A CRUCIAL CONCERN
In our study in Ezra we’ve been tracing Judah’s journey from Babylonian Captivity back to the freedom of living in their homeland of Israel under the wise reign of Persia’s King Cyrus and later, King Artaxerxes. Both understood that the subjects of their Persian Empire were happier and easier to manage in the freedom of their homeland than as slaves in a foreign land, as King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced them.
From the last two chapters of Ezra, chapters 9 and 10, we are made aware of Judah’s need for repentance and restoration back to God. The priests and leaders had slipped into major disobedience to God by marrying heathen wives whose influence had turned their hearts away from God.
Assuming responsibility for their sin as their leader; grief-stricken Ezra repented as he poured out his confession to God in Ezra 9:5-15.
Let’s consider, in the light of God’s Word, the matter of repentance in general and what it has to do with salvation. Then we will focus in on the repentance in Ezra’s day.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT REPENTANCE?
Jesus repeats twice in Luke 13:3 and 5 “Except we repent we will perish.”
“God commands all men everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30
Peter commanded in Acts 3:19 “Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.”
In Romans 2 we are given two motivations to repent.
1. Judgment is inescapable. Romans 2:1-3
2. God’s goodness, patience and longsuffering leads us to repentance
Luke 24:46-49 records that when Jesus met with His disciples in the Upper Room after His resurrection, in His great commission, He included the need to preach repentance as well as the Gospel to all nations, beginning with the Jews
So if salvation is by faith in Christ alone, where does repentance come in?
We’re not saved by anything we do, including repenting and being sorry for our sins. We’re saved by admitting we are lost sinners, unable to do anything to save ourselves. We’re saved by trusting in the blood of Christ which was shed on the cross in full payment for all our sins. Salvation is totally a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-6
Though we’re not saved by repentance, but by faith in Christ alone; we’re not going to see our need of Christ, nor desire salvation until we have seen our gross sinfulness and repented, crying out in our hearts for God’s mercy.
Sorrow over sin and repentance and turning away from sin is largely ignored today by many claiming to be Christians. Instead, people ignore the warnings of repentance and continue in their sins with the attitude that since we are justified by faith and since “no one is perfect”, we are to just ignore sin in our midst and preach a positive message of our standing in Christ.
People are flocking to churches where they are never made to feel guilty because the preacher never deals with sin. When people sin and it is open and obvious for all to see, instead of confessing and repenting of their sins, they are directed to counseling for the problems caused by their sins.
Many Christian counselors ignore sin by giving psychological reasons or excuses for the action of their patients and give psychological methods of dealing with sin-caused problems. Life continues as usual, sin is ignored and nothing changes. At the same time, sin and its sad consequences continue to spread and contaminate everyone it touches.
EXAMPLES OF FALSE REPENTANCE
When Pharaoh of Egypt was confronted by Moses and faced the plagues God sent to Egypt, as recorded in the early chapters of Exodus, Pharaoh “repented” of his sins repeatedly; but it was not a true heart-felt repentance, only a temporary, superficial method of trying to get God off his back and off his land of Egypt.
When Esau repented in Genesis 28, it was not over sorrow of sin, but sorrow because he had forfeited God’s blessing on himself by his carnality. In Hebrews 12:16-17 the writer describes Esau’s repentance as a superficial, emotional sorrow. He had despised his spiritual heritage and actually found no heart repentance whatsoever.
Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to his enemies, had a heart of stone with no feelings of sorrow whatsoever. Instead of repenting over his sins, he went out and hung himself.
EZRA’S PRAYER OF TRUE REPENTANCE
In Ezra 9:5-15 we read of Ezra’s repentance as a leader of Judah, God’s favored people, who had turned from God to marry heathen spouses. I commented on this in the previous study in this series. Ezra cried out in brokenness and sorrow, “O, My God” as he confessed the sins of his people. Usually revival and turning back to God begins with the leaders. When Ezra repented, the people followed him in repentance towards God. Even the children joined their elders in repenting and turning from their sins.
THE NEED FOR REPENTANCE
First, sins, such as fornication and addiction to pornography, affect our own physical, mental and emotional health. I Corinthians 6:18
Sin is not just our business. Our sins adversely affect our families for generations to come. It also affects our church family.
But most seriously, our sins offend our holy God and cut our fellowship with Him as Psalm 51:4 and Ezra 10:2 teach us.
True repentance causes us to become specific in identifying our sins. In the case of Judah in Ezra’s day, they became specific in confessing their sins of intermarriage with the heathen. To make matters worse, this was going on among those who had the spiritual oversight of the people. To the people’s credit, they sought a Biblical solution to their problems.
We read in chapter ten that they shivered as they stood outside in the cold winter rain and they also trembled at the Word of God, Oh, that we might see that in our churches. Oh, to see people trembling at God’s Word and crying out for God’s mercy. It happened in early America under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards.
Ezra explained to the people that all their marital problems were not going to be solved in one hour standing out in the cold winter rain; so he instructed the leaders to set up appointments with each family and work out the details as they sought God’s will for each family.
SIN COMPLICATES OUR LIVES
Intermarriage with the unsaved, clearly forbidden in God’s Word, can complicate our lives, even though we confess our sins. I Corinthians 7 teaches Christians married to unsaved spouses are to remain married to them, if the unsaved spouse is willing. Though such relationships can tangle up family life, God can work things out for His glory, if Christians are earnestly seeking His will, in spite of the unequal yoke.
So the people in Ezra’s day vowed to obey whatever God’s Word said, regardless of the difficulties in that marital relationship.
THE KEY TO NATIONAL REVIVAL
II Chronicles 7:14 shows us how the repentance of God’s people can lead to a national spiritual awakening. Such revival and blessing begins when God’s people are humbled and broken-hearted over their own sins. Of, that God would send revival to our nation and to our world! It all starts with you and me as Christians. Are we broken and humbled by our own sins?
LESSONS FROM OUR STUDY OF EZRA
And so we’ve come to the end of our study of the Book of Ezra. What have we learned?
1. God is sovereign in our lives
2. He guides, provides and protects us as His children.
3. His Word must be central to all we do; including our worship and service for Him.
4. True worship leads us to lives of obedience to His Word and separation from evil.
Is this an exclamation of profanity or a righteous expression of deep grief over sin?
FROM HEIGHTS OF GLORY
Ezra goes from heights of glory as we conclude Ezra 8:31-36 to depths of grief over sin in Ezra 9:1-10 Everything was going his way in Ezra 7:11-28 as King Artaxerxes gave him everything he needed for the four month’s journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.
About 1500 men, besides their wives and children, which might have totaled 5000 people, joined him on this journey. Ezra 8:1-14.
Ezra found Levite priests to accompany them to administer the animal sacrificial system back in Jerusalem. Ezra 8:15-20
Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for military protection for the journey since he was trusting God for his protection. God was faithful and protected them. Ezra 8:22-23
At the beginning of the journey they weighed out the gold and silver and when they finally arrived in Jerusalem four months later, they weighed it again and found nothing missing. Ezra 8:25-34
After arriving in Jerusalem, they offered a huge burnt offering in thanksgiving to God after all those years of Babylonian captivity. Ezra 8:25-34.
TO DEPTHS OF GRIEF
Ezra 9:1 begins “Now when these things were done.” What things? The blessings mentioned in chapter 8, then Ezra heard the bad news found in Ezra 9:1-2
What was the bad news? The princes and the priests, the leaders of Israel, were setting a sinful example to the people. Ezra found that these leaders had been intermarrying the heathen. In Ezra 9:3-4 we find Ezra shocked and grieving, weeping over the sin of these leaders.
Weeping and general grief over sin is rare today. So many see sin as just an error of good judgment. Their prayer of confession amounts to a “Sorry I goofed, God.” Their hearts are never broken over their sins.
It has always been that way. Pharaoh’s confessions were not genuine. Read about them in Exodus 9:3-4 and 10:16-17.
Esau showed no grief over his sins. Hebrews 12:17
King Saul showed no grief over sin when confronted by the prophet Samuel. I Samuel 15:13-35 and 16:1. He was more concerned with losing his stature before the people than he was the grossness of his sins before God.
In contrast, King David, who had committed adultery with his military officer’s wife, Bathsheba, and then saw to it that the officer, Uriah, was killed; broke down in grief over his sins toward God. Read Psalm 51 for his genuine prayer of contrition. Sin ought to break our hearts. See what Jesus says about this in Matthew 5:3-4. Our sins ought to cause us to cry out in grief, “O, my God!”
We also honor God in worship when we sing, ” O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hands have made.” You know that beautiful song of worship, “How Great Thou Art!”
PRAYERS OF CONFESSION
It would do us all well to read some prayers of confession. Here are three of them all found in a ninth chapter.
Ezra’s confession in Ezra 9:6-15
Nehemiah’s confession in Nehemiah 9.
Daniel’s confession in Daniel 9.
Then there is David’s confession, I already mentioned in Psalm 51.
Note that Ezra, as the leader of the people, included himself in the guilt, we read in Ezra 9:6-10. There he recalls God’s warning about intermarriage with the heathen in Ezra 9:11-15.
Crushed by anguish and grief before a holy God, he cries reverently to God in grief, “O, My God!”
This phrase, “O, My God!” has become a careless, irreverent slang phrase used thoughtlessly in times of surprise or pleasure, or for just about any reason whatsoever. Sometimes the letters OMG are used as an abbreviation of it, as one would use a smiley or frown face in a letter or a post on Face Book. Perhaps it has never occurred to you that this is taking God’s name in vain, a violation of the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:7. I would encourage you, Christian friend, to ask God to help you use His name only for His glory.
GOD’S WARNINGS OF COMPROMISE WITH SIN
Repeatedly through the Bible God warns of the danger of compromising with sin. In Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7 God warns Israel of the sin of compromising with evil. King Solomon is an extreme example of how far a godly man can slip when he starts down the road of sin. Read his sad story in I Kings 11 as you see the wisest of men becoming the greatest of fools.
When you can find time, take time to read through these various warning of compromising with evil throughout the Bible. II Corinthians 6:14-18, is perhaps the chief warning on separation from sin in the Bible.
I Corinthians 5:9-11
I Peter 1:13-16
II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15
I Corinthians 10:12
Stay in the Word of God and be led by it to find victory over sin.
