By Joyell Nevins – CFFM Blogger
The time is about 538 B.C. Seventy years of captivity is over. The first of three waves of Jews have traveled back to Jerusalem to claim their land and build a temple for the Lord. How those Jews responded to the rebuilding and their new situation can illuminate how we can respond to unexpected crisises and change.
What happened to the original temple? As explained in Led by God’s Power, the Chaldeans of Babylon had come down from the north and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, stolen from the temple, leveled it, and broken down the walls of Jerusalem. They captured the people and dragged them off to Babylon, a region of the Persian Empire, leaving just a remnant behind.
But seven decades later, God does a thing. He stirs up the spirit of Cyrus, the current king of Persia, who not only frees the Israelites to go back and build a house for the Lord, but then requires the Persians to give them supplies for the journey AND an offering for the new temple!
“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of earth and has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among His people, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.
Let every survivor, wherever he lives, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:2-4 HCSB
That’s how our God works. He not only can bring success and make miracles happen, He can even use your enemies to do it!
“When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7 NKJV
The New Foundation
After the trek is made from Babylon to Judah, and the Israelites had settled in their towns, an altar is built and construction begins for the new temple. When the foundation is finally laid, a giant celebration is held.
“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: ‘For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” Ezra 3:10-11 NKJV
It’s a party! Everyone should be excited, right?
When the Past Steals Your Joy
The priests and the Levites, the priests’ assistants, were the men who had worked in the original temple. They managed the sacrifices and the services and kept the structure in pristine condition. These were men who had reveled in the glory days of the temple.
And some of their reaction to this new temple was slightly different.
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes…” Ezra 3:12 NKJV
These men were going to get their job back – or at least their place of service! The heads of the fathers’ houses would have a physical building to go and worship again. Why would they be sorrowful?
You see, what we focus on, we empower.
There is a key phrase in that verse: “old men who had seen the first temple.” These were men who had just experienced God moving the heart of an authoritarian king, setting an entire people group free, and providing for their material needs – with no help from the Israelites themselves! They were standing in front of what would be a resurrection of a place of worship, the heart of their community.
And yet, these particular men focused on what used to be – what they had lost, not what they now had to gain. Rather than being in the present moment and expressing gratitude for what was available, they mourned what would no longer be.
They chose regret. Because of that, in the middle of what was meant to be a celebration, they remained miserable.
A Different Choice
But, some of those old men chose a different attitude.
“…Yet many [of those same old men] shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off.” Ezra 3:12-13 NKJV
Ezra is writing about the same collection of people, who went through a similar set of circumstances. One group stood in front of this new foundation and shouted for joy. The other group stood in front of the same new beginning and wept with regret.
What Will We Choose?
Change will happen, whether we want it or not. There will be situations that do not end the way we desire.
Will we choose joy and gratitude for what God is doing in our lives at this moment? Or will we choose regret and dwell only on what has happened in our past?
God’s leader Joshua told the people of Israel in Joshua 24, “as for me and my house, I will choose to serve the Lord.” In a similar fashion, I say, “as for me, I will choose to live in joy.”
I choose to press forward, no matter what the circumstances, and look for what God is doing in my present moment.
“…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:12-15 NIV
Image by Lyle Person
“And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.” 1 Samuel 3:11
How have you chosen joy over regret? Where have you seen God ‘do a thing’? Share your story and your testimony by emailing email@example.com.