Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oppositions come... Ezra 4

Ezra 4:1-6
1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, "Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here."
3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us."
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. (or and troubled them as they built) 5 They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

When you look at the history of these Hebrew People, we can see years of following the Lord's Ways and years of falling away.  At one time, Israel was ONE nation.  The center of the worship was in Jerusalem.  God lived among His People.  His Glory was there in the Temple, and the people worshipped Him there.  

Then there was a split in the kingdom.  Ten tribes went North and their faith went "south" meaning they lost their way and followed false gods.  They did not allow their people to travel to Jerusalem so they set up two cities in the north and set up other altars there and the people began to fall deeper and deeper away from the Truth.  The followed the teachings of the pagan nations around them.  More and more, they watered down the teachings of their Fathers.  More and more, they accepted falsehood rather than the Truth.  They followed a lie with more zeal than their ancestors followed the Truth.

It was easy to accept more lies after a while in the darkness.  They turned their hearts away from God.  The followed after sin and were lost in their wanderings.

God sent a country to remove them and they were scattered never to become one nation again.  

Their brothers in the South, Judah and Benjamin saw the error of their bothers in the North but they, too, began to follow the same path AWAY from God.  Soon, the Glory of God left the Temple.  The very area that was called by His House!  The decline of the South followed the decline of the North.  Sadly, they lost their way.  They, too, were taken away into captivity--this time, for 70 years, only to return once again and with the King's money, was told to REBUILT the Temple to the God of Israel.

This they did, but soon, they faced some problems from the local men who were moved into the area after the Jews were removed.

Reality began to sink in when they were doing the will of God.

When you are doing the Lord’s Work, in unity with His Spirit, the following may be true.
• Those who oppose you will bring up past offences as current issues.
• Those who oppose you will project their own rebellion on your situation.
• Those who oppose you will speak to as many people as humanly possible to spread evil against you.
• Those who oppose you will not do this to your face—until they have poisoned others against you.
• Those who oppose you really oppose God.

This morning, we are NOT going to talk much about those who criticize you but as the Gospel often does, we will turn the tables around and look at our response to the criticism.

So, when we have problems, we need to be careful that you are in right relationship with the Lord. Examine your own life and motives. Spend time in prayer. The work here in this passage on the building of God’s Temple was stopped for fifteen years yet it started up again, once the situation was cleared up. Time is not really a factor when God’s Hand is in it. Not—our timing, not in our way, nor by our power.

Note the wording: “When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord…”
1. Enemies of Judah and Benjamin? Who did they really oppose? They were not friends of Israel from the start but they made the opposition strong by setting their hearts on being enemies of God’s People. Even Cyrus knew the Hebrews to be People of The Law; people of The Book.  

When the Hebrews got there, they moved fast to do what they were told to do. 3:11. They were very glad to be in their own home city. The City of David. Historically, theirs for many, many years—now restored to them. They were glad!

Then this move against them. Who were these men? They were adversaries of the Lord, God of Israel.
Whenever there is an attempt to revive True Devotion to God, that will cause the opposition of Satan and those who follow him will raise up in arms. These characters were Samaritans, who had been transplanted into the land. See 2 Kings 17:24-41. The King of Assyria brought people from conquered lands to repopulate Israel to replace the Israelites. Problems ensued that caused the king to send a Jewish priest to teach them the Way of the Lord. They followed these teaching but they also kept their old ways of worshipping the very idols that caused Israel to fall in the first place. 2 Kings 17:28. They set up seven gods plus the worship of Jehovah. 2 Kings 17:33. They were instructed to return to the True Worship but they refused. 2 Kings 17:40-41.

The enemies of Judah and Benjamin were the true enemies of God. It was very plain that these guys were not interested in following the strict ways of the Exiles who had been punished for following the ways of the other peoples. They did not want to unite in the worship of the Lord according to His Word. A point here to realize is that we are to take care not to allow those who discourage a good work and weaken those who endorse the Way of the Cross to persuade us to give up or give in to their demands.  

