Today, I moved in my Biblical trek through Israel’s history to the book of Ezra, and I was pretty excited. This is it, the promises that God made through Jeremiah are being fulfilled! God has allowed His people to return to their inheritance, and they are eagerly choosing to leave the prosperity of Babylon behind in order to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem. What a story!
In Ezra 3, they start right away with building an altar and sacrificing to the LORD. Alright, Israelites, that’s what I like to see! Ezra goes on to record the building of the second temple, and how the enemies around Jerusalem tried to thwart the process, but God continued to move the Persian kings’ hearts to favor His people and order the empire to comply with the rebuilding of the temple. This is pretty awesome!
It all goes so fast in Ezra, but I almost missed something. Did you know there were almost twenty years and two prophets between the first exiles’ return to Jerusalem and the actual building of the second temple? Those prophets were Haggai and Zechariah, and they urged the Israelites to refocus on the LORD Almighty, and the people listened.
So today, I read Haggai. Haggai’s name derives from words meaning “festive,” “feast,” and “the festival of the Lord.” His prophetic words call the Israelites to honor and worship God by rebuilding His temple. It’s as if he’s saying, “Come on, look at what God has done for us. He has given us reason to be festive, let us honor Him.” The message God gave him, recorded in only two chapters, can be summed up in 1:4-6:
“Is it time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses while this house [the temple] remains a ruin?” Now this is what the LORD Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways. You planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
The exiles had returned to their home, to the land promised by God, and they began to rebuild it. They built houses for themselves and tried to restart the economy, but the land was desolate. They worked on everything else except the house of the LORD, and they lacked some serious blessings because of it. Haggai 1:11 speaks of a drought that halted the production of every kind of crop in the land.
The people weren’t deliberately turning away from the LORD, they just weren’t thinking very clearly. They had hit some roadblocks in the construction process, so they set it aside and just kind of forgot. And so God offered them a reminder that I’d like to paraphrase:
“Hey, Israel, remember: I promised to be with you, and here I am. Rebuild My dwelling place, and the land will bloom in abundance.”
As I read this today, God added between the lines: “Give careful thought to your ways. Are you seeking me? Are you serving me? Or are you seeking to rebuild your own house, to have all of your own affairs in order, before you work on Mine?”
For the past couple of days, I’ve been working on this blog and applying to countless jobs and trying to build my own dwelling place for the future, but I haven’t been spending very much time focusing on the Word of my God.
In church this week, the pastor told us that when the Bible calls us to meditate on the things of God, the same type of wording can be used to describe a dog gnawing on a bone. It’s the same type of idea, chewing on the Word of the God, absorbing every bit of it.
I want to do that. Nothing else matters. Nothing I build matters, unless I am first and foremost building a dwelling place for the LORD. I am a dwelling place for the LORD. Am I increasing His space daily? Haggai served as a gentle reminder to the people of Israel to keep their focus on the LORD alone. I pray that I can respond as they did, and earnestly prepare a place for Him.