Lessons from Ezra: Establishing a Temple
My morning study has been in Ezra, and I feel like God is showing me a few things particularly from chapters 3 and 4. Most of my thoughts are based on people I’ve been meeting lately, who have an idea that they’d like to follow God but really no practical understanding of how to go about doing it. This isn’t exhaustive, but a few random thoughts. There’s a remnant of Israelite’s that have returned to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. It was previously destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the people were deported to other towns and cities. They are just returning after 70 years in exile:
Ezra 3:2 Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.4 Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. 5 After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred festivals of the Lord, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the Lord. 6 On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid.
Step 1: Establish an altar
An altar is a meeting place with God. These exiles were returning to a broken down foundation, and before they started repairing the walls or building committees; they set up an altar. It’s priority #1. It doesn’t have to pretty or perfect, but we have to start talking with Jesus regularly, often, and consistently. Notice they didn’t ask approval from their neighbors, they just did it.
If you want to start living for God, make it a priority to meet with Him every day. Don’t wait until other things are in order, establish this FIRST! Without establishing this, nothing else in your life will work. You have to decide that meeting with God is the most important thing you can do with your day and aim for doing it everyday.
Psalm 127 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Step 2: Lay a foundation
Ezra 3: 8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work.
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good;
his love toward Israel endures forever.”
Get yourself grounded in truth ASAP. Romans tells us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ You’ve got to start this work fast because trouble is coming. If you’re not grounded in the truth about who God is and who you are in Him, you will be destroyed. Notice this started shortly after their return from exile. They were motivated to clear out the rubble and debris, and start building a meeting place for God. Because of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; you are now the temple of the living God. The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead is alive in you, and He will lead, guide and teach you the Truth. But you have to dig in to the Bible, memorize it, and stop believing lies about God and yourself.
If you leave room for self in this early process, you won’t last. “There is a way that seems right to man, but it’s end is death.” You’ve been doing what you think is best your whole life and it doesn’t work. It’s time to learn to trust Jesus and stop leaning on your own wisdom. You died. You’re life is now hidden in Christ. Learn God’s word, hide it in your heart. Join a Bible study. Get baptised. Lean in to all God has for you as He pours out grace for you to pursue Him.
This is where most people falter. I’ve seen most have about 18-24 month season of grace where God is great and everything is awesome. Then testing comes and if you’re not built up in His love and faith during this season, you won’t last.
Step 3: Stop entertaining sin
Ezra 4 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.[a] 5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
At some point, the Holy Spirit will start to highlight sinful and selfish behavior in your heart and mind that He wants to deal with. This is lead by His Grace, which always gives us the desire and the strength to do what pleases Him (Phil 2:3). No temptation will ever seize you except things that are common to everyone, and Jesus always has a door of escape for those who are willing to obey Him.
During this season, you may have to make some hard choices in your friendships, occupation, living situations, or habits. You will hear voices that say “you can do this and serve God too. It’s not that big of a deal.” Just like the enemies of Judah, you will have people in your life who are maybe old friends or co-workers who will test you to see if you compromise. You have to have enough faith and conviction to say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to Jesus. This doesn’t mean that you hate these people personally, but you’ve developed enough trust and Love with Jesus that anything that would try to violate your confidence in Him stirs you towards a righteous and holy stance on sin. You will have to draw a line in the sand, and when you do you will see the true character of those who are trying to get you to compromise.
Step 4: Be prepared for Spiritual War
At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes,[b] they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem…
they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.
24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Expect cunning, bribery, threats, accusations and fear to come against you. The enemy of your soul is trying to soften your stance and slow your allegiance to Jesus. This may manifest in people gossiping about you, slandering you, shaming you, accusing you of wrong you haven’t done. This is where you are in the furnace of Christ’s sanctification. He doesn’t place you here until you are ready, so REJOICE! You’ve been found worthy of suffering for His Name. During this season, He is testing and molding your character. We have to learn to not respond and trust Him as our advocate and judge. This is very hard, but we must endure.
The enemies in this story were successful in stopping the work for about 16 years. During this time, the workers went back to the business of building their own homes and minding their own business. I know God is able to work all things out according to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. There is a season to everything under the sun. When you are enduring hardship, the temptation is to let your love grow cold. It is during this time that whatever schedule and temple (from steps 1 and 2) you have set up with God will be tested. You will be tempted to stop meeting with Him. You may even go through seasons where you no longer feel His Presence like you used to. Keep a dialogue with Him. Start a journal. Remember your first love. Let your love for Him grow during this season. It is worth it!
We are all together the temple of the living God. We are the church. Throughout each of these seasons, you will need brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the faith to hold you up and share your burdens. There was a whole community that returned to Jerusalem and they each had a role and purpose. Find yours. Give to others. Pray for and with others. Encourage each other with songs and scripture. We need each other! Don’t tap out or shrink back from fellowship. Ask God to show you some Godly friends, and He will. God is faithful to lead us through every season of our soul. He is able!