Second Chances: “Anticipating Counter Attacks” – Ezra 3:1-4:5

Counter Attack Against

Second Chances: “Anticipating Counter Attacks” – Ezra 3:1-4:5

west point 2West Point is a demanding place – but because of the nature of what it instructs – it MUST be. The United States Military Academy is a four-year academy located on scenic grounds overlooking the Hudson River, fifty or so miles north of New York City. The campus is a national landmark with scores of historic sites, buildings, and monuments. Candidates for admission must both apply directly to the academy and receive a nomination, usually from a member of Congress. Tuition for cadets is fully funded by the Army in exchange for a service obligation upon graduation. Approximately 1,300 cadets enter the Academy each July, but only about 1,000 cadets graduate in the Spring. West Point alumni and students are collectively referred to as “The Long Gray Line” and its alumni include two former Presidents of the United States (Grant and Eisenhower – as well as the Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America), many famous American generals, as well as seventy-five Medal of Honor recipients.

Obviously, ground warfare is taught, along with general military tactical warfare. In that training, one of the harder segments involves deploying positions for counter attack. You see, hardened men fight for objectives, but sometimes are less aware and therefore less diligent about defending the ground they have already take. It is one of the great differences between well trained troops and lesser ones. In fact, it has been particularly noticed by those covering ISIS in Iraq, when reports showed that in the Spring of 2015, they lost about 25% of the territory they once conquered. They learned a strategic lesson…

Key Principle: It isn’t enough to take ground; you have to set up to defend it.

The same truth applies to spiritual things. We don’t just surrender ground and allow the Spirit to take it once; we prepare for the world, the flesh and the Devil to make a second run at the same ground. Surrender to God is an advance of God in us with our consent. But, after that, we must have a strategy for both defense and counter-attack of places of the heart once surrendered. Spiritual warfare is exactly that – it is war. It applies in a heart surrendered, but it also applies to all the hopefulness of a second chance. Expect any area of life where you spiritually advance to become a challenge again if left unguarded.

Joe married Mary at age twenty-two. They were both high school sweethearts and very much infatuated with each other. Neither knew the Lord, but both were what you would call “good young people” – the kind that you want living next door. A few years later, Joe’s wife slowly drifted away from him and Mary ended up in the arms of a guy she met in her job. Joe left hurt – or better, destroyed. Through months of tears, a co-worker of Joe led him to Jesus Christ. He surrendered his heart to the Lord and found the purpose of life, the joy of living and the fulfillment he craved. He still daily longed to have his wife back – he missed her so. He never imagined a life without her in his arms. Yet, he carefully learned to surrender all of his life to the Lord. Seeing her set on the new relationship, Joe painfully released Mary to Jesus. A year later he even went to the wedding of Mary to her new man, and quietly asked her to forgive him for being such a bad husband, right in front of her new husband. He gave the couple a gift and left with a sense that he did all he could to repair the breaches of his former life, and he moved on. About a year after that, Joe met a dear Christian young woman and they fell in love. This was Joe’s second chance at life – and he wanted to be careful about every step. He honored God in the courtship, and they married. What else should Joe do when beginning his second chance? He should anticipate being guarded in his life in the area of his surrender. In a matter of a few months, Mary started calling when she found herself unhappy. Joe wanted her to come to Christ – but Joe needed to be very careful this was not a counter-attack of the enemy to ruin his second chance. It very well could have been. If he wasn’t wise, he could lose everything, and could hurt others deeply in the process.

Let me take you to Ezra, to an ancient version of this kind of second chance story. Let’s begin with a quick review as the drama is already in progress.

The Progress of the Work: “Drawing Fire”

In Ezra 1, God made clear the exiles of Judah were not forgotten. They were in Babylon because of generations of hardness and sin – but now God was sending them home. In Ezra 2, the people had a choice to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple of God to its former place, or to help those who were going fund the journey and work -and the about fifty thousand of them returned. As the curtain opened on Ezra 3, the people were in Judah, and they were taking time to settle in their family homesteads or build a place to make their second chance re-start in Judah. Let’s pick up there…

A Time of Preparation:

Ezra 3:1 Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.

About three months passed since the people arrived from the arduous journey from Babylon. As the holy seventh month for Israel’s high holy days came, the people left their homes and gathered in Jerusalem to observe the feasts. The unity of the group was produced by allowing them time to care for their family needs first, and then join for the task through careful planning and communication that reflected sensible management of resources. Well developed plans took into account the needs of the workers, focused them on specific and measurable steps to obedience (i.e. show up on this date ready to work), and related to a pattern the workers understood (they knew why they waited until the month of Tishri). The result of such planning and communication produced both unity and harmony on the “second chance” team.

