Ezra 7:11-26

11 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord for Israel:

12 Artaxerxes, king of kings,

To Ezra the priest, teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:

Greetings.

13 Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who volunteer to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14 You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15 Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17 With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.

18 You and your fellow Israelites may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20 And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you are responsible to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.

21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you— 22 up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23 Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons? 24 You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.

25 And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
(Ezra 7:11-26 NIV)

In our last time together, we saw Ezra introduce himself (in the third person), his mission, and summarize his trip from Babylon to Jerusalem.  As we also discovered, Ezra is writing in his present day, during the reign of King Artaxerxes.

Today, we begin a section (the remainder of chapter 7 and all of chapter 8) where Ezra provides the details of his trip – the preparation, the actual trip, and the completion of trip duties upon arrival in Jerusalem.

Today, we are focused on verses 11 – 26 – King Artaxerxes’ official decree and the letter that he wrote and sent with Ezra.

Here is a summary of the letter’s contents:

  • vv. 12-13 – Permission for Ezra to go and take anyone who is willing to go, especially those who will minister in the Temple
  • vv. 14-16 – The king is sending Ezra to make sure the Jewish people are being taught God’s Law and are living according to God’s Law
  • vv. 17-19 – Gifts and offerings from King Artaxerxes and from the people are being sent with Ezra for worshipping the Lord
  • vv. 20 – 22 – Supplies provided by the king, with the following limits:
    • a hundred talents of silver (7,500 pounds, or 3.75 tons)
    • a hundred cors of wheat (650 bushels)
    • a hundred baths of wine (600 gallons)
    • a hundred baths of olive oil (600 gallons)
    • salt without limit
  • v. 23 – the “why” of the trip and the offerings – to obey God and protect the king and his family (his sons)
  • v. 24 – No taxation of those who serve in the Temple
  • v. 25 – Ezra is to appoint religious rulers and judges over the people so that they can oversee and enforce what Ezra will teach them from God’s Law
  • v. 26 – Ezra and the rulers and judges that Ezra appoints have the authority to enforce consequences for disobedience to God’s Law

 

As we look at this passage today, we see God’s hands of providence, protection, preparation, and provision around the people of Israel, as Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

  • disciplining the children of Israel and Judah for their disobedience
  • restoring them to their homeland
  • teaching them His Laws again
  • building a faithful community that honors Him from generation to generation
  • preparing His people for the coming of Messiah (Jesus)

Just as God used Ezra and the others to carry out His work, the Lord is calling us to be and to do His work to bring glory to His name.

May we be as zealous to be like the Lord and carry out His desires as Ezra was.

Blessings,

~kevin

Ezra 7:1-10

After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.

Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
(Ezra 7:1-10 NIV)

As we ended chapter 6, Ezra was writing from a historical perspective.  Tattenai, the regional governor in Judah, had tried to stop Zerubbabel and the other Jewish returning exiles from rebuilding the Temple.  Tattenai wrote a letter to King Darius in hopes of stopping the effort.   God intervened as King Darius wrote back and gave his full support to the project, ordering Tattenai to give his full support and pay for the project with regional tax dollars and treasury funds.

The Temple rebuilding was finished, and regular services resumed with Temple staff in place.  The Jewish people held a large celebration to dedicate the Temple to the Lord.  Later that year, the people held the first Passover in the rebuilt Temple with a week-long celebration.

As we begin chapter 7, we fast-forward roughly sixty years from the end of chapter 6.  Ezra is now writing in his present time, in the days of King Artaxerxes.

Ezra introduces himself (in the third person narrative) by tracing his ancestry back to Aaron the high priest (who served alongside Moses), his training as a scribe well-trained in God’s Law, and his implied role (a servant of King Artaxerxes, likely a government official in charge of Jewish affairs).

King Artaxerxes allowed Ezra and other Jewish exiles to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem to attend to the affairs of the Temple and of the Jewish people.  Ezra’s traveling companions all had official ties to Temple worship:  priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, and temple servants are specifically named.

