Someone has said, “You can tell it’s going to be a rotten day when you call Suicide Prevention, and they put you on hold. You can tell it’s going to be a bad day when you turn on the news and they’re showing emergency routes out of the state. You can tell it’s going to be a rotten day when your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell’s Angels on the freeway.”
Have you ever had a day like that? Who among us does not have to deal with problems every day of the week?
Problems seem to be woven into the fabric of our lives. They often come upon us unexpectedly and hold on tenaciously. Problems also seem to come upon us most frequently when we have made a commitment to begin anew some aspect of our lives. Just when we make a commitment to obey God, we encounter opposition!
Even Jesus was not exempt from this dilemma. You will recall that after His baptism came the battle, after the dove came the devil, and after the voice from heaven came the roar from hell in the wilderness temptations. In our study today, we will see that opposition often comes after obedience. We will also see the importance of looking to God as our strength, shield, and refuge in times of trouble.
Purpose and Priorities
Ezra 3:1-6 tells us much about the common purpose and priorities of the Jews who returned to Judah. On the seventh month, the people, who had returned to their former villages and cities, “gathered together as one man to Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:1). This indicates a sense of common purpose among the people. They had a common desire to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar.
We can only imagine what a special day this must have been for the people. It was a day they had probably dreamed and thought about many times during their years in exile (Psalm 137:1-5).
Ezra 3:2 informs us that the first thing the people did was to “build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.” This indicates that the people had proper priorities.
According to Ezra 3:3, one of the factors that motivated the Jews to rebuild the altar was their great fear of the peoples of the land. It is interesting that they did not rebuild the walls of the city first. After all, the very reason walls were built around cities in ancient times was for protection and security from enemies and outside threats. The Jews however, made the rebuilding of the altar their top priority because they had finally learned that the Lord was their greatest source of strength and protection.
Project and Progress
Ezra 3:7-9 informs us that once the altar had been rebuilt and the sacrificial system reinstituted, the people were ready to turn their attention to the major project of rebuilding the Temple. The first order of business was the rebuilding of the foundation. Notice three things that helped the people to make progress in the work.
First, the people contributed to the work. The people contributed money to hire the workmen and provisions to be used in negotiating with other provinces for building supplies.
Second, the people cooperated in the work. There was something for everyone to do. Some were capable of giving, others were capable of working, while still others were capable of negotiating with the Phoenicians for cedar wood. In like manner, the work of ministry in the local church today depends on both the contributions and cooperation of the people. Paul made clear in I Corinthians 12:14-18 that the contribution and cooperation of every church member is needed and necessary.
Third, the work was coordinated. Such a major project required careful planning and capable coordination. The Levites were responsible for overseeing the work (Ezra 3:8) and the workmen (Ezra 3:9).
Once the foundation of the Temple had been laid, a worship service was held to celebrate this new beginning. This was an emotional event for all who participated. The emotions ranged from praise to pathos. Ezra 3:11 tells us that “the people sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.”
While some people rejoiced and shouted aloud for joy however, those who were older and had seen the glory of the first Temple “wept with a loud voice.” Perhaps the older generation wept because they felt that the second Temple would be less-than-adequate in both size and splendor. Ezra 3:13 records that the mingled shouts of praise and loud weeping resulted in a terrible cacophony of sound that “was heard far away.”
Problems are woven into the fabric of life.
We should not be surprised or despair when we encounter problems or when problems encounter us. Someone has said that problems will either make us or break us. When we encounter problems we should try to understand how God can use them to strengthen us. Problems are woven into the fabric of life!
My life is but a weaving, between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors, He worketh steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper, and I, the underside!
Not ’till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas, and explain the reason why,
The dark threads are as needful,
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver,
In the pattern He has planned.
The Lord is the greatest source of strength and protection.
The repatriates made the rebuilding of the altar their first priority when they returned to Judah. Even though they were fearful of the people of the land, they did not rebuild the walls of the city as their first line of protection. They rebuilt the altar and in so doing acknowledged their dependence upon God for protection. In our search for protection and security may we remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
There is a place for each of us in God’s work.
The Jewish repatriates made progress in laying anew the foundation of the Temple because each person did his part. The people contributed to the work and cooperated in the work while still others coordinated the work. The Apostle Paul reminds us (I Corinthians 12:14-18) that the contribution of every member of the church is needed and necessary in order to perform the work of ministry. We are responsible for using the gifts God has given us.
Serving God brings joy to the one who serves.
After the successful completion of the foundation of the Temple, the people who participated in the work rejoiced and gave thanks to God. Others however, looked back and became saddened because they felt the new Temple would be less-than-adequate. We should maintain Paul’s attitude in life as expressed in Philippians 3:13, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”