EZRA 4:1 – 6:22 and ACTS 18:1–28
Whenever God begins to move it is not long before the adversaries rise up. It must be understood that the enemy is vehemently opposed to the message of Restoration. The enemy is strongest when he can divide the people of God. We will discover that his tactics will take on subtle tones throughout this era. This suggests to us that we will need to be vigilant and have heightened discernment in order to undermine his plots and plans. We will see one such subtle attempt in this chapter.
The work of rebuilding the work of the house of the Lord is continuing. There are a group of people who come to offer their assistance in the rebuilding of the house. These people are known as the sons of Esarhaddon. This is a bit of a giveaway seeing that Esarhaddon was a son of Sennacherib, the wicked king of Assyria. When you look at this on the surface one would think about accepting any offering of assistance. The more hands to work the better. Zerubbabel and Joshua however were able to discern their motives (vs 3). They made clear that they were to have no work in the matter of rebuilding. They discerned their attempt to infiltrate their ranks and undermine the effort. Naturally this did not go down well with them so they sought to frustrate their hands. So how did they go about it? They hired counsellors during the time of Cyrus up to the period of Darius. Perhaps, these counsellors could be likened to modern day lawyers who use man made laws to implement personalized agenda’s. They eventually were able to write a letter to King Ahasuerus and make accusation against the builders. They falsely accused the Jews of acting seditiously against the interests of Persia. They then flatter the king and make statements that they did not want to see him dishonoured. This is what man made laws can accomplish. They can be written in a way to stop a particular agenda that is deemed a threat to their desires. Is it any different today? In order to implement man made laws it will usually be at the expense of God’s laws. This is the case here. What did Zerubbabel and Joshua do? They held their ground but the work came to an abrupt halt. The king read their letter which was very thorough about past issues back before the Babylonian captivity. He then responded and gave commandment to force the work to cease. Once the king’s letter was received they immediately enforced his directives. The work which was joyfully underway now has come to a halt; lasting a period of 16 years.
Let’s try to capture the emotion and sentiment of this situation. Here is a people that had been in captivity for a period of 70 years. They began the work of rebuilding in earnest with great enthusiasm only to have a stay order put into their lap. The message of Restoration will be greatly contested. The first test of the restorers was having the ability to discern. The second test was having the strength to keep the enemy from infiltrating the work. The third test was not to compromise in any way. What did this get them for passing these 3 tests? An order from the king to stop the work for an indefinite period. There was no timeline given, no guarantee that it would again start. The 4th test was having the ability to stay strong, determined and encouraged in the midst of this adversity. How was this accomplished? What are some of the lessons that can be learned for our day? Let’s move to chapter 5 for the introduction of a vital ministry that will breathe life back into the rebuilding work as well as into the lives of the restorers.
We are immediately introduced to two prophets who come into the picture at an appropriate time. These prophets are Haggai and Zechariah (vs 1). Once again Joshua and Zerubbabel take the charge in picking up the work but this time they have the prophets of God alongside encouraging them. Almost immediately the enemies of the workers rise up and challenge them as to who gave the authority to go about the work. This time the Lord intervened on their behalf whereby the work was able to continue while the appeal was made to King Darius. We can see the resolve of the restorers as they were able to stand strong even after 16 years of being hindered. We also can appreciate the ministry gifts of the prophetic office as they lent encouragement through a difficult time. True prophetic ministry is birthed through times of adversity. It is important to have an ability to see a bigger picture when going through times of difficulty. The enemy is quite successful at stopping a work in its tracks with his intimidation and strong tactics. Joshua, Zerubbabel and the initial restorers were hearty men of resolve. They were under the burden of the Lord and they knew they were doing God’s work. Concerning the prophetic we can draw parallels from Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. The breath of God’s Word brought life to that which was dead and dry. It is important to be in alignment with what God is doing and saying.
The appeal went to Darius and all awaited his verdict. In the meantime the work continued. This appeal reminded Darius of the decree of Cyrus which somehow was not able to be conveyed to Ahasuerus when the work ceased the first time. The councillors (lawyers) were clever in the way they worded the charges against the Jews. This second appeal is well referenced and it encourages the searching out of what Cyrus actually said about the work. We will see the result of this appeal in Chapter 6.
We see the result from the appeal that was made to Darius. Everything that was said concerning the decree that Cyrus had made was found to be true. What will be seen here and will be seen in many other places during this period is the favour of God. It is a time where you will see the hand of a heathen king assisting the work of God. Darius made the decree for the work to continue. He also said that if anyone was found to be causing the restorers any problem it would result in their own houses being torn down and the timber used for their own gallows (vs 11). This will be seen in a similar way when we examine the Book of Esther. The enemy in that case was Haman who resented the Jews, hated Mordecai and ended up dying on the very gallows he had designed for the Jews. Why is there such favour at this season? First, it was God’s time for restoration. Secondly, it was a period where the iniquity of the Jews enemies had become ripe. Third, you have men and women who were exceptional in their character and conduct. These are leaders who had paid a price and had allowed a message to be worked out in their lives. They are the product of what Jeremiah spoke of before they went into captivity.
“For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” Jer 24:5-6
This is God’s work and He has a people who have come to know His heart and have sought to go about in implementing his heart. This to me is a picture of what “alignment” means. It is a picture of that which has been decreed in heaven being established in the earth by a people who are in sync with their God. This measure of favour will be seen in Ezra and Nehemiah as part of their instrumental role of the Restoration work. This Restoration era has far more significance than we realize. God’s heart is all about Restoration!
Darius gave instruction to provide the needs of the rebuilding effort while reiterating his decree to destroy kings and people who would seek to place their names there (vs 12). This decree brought acceleration to the rebuilding of the house and it was completed in quick order. The prophesying and encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah continued to bring strength and thrust to their efforts. Note the following passage from the latter portion of verse 14:
“…And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius and Artaxerxes King of Persia.”
Can you see how a Sovereign God interacts with men; even kings of the earth? True, there was a commandment given by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes but they would be meaningless without the commandment coming from God Himself. This period of Israel’s history is so instructive to us and we do well to meditate and reflect upon it. It is about to re-enacted on a much larger stage (the world) with eternal ramifications.
Paul now made his way to Corinth from Athens. It was here where he came across some key people named Aquila and Priscilla. They were formerly of Rome but had to depart due to the command of Claudius (emperor of Rome) where all Jews had to depart from Rome. This couple had something in common that helped to bring them together. They were of the same craft. This is important to consider because each of us have God given talents that are used in the secular. Our day to day work environment links us to a community of people that otherwise may be inaccessible to us. There is a synergy when coming across people who have a similar work background and we see it on display here.
Paul continued to minister in the synagogues on every Sabbath and he had success with both the Jews and Greeks (vs 4). Silas and Timothy were now able to re-join with Paul after being separated for a time since their time at Berea (17:14). Once again there were Jews who opposed the teaching of the Gospel which resulted in Paul declaring that their blood be upon their own heads (vs 6). This is a strong indictment against them. Pauls added that he is now going to focus upon the Gentiles. There were those however who did believe like Justus and Crispus, the latter being the chief ruler of the synagogue. There were many Corinthians who also believed and became baptized. The Lord then spoke directly to Paul in a night vision to encourage him to not be afraid but to continue speaking and not hold his peace. Perhaps the consistent opposition to his teaching of the Gospel was wearying him a bit; though we see no evidence of this. Still, the Word from the Lord had to strengthen his resolve to continue forward. God made clear that his time is by no means up and that he will not lose his life at this time. This is a wonderful promise to have especially when going up against great opposing forces. The Lord also let Paul know that he had much people yet in the city. This vision surely proved to be an inspiration to Paul as he ended up staying on another 18 months (vs 11).
Once again the envious and trouble making Jews seek to make a case against the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. They bring the matter before the deputy of Achaia who is a man named Gaillio. He immediately throws out the case and dismisses the trouble making Jews. He seems to be a man who understood their motives and was not about to get caught up in their affair concerning this. The tables were turned somewhat on these rebels as they experienced beatings from the Greeks. After considerable time spent in Corinth, Paul set sail for Syria taking with him Priscilla and Aquila. He then went to Ephesus and left the two of them there while he went back into the arena of the synagogue to again reason with the Jews concerning Christ. They desired for him to stay on but for now consented not to their request. He did say he would seek to return to Ephesus in due season, if possible. He very much wanted to return to keep the feast at Jerusalem (vs 21). In verse 22 we see that he eventually made his return to Antioch. Paul later would go to Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the brethren there. He would also make a return to Ephesus which we shall see in the next chapter.
As this chapter closes we are introduced to another prominent Jew by the name of Apollos. He was a man who knew well the scriptures and was gifted with oratorical skills. The Bible makes an emphasis on the fact that he only knew the Baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila were able to show Apollos how to know the way of God in a more perfect fashion. What does this mean? It speaks of the experience of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. He then travelled on to Achaia and had opportunity to teach the disciples and Jews with a greater authority. Apollos was able to convince many that Jesus was in fact the son of God, the Christ who came to redeem the world. Paul had a primary mission to the Gentiles while Apollos spent time working and teaching amongst the Jews. It makes for a powerful combination. We will find in the next chapter that there is an emphasis on the receiving of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. It will be Paul exhorting the saints in Ephesus on this matter. This topic is a much debated one in the church today. The work of God cannot be completed and fulfilled without this experience and empowerment. This thought will be developed in greater detail as we go forward.