|A NEW HOPE
Series: Kingdom & Exile - Part Eight
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 11, 2017
This morning we’re finishing our series “Kingdom and Exile” by looking at Ezra. Which is a book written by Ezra who also wrote Chronicles and Psalm 119 - and probably edited the book of Nehemiah. Ezra arranged the books of the Hebrew Bible into the order we have today. At the time of the exile Ezra was a priest and a scribe who had a significant and lasting spiritual impact on God’s people.
And yet, the book of Ezra isn’t one of those books that’s as familiar as a lot of the rest of the Bible. But it’s a fitting end to what we’ve seen about the kingdom and God’s people heading into exile and the transition into what comes next.
Which - for God’s people - all that was a time with a lot of uncertainty. A lot of questions. Not many answers. Which resonates.
It seems like just about every day we hear about someone driving over a crowd of people or going off shooting people - even in churches. Evil on a rampage. What holds this country together - or this world - the core of that is really messed up and not going to get better. Spiritually - morally - culturally - economically - politically - religiously - whatever - aside from all the drama in our own lives - there’s an uncertainty about the times we live in and what may or may not come next.
That may not be unusual in human history. Probably isn’t. Studying through human history things have always been pretty messed up. It just seems more so these days. Maybe because this is when and where we live.
We’re kind of together?
Ezra is full of people who are passionate about God - who are passionate about helping others to know God - but who struggle with what that means in the day-to-day uncertainty of life.
Since Genesis 1 we’ve been seeing God use real time people and real places and real events and real time experiences to help them - and us - to understand what God is doing and what He will do and what He expects of His people. He even wrote out His law for them.
And yet God’s people had messed up. A lot. Repeatedly. Which is something most of us can relate to.
God kept warning them and lovingly disciplining them and mercifully forgiving them and patiently calling them back to Him. All of which - for the most part - they either ignored or outright rejected. If there was a way to be offensive - to be faithless and disobedient to God - they were all in.
Last Sunday when we looked at 2 Chronicles 36 we saw God’s people being dragged off into exile. In 722 BC the Assyrians hauled off Israel to… Assyria. Beginning in 605 BC the Babylonians beginning hauling God’s people off to… Babylon.
Finally, in 586 BC the Babylonians ruthlessly killed people. Took what was left out of the Temple. Torched it. Torched the royal palace and the homes of the nobility. Tore down the walls of the city. Left the Jerusalem in ruins. Hauled off whoever was left. Leaving behind the poorest of the poor to somehow go on living.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are on the other side of all that. Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book that were to be read together as one unified account of God’s people coming back from the exile. What amounts to three waves of returnees - coming back to Jerusalem.
Ezra 1-6 records Zerubbabel and Jeshua leading the first wave of exiles back to Jerusalem - about 50,000 people - who went back to rebuild the Temple. What took place in 536 BC. The Temple being completed in 516 BC. A part of which we’re going to be looking at this morning when we come to chapter 3.
Ezra 7-10 records Ezra’s return in 457 BC - about 80 years after Zerubbabel’s return - and after the events of the book of Esther.
Esther becomes queen in 486. The deliverance of the Jews and Mordecai becoming Prime Minister takes place in 478 to 474 BC. Artaxerxes that gets mentioned in Ezra 7 as the king who sends Ezra back to Jerusalem. Artaxerxes - who ruled from 464 to 424 BC - Artaxerxes was Esther’s step-son. We need to be impressed with God at work.
In 457 BC Artaxerxes issues the decree to send Ezra back with another group of about 1,700 people which leads to Ezra’s attempts at a spiritual revival.
Each wave begins with a Persian king sponsoring a wave of returnees returning to Jerusalem for some kind of restoration - restoring the Temple - re-commitment to the Torah - spiritual restoration - restoring the walls - restoration and to rebuild their lives. Each wave returns with hope and optimism. There are great possibilities. Great expectations.
Each wave faces opposition - hostility from outside the group and failure from within - delays and distractions and division and discouragement. Despite the restoration of the Temple and the walls things do not always go well.
The book of Ezra/Nehemiah ends with Ezra and Nehemiah trying to stage a spiritual revival with a 7 day Scripture reading marathon, choirs, and a marching band - a huge calling of the nation to devote themselves to observing God’s law… again. A very impressive moving celebration moment in the lives of God’s people that ultimately ends in failure and with Nehemiah’s anger and disappointment.
All of which leads to mixed - uncertain - results and a lot of unanswered questions.
Hang on to this: Things do not work out the way the people expected them to work out.
We know that God takes very seriously what He promises and what expects of His people. We know that the exile was a result of God’s people abandoning the one true God for other gods - for their gross failure at faithful obedience. God’s people knew this.
And they knew - and we know - that God spoke through His prophets to tell His people that the exile was a part of what God is doing in history - not the end result of what God is doing in history.
Meaning that God had made great promises to Abraham. Remember this? The Abrahamic… Covenant. God promises to establish Abraham’s descendants on the land and to make of them a great nation and through that nation to bring God’s blessing and peace to all the nations of the world.
Jerusalem was going to be ground zero for all that. God’s kingdom would be established and rule over the nations. God’s presence would be in a new Temple. There’s a coming future Messianic King
Despite the rebelliousness and sin of God’s people - and even through an exile - God through His prophets - God tells His people that He - God - was still going to do what God had promised to do. (Genesis 12; Isaiah 2; 31; Ezekiel 40-48; Hosea 3; Zechariah 2; 8)
And God’s people knew that. God’s people - returning from exile - are coming back thinking “This is it!” “We’re back!” “Build Your Kingdom here!”
Ezra is full of people who are passionate about God and what God promises - who by the end of Ezra/Nehemiah - the waves returning from exile are wondering why things have not worked out the way they thought they would work out and questioning about what that means and what comes next.
Which brings us to Ezra 3. What takes place during the first wave of returnees who have returned with Zerubbabel and Jeshua to rebuild the Temple.
Please follow as I read - Ezra 3:6: From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
The first day of the seventh month - on the Hebrew calendar was the month Tishri - what for us is about September/October - it straddles what is our September and October - what was about 3 months after they’d arrived back in Jerusalem.
Tishri is one of the most sacred months of the Jewish year. The first day of Tishri is New Years - Rosh Hashanah - a day to think about where God is taking us in the year ahead. Ten days later is Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - a day to focus on God’s forgiveness of our sins and our need for repentance. From the 15th to the 22nd day is the Feast of Tabernacles - what focuses on God’s provision in the wilderness and the coming Messianic age when all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship God.
We need to be careful that we don’t miss the significance of all that. The timing and sequence of this is about God. The awareness of God’s people that this is God at work and their need to first get right with God - to worship God - to honor God - and then to move forward into what God has brought them back to do. Awareness of the parallels with Solomon and the desire to see the magnificence of that Temple restored - a Temple worthy of the coming Messiah and His kingdom.
This is a huge God moment with ties to the past and great hope for the future.
Going on at verse 8: Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord. And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.
2 years and 2 months after they’d returned the materials have been secured. The laborers have been secured. The Lord has been worshipped. All the preparations have been completed.
Verse 8 tells us that Zerubbabel and Jeshua along with priests, Levites, other returnees - are laying the foundation - beginning the work. That’s huge.
Zerubbabel’s name means “seed of Babylon” - meaning he was probably born in Babylon - in exile. He’s not a returnee. He’s a product of the exile. His father is Shealtiel.
Why is it important for us to know that?
Shealtiel was the eldest son of Jehoiachin.
Jehoiachin - at the age of 18 - became the king of Judah. He was not a good king. He reigned for 3 months. Then, because of his sin and that of the people - Jehoiachin was captured by the Babylonians and taken off to Babylon where he’s a prisoner of war - until the 37th year of the exile when Evil-Merodach succeeds to the Babylonian throne and releases Jehoiachin - gives him a pension and some degree of authority - a seat at the table. So that Jehoiachin probably ends up living out the rest of his life in Babylon watching his grandson Zerubbabel grow up.
Two things to remember from all of that. First - none of Jehoiachin’s children succeeded him to the throne. Because of their sin God removed him and them just like God said He would. The Davidic line is removed from ruling.
And second - Zerubbabel is in the line of David. Zerubbabel - who by the way - shows up later being listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Meaning that, while Jehoiachin - in all his sinfulness - is taken out by God - God still fulfills his promise of a coming Messiah from the line of Davide and preserves the Davidic line through this born in exile Zerubbabel - who is here laying the foundation of the Temple.
Jeshua - meaning “The Lord saves” - is from the line of priests. Jozadak was the high priest at the time of the exile. Meaning that the priesthood is preserved by God - because if you have a Temple you need priests. Here, the high priest is helping to lay the foundation for the Temple.
“The rest of their kinsmen” takes us back to chapter 2. If we were to go back to chapter 2 - we would read there a long list of generally unpronounceable names that for the most part - skimming through those names - probably mean absolutely nothing to us.
But study that list and what comes to the forefront is a listing of those who chose to take God at His word and respond in faith - leaving behind Babylon - the capital - with all its - we’ve been living here for 70 years and doing pretty well thank you - with all its opportunities and comforts - who responded in faith and followed Zerubbabel and Jeshua back to the ruins of Jerusalem. That list is an honor roll of faith that should inspire us to be faithful.
These are the people who in the second year in the second month - which is Iyyar - our April and May - which was the same month Solomon began building his Temple - at that time these faithful people - passionate about God - came together in celebration and laid the foundation of the rebuilt Temple.
Meaning this is an intentional huge God moment with ties to the past and great hope for the future. God bringing together the Davidic and priestly lines with His people at the place of sacrifice and atonement and His dwelling with His people to make “a beginning.” The significance of which was not lost on God’s people and should not be lost on us.
And yet - notice something else that we might be tempted to pass by without wondering about. They appointed Levites, from 20 years old and upward. According to Numbers 4 - that age should be 30. Or, in Numbers 8 - it comes up again as 25. But not 20. In Chronicles it gets reduced to 20 because there’s a lack of eligible Levites.
Recording that little detail gives us a hint here - a foreshadowing - a clue - that with all of the Divine amazingness of what’s going on - not everything is as it should be.
Going on - verse 10: And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
Anyone ever been to a service like this? This is impressive. Yes?
Tradition tying the people back to their nations - their roots - the promises of God. Tradition - grandeur - celebration - all focused on praising and giving thanks to the Lord. The foundation of the rebuilt Temple is laid. Praise God!
“He is good” is declared over and over in Scripture. The focus is on the goodness of the Covenant keeping God.
“Steadfast love” - translates the Hebrew word “chesed” - which is a really hard word to translate because it has such deep meaning for God’s people.
All rolled into one - “chesed” has the ideas of kindness - goodness - mercy - deeply felt unchanging committed love. Specifically it describes the unalterable love that God has for each one of us.
“Steadfast love” describes the attribute of God - Who God is - that moves God to commit Himself to His people - relentlessly and purposefully working to restore them to Himself. God - Who rather than justifiably sending His people into forever exile from Him because of their sin - God reaches out in love and grace - promising to free us from the ravages of sin - to gather and heal and bind us.
God delights in doing that for those who will trust Him to do it.
God’s “steadfast love” is what sends Jesus into humanity and to the cross.
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
Reading this in the Hebrew has the idea that there is great joy - intense purpose - one people together in unity praising God. One translation says they “shouted at the top of their voices.” (NEB) Another adds that the sound was “so loud it could be heard for miles.” (TEV)
Would you stand with me and make this declaration together? What was true then is true today. Yes?
“For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
What a moment that must have been. The anticipation. The hope. The God Who permitted judgment - exile - is also the God Who has delivered us - Who’s brought us back and will enable us to complete this work.
Verse 12: But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
When the foundation is laid generation “next” - the younger crowd born in Babylon - they’re rejoicing in what God is doing through them. They’ve got no connection - no recollection - of what Solomon’s Temple had looked like. They’re in the moment with hope and anticipation.
While they’re rejoicing and shouting those who remembered what once was - they wept - with a loud voice. They knew the difference. They had a personal connection with the Davidic Kingdom and the magnificence of Solomon’s Temple. The physical beauty - the altars - the Ark of the Covenant. They’d seen it. Felt it. Experienced it. And this wasn’t it.
“Wept” and “weeping” are the same root word in Hebrew: “bakah”. Think wailing and gnashing of teeth. Unending tears - bitterness - mourning - ongoing lamenting - gut level sorrow - unrelenting grief. To weep is not tears of joy but tears of bitter mourning.
They’re looking at the puny foundation that’s been laid - the beginning of the new Temple. They’re remembering the old one. They’re overcome with disappointment. They’re weeping over what’s been lost.
Some place in that is this: Regret knowing that Judah’s sin - their sin - had caused all this loss. While there’s joy there’s also a sober awareness of their own failure - their own disobedience - their own sin.
When they looked at the puny foundation - and even in later years when God’s people looked at the second Temple - this “lesser Temple” was a reminder of their sin and God’s judgement that allowed the Assyrians and Babylonians to conquer them and drag them into exile.
That contrast between rejoicing and weeping had a deep lasting effect on God’s people. Coming back to the land and thinking, “This is it!” And it wasn’t.
Maybe during the exile they’d wondered if maybe they’d really messed up so badly or so often - maybe God had abandoned them. Maybe they wondered if God would keep His word to them. Maybe sometimes we wonder that about our own sin and our relationship with God.
And yet here they are - in Jerusalem - rejoicing.
God’s people knowing the promises of God to Abraham - to them - of a coming Messiah king and kingdom - God’s presence in a new Temple - nations streaming to Jerusalem to worship God - being passionate about God and God’s promises - and now here they are. And yet they’re not seeing the fulfillment of those promises.
There’s an uncertainty in that. Questions we’d like to ask God.
In the 330’s BC the Greeks under Alexander took out the Persians and captured Jerusalem - and still no Messiah. Then the Maccabees led a revolt against the Greeks and rededicated the Temple - and still no Messiah. Then the Romans took over from the Maccabees - and still no Messiah - no kingdom. Just subjection to yet another Empire.
There’s uncertainty in that. The circumstances we live in.
There’s uncertainty when things don’t work out the way we expect them to. God not fitting into our understanding of how and when God should be doing what God said God would do.
The celebration in Ezra 3 is an example of many times in Hebrew history - in our own history - when we’re brought into that uncertainty.
Always in uncertainty there’s a temptation to look to the past or to look at what’s missing in our present - and to lose hope of anything different in the future. In Ezra 3 - some looked back and wept.
When Jesus announced, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” “This is it!” The Pharisees said, “We’ve got Moses and the law and the prophets.”
It is dangerous to cling to the past. We miss what God has for us today. We’re not where we need to be to move forward with God.
Let’s think about that.
If Solomon’s Temple is so crucial to the relationship of God’s people with God - to all that God had promised His people - why does God allow Nebuchadnezzar to destroy it? Why a second Temple that’s way less than the first?
Answer: We don’t really know.
However, it’s been suggested that if Israel had only had the first Temple - Solomon’s Temple - they might have said, “God is our great deliverer Who brought us out of the bondage of Egyptian slavery. He brought us to the land He promised our forefather Abraham and a king from David’s line will sit on the throne forever.” End of story.
Which is true. But it isn’t the end of the story. And it misses what they needed to learn about themselves and God through exile and by building a second Temple.
In the first Temple account they could hang onto themselves as the victims rescued by God from slavery in Egypt. But in the second Temple account they’re the guilty ones and God is effectively rescuing them from themselves and their own sin.
Their real need is not deliverance from being slaves of the Egyptians but deliverance from being slaves of their own sin. Maybe the second Temple is there to point to their need for the Savior who will save them - not from Egyptians or Babylonians or Greeks or Romans or uncertain times - but from their own sin. (1)
Maybe the burnt out shell of the Temple and the puny new foundation is there to remind them of God’s faithfulness and their need to repent of their sin and to trust Him.
Let’s be careful. Regret over our sin can be a good thing if it brings us to humility and repentance. It can be ongoing devastation if it gets us stuck in the past when God wants to move us forward.
Meaning their hope needs to be - not in how God worked in the past - not in their understanding of God and their understanding of His promises for the future - but in the God Who makes promises and wills to work in our lives according to His perfect will and timing.
In uncertain times - in repentance - in regret - in any time - the only certain hope is hope in God alone.
Processing all that…
It’s really easy to get stuck in the past. Maybe it gets easier as we get older and there’s more past to get stuck in. Especially in uncertain times.
The past can be lots of things. But anything - good or bad - that keeps us focused backwards and not moving forward trusting God. Could be past service - what we’ve done for God. Could be some work of God in our lives. Could be past sin - even repented of and forgiven. Could be some addiction. Whatever or whoever we’re looking back at for security that keeps us from looking forward trusting in God.
This account of rebuilding the Temple is a good reminder for us of just how good God is in keeping His promises to us - even in our sin - even in the uncertainty of our lives.
So much of what we’re reading here points to Jesus on the cross - God reaching to us in where we do life - and God’s desire to move us forward from there into the life He’s created and called us to. Even if we don’t yet understand what that life looks like or how God desires to bring us there.
We are God’s building project. And we too easily hold ourselves back from the good things He has yet to do in our lives. Looking backward - looking at what’s lacking - looking at what’s uncertain.
Haggai was a prophet - a contemporary of Zerubbabel and Jeshua. The Book of Haggai - same guy - was written between August of 520 BC and December 520 BC.
Those dates are important to know because at the time God chooses to speak through Haggai - the Temple rebuilding project has been stalled for about 15 plus years. They laid the foundation. But not much more was done.
In the face of opposition and distraction the people have been building up their own houses. In the face of what’s uncertain they’ve retreating into their own comfort zone. Core to why the people had stopped was this. Apparently they didn’t really believe that God was with them or that they could trust Him.
God’s people may be stalled. But God isn’t. God can move the kings of Babylon and Persia to do His will. God is not put off by some local resistance or the reluctance of His people.
God uses Haggai to call God’s people back to the work of rebuilding.
God speaks through Haggai - Haggai 1:13: “Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, ‘I am with you, declares the Lord.’”
That is so simple and so to the point and so necessary for us to hear. What does it take to rebuild a Temple?
“I’m with you,” declares the Lord.
What does it take in uncertain times when we’re tempted to focus on the past - good or bad - or what’s lacking? What does it take to rebuild our lives? What does it take to build us up? To transform us and grow us and keep us moving forward to being the people that God has relentlessly pursued - that God has lovingly and purposefully created and called us to be?
“I’m with you.”
Maybe we’re in danger of believing that what’s around us is greater. Or that our sins are too serious. Maybe our lives have fallen apart because of what we’ve done. Maybe we’ve defaulted to what we know - to our comfort zone.
The answer is not in the past. The answer isn’t within us. We don’t have what it takes. But God does. Hope is found in the words “I am with you.”
Put your name there. “I am with Steve.”
In uncertain times - in any time - the only certain hope is hope in God alone.
Question: Where does God want to build in your life?
1. Sermon by Judy Herminghaus, “A House Rebuilt: Returning & Rebuilding” - 02.03.13, PBC #20130203
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.