A second chance

The remnant of God’s people that returned to the Promised Land after their release from captivity in Babylon were given a second chance to be a part of the work that God was doing to save the world. The rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem was just the first step in getting his plan back on track. God wanted to completely restore his relationship with his people, but in order to do that, the Messiah had to be born. The prophet Haggai was sent to tell the people that things would get better if they would do what God told them to. Their first priority had to be God’s work (Haggai 1:9). In response to his message, it says in Haggai 1:12, “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son Josedech the high priest, with the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.”

The significance of the people’s response was twofold. First, they took action. “They came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14). Work on the rebuilding project had probably been stopped for more than a decade. The only things that were in place were the temple’s foundation and an altar for making sacrifices (Ezra 3:3,11). If the people didn’t do something, the temple would never be completed. So, they started working again. Secondly, the people adjusted their attitudes. When it says “the people did fear before the LORD” (Haggai 1:12), it means that the people recognized the power and position of God and rendered him proper respect (3372). Another way of saying it would be that the people realized God was angry with them and they admitted that they were in the wrong. The people began to take responsibility for their future and do what was expected of them.

Something God’s people needed to understand was that it wasn’t enough for them to just live in the Promised Land. They had to cooperate with God in executing his plan of salvation. Whereas before, they could expect God to bless them because they were his people, now there were stipulations to God’s covenant. The second chance God was giving them did not entitle them to his blessing, but guaranteed they would receive it, if they did what he told them to. The guarantee being the birth of Jesus Christ, their Messiah. God told his people, “from this day will I bless you” (Haggai 2:19). Then he placed his seal, perhaps the Holy Spirit, upon Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of King David and likely the rightful heir to his throne. What we know from the genealogy of Jesus is that Zerubbabel was the missing link that reconnected the Messiah back to Abraham after the captivity in Babylon (Matthew 1:12).

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A time for reflection

The prophet Haggai’s short messages to the remnant of Jews that returned to the Promised Land after their exile in Babylon were more personal and to the point than other messages God had sent his people in the past. Haggai’s brief ministry lasted only four months and specific dates were given for his messages, so that it was completely clear, exactly when they were delivered. The first message was delivered on August 29, 520 B.C., approximately eighteen years after king Cyrus had decreed that God’s temple should be rebuilt. In a nutshell, the first message Haggai delivered was about the people of God taking some time to reflect on their current situation. After their return to the Promised Land, the Jews immediately set out to rebuild their homes and plant crops. Obviously, they needed a roof over their heads and food to sustain them, but their effort was inconsistent with the mission they had been tasked with, which was to rebuild God’s temple. King Cyrus’ decree specifically stated that the reason the Jews were to return to their homeland was to build God’s temple (Ezra 1:2-3).

Haggai’s message opened with an important question, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? (Haggai 1:4). God wanted to know why the peoples’ houses were finished, but his was not. The use of the Hebrew word ‘eth, which is translated time in this verse, was meant to be an indicator of the purpose of their return to the land. ‘Eth means appointed time or proper time. “Basically this noun connotes ‘time’ conceived as an opportunity or season” (6256). The Jews would not have returned to the Promised Land if it weren’t for Cyrus’ decree to rebuild the temple, and yet, eighteen years later, the work that was completed was minimal. The only things finished were the foundation and the altar for sacrifices. God said to his people, “Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into bags with holes. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5-7).

The Hebrew phrase translated “consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5,7) or siym (seem) lebab (lay – bawb´) derek (deh´- rek) means to place or put something on one’s heart about his behavior (7760/3824/1870). The way we might think of this today is to feel convicted about our sins or being led by God’s spirit to repent. The people that lived before Jesus could not be born again, but there was a process for them to receive God’s blessing. God wanted his people to take some time to reflect on their behavior and see that what they were doing wasn’t getting them anywhere. He pointed out to them that they were expending a lot of energy trying to sustain themselves and were still struggling financially (Haggai 1:7). In order for them to be blessed, God’s people had to listen to him and obey his commandments. After hearing Haggai’s message, it says the people “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God…and the people did fear before the LORD” (Haggai 1:12). In other words, the peoples’ relationship with the LORD was restored.