Psalm 1:1-6, 101:3-4, 119:1-5
National revival begins when God’s people confess their sins and get right with Him. II Chronicles 7:14
In my previous message I dealt with the lure of Babylon and how it held captive many of the Jews in Babylon; even when they had been given permission by Cyrus of Persia to freely return from their seventy years of captivity to their homeland of Israel to rebuild Jerusalem. In the two returns under Cyrus and Artaxerxes, only about 55,000 returned to Jerusalem. The great majority of Jews chose to settle in Babylon as their home.
Revelation 17-18 speaks about how Mystery Babylon; the present false religious, and crumbling economic, political, Satan-dominated world system in which we live, will be destroyed when Christ returns to this earth to reign. Presently men, under the rule of Satan, are ruining and contaminating God’s beautiful creation and their minds and hearts are being polluted by an ever-growing stream of immoral pollution from the deepening darkness of Mystery Babylon.
Satan does not need to deal with any of us personally to accomplish his purposes for us. He has all the tools he needs through our sinful flesh nature described in Romans 7 and through the cosmos or world system of which he is in control.
THE SATANIC COSMOS OR WORLD SYSTEM
II Corinthians 4:3-4 teaches us that Satan, the god of this present cosmos or world-system, blinds the minds of the lost to the glorious Gospel of Christ. Sadly many Christians today continue to be at home in this cosmos, that is, the world system; fascinated and enamored by its sinful culture and under the domination of Satan, the god of this cosmos.
In I John 2:15-17 Christians are commanded to love not this evil world system with all it sinful attractions that draw us away from finding our satisfaction in God Himself.
Galatians 1:3-4 teaches us that although Satan is the god of this cosmos, that is, this present evil world system in which we live, Christ died and rose again from the dead; not only to save us from eternal hell, but to save us now from the destructive influence and power of this present evil world.
Understand, that anyone who rejects Jesus as Saviour and Lord; by default, continues to be enslaved by Satan who is his king, even though he is deceiving himself into thinking he is free to run his own life.
The infatuation of Christians with this world system concerned The Lord Jesus and it was His concern in His final prayer with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. That prayer, recorded in John 17, shows Jesus’ concern for you and me. I encourage you to read that prayer and consider your own relationship with and attraction to this world system.
THE FEW AND FAITHFUL
Not everyone who chose to stay in Babylon were compromisers and unfaithful to God. There were at least four and perhaps others who stood true to God, surrounded by Satan’s crowd. The four I’m thinking of are Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, with whose stories you are, no doubt, familiar. I wrote about them earlier in this Ezra series. The lure of Babylon held absolutely no attraction for them. These were men of God who stood true to Him. Their testimonies influenced Babylonian and Persian Emperors to know and surrender to God.
What was Daniel’s secret of faithfulness to God? It’s found in Daniel 1:8. As a young man, no doubt, a teenager, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.” With that purpose of heart, Daniel made right choices and before long he was counseling Babylonian emperors and sixty years later, Persian emperors.
WHERE WILL YOU GO TO SCHOOL?
God has His individual plan for every Christian young person. Most are not spiritually mature enough to sit under godless, secularist professors A few can, no doubt, come through unscathed spiritually. But most will be spiritually harmed.
Personally for our own two sons and daughter, we chose a Christian education from elementary through college. I personally enjoyed the privilege of Christian education from fifth grade through college. Yes, I helped work my way and paid my own expenses through a Christian high school and a Christian college; though God provided financial help in amazing ways.
I have a cousin who trained for the ministry in a liberal seminary. He almost made spiritual shipwreck of his life; but by God’s grace, he recovered and God gave him a fruitful ministry.
Here are some verses you need to read and think on as you determine what education is best for you and for your children.
Psalm 1:1-6, 11:3; 101:3,
Psalm 119:37, 97-105, 113, 127-128,
Proverbs 1,2,3,4, 13:20, 19:27. In fact, read the entire book of Proverbs,
II Timothy 2:15-16
I John 2:15-17
So what kind of education is best for you? Only you can determine that answer as you seek the Lord with all you heart. I would caution you that if in your heart you entertain a little love for this sin-contaminated world system you are not ready to seek an education from it. If you insist, you will probably crash and destroy your future. I would encourage you to seek a sound Biblical Christian college and give yourself at least one year and see where it goes from there. As a bonus, you may very well meet your life mate in that college.
My wife and I met going to two different Christian colleges. I was a student at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. and she was a student at Columbia Bible College in Columbia, S.C. 100 miles away. You can read that story under the Category Virtuous Woman. Our two sons and our daughter each met their godly spouses while attending Bob Jones University.
TESTING FOR A CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
One simple test is to check the science department. If they teach theistic evolution, run from it! Theistic evolution says that God created the world, but He did it through evolution.
WHERE IS YOUR HEART?
That’s the question. If your heart and love is in the world system which “lieth in wickedness” or lieth under the control of Satan, according to I John 5:19, then you need to “flee or come out of that wicked system” according to Revelation 18:4. Read again Revelation chapters 17 and 18 to learn of the end of Mystery Babylon when Christ returns to this earth.
On the other hand, if your heart is hidden in Christ and you are built up in The Faith, and His will is everything to you; God may place you right into the midst of the filth and corruption of Babylon to enable you to rescue the perishing in this corrupt world system, according to Jude 20-25
The story of Ezra is a story of a remnant of godly Jews who chose to leave their homes in Babylon. It’s also a sad truth that many of that same tribe of Judah after seventy years in captivity, were now at home in Babylon and chose to remain there.
In this message, I challenge you to consider the lure of Babylon for those who chose to stay there 2500 years ago and the lure of Mystery Babylon, described in Revelation 17-18, for many Christians today.
CONSIDER THE LOCATION OF BABYLON
Babylon, as many of you know, is situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From geographical hints in Genesis 2:8-15 it’s probably the vicinity of the Garden of Eden from which Adam and Eve had been driven by an angel after their Fall into sin. Of course, no one can be certain because of the geographical changes that took place on the earth at the time of the world wide flood in Noah’s day.
THE LURE OF BABYLON
The Garden of Eden, which God had made perfect for Adam and Eve, while in their sinless perfection and innocence before The Fall; was now according to Genesis 3:22-24, out of bounds for them after The Fall.
For awhile, the entrance to the Garden was guarded by an angel with a flaming sword which kept Adam and Eve from reentering the Garden until it had deteriorated under the curse of sin.
NOAH’S THREE SONS
Later, after the Flood of Noah’s day which God sent because of the intense wickedness of the earth’s population according to Genesis 6; Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth, who with their wives survived the Flood in the ark which they and their father, Noah, had built; fathered three distinct groups of people on the earth.
Japheth is the father of the Gentiles, according to Genesis 10:1-5
From Noah’s son, Ham, came Nimrod, who established the Kingdom of Babel, which became Babylon. Genesis 10:6-20
Also through Ham came the Assyrians and the Canaanites.
Through the line of Shem came Abraham, from whom the promised SEED, CHRIST, would come according to Genesis 10:21-22 and 11:10-26. Thus Abraham became the Father of Israel.
THE TOWER OF BABEL
Later, as the earth began to repopulate following the Flood, Genesis 11:1-9 tells about how they gathered together in the Plains of Shinar in the land of Babylon to build a tower to reach Heaven. This was all about man’s feeble, futile efforts to reach up to God in Heaven by their own effort and ingenuity.
God confused and nullified their efforts by causing them to all start speaking in a wide variety of languages, as though they had been born with those languages. Because they could not understand one another, they gave up their building project and scattered over the face of the earth.
ABRAM BORN IN UR OF THE CHALDEES, BABYLON
Abram, whose name was changed by God to Abraham, was born to Terah in the line of Noah’s son ,Shem and became father of the Jewish nation and the forbearer of Jesus who would be born of the Virgin Mary five hundred years later in Bethlehem. Jesus, the Saviour of the world, is the Promised Seed of Genesis 3:15.
SATAN AND HIS BAG OF TRICKS
Satan is our chief enemy; however, usually he does not fight us directly. Rather, he uses our sinful flesh nature and his cosmos (the world system, known as Mystery Babylon) under his control to try to ruin our testimonies and destroy us, making us useless to the cause of Christ.
The Apostle Paul describes in Romans 7 the struggle all of us face with our sinful flesh nature. In Romans 8 he shows us how we can have victory over our sinful flesh nature.
The other tool in his bag of tricks is his seductive influence through his control of the cosmos, the sinful world system which he controls and uses in his battle against God for our souls.
THE LOVE OF BABYLON
The lure of Babylon has always been the love of Babylon, the world system, and it is still today. This system has an amazing magnetic hold on Christians, as well as on the lost. Our problem is that we tend to love the world system more than we love God. In fact, we tend to try to compartmentalize our lives, giving some parts to God and others parts of our lives and our love to the Satan-controlled world system. That does not work. God will not put up with two-timers.
The love of the world system causes our sin-loving flesh nature to feed on the attractive garbage and raw sewage of this world which we permit to spill into our homes via salacious television fare and movies, degrading literature and music and through the internet.
To all of this God warns us in I John 2:15-16 “To love not the world system, neither the things that are in the world system. Such love of the world proves that we have little or no love for God and His Word.
Such feed on the garbage of this world system and socialize with it until we fall in love with it and marry it. Eventually we become lost in and one with this Satanic world system which is passing away, losing our lives for the fleeting, unsatisfying pleasures of this doomed world system.
THE PURPOSE OF SALVATION
The purpose of salvation is not just to be forgiven of our sins and made children of God through faith in Christ Jesus; but according to Galatians 1:3-4, it is to be freed from our infatuation with this sinful world system. This world system is doomed and passing away. Revelation chapters 17 and 18 describe this sin-cursed world system and tells of how Christ is going to destroy it once and for all. Where are you going to be and what are you going to be doing when Christ returns to destroy this world system as described in those two chapters in The Revelation?
RETURNING NOW TO THE BOOK OF EZRA
It was necessary that the Jews be back in their own land so God’s plan of redemption could be carried out in the land of Israel, as prophesied. Ezra 8 tells the story of the Jews second return to Jerusalem from Babylon, this time under the leadership of Ezra, the Jewish priest and scribe who wrote this book.
This is the story of the Children of Judah returning home to the Land of Israel, getting into place all the details for the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who would be born of a virgin, live and minister to the people and then be crucified and slain as the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sins and then rise again; thereby delivering us from sin and Satan and his contaminating, sin-cursed world system.
This involved the people of Judah traveling from their former slavery in Babylon, even though it might have been a comfortable life; to a new life of freedom in Jerusalem with all its burdens of rebuilding.
