I love studying the Old Testament because we see real life situation and we discover quickly that human nature has not changed one bit over the millennia. In our walk through the entire Bible at Southern Calvert Baptist Church, we have are in the Old Testament book written by the prophet Ezra. In a previous lesson we looked at Ezra 1, where the pagan king Cyrus surrendered to the will of God. King Cyrus was greatly influenced by the prophet Daniel. Upon reading the prophet Jeremiah, a scroll that Daniel had brought to Babylon when taken captive, king Cyrus surrendered to the will of God and decided to send the Jews back to Jerusalem. King Cyrus also promised to support the rebuilding of the Temple and sent the articles from the Temple back to Israel. This is a miracle. The children of Israel who were taken in Babylonian captivity finally get to go home. The Jews who were left in Jerusalem should have been excited that the city was going to be restored and the Temple rebuilt. On top of all of that, the local Jews were going to be reunited with their exiled brethren. Anyone who has ever tried to live out the will of God in their daily lives knows that there is always going to be opposition to that decision, often times, from family. It’s still shocking to experience. These exiled Jews are about to experience that opposition as they enter Jerusalem to rebuild.
I. Local Opposition
Instead of rejoicing with the exiles, the local politicians were extremely upset when the exiles returned. They opposed the will of God almost immediately.
1 Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel,
2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” (Ezra 4)
Ezra peeled back the curtain in verse 1 and revealed that these local leaders were the enemies of the exiles. They had power and authority and they had been wielding that power and authority over the locals. These people were remnants of the Assyrian captivity. They came back to Israel and claimed to worship God with sacrifices. There was one problem, the Temple was destroyed during the Babylonian siege some 70 years earlier. These local politicians were giving lip service to God, claiming to worship Him. The problem was, they were worshiping God the way that they wanted to worship Him and not according to the plan set forth in the Word of God. These people were going to be a hindrance to the ministry and the exile leaders knew that.
But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.” (Ezra 4:3)
The exiles had a clear command from the Lord and they were determined to be obedient. The local politicians showed their true colors when they did not get their way.
4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building,
5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
11 this is the copy of the letter which they sent to him: “T o King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River, and now
12 let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations.
13 “Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings.
14 “Now because we are in the service of the palace, and it is not fitting for us to see the king’s dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king,
15 so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that that city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces, and that they have incited revolt within it in past days; therefore that city was laid waste.
16 “We inform the king that if that city is rebuilt and the walls finished, as a result you will have no possession in the province beyond the River.”
17 Then the king sent an answer to Rehum the commander , to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and in the rest of the provinces beyond the River: “Peace. And now
18 the document which you sent to us has been translated and read before me.
19 “A decree has been issued by me, and a search has been made and it has been discovered that that city has risen up against the kings in past days, that rebellion and revolt have been perpetrated in it,
The local politicians discouraged the exiles from carrying out the will of God. They used fear as a weapon against the people because they saw the exiles as competition to their power over the locals. They wanted to frustrate the efforts by making false accusations against the exiles. They questioned the motives of the exiles by claiming that they were rebellious and evil. They accused them of tax fraud. They made general accusations without a shred of evidence claiming that the exiles would promote practices among the locals that would be damaging to the king. The local politicians falsely accused the exile leaders of plotting an insurrection. They discouraged the will of God and desired to cause ministry to cease. They even used the government to attack the people and the will of God, with force. King Cyrus issued the decree to rebuilt the Temple in 560 B.C. and it was not completed until 418 B.C. That’s 142 years of oppressing the will of God carried out by crooked politicians.
II. The people obey the Lord
How do you respond to opposition to the will of God? Those who oppress have a very specific goal in mind. They want to intimidate the followers of the Lord to the point that they are seized by fear and cease to carry out the will of the Lord. How are the exiles going to respond to the enemy’s tactics?
1 When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them,
2 then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them. (Ezra 5)
The people obeyed the Lord rather than the government. As I read this, I immediately thought of the followers of Jesus Christ who were opposed when preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem.
17 “But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.”
18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4)
The followers of Christ were free to live as they wanted, they simply could not preach and teach Jesus Christ to their fellow countrymen. The will of God was to proclaim Jesus Christ to all of creation. The followers of Christ were faced with a very difficult decision, obey the local politicians which would be disobedience to the Lord, or, obey the Lord and defy the local politicians. What were they going to do?
19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge;
20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4)
At the risk of imprisonment, the followers of Christ defied the local politicians and continued to proclaim the teachings of Jesus Christ to their fellow countrymen. This was exactly what the exiles did. They defied the local, corrupt politicians and continued to live out the will of the Lord.
III. The will of God prevails
The local politicians in Jerusalem were trying to manipulate king Darius just as they had done with the previous Persian kings. King Darius was a wise man and he did not allow himself to be manipulated by the corrupt politicians.
1 Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives , where the treasures were stored in Babylon.
2 In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows: “Memorandum –
3 “In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: ‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained . . . (Ezra 6)
King Darius did his own research and went back to the original sources. He discovered that the corrupt politicians in Jerusalem were trying to deceive him.
6 “Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and your colleagues, the officials of the provinces beyond the River, keep away from there.
7 “Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. (Ezra 6)
The will of the Lord was implemented and the exiles were able to get back to work rebuilding the temple. This was going to lead to a revival in Jerusalem and proper worship was going to resume for the first time in over seventy years!
15 This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
16 And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles , celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.
17 They offered for the dedication of this temple of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel.
18 Then they appointed the priests to their divisions and the Levites in their orders for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.
19 The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month. (Ezra 6)
The nation began to worship God according to His Word, the way that He desires. This revival began in the live of king Cyrus. It took 142 years from start to finish but it’s finally finished. The people turned to the Word and began to live out the will of God in their daily lives for the first time in many, many years.
Are you living out the will of God in your daily life? What keeps you from doing that? When opposition arises, how do you respond? Do you cave in the face of opposition or, do you remain strong and dedicate yourself to living out the will of the Lord? Don’t you want revival to break out in your generation just like what happened in Ezra’s generation? Are you ready to do what is necessary to bring about a revival that transforms society?
May the Lord help us understand this powerful message and apply it to our lives right now, where we are!