Properly Placed Fear
“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.” (Ezra 3:3,)
When the Hebrew nation returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild the Temple, they faced local residents who had taken "squatters rights" over the 70 year period of absence. As you can imagine, these local residents were not happy with the return of the rightful owners. Regardless of length of absence, the ownership of the land had never been legally removed. Having no legal basis, the only recourse for the locals was terrorism, not unlike today's situation in Israel. The Hebrews feared the locals, who would continually be a problem in the building process (see Ezra 4:4, as well as the account of a later return in the book of Nehemiah).
In addition to their legal rights (they not only held title to the land but also had the decree of Cyrus the Great), the Hebrews had two things that helped them overcome their fear.
First, they had an internal unity among themselves. Ezra 3:1 says "the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem." In Matthew 12:25 Jesus says that "Every kingdomdivided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." This is an easy concept on the surface, but in the midst of conflict it is hard to recognize that "I" might be part of the problem! Was it Pogo who said, "We have found the enemy, and it is I!" Groups in conflict can overcome the external enemy only when they gather together as "one man."
Second, they had an overarching desire to please God over man. In the verses following (vv. 4-6) we are given a clear picture that the people were unified under the banner of the Lord. Under the Lord their individual differences began to disappear and their focus became obedience to the law and the celebration of the feasts and observances of the festivals and offerings as given in the law. In other words, they had a properly placed fear, not in the local residents but in the Lord Himself.
Were they afraid of the local residents? Yes, they were. But this fear was overcome by internal unity and God-directed devotion. May it be so with us!
In His Grace,
"Our Father, help me to see what divides me from others, place in me a desire to honor You, and give me the courage to act when I am afraid. In Jesus' Name! Amen."
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