All of this is a picture of New Testament truth in Hebrews 11:8-13. Let me hit just the highlights as you read the passage.
By faith Abraham went out, dwelling in tents with his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, following God, but not knowing where he was going.
By faith he dwelt in tents, not settling down and building a permanent home for he looked for a city with permanent foundations, whose builder and architect is God. Now down to verse 13. These all died in faith not having received the promises, but saw them by faith afar off. They recognized themselves as pilgrims and strangers on this earth.
THIS WORLD IS A FOREIGN, HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT FOR US
Christians, we live together in a foreign, hostile environment. Satan is the temporary god of this present world system. That’s not difficult to believe as we observe the explosive political atmosphere in this world today. In all my years in America, coming here as a child in the mid 1940’s during World War II, I’ve never sensed a more discouraging atmosphere in America than right now. Thank God, He is in control.
A VOLUNTEER ARMY
Understand that those who followed Ezra to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, came of their own free will. They were not compelled nor forced by either Cyrus or Artaxerxes. It was all voluntary. That’s the only service God desires. God does not draft people into His service. True, in His sovereignty, He called us from before we were born, but, as far as we are concerned, He calls those who willingly volunteer and freely choose to serve Him. See Acts 9:6, Romans 12:1-2, Isaiah 6:8, and II Corinthians 8:1-6.
As Abraham and as the Jews returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity; so we Christians who are saved and bound for Heaven, are presently in a journey from the bondage of this hostile, Satan-dominated world system to our Heavenly Home. This religious/political world system, known as Mystery Babylon, identified and described in Revelations 17 and 18, is doomed for destruction when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to set up His Millennial Kingdom in Jerusalem.
DON’T CONFUSE GOD’S WONDERFUL CREATION WITH THE COSMOS, WHICH IS OF THE DEVIL
Don’t misunderstand. This world is still ultimately God’s world which He created. Many Scriptures, especially the Psalms, make that clear; but Satan has usurped it and is presently the god of this God-dishonoring, sin-cursed religious/political world system. According to II Corinthians 4:3-4, Satan has blinded his subjects to Christ and to His gracious Gospel. Thank God, that today, in His sovereignty, God is opening eyes to the Truth of the Gospel, as He did for Lydia in Acts 16:14.
In the fullness of time, Christ is returning to this earth to catch Christians up into Heaven to be with Himself. Then following seven years of Tribulation and the reign of Antichrist, Christ will return to cast Satan into a bottomless pit for one thousand years while Christ Himself reigns over the whole world from Jerusalem. Faithful Christians will be involved with Him in His reign, according to II Timothy 2:12. For the Biblical background for all of this, go to the PROPHECY category for a full 32 part series on this subject.
IN CHRIST WE CAN BE VICTORIOUS!
What about this Church Age? Does Satan have any power over Christians today? Here’s an encouraging truth I want you to try to grasp concerning the power of Satan and his evil world system today, as far as Christians are concerned. In the Upper Room with His disciples, Jesus announced in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Now look at John 12:31 “Now is the judgment of this world: Now shall the Prince of this world be cast out.” and John 16:7-11. Here Jesus speaks of sending His Holy Spirit to live in us as believers. In verse 11 Jesus announces that Satan, “the Prince of this world is judged.”
Then in John 17, just before Jesus is crucified and returns to Heaven, He prays His great intercessory prayer for us, His children, who are left behind in this present evil world. Read also II Corinthians 2:14. In all these passages we learn that Satan is even now, for the Christian, a defeated foe.
Though it’s a fact that many Christian are enslaved by sin and Satan; no Christian need ever be. II Corinthians 2:14 states, “Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place.” Let me paraphrase that for you. Now thanks be to God who always enables us to triumph over sin, through the indwelling presence and power of His Holy Spirit so that wherever we go, whatever we do; we carry the fragrance of the presence of Christ upon us.
SOME CHRISTIANS NEVER EXPERIENCE VICTORIES
As we’ve been focusing on the returning Jewish exiles from Babylon, I want to call your attention to those Jews who chose to live and die in Babylon, outside the city of Jerusalem, the city of promise and blessing. They were content to live and be fed and be satisfied with Babylon, a type of the Satanic-controlled world system. They were content to never experience the victories of their brothers and sisters who had returned to Jerusalem.
I remind you again that those Jews who followed Zerubbabel and Ezra back to Jerusalem did it of their own free will. They were not compelled by Cyrus and Artaxerxes.
The lesson for us as Christians is that’s the only service God wants of us. is volunteered. God does not draft people into His service. It’s true that by His foreknowledge, He calls us from before we were born. See Isaiah 49:1 and Jeremiah 1:5 But it’s also true that God only calls those who surrender to His Lordship and freely desire and choose to follow Him. Study the following Scriptures concerning this truth. Acts 9:6, Romans 12:1-2, Isaiah 6:8 and II Corinthians 8:1-6
May God strengthen you, my Christian reader and friend, to fully surrender to Christ as your Lord
The Book of Ezra is easily divided into two parts.
Chapters 1-6 records the return of the first fifty thousand Jews from Babylonian Captivity back to Jerusalem in response to the decree of Cyrus. This first return took place in 538 BC during the first year of the reign of Cyrus and was under the leadership of Zerubbabel.
No sooner had they arrived in Jerusalem and started building the temple when opposition arose, but you can read about all of this in the earlier messages in this series. In spite of the opposition, the temple was finally completed, as recorded in Ezra 6:15.
Chapters 7-10 record the second return about eighty years later of about eight hundred Jewish men, as well as their wives and children (which could increase the total number from 5,000 to about 10,000) as they journeyed to Jerusalem, led by Ezra the priest and scribe during the reign of Artaxerxes of Persia. Possibly there were about ten thousand in this group and possibly many of them were related to the first group who returned to Jerusalem.
EZRA THE MAN
I mentioned earlier that Ezra was a ready scribe and a priest. His mind and heart were saturated with the Word of God, a very important qualification for a spiritual leader. As a priest, he had direct access to God. The New Testament teaches in I Peter 2:5 and Revelation 1:5-6 that every Christian is a priest before God. Christian men and women are a kingdom of priests to carry out God’s work. We too are blessed as we are saturated with the Word of God and allow it to influence our thoughts, actions and attitudes.
Artaxerxes’ decree, as well as Cyrus’ decree eighty years earlier, were kind and generous and thoughtful; not forceful nor threatening; but giving permission to those Jews who wished to return to Jerusalem to do so. Those who returned did so of their own free will.
THE JOURNEY ITSELF
Artaxerxes reigned from 465-425 BC. The Jews left Babylon in the seventh year of his reign which would be 458 BC. They left on the first day of the first month of that year (which would be about our April) and they arrived in Jerusalem four months later ( which would be our August.) A four month’s journey of about 1000 miles would be about eight miles per day.
It was a dangerous journey, filled with thieves and wild animals along the way; but God brought them safely to their destination with no loss of people, animals or material wealth.
Their journey from Babylon to Jerusalem is a picture of the journey we all take as Christians from the Babylonian system of “Mystery Babylon” of this wicked world system (spoken of in Revelation 17 and 18) to the New Jerusalem of Heaven. Along the way, they enjoyed the fellowship of God’s people. We all need that regular fellowship to strengthen us each week, as we meet together to worship God and hear the preaching of His Word. Read about this need of fellowship in Psalm 119:63, I John 1:7 and Acts 2:42-47.
A third return would follow thirteen years later under Nehemiah whose calling was to start rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
THE MINISTRY OF EZRA
Ezra was not just an academic scribe like the cold, spiritually dead scribes and Pharisees Jesus faced in His ministry five hundred years later. Ezra 7:10 says that Ezra had prepared his heart; not just his mind.
There are lots of Christians today whose only concern is for an academic, objective understanding of the Bible They like to fill their notebooks with the objective notes from the sermon; but they don’t want the Scriptures applied it to them personally.
It’s one thing to understand theory in our heads. It’s another thing to seek to understand Bible doctrine in our hearts and desire to know how to live to please God. It’s that kind of preaching that strengthens us spiritually and produces beautiful lives that bless others and attract others to join us in the Lord’s work, as Ezra 7:27-28 teaches.
As Jesus’ ministry was a combination of what He did and what He taught, according to Acts 1:1, so our ministry must be a combination of how we live as well as what we teach. That was Paul’s instruction to young Timothy in I Timothy 3:1-16, II Timothy 2:15 and 3:16-17.
THE SECRET OF EZRA’S SUCCESS
Ezra 7:6,9 and 29 teach us that “The hand of the Lord was upon him. That means success for anyone who lives and preaches the Gospel. It was the same for Joshua in Joshua 1:6-9.
What a privilege to know the hand of God on our lives. Read the entire 139th Psalm and see the importance of His hand on us.
What did God’s hand on Ezra mean for him?
1. God blessed him and those who accompanied him on the long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.
2. God granted him all his requests Ezra 7:6
3. Ezra possibly wrote the decree for Artaxerxes, for Artaxerxes would not have known all that Jewish information in the decree. Ezra probably wrote it and Artaxerxes simply affixed his seal or his signature to it.
THE CONCLUDING DOXOLOGY Ezra 7:27-28
Ezra praises God for molding the king’s heart and for God’s mercy shown to him and for God’s strength given to him and for all the encouragement.
He sensed the hand of the Lord upon him: not just to build, but beautify the house of God. So it has been the desire of my heart as a preacher to not simply build a church, but to beautify the Body of Christ. Only then can we worship Him in the beauty of holiness. I Chronicles 16:29, Psalm 29:2. 96:9.
Beauty attracts others. Ugliness repulses. God help us as we seek to work together to not only beautify our House of Worship; but more importantly, may He beautify our lives so that others are attracted to Christ.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the Jews at the time of their restoration from Babylonian captivity. When Persia conquered Babylon; Cyrus, the Persian’s, first order of business was to release the captive Jews from 70 years of Babylonian Captivity.
Under Cyrus’ magnanimous decree, some Jews chose to return to their homeland of Judea to rebuild their temple and later the walls of Jerusalem. Others chose to remain in Babylon.
The Books of Daniel and Esther record life for the Jews who chose to remain in Babylon and Persia. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are a record of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple and later the walls of their city. Daniel, Ezekiel, Haggai and Zechariah are the prophets to the Jews during this period of time.
The decrees of the Babylonian emperors were different from the decrees of the Persian emperors. The Babylonians were arrogant, threatening, demanding and forceful and their decrees came from hearts of defiance towards God. The Persian decrees were more kind, gracious and non-threatening, giving the Jews the privilege of returning to their homeland voluntarily or remaining in Babylon.
Whether Cyrus, the first Persian Emperor, had ever read God’s Word or not; it is certain that he had been influenced by what the Prophet Isaiah had written about him 200 years before Cyrus was born; even calling him by his name and foretelling his calling in life, that of delivering Judah from 70 years of Babylonian captivity. That interesting information is given in Isaiah 44:24-28 and 45:1-13.
The first wave of Jews to make the long 1000 mile journey back to Jerusalem was led by Zerubbabel and is recorded in Ezra 1-5.
The second wave of Jews to return was led by Ezra during the time of the Persian Emperor Darius. This is recorded in Ezra 6-10
In this message, I want to focus on Darius and Daniel. Though Darius was not a godly emperor at the beginning of his reign, he had been influenced by the well known history of the kindness and gentleness of Cyrus towards the Jews.
Daniel had been taken as a young man with promise into Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. He continued in the royal courts long after Persia had conquered Babylon. Now, perhaps in his 80’s or 90’s, he found himself in the Persian courts of King Darius, loved and well-respected by the king, and second in command directly under Darius. Under Daniel were three presidents and under the three presidents, were 120 princes who helped rule the Persian Empire.
From the time he was a teenager under Nebuchadnezzar, he had a strong relationship with God and had purposed then never to defile himself with sin, nor with the king’s lavish life style. For all those years he had been faithful to God throughout his life, walking and talking (praying) with God.
The three presidents under his leadership had a strong aversion and jealousy and hatred of him because of his godly lifestyle.
It was well known that when Persian Kings made decrees, they were absolutely irrevocable. So they conspired to trick King Darius into making a decree which would remove Daniel from his superior position over them and have him thrown into a den of lions to be killed. Aware that Daniel prayed regularly and publicly to the God of Heaven, they went over Daniel’s head directly to Darius and encouraged him to make a decree that for 30 days, no one should pray to anyone but Darius himself, or else they would be thrown to the lions. That appealed to Darius’ pride and so without thinking he made a most serious mistake. He signed a decree stating that for thirty days no one could pray to anyone but himself.
Opening his window facing Jerusalem, Daniel continued praying to God, as had been his practice throughout his life. Immediately the three presidents reported him to King Darius. Darius was sick at heart for he loved and highly respected Daniel, Nevertheless, he had signed the decree and he knew he was trapped. Nothing could be done about it.
DANIEL THROWN TO THE LIONS
As Daniel was being led to the lion’s den by the guards, King Darius spoke privately to him, He said to Daniel, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee.” Then Darius went back to his palace to spend a sleepless night tossing and turning on his bed, sick about the horrible decision he had made.
That night Daniel slept well, no doubt resting his head on the mane of one of the lions. God had shut the lion’s mouth and they had no desire to hurt him.
Very early in the morning, I expect about 3 or 4 o’clock, Darius made his way to the lion’s den and cried with a lamentable voice, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God whom though servest continually able to deliver thee from the lions?”
Daniel answered him, “O King, live forever. My God has sent His angels and hath shut the lion’s mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before God, innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O King, have I done no hurt.”
Then was the king exceeding glad for him and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and they found him totally untouched by the lions because he believed in his God.
Then the king demanded that they bring those three presidents who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions with their wives and children and they were instantly killed by the lions.
King Darius immediately wrote a new decree to supersede the one he had written earlier. You can read it from Daniel 6:25-27. “I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for He is the living God, and steadfast forever. And His kingdom is that which shall not be destroyed, and His kingdom shall be even unto the end. He delivers and rescues and He works signs and wonders in Heaven and in earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” It is my personal opinion that because Darius now honored the God of Heaven, that we will one day have the privilege of meeting him in Heaven, along with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
So Daniel prospered under Darius as well as under Cyrus for about ninety years.
A CHALLENGE TO CHILDREN AND TEENS
There’s a promise to young men and women in Proverbs 22:29 that you can count on if you wish to have the success in life which Daniel enjoyed. Let me paraphrase it. “Watch the young men and women who love God and live diligently to please Him and fulfill their responsibilities without compromise. As they grow up, they are going to be successful in life and be greatly used of God.”
Young people, I challenge you in the words of a song that has greatly influenced me and that I have sung since childhood,
“Dare to Be a Daniel” by Philip B. Bliss
Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God’s command.
Honor them the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel’s band!
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.
Many mighty men are lost,
Daring not to stand,
Who for God had been a host
By joining Daniel’s band!
Many giants great and tall,
Stalking through the land,
Headlong to the earth would fall,
If met by Daniel’s band!
Hold the Gospel banner high!
On to victory grand!
Satan and his hosts defy,
And shout for Daniel’s band.
God help you to determine now, to stand faithfully for Christ and serve Him with all your heart throughout your life.
GOD HATES ARROGANCE
If there is one word that described Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, it was ARROGANT. God had to crush his pride, just as he has to crush the pride of every sinner before He can be saved and be fit to have fellowship with God and dwell in His presence. In the last message we saw God making progress in the heart of King Nebuchadnezzar.
After casting Shadrack, Meschach and Abednego who refused to bow down and worship his golden image, into the fiery furnace and seeing them walking alive with the Son of God in the midst of the fiery raging furnace, it’s an understatement to say he was impressed with their God.
The King went to the door of the furnace and invited them to come forth. They stepped forth unharmed, without even the smell of smoke on them, into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar with all his high officials witnessing the miracle. Then he spoke, “Blessed be the God of Shadrack, Meschach and Abednego, who hath sent His angel and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that every people and nation and language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrack, Meschach and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God who can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.”
Nebuchadnezzar is coming along in his understanding of God, but he still needs to be humbled. In chapter four of Daniel, we read of his troubling dream. Daniel reveals to him that he will be driven from his palace to the fields to eat grass as an ox.
In Daniel 4:30 we see King Nebuchadnezzar walking through his glorious palace. The king said to himself, ” Is not this great Babylon which I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of MY power and for the honor of MY majesty?” That was enough!
While he yet spoke of his glory, there came a voice from Heaven to him saying, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken, The Kingdom is departed from thee!” God continued, announcing that he would be driven into the fields to live as cow or a donkey, eating grass.”
Even as God was speaking to him, his officials forcibly drove him from his palace into the fields and for the next seven years, he lived and acted as an animal, eating grass as an ox.
Let the proud beware. Many powerful men, or insignificant men who think they are powerful have made fools of themselves acting as asses, or shall I say more politely, acting as donkeys.
At the end of seven times, (seasons or years) Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes to God in Heaven and his understanding as a man returned to him. Listen carefully to what he said in Daniel 4:34-35 ” I blessed the Most High and I praised and honored Him who liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him what doest Thou?
WHAT A TESTIMONY from the mouth and heart of the once proudest of kings!! What did God do for Nebuchadnezzar? Because he had shown absolute humility and recognition of God, God restored him to his former office as Emperor of Babylon.
Listen now to Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony in the last verse of Daniel chapter 4.
“Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of Heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those who walk in pride He is able to abase!”
In that testimony I hear the voice of a man who had totally been humbled by God and recognized Him as Lord and Saviour. I personally expect to meet Nebuchadnezzar in Heaven, as a regenerated, contrite sinner who has put His trust in the God of Heaven. I look forward to spending time with him in Heaven and learning more about the grace of God in his life.
How about you? Are you broken before God? “A broken and a contrite heart God will not despise.” Psalm 51:17
WHAT IS A DECREE?
A decree is a command which is only as powerful as the speaker’s intention, authority and power to enforce. Mere man can only plan and declare what he plans to do; but he is under the sovereignty of God. James:4:13-16 So he is in no position to make decrees, apart from God’s will.
Ultimately, only God, according to Proverbs 8:14-16 and Psalm 115:1-3 has the power to make a decree and cause it to be accomplished, since He alone is all wise and almighty.
There have been four and only four world empires. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. There will be one more yet to come, the revived Roman Empire. So, understand as we continue our study of Ezra, that as the book opens the Babylonian empire has just fallen to Persia and now Persia is the world empire.
In the book of Ezra we learn of decrees by Babylonian and Persian emperors. The decrees ordained by God were fulfilled. All other decrees came to naught. Old Testament books related with Ezra include: Daniel, Esther, Haggai and Zechariah.
The events of Ezra take place at the end of the Babylonian Empire and their captivity of Judah and the beginning of the Persian reign of Cyrus. In this and the following studies we will be looking at the history of Judah under the following emperors.
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 606-561 BC
Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon 536 BC
Cyrus, the first emperor of Persia 538- 529 BC He ordered the return of the Jews to their homeland to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
Cambyses of Persia 529-522 BC
Darius I of Persia 521-485 BC the King who dealt with Daniel.
Xerxes (Ahasuerus) 485-465 BC (he took Esther as his wife) and
Artaxerxes 465-425 He is the Persian king who gave permission to Nehemiah to return to his homeland and rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem.
In the books of Daniel and Esther we learn about Jews who lived in Babylon before and after it was conquered by Cyrus of Persia.
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we learn of the Jews who chose to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity and help rebuild their temple.
In earlier studies in our Ezra series, we had learned of the decree of Cyrus, the first Persian emperor. Prophesied by Isaiah in Isaiah 44:28, 200 years before his birth, even to his name; Cyrus understood his God-given role in history. He was to free the Children of Judah from seventy years of Babylonian captivity and encourage them to return to Judah and rebuild their temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.
Some Jews, such as Daniel, chose, or were led by God to stay in Babylon. beginning under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar and continuing through to the reign of Darius, Emperor of Persia.
Other Jews, freed from Babylonian captivity by Cyrus, chose to return to their land of Judah and to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple and re-establish their lives as free men under the Persian rulers. Their story is told in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
HOW A HEATHEN EMPEROR BECAME A GODLY MAN
The book of Daniel is thrilling reading! In this book we are introduced to four young Hebrew men: Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, who loved God with all their hearts. Learn how God protected them and used them for His glory.
According to Daniel 1:3-8, these four young Hebrew men were brought to Babylon as Jewish captives when they were probably teenagers. Because of their character, intelligence and appearance, Nebuchadnezzar chose to bring them into his court and give them special attention and privileges the rest of the Jews did not enjoy. He believed them to be men who could be a great help to him in ruling the captive Jews. He even gave them Babylonian names, hoping to indoctrinate them into the ways of Babylon and change them. Instead of Nebuchadnezzar influencing them, they ended up influencing him to know and worship the God of Israel.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s journey to God begins with his dream recorded in Daniel 2, which Nebuchadnezzar and his sorcerers could not interpret. Then he called in Daniel who was able to interpret the dream. It was about a great image of which Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold.
Nebuchadnezzar was so taken with his glory as the head that he missed hearing or understanding that the image was about to be destroyed with a great Stone, representing Christ’s Kingdom.
THE FIERY FURNACE
In his arrogance, he ordered a great image to be made of of himself and ordered everyone in the kingdom to bow down and worship it whenever special music was played in honor of it. Anyone who refused to bow down would be thrown into a fiery furnace and burned alive.
The three godly Hebrews, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, in honor to God, refused to bow down to any image. Listen to their answer to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16-18. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. And He will deliver us out of thy hand, O King. But if not, be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
With the answer, Nebuchadnezzar became furious with the three men and ordered the furnace to be stoked and heated seven times hotter. Then he commanded his soldiers to tie them and pick them up and cast them into the furnace, fully clothed. The furnace was so hot that when the furnace door was opened to throw them in, the soldiers were burned to death, even as they threw them into the furnace.
As Nebuchadnezzar watched the proceedings, suddenly he was aware of a fourth man in the furnace. This fourth man along with the three Hebrew men were still alive walking about within the furnace. They were not burned nor were their clothes. Only the ropes that bound them were burned off their wrists and they walked about freely, unscathed by the heat.
That fourth man in the furnace was none other but Jesus appearing with the three Hebrew heroes in His pre-incarnate state. I take great comfort as a Christian in persecution we may be called to endure, in God’s promise to His own in Isaiah 43:1-3 “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee, for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”
GOD WORKING IN THE LIFE OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
As Nebuchadnezzar watched in utter astonishment, he said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
Nebuchadnezzar then addressed them as “servants of the Most High God” and invited them to walk out of the furnace. As they stepped forth, he noted that the fire had not hurt them. In fact, it had not even singed their hair, nor burned their clothing. They did not even smell burned.
Now listen to the amazing statement by this heathen king. “Blessed be the
God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants that trusted in Him… that they might not serve nor worship any god but their own God.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar made a new decree. ” Therefore I make a decree that every people, nation and language that speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego shall be cut in pieces and their houses shall be made a dung hill; because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted these three men in the province of Babylon.
Was God through with Nebuchadnezzar yet? No, God had more to humble and teach Nebuchadnezzar. We’ll look at that in our next study of Nebuchadnezzar.
If your church is like ours, there’s a lot of well-doing going on every day throughout your congregation. With the well-doing comes discouragement. I have my times of discouragement with physical and emotional exhaustion as you do. That’s why we all need encouragement.
The best encouragement comes from God’s Word, the Bible. That’s why Biblical preaching is central in our church. Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent His Word and healed them and delivered them from their destructions.” That’s why it’s important to be in church, especially when we’re discouraged. Hebrews 10:25, 12:12-13.
But what does the typical Christian do when discouraged? He falls right into Satan’s trap. He quits going to church or he vainly attempts to seek another church where there is no discouragement.
We’re presently studying the Book of Ezra, the fifth chapter. The Jews who had their temple and city of Jerusalem destroyed in 606 BC and had been in Babylonian Captivity for seventy years; were now under Persian rule. King Cyrus, under the sovereignty of God, had freed them from that captivity and given them permission to return to their homeland and rebuild.
DISCOURAGEMENT POPS UP ITS UGLY HEAD
No sooner had they begun to rebuild when they faced fierce opposition from local enemies of God. This opposition went on for about 100 years, bringing on stress and discouragement.
Read about it in Ezra 4:5-7 There you see the opposition started in the time of Cyrus 538-529 BC and it continued through the time of King Darius and finally during the time of King Artaxerxes who reigned 465-425 BC
They soon stopped their work on the Temple and turned all their attention to building their own houses. It’s not wrong to build our own houses and take care of our own needs; but it is wrong to neglect the House of God.
As I reminded you earlier, God heals us by sending us His Word. That’s exactly what God did for His discouraged Children of Judah. He sent two prophets: Haggai and Zechariah. You can read their messages in the books by their names towards the end of the Old Testament. I encourage you to read Haggai 1:1-14 and Zechariah 4:6 and 10. These messages stimulated them to take courage and get back to work.
FACING OPPOSITION AND DISCOURAGMENT
If you never face this, you evidently are doing nothing for God; but simply living for yourself and your own interests. The more faithful you are to God, the fiercer the opposition. Faithful Christians daily fight discouragement.
Read in Romans 7:18-25, 8:1-18 and Galatians 5:16-17 of this ongoing fight with sin and discouragement in the life of every faithful Christian. Thank God for the possibility of victory as we trust Christ for His strength in our weakness.
JUDAH’S RESPONSE TO THE PROPHET’S CHALLENGE
Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Jeshua, the High Priest, led the people by their own example in rebuilding the temple. Spiritual leadership is not an ivory tower position; rather it involves being an example by getting our hands dirty working with the people.
Their enemies did not ease the pressure against them; but the people refused to be discouraged and stop working on the temple. As long as we are on this earth doing God’s work, we are going to be attacked by Satan and those who belong to him.
Every church member is either a helper and an encourager or else a hinderer and discourager. No one is neutral in the work of God. That choice is made clear in Joshua 24:14-15 and again in Matthew 6:24. The temple was finally completed in the sixth year of King Darius of Persia, according the Ezra 6:15.
I’ve got some exciting information to give you concerning Cyrus and Darius in our next message in this series.
Under the sovereignty of God, Cyrus, emperor of Persia, gave permission for Judah to return to their homeland from seventy years of Babylonian captivity and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
No sooner did they begin working on the temple by laying the foundations, when Satan, the chief adversary of God and His children, struck again by hindering the work of progress on God’s temple. We know they were adversaries for Ezra 4:1 identifies them as adversaries.
HOW DID SATAN OPPOSE GOD’S WORK?
The adversaries opposed God’s work by appearing as friends of God’s people by offering to help them with the building project. The temptation to accept their help was strong, for there was much to do and they needed all the help they could get.
ZERUBBABEL’S RESPONSE TO THEIR OFFER
Zerubbabel, with spiritual discernment, replied to them, “You have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God, but we together will build unto the Lord God of Israel.” Most Christians today would judge a modern Ezra as being harsh, negative, judgmental and unnecessarily divisive for rejecting such help for a Christian cause. They would think, “Doesn’t he realize how unloving he was for rejecting their help? That if he had permitted the enemy to help with the work, that he would have greater opportunity to eventually lead them to Christ?”
Whenever God blesses His people, Satan is always there to oppose and destroy. Whenever there are choices to be made, Satan is right there to influence us to make the wrong choice. Peter warns in I Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant. Because your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
THE ULTIMATE TEST FOR RECOGNIZING SATAN
II John 7-11 gives the ultimate test for recognizing false teachers. One who is wrong on the doctrine of Christ, cannot be trusted in any other doctrinal area. What is the doctrine of Christ? It includes Jesus’ coming to this earth as a human baby, born of a virgin, His sacrificial blood atonement for our sins as He died on the cross and His bodily resurrection. The summary of the doctrine of Christ is that Jesus is God! He is the second person of the Godhead. He is the Jehovah, the I AM of the Old Testament. He is the Angel of the LORD throughour the Old Testament. For example, He is the angel who wrestled with Jacob at the brook Jabbok. He is the creative Word of God of John 1:1-12 who in the beginning, created the Heavens and the earth. The same passage tells us that this Creator God came to us in human flesh as Jesus of Nazereth who died for our sins and rose again the third day, proving He was God.
One can be wrong about other matters and still be a Christian; however, one who is wrong on the deity of Jesus is not a Christian.
Note that II John 10-11 teaches us that if we yoke together with them in Christian causes, including evangelistic efforts, or encourage them in their religious causes, that we are partakers with them of their sin.
The story of the prophet Balaam is found in Numbers 22-23 and 31:16. Basically, Balaam preached the truth; however, he used his influence to lead Israel into fellowship and intermarriage with the heathen. We also learn that his goal was popularity and “success” in the eyes of the world and more money. In the New Testament we learn of the WAY of Balaam in II Peter 2:15. In Jude 11 we learn that the way of Balaam eventually became known as the ERROR of Balaam. Then in Revelation 2:13-14 we learn that Balaam’s error has become the DOCTRINE of Balaam. Christ clearly announces here that he hates the doctrine of Balaam. That doctrine is compromising the Truth for popularity and financial success.
CHRISTENDOM TODAY IS A DANGEROUS MINEFIELD
Paul warned in II Timothy 3:1-8 that in the last days before Christ’s return that perilous, dangerous days would come as the truth was adulterated and confused. One of the best books I have found dealing with the dangers in churches today is John MacArthur’s 2010 edition of his book Ashamed of the Gospel. Christians need to be aware in choosing a church. Young people headed for college need to be aware of the college they choose. Not all colleges that call themselves Christian are faithful to God’s Word.
I encourage you to go to my series on SEPARATION on this HIDDEN TREASURES web site. Follow through that series as I explain the terms, Liberalism, Fundamentalism, Neo Orthodoxy and New Evangelicalism, which is simply Liberalized Evangelicalism. Check out the following web site by Dr. Jay Grimstead for clarification of issues regarding Neo Orthodoxy vs the Biblical position.
THE RESULT OF JUDAH‘S REJECTION OF THE ENEMIES’ HELP
Returning to Ezra 4 we learn that when Zerubbabel refused help from the enemies of God, they changed their tactics and began actively opposing the work with legal tactics and continual harassing That opposition wore on year after year for about 100 years from the time of Cyrus in 538- 529 BC to the time of Darius 423- 405 BC. Imagine! All these years of opposition simply because they stood uncompromisingly for the Truth!
Where do you stand? I challenge you to study these issues. Your future success in the eyes of God rests on it.
Although thanksgiving and worship are separate responses; they are interrelated. It’s impossible to worship without a thankful heart; but one who has a thankful heart towards God is worshipping Him.
JUDAH FREED FROM SLAVERY
In our study of the book of Ezra we’ve been observing the children of Judah who had been enslaved by Babylon, but who were now set free and encouraged to return to their Homeland by Cyrus, the Emperor of Persia.
Cyrus, who may have been aware of God’s call on his life from learning of Isaiah’s prophecy of him, even calling him by name two hundred years before he was born, (Isaiah 44:23-28 and 45:1-13). was now anxious to fulfill that call on him by freeing the Children of Judah to return to their homeland.
Or perhaps Cyrus was not aware of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning him. Perhaps he was just carrying out his own will. Regardless, Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, He turneth it whithersoever He will.”
Cyrus did not command them, but encouraged those who were willing to return home. Ezra 2:64 records that a remnant of 42,360 people who had a heart for God and for the land God had promised their forefather, Abraham, returned.
As Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness; so the faithful remnant returned, believing God and it was counted to them for righteousness. They returned to their homeland and to Jerusalem which lay in shambles from Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction seventy years earlier.
They knew, only too well, that it would require hard work to rebuild; but to the remnant, it was worth the effort. To them, life was not worth living apart from God and from fellowship with him, as they had sung in Psalm 137 while enslaved in Babylon
Now that they had returned; their sadness and depression had turned to joy and gladness and as Isaiah 35:10 says, “sorrow and sighing fled away.”
They returned to Jerusalem to concentrate their attention and efforts to re-establish their worship of God by rebuilding the temple. They were determined to do things right according to the Law of Moses.
THEIR FIRST CONCERN
According to Ezra 1:1 and 3:1 in the seventh month of the first year of Cyrus’ proclamation of freedom, the Children of Judah set up their altar first. The altar was the place where animal blood sacrifices were made as an atonement for their sins. These sacrifices foreshadowed the perfect blood sacrifice of Christ at the appointed time. Until the sin problem is resolved, there is no need to attempt to worship God. It is impossible.
CHRISTIANS MUST REPENT
Before we as Christians can worship, sin has to be dealt with first. We must confess as we come to God in brokenness over our sins with a desire to be cleansed and freed from its power. Too many Christians come to God with a careless attitude, about their sins. “After all, no one is perfect!.” What a sick excuse to keep on sinning! They continue in their sins, excusing them with the excuse, “I’m justified. God only sees me in Christ’s righteousness; therefore I can continue in my sins.” Though that is a wonderful truth for the Christian, such excuses to continue in sin are horrible and insulting to our holy God.
To such, God warns of woe in Amos 5:21-27 and 6:1-6. That woe is a warning of trouble and sorrow to follow you throughout your life if you insist on continuing in your sins while at the same time pretending to worship God.
In II Chronicles 7:14 God details the kind of response He expects from us before He will forgive and cleanse us of our sins and revive us and heal our sin-sick nation. He addresses Christians; not the heathen.
which are called by My name
shall humble themselves
and seek my face,
and turn from their wicked ways;
I will hear from Heaven,
and will forgive their sins,
and will heal their land.”
THE SAMARITAN WOMAN WAS SAVED
No one, including the Samaritan woman of John 4, can worship God until the sin problem is settled by coming to Jesus as Saviour. This woman came to Jesus with academic questions about worship. Jesus brushed the worship conversation aside and concentrated on the woman’s real need of dealing with her sins and finding forgiveness through Jesus.
She responded in faith to Christ and went out sharing the good news of Jesus throughout the town. Through her testimony of a changed life, many Samaritans came to Christ.
DOES YOUR WORSHIP OFFEND GOD?
To go through the motions of worshipping God while still holding on to our sins is offensive to God and we deceive ourselves. Repeatedly through the Gospels Jesus pronounced woe on hypocrites who went through the motions of worship while holding on to their sins. Listen to Him dress down the Pharisees in Matthew 23. No harsher words were ever spoken by Jesus.
To claim to worship God while still holding on to, feeding on and loving this Satan-dominated, contaminated, perverted world system with its filthy movies, videos, and web sites is to deceive ourselves and insult and offend our holy God.
God confronts us through the prophet, Amos, in Amos 5:21-24, ” I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in incense in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from Me the noise of thy (worship) songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
In Revelation 2-3 Jesus warns of woe on the churches of Asia Minor, (representing the churches of the Church Age) We are warned of our sins and warned to repent or else He will deal with us harshly.
QUIT TRYING TO TWO-TIME GOD!
Dear Christian friends, you and I cannot continue to serve Satan and allow his sin-contaminated world system to corrupt our minds and attempt to serve Christ as the same time anymore than you can attempt to have two girl friends or two wives at the same time. He desires all of your love or nothing. He will not put up with our divided hearts. It’s either Christ or the world system. Jesus said so in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 We must choose.
We cannot allow movie and rock stars to have a part of our lives, or they will consume all of our life and love.
We cannot devote hours devouring R & X rated movies at the theatre or on our television or listening to Satanic-inspired music on our I pods without that garbage taking away our appetite for the Word of God and our love for Christ.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold fast the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (the things of this world).” If you want to argue about that, argue with Jesus. He’s the One who said it in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13.
God wants all of you or nothing. He’s not satisfied to have an hour or two of you on Sunday. Only after sin is dealt with can we start building the proper foundation for life. Have you set up an altar in your heart to love and worship Christ with all your heart?
THEIR SECOND CONCERN
In the second year, Ezra 3:8-11 tells us, they laid the foundation of the temple and began praising the Lord and giving thanks for the progress.
Can you say honestly that Christ is the foundation of your life? Is Christ what life is all about, as far as you are concerned? Can you say with Paul, in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain?”
Are you aware of the solemn fact in I Corinthians 3:16-17 “That you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? Are you aware of the fact that if you continue to defile your body, His temple, that God will destroy you?”
WHEN DOES THE WORSHIP BEGIN?
You and I cannot lay the right foundation in our lives until we have set up the altar of our hearts to honor and worship Christ alone. Ezra 3:10 says that “When the foundation was laid, then the worship began.” Only when sin is confessed are we capable of praising and thanking God for His goodness and mercy.
All other efforts to worship God are a farce. It is all meaningless and God is not impressed with it. In fact, if offends Him.
When we have surrendered our hearts and lives to God and we have turned our backs on the sinful, contaminating world system; then and only then does true worship begin. Only then can we prove to ourselves that His will is good and perfect. Only then will we be worshipping God in spirit and in truth. Our worship of God through our daily lives will shine out to those around us and our worship will be seen and heard by those around us and our godly influence will be felt by those afar off.
Are we submitted to Christ as Lord of our life? Have we purposely turned our heart away from the contaminating world system and from the sinful desires of our flesh? Is our heart an altar where Christ alone is worshipped? Only then will we have a heart that worships Him with thanksgiving.
There is nothing so popular and misunderstood and divisive in churches today as “Worship.” The Charismatic movement of the 1960’s has emphasized it as an experience to be sought. The Rock and Roll movement of the hippies of the 60’s has given modern worship the rock beat for its music.
The hippies at that time were in rebellion against their parents and against the government and against all authority in general. They used their rock music to express their rebellion. The Contemporary-minded Church, of the 60’s chose to adopt their rock music for worship in order to try to reach them for Christ. For fifty years now their rock beat has been the medium for worship music in what is known as The Contemporary Church. God, not popularity, is the judge of how successful that has been.
We’re presently studying the third chapter of Ezra in which the people of Judah are setting up the altar and preparing to build a new temple. You may remember that Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when he conquered Judah and took them into Babylonian captivity.
In this third chapter we see them preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles, a time when they built lean-to shelters of branches to temporarily live in as they celebrated God’s faithfulness to them during their wilderness wanderings.
Ezra 3 gives us three facts concerning their worship and how we must worship and carry out the work of The Church.
1. Everyone was united as one man in this concern. Ezra 3:1
2. Everything was done according to the Law of Moses. Today we can broaden that to the complete Word of God. Ezra 3:2,4
3. At the heart of worship was the burnt offering which typified the importance of Christ’s blood sacrifice, whose sacrifice and bodily resurrection is the foundation of Christianity. Ezra 3:3
Let us keep in mind that when it comes to worship and to how we conduct church services, our final authority is not our opinions nor preferences. Those are what divide churches and Christians in general. Rather, our final authority must be The Word of God. God’s principles and standards are applicable to any age.
THE PEOPLE WERE UNITED
The people were united in Ezra’s day according to Ezra 3:1 just as they were united when the Church got underway at Pentecost, as we see in Acts 2:1 There were no denominations or factions at that time. Acts 2:44-47, 4:24, 32-35. According to Ezra 3:11-13 the sound of their music and the shouting of the young men and the weeping of the older men could not be distinguished and it was heard from afar. They had a united testimony. There was no “generation gap”.
Any worship that does not make much of the shed blood of Christ for our sins, is counterfeit. Note the worship of the Church in Heaven described in Revelation 5. It’s all about the sacrifice of Christ’s blood for our sins. In true worship as we stand before God; age, gender, race, wealth, status and personal preferences all fade away into insignificance. All that matters is God’s glory.
Our God and our worship of Him is all bigger than ourselves. You and I have no right as individual Christians to determine by our preferences what is and what is not acceptable to God. God’s Word must be the final authority. Our God and our worship is too small when we limit the expression of our worship to the values and musical tastes of a particular generation- young or old or to a particular period of time or a particular nationality.
One thing we know from the Bible is that worship has been expressed through melodies that spring from regenerated, joyful hearts, as we see in Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16. The essence of Christian music is Scriptural truth perfectly married to beautiful, singable melodies. Those melodies, harmonies and rhythms are greatly varied by nationalities.
According to Psalm 150, worship may be accompanied with musical instruments, including cymbals and drums. Psalm 47 adds that worship may also involve clapping our hands; not necessarily as we would clap for a musical performance in a recital, but spontaneous clapping that expresses our joy and agreement in worship, much as AMEN is used to express agreement. Of course, it is possible to be totally distracted from the preaching of the Word by dancing in the aisles and chasing people around the church sanctuary, as I have witnessed in some church services.
More important than the music is the importance of approaching God in the beauty of holiness, the imputed holiness of Jesus made possible by our trust in His shed blood for our sins and a practical holiness resulting through our relationship with His Holy Spirit.
CONSIDER THE DEPTH AND BREADTH OF WORSHIP
All music consists of melody, harmony and rhythm. What concerns me about contemporary worship is not so much the rock beat rhythm, which I could understand, though probably never appreciate in sacred or secular music. What concerns me most about contemporary worship services is its limitation and lack of breadth of worship music. It all seems limited to the rock beat.
