“‘Be strong, . . . for I am with you,’ declares Jehovah of armies.”—HAG. 2:4.
SONG 118 “Give Us More Faith”
1-2. (a) What similarities are there between our situation and that of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem? (b) Give an overview of the challenges the Jews faced. (See the box “The Days of Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra.”)
DO YOU at times worry about the future? Perhaps you have lost your job and you worry about providing for your family. You may be concerned about your family’s safety because of unstable political conditions, persecution, or opposition to the preaching work. Are you facing any of these issues? If so, you will benefit from considering how Jehovah helped the ancient Israelites when they were confronted with similar problems.
2 It took faith on the part of the Jews who had lived in Babylon all their lives to leave behind a comfortable lifestyle and travel to a country that most of them knew very little about. When they arrived, it was not long before they were affected by unstable economic and political conditions as well as opposition. Some therefore found it hard to focus on rebuilding Jehovah’s temple. Thus, about 520 B.C.E., Jehovah commissioned two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to rekindle the people’s zeal. (Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1) As we will see, the encouragement given by these prophets proved to be very effective. Nearly 50 years later, however, the returning Jews again reached a low point. Ezra, a skilled copyist of the Law, then came from Babylon to Jerusalem to encourage God’s people to give priority to true worship.—Ezra 7:1, 6.
3. What questions will we consider? (Proverbs 22:19)
3 Just as the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah helped God’s people in the past to continue to trust in Jehovah during opposition, they can help us today to remain confident in Jehovah’s support despite life’s uncertainties. (Read Proverbs 22:19.) As we consider God’s message delivered by Haggai and Zechariah and examine the example of Ezra, we will answer these questions: How were the returning Jews affected by life’s uncertainties? Why should we keep our focus on doing God’s will during uncertain times? And how can we build our confidence in Jehovah in times of crisis?
HOW UNCERTAINTIES AFFECTED THE RETURNING JEWS
4-5. What may have caused the Jews’ enthusiasm for the temple work to wane?
4 When the returning Jews arrived in Jerusalem, they had much work to do. They quickly rebuilt Jehovah’s altar and laid the foundation of the temple. (Ezra 3:1-3, 10) But their initial enthusiasm soon waned. Why? In addition to the temple work, they had to build houses for themselves, plant fields, and feed their families. (Ezra 2:68, 70) Moreover, they faced opposition from their enemies, who plotted to stop the temple rebuilding work.—Ezra 4:1-5.
5 The returning exiles were also affected by unstable economic and political conditions. Their land was now part of the Persian Empire. After Persian King Cyrus died in 530 B.C.E., his successor, Cambyses, embarked on a military campaign to conquer Egypt. While heading for Egypt, his soldiers likely demanded food, water, and shelter from the Israelites, which caused them further hardship. The early reign of Cambyses’ successor, Darius I, was marked by revolts and political instability. These conditions no doubt caused many of the returned exiles to worry about how they would provide for their family. Because of all the uncertainty they faced, some Jews felt that it was not the right time to rebuild Jehovah’s temple.—Hag. 1:2.
6. According to Zechariah 4:6, 7, what other difficulties did the Jews face, and what assurance did Zechariah give them?
6 Read Zechariah 4:6, 7. In addition to facing economic hardship and political instability, the Jews had to deal with persecution. In 522 B.C.E., their enemies succeeded in having a ban placed on the rebuilding of Jehovah’s temple. But Zechariah assured the Jews that Jehovah would use His powerful spirit to remove any obstacles. In 520 B.C.E., King Darius lifted the ban on the temple work and even provided the Jews with funds and official support.—Ezra 6:1, 6-10.
7. When the repatriated Jews gave priority to doing God’s will, what blessings did they receive?
7 By means of Haggai and Zechariah, Jehovah promised his people that they would have his backing if they gave priority to the rebuilding of the temple. (Hag. 1:8, 13, 14; Zech. 1:3, 16) Encouraged by the prophets, the repatriated Jews resumed the temple work in 520 B.C.E. and finished rebuilding it in less than five years. Because the Jews gave priority to doing God’s will despite uncertainties, they received Jehovah’s support not only materially but also spiritually. As a result, they worshipped Jehovah with joy.—Ezra 6:14-16, 22.
KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON DOING GOD’S WILL
8. How can the words of Haggai 2:4 help us to keep our focus on doing God’s will? (See also footnote.)
8 As the great tribulation draws close, we realize more than ever how urgent it is to obey the command to share in the preaching work. (Mark 13:10) We may, however, find it difficult to focus on our ministry if we have suffered a financial setback or if we are facing opposition to our preaching work. What can help us to put Kingdom interests first? Remaining confident that “Jehovah of armies” b is on our side. He will support us if we continue to put Kingdom interests ahead of our own. So we have nothing to fear.—Read Haggai 2:4.
9-10. How did one married couple experience the truthfulness of Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 6:33?
9 Consider the example of Oleg and Irina, c a married couple who serve as pioneers. After moving to assist a congregation in another area, they lost their source of income because of the worsening economic conditions in their country. Although they were without steady work for about a year, they constantly felt Jehovah’s loving support and on occasion received help from their brothers and sisters. How did they cope with uncertainties? Oleg, who at first felt depressed, states, “Keeping busy in the ministry helped us to focus on what is most important in life.” While he and his wife continued to look for work, they remained busy in their ministry.
10 One day when they returned home from the ministry, they learned that a close friend had traveled about 160 kilometers (100 mi) to bring them two bags of groceries. Oleg says: “On that day, we once again experienced the depth of Jehovah’s care and that of the congregation. We are convinced that Jehovah never forgets his servants, no matter how hopeless their situation may seem.”—Matt. 6:33.
11. What can we expect if we keep our focus on doing God’s will?
11 Jehovah wants us to focus on the lifesaving work of making disciples. As mentioned in paragraph 7, Haggai urged Jehovah’s people to make a fresh start in their sacred service, as if they were laying the temple’s foundation again. If they did, Jehovah promised to “send a blessing.” (Hag. 2:18, 19) We too can be assured that Jehovah will bless our efforts if we give priority to the work he has assigned us to do.
HOW TO BUILD CONFIDENCE IN JEHOVAH
12. Why did Ezra and his fellow exiles need strong faith?
12 In 468 B.C.E., Ezra traveled with a second group of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. To undertake this trip, Ezra and the returnees needed strong faith. They would be traveling on hazardous roads, carrying a great amount of gold and silver that had been donated to the temple. That made them easy targets for robbers. (Ezra 7:12-16; 8:31) In addition, they soon realized that Jerusalem itself was not safe. The city was sparsely populated, and its walls and gates needed repair. What can we learn from Ezra about building our confidence in Jehovah?
13. How did Ezra build his confidence in Jehovah? (See also footnote.)
13 Ezra had seen how Jehovah supported His people in times of test. Years earlier, in 484 B.C.E., Ezra was likely living in Babylon when King Ahasuerus issued a decree to exterminate the Jews throughout the Persian Empire. (Esther 3:7, 13-15) Ezra’s life was in danger! In response to this threat, the Jews “in every province” fasted and mourned, no doubt turning to Jehovah in prayer for guidance. (Esther 4:3) Imagine how Ezra and his fellow Jews felt when the tables were turned on those who had plotted to destroy the Jews! (Esther 9:1, 2) What Ezra experienced during those challenging times may have prepared him for future tests and very likely strengthened his confidence in Jehovah’s ability to protect His people. d
14. What lesson did one sister learn when she received Jehovah’s care during uncertain times?
14 When we receive Jehovah’s care during uncertain times, our confidence in him grows stronger. Consider the example of Anastasia, who lives in Eastern Europe. She quit her job in order to maintain her neutrality. She says: “I had never been in a situation where I was without money.” Then she adds: “I left the matter with Jehovah and saw how he tenderly cared for me. Should I ever be without a job again, I will not be afraid. If my heavenly Father cares for me today, he will care for me tomorrow.”
