This month begins a new quarter, the last in the 2013–14 series. We will be studying three books of the Bible: Haggai, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians. These lessons are about building community.
The world has it backwards (Surprise, surprise!). The world emphasizes individual rights and personal freedom, whereas both the Old Testament and New Testament highlight community. In the world each is his own individual and joins with like-minded persons to form cliques, clubs and countries. In the Old Testament the people of Israel were to see themselves as a people—group, community—chosen by God to be the people of God. Their identity as individuals was derived from the community. For example, in Philippians 3:4–6 Paul, before he met Christ, identified himself first by circumcision which made him belong to the people of Israel, then his tribe, family, and party (Pharisee). The New Testament also places high value on community. We Christians are to identify ourselves first as baptized believers in Christ (children of God), then members of a particular church, community and nation. Salvation is a personal choice; but when we receive Christ we become members of a community, the Church. To ask if it is possible to be born-again without the church is like asking if a baby can be born without a mother. We belong to Christ, and we are born by and into His Church.
Haggai is a short book of only two chapters, from which the four lessons in June are taken. The prophet was active for only three months (September to December 520 B.C.) whereas his contemporary, Zechariah, preached for three years (520–518 B.C.). These two prophets, sent by the LORD, were able to motivate the people to come together to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
When Cyrus, King of Persia, conquered Babylon in 539, he issued a decree releasing all captive people, including the Jews, and encouraging them to return to their homelands. Sheshbazzar led the first group of returnees. They made a feeble attempt to rebuild the temple but stopped because of dissention between those who had returned and those who had not gone into captivity. In eighteen years they had managed to build comfortable houses for themselves, to plant and harvest crops, but they suffered under drought conditions. It appears that each family was concerned for its own survival.
By 520 B.C. many exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. Zerubbabel was governor, and Joshua was high priest. Zerubbabel was a descendent of King David. He was the great-grandson of King Josiah who reigned for thirty-one years and instigated many religious reforms. Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, succeeded him and ruled for three months before falling prisoner to Egypt. His brother, Jehoiakim, was placed on the throne by the king of Egypt; he reigned for three years and died after being captured by the Babylonians. He was followed by his son, Jehoiachin, who ruled for three months until taken captive to Babylon in 597. Zerubbabel was grandson of Jehoichin, and in 520 was governor of Judah. Politically turbulent times saw a shift in dominant power passing from Egypt to Babylon to Persia.
In lesson one Haggai was sent to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest, with a message from the LORD that it was time to build the temple. It took three weeks to devise a plan and to rally the people together for the building project.
In lesson two the word “fear” is used twice. There are two kinds of fear: that which comes from danger, dread and terror; and that derived from awe, respect and reverence. When “fear” is used in connection with God, it is usually the latter.
When the people came together as a community, with a common purpose and calling, they were able to build the temple in only five years.