Distraction. Discouragement. Delay.
“When this letter from King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum, Shimshai, and their colleagues, they hurried to Jerusalem. Then, with a show of strength, they forced the Jews to stop building.” – Ezra 4:23 NLT
The people were being faithful. They were offering sacrifices to God and had already rebuilt the foundation of the Temple. So why in the world would God allow them to undergo the constant harassment they endured at the hands of their enemies? From the moment they arrived in the land, they were under a daily barrage of verbal attacks. They were libeled, slandered, and falsely accused by their enemies. And who were these enemies? When the Assyrians had taken the northern kingdom of Israel captive, they had encouraged their own people to move to the land and settle there. In time these people had intermarried with the remaining Jews. They worshiped Assyrian gods, but also worshiped Yahweh, because they viewed Him as the God of the land. This mixed race of people became known as the Samaritans, a group that was still despised by the people of Israel at the time of Christ. The Jews viewed them as half-breeds and traitors. And here they were causing daily consternation for the people of God as they attempted to follow the will of God by rebuilding the Temple.
After a letter-writing campaign to King Artaxerxes, the enemies of the Jews finally got their wish. They convinced the king that the Jews were a threat to his kingdom and if he let them continue rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, the Jews would rebel against him. So Artaxerxes gave them the royal authority to force the Jews to stop building. Work would not continue in earnest for another 16 years. So why the delay? Why were the Jews seemingly thwarted in their attempt to remain faithful to God? It is easy to sit on this side of the story and question why the people did not persevere and simply continue to build in the face of opposition. But they were greatly outnumbered and ill-equipped to stand against their enemies. This was a time of great discouragement and disillusionment. The people of God had to feel confused by the events surrounding them. They had to question whether God was in control. They had to wonder whether they should have ever returned. Setbacks and standstills are common in our spiritual journeys. We should not be surprised by them, but instead, we need to learn to expect them and push through them. God was not done yet, and because He is sovereign and all-knowing, He was fully aware of the opposition and the pressure put on the Jews to give up on their God-given task. We will face opposition as well. We will be tempted to throw in the towel when the going gets tough. But we have to remember that God is with us. He will not leave us or forsake us. The rebuilding did begin again. After a delay, the people once again took up the task of completing God’s Temple. God was still in control. Distraction, discouragement and delays are inevitable. But in the end, God’s will always wins out.
Father, You are there even when things look bleak. You are there even when the opposition seems too strong for us. When we face delays in our spiritual journey, it is easy for us to lose hope and give up. But never let us lose sight of Your constant presence. Never let us be surprised when we face opposition. It is part of the process. It is par for the course. But You never stop working. You never get distracted or discouraged. You are always there, behind the scenes, fulfilling Your will in Your way, and in Your perfect timing. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men