Ezra: Return from Exile, Rebuilding Begins and Opposition Mounts

Read: Ezra 1-4

Finally, the remnant are able to return from exile, but this is just the beginning. Those who have occupied the land are not interested in seeing the Israelites succeed. Sound like a familiar scenario?

the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
Ezra 1:3

Chapter 2 provides a list that shows the count of men from various families, priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants and others that returned from exile. Even some that were excluded because they couldn’t find proper documentation.

It’s interesting to me that the musicians are distinguished whenever we see these lists. There is something about music that draws people to God. Not a large number, but they must have been important enough to be listed separately (along with the gatekeepers).

The priests, the Levites, the musicians, the gatekeepers and the temple servants settled in their own towns, along with some of the other people, and the rest of the Israelites settled in their towns. Ezra 2:70

They took seven months to get settled, then gathered to worship. They were afraid of those who surrounded them, but with the leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel, the sacrificial system was restarted:

Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Ezra 3:2

Building an altar and sacrificing to God was not trivial in that time. There were plenty of eyes from not-so-friendly neighbors watching them closely. We definitely get that sense these days when we’re launching or relaunching a church. Non-profits don’t want competition for their space, though they may never come forward and say as much, they all know donor contributions are a limited resource.

Perhaps this is why Joshua and Zerubbabel waited for seven months before they began the rebuilding project. The foundation is reestablished and the pent-up excitement of the people cannot be withheld any longer!

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”
Ezra 3:11

The youth had heard all the stories of old their entire lives, now they get to be a part of this incredible moment!

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:12-13

The oldest of the elders still remember the day when they worshipped freely. Those memories come rushing in and overtake them. It’s hard to imagine the elation and excitement in this country where we live in opulence. Where we decide what channel to watch, what diet we choose, etc. Freedom is not fully understood without the absence of the same. Lord, I pray we learn without imprisonment!

Opposition is Mounting

Why is it that someone’s joy and excitement stirs up jealousy in others? What is this part of the fallen nature of humanity? In chapter 4, the people around Jerusalem, those not part of the chosen families, show up to join in the festivities, but their hearts are bent on trouble.

But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. Ezra 4:3-4

More than just discouraging the people, they were actively seeking to derail progress:

They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:5

These people appealed to Artaxerxes with misinformation about the purpose of our ancestors, calling them wicked and rebellious people, trying to avoid paying him taxes, dishonoring the king, etc.

We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates. Ezra 4:16

Their appeal was heard by the king’s court.

As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:23-24

Hiding is not the answer. Nor is arming ourselves with weapons. This reminds me of Jesus’ words to the disciples:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.
Therefore be as shrewd as snakes
and as innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:16

Our battle may not be against flesh and blood, but there are many who would love to see us fail. The key is to carefully examine all that we are doing and see the direct connection between our actions, desires and plans to the great commission and calling of Jesus. When these lines are fuzzy, I would suggest that the opposition will frustrate the best of good intentions. At the same time, I believe that if we are walking in step with the Spirit, there is nothing that can stand in our way.

Lord, may we see your plans clearly in our hearts and in our minds.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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