Relevant Verses: Ezra 4 – 5; Nehemiah 4 – 6; Haggai
Leading Question: If Nehemiah armed his workers in the face of opposition, what does that mean for the followers of Jesus?
Opposition seems to be an almost constant theme in the narratives presented in Ezra and Nehemiah. Sometimes the opposition seems to have been successful. At other times, God clearly over-ruled to save his people.
The value of opposition to personal development is suggested by this Ellen White quotation:
Man can shape circumstances, but circumstances should not be allowed to shape the man. We should seize upon circumstances as instruments by which to work. We are to master them, but should not permit them to master us.
Men of power are those who have been opposed, baffled, and thwarted. By calling their energies into action, the obstacles they meet prove to them positive blessings. They gain self-reliance. Conflict and perplexity call for the exercise of trust in God and for that firmness which develops power. – Ministry of Healing, 500
Question: The example of “opposition” in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that is potentially most troubling for the followers of Jesus, is the one which led Nehemiah to arm the people of Judah. Under what circumstances might it be appropriate for the follower of Jesus to follow Nehemiah in this respect?
The Origins of the Samaritan Schism. In the New Testament era, the Jews and the Samaritans were not on good terms with each other. The roots of that divide go back to a story told in 2 Kings 17:24-41.
When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they followed their usual brutal custom of transporting the victims to other parts of the empire and bringing foreigners from elsewhere to settle in Israel. For Israel, such an approach resulted in both mixed blood and mixed religion. These inhabitants of the northern kingdom were the ones who came with an offer to help rebuild the temple. Fearing the possibility of mixing the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods, the Israelites, under Zerubbabel, refused their help. Understandably, perhaps, this angered the “opposition” which then embarked on a consistent campaign of opposition and sabotage, both during the building of the temple at the time of Zerubbabel and during the building of the wall under Nehemiah.
Question. When is it safe to accept help from non-believers, or does the danger of compromise always make cooperation dangerous? Both Ezra and Nehemiah accepted material aid from the king. The king’s motivation may have been to ensure that the God of the Jews be properly placated by the king’s gifts. Are there any modern parallels in the church today?
Prophets to the Rescue. God sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage the people to build the temple. They pointed out that their lack of material prosperity was no doubt linked with their unfaithfulness in religious practice. Their intervention helped, so that the temple was completed in 515 BC.
Question: The prophets were very pointed in their criticisms of the people, and sometimes these methods had a desirable effect. But does vinegar work better than honey? Once, in writing to A. T. Jones, Ellen White made this sobering comment:
Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is his work.– Testimonies 6:123.
Paul, in writing to the Corinthian church, gave a choice: “Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” 1 Cor. 4:23, NRSV? Jesus, too, could be very pointed. His woes against the Pharisees (Matt. 23) are biting. What does all that mean for Ellen White? Was she being overly idealistic when she wrote these words?
“The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges which only drive them further from the truth. The work which Christ came to do in our world was not to erect barriers and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong.” – Testimonies 6:121-122
Question: Was Nehemiah coming close to the ideal when he challenged the people to join him in rebuilding the wall?
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with the gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” I told them that the hand of my God had been gracious upon me, and also the words that the king had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us start building!” So they committed themselves to the common good. (Neh. 2:17-18, NRSV)