Prophetic Words of Daniel, Part 5

Starting out, I was not sure what to share out of Daniel 11 – basically, it’s a continuation of the message from chapter 10. Gabriel speaks to Daniel the meaning of the vision he had, relating it to things that will come.

Mostly, this chapter is about the fall of Persia and the establishment of the Greek empire/kingdoms. The fourth king mentioned in verse 2 is, according to genealogy, is Xerxes from the book of Esther. The mighty king of verse 3 is Alexander the Great, and the division of his empire was spread to the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) from Israel’s point of view. Eventually, Alexander’s empire would settle into two kingdoms, ruled by the Seleucid (north) and Ptolemaic (south) families. Great conflict remained between them, leading up to the time of Antiochus IV, who like the Antichrist in the future, attempted to overthrow worship of God in favor of himself.

As I considered the passage this evening, it occurred to me that this lays out the timeline of the Maccabees (Jewish family who fought against Antiochus’ tyranny) and the miracle of Hanukkah. All this takes place in what’s commonly called the “400 Silent Years” that divide the Old and New Testaments. After Zechariah and Malachi, God never moves openly again until the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. The thought that hit me was this: just because God was silent does not mean that He wasn’t active. Divine intervention in the war against political and religious oppression, not to mention the miracle of multiplying olive oil (in the Temple lampstand/menorah, commemorated by Hanukkah) are proof of this.

This message was more than a preview of political shift in the Middle East – it was a revelation to Daniel that God not only knew the rise and fall of empires, but was deeply involved in the process. Angelic forces moved in the rise and fall of Babylon, and the same was true of Cyrus and Darius’ Persia. They rose and fell from power as God allowed; like the kings of Israel, they were held accountable by Him for their actions as rulers. The message Gabriel was giving Daniel, besides the interpretation of his vision from chapter 10, was that God remained knowledgeable and in control of the future, even when events seemed bleak from the human point of view. In a very real sense, this word of encouragement was passed on to the Jewish people through him. God was still working through His people, preparing the world for the time when Jesus would come to redeem the world as Messiah.

As a kid, when I was feeling glum or discontent with the present situation, my father would share these words with me: “Is God still on the throne? (Yes) Is Jesus still your Lord and Savior? (Yes) Then put a smile on it (your face).” I find that the same counsel applies to the future; if God is in control and you have trusted Him with your life, then the situation before you isn’t as grim as you think. God has in store something better than we could ever imagine, so be patient and look with joy for what He will do when you put your trust in His eternal plan.

Prophetic Words of Daniel, Part 4

“And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.’ While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Do not fear Daniel, for from the first day that you set you heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words…Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.'” Daniel 10:11-12, 14

The tenth chapter of Daniel was surprisingly difficult for me to wrap my head around; then again, it wasn’t an easy experience for my namesake, either. The chapter is filled with heavenly glory, angelic warfare, and it’s so out of this world, the great prophet Daniel has a hard time comprehending it himself. From our perspective, it’s a little easier to understand; the final chapters of Daniel act as a sort of trilogy, with one message spanning all three.

To begin, Daniel is at the very end of his life – in his late 80s/early 90s by this time. Only two years earlier, the Babylonian captivity ended and the Jewish people were allowed to go back to Canaan. Daniel stayed in Babylon, and in those days he received a vision of such significance that he put aside all pleasures (fasted, in a sense) and set himself to seeking God to understand what he had seen. He no doubt had heard of the opposition the Jews in and around Jerusalem were facing, and both this and the vision troubled him deeply; he felt the need to deeply seek God’s counsel, for there seemed to be a new trial around every corner.

Weeks later, Daniel sees a vision of what I can only describe as a Transfiguration moment; he saw Jesus in all His heavenly glory (compare the description here to the one found in Revelation chapter 1), then heard again from the messenger angel Gabriel. God heard Daniel’s prayers at the very beginning of this recent time period, but there was demonic resistance that prevented Gabriel from arriving right away. There was a battle for the heart of Cyrus, the Persian king who had allowed the Jews to return home; he must have been wondering if he’d done the right thing and whether he should allow the restoration of Jerusalem to continue. Had he chosen to restrain or stop it, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubabbel would have had no chance to fulfill God’s plan for their lives and the nation. Once that battle was won (though the war would continue), Gabriel came to inform Daniel of the meaning behind what he had witnessed, which will take us into the final two chapters.

