Ezra 1-10 - The Bible from 30,000 Feet - Skip Heitzig - Flight EZR01
The Bible from 30,000-- Feet Soaring Through the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Would you turn in your Bibles to the book of--
It's a short book-- 10 chapters, easy to cover, a lot better than Isaiah. We'll get to that, but we're in the book of Ezra. Ezra is called the second exodus. The first exodus, of course, is the Exodus, and it took place 1,000 years before this exodus.
But it's called the second exodus because, just as the children of visual had been once in bondage to Egypt, and exited Egypt and came to the promised land, they were, again, displaced in Babylon this time, and they came back again to the Promised Land. In the first exodus, they were in bondage, if you remember, 400 years by the Egyptians.
They were in bondage 70 years to the Babylonians, from the time they were exiled to the time they returned. Now, when we talk about Babylon-- and we've covered this, but we've probably covered it a little fast in the last several weeks, when we've been talking about the captivity in Babylon-- the Babylonians came against Jerusalem not once, not twice, but three separate times.
All three attacks, they took people with them. So there were three different exiles into Babylon, where a portion of the population was taken captive, brought back to Babylon, and then again and then again. The first was 605 BC-- if you're taking notes and want to write that down-- the second, 597 BC, and the final deportation and attack on Jerusalem was 586 BC.
That third time, Jerusalem was burned with fire by the Babylonians army. So three different exiles in the Babylon, and as they were three different exiles into Babylon, there were also three returns from Babylon to Jerusalem-- the first under a guy by the name of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel is of the lineage of King David-- the second under Ezra, the priest and scribe, and the third under Nehemiah.
Those three returns from Babylon back to the land are covered in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra covers the first two, under Zerubbabel and Ezra. Nehemiah covers the third, the return under Nehemiah. The name Ezra is a shortened form of the Hebrew word Azariah, which is a name that means the Lord helps me.
It's a great name-- God helps me, or God has helped me. Yahweh has helped me. It's a fitting name for Ezra because he asks for the Lord's help in prayer, and he says in his own testimony in the book that the Lord has helped him and helped them return from Babylon from the captivity back to Jerusalem.
Now, let me give you the outline of the book. I like to make it simple. I've divided Ezra into two sections. Section 1 is chapters 1 through 6, and the second slice is chapters 7 through 10. In the first section of the book, the first six chapters, the emphasis is on national restoration. The people are restored to their nation. They're restored as a people to their homeland. so it is national restoration.
That's the emphasis of the first half of the book, chapters 1 through 6. The second part, chapters 7 through 10, is spiritual reformation. So we have national restoration, spiritual reformation. Now, according to the Talmud-- Jewish commentary on the Bible, the Old Testament-- according to the Jewish Talmud, the author of the book of Ezra is Ezra.
That's why we think it's Ezra, because that's the source that we get. In antiquity, they believed he wrote it. They also believe he wrote the book of Chronicles. I mentioned that last time-- 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles. And I want to show you this. I mentioned it last time we were together, but I didn't show you.
You're in the book of Ezra. Go back to the last chapter of 2 Chronicles. Are you there? Look at verse 22. "Now, in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia, that the word of the Lord, by the mouth of Jeremiah, might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all of his kingdom, and he also put it in writing saying, 'Thus says Cyrus, the King of Persia.'"
Let's just stop there. Go to Ezra chapter 1 verse 1, and notice, "Now, in the first year of Cyrus, the King of Persia, that the word of the Lord, by the mouth of Jeremiah, might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the King of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all of his kingdom, and also put it in writing saying 'Thus says Cyrus, King of Persia.'"
With just minor alterations, it's the same text. So Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles leaves off, and the wording, in general, is the same-- from the last paragraph of the previous book to the first paragraph of this book. Now, Ezra was a priest. Being a priest, he was a direct descendant of Aaron.
So his lineage even is traced in chapter 7 of this book-- We'll just look at a few of the names, as we get there-- but it's traced through Eleazar, Phinehas, Zadok, all the way back to Aaron. So he is in the priesthood. Not only was he a priest, but he was a scribe. Now, if you're a New Testament reader-- and I know you are-- that's not a great title, because by the time we get to the New Testament, you have scribes and Pharisees, and they were kind of a bad bunch.
And by the New Testament, scribes are just sort of legalistic and very, very narrow-minded, and against Jesus, and against His mission, and always looking to trap Him. But originally, the office of a scribe was an elevated position, and Ezra is the most notable scribe in scripture. It was a noble profession because a scribe would copy the text of scripture from one scroll to another to another.
And it was very exacting. It was very demanding. It was letter for letter. It was a little breathing marked by breathing mark. It was written across the page in translation and down the page. And at the end of a single long parchment page, all of the lines would be counted from top to bottom and from side to side. All the letters had to match exactly. The total number of letters had to match exactly.
