Rebuilding for a Better Future- Haggai and Zechariah
Have you ever had a time when you knew you needed some kind of new start? Perhaps you’re in that situation right now. Frustrated by a job that seems to be going nowhere? Experiencing the pain of a relationship that’s on the rocks? Burned by a costly financial decision that went wrong? Disadvantaged by an injustice perpetrated against you? Starting over is the regular wish of every imperfect human being living in an imperfect world.
But if we want a new start in life, how does that happen for us? If something in our life looks like a ruin, how can a rebuild take place? And what role does faith in God play in all this? If ever there was a people in need of a makeover, it was the Jewish people following their exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC. (1) The exile was a national catastrophe. You can read about this in Jeremiah chapter 52, recounting the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC, the destruction of the Temple and the carrying into exile of many of the Jewish people. Robbed of their holy sanctuary, their identity as a people and their homeland, the Jewish people were at an all-time low. The prophets, like Jeremiah, had decreed this disaster if the people did not return to God, but they did not listen. And so, this great calamity came upon the nation.
But then, hope of a new start came from an unlikely pagan source. In October 539BC, Cyrus was established as head of the Persian empire and in his first year decreed that the Jews in exile may return home and rebuild the Temple. You can read what unfolds for God’s people in Ezra 1:1 to 4:5. Ezra 2 details a list of those exiles who successfully returned and the next chapter records how Jewish sacrificial rituals were re-established within the ruined walls of the Temple.
However, the re-build came to a halt because of opposition from those who were not true Jews, but had been living in the land of Israel during the time of exile. When Cyrus was succeeded by Artaxerxes, the new ruler was persuaded into issuing a royal decree which brought the work to a standstill. You can read about this in Ezra 4:6-24.
But hope came again, with another change of Persian king. Darius fully came into his rule by 520 BC and he was persuaded to permit the Temple rebuilding to recommence, through reference back to Cyrus’ original decree. Ezra 5 records an important element in God’s rebuilding strategy: “Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendent of Iddo, prophesised to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them . . . and the prophets of God were with them, helping them” (Ezra 5:1, 3).
Both Haggai and Zechariah were called by God to speak encouragement to the people at a time of rebuilding on multiple levels. The rebuilding of the Temple was a visible example of a much deeper rebuilding of the people as a national community and a re-establishing of their faith in God. Even when the people were allowed to rebuild the Temple again, it proved such an uphill task, that discouragement among the people stalled the work again. Haggai and Zechariah spoke God’s words of encouragement to get the people back on track and to assist in God’s plans for the newness of His people.
This series takes in the entirety of the books of Haggai and Zechariah, contemporaneous prophets who encouraged God’s people that He specialises in rebuilds. This series is designed to offer encouragement in our own need for starting over. Like God’s people returning from exile, there can be many discouragements for us in experiencing a new start. We may feel hurt and despondent, we may not be able to envisage what a new season might look like. We may long to be simply transported back to a previous glory period in our lives, hoping we can relegate the present as being an unreal nightmare.
We’ll see that God’s way through Haggai and Zechariah was to offer hope, without ignoring reality. In fact, in God’s view, there could be no new start without an acknowledgement of why the people were in a desperate situation in the first place. If the people could face reality, then there would be no limit to the renewal that God’s power and love could bring.
So, if you are ready for a journey of powerful renewal, step back 2,500 years in time, to hear the story of a phoenix nation rising from the ashes of calamity, to offer us hope that the same God who lifted them up, can perform a beautiful restoration of our lives, too, rebuilding for a better future.
1. You can read in more depth the historical background to this biblical series in Baldwin J, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, An Introduction and Commentary, IVP 1972, p13-18. What I offer in my introduction is a precis of the main details.