A Time for Participation:

Ezra 3:2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers arose and built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it….

The writer noted the High Priest Jeshua took charge, and Zerubbabel the governor with his family worked together with the priests to build an altar on the holy mountain in Jerusalem in place of the broken one (3:2). The underlying truth is this: People follow workers who show the priorities of the organization by the use of their hands and feet. People will much more willingly work WITH someone than FOR someone. In ministry teams, this is always the best strategy when possible.

A Time for Precision:

Ezra 3:2b :… as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.

The leaders didn’t decide to make up the rules, but worked hard to follow the Torah (Ezra 3:2b). The people could understand the work when they could see how it tied to the Word of God. In addition, the precise following of the Word of God brought God’s additional blessings that only come with obedience – and often aren’t seen until much later. Never forget that doing right doesn’t necessarily show up in immediate results, but it will show up. Besides that, mature believers learn that doing right isn’t to get a self-pleasing result as much as it is to honor God Himself.

A Time for Persistence:

Ezra 3:3 So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.

At the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) in the Autumn, they laid the foundation of the altar, and though they were very fearful of their neighbors and what they might do, and started the practice of the daily sacrifice anew, inaugurating the Temple’s functions (Ezra 3:3). The writer expressed that the fear and sense of vulnerability was ever on their minds as they began to build the foundation of the altar, but it did not stop them from getting started. It is always hard to begin on a venture of obedience, trusting that God has a purpose and plan for your labors. It is hard not to be paralyzed by fear of the changes – but obedience demands acting on the commands in spite of fear. Workers must persist in following without regard to the fear.

The time when the enemy will pay attention and take shots at you is when you are moving forward. It is in times of forward movement in our marriages that our children will be stirred to bring issues. It is the time when our personal disciplines are really being reigned in to serve the Lord that we will experience frustrations in all the people around us. It is the time in a church family when people are being led to Christ and discipled with greater effectiveness that some people will suddenly discover their personal unhappiness and begin to share it at every opportunity. We must expect it and be ready. We can’t belittle those who are hurting – writing them off to mere distraction of the enemy. That is both uncompassionate and hurtful. Yet, if we watch carefully, we will be able to see when lines are being breaches and boundaries are misplaced.

I was talking to a colleague in ministry that noticed that when his ministry began moving forward, he started getting calls from two different people at all hours of the night about their emotional problems. That is a sign of something else. Boundary breaches are one of the ways the wise become aware of something more than just the needy making noise. I advised him to make them aware that he could not take their calls between 10PM and 6 AM anymore and still get the rest necessary to be helpful to them. Both reacted explosively to the news, but he did the right thing. Intimidation, yelling and cursing at him didn’t get him to budge, and hopefully the people will listen to him or seek counsel elsewhere. I don’t want to sound uncompassionate, but he couldn’t think if he didn’t sleep – and that was already beginning to slow the movement forward in their ministry. Compassion must be throttled by a shrewd use of resources. You can feel compassionate and therefore empty your bank account for the needy, but that won’t help anyone tomorrow.

I love the fact that the people were afraid, but they kept working. In the end, that is what mattered. They were being obedient to God, and they were doing something that would continue in the lives of their children…

A Time for Patterning:

Ezra 3:4 They celebrated the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the fixed number of burnt offerings daily, according to the ordinance, as each day required; 5 and afterward there was a continual burnt offering, also for the new moons and for all the fixed festivals of the Lord that were consecrated, and from everyone who offered a freewill offering to the Lord.

Using the Torah as a template, they celebrated Sukkot and followed the Torah very specifically, and began the schedule of daily calendar sacrifice, as well as opening the way to free will offerings for those who desired them. The Temple sacrifices began at the new year, though the Temple was not yet begun. As the sacrifices were maintained and offerings collected, they gave money from both nobles and from the King, as well as the people to get the Temple rebuilt as the King had permitted. The workers understood the pattern and knew what they should anticipate because of the consistency of it (Ezra 3:4-7). When leaders act in consistent ways, it helps people set expectations well.

A Time for Planning:

The text broadened at verse six. It shared another gathering the following Spring, as the time drew near to mark the anniversary of the inauguration of building Solomon’s Temple, when the people came together to build the Second Temple.

