Summary: Ezra reflects on the Exile, the Return, and the future
WWelcome back. It’s good to see you again. For those who were not here last week, I will introduce myself again. I am Ezra. I am, by vocation, a priest and a scribe, a record keeper. I am also a teacher of the Law. I served the Lord during the Restoration, the most exciting time in our history since the Exodus.
Last week, we saw how the Exile fulfilled between eight hudred and nine hundred years of prophecy, from Leviticus to Jeremiah. Centuries of prophecy became our history. One prophecy we did not look at is in Isaiah 44.
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, Who formed you from the womb... Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall fulfill all My purpose;’ saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid,’” Is 44:24, 28.
Josephus wrote in his “Antiquities of the Jews” (11:1:2) that Cyrus read this prophecy in Isaiah, naming him over a hundred years before he was born, and "an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written..."
Not only did he have an earnest desire and ambition to fulfill what was written, he was determined to build a temple more massive than Solomon’s Temple.
“Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber,” Ezra 6:3-4.
This temple was to be twice as high and three times as wide as the first. If people fondly remembered the Solomon’s Temple centuries after it was built and decades after it was destroyed, perhaps they would be more impressed with Cyrus’ Temple. Last week, we saw that he allowed people to return home and take their idols with them because he wanted local people and local gods praying to his gods for his good. The Jews had no idols to return. Maybe he thought building a more massive temple would intimidate the God of Israel. Noooooooooo.
Cyrus’ reasons for building the temple don’t matter. God gave His people a priority. Build the temple. He stirred the heart of the king to make it possible. They started well. They prepared for building. They laid the foundation. They started only to give up. They decided to add paneling to their walls before God’s house even had walls. They decided it was not yet time to build the temple.
God called two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to call the people back to work. As I wrote in my book,
“The work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia... Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them,” Ezra 4:24; 5:1-2
Haggai was first to express God’s displeasure. Notice, in particular, the date and God’s choice of words in referring to the people.
“In the second year of Darius the King, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.’ Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways,’” Haggai 1:1-5.
God’s choice of words is revealing. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”
Are their any fathers here today? Suppose your wife greeted you at the door with, “Guess what OUR child did today.” Suppose on another day she greeted you with, “Guess what YOUR child did today.” Is there any difference between those two greetings?
The first indicates pride. The second indicates displeasure. When God says “these people” instead of “My people” He is not pleased with them.
In the ancient middle East, the glory of a temple was thought to reflected the glory of a god. A bare foundation reflected no glory. When these people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord, they are saying the time has not yet come to give God glory. God commands them, “Consider your ways.”