Be of Good Courage, And Do It: Ezra 3 & 4
May 3, 2010
- Unity of Purpose
What a blessing it is to me to have this opportunity to come before you with the Word of the Almighty God! I have read Ezra before, but never before had I understood the value of it for contemporary, Christian living.
Yet let us take a moment to look at it from an historical perspective. Where are we in the timeline, who is Ezra, what does he have to with the events of these chapters, and why are there so many kings named in chapter 4?
Leading to Here
It is important, in understanding what God was doing in the time covered by what we have read, to recall the end of the time of the Kings of Judah.
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. The Book of the Law was discovered in the house of the Lord, read to Josiah, who then said,
“Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
And God responded to Josiah through the prophetess Huldah (2Kings :
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. 17 “Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched.”’ 18 “But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the LORD thus shall you say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Regarding the words which you have heard, 19 because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. 20 “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, neither shall your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place.”’”
We see that Josiah, the last good king of Judah, pleased the Lord by his tender heart and humility before the Word of God. Did he stop there? NO! Having heard the reading of the book, he surely understood his responsibility, as leader of Judah, to ACT according to what he heard God say.
[ First things being first ] the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant, which was found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant. (2Kings 23:1-3)
Chris has taught us an acronym, HBO – Hearing, Believing, Obeying. This is a first rate example of a people Hearing the Word of God, Believing it, and Obeying. Idols were torn down, the temple cleansed, the altars of Baal defiled.
And before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. (2Kings 23:25)
Sadly, he was succeeded by his two sons, both of whom did evil in the sight of the Lord. His son Jehoiakim was made a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar after the third year, the time at which:
the LORD sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Arameans, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through His servants the prophets. Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh (2Kings 24:2-3)
During the reign of the next king, Nebuchadnezzar carried away treasures of the house of the Lord, men of valor, ten thousand captives, craftsmen and smiths; “None remained except the poorest people in the land” (2Kings 24:14). Zedekiah was made king in Jerusalem.
For because of the anger of the LORD this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, that He finally cast them out from His presence. Then Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. (2Kings 24:20)
The people had been cast out from the presence of the Lord. It was great mercy that the poor were left, the temple in place, the wall erected. This last rebellion of the king Zedekiah incited Nebuchadnezzar to come against Jerusalem with a siege that lasted about 16 months. The house of the Lord was burned, and the walls of the city torn down. Only the poorest of the people were left behind, as farmers and vinedressers.
It was during the reign of these last kings, Josiah through Zedekiah, up to the captivity, that the prophet Jeremiah was boldly proclaiming God’s impending judgement. Even though Josiah had turned Judah back to God for a time,
the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. (2Kings 23:26)
And so, now comes the time “to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” (2Chronicles 36:21)
When I first read Ezra, my thoughts were that Ezra must have been on the scene. He tells the story of Cyrus commissioning the return to Jerusalem, names the people who went, and describes the events of these third and fourth chapters like an eye witness.
In fact, as this timeline shows, Ezra was not present during the laying of the foundation, nor the actual completion of the temple.
Now after these things – the year 458 BC, nearly 80 years after the work of chapter 3 had begun – in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra … came up from Babylon … to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king (Ezra 7:1,6,8).
In chapter four, we see that
the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:4-5)
is followed immediately by
In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:6)
In the days of Artaxerxes also [they] wrote … against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7-8)
We can easily see that chapter four is demonstrating the consistent and long term opposition faced by the Israelites in Judah. Ezra tells the history of this, from the decree of Cyrus to the change of Artaxerxes heart, whereby Ezra was granted permission to come to Jerusalem and see how things were going there.
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:10)
As for Us
- Unity of Purpose
I found that reviewing the history leading up to this point was very beneficial to me. I hope it has been to you, also.
Since “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16-17)”, it behoves us now to consider how we might be benefit in these ways from what we have read and reviewed.
There is so much that can keep our attention. I have settled on a few key concepts. I will not be able to explore any one of these very deeply, so if God convicts you in any way with regard to one or another topic, please do respond by going to the Word yourselves, searching out God’s mind on the matter.
The Jews were made captives because of their sins against God. Sin can be, I think rightly, summarized as ‘transgression of the law’ (1John 3:4). The laws of God were given, in His wisdom, mercy and grace, so that we might know what sin is, and therefore that we would turn to Him as our only hope and salvation. This humility pleases God. Having heard the truth about our sinfulness, and believing that God has made a way for our salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, we must now obey.
Consider the people who came out of Egypt by the hand of God.
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? (Hebrews 3:18)
Here the heart of this man, Ezra:
Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day. And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 9:7-9)
And perhaps it is right to assume that Jeshua and Zerubbabel, and all the people gathered as one in Jerusalem understood this, for after they re-settled the land, in the 7th month,
as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God (Ezra 3:2)
although the foundation of the temple of the LORD had not been laid (Ezra 3:6)
they acted in obedience.
I mean to say that they did not simply return to Jerusalem, thankful to be free from captivity, going back to the “provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him” (2Kings 23:26). No. They opened the books, the very Word of God, to see how they should now live, recognizing that their lives belonged to God.
We are admonished in the same way!!
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (Romans 6:16-17)
as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; (1Peter 1:14)
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, (1Peter 1:22)
Unity of Purpose
We’ve talked here before about unity. Again, I think a very good deal of time can and should be spent on this subject alone. I am presently convinced that the unity God would have for us is about His purposes, not so much our interpretation of diverse scriptures.
God set them free after the 70 year sabbath rest of the land for this: to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah (Ezra 1:2) We can know from the rest of Ezra, from Haggai, Zechariah, Nehemiah – that this was indeed His purpose. All of it was working toward another of His purposes:
“Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the LORD; “and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts. “According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’
“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; 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. “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts. “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.” (Haggai 2:3-9)
He was to offer the whole world peace in that very place. He offered them the opportunity, again, to be a part of His purpose. Though they did not understand that the Messiah would teach there, they did understand that God had shown them a very good deal of mercy:
praising and giving thanks to the LORD: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” (Ezra 3:11)
This is something he offers us today! We, like these people, do not deserve His mercy.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10) For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8)
We cannot simply say, “Thanks”! We must put our hands to the purpose of God. How can we know His purpose without seeking it in His Word?
For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (1Peter 4:6)
I would like to ask you to go home tonight and read to your families
2Corinthians 5, 6
You will find the purpose of God, and in what it is which we should ‘come together as one man’.
The people came and settled the land just fine, it would seem. There was no opposition. Once they gathered together in Jerusalem, as one man, to begin worshipping God, they became afraid. It says
Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; (Ezra 3:3)
When we come together, in the purpose of God, to make known to every man what is the will of God in the Gospel He has given to us, we will face fear, too.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. (1John 4:15-19)
when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here. (Ezra 4:1-2)
It is well known that when we allow the ways of man and the world to guide our understanding of the things of God, we cannot rightly fulfill the will of God. There are many scriptures concerning this matter – intermarrying, having kings, allowing others to worship idols in your city.
It doesn’t have to be so obvious. Compromise can be an incredibly subtle temptation, as it seems to have been here. “Let us be a part of what you are doing! We seek the same God. We can help!”
I saw a bumper sticker the other day, as I’ve seen many times before. “Coexist”, written with the symbology of 7 different religions. The flesh, the world and the Devil would all have us ask, “Did God really say? Surely there is more than one way. We all love.”
The builders of the temple rightly responded
“You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel (Ezra 4:3)
As we are plainly told:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2Corinthians 6:14)
Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:4-5)
Once we have overcome fear, as we are able to do through Christ who strengthens us, and understand that compromise leads to corruption, we will then have the enemies of God become our enemies. We will see the depth of the depravity of the flesh.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; (1Peter 4:2-4)
Conclusion: Be of good courage, and do it
Even Josiah, in the end, was destroyed because he did not Obey the words of Necho from the mouth of God. (2Chronicles 35:22) Jeshua and Zerubbabel understood the importance of keeping with the Word of God.
And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (2Peter 1:19)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 3:1; 5:7)
My admonition is this: look to the purposes of God, let’s do it together, according to His Word; without fear or compromise, in the face of all opposition, trusting in Jesus; He who began a good work in us will finish it, as He finished the temple!