The Review and Herald

1515/1902

December 5, 1907

The Return of the Exiles—No. 5

Loss Through Delay

EGW

During the earlier years of the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, the Samaritans were untiring in their opposition. They “weakened the hands of the people in Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius.” By their false reports they aroused suspicions in minds easily led to suspect. At times, the rulers in authority seemed to be influenced to work against the purposes of God. But for many years the influences for evil were held in check, and the people of God had liberty to continue their work. RH December 5, 1907, par. 1

Throughout these years, Satan was striving to influence the highest powers of the kingdom of Medo-Persia to show disfavor to God's people. It was Satan who prompted the Samaritans to persevere in their opposition. But angels of God were working in behalf of the returned exiles, and all heaven was intensely interested in the controversy. In the tenth chapter of Daniel is given a glimpse of this mighty struggle waged for many years between the forces for good and the forces for evil. RH December 5, 1907, par. 2

In this vision of the prophet, the angel Gabriel declared: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.” For three weeks Gabriel had been wrestling with the powers of darkness, and seeking to counteract the influences at work on the mind of King Cyrus. Before the contest closed, Christ himself came to Gabriel's help. All that heaven could do in behalf of the people of God, was done. The victory was finally gained, and the forces of the enemy were held in check all the days of Cyrus, who reigned for seven years, and all the days of his son Cambyses, who reigned about seven years and a half. RH December 5, 1907, par. 3

This was a period of wonderful opportunity for the Jews. While the highest agencies of heaven were working on the hearts of kings, the people of God might have been most active in carrying out the decree of Cyrus to restore the temple and its services, and in re-establishing themselves in their Judean homes. But many failed of co-operating with God. In the day of his power, they proved unwilling. RH December 5, 1907, par. 4

The opposition of the enemies of God's truth was strong and determined. Gradually the builders lost heart. Some could not forget the scene at the laying of the corner-stone, when “many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men,” and who had seen the temple that Solomon built, gave expression to their lack of faith in the enterprise by lamenting because of the seeming inferiority of the plans for this second temple. And as the Samaritans grew more and more bold, many of the Jews began to question whether, after all, the time had come for rebuilding. This feeling soon became widespread. Many of the workmen, disheartened and discouraged, returned to their homes, and engaged in the ordinary pursuits of life,—in sowing and reaping, and in building and beautifying houses for themselves. RH December 5, 1907, par. 5

During the reign of Cambyses, the work on the temple progressed very slowly. Finally, in the brief reign of the false Smerdis (named Artaxerxes in Ezra 4:7), the Samaritans induced the unscrupulous impostor to issue a decree forbidding the Jews to rebuild their temple and city. RH December 5, 1907, par. 6

For over a year the temple was neglected,—well-nigh forsaken,—while the people dwelt in their homes, and labored to attain temporal prosperity; but their situation was deplorable. Work as they might, they could not prosper. The very elements of nature seemed to conspire against them. A drought prevailed, and the harvests were meager. RH December 5, 1907, par. 7

These were the conditions existing during the early part of the reign of Darius Hystaspes, king of Medo-Persia. Spiritually as well as temporally, the Israelites were in a pitiable state. So long had they murmured and doubted; so long had they chosen to make their personal interests first, while they viewed with apathy the Lord's temple in ruins, that many had lost sight of God's purpose in restoring them to Judea. RH December 5, 1907, par. 8

For a time, the forces of evil seemed to triumph. But even this dark hour in the history of God's people was not without hope for those whose trust was in the Lord God of Israel. RH December 5, 1907, par. 9

In tender compassion, the Lord wrought in a marked manner to save his chosen people from utter spiritual ruin. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were raised up to meet the crisis. In stirring testimonies these appointed messengers of God revealed to the people the cause of their troubles. Their lack of temporal prosperity was the result of their neglect to consider God's interests first. By honoring God and by showing him due respect and courtesy, through the building of his house, they would have invited his presence and blessing. RH December 5, 1907, par. 10

“In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.” RH December 5, 1907, par. 11

The expression, “This people say,” is significant. In the hour of their opportunity, the Israelites had not shown themselves willing. Prompt obedience is expected of those whom the Lord chooses and leads. Pleas for delay are a dishonor to God. And yet those who choose to follow their own way, often frame ingenious excuses in self-justification. Thus the Israelites declared that they had begun to rebuild, but that they were broken off in their work because of the hindrances devised by their enemies. These hindrances, they reasoned, were an indication that it was not the proper time to rebuild. They declared that the Lord had interposed difficulties to reprove their hot haste. This is why, in a communication through his prophet, he referred to them not as “my people,” but as “this people.” RH December 5, 1907, par. 12

The Israelites had no real excuse for leaving their work on the temple. The time when the most serious objections were raised, was the time for them to persevere in building. But they were actuated by a selfish dislike to encounter danger by arousing the opposition of their enemies. They did not possess the faith that is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. They hesitated to move forward by faith in the opening providences of God, because they could not see the end from the beginning. When difficulties arose, they were easily turned from the work. RH December 5, 1907, par. 13

This history will be repeated. There will be religious failures because men do not have faith. When they look at the things that are seen, impossibilities appear; but God can lead them step by step in the course he desires them to take. His work will advance only as his servants move forward by faith. While they may be called upon to pass through trying times, yet they should ever remember that they are contending with a weakened, beaten foe. God's people will finally triumph over every power of darkness. RH December 5, 1907, par. 14

“Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” Why have you been so passive? Why have you done so little? Why do you feel concern for your own buildings, and unconcern for the Lord's building? Why have you lost the burning zeal you once manifested in behalf of the restoration of the Lord's house? What have you gained by serving self at the sacrifice of the best interests of God's cause? The desire to escape poverty has led you to neglect the temple; but this very neglect has brought upon you that which you feared. Nothing has prospered. “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.” RH December 5, 1907, par. 15

The Lord calls upon them to consider the situation carefully. “Consider your ways,” he repeats. “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.” He gives the reason for their having been brought to actual want: “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands.” RH December 5, 1907, par. 16

How striking is the contrast between the prompt obedience of the things of nature, and the slothful disobedience of men, those for whom Christ has died! The Lord calls upon the dew and the rain and the varied agencies of nature, and they obey his call, to be used either in blessings or in judgments. Inanimate nature is represented as being shocked at man's disregard for God's word. God calls for famine and plague and pestilence, for calamities by sea and by land, to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. In response to the call of God, the things of nature spring to do his bidding, either in wasting and destruction or in mercies and blessings. RH December 5, 1907, par. 17

Because the Israelites let God's house lie waste, the Lord sent upon all their substance a wasting drought. This judgment affected not only all the fruits of the ground, but the living creatures as well. The cattle must suffer because of the sins of men. God has bestowed on his remnant people the fruits of field and garden, the corn and the wine and the oil, as a token of his favor. It was because of the sins of Israel, the Lord declared through Haggai his messenger,—because the people had used all these bountiful gifts so selfishly,—that the blessings were removed. RH December 5, 1907, par. 18

The messages of counsel and reproof given through Haggai were taken to heart by the leaders of Israel and “all the remnant of the people.” Roused by these warnings, “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the Lord.” RH December 5, 1907, par. 19