Article 2017-03 - Exiles Return
Chapter 30: Exiles Return
God knows all events of world history long before they occur and can use any instrument He desires to realize His purposes. He trains the right people with the right capacities for His perfect time. In the following story we see again that when God’s people re-focus on their true vocation, the enemy attacks. When God’s people loose their spiritual focus, He sends prophets to tell them what His priorities are. When they are sincere and repent, they receive their mission back.
I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free (Is. 45:13)
… my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Is. 56:7)
Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel (Ezra 3:2)
Soon Daniel’s story, Israel’s existence in exile changed drastically. Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to Palestine. This was a double miracle, because God had said this two centuries earlier through Isaiah, and because Cyrus, a gentile king, was used by God as His instrument. Some fifty thousand Jews returned to their country. It was another exodus, less people and less spectacular, but not less God’s miracle. And so, exactly as God had planned it, after seventy years of exile, His people went back.
It was quite a mission to lead such a large group through the desert, unsafe as it was. Two men had grown up in the quiet anonymity of Babylonia, who became God’s chosen missionaries to lead His people through this big transition. One was Zerubbabel, the governor, a descendant of king David’s, who therefore now carried the promises that God had made to David, five centuries before. His co-leader for spiritual matters was Joshua, the high priest. And so ‘State and Church’ cooperated to lead God’s people.
This was necessary, since they had to deal politically and spiritually with the Samaritans, a mixture of Assyrians and others. These had lived in Palestine for almost two centuries. The challenge was to avoid polluting spiritual influences from them, before the Jews could consolidate their service to God. So, Zerubbabel flatly refused to ‘worship and build together’. This angered the Samaritans so, that they used their political influence to stop the rebuilding process. They succeeded to delay it for sixteen years, although the Jews had finished the reconstruction of the altar, so that the worship of God could continue. During the period in which the temple building was paused, the people lost their spiritual zeal and concentrated on gaining material prosperity.
When the enemies of Judah … heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord … they came to Zerubbabel … and said, ‘Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God.’ But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest … of Israel answered, ‘You have no part with us in building a temple to our God.’ … Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building (Ezra 4:1-4)
The story, continued
Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah started to prophesy, encouraging the people to resume the work. God wanted to restore Judah as an example of godliness to the nations around them. Therefore the temple as ‘house of prayer for all nations’ needed to be restored. Again Jerusalem was to become the place where Gentiles could worship God.
We learn many lessons from Haggai. The Jews were liberated twice, first from Egypt, then from Babylonia. Likewise, the Church consists of people who are liberated by Christ after slavery to sin and Satan. The Jews needed to build a temple to make God visible to the gentile world. Similarly, our personal temple has to be built by improving the quality of our spiritual lives and our collective temple, the Church, needs to grow in quality and numbers. This happens when we extend God’s Kingdom through local evangelism and cross-cultural missions. Neither can be done at the cost of, or excluding the other.
When the Church’s ministry is compromised by worldly or syncretistic influences, radical leadership is needed to reverse such a course. Zerubbabel typifies Christ as Ruler and Joshua as High Priest. Haggai and Zechariah typify Him in His Prophetic ministry. These leadership-, priesthood- and prophecy-ministries are needed to bring the Church back to participation in world missions.
There are parallels with the Church. Like the Jewish remnant failed in sacrificial giving towards the building program, the Church often lacks in giving towards world missions. The Church fails to ‘seek God’s Kingdom first’. Another parallel is the lack of vision for the temple-building job – and for the great commission – to be completed. Purification and holiness lacked in Israel then and in the Church now. The Jews were not conscious that one day Gentiles would submit to the Messianic Kingdom, just like the Church often lacks vision for the coming Kingdom and Christ’s Return, preceding it.
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord (Haggai 1:4,8)
Church members and leaders must ask each other: Why are you slow to take the gospel to your neighbor and to the ends of the earth? Why let the light shine among yourselves rather than in dark places where the gospel is not available? Can this omission be a reason for the poverty struggle we often see? In Ps. 67 we learn that once we use our blessings to take the gospel to all nations, then the land will yield its harvest. Could it be that the reason that some churches send so few missionaries is not poverty, but rather, that poverty is one of the consequences of not sending missionaries?
It is my prayer that the Church’s response will be as positive as Israel’s, at the time. They ‘obeyed’, ‘sent’ and ‘feared’. There was also practical action: ‘they came and began the work’. The Lord said that He would be with them – just what Jesus said later to those who execute the great commission. This presence guarantees blessing and provision, materially as well as in vision and prophetic significance.
Temple building is about dwelling: God and people meet to enjoy each other’s company. The more nations are included, the better. So, who can dwell in God’s presence without creating a temple for Him by giving Him complete lordship over his own heart? Who can dwell in God’s presence together with others without participating in church growth, in quality and quantity? How can God’s desire to dwell in the presence of all nations become a reality, if we do not actively engage in bringing them in?
Discussion & dialogue
- Discuss what sort of ‘Samaritan influence’ should be refused by the Church, when it comes to the execution of world missions
- Discuss how church members who do not participate one way or another in world missions (e.g. by praying, giving or going) can be motivated to do so
- Which four of the ten themes reoccur in this chapter and how? (Answer is in the Teacher’s Guide)