Have you ever known what the right thing to do was, but struggled to do it out of fear of other people? Maybe you are the only Christian at a lunch with your co-workers, and you normally pause to pray before eating, but you notice that everyone else just started eating as soon as their food came. What do you do? I will admit that that scenario is probably over simplistic, but I bet it is something that you have dealt with at some point. Certainly, there are other issues, much bigger that cause people to have fear well up inside of them. In today’s text, Israel is now back in her land. The city still lies in ruins, but under the leadership of Ezra and others, work begins on rebuilding the Temple as we see in Ezra 3:3. Ezra 3:3 says, “Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.”
Israel would have been unable to defend themselves should an attack from surrounding nations occur. However, the priests knew that the Temple needed to be rebuilt, and that they needed to learn their lessons that led to their previous captivity. In a stunning departure from their previous course of action many years ago, Israel put the work of God ahead of their own security and comfort. Many years before this, when David was king over Israel, what moved David to desire to build a Temple was that he and the other Israelites lived in nice houses, but the ark of the covenant lived in a tent. The ark of the covenant represented the very presence of God for Israel. This bothered David, and thus he desired to build a Temple. Now, what we see is Israel putting God’s work ahead of their own desires. Oh, that we all could learn so easily from our past mistakes.
What this story shows us is that we must have a greater faith in God than we have fear of man. I will admit, sometimes it is easier said than done. After all, if we can’t pause to pray before a meal even though no one else does, do we really think we would be able to stand up against those threatening our lives for our Christian faith? I doubt it. Not only do we have to deal with outright attacks, but we also have to fight the enemy of distraction. For time sake, I’m not going to chase this rabbit very far, but I think we need to put the full story together. In Ezra 4, we see some people who wanted to come and distract Israel from their work. They claimed to love God, yet it is clear they didn’t. When the leadership resisted their distractions, that set out to divide Israel from the other nations. They did this by lying to the king, and as the end of Ezra 4 tells us, it worked. The king stopped the work on the Temple and it would remain stopped for over a decade. In life, we will have some encounters with people attacking us, trying to divide us, and trying to destroy our faith. However, I would argue that our greatest enemy today is the enemy of distraction. It would have been easy for the leadership of Israel to get distracted, and do whatever they had to do in order to keep the peace and keep the work of rebuilding the Temple going. However, it would have had disastrous consequences for them. The same is true for you and I. We must know what God has called us to do, and we must commit ourselves to that work. There will be many opportunities for us to fear. In those times, let us pray that God helps us be faithful to His calling, and that our faith will be greater than our fear. The good news is this, “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
By His grace and for His glory,