Day 275: Zechariah 1-6; Intro to Zechariah

Zechariah is the second of the three prophets that correspond with the final three books of the Old Testament Scriptures.  He, like Haggai and Malachi was one of the remnant of people that returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon during the reign of King Darius.  While Haggai’s message centered greatly on the rebuilding of the Temple and less on the glory of what was to come, Zechariah’s turns sharply from the rebuilding of the Temple to the coming of the Messiah.  In fact, apart from Isaiah, Zechariah holds the title as being the prophet that speaks most about the coming of the Messiah, speaking some 500 years before the prophecies would be fulfilled.

A great deal of Zechariah’s messages in the first eight chapters come while the Temple is being rebuilt and, while Haggai was also delivering messages to the Jewish remnant, Zechariah’s messages focused in on remaining faithful, casting out sin, and being purified while continuing their work on the Temple.  These messages were also filled with hope for the people.  If you remember back to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, everything was in ruins and there was a great deal of opposition from the locals as well.  People that lived in the land once the Hebrews were forcibly removed had absolutely no interest in the Temple or the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt so they harassed and caused trouble for the Jews.  The message that Zechariah brought to the people gave them hope not only for completing the Temple, but for the future when their King would come and rule them again.  We also see pictures of the priesthood, which before the exile had become unbelievably corrupt, functioning in the way that it was meant to as a mediator between God and the people.  Zechariah also sets forth images of Israel as it was meant to be, with great prosperity and blessing as the people of God.

Zechariah is a very important book when it comes to understanding the coming of the Messiah.  He speaks God’s message to the people of Israel time and again about the coming of the true king that will reign over His people with justice and righteousness.  This message holds true for us as well.  While the hope that Zechariah first refers to is that of the coming of Jesus, the coming of which ushered in the Messianic age in which we can find salvation in Christ’s blood, we too look forward with anticipation to the second coming of Jesus.  When He comes again, we will see the truest and deepest fulfillment of these prophecies when all will be consumated to Him and made right for all eternity.  In our time of waiting, we too are called to cast off sin and continue to try and remain pure in all that we do, working each day in anticipation for Christ’s coming again.



Day 274: Haggai 1-2; Priorities

The prophet Haggai was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, one of the many returned exiles from Babylon under the reign of King Darius.  In fact, Haggai and his are mentioned in the book of Ezra.  Haggai returned with the first wave of exiles from Babylon.  After a few years of being in Jerusalem, the people had rebuilt their own houses and some of the city while the Temple, God’s house, stood in ruins.  Haggai’s message to the people was that they needed to get their priorities straight.  It was by the will of God that the people even returned to their homeland and to the city of God, yet right away they started in their bad habits again, thinking of themselves first.  Unlike some of the other prophets that had come before him, well accepted  by the people living in Jerusalem and they got right to work on rebuilding God’s house.

After the people had rebuilt the temple, we read in Ezra 3, that many of the old people, those who had seen the first Temple, wept at the sight of the second one because it was not as good.  These folks didn’t weep for themselves, but because they felt as though the second Temple had done an injustice to the Lord.  However, God spoke through Haggai again to remind them that it wasn’t the physical building, nor was it the things they adorned it with that made the Temple glorious, but it was the presence of God almighty there that fills the Temple with glory.  Here too we see a promise from God of a future glory, when all things will be made right again and the House of God will be in its fullest glory.

