Ezra 4 concludes with these words. “Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (4:24). The people and leaders of the land are discouraging the people from building and are frustrating their plans (4:4-5). For 16 years the people stop working on the temple. Ezra 5:1 tells us that Haggai and Zechariah were prophets sent by God. We spent the last few lessons looking at Haggai’s message. Haggai told the people that they must make the Lord their priority. It is not time to worry about your houses. It is time to put the Lord and his house first. Further, God told them that he would bless them if they would make the temple their priority. Ezra 5:2 tells us that the leaders and people responded to the prophets’ messages. They rise up and began to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem.
Now God wants us to see that the circumstances had not changed even though 16 years had gone by. God wants us to see that it was not that the resistance had stopped but the people chose not to get back to work. When we read verse 3 we see that the governor of this region along with his associates came to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people and ask them who told them that they could do this. Who gave you a decree to build this house? Who said you can do this? If this was not frightening enough, look at verse 4. They are going to start taking their names also. This is when you know you are in a lot of trouble. Who said you could do this? Now give me your names. He is not asking for names to get to know them. He is asking for names to report those names back to the king of Persia. You are in trouble now.
Responding To Resistance (5:5-17)
But notice the different response this time. This time, instead of stopping, the people keep on working. They did not wait to see what the king of Persia would say. They kept working as the letter was sent all the way back to Persia. But notice what else we are told. The eye of God was watching over his people. Remember that this is what the prophets were saying. God was telling the people that he was with them and would bless them. They needed to keep working and let God work out what happens next. So the people do exactly as they were supposed to do. This is what they should have done 16 years ago. There was no reason that they should have stopped working. It did not matter that the king said to stop. They should have kept going. Now they have learned that lesson and continue working while the letter goes back to the king with their names on that letter.
Ezra 5:6-17 contains what was put in the letter sent from the governor of this region to the king of Persia. However, what is recorded in the letter is the response that the leaders gave to Tattenai the governor. How the leaders and the people responded when they came against them for working on the temple is instructive and important for our consideration. Verses 7-10 begin with the explanation of why the letter is coming to the king. In short, they saw that the temple was being constructed and the work was going well. So they asked who gave them permission to do this work. The response of the leaders is given in verses 11-16.
We are God’s servants.
Notice that the people’s first response is that they are servants of the God of heaven and earth. The first answer is not that they are Persians or Judeans. Nor do they call themselves servants of King Darius. We are God’s servants. The implied message is that we must serve the God of heaven and earth first. God is the ultimate authority for our work. Who gave us permission to do the work on the temple? The God of heaven and earth gave us permission to do the work. In short, we must obey God rather than people. Our allegiance is first to the work of the Lord. Therefore, the response was that “We are building the house that was built many years ago.”
But notice that there is no tone of defiance or aggression. The answer is very simple. We must do this work because we are the servants of God. We must do the work given to us. In fact, you will notice in verse 12 that they state the reason for the temple’s destruction was because they had angered the Lord.
Appeal to their rights.
Only after declaring their allegiance to God and the need to do the work for Him do they then appeal to the decree made by Cyrus over 16 years earlier. In verse 13 they state that Cyrus told us that we can do this work. Cyrus gave the decree and gave us the vessels to put in the temple. Then the foundation was laid but the work is not yet finished. After saying that they have to do this work because they are servants of God, then they say that they also are allowed to do the work because of the decree made by Cyrus. Again, you will notice that there is nothing ugly or defiant in their words. There is nothing ungodly or inflammatory. They just explain why they must do the work they are doing. The chapter ends with the words of the opponents asking for a search of the royal archives to see if these things are true.
Set For The Future (6:1-22)
King Darius makes the decree for a search of the royal archives to be made. They find in the records that Cyrus did make this decree (6:3-5). So notice what happens in verse 6. King Darius tells Tattenai the governor and the other rulers of the land to keep away from their work on the temple. Let the work be done on this house of God (6:7). But there is even more. In verse 8 the king decrees for the leaders of the land to help them financially to rebuild the temple. Further, they need to give them whatever they need to make sacrifices to the God of heaven. Darius even places a curse on anyone who alters his decree and asks God to overthrow anyone who tries to destroy the house of God in Jerusalem.
What a complete reversal! The opposition was trying to get the work to stop. But their efforts cause the work to be more easily completed. In verse 14 we read that they were able to finish the temple just a few years later. The people celebrated as the temple dedication and offered animals as a sin offering for the people at the dedication. With the temple complete, the people are able to restore temple worship (6:18) and are able to keep the Passover (6:19-21).
