In the seventh month we see that the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem from their towns (v.1). In this month, God’s people would celebrate three festivals; the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Simply then, this was an important month for them, hence the gathering. The first thing they do, and the most important in their rebuilding project, was to set the altar in its place (v.3). The language here tells us that this is the same place that it had historically been (2 Samuel 24.16-19). Looking back, they are planning for the future whilst respecting where they had come from.
The people, under the leadership of Jeshua and Zerubbabel (v.2) make practical arrangements (v.7), and get to work rebuilding the temple. They begin in the same month Solomon did (v.8, cf. 1 Kings 6.1), and gather the appropriate people for the task (vv.8-9).
There is scene of joyous celebration in vv.10-11, a more mellow version of that found in 2 Chronicles 5.13, and then we see a rather mixed reaction from the people, one which we can learn from today.
Looking back in v.3, the people respected the past whilst planning for the future. However, there are those among the people who, in vv.12-13, cannot accept that this new work of God will perhaps not match the splendour of that which Solomon oversaw (he did, apparently, spend the equivalent of $5-8 billion dollars on his temple project). Herein is a key and crucial difference for you and for me;
It is ok to look to the past, honour the past, use the past as a guide, but not to let the past paralyse current and future progress.
In Zechariah 4.8-10 and Haggai 2.1-9 we read of the Lord’s attitude towards the forward-moving progress of His people and their efforts to rebuild the temple.
Zechariah 4.10 says, ‘who dares make light of small beginnings?’ (NET). This is actually about rebuilding the temple, not, sadly for some, about the beginning of your new business venture, your first house purchase, or anything you might to have larger/bigger/more of but currently cannot.
See, looking back to honour the past is good (v.3), but lamenting over how things were and wishing they still were, at the cost of current and future progress, is not (vv.12-13 cf. Zechariah 4.8-10, Haggai 2.1-9).
Today, look back, honour the past, see what worked and what didn’t, but then concentrate on the now and not yet, the what is to come rather than the what has been.