Ezra 5-6 part 4

 

Every since the children of Israel returned to start building the house of the Lord and the city of Jerusalem itself,the Samaritans did everything they could to slow down their progress over a 14 year period. Then we learned last week that they finally got King Artaxerxes to make them stop building altogether. Since the Samaritans had been frustrating their work, they had not been able to get a great deal accomplished and these Jews began to think that it just wasnít the right time rebuild the city for God and this is where we begin in,

 

Ezra 5:1 Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo (Ih-doe), prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them.2 So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.

 

Ezraís account doesnít give us much detail here. It only teaches us that both Haggai and Zechariah gave the Jews a message that caused them to overcome their frustrations and rise and start building once again. However, we can learn a lot more about the attitude of the Jews at this time and what these two prophets said to them that caused them to get busy for the Lord by looking at the 2 chapters of Haggai and the first chapter of Zechariah. Since we will be examining these Minor Prophets in detail later on in our OT series, I just want to briefly point out what is says in these 3 chapters and I encourage you read them on your own.

 

Haggai was the first prophet to prophecy and according to Hag. 1, he spoke to the leaders of the Jews, which was Zerubbable the governor and to Joshua, also called Jeshua in Ezraís account, who was the high priest. The problem was that leaders were failing to lead because they had become discouraged as well. But, if these prophets could stir up the fire in them, then they could stir up the fire in the rest people.

 

This is why I believe that God gave us certain qualifications for elders in the church today to ensure that our leaders would have the proper foundation to be spiritual men that could lead. If there were no qualifications and a man could be made a elder that wasnít grounded in the Word of God, think about how his direction would lead the church. It would lead it away from Godís Word because he doesnít know it. If you have leaders who are do little for the cause of Christ, then guess what, the congregation as whole is going to do little for the cause of Christ. This is why being an elder is both rewarding and challenging at the same time because elders understand that they are setting the tone for the rest of the congregation.

 

Next Haggai wants these Jews to examine themselves. During this time they had made themselves nice homes and they started focusing their attention on material things and providing for themselves, while the temple had been left in ruins. While they tried to provide for themselves, all kinds of things went wrong, their crops failed, there was drought and so on. They didnít realize that God was causing this to happen to them due to their neglect of the house of the Lord. So Haggai tells them they need to get busy and build the house of the Lord and we find out in chapter one that people listened and began build the house of the Lord.

 

In chapter 2 Haggai speaks to them again almost 2 months later. This time he deals with those that had seen the Solomonís temple before, and he tells them that God is going to be with them and He is going to take care of their enemies. One interesting thing that Haggai tells them is,

 

Haggai 2:9'The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts. 'And in this place I will give peace,' says the LORD of hosts."

 

Notice, he says that the glory of this new temple will be greater then Solomonís temple and that their will be peace in Jerusalem. How can this be?This second temple was smaller, it didnít have the ark. By all accounts, this temple didnít come close to having the same amount grander as the first one and even when Herod rebuilt this temple and patterned after Solomonís it still didnít have the Ark of the Covenant. So, what is meant by this latter would have more glory than the first? I believe the answer to this is found in verse,

 

Haggai 2:6 " For thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land;7 'and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts.

 

When we consider these verses, it seems to me that the prophet is talking about a spiritual glory and not a physical one. Specifically, I believe this talking about Christ. When Jesus entered the temple, someone greater and more valuable than the ark or any other material possession had glorified the temple. But to take it a step further, it was through Jesus beginning His ministry and entering the temple on many occasion that would lead to His death, burial and resurrection, which in turn would lead to the kingdom/church that could not be shaken Heb. 12:28 and making every Christian the temple of God 1 Cor. 3:16. I think we can all agree that greatest peace that ever came to mankind began in Jerusalem through Jesus. So, I believe this is how this later temple would have more glory than the first.

 

Within a couple of weeks after Haggai makes his last prophecy, Zechariah makes his. He basically reminds them not to be like forefathers and rebel against God and calls them to repent. If they are willing to turn to God, then God will turn to them. Basically, Zechariah was calling for these men to turn back to God with more sincerity and devotion than they had before. 5 months after the rebuilding of temple began, Zechariah uses some apocalyptic language and lets them know that God had a great zeal for them and for the rebuilding of the temple and city and that it will happen. Remember that their blessing from God was conditional of them turning to God and they did for a while, but we learn from Malachi that they didnít remain faithful to the Lord in the end.

