Challenges and Triumphs — Ezra 4-6

Audio for the scripture today can be found here: files.me.com/parklinscomb/htl760.mp3

Well the foundation of the Temple had been laid, and things were starting to look up for the returning Jews, the Remnant. But Satan seldom lets us savor the good times very long; new challenges arose, and it is through faithful action that the obstacles were overcome and triumph was won.

Who is my Christian brother? — You read about the Samaritans a lot in the New Testament. They are the despised race of Jesus era, and are the surprise heroes of a couple of meaningful stories in the Gospels. But who are they? When Israel was exiled to far away lands by the Assyrians, the Assyrians had to replace them with other people from somewhere else in their empire. These people originally came in worshiping the gods of their foreign cultures, but in short order they added the LORD to their list of gods to be appeased. They became known as the Samaritans, a people of mixed ethnic background and of mixed religious allegiance. It is this mixed religious allegiance that was the real deal killer, when they came to offer help in building the Temple. Israel had learned the hard way that intermarriage and compromise in the spirit of cooperation and inclusion was a sure-fire recipe for religious error and God’s displeasure — we saw plenty of that as we read through 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. And it should give us pause for thought on the very relevant question, “Who is my Christian brother?”

Weren’t these Samaritans worshiping the same God as the Jews (yes, although maybe not exclusively)? Weren’t these Samaritans living decent moral lives (yes, they knew and approved of the Ten Commandments)? Then why wouldn’t the Jews let them help with the Temple? Paul gives us an inspired and rather exclusive answer in 2 Corinthians doesn’t he?

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, NAS95.

Fraternizing with those in error tends to lead us into error; we come to like the person in error, we retreat from confrontation for the sake of the relationship, and in time their error doesn’t sound so erroneous. It doesn’t always have to happen that way, and yes, I understand that mixing among the unsaved is how we are able to win the lost; but the Scripture is talking about working together, sharing resources together, getting too chummy, etc. — fraternizing.

The importance of deeds done in faith — Well, the rejection of the Samaritans didn’t go well; it seldom does. And the Samaritans were now motivated to “kill the project” that they were being excluded from, so they appealed to the king to stop the work on the basis that Jerusalem had a history of being an empire herself and had rebelled against previous empires (Babylonian). The king, hearing only one side of the story, did order a stop to the work; and the enemies of Judah enforced it — challenge. Unfortunately, things stayed that way for a while, until God raised up a couple of prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who encouraged and motivated the Jews to step out on faith and begin rebuilding. When local Gentile government officials looked into the matter, the Jews wisely pointed out to the king that they had begun to build the Temple not on their own initiative, but on the order of the revered king Cyrus. This was enough to cause king Darius (the current king) to not only allow the construction to move forward, but to command that the local officials actively help the Jews to complete the Temple’s work with all the supplies they needed.

Obstacles are bound to jump out and hinder the progress of any good work; the key to godly success is to determine to move forward in faith and obedience to God’s will one step at a time. When we get to Haggai and Zechariah, we’ll notice that many of the people of Judah reacted to the work stoppage like many of us would — get discouraged and forget about coming back to it (it was 25 years from the time of the return to the Temple’s completion). But the prophets pulled them in the direction of faithful obedience; and it’s lesson for us all.

Obstacles are everywhere. What are you discouraged about? Evangelistic efforts? Church growth? Your marriage? Your kids? Your parents? Your job, office, or employer? Faithfully “step out on the water” (1 Peter can give a lot of examples of situations and their proper response) and watch God’s wisdom at work.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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