Opposition Mastered - Chapters 5 & 6
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
Work had now ceased on the house of God for something like two years. In the section before us we find God intervening in the affairs of His people that His purposes might be fulfilled. The development of ideas may be viewed as follows:
1. God's Intervention, 5. 1, 2.
2. Governor's Enquiry, 5. 3-17.
a. Of the Jews, vv. 3-5.
b. Of Darius, vv. 6-17.
3. King's Injunction, 6. 1-12.
a. Decree discovered, vv. 1-5.
b. Decree ratified, vv. 6-12.
4. Completion of the Temple, 6. 13-15.
5. Consecration of the House, 6. 15-18.
6. Celebration of the Feast, 6. 19-22.
To gain a satisfactory appreciation of the conditions existing a careful reading of the contemporary prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, is almost indispensable. The stirring ministry of these two prophets is touched upon in chap. 5. 1, 2 ; 6. 14. What were the conditions which these men of God noted around them ? The inward condition of heart and attitude of mind of the people of God are unmasked by them, rather than the outward difficulties caused by the opponents so carefully delineated in Ezra 4. Throughout the whole course of these malignant hostilities it seems that the saints of God were becoming increasingly disheartened. The work had not progressed as it would have done had there been a 'single eye' in their service for God. The final victory of the adversaries was gained when their flickering interests in the furtherance of God's house were extinguished. A period of apathy followed when self-indulgent ease prevailed. Desires after personal comforts, the increase of riches and an intensely materialistic outlook were developed rapidly in the 'hot house' of leisure from the things of God. The panelling of their houses and their intensity in pursuing their own interests excited no hostility from the peoples surrounding them. Materialism and a lack of spiritual resourcefulness made the people of God almost indistinguishable from 'those that go down to the pit' and this engendered no persecution. Satan gained an even greater victory when the saints were heard to say 'The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built', Hag. 1. 2. Of the work so enthusiastically commenced, the Spirit now says ' yet it is not finished', Ezra 5. 16.
Apathy is met by ministry ! The Spirit is unbound and God's intervention in this reviving of His people, ensures the recommencement of the work on His house. Two prophets with a message from God were thrust into service.
It is usually inferred from Hag. 2. 2, that Haggai was one of the ancients who had seen the Temple in its former glories. Zechariah is understood to have been of youthful years, Zech. 2. 4, when called to minister. God presses into service both aged and youthful.
In this witness for God we find a grand illustration of the blending of ministries, the complementary character of their teaching effecting the desired result. Haggai's stirring words were aimed at the conscience. The Spirit convicted his hearers as he cuttingly asked ' Is it time, O ye?', 1. 3. Zechariah's ministry however was directed to the heart. He indicated in his visions and prophecies the coming glories of 'that day'. He urged unbounded enthusiasm in the work on God's house in the light of the future prosperity and blessedness of Zion. Zechariah was one of the young men who sec visions, opening his book with a series of eight in chapters 1 to 6. Thus not only is the state of the house of God brought to their notice (Haggai) but the interest and sovereignty of the God of the house and the coming of Messiah (Zechariah). How important for the spiritual welfare of God's people and the furtherance of His work is a ministry aimed at conscience and heart, combining challenge and comfort, leading to thought and action. Such balanced fare will avert the development of extremists, there being growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Energy in the work was the fruitful result of the ministry ! Hearers became doers! The stirring of the spirit of the leaders ensured the prospering of the project, v. 2. When there is a poor grasp of the importance and privilege of working on God's house the Spirit's exercising of those in responsibility among the saints is a necessity. What noble example was set by the prophets also, who in helping the saints of God, v. 2, practised what they preached. In order that God's work might prosper, more than a week-end's ministry or the presenting of a line address at a weeknight gathering will be needed. Consistently and consecutively God's whole counsel will need to be unfolded to the saints. It was because of this type of ministry that 'the elders of the Jews builded and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah', 6. 14. The almost immediate success of Haggai's faithful ministry is seen when the spirits of leaders and people were stirred to go up to the mountain and bring wood. How recurring is the need for fresh reviving grace from God that our failure should not frustrate His purposes. Their hearts were stirred to come back to the land initially, I. 5. Now, something like eighteen years later, their hearts need to be stirred again that God's house might be completed. 'Be strong and work', Hag. 2. 3, 'take courage and stick at if were the words which constantly rang in their ears. Grand though it is to see energy, God's work demands the grace of persistency if what we 'begin to build', 5. 2, is to be 'build-ed and finished', 6. 14. What need there is for us to respond to the exhortation 'continue thou', 1 Tim. 4. in.
