Have you ever been working on something, and had someone stop by, look over your shoulder, and ask, “What’cha doin’?” Activity draws curiosity. Having said that, in the best-case scenario (where these bystanders are just interested in learning more about what you are doing), these onlookers and question-askers can still be an annoyance or distraction.
However, there are others who seem take every opportunity to look for an excuse to shut down other activities that they don’t like. For this latter group, each question is an attempt to find a reason to get your work canceled. (Don’t be like that.) There are activities that are harmful to others, which we should probably work to get stopped; but most of the time, a bad starting attitude can ruin the chance to learn from someone else’s motivation and achievements.
As we continue in the book of Ezra, Persian King Cyrus allowed Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem, and to rebuild a temple to God. While the temple is being worked on, some people around the repatriated exiles see this and want to know what is going on:
At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?”
Ezra 5:3 NIV
I suspect that building a temple was a big enough deal that they wanted to check on it, and maybe make sure that this wasn’t a rogue group of people getting ready to rebel against the kingdom.
At this point, the Jewish people have a decision to make. They could be obnoxious, treating this request as hostile and refusing to reply. Or, they could give these requestors the benefit of the doubt, and provide an honest answer.
In this case, the Jewish people explain how King Cyrus had them return and rebuild the temple of God. They were not trying to start a rebellion. In fact, they were acting under the orders of the king himself.
However, Tattenai (and the others asking questions) want to confirm things with the new king. (This sounds like a “trust, but verify” philosophy.) After all, Cyrus is not the king anymore. Currently , King Darius is ruling the Persian empire. So, they write Darius a polite letter, and ask him to check the empire’s records.
In chapter 6, King Darius instructs his “librarians” (my term for them – they might have been called scribes or “staffers”, I suppose) to check it out, and they confirm what Cyrus had instructed. The letter (or scroll) that is sent back to Tattenai confirms that he should indeed let the Jewish people continue the work, and that the royal treasury is to be used to help pay for things.
There’s also a fairly graphic punishment outlined for anyone who breaks this command, and a curse that God would punish anyone who messes with the project. A commentator [Schoville, p.92] points out the irony in having one’s own house destroyed (as punishment) if one tries to interfere with the construction of God’s house.
So, whether Tattenai and his buddies were trying to get the Israelites in trouble, or were just doing their job to keep the peace in this region of the Persian empire, the Israelites’ response allowed them to receive a verification of the backing of the king himself. Had the Jewish people fought back or ignored the question altogether, they may have raised the ire of the king, with corresponding consequences.
Now, I’m confident that God was working in this process (as we see elsewhere in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as throughout the Bible), but even in God’s plan, our attitude and our decisions seem to impact our role in His plan.
As a result, when we encounter someone stopping by to ask about what we are doing, let’s take a deep breath to ask God what our response should be. With a God-honoring reply (rather than a visceral knee-jerk reaction), we might not only defuse a situation that could go sour, but we might also receive an opportunity to share good news about Jesus Christ with someone who doesn’t yet know Him!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 8, 2023
- The Lookout, January 1, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.