It isn’t obvious without further study of the Bible, but the TIME reflected specific planning – connecting it to the First Temple’s beginnings and reviving the traditions of the past. (April/May, cp. 1 Kings 6:1).

Ezra 3:6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, but the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid. 7 Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia.

1 Kings 6:1 Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.

The STAFFING reflected planning – They expanded the ranks of the Levitical overseers from their normal age of thirty down to the new required age of twenty. This brought greater numbers to oversight, and could be supported by the funds of the King. The organization was united with the priestly and Levitical workers along with Judah’s men overseeing all the labors.

Ezra 3:8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the Lord. 9 Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God.

The CELEBRATION also reflected planning. Following the pattern of the First Temple, the priests sounded the trumpets when the foundation was completed as David instructed Solomon’s builders to do. Singing and percussion was also included. Responsive choirs bellowed the words: “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”

Ezra 3:10 Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, [f]the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the [g]directions of King David of Israel. 11 They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” 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.

Four Areas of Attack:

With all that good planning and progress, the enemy saw it was well past time to fight back. The four coming words (below) represent the fingerprints of his work. Where you see the damage of any or all of these four, the enemy has left his fingerprints.

Discouragement:

Ezra 3:12 Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.

The service was stirring with jubilation over the fulfillment of God’s promise, yet some of the older men were not crying out in jubilation. They were deeply discouraged because of the decreased quality of the stone work on the foundation compared to the previous Temple. The loud emotions were mixed together, and it was hard to tell who was jubilant and who was weeping, the noise carried afar (Ezra 3:12-13). It is worth noting that this D is applied to those who have been at the work the longest, and are often the most mature. They see the progress, but do not warrant it to be equal to what they THOUGHT the progress should be. They don’t see the joy on the young faces, or they don’t believe the jubilation is warranted. They get worked up about the poor children’s behaviors, but they fail to address them. They don’t like the way the younger women care for their parenting role, but they play no active part in training them or aiding them. Older believers need to match their complaints with good ole fashioned hard work on the problem. Real maturity is shown in a helpful response, not simply sharing the verbal observations about the problem.

Deception:

Ezra 4:1 Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” 3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.”

As news of the Temple progress was sounded to the neighbors who were not in favor of the Jews return, some of the clans came to the governor and the council of the families of Judah and asked: “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as well – and have for generations! Zerubbabel’s reply: “You are not to build with us, we will do it together by ourselves as we were commanded by King Cyrus” (Ezra 4:1-3). It is worth noting that deception was aimed at a barely tested leadership. We must be careful to “lay hands on no man suddenly” (1 Tim.5:22). In recent years, a number of believers have reported that their churches, have installed into positions of worship teams and “up front” leaders those who had little or no evidence of a long standing real connection to Christ. This is an age old way to water down the message: make those who do not have the same heart key players in our direction in order to enhance the short term resources. We must be careful about who is leading, and how they lead.

Distraction:

Ezra 4:4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building,

As a result, the refused people began to distract (the word “discourage” is Hebrew “merappim”: to relax) the people from their work. This probably included fear mongering that kept them stirred up, as well as some tactic of distraction. We need to be careful when we are constantly being called off of our commission for the Lord to do other things that will pull us from our ministry objectives. Balance is the key here. Rest and retooling is not wrong, but distraction is dangerous. To rest your eyes in a rest stop is not the same thing as to rest your eyes while driving down the highway. Be careful that the reason you are not getting things done in your life is not the constant need for AMUSEMENT and RELAXATION. We live in times when it can be terribly hard to concentrate! People would likely be quite surprised when they find out how many hours we actually WASTE of each day!

Take another moment and note the fact they plotted and effectively disrupted the returnees (bawlah: trouble or frighten) from completing their tasks by making them constantly fearful (Ezra 4:4). We need to be particularly careful about how graphically fears can be evoked. We can see news about expansions of populations and hear constant rumors of wars that would make us worry. A great many news broadcasters today thrive on doomsday scenarios, and watching them for a long time can get us “worked up” with fear, while we are doing NOTHING to hasten the return of our Lord, and we exempt ourselves from involvement in sharing Christ because we are busy “staying informed”. Information that doesn’t lead to prayerful action but rather to worry is information you can live without. It is distraction, not education.

Disinformation:

Ezra 4:5 …and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Finally, the group hired political lobbyists in Babylon to add confusion to the reports of Zerubbabel sent back to the King (Ezra 4:5). Don’t expect a fare accounting from partisan hacks in the world, they don’t play fair because they either don’t have the emotional maturity to see two sides of an argument, or they are celebrating a fallen world view in the shadow of their prince, who is a deceiver and liar. For many, that is their way – and they come by it naturally. Expect a lie, but keep a smile! In the end, the truth will be told!

