When problems become big, God becomes small.
Ezra 3:11-4:5; 5:1-5
“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them from building.”
With great excitement, the people return to the land of Israel. They were finally home. Even though they initially faced opposition, the people continued, setting up the altar, celebrating the Feast of Booths, and offering burnt offerings to the Lord. Encouraged by their worship, they continued with the work, and by the end of the 2nd year, they had appointed Levites to lead the building project and set the foundations of the Temple. As a result, many were shouting for joy (3:13).
However, the joy soon turned to discouragement. The first hint of trouble came from the Jews. As the “old timers” who had seen the original Temple saw the size of the new Temple, they became discouraged (4:4). It was nothing like the good old days. So instead of joy, they wept in sadness and became downcast. When discouragement comes, it is easy to lose sight of God. We start to focus on the problems rather than the power of God. Even though they had seen the prophetic hand of God powerfully at work, disappointment distorted their perspective and clouded their vision of God.
The second problem arose when they faced increasing pressure from the surrounding people opposed to the Jews returning to the land. These people, led by Tattenai, the governor of the province, appeared supportive, but in reality, they were striving to subvert their efforts. Consequently, the Jews rejected the offer. However, the antagonists continued their relentless opposition, making the people fearful. Short-term, intense opposition is often easier to deal with than long-term constant opposition. It wears us down, and apprehension becomes gripping. Fear and anxiety can become paralyzing. Fear and anxiety creep in when we face uncertainty and the unknown. Soon our focus shifts from the empowerment of God and his sovereign protection to the threat we face. The promises of God become remote and forgotten as we see the threats confronting us.
As a result of the discouragement and fear, the people stopped building for the next 16 years as the apprehension of the unknown and the threats silenced the sound of the workers. Christ recognizes the danger of anxiety and fear when he exhorts us, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Matthew 6:25). The problem is not with the threats and the obstacles, the problem is their view of God. As the problems mounted, God became smaller and more distant. Instead of seeing the power of an infinite God who is present with them, they saw only the challenges confronting them and the distance of heaven.
Nevertheless, even as they lost sight of God, God did not lose sight of them. To encourage them, he sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who would again challenge them to start rebuilding the Temple by reminding them of God's sovereign hand. With the encouragement of the prophets, they would resume rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 5:1).
When we are facing overwhelming circumstances, it is easy to become overwhelmed. It is easy to become focused on the issues and feel an overwhelming influx of fear and anxiety. As a result, we become discouraged, and the light at the end of the tunnel becomes dimmer and dimmer. The answer is not in finding freedom from these things, for no matter how hard we try. Instead, the answer is found in re-envisioning God. It is located in delving deep into God’s prophetic word and finding hope as he promises to be with us and protect us.