This study is based on the booklet (available here) by Prof Barry Gritters of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, Grand Rapids to whom we are indebted.
This series of 11 sermons will help a lot in your grasp of this fascinating historical book. They are on Sermon Audio :Ezra Sermons by Rev Cory Griess (Calvary PRC)
Chapter One Jehovah’s charge to Cyrus.
I. Background (see historical timeline below)
1.Intro. This book comes in the middle of the OT after the history books because it is history too.
The main theme is the building of the house of the Lord. X5 Ezra 1 also Zech.1:16, Hagg.1:2,9,14.
2.The church in Babylon was still backslidden and compromised (mixed marriages) and most were happy to stay.
3.Prophets ministering at the time were Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
4. The Persian empire, a sophisticated world power, ruled at this time. As with all the world empires they are types of the final antichristian kingdom. Cyrus was emperor II Chron.36:22. Is.44:28, 45:1-4.Dan.1:21, 6:28, 10:1. The Jews were to seek the peace and prosperity of the nation where they were captives.
5. Cyrus’ decree called for the people of Israel to return and rebuild the temple.
II Typical history
1.Think of classic types eg Exodus, the Passover, David etc.
2,3. a. Israel is the land of inheritance given graciously to Israel and stands for heaven.
b. Babylon typifies the godless world/ false church in opposition to the church-the antithesis.
c. Cyrus must typify antichrist although in this situation he is a supportive leader.
d. God’s temple/Jerusalem is a type of the church. Note that walls were necessary for several reasons: to keep unbelievers out (false ecumenism), keep heresy out and stand against the world.
4. The exodus from Egypt was the birth of the nation, like adoption, as a people they were not at fault. It was accompanied by signs and wonders (like apostolic age) and from under a wicked leader. Most of those brought out were shown to be unbelievers. This deliverance from captivity was from deserved bondage caused by idolatry, after chastisement and repentance and it was voluntary, thus you would expect a purer (elect) people. If the first typified freedom from bondage to sin, the second typifies freedom from worldliness. In some ways it typifies the second coming when God’s people will taken to glory.
5. It represents for me on-going conversion from the world of vanity, straying, backsliding with restoration, separation from false churches and Reformation. It speaks of us all involved in building.
III God’s sovereignty
- Cyrus was sovereignly moved to aid the Jews cf the wicked rulers and Christ (Acts 4). He did not know God (like Nebuchadnezzar).
- God moved Cyrus to do His bidding. 6:22, Prov.8:15 and 21:1. Cf Esau, Pharaoh, Judas, Antichrist.
- Anointed does not necessarily mean with the Spirit. In this context it just means fitted for work and given power or office eg Saul.
- a Pharaoh (Romans 9) to show His power. Saul (and Absalom) to persecute David. Solomon. Rehoboam. Nebuchadnezzar.
b Antichrist to bring tribulation, kill the saints and then be destroyed.
IV God’s purpose
1.God stirred up Cyrus to, let the people go to fulfil Jeremiah’s prophecy.
2. Jer.29:10,11. Dan.9:2 Is.45:13. Jeremiah’s prophecy specifically is fulfilled in Ezra as he specified a time namely 70 years of captivity. Specific prophecy glorifies God more.
3. To me it speaks of on-going sanctification-coming out of the world, release from besetting sins, wrong priorities and also false churches and teaching (type of Reformation!) bringing God’s people into liberty of truth and life and fruitful service (the building of God’s church).
I Cor.3:8-17, Eph.4:12-16. Acts 15:16. Psalm 127:1 and 147:2.
- Reminds me of John 17:7-Christ’s prayer..‘Sanctify them through thy truth’. Paul’s prayer..’That they may walk worthy, approve things that are excellent, be sincere and without offence.’
We should pray for the up-building of the church and it’s members-that they may grow in character and conviction into their Head so that they are able to stand in the evil day.
Background to study of Ezra-these principles will be vital in understanding the application of the book.
- God, in Christ is the builder of the church and the ultimate temple of God in heaven. Hebrews 3:3,4. Heb.11:10.Matthew 16:18.Rev.21:2,3.
- Only He ultimately builds it. Psalm 127:1.
- Christ is the Rock, foundation and cornerstone. I Cor.3:9,11,14-16. I Peter 2:5,6-8
- Ministers and elders lay the foundation and build on it. Romans 15:20. Eph.4:11-16.
- The apostles are also foundational. Eph.2:20-22. Rev.21:14.
- The church is the rebuilt temple of God which was but a type. Amos 9:11. Acts 15:16.
- The word, preached, studied, read, memorized and meditated upon is what edifies. Also Christian fellowship. Acts 20:32. I Thess.5:11. Romans 14:19.I Cor.14:26. Eph 4:29.
