Today’s Reading: Haggai, Zechariah 1-2, Psalm 69 & 102
The Lord says, “Come away! Flee from Babylon in the land of the north, for I have scattered you to the four winds. Come away, people of Zion, you who are exiled in Babylon!” – Zechariah 2:6-7
Yet even now, be free from your captivity! Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message! Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants, the people of Israel. – Isaiah 48:20
Just as God had promised, the exile for the Hebrews ended after seventy years. Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, conquered Babylon and allowed all of the nations exiled to Babylon to return to their homelands. He did this in order to form alliances with these nations, expecting loyalty in future diplomatic matters. The Jews returned to Judah and Jerusalem. The stories of their return are recorded by the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi. God was calling His people to return – return to the Promised Land and return to Him.
“I, the Lord, was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Return to me and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’
Where are your ancestors now? They and the prophets are long dead. But everything I said through my servants the prophets happened to your ancestors, just as I said. As a result, they repented and said, ‘We have received what we deserved from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. He has done what he said he would do.’” – Zechariah 1:2-6
You have received what you deserve – God pointed this out in the first chapter of Haggai as well. The people had returned to Judah and started to rebuild the temple, but their enthusiasm soon turned to discouragement and then to apathy. They turned their focus to their own homes and started making a living for themselves without restoring worship back into the community. Here is God’s response:
“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. Your drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes.”
“…Look at what’s happening to you! Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. I have called for a drought on your fields and hills – a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” – Haggai 1:4-11
You are getting what you deserve but here’s how to deserve what you wish you were getting – Return to me and I will return to you. This is essentially what God was saying. God desired to lavish wonderful gifts on His children but He needed to get their attention because His intent was not only that they return to their land, His intent was that they return to Him. He wanted them to RETURN and REBUILD so that He could RENEW His relationship with them.
The people began to fear the Lord and a new enthusiasm for building the Temple was ignited in their hearts. They finished the Temple but realized that the new Temple was nowhere close to the splendor of the previous Temple. God reminded them that He is the keeper of the silver and the gold (2:8). He promised them that a day would come when He would restore glory to His Temple beyond its past glory.
Then Haggai asked, “If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?”
And the priests answered, “Yes.”
Then Haggai responded, “That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin.” – Haggai 2:13-14
In order for God to fully RENEW the relationship with His people, He needed them to REPENT. He reminded them of how little their crops produced before they rebuilt the Temple and asked them to look and see how He was now blessing them after the Temple had been restored. “Think carefully,” the Lord said. God desired to bless them but was requiring them to turn from their sin – to repent.
What does God want to do in our lives? In what ways does the Keeper of the silver and the gold – the Keeper of all blessings – desire to bless us? Return to me and I will return to you.
RETURN, REBUILD, RENEW and REPENT.
RETURN – “Come away!” “Flee from your captivity!” Walk away from your sin and return to me.
REBUILD – Do the necessary work to RESTORE our relationship to where it once was.
RENEW – Make a new covenant with me so that our relationship can be renewed.
REPENT – Turn from your sin so that I can bless you the way I desire to bless you.
Return to me and I will return to you.