Several times through the chapter, Gabriel tells Daniel to be strong and not fear/be afraid. There is no doubt that what Daniel saw greatly astonished him, and even after all he’d seen and done, he was overwhelmed by it all. Like Isaiah and others who stood in God’s presence, Daniel immediately saw his own imperfection and felt unworthy in the presence of the Holy One. In the midst of his weakness, God reached out through Gabriel and touched Daniel, stilling his fears so that his capacity to understand would not be hindered or diminished by them.

What can we take from this passage? God cares greatly about His children, and He responds when we ask Him for understanding. As the King of knowledge and light, He has no desire for us to walk in ignorance and darkness; that was one reason Jesus came to Earth – to remove sin’s influence on us, so that we might see and live in godly fullness as we were created/designed to. It isn’t easy to live for God – besides our own fallen nature, demonic forces work to make us fall. The good news is, God has made a way for us to be and created an army of angels who fight on our behalf, to uphold and encourage us as Michael and Gabriel did in Daniel’s time. We never fight alone – God is on our side, and He will always be with us in the trials and tribulations of life, providing us with strength and comfort so that the troubles are never able to truly overcome us.

One last thought before I close: even in his old age, Daniel put everything else in his life on the sidelines to seek understanding from God and draw closer in relationship with Him. Will we be willing to do the same – will we give God the #1 spot of our attention and energy? If so, start practicing it now – don’t wait until later in life, because a) you may not have that long, and b) godly habits are best established early in life, as Daniel and his friends chose to do.

Prophetic Words of Daniel, Part 3

From February of 2014.

“…I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes…’To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets…As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the LORD our God, that we may turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth.’…while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me at about the time of the evening sacrifice. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skills to understand. At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision: Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.'” Daniel 9:2-3, 9-10, 13, 21-27

Daniel mourned at first, because he saw that the Babylonian Captivity was almost over but the faith of GOD’s people had not changed their ways. Because of this realization, like Moses before him, Daniel lifted up his voice to God on behalf of a people who seemed without hope.

In the midst of his prayers, Daniel is once again visited by the archangel Gabriel, who informs him that God knew of his distress before he even began to pray; he then goes on to explain to Daniel that God is not yet finished with Israel or humanity, and the future holds great things to come.

The “seventy weeks of Daniel” are a prophetic calendar, laying out the end of the Old Testament and time itself; it ties in with the Revelation granted to John (Daniel sees the beginning, John sees the end). Each “day” in the weeks actually represents a year; the first seven weeks, therefore, represent the years until the next Jubilee year (every 50 years, all debts are forgiven, every slave is set free, and all lands previously sold return to the families who originally owned them), which is a picture of God’s love and grace giving us a new beginning through Jesus Christ.

The next sixty-two weeks are combined with the first seven, making a total of 483 “days” or years from the end of the Babylonian Captivity to the time Jesus would enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus’s following death and resurrection would mark the end of the Law’s era and begin the Age of Grace, which continues today. Like the days of Noah, this time will not end until the last soul God has foreseen has been brought into the Church and judgment is ready to begin.

Daniel is given a brief overview of the Tribulation period and the Antichrist’s reign; there is great wickedness and judgment to come, but it is enough for him to know that God’s plans for Israel are not finished, and they still have time to be reconciled with God.

Prophetic Words of Daniel, Part 2

“Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’ So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end.’ Now, as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me, and stood me upright. And he said, ‘Look, I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation; for at the appointed time the end shall be.'” Daniel 8:15-19

In this passage, Daniel has been granted a vision of the (more immediate) future: the fall of Persia and the rise of the Grecian kingdoms (Alexander the Great and his generals). He was puzzled by the vision, but as always God made a way for Daniel to understand it; this time, God sent His chief messenger angel, Gabriel, to Daniel.

The events Gabriel explains to Daniel have great significance; out of the four kingdoms born of Alexander’s empire, a king would rise and cause great trouble for God’s people. History identifies him as Antiochus IV, the Grecian ruler who desecrated the rebuilt Jewish Temple and tried to force worship of himself and Greek deities. The account of the fight against him is recorded in the four books of the Maccabees, found in the Apocrypha. Eventually, his armies are defeated and godly worship restored; this is evidenced and remembered by the celebration of Hanukkah.

Three things to take from this: 1. While Antiochus IV was certainly the foretold king of this prophecy, other historical figures bear similarities to him, the greatest still to come – the Antichrist. 2. While God may know what is to come, including all the atrocities evil people will commit, His holiness and goodness are not diminished by it – He used Antiochus as a test to increase the faith of His people, and through the Maccabees He preserved the nation Jesus would be born into. 3. God knows our hearts, and when we seek to understand His ways more deeply, He will provide us with exactly what we need. It may be a little scary at times (angels have that effect), and what we learn may be troubling (Daniel’s health was affected by what he learned), but God never gives us anything that He knows we cannot handle.

Prophetic words of Daniel, Part 1

Originally posted on Facebook in January of this year; for those who didn’t get to read it as a post, peruse it here!

“‘I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened'”…”‘I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.'” Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

This chapter begins in the first year of Belshazzar, the party king. Daniel has been God’s spokesman for many years, but now God reaches him in a new way; while he previously interpreted dreams, now God gives the prophet dreams of the future.

This vision is a mirror image of the statue dream Nebuchadnezzar had seen in chapter 2; Daniel saw the four empires as ravaging beasts, which represented their spiritual state. The fourth empire was Rome, which was different because it absorbed other kingdoms into itself rather than consume them, and from Rome is born the kingdom of the Antichrist (represented by the ten horns and the little horn with eyes and a boastful mouth).

After these things, Daniel is granted a vision of God’s court in heaven, where He (the Ancient of days) sits in judgment against the kingdoms of the world. After the judgment sentence has been passed, Jesus appears, is brought near to God, and the Kingdom of God is forever established with Jesus as its king. While both dreams (ch.2 & ch.7) point to the white throne of judgment and new creation of Earth in Revelation 20 & 21, Daniel’s is deeper because he existed in a closer relationship with God than Nebuchadnezzar did; God reached each man according to the state of their hearts.

It is interesting that God is described as the Ancient of Days; it is from a misinterpretation of the simile here that the image of God as an old man comes from. The whiteness of His hair is not due to age, but rather the light that comes from it – it is a picture of the holiness and purity of God’s character. The very term “Ancient of Days” actually points to God’s creation of linear time (and by extension His existence before and outside of it).

Ezra Part 5 (final)

Apologies for my month-long hiatus; things have gotten pretty busy with school this semester.

Finally, the conclusion to the book of Ezra!

June 11, 2012

As I read through Ezra 9, I began to understand why Ezra has such a pivotal place in the book. This eluded me before because I had not yet considered the entire story; I was still 2 chapters from the end! What happens next is a two-part action; I will go into greater detail of the results next time, and for now will focus on the cause.

Having arrived in Judah after Zerubbabel’s rebuilding efforts, Ezra finds out that the Israelites have been drawn into sin again. They have repeated a less-savory part of their history – intermarriage with Gentile nations, producing half-breed children with split loyalties. Ezra grieves when he hears of this, astonished at how quickly Israel has been drawn off the right path once again. After all, they had just returned from exile and rebuilt the Temple; what’s more, Ezra had just arrived, expecting to teach the Law to people eager to learn it! How could they become so complacent so quickly?

It is in this time that we see Ezra’s character shine; instead of turning back and returning to Persia, he stays to confront the problem. At the evening sacrifice (ironically the same time of day when Jesus died centuries later), Ezra prays to GOD, begging forgiveness on behalf of the nation; rather than set himself apart, he acknowledges himself as one of the people and approaches the LORD in that mindset. He recognizes GOD’s love and grace, and how the people have been spared only because of it. He fears that, having come so far and learned nothing, something even worse than exile awaits should the people fail to turn away from this sin. It is during this time, I believe, that GOD is preparing Ezra’s heart and those of the people for the Torah-reading in the final chapter; the first step towards change is to recognize what is wrong. Their hearts will be broken by the guilt for their sins, then GOD may come in and heal them, drawing His children back to Him in the spirit of love.

Then, following this powerful prayer, the events of chapter 10:

June 12, 2012

This chapter explains yet more pain for the former exiles – and perhaps more bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans.

As Ezra mourns, a large crowd gathers to grieve with him, confessing their guilt to GOD. That in itself is a sign of their sincerity; having newly been restored to GOD, they now have caused grief to Him and themselves, and they know it. The path to healing will not be easy, though – GOD will ask something of them that will be most difficult indeed.

GOD’s law expressly forbade intermarriage with non-Jews, just as today Christian doctrine forbids marrying non-believers. The people recognize their sin, and as part of their repentance decide to “put away” the pagan women they have married and the children born by these marriages. In essence, they have pledged to send away their wives and children, ending one relationship to restore the other – their relationship with GOD. They then make a promise to Ezra to support him as he oversees/advises them in this endeavor.

While it was not done overnight, the agreement was made and the great separation began. Beginning with the religious leaders, who should have been leading the way anyway, the men of Judah send away their foreign wives, some of them with children born from the marriages. Division seems to have been a constant part of Israel’s family history; from Abraham to Jacob & Esau to the twelve Patriarchs, it has never been easy – and it should never be so.

One of the hardest thing a father could ever do is send away his wife and/or children. In Scripture, this action is seen in Genesis when Abraham sends away Hagar and Ishmael at the urging of Sarah and the confirmation of GOD; while GOD promised to watch over Ishmael, it must have been devastating for Abraham to send away his own son, especially in front of Isaac, the son of GOD’s promise and Ishmael’s half-brother. We see it again in Esther when Xerses banishes/divorces his queen, Vashti. When he was looking for a new queen, might he have been comparing each candidate to his former wife, wondering if he would ever experience the same happiness again? That pain and hurt is multiplied to an exponential level, as all these local leaders in Judah send away their pagan wives and half-breed children. Yet the list herein is not meant to condemn, but rather to display those men who were willing to make that choice for GOD’s sake as an example for all who read.

Where could they possibly go? The closest – and most logical – option would be Samaria, and for at least a couple reasons. First, Samaria was in the local area; it would be easiest to travel a short distance to shelter and aid rather than risk returning to whatever home they might have come from. Even had they been able to do so, the children would never have been accepted; being half-Jewish, they would have been given no place among the pureblood Gentile cultures their parents would have come from. The second reason was because of the background of the Samaritans; they too were half-Jewish, and had also been rejected by the now-returned exiles. They were natural allies, and people to whom the newly-turned outcasts could reach out to without fear.

The anger, sorrow, and resentment toward their Jewish brethren would stay with the Samaritans through the centuries, finally being addressed when Jesus Christ came. After preaching to the Jews, Jesus reaches out to certain Samaritans in His ministry. From the woman at the well to the Samaritan leper and the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus uses the outcast to reach hundreds, and opens the Church to them after His resurrection. GOD healed the wounds between Jew and Samaritan in His time and in His way, bringing them together at the foot of the Cross, covered by the blood of Jesus.

Following GOD wholeheartedly demands that we make very difficult decisions in life; sometimes, that means not going places or doing certain things that our acquaintances and peers do. Other times, it means removing something/someone from your life for GOD’s sake because of the ungodly influence they have on you. Jesus never said that following Him would be easy; that’s why He tells us in the Gospel to pick up the cross. Elsewhere, He compares following Him to a narrow gate/path that few would find; it is also a difficult path to stay on, because there are so many things around that will try to get us to step off. The reward of eternal life with GOD in eternity, however, makes any risk seem small by comparison.

What makes it even better is that, by doing as GOD instructs, we may actually draw people into His kingdom by the Holy Spirit speaking through our actions. So long as we draw breath, there is a chance for everyone and anyone to be redeemed. That is why we should make every effort to live for GOD in our lives; both He and others are watching us, observing what we do. As I close this look at Ezra, I pray that we would remember the events and lessons of the past, carefully note what part they play in our present lives, and what GOD hopes to accomplish with both in the future.

Thus ends our progress through Ezra. I hope this has been a blessing for you to read, and that GOD has spoken to you through it. I will endeavor to post Nehemiah and Esther when I can, and perhaps afterwards go further back in the Bible. A new day lies before me, however, and I must go to meet it. Until next time, dear readers!

Ezra Part 4…

At long last, Ezra arrives on the scene. In the interim after chapter 6, the events of Esther occurred; strangely, however, GOD does not observably speak/move, as though He is giving an opportunity for growth. We are always looking for the next big step in faith, yet forget that GOD moves not by clocks but by the condition of our hearts. Like a crop, we need time to grow and mature; GOD moves again once we are ready for Him. With the Temple rebuilt, the Jews now need to reestablish a working knowledge of the Law, and Ezra will take a leadership role in teaching it. His name means “helper,” and thus is an human example to us of the Holy Spirit’s work. The reconstruction continues, but now the site is in the hearts of the people.

June 8, 2012

Today’s Scripture was Ezra 7; this is the chapter in which Ezra actually appears in the book. He was sent to Judah by the king of Persia to re-teach the Jews the Law of Moses. He traces his lineage back to Aaron, the first high priest of Israel; furthermore, he was an expert on the Law, and was given authority to appoint officials who will assist him in executing judgment according to the Law. In effect, he is rebuilding what Moses started in Exodus, following a visit from Jethro: a way for GOD’s word to be spread and applied throughout the nation without one man having to shoulder the burden alone. This is, I believe, yet another sign of GOD’s provision; the king of Persia gives Ezra the command to do so, and yet I would ask why the Persian king would take such an interest in one of his subject peoples? It can only be because GOD put the thought in his heart; he recognized that GOD had given him the kingdom, and that it was the best course of action to obey his divine Suzerain (superior).

A point of intellectual interest for me is the fact that Artaxerxes gives the Jewish religious leaders immunity from taxation of any kind. It should be noted that these were from the tribe of Levi, who did not possess any land inheritance like the other tribes. It was a point of grace that GOD caused their provision from the offerings and gifts of their brethren, and perhaps in recognition of this fact, the king protects them from the greed of corrupt political officials in his edict to Ezra. This custom must have been a tradition passed on to the Church, as the Medieval church in Europe enjoyed many of the same privileges as the Levitical priesthood.

Although he is a scribe, Ezra’s lineage goes all the way back to Aaron, who was Israel’s first high priest. The rebuilding of the Temple therefore had great significance for him; he was coming home to minister to the nation and reconnecting with his family legacy. In a way, Ezra puts me in mind of the Hasidim, a group of scholars formed during the Exile; their task was to ensure that the people would not break the Law again, resulting in another Babylonian Exile, by studying the Law to its minute details and applying it in the most appropriate way. While their goal was very noble, their practice eventually led to the rise of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.

Chapter 7 concludes with a little prelude for chapter 8. Ezra enters the book in a first-person narrative. He begins by praising GOD for His mercy in using Artaxerxes to bring Ezra home to the Holy Land, with such a task of faith. Peeking ahead, I find that, apart from this prologue/epilogue, Ezra only gets to speak like this for two more chapters out of the entire ten of the whole book. Despite this, however, his name is credited as the book’s title; he overshadows both Zerubabbel and the high priest. That, I conclude, can only be a reflection of how pivotal a role he will play in what will happen next in Judah’s history. He will be instrumental in returning Israel to a proper relationship with GOD, not just teaching them the Word, but convincing them to live it out.

June 9, 2012

In my Scripture reading today, I perused through the text of Ezra 8. It continues Ezra’s personal account of his journey to Jerusalem, focusing on who traveled with him and the consequences of their journey.

Surprisingly, of all the people who are going up to Jerusalem, Ezra is the only Levite among them until verses 15 to 20. The Levites were essential to worshipping the LORD, yet they had to be drafted into service because so many had become comfortable and did not desire to return to the Promised Land. GOD wants us to be ready when He calls, and doesn’t call us to come at our convenience; we should be ready at any time, ready to go at a moment’s notice, as was symbolized by the Passover tradition in Judaism.

Once again, I see the intent of bringing multiple leaders of the people with Ezra; they are to spread out according to their allotments among the people and be the local “rabbis” (I think), teaching/re-teaching the people the laws and statutes of GOD. This seems to be based off the old system of governance from Moses’ time, and also serves as part of the foundation for traditional Rabbinical Judaism. Having lost the land, the kings, and the Temple, the one identifying mark for the Jews in exile was the Law – and having lived through the consequences of their fathers’ failure to keep it, it was imperative to learn it all the better.

Something else strikes me just now – just as with Chronicles, the Jews make a careful note of their genealogy. To those of us not from the culture, it may seem a tedious task, but for the Jews this was essential, especially having just returned from 70 years in exile. Having undergone relocation time and again in their history, lineage was essential to tracking the identity of the nation and the people who comprised it. It was, after a fashion, a reflection of GOD, whom they served and lived for as His chosen people. To mingle with other nations was to become embroiled in their idol worship – and to lose that identity.

A key point Ezra takes care to record is the fasting prayer he and his companions underwent prior to their journey. They had declined military escort from Artaxerxes, saying that GOD would protect those who sought Him, and Ezra was ashamed to renege on his word. Having placed their faith in GOD’s protection, Ezra wanted to be sure that GOD would guide them along the right path to avoid disaster, which seems oddly reminiscent of the Wilderness Wanderings with Moses. As I continue through the book, it seems that reliving the past, as well as renewal, seem to remain the constant theme.

Also before setting out, Ezra takes a careful tally of everything that they are taking to the Temple, making certain to charge everyone with responsibility over their share of the load. In this way, every member of the journey is held accountable, because another tally will be taken at journey’s end to confirm that everything made it. Ezra makes it clear that this is more than an accounting matter; it is a religious honor/duty, since everything and everyone present is dedicated to serving GOD. This passage also serves as an example for us; at the end of life, we will give an account to GOD for all we have and have done, and when that time comes we should be able to give a favorable account, saying “Yes, GOD, I have wisely used the gifts You gave to me.”

After the journey is completed, a large sacrifice is made as a sign of Israel’s restored communion with GOD; this seems a fitting end to the journey, and yet Ezra’s work has only just begun, as we will see next time.

Ezra, Part 3…

Here, at last, is the third part of Ezra, chapters 5 and 6. Much of these chapters are dominated by letters to and from Persia, but I’ve done my best to boil them down for you. Please don’t hold it against me that I wrote this back in June; I was hesitant about even opening this blog at first, but thanks be to GOD for giving me the courage to do so and the wisdom to seek Him before publishing.

June 6, 2012

For today’s devotional, I read Ezra chapter 5, which continues the account of how the Temple was rebuilt. In the previous chapter, the Jew were approached by Gentiles dwelling in the land; these people were descended from those brought into the land by the Assyrian Empire in 722BC, and who in turn would become the ancestors of the Samaritans. Chapter 4 was the first sign of conflict between the two groups; the Samaritans offered to help the Jews rebuild the Temple, citing their own worship of the LORD since the Assyrian Empire’s invasion, but the Jews refused their offer of aid. Thanks to 2nd Kings 17, we know that the Samaritans’ Gentile ancestors did indeed worship GOD, but only half-heartedly as they continued to worship their idols. This led to further conflict and animosity that would continue until the time of Jesus and the birth of the Church.

After being rebuffed by the Jews, the Samaritans began to hamper the reconstruction efforts, continuing for many years. Following the death of Cyrus, they craftily send an appeal to his successors, claiming that the Jews intend to rebel should their city and Temple be completely rebuilt. As the Persians wrote everything down, an inquiry to the royal archives was made, and a history of the Jews’ past conduct is made. The Persians discover that the Jews do indeed have a record as a thorn in the side of former empires such as Egypt and Babylon, and not wishing to suffer a similar fate, King Artaxerses (mentioned also in Nehemiah) sends a reply commanding for the Jews to cease their labors. Thus, work on the Temple ceases for a number of years.

Chapter 5 shows GOD moving to start things again; He had provided an impetus to rebuild the nation through Cyrus, and now He stepped in to help encourage His people against the opposition. Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, are raised up to speak to the people and, after confronting them for their backsliding, the prophets reignite the reconstruction project. Naturally, this attracts the attention of the Samaritans, who demand to know an explanation. The Jews keep their faith in GOD, who protects them from their enemies, and they send a petition through the Samaritans (how ironic is that?) to King Darius of Persia, citing that they began to rebuild with the permission and urging of Cyrus, requesting that the king search for the proof, which will justify their present labors.

What can be gleaned from this passage? As with any good work, opposition quickly rises, sometimes at a seemingly overwhelming rate. What’s important is to keep on doing what’s right for GOD, even when our neighbors and government seek to oppose and stop the work. Galatians 6 reminds us of this, promising that the reward for our labors will come if we diligently continue in spite of whatever problems may arise to slow us down. GOD is still in control of everything, and so long as we obey and trust in Him, He will continue to work things out, even if the results are not immediately apparent.

June 7, 2012

This morning, I read through Ezra 6, which is in essence Darius’ reply to the Jewish request in the previous chapter. In the letter, we learn that proof of Cyrus’ proclamation was found and thus it has been ratified; Darius does not seek to oppose or subvert it. There are perhaps a couple reasons for this: first of all, the Persians had a legal system where even the kings submitted to the law; once a law was made, even the king himself could not change it. Darius was bound by this tradition, and he respected it by allowing Cyrus’ decree to be fulfilled. I believe, however, that there is another, deeper reason for Darius’ support – GOD worked through Cyrus to bring the Jews home, and now He used Darius to protect them from the Samaritans. In his reply, Darius settles the cultural dispute by commanding the Samaritans to stop causing problems for the Jews, and even going so far as to provide materials for the Jews from his/their own hands. Once again, GOD proves through history that His will shall be done, no matter what men try to do to oppose Him.

What interests me as I look back is that, when the temple was completed and prepared, it was in time for the Passover in the first spring month of their calendar. That is significant, I think, because it symbolized the renewed life of the nation and their covenant with GOD that began in Egypt and at Sinai. They didn’t jump in during the middle or end of the year; GOD provided, and the people were diligent to keep their part, starting from the beginning. (Little side note: my NOAB says that the “king of Assyria” reference is an “anachronistic” reference to the king of Persia, alluding to the earliest exile of Israel under Assyria, which has been reversed/undone.)

In this chapter, we see two different ways Yahweh works His purpose in the lives of humanity; not only does He move through the reigning king to protect His people, but GOD also provided a means for educating, encouraging them in His will through prophets. In essence, the events of this passage reveal another instance of GOD’s sovereignty over the affairs of humanity, just as the Truth Project espouses. Even if the world is in denial about it, GOD still remains in control of all things and works them according to His eternal design.

Ezra Part 1 Epilogue…

A little application note that didn’t make it in with the original post; my apologies for missing it before.
Like Zerubabbel’s return party, we the Church are the few who answer the call of GOD to come and fellowship with Him.  Whether we realize it or not, that makes us a “shining” example, as we are to shine His light to the world, with our lives as examples or testimonies of His transforming work in us.  All who entered the Promised Land were called to be examples for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

Ezra Part 2…

There was a bit of a gap between the two posts; the first part (chapter 3) began on June 2, while the second half (chapter 4) was begun on July 25.  Until next time, enjoy and be edified!

I was just reading through Ezra chapter 3, when Zerubbabel and some of the people of Judah return from the Babylonian Captivity to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem.  What struck me was the reactions of the people in verses 10 through 13, watching as the foundation of the new Temple is being laid.  The younger generation shouts for joy, while the older generation weeps with sorrow.  Why is that?

Verse 12 tells us that those weeping were those who had seen Solomon’s Temple in their younger days.  That got me thinking: what is the thought behind that, and how does it relate to us today?  The older generation wept because they remembered Judah’s former relationship with God, and how that was reflected in the Temple.  They must have recalled how Judah had abandoned God, and how in the end their sin had robbed them of the Promised Land, the Davidic line of kings, and the Temple.  In short, they were mourning for the past, and that it would never come again.


By contrast, the younger generation shouts for joy to see the Temple being remade.  There are at least a few reasons why: first, they had grown up without the Temple, but had no doubt heard stories about it through their parents.  Second, they are coming home to the Promised Land, and the Temple was a symbol of a renewing/reestablishing of God’s presence and covenant with His people.  Third, having grown up scattered in exile, the laying of the Temple foundation declared that Israel, having received the land and the Temple once more, was now a nation again.  They now had a future as the Chosen People; is it any wonder they shouted for joy?

Both generations had lived most or all of their lives without the Temple; when the captivity first began, the people mourned because they thought that, with the destruction of the Temple, they were exiled from God as well.  Through prophets like Ezekiel, however, God made it clear that He traveled with His people into Babylon and remained in touch with them no matter where they were.  The younger generation, having grown up in that setting, now had a greater and deeper connection with God than they had ever known.  Their joy is comparable to that shown in Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, when the shepherd finds the lost sheep or when the Prodigal Son comes home.  The shepherd and father rejoice, for the lost has been found and the dead has come back to life!  That, I believe, is the attitude the younger generation of Ezra 3 had in their hearts.

How does this apply today?  In the Church, we have two basic backgrounds: I’ll call them Church Children and World Wanderers.  The former group is comprised of those who grew up in the faith, while the latter are believers who came to faith later on after living in the world for a time.  So often, Church Children have the same point of view as the older generation from the exile – focusing so much on the past that they can become calloused to what God is doing in the present, thinking that the future cannot compare to or be greater than what has come before.  The World Wanderers, however, have lived without God for a time, and thus know what it is like to have that emptiness that the Church Children have perhaps never felt.  Oh, that we would all have that joy, content with what God has provided and is doing in our lives than pining over what He has not!

In Ezra 4, we witness local opposition to the Jews rising.  The “adversaries” named herein are most likely the inhabitants of the land north of Judah, where Israel once was.  These are the Samaritans, descendents of Israelites who intermingled with the Gentile settlers brought in by Shalmaneser, the Assyrian monarch who conquered and scattered the 10 northern tribes in 722 BC.  They profess to have worshipped Yahweh (admittedly in their own diluted way) and request a partnership in rebuilding the Temple.  The Jews, however, reject their half-breed brethren, claiming Cyrus’ command was only to them.

This marks the first blow in the conflict between the Jews and Samaritans, which will continue until the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.  The Jews did not believe the Samaritans to be of their fellowship, having mixed themselves with Gentiles in blood and religion, and the Samaritans felt that the pure-blooded Jews unjustly excluded them.  For the next four centuries, they will bear this animosity against each other; such a blood feud will literally divide the land, as in later years the Jews will go so far as travel around Samaria to reach their northern settlements in Galilee.

Having been rejected, the Samaritans use this as an opportunity to frustrate the Jews in their reconstruction efforts.  This may have been their intent all along; in John chapter 4, Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar, and she brings up the debate of the “proper” location for worshipping Yahweh.  The Samaritans had a temple of sorts on Mount Gerizim (possibly a “high place,” as described in the Old Testament), while the Jews built the traditional temple on Mount Zion (the “high place” of Jerusalem, where it was at the pinnacle of the city).  From the time of Cyrus all the way to Artaxerxes (three kings later), the Samaritans harass the Jews, but ultimately Yahweh provided for them and the Temple was at last rebuilt.

What can be gleaned from this?  I believe two simple yet profound truths can be found herein: first, with every good work, opposition will inevitably arise.  The second ties into the first: completing the task is much more rewarding when one has persevered through every obstacle along the way.

Insights, voiceovers, and more