Thursday, May 20, 2010

Continual Building - Part I

So the leaders of the Jews continued to build, the work went well under the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They completed the rebuilding under orders of the God of Israel and authorization by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The Temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. And then the Israelites celebrated – priests, Levites, every last exile, exuberantly celebrated the dedication of the Temple of God. At the dedication of this Temple of God, the sacrificed a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs – and, as an Absolution-Offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They placed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their places for the service of God at Jerusalem- all as written out in the Book of Moses. (Ezra 6:14-18)

The project of rebuilding the temple had begun during the reign of Cyrus, king of Persia, and now continued under his successors, kings Darius and Artaxerxes. Both of these kings continued to show favor to Judah in the rebuilding efforts at Jerusalem. They backed up their support with official decrees, the sending of exiled Jews back into their land, and the provision of materials or finances to support the work.

Haggai and Zechariah were two prophets of Judah. Haggai was one of the Jews that returned to Judah with the company of builders. He was likely born in exile and was around seventy when he began his work of prophesying. His messages were few, but the people did what he directed. It was Haggai that redirected the Jews in their rebuilding effort –they had allowed the Temple to remain unfinished for a period almost eighteen years. They had begun with such enthusiasm, but had settled into the comfort of being back in their own land and had grown complacent in their efforts to finish the work. He challenged them to begin the work of rebuilding the Temple, and focus less of building houses, farms, and places of business. Sometimes, it is not the voice we hear most often that carries the words that will reignite our passion - it may be the voice we hear only once, or infrequently enough that it carries great meaning when it is heard.

Zechariah was of a priestly heritage, but probably born in Babylon. He was also one of the exiles to return to Jerusalem to begin the rebuilding work. He began to prophesy a little after Haggai, focusing on the promise of a restored center of worship for the people of Judah.  His was a voice more frequently heard by the nation, but a voice that gave solid and committed direction in the rebuilding effort.  We need this kind of "voice" in our daily walk - speaking words of challenge that keep us on focus and call us back to task when we begin to waver a little.

Now we come to the place where the Temple was finally finished.  It is the month of Adar – the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar. This equates to what we presently know as late February and early March. A project that should have taken just a few years of diligent work was finally finished after years of wasted time. Ever seem to you like what begins as just a little work in your life - perhaps an area of your character that is just a "little" marred by sin - and before long, you come to a recognition that the "little" work is a huge project with many, many rooms that need "restoration"?  Such was probably the case in Jerusalem - the work did not seem insurmountable when they first determined to come back to Jerusalem.  Over the course of days, weeks, and years, the uncovering of one area of ruin just exposed another.  In time, the "mess" they encountered seemed insurmountable.

When we are faced with insurmountable issues, it is easy to side-step - to get focused on another task that will promise quicker fulfillment.  This is another tactic of the enemy of our lives.  He gets us "off task" and onto something else because he knows the spiritual and emotional strength that will begin to take form in us if God goes about the work of restoration he desires to do.  The enemy "affords" us opportunities to focus on other things - they may even have some spiritual qualities - in order to distract us from what will give us strength of character, defenses against his future attacks.

Never grow weary in well-doing.  This is a quote from scripture that I have always thought referred to my attitude toward my fellow believers - just keep doing well toward them.  But, if we see it in light of what we have just explored about our enemy's tactics, we can see that the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to distract us from what we have put our hearts and souls into - to get us off task, weary from the intensity of the Lord's work in our lives.  Don't grow weary, my friend.  Don't get distracted.  Stay focused.  Stay on task.  See what the work of "continually building" will produce in your life.