God’s Work in God’s Power in God’s Timing.
2. “…heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord…” This was the real issue. It was not that they were living there, or even that they took some land back that they had lived on for the past 70 years. No, it was because they were worshipping the Living God and that freaked them out. Anything but Him. In fact, they had everything but Him there already!

Listen to the words they said—lying thru their teeth…full of lies. Ezra 4:2B, "Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here."

That was not true—at all! Sure they had some of the look of Israel’s worship but it was a far distant reality from the worship of the True and Living God. They were false. They were only trying to water down the truth.  

Remember back to John 4, were Jesus was speaking to the lady at the well...  She asked Jesus were they should worship God, on the hill beyond them or in Jerusalem.  Jesus answered with: "The time will come when you will worship God in Spirit and in Truth!"

What God was looking for was a heart that was leaning on Him…to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. What is True Worship? Worship is my voluntary, conscience response to God, by which I demonstrate His worth, greatness, goodness and His Lordship over me. Jeffrey Ramey

The work of God was hindered—but not ended.

Slander is a rough thing to deal with. How do you stop someone from slandering your name or the Name of the Lord? Put a court order on them? Not so easy. In fact, any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do. Ben Franklin-1706-90.

If we continue to teach about tolerance and intolerance instead of good and evil, we will end up with tolerance of evil. Dennis Prager, Jewish ethicist, radio talk host.

Tolerance is the virtue of those who don't believe anything. G.K. Chesterton, Christian English author.

The Samaritans were the prime examples of modern day advocates for tolerance. They ask, “Why can’t you be flexible and flow with society?” Answer, “Because society is flowing away from God.” 

3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us."

When they made a stand on God’s Word to them, it created a problem for the Samaritans. They began to discourage the people and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors and consultants to work against them and frustrate them. And the Jewish people were trying to do the Will of God and they were set aside by the criticisms. For 15 years, they were unproductive in doing what God wanted them to do. (Better than 40 years but yet) it was God’s timing that brought them out. And when He did, the people were ready to serve ONLY the God of Israel. Unlike before, they sought the Lord and found Him faithful!

Slander and criticisms have been attacking Believers since the beginning. Even Adam was critical of the ‘woman You gave me…’ to the very Face of God. It is in our nature. Be careful therefore. What we need is a clear understanding of who God is and to be holy before Him.

We need a fear of the Holy!

Some feel that when the Church prospers, that would be hurtful to the government. Quite the opposite is true. True Godliness teaches us to honor and obey the State; to pray for those who are over us in the government and in the Church. Pray for the Prime Minister and for the Minister. When the commands of God and the laws of the State run in opposite directions, we are to follow the Lord. We must because His Law is above all else. We will need then to wait for the sometimes painful consequences when we do that. But don’t fear. He is faithful!

We are also to avoid all appearances of evil. Upright in every way!

Be ready to understand and believe that the World will believe any accusation against the People of God and yet refuse to listen to them. In this passage, even the King was moved against the Hebrew people by fraud and falsehoods. Man tends to see and hear with men’s ears and eyes while God’s judgment is just as He sees things as they really are.

The reason for this information is to give us a handle of how to handle the possible criticisms we face from time to time.

There may be a feeling that there is a season for this kind of attack. It is true. If you have blood going through your veins than it is time for criticisms. Criticisms and taxes are always with us.

Some of the helps to deal with these hard events are from our side, in that; our attitude must needs to change.

In fact, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said: “Don't mind criticism. If it is untrue, disregard it; if unfair, keep from irritation; if it is ignorant, smile; if it is justified it is not criticism, learn from it.”

William Arthur Ward also said: "Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.” (US scholar, author, editor, pastor & teacher)

The Bible has some strong things to say about people who are critical or who criticise others. It is not my intention this morning to deal with that but to put this whole situation back into our laps, and for us to deal with our responses. In truth, we are not responsible for other’s actions or remarks but we need to be responsible for our response.
Our response is our responsibility.

Next week: part two~What is our response?

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