God Working Through His People: Ezra 5:1-17 – The Result Of Being Challenged And Encouraged By God

Grace For The Journey

  Two men who lived in New York City decided that they had it with city living.  They bought a ranch in Texas in order to live off the land like their ancestors.  The first thing they decided they needed was a mule.  They went to a neighboring rancher and asked him if he had a mule to sell for ploughing.  The rancher answered, “No I am afraid not.”  They were disappointed but one of them saw some honey dew melons stacked against the barn and asked, “What are those?”  The rancher seeing that they were city slickers, decided to have some fun. “Oh,” he answered “those are mule eggs.  You take one of those eggs home and you wait for it to hatch and you’ll have a mule.”  The two men from New York were overjoyed at this so they bought one of the melons and headed down the bumpy country road toward their own ranch.  Suddenly they hit a large bump on the road, and the melon bounced out of the back of the pickup truck, hit the road, and burst open.  Seeing what happened in his mirror the driver turned the truck around to see if he could retrieve his mule egg. Meanwhile a big old Texas jackrabbit came hopping by and saw the melon burst in the road.  He hopped over to it and standing in the middle of that mess he began to eat.  Then along came the men from New York.  One of them shouted, “Our mule egg has hatched let’s get our mule.”  But seeing those two men run towards it, the jackrabbit took off hopping in every direction with the two men in hot pursuit. They gave everything they could to catch it but finally they could go no further.  Gasping for breath one of them said to the other, “Well I guess we lost our mule.”  The other nodded and said, “Yeah, but you know, I am not sure I wanted to plough that fast anyway.”  

Let me ask you as you begin this new session, “How committed are you?”  It was Jonathan Edwards who said, “I go to preach with two propositions.  First, every person ought to give his life to Christ.  Second, whether or not anyone else gives Him his life I will give Him mine.”  That is commitment.  It was the Lord Jesus who said in John 17:4, “Father I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You gave me to do.”  That is commitment.  Today, however commitment is a bad word, especially in the local church.   I heard of a pastor who met one of his delinquent members and said, “I haven’t seen you in church much lately.”  “No,” he said, “you know how it’s been.  The children have been sick, and then it’s rained, rained, and rained.”  The pastor said, “Well it’s always dry at church.” “Yes,” the member said “ that’s another reason why I haven’t been coming.”  The mood of God’s people at this time was one of apathy and indifference.  Can you imagine the scene at this building site in Jerusalem?  Fifteen years have passed since any work has been done.  The weeds and thorns have grown over the foundation of the temple, and the general impression is one of desolation and neglect. But then Darius I ascended the Persian throne and suddenly with the opening of chapter 5 the scene changes dramatically with the emergence of two very powerful preachers.  In essence their message was, “Let’s get going again.”  The first thing we see from this passage, is . . .

1) The Instruction From God’s Word.

Verse 1 of says, “Then the prophets …. Prophesied.”  Harry Ironside draws a picture of the biblical prophet when he says “the true prophet is the one whose words come from heaven to men on earth, searching the heart, reaching the conscience, and exposing the evil that may have come in.”  Though preaching, which requires study, is different from prophecy a direct message from God, Ironside’s words are a good “job description,” of the preacher’s task in these days.

The means that God used to get the

Work going again was the Word.  

Never underestimate the power of

The faithful preaching of God’s Word.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot help feeling that the man who preaches the Word of God is standing, not on a mere platform, but on a throne.”  God’s people needed “stirring again,” and God raised up two men to faithfully minister the Word of God.  In these verses we notice . . .

a) It Was Powerful.

Verse 1b says they prophesied “in the name of the God of Israel.”  

They were sent from God,

Equipped by God,

Walked with God,

And

Preached for God.

These two men Haggai and Zechariah were different.  

Haggai had his feet on the ground,

Zechariah had his head in the clouds.

Haggai is pretty plain spoken.  He sees everything in black and white.  Zechariah is more of a dreamer.  You will read about his visions for the future.  But . . .

God used these preachers

Who were distinctly different

To challenge His people

To resume the work again.

