Today’s Reading: Ezra 1-6
The prophet Ezra described what life was like for God’s people as they returned to Jerusalem. Ezra told how God stirred the heart of King Cyrus of Persia to let God’s people return to Jerusalem for the specific purpose of rebuilding the Temple. Then God stirred the hearts of the priests, Levites and all the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord.
This stirring of hearts created a culture of generosity. Cyrus generously returned 5400 articles of silver and gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. Those who had lived among the Israelites and been their neighbors for so many years also gave generously of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They voluntarily lavished God’s people with valuable gifts to take with them (Ezra 1:1-11).
In response to this generosity, the leaders of each family unit among the people of God returning to Jerusalem also gave voluntary offerings, each leader giving as much as they could. God was generous, stirring others’ hearts toward generosity, and the response was the desire of God’s people to also be generous (Ezra 2:68-69).
When God’s people arrived in Jerusalem, they assembled with a unified purpose – to rebuild God’s Temple. During the seventy years that the Israelites had been gone, other peoples had settled into the city, making it their home. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening (Ezra 3:3).
Imagine the excitement after all these years to be back home again, offering daily sacrifices to God – dedicating each day to God. The first Festival they celebrated was the Festival of Shelters, reminding the people of God’s guidance and care for His people as they spent 40 years living in tents in the desert as they traveled from exile in Egypt to their new home in the Promised Land. Wow! How significant this must have been to the people as they had just completed their own journey living in tents, traveling from exile in Babylon back home to Jerusalem. God’s timing is always significant!
When the foundation of the Temple was completed in their second year back in Jerusalem, the people stopped to celebrate. With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord: “He is good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!” Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid (Ezra 3:11). Many wept aloud. Others were shouting for joy. The sounds of the shouting and weeping could be heard far into the distance.
As often happens when things are going well, opposition began to arise among those from other nations who were living in Jerusalem. They wrote a letter back to the King Artaxerxes of Persia convincing him to stop the reconstruction of the Temple. Then, with a show of strength, they forced the Jews to stop building. The construction remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia (Ezra 4:23-24).
This was around the same time that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were encouraging God’s people to finish what they had started as God had commanded. The building started back up again, as did the opposition. God’s people had confidence that God was watching over them (5:5) and the local residents once again tattled back to the King, reporting that the work was going forward with great energy and success (5:8).
King Darius, however, found a scroll with the decree from King Cyrus that the Temple should be rebuilt on the site where the Jews used to offer their sacrifices, using the original foundation (6:3). His reply back to the opposition was to “stay away…do not disturb…let it be rebuilt…do not hinder…Moreover, I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay, from my taxes collected in the province west of the Euphrates River so that the work will not be interrupted.”
King Darius also donated young bulls, rams, and male lambs to be used for burnt offerings presented to the God of heaven, as well as wheat, salt, wine and olive oil. His desire was that the Israelites would present acceptable sacrifices to God and pray for King Darius and his sons (Ezra 6:6-10).
Do you ever just get tickled at these kinds of stories? We still hear them today! What others do in hopes of harming or discouraging us, God makes into opportunities to bless us! What comes in the form of OPPOSITION becomes OPPORTUNITY. Today’s morning coffee was rich with encouragement for me.
Generosity births more generosity.
When we are unified with one purpose given by God, we have strength to move forward even in the midst of fear and opposition.
When God works through us to accomplish His will, it is time to celebrate and give Him praise!
When faced with opposition, trust in God to make something wonderful come out of the struggles.
As opposition against pro-life pregnancy centers in Illinois increases, this message gives us the encouragement we need to keep pressing forward. We need to continue to do what God has called us to do, even when commanded to do something different. We need to trust that something beautiful will come out of the struggle.
May this message in Ezra give us new perspective. Let’s celebrate ALL that is going on in our lives and give Him praise, trusting that OPPOSITION will become OPPORTUNITY for God to do something wonderful in our hearts and in our lives. Let’s move forward in strength.