In the book of Ezra, the exiled Jews return to their homeland.
Interesting fact: not all Jews chose to return home, only those “whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1.5).
The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia (Ezra 1.1) to proclaim and put into writing, that “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1.2). In addition, Cyrus gave them all the silver and gold and brass items that Nebuchadnezzar had taken away. The Jews traveled back to their homeland with all this, plus all the gifts the people of the land bestowed upon them.
Once home, the people set to work to build a new temple upon the foundation of the old temple.
The enemies of the Jews around Jerusalem at first came, offering to “help” the Jews rebuild, saying, “Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him…” But the Jews would have none of it (and rightly so), saying, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build into the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded.” (Ezra 4.3)
So the enemies gave the Jews grief for 16 years, and eventually wrote a letter to Darius, the king who had replaced Cyrus, a letter filled with lies.
Darius ordered a halt to the building.
The Jews might well have been devastated. They obeyed the king’s order, however, and stopped. AND they sent their own letter to Darius, appealing to him to find in the records the decree Cyrus had issued.
Darius did, and he found the decree. Then he ordered the rebuilding to continue with additional orders: the enemies of the Jews were to provide all the money and resources the Jews needed for completing the building.
Our eyes can grow round with amazement, and we can shake our heads at the miraculous provisions of God.
The Jews were obedient. That counts big with God.
Maybe, after those first 16 years, the Jews were running out of resources: money, timber, building blocks, energy, ambition. Maybe they had been praying that God would provide for all these needs.
Maybe they didn’t see, in the order to stop construction, an answer to their prayer.
But they waited on God, and were obedient.
The temple was finished and dedicated; sacrifices were offered; the laws, written in the book of Moses, were read and followed.
God blessed. Prayers were answered.
A verse that jumped out at me this morning, was Ezra 6.21: “And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat.”
Filthiness was what caught my attention. When I studied it, the Hebrew definition indeed means filthy, unclean. There it was again in Ezra 9.11.
I thought, “I bet the people of the land around them might take umbrage at being called filthy. There are probably a lot of nice, well-meaning people they deal with, who are actually friends.”
I bet that’s true.
What is filthy, in the eyes of the Lord? Unclean. Of a foul or filthy mass. That which is apart from His Spirit. Really, anything that is not of God.
God is clean and pure. In our flesh, we are not.
As Christians, we can be washed as white as snow – CLEAN – with the blood of Jesus. Although this happens once-for-all at salvation, sometimes we have to do this, moment by moment in our daily lives. (1John 1.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.)
What about the world around us? Our unsaved friends and neighbors, our relatives? All those nice, well-meaning people? Are they filthy? Yes. Just as we were. They have nothing to do with God (remember Ezra 4.3, the Jews did not allow the enemies to join with them in rebuilding.)
These things are God’s way.
This is why God warns us not to be intimate with the world. Be in the world but not of it. Love your neighbor – he’s just like you, and needs Jesus.