“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
Everything had been going better than planned. The Jews were given permission to return to their homeland and build the Temple of God. Cyrus opened the king’s treasury and the people carried armfuls of precious vessels back to Jerusalem. In Ezra 3, the people start with the right priorities and begin to worship God. They dug into the work and began to lay the foundation. Those who were born in the captivity celebrated what God had done in their midst.
Then the party-crashers came. Discouragement came from within and from without. Some of the ancient men wept on the day of celebration because they remembered the “good ole days.” It is good to remember the past, but when the past becomes a wet blanket on the present it becomes a liability. Paul’s wisdom is essential, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).
With their morale already eroded by the disappointed, they were an easy target for the compromisers. These were Samaritans who had not experienced the captivity. In fact, their life had been compromised completely. They had intermarried with pagans and began to worship false idols. These guys know a good thing when they see it, so they asked to partner with the Jews and help them build the Temple. Zerubbabel and Joshua rejected their offer. They would not compromise the work and join in the efforts with those who were insincere in their life. These Samaritans tattle to king Artaxerxes. They hindered the work of God. Their hands were weakened, their resolve was troubled, and their dream was frustrated (Ezra 4:4). Disenchanted, the people began to pursue earthly securities and pleasures. They continued in the motions of worship, but without the heart. They were only a shell of devotion.
God sent the encouragers, Haggai and Zechariah. They preached the word of the Lord and challenged the people. The work would be accomplished because God had promised to be with them. It would not be accomplished by their meager strength, but by the Spirit of God working on their behalf. Eventually, Darius, the current king, sent a response to the Samaritans instructing them to not only allow the work of God to continue but also to sponsor the project!
Nehemiah gives us the phrase, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). They found their joy in the Lord, saw God turn the hearts of the opposition, and strengthened their hands to do the work of God. If you are discouraged, ask God to restore your joy, turn the hearts of those who are opposing you, and allow the Spirit to strengthen your hands to do the work.
“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.” (Ezra 6:22)