Read: Ezra 6: 1 – 22
There was great joy throughout the land because the Lord had caused the king of Assyria to be favorable to them, so that he helped them to rebuild the Temple of God, the God of Israel. Ezra 6: 22
Today’s reading is a full circle moment; the Jewish people saw the fulfillment of God’s promise. God showed the Jewish people that the temple could only be rebuilt through His direct intervention. Over the course of about a generation, these people experienced God’s judgment for years of turning from Him, followed by exile, and eventually followed by a return to their homeland.
While the Jews were happy to return home, there were many painful memories. We know from reading Ezra 3 earlier in the week that while there was great joy when the temple foundation was laid, there were also tears from the elders. The author doesn’t say exactly what the tears meant, but I believe this was a bitterweet moment for them. The elders had experienced the splendor of Solomon’s original temple (this second temple in Ezra was most likely the humblest of the three temples the Jews built). The elders had also lived through the sinful idolatry of their generation, and they had suffered God’s judgment. In Ezra 3, they were again witnessing the re-birth of God’s house; to them this meant God would again be living amongst them.
Over the next couple of decades after the foundation was laid, the non-Jewish people who had settled into the land during the Jewish exile did everything they could to prevent the Jews from re-establishing their nation and rebuilding their temple. They eventually convinced the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to order the work on the temple to be stopped. Picking up with today’s reading, the Jews convinced King Darius to search the archives, and he found Cyrus’ original decree that the Jews should rebuild their temple. In response to this, Darius not only ordered that the Jews be allowed to resume rebuilding the temple without interference, but also that those trying to prevent its construction offer assistance and the reconstruction be fully funded from the Persian Empire’s tax revenues.
It’s important to understand that there was a significant gap of time (most likely around 20 years) between the time they originally laid the foundation and when the temple was actually finished. This was a period of emotional ups and downs, and for a while, I’m sure it seemed to the Jewish people as if God had left them. It’s no wonder then that when the Jews saw circumstances changing in such a way that made the impossible a reality, they credited that to God’s direct intervention; they saw, believed, and reacted with great joy that God had acted in a direct and observable way to fulfill His promise to them.
These verses remind us that we serve a God who will move heaven and earth to keep His promises. There is no power on earth, no force or being ever created, that can keep God from fulfilling His promises to us. In Romans 8: 31 – 39, Paul details this in a way that provides me great comfort and encouragement (see here for these verses: http://tinyurl.com/luy9pma). The bookend verses (31 and 39) fill me with hope: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? … indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Lord, thank You for encouraging us through reminders in Your word that You will always meet Your promises and You will never leave us. Please help me to understand what it means that we, as Your children, cannot be separated from Your love. Please strengthen my faith so that I remember that You can always be trusted no matter the highs or lows that I’m facing at any given time. In Jesus’ name… Amen.