It’s great to see such a crowd back in Jerusalem and eager to start building! There’s much to be done and we’ll need all the help we can get.
The work will be hard and slow-going at first, but the reward will be great for the people of God for generations to come. We’re building for our children’s children, ensuring their provision and the advancement of the Kingdom of God. There is no nobler work.
That said, I’ve gotta be honest. Some of you look to have grown rather plump during your time in Babylon. A charitable explanation might be a peculiar zeal for the words of Jeremiah instructing those in exile to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” (Jer 29:5) Or maybe it was the call to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer 29:7) Those gardens must have yielded bumper crops and you certainly seem to have enjoyed the welfare of that great city.
It’s understandable, really. You were born in Babylon and its luxury is all you’ve known. Sure, you were captives there, but you ate better in exile than you will here for years. Lord willing, our grandchildren will inhabit a prosperous and fortified Jerusalem, but for us it’s beans and rice, long days of work, dirty fingernails, and worn out backs.
Ours Is The Labor, Not The Luxury
We must exchange our thoughts of summer villas for ramshackle huts near the job site. Ours is the labor, not the luxury; yet we join King David who sang in the midst of affliction, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Ps 16:6)
As for our progress, Ezra brings the report:
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:10-13)
What can we learn from this? If you’re rejoicing at the sight of God’s people building to the glory of God, wonderful. We’re rejoicing, too. If you’re crying about what we’re building, you’re probably not crying for the old temple. After all, you aren’t old enough to remember it.
You’re crying because you miss Babylon and all its comforts. You’re crying because you thought we’d replicate overnight the gilded luxury achieved over centuries by “Babylon the great… a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit.” (Rev 18:2)
That was a mistake.
The Trappings Of Babylon
Yes, we value beauty, and yes, we proclaim that God deserves the highest excellence we can muster and far more, but there’s a trap lurking that snares far too many seeking to build.
Again Ezra brings us the report:
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.”
But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” (Ezra 4:1-3)
See the trap? Babylon’s minions would love to help us build. They’re eager to show us how friendly they are and how they command all the resources of the empire, to tempt us with what beautiful building they’ll do for us.
Don’t fall for it.
Mortify your addiction to Babylon’s luxuries. Wipe from your memory the grandeur of the temples to her pagan gods. Do not partner with the enemy to build unto our God, no matter how reputable their brand or how sophisticated their navigation of the algorithm.
If you build with the enemy, you welcome their hooks into your flesh. Don’t for a second think they won’t start pulling when you step out of line.
So what will Babylon’s reaction be to your refusal of her offers? Spite, scorn, and threats, naturally. After all, Babylon isn’t accustomed to resistance.
Ezra describes her response by quoting a letter reporting the scandal:
To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are building that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll and the royal revenue will be impaired. (Ezra 4:11-13)
Why the sudden change, Babylonians? A few verses ago you were telling us how much you wanted to help us build and now you’re telling the king what a threat our project poses to his interests.
It seems the only difference between your support and your complaint is whether or not you’re involved.
Here’s the lesson, boys. It is abject folly to build whatever it is you’re building on a foundation owned and operated by Babylon.
Sure, Amazon Web Services might provide the finest in hosting, but they hate our God and use their ever-growing mountain of cash to wage war against His truth, His church, and His name. YouTube might give you the easiest path to a large audience, but it will purge your account if you question the settled science that men can get pregnant.
But it’s not all bad news. Indeed, there’s a couple of gems in that letter to Artaxerxes.
First, it demonstrates plainly just what Babylon thinks of us (in case anyone hadn’t sorted it out by now). We are “rebellious and wicked” according to Babylonian standards: to build apart from them constitutes rebellion and whatever we mean to do without them must be wicked.
It’s good to have things so clearly stated, no?
Second, they understand perfectly truths that still seem to give us trouble: building apart from them means we won’t “pay tribute, custom, or toll and the royal revenue will be impaired.”
Gentlemen, that’s a mission statement if I’ve ever seen one. Adopt it.
Starting Small, With And For Our People
So what’s the alternative? While Ezra gives us the historical account, Zechariah gives us the prophetic:
“Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zechariah 4:10)
Here’s the plan: Suck it up, swallow your pride, and use goods, services, and platforms owned and operated by your brothers to the glory of our God.
But what if they’re only 90% as great as Squarespace or Facebook? Praise God!
Some nobody has built a 90% product competing with massive, corrupt, hosting empires all by his lonesome with no investors while working a day job and raising up a gaggle of godly children unto the Lord. Some nobody has built a social media platform which neither censors free speech nor caves to clown pressures despite extreme adversity and expense.
Give that guy your business! He’s Zerubbabel, leading the first wave of former exiles out of Babylon, building again what lies in ruins.
Invest early and often in his labors. Get to know him. Encourage him. Pray for and with him. Give him your feedback as you give him your dollars. Help him get to the 100% solution, knowing that he never will unless he gets your support.
So long as you keep giving Babylon your business, you’re despising the smallness of your brother’s labor and funding its demolition.
Don’t proclaim the necessity of building Christendom while you nurse your addiction to the luxuries of Babylon. You can’t have it both ways.
Invest and exult in these days of small things, trusting that we will rejoice once the building is done, even if our grandchildren are the ones at the ribbon cutting ceremony.