Week 7 – Lessons from the Prophets Cont’d
Day 1: Zecharaiah and Ministry Cont’d – Living a Submitted Life or Building a Memorial: Ezra 4-6, Romans 6:16
When Zechariah and Haggai came to the people with this prophecy (See week 6, day 5) God stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel and Joshua and of the people and they began to build again. Of course, what do you think happened when they started building? They were questioned about what they were doing. This time it was by Tatnai, the governor “on this side the river”. They were pretty thorough in their investigation, they even asked for the names of the men that were building it. “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease.” (5:5) As before a few letters were written back and forth, you can find them in Ezra 5-6, but this time the outcome was different. This time the original decree was found and the building was continued with the aid of King Darius. Tatnai was told to stay away. The temple was finished and dedicated.
Lesson number 7: God is our greatest defender; it pays to be in His service. This lesson could very easily get lost in this story, but it is clearly there. What was the difference between the first attempt (Ezra 4) to bring the building to a halt, and the second (Ezra 5)? Why was the first attempt successful and the second unsuccessful?
If you look closely at the tactics employed in the two attempts, your first conclusion might be that it was because of the different approaches taken by the two adversaries. The first group made life miserable, they “made them to cease by force and power”. (4:23) The second group set up a more diplomatic process, which allowed Zerubabbel the opportunity to make an appeal and direct the king to the right place to prove that they had every right to build. This would make sense, but if you look closely there is something more. Notice that in the second incident the Scripture says, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of their land”, while in the accounting of the first incident there is nothing even close to this. Why is that? Compare the following statements made by Zerubbabel:
Statement 1: “Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.” (Ezra 4:3)
Statement 2: “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up…But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.” (Ezra 5:11,13)
What is the difference? Here’s a hint: Romans 6:16. Whose authority is prominent in these two statements? In Statement 1, God is the one unto whom the building was being built, but this does not necessarily put Him in a position of authority, nor does it indicate their submission to Him. The Lincoln Memorial was built to Abraham Lincoln, but he wasn’t the authority over the building project; he had actually been dead for nearly half a century by the time the project was truly set in motion.
Next, we see a great deal of emphasis put on the builders. Now, to be fair to Zerubbabel, he was explaining that the Jews would do their own building and that their adversaries would have no part in it. At the same time, when we choose to use the “we ourselves” combination versus simply the “we” alone, what attitude is generally reflected? It is usually indicative of self-reliance and, in some cases, defiance. Any two-year old is proof of this.
Then comes the third party, King Cyrus. What is he doing? Commanding. What are the Jews doing? Obeying.
In Statement 2, we find a very different picture. Who is the very first authority mentioned? God. And what is their relation to Him? They are His servants. Cyrus doesn’t even come into the picture until two verses later and it is simply part of the recounting of the story. And what about the Jews themselves? Well, they make it very plain that they (or at least their fathers) had messed up and that is why the temple has to be rebuilt at all, “But after our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.” (5:12) Furthermore, in the next chapter it clearly states whose commands they are obeying and in what order, “…And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artexerxes king of Persia.” (6:14)
Romans 6:16 tells us that we are servants to whomever we obey. If we are building a work to God in our own strength in obedience to some earthly or worldly authority, why should we expect God to come to our defense? After all, if this is really the case, all we are building is a memorial. Memorials are usually built to the dead, not the living. Our God is alive! In fact, it was our God who conquered death! He doesn’t want a memorial; He wants our hearts and lives submitted to His leadership.
Does this mean we do not submit to civil authorities? By no means. God has put them over us for good, and we are to honor and obey them. But we are to remember Who our ultimate authority is. And we are to remember that we obey our earthly authorities because GOD has told us to as our ultimate authority, not because they have stepped into His place. Remember, Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” This is a very important point, especially for those working in ministry in which governmental bodies have any part. Times may arise when this very decision will have to be made. Various aspects of ministry may have to be brought to a complete halt. It will seem grievous at the time, but the cost of forgetting who our ultimate authority is, is much greater than the choice to do what is right before Him at the loss of some temporal arrangement.
When the Jews had aligned themselves under the authority of God, He protected them from those who would come against them and He kept the work going. He is our greatest defender, but if we are simply building a memorial to Him – why should He come to our defense? It pays to be in His service!
Up Next: Day 2: Glory from Rubble
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