Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Setbacks are difficult to accept, especially when we are faithfully doing God's work. Why does a ministry initiative fizzle out? Why does a ministry team member die tragically? Why do we have to close down an important ministry? In such situations, it may seem that Satan is having a laugh at the expense of God's people. And this seems to be the case in today's reading.
Just as the enemies of the Jews had hoped, the king replies to their letter of accusation against the Jews by issuing a ″stop-work″ order. A search of historical records has been made, and Jerusalem has indeed been found to have ″a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition″ (Ezra 4:19). As far as colonising empires are concerned, Jerusalem is a troublemaker. Moreover, under its former kings David and Solomon, Jerusalem had once been the capital of a large and powerful united kingdom in the region, commanding tribute from lesser nations around them (v. 20). The potential for Jerusalem to rise from the ashes and reclaim such a powerful position is seen as a ″threat″ (v. 22) to the Persian king.
To prevent this threat from growing, the king orders all building work in the city to halt (v. 21). This would have delighted the enemies of the Jews. Their plan has come to fruition, and they have effectively tied the hands of the Jews, who now face grave danger if they continue rebuilding the city. The eagerness of the enemies can be seen in how hastily they set out to implement the king's order-note the words, ″As soon as″ and ″immediately″ (v. 23)-and ″compelled them by force to stop″ (v. 23). Imagine the scene: perhaps they pull down the work platforms, seize the building tools, and station soldiers to arrest or kill anyone who would dare to disobey the king. It is clear that some degree of force is used against the Jews, who must have protested.
The narrative that breaks off in verse 5 then continues in verse 24. Just as the building of the city is stopped by royal decree, the building of the temple ″came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia″ (v. 24). For a period of some 15 years, no building sounds are heard at the temple site, much to the satisfaction of the enemies of God's people. What will God do next, we wonder?
It may seem that Satan is laughing at God's children, having successfully stopped them from doing God's work. Have you been in a situation like this? You can be sure that Satan has a hand in it, but you can also be sure that God has the upper hand in all such situations. The Bible encourages us to be ″joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer″ (Romans 12:12). God knows and sees all that we are facing.
How should God's people relate to governing authorities? How should Christians respond if a law of the land forbids Christian mission?
What evidence is there that God's work within us is well under way? Or has the work stopped because of our disobedience, lack of faith, or fear? What would you do about those places where the work seems to have come to a standstill?