What happens when an enthusiastic child of God is hit in the face with a wall of red tape? When those who should be helping you throw cold water all over your plans, how do you react? Well, you may not like the answer. One of the most godly things we are asked to do is to wait on the Lord. I don’t think any of us enjoy waiting, but you’ll never accomplish anything in the kingdom of God without learning to wait in faith. As verse 13 begins, God has moved on behalf of Ezra and those patiently waiting. Cyrus, the King, has responded to their opposition with letters of support and has gone so far as to say they have to offer their assistance to the Jews or they will be punished. When you feel passionate about serving God and you are inspired to do something for his glory, it is often the case that you will have to learn patience, endurance, and grit.
13 Then Tatnai, governor on this side of the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
God gives us a vision and a ministry. We pray about it, we go to work. Then inevitably, any good work for God is fought by Satan with a most effective tool- frustration. The opening of this lesson occurs after Tatnai and others have hindered the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. They’ve slowed and frustrated the process by insisting on sending letters to the King to have him reconsider or at least clarify who is in charge in Jerusalem. It is a stalling tactic, a way to discourage them to the point of giving up and saying the task is too hard and not worth the sacrifice.
14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were given messages of encouragement to motivate the workers in Jerusalem. Also, notice that the God of Israel is the God who is in charge and his word is carried out through the pagan leaders Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. God gave the commandment, no amount of red tape, persecution, discouragement, frustration, or catastrophe can stop the temple in Jerusalem from being built. God uses whomever, however, and whenever he chooses and his word is true.
15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.16 And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.17 And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.
The job of rebuilding the temple required hard work, patience, and vision. When it came time to dedicate the temple, it is reasonable to believe that a huge sigh of relief was the response. After over 70 years of captivity brought on by their neglect of God’s word and the abominable sin that was the result, men who believed God and His commandment are seeing the fruit of their labors.
It is often asked, why would God allow his people to suffer being overtaken by their enemies and being placed in captivity? God desires to seek and save the lost. He saved as many as he could through their suffering. At this point, a dedicated group of godly men has returned home to Jerusalem with a renewed appreciation for the temple, and for the sacrifices. They are doing this with Joy. We know that before the Babylonian captivity, God accused them of going through the motions with their hearts far from him. It’s a different story now. Sometimes, we have to suffer painful consequences before we learn to appreciate the presence and peace of God.
18 And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.20 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.
They returned to the law given to Moses in order to know how to do things correctly. They are celebrating the Passover. I envision that having once again been brought out of bondage by the hand of God, the celebration of Passover was especially poignant that year. God has done it again. He’s still the God who sets them free.
This Easter, no pandemic, no global conflict, no failure of our government, will stop us from celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross is the fulfillment of Passover. Jesus is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. We will celebrate a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Church work can be hard, just getting along with other human beings is hard. It can be frustrating when you have a vision for the church, and others who should be helping you can’t see it. It can be exhausting with the amount of work and dedication that is required to see things through and keep everything running smoothly. Without a doubt, it is worth it. The God who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, will be with you and will accomplish His will through you if you don’t quit.
21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat,22 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Ezra and the settlers in Jerusalem had already been through so much, and get ready for Nehemiah, they and their children will continue to go through a lot more trouble and conflict before their mission is finished. However, it is time to celebrate what God has done. He turned the heart of the King for them, He protected them from their enemies, He settled conflicts between them, and He silenced the mouth of those who threatened and criticized them. They ate, they were strengthened for the next fight. They found their strength and their salvation in God, who is always faithful. “For the Lord, he is good, and his mercy endureth forever.”
Worship, praise, thanksgiving. Those are powerful tools that each Christian needs to use. When the day in front of you is too big, when the fears are too real, and when the hurt is too much for you to handle, do the most unnatural thing. Stop and praise God for what He has already done. He has paid the price for your sin, He has made you a child of God, He has promised to be with you always, He is the maker of heaven and earth, He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It is He who was dead and is now alive forevermore. Fill the Earth with His praise, enjoy what He has provided for you today. Strengthen yourself for the fight, but remember that it is He who fights for you.
In this chapter, they are praising, joyful, and thankful, for a place to offer sacrifices to God. Read that slowly. They have learned that giving to God, having peace with God, and making God the center of their lives is a joy and it is the most important accomplishment they can work toward. They are holding feasts, each one of which tells us about Jesus Christ, their coming Messiah. As Christians today, who have believed on Jesus, are we joyfully finding a place to be a living sacrifice in thanksgiving to God, or have we allowed Satan to frustrate us to the point of giving up? You can be certain that God wants to do great things through you, but you’ll never celebrate the victory if you allow the enemy to talk you into quitting.
What encouragement did the prophets offer to those returning to build Jerusalem and the temple?
Are we able to recognize the things that Satan tosses in our way? Does he ever use good things to hinder our efforts?
What things can we do to encourage others?
What kind of example do you set for those around you when things are tough and your visions are frustrated?
You might envision working for God to be a serene and blessed life. Having been a Pastor’s wife for many years, I have always been amazed at the amount of angst one encounters when working for the Lord. I wish everyone knew that dedicating your time and life to God will tell you more about you than about anyone else. You will become very familiar with frustration, long-suffering, forbearance, and occasional hurt feelings. You will learn to guard your hearts and minds, increase your patience, and see past the obstacles to the prize. It isn’t always easy to do. The joy of serving the Lord, the happiness in one soul converted, is well worth the frustration (no matter how great). It's really not about you. It is all about Jesus and his plan of salvation. There will be a celebration someday that will make the toils of this life seem like nothing.
“At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, all the burdens of my heart rolled away.” When your eyes have been opened, when you’ve surrendered to Christ as Lord, and your chains have fallen away, the whole world looks different. I remember wanting to do something for the Lord, I was full of hope, energy, and thankfulness. It is easy to lose that heart for service, a lot of things get in the way. We can’t do anything directly for God, He doesn’t need anything, we do things for people in His honor. People, however, are often frustrating, unkind, and difficult. Sometimes I have been tempted to say, "I may as well give up, they don’t want to hear what I have to say.” That’s where this lesson is a mighty reminder that if we wait, if we stay faithful, if we forgive quickly, and if we love the Lord with all of our strength, He will work things out for good. He will accomplish what he starts within us. Have faith.
Thank you for Studying with us! God Bless!