Troublemakers

Reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem was not a quick or easy task. The original temple that was built by king Solomon took seven years to construct (1 Kings 7:38). Ezra recorded that construction of the second temple was started in 536 B.C., but not completed until 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15). The primary reason for the delay was the harassment the builders received from troublemakers living in the area surrounding Jerusalem. Ezra stated, “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellers against them to frustrate the purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5). The phrases “weakened the hands of the people” and “troubled them in building” may also be translated as discouraged them and made them afraid to build (ESV). The idea being that the people were unproductive because of the harassment they received.

At the very least, the builders of the temple were distracted by the troublemakers that wanted to join with them in their effort (Ezra 4:2). One of the tactics used against the temple builders was what we might refer to today as tattle telling. A report was sent to king Darius, the successor to Cyrus king of Persia, indicating that the people that had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon were trying to rebuild their temple. They said, “Be it known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands…and yet it is not finished” (Ezra 5:8,16). The troublemakers went on to say that they were told by the leaders in Jerusalem that Cyrus had made a decree to build the house of God and they wanted the records to be searched to find out if that was actually true (Ezra 5:13,17). Fortunately, king Darius ordered a search of the records and Cyrus’ decree was found (Ezra 6:3).

In spite of the corroboration of their story, the leaders of Jerusalem continued to face opposition for another fifty plus years. After king Darius was replaced by king Ahasurerus in 486 B.C., another letter was sent with an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:7). Then, sometime during the reign of king Artaxerxes (465 B.C. – 424 B.C), a final attempt was made to stop the work in Jerusalem. The letter to Artaxerxes went to greater lengths by suggesting that a plot to overthrow his kingdom was in progress (Ezra 4:11-16). As a result of their intervention, Artaxeres I ordered that the Jews stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3) until around 445 B.C. when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem and successful rebuilt the walls in fifty two days.

Terrorists

Egypt, and in particular Pharaoh king of Egypt, was singled out by God for acts of terror. Ezekiel was told, “Son of man, wail for the multitude of Egypt, and cast them down, even her, for the daughters of the famous nations, unto the nether parts of the earth, with them that go down to the pit” (Ezekiel 32:18). The casting down of Egypt into Sheol or the grave was symbolic of separation from God. Egypt was among several other nations that were to be segregated due to their behavior. Ezekiel declared, “Asshur is there and all her company: his graves are about him: all of them slain, fallen by the sword: whose graves are set in the sides of the pit, and her company is round about her grave: all of them slain, fallen by the sword, which caused terror in the land of the living” (Ezekiel 32:22-23).

The scene that Ezekiel depicted was one in which a segment of the population was gathered together in order to view the fall of Egypt. Each of the spectators was distinguished as having caused terror in the land of the living. It could be said that this collection of terrorists was Satan’s army, but in reality, they were just “uncircumcised,” meaning not dedicated to God. It is likely this assembly was meant to be a prelude to Satan’s final defeat when he will be cast into the bottomless pit. John said in Revelation 20:1-3, “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.”

The terror that was caused by Egypt and the other nations listed in Ezekiel chapter 32 was probably related to both physical and spiritual warfare. The basic translation of the Hebrew word for terror, chittiyth (khit – teeth) is fear (2851), but a more comprehensive interpretation reveals a link to mental processes such as confusion and shame (2865). The outcome of the situation described by Ezekiel was an apparent turning of the tables in which the terrorists became victims of their own terror. Ezekiel proclaimed, “Pharaoh shall see them, and shall be comforted over all his multitude, even Pharaoh and all his army slain by the sword, saith the Lord GOD. For I have caused my terror in the land of the living: and he shall be laid in the midst of the uncircumcised with them that are slain with the sword, even Pharaoh and all his multitude, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 32:31-32).

A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).

Psychological warfare

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servant Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army in order to intimidate the people of Jerusalem into surrendering (Isaiah 36:2,4). A master at psychological warfare, Sennacherib instructed his servant to speak to the Jews in their native language so that they would understand every word he said and would believe he sympathized with their situation.

