What’s it like to return home when you haven’t been there in a long time? I’m sure there are different emotions that span the range from excitement to fear. Nothing ever stays the same, no matter how much we would like it to.

Chapter 19 of “The Story” God’s people return home…

These Israelites must have experienced a wide range of bittersweet emotions as they arrived to find overgrown fields, neglected roads, demolished homes and a destroyed temple.  The precious hope of a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey was a distant memory.  The startling reality that lay before them was one of hours of hard work.  Everywhere they looked they could see evidence of the Divine judgment brought on by their unbelieving, disobedient forefathers.  For a few survivors, memories of the Babylonian siege, the unyielding famine, disease and death must have flashed before their eyes daily.

The hope of Promised Land blessings quickly turned into confusion, fear and discouragement from opposition of the local people.  These local people were probably the Samaritans.  The Assyrian invasion of 722 B.C. led to this mixed-race group of people.  The Assyrians intermarried with the Jews and these people became known as the Samaritans.  Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel rejected their attempts to “help” in the temple work.  But they were successful at discouraging the Israelites from completing their work.  After the foundation and altar were built, the temple remained untouched for sixteen years.  The temple was more than a building.  It was the center of their worship.  It had been the dwelling place of the visible presence of God whose glory slowly departed without notice between the second and third sieges (597-586 BC) as recorded by Ezekiel.  The temple was the only allowable location for their sacrifices and sacred feasts.  While the Jews were in exile in Babylon, they could not worship as the Law prescribed because they had no temple.  Like Daniel, many faithful Jews prayed privately and perhaps even publicly.  It was during this period in Babylon that the synagogue system was established to gather for the reading of the Torah and to worship God informally.

Therefore, the stalled temple work was outward evidence of an inward problem.  It was more than just a building project—it was evidence that their own pleasure and comfort had taken precedence over pleasing God.  Haggai rebuked them for living in the paneled houses while God’s house remained in ruins.  Preparing adequate shelter was certainly an understandable need, but they had gone far beyond “need.” The temple worship was required; thus the unfinished work revealed their growing spiritual apathy.  They were experiencing drought, poor harvest, and slow reproduction.  Their problem was misplaced priorities.  It is a problem we can all experience regardless of time or location—they put their interests above honoring the LORD.  The prophet Haggai’s rebuke was simple and to the point:  get right with the LORD and get back to work!  His message is as relevant to us now as it was to the returning Israelites then.  “Give careful thought to your ways.”   Solomon said much the same thing in Proverbs:  “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (14.8)

It is easy to get caught up in everything life throws our way. We see it with the Israelites and we see it in our lives today. The real question remains, what will we focus on? The problems of life, the trials we face, the tasks that we have ahead us? Focusing on these things will lead us to despair.

But instead consider this focus from Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

There are plenty of things that will hold us back, but we can throw it all down as we focus on the race set before each of us. It’s a race with a purpose that God has chosen us for. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, will then ensure we are looking to the things of God and not man. Our homecoming will then only be filled with excitement.

What will it be like to go home for you?