How do I get ready for the enemy’s attack in these four areas?

Remember, the same preparations deliberately taken for completion of the project must be matched by deliberate preparation for the counter-offensive of the enemy:

Stop and consider something. The four words we just studied are really come down to one idea: The enemy uses lies to get you off track from completing your God assigned second chance. What is the response to a world soaked in deception? Learn the truth. Understand the truth. Tell the truth. Live the truth. Nothing turns a lie on its head like the clear grasp of the truth.

What does it take to get to the place where the truth becomes your defense?

Look again at the text we have just studied. The seeds of the answer are in the text…

First, know when to expect trouble and get ready. Note in 3:10 it said “then when they laid the foundation…people stood…to praise…11 they sang… the people shouted…” Now recall the beginning of verse twelve: 12 “Yet…” Do you see it? The time for a counter-punch of the enemy is when things are going very well. Keep your guard up and watch for the punch – it will come. The only question is IF you will be ready to block.

Temptation often comes when you are physically exhausted and left alone. Plan to go to sleep or plan to stay busy – that is using your head. Discouragement comes when you aren’t focused on a positive objective. When you feel it coming on, initiate a deliberate project that will result in another person’s encouragement. Send a card to another and tell them what they mean to you. Go look for a gift to send to a friend. When you look at others, you take the focus off yourself.

Second, remember not to keep your eyes fixed on men, but on God. In 3:12 it is noteworthy that the very men people took their cues from spiritually were those on the wrong side of the issue. The text recalls in 3:12 “…many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ [households], the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice.” Aren’t they the very people you would expect you can trust to react the right way? Remember that even for leaders it takes time to learn to follow God consistently. Even leaders cannot learn everything in an instant, so we need to learn to be patient about the process. If you happen to BE one of the leaders that people look at, let me offer the opposite position – BE CAREFUL about your reactions in front of people! If YOU use improper deportment well, others will be encouraged. If you don’t you can leave them hurt and discouraged!

Third, don’t be naïve about the work of your spiritual foe and his strategies. Ezra 4 revealed that when the enemies heard progress was made on the project God called the people to do, they found a way to confuse and divide people. They approached and offered help to Zerubbabel and he flatly refused them. He understood the point of compromise that was being offered, and he didn’t give it much time. Can you imagine what some of the other people who heard were saying? “Zerubbabel turned down those nice men without even considering all the extra resources they could bring! Can you imagine?” Here is the point: You may need to consider not only DOING the right thing, but EXPLAINING your actions. It isn’t always enough to BE RIGHT.

Finally, notice the distraction and discouragement tactic of the enemy. It can happen to anyone. Fear is a terrible motivator for godliness, but a grand motivation tool for fleshly behavior. Don’t be drawn in by fear. Look through the problem and see if you can see what it is that you and the people around you are afraid of – facing it squarely. If you make moves out of fear, or slow your calling out of fear, ask if you are doing so because God was unclear about what He told you, or because you don’t know if God can deliver on His Word. Believe what God said – act in faith.

A second chance is a new opportunity! Be wise if God gives you one, and don’t be lazy about guarding yourself.

A young employee secretly misappropriated several hundred dollars of his business firm’s money. When this action was discovered, the young man was told to report to the office of the senior partner of the firm. As he walked up the stairs toward the administrative office, the young employee was heavy-hearted. He knew without a doubt he would lose his position with the firm. He also feared the possibility of legal action taken against him. Seemingly his whole world had collapsed. Upon his arrival in the office of the senior executive the young man was questioned about the whole affair. He was asked if the allegations were true, and he answered in the affirmative. Then the executive surprisingly asked this question: “If I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?” The young worker brightened up and said, “Yes, sir, you surely can. I’ve learned my lesson.” The executive responded, “I’m not going to press charges, and you can continue in your present responsibility.” The employer concluded the conversation with his younger employee by saying, “I think you ought to know, however, that you are the second man in this firm who succumbed to temptation and was shown leniency. I was the first. What you have done, I did. The mercy you are receiving, I received. It is only the grace of God that can keep us both.” (“Mercy” from Sermon Central illustrations).

Don’t mess up the sustained progress by under planning the counter offensive of the enemy! It isn’t enough to take ground; you have to set up to defend it.