Ezra 1:3 “Go...build the House of the LORD”
Halley’s Handbook tells us that “persistent Jewish tradition” indicates that it was Ezra who wrote I and II Chronicles and Nehemiah as well as this book that bears his name. A.C.Gaebelein in Vol. III of his Annotated Bible, p.3 indicates that the Talmud, the Septuagint and Josephus all agree that Ezra and Nehemiah were actually one book.
The latter reminds us that Ezra was a priest and a scribe (7:6 &11) and that “his beautiful godly character will be seen in the last three chapters.”
In fact, Ezra does not even come on the scene until the seventh and eighth chapters which was about 80 years after the proclamation of Cyrus in 536 B.C. and 60 years after the temple had been completed. It was in 457 B.C. during the reign of Artaxerxes, queen Esther’s stepson that he came for the three-fold purpose (according to Halley) “to teach Judah the Law of God, to beautify the temple, and restore the Temple service.” It was during this period that the wall was rebuilt (Neh.) and Malachi was written. In other words, when we have come to Ezra’s day we are at the very close of our Old Testament.
We do not know for certain how it was communicated to Cyrus that he was to build a house for God at Jerusalem (vs.2 & 3) but some Bible scholars surmise that Daniel may have been the instrument and that he probably showed him Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 where Jehovah named him around 200 years prior to his birth as the one who would build the city and the temple.
In the final verses of this chapter another prophecy is fulfilled in the committing of the gold and silver temple vessels to Sheshbazzar (Zerubbabel) to be returned. Jeremiah had foretold this in 27:22.
As Gaebelein (Editor of Our Hope) says “All predictions of future restoration of Israel to their land .... will soon find all their literal fulfillment” (Annotated Bible, V. III, p6). This he wrote in 1916! “Even so come Lord Jesus.”
Ezra 2:1 “Every One Unto His City”
This remnant (nearly 50,000) in a way, perhaps, is a picture of those who are called out to be the Church of our day, Zerubbabel, their prince as a type of Christ and the city they sought, as speaking of our position in Christ.
The picture John Gill paints of the cost involved reminds us a bit of the cross we are bidden to embrace when we follow Christ. I quote his thoughts recorded in his commentary on Ezra 1:3.
God, who "works" in men "both to will and to do," wrought powerfully by his Spirit on their hearts, inclined their minds, and made them willing to go up, and set about this work; and such a divine, powerful, and efficacious operation upon them, was necessary to engage them in it, since the embarrassments, difficulties, discouragements, and objections, were many: some of them were well settled, and had contracted a pleasing acquaintance with many of their neighbours, and indeed to most of them it was their native place; and as for Judea and Jerusalem, they knew nothing of but what their fathers had told them; the way to it unknown, long, and dangerous, at least fatiguing and troublesome to their wives and children; and Judea and Jerusalem desolate and in ruins, and in the hands of enemies, from whom they had reason to expect trouble.
A.C. Gaebelein reflects on the fact of the two groups of singers mentioned (vs.41&65) in his Annotated Bible, Vol. III, p.1. “Singing was evidently a very prominent occupation on the journey toward the homeland! Their groans were ended. The captivity was behind and freedom before. How beautiful the chanting of their great psalms must have been as they journeyed on.”
In verses 61-63 the situation of the Barzillaites serves as a reminder that we all must be able to prove that we are priests by knowing that our names are clearly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and that we have a right to “eat of the most holy things.”
Picture those 123 Bethlehemites as they arrived “home” at their city – like a local church family – ready to build and possess (v.21). I am sure they felt very dependent on one another and often were called upon to demonstrate their mutual care and tender hearted love.
Faith was certainly the watchword when some of the chief of the fathers came to where the temple once stood. The wording of the text here certainly reflected their attitude, “when they came to the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem” (v.68). Clearly, at this point, they could only see it by faith.
Ezra 3:13 “The Noise of the Weeping”
Of what were the ancient and venerable theologians thinking as they wept upon seeing the foundation for the new temple being laid? It had been over 50 years (Gill) since they had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple standing on this very plot. Perhaps some of them had even been allowed to spy upon those who in fiendish zeal had knocked apart some of these very stones, the fragments of which were being tenderly laid now in a new format which could never equal the splendor their memory conjured up. What indeed could these young men understand of the bitter regrets that wrung the souls of their fathers who had wondered at Jehovah’s apparent acquiescence while murderous hordes of violent men were allowed to tear apart the superb masterpiece that He had inspired the good king David to plan and the great king Solomon to build? How could they forget the taunting of their captors as they had been bidden to sing the songs of Zion in the land of strangers? Songs come hard to embittered hearts.
And now that we have returned, can we so quickly forget the sinfulness that caused these very stones to be scattered which once were laid together with such reverence that no sound of hammer or saw was heard? Can we not still hear in our ears, on the other hand, the warning of Jeremiah and other prophets that went unheeded and the taunting and mockery of our rulers who so brazenly led us down the path to such destruction as we see now under our feet? These eyes beheld our women ravished, our princes hung up by their hands (Lam.5:11), the joy of our hearts ceased so long ago and our dance was turned to mourning (v.15). Forgive us for our heart is still a bit faint and our eyes a bit dim (5:17).
Perhaps too, we weep because we sense an enthusiasm that is not securely founded and we wonder if the lessons of the past have really been learned and whether or not history will repeat itself.
Ezra 4:2 “Let us Build With You”
Wasn’t it a good thing that Zerubbabel and Jeshua were alert to the way the enemy works and refused to let their adversaries have any part of building the temple with them? Lesser men would have clapped their hands and rejoiced that they had more help. Some could have said that even though they were not the best of friends, perhaps they could be won over if they were brought on the team. Today, I am afraid, many evangelicals would have accused our Jewish friends of missing an opportunity of winning them to the Lord. Shades of Ockenga!
As it turns out, once their plot was exposed, these adversaries reverted to the scumbags they, in reality, were. They did everything they possibly could think of to hinder the work of God. The rest of the chapter relates the story of how they wrote a letter to the king of Persia (Artaxerxes and Ahasuerus were titles of Cambyses son of Cyrus) filled with lies and half truths and succeeded in hindering the building of the temple for about 20 years.
It is most interesting that the word accusation in verse 6 in the Hebrew (sitnah) is descended from a root word which is translated Satan all through the book of Job. Of course in Romans 12:10 he is called the “accuser of our brethren.” It is certainly clear that this was an attempt of Satan to hinder the work of God.
This should serve to illustrate for us that one of the chief ways the enemy works is seeking to infiltrate God’s work. Unfortunately, men who are less discerning than Zerubbabel and Jeshua have not succeeded in keeping him out. Those means often designed to help the local church such as many parachurch organizations could be one way he gets in. (For example, seldom do the boards of these groups have standards for their leadership as thorough as those for elders and deacons.) Another way of infiltration could be through music.
Ezra 5:5 “The Eye of Their God”
The enemy had succeeded in effecting a work stoppage on the temple and now for about fifteen years the people had taken the opportunity to work on their own houses. From what Haggai said to them, Jehovah was obviously much displeased with their attitude. They were dwelling in their “ceiled” houses while His house lay “waste” (Hag.1:4) and it has been suggested that the people were even appropriating some of the materials that should have gone into the temple, using them in constructing their own homes.
In raising up the two prophets at this time (v.1) and challenging them to “consider their ways” (Hag.1:5 & 8) it became clear that the people had misread the message which circumstances seemed to dictate, that this was not the right time to build the LORD’s house (Hag.1:2). The very fact that their adversaries were so troubling to them should have given them a clue as to just how important it really was. Usually in the LORD’s work when we encounter resistence from the world it is a good thing.
The people had been given a clear mandate to return and rebuild the temple (1:2) and the voice of the prophets only reaffirmed that fact. Even though the local officials threatened them, it was now clear that they were not to let that stop them.
So it proved out that when letters were sent to the king, as we see in the next chapter, the mandate was affirmed and meanwhile work was recommenced.
It is interesting to note that not only did Haggai and Zechariah preach to them, but they also rolled up their sleeves and pitched in to give them a hand in the work (v.2). My pastor is like that!
Oh-oh, we are in for it now, they are taking down our names (v.3). Don’t worry, God’s eye is upon you and He loves to show Himself strong on behalf of His oppressed children (II Chr.16:9). Does it not say in the Psalms, “Behold the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (33:18)?
Ezra 6:7 “Let the Work... of God Alone”
In history our God has often moved kings, emperors and lower government officials to obey His will. We are instructed that it really is He Who puts these leaders in their ordained positions and, of course, we are expected to be subject to “the higher powers” (Rom.13:1). This word was written when some of the most tyrannical men were governing Rome. We need to remind ourselves that He is the One really in control and as His children we are taught to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
It has been exciting of late to hear from missionaries who have seen God working among government officials in some very special ways. Oh-oh, they are calling us on the carpet because we have been doing missionary work and we only have tourist visas - we are in trouble now! – But no, we only want you to get a different kind of visa – here, with this one you can stay longer for less money and with more official status! Praise the LORD! And in another country the officials are pushing the missionaries to develop a phase of their ministry and have actually made land available to them for purchase unexpectedly. Details of these matters cannot be discussed for missionary work is forbidden in both cases.
In our chapter today we see the enemies of God’s work on the defensive and secular government taking the side of His servants. How refreshing to hear from Darius these words “Let the work of the house of God alone.” Not only so, but he told these enemies to free up some government funds for expenses and kick in some items for sacrifice and tell them to pray for me and my sons.
“Oh, and by the way if any of you resist this decree your homes will be destroyed and you will be hanged on the framework.”
The enemies of the work did not let any grass grow under their feet in hastily obeying the king. They did so “speedily”(v.13).
Let us all pray that God’s will be done in our land. It may be time for the Anti-Christ to rise in power, but it may be time for God to help a few of His servants in some special ways also.
Ezra 7:28 Strengthened by the Hand of God
Ezra, for whom this book is named, first makes his appearance in this chapter. The year is 457 B.C., 60 years after the temple had been built and 80 years after the proclamation by Cyrus allowing the exiles to return to the land of Israel. As verse eleven indicates Ezra was both a priest and a scribe, in fact he was called “a ready scribe in the law of Moses.” (He was skillful–quick– we would say, one sharp guy.) The opening verses give us his pedigree, taking him back in a direct line to Aaron. By comparing a few verses we can assume that Ezra was an uncle of Jeshua (Joshua) the high priest mentioned in Zech.3:1.
Here in our present chapter we read of the continued favor that Jehovah is granting to His people as they become reestablished in their land after the 70 years of captivity. Currently this is in the form of a letter that Ezra is to carry back with him the 800 miles he must travel to reach Jerusalem, a journey that will take a full four months. This letter is from the hand of Artaxerxes (Longiminus – son of Esther according to J.F.B. commentary) and accompanies rich gifts of silver and gold from the king.
There is actually no information about what transpired immediately following the days of Zerubbabel and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah but it is probable that it was worsening conditions that prompted Ezra to lead another contingent back to the land fifty years after their time. His proficiency in the law and prowess were apparently much needed (v.25), and hence his clear mandate authorizing his judicial duties along with the ministry of teaching the law of God.
The devotional aspect of today’s chapter comes at its close (vs.27 & 28) as Ezra praises God for choosing him for this task as He has chosen us for ours. He blesses Him for the favor of both the king and the One behind it. He acknowledges that it is the strengthening hand of God that rested upon him as he went about accomplishing his assignment. May His hand be recognized by us as well as we seek to do His will today (Eph.3:16).
Ezra 8:31 Delivered
In spite of the fact that Artaxerxes encouraged all the priests, Levites and general Jewish populace to go up from Babylon to Jerusalem with Ezra (7:13) and generously provided, only about a few less than 1800 actually made the break. It seems that the vast majority chose to stay in Babylon secure in their present circumstances, among them Esther the queen and Mordecai, if he still lived. (Esther’s husband Xerxes I had only been dead about 8 years – according to Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, Vol. III, p.94– note). It could well have been through their influence that the son of Xerxes I was so favorable to Ezra and the Jews at this time.
It must have been very disappointing that so few were willing to take the step of faith and go to Zion but it is not surprising for it has always been so that it is only a faithful remnant that responds to grace. Let us ever be among that few who dare, like Daniel, to stand alone if necessary in order to please and magnify our King.
Several difficulties faced Ezra at this point. During the three days of getting organized to leave, he had observed that there was an absence of responsible spiritual leadership so an additional appeal was made. Though they had resisted the general call, when the need was made known for “ministers for the house of our God” (v.17), 261 enlisted whose names were recorded (v.20). These are like missionaries who were willing that “tents of ease be left behind” as they went “onward to the fray.”
And speaking of fray, what was to be faced on this four- month journey? This too had exercised Ezra’s mind and though he might have had a contingent of soldiers he thought better of asking for them. Would not his witness to the king about the power of God’s hand be compromised? Ah yes, consistency may cost a bit more time in prayer and even some fasting but it is worth it!
Lo and behold, God honored their faith and answered their prayers for there were indeed some who lay in wait to do them mischief along the way (v.31), but, praise God, He delivered them from all such enemies!
Ezra 9:4 Trembling at the Word of God
It must have been a sad day for Ezra when he found out how guilty the leadership of the nation had become in the matter of separation. Priests and Levites, princes and rulers had transgressed in intermingling with the people of the lands surrounding them, taking daughters of the heathen for their wives and for their sons’s wives (v.2).
Thankfully not all of the princes were guilty and that there were some who were concerned enough to bring the problem to Ezra’s attention (v.1). To even hear the names of these nations must have struck fear into his heart for as a scribe he probably knew better than any of these recent immigrants to the Holy Land what serious proscriptions had been placed upon such by Jehovah God Himself.
In Exodus 34:11-16 He had warned His people in no uncertain terms that they were to have nothing whatever to do with such lest they be a snare in their midst. Especially was it indicated plainly that they were not to make marriages with them (v.16). This prohibition was continually renewed and in Joshua 23: 12&13 the sin of intermarriage was so emphasized that it was plain that these unholy unions would produce snares and traps, would be scourges in their sides and finally result in their perishing from off the land.
Having so recently returned from a long period of captivity it is no wonder that perceiving so soon such callousness among the people, Ezra and those who joined him in his great concern trembled at the words of God.
At the time of the evening sacrifice they remembered that an offended God could be approached on the basis of an appropriate offering, they humbled themselves and prayed (v.5) and then set about to correct their filthy and abominable practice by putting away such wickedness far from them.
There was absolutely no other way! Isaiah 66:2
Ezra 10:11 Do His Pleasure and Separate
The situation called for drastic measures and the response makes one think of that which took place much later in Corinth when wholesale repentance gripped the heart and soul of the church there at the reception of Paul’s letter which seemingly dealt with the issue of immorality in the assembly. As he said, “for behold this selfsame thing that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter”(II Cor.7:11).
Obviously, Paul was pleased at the depth of the saints’ repentance and I think we may assume a similar reaction on the part of Ezra.
It was obvious to those who had sinned that this was an exceedingly important matter to God. Had He not absolutely forbidden this mingling of the seed of Israel with that of these heathen nations? And now they sensed His “fierce wrath” upon them for this (v.14). As they trembled because of this matter of taking strange wives and because of the torrential down pour which served to emphasize Jehovah’s great displeasure, the rulers, the elders and the judges led the way. Even the sons of the high priest Joshua were involved.
If ever the cardinal doctrine of separation was emphasized in Scripture it was certainly on this tragic day. There was only one way for this sin to be dealt with, drastic though it surely had to be, and certainly the cause of much suffering.
This chapter, probably more than any other, tests whether we love the holiness of God more than our fleshly human nature. It was to do His pleasure – ask Him for grace to agree with it.