The church always needs preachers with fearless courage who can inspire believers with far reaching vision for the cause of God. In the local church there will often be a variety of spiritual leaders with a diversity of gifts that ought to be used for the building up of the believers. Stephen Olford used to say, that “God does not deal in duplicates he only makes originals.”  Aren’t you glad about the different gifts that God has given to this church?  Yet, all will be unfruitful without the favor of God.

b) It Was The Right Time.

If anyone during those fifteen odd years had raised the question, “Do you not think we ought to do something about starting work on God’s house again?” the people would have said, “No, the time is not right.”  They would have come up with all sorts of excuses as to why the time was not right.  A spirit of apathy and indolence had crept over them from which they could not seem to rouse themselves, and so the work of God remained at a standstill.  This was not something unique to the Jews of that time.  For most of my ministry I have heard different believers say, “It is not a good time to be or do something for God.  When the right time comes, then all will be different.”  Somehow, the right time never seems to come.  Perhaps you no longer attend public worship as regularly as once you did.  Maybe you are not seen as often at the prayer meeting or the Bible Class.  Could it be that you are no longer consistent in your personal prayer time and the reading of the Word?  You do have time to make excuses . . .

  • The time is not just right.
  • The economy is bad.
  • The family are demanding.
  • I am just so tired.

Vance Havner said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.”  When you talk about evangelism and winning people to Christ, there are some who say, “It is not the right time to do that.  It is hard to win folk to the Lord.  We are living in the last days.  Wait till there is more unity in the assembly.”  Is this not the way we talk?  No, hurry about the Lord’s work, no urgency about prayer, plenty of time to do everything but the Lord’s business.  If Christians ran their business the way they run God’s work they would be out of business.  The cults put us to shame with their enthusiasm and zeal and we stand among the ruins of the temple and say, “the time is not come.”  The Lord Jesus says in John4:35, “Say not there are yet four months and then comes harvest?  Behold I say unto you, ‘lift up your eyes and look on the fields they are white already to harvest.’”  This instruction from God’s Word. 

c) It Was Needful.

The attitude of mind that paralyzed the workers and hindered the work was challenged by the servant of God.  Haggai chided them in Haggai1:14 for saying the time is not right to build the Lord’s house.  But he noticed they had plenty of time for building and refurbishing their own houses with decorative paneling and other extras.  Not that it was wrong in any sense for the people to furnish their homes tastefully, and to provide themselves with certain comforts.  The point Haggai was making was that these things had taken over their lives and had become more important to them than the things of God.  You see, their sense of priorities had become distorted, and as a result the Lord had withheld His blessing (Haggai 1:5-6).

Someone has defined worldliness as “That state in which our thinking is governed by the mind and outlook of the world.”  That is what happened in Paul’s day.  He wrote to the church at Philippians 2:20-21, “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.  For all seek their own interests not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” AsPaul looked around him in Rome the general attitude of believers was a self-seeking spirit that delegates the Lord Jesus to second place.  Living for time instead of eternity, living for self instead of for God, living for the temporal, instead of the eternal.  You can see how easily this happens to us.  Our homes and families, our jobs and careers, our interests and pleasures, can all displace and jeopardize the work of God in our lives to the extent that the Lord Himself becomes marginalized.  Is this, what has happened to you?  Has your life become so cluttered with other things that the Lord is now secondary?  Do you not take time for reflection on the things of God?  Does the Lord have to compete with all these other things to get a foothold in your life?  Are you beginning to see how relevant this instruction from God’s Word was?

d) It Was Helpful.

Fifteen years have passed between chapter 4 and 5.  It is not until the Word of God is proclaimed by Haggai and Zechariah, that the work of the temple begins again.  

The Word of God began the work (1:1)

And now the Word of God would

Encourage the workers

To finish the work (6:14).

God’ servants not only challenged the people, but they encouraged the people. These two prophets who were sent by the Lord encouraged the Jews by reminding them of . . .

1. The presence of God: Haggai 2:4, “For I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

2. The provision of God: Haggai 2:8, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

3. The purpose of God: Zechariah 4:9, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, his hands shall also finish it.”

