Israel’s return from exile

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A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR WANTS GOD’S PEOPLE TO BE PART OF HIS WORLDWIDE EMPIRE.

In some of our previous Bible studies we dealt with Israel’s continual sin against God.  In the end He had to hand them over into the hands of a heathen king. He, Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls of their city, Jerusalem, and destroyed their temple.  He took for himself all the golden equipment that was used in the temple.  He also took captive most of  the people of the nation.  These he removed to his country and settled in small groups all over the land.  He’s intention was for them to intermarry and become one with his people so that they would never return to their country. He’s ultimate goal was to rule over all the nations of the world.

B. THE KING OF KINGS HAS OTHER PLANS AND CONTINUES BUILDING HIS OWN KINGDOM.

But God had greater plans for Israel and for the world at large. Israel was his people and children. When a parent’s children misbehave, he will punish them, but never give up on them.  True parents will always hope that their children will, one day, leave their wicked ways. God is like that. He is always trying to draw his children back to himself. 

God never forgot the promises he had made to his devoted servants, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.  He had told them that if their descendants would live evil lives He would chastise but not reject them entirely.

God also intended his Son, Jesus Christ, to be born from the nation of Israel.  From Jesus Christ a whole new nation to be called Christians, would be born and cover the earth. And so, when Israel had been in captivity for 70 years, God spoke to King Cyrus regarding them.

C. KING CYRUS ORDERS THE RELEASE OF ISRAEL.

We now read from the Book of Ezra chapter 1:1-11:

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:  2  “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.  3  Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.  4  And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’” 

D. MANY PEOPLE OF ISRAEL RETURN TO THEIR COUNTRY TO REBUILD THE TEMPLE.

5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.  6  All their neighbours assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. 

7  Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.  8  Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.  This was the inventory: gold dishes 30, silver dishes 1,000, silver pans 29,  gold bowls 30, matching silver bowls 410, other articles 1,000.  In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along when the exiles came up from Babylon to Jerusalem.”

How remarkale that God had even kept the temple equipment safe for 70 years.

Then came the long, long trek from Babylon and other places back to Jerusalem. After 70 years these Israelites were firmly settled in the places appointed to them.  They had built homes and bought fields which they cultivated.  Now all of these had to be given up and they were returning to a city that lay in ruins.  They would have to start all over again. 

So the people that decided to return to Jerusalem, were people that loved the Lord, God.  Many of them, even children, had to walk all the way. Not every-one  had a donkey, horse or camel on which to ride. These animals were mostly used to transport their household belongings.  Yet, 42 360 of them did return for they loved God more than the things they possessed.  Many of them even gave their own gold and silver for the temple to be rebuilt.

E. REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE.

The first thing they did when they got to Jerusalem was to build an alter for God. On the alter they offered cattle and other animal sacrifices as God had prescribed in his Word.  This happened on a daily basis to express and ensure their ongoing communion with God.

They could not begin directly with the building of the temple for they had no building material. They however cut huge blocks of stone and chopped down trees for rafters.  Gradually the stock of building material grew and the time came when they could start with the work.  We now read from Ezra chapter 3:9-13:

“Jeshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God. 

10  When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel.  11  With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love to Israel endures for ever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 

12  But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.  13  No-one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”

Yes there was both weeping and rejoicing when the foundations were laid. Why weeping? The young people rejoiced for they had never seen a temple being built for the true God; they had only seen heathen temples during their lifetime, so they rejoiced.  The older generation that had seen the temple built by king Solomon and covered with gold both inside and outside wept, for they were thinking of all they had lost because they had served idols.  They also knew that this present temple would not be as glorious as the previous one.

F. OPPOSITION.

But the devil was also watching the foundations of the temple being laid. He hated it, for he hates to see people worshipping God and the work of God prospering.  He stirred up the hearts of the heathen people living in the area to oppose the work.  They wrote a letter to the new king that succeeded the one that had sent the Jews to rebuild the temple, saying that the Jews were rebelling against him and will not pay taxes.  The King wrote back, instructing that the work on the temple be stopped immediately.  And so the work was stopped until the 2nd year of the reign of a following king, called Darius.

G. THE LORD STIRS UP NEW FAITH AND ZEAL TO CONTINUE THE WORK.

  • He reprimands His people.

When God saw that his people had no intention of continuing the work, he sent a prophet to them. This prophet was called Haggai and this is what he said to them:  We read from the book of Haggai chapter 1:2,4-8:

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’”  “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”  5  Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.  6  You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”  7  This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.  8  Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the LORD.”

We also read from verse 14:

“ So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God,”

  • He makes certain promises.

But the Lord not only reprimanded them for their laziness, he also encouraged them. We read from chapter 2:1-9:

“ On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai:  2  “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3  ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 

4  But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.  5  ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ 

6  “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  7  I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty.  8  ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.  9  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty”

  • He stirs up the heart of the King to promote the work. 

God kept his Word and caused king Darius to order that the work was to continue. He even contributed funds to the work and set the priests and Levites free from paying taxes.  And so, by God’s working both in the heart of a heathen king and in the hearts of his people,   the temple of God was eventually completed in the 6th year of the reign of king Darius.  Then it was inaugurated with a great feast and much joy.

H. REBUILDING OF THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM.

Some years later the Lord sent another man, Nehemiah, accompanied by another contingent of Jews down from Babylon. He came to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem so that the people could be safe against their  enemies.  Again much resistance was experienced from the surrounding heathen people.  However the walls were completed within 52 days.  Now the people of God could really lift up their heads and rejoice for God had given them the victory and shamed their enemies.

I. WHAT DOES THIS SCRIPTURE TEACH US?

It shows that the Lord will always succeed in carrying out his plans.  He wanted a people of his own and he raised up the nation of Israel and gave them a land of their own, a temple of their own, and their own laws, priests and way of sacrificing to him.  When they strayed from him, He allowed them to be taken captive and to suffer in order that their hearts may be cleansed.  But then He brought them back to their country and restored their temple worship.  Truly God is almighty, He is above us all and no one can stand in his way.

Nowadays God is no longer interested in buildings built of stone or brick. When Jesus died for us on the cross, He made everything new, even the way we are to worship Him. The buildings we now erect in which to gather, He no longer fills with a visible cloud to denote his presence.  Such buildings are for our own convenience. It is to shelter our bodies against the sun, rain and cold. 

What He now desires is for us as human beings to be his temples.  He no longer comes down in a cloud on our heads, but fills our hearts with his Holy Spirit.  It is His Spirit that changes our lives and demonstrates  that He lives inside of us.  He does not want temples covered with gold but humans surrounded by his good deeds: praises to him and golden deeds to the people around us.  He is also no longer satisfied with one temple only; He wants hundreds of thousands of human temples all over the earth.

In the New Testament, Christians are called living temples and living stones being built into the temple of God which is the Church worldwide, the spiritual Body of Christ:

1Co 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”

 “1Pe 2:5  ..you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Have you dedicated your life to Jesus, does his Spirit dwell within you?  Can you say that you are a temple of God?  Is your life a golden brick built into the temple of God where you are surrounded by other golden bricks, other children of God, other dedicated followers of Jesus?  

Or is your life in ruins, are you misusing your temple, filling it with drugs and alcohol or allowing it to be used to gratify sexual lust?  Are you like a dirty stone surrounded by other dirty stones. Perhaps the devil has used your life to build a shebeen for him and his disciples.  Jesus wants to restore your temple just as he restored Israel’s temple in Jerusalem.  He wants to make you a golden brick in his golden temple.  This brand new temple life is just one prayer away from you. Jesus, Master Builder of the Father, is standing right next to you, just waiting for your wholehearted “Yes Lord”. Please, do speak out those words right now so that He can start working this new Life in you.

Join us again in our next Bible study dealing with the Book of Psalms which is a favourite book amongst Christians of all cultures.

SHALOM

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