Reading Haggai, has inspired me to look again Ezra, Zechariah, and Isaiah 44 & 45. I have always found the exile and returning from exile periods in Israel's history to be fascinating. Maybe because I don't remember learning those stories much in Sunday School. Or maybe it's because I see so many parallels between The U.S. and Babylon.
Now please understand, I don't mean the United States is "evil like Babylon" But there seems to be some very similar attitudes. I am not an expert on Babylonian culture. But I do understand from the scriptures that they were not annihilators, they were assimilators. They didn't conquer a people and wipe them out. They assimilated them into their culture. Tolerance and diversity seemed to be pretty common themes. Well tolerance to a point, there was the fiery furnace thing. But even there they didn't forbid them from praying to God, they just wanted them to bow to idols too.
They also seemed to be a pretty modern society. Even though we consider them to be ancient, I imagine they considered themselves to be quite high tech. They had the best technology and living in Babylon was probably pretty cushy for some. Many of the Jews, Daniel for example, became high ranking officials. Babylon was a melting pot and a land of opportunity in some ways. Tolerance, diversity, technology, opportunity - sound familiar?
I guess that is one reason the exiles fascinate me. How did they stay close to God in a culture so similar to ours? How did they deal with the temptations of prosperity, and push for tolerance? Was it difficult to leave Babylon and return to the ruins of Jerusalem?
It had been seventy years. Few of the returning exiles actually remembered Jerusalem. Many were born in exile, others were just small children when they left. I imagine their parents told them stories about the gorgeous temple, the gates, the walls. I wonder how it felt to them to return to find it all a pile of rubble.
Anyway, I guess that is why the exiles are so interesting to me. They had decisions to make that I can relate to my life. They had to discern when it was right to stay involved in the things of the world, Daniel, Mordechi, and Esther for example. They also had to discern when it was right to give up there wordly comforts as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel did.
There is lots to learn from them.