God’s people were happy to be in their homeland, in spite of the
long journey and their letdown at Jerusalem’s pitiful condition. Last week we
talked about their celebration when the temple’s foundation was laid. However,
as they began to complete it, there were problems. Samaritans and other people
had drifted into Judah through the years and made their homes - - these
squatters didn’t like the idea of the Jews coming home to take back their land.
You remember the mixed people of Samaritans resulted when Assyria captured the
Northern Kingdom and brought in prisoners from other places. Those left from the
ten tribes had married these foreigners, ignoring God’s commandments. As time
went by they practiced worship to the true God with worship to idols.
When the people of the land saw the Jews rebuilding the temple, they offered to help, saying, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do.” They claimed they had worshipped the Lord ever since they had been brought there by the Assyrians.
But Zerubbabel knew they were lying and refused. “We alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as… the king of Persia has commanded us,” he said. Instead of serving the Lord as the only true God, he knew they mixed their worship with idol worship.
This made the Samaritans and other people of the land so angry that they tried to stop their work. They even wrote letters to the rulers after Cyrus, accusing the Jews of going against the king. One of the letters read, “Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem, and are building the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing its walls and repairing the foundations.” At their suggestion the Persian king checked the old records and found parts of the letter were true - - the Babylonians had captured Jerusalem because of their rebellion.
So the king wrote back, “Now give the command to make these men cease, that this city may not be built until the command is given by me… Why should damage increase to the hurt of the kings?” This delighted the evildoers. They took their weapons and rushed to Jerusalem to halt the construction.
For several years, the house of the Lord stood unfinished. Now the people took time to build houses for themselves to improve their fields and flocks. But no matter how hard they worked, their harvest were poor and their animals did not do well.
God was displeased when they stopped work on the temple. He used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir them up. Through Haggai He told them why they were having a bad time, saying, “This people says, ‘The time has not come that the Lord’s house should be built…’ Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? My house...is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withholds the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit.” Zecharaiah, too, urged them to finish God’s house, declaring, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.”
The words of Haggai and Zechariah touched everyone’s heart deeply. Immediately they got back to work. Their enemies came back to stop them and wrote new letters full of lies - - but this time their tricks didn’t work.
The new king Darius searched the records and found Cyrus’s decree commanding the Jews to rebuild the temple of their God. So instead of making the Jews stop work, Darius ordered the governor to give them money from their taxes, along with bulls, rams and sheep for burnt offerings and wheat, salt, wine and oil for the priests. As for the troublemakers themselves, Darius commanded them, “Keep yourselves far from there!”
Imagine everyone’s joy when the temple was finished at last! Together they celebrated the first Feast of the Passover in God’s new house!
Talking it Over:
1. In Ezra 4:20, the people of the land tried to turn the king against the Jews by talking about money. What did they say? Ask an adult about the saying, “Money talks.” How is that true here?
2. Is it possible today for us to spend most of our money on nice houses and clothes and not give for preaching the gospel and other parts of God’s work? What about people that are too busy with jobs and pleasure to serve Him?
3. Think of examples of God’s using “small things” to carry out His Will.
“For who has despised the day of small things?” Zech. 4:10
Is it important to have a big, expensive church building for worship today? Why not?
Text by Betty Belue Haynes, originally published in Bible Talk Times. Used here with the kind permission of the author. Users are free to reproduce for use, but not for publication.