The Constant Danger of Unbelief.
Ezra 5-6, Hebrews 3
And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:18-19 ESV
Unbelief is a constant reality – even for the believer. But how can that be so? How can you be a believer and yet not believe? It’s simple. Belief is not just a state of mind, but must always be accompanied by action. In other words, belief must be visibly tied to faith. During the days of Ezra, after King Artaxerxes ordered the cessation of all construction activity on the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews would stop all work for nearly 16 years. In spite of the fact that God had miraculously arranged for their return to the land under King Cyrus, and the king had provided the funds necessary to rebuild the Temple, the people stopped believing. Rather than step out in faith and trust that God would protect them, they simply gave in and shut down all construction. That is, until Haggai and Zechariah the prophets of God stepped in. With the encouragement of these two men of God and the leadership of Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin, the people stepped out in faith and began to build once again – even in the face of opposition. They were immediately confronted by their enemies, who questioned by whose authority they had restarted the construction. But rather than give in to the pressure, the people continued to work. And believe.
The news reached King Darius, the new ruler in Persian, that the Jews were rebuilding the Temple, in violation of the decree of his predecessor. But he also received word that the people of Judah were justifying their actions because they had originally been given permission by King Cyrus. A search of the royal records revealed that the Jews were right. A decree had been issued and they were fully in their rights to rebuild the house of the Lord. So King Darius issued yet another decree, providing them with permission to continue and he ordered that their work be paid for out of the royal treasury. Then he threatened death to anyone who tried to prevent the Jews from accomplishing their objective.
What does this passage reveal about God?
The people of God just needed to believe in their God. He had told them rebuild. He had provided the help of a pagan king to make it all possible. The problem came when the people started facing opposition. Doubt began to creep in. And doubt almost always leads to disbelief. Then disbelief leads to disobedience. And disobedience inevitably results in a lack of God’s rest. Throughout the history of the Hebrew nation, God kept trying to prove to His people just how trustworthy He was. He bailed them out time and time again. He provided miracle after miracle. He defeated their enemies for them. He clothed and fed them. He made them a mighty nation. But they continually struggled with unbelief. They lacked faith. They could claim to believe in God, but their actions proved otherwise. And yet, God still wanted to prove His trustworthiness to them. When Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to keep on building and they obeyed, in spite of the opposition, it was an act of faith. They had no idea how the king would respond to the letter that was sent to him. They had no guarantee that the king would respond favorably. But faith doesn’t dwell on possibilities. It focuses on the God of the impossible. Jesus Himself, said of His Father, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). When faced with a test of his faith, Moses was reminded by God, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23 ESV). The prophet Isaiah would tell the people of Israel, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1 ESV). God is the God of the impossible. But we must not only believe it cognitively. We must put shoe leather to our belief and act on it in faith.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The people built. Their enemies accused. The king searched the records. But God had the last say. Their faith to keep on building in spite of opposition resulted in them getting to see the hand of God. King Darius would issue a decree that said, in part, “May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God, that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence” (Ezra 6:12 ESV). Man naturally doubts, and that doubt can quickly turn to disbelief and then disobedience – even for believers. The author of the book of Hebrews, in speaking of Moses, said he “was faithful in all God’s house as a servant” (Hebrews 3:5 ESV). In other words, Moses did what God called him to do. He faithfully revealed God’s law to the people. He faithfully orchestrated and oversaw the building of the Tabernacle. He faithfully led the people, even though they constantly rebelled against him and grumbled and moaned about his leadership. Those people are described in less-than-flattering terms in Hebrews 3. “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They provoked Moses for 40 years. They sinned against God by refusing to occupy the Promised Land. They doubted that He could deliver it into their hands. And their doubt turned to disbelief, which led to disobedience, and resulted in them never entering God’s rest. The writer of Hebrews warns us: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The danger for all believers is apostasy, or falling away from God. He is described as a “living God.” This is not about turning away from a dead, lifeless religion, but from the very active, alive God of the universe.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
When we begin to doubt God, it plants a seed that can grow into full-blown disobedience. Which is why the book of Hebrews tells us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The presence of the enemies of God is a constant reality for the believer. The key is whether or not we allow ourselves to listen to their lies and fall prey to their words of intimidation. Or will we stand firm on the character and promises of God. There were many in Moses’ day who were unable to enter into the rest God had prepared for them, because of unbelief. They failed to step out in faith, enter the land, and watch God deliver on His promises. God never said it would be easy. He just said He would make it happen. All they had to do was believe.
Father, I want to continue to learn to act out what I say I believe about You by putting that belief into action. I want to step out and hold on to Your promises. I want to see You work, even when the odds seem stacked against me. Because You are trustworthy and true. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men