Posts Tagged 'Babylon'

Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 2

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We can learn a lot from Jeremiah and his writings. Sure he lived in ancient times, but his words are just as relevant today as they were then. The names have changed, the nations have changed, and the times have changed, but man hasn’t. Looking at the actions of the Israelites, we see distorted previews of ourselves. We who enjoy the blessings of the Lord through a relationship with Jesus Christ aren’t too far removed from the Hebrews of old, who enjoyed the blessings of God yet continuously strayed from Him. Their backsliding serves as a stark, blatant warning to Christians today who think they can serve God and themselves at the same time; live with one foot in the Kingdom and one foot in the world. We can’t, any more than Jeremiah’s could.

God’s people forsake Him, Jeremiah 2:4 – 13; 22:1 – 5

Scholars seem pretty sure that what Jeremiah wrote in chapters 2 – 6 was written during the reign of Josiah and during the great religious revival that took place during those years. All the prophecies and sermons Jeremiah delivered during this time showed that in spite of outward appearances, he saw a very deep-seated problem with his people. Some of his messages seem to be addressed to the northern kingdom of Israel, others to his own kingdom of Judah, but the theme is the same, and expressed best in verse two of chapter two –

This is what the Lord says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.’” (Jeremiah 2:2 NIV)

Ah yes, even God had His “good old days.” To Him, the “good old days” were the days when His people actually loved Him and depended on Him. It’s a little odd that God’s “good old days” were actually years of wandering and privation in the wilderness for Israel. The best years, in God’s estimation, were the years when Israel was so bad off they depended on Him for everything, even their daily bread, or manna. It was in the desert that they were, more or less, forced to rely on Him for everything, and He had no rivals for their affection and devotion.

It’s like that, more often than not for Christians. We are closest to God, not when our bank accounts and pantries are full to overflowing, but when we feel hard pressed from all sides because it is during those times that we, just like the Israelites before us, are forced to look to God and trust Him. How much easier would be for us is we just trusted Him all the time, not just during the hard times!

“’Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 2:3 NIV)

In those “good old days” under the leadership of Moses, Israel was holy. Israel was holy, not because they were a nation of Mother Theresa’s or of pious old people, but because she belonged completely and unreservedly to Him. That’s the definition of holiness, by the way. It’s not your actions that make you holy, it’s that you (like Israel before you) have been “separated” from the rest of the population to God for a sacred purpose. Because of that relationship, of course, your actions will necessarily change. But the separation comes first, not the other way around.

That idyllic relationship didn’t last long at all.

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. (Jeremiah 2:5 NIV)

Under the covenant relationship, Israel had it good; they enjoyed God’s richest blessings, including His divine, supernatural protection. But something happened to disrupt that relationship. It was a covenant relationship, which may not make a lot of sense to us, but we can understand a marriage covenant. It’s the same idea. Israel broke faith with God by running after other gods – they were committing spiritual adultery. The real stinging indictment in verse five points to the fault of Israel, not with God. God did nothing wrong. They did. Israel left Him; Israel strayed; Israel broke the covenant and because of that, Israel suffered: they became as worthless as the idols they worshipped.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Jeremiah was a prophet, but here he sounds more like a lawyer, summing up his charges: Judah’s sin was a two-pronged one: they rejected the truth and accepted error. The pagan nations surrounding them had committed only one sin – idolatry, but Judah had far exceeded them in disobedience as they actively rebelled against God and renounced His word in order to serve false, made up gods that didn’t even exist.

The metaphor of cisterns is all the more powerful when you take into consideration that Palestine is an arid, desert land. How rational would it be for people to stray from a source of water that provides free, flowing, fresh water to an area of the desert where there is no water? That’s what the Israelites had done by straying from God, and it was irrational, just like all sin is irrational.

Cruising ahead to chapter 22, the prophet makes a case about the leadership of Judah.

This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there…” (Jeremiah 22:1 NIV)

The book of Jeremiah isn’t always chronological, but thematic. Jeremiah’s sermons and prophecies aren’t necessarily grouped by dates but by themes. So, jumping ahead to chapter 22, we read some interesting things that concerned the prophet. Back in chapter 32 he railed against the nation as a whole. But you can’t separate a nation from those who lead it. A nation rises or sinks to the level of those who are leading it, be they kings, prime ministers, or presidents. Our prophet wrote these words during the reign of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. But who was he, and where did he come from?

When Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army invaded Judah in 597, they took King Jehoiachin captive along with some 10,000 of the land’s best and brightest. The youngest son of Josiah, a loser by the name of Mattaniah, was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, who changed the kid’s name to Zedekiah. Think about that for a minute. Why would Nebuchadnezzar do that? It’s because he had no interest in killing people. All he wanted was to build his empire by accumulating the property of other nations, and by putting kings of his choice on their thrones. That way he would be the global ruler over all manner of nations and kingdoms. Judah could have lived at peace with Neduchadnezzar, except Zedekiah was loyal to Nebuchadnezzar in word only and eventually joined in a revolt against Babylon. This was the political cause for the Babylonian invasion of Judah, which led to Jerusalem’s fall. But the spiritual cause of the fall of Judah is the subject of the whole book of Jeremiah: the rebelliousness of God’s people. Jeremiah’s people couldn’t be loyal to God, even though being loyal to Him would have meant eternal blessings, and they couldn’t even be loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, which would have meant temporal blessings! These people were rotten to the very core of their being. The root of rebellion ran so deep it was part of their national fabric.

Jeremiah’s word to Zedekiah was a simple one:

Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3 NIV)

Sure, he was a puppet king, but Zedekiah was still king of a kingdom, as shrinking as it was. And he had a responsibility to care for his people and treat his citizens rightly and justly. Obviously, the kings of Judah were notorious for taking advantage of their people. That displeased God. The very least the king should have treated his people with respect.

There were four groups of people that King Zedekiah needed to protect. First, “the one who has been robbed.” That’s a large group. People got robbed all the time, and justice needed to be exercised on their behalf. But people during this time had been robbed by the Babylonians, especially robbed of their sons, if they were talented and smart. The second group, “the fatherless,” were men of Judah who had been killed in battle or taken captive, who left families behind that needed to be looked after, not taken advantage of. Another group was “the widow.” Her property didn’t need to be taken by the government as tax payments or taken by other family members. Widows needed to treated fairly and justly. But who were these foreigners? Modern politicians want us to believe they were illegal aliens, migrant workers, or refugees. During Jeremiah’s time, there were many kinds of foreigners in Judah, including people from Babylon who had been relocated to Judah just as some people from Judah had been relocated to other nations within the greater Babylonian empire. Those strangers needed to be protected and not taken advantage of or persecuted. The leaders of Judah, especially King Zedekiah, would have been blessed and Judah would have prospered if they had done what Jeremiah had told them to do. But, even as Jeremiah told them what to do, he also indicated that the die had been cast –

“People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.’” (Jeremiah 22:8, 9 NIV)

God’s call to return

The end was in sight, but God was still interested in the souls of His people. Ultimately, the Israelites would be vindicated, but until then, only judgment was coming. In the midst of judgment, though, God was calling His people to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:14, 15 NIV)

God always wants “faithless” people to return to Him. The “faithless,” or “backsliders,” refer to both Israel and Judah. God has plans for His people. God is sure that His people will learn their lesson and in time they will be ready to follow Him and serve Him. He said as much in 29:10 – 11 –

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

But it’s not just the Israelites who God has plans for. He has plans for all His people, from all time, from any nation.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:6 – 10 NIV)

DELIVERANCE OF THE KING

The Nebuchadnezzar Tablet

The Nebuchadnezzar Tablet. It reads: “In the thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Egypt [Misr] to make war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad.”

THE KING’S DELIVERANCE

Jeremiah 52:31-34

We come to the final chapter of the book of Jeremiah. What started out as prophesy is now recorded for us as history. The events of this chapter are seen in 2 Kings 24 and 25 and this shows why the book of Jeremiah is so important. This one book of prophesy, more than any other book of prophesy in the Bible, shows us the dynamic nature of the prophetic ministry. If anybody has doubts about the veracity of Biblical prophecy, they need to be pointed to the book of Jeremiah.

The Fall of Jerusalem vindicated Jeremiah. Every word he prophesied came to pass. But this was no cause for rejoicing. The Fall of Jerusalem was the worst thing that ever happened to God’s people. Jerusalem would again fall in 70 AD, but when it fell to the Babylonians, even though it was rebuilt and restored later, it would never be the kingdom that David and Solomon envisaged. And there is a real lesson here for all of God’s people. Had the ancient Israelites remained faithful to God and lived in obedience to His Law, who knows what the Middle East would look like today. Because of their constant disobedience and their obsession with idolatry, God caused the amazing kingdom built by David to fall. It would never look the same, even though God allowed the Jews to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. Sin has consequences. Try as they might to make Jerusalem the city it was generations ago, it was never the same, and today, Israel and Jerusalem are the palest images of the glorious jewels they were during the Davidic years.

