Friday, 13 June 2014

(165) June 14: Ezra 3-5 & John 20

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider how these different events would have affected the faith of the Jews.

To ponder:
Things start well. It is the seventh month, in which the feast of Tabernacles celebrating God’s provision is celebrated. The people are settled and united – assembling “as one man.” With others, the High Priest Jeshua (lit. Joshua) and Zerubbabel (a descendent of David, 1 Chr 3v19) begin to build an altar, ensuring it is on the foundation of the old one as specified by David (1 Chr 22v1). Knowing rebuilding the temple will take years, their concern is to re-establish the offering of sacrifices as soon as possible, according to God’s law through Moses. Indeed, 3v6 suggests they began offering burnt offerings before they had even begun the formal altar (see 3v1-2). Although the temple is not equivalent to church buildings, this is still a reminder of the priority of establishing true worship over the lesser concerns of church life. We also see that it is right to continue worship even under threat, as these people conducted theirs in full “despite their fear of the peoples around them.”
            The transport of goods from Sidon and Tyre echoes that when Solomon originally built his temple. And so, only five months after the work on the altar began, work started on the temple under the supervision of Levites. The laying of the foundation was a great event with priests robed, Levites leading praise of God’s goodness and love, and the people shouting with joy. However, the more elderly wept. The contrast with joy suggests this was in sadness, probably because of recalling the splendour of the old temple and the pain of the exile. This is a challenge to modern activism that might not think to gather simply to celebrate significant advances in the work of God’s kingdom. It also challenges cold complacency over the decline of the church.
            “The enemies of Judah and Benjamin” may not have been enemies when first approaching to offer their help. But they were not Israelites, having been shipped in by a previous Assyrian king, and taking on Jewish worship much as had occurred in the north (2 Kgs 17v24-41). Their rejection by the Jewish leaders is portrayed as a commendable concern as the LORD is the God of Israel. Indeed, being ritually unclean, such Gentiles would have defiled the holy building. The sincerity of their request is also questionable, as they immediately sought to oppose the building by discouragement, fear, and even employing people to disrupt the work until the reign of Darius around fourteen years later. God’s people have always been opposed in their service by these same means.
            The dating of kings reveals that 4v6-23 occurs after 4v24-6v22 which is why it focuses on opposition to rebuilding the city rather than the temple. It seems placed here to increase the tension when king Darius is written to in the coming section, and stress the ongoing nature of opposition by the same people who caused the work on the temple to cease. Their letter to Artaxerxes reveals they were significant individuals, including the commander, secretary, judges and officials of this province of the Assyrian Empire. It also reveals a concern over whether the Jews would refuse paying revenue. As requested, Artaxerxes searched records and concluded, as these people had stated, that Jerusalem was a “rebellious city” and previous Assyrian kings ruling the region had received revenue from it. The Jews were therefore compelled to stop their rebuilding.
            Returning to the time of Darius, we read that the work on the temple restarted when God spoke through Haggai and Zechariah (see their books). Tattenai’s enquiry (5v3-4) may not have been hostile. But critical is the note that “the eye of their God was watching over the elders” so this work was not stopped whilst Darius was consulted. We’re reminded again that the decisions of men are in God’s hands.
Tattenai’s letter to Darius includes the Jewish response to his enquiry. It demonstrates their theological awareness of their history. They boldly affirm they serve the God of all, and realise their previous temple was destroyed because previous generations had angered him. They then appeal to Darius to check whether Cyrus decreed the rebuilding of the temple before he makes his decision as to whether they continue.
Praying it home:
Praise God that even setbacks in the growth of his kingdom are somehow under his hand. Pray that ministers and congregations would prioritise the worship and service of God rather than lesser matters, even though they have their place.

Thinking further:
None today.
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