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Archive for the ‘Ezra’ Category

Well this morning we are looking at a large portion of the Old Testament – trying to get the big picture of things. And we are doing this to lay out the context for a most amazing promise that God made. My point to you today is that God knows how to keep a promise!

Let’s begin with some –

Background

  • God was merciful and saved Israel and gave them a new life, bringing them up out of Egypt.
  • But, as you know, Israel was unfaithful to God and rebelled against him.

And they did this despite God’s love for them and even though God warned them that they would be judged for their sin. They continued to fall into unfaithfulness. This can be seen throughout the history of Israel. Remember with me –

In the time of Moses, just to give two examples, their building of the golden calf and their the refusal to enter the land of promise.

In the time of the judges there was a constant cycle of idolatry and sin.

In the time of the united kingdom, Saul was unfaithful and rejected. David was amazing for sure, but also broke God’s law. And Solomon was involved in idolatry.

In the time of the divided kingdom the people’s unfaithfulness reached a peak and brought about severe judgment.

This was certainly true of the northern kingdom of Israel. 2 Kings 17:13-14 says, “The Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes’ . . .. But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.” They were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Also in the time of the divided kingdom, the southern kingdom of Judah, despite brief periods of faithfulness, was full of idolatry and sin as well. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets . . ..” Judah went into exile in Babylon and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 BC.

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah reaped what they sowed. They did what God warned them not to do, and they experienced the consequences. But just as all seemed lost –

God gave a promise

– to the exiles of the kingdom of Judah, through the prophet Jeremiah. There are two parts to it.

First of all, the time of Babylon’s rule will be limited. The Lord said through Jeremiah, “After seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation . . .” – Jeremiah 25:12. The Lord speaks of “70” years, which seems to be a round number talking about the typical life-span of a person. (This is how it is used in Psalm 90:10).

At the end of this time period, Babylon will be destroyed – Jeremiah 51:1; 11. They were very severe with God’s people, and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and so they will be destroyed.

The second part of the promise is that the exiles will return and be restored. The Lord said to those in exile, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” – Jeremiah 29:10. The Lord goes on to say, “I will restore your fortunes” – Jeremiah 29:14.

So after Babylon is destroyed, the exiles will return to Judah and be restored. The Lord will undo what Babylon had done in carrying them away and destroying the city and the temple.

What an amazing promise this is to Judah! And it is an indication of God’s deep compassion and love for them. Despite their sin and rebellion, God will give them another chance.

Now let’s look at –

The fulfillment of the promise

First of all, Cyrus, king of Persia, whom God raised up, destroyed Babylon in 539 BC. This story is told in the ancient history books.

So just as promised, Babylon’s rule lasted approximately 70 years. Now, modern historians differ on when exactly to say that the empire of Babylon started – when they took Assyria’s final capital and the last king was gone in 609 BC, or four years later when a final battle occurred (the battle of Carchemish). If we go with the first date then the Babylon empire lasted exactly 70 years. If we go with the second, it lasted 66 years. In either case, within a lifespan God cut off Babylon and it was no more, just as Jeremiah said.

As to the second part of the promise – Cyrus allowed the exiles to return and build the temple. This story is told in Ezra 1-6. We will go through it in a minute or so.

  • He issued a decree and a group went to Judah – Ezra 1-2. The articles of the temple were also returned.
  • In the seventh month they rebuilt the altar and made preparations for the foundation – Ezra 3:1-7.
  • In the second year they worked on the foundation – Ezra 3:8-13.
  • The locals, however, brought the project to a stop – Ezra 4. They offered to help, but were declined, most likely because they were not fully Jewish – being settlers from the Assyrian empire. Their worship probably included elements of Judaism and other religions. Once they were rejected they threatened them and bribed officials to bring things to a halt. No work was done for 16-17 years.
  • With encouragement from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the work began again (520 BC) – Ezra 5:1-2.
  • After some local objection, the new Persian king, Darius ruled that the temple should be finished – Ezra 5:3-6:13. Darius made a search and Cyrus’s decree was found. Darius also said that the cost of the temple was to be paid from the resources of the Persian state and offerings were to be given as well. And anyone who opposed this decree, it says, “a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill” or a public bathroom – Ezra 6:11.
  • So the work progressed, and the temple was finished in 516 BC – Ezra 6:14-22.

Ezra notes that all this is in fact the fulfillment of the promise of return and restoration. Ezra 1:1 says, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia . . .” and then it goes on to talk about his decree to send the exiles home to build the temple of God.

Alright, we have covered a lot of ground, hundreds and hundreds of years, and I have done all this to make the point that –

God keeps his promises

First of all, we see in this story that nothing can hinder God. No power can stand in God’s way to keep him from fulfilling his promise. The strongest empire in the world, Babylon, was standing in the way. But no matter. God did away with it. And this was as nothing to God.

Second, God is always on time. God gave a timeframe of 70 years and God came through within that time frame, judging Babylon and then bringing his people home.

Also, God is able to use whomever he pleases to accomplish his purposes and keep his promises. He raised up Cyrus, a pagan king, to do his will. He defeated Babylon, sent the exiles home and decreed that the temple be rebuilt. He thought he was doing his own will, but he was actually doing God’s will. God also used King Darius in the same way. As Ezra 6:22 says, God “turned the heart of the king . . . so that he aided them in the work of the house of God . . ..”

Finally, we may go through difficulties as we wait, but God comes through. They experienced frustration, opposition and 16 years of delay in building the temple. But in the end God made it so that even those who questioned and opposed the temple project ended up paying for it.

What an amazing God we serve! A God who is merciful and full of compassion. A God who is faithful and true to keep his word. And he will keep all his promises to us as well.

William Higgins

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