July 18, 2010 – July 24, 2010
“Each of the ancient prophets spoke less for their own time than for ours … their prophesying is in force for us … Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel … spoke of things that … reached down to the future, and to what should occur in these last days.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 338, 419, 420.
It might seem odd to introduce any Sabbath school lesson by asking what a monetary system, a hydro-electric dam, a jet engine, or fiber-optic network have in common. But they do in fact each carry a feature that is illustrative of a key requirement in God’s last day church. They are products of collective intelligence.
There are millions of very talented, intelligent and industrious people in our world, but no single person knows in full how to design and manage a major infrastructure project, build a jet plane or computer, or manage a monetary system. Nor can one person simply assign a specified amount of physical and mental energy to be expended by a group of people working separately and accomplish any of these projects. All of these projects require collective intelligence. It is collective intelligence and action of human agents that produces the large scale progress in the secular world.
But what of God’s church? If the world we live in were managed the same way that our gospel work has been, we would all be tool-poor, barterers, and hunter-gatherers the world over! The children of darkness are indeed wiser in their generation than the children of light on this point (Luke 16:8, 9). Are there functions that God has assigned to His church that require collective action? Are you taking collective action?
Our lesson today is about the rebuilding of the temple church and the city walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. We will see that collective action was one of the important requirements to the completion of these projects. This lesson covers the events covered by Prophets and Kings, chapters 45–58.
1 Once Babylon had fallen, and it was time to leave, who opened the way for the rebuilding? Isaiah 45:1–4; Daniel 10:13, 20, 21.
After a mighty spiritual struggle (recorded in Daniel 10), the civil government opened the way for the captive Jewish church to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. See Prophets and Kings, 572.
2 Was the call out successful, in terms of numbers? Ezra 2:64; 8:15.
“The king and his princes had done more than their part in opening the way for the return. They had provided abundant means, but where were the men? The sons of Levi failed at a time when the influence of a decision to accompany their brethren would have led others to follow their example. Their strange indifference is a sad revelation of the attitude of the Israelites in Babylon toward God’s purpose for His people.” Prophets and Kings, 614.
For the majority of Jews who, having integrated themselves so completely in Babylonian society, decided to remain; was the Babylonian captivity over after 70 years? While choosing to remain fully integrated with Babylonian (and then Persian) society, were they in a position to recognize their state?
3 What key decisions characterized successful rebuilding of the church?
Review and Discuss:
God’s people refuse union with foreigners (God’s enemies) in the building (Ezra 4:2, 3).
Working together “as one man”—working with collective intelligence (Ezra 3:1–8).
Listening to the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1, 2).
Fasting, prayer, and spiritual preparation (Ezra 7, 8).
4 Several years later, what key decisions characterized successful rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city wall?
Review and Discuss:
Working together “as one man”—working with collective intelligence (Nehemiah 3; 8:1).
Fasting, prayer, and spiritual preparation (Nehemiah 1:4).
God’s people refuse to again be deterred by foreigners (God’s enemies) in the building (Nehemiah 2:20; chapter 4; chapter 7).
5 What are characteristic features of collective intelligence and action?
More than one person is necessary, but not sufficient.
More than one group of people is necessary, but not sufficient.
Knowledgeable and strong people are necessary, but not sufficient.
Knowledgeable, strong people working on the same project are necessary, but not sufficient.
Knowledgeable, strong groups of people working together; and under the Divine leadership and human leadership is necessary, and with the Holy Spirit, is sufficient.
Note that we cannot work collectively on building God’s church, while we work exclusively from the waste places of the earth. We cannot effectively work together while all of us move to the mountainous regions. In Nehemiah’s time, ALL parts of the wall needed workers. God needs people today working together on different parts of the wall and from many places. God needs families, not satisfied simply to realize the dangers of raising a family in the city, but to devise plans for reaching other families in the cities. God needs builders on the wall to work in cities, in towns, and in the remote areas. He needs workers in the mountains, in the plains, and the coastal areas. See Testimonies, vol. 8, 119; vol. 7, 34–36; Evangelism, 384–428.
6 What decisions characterized near failure during rebuilding of the church?
Review and Discuss:
A failure to act quickly! See Prophets and Kings, 572.
Union with foreigners in marriage (Ezra 9; 10).
Complacency, personal property before God’s church (Haggai 1).
Failures of priests (pastors) (Ezra 3:12).
7 What decisions characterized near failure during, and after, rebuilding of the wall?
Review and Discuss:
Taking financial advantage of the poor (Nehemiah 5).
Union with foreigners in marriage (Nehemiah 13).
Putting personal property before God’s church (Nehemiah 13:4–9).
Failures of priests (pastors) (Nehemiah 13).
Failure to collect tithes and offerings for the ministers (Nehemiah 13).
Relaxing Sabbath standards (Nehemiah 13).
8 Was the spiritual construction of God’s temple and the city wall, the purpose of His church, ever completed by the Jewish nation?
NO—The nation did not give birth to the character of Christ, or to the offspring of converts! Christ Himself became the ultimate fulfillment of Birth to the church—He was literally given to them—and to us! (Revelation 12:5.)
9 What applications to church and wall rebuilding do we have today? Has the work of rebuilding the church been completed? Has the church completed rebuilding the wall?
Review and Discuss:
Church: Ephesians 2:19–22
Wall: Isaiah 58:12, 13
Review Haggai, chapter 1.
“The expression, ‘This people say,’ is significant. … Pleas for delay are a dishonor to God. … in a communication through his prophet, he [the Lord] referred to them not as ‘my people,’ but as ‘this people.’ ” The Review and Herald, December 5, 1907. Ellen White says that, “This history will be repeated.” [Emphasis supplied.]
How, in practice, might this same experience be repeated?
This is the message of the prophet Haggai: God’s people could have no success while the church was not complete, and they were not trying to do anything about it! God said that because of their slackness, they would continue to fail to receive rain and fail to produce fruit.
In Haggai’s time, God’s people had been called to return to re-build the temple. It was also their privilege to build their own homes, and cultivate their fields. But they had made their personal building and planting a greater priority than building the temple, and were severely rebuked for this. Their crops were cursed. We even find that God temporarily disowned them for this neglect. Today, I fear that many have placed the importance of preparing their property and gardens for the time of trouble ahead of plans to finish building the temple. This is not to say that this preparation is unimportant, but simply to say that we must understand the relative importance of these activities.
10 Is there a need for collective intelligence in God’s church today?
God has appointed both individual and collective will to humans, and both are important. As a starting point, you may compare and contrast collective and individual will to action within Joshua 24:15. You may see examples of the importance of individual action in Daniel 6; I Kings 22:9–14, and Isaiah 40:3. You may see examples of the importance of collective action in John 20:23; Acts 6:1–7, and I Corinthians 12:9–18. As Historic SDAs, we have long exercised our muscle of individual will and action, while our muscle of collective will, intelligence, and action has nigh atrophied. In Heaven, the collective will to action is critical to success in the Great Controversy! What about our collective action?
God, in His infinite wisdom, has given to His church collective tasks in evangelism and education that simply cannot be met exclusively by exercising our talents individually! There are parts of our individual characters that simply cannot be properly developed unless we are at least attempting to work collectively. Unfortunately, many of us have been assuming otherwise.
Let’s be straightforward: the need for true gospel workers, health workers and teachers is not being adequately supplied by any portion of the corporate entity of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. But among historic SDAs, the situation of supplying trained workers is even worse, and no one among us is in a position to exercise collective action with the General Conference, which has shown an eagerness to attempt to control through the court system.
However large this problem may seem, we must at minimum not ignore it, or pretend that because it takes the action of many, we are in no position to make an attempt to rectify it. You can see this is about much more than pooling our money. You will find out, as you continue in this lesson series, that God will use the heathen to fill this vacuum if nothing else is done.
Could it be time to consider more than theoretical future solutions; could it be time to consider pragmatic ones? This author believes that it is past time to ask some very difficult questions; questions such as: If someone felt called to the gospel ministry (the gospel ministry as laid out in Testimonies to Ministers, for example), what real employment options do they have? Would you want to be in their shoes? Are you in their shoes? (Remember, God will call 11th hour workers from secular employment to gospel employment.) What would it take to train and hire workers? Would the Historic SDA church nearest me need to be better organized? Could I help? Would it take more than one local church to get the job done? Would I be prepared to recognize and act collectively with 11th hour workers from other churches? Would it take things like an identity, plans, goals, boards, and bank accounts? Am I an amicable enough person so that others could get along with me well enough to prosecute a plan of action?
I know the preceding paragraph may read like heresy to some. But we’re halfway there, and that halfway position will not long be stable. There exist Historic SDA churches. There are groups of Historic SDA churches working together in various places in the world. There are Historic SDA teachers, and medical professionals. And all of these exist because people believe that the gospel message drives and defines the identity of the remnant, and not the other way around (Revelation 14:12)! Today we are either half wrong, and need to close shop on these activities, or we’re half right, and need to “Strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees.” Isaiah 35:3.
You may be tempted to say that the thought of working on a large scale is preposterous given our current situation and the shortness of time. You may ask, “Should we really expect to launch some large, potentially bureaucratic edifice for training and employing workers when God has said that He will complete His work through surprisingly simple means?” These are fair questions. Consider these questions: 1st, Are the dangers of bureaucracy paramount when there exists no organization? 2nd, Even though God has said He will finish His work in simple ways that will astound us, do you think that He will sanction our part in that work if we simply excuse ourselves from attempting to act collectively, because it’s messy, hard to do, and takes time?
11 Is there risk when you choose to engage in collective action?
The good news for us is that Christ has already guaranteed the outcome of the war; there is zero risk that He will lose the great controversy. But there is very real risk in each battle of the great controversy, risk that souls will be lost. When you undertake a project by yourself, you are individually to a large degree in control of the risk of failure. When you engage in collective intelligence and action, you as an individual are in a much smaller way in control of the risk of failure.
Collective action requires the individuals to give of themselves at the risk of each other’s good will. There is no way to make money through investment, without putting money at risk of loss—at least temporary loss. And when we invest our talents for Christ, we may indeed realize temporary loss and may not in this life realize the gain of our investment. But our risk in these endeavors pales to the very real risk that God made to save you and me, the risk of the loss of His own Son!
Studies prepared by John T. Grosboll PE. John T. is a mechanical engineer living near Vancouver, Washington. His secular employment includes several years of experience in primary metals and transportation-related industries. He, along with his wife Teresa, is actively involved in the work of the Historic Message Church in Portland, Oregon. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.