Sabbath School Lesson for October 19-25, 2019
It’s important how we face opposition, because we’re sure to have it on this sinful planet. This lesson zeros in on how to survive the onslaught of naysayers. We learn how…
- our enemies may start out acting friendly (Sunday)
- God sends people to encourage us (Monday)
- productivity ceases when things get tough (Tuesday)
- a strong leader can make all the difference (Wednesday)
- why it’s important to stay focused on the work at hand. (Thursday)
Some people tend to fold when things don’t run smoothly or go the way they intended. It’s easy to use the opposition as evidence that our original mission was faulty and not worthy of completion. We reason with ourselves that perhaps we misunderstood God’s will, and He’s asking us to go another way.
But as we learned this week in Ezra, chapters 4-6, opposition may also be a strengthening factor. It calls for a determined resolve that we may not have had a chance to develop otherwise. Instead of finding a way out of doing our duty when we are sure it’s God’s will, we should look for alternative ways to arrive at the same goal. God doesn’t abandon us, we abandon Him.
Memory Text: “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius. Then a written answer was returned concerning this matter.” Ezra 5:5 NKJV
Although non-Jews surrounding Judah were plotting against the rebuilding project, God was watching over the people who were instrumental in getting the task completed. We, too, must not be sidetracked by slander or any subversive attempts to derail our purpose of following God in the way we’ve been shown.
Sunday Opposition Begins
The safest way to face opposition involves our ability to recognize opposition when we see it. The Israelites recognized their biggest downfall, which was the primary reason that led to their Babylonian captivity. It was related to their aligning themselves too closely with the pagan nations around them. Therefore, when tribal leaders approached the returned exiles with offers to help with the rebuilding efforts, their offers were forcefully turned down by the Jews in charge.
Many of those residing in Judah were from surrounding nations who were relocated there by the Babylonian forces after they confiscated the land and captured its people many years earlier. It would have been easy to accept the help of those foreign neighbors who had settled there.
To some, it may have seemed foolhardy not to accept the help being offered. After all, it might have improved relations with their neighbors and furthered their ability to remain peacefully in their beloved country.
As it turned out though, the neighbors, who were so generous with their offers of help, soon turned out to be just as vigorous in their attempts to discourage and frustrate their progress.
Many times, whether it be a marriage proposal, a business transaction, or a friendly invitation from our neighbor or co-worker, we find that we are encouraging trouble and heartache by not listening to God’s voice telling us to not associate closely with those who do not have God as their partner.
Read Ezra 4:1-2 and 2 Kings 17:24. What possible advantage would these enemies (adversaries) have had if the Jews had accepted their invitation to help? What ulterior motive was hidden in their offer?
Read Ezra 4:3, Nehemiah 2:20, and 1 Corinthians 2:14. Why do you think God required only those of Jewish heritage to build the temple?
Read Ezra 4:4, 5 and Hebrews 12:3. What can prevent us from being discouraged when others are trying to tear us down?
Monday: Prophets Encourage
The opposition from their neighbors had reached such a level that the Jews were afraid of provoking their enemies further. As a result, the work of rebuilding was halted by workers who were unwilling to put themselves in further jeopardy with their enemies.
But, God had not abandoned His chosen people. Fourteen years after the halting of the work, God sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to bolster their spirits and encourage them to complete their task in the next four years, for the sake of God’s honor and glory.
The inspiring sermons and involvement of these two preachers motivated the Jews to re-think their fear and apathy, and once again take up the construction of the temple. They were made to see that they weren’t giving God the priority in their lives that He demanded and deserved. Their own houses and comfort had come before the house of the Lord.
The mindset of materialism so common in today’s world also reveals misplaced, selfish priorities that must be adjusted, if the gospel is to fully spread across the globe, the task God has given us to do before His Second Coming. Perhaps we, too, have allowed our fear and apathy to prevent us from finishing the Lord’s work.
Read Ezra 5:1. What made God send not just preachers, but prophets, to the struggling Israelites? Why was prophecy needed at this time?
Read Ezra 5:2 and Haggai 1:1. Why was this first message for Zerubbabel and Joshua? Why is it so important for leaders in the church to pay attention to God’s word?
Read Haggai 1:3-9 and Matthew 6:31-34. How does trust help us overcome worry, and how does worry affect how serve God, just like it did for the Israelites back then?
Tuesday: Work Stoppage
When the Jewish elders refused the offer of help by their adversaries, these crafty neighbors/enemies began a letter-writing, smear campaign, aimed to get the attention of the Persian authorities. Their seemingly-innocent attempts to alert the kings about the rebellious actions of the Israelites in the past were designed to gain support for their continued oppression of God’s people.
And, their subversive actions did cause the work of the first group of returning exiles to stop, by order of the various Persian kings who ruled after Cyrus. First, there was…
- Darius I (who threw Daniel in the lions’ den),
- Ahasuerus (married to Esther), and
- Artaxerxes I (who finally felt the need to send his cupbearer Nehemiah to Judah to help the returned exiles begin work again).