I think that one of the main themes in this story is that of priorities.  Too often we get our priorities completely mixed up, putting the things that we want over the things that God wants for us to do.  I’m sure that there wasn’t a sinister plot to not rebuild God’s house when the people returned.  They probably just got caught up in things like… surviving.  But Haggai points out that, once they had build their own houses, they needed to refocus their priorities and get to work on the things that were important.  This was one of the main reasons why they had returned to Jerusalem in the first place!  More important that the priorities here though is the reaction of the people to Haggai’s message.  They don’t hem and haw, they don’t call a consistory meeting or a town hall meeting, they don’t hire consultants to consider costs to see whether its worth it or not… THEY RESPOND and get to work!  This is what God wants from us when He speaks to us… when He shows us where we are mixed up in our priorities… He wants us to RESPOND.  I think that too often we try to think it through and see what we need to do rather than listen and do.  A great many movements from  God have been cut down in consistory meetings due to “lack of available funds.”  If God is calling us to do something, HE WILL PROVIDE all that we need to make it happen.  It may not be glorious.  It may not even be glamorous.  It might not look like the work of the Mega-Church a couple blocks away, but it will what God wants it to be: work for His Kingdom.



Day 135: Ezra 1-4; The Exiles Return

The book of Ezra is written by Ezra himself.  He also wrote the book of Nehemiah and is considered by many to be the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Ezra was a writer, obviously, and one of the priests that returned to Jerusalem when the exiles returned.  We pick up the story of Ezra and the exiles basically where we left off yesterday.  The end of the book of 2 Chronicles, as you read, spoke of the people of Judah being allowed to return to Jerusalem.  Today we encounter that narrative and many of the names of the people who embarked on this journey.

Exiles Return to Jerusalem Photo Credit: www.missionbibleclass.org

Exiles Return to Jerusalem
Photo Credit: www.missionbibleclass.org

However, before we really get in to the book of Ezra, we need to get some background.  In the first paragraph of the first chapter we see that this is happening so that the Word of the Lord that was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah would be fulfilled.  This right here should clue us in to the fact that we might have missed some of the story in all of this.  Who is Jeremiah?  When did he say this?  Why was this not recorded?  Well… actually it was.  The problem that we run into with the cannon of Scripture is the way that it is divided up.  The Bible is divided up into different sections that are not necessarily in chronological order.  As we saw going into the book of Chronicles, we took a step back in time and rehashed the whole of the story of the kings.  Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are all books that fall into this same category, the category of historical books.  Genesis through Deuteronomy are considered to be the Torah (which means law or teaching in Hebrew).  The books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and the three that we will be engaging over the next week are considered to be history books.  From there we will go on to the wisdom books of Job – Song of Solomon, and then get into the prophets, of which Jeremiah is one.

In any case, the background that we are looking for here comes from Jeremiah 25 and Jeremiah 29 and concerns the length of the exile that will take place and also how the people will return.  Today’s text and all that follow in Ezra and Nehemiah speak to the nature of the return of the exiles of Judah.  So we have passed over 70 years worth of happenings of God’s people in exile.  Much of this will be filled in with people like Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and others.

Rebuilding the Temple Photo Credit: www.workersforjesus.com

Rebuilding the Temple
Photo Credit: www.workersforjesus.com

In the mean time, as we look here, the people have returned and start to rebuild the Temple of God.  The first thing they do is set up an alter and begin sacrificing to the Lord.  Interestingly, before they do anything to even protect themselves, the people of God worship Him.  What a testament to their life of faith, something that would have done them well 70 years ago.  From there they go on to start the building process by laying the foundation of the Temple.  This is, no doubt, a momentous undertaking, but one that they do joyfully.  Ezra records the reaction of the people when they finish laying the foundation, a mixed bag to be sure.  Many rejoice, the young people that have known nothing but captivity and had heard only stories of the glory of the Temple of God.  Others weep, the elderly who had seen the glory of the original temple and see the horrid state that it is in now.  These mixed emotions though, are blended together, a community of the people of God lifting up their voices to God.

I wonder if we feel free to lift our voice to God in whatever way we feel led on any given day, much less a Sunday.  Would it be ok in your congregation to cry?  Weep?  Shout for joy?  While I’m not sure that this is the take home message of today’s reading, it does make me think about our worship on Sundays (I am a worship leader after all).  These people were able to react in whatever way seems right to them, whether it be a shout or a cry… no one looked down on them, no one judged them, and ultimately the people, who were being faithful to God, lifted up one voice to God.  I wonder what that looks like in our churches today?