Saturday, April 22
The prophet Haggai is among the first prophets to prophesy after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586/587 BCE. The ministry of Haggai can be dated to happening in the year 520 BCE and his words are directed towards two people in particular: Zerubbabel the governor of Judah and Joshua the high priest (Hag.1.1). The message of the prophet is to encourage Zerubbabel and Joshua to rebuild the dilapidated and desecrated temple.
Verse four of chapter one contains what God has against the people and leaders. To paraphrase God says, ‘Why are you living in your nice comfortable homes while my house, the temple, lies still ruined?’. Now this is a different generation than the one that experienced the destruction and exile, but when they returned to the land they carried on about their concerns first before tending to the things of God, namely the temple. Zerubbabel and Joshua hear this charge from God and they take action and focus their attention on the rebuilding of the temple. God blesses their work and encourages them to continue and finish.
Do you put the things of God first or the things of you first? In my experience, when I put myself first ultimately in the end it leaves me unfilled in addition to neglecting God. However, when I put God first not only am I putting things in the right perspective but God also provides for my needs and desires. Putting the things of God first can look like: discipleship, evangelism, Bible study, prayer, pursuing holiness, and so on. When you reflect on your life are you putting yourself first or God first? Is God and the kingdom a priority for you? Be a Matthew 6.33 man or woman.
(Photo Credit: Illustration by Liz Hagler – found at http://hookedonthebook.com/the-big-idea-of-haggai-is-the-encouragement-to-rise-up-and-rebuild-the-temple/)
Tuesday, December 6
Some people really make your day, others – well they can really make your day worse. With so much discouragement for the Jews in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem God decided to send several prophets to encourage the people in finishing work on the temple. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were especially influential in bringing God’s encouragement to the workers rebuilding the temple. A governor named Tattenai from beyond the river tried to put a stop to the rebuilding process by asking who had given them permission to rebuild the temple. He wanted a detailed, official report from King Darius of who had truly funded this rebuilding project, why this temple was being rebuilt and any details that might cast a negative light on the Jews rebuilding of their city. King Darius looked into the matter and discovered that king Cyrus had indeed been moved by God to let the Jews rebuild the temple and their city with part of the bill being paid by the Babylonian empire. Darius was so moved by the reading of the documents that he decreed that anyone who opposed the rebuilding project should be put to death and their home destroyed. So the Jews were able to complete the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem with the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah.
The city was beginning to take shape, and this is where Ezra whom the book is named after comes onto the scene. He was a priest and scribe in Babylon who had favor with the Babylonian king after Darius which was king Artaxerxes. Ezra was decreed by the King to go to Jerusalem and select men who would be rulers over the city and set up the civil government of the city, appointing magistrates and judges for the people. But King Artaxerxes didn’t send them empty handed. He sent them with many gifts to embellish the temple and many measures of wheat, wine, oil, and salt that would be needed. He even gave authorization to use the royal treasury money for whatever else they needed to ensure that proper temple worship could be accomplished. This greatly encouraged Ezra and the people of God in Jerusalem.
Thinking about the many players in this account of the rebuilding of the temple it seems to me that there are those who are determined to bring the people encouragement and those who are determined to bring the people discouragement. Are there people like that in your life too? You may have noticed that there are some people who lift up your spirit, and some people who bring your spirit low. Notice how God knew the discouraging people who brought the people down, and would send someone like Haggai or Ezra along to lift the people’s spirits up again? Does God do this for us too? Has he ever sent someone to encourage you and lift up your spirit when you were discouraged? Maybe He has used you to help lift up the spirits of someone else just like he used Zechariah, Haggai and Ezra. They brought an encouraging word to the people. Will you let God help you to be an encourager to someone else this week? Key thought: Ask God to help you be a person who lifts others up rather than a person who brings others down.