Troublemakers

Reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem was not a quick or easy task. The original temple that was built by king Solomon took seven years to construct (1 Kings 7:38). Ezra recorded that construction of the second temple was started in 536 B.C., but not completed until 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15). The primary reason for the delay was the harassment the builders received from troublemakers living in the area surrounding Jerusalem. Ezra stated, “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellers against them to frustrate the purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5). The phrases “weakened the hands of the people” and “troubled them in building” may also be translated as discouraged them and made them afraid to build (ESV). The idea being that the people were unproductive because of the harassment they received.

At the very least, the builders of the temple were distracted by the troublemakers that wanted to join with them in their effort (Ezra 4:2). One of the tactics used against the temple builders was what we might refer to today as tattle telling. A report was sent to king Darius, the successor to Cyrus king of Persia, indicating that the people that had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon were trying to rebuild their temple. They said, “Be it known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands…and yet it is not finished” (Ezra 5:8,16). The troublemakers went on to say that they were told by the leaders in Jerusalem that Cyrus had made a decree to build the house of God and they wanted the records to be searched to find out if that was actually true (Ezra 5:13,17). Fortunately, king Darius ordered a search of the records and Cyrus’ decree was found (Ezra 6:3).

In spite of the corroboration of their story, the leaders of Jerusalem continued to face opposition for another fifty plus years. After king Darius was replaced by king Ahasurerus in 486 B.C., another letter was sent with an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:7). Then, sometime during the reign of king Artaxerxes (465 B.C. – 424 B.C), a final attempt was made to stop the work in Jerusalem. The letter to Artaxerxes went to greater lengths by suggesting that a plot to overthrow his kingdom was in progress (Ezra 4:11-16). As a result of their intervention, Artaxeres I ordered that the Jews stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3) until around 445 B.C. when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem and successful rebuilt the walls in fifty two days.

The end

Josiah was the last king of Judah of which it was said, “he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah reigned from 640 to 609 B.C., during the time period when the Assyrian empire was coming to an end. During Josiah’s reign, you could say that Judah experienced a revival of sorts, but it may only have been a last ditch effort to spare the nation from God’s judgment. Josiah did everything he could to get Judah back on track, to the point where it was said of him, “like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25).

The reforms enacted by Josiah that are recorded in the twenty third chapter of 2 Kings indicate that Josiah left no stone unturned in his effort to cleanse Judah of idolatry. The  only problem was it was too late to change the outcome of Judah’s fate. In particular, king Manasseh’s wickedness was identified as the reason God would not change his mind again. It says in 2 Kings 23:26, “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.” The Hebrew word translated provoked, ka’ac (kaw – as´) means to trouble or to grieve (3707). God was both angry and sad that the nation of Judah was beyond the reach of his mercy.

Josiah’s death in 609 B.C. was perhaps the greatest testament to his willingness to do whatever it took to try and change Judah’s fate. When Pharaoh-nechoh went to Assyria to assist with their fight against the Babylonians, king Josiah attempted to stop him and was killed in the battle. Josiah was killed at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29), the location where the battle of Armageddon will take place (Revelation 16:16). In the final battle that takes place on earth, God will bring an end to the kingdom of Satan. It says in Revelation 16:16-17, “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.”

Civil War

After Jeroboam became king of Israel, Rehoboam had to decide whether or not he was going to let Jeroboam get away with it. In essence, what Rehoboam decided to do was start a civil war, north against south, similar to what the United States did in 1860 when the U.S. Army fought against its own citizens. “And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he gathered of the house of Judah and Benjamin an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against Israel, that he might bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam” (2 Chronicles 11:1).