If they didn't match exactly, even though he had painstakingly copied one scroll to another, it would be ripped up. That page would be shredded, and he would have to start all over again. So they did it with precision. They did it with care. Ezra was a scribe. Not only did he copy the scriptures, but he taught the law.
And if we had time to really look at it in this-- we're just going to skim over it-- one of the things Ezra made sure he did was teach people the word of God so that they might apply it to their lives. And they were very concerned, when they got back from captivity especially, to apply the word of God to their lives personally, because they-- remember, idolatry and disobedience got them into captivity to begin with.
They did not want to rinse and repeat. They wanted to do that once-- we're done with it. Now, let's do what God says. Ezra was a big part of that. It is also believed that Ezra was the founder of what the Jews have historically called the Great Synagogue-- synagogue means assembly-- the Great Assembly of Jews, who were originally responsible for formulating the canon of the Old Testament scriptures-- so that the Old Testament scripture, as we have it today, was formulated, codified, agreed upon, and composed by the Great Synagogue.
It is believed, in Jewish tradition, that he was the founder of that. OK, so the book opens with Jerusalem having been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The people were in captivity. They had been in captivity in what country?
Babylon. But Babylon is passed from the scene, when we open this book. A new kid is on the block-- the Medo-Persian Empire. So Cyrus-- King Cyrus of Persia is on the throne, when the book opens. He's on the throne on Earth. God is on the throne in Heaven. And I love that King Cyrus is on the throne, but you know what Proverbs 21 says, right?
Verse 1, that the king's heart is in God's hand, and like the rivers of water, the courses of water, He moves it wherever He wants. Don't you love that scripture, that even people in power have somebody over them of greater power? And that is the Lord. So yes, Cyrus is on the throne, but God is on His throne directing Cyrus.
So we get, in chapters 1 through 6, that first section I told you about, and that is national restoration. Let me give you three words for the first six chapters-- returning, rebuilding, resisting. Those three words sum up chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. They sum up national restoration.
So they return back to the land, they restore the place of worship, but they resist the enemies who are of the land that they are now in. In chapters 1 and 2, they return. in chapter 3, they rebuild the temple, or they start to rebuild. And in chapter 4, 5, and 6, they resist the enemy. And it's going to be fascinating how they resisted the enemy.
They really resisted the enemy through preaching. They preached their way through it. At least the prophets did. The prophets will come on the scene-- two of them you have heard about-- and they will preach in Jerusalem and motivate the people. So Ezra, I don't know how it all happened, but he must have just been kicking back one day in Persia, knowing that a decree was being given by the King for the Jews to return back to the land.
And he probably thought, I wonder if God wants me to be among that group. I think the Lord is stirring up my heart. And I'm sure he prayed about it. I'm sure he read Jeremiah 25, which says, after 70 years, they'll return. And in all of that-- the word, and worship, that man of prayer-- something stirred in his heart, and he wanted to be one of the leaders that would lead people back on this dangerous trip.
But I'm ahead of myself, because he doesn't do it for several years. At first, it's a group under Zerubbabel. Ezra will come later on. You've heard of DL Moody, yes? DL Moody was a pastor in Chicago-- started the Moody Bible Church. And a moody was sort of a country guy, country bumpkin kind of a guy, but a very fiery preacher.
And it is said that he was having a conversation, I think-- I believe it was in Ireland-- with a guy by the name of Henry Varney. And Henry said to him, the world has yet to see what God will do through one person totally devoted to Him. When Moody heard that sentence, in his heart, he said, by the grace of God, I will be that man.
And that fueled him to come back to America and preach in a whole new way, in a way that would see thousands of people make commitments to Christ. Ezra was such a guy. In the world has yet to see what God can do through one person totally devoted to Him. He devoted his heart to the Lord's work.
Ezra chapter 1 verse 1 begins thus, "Now, in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia, that the word of the Lord, by the mouth of Jeremiah, might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the King of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all of his kingdom, and put it in writing saying, 'Thus says Cyrus, King of Persia.'
All the kingdoms of the Earth, the Lord God of Heaven has given me. And he has commanded me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah." Very strange thing for a pagan king to say. I'm going to give you a hint as to perhaps why he said that in just a few moments. But what he effectively does is he lets the Jews go back to their homeland, which causes a lot of us to scratch our head in puzzlement.
Why would he let them go back? The Jews were captured and brought to Babylon. Now, they're in Babylon. Why would the next kid on the block, the head of the Medo-Persian Empire, let them go back? Well, he had a different policy. Let me explain. In 722 BC, the Assyrian policy was to take the 10 northern tribes out of their land to foreign lands, and repopulate the land with other people they had captured from other countries, and mix it up a bit.
That would sort of demoralize the people. They wouldn't want to get together, or be able to get together and have a common leader, a common ideology, a common worship system. So you just had a mixed bag, a pluralism in that culture so that they really couldn't get together on anything. That was the policy of Ashurbanipal and Esarhaddon, the rulers of Assyria.