The Fall of Jerusalem was God’s punishment for the disobedience of His people. Some people who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches think God went over the line; that His punishment was too extreme. Some ignorant people look at the Old Testament and don’t see a God of love. These people need to stop talking and read Leviticus 26. That whole chapter is summed up by two verses in the New Testament:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8)

Sin brings ruin to any individual and any nation that indulges in it. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, but he was also “God’s servant,” and that is how he is described three times in the book of Jeremiah (see chapters 25, 27, and 43). He was God’s servant in the sense that he was God’s sword of vengeance in the punishment of Judah for their rebellion against Him.

Jehoiachin, then-king of Judah, was taken captive and thrown into a Babylonian prison, where he stayed for 47 years. Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor with the unfortunate name of Evil-Merodach (Awel-Marduk in the TNIV), restored Jehoiachin’s freedom and changed his life. What happened to King Jehoiachin serves as an excellent picture of the grace of God.

1. Deliverance

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. (Jeremiah 52:31)

Here is an excellent picture of God’s grace in action: the new king of Babylon did something for Jehoiachin that Jehoiachin could not do for himself. Awel-Marduk didn’t have to release the king. There were other national leaders in prison that didn’t get released. What the king of Babylon did for the former king of Judah is exactly what God does for the repentant sinner:

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (PSALM 40:2)

What happened to Jehoiachin happened to us. By His royal authority, God released us from the prison of sin.

2. Comforted and exalted

He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. (Jeremiah 52:32)

Generally speaking, laws are not very comforting. But grace is! “Grace” means being treated better than you deserved to be treated.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… (Ephesians 2:8)

Salvation – being set free from bondage to sin – is completely a work of God from start to finish. Even the faith needed in salvation is given to us by God! When our sins are forgiven and we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes in and takes up residence in our hearts, and one of the many things He does for us, in us, and to us, is to communicate the assurance of salvation to us.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)

God’s grace in salvation is a topic that never ends. God’s grace is as wide and as deep as eternity itself. In the coming ages, God’s people – all of God’s people – will testify to the greatness of God’s grace:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6, 7)

Isn’t that exactly what Awel-Marduk did for Jehoiachin? He gave the former king of Judah a seat of honor in the court of Babylon. Jehoichin of Judah was not the only king in Babylon. As Babylon rolled over all the nations in its way, it absorbed their citizens, and took captive their royal families. But of all the captive kings, the one from Judah was exalted. What a picture of the spiritual uplifting enjoyed by Christians. Full of sin and prone to failure, believers are lifted up and strengthened and the sin that once hounded them is conquered once and for all by the blood of Jesus Christ! If man’s fall from grace through sin was great, how much greater is the grace that restores us to God’s favor? Like the words to that great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” we can all say,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor!

3. Clothed and honored

So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. (Jeremiah 52:33)

What an amazing verse! Do you remember another man in the Old Testament called Mephibosheth? He was a descendant of King Saul. After David became king of Israel, he wanted to make sure Saul’s family was taken care of.

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)

There was, and his name was Mephibosheth. David showed this cripple undeserved grace:

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) (2 Samuel 9:9, 10)

Oh, to grace how great a debtor! Jehoiachin was not only released from prison, but for the rest of his life was given the privilege to eating at the king’s table. From prison to pinnacle! From prison clothes to dinner jackets. From slop to caviar.

When God’s grace changes a life, it changes everything.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” (Zechariah 3:1-4)

This is what grace does for the redeemed. It cleans us up; it takes the filthy rags of our righteousness and replaces them with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are cleaned up and made ready eat at the king’s table.

4. Supplied

Day by day the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived, till the day of his death. (Jeremiah 52:34)

Notice what else the king of Babylon did for the former king of Judah:

Pension

For the rest of his life, Jehoiachin was given a pension! Who knew Babylon had Social Security? Jehoiachin did! Having needs met is another wonderful provision of grace. When God saves us, He doesn’t stop. His grace continues to work in us. He promises to meet all our needs.

Daily payments

This pension was daily. For every day, for the rest of his life, the king’s needs were met. He had no more worries. Jehoiachin could have written a verse like this one because he experienced it:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A pension from the king

Notice that Jehoiachin’s pension payments came from the king, probably from the palace.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Conclusion

And so the book of Jeremiah ends on an upbeat note, at least for one person. Why did Jehoiachin suddenly receive all these blessings? Certainly we are given a real-life illustration of grace. But the exiles in Babylon were given hope. If their captive king had been treated well by the Babylonians, maybe they would receive the same treatment. It took three more decades, but eventually the Jews were shown grace and allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Jehoiachin didn’t live long enough to go home. He died in Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that no king from this family like would ever sit on throne of David. The Davidic line through Solomon ended with Jehoiachin. But the Son of David who will come and sit on that throne through eternity was born through another line, the line of Nathan. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was from that line and it is in that line that Jesus Christ can lay claim to the throne of David.

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 2

THE KEY OF SUCCESS

(IN THE LORD’S WORK)

Ezra 6:14

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.

This verse may be taken to be the key to success, insofar as the remnant was concerned. Servants and maids, masters and mistresses, priests and laymen, in all close to 50,000 exiles eventually accepted the offer of Cyrus to leave their captivity and journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.

It was a long and perilous trek through sometimes hostile, always unfriendly terrain, yet this remnant considered themselves blessed to be able to return home and engage in the work of rebuilding. Really, these people were involved in the greatest work of all: the work of the Lord.

God’s work takes many forms; sometimes it may be in the form of preaching a sermon or teaching a Bible class. Other times the work of Lord may look a lot like physical labor, like laying brick upon brick . The Lord’s work is doing whatever He tells you to do in order to fulfill His will and purpose(s) for your life. For this remnant, God’s will was for them to rebuild the City of David. This they did with great joy.

1. The work, 1:3

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.

The primary task of the remnant was not to rebuild their homes, although in time they would. The house they were commissioned to build was for the honor of Yahweh; it was to be a testimony to His Holy Name. This was to be God’s House, it was His will, and yet it was Cyrus’ command. Sometimes God’s work may not look like God’s work to you; it may come from unexpected sources or be prompted by unlikely circumstances.

But if you are a believer, it is your solemn duty to do the work God has commissioned you to do, in whatever form it may take. God’s work for you may take a surprising form, but if it is to His glory, do it. God’s work for you may be not be what you expect, but it it is His will, then pour your heart and soul into it. God’s work for you may be the very last thing you think you are capable of doing, but if it honors the Lord, then put your hand to that plow and don’t look back. Every believer should be engaged in building a house of testimony for God.

2. The beginning, 3:3

And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.

Notice the very first thing they they worked on: the altar. This work began in “the seventh month” (3:1), one of the most sacred months of the Jewish year. The first day of this month, Tishri, is Rosh Hashanah, the “new year.” Ten days after that is the Day of Atonement, then the Feast of Tabernacles. So you can see, Tishri was an important month; the perfect month to start a great work for God!

During their 70 year sojourn in Babylon, the Jews had no way to worship as they should; there was no temple, no altar. Instead, they were surrounded by dozens of Babylonian temples to a variety of deities. No wonder the people, as soon as they were set free, went straight for the altar to repair it.

The altar is the only acceptable place for God’s work to begin, whatever it may be. The altar must be given its true place in the house of God’s Church if it is to be built up and established. What is the altar of God’s Church? It’s not the doctrines of man. It’s not a church constitution or a book of denominational polity. The altar of the Church is the altar of Cross, and the Cross must be the basis of any work we do for God. All our work must be built upon the Cross, not upon our wisdom or talents or ideas and goals. Any attempted work for God is in vain and will come to nothing if it is not built on the Cross of Christ.

Notice what the people did once the they repaired the altar. They did not hold a “grand opening” or congratulate each other for a job well done. They immediately held a great worship service. This worship service was not some carefully crafted and orchestrated liturgical event, it was a spontaneous outburst of praise to God because the people were filled with joy and thanksgiving. The Church can take a lesson from this faithful remnant, because this is the kind of worship that results from when God’s people work His will.

3. The enemies, 4:1, 2

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

You can be sure that what happened to the remnant when they began to rebuild the House of God and when they offered God shouts of praise and worship will happen to any believer who decides to live a life wholly dedicated to God.

