Our reading this week begins with the first six chapters of Ezra. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally written as one book together. They were divided into two books in the 3rd century AD and placed into the historical section of the Christian canon. The original book was divided into four sections: Ezra 1-6, 7-10, Nehemiah 1-7, 8-12. Each section begins with hope but ends with an anti-climax of disappointment. Ultimately, the book of Ezra/Nehemiah points out the need for a new heart (echoing Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36). For this week, I will stay within our reading and in two weeks I will expound on the last three section of Ezra/Nehemiah when we get back to them in The Story.
King Cyrus permits any Jew who would like to return to Jerusalem to go with Zerubbabel in what you could call a new Exodus. The purpose of them going is to rebuild the Temple. In 537BC, Zerubbabel (which means “Planted in Babylon”), leads nearly 50,000 people back home on a rebuilding mission. The basics are taken care of but the older people lament because it isn’t quite what it used to be. What is the issue? Is the because the grandeur isn’t the same? What is missing from the Temple is the most important aspect of why the Temple is there. Where is God’s presence? Maybe this is why the Temple doesn’t feel the same as the first one?
This section ends with Zerubbabel running off people in the land who came to help them build the Temple. This is the anti-climactic end to this first section. The Israelites who were left in the land want to come and help build God’s Dwelling Place have been rejected. Zerubbabel has forgotten that the purpose of Jerusalem and the Temple is to bring all people together as one people as God intended in the Garden. This was the promised to Abraham in Genesis 12 and the purpose for God’s people being a light to the nations. He has turned them away.
We turn now to the prophet Haggai. The people get discouraged in rebuilding the Temple because of the oppression they are experiencing from outsiders. Because of their opposition, they neglected to put first things first. They focused on building their own livelihood before building God’s house. God wants so desperately to be with His people but they are distracted with taking care of their own houses. This passage is best understood within the context of marriage. This is a matter of covenant faithfulness. Haggai gives the same speech to the people that Moses gives. Obedience breeds blessing and unfaithfulness breeds ruin. True repentance and covenant faithfulness will lead to the coming of God’s kingdom and blessing. Marriage again is the best lens to look at this. Faithfulness and commitment in marriage leads to a healthy marriage that then blesses you and the world around you. To the older generation who remembers the glory of the first Temple, Haggai reminds them that God will bring a New Jerusalem who’s King will be established as an everlasting King and will defeat evil among the nations. This imagery is what we find at the end of Revelation in chapters 19-22.
God has called us to partner with Him in establishing His Temple here on earth. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” We the church are the Temple of God. I’m not the Temple. I am part of the Temple with you, the Church. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul says we are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. The question we must wrestle with today is, what have you placed as more important than building God’s Temple? Are you a consumer of church or are you working towards being part of this dwelling place called Church? Take a moment to examine your life, what is more important than building God’s Temple here in this place?
My prayer for the church at Queen City is that we will move beyond going to church and start being built into the Temple, God’s dwelling place in Charlotte. This means that as a people, we seek to make the world around us more like the Creation God intended for it to be. What does that look like to you?