Led by their governor Zerubbabel, a large group of exiles returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus the Great and began the work of rebuilding the temple. Governor Zerubbabel was a grandson of the last of the kings in the line of Judah and is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. He is an important link between the old royal line, the kings of Judah, and the new one, fulfilled by Jesus.
12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, and Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel. Matthew 1:12 (NASB)
It was the beginning of a new era. The people were putting God first in their lives and following His ways rather than just doing whatever seemed right in their own minds. No longer would they pursue idol worship and its associated evil practices – their idolatry had perhaps been the single greatest cause for the Babylonian exile – God’s unwanted but necessary means to put an end to it.
Their focus now was on rebuilding the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem, God’s chosen focal point for worship, and for performing the offerings and sacrifices outlined in the law of Moses.
After Christ came, Jesus became God’s prescribed sacrifice for sin. His temple is now worldwide, living within the hearts of believers through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ will one day return to Jerusalem to rule and reign, and people will come from all over the globe to worship Him there. But first, the foundation of the temple must be reestablished by Zerubbabel, and its construction begun.
8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites who were twenty years old and upward to oversee the work of the house of the Lord.
The people began by worshiping the Lord and dedicating their work to Him, following the law of Moses and its offerings. They built an altar to the Lord and performed the prescribed sin sacrifices upon it for purification and cleansing. This was God’s remedy for sin prior to the coming of Christ. All sin, though covered by the blood of bulls and goats, was still on account until Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross wiped it all away. The sins of all believers – past, present, and future – were dealt with once and for all on the “altar” of the cross at Calvary.
10 Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. 11 And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His favor is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout of joy when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:8, 10-11 (NASB)
The people had finally learned an important lesson after seventy years of exile: put God first. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also emphasized the importance of seeking God before anything else.
31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you. Matthew 6:31-33 (NASB)
It would be very easy to leave the study at this point, but there is a problem. Just as with the people of Judah, it is still all too easy for us to follow our own desires first and follow God’s will second, if at all. That is a weakness of human nature, the flesh.
So, what can I do to include God in what I need to do today, and to walk according to His purposes and ways as I want to do?
Many find that the day goes better if I start it out with some God time. It doesn’t have to be long. Our period of God-focus may include prayer, Bible reading, and perhaps some meditative materials. We can thank Him with gratitude for the gift of the day, pray for others, seek guidance for the challenges ahead, ask forgiveness for our shortcomings, and seek His help in forgiving others who have offended us. Our quiet time with God also allows the Holy Spirit to bring to our attention what He wants to place on our hearts or in our minds.
May you enjoy a blessed and peaceful day today as we seek to put God first in our lives.
Lord, forgive us for all our sins, including those times of anger and selfishness when we turn away from You to follow our own path of destructive behaviors. We desire to live in peace and fellowship with You, putting You first in everything we do. When we fail to do this, grant us Your mercy and grace to help us live pure lives that honor You and draw others to Christ. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.