Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday, 11 February 2023:
Ezra 4:1-5 – Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.”
The enemies of God were a “new church” with a very short, modern history. God’s people were careful to avoid syncretism, keeping worship holy before the Lord.
Ezra 4:2, 3 — Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do…. You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God.
We are called, appointed, and empowered by God to love Him, serve Him, obey Him, and glorify Him on this earth. We are a separate Kingdom under Christ living amongst other earthly kingdoms, engaging them, ministering to them, but not partnering with them. The gods of the kingdoms of darkness are not our gods, and we can have nothing to do with other “paths to heaven.” We are called to be Ambassadors of Christ to the other kingdoms, faithful to an uncompromised message. We serve as messengers, proclaiming the need for repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Under the LORD-ship of Christ, we have no partnership with those of the dark kingdoms who are at enmity with God. We make no appeal to the rebellious attitudes of mankind.
Many will call us to live in peace through compromise and will blame us for a lack of peace when we refuse to respect their false beliefs or compromise to them. The Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) However, the context of this verse reveals that this is not a ‘peace’ in compromise, but rather a willingness to suffer gracefully in the tribulation Jesus said we would experience as sheep before wolves. Our message is there is no peace but through Jesus. We are called to be peacemakers who call people to the Prince of Peace, not peace lovers who avoid conflict at all costs.
Ezra 4:4-6 – Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
Again, when God’s people refuse to compromise, they will be attacked psychologically, politically, legally, economically, and physically. Are you prepared to resist while you continue to advance the Kingdom of God on earth? In Ezra, the enemies of God’s people attempted to use the government and the law to stop their progress, and they also attempted to slander God’s people. In the face of opposition, God’s people began to become discouraged and afraid. This went on for many years. We must be willing to persevere, enduring trials and tribulations for the long-haul, perhaps for generations. Don’t worry too much about progress, rather focus on fidelity.
Ezra 4:7-16 – “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here…. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city.”
In order to remain faithful to God and His work, God’s people refused to partner with the local community and risk compromise. As a result, they were labeled and rebellious and dangerous; interestingly, those who opposed God’s people claimed to share their faith at first (v2), but later proclaimed their allegiance to the king over Israel’s God. God’s people are often labelled as enemies of the state. “They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city.” (Ezra 4:12)
Ezra 4:14 – Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king….
The enemies of God, considering themselves religious, claimed that they were doing their duty to the kings but never mentioned any concern for the God of Israel.
Ezra 4:23, 24 – Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read… they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Using the government and legal processes, the enemies of God’s people were able to stop all work on the Temple for 15 years, 535 to 520 B.C. From our perspective, that is a long time to get stuck in political red tape with continual threats of violence. How many do you think abandoned all hope during that period? Would you remain faithful to God’s calling though seeming defeated? Legal challenges against God’s people are nothing new. They are certainly no reason to compromise or to quit. How is your endurance and perseverance?
Ezra 4:23-24 – Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Israel had to struggle with obeying Persia’s king while obeying God first.
- Philippians 4:4-7 — Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 16:2 — You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.
When the Lord becomes all you want out of life, you will get what you want and live a fulfilled life.
Psalm 16:3 – As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.
Christians love to be around other devoted Christians and seek them out.
Psalm 16:8 – I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
“What does it mean to set the Lord always before you? It means that you choose to relate everything you encounter to your trust in God. What you choose to focus on becomes the dominant influence in your life. You may be a Christian, but if your focus is always on your problems, your problems will determine the direction of your life. If your focus is on people, then people will determine what you think and do. In biblical times, the right hand was the most distinguished position, reserved for one’s chief adviser and supporter. When you choose to focus on Christ, you invite Him to take the most important position in your life as Counselor and Defender.
Every time you face a new experience, you should turn to Christ for His interpretation and strength. When people insult you and mistreat you, you should seek direction from your Counselor regarding the right response. When you face a crisis, you should receive strength from the One at your right hand. When you experience need, you should consult your Counselor before you react. When you face a fearful situation, you should take courage from the Advocate at your right hand. Everything you do is in the context of your relationship to Christ.
What an incredible act of God’s grace that Christ should stand beside you to guide you and counsel you and defend you! How could you ever become dismayed over your situation with Christ at your right hand? What confidence this should give you!” (Henry T. Blackaby)
Psalm 16:11 – In your presence there is fullness of joy.
Joy in life depends on your closeness to God. Distance from God is not a matter of time/space but rather agreement, surrender, and obedience. Draw near to God by denying yourself, taking up your cross, and walking with Jesus Christ. This is where joy and eternal life are found. It is not enough to know ‘about’ Jesus; joy is knowing Jesus personally.
Proverbs 11:2 — When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
Pride comes when you start thinking about yourself more than about God, when you start serving your own interests ahead of God’s – this is disgraceful and foolish. Both people and nations become prideful when they starting trusting their own abilities over God, when they wrongly believe that their security depends on something other than God.
Proverbs 11:4 — Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, righteousness delivers from death.
Security is found in fidelity to God.
Proverbs 11:11 – Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
God’s judgment will destroy the economic system, and money will be worthless. You cannot eat dollars or gold when the economic systems collapse under God’s judgment of nations, and these things have absolutely no value in the after-life. In what do you place your security?
Proverbs 11:15 — Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure.
Avoid needless commitments and entanglements.
Proverbs 11:18 – The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.
“There are many ways to invest our lives, but none offers greater reward than devoting ourselves to the pursuit of righteousness. Every area of our lives should reflect the holiness of God that is ours by salvation: our thoughts, so that nothing we think about would be inappropriate for a child of God; our actions, so that our lives demonstrate that we serve a holy God; our integrity, so that we are above reproach in all our relationships.
Are you taking God’s righteousness in your life for granted? Righteousness is something you must allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life. Instead of sowing holy thoughts, are you allowing evil and sinful thoughts to grow in your mind? Are you allowing lust to grow unchecked within you? Does enmity, bitterness, jealousy, or unforgiveness remain in your life? Jesus said if we seek first God and His righteousness, everything else will follow (Matt. 6:33). There is great reward in sowing righteousness. What are you presently doing to plant holiness in your life? (1 Pet. 1:15). How are you putting righteousness in your mind so that your thoughts are holy? How are you cultivating righteousness in your relationships so that you maintain your integrity? Are you instilling righteousness in your activities so that your life is above reproach? If you want to harvest righteousness in your life tomorrow, you must plant seeds of righteousness today.” (Henry T. Blackaby)
Proverbs 11:28 – Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
You will either trust in God or in something else. You cannot trust in both. Trusting in anything other than God is death.
Our national motto is, “In God we trust.” Is this true? If we trust in anything else, we are doomed as a nation.
Proverbs 11:30 – The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.
Righteous people change hearts and lives.
Proverbs 11 – The word righteous is used 13 times in Proverbs 11 to drive home the point that God’s people, though covered over in the righteousness of Jesus, are to live righteous lives on earth as evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit. God honors righteousness and punishes the unrighteousness. Grace is not a license to live un-righteously without fear of discipline. Grace gives us the freedom and power to live righteously, growing more and more righteous each day.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 11 February 2023: Be Christlike and teach others how to do the same. (Proverbs 11:30)