The trip from Babylon took four months; the journey was successful because God’s hand was upon the travelers.  This was the hottest part of the year; this was also a very dangerous journey, with many bandits, raiders, and marauders lurking along the way.

In verse 10, we see Ezra’s heart of discipleship expressed:

  • to study God’s Law himself
  • to practice (obey) God’s Law in his own life
  • to teach others God’s Law so they can obey and teach others to do the same

As we observe this passage, we see a phrase repeated in both verses 6 and 9, that God’s hand was upon Ezra.  Verse 10 begins with “For”, linking God’s blessing with Ezra’s obedience to the Lord.  Ezra “dedicated” himself to the studying, observing (obeying) and teaching God’s Law.  This dedication involved his entire being, not just a portion of his time or energies.   For Ezra, this meant he was “all in”, wholeheartedly serving the Lord.  Verse 10 sets the standard for the rest of the book of Ezra.

What is our dedication to the Lord?

  • Are we regularly reading and studying God’s Word?
  • Are we obeying what we read and study in God’s Word, becoming more like Christ?
  • Are we investing in the lives of others, that they might become more like Christ?

The Christian life was never meant to be hoarded, but to be lived out in our lives so that Christ’s love pours out from us to others, given away freely, just as He gave His life for us.

May we walk in dedication to the Lord, encouraged by Ezra’s example, living out our lives in obedience to the Lord and experiencing the joy of our salvation for His glory and the love and encouragement of others.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 6:13-22

13 Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. 14 So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. 15 The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

16 Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. 17 For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses.

19 On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. 20 The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their relatives the priests and for themselves. 21 So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
(Ezra 6:13-22 NIV)

In chapter 5, we saw the Jewish people begin rebuilding the Temple.  The regional governor Tattenai showed up and demanded to know who authorized this rebuilding work.  The Jewish leaders recounted their story and King Cyrus’ decree to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

Tattenai was not going to go against a king’s orders, but Cyrus was no longer the king – Darius was now the monarch in charge.  So Tattenai sent a letter to King Darius in hopes that a) Darius would shut down the rebuilding, or b) the record of King Cyrus’ decree could not be found and Darius would shut down the project.

In the first half of chapter 6, we see King Darius receive the letter, search the archives, find the decree, and write back to Governor Tattenai.  The governor’s plan backfires – not only does King Darius support his predecessor’s decree, he also orders Tattenai to leave the Jews alone and to subsidize the rebuilding effort out of the regional tax revenue and the king’s treasury.  Furthermore, Darius tells Tattenai that anyone who disobeys his order will be publicly executed, their house demolished, thus wiping out their name from memory forever.

In today’s passage, Governor Tattenai reads King Darius’ letter.  Tattenai carries out Darius’ orders immediately, not wanting to risk the consequences.

The Jewish leaders finish building the Temple, encouraged along the way by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.   When the Temple was finished, the Jewish people gathered and celebrated by dedicating the Temple to the Lord, thanking Him for all He had done for them.  With the Temple rebuilt, the priests, Levites, singers, and others resumed their Temple duties as God had instructed Moses.

In case you’re keeping track of the timeline for this passage, you’ll notice that Ezra mentions King Artaxerxes in verse 14.  Remember that Ezra is writing about the history of these events that happened during the reigns of Kings Cyrus and Darius which were a century before his time.  Ezra was a scribe during the time of King Artaxerxes, so he had access to all the official records from that previous era, as well as the family stories and Jewish remembrances that came from that time period.  Ezra was recounting how God intervened in the affairs of Zerubbabel and the other Jewish leaders during the reign of King Darius, and God was taking care of Ezra and the Jewish people in King Artaxerxes’ day.

The chapter concludes by recounting the first Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread that were held in the Temple.  What a joyous occasion that must have been, celebrating God’s goodness for an entire week!

It seems that every generation has reason to look back in humble gratitude and celebrate how God has delivered them from bondage and called them to Himself.   For the ancient Jews, the Passover and the rebuilding of the Temple signified God’s hand at work.  For us, the cross signifies the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf, to rescue us from the bondage of our sin and shame and restore us to right relationship with Him.

While we look back to Jesus’ life and events two thousand plus years ago, we know that He is active in our lives today, rescuing us and giving us new life and hope.

Has the Lord delivered you from a former way of life that was leading to destruction, to a new life focused on Him?  Take some time to praise Him for your transformation.

Are you still struggling with something that wants to control your life and rob you of the joy that God has planned for you?  If so, why not lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross and leave them there?  Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

Take Jesus up on His offer today – and celebrate the deliverance only He can provide.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 6:1-12

King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it:

Memorandum:

In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem:

Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide,with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God.

Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you other officials of that province, stay away from there.Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site.

Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God:

Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop.Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and olive oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, 10 so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.

11 Furthermore, I decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime their house is to be made a pile of rubble. 12 May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem.

I Darius have decreed it. Let it be carried out with diligence.
(Ezra 6:1-12 NIV)

By way of review, King Cyrus commissioned Jewish exiles to leave Babylon and return to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple to the Lord.  Approximately 50,000 exiles returned, resettled, and began rebuilding the Temple.

The local transplants saw what was taking place; they didn’t like it and opposed the work at every turn.  Tattenai, the regional governor, appeared and demanded to know who authorized the exiles to rebuild the Temple.  When the Jewish leaders replied that King Cyrus commissioned them, the governor knew he could not stop the work by his authority but could appeal to the new Persian ruler, King Darius.  The governor then sent a letter to King Darius asking what to do in hopes that the King would agree with him and shut down the rebuilding of the Temple.

In today’s passage, Ezra tells us that King Darius received the governor’s letter, investigated the matter, and found King Cyrus’ decree in the royal archives.

King Darius then sent a letter back to Tattenai, the regional governor, and told him not only to leave the Jewish exiles alone as they rebuilt the Temple but also to pay for their needs out of the region’s royal taxes and treasury.

Moreover, the king stated that anyone who dared disobey his command was to be impaled on a beam from their house and their house was to be destroyed.  For the people of that era, the king’s decree was the worst of all fates.  This decree essentially meant that the person’s name was to be erased from history and memory forever.

Darius then asked God Himself to overthrow anyone who would attempt to destroy the Temple and reiterated that his word was to be carried out with all diligence.

What Tattenai, the regional governor, meant for harm, God reversed and used for His glory and His people’s good.  History tells us that King Darius, like his predecessor King Cyrus, was a benevolent supporter of all local deities in an effort to keep the peace and maintain control over his kingdom.

I doubt that King Darius could ever imagine that his actions would set the stage for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to one day appear on earth and ultimately rule the world.

Be encouraged, friends, to stand firm in your faith, especially in times of opposition and hardship.  God is working on your behalf, just as He did for the Jewish exiles as we read in today’s passage, to right the wrongs for His glory and your good.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 5:1-17

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” They also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?” But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.

This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates, the officials of Trans-Euphrates, sent to King Darius. The report they sent him read as follows:

To King Darius:

Cordial greetings.

The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and placing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and is making rapid progress under their direction.

We questioned the elders and asked them, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” 10 We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information.

11 This is the answer they gave us:

“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our ancestors angeredthe God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.

13 “However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 14 He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon. Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor, 15 and he told him, ‘Take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site.’

16 “So this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.”

17 Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archivesof Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.
(Ezra 5:1-17 NIV)

As we look over the history of Judah and Jerusalem, God used Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to conquer Judah and Jerusalem because the nation had turned its back on God.  The Babylonians carried off all the treasures of the Jewish Temple to Babylon, exiled all its people to foreign lands, and destroyed the Temple building.

After seventy years, just as God had prophesied, King Cyrus, the Persian king who conquered Babylon, released the Jewish exiles to return to Judah and Jerusalem.  Cyrus also commissioned the exiles to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and he returned all the Temple treasures that the Babylonians had carried off.