And then, when Babylon comes along, under Nebuchadnezzar, or Nabonidus, Nabopalassar, and the rest of those dudes from Babylon, same idea. What they wanted to do is take the people from their land, and they thought, if we keep them as slaves and captives, there won't be any problems with them. But the Medo-Persian mentality under Cyrus was totally different.
He thought, let's let them repatriate their land, go back home, rebuild, make them a vassal state of ours, showing benevolence to them, may win their heart, and they'll stay loyal to us. So his policy, along with the Medo-Persian Empire's, is to let them go back. So 539 BC is that first edict, that first trickling back of the Jews to Jerusalem.
Now, if you remember, the Medo-Persians took over the Babylonian Empire, and it was a night you'll remember, it was a night when a King of Babylon was getting drunk in his palace, and he decided, let's take some of those vessels that we have from the Jerusalem temple. Let's bring him in here, and let's party hardy, and poor booze into those things, and we'll drink from God's vessels.
And that night, as Belshazzar was getting a little tipsy, he saw a man's hand appear in front of him and write on the walls of Babylon "many, many Tekel Upharsin and you've been weighed in the balances, and found lacking." And God is going to take over your kingdom tonight, Daniel the prophet told him. And they did.
In one night the, Medo-Persians came in. Let's keep going, and I'll come back to that. Verse 3-- "Who is among you, of all his people? May his God be with him. Let him go to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God, or Yahweh, the God of Israel." Now, notice this. Do you see the parenthetical statement in that verse?
See what it says? What does it say? He is God. Listen to the edict of the pagan king, the Medo-Persian emperor, the king of the world at the time, who says, "Who's among you, of all of his people? May his God be with him and let him go to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel. He is God." Quite a statement. He is God, which is in Jerusalem.
Now, either this is an editorial comment by Ezra-- who just writes his own, by the way, he's God-- or it is a statement originating from Cyrus himself. And I tend to believe that. Verse 4, "And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver, and gold, and goods, and livestock, beside the free will offerings for the house of God, which is in Jerusalem." So let's subsidize it for them.
"Then the heads of the fathers houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord, which is in Jerusalem." By the time we get to Isaiah the prophet, Isaiah chapter 44-- which was written way before what we're reading here-- I know chronologically, it comes later, but it comes before actually in chronology.
So in Isaiah 44, God mentions Cyrus by name-- get this-- 150 years before Cyrus was even born. He's mentioned in scripture before he was born-- a century and a half before he was born. Isaiah 44 says this-- I'm reading a couple versus-- verse 26, "God confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers, who says to Jerusalem, you shall be inhabited.
To the cities of Judah, you shall be built, and I will raise up her waste places; who says of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, he shall perform all my pleasure; saying to Jerusalem, you shall be built, and to the temple, your foundation shall be laid." Now, this was given, this was written, this was spoken by the prophet, while Jerusalem was still standing.
But by saying that he's going to rebuild the city and rebuild the foundation of the temple indicates this temple, which was standing at that time, would be destroyed for it to be rebuilt. You follow? Josephus-- you've heard me mention him for years-- a Jewish historian hired by the Roman government around the time of Jesus, wrote this.
"Now, Cyrus learned this, as to the building of the temple, by reading the book that Isaiah had left of his own processes. These things Isaiah foretold 140 years before the temple was destroyed, when Cyrus therefore read them and had admitted their divine character, in impulse and emulation, seized him to do what was written."
So according to Josephus, somebody approached Cyrus with the writings of Isaiah to say, dude, your name's in here. And this was penned 150 years before you were born, 140 years before the temple was destroyed. That's chapter 44 of Isaiah. A chapter later, Isaiah chapter 45, God calls-- well, he calls Cyrus his shepherd and his anointed.
Isaiah 45, verse 1-- "Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held, to subdue nations before him, to loose the armor of kings"-- now listen carefully-- "to open before him the double doors so that the gates will not be shut. I will go before you and make the crooked places straight. I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. I give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places."
The night that Babylon was conquered by the Medes and the Persians, one of the generals of Cyrus by the name Ugbaru, it was late September, and by October 12, the Babylonians took it over. But by late September, just about a week and a half before the final takeover, upstream of the Euphrates River, Ugbaru figured out a way to take the Euphrates River and diverted into a different channel of water, so that the water was receding in the city of Babylon.
You remember the Euphrates ran right through the middle of town. So what happened on an evening-- October the 12th, as the city receded, or as the water receded lower and lower under nightfall-- and according to the Greek historian Herodotus, it was the height of a man's thigh-- the army waded through the river into the city of Babylon underneath the two huge gates, and from within, opened them up, allowing the armies to come through and conquer the city of Babylon.
So predicted in scripture 150 years before Cyrus was even born. Now, Cyrus tells the Jews to return, rebuild their temple, and while they're at it, pray for him. Pray to your God for protection for me. He tells the neighbors of the Jews to give them money to help subsidize their work. He orders all of the articles that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from God's temple in Jerusalem to be given back and returned.
And now, in chapter 2, he lists all of the people who go back. And what is striking about chapter two-- and you can see all the names-- we're not going to read them, we're just going to get a summary verse-- it's not a very large amount. In fact, it's under 50,000. Less than 50,000 Jews return. Go down to verse 64. Let's skip all the names.
"The whole assembly together was 42,360, beside their male and female servants, of whom were 7,337, and they had 200 men and women singers." Now, why so few? After all, we believe that, at this time, there were 1 million Jews in Babylon. A million Jews? At the time of Jesus, just over a million Jews were still in Babylon?
If the king says, go back and rebuild, why do just under a million estate, and only 49,000 or so-- under 50,000 returned? All I can tell you is they got really comfortable. They got used to Babylon. It was home now to them. If you remember a letter, Jeremiah 29-- I know you remember it, because you love the quote 29:11 so frequently-- "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord," right? We quote that.
But the whole chapter kind of goes like this-- the prophet says, look, you're now in Babylon. Make the best of it. Settle down. Build houses and live in them. Plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. Get married. Have children. Pray for the peace of the city. So they did, but they kind of did it a little too well.
They got so comfortable that they thinking, man, I don't want to go rebuild a bunch of ruins and rubble. I've got it made here now. I've got a family here and I've got a home here now. I've got vineyards. I've got fruit. So they settled down and did not want to go back. Verse 70, "So the priests in the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, the Nephanim-- those are workers in the temple-- "dwelt in their cities"-- now watch this-- "and all Israel in their cities."
Did you see that little phrase, "all Israel"? Now, I'm bringing that up for a reason. All Israel. How much of Israel?
All Israel. How many tribes were there?
12 tribes. 722 BC-- remember I gave you that date-- the Assyrians took the northern kingdom, the 10 tribes captive to Assyria. Years later, 586 BC, the Babylonians took Judah and Benjamin to Babylon. Now, there has been talk over the years by certain religious groups about the 10 lost tribes of Israel. Ever heard about that?
Oh, they're lost tribes, they say. Well, really they're not lost, and here's why. Yes, 10 were taken to Assyria, and then Babylon took two tribes to Babylon, but then Medo-Persia came and took over everybody and everything. And the 10 tribes that were taken into Assyria and the different places they were populated were all merged and assimilated into the group that was in Babylon later on.
So by the time we get to Ezra chapter 6, the priest makes an offering-- a ram, an animal offering-- 12 animals, one for each of the tribes of Israel, all 12 of them. So all of the 12 tribes were accounted for, to some degree, in Babylon. By the time we get to revelation chapter 7, in the end times, there are going to be 12 tribes sealed by God during the tribulation judgment period.
Now, people say, but they're lost tribes-- nobody knows what tribe they're from. So? They might be lost to you. You may not be able to figure out who's from Zebulon, Asher, Issachar but not to God. God knows exactly genetically who's from each tribe. So God didn't lose them. And Ezra and Nehemiah will be very careful for the people who come back, especially the priest, to be able to show, to prove their lineage, their heritage to be able to serve in the temple.
Chapter 3 is the rebuilding of the temple-- chapter 3 verse 1-- "When the seventh month had come"-- that's late September in the Jewish calendar-- "and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then"-- now watch this name, and I'll get to it at the end-- "Jeshua, the son of Jozadak"-- he's a priest-- "and his brethren, the priests, and Zerubbabel"-- isn't that a fun word?
Don't name your son Zerubbabel, by the way. It's a good name, but it's hard. "And Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel"-- that's another name-- stay away from that one-- "and his brethren arose and built the altar of the God of Israel." First thing they did is to build the altar. Why? To offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written the law of Moses, the man of God.
Verse 4-- "They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written and offered daily burnt offerings." Verse 5-- "Afterward, they offered the regular bird offering, and those for the new moons, and for the appointed feasts of the Lord that were consecrated." Why the altar first? Because that's the center of everything, man. That's the center of worship.
Without the shedding of blood, there's no remission of sin. That is the problem. Since the temple has been destroyed, after the time of Jesus Christ, the Jews have had no remission of sins, no sacrifices, no temple. So Ezra new-- man, the priests knew-- build that altar. Let's get the animal sacrifices going. We sinned against God. Let's get back to the covenant.
And so the first thing we want to build in this temple are not the walls, not the roof, not the pillars front, but the altar. By the way, sacrifice is still the center of our worship. That's why the Lord, concerning communion, said, take these elements. Do them often. Do them often in remembrance of Me.
I never want you to forget the sacrifice. I want you to remember it. I want you to take these frequently so that your mind always goes back, not to the Passover, but to the ultimate Passover. Then in this chapter, the Feast of Tabernacles is kept. Money is donated. It's given to the people who go back, especially the priests given by the king in verse 7.
The people celebrate joyfully. It's party time. They're back. They're sacrificing. They're starting to build the temple. But not everybody's happy. Some people, it seems, are still living in the past. Look at verse 10 chapter 3-- "When the builders laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their a with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph with symbols to praise the Lord according to the ordinance of David, King of Israel.
And they sang responsively"-- that means one group would sing. The other group would sing in response to a phrase. They'd sing their part. "They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord"-- and here's what they said-- "for He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel." Then all the people"-- not some of the people-- not just the worship team, not just the band-- "all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid."
Worship is always meant to be a participation activity. Everybody does it. Everybody is to take part in it. It is not a spectator sport. It's a participation activity. You join in. The congregation is not the audience. God is the audience. Well, where's the choir? I'm looking at them. You're the choir.
I don't sing very well, you say. Good. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, the Bible says. You can do that. I've heard some of you. And the Lord loves it. And if somebody next to you sings horribly, then you, who sing beautifully, sing louder. Tried to drown each other out.
"But"-- verse 12-- "many of the priests, and the Levites, and the heads of fathers houses"-- old men-- "who had seen the first temple wept with a loud voice." Wait a minute, wept? They're back, man. The temple is being built. The foundations are built. They wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes, yet many shouted for joy.
So you've got weeping and shouts of joy in the same assembly. "So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people." Are they worshipping or are they wailing? Sort of hard to tell. "For the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off."
It seems that, compared to the first temple that Solomon built-- that the Babylonians destroyed 586 BC-- that first temple, that was the standard. This new temple is obviously less impressive. And this is what it means in the book of Zechariah-- and this is why it says this-- you'll remember it-- in Zechariah, it says, this is the word of the Zerubbabel.
You should not despise the day of small beginnings. He was referring to the temple that was built, and some of the people going, it's not like it used to be. It used to be so awesome here, but it's not like that. I don't like these songs. I don't like this temple. They just got all out of joint. It's hard to move forward, when you're always looking backward.
And some people just always want to live in the past and never looked to the future. If you want to be a miserable person-- and I doubt most of you do-- but if you do, I can give you the recipe. Always look back over your shoulder. Always compare now to what it used to be like.
In Philippians, Paul had a motto. He said, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. If we always compare to something that happened previously, here's what we're going to get into trouble. I think the work the Lord is doing here and has done here is pretty awesome.
But if I'm to compare this to the day of Pentecost, I'm going to get depressed. If I'm going to compare this to the Great Awakening in American history, I'm going to get pretty despondent. But if I forget those comparisons and just enjoy where God is taking us, then I can get really excited. I can move forward.
So the foundation was laid. The temple was being built. According to the Babylonian Talmud-- remember the Talmud, that commentary-- there were five things lacking in the temple rebuilt by Zerubbabel-- five things that were not in that one, that were in Solomon's Temple-- number one, the Ark of the Covenant.
That's a whole other study. Don't have time to get into it. But it's a fascinating one. He said there was no Ark of the Covenant in this temple. There was no holy fire, that fire that was-- always kept burning all the time, that lit the altar of sacrifice in the outer courtyard. There was no Shekinah glory that came down on Solomon's temple to inaugurate, that cloud that filled the temple.
Also, it says there was no spirit of prophecy. And number five, there was no Urim and Thummim. Do you know what the Urim and Thummim is? Those two stones-- black and white stones priests used to find out the will of God in difficult cases. Those things, according to the Babylonian Talmud, were absent.
Nevertheless, they're back. They're rebuilding. God's promises are being fulfilled, and those that are rejoicing, man, they got the hang of it. I remember the height of what we used to call the Jesus movement. I remember on the west coast, kids coming off, drugs coming off the streets, getting radically saved, radically change, this incredible revival.
And I meet some of my compadres from way back from time to time-- oh man, remember the Jesus movement? And yes I do, and yes it was awesome, and yes it was cool and glorious, but guess what-- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He's still moving.
So chapters 1 through 3, they returned, they rebuild. And now, chapter 4, 5, and 6, they resist the enemy. Sir Isaac Newton came up with the laws of motion. His third law of motion is that every action brings an equal and opposite--
--reaction. Third law of motion-- every action, equal and opposite reaction. That's a spiritual law, as well. You serve God, the King of Kings? You will have a reaction from the prince of demons. You serve Heaven? Hell will not give you a standing ovation.
You give your life to God and you aim high? The forces down low will be able to get you. They come to build the temple, there are some people who aren't excited about the building of the temple, so get used to that. So by the spring of 535 BC-- 70 years after 605 BC-- 70 years after that captivity-- the foundation was laid, and the trouble comes.
The trouble comes in form of hostility by neighbors. Now, here's what complicates it. Cyrus, the guy on the throne, the king, he's dead. He died. And in his place is a guy named Cambyses, also known as has Ahasuerus. His name comes to us in Ezra chapter 4. So that guy's on the throne. The people of the land, where the temple is being rebuilt, aren't so excited.
They sent a letter back to Cambyses to get this thing stopped. Chapter 4 verse 1, "When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard the descendants of captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the father's houses and said to them, let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do, as we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon and the king of Assyria, who brought us here."
Let me just quickly wrap it up without giving you a long explanation, because of time. Yes, they worshipped Yahweh, along with all of the other gods and goddesses from all the different places they were brought. This is a method of worship called syncretism, where I take God, and I worship God along with Buddha, and Muhammad, and all-- they just kind of put them all together.
And they're all the same, and we would just call them different things. That syncretism. So they're not worshiping Him exclusively. And I bring that up because you need to know that so you'll understand the response of the builders. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of the fathers houses of Israel said to them, you may do nothing with us to build a house for our God, but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the King of Persia, has commanded us.
And now, we're going to see that these people were so happy to help really didn't want to help at all. It was an ulterior motive to stop it. "Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building." I have more to say, but I don't have time, so let's go. 5, "and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus, the King of Persia, even until the reign of Darius, the King of Persia.
In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem." So let me sum up the letter. The people of the land write a letter to the king and they say, look, these Jews have a long history of rebellion, and now they're building this temple because they want to gain power and strength, and they're going to rebel against you in the future.
So the new king of Persia orders a stop to the building of the temple. Verse 24-- "Thus the work of the house of God, which is that Jerusalem, ceased." It stopped. And it was discontinued until the second year if the reign of Darius, King of Persia, which is 520 BC. What that means is between chapter 4 and 5, there is a gap of 16 years.
16 years, the work of God in the building of that temple stopped. They're not doing it anymore. 16 long years-- nothing, no building. Well, what is God going to do? Easy-- send preachers. Sends two prophets to them, one by the name of Haggai-- he's one of the minor prophets in your Bible-- and the other by the name of Zechariah-- also one of the minor prophets in your Bible.
Haggai-- if you remember that little book of the minor prophets-- Haggai preaches four messages just to Zerubbabel to inspire him, and to Jeshua-- so to the political leader and the spiritual leader. Chapter 5 verse 1, "Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah, the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them."
Now, what is going on is there was enough flak from the people in the land will make them stop and turn all of their energies inward to themselves, their families, their own lives, their private world. Forget the work of God and building the temple. I'm going to build my little house, my little kingdom, my little estate.
So in the little prophecy of Haggai-- chapter 1 verse 2-- he quotes them. They say, the time has not come to build the temple of the Lord. The time has come for us to build our own houses. And so Haggai unleashes on them, and says, really? It's time for you to get selfish? It's not time to do God's work? It's always time to do God's work.
So verse 2, "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. What does that tell us? That the word of God does the work of God in the hearts of the people of God.
When you face adversity, get somebody who can give you God's truth to frame the situation so you understand it from a spiritual perspective, which will give you courage to move forward, and not go backward or stay still, but to go forward. So they do that. Chapters 5 and 6, again the enemies write a letter, this time to a new ruler by the name of Darius, to tell them to stop.
Now, Darius, the present king of Medo-Persia, decides to search the archives of his kingdom to see if, indeed, Cyrus did tell them they could-- the Jews could go back. So he goes through-- there's a city there called Ecbatana. You who have studied archaeology, you know that it was a treasure trove of archaeological find.
They found the Cyrus Cylinder there. But in Ecbatana, which that's the place where all of the records were kept, the annals were kept. It was sort of the storehouse for all the royal decrees. So they search in Ecbatana, and they find the ruling of King Cyrus to, indeed, let the Jews go back and for the government of Persia to subsidize the building of it.
He finds it. This is the third king from the first guy. So he sends a letter back to the people of the land who are getting bummed out, and he adds his own decree. Chapter 6 verse 8, "Moreover, I issue a decree as to what you shall do for the elders of these Jews, for the building of the house of God.
Let the costs be paid at the king's expense from the taxes on the region beyond the river. This is to be given immediately to these men so that they are not hindered. Now, the governor of that land of-- what we call Israel at that time-- is a guy by the name of Tattenai he's the governor of Samaria and the central region, and doesn't like the Judah is building this temple.
When Tattenai gets the letter, this cuts him to the heart, because it means that money he collects for taxes is going to be given to the Jews, the very people he does not want to build the temple. Now, he has to help subsidize it. Love it. Verse 9, "And whatever they need, young bulls, rams, lambs, for the burnt offering 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 to them day by day without fail, that they may offer sacrifices of sweet aroma to the God of Heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons.
So the temple gets completed. The people rejoice. They celebrate the Passover, one of the most memorial-- memorable Passovers written about in scripture. But what I love is that what inspired them to finish the task was the preaching of these two fellas, these two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. Over the years, I have seen the value of the word of God in changing a life, changing the direction.
A little example from my own life-- years ago, my wife and I traveled to India. I was asked to simply stand up and give my testimony and talk about how God uses people. So I just spent a few minutes telling that I had a background in college. It was a UCLA program. I was studying medicine radiology. And then I was going to keep going, but the Lord wanted me to go pastor somewhere.
So I started a church, and now I am a pastor, and then I left. I get a letter months later from a young man who is there in the assembly that I spoke to, and he said, I was studying to be a doctor. I was in the middle of medical school, but I heard your talk. I quit medical school and now I am a missionary and I'm a church planner over here in India. The Lord has inspired that.
So just the value of sharing that how God uses a person, how God uses people can inspire somebody else. So I say that to ask you, what work is God calling you to? What work has He called you to? Is there something that you started, but you just got discouraged and stopped pursuing, you stopped building?
You decided, I'm going to quit and not finish it. You go, well, I thought this, but then I don't know. in. Psalm 37, it says, delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. I don't think that means just read your Bible every day, and God will give you your little heart's desires. I don't think it means that.
I think it means God will put desires in your heart. He will put His desire in your heart, so you have a new desire you never had before. I got to tell you something-- I never wanted to read the Bible. I never had that desire growing up. I never said, I really want to find out what's in the Bible. Could care less. I went to church religiously, but I wasn't interested on a personal level.
I didn't want to go to church. I didn't want to pray. I didn't want to read a Bible. I certainly didn't want to be a preacher. But then God changed my heart, and I want to read the Bible, and I want to pray. And I want to go to church, and I love to be preacher. God gave me different desires. Delight yourself in the Lord. See what desires He puts within you to finish the task.
So the first part, national restoration, they're back. Now, the second part, spiritual reformation, chapter 7 through 10, they're blessed. We're in chapter 7, and we're going to finish this off very quickly. "Ezra comes to Jerusalem. He comes to Jerusalem 58 years later Zerubbabel. There's a 58-year gap between chapter 6 and chapter 7, between the completing of the temple under Zerubbabel and Jeshua the priest, and the second return under Ezra.
Remember, there's three returns-- Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah. This is the second group under Ezra. Now, let me add a little FYI, a little note. During this period between chapter 6 and 7-- sandwiched between chapter 6 and 7-- and if you're taking notes and you feel free to write in your Bible, write between chapter 6 and 7, book of Esther.
All of the events of the book of Esther occur between Ezra chapter 6 and chapter 7, when the king is in Shushan or Susa the palace in Persia. In the book of Esther, the king Ahasuerus was there. He succeeded his dad, Darius the first. The next son is Artaxerxes.
Chapter 7 verse 1-- "Now, after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes"-- his formal name was Artaxerxes Longimanus, which means long-handed-- "the King of Persia, Ezra, the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of"-- et cetera-- his lineage is given. Verse 6-- "This Ezra was a scribe well-versed in the law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel had given to the people of Israel.
He came to Jerusalem from Babylon, and the king gave him everything he asked for because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him." Go down to verse 27. He tells the story, he gets money from the treasury of Persia, and he utters this doxology of thanksgiving. Verse 27-- "Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king's, heart to beautify the house of the Lord, which is in Jerusalem.
And He has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king's mighty princes. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me. And I gathered leading men of Israel to go with me." In chapter 8, they gathered together at a canal at a little place called Ahava. Ahava is a Hebrew word that means love, by the way, and it's also a company by the Dead Sea in Israel that makes really great lotion for the body Ahava. I like to use it.
So they gather. They pray for the trip. They fast for the trip. He disperses the money to the priest to give to the temple treasury. But in chapter 9, when Ezra gets to Jerusalem, he is told of a problem, an intermarriage problem-- that the people of Israel, including priests and leaders, are marrying some of the people of the land-- some of the non-Jewish pagan people of the land.
And Ezra just becomes unglued. He rips his clothes, pulls his beard out, or parts of it-- ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. I don't know why he did that, but he did. He was he was having a-- my mom would say a conniption fit. And he prays. And let's just eavesdrop a few verses of his prayer in chapter 9, because it reads a lot like Daniel's prayer in Daniel chapter 9, Nehemiah's prayer in Nehemiah chapter 1.
"At evening sacrifice"-- verse 5-- "I arose from my fasting. Having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and I said, 'Oh my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift my face to You, my God, for our iniquities'"-- notice he includes himself-- "'have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.
Verse 14-- "Should we again break Your commandments and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so there would be no remnant or survivor? O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this."
Chapter 10 verse 1, while Ezra was praying, while he was confessing, weeping, bowing down before the House of God, a very large assembly of men, women, children gathered to him from Israel, for the people wept very bitterly. So God answers Ezra's prayer. As Ezra prays, the people who have committed this intermarriage thing get really convicted.
Many come join him in Jerusalem, start confessing their sins. They make a covenant with God to put away their unclean wives, their pagan wives. Now, I just want to say something quickly about this. Don't take this scripture as a scripture for divorcing your spouse and remarrying that cute little hot Christian girl that you saw at church.