Never forget Peter’s warning:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

It’s not a question of “if you attract the enemy” it’s “when will he notice you!” The Devil always sets his sights on Christians who are on fire and sold out to Jesus Christ. He has absolutely no interest in “the 75% majority” of Christians who are lazy and lukewarm; he has them right where he wants them and they pose no threat to him or his plans because they never attempt to do anything for God. But if you are a worker; if you are producer for the Kingdom of Heaven, you can be sure that it is just a matter of time before the enemy comes prowling around you.

The remnant stirred up the enemies all around them they worked for God and they came, professing to be their friends and people who loved God as they they did. God’s enemies are nothing if not slick and deceptive. And if you are not alert and if you don’t exercise some God-given discernment, you will be taken in and you will be devoured and spit back out, useless for God.

These enemies of the Jews offered to help them, but of course, their intent was really to destroy them. The child of God will always be destroyed when get in bed with the Devil. You cannot do the work of God with the Devil’s tools. Their work of restoration was a great success and they attracted their enemies. Thank God there were some men of God who had discernment and could see through they schemes of the enemy.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14—15)

When it comes to living and working for the Lord, there can be no compromise! And how the Devil hates believers who know how to stand up to him and stand their ground for Christ. The Devil never lets up his attacks, by the way.

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. (verses 4, 5)

But the one thing the enemies got wrong was this: they set out to frustrate “their plans.” Rebuilding and restoring the Temple and Jerusalem was never “their plans,” they were God’s plans, and the Devil can never frustrate the plans of God. He will always prevail.

4. Temporary interruption, 4:24

Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Sometimes, the enemy may win the battle, but he will never win the war! Just as in Ezra’s day, any apparent victory Satan may win is short lived. However, a careful reading of the text tells us just how and why the Lord’s work stopped: it was stopped by a lie. The enemies of the Jews lied about them, lied about their motives, and the king who was allowing the Jews to do their work was duped by all the lies.

Now, put yourself in the place of that faithful remnant. For two generations they had lived in exile. Finally, by the grace and providence of God, they were allowed to return home and rebuild His house, His city, and their lives. For a time, they had success, and they praised God, gave Him the glory and the credit, and all of a sudden, they had to stop the work all because of a lie. How do you suppose these people felt? Had they misinterpreted God’s will? Was God’s Word now untrustworthy? Did His providence mean nothing at all? Was it all a bad joke?

These are questions every single believer asks himself when he hits the proverbial brick wall and can’t seem to go around it or over it. It’s the old story of the human condition: life is never easy. Indeed, a true believer can be living according to the Word of God, doing just as he should be doing to fulfill God’s will for him and still experience seeming defeat at the hands of Satan. When that happens, you probably feel like Job. You definitely feel like the faithful remnant.

But winning a battle is not the same thing as winning the war.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

5. A renewed effort, 5:1, 2

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

In the face of certain defeat, what did the remnant do? They preached they Word of God and got right back to work. Another revival broke out. When God’s people listen to His Word and trust His Word, they will always move ahead. The trouble with so many so-called Christians today is that they would rather trust what they see and hear, instead of trusting in the Lord. But notice, in this bad and confusing time, the prophets—the preachers—stood up and boldly started proclaiming God’s Word. They didn’t let circumstances stop them. There is a great need today for preachers to stand up and preach the Word of God, not their own ideas. When God’s work comes to an apparent standstill, it’s the Word of God, proclaimed loudly and clearly, that gets the discouraged workers going again. Cheer leading, and other worldly methods of encouragement won’t do it. The only thing that get a discouraged child of God up and working again is a big dose the Word.

This faithful remnant needed to be reminded of that which they knew: Yahweh had saved them out of Babylon so they could serve Him in Jerusalem. It’s hard to remember things like that when circumstances are against you. God bless the prophets and preachers who don’t berate and beat up their flock when the flock strays a bit!

Haggai and Zechariah preached the Word, and it was not preached in vain. Darius, the king who had been duped, saw the light and “providentially” found the decree made by Cyrus that set the Jews free. He immediately set things right by sending a letter to those liars who were trying to stifle the people of God:

Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. (6:7)

Thanks to the faithful prophets, we read this:

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. (6:14)

Even though we are “more than conquerors,” we are still subject to the foibles of all people. We get frustrated in our work for God. We get discouraged. We get “weary in our well-doing.” The cure for our weakness is a clearer understanding of God’s will and God’s Word. It’s a greater appreciation for God’s grace and His purposes in our lives, both as individuals and as the Body of Christ. It’s a whole-hearted devotion and commitment to those purposes no matter what.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 1

 

The Cyrus Cylinder

WHAT STIRS YOU UP?

