God is faithful. The Israelites were told that they would be overthrown by a foreign nation if they did not follow the laws of God. This occurred and they were taken to captivity in Babylon. God promised that this captivity would last 70 years and that they would return to Jerusalem and the foreign nation that had judged them would be overthrown. This occurred when Cyrus the Persian overthrew Babylon. In Ezra, we see that God is at work to provide a way for the people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (and later the walls - see Nehemiah). Chapter three shows us the rebuilding of the Temple and the altars, so that the worship of God can begin again.
We can related because at some point, we have all sat and looked and sifted through the wreckage and debris of our devastated lives. We are haunted by the thoughts of what might have been, what we wish we had done, and where we went wrong. It can be an overwhelming experience. Many of us have to hit rock bottom before we look to God . . . and the view from the bottom is daunting.
Thankfully, God is a God of second chances. He gives us the opportunity to begin again. He doesn't tell us to climb out of the hole we've dug for ourselves before He will help us. Rather, He is eager to support us when we turn to Him. The Psalms say that He hears our cry for help, lifts us out of the mire of our lives, and sets our feet on a firm place to stand (see Ps. 40:1-4). The question for us is, when will we get sick of wallowing in the mud and muck that we've created and call for help?
Two things in the passage stand out as obstacles to crying for God's help and turning to Him - fear and regret.
Admittedly, it is a daunting thing to wrestle with turning from all that you have known and turning to God. It can seem so abstract, strange, and unfamiliar. What will my friends think? What about my family? What impact will it have on my life? Fear of the unknown can paralyze us and keep us from acting. The Israelites who returned to Israel knew this fear. Verse 3 says, "Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD. . . " Were they afraid of what might be the outcome? Yes. They were even more concerned about turning their backs once more on the God who had worked to restore their lives to them. They ultimately decided that whatever resulted from following God was better than the devastation wrought by ignoring Him. They overcame their fear by looking forward to what was to come.
Regret is the other emotion that stands out here. When the foundations of the temple were laid, they did not compare to the former glory of the Temple. Also, the glorious presence of God was absent. Many of the people who stood there remembered what it was like before and were filled with sadness and regret. It is not unlike someone who finally responds to God as an adult. They look back on the wasted years, the sadness they've indured, the pain that has been inflicted and they are filled with regret. Sometimes this can force them to simply sit and weep and mourn, but that is not what God desires. God does not dwell on what is behind us, but wants us to put that aside and press onward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14).
We are to look back with godly sorrow over our misdeeds - that is called conviction. However, we do not remain there. Instead, we freely receive the forgiveness and fresh start that Jesus offers us. Will it be a struggle to rebuild parts of the Temple and the wall? Absolutely, and it may take effort to rebuild our lives as well. However, we know that Jesus is with us every step of the way. When we stumble, He is there to pick us up and get us back on our feet. He is there to guide us and give us strength.
Will there be regret? Sure. Will our lives ever reach the former glory know by Adam? Not yet. But keep pressing on. Today is not the end. God isn't finished yet. He is still working to rebuild all that we have broken. One day, not only will the former glory be restored, it will be surpassed. One day, Jesus will return for us. One day, He will create a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem. On that day, we will be present and there will be no regrets. On that day, God will be present with us and He will wipe away every tear. That day will bring the end of all mourning and sorrow, because on that day, all of our hopes and dreams will be fulfilled forever (Rev. 21:1-5).
Don't stop. Don't turn back. God isn't finished rebuilding yet.