I recently wrote about my return from exile and mentioned having gone through a Bible study on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. I decided it was time I reread those books, and today I started by reading through Ezra.
The book of Ezra is about the Israelites return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon and the rebuilding of the temple of God. As I read through this book, I noticed of a couple of interesting things.
First, God used Cyrus, King of Persia, to facilitate His plan to bring the Israelites back to Jerusalem. Cyrus was not one of God’s people, but he knew enough about this God of the Israelites to want to please Him. Cyrus understood that God was in charge, as indicated by the first line of his decree regarding the Israelites: “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.” Ezra 1:2.
But how did Cyrus come to know of God in the first place? It was because the Israelites had lived in Babylon since their exile under King Nebuchadnezzar. The wisdom of some of the Israelites and the power of God as revealed to the kings of Persia was recorded in the book of Daniel. Because they held onto God during their exile, the Israelites made Him known to Cyrus. After Cyrus, and in part because of his decree, King Darius supported the rebuilding of the temple and the Israelites’ worship of God.
The second thing I noticed is that the rebuilding of the temple did not proceed without opposition. The enemies of the Israelites sent letters to the kings of Persia complaining about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, asking the king to forbid it. In the case of the letter to King Artaxerxes, the enemies were successful and rebuilding was halted for a time. Even when the Israelites had the permission of the king, there was opposition. “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.” Ezra 4:4. But in spite of this opposition, the Israelites continued in their work and the temple was eventually completed.
So what does this mean for us today? First, we must grasp what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
When we believe in Christ, the building of God’s temple in us begins. In this process, God often uses non-believers to accomplish His purpose of drawing us to Himself. And sometimes they will come to know Him in the process.
Also, once the decree has been passed and the building begins, there will be opposition. The enemy will try to discourage us from growing in our faith. The enemy will try to make us afraid to move forward with God’s plan for our lives. But we must continue on in spite of such opposition.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.” 2 Timothy 1:7-8a.
Continue building the temple of God within yourself in furtherance of God’s kingdom. God has decreed that it be so, and just as the decrees of the kings of Persia could not be changed, so the decree of God is forever.