The Book of Ezra shows us how God restores his people and helps them to follow his ways even in the midst of opposition. At the outset, we should notice that the people had returned to the promised land as a result of God’s acting in history to bring about his purposes. I want to look briefly at the flow of chapters 3-6 in this fascinating book.
In chapter 3 verses 1-6, The Israelites reestablished sacrifice by rebuilding the altar, this meant that they could be reconciled to God and know forgiveness for their sins. The sacrifices all point forward to what Christ would accomplish upon the cross and they testify to the grace of God. It was only right that they should start in this God centred manner. They recognised that God is holy and that he has ordained by his grace the way of salvation. They, therefore, followed the instructions of the word of God in re-introducing sacrifice this must precede the building because a right relationship with God is more important than building the temple. They needed to have that assurance that their sins were forgiven and that they could now walk with the Lord.
Chapter 3:7-13 describes the laying of the foundation of the temple and we need to notice that this is in response to knowing that this is what God had called them to. They, therefore, did not see this as just a building project but also as a time to worship the Lord. If they were going to build in the way God wanted them to it had to be with Him at the centre and therefore the ministry of the priests was vital at this point. It also shows to us the importance of worship for the whole of Christian ministry, worship shows that we are depending on God for all things it is the opposite of doing things in our own strength. Let’s look at how that is described in the book of Ezra,
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:
“He is good;
his love toward Israel endures forever.” (Ezr 3:10–11).
They followed the directions of the word of God for worship they came with praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, celebrating the fact that he is good and his love endures forever.
The majority of the people rejoiced in what God was doing amongst them, but a minority looked back with sadness to what they thought were the better days of the old temple. This was a problem that would hamper the people at times as can be seen in the writings of Haggai and Zechariah.
Chapter 4 Is all about the way the surrounding people tried to interfere with the building of the temple and their opposition to it. Their first tactic was to try the path of compromise but the people resisted that because they knew that the form of religion that surrounding nations had was tainted with paganism, they knew that to compromise here would destroy all that were meant to be doing. This uncompromising attitude provoked the hostility of their enemies and brought about an enforced halt to the work on the temple. This darkness of frustration is the opportunity for God to address his people through the Prophets and get them rebuilding again.
24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
5 Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them. (Ezr 4:24–5:2).
As the prophets spoke to the people they encouraged them to restart work on the temple and through both the rebuke and encouragement of these prophets the people began to see the way forward. As we look at chapter 5 and 6 We see that ?God is sovereign and he enables them to answer their opponents wisely with the result that the King decrees that the temple must be completed. We see here a complete turnaround in the situation. Not only are the allowed to build the temple, they are given the financial and material provision that they need to build. We see how god takes his people through times of trouble and discouragement and builds them up again..