Rabshakeh intended to instill doubt and fear in the people when he said, “Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against the land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). Hearing these words spoken in Hebrew made the message much more convincing. Essentially, Rabshakeh implied that the LORD had switched sides. He was no longer protecting the Israelites; God was helping the Assyrians to destroy them.

Rabshakeh’s message was true in the context of the northern kingdom of Israel, but an outright lie in regards to Jerusalem. Whether or not God had spoken to Sennacherib was not what really mattered. The question at hand was did God intend to destroy the kingdom of Judah as he had the northern kingdom of Israel? Apparently, king Hezekiah had already warned his people of an Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh wanted the people to think Hezekiah was the one who was lying to them.

Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: the city shall not be delivered into the had of the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 36:13-15)

Rabshakeh had a strategic advantage in convincing the people that their king was lying to them. It would make sense for Hezekiah to do so. Rabshakeh argued that Hezekiah was like every other king and was powerless to keep his promise. Rabshakeh declared, “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isaiah 36:18).

Three of king Hezekiah’s cabinet members were listening in as Rabshakeh struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Rather than trying to defend their leader, these men walked away without acknowledging Rabshakeh’s threat. It says in Isaiah 36:21-21, “But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was saying, answer him not. Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.”

A mistake

A few years after I was divorced, I met a man that was very kind to me. It may sound strange, but up until that point in my life, I had never known a man that was kind to me. Even though Chris was a perfect gentleman, I didn’t trust him. One evening when he came to visit me, Chris asked me to go outside with him to look at the moon. As we were gazing up into the sky, I sensed his powerful presence as he stood close behind me. I turned and looked at him and said, I’m not going to sleep with you.

Proverbs 21:5 says, “the thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness, but every one that is hasty only to want.” The word translated hasty, ’ûwts (oots) means to press and by implication to be close. It also means to hurry or withdraw (213). The word want indicates a deficiency or some sort, so hastiness resulting in want could mean a failed effort or losing something due to a rushed effort. The thoughts of the diligent being successful probably means that you’ve thought things through before initiating an action or planned for something ahead of time.

What I said to Chris was a mistake, but it was consistent with what I was feeling in the moment. I was afraid and didn’t know how to handle the intimacy of the situation. I wanted to stop what was happening, not because it was dangerous, but because I couldn’t handle the flood of emotions that was coming over me. Emotions can cause us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. In my case, fear made me react to Chris in a way that was inappropriate. My hasty remark not only ruined a special moment, but it damaged our relationship.

You don’t have to be afraid

When Joab saw that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, he chose all of the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Syrians: and the rest of the people he delivered into the hand of Abishai his brother, that he might put them in array against the children of Ammon. And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help us: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth good. (2 Samuel 10:9-12)

Joab’s comment, Let us play the men for our people, seems to indicate he and his brother Abishai were afraid of the Syrians and children of Ammon. To play the man means to act like a man or to make yourself act brave (407). If you are courageous, it doesn’t mean you have no fear, it means you do not let the fear stop you from doing what you know you have to do.

The Syrians and children of Ammon were bullies. They had a reputation for being brutal and cruel to their enemies, but they were not courageous. When Joab and the people that were with him got near enough to the Syrians that they could see the Israelites were not going to back down, “They fled before him. And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, then they fled also before Abishai” (2 Samuel 10:13-14).

The key to being courageous, or acting like a man if necessary, is to be present in the situation, to not let your emotions control your behavior. Emotions come and go depending on our circumstances. When we do that which requires courage, fear begins to dissipate and we gain confidence as we move forward. From a spiritual perspective, we gain power, God’s power, when we act according to his will, therefore, accomplishment is assured (1961).

