Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Is our mission as Christians being suppressed by the fear of opposition? Today, we look at the Jews' reply to the official inquiry as described in the letter the regional officials send to King Darius. From the Jews' reply, we learn a few things about how to respond to opposition we may face when we are doing God's work.
First, the Jews state their identity and vocation. ″We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple″ (Ezra 5:11). Their statement reminds us of how important it is to hold fast to our identity and mission in a distracting and dangerous world. Carelessness, busyness, and lack of courage can erode one's identity and vocation.
Second, the Jews provide more history to support their case (v. 11). It is always good to ensure that the church retains its memory. The Jews explain why their temple had been destroyed-they had angered God, who handed them over to the Babylonian conquerors (v. 12). They acknowledge the blame, confessing the sins of their fathers. They know they had acted unfaithfully and God had taken proper action.
Third, the Jews relate how King Cyrus had issued an edict for them to return to Jerusalem from Babylon and rebuild the temple. He had also returned the temple objects that had been seized by the Babylonians and appointed Sheshbazzar (probably Zerubbabel) as governor of Judea and leader of the rebuilding project-which, though it had begun, remains uncompleted.
The provincial officials, who realise the Jews may have a case, request that the king make a decision on whether the temple construction should be allowed to continue. They suggest that the royal archives be searched to see if King Cyrus had indeed issued the edict that the Jews referred to (v. 17). The implication is that if there is such a royal decree, then it still carries weight and needs to be honoured. There are examples of churches and mission agencies whose existence and work have been saved by archival material. I remember how a church archivist had to travel to America to search for a piece of paper that eventually exempted the church from paying a development charge of millions of dollars. How we need church historians and archivists!
We may experience unreasonable opposition when doing God's work. But we should not be discouraged; instead, we are to prayerfully try to overcome our difficulties. It helps to remember our identity, vocation, and history as the people of God. We can then calmly and respectfully explain our position so that those who seem to be opposing us may understand-and perhaps change their minds.
Why is it important to remember our identity, vocation, and history? How are these connected with one another? How would you summarise your identity and vocation?
What would you say to someone who asks you why you have hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15)?