Ezra 1:1—11

Ezra is the author of the book that bears his name. He was a priest and descendant of Hilkiah, the high priest who found a copy of the Law during the reign of Josiah (2 Chronicle 34:14).

Ezra had a big problem. As a priest, he was unable to perform the duties of his office during the Babylonian Captivity. Where would he perform them? There was no temple where he and his exile friends were forced to live. The temple back in Jerusalem was destroyed, although they probably weren’t aware of that yet. But even though he couldn’t do his job, he was not idle during his exile. He spent time studying the Word of God.

[Ezra] was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. (Ezra 7:6)

When we get to the end of 2 Chronicles, we see the Southern Kingdom, Judah, carted off by Nebuchadnezzar into an exile that would last 70 years. We hear nothing from all those Jews in captivity until Ezra put quill to parchment to resume the history of God’s people.

A helpful way to look at the historical books of the Old Testament is like this:

  • The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles record the history of Israel (Northern and Southern Kingdoms) before the Babylonian Captivity.
  • The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther record life after the Babylonian Captivity.

Ezra and Nehemiah are two books but they really belong together, just as the the men who wrote them belong together. Ezra was the priest, Nehemiah was the layman, yet both men were used by God to accomplish His will for Jerusalem. They worked tirelessly together to rebuild the city, its buildings, its walls, and especially the Temple.

God’s timetable is sometimes difficult to understand sometimes. Sometimes it seems to take Him forever to “get off the dime” and answer a prayer or do something we have asked of Him. Other times, God seems to move a the speed of light. But God’s time is always perfect, down to the second. During the 70 years of Jewish Captivity, Babylon was racing toward its own judgment, just as the Captivity was God’s judgment upon Judah. It’s not coincidental that Babylon’s downfall coincided exactly with the deliverance of the Jews.

In the first year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar carried away many Jews into captivity. He reigned a total of 45 years. He was succeeded by his son, aptly named Evil-Merodach, who reigned 23 years. He was followed by Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, who ruled for all of three years. Add that up, and we have the 70 years under which the Jews were held in exile, not allowed to return to Jerusalem. Near the end of Belshazzar’s brief reign, Darius, the Mede, captured the capital city, Babylon, and Cyrus, king of Persia, became its ruler (see Daniel 5).

Why is all this dry historical stuff important? It’s important because all of it fulfills Bible prophecy:

…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ (Isaiah 44:28)

What is exciting is that the prophet Isaiah wrote that prophecy and named the Jew’s deliverer 150 years before it happened! That dry historical stuff proves the supernatural nature of the Bible! It proves the inspiration of Scripture.

Not only was that prophecy fulfilled in God’s perfect time, these were also fulfilled:

But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.” (Jeremiah 25:12)

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10)

…in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. (Daniel 9:2)

All of those prophecies were written long, long before they were fulfilled. The Word of God is nothing if not amazing!

1. The need of being stirred up, 1:1 (KJV)

Now 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…

The will of God will never get done by human beings until our spirits are “stirred up” to do it. Doing God’s will is contrary to the human nature; we want to do what we want to do; we want to do what we think is best for us. Most Christians struggle just as Paul did:

I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18, 19)

How do we get the victory over the selfish desire to live only for ourselves? We need our spirits stirred up by God. God does not want a bunch of robots doing His bidding, so He never forces us. God wants us, as His created, free, moral agents, to come to the right conclusion on our own: to live for Him and do His will. But we need His help to get to that place.  We need to be stirred up!

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

It is entirely possible to have a form of godliness while our spirits are sleeping the sleep of death. We all need to be stirred up, just as Cyrus was stirred up.

2. God stirs up the spirit, 1:1 (KJV)

The source of all spiritual life and power is God. It is God alone who is able to stir the human spirit. We can do our best to manipulate, to bribe, to shame a fellow believers into living right and into doing God’s will, but that’s not the right way; God must stir the spirit. We can’t do that. We can point a believer in the right way, but it’s ultimately up to God to stir their spirit into obedience.

