“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.” (Ezra 5:2)
After King Josiah died, the kingdom of Judah quickly crumbled. Josiah had brought about great reforms, but his descendants completely undid all that he had worked for. Three of his sons and one of his grandsons took the throne within a thirty-year period. His third son was the last king of Judah, and his reign ended in exile to Babylon. That exile lasted for seventy years. But during that time, the Israelites repented of their rebellion and determined to follow God. When their exile ended and they returned home, they immediately began to instigate reforms. One of their very first projects was to rebuild the temple.
Unfortunately, there were quite a few people who did not want to see the Israelites return. During the exile, these people had moved into the land, and they were understandably concerned to see the previous inhabitants coming back. They did all sorts of things to try to stop the temple construction, finally writing a letter of complaint to the king of Persia. This king had the power to stop the construction, and he did just that. For a while, the Israelites ceased their work. Their adversaries appeared to have won.
But then, a strange thing happened—the Israelites again began work on the temple. They were still under the king’s decree that they not build it; yet there they were. When their opponents sent another letter to the king, they received a surprising reply—evidently, a former Persian king had decreed that the people of Israel should return to their homes and rebuild God’s house. Therefore, opposition was against the law. The Israelites were free to continue their work.
What’s interesting about this is that the Israelites started working again before they had the king’s permission. When they stopped their work, God sent prophets to them, urging them to continue the temple construction. Though it was technically against the law, they did just that, listening to God even though He told them to do something hard. Because of their obedience, God blessed them, and they were able to finish their work in peace.
In our own lives, there will be many, many times when God tells us to do something difficult. In these situations, we have two options: 1) obey God, or 2) disobey God. Disobedience always appears to be the easier of the two. But that’s when we have to decide which is more important—God, or ourselves. The Israelites chose to obey God, believing that if He told them to do something, He would provide a way for them to do it. They knew that restarting the work would bring another round of opposition, but they disregarded their own comfort, choosing instead to do what God told them. There was no way they could have known the Persian king would find the old record that said they had the freedom to finish their work; they just trusted God. That’s the same God we serve today. If He was able to provide for His people several thousand years ago, why would He be unable to do the same now? God calls us to obedience, even when it’s hard. He promises to provide; the only question is, will we choose to believe Him?