Today we continue the story of the exiles working together to rebuild their lives in Israel. Here is the historical context for Ezra (adapted from: Introduction to Ezra, ESV Study Bible, Crossway)
- Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon: 539 BC (Dan. 5:30–31)
- First year of King Cyrus; issues proclamation freeing Jewish exiles to return: 538–537 (Ezra 1:1–4)
- Jewish exiles return from Babylon to Jerusalem: 537? (Ezra 1:11)
- The Altar is rebuilt and the people celebrate the Feast of booths: 537 (Ezra 3:1–2)
- Temple rebuilding begins: 536 (Ezra 3:8)
- Adversaries oppose the rebuilding: 536–530 (Ezra 4:1–5)
- Temple rebuilding ceases: 530–520 (Ezra 4:24)
In Ezra 3, we read of the people laying the foundation of the temple. As they completed the foundation, many praised God and celebrated with great shouts of joy. But mixed in with the celebration were men of old who remembered the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, and they wept in bitter grief at what had been lost (3:13).
Later in Ezra 4, we read of the beginnings of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple, and this opposition continued for approximately 20 years (Ezra 4:4-5) – even resulting in the cessation of rebuilding altogether (4:24).
(Note: Ezra 4:6-23 is a tangent from the historical narrative which looks forward to other historical examples of opposition to the Jewish nation).
The Jewish people lived in this constant tension… Between celebration and grief (3:13) and rebuilding and opposition (4:24). This tension existed because they expected God to fulfill His promises physically… by restoring the world’s power and resources back into their grasp – to return them to the glory days of Solomon – when Israel was the most powerful nation on earth.
Their eyes were blind to God’s plan to restore them spiritually. This is what Ezekiel referred to when he said that God would replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Eze. 36:26). Ezekiel looked forward to the new covenant – when God’s people would live by the Spirit instead of the law.
This is what Paul refers to when he says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:1). It is a beautiful picture of our physical brokenness alongside the treasure of our spiritual renewal.
This is the key to not losing hope during trial and suffering. Consider the Jews from our passage today… They had to endure 20 years of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple. How do you endure patiently during suffering? By taking your eyes off of what is seen, and putting them on what is unseen.
In order for the Jewish people to not lose faith, they had to fix their eyes on their covenant-keeping God. If he had bent the will of the mighty Persian king, surely he could handle a little opposition from the local officials! Their faith was being tested. Where would they rest their eyes? On the physical? Or the eternal?
We, too, live in a time of waiting for God to ultimately and finally fulfill His covenant promises to His people. We will endure affliction as we wait. So how do we not lose hope? How do we persevere in the faith? How can Paul so confidently say?
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… (2 Cor. 4:8).
Paul has fixed his eyes on the Savior. He knows the eternal treasure is hidden inside the temporal jar of clay.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).