Not only is a stirred up spirit an obedient spirit, it is a living spirit; it is a spirit that has been raised from the death. Did you know that the unsaved are already dead? They may be up and walking around, but they are dead. It isn’t until their spirits have been stirred that they come alive. And a stirred up spirit is a spirit with a purpose:

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

3. How God stirs the spirit

There are two ways God stirs the human spirit:

(1) The Word of God. We know from reading the book of Daniel, that the prophet poured over the Scriptures, trying to understand them; trying to make sense of the prophecies. Daniel came to the conclusion that in all, God’s people would be exiled for 70 years. Daniel served in the king’s court in Babylon, so it is entirely possible that he showed Cyrus the prophecies in Scripture about himself (see Isaiah 44:28; 45:1—13).

This is the primary way God communicates to His people today. Christians want lightening strikes and cosmic billboards pointing the way, but the fact is, the Bible is the complete revelation of God’s mind to His people. Want to know want God’s will is? Find it in the Bible! Want to know what God thinks about an issue? It’s in the Bible. Nobody needs a special, supernatural revelation “from on high” to know the will of God! All you need is the Word of God, properly understood and applied.

(2) The providence of God. The fact that Cyrus was now governor of Babylon was an act of divine providence; it was God, quietly and stealthily working behind the scenes of human history to get His chosen man in the right position, at the right time, to carry out His prefect will for His people.

God always works that way in the affairs of human beings. Christians work so hard, sometimes, to ensure that such-and-such thing will happen, we expend so much time and energy carefully arranging all the dominoes of our lives, when all we really need to do is simply trust God! And when things don’t go as we planned, we get all bent out of shape and sometimes we feel like doing what Job’s wife told him to do:  “Curse God and die!”  We ought to have this kind of attitude:

If so, nothing can happen in the great Circuit of his Works, either without his Knowledge or Appointment. And if nothing happens without his Knowledge, he knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful Condition; and if nothing happens without his Appointment, he has appointed all this to befal me. (Robinson Crusoe)

It’s amazing that so many so-called Christians are blind to the providence of God. Cyrus was no believer, yet he recognized that the purposes of God had been entrusted to him. It’s an awful thing to know the will of God and to ignore it. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira!

God stirs up the spirit of a person, somehow making them know and feel their place in His great plan. Nobody can be obedient to God or work to accomplish His will unless they have been, like Cyrus, stirred up.

Watch out for circumstances that might seem odd. Keep watch on the people that come in and go out of your life. Pay attention to your surroundings. It may well be that God is providentially stirring up you this very day!

4. Evidence of a stirred up spirit

From what we know about Cyrus, there were three evidences that Cyrus had been “stirred up.”

(1) Manifested faith in the Word of God.

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (verse 2, KJV)

Somehow, Cyrus knew what God wanted him to do. He simply knew what God’s Word was concerning him and he simply believed it. Keep in mind, Cyrus was no Jew or believer in Yahweh, yet he was keen enough to feel his spirit being stirred by the Word of God such that accepted it and believed it. What does that say about the so-called Christian who knows the Word, is exposed to it every Sunday, yet continually questions it and does his level best to avoid it?

You can tell a believer whose spirit has been stirred up because he has an unshakable faith in the Word of God. Is that your view of the Bible? If not, maybe you need to be stirred up.

(2) A confession of God’s purpose.

…the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom… (verse 1b, KJV)

When we discover what the will of God is concerning us, we should never be ashamed to make it known to the world. Remember these sobering words of Jesus:

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

(3) A bighearted disposition.

The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (verse 3, KJV)

Cyrus knew what he had to do, he knew what God’s will was concerning himself and the Jews, and he stepped out in faith, made a proclamation, and made an offer the Jews could not refuse! When God stirs a spirit, he stirs it completely. God never does anything in a half-hearted manner, and neither will we when we commit to do His will. God is generous, and so should we be. God always goes “over the top” and so should we.

And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. (verse 4, KJV)

Talk about being sold-out to God! Cyrus was completely committed to God’s program and he wanted everybody to be as sold-out as he was. When you are stirred up, you want everybody around you stirred up as much as you are.

Do you know what doing the will of God is? It’s noble:

But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand. (Isaiah 32:8)

Conclusion

The spirit that has been stirred up by God will want to do God-like things; big things for God. The story of Cyrus makes us think of what the great missionary William Carey famously said:

Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.

The stirred up spirit is always on the look out for opportunities to do great things for God. Such people are the ones who “seek first the kingdom of God” and His righteousness.

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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