“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)
Have you heard the retort, “Getting blood from a stone”? Typically it describes a tight-wad or derelict, someone who may owe you something but will not or cannot repay. Try as you might. Put the squeeze on them, but you will not get anything out of them.
Throughout Jeremiah’s prophecy, he foretold of the people’s return from captivity. There were two major predictions Jeremiah made. First, he predicted the timing of seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10). Ezra 1:1 tells us, “The word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” was fulfilled following the proclamation of Cyrus the Great. Secondly, the type of return was to be like the release from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:7-8). In what way? When the people were set free from slavery in Egypt, God promised they would receive the riches of the land. The slaves of Egypt left with the treasures of Egypt! The Egyptians gave their treasures to Israel in hopes of appeasing God’s wrath. As the Jews leave Babylon, the treasury of the empire is opened and they leave with the riches of Babylon.
God richly blessed the people when they left Egypt and hundreds of years later as they were leaving Babylon. Notice, believer, when God sends you on a mission, He will send you with His blessing. This is a needed reminder! Whether slaves or the low caste in Babylon, God’s people left according to God’s Word to do God’s Work. Hudson Taylor, a faithful missionary in China, left Great Britain for his mission field often “under-supported” by today’s standards. His motto explains his intensity: “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” He spent 51 years on the mission field depending on God’s supply by faith.
The second application every believer must notice is God’s purpose in blessing. Whether in Exodus or in Ezra, the people were blessed so they could contribute to the work of God. They give back to the Lord so they can have a part in God’s work. Whether it is your treasures, time, or talent, God has blessed you with the resources to accomplish His mission through you. How often we are tempted to staunch the flow of God’s blessing in our life because of our insecurity or indulgence. This ought not to be! God’s blessings have been given to accomplish His purpose. The wealth of the western world may very likely be brought against them at the Judgment Seat of Christ and many will lose much of their reward because they were cul-de-sacs instead of avenues of God’s blessing.
Maybe you fret, “I don’t have much to give.” Ezra 2:69 is a beautiful testimony of God’s expectation, “They gave after their ability.” God expects only what He has given you to steward. He will not squeeze blood out of a stone.
The visions of Daniel are spectacular. Your imagination can run wild as you envision the kingdoms of the earth figuratively represented by the animals. The first creature Daniel sees is a lion with wings. The wings are plucked off and the beast is given the heart of a man. This represents the kingdom of Babylon in which Daniel lived. The second creature was a bear which was noticeably dominant on one side. This creature represented the Medeo-Persian kingdom. The third creature was a leopard with wings. This was a fast moving creature. In fact, in another prophecy, Daniel sees this same kingdom represented by an angry goat with one enormous horn which moves so quickly it never touches the ground. This third major kingdom is the Grecian empire lead by Alexander the Great.
Throughout the descriptions of these kingdoms, there is one central theme—aggressive domination. These kings will rule the world at the expense of conquest and slaughter. You are then introduced to a new King who is different in so many ways from the previously mentioned kings. This King would be “cut off” (Daniel 9:26). Instead of leading a rebellion, he would sacrifice himself for a greater kingdom. A kingdom which he would share with the “people of the saints of the most High” (Daniel 7:27). This sacrificial King does not overthrow kings through rebellion. He merely lays claim to what was His from the beginning of time. As the Ancient of Days, He is the obvious ruler of this world. His infinite power will only be revealed against those who rebel and seek to overthrow His rule, but his kingdom is an “everlasting kingdom” which will “make an end of sins…and bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 7:27; 9:24).
We are subjects of another King, and we should live according to the character of such a citizenship. As a follower of the Messiah, the Prince of princes, you can live according to His example and know the secret to greatness. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Whoever humbles himself as a little child, “the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1, 4). Our Savior’s example is our pattern: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).
It is so simple, you would doubt its effectiveness. For the past three years at our town’s fair, we have had one simple tool which attracts hundreds of children. We have tweaked many things about our booth at the fair, but this one thing is a staple. We will always have a kiddie pool filled with magnetic toy fish and fishing poles with a magnet on the end. Children will spend thirty minutes catching fish. It’s not a dunk tank or anything nearly as sophisticated. The little ones are thrilled with the simplicity of catching fish in a kiddie pool.
Some Christians are thrilled with their awareness of God, but it’s much like that kiddie pool. They are excited by what they can see on the surface. Like a child’s awareness of the world, they are thankful for the simple truths from Scripture about God. The danger is when their world is rocked by a tragedy or a perplexing issue. All of a sudden, their simple, shallow concept of God is not enough to soothe them in their time of need.
Have you heard someone say, “I wish I could know God’s Word more”? People wish they could memorize God’s Word like so-and-so. They wish they could turn to chapter and verse. They wish they could expound the treasures of God’s Word, but they refuse to get out of the “kiddie pool.” They don’t go to church beyond Sunday morning. They won’t dig into daily Bible study at home. They won’t spend their time in the car listening to the preaching and admonition from God’s Word. They won’t share what they learn with others. These are practices which help a believer wade into the depths of knowing God.
All of us are challenged to progress from our elementary awareness of God into profound depths. We are told to be rooted and grounded in the love of God.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection…(Hebrews 5:12-6:1)
Ezekiel sees a unique feature in his Temple vision—a river. It starts as only a trickle, but it grows into a large river in which you would have to swim. This life-giving water of God powerfully reversed the stagnant Dead Sea. It completely transformed it until it flourished like the Garden of Eden. This is a beautiful picture of Christ. In John 4, He promised the Samaritan woman water, living water, which would spring out of her. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). We must “apply our hearts unto wisdom” and go beyond the ankle-deep experience of God. Dive in! The water is wide.
I have always hated goodbyes. Since my youth, I charged my vernacular from “goodbye” to “see you later.” Although the separation of family and friends can be painful, their absence does not typically bring destruction. In fact, we all have known friends whose presence brings destruction and whose absence brings in the disaster relief!
There is one Presence which when absent forebodes destruction. In the beginning of his prophecy, Ezekiel witnessed God’s glory evacuate the Temple (Ezekiel 8-11). This allowed the destruction of Jerusalem. Because of their rebellion, God removed His presence creating a “vacuum” and everything fell in upon itself.
On a personal level, I reflect on Samson’s life. His self-willed, rebellion flirted with the edge of absolute defiance until he woke up and “wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (Judges 16:20). Without God’s presence with him, he experienced personal destruction. Moses knew the importance of God’s presence. After the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, God threatened to send the nation on to the Promised Land without His presence. Moses feared the absence of God’s presence and prayed, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15).
So when you read of the Lord’s glory returning to the Temple in Ezekiel 43-44, this is the inverse of His absence. If His absence brings destruction, His presence brings rejuvenation! Ezekiel instructs the people regarding their rebellion, and soon you will read the benefits of God’s active presence (Ezekiel 44:4-8). As a believer, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), but it robs you of the fellowship with God (1 John 1:3-2:2)
Are you terrified of living today without the presence of God? David desperately prayed in his confession post-adultery and post-murder, “Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). God’s absence spells destruction in your life, but His presence blesses and restores. Desire God’s presence, today. Live in the fellowship of His presence.