The people of God living in Judah went through traumatic changes. In 586 B.C. the Temple of God in Jerusalem was literally demolished and burnt to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar (II Kings 24). Built by Solomon four hundred years earlier with no expense spared, and dedicated to God by the Israelites with great pomp and ceremony (II Chronicles 7), the Temple in Jerusalem had been at the center of Jewish identity. When it disappeared, the Jews were taken into captivity by the Babylonians where the Jews "hung their harps in the willow trees" (Psalm 137:2). They'd rather the wind vibrate their stringed instruments because there were no more songs in their hearts.
After seventy years of exile, God raised up the Persian King Cyrus, who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and let the Jews return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and their Temple (Ezra 1). Within two short years, the Jews laid the foundation for the new Temple. In Ezra 3 we read the different responses of the old men and of the young men when they laid the final foundation stone of the new temple:
"Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord... people sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” And the young people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many others shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away."(vs. 10-13).The old people wept and wailed while the young people celebrated and sang.
Why did the old people weep? They remembered the first temple, and the second temple wasn't like the first (Ezra 3:12). Here were some of the differences between the two temples:
1. The footprint of the foundation of the second temple was much smaller than the footprint of the first.
2. The appearance of the second temple was much plainer - no silver and gold in it - than the fabulous appearance of the first temple which glittered with gold and silver.
3. Everything associated with second temple - whether it was the amount of sacrifice, the number of priests, or the people who gathered - when compared to the era of the first temple was much lesser in grander, influence and power.Smaller. Plainer. Lesser.
Why did the young people celebrate and sing? They were excited about the future! They had no memory of the past. Most of the young were born in a culture that was pagan (Babylon), and just the ability to dance and sing to God in freedom was enough to bring tears to their eyes.
However, the old people who were at first sad, soon got mad. They stopped working on the temple of God. "If we can't do it the way we remember it, then we aren't participating at all."
When the young people saw their elders lose interest in the work of God, they turned to the Samaritans for help. The Samaritans were "enemies of God" (Ezra 4:1-2). As one might expect, the Samaritans provided no help in building the temple. Instead, they sought to destroy Judah from within. When the young people of Judah finally saw the Samaritan threat for what it was, they spent so much time fighting the Samaritans, they left the temple of God unfinished.
For 18 years, the old people of Judah and the young people of Judah took the wood they were going to use as framework for the temple of God, and instead they paneled the walls of their own houses (Haggai 1:4). The people of God would rather sit in comfort and security in their own houses than work together for the Kingdom. The temple was left unfinished.
Enter the prophet Haggai.
In August of 520 B.C. Haggai, inspired by God, told the people to "give careful thought to what they were doing" (Haggai 1:5). In an attempt to only do those things comfortable and secure for themselves (e.g. "living in paneled houses," and "seeking their own comfort"), they have neglected the Kingdom.
Haggai's prophetic word "stirred up the spirits" of the old and the young, the governor of Judah (Zerubbabel), and the high priest (Haggai 1:14). They began to work together for the Lord.
But even after they began to build the framework of the temple on the foundation they had established 18 years earlier, the older people still complained (Haggai 2).
1. "Lord, we have no gold and silver like when we built You the first Temple!"
2. "Lord, this temple is really, really different than the first one we built You!"
3. "Lord, we don't like what we are seeing; it's not the way it used to be!"
God interrupted their complaining by giving to Haggai three additional prophecies (see Haggai 2). The Lord gives the people a promise:
"On that day" (Haggai 2:23), - a day which refers to the coming of Messiah, the son of Zerubbabel (see Matthew 1:12) - "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:9)Haggai 2 is probably my favorite chapter in the entire Old Testament. In Haggai's encouragement to the people to build the second temple in Jerusalem, he tells them that the Messiah will do something far greater, far grander, far more glorious than anything seen in the days of the first temple.
God will bring peace to sinners through Zerubbabel's descendant, the Messiah, who will create a temple far more glorious than Solomon's.
For we know that "we ourselves are God's temple, and the Spirit of God dwells in us" (I Corinthians 3:16).
If you are weeping over the loss of buildings, programs, and traditions of the past, and because of this sadness you sit in your home and seek personal comforts, then you are guilty of the sin of the old people of Judah. Leave your paneled walls and seek His Kingdom. You seem to have lost your perspective. It is far more glorious when a sinner finds peace with God through Good News of Jesus Christ than remembering the glorious days of Levitical singers performing on the gold encrusted steps of the former temple.
Likewise, if you are celebrating and singing because you are unaware of the traditions of the past, and you're are simply rejoicing over freedom to build His Kingdom, be aware that the Samaritans lay in wait to trap you into believing that they can offer you help by blending what the world cherishes with God's Kingdom. Come out, you young people of God, and be separate from the Samaritans who worship many gods.
Let's build the Kingdom together.