hearts, he will stand wholeheartedly for us, giving us a firm foundation and hearts full of gratitude and worship.