A Good Start
Read Ezra 3
After having some time to settle into their old villages and lands, the people all gather in Jerusalem. Under the leadership of two men, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the people build an altar and begin making sacrifices and offerings to God as the Old Testament commanded them.
They begin the rebuilding project for the Temple of God. They buy goods from other nations and begin laying the foundation for the new Temple. They appoint Levites (the chosen priests of God) to supervise the work and make sure that everything is done in a way that honors God and obeys the Old Testament. After much work, the foundation is finished. The people celebrate by worshiping God. It is a bittersweet day as they celebrate the new beginning but also realize that this Temple is not even close to the size and beauty of the Temple that had been destroyed. Despite the sadness, they are off to a great start! But nothing is ever that easy. . .
Read Ezra 4
At this point, some non-Israelites show up and offer to lend a hand in building the Temple. That sounds friendly enough. But notice that the Bible calls them enemies in the first verse of chapter four. These men claim to worship Yahweh, but it’s likely that they worshiped Yahweh along with their other gods as most people in this time worshiped many gods. Zerubbabel and Jeshua decide not to accept their help. They may have known that these men were up to no good. They may have also known that they worshiped false gods and wanted to keep Israel and the Temple pure and holy. This is another glimpse of the theme of holiness in Ezra. Tuck it away and we’ll get back to it in coming weeks.
So these people write a long letter to the new King of Persia. Cyrus has been replaced with Artaxerxes. They tell the King that the Israelites used to be a mighty nation that was rich and powerful. They warn the King that if the Israelites are allowed to rebuild, the Israelites will grow powerful again and become a problem for Persia. King Artaxerxes checks his history books and finds this to be true. So he orders the Israelites to stop rebuilding and the peoples of the land force the Israelites to stop. Once again, the powerful king is against them. At this point, we are again left asking the question: Is there any hope for God’s people?
A Second Try
Read Ezra 5:1-5
Several years pass and no progress has been made on the Temple. Then, two prophets show up. Haggai and Zechariah bring commands from God for the people to finish the Temple. Zerubbabel and Jeshua lead the people to begin again.
Read Ezra 5:6-6:12
Well, the peoples of the land realize that the Israelites are building again. But before they go attack them and force them to stop, they decide to check with the King again. They send a later to King Darius, the King who replaced Artaxerxes. They ask if they should stop the Israelites or allow them to keep building, but they ask in a very favorable way for the Israelites! They include the words of the Israelites about King Cyrus’ decree that they should be allowed to finish the Temple. Sure enough, King Darius looks into it and finds King Cyrus’ old decree. He then orders all peoples to allow the Israelites to rebuild and he orders the peoples to help pay and supply the Israelites! Finally, he declares that anyone who tries to change or stop this would be put to death. The Israelites are now even more protected and more funded than when they began!
What We Learn About God
Did any of that feel repetitive? Did the letters feel repetitive? This is because this section of Ezra is arranged chiastically. This means that the story is told in a symmetrical way which can give us hints as to the main point. Think of the structure of the old nursery rhyme The Itsy Bitsy Spider.
a. The spider climbs the water spout
b. The rain comes and stops the spider
b’. The sun comes and dries the rain
a’. The spider climbs the water spout again
In a chiastic structure, the story is very symmetrical. This is expressed with the letter “a” at the beginning connecting to the “a’” at the end and so on. Let me show you the chiastic structure of this portion of Ezra as I learned from The Literary Structure of the Old Testament by David A. Dorsey.
a. Ezra 3:1-6 The Israelites give offerings to God and celebrate a holy feast
b. Ezra 3:7-13 The Israelites begin building the Temple and the foundation is completed
c. Ezra 4:1-24 Opposition comes from peoples of the land through letters from the King
d. Ezra 5:1-2 The people obey God’s prophets and begin building again
c’. Ezra 5:3-6:12 Blessing comes from peoples of the land through letters from the king
b’. Ezra 6:13-15 The Israelites finish the project and the Temple is completed
a’. Ezra 6:16-22 The Israelites give offerings to God and celebrate a holy feast
Isn’t that cool? Notice how the a’s connect and the b’s connect and the c’s connect. The last two pieces are parts of the story that we’ll be covering next week. But do you see the overall structure? It’s very easy to see what is at the center of this portion of the story isn’t it? The part that we are supposed to focus on is the middle, where everything changes.
Everything is going well for the Israelites and then they hit a bump in the road and life comes to a halt. What changes everything? When God commands the people to rebuild, they take a step of faith in spite of the opposition and they obey God. As a result, the sovereign God turns their obstacle into a blessing and the temple is finished and the people celebrate. The focus is on the step of faith and obedience that led to God’s sovereign provision.
Here is what we learn about God. Because God is sovereign, He can overcome any obstacle thrown at His people. With God, there is hope no matter how big the obstacle seems! But God doesn’t always just fix everything. Sometimes He waits for His people to take the initial step of faith and act of obedience before He overturns the obstacles and provides for us.
What things has God called you to do? All of us Christians are called to certain things like sharing the gospel, loving our enemies, and honoring our parents and spouses. But God also calls individuals to specific tasks. God has called me to be a pastor. God has called my friend Omar to lead worship. What things has God called you to do for Him?
They don’t always show up at first, but there are usually obstacles that get in the way of anything worth doing. It’s usually no different with the things God calls us to. When God called me to be a pastor, one obstacle I faced was my fear of telling my family. At time, I thought it was hopeless and that my family would never support my decision to go into ministry. When I first told my family I was going to be a pastor, I did get some opposition. But I was surprised that when I stuck to my guns, my mother and father both supported me and even helped me pay my way through Moody.
What are the obstacles between you and the things God is calling you to do? Learn the lesson from this portion of Ezra. The sovereign God is bigger than your obstacles. Not only can He overcome them, but He can turn them into blessing. But sometimes, God is waiting for you to take the first step or two of faith in obeying Him before He works His wonders.
· Identify two specific things God is calling you to do.
o Identify two obstacles or fears that are stopping you from obeying God.
§ Identify a step of faith and obedience for each and go do them this week!
· Read Ezra 6:13-22
o What finally happens?
o What is the overall mood of the passage?
§ In the NIV and ESV, there is a word in various forms repeated three times that shows this mood. What is it?
o Who is responsible for this mood?
o What did this person do to provide this mood?
· Drop a line in the comments to discuss what you’ve learned in Ezra this week.
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