“Sticking With God’s Word is Worth It”
Ezra 5 & 6

We began with a new exodus in chapter 1 of Ezra. Followed by the numbering of the people as they walked back to the Promised Land, in chapter 2. Once they arrived, we discovered they built an altar and celebrated with the Festival of Booths, in Ezra 3. In chapter 4, we read about opposition. Today, in chapters 5-6 we will read how the first generation of returnees rebuilt the temple as a result of their obedience to the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. This generation succeeded not only because they listened to God’s Word, and believed in God’s Word, but because they also heeded God’s Word. Even in the midst of opposition. 

Read Chapters 5 & 6.

I realize preaching the second exodus is not one the top 10 sermon topics for most preachers. In my 59 years of church attendance I may have heard a sermon on Ezra/Nehemiah once or twice. Certainly not the entire book, although I have participated in a book study once. That is because in the big scheme of the Bible, we hear about Adam and Eve, then Moses in the first exodus and then the Chosen people come and go and eventually end up back in Jerusalem where the important stuff picks up again with Jesus in the New Testament. As we read through Ezra and Nehemiah we will notice that they certainly did not think their return was insignificant. Neither did Haggai and Zechariah. These men were just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as any other person in the Bible and their stories offer us a lot in how to follow God. 
To begin with, in verse 2 of chapter 5, the leaders hear the prophets and in spite of the risks to their safety and their comfort, they obeyed it. The prophets even joined them in the process. We often read in the Old Testament how the prophets criticized the leaders, remember Isaiah? That’s because they refused to listen. But when leaders obey God’s word, the prophets join in alongside. 

When you hear the prophetic word, do you respond with obedience? Do you want the certain and sure word of God condemning you, or do you want it with you, supporting you? There is a cost either way. 

It takes courage to obey the Bible. As we read today as soon as they were convicted to begin rebuilding, someone showed up and attempted to bully the Bible-believing people into their political correctness. 
Their two questions were as follows:
“Who authorized you to do this?” and
“What are your names?”

Both questions were an attempt to intimidate and threaten. The leaders were neither intimidated nor threatened. They told them the truth of how they were commissioned by Cyrus, king of Babylon to rebuild the temple and that he would even pay for it. They also gave them the names of everyone who was working on the rebuilding. 

Time to check-in! 

If you had been one of those whose name had been given to the intimidator, knowing full well he was going to give it to the King Darius along with his complaint against you, how would you have responded? 
Most of us would hopefully have commenced prayer. Trusting that God had our back and would remain faithful, even if on the surface the circumstances looked grave and there was a possibility He wouldn’t take all the problems away.

Then maybe some of us would have responded with things that we may later regret. 
Oh no, a problem! 
They have my name, they know where I live, this doesn’t look good. 
Without thinking we have expressed pessimism, despair and hopelessness, as though we didn’t trust God’s faithfulness. As if everything God tells us to do is not supposed to have difficulties with it?

Not what Jesus said, John 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

May I encourage you: The next time you are about to say something pessimistic, remember our God uses all things, even opposition, to His glory. 

So, Tattenai, the governor of the land, didn’t believe the Jewish leaders. He became a tattle teller and sent a letter to King Darius asking him to check his records against the claims the Jewish leaders had made. Complete with the names of those who the governor was convinced will be condemned. 

Chapter 6 – King Darius received the letter, and ordered a search for such a record. 
It was found in the fortress of Ecbatana, which according to commentaries was where the king of Babylon would go on vacation. All of this letter writing, delivering and hunting took up time. Time that the Israelites were using to continue building as we read in chapter 5, verse 5,

“But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.”

Then comes the irony, King Darius responded that he had indeed discovered the Israelites had told the truth. Therefore, King Darius ordered Tattenai to stay away, allow the temple to be rebuilt and to also fund it. The governor’s treasury was to pay for the building supplies as well as the items needed for worship. This made it sound like up to this point, the Israelites had been the ones funding the operation. 
Did you catch the irony? 

Had there not been an opposition, the Israelites would have had to continue paying for the reconstruction of the temple. Because of the opposition, not only was the building funded, but their need for sacrifices to worship was also covered. Definitely a God thing!

The officials do what Kind Darius decreed. They carried out the decree of Darius precisely and promptly.
The building of the temple was completed. And then the Israelites celebrated. Part of that celebration included Passover, a time when the Israelites sacrificed unblemished animals for their sins. We read they sacrificed 12 he-goats, one for each of the twelve tribes. That is how transgressions against God were taken care of back then. 

God is Holy and people are sinful.

In order to be reconciled to God, there needs to be an offering of sacrifice. God provided the Israelites in Ezra’s time with a temple, where God would reside, where they could come to reconcile themselves with Him. 

Today, we are the temple of God. 2 Corinthians 6:16

“….For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

Jesus became the final perfect sacrifice for all sins. We need only to trust in His Word and believe. 

It is important to note who was part of this celebration. Throughout the book of Ezra it may look like segregation was promoted. In chapter 4, the Israelites refused help from those who did not worship like them. In chapters 9-10 we will read where they will order those with foreign wives to get rid of them. However, in verse 21 of chapter 6 we read, 

“So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel.”

This demonstrated the returned community was not so much focused on racism as they were focused on holiness. 

With holiness comes joy, verse 22, 
“because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.”

We complete this section of Ezra with the recognition of God’s power over the foreign rulers who were in opposition to Him. Reminding us that God keeps those, regardless of who they are, who are following His Word, and focused on holiness. 

Let’s pray.