The people came to feel like things were depressing indeed, but the people were encouraged to know that then with God all things are possible.  Could it be that you are weary in the work of God?  Is the feeling of discouragement ruling your life?  There are Monday mornings when I am ready to call it a day.  There are Sunday nights when Sunday School teachers are ready to quit.  There are pastors grow weary of the constant moaning of the people.  There are deacons who are tired of their duties.  Then the Word of the Lord comes to us and reminds us of . . .

1. The presence of God: “I am with you.”

2. The provision of God: “I labored more abundantly than them all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Corinthians

    15:10)

3. The purpose of God: that though the powers of darkness assail, Christ will build His church.

There is something else to notice about this instruction . . .

e) It Was Fruitful.

It is truly amazing how the Word of God can transform people – we see that in verse 2. This discouraged and fearful people were changed into warriors who wielded trowels in the battle to build for the glory of God.  

They responded Promptly.

In less than a month after Haggai had poured out his heart and delivered his message (Haggai 1:1,14) the people had resumed the work.  When God’s Word stirs you, do you obey promptly obey it, or are you merely a sermon taster, just a “hearer of the Word” (James 1:22).

They responded Properly.

Zerubbabel, the civic leader, and Jeshua the spiritual leader, take the initiative.  The preachers were not afraid to dirty their hands.  Verse 2 says, “So Zerubabbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.”   (verse 2).  Some pastors and elders think they are above getting their hands dirty.  These the leaders took the initiative and lead in the work of God.  Do you see here the effect of God’s Word?  The work resumed.  The preaching of Martin Luther brought about The Reformation, the preaching of John Wesley produced a spiritual awakening in Great Britain, the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people of God to resume the work of God.

2) The Investigation of God’s Work.

Verse 3 tells us, “At the same time . . .”  We see the same old enemy is still at work.  As a Persian official, Tatnai was concerned about what the Jews were doing in Jerusalem.  No doubt he was well within his rights, for it was his responsibility to protect the interests of King Darius and the welfare of the empire and see to it that peace and security were maintained.  Yet, I believe it was Satan working behind scenes . . .

When God works,

Satan immediately

Counterworks.

He worked through . . .

a) Discouragement From Without.

Verses 3 and 4 tell us this attempt to discourage focused on two questions: (1) “Who has commanded you to build this temple and finish this wall?” and (2) What are the names of the men working on the building?  “Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building.”  It is interesting to note that there was no opposition to the Jews all through those years when they were building their own houses, and pursuing their own interests, but immediately when they start rebuilding the house of God, the Devil shows his hand.

Do you know something?  If you as a believer settle down in this old world, and love the temporal rather than the eternal, the things of time, rather than the things of God, the Devil will leave you alone.  But the moment you are “stirred,” by the Word of God to do the work of God, you will feel the heat of opposition.  You see, Satan never gives up in his efforts to frustrate the ongoing work of God in the world. Many Christians do not seem to recognize that.  Have you fallen into the trap of thinking that you are finished with the Devil because you gained a victory over him at some time?  Satan never gives up.  He will always come back to attack.  We are in a constant battle with the forces of evil at work in this world.  Someone has said, “That battle goes from one circumstance to another, from age to age and from generation to generation.”  It will never cease until the final battle, when the Lord Jesus comes in power and great glory and destroys the Devil and all his works.  That is why Peter urges us in 1 Peter 5:5, “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.”

There was also . . .

b) Encouragement From Above.

Conjunction in the Bible are very important.  Verse 5 declares, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them to cease …”  Here is a wonderful truth . . .

When you are sent

By the Word of God,

And

When you are under the

Care of the eye of God,

You can be sure that work

Of God is going to get down.

This shows us that it was . . .

1. God That Prompted Them.

Not only to commence the work – 1:5

But to continue the work – 5:2

And to complete the work –  6:22.

Here were people working in the realization that the eye of eternity was upon them. The Bible says in Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”   I have no doubt that those who compete in sports at the level of the Olympic Games are inspired by the presence of the applauding multitudes.  

The thought God’s all seeing eye

Is upon you should inspire

You to greater heights,

Incite you to greater efforts,

And

Encourage you to greater service.

This shows us further . . .

