We spent some time last Thursday night in the first two verses of Ezra five examining the method that Haggai the prophet used in motivating the people of Israel to restart the work of rebuilding the temple. As you recall, the work had stopped because the enemies of Judah and Benjamin had sent a letter to Artaxerxes, the King of Persia.
Fortunately, Haggai's prophecy from the Lord which pointed out their lack of obedience was resulting in a lack of blessing was just the motivation the Israelites needed to get back to work. After having been shut down for a period of time, they were now back on the job, rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem.
The work once again drew the attention of others. This time, a group of people led by Tat-ten-AH-ee and Sheth-AR Bo-zen-AH-ee confronted the workers.
Tat-ten-AH-ee was the governor of the province of the Persian Empire that spanned west of the Euphrates River - from the left half of modern-day Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea on the shores of Israel. He was the highest ranking official in the area. Sheth-AR Bo-zen-AH-ee was another local official in the Persian government.
They and their colleagues said, "Who said you could do this work?" The workers gave them a list of everyone who was in charge of the project.
Under ordinary circumstances, the governor would have issued a cease and desist order until he could find out from the king if this work had been authorized. But for some strange reason, he didn't do that.
Now, the Bible gives us a "behind the scenes" look for just a moment as to the reason:
Ezra 5:5 But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them...
The reason that things happened this way is because God was watching out for them. Khan-aw-NEE the seer said,
2Chr. 16:9 "...the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His..."
And Psalm 33 says,
Ps. 33:18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness
So we know the Lord is keeping His eye on people who have hearts for Him. Those who were were working on the temple project could trust that God was watching over them.
And when God is watching out for you, your circumstances are being affected "behind the scenes," in the spiritual realm. Things that wouldn't normally happen do happen. Things that we might write off as coincidences take place. Things miraculously work out. When you are about the Lord's business, the Lord makes your business His business!
They sent a letter to the king to find out what the deal was with the rebuilding of the temple. It is referred to as "the house of the great God." This Aramaic expression, "Rab El-AW," means "the Great God," or "the Chief God." It seems that in the Persian Empire, the true God was acknowledged as one of many other gods, yet was viewed as being the highest or most powerful one. This could have come about when King Cyrus years before had issued his decree regarding "the Lord, the God of heaven (Ezra 1:2), or possibly could have come from the inhabitants of the land when they learned the customs of God from the Israelite priest (2Kings 17). If you recall, they had come to the workers and said,
Ezra 4:2 "...we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Ay-SAR Chad-DOHN king of Assyria, who brought us up here."
So, wherever the worship originated, they were very much aware of the true God, but did not have an exclusive relationship with Him.
Their letter also noted that the work on the temple was going on with great care. "Great care" is the translation of the Aramaic word "os-par-NAW," which means, "thoroughly, eagerly, and diligently."
This is the way the Lord desires to be served. It grieves me when I see the Lord's service performed half-baked, reluctantly, or slothfully. God deserves our first and our best, not our leftovers.
How does God feel when we don't take care to be thorough, eager, or diligent? He tells us.
The law of offerings decreed,
Num. 18:29 Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them..."
The best of the flock was to be given to God. But during the ministry of Malachi, the people were bringing the leftovers, the least valuable sacrifices they could give. He said,
Mal. 1:8 "...when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts."
God pointed out that He deserved better than we would give to the governor. I know that if the governor of Wyoming asked you to build his house, you would be careful to be thorough, eager, and diligent. If he asked you to watch his kids, you would do the best job humanly possible. If he made an appointment to see you, you would be on time. It should convict our hearts that we often don't give God the same service.
2Tim. 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed...
The letter continued, saying that when the Israelites were asked about the temple, they gave them some of the history, that a "great king of Israel" had built it previously.
The "great king" here referred to was King Solomon. This son of King David was the man who had built, finished, and dedicated the first permanent temple in Jerusalem, replacing the torn and tattered tabernacle that had been used since the days of Moses and the wilderness wandering.
The people were also honest enough to say that the reason it was no longer in the same situation was because their fathers had provoked God to wrath, and they were allowed to be taken captive into Babylon.
We always talk about the grace, love, and mercy of God. But the Bible makes it clear that He can also be provoked to wrath. What provokes God to wrath? In a word, rebellion (Deut. 9:7). When people rebel against His Law, His Lordship, and His righteousness, He is provoked to wrath. And as the author of Hebrews wrote,
Hebr. 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The letter went on to say that the Israelites had said King Cyrus issued the decree to let them build. As we saw in chapter one, the Lord had called Him by name before he was born, calling him to facilitate the restoration and rebuilding of the temple. Cyrus had obeyed and released both the temple treasures and the people of Israel.
Since Governor Tat-ten-AH-ee and Sheth-AR Bo-zen-AH-ee couldn't just sign onto the internet to look for proof, they requested of the king that a search be made of the records, to see if the Jews were telling the truth. And if they were telling the truth, would the king support this construction effort during his reign?
When King Darius had a search performed, a memo was discovered that gave the details of Cyrus' decree.
Darius wrote back with the contents of the memo and with this addendum:
"Dear Tat-ten-AH-ee, Sheth-AR Bo-zen-AH-ee, and the rest of you... Keep away from there, and let this work alone! Not only am I going to support this work, but I'm also going to finance it with the tax dollars from your district! You are going to give them whatever they need to buy, to build, and even to sacrifice. Lastly, if anyone doesn't follow these orders, they are going to die! Got it?"
Darius had made his decree. The work would not only continue, but also be financed and supported.
The officials followed the king's orders "with diligence." It is interesting to me that this is the same Aramaic word that was used earlier to describe the work that was being done on the temple "with great care."
To me, that becomes even more convicting, knowing that these officials were "thoroughly, eagerly, and diligently" obeying the command that their earthly king had given them.
Notice too that the Scripture says,
Ezra 6:14 And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah...
It is neither the decree of Darius nor the diligence of the governor and his colleagues that are given credit for the prosperity of the project. No, their success is attributed to the prophesying of the prophets. Success came not from the circumstances that God used, but the Word that God spoke.
Saints, it is terribly important for us to never put our eyes on circumstances, but on the Word. Never to focus on the instruments God is using, but on the God Who is using them.
Four years after the letter had come from Darius, the temple project was finished. The people of Israel joyfully dedicated the temple with a large number of sacrifices, and the priests and Levites were appointed to their duties.
The temple had been completed in Adar, which is the twelfth month. The next month was the first month, during which were the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits. We went into great detail about these feasts in our first study of Leviticus 23, if you'd like to track down those notes or the tape. In a nutshell, the Passover was a prophetic picture of Christ's atoning work on the cross, when the Lamb of God was slaughtered for our sins, protecting us from God's judgment.
Lastly tonight, I'd like to point out an important detail here: it was only those who separated themselves from the impurity of the nations that were allowed to eat the Passover.
A significant rule regarding the Passover was that it could not be celebrated by those who had not repented of sin. Even leaven, the symbol of sin, was not to be found in their households.
Now, if Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover, we must understand that it is because of our sin that Christ died. And when we turn to Him, we must turn away from our sin, walking in repentance. Isaiah the prophet wrote,
Isa. 59:2 ...your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God...
Since sin was what separated them from God, they had to be separated from their sin to be restored to God.
This is why Mark points out in his gospel that repentance is the beginning of the gospel (Mark 1:1-4).
It is all-important for us to keep in mind that
1Ths. 4:7 ...God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
In this verse from 1Thessalonians, impurity and sanctification are set up in contrast, as opposites. If you're walking in impurity, you're not walking in sanctification. Consequently, if you are walking in sanctification, you're not walking in impurity.
To be sanctified means to be set apart for God's exclusive use. May we approach this week being mindful that as we are partakers of Jesus Christ, we are called to separate ourselves from the impurities of the world, and walking in sanctification, being faithful, available, teachable, and obedient.