 

Examining the book of Haggai and the first chapter of Zechariah shows us the details of how these prophets stirred the people up, so that they would resume building the temple and the city. We also learn that these 2 prophets also helped in the reconstruction.

 

A great lesson that you and I can learn from this message is that we have to careful that we donít allow material possession to keep up from serving God as we should and it shows how important it is for us to have strong leadership with leader who are involved with the work just as the prophets were.

 

Ezra 5:3 At the same time Tattenai (tat-uh-nigh)the governor of the region beyond the River and Shethar-Boznai (she-thar Bahz-uh-nigh) and their companions came to them and spoke thus to them: "Who has commanded you to build this temple and finish this wall?"4 Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building.5 But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius. Then a written answer was returned concerning this matter.

 

Tattenai was the governor of the region that included Judah. Zerubbabel was governor as well, but only over Judah and he was under Tattenai's jurisdiction, which made him responsible for him. When they children Israel began to rebuild it was certainly reasonable for Tattenai to ask who gave the authority for the Jews to start building.

 

The names of the men were revealed that were building it and it was told to him that no one could stop them from building because God was with them and watching over them. Instead, of trying to stop them right away, Tattenai wrote to King Darius about the matter and the content of his letter is given to us in remaining verses of this chapter.

 

Ezra 5:6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai (tat-uh-nigh) sent: The governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and his companions, the Persians who were in the region beyond the River, to Darius the king.7 They sent a letter to him, in which was written thus -- To Darius the king: All peace.8 Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being built with heavy stones, and timber is being laid in the walls; and this work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.

 

He let Darius know that he went and saw with his own eyes what they were doing. You can see that the Jews were not skimping when it came to building the temple. They were using heavy stones and they adding timber to in walls to make it a sound structure. According to Burt Coffman one man estimated the size of these stones as being, "Sixty-seven feet long, seven and one half feet high, and nine feet wide."

 

9 Then we asked those elders, and spoke thus to them: "Who commanded you to build this temple and to finish these walls?"10 We also asked them their names to inform you, that we might write the names of the men who were chief among them.11 And thus they returned us an answer, saying: "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and completed.12 "But because our fathers provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and carried the people away to Babylon.13 "However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to build this house of God.14 "Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple that was in Jerusalem and carried into the temple of Babylon -- those King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon, and they were given to one named Sheshbazzar (shesh-baz-ur), whom he had made governor.15 "And he said to him, 'Take these articles; go, carry them to the temple site that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its former site.'16 "Then the same Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem; but from that time even until now it has been under construction, and it is not finished."17 Now therefore, if it seems good to the king, let a search be made in the king's treasure house, which is there in Babylon, whether it is so that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send us his pleasure concerning this matter.

 

Here the Jews give a brief explanation of their history and how they are servants of God. Then they explain how the Persia King Cyrus gave them the authority to rebuild their city and they tell them to search the records to see that this was true.

 

Ezra 6:1 Then King Darius issued a decree, and a search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon.2 And at Achmetha (ak-mee-thah), in the palace that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found, and in it a record was written thus:3 In the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem: "Let the house be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices; and let the foundations of it be firmly laid, its height sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits,4 with three rows of heavy stones and one row of new timber. Let the expenses be paid from the king's treasury.5 Also let the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple which is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and taken back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; and deposit them in the house of God" --

 

Darius had his people search the records to see if indeed Cyrus had made this decree.

Achmetha was surrounded by seven concentric walls; the city was built on a hill. The inner walls thus rose above the outer ones. Each wall was painted a different color. King Cyrus had captured this place in 550 B.C. and made into his summer home, so he could escape the heat of Persia.

 

It was in this place that the records were kept and sure enough they found where Cyrus had authorized the Jews to build their city and it gave the specific demission of how big the temple should be. Also, it gave the detail of how the gold and other precious items were given back to the Jews and how the King would use his treasury to help pay for the rebuilding process.

 

Ezra 6:6 Now therefore, Tattenai, (tat-uh-nigh) governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai (she-thar Bahz-uh-nigh), and your companions the Persians who are beyond the River, keep yourselves far from there.7 Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God on its site.8 Moreover I issue a decree as to what you shall do for the elders of these Jews, for the building of this house of God: Let the cost be paid at the king's expense from taxes on the region beyond the River; this is to be given immediately to these men, so that they are not hindered.9 And whatever they need -- young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem -- let it be given them day by day without fail,10 that they may offer sacrifices of sweet aroma to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons.

 

After Darius saw what Cyrus had written he was going to honor it, after if you remember I said last week once a Persian king sealed a decree with his ring it was not supposed to change. Also history tells us that Darius had married 2 of Cyrus daughters, which also cause him to respect Cyrus decree. Once again, we see the providence of God at work here. Tattenai is told not to interfere with this building project, and he is told to give the Jews whatever they need for sacrifices and for building the house for God. Notice he also does this so that these Jews will make their God happy and he desires that they will pray for his life and his sons. While this king recognized God almighty it doesnít mean that he considers the Jews as God as being the only one.

 

Ezra 6:11 Also I issue a decree that whoever alters this edict, let a timber be pulled from his house and erected, and let him be hanged on it; and let his house be made a refuse heap because of this.12 And may the God who causes His name to dwell there destroy any king or people who put their hand to alter it, or to destroy this house of God which is in Jerusalem. I Darius issue a decree; let it be done diligently.

 

Darius is making his point clear that if anyone even dares to hinder the Jews from completing their task then they will be put to death by crucifixion.

 

"Keil cites a word from Herodotus as saying that Darius impaled 3,000 Babylonians when he took their city.Therefore, this was no idle threat." Cook added that, "Crucifixion was the most common form of punishment among the Persians."

 

Also you notice that he also hoped that God Himself would destroy anyone who opposed the Jews.

 

Ezra 6:13 Then Tattenai (tat-uh-nigh), governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, (she-thar Bahz-uh-nigh) and their companions diligently did according to what King Darius had sent.14 So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.15 Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

 

Tattenai (tat-uh-nigh)did what he was told and he diligent helped the Jews. Since Haggai and Zechariah had stirred up the people with messages from God these men got busy and the managed to finish building the temple in 4 Ĺ years in comparison to the 7 years it took Solomon to build the temple the first time. They completed the temple in the 3rd day of the month of Adar, which is the 12 month on the Jewish year. This corresponds to part of our February and March.

 

You will notice that Artaxerxes is listed, but his reign was 82 years after the end of King Dariusí reign. Some have wondered why he is mentioned right here and I believe his mentioned here because during his reign he contributed to beautifying the temple Ezra 7.

 

Ezra 6:16 Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.17 And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.18 They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.††

20 years have passed since the children of Israel first began to lay the foundation of the temple and now that it is complete they rejoice and they offer up sacrifices at this dedication of the temple. We can see how much less money and animals they had to work with than Solomon because he offered over 200 times more oxen and sheep at the dedication of the first temple than they did at this one. We find them going to the Law of Moses to get their authorization on how to assign the priest to their divisions. Again, this shows their commitment at this time to do things the way that God wants them to be done.

 

Ezra 6:19 And the descendants of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were ritually clean. And they slaughtered the Passover lambs for all the descendants of the captivity, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.21 Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel.22 And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the LORD made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

 

This first Passover would have been special in the minds of the people because this would be the first Passover they would enjoy after completing the house of God. The priest and the Levites purified themselves for this event as they were supposed to and they kept the feast of the unleavened bread. They were full of joy because God had turned the heart of king of Assyria toward them to make all this possible.

 

In a similar way we should always be full of joy as Christians knowing that God is always there for us working in the background using His providence to make things work for the good in our lives as well.

 

We can learn from these two chapters of how important is that we remain true to God and that we have strong spiritual leadership within the church. The more we turn to God, the more he turns us and finally we can see that God is control and if we will allow Him, He can open up opportunities for us so that we can grow His kingdom.††