Acting with courage in situations that cause fear is a declaration of divine control of all things. Joab concluded his statement to his brother Abishai by saying, “And the LORD do that which seemeth him good” (2 Samuel 10:12). Joab was leaving the outcome to God. More than just putting his trust in God for safety, Joab was accepting that the length of his life was determined by God and if it was his time to go, then he wanted to go out fighting for what he believed, that the Promised Land belonged to the Israelites.

I think when the Syrians saw Joab, they could see the determination in his face. He was not going to give up; he would fight to the end. At the conclusion of 2 Samuel chapter 10, it says, “And when all the kings that were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more” (2 Samuel 10:19).

Good as new

To be healed means that you are restored to normal. The normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees and normally a hand has five fingers, but for some things, normal is not so obvious. For instance, what does it mean to be restored to normal if you have been raped?

David said, “O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed” (Psalm 6:2). The word translated vexed, bâhal (baw – hal´) means “to tremble inwardly (or palpitate)” or figuratively to become suddenly alarmed or frightened (926). To be healed of such a condition could mean that confidence is restored or that David would become calm and peaceful within himself.

After God established his covenant with Abraham, normal for the Israelites was living in the Promised Land in peace and prosperity. Throughout Israel’s history, there were occasions when God remembered his people and would take action to fulfill his covenant with Abraham. David said, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

The word translated mindful, yâkar (yaw – kar´) means to remember (2142). David was pondering God’s covenant with Abraham compared with the vast expanse of the universe. God created millions of stars and planets and yet he focuses his attention on one of them and can focus his attention on one man, one promise, and even one act, to restore David to normal when his bones were vexed and about to become king of Israel.

One of the reasons and maybe the primary reason that God heals people is so that they will praise him. David said, “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart: I will shew forth all thy marvelous works” (Psalm 9:1). Marvelous works can only be done by God. Pâlâ’ (paw – law´) means to be beyond one’s power to do (6381). When I am extremely sad, I cannot make myself stop crying or if I am terrified, I cannot make myself stop trembling, but God can. It says of the word pala’, “God does not require anything of his people that is too hard for them (Deut 30:11). Although something may appear impossible to man, it still is within God’s power” (6381).

God’s goal for his people is to deliver them from oppression. David said, “LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress” (Psalm 10:18). The word translated oppress, ‘ârats (aw – rats´) means to dread. When I was married, I used to dread having sex because of the fear and anxiety associated with being raped. In one sense, God healed me when I was divorced from my husband because I was no longer sexually active and did not have to dread having sex anymore; but, I believe God wants to do a marvelous work in my life. I believe someday I will have normal sex, when I am married to a man that loves me.

Safe at last

“And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Samuel 27:1). Satan’s two primary methods of attack are fear and doubt. If he is unable to sway you with fear, he will try to shake you with doubt. David’s belief that he would perish by the hand of Saul negated his belief that God would deliver him from the hands of his enemies, so both could no be true. There is no other explanation for David’s change of heart than doubt.

Essentially, doubt is a lack of belief or faithfulness. During times of doubt, it is possible to veer off course or take matters into your own hands as David did by going to live among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:2). Although David was in no danger at the time, he thought it was necessary for him to deliver himself out of Saul’s hands.

“And the time that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a full year and four months” (1 Samuel 27:7). The time that David spent living among the Philistines is comparable to a Christian that is in a backslidden state. David’s behavior shows that he has come under the influence of Satan because he lies and uses deception to accomplish his goals. The result is that Achish the king of Gath believes David is serving him instead of God.

Some people may think David’s behavior was justifiable, even necessary for him to avoid being killed by Saul, but the bottom line was that God was not glorified by what David did. Although David did annihilate some of Israel’s enemies, his motive for killing everyone was to perpetuate his deception of Achish (1 Samuel 27:11). David’s main objective was to appear to be loyal to Achish so that he would not have a problem living in the land of the Philistines as long as he wanted to.

