Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Daily reading assignment – Ezra 1-5
The setting of the Book of Ezra, a contemporary of Haggai, is the end of the 70-year Babylonian captivity. Remembering, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1), the opening verses of Ezra serve as notice the God of Israel is the Sovereign God of heaven and earth (Ezra 1:1-2).
Having conquered Babylon, the Persian king Cyrus, declared the God of heaven moved his heart to build His Temple in Jerusalem (1:1-2). Fulfilling the LORD’S promise to restore Israel as a nation, Cyrus granted the Jews liberty to return to their land (Ezra 1:3).
The hardships that laid before the remnant that returned to Judah would be formidable. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins, its walls reduced to rubble, and the Temple destroyed. After seventy years in captivity, many of God’s people had embraced the Babylonian culture and only a small minority were willing to accept the challenge of returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 2).
Under Ezra’s leadership, the people rebuilt the altar (3:1-6), laid the Temple foundation (3:7-9), and paused to celebrate and praise the LORD as a free people (3:10-11).
Consider three qualities God’s people share when they set aside personal agendas in favor of the will and purpose of the LORD (Ezra 3).
The first shared quality is a mutual purpose; “they gathered…as one man to Jerusalem (3:1). The second, they shared a spirit of mutual sacrifice as they “gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters”, meat from their livestock, wine from their vineyards, and oil refined from their olive groves (3:7). The third is a satisfaction of mutual joy; when the foundation was laid, “all the people shouted with a great shout” (3:11).
Unfortunately, in the midst of those celebrating the newly laid Temple foundation, were some who did not share the joy of those rebuilding the Temple (3:12-13). A discordant sound arose from the “ancient men”, the elderly who were living in the past instead of celebrating in the moment (3:12-13).
Ezra 3:12-13 – “But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: 13 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.”
The “ancient men” remembered Solomon’s Temple, the one destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and comparing the glory of that Temple to the foundation of the new one, became critical and scoffed at the work being done. Through Zechariah, the LORD confronted the ancients asking, “For who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:9-10). The prophet Haggai echoed Zechariah’s question asking, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory?and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3).
Friend, the second Temple would not match the physical splendor and beauty of Solomon’s Temple; however, it would be greater than the first for the LORD Jesus Christ, would grace it with His physical presence as the incarnate Son of God. Of the new Temple, Haggai prophesied:
Haggai 2:9 – The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.
I close on a personal note drawing upon my experiences as the Senior Pastor of Hillsdale Baptist Church these past 22 years.
Today’s scripture reading brings back memories of a series I preached in the Book of Ezra in the spring of 2004. At the time, Hillsdale Baptist Church was in the midst of a relocation and building program that commenced with the purchase of land at our current location in 1999, followed by the design and preparation of architectural blueprints, and the sale of our old facilities February 2003. From groundbreaking to completion, the timeline for our new facility was to be ten months.
Hillsdale’s pastoral leaders and deacons prepared the church for what was supposed to be a temporary inconvenience of renting a public school auditorium for Sunday worship services while our new home was under construction. Unforeseen by any of our leadership was an adversarial spirit evidenced by the contractor soon after groundbreaking.
A lack of performance forced the church to terminate the contractor and subcontractors, and embroiled the church in a prolonged legal battle with the surety bond company that, using various legal maneuvers, attempted to exhaust the will of the church and its leaders. A ten month construction project ended up taking thirty months to complete, followed by legal battles that continued another five years costing Hillsdale hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Late July 2005, Hillsdale Baptist Church experienced the joy of holding our first services in our new home; a joy tempered by a sorrow for some who did not persevere with us to the dedication of our new home. In the fall of 2010, the surety company and contractors were forced to settle with the church.
The toll on the church was great; however, those who persevered have been richly blessed and God glorified. Being reminded God is Sovereign, Hillsdale’s adversaries paid a far greater price. The contractor died in a tragic accident the very day the financial settlement for the church was under deliberation; the construction firm and the majority of subcontractors were either forced into bankruptcy or dissolved.
I close with a verse that carried me through much adversity.
1 Corinthians 10:13 – “There hath no temptation [test or trials] taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer [allow] you to be tempted [tested or tried] above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape [provide you the strength and means to pass through], that ye may be able to bear it [endure].”
Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith