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On Ezra 3: The Curse of Comparison and Complaint

They complained. They murmured. The glory of the latter seemed incomparable with the former. They didn’t know how hidden beauty could ever exceed that which was exposed.

Such was the case of these older men.

In Ezra’s day, when almost everyone was excited about rebuilding their fallen temple, these elders seemed to be playing the antagonists.

They were just dissatisfied.

While the majority

“sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
‘For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel,’ “

the elders were complaining.

Was the Lord good? Absolutely. He always has been.

So, what was the problem?

Well, it was quite a case of “our generation’s experience was quite better than this one’s. We’re quite better.”

Yeah, quite. Quite. I knew that sounded a bit awkward. But that had a purpose.

The little annoyance it evoked in you, dear reader, was meant to stir the pondering thought.

“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”

I’ve been quoting from the English Standard Version. That’s Ezra 3:11.

The foundation of the house of the Lord has been laid! It was indeed a reason for joy. The ones who shouted had been exiles. They had been exiled to the land of Babylon. By this time, after a great number of years, they have been shown the mercies of the Lord.

Not only are they now “the returned exiles,” they are also going to rebuild the temple of the Lord.

A Cause for Complaint?

So, how can a reason for joy be a cause for complaint?

Guess what. It was a case of comparison.

Comparisons are indeed a curse.

It has been the curse of many generations. It is still a prevailing curse now.

No, not if you mean comparing yourself to The One Altogether Lovely. No, not if you mean simply looking at Him as if He’s a mirror. No, not if you mean coming before Him in humility. No, not if you mean simply seeing yourself as you really are, for

“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature.” – Steps to Christ, p. 64, par. 2

No, not if you mean any of these.

Apparently, comparisons are good for those who purpose to use the results in humility.

Examples of healthy comparisons

Some comparisons are a blessing. Some are simply innocent.

  • Seeing yourself in direct contrast with Jesus (as mentioned above)
  • Assessing your own progress in an area of knowledge in terms of a certain criteria
  • Putting side-by-side two products or items you consider buying
  • Figuring out the benefits or advantages of a new product against a standard
  • Evaluating your past practices against your present ideologies

You can lengthen this list.

But before you do, let’s continue with our discussion.

When comparison becomes evil

So, when does an act of comparison become a cause of trouble? Well, we can also bring up a list.

  • Seeing yourself as someone better than others
  • Looking at your neighbors’ (read: Facebook friends’) achievements against yours
  • Arguing against God’s revealed counsels against your own logic

Basically, that’s all. If you wish to add something to the list, you are most likely adding a version of any of the three I had already placed there.

In other words, comparisons become evil when it’s all about pride.

And pride is definitely a curse. As said,

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18, ESV

You see, when comparisons are born out of pride, the modus of comparison is identical to selfishness.

Let me repeat that.

Comparisons rooted in pride are selfish. Pride is simply selfishness, by the way.

Now, let me rephrase our list of three above for you to see this even more clearly.

  • am better than you.
  • I have something better than what you have.
  • I have wisdom better than Yours (God’s).

Again, these are comparisons that are already evil. Pride is evil. Selfish is evil.

You see, prideful comparisons simply say:

  • myself
  • my possessions
  • my wisdom

are superior.

In other words, you are inferior. I am better

Me. Myself. I.

It is all about self.

Evil comparisons are all about self.

And When Does A Comparison Lead To A Complaint?

Well, it happens.

“I think I’m better off than him. What is he doing up there?”

You would hear that, or a something like that.

Well, you heard that. You heard that minutes ago when we first mentioned them. Yes, the elderly.

To give you what they did straight from the Biblical account, here’s the passage:

“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid…” – Ezra 3:12, ESV

Notice the word “but.”

The word “but” did have a precedent. Remember what was happening in verse 11?

The people were praising the Lord!

Now, what was going on?

Basically, these elders were complaining. And how did the complaint come out? What was the basis of the complaint?

Wait, the passage is saying they were only weeping. Did it say they were complaining?

Apparently, yes. These—

“…old men who had seen the first house…”

—were seeing the second house. By the way, this is talking about the “house,” i.e., the temple “of the Lord.”

There’s a “first” and a “second” house. Apparently, those who have seen the first one are now seeing the second one. And it appears that the second one is quite inferior.

Well, it is, in many respects.

The “first” was Solomon’s temple. Nothing could be compared to it. It was dazzling. It had been accompanied by special tokens of God’s favor. The blessings showered even upon the dedication of that temple were amazing. God has given evidence of His favor by visible tokens of His presence.

And for this second one, even seeing just the foundation, was to these elders a cause for weeping.

They wept because they compared.