15. What helped Ezra to maintain his confidence in Jehovah? (Ezra 7:27, 28)
15 Ezra recognized Jehovah’s hand in his own life. Reflecting on the times when Jehovah came to his aid no doubt helped Ezra to maintain his confidence in Him. Notice the expression “the hand of Jehovah my God was upon me.” (Read Ezra 7:27, 28.) Ezra used similar wording six times in the book that bears his name.—Ezra 7:6, 9; 8:18, 22, 31.
16. In what situations may we see more clearly God’s hand in our life? (See also picture.)
16 Jehovah can help us when we are facing a challenge. For example, when asking our employer for time off so that we can attend a convention or when asking for an adjusted work schedule so that we can attend all our meetings, we create an opportunity to see Jehovah’s hand in our life. We may be surprised at how well things turn out. As a result, our confidence in Jehovah grows stronger.
17. How did Ezra show humility during challenging times? (See cover picture.)
17 Ezra humbly turned to Jehovah for help. Each time he felt overwhelmed by his responsibilities, Ezra humbly prayed to Jehovah. (Ezra 8:21-23; 9:3-5) Ezra’s attitude moved those around him to support him and to imitate his faith. (Ezra 10:1-4) When we feel overwhelmed by anxieties about our material needs or about our family’s safety, we must confidently turn to Jehovah in prayer.
18. What can help our confidence in Jehovah to grow?
18 If we humbly seek Jehovah’s help and accept the support of our fellow believers, our confidence in God will grow. Erika, a mother of three, maintained her confidence in Jehovah in the face of devastating losses. During a short period of time, she suffered the deaths of her unborn child and her beloved husband. In retrospect, she notes: “You cannot know in advance how Jehovah will help you. Help can come in surprising ways. I have learned that many of my prayers have been answered through the words and actions of my friends. If I open up to my friends, they can help me more easily.”
REMAIN CONFIDENT IN JEHOVAH TO THE END
19-20. What do we learn from the Jews who could not return to Jerusalem?
19 We can also learn a valuable lesson from the Jews who were not able to return to Jerusalem. Some of them were likely limited in what they could do because of old age, serious illness, or family obligations. Even so, they willingly supported the returnees by contributing materially. (Ezra 1:5, 6) It seems that some 19 years after the arrival of the first group of returnees in Jerusalem, those remaining in Babylon were still sending voluntary gifts to Jerusalem.—Zech. 6:10.
20 Even if we feel limited in what we can do in God’s service, we can rest assured that Jehovah appreciates our sincere efforts to please him. How do we know? In Zechariah’s day, Jehovah asked his prophet to make a crown out of the gold and the silver sent by the exiles in Babylon. (Zech. 6:11) This “grand crown” would serve as a “reminder” of their generous contributions. (Zech. 6:14, ftns.) We can be confident that Jehovah will never forget our earnest efforts to serve him during uncertain times.—Heb. 6:10.
21. What will help us to face the future with confidence?
21 We will no doubt continue to face uncertainties in these last days, and conditions may even get worse in the future. (2 Tim. 3:1, 13) However, we do not need to be consumed by anxiety. Remember Jehovah’s words to his people in Haggai’s day: “I am with you . . . Do not be afraid.” (Hag. 2:4, 5) We too can be sure that Jehovah will be with us as long as we do our best to carry out his will. By applying the lessons we have learned from the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah and the example of Ezra, we will maintain our confidence in Jehovah no matter what uncertainties we may experience in the future.
SONG 122 Be Steadfast, Immovable!
a This article is designed to help us strengthen our confidence in Jehovah when we face economic hardship, unstable political conditions, or opposition to our preaching work.
b The expression “Jehovah of armies” appears 14 times in the book of Haggai, which reminded the Jews and reminds us that Jehovah has unlimited power and commands vast armies of spirit creatures.—Ps. 103:20, 21.
c Some names have been changed.
e PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A brother asks his employer for time off to attend a convention but is turned down. He prays for help and guidance as he prepares to approach his employer again. He shows his employer the convention invitation, explaining the value of Bible education. The employer is impressed and reconsiders his decision.