I’ve really been enjoying the Old Testament book of Ezra in my daily Bible reading. It is a hopeful story that has plenty of application today. Israel had been in captivity in Bible, and as the story opens up, God decides to move in the heart of the Persian king to send the Jewish people back to their ancestral homeland of Israel.
Plenty of people talk about revival, and hopefully many are praying for it — either in their own personal lives or in the life of their country. What does revival look like? The Book of Ezra gives us a nice little outline of some of the key things that take place.
The first thing I notice in chapters one and two is that there is still a faithful remnant! The nation had been destroyed and carted off into a foreign land into captivity. While there was some assimilation, by and large the Jews retained their identity. God still has a remnant, even after all the war and slavery.
He keeps His promises through disasters, and He does not need the muscle of large crowds or popular celebrities to get His work done. He uses a faithful remnant … whether it’s a faithful 300 of Gideon and his warriors or lonely prophets like Elijah or Jeremiah … or just 12 Apostles.
The captives from Judah had a memory about their nation. They knew that the one true God had made a covenant with them, that they were to keep His law and bear His name to the nations. And they knew that they had spent 70 years in captivity because of their rebellion.
They knew who they were, where they belonged, what their future with God would be, and what to do for Him and themselves. If you know this God of the Bible as Ezra did, you can too, even surrounded by destruction as the Jews were when they made it back to Jerusalem.
The remnant got to work! In chapter 3 of Ezra you see that the first things the Jews did was rebuild the altar in order to properly worship God. It would make sense to some people to look after their own personal safety and rebuild the walls around Jerusalem first. But no, these people of faith knew that worship of God comes first.
And so they continued rebuilding the Temple, laying the foundation. If the foundation is wrong, the rest of the building can’t be right. I have told my kids for years, “the house you are building today is what you’re going to live in tomorrow.” Make sure you are using good materials and build solid foundational truth for your life. And make worship of the Lord every day a priority.
In Ezra 3:11-13 you see the people rejoicing in a great commotion once the foundation was finished. God is faithful, and His people were shouting for joy. Indeed, the joy of the Lord is our strength. They were back in the land, just as He had promised. But the text tells us that many of the elderly, who remembered Solomon’s Temple, wept because they saw this Temple would not be as big or glorious.
Lament was mingled with praise so that “the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the weeping.” (Ezra 3:13). There were cheers and tears — the cheers from those looking forward to a bright future; the tears from those looking back at all they had lost.
If there is a serious godly renewal in your life, there will be resistance. Certain stooges in the Persian government tried to thwart the work of God by lying about Ezra and his fellow Jews. Lying is the oldest trick of the devil, and expect plenty of lies against your work and character if you are walking with the Lord.
The rebuilding of the Temple was stopped for a while, but no one can derail God’s work forever. The truth came out, the Persian king came around to helping the Jews again, and the Temple was finished.
If there is true revival, there will be fierce opposition (2 Timothy 3:12). The Apostle Paul tells us that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus WILL suffer persecution. Get used to it. If the enemy is lying about you and throwing everything at you (including the kitchen sink), then you must be doing your job well. You are being effective. Keep moving forward.
6. Reception and Restoration.
Ezra 7:10 says, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach His statutes, and rules in Israel.” Ezra was a man who had received the Word of God into his heart and soul and mind. He readily allowed God’s Word to transform him.
Throughout the book, because Ezra is such a man immersed in God’s Word, fasting and prayer, he becomes the spiritual leader of his day. He is constantly organizing, teaching, and motivating his people to follow God loyally and finish the work. You can’t be like Ezra if you stay away from the Word.
And the work was accomplished. The Jews separated themselves from paganism, confessed their sins, and committed themselves to walking in truth. They were restored in the land once more.
Of course, they had many more trials ahead of them; the next book in the Bible (Nehemiah) recounts several more hurdles for these people to overcome. But this revived nation knew that the same God who brought them out of captivity and back to the land would not let them down.