THE STORY OF ZERUBBABEL – Ezra 3:10–13 – And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
Perhaps you’ve heard the old—and rather pessimistic— proverb, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want. The other is getting it.”
This proverb sticks to the mind because it resonates with a common experience. We all know what it’s like to see paradise just out of reach. We think, if only I could get this job, or that house, or a spouse, or a child, then I would be happy. But if we do attain our small slice of paradise, something strange happens: We find that paradise didn’t deliver what it promised. Even the best moments in our lives fill us with a longing for something more.
The people of Israel knew this combination of longing and disappointment, too. It had been seventy years since they had seen their homeland destroyed and their families killed. Miles from home, God’s people were not only oppressed by their captors but seemingly forgotten by their God.
So when Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed certain Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, you can imagine a flicker of hope rising up within them. Perhaps God hadn’t forgotten them after all. Perhaps it was possible to experience God’s presence again. After all, the temple had been ground zero for God’s presence in the ancient times. Perhaps he would come again.
The people, led by Zerubbabel, fought against great odds to complete the temple’s foundation. And they faithfully dedicated the temple with the same refrain sung during King Solomon’s day: “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” But something was missing.
They sang the song, but God didn’t send the fire.
Not everyone in Israel felt the missing piece that day. Many of them—the younger ones—celebrated with great shouts. But the older men, remembering the beauty of the first temple, were so disappointed that they couldn’t hold back their tears. Perhaps, too, they remembered the stories of God’s glory filling the first temple. They knew this new building wasn’t the answer to their nation’s longing.
What they may not have known was that no building would ever satisfy this longing. Because what they longed for was not a beautiful building, nor even a moment of seeing God’s glory on magnificent display. What they longed for was the presence of God in their midst.
Ultimately, our plight is the same. Whether we are experiencing unfulfilled longings or unfulfilling successes, God desires to root our hearts in something more permanent. He desires to root our hearts in him.
Advent is a season of longing. Whatever else you long for this year, know that your heart is longing to know God and be with him forever.
Advent is a season of longing for God. Spend a minute reflecting on the longings in your life. Then actively set them aside and center your heart and desire on being with God.