Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ezra 4-5: Legal Challenges to God's Work

Ezra 4:23-5:2 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them.

As soon as the re-building of the temple started, opposition came from the non-Jewish residents who migrated from elsewhere in the empire. A letter was sent to the reigning Persian king, Xerxes, to accuse the Jews and to get a restraining order to stop the returnees from re-building the temple. During the reign of Artaxerxes, the order came and the work at the temple was stopped: "Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia" (4:24).

For a period of time, the Jews went back to their farms and houses. Rebuilding the temple was neglected. It was during the prophetic ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, that the temple work was resumed. The Lord chided the people through Haggai for neglecting the work of God:

Hag 1:1-6, 12 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: This is what the Lord Almighty says: "These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be built.'" Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it"... Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 

The restraining order not only stopped the rebuilding of the temple, but it also created an attitude of passivity among the Jews: "These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be built.'" So, instead of focusing on building God's house, the people re-directed their focus and energy to building paneled houses for themselves: ""Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" The people repented and resumed the re-building of the temple.

God's work does not need man's permission. Sometime, the Church faces legal challenges to its ministry from the governments in power, whatever the political ideology of the Governments. Often, behind human ideology is Satan's opposition to God's work. Zechariah's prophecy regarding Jeshua (Joshua) the high priest of the time reveals the spiritual forces of darkness working against the Jews: "Then he showed me Joshua (Jeshua) the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" God's work is spiritual work and therefore we expect spiritual opposition. But that does not mean the work should stop in the face of such intimidation. Zechariah's prophetic word to Zerubbabel probably encouraged him to carry on with the work because of the new perspective of the spiritual nature of the work: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit" (Zech. 4:6).

God's work cannot be stopped by human opposition, only by God's people who lost the courage and the vision to continue. When we are doing God's work, remember that it is not "by (legal) might nor by (legal) power" but it is always "by my Spirit." Once we are energized and empowered by the Spirit, the work of God will not be neglected, no matter the legal encumbrances that may be placed in our way.

Father, help us continue to do the work of building the temple of the Holy Spirit  in every location, not just in legally sanctioned localities. Grant us Your Spirit that we might see opportunities to re-build Your temples in whatever venues Your Spirit may direct. Amen.

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