God brought sword, pestilence, famine, and wild beast to Judah due to her rebellious ways yet she refused to lay these things to heart (Isaiah 42:25). Jeremiah told the rebellious house of Judah that she would go into Babylonian captivity for seventy years so that she may be corrected and punished for her persistent sin (Jeremiah 25:11; 30:12 and 31:17-20). During these seventy years they were to experience the chastening of the Lord (Jeremiah 30:23-24). They would come to be "ashamed" of their rebellious ways (Jeremiah 31:19). Their shame would lead them to "repent" and call upon the Lord in prayer and praise (Jeremiah 31:19). The Lord promised the captives that after seventy years were accomplished in Babylon he would bring them back to Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 29:10). Though the days of captivity were very unpleasant there were greater days to look forward to (Isaiah 44:1-8). God would bring his people back to Judah and they would be restored. Isaiah writes, " That said of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, she shall be built; and of the temple, your foundations shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:28).
The book of Ezra confirms the validity of God's promise to restore his people to their land (see 2 Chronicles 36:19-21 and Ezra 1:1ff). The captives that initially return with Zerubbabel were fully restored and they understood their divine mission to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple (see Ezekiel 36:32-36). Their hearts were purposed to do all that God had commanded them (see Ezra 3:2-4). The Lord had commanded them to build the temple and so they were eager to do his divine will (see Ezra 6:14). Two years after coming to Jerusalem they began work on the temple and laid the foundation (Ezra 3:8-10). When the people saw the foundation of the temple many wept due to the size compared to Solomon's temple (see Ezra 3:12).
The Jews were nonetheless excited about the temple of God. When the Samaritans came to offer help Zerubbabel rejected them as those who have no part in spiritual matters with the people of God (Ezra 4:1-3). The Samaritans did all within their power to frustrate and discourage God's people from building the temple seeing that they were not permitted to be involved in it (Ezra 4:4ff). The Samaritans "weakened the hands of the people of Judah" and "frustrated their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius King of Persia" (Ezra 4:4-5, 24).
The next fifteen years would go by without any work being done on the temple as God had commanded (Ezra 4:24 and Haggai 1:15). The book of Ezra tells us that God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to the people to motivate them to get back to working on the temple (Ezra 5:1-2; Zechariah 6:15 and 8:9). The people had not worked on the temple for fifteen years (see Haggai 1:1 and Zechariah 1:1 as compared to Ezra 3:4 and 4:24). Though God had commanded them to build the temple they permitted persecution, in the form of discouragement by the Samaritans, to stop working on the temple. Furthermore they had lost sight of spiritual thinking and living as Zechariah reveals. Haggai's duty was to cause the Jews to "consider their ways" (Haggai 1:7). God had plagued the people of Judah with a drought and they were not even considering the cause of their discomfort (see Haggai 1:8-11). Haggai's words were received and the people obeyed God and went back to work (Haggai 1:12, 14).
Zechariah tells us that even after the people are motivated by Haggai to build they continued to experience drought and a lack of God's blessings. Two months after they had returned to the work on the temple Zechariah is still calling for their repentance of wicked works (compare Haggai 1:15 to Zechariah l:lff). Zechariah is pleading with them to "return now from your evil ways" (Zechariah 1:4) which he latter identifies as their "wickedness" (Zechariah 5:5-7). The people's "wickedness" came in the form of thievery and false witnessing (Zechariah 5:3-4), mundane, mechanical, ritualistic or habitual religious practices (Zechariah 7:1-7), and having a passion to acquire the riches and fame offered by the world (Zechariah 9:1ff). God reveals that their hearts were as hard as an "adamant stone" (Zechariah 7:12). The people devised evil against their own brethren (Zechariah 7:8ff) and they were "unclean" (Haggai 2:14). They had also lost sight of the spiritual significance of the temple by viewing it as small (Zechariah 4:9-10). The people of God had fallen back to the ways that caused them to go into captivity in the first place (see Zechariah 11:4-6 and Amos 2:6 and 8:4-6). The objective of the drought was to drive the people to repentance yet rather than turning to God they turned to idols (see Zechariah 10:1-2). The message to the people was that if they wanted God's blessings they would have to not only build the temple but speak truth, execute truthful judgment, leave off evil devising, turn away from false oaths, and stop doing all the things that Jehovah hates (Zechariah 8:16-18).
Total reformation was the only acceptable way to God. Zechariah delivers eight divine visions and two oracles to the people. The object of the visions and oracles is to turn the people's hearts back to God. The people were to learn that God's blessings are contingent upon man's obedience from the heart (Zechariah 8:9- 13). Zechariah takes his audience down a future road of a day and time when the Branch or Messiah would reign as king supreme over God's kingdom (Zechariah 3:6-8 and 9:9). This King shall provide a "fountain" (Zechariah 13:1) from his "pierced" body (Zechariah 12:10) that God's people may be cleansed of their sins (Zechariah 13:1). These "living waters" (Zechariah 14:8) shall ever be supplied by the "King over all the earth" (Zechariah 14:9). Those who obey God will not experience his divine curse (Zechariah 14:11). The Lord will protect, defend, and be a wall of protection for his true saints in Zion (see Zechariah 2:5; 9:8, and 15).
John C Robertson