586 BC was a terrible year for the Jewish nation. The Assyrian empire under Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem, leveled the temple built by Solomon, and took most of the Jews to Babylon. The people grieved the tremendous loss of freedom and independence that they had enjoyed for centuries. The sins of the nation brought them to desolate slavery.
But fervent Jews never lost hope of returning to the land of Judah given to them by God. In 538 BC King Cyrus of Persia first gave permission for the Jews in exile to return to their homeland. Later King Darius gave civil authority to Zerubbabel to lead about 50,000 Jews back to their homeland, and Joshua was the High Priest assigned to give spiritual guidance. The king ordered that royal revenues would contribute to the construction of the temple, and thus the work continued.
But progress stalled due to local opposition and the indifference of the returning Jews. The prophet Haggai (also Zechariah) were raised up by God to spur the people to complete the temple which was commissioned by King Darius. His cutting messages hit the mark.
“Then this word of the Lord came through Haggai, the prophet: Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?... Go into the hill country; bring timber, and build my house so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.”
Haggai motivated them by noting that the drought and crop failures they experienced were caused by the disobedience of the priests, elders and people. Rebuilding the temple invited the return of God’s presence to their midst. Moreover, Haggai assured them of greater peace, prosperity and national blessing in the years ahead. Finally they got the message and completed building the house of the Lord.
This lesson in Jewish history is not lost on Christians today. The Church of Jesus Christ is in need of rebuilding everywhere. Like St. Francis in the 13th century, we Christians realize that sin, indifference and disobedience have dishonored our God. All around us we see how the weakened faith of believers has drained the churches of joy and vitality. God is not pleased. The prophets of God call us to return to God with all our hearts. We pray for spiritual revival in our land, in our Church, that God may be honored, and that we might receive shalom promised to those who follow the ways of God.