Ezra 3:3, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.” (NIV)
Fear is a consuming force. It can drive us toward insecurity and inaction. But faith is something different altogether. It emboldens us, and helps us hold onto an undying desire to glorify God. The worship of God demands a sense of purpose, and, at times, a degree of courage. Complete allegiance to the Lord will rarely, or widely, be socially accepted, culturally popular, or publicly praised. But doing what is right is always the appropriate course of action, especially when everything, or everyone, around us is calling for a pagan lifestyle. And this is evident in Ezra 3, when the recently returned Hebrew exiles resettled in Jerusalem, and began efforts to rebuild the temple in the city of David. The remnant of Judah was somehow able to overcome their fear of persecution, or death. How? Simply put, they prioritized God over their personal comfort. They viewed the Lord’s work as more important than the absence of conflict, or spiritual apathy.
Ezra 3:3 indicates that the religious environment in Jerusalem was largely opposed to a monotheistic belief in God. During the exile of the Hebrew leaders and religious leaders the territory of Judah had become overrun with false beliefs, and false worship. Therefore, the recently returned exiles practicing something contradictory to the region must have sent shockwaves throughout the community. Who did these people think they were, coming in and trying to change the spiritual atmosphere, and rituals? But doing what is right is always the appropriate course of action, especially when everything, or everyone, around us is calling for a pagan lifestyle.
The people of Judah had a choice – a choice many of us today face in assorted ways: live in fear, or live in faith. Sure, the people of Judah could have cowered in dread, worry, or anxiety, which would have resulted in idleness. While fear can weaken us it need not immobilize us, or destroy us. The remnant of Judah knew that the worldly citizens of the district would be offended by their sacrifices and festivals dedicated to God – to Yahweh. But they chose to live in faith – a courageous faith. They would not be quiet. They would not be silenced. They would not be intimidated. They would not be sedentary. The people of Judah feared for their very lives and yet went about their days performing labor that could cause a premature death. Yes they were afraid, but they were also brave. The lesson being, when you yearn to honor God you won’t allow the worldly influence, worldly intimidation, to diminish your praise for God.
Above all, the Lord is our Maker. A relationship with Him should be the cornerstone of our lives – our firm foundation. It should not be secondary to anything else, or anyone else, including unbelieving neighbors, or antagonists to the faith. Ezra 3:3 was a bold stance, and a defining moment for Judah. The people of God would not swayed by social pressure, or the hatred of God. They celebrated God, and did so with a courageous faith. Their allegiance to the Lord was mightier than their fear of man. It should be for Christians as well.
Kevin Orr (9/9/2018)