These chapters in the book of Ezra reveal a dream becoming reality. The dream was one of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. It was the dream of the Jewish exiles returning from captivity in Babylon. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah played the role of encouraging the Jews to fulfill the vision given to them by God. Zerubbabel and Shealtiel led the people in actually doing the work. This shows us that fulfilling God’s plan for his kingdom always requires a team, and each member of the team plays a different role, using unique gifts.
However, as Bruce Wilkinson writes in his book, The Dream Giver, there are always border bullies waiting to check us and stop us when we are on the verge of entering God's territory and fulfilling a God-given dream. In this case, the border bullies are Tattenai the governor, Shetharbozenai, and their associates. They come to the Jews and ask, “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?”
How do we handle the border bullies in our lives? Sometimes we just have to let God handle them. In this case, we read, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until a report reached Darius and then answer was returned by letter in reply to it.” (Ezra 5:5)
Moving forward to fulfill our God-given dream often requires going through bureaucratic red tape. That is part of what is involved in being human. It cannot be avoided. That was certainly true in the situation of the returning exiles wanting to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The decree of Cyrus had to be uncovered in some dusty archive before they could continue with their work. Sometimes we just need to be patient while bureaucratic maneuvers grind slowly forward.
The outcome for the Jews was a wonderful one. Not only was the decree of Cyrus recovered, but also the new king, Darius, issued a decree reinforcing the earlier one by Cyrus. The result was that “the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo.” (Ezra 6:14) Before long, “the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.” (Ezra 6:16) The One behind the scenes who made this all happen, even through the bureaucratic maneuvers, was God. “For the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22)
Chapter 7 is where Ezra, after whom this book is named, comes on the scene. He is a priest, a direct descendant of Aaron, and “the gracious hand of his God was upon him.” (Ezra 7:9) Yet another Persian king, this time it is Artaxerxes, backs Ezra’s mission, granting permission for other Jews to emigrate with Ezra to Jerusalem, and he offers gold and silver for the replenishing of the Temple. Artaxerxes even exempts from any taxation not only Ezra but all “the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.” (Ezra 7:24) Is it not wonderful, not only when the Lord overrules the border bullies in our lives, but also gives us powerful encouragers to help us on our way, not only with words, but with practical, financial help? The response of the Jews to all of this was to say:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king to glorify the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and who extended to me steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. (Ezra 7:27-28)
That too should be our response when the Lord helps us to fulfill the dreams he gives us. We need to praise him, not only because he deserves it, but also because praise is good for the health of our souls.
Chapter 8 focuses on Ezra gathering his fellow Jews, priests and Levites especially, to accompany him on his journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem. In all of this, Ezra noted that: “the gracious hand of our God was upon us” (Ezra 8:18). Furthermore, Ezra trusted the Lord for all needed provision and protection (Ezra 8:22-23). Ezra is a great example to us, both of trust in the Lord and obedience to carrying out a God-given vision.
Today we celebrate a greater teacher than Ezra: namely the Lord Jesus Christ, one who also trusted his heavenly Father for provision and protection. Palm Sunday is a great day of praise as Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to reclaim the Temple as his own. However, ironically, the people will reject the One whom the Temple was supposed to honor in the first place and put him the Romans will put him on a cross to make of him an example for all would-be revolutionaries. Before the week is out, it will seem like God's great dream of a new kingdom is dead. However, we must always remember that we serve a God who has a way of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, a way of creating new life where all seemed more quiet and dead than a Palestinian tomb.