EZRA 1:1 – 3:13 and ACTS 17:1–34
This book commences the Restoration era in the history of the children of Israel. It takes place on the heels of the 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The end of Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra refer to Jeremiah’s prophesy about the coming of captivity, its duration and promise as well as the blessings to those who embraced its message. This portion in Ezra will not involve him at this time. He becomes prominent a bit later on in one of Israel’s 3 returns from captivity. Who was Ezra? He was a priest who is accorded the term of being one of the sons of Zadok (Ezr 7:1-2). Many call him the 2nd Moses due to his knowledge of the law and the ways of God. He was a great teacher and had ability to put things back into proper alignment. He was a priest who understood the whole of Deuteronomy and lived by it. Many feel he is the author of Psalm 119. If you read this psalm you will find one of these words in almost every verse. (Statutes, Commandments, law, Word, Precepts, Judgements, Testimonies) This gives greater insights as to the type of man he was.
The Book of Ezra begins with the miraculous decree of Cyrus where he goes about the building of a house at Jerusalem. This was a prophetic Word that goes as far back to the days of Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom. Cyrus, King of Persia is now empowered after the fall of Babylon. God allowed the Babylonians to have a rule of 70 years over Israel as a mean of judgement for their idolatry and wickedness. The Babylonian captivity is an experience that God allows His people to go through at times for the purpose of doing a work of cleansing that only a captivity can bring. (Jacob in the house of Uncle Laban for 20 years is a good example of this) Babylon ultimately fell under the wicked rule of King Belshazzar who toasted the god of forces with the sacred vessels that were taken from the house of God many years earlier (Dan 5). This period of Israel’s history has rich meaning for the restoration to be seen in the last days. In the beginning stages of the Restoration period the fathers of Judah and Benjamin appointed the priests and Levites to begin the process of the rebuilding of the house of the Lord. The Lord moved Cyrus to restore the treasures that were taken from the House of the Lord to Babylon at the time of the siege (vs 7-8). The specifics of the amount of gold, silver and vessels are mentioned in verses 9-11.
Once again we need to be reminded that our God is a God of restoration. He thrives on taking something that is broken and bringing it back to life; to restore and make whole. The key word is being broken. It is in the posture of brokenness when God is able to do His best work. We are void of strength but can be made strong through His power and might. Israel has been broken in the area of idolatry while in Babylon. God subjected Israel to a nation that forced them to bow to idols. This resulted in a cleansing from idolatry after 70 years. Those who hearkened to what God was saying through Jeremiah were given the promise of being restored, planted and not being plucked up (Jer 24:6-7). It was a message that was not readily accepted in Jeremiah’s day and the same is true for today. God in His mercy had to bring Israel into captivity in order to preserve them for the long term. Do you think the parallels between then and now apply
This chapter consists of the record of those who came up out of captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem. The first three names mentioned are prominent people who had various posts in the Restoration effort. The name of Zerubbabel will be seen throughout portions of this book and others. He is a builder who greatly aided the work effort. Joshua is a priest that worked alongside Zerubbabel. He is also featured in some of the writings of Zechariah (Zech 3:1-8). He is also one of the sons of Zadok. We then have Nehemiah who was instrumental later on in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In verses 2-63 we have the breakdown of the groups of people that returned from Babylon. There were some among the people who returned who could not prove their genealogy by record (vs 62). They considered themselves children of the priests and so were considered polluted and removed from the priesthood. They also could not eat of the holy things. In verses 64-70 there is an account of the number of people who returned as well as the number of horses, mules and other animals. There was a willingness to give and participate in the restoration effort amongst those who returned. The priests, Levites and people dwelt in their cities throughout all of Israel. It is a miracle taking place in seeing Israel once again beginning to be restored to its homeland.
The work of Restoration continued as Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel built again the altar. They reinstituted the sacrifices of burnt offerings and as they did so the Fear of the Lord became evident amongst neighbouring nations. They also kept the Feasts as appointed during the time of Moses. At this time they remembered the 3 Feasts of the 7 months which are the Feasts of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles. This was done even before the foundation of the temple had been laid. The 3 Feasts of the 7th month are featured in Nehemiah 8.
These Feasts have meaning for the last days because they depict the events of the latter day church calendar. The Feast of Trumpets was celebrated in 1948-49 when the people of Israel returned as a nation. The Feast of Atonement took place on the church calendar in 1973 during the Yom Kippur war or “War of Atonement”. It represented a season when God was going to begin to address the sin in high places of government and the church. The Final Feast is that of Tabernacles which we are looking for its fulfilment at any time. In verse 8 they began the 2nd year of coming into the house of the Lord. The Levites and men from 20 years old and upward began the work of rebuilding the House of the Lord. The task that was before the workers was an enormous one since the destruction to the House of the Lord and to the city was a thorough one. There was a great sound of triumph amongst many when the foundations of the temple had been laid however there were those who lamented and wept; older ones who had seen the temple in its former glory. The rebuilding work was underway but there was the realization of that which had been lost and destroyed. Those who were younger would have no such reference point. The sounds were difficult to discern between those who were rejoicing as opposed to those who wept. It serves as a reminder in having that sense of what had been lost. It would hopefully bring about a greater appreciation in the future so that the same mistakes are not made again. This is the value that men and women of experience can bring to younger generations. Their mistakes and failures do not have to be the same for the up and coming generations. They can remind them of what was lost and seek to avoid such tragedies in their lives. This is so true today. The connection and bridge between generations must be stronger than ever. The enemy will always seek to drive and keep a wedge between them. This must be discerned and overcome.
Paul, Silas, Timothy and the brethren continued their journey unto Thessalonica. There seems to be developing a constant theme in their ministry. There are those who openly receive the things that they are speaking and there are those who oppose. The primary opposition comes from the Jews that were living in those regions. It is envy which always seems to be at the root of their opposition. There methods of coming against Paul are quite typical as well. They accuse Paul and the brethren of promoting Christ over Caesar. They had no love for Caesar but this was an opportunity in trying to stop their influence. The decrees of Caesar suddenly become a concern for these Jews. Some things never change as we see similar scheming’s today. The corrupt law of the land will now become an instrument that can be used against the church.
The next point of destination was Berea. These were a quality group and certainly more noble and upright than those at Thessalonica. They received the scriptures and they searched them out to see if they were true. The Lord is not offended in the searching out of Truth through the Word; in fact it is encouraged. Oftentimes the Word of God puts forth the challenge to test and prove the Lord to see if what is stated is not true (Mal 3:10). The Lord is not threatened in any way by the pursuit of Truth though His Word. There were many believers that came to Christ in Berea, both men and women. Once again the Jews who were at Thessalonica came to Berea to try and cause a stir among the people. Envy is a terrible disease that plagues the church. It becomes like an insatiable appetite that never can be quenched. It consumes an individual and brings them to a place of having to fulfil its desires by coming against the object of their envy. This was clearly seen in Esau and Jacob after the birthright was transferred. Envy seems to find a place in those who lightly regard the things of God. Such a person then goes after those who take seriously their walk with God trying to thwart their progress. A person who is envious oftentimes is a person who has not paid a price and is resentful of those who have and are going forward. Envy motivates them to do whatever they can to make sure they do not get there. I guess we can say that Satan has envy against the saints of God and plots to stop others from entering into that which he had lost. This should help us to see a bigger picture in understanding people and why they do what they do.
Paul went forth to Athens and was greatly affected by the idolatry that consumed the city. Paul was not afraid to back down against those who opposed the Gospel so he contended with the Jews in the synagogue and in the market places on a daily basis. We know that the Greeks had a love for Philosophy so there was intrigue in what he would say. Who is this Jesus; what is this about the resurrection? These were the questions that were in the minds of the philosophers. Paul was brought to Areopagus where there were gathered many Athenians who were always willing to hear about new things. How would Paul address these people? What can be done in trying to penetrate this type of mind set? This was an immense challenge. What Paul is about to do here is a good lesson in Apologetics. He adopts to the crowd and his environment in a way that promotes the Gospel without compromise. Paul was one who knew how to be relevant in any situation. What did he do here? He spoke to their superstitions by alluding to a prominent altar that was entitled. “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (vs 23). He then says that he will make this unknown God known to them. What an absolutely brilliant approach! He then goes on in verses 24-31 in giving an overview of God the godhead, putting emphasis on Christ as the one who was raised from the dead. As one would expect there were mockers but there were those who delighted in what they heard and wanted more. Paul is so effective in his ministry to the Gentiles primarily due to his adaptable nature. He knew how to be all things to all men. He could excel in any kind of crowd. It is a pattern we need to observe and adopt for our day.