On the plains of Moab, prior to Israel entering the Promised Land Moses delivered to the people a series of messages that may be considered the constitution for the theocracy of Israel once she was established in the land. The people were facing war, temptations, and a new, settled way of life under the unproved leadership of Joshua. Moses’ congregation was the survivals of the forty years wandering in the wilderness. They had not experienced the deliverance from the hand of the enemy at the Red Sea or the giving of the law at Sinai.
Moses warned the people when they enter and settle in the Promised Land they must not add to or take away from the commandments and statues of the Lord. If they obeyed the commands and statues of the Lord, they will prosper in the offspring of their bodies, of their beasts, and in the produce of the ground. God will open His good storehouse and give rain to the land in its season. They will be the head and not the tail. If they do not keep the commandments and statues of the Lord, they will suffer internal calamites, such as death, despair, disease, and decline, external judgments, such as defeat by their enemies.
When the Israelites entered The Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, they were undefeatable. The reason they were undefeatable, their God was with them. They were His chosen people and He would lead them to victory. Following their settling in the land, they became corrupt in the structure of their society and in their obedience to God. They did not heed the words of Moses. The Lord then left them to the mercy of their enemies who showed them no mercy.
Israel’s problems escalated following the death of King Solomon. The tribes of Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel with their capital in Samaria and Judah with their capital in Jerusalem.
The northern kingdom of Israel, whose fall to the Assyrians in 722 b.c. fulfilled the first part of Moses’ prediction of captivity in Deuteronomy 28, was the first to go into captivity. God allowed His chosen people to be conquered and deported from the Promised Land because they turned their back on Him and ignored the warnings that He sent to them through His prophets, including Elijah and Elisha.
The southern kingdom of Judah lasted a little longer, about 200 years.
The southern kingdom, Judah, was captured and the people taken into captivity by the Babylonians. The siege of Jerusalem began in 605 b.c. In 605 and 597 the leading Judean citizens, including Daniel and Ezekiel were deported to Babylon.
On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem; he ordered the burning of the temple, the king’s house, all the houses in Jerusalem, and breaking down of the wall around Jerusalem. Those who survived the siege of Jerusalem and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon were carried away into exile (2 Kings 25:8).
In Babylon, the captives were unable to worship their God because the temple was the only place of formal worship. They built synagogues where they could hear the reading of the Law and informally worship their God.
Cyrus, after the defeat of Babylon by the Persians, issued a decree in 538 b.c. allowing the captives to return to Judah and Jerusalem. He furnished the materials needed to restore the temple (2nd Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 4:6). The brazen altar was rebuilt, offering of sacrifices was resumed and the foundation for the restoration of the temple was laid.
When the Samaritans’ offer to help in the restoration of the temple was rejected they began a series of organized, planned actions against the restoration of the temple, including an injunction that was issued by Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7-23). When Darius came to the throne of Persia in 521BC he confirmed Cyrus’ decree and overturned the injunction. Instead of resuming the restoration of the temple, the people claimed this was not the right time to restore the temple. Their claim was based on the prediction the people would spend seventy years in captivity. According to the date they were using for the beginning of the seventy years, the date the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, two years remained to be fulfilled.
In the second year of Darius’ reign, Haggai and Zechariah were sent by the Lord to minister to the people and their leaders. Their mission was to encourage the people to resume the restoration of the temple that had been dormant for about fifteen years.
Haggai, whose name means “festive,” began his ministry two months prior to Zechariah’s ministry. He addressed the issue of the restoration of the temple, Zechariah; whose name means “Jehovah remembers” addressed the spiritual condition of the people. His mission was to lead the people into a complete spiritual renewal through faith in the Lord. In his message to the people, he addresses the nature of God’s Law and the promises of the Lord. Both Haggai and Zechariah point to the coming of the Messiah.
Malachi, whose name means “my messenger,” prophesied during the time when the wall of Jerusalem was being rebuilt. He called the people to a recommitment of themselves to the Lord and the following of His Law. The people’s failure to pay tithes to the Lord was condemned by both Nehemiah and Malachi (Nehemiah 13:10-14; Malachi 3:8-10). Malachi leaves us with the feeling there is more to come. The Lord still has promises to fulfill on behalf of His people.
We might ask ourselves, what is it the Lord is revealing to us in the messages Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi took to the captives that returned to Judah and Jerusalem. In each of these messages there is a comparison made between the captives and their past generation. In these messages, there are examples of lifestyles and commitment to the Lord and His plan for mankind as well as indifference. Today there are Christians who are making the same mistakes these captives made when they returned to Judah and Jerusalem. The captives were letting self and the enemy control their lifestyles and commitment to the
Lord. When it is convenient for them, they will restore the temple. When the opposition and hindrances to the restoration of the temple ceases and the demands of life are met, then there will be time to finish the restoration of the temple.
There are many parallels between ancient Israel and the nations of today. The ways in which they are in many ways identical is found in (2 Timothy 3:1-7).
The wealth of the powerful nations of this century and their great military power will not protect them. Those who turn from God He can break as He did ancient Israel. Like ancient Israel their destruction will not come from foreign invaders, although God does and will use foreign invaders as instruments of punishment, their destruction will come from within, as it did with ancient Israel.
In the midst of destruction, there is good news. It is never too late to turn to God. He will always forgive and protect those who truly repent.