What grieves me deeply is that in the contemporary worship services, generations of Christians born after the 1960’s are missing out on knowing and singing the great hymns of The Faith, as found, for example, in church hymnals of the past. What grieves me is that this generation of Christians are becoming spectators as they watch and listen to the worship teams. They are losing their ability to sing. I listen to them groaning, not knowing where the melody is going.
I grieve that they will never hear nor know about thousands of hymns and Gospel songs by Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, a blind saint of God who wrote about 8,000 Gospel songs, including Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, Blessed Assurance, To God be the Glory, All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, I Am Thine, O Lord, Draw Me Nearer, and My Saviour First of All, a song in which she describes her joy as a blind person of one day seeing Jesus.
Then there are hundreds more hymns and Gospel songs by Al Smith. Oswald Smith, John Peterson, and Bill & Gloria Gaither. Frank Garlock and Ron Hamilton have added a large selection of beautiful hymns and Gospel songs with their modern harmony to church music.
THINK ABOUT THIS
Contemporary Christian Music and its monotonous rock beat, now fifty years old, has become the exclusive, staple sound and atmosphere of contemporary worship. The Christian music of past centuries has been BANNED from this generation as being embarrassingly out of date. It’s like a young family locking their grandparents in a closet so that they will not be embarrassed by their age. It’s like a young woman not being caught dead in her mother’s dress, for fear of being out of style.
Again I remind you that the CCM crowd who consider themselves contemporary and up-to-date are actually locking themselves into a style of music that is now over fifty years old. Why do they call it contemporary? Who cares whether it is contemporary? The questions that matter are: “Does it speak Biblical truth to the heart? Does it reflect our response to Biblical truth?
Worship music must not be based on that which appeals to the opinions and preferences of unregenerate sinners. They have no idea what true worship of God is, nor do they desire to worship Him. They live in rebellion to God.
Why should rebellious sinners be allowed to dictate to us how we are going to worship God and what we can and cannot sing or preach?
Christ is building His Church. We are not called on to rebuild or reinvent the church. Over the past several decades there has been a concerted effort to rebuild the church to try to meet changing needs of each generation. They want to change the worship style, music and preaching content. Each new generation wants it different from the former generation. Vainly the church tries to be in vogue by changing styles as often as hair styles and dress styles change.
God gave the pattern, as well as the standards for church leadership for the church, in Acts and in Paul’s Epistles.
It is not our calling to attempt to try to make God more popular with fallen sinful man by ignoring or overlooking the need to confront sin.
Looking at verse 10-13 of Ezra 3 we read of the united worship sounding forth from the builders of the temple. The younger were more enthusiastic and noisy. The older were more melancholic and sentimental. But the sound that went forth was a mighty united sound that made it impossible to distinguish the younger from the older. The volume of that sound was not measured in decibels as much as it was by the love, unity and fellowship heard for miles around.
Most of the stories of the Kings of Israel occurred at the same time Assyria was rising to power from 900BC- 607BC. God was preparing cruel Assyria to be His tool to judge backslidden Israel. God’s prophets who warned Israel of coming judgment included Elijah, Elisha, Joel, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah.
In 734 BC, the ten northern tribes of Israel were conquered by cruel Assyria and were dispersed throughout the world where they are to this day.
Later the two southern Tribes of Israel, Judah and Benjamin, were captured and taken into Babylon as slaves by Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet Jeremiah warned of this in Jeremiah 25:1-12. Other prophets to Judah included: Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
While these Jews were in Babylonian Captivity Jeremiah prophesied in a letter to them in Jeremiah 29:1-11, advising them to plan to settle in Babylon for the next seventy years. They were to marry, have children and build homes for themselves. They were not going to be delivered any sooner.
FINALLY THE SEVENTY YEARS WERE ACCOMPLISHED.
Cyrus did not command them to return to the homeland. He allowed them to choose whether they would leave or stay. When freed by Cyrus, only a remnant of Judah chose to return to their Homeland. This is how it has been throughout redemptive history. Of course, God is sovereign in the affairs and decisions of men; however, that does not hinder our personal freedom. All are still free to receive or reject Him. God, of course, knows the end from the beginning and always accomplishes His will.
There were still obstacles to their freedom that only God could overcome. In this book of Ezra we see God moving in amazing ways to remove those obstacles.
God delivered them from Babylonian captivity by allowing Cyrus of Persia to conquer Babylon in 536 BC. and rise to power over Judah, as well as the rest of the world. The remnant that returned were known by God by their names and even by the number of people from each family that returned.
Most astounding, Isaiah, who prophesied from 745-695 BC, prophesied Cyrus by name and told what he would accomplish 200 years before he was born. You can read that prophesy in Isaiah 44:23-28 and 45:1-13. Truly the King’s heart as well as the heart of every political leader in the world, is in God’s hand, according to Proverbs 21:1.
Along with God’s sovereignty which accomplishes His sovereign will in the affairs of man, we Christians are called to pray for our government leaders in II Timothy 2:1-4 that we might live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
In answer to prayer, God moved in the heart of Cyrus to give Judah permission to return to their Homeland. But more than that, He gave permission for them to rebuild their temple. He even provided grants for them to help rebuild. Not only that, but he took the golden and silver vessels of the temple which Nebuchadnezzar had stolen and put in his treasure houses and Cyrus returned those temple vessels to Judah to restore to their temple.
GOD KNOWS YOUR NAME AND ALL THE DETAILS ABOUT YOU.
Reading Ezra chapters 1 & 2 we become aware of many details, including names and numbers of unknown people and even the number of animals that returned from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, their Homeland, when Emperor Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 538 BC.
Ii Timothy 2:19 Reminds us that “The Lord know them that are His and let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Note several lists of those who belong to Christ in Romans 16, Malachi 3:16-17 and Hebrews 11. God does not forget His own.
Note in Ezra 2 the lists and numbers by category of those who belonged to God. the priests 2:36-39, the Levites who were not descendents of Aaron, 2:40, the singers 2:41, the porters who carried everything 2:42, the Nethinims, slaves who drew water and cut wood 2:43. The grand total of all those who returned from Babylonian slavery were 42.360 people.
God know exactly how many and who belongs to Him. He encourages us to rejoice because our names are written in Heaven in the Lambs Book of Life.
In Zechariah 4:10 we are encouraged to not despise the seemingly small and insignificant details of our lives. God is at work even in the smallest of details.
This basic prophetic article is based on the Angel Gabriel’s message to Daniel in response to Daniel ‘s confession and concern for Israel’s future as found in Daniel 9.
An understanding of this will help us better understand the Book of Ezra as we try to explain it in messages to come.
The purpose of this article is not to satisfy idle curiosity, but to help us get the overall picture of God’s prophetic timetable. I will not attempt to set dates concerning the return of Christ. Jesus repeatedly told us in Scripture that no man knows the time of Christ’s return. We are simply to be ready for His imminent return. The Apostle Paul expected Jesus to return in his own lifetime. I Thessalonians 4:15 Bible believing Christians have been expecting Jesus to return in their generation for the past 2000 years. That expectation and excitement seems to have accelerated in the last century.
While Daniel was praying to God, confessing his sins and the sins of his beloved nation, Israel; no doubt, confused and depressed by the prophecies God had given him in Daniel 7 and 8 of the Gentiles powers that would rule in the centuries ahead, and grieving for his beloved people Israel, still banished from their homeland; God answered by sending the angel Gabriel to him with a special announcement. God promised to give Israel 70 more weeks of history. Literally, that is 70 sevens of years or 490 years.
A Week of Years
A week of years is a period of seven years. This is not something we pull out of thin air. The Hebrew word for seven is shabua. The word means a unit of measurement of seven just as our word dozen is a unit of measurement for twelve.
In Genesis 29:16-28 we learn that Jacob worked for Laban for seven years in exchange for Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel. At the end of seven years of work, Laban tricked Jacob by giving him Leah, his oldest daughter. Though this upset Jacob, he loved Rachel so much that he fulfilled another “week of years” to have the woman he most loved. So when Gabriel in Daniel 9 is speaking of a week of years, he is referring to a period of seven years.
This 490 year period of Israel’s history would include Christ making reconciliation for iniquity and conclude by Christ bringing everlasting righteousness to this earth. This 490 year period of Israel’s history would begin with a king’s decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. According to Nehemiah 2:1, Artaxerxes gave that decree in the month Nisan in the twentieth year of his reign. He reigned in Persia from 465 to 425 BC. So the twentieth year of his reign was 445 BC.
You can read the text of that amazing decree in Ezra 7:11-26.
Gabriel’s announcement divides the seventy weeks of years into three groups.
The first 7 weeks of years, or 49 years takes us to Malachi and the end of the Old Testament.
The next 62 weeks of years or 434 years takes us through the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testament and through the years of Christ’s life and ministry on this earth. So adding 49 and 434 gives us a total of 483 years or 69 weeks of years. These are all in the past. Messiah the Prince, the Lord Jesus Christ, would be cut off or die; but not for His own sins. Jesus came into the world and died for our sins.
So since 445 BC, the year of Artaxexes decree to rebuild Jerusalem, 483 of the 490 years of Israel’s history have been fulfilled with only seven more years to go before everlasting righteousness will be ushered in.
Sitting on the Side Track
When Israel publicly rejected Jesus, their Messiah; God switched Israel from the main track of prophecy to a siding and brought a new train, The CHURCH, composed of born again Jews and Gentiles, on to the main track.
Israel, as a nation, has been on a siding ever since. The clock has temporarily stopped ticking for her. When the Church, composed of regenerated Jews and Gentiles, is raptured from this earth, the Church will be removed from the main track of prophecy and Israel will be switched from the siding back on to the main track. Luke 21:24 and Romans 11:25-27 speak of this side-tracking of Israel for the present. With the removal of the Church to Heaven, the final seven years prophesied by Gabriel will start ticking away. Unconverted Jews will find themselves in the Tribulation along with all unbelievers alive at that time.
The Abomination of Desolation
The Tribulation will begin with Anti-Christ appearing and making a covenant of peace with Israel. Daniel 9:27 After 3½ years, Anti-Christ will enter the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem and desecrate it, claiming that he alone is God to be worshipped. Daniel 9:27 Matt. 24:15-22 II Thessalonians 2:3-4 The final 3½ years of the Tribulation will be known as The Great Tribulation. God’s wrath will be poured out on the world like nothing anyone has ever seen.
Note these veiled references to the final 3 ½ years of the Tribulation.