So what is God trying to teach us? What did God show these people? The first major point is this. What looked like an opportunity for fear and to quit was actually the path to success. How easy is it for us to look at our hardships and difficulties as a reason to fear and a reason to quit the work! It is exactly what these people had done for 16 years. They had given up on the work because of the resistance. The government was against them. The people of the land were discouraging them. Yet the hardship was the pathway for success. The people just had to work past the difficulty to find success. The temptation is to stop at the hardship and not press through it. God wanted them to work through the opposition and by doing so they would find success.
Not only did they find success, but there was greater help ahead of them to do the work if they would push through the resistance. The people who resisted them now had to become the people who assisted them. God had reversed their opponents so that they were supporters. I will keep delivering to you this encouraging message: God can reverse your condition. Look at Ezra 6:22. The Lord had made the people joyful. The people have gone from being discouraged by the surrounding people to be encouraged and joyful. But look at what else God had done. The Lord had turned the heart of the king of Assyria. Now people get upset about this and think this is an error because we have been talking about the king of Persia and that Persia is the world empire at the time. But this is not an error. This is a powerful theological declaration. Assyria was the first nation to attack and take captive the people of Israel. Babylon was the next nation to attack and take people captive. Assyria represents any world nation or power that stands against God’s people. The point that is being made is that the disposition of the world nations (Assyria, Babylon, and Persia) was to be against God’s people. But now God had turned the heart of the king so now the world power is for them and is not resisting them.
Now here is what I want us to notice. How did it come about that a wicked world power and a wicked king would now be favorable to God’s people? Did kings have to be overthrown? No, because the next king would also be unfavorable. Did the nation have to be overthrown? No, since the next nation was just as unfavorable. Was it because the people rose up to overthrow their government? No. The text makes clear what happened. The Lord turned the heart of the king. This is what the writer of Proverbs says about the Lord.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)
Listen to what God said to Nebuchadnezzar after he had arrogantly proclaimed that Babylon was because of his own power and majesty.
While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.” (Daniel 4:31–32 CSB)
God is the one who can change the heart of a king, ruler, or leader. God is in the one who is in charge over human nations and kingdoms. Now that we see the sovereign power of God, please think about what has happened in the book of Ezra. Why didn’t God just make all the kings be favorable toward his people? If God holds the heart of the king in his hands and directs it where he wills, then why is there ever any opposition or difficulty? I believe there are many biblical answers that we could give, but I would like to focus on just one. This difficulty revealed how much these people really wanted a temple. The people wanted a temple but they did not want it enough to push through the hardship. God had to send prophets to convict their hearts that they needed to press through the hardship to find success. In the same way, we are going to have resistance and we are being tested to see how much we love God, want to serve God, and want to obey God. It is a test of our faith. Is God worth pushing through the fear to obey him? Is God worth pushing through the hardship to still serve him? When we experience hardship and resistance, we need to push through the resistance and pray for the Lord to turn the heart of whoever is in charge so that the resistance can turn to assistance. This is why we do not rebel but obey all governing institutions as commanded in Romans 13. We are recognizing that God is ruler over all rulers and all nations. We will show God that we will obey and serve no matter what the resistance is.
One more piece of good news for us from this text. Please consider that all of these people had failed for 16 years. All of them caved to the resistance. All of them stopped doing the work. All of them were busy with their priorities rather than God’s priorities. But their past failures did not mean that they could not be servants of God today. Failure does not need to be the end of our story but the beginning of us turning back to God. They all failed. They were all convicted of their failure. When the resistance came up again, this time they kept working. They did not stop when the governor intervened. They gave their answer that they are servants of the God of heaven and earth and continued to do the work.
If you have failed by caving into fear or failed by stopping when the resistance arose, you can learn from that failure. You can learn from that failure and get back to the work, ready to not fail the next time you are afraid and the next time resistance comes. The reason the people succeeded this time from where they failed last time was that they now put it is God’s hands. They kept going with the work and put it in God’s hands. The world is not going to understand the work and not going to understand why we cannot stop doing the work. But our mandate is clear. We are servants of the God of heaven and earth and we have been charged with worshiping and serving him. We will continue to do so, whether the government allows it or not, whether people encourage us or discourage us, and whether it is easy or whether it is difficult. This is how we resist the resistance. We have faith that God is watching over us and we do not stop (Ezra 5:5).