So, again, when does a case of comparison become a case of complaint?

Well, a complaint does not come when there’s nothing to lose.

And the elders were losing…the glory.

There’s truth in their findings—the findings they had from their case of comparison. The elders saw the foundation of the second house, they recalled the glory of the first house, and now they see a big difference.

The second house is really inferior to the first.

Here’s a side note:

Note that the second house has not yet been built. Only the foundation was laid.

In fact, to get ahead of myself, the second house would take years to finish—three generations of “heathen” kings had to witness the struggle of the returned exiles in rebuilding the temple.

So, imagine the elders getting ahead of themselves, complaining about something that was not yet even finished!

Back to the question: how does comparison become a complaint?

Basically, as I’ve mentioned, it’s all about wounded pride.

Yeah, I’ve only mentioned pride minutes ago. This time, the emphasis is on the modifier.

It’s about a wounded pride.

Well, let’s just say the elders had good intentions. I, for one, thought that what they were doing was just fine. I also thought their act of weeping was just fine!

But when I read the inspired writings for more insights into this chapter, I was stunned.

Insights from the Pen of Inspiration

It was natural that sadness should fill the hearts of these aged men, as they thought of the results of long-continued impenitence. Had they and their generation obeyed God, and carried out His purpose for Israel, the temple built by Solomon would not have been destroyed and the captivity would not have been necessary. But because of ingratitude and disloyalty they had been scattered among the heathen.

Conditions were now changed. In tender mercy the Lord had again visited His people and allowed them to return to their own land. Sadness because of the mistakes of the past should have given way to feelings of great joy. God had moved upon the heart of Cyrus to aid them in rebuilding the temple, and this should have called forth expressions of profound gratitude. But some failed of discerning God’s opening providences. Instead of rejoicing, they cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement. They had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple, and they lamented because of the inferiority of the building now to be erected.

The murmuring and complaining, and the unfavorable comparisons made, had a depressing influence on the minds of many and weakened the hands of the builders. The workmen were led to question whether they should proceed with the erection of a building that at the beginning was so freely criticized and was the cause of so much lamentation. – Prophets and Kings, p.564

What a depressing blow!

Indeed, the elders have made the mistake of

  • “murmuring”
  • “complaining”
  • making “unfavorable comparisons

—haven’t we mentioned that their “weeping” were actually expressions of complaint? Yes, we have!

And haven’t we mentioned that such complaints are born out of comparisons? Yes, we have!

And the elders—while it was “natural that sadness should fill” their hearts—”should have given way to feelings of great joy.”

They shouldn’t have murmured. They shouldn’t have “cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement.”

But because they did, they have extended a “depressing influence on the minds of many, and weakened the hands of the builders.”

That was just a depressing blow, indeed!

Today’s Elders vs. The Noble Work of Some Youth

I couldn’t help but see through this story (which was not just a story but real history, by the way) the case of our youth today.

Some of us complain. Some of us murmur. We think we are better off than this generation of youth.

(I am using “we” to avoid sounding hypercritical.)

Yeah, we complain about these young people who are rebuilding the “house of the Lord”! We complain about their:

  • spiritual programs
  • missionary mindset
  • zeal for revival
  • desire for reformation

…and we think we’re better off than they? Is it because we’re “elders” that we’re better? Let me ask again. Are we even really any better?

Think for a while.

The “glory of the latter house will be greater”

Do you remember the promise made concerning the second temple?

“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former…” – Haggai 2:9, KJV

The latter over the former? The second over the first?

Were the elders wrong?

Well, structurally speaking, the second house, when finished, was physically in no way greater than the first temple, Solomon’s temple.

But the promise of the LORD through the prophet Haggai was that the glory of this second house would be greater. How come?

It’s about Who’s inside

Remember how this prophecy of Haggai was fulfilled?

For centuries learned men have endeavored to show wherein the promise of God, given to Haggai, has been fulfilled; yet in the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, the Desire of all nations, who by His personal presence hallowed the precincts of the temple, many have steadfastly refused to see any special significance. Pride and unbelief have blinded their minds to the true meaning of the prophet’s words.

The second temple was honored, not with the cloud of Jehovah’s glory, but with the presence of the One in whom dwelt “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”—God Himself “manifest in the flesh.” Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16. In being honored with the personal presence of Christ during His earthly ministry, and in this alone, did the second temple exceed the first in glory. The “Desire of all nations” had indeed come to His temple, when the Man of Nazareth taught and healed in the sacred courts. – Prophets and Kings, p.597

And today, it’s still about Who’s inside!

We can talk about our gray hairs. We can talk about our flying colors. We can talk about our presumed wisdom. We can talk about our wealth of experience.