Rev. 12:6, 1,260 days = about 3 ½ years
Rev.12:14 time, times, half a time.= 1 year,2 years, ½ year =3 ½ yrs
Rev. 13:5 42 months= 3 ½ years
Martyred for Christ
A remnant of Israel converted to Christ during the Tribulation will endure martyrdom at the hands of the Anti-Christ. At the end of the seven years of Tribulation, Jesus will return in glory, destroy His enemies and bring in the Millennial Kingdom of everlasting righteousness, thus fulfilling Daniel’s final Seventy Weeks of Jewish history.
Will you be left behind?
Those Jews and Gentiles who receive Christ as Saviour in this Church Age of Grace will be raptured from this earth and thus escape the awful Tribulation that lies ahead for those left behind.
The Bible reveals History, His Story, God’s story, from Genesis to Revelation. That’s why it’s so exciting and powerful to the saving of souls.
In Genesis 3:15 is the SEED PLOT of the Bible. It refers to two seeds. The Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman is Jesus and those who belong to Him and the seed of the serpent is Satan and those who belong to him. The promise of Genesis 3:15 is that although Satan would do everything in his power to destroy Jesus; Jesus would eventually conquer and destroy Satan. That’s the story line of the Bible.
In Genesis we learn of the creation of man and the story of how sin entered the world through Adam and Eve and the serpent, Satan, who beguiled them and tempted them to sin against God, their Creator.
Starting with Genesis 4 we are confronted with the truth that salvation is by a blood sacrifice and that good works do not save. We see in the story of Cain and Abel the enmity between God’s Seed and Satan’s seed.
Genesis 12 introduces God’s plan of redemption through Jesus who would come through Abraham’s son Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and through one of the twelve sons of Jacob, Judah, through whom Jesus came in the fullness of time.
In the final chapters of Genesis we find Israel leaving their homeland because of a famine and settling in the land of Goshen, a fertile area of Egypt. In Exodus we learn of Israel’s enslavement by the Egyptian Pharaohs for four hundred years. At the end of that 400 years God raised up Moses to lead them out of the bondage of Egypt back to their Promised Land of Israel.
Years later in 606 BC to 536 BC, Judah was conquered and enslaved for seventy years by the Babylonian Empire. Their deliverance from Babylon is the theme of this series in Ezra.
God’s eternal plan for His chosen people, the Jews, was for them to return to their own land of Palestine so that in the fullness of time Jesus, their Messiah and Saviour of the world would fulfill prophecy by being born in Bethlehem, dying on the cross, sacrificing His blood for our sins. and rising again from the dead the third day so that He could save all who come to Him by faith.
God’s eternal plan for us, His Church, concerns worship, spiritual growth, fellowship, discipleship and evangelism. Those needs are met and we are equipped for service as we spend time in His Word, obeying whatever He shows us.
The devil did all in his power to hinder God’s plan for the Jews and he continues to try to hinder God’s plan for us. That’s why Satan tempts us to sin and hinder our fellowship with God.
That’s why restoration, renewal and revival are necessary. That’s the theme of the Book of Ezra, being restored back to God.
Because of the sin of rebellion towards God, Israel was in captivity under Babylon for seventy years just as they had been enslaved by Egypt a thousand years earlier and just as they have been scattered throughout the world for the past two thousand years.
But God is not finished with Israel. He has an eternal, wonderful plan for them when Jesus returns one day and they meet Him and receive Him as their Messiah. Zechariah prophesies this in chapters 12-14.
Nor is God finished with us gentiles: helpless and hopeless in our sins. Through faith in the Lord Jesus, who died on the cross, paying the full penalty for our sins; we can be saved and brought into fellowship with Him, our Saviour and Heavenly Bridegroom.
DELIVERANCE FROM BABYLONIAN EXILE
The book of Ezra tells that story of deliverance which took place over 2500 years ago back in 538 BC. The Jewish remnant experienced deliverance from Babylonian captivity and restoration back to their homeland of Israel. God prepared the way for the birth of Jesus and His death and resurrection so that all who receive Him as Saviour may be saved.
To grasp the history of this period of time, read Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. To grasp God’s message to His people during this time of captivity and restoration, read the prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Also read the book of Daniel to get the big picture of what God was doing through Israel at this time and what He has in store for us in the future.
If you are familiar with ancient history, you are aware of the four major world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome
You are also aware that King Belshazzar and His Babylonian world empire fell to the conquering King Cyrus of Persia in 536 BC.
That’s where the story of the Book of Ezra comes in. We’ll get started with that the next time.
Because of sin, primarily idolatry and rebellion, God caused the ten northern tribes of Israel to be conquered and scattered throughout the world by the Assyrian Empire in 721 BC.
About a hundred years later, the world power Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin and carried them down to Babylon where they were slaves for seventy years from 606-536 BC. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied this enslavement in Jeremiah 25:1-14.
Babylon, as a nation, was the mother of idolatry. The Jews were cured of that sin through that experience and have never been guilty of it since.
Though some started to return to their homeland in 1948, most are still scatterted throughout the world to this day.
Jump ahead to Revelation 17 and there you will read of the final fall of Mystery Babylon, the idolatrous, ecumenical church headquartered in Rome. Then read Revelation 18 and read of the destruction of the global economic system of the Anti-Christ. We are already starting to see the disintegration of this system world-wide as America, as well as other nations, sink into obscene debt and as inflation heats up and we see the value of the dollar plummeting.
While Judah was in Babylonian captivity the Prophet Jeremiah wrote to the captives in Jeremiah 29:1-19 to encourage them to settle down there, build homes and get married and have children for they would be there for seventy years, regardless of what the false prophets told them, and then they would return to their homeland.
Psalm 137 describes the mental and spiritual state of the Jews while they were in captivity. They were depressed and had no desire to sing their songs of Zion and glorify God. That’s the spiritual state of every Christian who is far from God.
CYRUS OF PERSIA CONQUERS BELSHAZZAR OF BABYLON
Under Cyrus of Persia, Judah had freedom that they had not experienced under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Cyrus challenged and encouraged them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. His philosophy of ruling was to allow those he conquered to go back to their homes, which were now part of the Persian Empire. This philosophy made for more contented citizens. The prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 51 had prophesied 50 to 70 years earlier that Cyrus would free his captives to go back to their home.
Most amazing, Isaiah in Isaiah 44:23-28 and 45:1-13 had called Cyrus by name and prophesied what he would do concerning Judah 200 years before he was born. No wonder Cyrus was so congenial with his captives from Judah. He knew God’s hand was upon him. He knew his purpose in life.
Not only did Cyrus free and challenge Judah to return to their homeland; but he even helped finance the rebuilding of their temple which Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed seventy years earlier. Furthermore he took the temple’s treasured vessels of gold and silver which Nebuchadnezzar had plundered and put in his storehouse and he returned them to the Children of Judah to replace in their temple.
Did it ever occur to you that there were EIGHT TEMPLES? The thought occured to me as I was preparing to preach this message. Let me list them for you.
1. The Tabernacle which Moses set up in the wilderness as Israel traveled from Egypt to Canaan, was a prototype of the temples that would be built.
The Tabernacle had the same rooms, Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. And it had the same temple furnishings, including the altar of burnt offerings and the Ark of the Covenant..
2. Solomon built the first temple as a permanent building in 957 BC
3. Ezra built the next temple in 538 BC. This is the temple we will be considering in our study of Ezra.
4. Later King Herod refurbished Ezra’s temple in 20 BC and it was known as Herod’s Temple. This is the one in which Jesus cleansed during His ministry. This temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, leaving not one stone upon another. Luke 21:6
5. The fifth temple is the body of the believer during this Church Age. Paul reminds us as Christians in I Corinthians 6:19-20 that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit; and as such, we are to keep them holy, not allowing sin to continue unconfessed. Our local churches themselves are not temples. They are just buildings in which Christ’s Temple dwells whenever Christians are gathered together in His name.
6. Near the end of the Church Age and just before, or perhaps immediately after the rapture of Christians, a temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. This is the temple which the Anti-christ will defile during the midst of the Tribulation. Following this Abomination, God will pour out His wrath on this earth and its inhabitants to the degree no one has ever experienced. That will take place during the last 3 ½ years of The Tribulation. This is referred to in Daniel 12:7-13, Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13:1-9 and II Thessalonians 2:1-4.
The fact that the Jews are even now making plans for this newly rebuilt temple shows us that the end may be much closer than we can imagine. That temple must be there for the Anti-christ to defile.
7. The seventh Temple is the Millennial temple. It is prophesied and described in Ezekiel chapters 40-48. It is the temple to which the nations of the earth will come during the Kingdom Age on this earth to worship and learn of Christ, the Messiah.
8 The eighth and final temple will be Christ Himself in eternity. In Revelation 21:22 we learn that in Heaven there will be no need of temples to point us to Jesus. Christ Himself will be that temple.
And so returning to our original thought, God in His providence, totally orchestrated the deliverance of His people back to Jerusalem and Judah in two stages.
Stage one was led by Zerubbabel, also known as Sheshbazzar. This is described in Ezra 1-6.
Stage two was led by Ezra, the scribe and it is described in Ezra 7-10. As the deliverance of Judah was totally the work of God, so our salvation is totally the work of God, Surely the king’s heart is in the hand of God, as Proverbs 21:1 states. God miraculously moved in the heart of King Cyrus to give the Jews permission and his blessing to return to their homeland. All of this was in preparation for Jesus to be born and live and die in Judah just 400 years later.
Not only did God move in the heart of King Cyrus to give this freedom to the Jews to rebuild their land, but God also put it in the hearts of the people to do the rebuilding.
LESSONS FOR US AS CHRISTIANS IN ALL OF THIS
1. Ezra did not force the people to rebuild the temple. He asked for volunteers. God has a purpose and plan for each of us as Christians. Only the surrendered and yielded to God will ever discover this plan and the blessings that accompany it. God’s army is a volunteer army; not a drafted army.
2. Here’s a warning for us! Ezra was a scribe who knew and wrote and preached God’s Word. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day just 400 years later had become so cold spiritually, that even though they knew the Word, they had become enemies of God and were instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus. God help us as we continue our study of Ezra that we allow His Word to sink into our hearts and change us and give us a love for Christ. Otherwise, we will just become cold, heartless legalists adding burdens to the lives of others.
So it is in this spirit of love for Christ and His Word that we approach our study of Ezra.