For some time now, we have been exploring the destruction of ancient Israel, and the subsequent exile of the Hebrews to Babylon and other places. And we’ve also seen that the people brought this ‘punishment’ upon their own heads by their persistent disobedience to the will of their Creator.God (in order to try to save the people) was forced to exercise His righteous judgment against them – chastising them with exile. However, He did promise to bring them back to their homeland if they would return to Him. We learn how that develops through the historical chronology found in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra was an exiled priest, and Nehemiah was an exile who became the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I. Some biblical scholars believe that Ezra wrote most of the book named after him, as well as the book of Nehemiah and 1 & 2 Chronicles. Babylon was conquered by King Darius the Mede, who was then succeeded by King Cyrus of Persia in 538 B. C. During King Cyrus’ first year of rule, (which marked the end of the 70 years of the Hebrews’ exile – just as God had said), he freed the Jews to return to Israel. God ‘stirred up the spirit’ of King Cyrus, and told him to be instrumental in the rebuilding of His temple in Jerusalem. (See Ezra 1:1 – 3.) He did so by freeing the Jews so that they could return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. And, he gave them the furnishings and treasures from Solomon’s temple that was stolen by King Nebuchadnezzar. – just like God prophesied through the prophet Isaiah 150 years prior! (See Is. 44:28.) The first wave of Jews to return home numbered over forty-two thousand, led by a Jewish leader named Zerubbabel – whom Cyrus commissioned to rebuild the temple. In the second year of the people’s return, the temple foundation was laid. It was an exciting time, especially for the younger people. But those who were old enough to remember the grandeur of Solomon’s temple were grieved at the more humble beginnings of the new one. The temple construction met with opposition from the Samaritans – a people who were a mix of Assyrians and a small number of Jews, who escaped the Assyrian exile that followed the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel. The Samaritans ardently complained to King Cyrus, and to his successor, King Darius the Persian. Zerubbabel and his entourage became discouraged, and halted the temple construction… In 520 B.C., God steps in and commissions two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who had previously accompanied Zerubbabel from Babylon, to encourage the people to resume construction. God reminds the people (and us) that His presence can only reside with them, when they actively seek Him: “Return to Me,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. Zech. 1:3 NKJV So obviously the people weren’t seeking Him. Instead the people quit working on the temple and began to build houses for themselves instead. God takes umbrage: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?…Consider your ways! You have sown much and bring in little; you eat, but you do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Hag. 1:4 – 6. NKJV Many times, don’t we all put the fulfillment of our desires over those of God? When we do that, God holds back the abundance of the universe that was meant to be ours. Yet, if we return to God and put Him first, we will find that our desires will then be fulfilled in ways much grander than we ever would have imagined. And God tells Zerubbabel and company the same thing – take care of the things of God first, and then His presence will remain: “Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the LORD. Hag. 1:8 NKJV …Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. Hag. 2:4, 5. ESV And then God reminds them of the type of behavior that He requires from them, in order to keep Him in their midst: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zech. 7:9, 10. ESV At this point, the focus of Zechariah’s ministry shifts, as he, like Ezekiel and Daniel before him, becomes filled with God-induced visions of the future: “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.’ “ Zech. 8:3 NASB And so God is telling us again that Jerusalem will be the eternal spiritual center of the world. “Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.” Zech. 8:22 NKJV God also uses Zechariah to reveal to the people exactly how the Messiah will enter the city of Jerusalem – 500 years before it happens! And we also become privy to His majesty: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey…and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Zech. 9:9, 10. ESV (The ‘River’ is the Euphrates.) Furthermore, God prophesies through Zachariah about the time when the people of Jerusalem will realize just how much they grieved the heart of God, when they facilitate the crucifixion of His Son. Yet, it was all part of God’s plan to bring them THE way to salvation: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look upon Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” Zech. 12:10 NKJV “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” Zech. 13:1 ESV (Note: Zecharaiah also had a number of eschatological visions as well, and we will consider them when we explore the book of Revelation.) God’s prophets accomplished their tasks in encouraging the people because they turned around and completed the temple in 515 B.C. In 458 B.C., King Artaxerxes sends Ezra, along with a second wave of 5000 exiles, to assume leadership over the temple. In 446 B.C., the same king sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem to become governor. During that time, he rebuilt the city walls. And together with Ezra, they led the people back onto their path with God… And yet, there are always a few stubborn rebels, yes? But we know that our loving God wants to gather up all of His sheep. So, He sends the lost sheep the last prophet of the Old Testament era. His name was Malachi. Malachi begins his ministry by letting the priests know of God’s frustration with their lackadaisical commission of their duties within His temple: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is my reverence?” Mal. 1:6 NKJV And, God begins to hint at transferring His favor elsewhere: “…My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. “But you profane it…” Mal. 1:11, 12. NKJV Then God opens His arms, and pleads with His wayward children to come home: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.” Mal. 3:6, 7. ESV Finally, God paints His last picture of the end of time to give these lost souls a vision of what will ultimately follow the choice that they make: Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” Mal. 3:16, 17. ESV “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day is coming that shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings…” Mal. 4:1, 2. ESV God brought His children home – just like He brings all of His children home throughout time. Do the children of Israel get to stay home? It’s up to them to choose. Just the same way that it is up to you… Choose God. Goodnight and God bless.