The book of Ezra describes events late in the chronology of the Old Testament. God’s people, Israel and Judah, had been exiled from the promised land. After 70 years in captivity first to the Babylonians then to the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great had allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. We read about the decree of Cyrus back in Ezra 1.
Here in Ezra 3, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar has arrived (v. 1). This is the month for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:27). Without a temple, however, atonement could not be made. Instead, God’s people rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings (v. 2) so that daily morning and evening offerings could commence while the temple was rebuilt.
They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice, however, the words of verse 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….” Isn’t it interesting that, despite the decree of Cyrus that authorized them to return, God’s people felt fear? Isn’t it interesting that the fear they felt was centered on their public worship of YHWH? Yet, consider how courageous these people were. Despite their fear, they sacrificed to the Lord anyway. Despite their fear, they began rebuilding his temple.
The fear they felt was from a real threat, too. The people surrounding them could attack them at any time. The edict of Cyrus might have caused consequences for their attackers someday, but there was no army was protecting them at that moment. They only thing they had to combat their fear was faith in God’s promises and hope in his covenant. That faith was strong enough to call them to obedience to God’s word despite the real threat of danger.
How often do we allow the fear to stifle our obedience to Christ? And, what do we fear? The possible disapproval of others. Not violence; just embarrassment.
Do we withhold the good news of Christ when the opportunity opens because we fear the disapproval of the unbeliever—the very one who needs to hear of Christ’s love?
Do we imagine that when we bow to thank God for our food in a restaurant, unbelievers around us stop chewing and look over at us in scorn? Or do we use that imaginary scorn as an excuse to keep us from giving thanks to God altogether?
Do we tell people that we go to church each Sunday and even invite them to come with us or do we avoid getting too specific about our plans for the weekend when we’re asked?
God has done so much for us and promises so much more—both for us and to all who join us as his followers by faith. Yet, we are so easily ashamed of being identified with him and his people. Let the faith of these ancient Hebrews encourage you to live without fear in your public worship of the Lord.