1 – “ Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”” (Ezra 4:1-3, ESV)
RAF: There may be those who are sympathetic with Christianity, and who have added Christ to their other gods and ways, who are nonetheless not Christians. They are not to be evangelists. They have no part in discipleship. They cannot be part and parcel of ministry. They are not whole-hearted after God. We must make these distinctions if we are to be about the business of the Church, and not just religion. Mere religion breeds syncretism.
2 – “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build” “and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:4-5, ESV)
RAF: As in our day of toleration – any notion or claims of exclusivity is offensive and draws the ire of those who are outside the camp. We must not let such attitudes impede the growth of the Kingdom. Evangelization is frowned upon by such – but it is commanded by our Lord.
3 – “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 4:6, ESV)
RAF: This is most likely Esther’s husband.
4 – “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, ESV)
RAF: What an outline for sound ministry. One must: a. Set their heart to study the Law of the Lord. If you are not given to study God’s Word, you are not the one who ought to be teaching it. b. And to do it. Those who teach must be those who are submitted to the Word. c. And to teach. Teaching requires skill, and those who do, need to study how to do it well.
5 – “ Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21-23, ESV)
RAF: Ought not Christians to be ashamed to live before the world in fear, when part of our proclamation to the world is that “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him”? Indeed. We are to live in faith and courage. We are to display to them that we believe our God, and that we live like He is real, and keeps His promises. A fearful and fretful Christianity which turns to the world – to economic prosperity, governmental intervention, and military security – to live in peace, displays nothing more than they already have.
6 – “ After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.” (Ezra 9:1-3, ESV)
RAF: Note first that even in the midst of great revival and restoration, gross sin may still abound. Note secondly, that they did not assume because God had brought them to this point, that that was an indication that their sin was acceptable. Once exposed, it needed to be dealt with. Yes, God had shown them great grace, but that is never an excuse to remain in opposition to His Word. Grace is not an omen that God is pleased with things as is. We use His Word to make that call, not providence.
7 – “saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.” (Ezra 9:6-7, ESV)
RAF: Real restoration always includes a deepened sense of the depth of sin. Which in turn produces a much greater apprehension of grace.
8 – “Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.”” (Ezra 10:14, ESV)
RAF: They understood that they were under God’s fierce wrath NOT because they were suffering any outward signs of it, but because it must be so if they were transgressing His law. This is how we must learn to think. Not – Life is good, God must be happy with me, But – If my life is not in accord with God’s Word, His wrath abides upon me.
9 – “ As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4, ESV)
RAF: Are our hearts broken over the condition of God’s Church?
10 – “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.” (Nehemiah 1:6, ESV)
RAF: When God moves in true revival, men do not point the finger in anger over other men’s sins, they weep and grieve including themselves in those sins – even if they are not personally guilty of the specific offenses. They see themselves as part of the whole and see their share in other’s sins. Until we are minded that way, we do not see true revival.
11 – “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.” (Nehemiah 4:4-5, ESV)
RAF: Woe to those who oppose the building up of God’s House. Those who oppose the calling of men to faith in Christ or try to keep them bound in their darkness. Or, those who hinder the growth of men in Christ through persecution, intimidation and temptation.
12 – “In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”” (Nehemiah 4:10-12, ESV)
RAF: There is nothing new under the sun. When God is doing a work, there will always be: a. Exhaustion on the part of the few who bear the biggest share of the workload. b. Discouragement over what needs to be cleared out of the way even before real progress can be made – too much rubble. c. Lack of workers. d. Those from the outside who oppose. e. Those from within who see their individual need as more pressing than the larger context.
13 – “From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me.” (Nehemiah 4:16-18, ESV)
RAF: God’s work is always half war, and half construction.