Down and Out and Up and At ‘Em!
Have you ever encountered a problem so big that you were stopped dead in your tracks? Have you ever been immobilized by frustration, fear, or confusion? Have you ever abandoned a worthy project because others discouraged, taunted, or ridiculed you? Have you ever compromised your convictions simply for the sake of keeping the peace? Is there anything in your life that you can look back on and wish that you would have had the courage and resolve to complete?
Is there any venture that we can undertake that is problem-free? Is it worth abandoning a worthy project because there are people who don’t believe in it and won’t support it? Can we be at peace with ourselves if we compromise our convictions for the sake of keeping the peace? Is it worth living with regrets in the future because we lack the resolve and purpose of heart to follow through in the present?
Wow! What a barrage of questions! Yet they are all questions that spring directly from the book of Ezra. No sooner had the Jews started the work of rebuilding the Temple than they encountered opposition from their enemies. This should come as no surprise, after all, our enemies are supposed to oppose us and try to discourage us — it’s in their job description!
Opposition and problems will come whenever God’s people get involved in God’s work and that work begins to move forward. Thus the question is not, “Will opposition and problems come?” but rather, “How will we respond when opposition and problems come?”
The response of the Jews to the opposition they encountered is recorded in Ezra 4:24. They abandoned the work of rebuilding the Temple until the second year of King Darius (a total of some sixteen years). The Jews allowed themselves to be stopped dead in their tracks. They were immobilized by fear and discouragement. They abandoned their worthy project. They compromised their convictions for the sake of keeping the peace. They allowed their enemies to reorder their priorities, reshape their vision, and redirect their efforts. They were down and out!
Ezra 4:24 and Haggai 1:1-11
The Old Testament book of Haggai (the third book from the end of the Old Testament) fills in the story between Ezra 4:24 and 5:1. Haggai 1:1-11 tells us what the people did after they abandoned the work of rebuilding the Temple. According to Haggai, it is a story of misplaced priorities, indifference, and selfishness.
When they encountered opposition the people began to make excuses, saying it was just not the right time to rebuild the Temple (Haggai 1:2). The people had somehow lost their vision. They could no longer see the bigger picture. They were no longer motivated to work, make sacrifices, or deal with problems. Without a vision they were no longer motivated to venture.
Haggai tells us that when the people abandoned the work of rebuilding the Temple, they took up less dangerous pursuits. They began to work on their own houses. They allowed good pursuits to keep them from the best pursuits. They sought security over the sweat and sacrifice that leads to success. How the people of Judah must have lost credibility in the eyes of their enemies.
Ezra 5:1-2 and Haggai 1:12-15
There is no question about the fact that the people of Judah needed to change. They needed to change their attitudes, their agenda, and their actions. They needed for someone to remind them of God’s priorities, rekindle their vision, and revive their efforts.
Sixteen years after they abandoned the work of rebuilding the Temple, God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to motivate the people to get “up and at ’em!” Haggai and Zechariah preached such convicting and motivating messages that the people were stirred into action. They resumed the long-neglected work of rebuilding the Temple.
Once the people resumed the work of rebuilding the Temple, potential opposition surfaced. This time the opposition came from meddling politicians. When these Persian politicians arrived at the construction site, they asked to see the building permit and wanted the names of every member of the building committee. Fortunately for the Jews, God was watching over them and they were allowed to continue the work, pending an official investigation into the legality of their work.
Tattenai, a Persian governor, wrote a letter to King Darius explaining the situation and asked that a search of the archives be conducted to see if Cyrus had indeed issued a building permit to the Jews for the reconstruction of their Temple. A search of the archives was conducted and yielded the proclamation that Cyrus had issued, allowing the Jews the right to rebuild their Temple. King Darius then responded to Tattenai’s letter by telling him to stop meddling with the Jews and allow them to finish their work.
We should not allow opposition to keep us from serving God.
Those who seek to serve God will encounter opposition. Jesus said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20). We should persevere in the face of opposition and problems, knowing that “the eye of [our] God [is] upon [us]” (Ezra 5:5).
We should not allow the good to keep us from the best.
When the people of Judah were discouraged from rebuilding the Temple, they invested their efforts in other important, but less noble pursuits. Eventually they became comfortable and slowly grew indifferent to the greater work that God had for them to do. We must be careful lest comfort keeps us from commitment and security keeps us from service.
God was interested in more than the rebuilding of the Temple.
While the rebuilding of the Temple was of paramount importance, so too was the rebuilding of lives. God knew that the lives, hopes, and dreams of the people would also be rebuilt during the course of the Temple reconstruction in the face of opposition. Edwin Markham wrote:
We are all blind until we see
That in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if
It does not make the man.
Why build these cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the work, unless
The builder also grows.
God’s will shall prevail.
It was God’s will that the Jewish exiles be allowed to return to their homeland. It was God’s will that the Temple be rebuilt. God did not allow His will to be thwarted. He used godly prophets, meddling politicians, and pagan rulers in His plan. Each became an instrument in His hand to accomplish His will.