Historical timeline pertaining to the captivity.
|Nabopolassar||626 – 605 BC||Chaldean king. Took control of Babylonia from Sinsharishkun of Assyria, ejected Assyrian armies from Babylonia in 616 BC. Entered into alliance with Cyaxares and destroyed Assyrian empire. Some Jews taken into exile 610 (incl Daniel and Ezekiel) Josiah died 609BC|
|Nebuchadnezzar II||604 – 562 BC||Chaldean king. Defeated the Egyptians and Assyrians at Carchemish. Is associated with Daniel in the Bible.
|Amel-Marduk||562 – 560 BC||
|Nergal-sharezer||560 – 556 BC|
|Nabonidus||556 – 539 BC||Last Mesopotamian king of Babylon, originated in Harran in Assyria. Was not a Chaldean, often left rule to his son Belshazzar. 553-539 (Belshazzar’s feast)
| PERSIAN EMPIRE
Darius I (? Artaxerxes) 522-486 Second decree 519 BC to rebuild Ezra 6:1-11 Second temple completed 520 BC
Xerxes I (also called Ahaseurus) 485-465 Killed Time of Esther.
Artaxerxes I 465-424 Ezra and Nehemiah return 458 and 445 approx. Ezra still alive 420.
Xerxes II 424 Killed
Darius II 423-404
Artaxerxes II 404-358
Daniel lived from 610-530
Ezekiel preached 590-570
Jeremiah preached 650-570 (taken to Egypt about 580) Captivity lasted 597-527
Haggai prophesied 525-515
Malachi around 450 BC
Some thoughts and challenges as we get into Chapter Two.Ezra’s life purpose was expressed in Chapter 7:10 ‘For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgements.’ His attitude was like Christ’s in Psalm 69:9,’ For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.’ And the work of building the temple as a type of the church means to EDIFY that is strengthen the faith of and the piety of the walk of it’s members. Listen to this sermon-it will greatly help http://www.cprf.co.uk/audio/OTindividual.htm ‘Building the Walls’ Nehemiah 4:1-10.
Chapter Two A Remnant Returns (538 BC)
Readings: Isaiah 48:20 ‘Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
Isaiah 10:20 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
10:21 The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.
10:22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
10:23 For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.
It is worth noting that a REMNANT means the small amount that remains after the destruction of the rest.
1)2).We have a genealogy of all those who professed to be God’s covenant people (like confessing church members). These 50,000 folk were mainly the children of those who were taken into captivity some 70 years earlier between 609 and 597 BC. There are many other long lists of names in Scripture eg Genesis 5,10,11,36 and 46, Numbers 1-4, 26, I Chron. 1-9, Ezra 2,8,10 and Nehemiah 7,10-12. Also Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-38.
We believe God has all His elect written in the Lamb’s book of life. He knows those who are His and calls them by name**. John 10:14, 27 and II Tim.2:19.
3).a. We have the children of a named family head from Israel pre-captivity.
b. those listed by home town.
c. priestly families*
g. Nethinims-it seems they were the Levites’ servants and may have been descended from Canaanite slaves.
h. Children of Solomon’s servants.
II. The Return
2). The typical elements
Exodus from Egypt Return of captives
|Out of captivity (to sin), bloody sacrifice.||Out of the world|
|Into the promised land||Back to Jerusalem|
|Tyrannical bondage||Lenient captivity|
|Not their fault||Their fault (idolatry)|
|Most didn’t make it||Most stayed, but all who left made it.|
|Grumbling under Moses||Voluntary under Zerubbabel and Jeshua|
Psalm 85:1 Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.
85:2 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.
85:3 Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.
85:4 Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.
85:5 Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?
85:6 Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?
III. The Elect Returned.
A. Haggai 2:23 ’In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.’
Isaiah 45:1 Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
45:3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
45:4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
B. Specific persons returned-named heads of families, specific numbers that are detailed 42,360 plus 7,337 servants. Different classes*, generations and families.
C. From this typical history, the rest of Scripture, and the creeds we know God elects specific persons**, who include all kinds of men (I Tim.2:4) but not many wise, noble etc (I Cor.1:26). We have many examples of people called by name in OT/NT eg Namaan, Ruth and Paul. Being from a Christian family is important in terms of opportunity and privilege but ultimately confession of faith is entry into the covenant community and is the only public ’proof’ there is of our belonging to the true Israel and even confession may not mean possession.
D. Zechariah 2:6-9, ‘Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the LORD: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the LORD.
2:7 Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.
2:8 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.
2:9 For, behold, I will shake mine hand upon them, and they shall be a spoil to their servants: and ye shall know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me.
3:2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
8:2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.
8:3 Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain.
8:4 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.
8:5 And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.
8:6 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith the LORD of hosts.
8:7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country;
8:8 And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.
