TiO 45 – The Story – The Return Home (Chapter 19)
The Main Idea
Sometimes it takes an outsider to get you moving In God’s direction. In this chapter the king of Persia initiates a movement back to Judah for some of the exiles and funds their quest to rebuild the temple. However, resistance leads to delay and delay leads to complacency. Finally, it takes a word from God to get the project back on track.
Warm Up Questions: (Choose 1 or 2)
Q1: “All truth is God’s truth, all good work is God’s work.” Respond to this statement.
Q2: Have you ever been part of a project (personal or business) that took much longer than expected? How did you feel while you were In the middle of that project?
Q3: In an age where GPS is available to anyone with a smartphone, it is hard to Imagine being lost. Do you have a story about being lost somewhere?
Dig a Little Deeper
It has been 46 years since Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple of Solomon along with it. Then, suddenly, the king of Persia, Cyrus, tells the Jewish exiles to take their property and the furnishings pillaged from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, return to Jerusalem, and rebuild the temple. And so 50 000 people do just that. This task is not without its challenges but eventually the temple does get rebuilt and this paves the way for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem—more on that in chapter 21.
Here is some information which is relevant to this story:
1) Solomon’s temple (see chapter 13) stood for 70 years before it was destroyed by Babylon.
2) There was no temple in Jerusalem for 60 years during the exile.
3) The second temple—the one built in chapter 19–while not as lavish as Solomon’s temple, lasted much longer. In fact, that temple stood from 516BC to AD70–586 years—until the Romans destroyed it. No temple was ever built to replace It.
Introduction: The Decree of Cyrus (pp. 263-264)
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing.”
Exiles living in a foreign land do not get to leave unless the king allows it. And at the beginning of chapter 19 we se just that: Cyrus the king of Persia is moved by God to send the exiles back to their home. Unlike the interaction between Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt (see chapter 4) this was not due to begging, pleading, or threatening by the people of Israel. Instead, the king, moved by God, decides this on his own. And so, about 50 000 people, all their possessions, and the sacred articles which had been removed from the temple when it was destroyed, all travelled back to Judah with the express intent of rebuilding the temple and resettling the land.
Act 1: A Hopeful Beginning (pp. 264-266)
“And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.”
Upon arriving back in Jerusalem the actions of the people reflected their priorities. They rebuilt the altar first and sacrificed to God. Then they began to lay the foundation for the temple in order to get that completed as quickly as possible. But they met some resistance from those people who had been living in the land during the exile. It is not clear who these people were or why their offer to help was viewed with suspicion but it was rejected by Zerubbabel, the leader of the resettlement party. In the end, the offer of help turned into active resistance and the work on the temple stopped.
Act 2: The Words of Haggai and Zechariah (pp. 266-270)
“Then the word came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Is It time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house [the temple] remains a ruin?’”
It had been 16 years since resistance from other people in the land caused the people of Israel to stop building the temple. Of course, during that time life went on. They built houses for shelter, grew crops and raised livestock for food, and they went about their daily lives. But they had abandoned their initial task and they had been making excuses: “The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.” So, God sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to remind the people of their obligation to him and to urge them to begin construction once again.
Act 3: Building Starts Again (pp. 270-273)
“So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.”
Despite some initial resistance, and the need to check for a building permit in the Babylonian archives, the people of Israel were able to continue building, all with the support of the king of Persia. After three and a half years, the new temple was complete.
Epilogue: Dedication of the New Temple (p. 273)
“The people of Israel … celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.”
Finally, the temple was complete, the people celebrated, and priests were appointed to serve in the temple.
Looking back at the story of the rebuilding of the temple, we see two themes: first, that the movement of God is not restricted to his followers but is sometimes initiated by people who are not part of his family, and second, that it is easy to be diverted from a good task by resistance and then be lulled into complacency.
Looking back at the chapter, consider the times in which God spoke through or used the rulers of Babylon to accomplish his purposes:
Q1: Describe the instances in this chapter where God spoke through and used people who were not Jews to accomplish his purposes. Why do you think God chose to work in this way?
Q2: Can you cite specific examples that you know of where God has done the same thing in modern times?
Reflect on the content of this chapter and the major thrust of Jon’s sermon from the weekend: that it is easy to become complacent and for a lack of action to become the norm in our lives.
Q3: Why did the people stop building the temple in the first place? Was this a valid reason to stop?
Q4: When God spoke through the prophet Haggai, what are God’s criticisms of the people?
Q5: In your opinion, what had happened to the people that caused them to lose sight of their original goal?
Two things are easy for us to do. First, to reject the good things that happen in our society which are not initiated or sustained by people who are followers of Jesus. Second, to lose sight of the goals that God sets before us when continuing seems hard or risky. This chapter speaks to both of these Ideas.
Q1: Do you think that God’s purposes can be completed by people who are not Christians? Talk about that.
Q2: Have you ever entered a period of complacency—perhaps you are in one now—after beginning a task that you know God would have you do? Talk about why and how you got out of it.
It Is often hard to see the movement of God around us, especially if it is happening in a social context outside of the church.
Pray that God would help you to be faithful to the work that he has called you to, even if that work is happening outside of the church.