Scripture Reading: Ezra 1-3
The testimony to the glory of God must of necessity be a heart matter. Ezra tells us that when Cyrus made his decree that the house of God should be re-built in Jerusalem and every facility be granted to those who would return to do the building, he did not make it a command that all Jews should go back. Had he done so, they would all have been compelled to return, and such compulsion would have given little prospect of glory for God.
The decree was really an appeal for volunteers, “Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go …” (Ezra 1:3). Like the original work of the tabernacle, it was entrusted to those who were of a willing heart, for God’s testimony will always be a heart matter.
Those who have personal interests in view are entirely out of keeping with the objective of God’s kingdom and glory. So it was that only a comparative few returned to the land when the opportunity arose, the great majority having settled in and largely become a part of the life in Babylon where all the glory was for man.
Their interests and future was so tied up with that realm that it would have involved a tremendous upheaval to extricate themselves and return to a land of poor and unpopular people with only God as their security and hope for the future. It was because so many were not willing to pay the price that for those who returned it was a day of small things. Nevertheless it was not to be despised — far from it.
The Lord Jesus Himself always stressed this heart aspect of discipleship, pointing out that without the denying of self and the daily taking up of the cross, the kingdom could never be fully possessed. The end which God has in view is something much more than mere personal blessing. He is looking for those who will share with His King the responsibility for the glory of His kingdom. Such a calling will find us out if we have personal interests, for it demands hearts which are consumed with jealousy for the glory of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit will always support such an attitude, for He Himself burns with the same intense jealousy. This has nothing to do with a craving for special teaching or mere negative dissatisfaction with things as they are, but signifies a real heart hunger for more of God’s glory. I am not referring to the people who are eternally disgruntled and full of criticism, those who will never be contented anywhere at all; but I wish to concentrate on the believers whose hearts are really groaning in travail for the full will of God.
Such people sense that there are divine purposes which are not being realized, and they are on full stretch for a testimony of greater glory for God. It was a similar concern which stirred men’s hearts to obey the decree of Cyrus. The Jews who remained in Babylon were not without God’s blessing, but the remnant were full of concern not for themselves but for greater glory for the name of the Lord, and this made them ready to rise up and leave everything, if only that could be realized.
To them — and to us if we are their spiritual counterpart — the promise is most reassuring, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit”. We cannot pay the price, nor go through with all that is involved, in our own strength. We do not have to. The Holy Spirit is ready to take full responsibility for the glory of God, both in our own lives and also in the testimony of God through us.