God’s election is inferred from the above highlighted portions but especially the ‘covenant formula’ in 8:8. The apple of the eye is the highly sensitive pupil (black circle) beneath the cornea-which clearly teaches that God is very sensitive about the care of His people and feels for them (see also Acts 9:4 and Psalm 139).We are Christ’s body. God’s esteem is all that matters and our worth is as God’s elect-privileged to be prophets, priests and kings, children of God, beloved in Christ.
Romans 8:16, 12:3.
IV. A Remnant Returned
A. According to encyclopaedias about 70,000 were taken captive and no doubt their number grew, say to 200,000 and of these only 50,000 returned ie a fraction. It is also likely that the Lord purposed that the Jews would settle down there and get comfortable. Then after the 70 years were complete it would be a test of faith to pick up and return to Jerusalem. During captivity the Jews were encouraged by the prophet Jeremiah from Jerusalem to take wives, build houses, plant gardens and take advantage of their situation because they were going to be there for seventy years.They were to keep their hope alive and not be assimilated into the Babylonian way of life. To prevent this and to preserve their identity the religious leaders had Scribes copy the Scriptures. They also wrote much literature and taught the people to observe the Sabbath and to circumcise their male children.
4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:
5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.
6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters — that you may be increased there, and not diminished.
7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.
8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.
9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD.
10 For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.
The Exile was truly God’s punishment to a rebellious people but they were to learn the lesson from His chastisement, and maintain hope for the coming redemption. But many were discouraged, as written in the Psalms:
1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.
3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
B. Why did so few return? We believe they were taken captive to serve and work and boost the Babylonian economy. The Babylonians saw it as a way of keeping them under their power and most were happy with their standard of living, so they were unwilling to return. It was as though like Esau they despised their birth-right. They were not concerned for their spiritual good, like the ground in the parable where the seed was choked by weeds (the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches) or the rich man and his barns who died suddenly. As God’s people we should have the attitude of Matthew 6:33 viz. church/kingdom first, material needs second.
Isaiah 10:20,’ And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
10:21 The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.
10:22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
10:23 For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.’
Romans 11:5 ‘Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’
Many have no care for restoration/reformation of the church because they are unbelievers or attend for selfish motives and/or are following erroneous teaching. Perhaps we should speak up more to these folk. They are part of the visible church.
C. The elect, but perhaps not all, because Daniel remained being probably too old, returned because God called them out efficaciously. Ezra 1:5. Today those who hear the call of the gospel and respond are saved and become part of Jerusalem. Many are called but few chosen. Also Psalm 110:3, Phil. 2:13 and Zech. 4:6. God makes His people willing by His Spirit. Those who refused to return would no doubt have given pragmatic reasons for staying ie it did not suit them to move. None would have said, ‘well God didn’t chose me.’ Nobody actually knows God’s eternal decree. The Spirit moves people to move house, move to a Reformed true church, write, speak, fight for the truth and seek Reformation in His church.
D. Inscrutable means can’t be understood or searched into and this includes God’s decree of election. Canons Head I article 7
‘ Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.
This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than the others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit….’
We need to realise we are elect for a purpose to serve the church. It is to be our chief joy and we need to desire above all it’s being built up and added to and to this end to discover and use our gifts and faithfully witness. Our Lord is our example, Psalm 69:9,’ For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.’
It seems to me that the Exodus was a type of salvation for God’s people whereas the Return from the captivity was a coming out of the world/false church and was a matter of priorities and ultimately a commitment to the Reformation of God’s church.
Chapter Three The Priority of Worship
Recap: Chapter 1-Decree of Cyrus to return-God’s providence. (5 month journey).
Chapter 2-The Spirit stirs up a remnant to return- all named.
Chapter 3-What they do after return-set up altar and then temple.
Worship was restored without a building. Reformation starts with right worship. Many churches meet in houses or rented accommodation (as we did).
Definition of worship:
1) From word obeisance-prostrate oneself. Submission. Heart given to God. Romans 12:1,2. Thankfulness is the motive. Also privilege.
2) Based on God’s greatness (His worthiness-Rev.4:11,5:9) and our worthlessness. It arises from the sacrifice of Christ and is made acceptable by it.
3) Priority because it is God’s purpose for redeeming us and is His due. It glorifies Him which is the purpose of all things. This is done personally, in families and church corporate public worship.
Personal worship in Scripture- Abraham’s servant, Job, Daniel.
Family worship-Abraham, Noah.
Corporate worship- Solomon in temple, Miriam and people at Red Sea, NT churches.
Application-necessity of personal and family devotions and public worship around which we should structure our lives.
The remnant gathered together to offer sacrifices and keep the feasts and other Sabbaths.
They were doing their duty (commanded), showing love for Him and seeking communion with others. It was for their defence too, as they were vulnerable (no walls), worship calmed their fears-lesson for us is, if we have fears, anxiety, trouble-worship!
Good Reformed books, sharing blessings and answers to prayer, counting your blessings, much in creation and godly example-all promote worship.
