About five hundred years before Christ, when the remnant returned from ancient Babylon to Israel under Zerubbabel ("born in Babylon") to lay the foundation and then rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, it was not as great an exodus as the unanimous one from Egypt in the days of Moses, but it was every bit as challenging. They were approached by adversaries who assured them that they too wanted to participate in the rebuilding, that they too had a heart to worship the One God of Israel. (See Ezra chapter 4 v1-3) These kinds of encounters continue under Nehemiah, testing further the resolve and the discernment of the remnant. Reminds one of how Herod assured the wise men hundreds of years later that he was interested in the coming of Messiah so that he could join them in bowing before Him in worship, when that was the farthest thing from his heart and mind. (Matthew 2 v.8) What he really wanted to do was eliminate a rival to his own kingship. This was hundreds of years later but the same hostile spirit was at work.
The leaders of the remnant had the discernment to see that these would-be builders were not genuine. The wise men too sensed that Herod was not sincere. Having failed to infiltrate, their first strategy, the adversaries now resorted to open undisguised opposition, supposedly in the interest of the king of Persia. How subtle, how manipulative, how insidious, and how vicious in the murderous lengths to which this dark spirit will go to block the redemptive work of God. In the case of the Temple, the adversaries were able to elicit a decree from the emperor to stop the project, at least temporarily until the Spirit of God prevailed to revive the work. In the case of Herod we know from history and from the world of art of the cruel slaughter of the innocents, his vengeful order to kill all males under 2 years old in the area of Bethlehem Judea. But again the Spirit of God prevailed by means of the warning contained in a dream, and the baby Jesus escaped with his parents to Egypt, following the steps Israel had trod long before to escape a famine.
Israel's escape from bondage in Egypt, after their 400 year gestation period as a nation, represents our initial deliverance as New Testament believers from the domination of sin, but the return of the remnant of Judah from Babylon represents something different: it represents our further deliverance from the subtle snares and guiles of worldliness. To beguile means to attach a lie to fact or truth, so that the sinfulness of the lie is not as blatant or recognizable. Worldliness can try to insinuate itself into our lives through practices and influences that would never identify themselves as opposed to God. Like the adversaries in the days of the return from exile, they ask to join the work, "let us build with you, we also worship your God" or, like Herod in the days of the birth of Jesus, they invite you to come report for them what you have discovered so they too can benefit. Only the so-called "benefit" is not what it seems to be.
Like Joseph and Mary, and like Jesus we can escape from every plot and elude every snare set for us, if only will walk step by step in the Spirit with our ears attuned like sheep to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus slipped like teflon out of the grasp of his enemies time after time until it was TIME to surrender himself. Thank God, we can experience that very same slippery anointing in the face of all that tries to entrap us on a daily basis. But it comes in daily installments like the manna in the wilderness. That's why Jesus tells us to take no anxious thought for tomorrow; (Matthew 6 v.34) we haven't received grace for tomorrow yet, so we are bound to think about it or perceive it in the wrong way. "Each day has enough trouble of its own." Amen?
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