But none of these things matter!

It’s about Who’s inside!

And, dear youth—in case you might misinterpret this piece as if I’m being a defender in your case—beware.

Just because you are young doesn’t mean your fresh methods are always right.

Remember, it’s all about Who’s inside!

If you miss that point, the “elders” and you do not have any difference.

We do not have any difference between them who, for wounded pride, had caused the rejoicing young rebuilders—reformerssuch a depressing blow!

The depressing blow caused an unnecessary delay

Could those who failed to rejoice at the laying of the foundation stone of the temple have foreseen the results of their lack of faith on that day, they would have been appalled. Little did they realize the weight of their words of disapproval and disappointment; little did they know how much their expressed dissatisfaction would delay the completion of the Lord’s house. – Prophets and Kings, p.565

How tragic!

If we keep on complaining…

If we keep on murmuring…

If we keep on discouraging the work of some of our noble youth of today, we will delay the rebuilding of the temple of the Lord—we will delay the reformation within the house of the Lord!

Take the Curse Out of God’s Church

As much as God longs to dwell in His physical sanctuary back in the Israelites’ day, God longs to dwell in the hearts of His church—His people today.

And as much as there needed to be a reformation among God’s people in the past, so there needs to be a rebuilding—a reformation within God’s church today.

But what do we see?

We’ve seen complaints. We’ve seen murmuring. We’ve seen wounded pride. We’ve seen countless careless words thrown overboard by those who despise

…”in” God’s house.

If we continue doing this, we’d be delaying the second advent.

We need repentance.

Enough with fancy church programs

It is when the vital principles of the kingdom of God are lost sight of, that ceremonies become multitudinous and extravagant. It is when the character building is neglected, when the adornment of the soul is lacking, when the simplicity of godliness is despised, that pride and love of display demand magnificent church edifices, splendid adornings, and imposing ceremonials.

But in all this God is not honored. He values His church, not for its external advantages, but for the sincere piety which distinguishes it from the world. He estimates it according to the growth of its members in the knowledge of Christ, according to their progress in spiritual experience. He looks for the principles of love and goodness. Not all the beauty of art can bear comparison with the beauty of temper and character to be revealed in those who are Christ’s representatives. – Prophets and Kings, p.565-566

Let us rather be unlike them

Enough is enough. The devil has made too many winnings in the match.

Let us let God win.

And let us be unlike them.

They complained.

They murmured.

The glory of the latter, to them, seemed incomparable with the former.

They didn’t know how hidden beauty could ever exceed that which was exposed.

The Practical Benefits of the Sabbath That I Enjoy the Most

Either the Sabbath is yet approaching (on your part of the world) or is now on while you are reading this. Also, either you know so much about the Sabbath or it is still vague to you — that is, you don’t really see the significance of it, or at least not yet. Whatever the case is, the Sabbath is such a beautiful privilege. Some have been enjoying it, and I’m simply one of those that are excited to celebrate it right at this moment. Here are some of the practical benefits of the Sabbath that I enjoy the most.

Freedom from Stress

Unless you or a loved one is in a hospital or in some other critical condition, you can absolutely keep the Sabbath free from stress. As for a working individual, the Sabbath is such a haven. Especially when you are a full-time office worker, being subjected to stress from Monday to Friday would be both physically and mentally draining. You certainly would wish to be on vacation all the time. If, however, you accept the privilege of keeping the Sabbath, you will have a foretaste of heaven every single week.

You can “not” be disturbed by office work

Practically speaking, when you honor God by keeping the Sabbath, you simply can enjoy not getting disturbed by office work or business clients. You will have a good reason to keep yourself from any additional, unexpected burden the world of work is loading down on you. When you become consistent on this matter, your boss will honor your practice, and you will absolutely feel free on the Sabbath. That is already a huge plus among all the other benefits of the Sabbath.

You can forget about school assignments and exams

As a student before, I was really stressed out with school requirements, competitive as I was. When I choose to honor God by keeping the Sabbath, among the benefits I really enjoy the most is not being able to harass myself with studying and answering assignments. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to think about study and work. I didn’t have to plan out on my next project. I get to rest knowing God would supply me superior wisdom and enough bread for the days ahead.

God has amazing providences when you keep the Sabbath

And God is just amazing. Aside from being able to worry less, I get to enjoy, among all the other benefits of the Sabbath, experiencing deliverance from God from most of the stressors that already get my classmates almost in a “dying” mode, having been sleepless all the time, all the days of the week. On Friday nights I would get to sleep a more sound sleep, knowing I didn’t have to tire myself on temporal matters the moment I get up.

