Today’s Scripture Lesson: Ezra Chapters 1-3, Haggai 1-2, Zechariah 1-3
In a previous Bible Study To Go article, we took a look at Ezra and the story of the exiles returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Today, let’s continue looking at this story, but we’ll also include Ezra’s contemporaries, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
When we left off, the people were rejoicing after having just completed the foundation of the temple. While most were shouting for joy, Ezra 3:12 tells us, “Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes . . .” I don’t mean to leave you hanging, but we’ll come back to that in good time.
Ezra, like Nehemiah, Ester, and Ruth, is void of one significant aspect – God never speaks in any one of these books. We never read words spoken by God to the people or to a prophet as part of the storyline.
Keep in mind, however, the simple fact that God isn’t speaking doesn’t mean He isn’t moving.
We see in the opening phrases from the book of Ezra, “. . .the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom . . .” (Ezra 1:1). A little later in the same chapter, we read, “Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:9)
The Bible leaves no doubt; God was on the move. Yet, while Ezra doesn’t record God’s spoken word, the books of Haggai and Zechariah reveal what God was telling His prophets and His people during this time of rebuilding.
Stop and Go Progress
After laying the new foundation, work on the temple continued for only a brief time. Men who were enemies of Judah and Benjamin, from the region of Samaria, wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes which convinced the king to send out a decree that temple building should cease. The work stoppage continued until the reign of King Darius.
So, what happened that the building of the temple resumed?
Ezra tells us, “When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them, then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them.” (Ezra 5:1-2)
It should be noted at this time that Darius had not issued a decree stating that building of the temple should resume. That didn’t happen until after the Jews resumed their efforts.
So, what changed? What did the prophets offer to the leaders of the Jews, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, that would cause them to make such a bold move?
Over the course of roughly 4 months, Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to Zerubbabel and Jeshua (whose name is spelled, Joshua, in Zechariah). It was Haggai’s initial prophecy which got the ball rolling again.
He went to these two leaders and told them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts . . . “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (Haggai 1:2,4) Haggai continued, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:7-8)
What did the prophets offer to the leaders of the Jews? Authority!
When God Gives the Green Light
Over the next several months, they offered two other crucial components in the rebuilding of the temple. The first offering was encouragement. The second offering was vision of restoration through Christ. (It doesn’t say “Christ” but the message of Zechariah is full of Messianic symbolism.)
Read the words God spoke to the Jews through His prophets:
- Haggai 1:13 – “I am with you.”
- Haggai 2:4 – “work, for I am with you.”
- Haggai 2:5 – “My Spirit is in your midst; do not fear!”
- Zechariah 1:16 – “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it, and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem.”
Vision of Restoration through Christ
- Zechariah 2:4-5 – “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls because of the multitude of men and cattle within it. For I will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.”
- Zechariah 3:4 – “He (the Lord) spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ Again He said to him, ‘See I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.’”
When Zerubbabel and Jeshua were questioned, “Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?” (Ezra 5:3), they were no longer focused on their fears of an earthly king. They were focused on God’s authority.
Is God Stirring Your Heart to Go?
I don’t believe it is too much of a stretch to equate the stirring of the Lord in the people from Ezra 1 with what many of us consider the “feeling” of the Spirit in our hearts, minds, and souls. The exiles left Babylon on a great Spiritual high. The sense of God’s presence was upon them. It must have been a wonderful sense of the mission and task before them, wrought with anticipation.
As noted last time, their focus quickly moved away from God when they encountered the desolation of the past. The feeling, the stirring, was gone. Eventually, they returned to begin the work of laying a foundation and most of them rejoiced. Once again, the feeling was back. Well, for most of them anyway. Not long afterward, they submitted to the decree of a new king who said, “Stop.”
In Haggai 2:3, God speaks to the Israelites revealing what must have been on the hearts of those who wept. “Who is left among you who saw the temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?” He follows these words with encouragement in the next two verses, saying, “work, for I am with you,” and, “My Spirit is in your midst, do not fear.”
Are You Walking by Belief or Faith?
There is very little difference between the journey of faith by the Israelites and our own personal journeys. If you recall our study of Elijah, we distinguished between belief and faith. Though they are two parts of one whole, belief focuses on power and signs while faith focuses on sovereignty and authority.
The exiles returned to Jerusalem in belief, prompted by feeling the presence of the Lord. But just like Elijah, they didn’t have any issue with belief, they had a faith issue.
It is important to understand the difference between walking in Faith and walking in Belief.
Walking in faith is what we do when the feeling is gone. We move forward in faith. While the Holy Spirit doesn’t abandon us, we don’t always feel the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit emboldens us and prompts us to move by making His presence felt.
However, the resultant belief must be accompanied by faith if we are to keep from being stopped dead in our tracks as soon as the feeling is gone. Neither Belief nor Faith is a feeling. Instead, they are two parts of one complete understanding which, together, points us towards the Truth of God’s faithfulness.
You and I may not be prophets of Biblical proportion, but in faith, we experience the beauty of God’s sovereignty, and we join Him in His work of restoration and encouraging the fellowship of believers.