“And Achish believed David, saying, He hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him” (1 Samuel 27:12). The word translated believed here is the same word used to describe Abraham’s belief in God. David’s effort to deceive Achish was completely successful. David no longer had anything to worry about, he was safe at last.

Whose side are you on?

Spiritual warfare is a constant activity that is rarely detected by the average Christian. It’s signs are subtle. In order to detect its existence, one must pay attention to things like fear, anger, and irrational behavior. One way to know for sure you are under attack is that you want to run, to get away from whatever circumstances are causing the attack.

“And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath” (1 Samuel 21:10). The problem with running when you come under spiritual attack is that you can’t see the real enemy, Satan, and will likely end up in a worst circumstance than the one you started with.

And the servants of Achish said unto him, is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands? And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath. (1 Samuel 21:11-12).

In order to escape Achish, David changed his behavior “and feigned himself mad in their hands” (1 Samuel 21:13). David’s reputation as a valiant warrior was something he should have been proud of and yet when he found himself in a situation where he was alone and at the mercy of his enemy, he decided to trash his reputation and make himself out to be a crazy person. In one sense, it may seem as if David was being shrewd and that his  ability to disguise himself as a madman was a great way to avoid being killed, but when you look at it from a spiritual perspective, David was running away from his responsibility and trying to avoid his calling to be king of Israel.

As a result of David’s action, the enemy, Satan gained ground and launched an all out attack on God’s consecrated servants by inciting king Saul to seek revenge on Ahimelech because he helped David escape. “And the king said to Doeg, Turn then, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear the linen ephod” (1 Samuel 22:18).

David learned the hard way that the consequences of his wrong actions did not always end up harming him, but doing damage to God’s kingdom. When he hears what has happened to the priests, he takes responsibility and acknowledges that he is being guarded by the LORD’s army.

And David said unto Abiathar, I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul: I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father’s house. Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard. (1 Samuel 22:22-23)

A new way to relate

A key indicator of having a relationship with someone is communication. Moses had a unique relationship with God in that “the LORD spake unto Moses face to face as a man speaketh unto a friend” (Exodus 33:11). The whole congregation of Israel was able to hear the voice of God, but only Moses saw his likeness.

Prior to the Israelites reaching the Promised Land, God told them there would one day be a prophet among them and he said, “I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num 12:6). Over time, God communicated less and less with his people and became more distant with them because of their sin. The purpose of having a prophet was to keep communication going so that God’s people would not be cut off completely. You could say that a prophet was God’s mouthpiece. The LORD said he would put his words in the prophet’s mouth, “and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him” (Duet 18:18).

Samuel was similar to Moses and Abraham, but he was technically the first person in the Bible to have the specific title and purpose of being God’s prophet. Samuel began to minister unto the LORD when he was just a child, probably around the age of eight. When Samuel began serving in the Tabernacle, he was trained to be a priest by Eli, the chief priest at the time. Communication from God was rare and Eli and his sons were about to be excommunicated because of their corrupt practices. It is unlikely Samuel spent much time learning from Eli, otherwise his character might have become tainted by Eli’s bad influence. Samuel may have been as young as twelve when he was called to be God’s prophet.

Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: And it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. (1 Samuel 3:9-10)

Samuel’s election to be God’s prophet at a young age indicates that maturity or experience ministering before the LORD were not requirements for becoming a prophet. The main quality that God may have been looking for was innocence. Samuel may have been naïve about what was going on with Eli and his sons, but he understood that they had been disobedient and were going to be punished. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli all that had been revealed to him, but Eli threatened him by saying, “God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that he said unto thee” (I Sam 3:17).

Samuel’s induction into being a prophet was a turning point. God’s message for Eli was the beginning of the end of the sacrificial system God had established to cleanse the Israelite’s so that he could have fellowship with them. Samuel was to be an example of a new way of God interacting with his people. Samuel had to listen carefully to God’s message and pass it on to others. There was to be no interpretation or expounding on what God said, just an exact repetition of the words that were spoken to him. “And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).