“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of earth, and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:2-3
A short history…
God was ready to restore the Hebrews. After seventy long years, King Cyrus of Persia (Babylon), inspired by God, gave his permission for a remnant to return to Judah. He gave back thousands of golden implements taken from the Temple and encouraged those who would, to return and rebuild the Lord’s Temple. So the priests, Levites, singers, and some of the people returned. They didn’t start the Temple right away. Instead, their first task was to build an altar to the Lord, whereupon offerings were made continuously on behalf of the people. This was the first step in restoring the worship of the Lord God Jehovah, father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. King Cyrus must have known that he was helping the Hebrews to again establish their religious practices. Despite his worship of other gods, he still wanted to insure the good favor of the Hebrew God, the God of Jerusalem.
During the first part of the second year of their return, the remnant began laying of the foundation of the temple. That’s when the trouble began. There were some who already lived in Jerusalem, who wanted to participate in the building of the temple. They had been settled there under the rule of Esarhaddon, King of Assyria. They were not a part of the remnant, since they had not been carried away to Babylon 70 years earlier. They were a people of Hebrews who had intermarried with Gentiles, which was strictly forbidden under Mosaic law. Later, they would be known as the Samaritans. Considered to be polluted because of their intermarriage, they were not found in the genealogy of the Hebrews. (Today we find a similar command in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 6:14 where we are told not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.) Consequently, Zerubbabel, the appointed governor and also the leader of the Hebrews being an heir to the throne of David, refused their help.
So the Samaritans began a campaign to frustrate the work of the remnant in the rebuilding of the temple and of the walls. Eventually, they wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes complaining about the rebuilding of the city. They said it was known for previous sedition and rebellion, which was true, and that the people would not pay the required toll or tribute to the King if allowed to rebuild the city. Rebuilding the temple would only lead to another insurrection, they claimed. This was conjecture on their part, but raised a doubt in the heart of the King. When he received their letter, King Artaxerxes had the records checked and discovered that the words of the Samaritans about past rebellions were true. Jerusalem had been through many battles. So, he ordered that the work of rebuilding the temple to be stopped.
Then, God stirred up the prophets Zechariah and Haggai to encourage the remnant in the rebuilding. Several years later, during the second year of Darius’ reign, Zerubbabel again began the work. This time when questioned, he told the story of the decree of Cyrus, and inquiry was made to Darius about the rebuilding. After careful research, Darius sanctioned the rebuilding and provided the financing for materials. The temple was completed in the 6th year of Darius’ reign.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.” Zechariah 1:16
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury. Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain.” Zechariah 8: 2-3
“And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, in the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.” Haggai 1:14-15
Ezra, the scribe, whose name means “help” in the Hebrew came to Jerusalem during the reign of King Artaxerxes, bringing with him more of the remnant. He had purposed in his heart to seek after the Lord, and to do whatever the Lord required.
“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra 7:10
His mission: to instruct the remnant who were in Jerusalem in God’s laws and statutes and to take offerings to the God of Jerusalem on behalf of King Artaxerxes.
“Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time, I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counselors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand. And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counselors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem. ” Ezra 7:12-15
“And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.” Ezra 7:25
So Ezra began his journey to Jerusalem. Just before entering Jerusalem, he and the people with him, stopped at the Ahava River and spent time there fasting and praying, seeking direction from God. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem, it wasn’t long before they discovered that the people had not separated themselves from the heathen nations. Intermarriage had taken place, and the people were in sin. Ezra was greatly upset, and that was an understatement! The people were in bondage to the desires of their flesh, putting them at odds with God. Ezra intervened on their behalf before God, immediately going to the Lord in prayer, confessing the sins of the people, and pleading for forgiveness.
“Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.” Ezra 9:7-9
Ezra assembled the people together, and asked them to make a covenant together to put away the foreign wives and children. This was an immense request. These men who had married in disobedience to God’s law were now being asked to forsake these wives and their own children.! Yet they came, and vowed to do just that! They offered up their trespass offerings before the Lord, and the matter was accomplished. God’s favor was restored.
“And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice. As thou hast said, so must we do.” Ezra 10:10-11
Note that the work of God could not be commenced until the sin was confessed and made right. Ezra, as a teacher of the law, had a responsibility to instruct the people in the laws of God. He was required to bring their sin to their attention. They were deserving of the wrath of God for their disobedience, so he knew he must act decisively to bring about resolution and restoration so that the work of the Lord could continue.
This story may seem only to be about the rebuilding of the temple, but I believe it has validity for our day as well in a symbolic way. We too often times find ourselves in bondage to the desires of our flesh. We often compromise the teachings of God’s Word by taking up the ways of the world. In fact the line of distinction is often so blurred that we can see no difference between the people of God and the people of the world who are without God. Correction must be made in our homes and in our churches.
To get our lives back on God’s track, we must rebuild the temple of the Lord in our hearts. As Ezra read the laws and commands of God to instruct the people and to give them understanding, so we too must gain understanding. We have the Bible, God’s written Word, to help us. We have His Son, Jesus Christ, who has already paid the penalty for our sin that God required, and we have the Holy Spirit to quicken our hearts unto understanding. God did not leave us empty and without hope. He made a way for us to be restored to fellowship with Him. He calls us to separate ourselves from the world’s ways, just as He did the Hebrews, for we are to be priests to a lost world.
Then God will bring our sin to our mind, and we will be ashamed and embarrassed. We will hope that no one else knows of it. Everything that is hidden will be brought into His light. We will feel exposed. This is called conviction. He will show us ourselves, and then we will understand why we must come before Him in confession as did the men of Jerusalem, and put away or forsake our sin. It is a difficult process, but once accomplished, our hearts will become tender, making us soften towards God and others. It is good to remind ourselves that confession and repentance always bring about restoration of fellowship and friendship with God. Being in a right relationship with God insures His favor.
It is important to note that the work of rebuilding the temple could have continued without this little aside. However, what is the point of rebuilding the temple of God if those who would worship there were unclean because of sin? What would be the point of worshiping? Sin always separates us. Sin separates us from each other, from God, and from our work in the Lord. Our worship then is empty and fruitless. Our prayers go unanswered. We can not be effective in ministry if we harbor sin.
So to rebuild the temple of the Lord in our hearts, we must first confess our sin, and turn from it–permanently. If we wish to accomplish God’s work, then sin must be dealt with first.
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
To get back on God’s track:
Separate yourself. You cannot please God while you are involved in wickedness of any kind.
Confess and turn away from sin. Allow God to restore your relationship to Him.
Fast and pray. Seek God through prayer and fasting. Commit yourself to Him, as Ezra did.
Begin again to worship and glorify Him!
Copyright 2002 by Linda Hull