As the people of Messiah Congregation can attest to, prompted by the Lord, I spent seven months teaching through the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi. These books focus on the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the Jewish people as the first exile ends, and the return begins. In the wake of the pandemic, at the time, this prompting gave direction, invigoration, and hope that the Lord would complete what He had started.
As the Book of Ezra opens, the Lord stirs Cyrus to make a proclamation, allowing all the provinces of his kingdom to restore and worship their own gods in their temples.
Cyrus, or Koresh, means “keeper of the furnace,” and if you recall, Isaiah writes of Israel and the judgment leading to their restoration, “Behold, I have refined you, though not as silver. I tested you in a furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10).
It is one thing to prophesy the judgment leading to destruction and exile; it’s quite another to name the ruler who would open the way for their return some thee hundred (300) years prior to the events depicted in Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah. God names Cyrus. Think about that, God named Cyrus, not his parents, the keeper of the furnace – the one who would do His will.
As Ezra 2 unfolds, those responding to the stirring of the Lord (Ez. 1:5) are accounted for; an accounting that is virtually identical to the one in Nehemiah years later. So what? With all of the ups and downs of the next 20 plus years, they make it, it wasn’t pretty, but they reconstructed His Temple.
It wasn’t a glamorous crowd, this ragtag remnant, perhaps not one that any of us would want to be part of, but they responded to the call to do God’s work, here is the meaning of some of those names from Ezra 2:
“The children of a flea,” the children of the one whom “God has judged,” the children of “the lost, the wayfarer,” the children from the “pit of the father,” the children of the one whom “God saved,” the children of the one who says “Jehovah is Father,” the children of the one “hidden or distant.”
It is as if the Lord is saying: “I build on fleas, upon those whom I have judged, the wayfarers, those delivered out of the pit, the hidden, the unseen, those at the bottom unafraid to join their hands in My work.”
The beautiful lesson of these names, is that there is room for all of us, and for everyone to join in His work.
So they set out, and after months of travel, Ezra dedicates one phrase to their journey, “When they arrived at the House of the Lord …” What? That’s it? Yup.
And what did they arrive to? A heap of rubble. But that’s not how they saw it, they arrived at the House of the Lord. Then some among the leaders gave according to their ability for the work yet to do, and they began to keep the fall feasts. Yet, they first built the Lord’s Altar (Ez. 3:2). There were no gates, no outer walls, no foundation, no structure, but they built the Altar. Why?
They arrived at the House not yet seen, and there, in faith, they built the Altar. The rubble was a testimony of past failures, and God’s judgment; but the Altar would speak to His promises, faithfulness, and to the future hope.
As you look to the pages of God’s Book, the people of God built altars in times of crisis, victory, and when they experienced defeat. Altars are places of worship to the Lord expressed as an act of sacrifice, where the one offering experiences a new beginning (Ro. 12:1). It is a place, where in the face of His magnificent grace, we have an attitude adjustment.
We cannot approach His Altar without believing in Him, desiring Him, and recognizing that He is worth far more than we have to give. He is worth all that we are, all that we will or could hope to be. Yet, by grace through faith He receives us in Messiah (Eph. 2:8-10).
We have entered an age of pressing, surrounded by voices of doubt and frustration. Yet, we cannot leave the work of God – believing in the One He sent – in stalemate: we press on.
As you face your rubble, speak God’s promises to it, just as that returning remnant did. They did not return to a pile of rubble, they returned to God’s House, even in the midst of the rubble.
Place this, dear reader, in your heart, the words of the apostle Paul, “Things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, that have not entered the heart of mankind – these things God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).
Certainly, in Christ, your latter days will be greater than your former days, when you trust Him (Hag. 2:9). Hallelujah!
Be well. Shalom.