Studying the book of Ezra means studying the books of Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets who figure prominently in the Ezra storyline. One identified himself as a young man (Zechariah 2:4). The other was probably an old man (Haggai 2:3 may point to Haggai having seen the Temple before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it). It’s possible that they both returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel/Sheshbazzar, though they are not named among the company (Ezra 2).
These somewhat-murky figures serve as God’s megaphone to a discouraged and distracted people. In no way am I condemning the Jewish people. I don’t blame them for being discouraged and distracted. Rebuilding the Temple (and Jerusalem itself, as seen in the book of Nehemiah) was no easy task. Opposition came from all sides. I understand why many of them threw up their hands and looked to reestablishing their own homes (Haggai 1:4).
It’s a picture of the fear and wrong priorities I have all too often.
Onto the page the ink spilled. These men of God begin to speak.
Haggai says, “Consider your ways” (1:5)
Our English “consider” is made up of three separate Hebrew words:
Sum/siym: to put, place, set, appoint, make; direct
Lebab: inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding
‘al: upon, on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against
Direct your mind. Set your will. Make an account of what you’re doing.
Think about it.
Really think about it.
Haggai is calling his people to obedience. He is telling them to examine their priorities. He hearkens back to Ezra 3:3, when they built the altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord “despite their fear of the peoples around them” (NIV). He is reminding them. Drawing their minds back to what truly matters.
They were suffering through drought, famine and scarcity because they had forgotten their first love. Haggai’s voice, perhaps gravelly and low-pitched with age, demands their attention. He speaks the message of God. He tells them that they need to get down the business of restoring the Temple, restoring worship. Blessing would flow from their obedience.
They can do this. They can respond positively.
They can because they are not alone. They are not left to grapple with the overwhelming rubble and the sneering, hostile pagans. “I am with you, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:13)
We don’t have to stretch far to make the application to our own lives.
God does not promise to prosper us materially. The Church is not national Israel; the way the covenant blessings are applied to us is different. Yet He does promise to bless and keep us as we seek to please Him (check out the entire book of Ephesians for a plethora of examples). When our priorities are right and we seek to obey Him, we are graced with love, peace, joy and fulfillment – even if the circumstances remain difficult. We walk in the assurance of knowing we have done what’s right.
I didn’t want to hear this today. Didn’t want to read these words of Haggai.
Here’s the unspoken thought behind all this: Obedience costs something. Yes, the rewards are great. But the cost can be great, too. The returned exiles had to defy pretty much everyone from the king on down as they began the work once more. They faced harassment at best, death at worst. It was no joke to do what they did. (Further on in the story we find out that some of the officials in the area contacted King Darius about it. King Darius winds up saying, “Yeah, leave them alone – better than that, do whatever you can to help them. And have them offer some sacrifices for me and my sons.” Nobody knew that this was going to be the outcome, though).
Obeying God is worth the cost. I know that. He’s proven Himself faithful. I know that I must fear (reverence) Him and not those whose only power is to kill me (Matthew 10:28). (Not that I think anyone is going to kill me. I’m not paranoid. It’s just a principle about the place of God and the place of people in my life).
Still. In my smallness, in my humanness, I fear.
There are two lengthy blog posts in my drafts queue. Publishing one of them, let alone both of them, is scary. I don’t want to deal with the potential fallout. I don’t want to wade through nasty comments. I want to pretend that the things never happened. That I don’t know about them. That everything is fine and wonderful.
I can’t. I know I can’t.
I must consider my ways.
Set my priorities.