Jun 26, 2023
Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy (Ezra 6:16).
Let’s focus on the last phrase of this text, ‘with joy’. The Israelites celebrated the completion of the new temple of God with joy. To fully appreciate this phrase, we need to recall how the nation got here and how they almost missed out on this joy.
In Ezra 1, we are told that God moved the heart of Cyrus, King of Persia, to bring an end to Israel’s Babylonian captivity. He allowed them to go home. More than that, he made provision for them to rebuild the temple of God. Not only could Israel return to the land God had given them, but they were enabled to begin worshipping him again properly. God was clearly on the move.
However, once they started rebuilding, their neighbours recognized that if this temple rebuilding project succeeded, it would not be good for said neighbours: Israel would increase and the neighbours would decrease. These neighbours recognized that Israel’s success was in the hands of her God. The temple’s rebuilding and the re-establishment of proper worship would mean that God was present among these Israelites. That would be a problem.
So, the neighbours set out to ensure that God stayed away. Several attempts failed. They were finally successful when they sent a letter to the new Persian king, highlighting that Jerusalem had been a difficult and rebellious city. If the temple and city were rebuilt, it was bound to rebel again. An order was issued to halt the project.
The rebuilding Israelites all went to their homes, focussed on their own well being and God stayed away. Well, sort of. You see, God was at work, moving the hearts of kings. And now he needed to move the hearts of his people. So, he sent them two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. Both of them have books included in the Bible, which give details about how God moved his people back to the rebuilding project.
Two things are worth highlighting from those books. First, from Haggai. The people have gone about the business of rebuilding their economy. Despite their best efforts and their hard work, it isn’t going so well. When Haggai comes along and says its time to start rebuilding the temple again, the people say, “Look, we are working really hard, barely making it, so we really don’t have time or money for the temple.”
To which Haggai responds, “Don’t you think that if you put God first, he will take care of your needs?” Zechariah adds this, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you” (Zechariah 4:9).
Essentially, God puts a fleece before Israel: “Put me first and I will take care of you.” Sounds like something Jesus echoed, “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
The Israelites send a letter to the new Persian king, letting him know that the previous one had sent them home to rebuild the temple. And they start rebuilding. Soon a reply comes from Persia giving permission for the rebuilding. But there is more in the royal letter. In it, the neighbours who interfered are instructed to give daily provisions for the rebuilding and for the workers.
Now we understand the joy of the people celebrating the completion of the temple. They had seen what God does. God had kept his word.
I wonder how much joy we miss out on because we don’t heed Jesus’ words, “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.