Led by the priests the remnant applied the ‘Regulative Principle’. Only what God specifically commands in His word is to be done in public worship.
Their offerings were Christ-centred because they were sacrifices pointing to His sacrifice and the Feast of Tabernacles which also pointed to God (the Son) pitching His tabernacle (body) among us.
Is our worship Christ centred? Let’s look at the elements:
Call to worship (Christ’s word), Preaching (Christ’s voice), Psalms (Christ’s praise), Prayer (Petitioning Christ), Giving (to further His Kingdom), Reading (His word), Sacraments (Christ’s command).
Joyful-because feasts-food and fellowship.
Our worship-inner joy and outward solemnity.
Praise is unto the Lord-it is God-centred.
We acknowledge our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth-He is our defence. Worship (corporate and private) keeps us safe (Matthew 26:41) from spiritual enemies.
The worship is initiated and empowered by Christ (His Spirit).
Joshua was priest, worship leader. Identified with the Branch (Christ) in Zechariah 3 and 6.
Zerubbabel-kingly line (Nephew of king), leads out of Babylon. Signet-sign of authority.
Corporate worship is a foretaste of the eternal heavenly worship. Isaiah 35:10, Revelation 21:3,4.
Chapter Four Beginning to build
Recapping: We have seen the decree of Cyrus, the return of the remnant and now the work of rebuilding the destroyed temple begins.
Reading Ezra 3:8-14
This rebuilding of the temple is typical of restoration of fellowship with God. It is worth noting that many of the large foundation stones of Solomon’s temple would be able to be used and so the ‘foundation’ mentioned here is really the first stones on top of what remained of the original.
The church is the building of God (I Cor.3:8-16, I Peter 2:2-4, Eph.2:19-22 and 4:11,16)
What needs rebuilt and restored? Answer-The church and this is the interpretation of Amos 9:11 in Acts 15:16 which refers to the time of Ezra and the NT church.
What needs rebuilt?
1) Not the foundation! Christ the chief cornerstone is laid already (Psalm 118, Col.2:7) as is the foundation of the apostles and prophets ( Rev.21:14, I Cor. 3:10)in the Scriptures.
2) There are important blocks set into the building consisting pastor/teachers, elders, deacons but all members are blocks. There need to be other blocks added till the building is complete and these need tied in to the existing blocks.
The ties between the blocks (cement) or in the body metaphor, the ligaments, are important. Ministry to each other in encouragement is vital eg Barnabas Acts 4:36, also admonition (Romans 15:14) and all the other ‘one another’ verses eg love, bear burdens, comfort (Jude 20).
3) Note we are joined to specific other blocks in our local church but also to others in the worldwide church.
The Old Testament Psalms are replete with references to the temple or house of God and they contain many spiritual lessons.
Psalm 15 and 24..… we need clean hands and a pure heart to go up to it and benefit.
Psalm 48…..It is where God dwells, his lovingkindness is known, she has defences (the creeds) and these are to be told to the generation to come (catechism classes).
Psalm 73….. it is the place we understand God’s judgement and where we place our confidence in him and his promises.
Psalm 84…..it is a place we should long for, a place of blessing.
Psalm 122….. We should be glad going to it, God compacts it together, provides leadership and unity is vital.
Psalm 127…..The Lord Jesus Christ builds his church (Matthew 16:18, Heb.3:4,11:10) and children are important in that building (Luke 18:16).
Psalm 134….. it should be a place of prayer.
Psalm 137…..it should be our chief joy.
These are wonderful truths-if you find more references to the church in the Psalms mail them to me for addition.
The application of David’s desire to be a doorkeeper in the temple rather than dwell in the tents of wickedness is that we ought to be glad of even the most menial task in the church-cleaning it, or gritting the icy parking lot, than to be unsaved in the wicked world.
In Ezra’s day the priests and Levites led and the people followed (Haggai 1:14). Today the eldership lead churches (I Thess.5:12, Eph. 4, Acts 20:28). They must lead by example with caring supervision and good order ( I Cor.14:40). Their qualifications are detailed in I Timothy and Titus. They need encouraged (the word for leader or choir director is Chief Musician, to whom many of the Psalms were directed).
Everyone in the church is involved in the building (gathering God’s elect). The apostles and their successors, church pastors (Matthew 28:18-20), the members (I Thess. 2:8, Acts 1:8- the 120, John 13:34,35, Matt.5:16, Eph.4:12,16.2:21). We must all work. Leaders need to know their gifts and the members , delegate, teachers preach, and people need to witness and be available.
The power and inspiration then, as today, is the Holy Spirit (Zech.6:10-13), had he not stirred up the elect in Babylon, none would have returned to build.
The people had daily choirs taking turns, trumpets and cymbals. They sang Psalms specifically Psalm 136 (Ezra 3:10) and they shouted. They were fulfilling Jeremiah 33:8-11.
What hinders us from heartfelt praise? Answer-self absorption, worldliness and apathy; rather that the great task and all-absorbing ambition to glorify God. The prodigal’s elder brother, elect and brought up believing and worthy of a double portion of inheritance, exhibited envy and selfishness rather that thankfulness for the return (conversion) of his brother.
Spontaneous versus obedient, well-ordered praise? I Cor.14:40, Isaiah 33:10. We believe in the latter.
The rebuilt temple was small (Haggai 2:3 and Zech.4:10) but mind you Herod’s temple was very grand.
Perhaps God wanted to point his people away from an earthly temple to a heavenly one.
Sources of discouragement are: personal weakness, vain lives, doubts, lack of fruit/growth, schism, persecution, lack of zeal in others for Bible study etc, lack of openly sharing and praying for each other, few visitors, nothing happening among friends and family.
What does this make us cry out for?
We are back to the beginning of the study….. unless the LORD builds the house…only God can add to it, mature the bricks and compact them together.
WE NEED TO PRAY!
- For God to move-give opportunities, give us boldness, open doors to witness, bring people into our lives and to church.
- We need to encourage one another.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah help us: Hag.1:9 challenges us to God-centred rather than self-centred living.
Zech.1:16, 4:8,9. God is with us and promises that Christ (Zerubbabel) will finish the rebuilding
Chapter Five Rejecting false ecumenicity
Reading Ezra 4:1-5
1.The Samaritans who were Babylonians or mixed Babylonian-Israelites offered to help the returnees to rebuild, using the excuse that they worshipped the same God etc but verse one is the ‘giveaway’ because the inspired word says they were ‘adversaries’! Satan attacks the building of the church by first false (ecumenicity) based on false doctrine and second by outright persecution.
2. Today we have councils of churches, ‘churches together’, ‘Evangelicals and Catholics together’ , mission campaigns etc who are purveyors of a false unity. We have reconstructionism and transformational theology which aim to redeem society without a clear gospel message. There is actually no need for their help as God has tied himself to building his church through the true church and the world and false church CANNOT and SHOULD NOT help the church. The aim of many of these people is a return to the Pope and Roman Catholicism.
3. These people were syncretistic-they had mixed worship of the true God and idols and some even went as far as child sacrifice. See II Kings 17:24-33 and 19:37.
4. God identifies them as enemies because their aim is to destroy the church and true worship. There are many examples in scripture of ‘unholy alliances’ eg Genesis 6, the sons of God and the daughters of men which led to the flood, Lot settling in Sodom (he lost all his family),David going to Achish, Solomon marrying pagan wives, Jehoshaphat with Ahab (I Kings 22,II Chron.19:2) and Ahaziah (II Chron 20:35-37). Going even further back there are principles seen in Genesis 1:4 (light v darkness) and Genesis 3:15 (the antithesis). Christ also spoke of the sword that he brought and to division even between family members.
5.There must never be, and cannot be, unity with those who are false teachers, or false professing believers because when they infiltrate the church the only way is DOWN! This is so clear today in various Presbyterian and Reformed denominations who for example, ordain women and even homosexuals. These have evil motives. Their offers may be tempting-more people, more money, more prestige, more recognition in the world but at heart these people are IDOLATERS! (II Kings 17:29-31). Today they are those who want us to accept false religionists and cults as equally valid. The awful and damning danger of these churches is that they portray FALSE CHRISTS as Jesus prophesied. (Matthew 24:24,II Cor. 11:3,4, James 4:4 and Psalm 1). We are talking about the world infiltrating the church and the world can’t help the church, except by us emulating their shrewdness! By false ecumenism the marks of the true church are lost. (II Cor.6:14).
6. There can only be union on the basis of sound doctrine (Amos 3:3) and that is why our confessions are called the ‘Three Forms of Unity’. All our sister churches agree with them. We seek contact and union with others who hold to the same standards. We are called to spiritual separation (not physical) from the world.
7. There may be occasions where we would accept the children of other churches into our schools and might send our children to other Reformed church schools if they were the best available.
8. It is noteworthy that Zerubbabel and Joshua (governor and High Priest-together types of Christ) opposed this ecumenism. The bottom line in this matter is what does God think? The above points give us a clear answer. Note also that as a result of this opposition building was suspended for 16 years. (Gap between Ezra 4 and 5)
Chapter Six Continued opposition: Certain accomplishment
CPRC church building opened August 2010
This sermon by Rev Griess, Calvary PRC is a key help……… http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=52310045583
Reading Ezra 4:6-6:22
Background-Tatnai was governor of the province (Babylon ruled over 20 provinces)
Zerubbabel was local chief over the Jews. The prophets at the time were Haggai, Zecharaiah and Malachi.
Remember that the building of God’s house is the gathering of the church.
1. The opposition the Jews encountered was: a) Slander-that they were rebellious, b) That they would increase in power (4:20), c) they hired counsellors, d) That the king would lose revenue.
2.Today we have similar slanders: a)“Hypercalvinists”, “homophobics” b) Left wing/Marxist politicians and liberal churches often combine against true churches, to outlaw them if they are not registered eg China, Ethiopia, Central Asia c) Wicked laws eg blasphemy laws (Pakistan), illegal to change religion (Egypt), opposition to church schools or home schooling (Germany), d) outright persecution with imprisonment, torture or execution (North Korea, Eritrea) and in Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist nations, and Islamic terrorism (Nigeria). Closed doors (Saudi Arabia, Maldives).Societal opposition may mean loss of job or being driven out of homes by false religionists (Mexico, Laos).
3. Superficial reasons for the opposition were that the locals were safeguarding the rule of the king and preventing loss to him but in reality they were jealous of the Jews and hated them and their God, believing them to be a threat to their religion and way of life. We know this because Scripture calls them adversaries this should makes us think of THE adversary behind them who is Satan.
Note that the prophets Zechariah and Haggai who preached/prophesied admonished them for their laziness and selfishness (Ezra 5:1, Haggai 1:1-9 cf Phil.2:21), told them to be strong and work (Zech 1:16,8:9), showing that the engine that drives the rebuilding (Reformation in the church) is preaching (Ezra 6:14).
A 1)The building stopped for 16 years (535-520BC).
They restarted building without authority (Ezra 5:3).
2) We can appeal to God’s protection and promises in these situations but we must play our part by praying, using legal means or protest. Paul pleaded his Roman citizenship when about to be beaten, he chided the Philippian authorities for imprisoning him wrongly. He resisted Satan in the person of Elymas on Cyprus but he fled from Damascus. The early disciples were scattered by persecution but continued witnessing/preaching. At least two were killed. They rejoiced in persecution.
B. 1) They were selfishly building their own houses. They were worshipping hypocritically (Zech 7). Godliness and integrity are vital in building. The building took 4 years. (Ezra 5:24,6:15).
2) Opposition from within us is the flesh in the form of selfishness and laziness, from without we have worldly distractions and from Satan, especially false churches with false christs, false teachers, and ignorant believers. But we must work faithfully remembering the promises of Galatians 6:9 and I Cor.15:58 and be ready to suffer loss for the kingdom.
A 1) They kept the feasts (worship)
2) God stirred them up through the preaching
3) Materials were providentially provided along with God’s blessing (Joshua 1:8)
B. The work was accomplished with joy accompanied by true worship (choice of church vital), with the support of the authorities (Remember Pious Frederick of the Palatinate who helped the Reformers).The vital message of the prophets was the same as Christ’s namely Matt.6:33, Zech.8:17,7:9,13.
Practically speaking we need to pray for his kingdom to come in all the world, witness winsomely as we have opportunity being ready to give an answer, give to the church and mission and be willing to leave home if qualified and called.
Note for next study Sermon Audio by Rev Cory Greiss called Ezra the Reformer #9 is excellent background.
Ezra Seven Ezra’s heart for God’s house
As we start this section it’s important to remember that many years have passed since the previous chapter. The temple had been completed about 520 BC under Zerubbabel and now about three generations later in 458 BC we have Ezra preparing to return. Every generation is responsible for its own behaviour and the one coming after and needs godly leaders. The church is indebted to men like Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Hoeksema. Ezra we believe, is to be thanked for writing down all the Hebrew Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi which would form the Greek version or Septuagint which was extant when Christ was on earth and formed the basis of our Bibles today.
Ezra is an example of how God prepares and uses individual gifted men in his church. He was a learned scribe, a respected priest and in a high position in the court and favour of King Artaxerxes. We think he may have written the decree and got the king to sign it. In it he asks to be able to lead back to Jerusalem all who have a mind to go, to take all the treasures needed, to be able to renew the sacrifices and to ensure the law of God is taught and obeyed in the land. He was not alone however, he had gathered men to help and counsel him.
His aim in beautifying the house concerned much more than just the decoration or instruments or even the sacrifices but the actual marks of the true church which are 1) the pure preaching which he was instrumental in instituting by teaching 2) the sacraments (sacrifices and circumcision) and 3) Biblical church discipline-he set up magistrates in the Jewish theocratic state. The marks of the true church put Christ in the midst and give it its beauty.
There is no doubt God had burdened this man and prepared him in his head (ability, diligence), in his hand (the Scriptures) and in his heart (seeking, obedient, willingness to teach.)
He is given great resources to use in the temple but his greatest is the Law of his God.
Unusually his call to service comes from a pagan king.
Ezra had to enquire. Our church is enquired into annually by our RPCA visitors. As members our part in restoration/Reformation is as prophets sharing the word in exhortation, encouragement or admonition with our fellow members and families, as priests to pray for the church and as kings to bear rule over ourselves and our families. We also support the church financially and in practical ways.
We remember the cause of the captivity as outlined in Hosea was idolatry and a lack of teaching of the word (Hosea 1-3 and 4:1,6). The great omission in most churches today is doctrinal preaching and teaching. God’s people languish through lack of knowledge, gross ignorance of God’s nature, the way of salvation, godly Christian living, marriage and church polity.
The beauty Ezra was to seek to restore in the church is the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29:2, 96:9). Christ dwelling in his church (Psalm 27:4, 50:2, 45:2,11 and Isaiah 33:17 and 60:13)in a church of all nations. God’s church, in Christ, is beautiful to him. He makes it beautiful by sanctifying her through the word of truth (John 17:17) with the ultimate aim of the consummation (Eph.5:27). The scribe or minister does what Christ describes in Matthew 13:52, bringing out of his store of knowledge things old and new.
All that transpired with Ezra was manifestly God’s work as he humbly testifies-the favour of the king (v6), the safe journey back (v9), the king’s generosity (v27) and his own strength and those who accompanied him (v28). It is not natural to be able to deflect glory to God as Ezra does as we are by nature vainglorious (Phil.2:3) and fear to be honest with others, especially unbelievers.
Ezra Eight Safety in Journey
As background this sermon by Rev Cory Griess is very helpful click below:
By way of introduction Psalm 16:1, 8 and 11 could have been prayers echoed by Ezra before they started out.
- Ezra travelled with leading Jewish men numbering approx.1,600 who alongside women and children would total about 5,000 which was only a fraction of the first wave of returnees who numbered over 42,000. They noted an absence of Levites so sent back for some because they knew they needed ministers for the temple and to teach the people.
- “Typical” when referring to some person or event in the OT means that they prefigured someone or something greater eg David-a type of Christ, Jerusalem –type of the church or heaven. Here we have believers brought out of captivity in the world (or backsliding or a false church) who return to liberty and true worship in Jerusalem (the true church and eventually get to heaven). Zechariah 2:6,7 are prophetic words of exhortation telling God’s people to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem which may have been the very words spoken to Ezra and the captives. God’s people begin their pilgrimage at conversion. Confession of faith and joining a true church is their public setting out on the journey identified as God’s people. Ezra’s history typifies the church’s pilgrimage thus:
|King’s decree||Decree of election|
|Return to Jerusalem-journey||Pilgrimage through this world.|
|Building the temple, teaching the law.||Ministry in membership, preaching.|
|Completion||Church all gathered|
Ezra 8:21 and Zechariah 8:5 speak of little ones on the journey and boys and girls playing in Jerusalem’s streets. We take our little ones along by teaching them (catechism, family devotions, example) and praying for them especially regarding dangers.
- They travelled about 800 miles and took up to 5 months over dry terrain and mountains probably following watercourses and oases to find pasture. Dangers lurked (wild animals, bandits). For ourselves we have trials throughout life, the world is waterless and we need spiritual provision and protection. Our way may seem long, especially in affliction or waiting but it’s actually very short. Our enemies are within (our old fleshly man) and without (Satan and the alluring world with its pleasures).
- The rich payload they carried we reckon was about 28 tons (560 cwt) of gold and silver. If a horse or camel carried 1 ½ cwt they would need about 400 of them.
a) Our treasure is the word of the gospel, the holy Scriptures and the true knowledge of God (Psalm 19:10,Col.2:3). It is spiritual and heavenly, the pearl of great price. “ Buy the truth and sell it not”, Proverbs 23:23. In Matthew 6:21 and 19:21 we are told to lay up treasure in heaven. We do this by blessing others and building treasure into their lives (I Cor.3:11-14). Notice that even persecution and affliction is treasure (Heb 11:26, Matthew 5:12).
b) It is priceless because it is our salvation, our only comfort in life and death, eternal, and riches in glory (Eph.1:18).
c) The teaching ordained elders of churches, and to a lesser degree the ruling elders hold this treasure especially (Matthew 13:52, Ezra 8:28). But we all hold it too (II Cor. 4:6,7 and 8:9) . There was an inventory of people and treasure and those carrying it had great responsibility. Similarly church teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1, Luke 12:28) .To whom much is given, much is required. But all of us have been given talents (opportunities). Accounting in the judgment will be according to works and lasting fruit (people saved and sanctified (I Cor.3:11-14 and I Thess.2:19)
2.Ezra and his company feared for their lives and their treasure but perhaps even more so for the honour and glory of God whose name they had publicly invoked and boasted in (v22) to get them back safely .
Our enemies include Satan, his demons and their false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing who corrupt the truth, tell lies, seek to destroy the church by these means and by persecution. We must fear straying from the truth (II Thess.2:13ff)
- Ezra wanted to show that God could be depended upon. We may claim the protection over ourselves and our church building from civil authorities (Church Order 28), that we may meet in peace and also enjoy free speech. Ezra prayed for necessary protection of their precious cargo and we are entitled to protection of our building and meetings but God will protect his truth and honour (he does not need us). The Jews had to be faithful to complete the journey, they were men of understanding (vv16,18),knew their destiny, as pilgrims fixed their eyes on the goal (so must we and our children) and had counted the cost of obedience. The key to faithfulness is understanding what you have been entrusted with and what your responsibility is (Luke 12:48, Matthew 25 (talents)).
- We will persevere because we have been sealed (Eph.1:13) but rewards and treasure will vary.
Ezra Nine Rejecting Mixed Marriages
Intermingling with the heathen, especially in marriage has been a satanic ploy since the birth of the Israelite nation eg Numbers 25:1 and 31:16 where Balaam somehow got them to fall, and also in individuals like Samson (with Delilah) and Solomon with his many pagan wives (I Kings 11:1-4). Paul was very aware of this when he wrote II Cor.6:14, 15. God ordained marriage of one flesh means one faith, for mutual sanctification and to picture Christ and his church-marrying a pagan is none of these.
II 1. The leaders and their sons were most involved. God’s people were told to be separate (Deut.7:1-3), they knew this was wrong (9:11). This sin was terrible because it had been the cause if their captivity in the first place (9:1), inevitably led to idolatry, was saying that the wickedness of the heathen didn’t matter and broke down the antithesis that God initiated (Gen.3:15). Ezra knew that this sin could cause the loss of the nation’s holiness and faith in one generation.
3. The reason for this prohibition was to save the Jews from physical and spiritual extinction! They knew that the Babylonian captivity was the result of spiritual whoredom (9:13) and history was to repeat itself under Nehemiah (Neh. 13:22ff). It’s a bit like saying we could allow unsaved to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it doesn’t matter (see Isaiah 52:1, 11 and Ex.33:16). Nowadays this attitude leads to syncretism (mixing Christianity and pagan religions), false ecumenism, mixed marriages (unsaved spouse may never repent), and open communion.
Holy means separated unto God. To go to the other extreme it did not mean Jews could not associate with gentiles (Acts 10:28 and Gal.2:11ff) and the attitude of the Pharisees.
2. I Cor.6, 7 speak of:
a) not taking brethren to court.
b) that certain sins not repented of, exclude from the kingdom.
c) fornication is forbidden 6:15 which is the equivalent of marrying a heathen cf 7:39.
d) freedom to marry a believer if you cannot contain (have gift of singleness)
e) stay put with an unsaved spouse unless they insist of separating, in which case remain separate and do not remarry.
4. The application is no mixed sex courtship or marriage with unbelievers or business associations with them. Marry in the Lord (PR people Amos 3:3). Our youth ought to be taught this by parents, church leaders and through good books.
III 2. We cannot be sure if these men had more than one wife but we can infer from Malachi 2:10-16 that many had divorced their Jewish wives to marry these heathen and for others it was their first marriage (10:2, 3, 19).
3. This was wrong according to Genesis 2:24 and Jesus interpretation in Matthew 19:9 and I Cor.6, 7. The only basis they might have appealed to was Deut. 24:1-4 which was a sufferance by Moses for hard-hearted unbelieving Israel.
4. I Cor.7 teaches us there is no obligation for separation from an unbelieving spouse if you have been converted before them.
5. Psalm 1 speaks of spiritual separation from the ungodly. It is right to aim for their conversion but without compromising our godliness.
a) There is a right separation in churches (denominations), in the world and in schools (if we have them).
b) Chapter 10:15 is a poor rendering in the AV it should read that these men opposed Ezra. We must expect opposition especially on this topic of divorce and remarriage but also on many other doctrines.
c) There was grief (10:1),Ezra and the people sorrowed, they repented, they had lost fellowship with God v15 and the necessary separation from spouses and children would be painful (but they would not be totally cut off from them and were duty bound to support them). Repentance from this sin in the church means separation from second spouses (and possibly children).
IV.1. Excommunication would be mandatory for this sin in the church (v8). Church order precludes those on second marriages and still living together from the Lord’s supper. Here Ezra instituted repentance (by the word) and church discipline (leading the people to the cross).
2. Strong marriages between believers strengthens the church (Mal.2:11, 15). We are to teach this to our children.
3. This history is for our admonition.
Review: Satan’s tactics to destroy church.
Undermine her purity and consecration by:
1) Serious sin among the members (I Cor.5)
2) False teaching and schism (Judaizers, Arminius,FV etc)
3) False ecumenism (Tobiah, Ahab/Jehosh, with RCs)
4) Outright persecution-from state or other religions.
The antithesis of Genesis 3:15 must be maintained, this whole episode was a breakdown of that God-ordained separation.
Our next topic which should take us up to the end of 2014 is Malachi. To download see: Malachi Study Guide