Although the accusations of an angry contingent halted the rebuilding of the temple for some time, the work of Haggai and Zechariah revitalized the effort, motivating the people to return to their work despite the previous opposition (Ezra 5:1-2). However, some of those on the east side questioned them about their efforts, but on this occasion the opposition could not prevail through intimidation and a more reasonable king heard the case (Ezra 5:3-5). The leadership from the other side of the Jordan wrote to the king about the case, but with greater fairness than his predecessor, explaining the circumstances while also including the Jews’ own explanation (Ezra 5:6-11a). From this they requested a judgment based on the facts of the case, some of which they were ignorant (Ezra 5:17). However, while the situation differed greatly in terms of the opposition offered against the rebuilding project, the reply of the Jews, recorded and sent to Darius, proves most instructive.
The Jews did not play the victim, nor did they attempt to disguise their previous guilt. They did not attack their opposition, and they did not flatter the king. Instead, they humbly focused on the relevant facts and put their efforts into greater historical context and with respect to their current situation. They did not assert themselves politically, but identified themselves spiritually. Thus, they emphasized that their efforts to rebuild were not politically motivated but spiritually compelled (Ezra 5:11). Indeed, they took this further, noting that the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar was due to their sin (Ezra 5:12). However, while not politically motivated, they still lived under Persian rule. Therefore, they appealed to the decree given by Cyrus authorizing their rebuilding the temple and the additional help he provided (Ezra 5:13-15). On this basis, then, they showed that they had returned to build originally, and thus, on this same basis, they argued the same decree authorized them to continue building since it had not yet been completed (Ezra 5:16).
Many people outside the Lord’s church have no concept of restoration, no understanding of biblical authority, and no appreciation for the high standards of morality Christians hold dear. We should not expect them to understand. Instead, we should put our lives in context for them. When they misunderstand, we should be understanding and explain things calmly. When our own former conduct might be in question, we should put in the context of our past in sin as separate and distinct from our present obedience. We should emphasize how our desires and behaviors are motivated by something far beyond popular culture and our morality based on something far higher than social mores. We should work within the framework of the world as much as we can, but we should live above the havoc so often deemed regular society. We have to place what we do—in life, in worship, in everything—in the context of the Bible and eternity, and maybe then they will begin to see themselves in that context too.