4 Powerful Ways Ezra Prepares Us to Face Opposition

4 Powerful Ways Ezra Prepares Us to Face Opposition

While I know, intellectually, to expect opposition whenever I seek to live as God desires, I’m still prone to discouragement when it hits. The more the challenges increase, and the longer they endure, the harder it becomes to remain focused and faithful. Thankfully, Scripture provides faith-bolstering truths I can reflect upon when the task ahead feels daunting and unsure. I find the passages surrounding ancient Israel’s return from exile particularly inspiring. Perhaps you will as well.

Here are four principles in the book of Ezra for when we face opposition.

Some Background on Ezra

After centuries of wicked and violent behavior, God’s people were conquered by their enemies and taken into captivity in Babylon. There they remained for decades. Seventy years later, God fulfilled His promise made through a prophet named Jeremiah and allowed His people to return to their homeland. Sadly, they arrived to find their beloved temple destroyed, Jerusalem’s walls broken down, its gates burned, and the city reduced to rubble.

Having recently helped with cleanup after a tornado ripped through Nebraska, I can understand how overwhelmed the people might have felt. But they must have received great encouragement from God’s miraculous start to their project.

1. God Provides Everything We Need to Do All That He’s Assigned

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: ‘This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem’” (Ezra 1:1-4).

God used a pagan king ruling over the captives to release them — with abundance! This reminds me of how God rescued His people from 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt some 900 years prior. According to the biblical account, the emerging nation left with clothing, gold and silver given to them by the Egyptians. But unlike Pharaoh – who remained hardened, released the people under duress, and then rescinded and pursued them – King Cyrus reacted out of honor and reverence. He was stirred by the heart of God to execute the will of God and provide for the plans of God.

The people returned with 5,400 articles of gold and silver, 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, 6,720 donkeys, and an over 40,000-person work force.  

When contemplating our current or upcoming assignments, we can become so focused on the need to complete the project and our obvious deficits, that we forget that we serve a limitless God. The One who commanded our universe into existence, boatloads of fish to fill empty nets, and fed thousands from a boy’s meager lunch, will give us everything we need to accomplish our God-given assignment. Sometimes He does this through conventional means, but Ezra 1 and 2 encourages us to anticipate the unexpected and miraculous as well.

2. God Prefers Worship over Productivity

Obviously, we can’t remain in a church service indefinitely, nor can we spend all our time reading our Bibles and singing hymns. However, when we begin to prioritize our accomplishments and agendas over our Lord, we slip dangerously toward idolatry (of self or stuff). As our souls connect with Him, He purifies our hearts, bolsters our faith, and increases our strength and perseverance.

In that yielded place, our will becomes untangled from His, and we’re better able to recognize that to which He has and hasn’t called us. He doesn’t expect us to carry the full weight of our ministries, families, and careers. Rather, He simply asks us to listen for His voice and follow His lead. He assumed full responsibility for His plans and any opposition we may face, long before He revealed our assignment.

Recognizing this helps reduce the emotional load that might otherwise make us long to quit. 

Perhaps motivated by their miraculous commissioning, the returned exiles initially sought to connect with God before resurrecting their city. In Ezra 3:1-6, we read, “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 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.” 

Then, inspired and ignited by the Spirit, they laid the Temple’s foundation. And although their opposition increased, God intervened and used Darius, another Persian ruler, to further His plans. One might assume this led the people to faithfully complete their assignment. Unfortunately, they halted their work once again, this time due to drought and famine. Amidst environmental and physical hardship, they decided to wait until they’d established financial security before continuing. 

Simply put, they made economic prosperity – rather than their all-powerful, faithful God – their savior. Although they trusted in a different “god” than the idols venerated before the exile, their pattern remained the same. In times of fear, they turned from, rather than toward, God and sought rescue elsewhere. 

Considering their supernatural beginning and courageously passionate worship prior, I can’t help but wonder what led to this shift. Did their praise become rote and their soul’s connection to the Almighty diminish? Did they forget how their failure to trust God had led them into seventy years of captivity? Or did they simply become so overwhelmed by their fears that they failed to think, to remember, and to pray? 

This evokes an important question. When our circumstances leave us feeling vulnerable and unsure, will we allow our fears to drive us to an insufficient security or to the God who loves us, has promised us a hope-filled end, and has the power to fulfill His every word?

When we find ourselves prioritizing achievement, whether from fear or pride, over relational intimacy with Christ, may we remember His assurance in Matthew 6:19-32. Here He told us not to store up treasures on earth or worry about what we’ll eat, drink or wear, adding, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

3. Foes Might Present Themselves as Friends

We’ve probably all experienced betrayal from someone we believed trustworthy. Perhaps the coworker to whom you expressed confidential concerns repeated your frustrations to the boss. Or maybe someone in your faith community attempted to downplay their sinful behavior by slandering you. Or perhaps someone who asked to join your ministry team did so to impede your efforts.

This was precisely what occurred in Ezra 4. Scripture states, “When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here’” (v. 1-2).

However, Zerubbabel, a leader in Israel’s restoration project, saw through their deceit and rejected their offer. Scripture tells us that our spiritual enemy, the devil, often “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Although in context, this verse refers to false teachers that had infiltrated the church in Corinth, the general principle applies: the devil seeks to deceive us, and often does so through people. Therefore, we are to remain watchful and alert to his tactics, armed with truth and filled with the Spirit through whom we receive victory for our every battle.

4. Today’s Faith Stands on Yesterday’s Provision

Throughout Scripture, God urges us to remember all the ways He helped us in the past. Consider the cause-effect directive in Philippians 4:6-7, which states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added).

Some suggest the bold texted parenthetical insert means that we are to thank God for the answers, in faith, we believe we will receive. While this might be true, I hold a different view. Many years ago, when overwhelmed with anxiety, God used this passage to bring me deep peace by leading me to praise Him for past examples of His attentive care. Doing so reminded me of His incomparable power, unchanging character, and tender heart toward me. This helped place my current concerns in proper perspective — held within His mighty hand.

I’m certain God intended for the inconceivable events recorded in Ezra 1 and 2 — the commissioning from a Persian king, the abundant supplies, and sizeable workforce — to bolster His people’s ability to withstand opposition. When discouraged and overwhelmed, how often did the Israelites reflect upon the unmistakable evidence of their Father’s hand? Was that what enabled them to build the altar and sacrifice burnt offerings upon it “Despite their fear of the peoples around them” (Ezra 3:3a)?

Did their failure to remember and meditate upon those examples of divine grace lead to their fifteen or so year delay? While there is no way to know what they did or didn’t focus upon, the Bible clearly emphasizes the danger of forgetting and how humans are prone to do so.

When opposition hits, may we acknowledge the challenge but meditate upon on the goodness of God. Because as neural scientist and Christian Psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson states, “What we pay attention to, we remember. And what we remember becomes our anticipated future.” In other words, our hope.

In my humanness, I long for an easy and pain free journey, but I recognize this was not the experience Christ promised. He who suffered intense opposition with every obedient and sacrificial step invited us to embrace a similar life. Therefore, we can expect our most faith-driven acts to evoke hostility, but we can also proceed with the confidence of knowing, no matter what comes against us, we are following our victorious Savior into victory.   

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/John Scott

Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.

As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event  and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE  and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.