The exiles rebuilt the altar and began regular worship to the Lord, then began rebuilding the Temple.   The transplanted locals did not like this and began pressuring the Jewish people to stop the work.  As Ezra recorded in chapter 4, this constant battle and adversarial relationship with their non-Jewish neighbors would continue for the next hundred years.

After King Cyrus came King Darius.  As we begin chapter 5, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah showed up to encourage and instruct the Jewish exiles (v. 1).  Encouraged and emboldened to continue the Temple rebuilding, the Jewish leaders rallied the people and began the work in earnest.

Tattenai, the regional governor and other officials showed up and demanded to know who authorized them to rebuild the Temple.  But God was watching over His people, and the work continued despite the intimidation and questioning of the government officials.

The government officials, not knowing what to do next, decided to write a letter to King Darius, letting him know what was going on, and what to do about the situation.  They were hopeful that the king would shut down the rebuilding effort.

Chapter 6 (which we will cover next time) is the king’s reply and decision.

When someone challenges your faith, what is your response?  Do you keep going, or do you stop?  Where do you go for direction and encouragement?  Do you look to the Lord and to godly people, or do you look to the culture and its values?

May we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, and on His Word for our guidance.   May we be connected to godly followers of Jesus who will provide encouragement and wise counsel that will help us along our journey.

May we not assimilate into the culture around us, and stand firmly in our faith and hope in God as we walk along life’ path.

May the words of the psalmist encourage us today:

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
(Psalm 146:3-5 NIV)

Blessings,

~kevin

Ezra 4:6-24

At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows:

Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates—the judges, officials and administrators over the people from Persia, Uruk and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, 10 and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.

11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)

To King Artaxerxes,

From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:

12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.

13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer. 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.

17 The king sent this reply:

To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:

Greetings.

18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence.19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?

23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
(Ezra 4:6-24 NIV)

To recap so far – the Jewish exiles were sent by King Cyrus and went back to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.  The exiles first rebuilt the altar and began making regular sacrifices to God.  After the altar was rebuilt, the exiles rebuilt the foundation of the Temple.  Once the foundation was rebuilt, they held a massive praise and worship celebration to honor God for His faithfulness and love.

The locals took notice and tried to dilute the exiles’ efforts through assimilation.  The Jewish leaders rejected the local Samaritans’ offer, and the locals turned hostile, with bullying, threats, lies, and harassment.

Today, Ezra chronicles a long history of persecution and opposition to the Jewish community rebuilding the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.  This history covers roughly 100 years, from King Darius clear through King Artaxerxes.  Here is a brief history of the kings mentioned in today’s text:

  • Cyrus (536 – 530 BC)
  • Darius (536 – 520 BC)
  • (other kings not mentioned)
  • Xerxes (486 – 465 BC)
  • Artaxerxes (465 – 425 BC)

Ezra was recording from the historical timeline of King Darius (verse 5 from our last time together).  He now fast-forwards through history to give us more examples of persecution that happened over the next century.

Ezra mentions a letter to Xerxes (v. 6), and there appears to have been a first letter to Artaxerxes that went unanswered (v. 7).  Verses 8 – 16 are the contents of a second letter to Artaxerxes which did capture the king’s attention and generated a letter in response.

In this letter, Rehum and all the regional leaders got together and conspired against the returning Jewish exiles.  Rehum (a Samaritan) and the other leaders tried to pass themselves off as loyal citizens and concerned with the king’s economic well-being.  This sounded good, but the Samaritans and others in the region were transplants themselves (v. 2).  These leaders likely knew of Xerxes’ expensive wars against the Greeks and other nations, and of Artaxerxes’ efforts to restore the Persian kingdom’s waning fortunes.

Ultimately, this tactic of writing the letter backfired, as Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah (a loyal Jew) to Jerusalem to restore the city walls and gates and establish order again.  We will study this when we get to the book of Nehemiah.

So what did Rehum and the others accuse the Jews of doing?  Actually, they accused them of nothing.  The letter did mention that the Jews were rebuilding the walls and repairing the foundations (presumably of the Temple).

What the letter did infer was that the Jews, once they rebuilt the walls of the city, would declare independence from Persia and stop paying taxes and tributes.  The letter cited historical precedence of rebellion by the city and its leaders as a predictor of the future.

The two incidents the letter referred to were Hezekiah’s withholding of tribute to the Assyrian king (2 Kings 18:5-8) in 724 BC, and Zedekiah’s failed attempt at freedom from the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:20-25:7) in 587 BC.

King Artaxerxes did search the archives of the kingdoms, found the historical records to be true, and in a reply letter, ordered the work to be halted.  When the king’s letter was read, Rehum and the other locals took up arms (weapons) against the Jews and forced the work to stop.

It’s interesting to note that the records from the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Persians were all preserved so King Artaxerxes could, in fact, perform a search for the historical evidence of the accusations.  In this case, the historical record seemed to go against the Jews.  As we shall see later, the historical records will provide a benefit for the Jews.

Verse 24 concludes the chapter by taking us back to the same timeframe as verse 5 – during the reign of King Darius.

While Rehum may have won a temporary battle against the Jews, his actions ultimately caused the rebuilding of the walls and Temple under the official blessing of Artaxerxes.

The same God who could take a seeming setback and use it to ultimately accomplish His purposes in Ezra’s day is the same God who can take our defeats and setbacks and make good on His promises to further His work in us and through us today.

Take courage, friends – God is still at work to do His good will and pleasure (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 4:1-5

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
(Ezra 4:1-5 NIV)

The Jewish exiles have returned to Judah and Jerusalem and have re-established family life in their respective towns and villages.  As we have seen, these returning exiles have not forgotten why they came here – to rebuild the Temple of God.

First, the leaders rebuilt the altar and re-established daily worship and sacrifices to the Lord.  After that, they began rebuilding the foundation of the Temple.  When the foundation was completed, all the Jewish people held a huge worship service, thanking God for all He had done and all that He stood for – for being God to them.

There are a couple more points we need to review to help understand today’s passage.  First, do you remember that we said this celebration was a “keep the entire city awake” event?  Second, do you remember how the Jewish leaders rebuilt the altar despite their fear of the locals (Ezra 3:3)?

Well, the Jewish leaders’ fears were not paranoia – their fears were well-founded.  Also, the celebration of the rebuilding of the Temple foundation did not go unnoticed.

Today we see the opposition begin.

In verse 1, Ezra immediately notes the relationship between the locals and the Jewish people – “enemies”.  There was no doubt about where they stood with each other.

And what was their first tactic?  Assimilation:

  • “Let us help you build…”
  • “like you, we seek your God…”
  • “[we] have been sacrificing to [your God] since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

When we look back to 2 Kings 17, we see that they are telling the truth.  The problem is that they are not telling the whole truth.

Indeed, the people living there were transplants brought in to live there by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-6).  And indeed, the king took one of the Jewish priests and told him to instruct the transplants in how to worship the God of Israel (2 Kings 17:24-28).  And the transplants did worship the Lord, but not exclusively – they also brought all their foreign gods and worshiped them as well (2 Kings 17:29-41).

Joshua, Zerubbabel, and the other Jewish leaders knew this about the locals.  And what was their response to the locals’ offer of help?  Outright rejection:

  • “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God.”
  • “We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel”
  • “King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us [to rebuild the Temple].”

This “in your face” response may have seemed a little harsh, but they needed to draw clear lines about where they stood – with the God of Israel alone.

So what was the reaction of the locals?  Bullying, threats, intimidation, and lying to discourage them in what God had called them to do.

In our modern culture, what opposition do we face as followers of Christ?  Do we also feel the pressure of assimilation, to blend in with the “locals” and their beliefs?  Or do we stand up for our faith, and face the storm of opposition, knowing that the Lord is standing with us?

To Whom is our allegiance?

The Apostle Paul also sensed this same battle for our minds and hearts when he wrote:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

May we stand firm with the Lord, despite the storms of life.

Blessings,

~kevin