It is important to note that their energy and persistency is the fruit of dependence on God. Unbelief, 4. 4, had been followed by a decree from the king causing the work to cease, 4. 21. Now the saints did not await the sanction and encouragement of the king before they recommenced the work. Their faith, 5. 5, is followed by a decree from Darius, 6. 6-12, even more favourable to the people than that of Cyrus - an indication of the triumph of God. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'.
That which they 'began to build', 5. 2, was at last finished, 6. T4. The foundation of the house was laid in April 536 B.C., 3. 8-10, and the topstone set in its place amidst shoutings of 'grace, grace to if, in February 515 B.C., 6. 15. They were taught many a lesson throughout the course of those twenty-one years. God had shown them that He was not only concerned that they should build but how they should build. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord,' Zech. 4, was God's word to Zerubbabel. He had also intimated where their energies should be used. Primarily it was not for them to be panelling their own houses, Hag. 1, but applying themselves to the work on His house which was lying waste. They were even told what materials they should bring to use in tin? rebuilding of the house, Hag. 1. 8. The self-effacing complementary ministries of prophet, priest and prince indicate the spirit in which the whole project could be blessed of God. Are there not parallels between these things and the truths developed in the opening chapters of i Corinthians ? There the local assembly is viewed as the, temple of God and we are warned against the wisdom of this world. We are to take care how we build, where we build, what we build and even why we build. The great variety of gifts Christ has given to the church is for our upbuilding. 'All are ours', whether it be Paul, Apollos or Cephas, and in the good of their complementary ministries we are fitted for increasing usefulness in our service for God.
The altar and the temple foundations were dedicated in chap. 3. Now the completed temple is dedicated, b. 16-18. Outwardly, this was a day of small things, Zech. 4. 10. Not only the house itself but also the sacrifices at its dedication prove this, when compared with those of Solomon's day, 1 Kings 8. 5, 63. However, inwardly the saints were more to His praise. The abundance of joy and deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality, 2 Cor. 8. They did what they could ! Note also that the ideal unity of Israel was acknowledged, 6. 17, and care taken to ensure unceasing worship and service in line with the Scriptures, 6. 18.
The keeping of the Passover and feast of unleavened bread followed the dedication of the house. Adar, 6. 15, is the last month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year whilst the feast was observed in the first month of the following year, 6. 19. The priests and Levites were prepared for their privileged ministries through purification, 6. 20. Once again the spiritual exercise of this era is sweetly emphasized. 'All of them were pure'. Even in such days of revival as those under Hezekiah it was noted that 'the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests', 2 Chron. 29. 34. Among those participating in the feast who had returned from the captivity were also some who, never having been carried into captivity, separated themselves from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, 6. 21. Undoubtedly, whenever the saints are walking in the light and knowing the sweet joy of fellowship with God, there is a stirring of those who have turned from Him and become mixed up with the world. How necessary it is for us to see the spiritual counterpart of this religious feast. 'For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast' (of unleavened bread) not with the old leaven' (brought over from the old life), 'neither with leaven of malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth', i Cor. 5. 7, 8. We should be walking in a progressive and ever widening experience of daily sanctification. The assembly is in God's mind an unleavened thing and we must judge and deal with all leaven which would leaven the whole lump. We are 'called saints' and we must live as saints in no way condoning evil. The testimony for God will lose its character if there is not a collective avoidance of all unholiness.
Throughout the whole section the over-ruling of God is impressed upon us. The work on God's house could not be brought to a halt because His 'eye was upon them', 5. 5. The feast was a fresh occasion for the Lord to make them joyful, 6. 22, which was the moral effect of obedience (compare v. 15). That the project was now finished was evidence that God had 'turned the heart of the king' and that He had 'strengthened their hands in the work', 6. 22. As has been remarked, 'God moves behind the scenes, but He moves all the scenes He is behind'. In the next issue : E z r a , t h e man and his mission