People read this and they go, oh, well, they did it back then. And now I realize I've given my life to Christ, and now I'm married. I'm unequally yoked. I'm married to an unbeliever. Besides this, I found this really cute Christian at church, and-- this was a very unique time. It's a specific solution for a very specific and fragile time in Israel's history. The lineages must be preserved.
If the lineages aren't preserved, then the lineages of the tribe of Judah may not be preserved from where the Messiah is going to come. This becomes very critical in redemptive history. So this very unique time, this is what they do-- extreme response to an extreme problem. But in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 7 tells us, "A woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him, and vise versa."
So verse 9-- "All the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered in Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month. And on the 20th day of the month"-- this is December of 457 BC-- "all the people sat in the open square at the house of God trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain." It's cold in Jerusalem at that time.
It took from December to April to straighten out the problem. It began with the priests. They obeyed. Then the people followed suit, and they obeyed. They realized they went into captivity because of sins like this in compromise. And so they fix it. That's a good. Question-- how long does this spiritual reformation last? 25 years.
Next generation, that's how it works, you know. We're only one generation away from extinction. Next generation-- 25 years later, Nehemiah finds almost exactly the same issue going on. Sometimes it's difficult to pass on faith to the next generation. We want them so badly. We tell them about what God did with us and the movement that we experience.
They need to have their own encounter and their own movement with God. It can't be yours. It has to be theirs. Pray for that. Encourage that. Well, Ezra is called the second exodus, but let me close on this thought. Isaiah the prophet writes about and predicts that Israel will go into captivity, and they did, and predicts they will come back.
So from Isaiah's perspective, he predicts they're going to leave again, go to captivity in Babylon, but they're going to return. But he sees them leaving again and coming back to the land again. Let me just read this to you quickly, Isaiah chapter 11 verse 11. "It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again, the second time, to recover the remnant of his people."
The first time was Babylonian captivity. But he says it's going to happen again, and they're going to come back to the land again. And he will assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the Earth. The first time it happened, Cyrus gave the decree. The second time it happened, it happened in the first half of the 20th century.
May 14, 1948, the United Nations decreed, for the first time after thousands of years, that Jerusalem, or that Israel was a nation belonging to the Jewish people once again. May 14, 1948-- that's the second time. I believe that is exactly what Isaiah 11:11 predicted. So David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, announced in Tel Aviv, today is the rebirth of the ancient homeland of the Jews, as in scripture, the nation of Israel.
So I do have to bring that up because there are some who doubt the literalness of Israel, and they see the promises God made to Israel aren't existing anymore. They really belong to the church. It's not literal. It's figured. May 14, 1948 should have solved that problem, as it happened before our very eyes-- not figuratively, but literally.
So that was the first part of Ezekiel 37's fulfillment, that the dry bones will come to life, gather into their land. But he also predicts a spiritual awakening. We're praying for that now. As we close, I see a hint of Jesus in the book about Ezra. Jesus is called our great high priest Jesus's Jewish name is Yeshua. The high priest mentioned throughout this book is Jeshua.
That's the English pronunciation of Yeshua. The high priest mentioned in Ezra is Jesus. That's his name. That would be his modern day name. It's Yeshua. So it's just interesting that the high priest is named Jeshua. Zerubbabel is from the line of King David, and part of the genealogical record of, the bloodline of Jesus Christ.
And so I love the fact that Zechariah will say, this is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel. It's not by might. It's not by power, but it's by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts. Remember that scripture? That's to this guy. So I think we see hints of Jesus, even just sort of couched in some of the names in those in the lineage of Jesus.
So just as Jerusalem would be built and the temple would be built, Jesus will come, not by might, not by power, but by His spirit, and say one greater than the temple is here-- Himself. Father, how thankful we are that Jesus, our Messiah, greater than the temple that was built-- first temple, second temple, any temple-- He was much better.
In fact, in Heaven, there will be no temple. It says that God and the lamb are the temple and the light thereof. Until then, Lord, we are the temple of Your Holy Spirit. You live in us. You dwell among us as Immanuel. I pray, Lord, that You would rebuild and rekindle the hope that in some of us have died, the calling that maybe we've stopped building on.
Maybe we've gotten discouraged and we just put that aside. God doesn't really want to use me, or I'm not gifted, or I'm not qualified, or I'm not called. Put desires, Lord, in our heart. Fuel them by Your spirit, so that it's not by might or power, but by Your spirit moving in us, moving through us, to see this city touched, this state touched, this country touched, and this world touched by the hand of God.
That's Your desire, Lord. That's Your will. And You said, if we pray anything according to Your will, You do it. So we pray it in faith. Use us. You used 12 men to turn the world upside-down in their generation. Do it again through even more, as we place our bodies before you as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable, which is our reasonable service. And we all said, amen.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. For more resources, visit CalvaryNM.church. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from The Bible from 30,000 Feet.