Communion with God in Nature

One recent find that I had in terms of keeping the Sabbath and making the most of it is enjoying it out on nature. As I’ve experienced, communion with God is best enjoyed in nature. It simply keeps you from getting distracted out of the hustles and bustles in city life.

Bathing in Nature is Consistent with the Essence of the Sabbath

Nature speaks a thousand words about God, its Creator. In essence, the Sabbath is a commemoration of God’s creative work. God created the world in six, literal, 24-hour days, and He rested on the seventh day. He blessed the seventh day and made it holy and gave it as a blessing to mankind. Hence, getting out in nature to commune with God on the Sabbath is simply consistent with the essence of the Sabbath itself.

Sabbath in Nature: A Reminder of God’s Magnificence

Practically, the privilege of bathing oneself in God’s handiwork reminds me of the magnificence of God. Whenever I sit at Jesus’ feet in nature every Sabbath, I am reminded of His creative power. Any problem I can think about is only too small when compared to His amazing power of speaking things into existence. If He can create all these beautiful mountains and seas in just one word, then He can grant me whatever I desire of Him so long as it is consistent with His word.

The Sabbath reminds me of the magnificent power of God. If He was able to speak things into existence, then He can solve all my practical problems His magnificent way.

The Opportunity of Thinking Less About Myself

I believe this is such a huge Sabbath benefit. By accepting God’s invitation of keeping the Sabbath holy or “set apart” for Him, I can get to think of myself less and of Jesus more.

Called to rest on Jesus to think less of “me”

In what way? Well, aside from being a commemoration of God’s creative work, the Sabbath is also intended to remind man of the redemptive work Christ has done on man’s behalf. Creation and redemption are thus both embedded in the Sabbath.

This simply reminds me that I am a created being, and having been given free will, I have made choices that are sinful. Consequently, I needed a Redeemer to save me from my sins. Since I have already accepted Jesus, the Sabbath simply tells me that no amount of work on my part can commend me to God — not even my act of keeping the Sabbath. This act is simply a fruition of resting my soul’s salvation on Jesus, that as I cannot keep myself physically alive, so can I never keep myself saved.

The Sabbath is about a resting faith in Christ, my Creator and Redeemer. As I cannot really keep my body alive by working seven days a week, so can I never save my soul by working out a way of commending my own good traits to God.

Called to rest to serve others

Aside from leading me to think more of Jesus, God, through the Sabbath, also leads me to think more of others and their salvation. The Sabbath not only gives blessings to me; it is meant to bless all the others around me, as well.

Thus, the benefits of the Sabbath include the opportunity of serving others and pointing them to God, the healer of everyone’s physical and spiritual maladies. By being called to think of others, I can sweetly leave all of my burdens to God and begin to share His compassionate heart to those who need to feel His love the most.

The Practical Benefits of the Sabbath Make Me Long for Heaven and Jesus More

While the Sabbath benefits me in terms of my needs as a physical being, it ultimately leads me to long for heaven and especially Jesus more. As each Saturday sunset approaches, I would often wish for an extension. Most of the time, I would wish the Sabbath would go on forever. I had this wish since I was a student.

As a student before, I really was into the competition. I later realized that while I was chained to risk, I was called to rest. When God revealed Himself more clearly to me by showing me my defects and hence my dire need of Him, I realized I needed to experience the Sabbath in a more meaningful way. I realized its true importance. I realized it was set apart not to be a burden, but to lead me closer to my Heavenly Father and my Elder Brother Jesus.

You Might Want to Enjoy the Benefits of the Sabbath for Yourself

Sure, you can. As I’ve first mentioned, you either know a lot about the Sabbath already, or you only know a few things about it.  Either way, you can enjoy the Sabbath better by trying to keep it while being bathed in nature with God and while in service to others.

A Sweet Invitation

I invite you on behalf of Jesus to experience both the practical and the spiritual benefits of the Sabbath. Simply put down anything and everything that you are attending to at this hour that keeps you thinking about supplying your needs (your work) or preparing for your career (your studies).

Put down anything, too, that keeps you thinking more about vain things — those that feed you or are only gratifying yourself (entertainment). Shun yourself from secular things this time and go on meditating upon God instead.

Go grab your Bible; go out in nature. Write down the insights impressed upon you, and you’ll be surprised how much you will have learned about Jesus, and how much you will have rested your mind and body, at the same time.

Also, try spending the Sabbath afternoon visiting the sick and blessing the needy, and by Saturday sunset you’ll find more meaning to living a life that rests upon Jesus.

And that’s what the Sabbath is all about. Rest. Resting in Jesus.


Learn more about the history of the Sabbath:

Learn more about how to have a closer relationship with Jesus: