Lately, there have been many conversations centered around “calling” and how to know what God wants for your life. Although we may correctly define what it means to be called, we can also walk into that calling with misguided expectations. We may think, “If I am working for God, if I do all the right things, then my path will be a smooth one.” That is often not the case. Ezra and Nehemiah turn that expectation on end. In these books of the Bible there is a clear mandate, a command for the Jewish people to rebuild the temple.
It’s important to keep in mind the context; the Jews had returned from their captivity in Babylon to rebuild the temple, instead they began to rebuild their lives (Ezra 1; Haggai 1). In the middle of this situation God makes a point again to His command, His call—rebuild my temple. It’s time. “You say this isn’t the right time to build a temple for me. But is it right for you to live in expensive houses, while my temple is a pile of ruins? Just look at what is happening. You harvest less than you plant, you never have enough to eat or drink, your clothes don’t keep you warm, and your wages are stored in bags full of holes” (Haggai 1:5,6).
God changes the focus. Instead of providing for themselves, the Jews had to pay attention to God and acknowledge His power, His providence and His supremacy. They needed to rebuild the temple and in turn God would restore their lives. You are familiar with the story and with the construct. God sets a seemingly impossible task and asks a group or individual to trust and obey. That person or group does, and a pathway opens. This is repeated multiple times in the Bible, most memorably with Moses parting the Red Sea and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. These are only snapshots; when we dig further, we find that before each of these moments there are challenges and opposition. The opposition shapes the end result as much as the person’s willingness to follow the call.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah delve deeply into the details of how to endure through opposition. The Israelites accept the command to make rebuilding the temple their priority. Their expectation is that they will be rewarded for turning toward God. However, in this instance, the focus is not solely on the act of obedience but on the credible trust and dependence gained from living the calling and enduring all that comes with it. By rebuilding the temple, they were concretely making God central by prioritizing His place of worship. Ezra 5:1–5 points to the various types of opposition faced.
Opposition can come from false friends, those who claim to share your interest and your calling but whose motivation may not be pure. Ezra 4:4 describes how enemies of the tribe of Judah heard about the temple rebuilding and offered to help. They claimed that they worshipped the God of Israel and only wanted to offer assistance. “Zerubbabel, Joshua and the family leaders answered, You cannot take part in building the temple for the Lord our God! We will build it ourselves, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded.” When their offer was refused these same people, who claimed to want to help rebuild the temple, who assured them that they worshipped the same God, started a campaign to discourage and stop the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:3).
“Contempt and derision are indeed painful to human nature; but they must be endured by all who are true to God. It is the policy of Satan thus to turn souls from doing the work which the Lord has laid upon them” (White, 1904). The people in the area mocked the builders and what they were doing, criticized their work, and criticized their efforts (Nehemiah 4:23). The internal results of the negative criticism were not easily visible. Overly critical actions or comments are corrosive and over a period of time they wear down excitement and discourage progress.
Another method used to halt the building of the temple was sabotage. The neighboring tribes, through their leaders, wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes, accusing the Jews of trying to take power away from the king and questioning whether they even had authority to rebuild the temple. The letter stopped work for a long period of time. There was a deliberate, coordinated strategy that used deceit to ensure that the temple was not rebuilt. Often, we are faced with this same kind of blatant opposition (Ezra 4: 6-24; 5:1-5). Ezra, in Chapter 5, notes that in the midst of this stoppage “God was looking after the Jewish leaders” (Ezra 5:5).
How do you react to opposition that you may face? Our nature is to push back, but how? Do we push back in righteous indignation? Ellen White, in Testimonies, Volume 6, is careful to caution us against lashing out at those who may oppose us. She points out that while we may be right in our purpose, we have to be careful in our actions. “Remember that you are to represent Christ in His meekness and gentleness and love. We must expect to meet opposition and unbelief” (Testimonies, Vol. 6). She further states that, “The Lord wants his people to follow other methods of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them further from the truth” (White, 1901).
In each example of opposition God presents a solution. The Jews in Ezra and Nehemiah turned to God for a resolution to the problem; after all, they were following His command to rebuild the temple. In this way we, too should turn to God when faced with opposition. We should keep in mind the reason for the opposition, natural or supernatural, and use the response provided in Ezra and Nehemiah as our template for endurance.
White, E. G. (1901)Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6 (n.d.). Retrieved from https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/118.336.
White, E.G. (1904) Lessons from the Life of Nehemiah. Retrieved from https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/islandora/object/adl:366859/datastream/OBJ/view
The Poverty & Justice Bible (Contemporary English Version)
Karon Powell is Assistant Professor and Director of the Global Community Development Department at Southern Adventist University.
Image by Gustave Doré - WikimediaCommons
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