The continued oppressive actions and letters by their enemies caused fear to mount among the returned exiles. It was thought to be safer and wiser to concentrate on building and improving their own homes, rather than cause more hatred against them by working on the house of God.
Fortunately, God had ways to eliminate their apathy and fears, but His plans would only work if the people agreed to put Him first in their lives.
Read Ezra 4:13, 15-16. How did these letters use both lies and the truth about God’s people? Why is mixing truth with lies more effective and dangerous than just spreading lies?
Read Ezra 4:5-7, 17, 21. How did such a long, persevering letter-writing campaign pay off for these adversaries of Judah?
Read Ezra 4:23, 24, 2 Timothy 3:12, and 1 Peter 5:8. Why are good people persecuted? And why were God’s people here the ones who were oppressed? Who was behind these attacks?
Wednesday: Nehemiah Takes Action (444 B.C.)
Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, who made up the main opposition against the Jews, knew that time was running out for their negative campaign against Judah. When the walls were complete and the gates shut, their efforts to stop Jerusalem’s influence in the region would be fruitless.
These diehard enemies of God’s people used mockery, anger, and deceitful diplomacy to dissuade them from building. But Nehemiah, after prayer (Nehemiah 4:9), made steps to secure their safety.
He organized those families living by the wall into groups that would guard and protect the residents of Jerusalem, providing them with weapons to counter any attack from without the city. In addition, those working on the wall, who were closest to the danger, were equipped with weapons, or someone with a weapon to guard them, to discourage violence from breaking out.
Nehemiah reminded those in Jerusalem that God would fight for them (Nehemiah 4:20), freeing them from the fear that had previously gripped their hearts. Nehemiah’s proactive measures allowed the construction to continue at a much faster rate than thought possible.
Read Nehemiah 4:7-9. Why were the protective measures recommended by Nehemiah needed to finish the work of rebuilding the wall? How does prayer benefit us when it comes to facing opposition? In what way is prayer a defensive tactic in itself?
Read Nehemiah 4:20 and Psalm 18:1-3. Why is total dependence on God a prerequisite for overcoming our enemies?
Read Nehemiah 4:13, 14. How did organization and motivational speeches enable Nehemiah to get the wall and gates built? What other qualities are helpful for those in leadership positions?
Thursday: Doing a “Great Work”
All the breaks in the wall were gone, and the gates were about ready to be hung, making God’s enemies desperate to halt the work, even if it meant taking the life of His faithful leader.
The sixth chapter of Nehemiah reveals attempts at the prophet’s life. Sanballat and Geshem tried repeatedly to get Nehemiah to meet with them outside the city, but the prophet’s firm reply was always that he had a “great work” to do. Nehemiah recognized that he was not only busy, but he was busy with an important work. See Nehemiah 6:1-4.
There was even a plot by Shemaiah, a secret spy, to meet Nehemiah in the temple. But God revealed his sinister intent, causing Nehemiah to refuse the seemingly innocent invitation to meet in God’s house.
We, like Nehemiah, must be steadfast in avoiding those who we know will do us harm. Whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, God is our refuge and protection. We must listen to Him for direction and may even be called to remove ourselves from their presence, if necessary.
Read Nehemiah 6:1-4 and Revelation 21:12-14. Why does Nehemiah see his work as “a great work”? Why was building the wall and repairing the gates as important as rebuilding the temple? What symbolic protection did the walls and gates represent?
Read Nehemiah 6:5-9 and John 15:5. What was the purpose of Sanballat’s discouraging words, accusations, and lies? Why is it important for ask God to strengthen us? What can we do on our own?
Read Nehemiah 6:10-13. Why did Nehemiah feel it was not right for him to find his protection in the temple? What message would such an action give to the Jews who were working on the wall?
God’s people were relying fully on the Lord, both for the outcome, but also for the means and ability to advance God’s will. Therefore, they did nothing to defend themselves but listen and follow God’s direction, as spoken to them through Nehemiah.
God gave them the wisdom and courage to carry arms in this particular situation. If fighting had broken out, God would have given them strength to use their weapons. Their part was merely to trust God and make Him their refuge.
“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.’ “ Psalm 91:2
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19
Sensible, defensive actions may be called for, as it did for the Jews building the wall. However, total dependence on God is our only sure rock of protection, not the weapons we carry. We must listen very closely to His instructions for how to handle individual situations of peril. At times, God’s people were told to fight, and other times, they were told to flee (such as the former slaves of Egypt, passing through the Red Sea with Moses).
Remember that nothing we do is as important as allowing God to fight our battles. We are merely His instruments to advance His will on earth. Our reward when we follow Him is always an eternal one in heaven, no matter the outcome of the struggle we have with our enemies.
Defending ourselves should never have priority over defending God’s name and character to a world who has largely forgotten who He is. Loving our enemies is a tall order from God (Matthew 5:44), but it’s the only one that truly demonstrates the loving God we serve. It’s the only sure way to face our opposition.
Next Week’s Lesson: Violating the Spirit of the Law
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/