News images of the world bring the chaos of war, natural disasters and poverty to our lounges daily. In our own lives we struggle against chaos every day. We tidy up, clean, categorize, file and plan to ensure an orderly and effective existence. Chaos is like a monster always ready to devour and destroy. It is negative. It robs our confidence, causes depression and emotional confusion and feelings of powerlessness. Organized lives demand thought and planning.
Jerusalem was a heap of rubble, mostly deserted of permanent residents, when the exiles returned in the year 538 BC. Sixty years before, the Babylonian emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, held Jerusalem in a deadly siege before he took the best of the nation into exile to Babylon. Only the weak, sick and old stayed behind. Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar and his successors although not all of them are mentioned in the Bible. Only Belshazzar in the incident with the writing on the wall is mentioned. He survived the Persian conquest of Babylon and served Darius the Mede and lived into the first year of the reign of Cyrus the Persian, which is a miracle in itself. Usually the conquering kings got rid of the administrative staff of the previous reign. Daniel knew the Scriptures; he knew the duration of the exile that has been prophesied by Jeremiah; he knew the 70 years have almost run out and prayed for God to intervene and take His people back to their home.
Under the miraculous good attitude of Cyrus, the first group of voluntary returning exiles was lavishly equipped with materials they would need to restore the Temple and city wall. Just imagine the situation in Jerusalem. The ruins have not been rebuilt; it probably served as hiding for robbers and vagabonds and the wall was a heap of rubble as a result of war. An ancient city without a wall was like man with no weapons, almost impossible to defend. Strong leadership is needed to command the process and motivate the people.
I am always amazed at the meticulous accounts of the rebuilding process in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which was one book in the Hebrew Bible. Ezra’s name means: the Lord has helped. Scholars accept that he has written the book bearing his name, as well as the book of Nehemiah and also the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. He was a learned man, known to study the law of God. He lived the Law and taught it; respected by the people and the king. Ezra 7:10-11:
For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances.
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even the scribe of the words of the commandments of Jehovah, and of his statutes to Israel:
In chapters 1 – 6 the return of the first group is described over a period of 23 years. They start the restoration of the Temple in eagerness and fervour, but lose heart because of resistance and hostility from the people that stayed behind and mixed with pagan groups. The enemy brings the work to a standstill. God is faithful. He calls the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to inspire the people to continue and encourage continuation of the building even though the Temple would not be as glorious and majestic as in the days of Solomon. The temple is dedicated in the year 515 BC.
Sixty years later a second group returns under the leadership of Ezra with even more money and valuables, including the Temple elements taken by Nebuchadnezzar at the beginning of the exile – amazing ancient administration! Ezra becomes spiritual reformer and leading priest, preaching a return to the spirit of the Law, even to the point of divorcing their pagan wives who caused their backsliding. He continually emphasizes God’s faithfulness and grace and man’s unfaithfulness.
God’s faithfulness and guidance in times of political turmoil are super important for our lives today and serve as a lighthouse in a very stormy and scary sea. We are constantly aware of the unrest and instability of political upheaval and decisions made far beyond our interests.
When everything looks so dark, I want to pray the prayer of the blind man: Lord that I can see! Cause me to see your mercy and outcome. God will shorten the exile; he softens the hearts of world leaders. He calls the prophets to exhort and inspire. He raises up the teachers to reveal His Word and Will for us to learn so that we are strong and confident.
We cannot allow hostility to stop the building of the Temple.
Hear the words of encouragement from Zechariah to the builders: [4:6,7]
Then he said to me, This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit [of Whom the oil is a symbol], says the Lord of hosts.
For who are you, O great mountain [of human obstacles]? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain [a mere molehill]! And he shall bring forth the finishing gable stone [of the new temple] with loud shoutings of the people, crying, Grace, grace to it!
Let these ancient words of reinforcement, remove obstacles and the Spirit of the God of grace Who gives it, echo in our world today and establish us in truth.
Even after the completion of the Temple, the people are uncommitted and sinful. Ezra enters into earnest prayer for the purification of the people. He is so broken before God – Ezra 9:3:
And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my robe, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down confounded.
He confesses the sin of the people and pronounces God’s mercy and provision over them. One can wonder about this. How can he confess on behalf of the people, when his own life is lived so pure and submitted to God? This is a miraculous and visionary principle in the Word of God. We can intercede for our family, our friends, our city and our country and confess their sins on their behalf so that God can be gracious and provide for them. Ezekiel 22:30:
And I sought for a man among them, that should build up the wall, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.
A dark picture of the land is painted in Ezekiel 22. Just listen for a moment and realize what an accurate description this is of so many parts of the world today. [The Message]
God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, tell her, ‘You’re a land that during the time I was angry with you got no rain, not so much as a spring shower. The leaders among you became desperate, like roaring, ravaging lions killing indiscriminately. They grabbed and looted, leaving widows in their wake.
26-29 “‘Your priests violated my law and desecrated my holy things. They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular. They tell people there’s no difference between right and wrong. They’re contemptuous of my holy Sabbaths, profaning me by trying to pull me down to their level. Your politicians are like wolves prowling and killing and rapaciously taking whatever they want. Your preachers cover up for the politicians by pretending to have received visions and special revelations. They say, “This is what God, the Master, says . . .” when God hasn’t said so much as one word. Extortion is rife, robbery is epidemic, the poor and needy are abused, outsiders are kicked around at will, with no access to justice.’
This is chaos.
God seeks a righteous man to stand in the gap, to confess the sins, to repair the defenses, to war in prayer against chaos.
These words are the most profound reproach from God and sadden me deeply. I want to cry out: I will pray Lord. You have given me the tool to stand against chaos, to defend the city, to plead for Your mercy upon my family, my friends and my people. Here am I Lord. I do not want to hear the chilling words: …but I found none.
It does not matter that political decisions are made far from me, that presidents are chosen, leaders are deposed, terrorists in black scream death and destruction. I stand as a daughter/son of the Most High and the Commander of the Hosts of Heaven.
I rule. I CAN PRAY!
This is not a call to join in the whining and complaints of the general conversations. It is also not a call to ignore the practicalities of our situation and provide with our Spirit-ruled minds for the best solutions in our lives. It is a call not to worry and loose faith. It is call of war to pray and believe our God reigns.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Are we not the people of the Covenant? How could we ever rate politics higher than the terms of the Blood Covenant? Our prayer should be that God opens our eyes to see His grace and provision within the turmoil of world politics, to identify the true prophets, to listen to the teachers and priests and pray for the leaders.
We all are the learned priest Ezra. We build the Temple. We restore the house of prayer and worship. It has been proclaimed over us in 1 Peter 2:9:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
We are the light. Our logo is the Cross and the complete salvation it brings.
Pebble pal, the command is clear. We are called out of darkness into light to proclaim the praises of our God. We have been promised the faithfulness of God, the money and materials, the attitude of the king, the prophets for encouragement, the priests for teaching. Our future shines bright and sure.
Therefore strengthen the hands, which hang down, and the feeble knees… [Hebrews 12:12]
In the words of that same prophet who inspired the exiles – Zechariah 8:9:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
‘Let your hands be strong,
You who have been hearing in these days
These words by the mouth of the prophets,
Who spoke in the day the foundation was laid
For the house of the Lord of hosts,
That the temple might be built.
Next time: Set the altar in spite of fear
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.