Surprisingly, when the LORD sent Shemaiah the man of God to Rehoboam to tell him to stop what he was doing, Rehoboam “obeyed the words of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 11:4). Rehoboam was not an evil man. He merely got caught in the middle of God’s plan to take away the kingdom from Solomon’s descendants. As a result of his obedience, the LORD strengthened the kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam’s leadership for three years (2 Chronicles 11:17). During that time, everyone in all the northern tribes of Israel that had set their hearts to seek the LORD, disobeyed Jeroboam and came to Jerusalem to worship (2 Chronicles 11:16).

A perfect heart

David prayed, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers…give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart” (1 Chronicles 29:18-19). David’s prayer for his son Solomon was a request for God to change Solomon’s heart so that he could rule over Israel effectively. The word translated perfect, shâlêm (shaw – lame´) means complete (8003) and is derived from a Hebrew word that “denotes perfection in the sense that a condition or action is complete” (7999).

What David was referring to was obedience and his intent was that Solomon would fulfill the law of God, that he would “keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes” (1 Chronicles 29:19) perfectly. In other words, David hoped that God would enable Solomon to live a perfect life.

God designed the human heart so that man could experience freedom. Our motives, feelings, affections, and desires drive us to act and we are able to learn from the outer world. The only way we can enter into a relationship with God and obey his commands is by choosing to do so. Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus had the freedom to choose to go to the cross or not. His prayer indicates that he did not want to, it was not Jesus’ desire to die for the sins of the world.

Although David thought it was possible for his son Solomon to live a perfect life, it was not Solomon, but Jesus that God gave a perfect heart to. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus declared, “Think not that I come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I come not to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). The Greek word translated fulfil means to finish or complete (4137).

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, he spoke several important last words, one of which was, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus spoke to several people while he was on the cross, but it is unclear to whom this particular message was directed. It could be that it was a universal message to all that were listening. We know that is was not directed to his Father because Jesus had already stated that God had forsaken him.

I think Jesus’ statement regarding completion was directed to all the believers he was dying for. As he hung on the cross, Jesus was aware of what it felt like to be rejected by God. For a brief period of time, Jesus was a sinner as well as a Savior. Jesus understood what David was longing for when he prayed that his son Solomon would have a perfect heart and Jesus answered David’s prayer with the words, “It is finished.”

 

Be quiet

When my kids were little, behavior was a concern for me if I took them out in public. Because they were close in ages, I had my hands full even though there were only three of them. It was difficult for me to accomplish anything and grocery shopping was a major ordeal. Eventually, they learned through experience that good behavior usually resulted in some kind of reward and bad behavior led to punishment.

In Psalm 31, David said, “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother” (Psalm 131.2). The word translated behaved, shâvâh (shaw – vaw´) figuratively means to resemble, and by implication to adjust, for example to be suitable for the situation or to compose oneself. (7737).

David was likening himself to a little child in order to express an attitude of submission, of a child that had been trained by a loving parent. David’s relationship with the LORD had matured to the point where he wanted to be like his heavenly Father, to show love and compassion to others as it had been shown to him.

David went on to say, “My soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever” (Psalm 131:2-3). A transition was taking placed in the kingdom that caused David to focus on worship rather than warfare. The courage and determination David had shown on the battlefield was no longer necessary. It was time for David to behave like a man of God rather than king of Israel.

The Hebrew word translated hope, yâchal (yaw – chal´) has the connotation of being still, to sit quietly and wait for something to happen (3176). Near the end of David’s life, he realized that the Messiah was Israel’s only hope for survival. As much as David wanted to believe that he could permanently establish God’s kingdom on earth, he knew that peace was extremely difficult to maintain. Like rambunctious children, the Israelites were inclined to fight with their neighbors and could not focus on God for an extended period of time.

David admitted that he did not completely understand the bigger picture when he said, “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me” (Psalm 131:1). His humble attitude was a result of God’s discipline and his willingness to let go of the outcome a sign that David had reached the point where he understood that God was in control of Israel’s destiny. David’s main focus was on obedience and an anticipation of seeing his Savior face to face.