“The Eye of God” (Ezra 5) (John MacDiarmid)

Talk given at Poole High School for Poole Christian Fellowship on 13 May 2018.

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Have you ever felt that you are being watched?

If you have, it’s with good reason. The average person has their picture taken 70 times per day. Every time you go into an establishment that in any way is interested in security, your picture will be taken. Even more sinister is the internet, which has a track of every transaction that you ever make, every search you ever do – there are people out there that have more information on you than you have on yourself!

But even all that is nothing compared to the One who has perfect knowledge and knows everything about you:

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.

And God is exempt from GDPR!

The good news for Christian is that this God has his eye on us. From morning to night, and while we sleep, the God of the Bible watches us, and we are the objects of His Care, his provision, his protection and His love.

For the unbeliever, that fact is terrifying – because we will be held accountable not only for everything we have done, but every thought that we have ever had. But for the Christian, for whom Jesus died, and who is forgiven, there is no fear of punishment because Jesus has taken it all.

So today we are thinking about the eye of God. Our passage is Ezra, chapter 5.

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” They also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?” But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.
This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates, the officials of Trans-Euphrates, sent to King Darius. The report they sent him read as follows:
To King Darius:
Cordial greetings.
The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and placing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and is making rapid progress under their direction.
We questioned the elders and asked them, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information.
This is the answer they gave us:
“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.
“However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. He even removed from the temple[b] of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple[c] in Babylon. Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor, 15 and he told him, ‘Take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site.’
16 “So this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.”
17 Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.

So, in this story, how does the eye of God watch over God’s people, and how does that affect us?

1. An Exemplary People

Having backslidden for 15 years, the people of God are back on the case. They are industriously working away at what God has asked them to do. It is easy to see the parallel with those who give, serve, pray and contribute to the building of God’s church. This also applies to those who raise children, work in offices, use their retirement for God and so on…this is the kind of people we aspire to be, and the kind of people that hopefully most of us are. God’s eye is on such people and recognises and rewards them:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

It is useful to consider for a moment how this all came about. The people were shaken out of their backsliding by a prophet delivering the word of God

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

…and they completed the work by the same means:

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel.

The message is clear: God’s work prospers under the preaching of God’s word under the power of the Holy Spirit. May it be so with us too!

2. An Expected Problem

It is inevitable what happens next.

Every time God’s people pick up the baton and say “Yes, we’re going to do this” – the enemy strikes back. Sometimes, as in the previous chapter it is with threats of violence. But here the attack seems softer.

At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” They also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?”

It seems like it’s a couple of civil servants doing their job. But make no mistake about it, this is an attack of the enemy to stop God’s people doing God’s work. We need to watch out for the attacks of the enemy – especially the soft ones. The text makes it very clear that this could have stopped the work altogether, yet again!

and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.

The enemy will do everything he can to prevent us from continuing the work of God, and from seeing God’s purposes in our lives. Ephesians 6 is worked out here in vivid technicolour. Everything now depends on how the people of God are going to respond. Whether or not God fulfils His purpose in your life will depend upon how you respond to the opposition that will surely come your way. God’s eye is on the Jews, watching how they respond and equipping them to make the right response. So, with bated breath, let’s look at how God’s people respond.

3. An Exceptional Position

When Jesus told the parable of the sower, he told how many who have responded to God’s word quickly fall away because of trouble. I’m sure that is true of many you know. Happily, it is not what happens here.

Basically, the people simply stand firm. They carry on doing what God has given them to do. That is all that is required. We don’ waver, we don’t stop, we don’t compromise, we keep going. We know that whatever opposition comes our way, the eye of God is on us!

That leaves the officials with a dilemma. So they write to the King. Let’s not underestimate how brave this makes the Jews look. The rulers of the empire were not nice men, The fact the Cyrus had given the OK for the temple to be rebuilt doesn’t mean that his successor Darius would would. And they knew their history. The Pharoah who had welcomed Joseph and his brothers with open arms, was succeeded by a series of despots who persecuted them. Was history about to repeat itself?It could easily have been that having your name sent to the King was a suicide note. And so it might have been – but for the eye of God on them. We have to wait until next week to find out how it all pans out, but look at the courageous stand they take:

“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished.

What an exceptional position to take.

What we see here in this chapter is God’s people doing the work He has given them to do, experiencing opposition, and standing firm, because they know that God’s eye is on them. That’s what we have to do too.

So, how do we sum this passage up?

We saw recently in the book of Haggai, who was prophesying during this period that Haggai had the following words for the Jews, which we can apply to ourselves. He said:

“ But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, “Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work.” For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.

So we finish our look at this passage, the same way we finished our look at the passage in Haggai 2. This word from God through Haggai gives us:

a. Something to Be

“ But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD,

Being strong does not mean going to the gym to work out, but it is a choice to depend on God’s strength and to keep on keeping on. It means getting up when we have fallen down. It means keeping on with what God has given us to do when we would rather give up. It is still the encouragement to those who are weary: “Be strong!”

b. Something to Do

“Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work.”

Being strong means we get on with it. So we put our hand to whatever God gives us, because we know that the results are assured. Whether we see results or whether we don’t , we rest in God’s promises.

c. Something to Believe

For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you.

For the Jews struggling to do what God wants, the memory of what God had done for their ancestors in taking them out of Eypgt was strong in their consciousness. And now God was saying that He was with them, the same way He had been with Moses and Israelites when they left Egypt. What reassurance! And today He says to us that He is with us in the same way. “So ..Be strong…work…He is with us!”

d. Something to Avoid

“Do not fear!”

It is not the emotion of fear, but the danger of giving into it that we have to avoid. God has given us a job to do. We work with Him to build His church, the way the Haggai and his companions worked with Him to build the temple. Success is assured even if it often seems hard going. So do not give into fear. Whatever God has given us to do, we us continue with enthusiasm and confidence. God is with Us, and He will work in us to fulfil His purpose.
What is it that God has given you to do? Stand firm, rise up and build. The eye of God is on you.

John MacDiarmid
May 2018