When a professional (or even amateur) athlete is having trouble for several games in a row, he or she can try all sorts of things to get out of their slump. They might change up their routine, try practicing differently, ask for help from a coach, listen to some inspirational speakers, or get out a good luck charm. Sometimes, this seems to work, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s difficult to tell what – if anything – that they did differently actually changes the results.
After some setbacks in Ezra 4, we find the following verses at the start of Ezra 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. 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.
Ezra 5:1-2 NIV
Work in Jerusalem had been stopped, but three things happen in these two verses:
- Prophets of God prophecy to the people in God’s name.
- The people resume work. (Haggai 1:1 indicates that Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah, and Joshua was the high priest. While just two names are mentioned, it sounds like – per Haggai 1:14-15 – they were leading a larger group of workers. )
- And, the prophets remain with the people who are doing the work.
This doesn’t mean that external pressures and obstacles went away, but the builders have something else to rely upon: the fact that God is their King. God is powerful enough to overcome any earthly leader, and His commands are to be obeyed over the resistance of men who oppose His plan. (Now, Romans 13 reminds us to respect civil authority (ref. Romans 13:1-7), which is also a good idea from a practical standpoint, but we still serve God over human beings.)
And, when we choose to remain in the will of God, He supports us. Sometimes, this looks like divine intervention in the physical world. Other times, God supports us through other people in His family, the church. Now, God’s support may not always look like what we want, but as Hebrews 13:5 says (quoting Deuteronomy 31:6), He will never leave His people.
Would you like to know what Haggai and Zechariah said to the people? Read the book of Haggai (it’s just 2 chapters long), and the first few chapters of the book of Zechariah. If my math is right, prophecies in these other books line up pretty well with the time when building resumed on the temple. We might only have a couple of verses about this here at the start of Ezra 5, but these two books of the “minor prophets” tell us more about what happened during that time.
Maybe, like Haggai and Zechariah, you need to speak God’s word to other people, to inspire them to do what God has called them to. Maybe you are a prophet for them: not an old guy with a long beard and robes, but someone who can share the Word of God. After all, we have access to God’s Word in the Bible, in addition to the teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ, plus the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe, like Zerubbabel and Joshua, you need to listen to God’s commands and get to work. I’m not saying that any of you aren’t currently doing good for God, but each of us must remain open to God’s calling, whether that’s a new ministry to which He is guiding you, or just an individual message or act of service for a fellow human being.
Or maybe, also like Haggai and Zechariah, you need to keep supporting others who are doing the work that God called them to. Following Jesus is a blessing, but it also takes work as we continually strive to serve Him rather than our selfish desires. For those who are engaged in a ministry – especially those who are operating under challenges or hostility from outside – they can be blessed by our encouragement and reminders of God’s promises. At my father-in-law’s funeral, the pastor talked about how he (Paul, my father-in-law) would make sure that there was water at the pulpit. Sometimes, supporting a fellow Christian – especially one who is at risk of growing tired of their ministry – just looks like bringing them water or speaking a kind word. I’m pretty sure that all of us can do that.
Now, there’s more to the book of Ezra, for future articles, but I think that the timeline here (leading up to Ezra’s arrival) is helpful to understand the framework of what will happen next. I encourage you to read through the rest of the book of Ezra on your own, and also the first couple of chapters (each) from Haggai and Zechariah to learn more about the events discussed in the passage above.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 15, 2023
- The Lookout, January 15, 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.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.