After 15 years of inactivity and with the Temple foundations laid but no building work begun, Ezra 5:1-17 tells of the way that God moved His people to get back to the task of rebuilding the Temple. God did this through His Word by sending the prophets Haggai and Zechariah with a message of encouragement. He also did this through circumstance as He once more allowed a local government official to get angry enough write to the King of Persia about the rebuilding work that had begun. Then He also did this through His Spirit as the people finally became aware that they were His people – His special people – and that they needed to get back to this work because He had called them. We also must not lose sight of the special people we are in God’s sight and also need to be reminded that God is always at work and pray that He might revive and His Church here and to the ends of the earth.
Our series on Ezra is well underway, but you might like to keep reading. Check out this video overview of the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah from The Bible Project to whet your appetite!
Ezra 4:7-24 describes how the people who lived in Jerusalem not only opposed the work of rebuilding the Temple in the days of the returned exiles, but also how they continued to oppose this work and thwart God’s people for the next 70 years, right up until and during the days of Nehemiah. By spreading false reports and claims about the Jews, they managed to convince successive Kings of Persia that the Jews were a threat and the Temple should not be rebuilt. Such situations continue in today’s world. God’s people will always have their adveraries who try to thwart the progress of the gospel. However, we are not to ‘laty down tools’ until Jesus comes, no matter how difficult the opposition becomes.
After laying the foundations of the new Temple, Ezra 4:1-6 tells us that the people who lived in Jerusalem began to oppose what they were seeing. Although they presented themselves as friendly and fellow worshippers of Israel’s God and offered their help to rebuild the temple, the leaders of the Jews quickly saw through this approach and denied their offer. As a result, opposition towards the rebuilding of the Temple began to grow and soon this grew against the Jews themselves. This story is nothing new. God’s people who have sought to do what they must do in obedience to God, have always faced opposition from those who do not value God’s Word. The prophets, the apostles and the Lord Jesus all faced this opposition and so will all His people who seek to follow His ways. That very facts calls His people to be on guard and to perservere in being faithful regardless of the consequences.
After God’s people returned from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra 3:8-13 tells of the day that the people got to work and laid the foundations of the second temple. The work was hard and involved many who contributed their skills, and the end result was that the people achieved what they had set out to do. A stranger to Jerusalem that day might have been surprised by the very loud sounds of joy and crying coming from the Temple site. Joy, because progress had been made and the Temple work had begun. Crying, because those who knew the glory of the first Temple could only remember ‘what once was’. There is always a danger that God’s people look back with longing to the past, but God is at work today and calls us to be ‘His living stones’ of a different kind of temple, made up of all who believe in Jesus.
When the people of Judah returned fron Babylon to Jerusalem, there must have been a whole host of matters to attend to after a 70 year absence. But the text of Ezra 3:1-7, tells us that once the seventh month of the year came, the month in which Jews observe many of the Old Testament feasts, what gained top priority in their lives was the re-introduction of the worship of God. They did this through reconstructing the altar that had been torn down and offering the required sacrifices and feasts as outlined in the Law of Moses, remembering the past and how God saved them and looking forward to the future when all nations would come to Jerusalem to worship God. Today God still desires His people to worship Him and the be those through whom the message of His grace will reach the whole world.
After the first chapter of Ezra set the scene for the return of God’s people to Jerusalem from Babylon through the decree of the Persian king Cyrus, Ezra 2:1-70 fills in the names of the 42,000 who made the journey and came back from exile. While some may think that not much can be learned from a whole chapter of names, the very record of these names is significant in itself. These people who returned from exile were heads and members of families and will forever be rememberd for being the ‘ones that returned’. Their intention in going back was to worship God and proclaim Him to the surrounding nations. God’s people today have a similar aim. We are His missionary people, so that His name might be known all over the world.
The story of the book of Ezra concerns the return of God’s people to Jerusalem after their peirod of exile in Babylon. In Ezra 1:11, we find a very clear picture of the sovereign rule of God who brough King Cyrus of Persia to power and ‘stirred’ him to allow His people to return back to their home land. The chapter also reminds us that God did all this to fulfuill His promises made through the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah years before. God’s people are still on a journey home. The book of Revelation (ch. 18) tells of the fall of Babylon and then the emergence of the new Jersualem (ch. 21), where God’s people will be with Him and enjoy Him forever.