2. God That Protected Them.

Scholars tell us that the reference to “the eye of God,” may be a play on words because the Persian civil inspectors were known at that time as “the king’s eye.”’  This comparison speaks volumes to the children of Israel, but to us as well . . .

  • The Persians had an earthly eye on them, but the people of God had an eternal eye on them.
  • The Persians had a human eye on them, but the people of God had a heavenly eye on them.
  • The Persians had a wicked eye on them, but the people of God had a watchful eye on them.
  • The Persians had a deadly eye on them, but hallelujah the people of God had a divine eye on them.

God was their shield and defense.  That is why the work of God could not stop.  This is such great truth!  Have you become disheartened in the cause of Christ?  Be encouraged by the realization that the eye of God is on you!  Let this truth challenge you and create in you a spirit of surrender to the Lord God Almighty knowing that no sinful habit, shady deal, bitter spirit, carnal attitude, unforgiving disposition will interfere with what God sees it.  The Bible says in Psalm 33:18, “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him.”  This is a picture of God’s watchful providence over us.   

God is watching over you . . .

God is working for you . . .

God has His eyes on you.

He loves you so much He cannot take His eyes off you.

3) The Information On God’s Will.

This is what the rest of the chapter.  Verses 13 and 17 tells us that Tatnai writes to Darius, giving him a complete report of the work at Jerusalem, and asking him for information concerning the decree of Cyrus.  In Ezra 1:1 we are told what  the decree of Cyrus was – That the Jews leave Babylon go to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  Tatnai did not realize it, but he was asking the king to supply him with information about God’s will for His people.  Now the information that was sought centered around . . .

a) God’s Work.

Verse 8 is the beginning of the letter that he sent to king Darius, “Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being build with heavy stones, and timber is being laid in the walls; and this work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.”  There are two words in this verse that are worth highlighting.  They are: “This work.”  They may have sent this letter in malice, but . . .

It testified not only to

The greatness of God,

But to the greatness of the

Work that was being done.

“This work,” was God’s work.

And it was being done . . .

1. Conscientiously.

This is the gist of verse 8.  God’s work must be done in God’s way by God’s people for God’s glory.  Are you interested in “this work?”   Are you involved in “this work?”  What way are you doing “this work?”  Pastors, church leader, are you doing “this work,” conscientiously, or we are just a pastor or leader in name only, but not in nature?   It is all part of “this work,” and “this work,” is God’s work.

It was also being done . . .

2. Urgently.

The sense of the words in verse 8 speak of this.  Inspired by the preaching of the prophets and encouraged by the example of the leaders, the Jews worked zealously and urgently.  I wonder at times have we lost the note of urgency in the Lord’s work?  Someone has rightly said, “Soon will the season of rescue be o’er, soon will we stand on eternity shore.”

This work was also being done . . .

3. Effectively.

Verse 8 ends with, “… and prospers in their hands.”  Without God they could not get the work done, but with God they were more than able to do it!  That is what we as we step out into the next verses.

b) God’s Workmen.

We notice in verses 9-10 that when the people were asked, “… Who commanded you to build this temple and to finish these walls?”  That the people answered in a way that allowed them to tie their work with their witness is something that we should not miss.  Verse 11 says, “The are servants of the God of heaven and earth and we are rebuilding the temple …”  There are two phrases in verse 11 that are worth underscoring – (“servants of the God of heaven and earth” and “we are rebuilding the temple.”)  

They knew who they were,

They knew what they believed

They knew what they were doing,

And

They took opportunity to share

The Good News about

God’s redemption plan.

How important it is to realize that we are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and that we are a part building a spiritual temple out of the ruins of fallen humanity.  Their response drives home several truths . . .

1. Humility – “… servants,” listening to our Master’s voice, learning at our Mater’s feet, leaning on our Master’s arms, “ servants.”

2. Dignity – “… of the God of heaven and earth.” Is any service more honorable than God’s?

3. Responsibility – “… and build the house …,” not a material temple, but a spiritual temple which requires all to know about and accept.

We build realizing that the eye of God is ever upon us and responding to opportunities to share the Good News of God with others.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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