God Working Through His people: Ezra 10:1-44 – Marks Of Genuine Repentance

Grace For The Journey

We live in a day of easy repentance.  Some years ago, an evangelical author and leader was exposed for carrying on an affair over an extended period of time.  He repented, went through a year of counseling, and was publicly restored to the ministry.  I sincerely hope that his repentance was genuine.  Only God knows the man’s heart.  But the radio interview that I heard with him and his wife left me wondering if his repentance was genuine.  The interviewer asked him how he had fallen into this sin.  He used the story of the American pilot who had flown his small plane past all of the Soviet Union’s sophisticated radar and warning systems and landed in Red Square in Moscow.  This Christian leader seemed to be saying that he had all his defenses in place, but the enemy sneaked this sin into his life and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it.  He was a victim of Satan’s clever tactics!  His wife chimed in, making it sound as if her poor husband had caught a bad case of adultery, much like we catch the flu!  It was interesting that when President Clinton was caught in his immorality, this Christian leader was one of three that he called on for spiritual counsel.

The Bible is clear that there is both genuine and false repentance.  

  • Twice Pharaoh told Moses, “I have sinned” (Exodus 9:27; 10:16), but he did not truly repent. 
  • Esau felt bad and wept over giving away his birthright, but he did not truly repent (Hebrews 12:17).  
  • Judas felt remorse over betraying Jesus and even said that he had sinned (Matthew 27:4), but he did not repent. 

If we want to be right before God, we must make sure that our repentance is genuine, not superficial.  Our text is not comprehensive, but it does give some marks of genuine repentance:

Genuine repentance involves

Heartfelt sorrow before God

For our sins and prompt

Action to correct them.

The problem concerned the Jewish exiles who had returned to the land but had taken pagan wives in disobedience of God’s commandment (Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Ezra 9:1-2). Ezra 10:11 sums up what they must do to correct the situation, “Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.”  

We learn several truths from this chapter about repentance . . .

1. Genuine Repentance Involves Heartfelt Sorrow Before God For Our Sins.

That sorrow would not be words only; it would also manifest itself in obedience to do His will.  Ezra’s deep mourning over the sins of the exiles led others to gather around him, see their own sins, and weep bitterly over them (10:1).  A spokesman for the people, Shecaniah (10:2), confesses the sin and proposes to Ezra that the people make a covenant to correct the sin.  Shecaniah himself is not in the list of offenders, but perhaps his father is the Jehiel, son of Elam, mentioned in 10:26.  Six members of the clan of Elam had married foreign wives.

Ezra acted on Shecaniah’s proposal by calling the exiles to Jerusalem, where they all shivered in the December rain (10:9).  They agreed that they had sinned and, except for four men who opposed the plan (10:15), agreed to the plan of action.  A commission was appointed to examine each case.  If the foreign wife had put away her idols and swore allegiance to the God of Israel, nothing further was required.  But in the other cases, where the wife refused to give up her idols, the marriages were dissolved, with arrangements for compensation to care for the wives and children involved.  I will deal with the matter of divorce in light of biblical teaching in a moment. For now, let us look at four marks of genuine repentance:

A. Genuine Repentance Must Be Primarily Toward God.

In chapter 10, verse 1, Ezra was praying, confessing, weeping, bowing down, “before the house of God.”  Shecaniah admits in verse 2 of chapter 10, “We have been trespassed to our God.”  It was with God that they made this covenant because they trembled at His commandment (10:3).  They owned up to their sin, “… for this matter is your responsibility …” (10:4).  They needed to confess their sins to the Lord and do His will (10:11).

While sin always hurts other people and we need to ask their forgiveness when we sin against them, sin is first and foremost against God Himself.  That is why David, after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered, said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).  He wrote in Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this is evil in Your sight.”  Certainly David had sinned against Bathsheba and even more so against her husband, Uriah.  But those sins were nothing in comparison with David’s offense against the holy God.  

When a believer sins, he gives occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14).  Unbelievers will mock God and justify their own sins when they hear of a believer’s sin.  Thus, our sin is primarily against God, which means that our repentance must be primarily toward Him also.

B. Genuine Repentance Feels Deeply The Wrong Of Our Sins.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that godly sorrow, “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”  Both Ezra and those who gathered around him wept bitterly because they saw how unfaithful God’s people had been and they trembled at God’s word that warns of His righteous judgment on sin (9:4; 10:3, 14).

Our sorrow should be proportional to the magnitude of our sin.  It would not be appropriate or necessary to weep over relatively minor sins, although we should keep a tender conscience toward all sins.  We should confess such sins to the Lord and move on, praying for strength to avoid these sins in the future.  But, if we have sinned in a major way, it is appropriate to be deeply grieved over what we have done.  After denying that he knew Jesus, Peter went out into the night and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62).

Our grief over major sins should also stem from our understanding of the serious consequences that our sins bring both on ourselves and on others.  Even though we are God’s people, our sins can arouse His “fierce anger” (9:14; 10:14) on us and on our children.  I fear that too many Christians view God only as loving and forgiving, so that we have lost our fear of Him.  It is worth pondering that when Moses asked to see God’s face in Exodus 34:6-7, we are told, “The Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.”  We all like this picture so far!  But God does not stop there.  He continues (and we must continue also), “yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  The realization that my sins get visited on my children and grandchildren should cause me to feel them deeply and turn from them.

C. Genuine Repentance Accepts The Responsibility For What We Have Done.

If there is any blaming, it is not genuine repentance.  If there are any excuses, it is not genuine repentance.  Genuine repentance says, “I have sinned,” or “We have been unfaithful” (10:2).  Genuine repentance exonerates God as David did in Psalm 51b, “So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.”  Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington, D.C., who was caught on videotape using cocaine in a prostitute’s room, “admitted that his cocaine problem came about because he cared too deeply, for too long, about too many other people’s needs.”  In the trial of the Yosemite serial killer, his attorney argued that he was not responsible for his atrocious crimes because of his difficult childhood.  Thankfully, the jurors rejected that reasoning.  Even today many “experts” tell us we live in a culture where everyone is a victim because of some psychological “disease” for which they are not responsible.  

Genuine repentance always accepts

Full responsibility for what we have done.

D. Genuine Repentance Sees Hope In The Midst Of Despair.

After confessing the unfaithfulness of the people in marrying foreign women, Shecaniah interjects in 10:2, “Yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.”  Exodus 34:6-7 tells us the reason that there is hope is because our God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.”  That is how God reveals Himself to us!  David quotes those words of hope in Psalm 103 and then goes on to say in verses 8-9 and 13-14, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him, for He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”  Because God is always ready to forgive and restore the repentant sinner, the thought of repentance opens a door of hope to those who are suffering the consequences of their sins.

The first mark of genuine repentance is heartfelt sorrow before God for our sins. But sorrow alone is not enough . . .

2. Genuine Repentance Takes Prompt Action To Correct Our Sins.

True repentance requires not only admitting our wrong to God and others, but also taking practical steps of obedience to correct our wrongs.  With some sins, such as murdering or permanently injuring someone, we can never fix the wrong we committed. Some problems are so complex that they cannot be corrected instantly.  But that should not be an excuse for not taking action at all.  We should devise a plan that can lead us into full obedience to Christ.  Repentance should take place as quickly as possible in light of the complexity of the problem.

A. Genuine Repentance Takes The Necessary Action To Correct Our Sins, Even When It Is Personally Difficult To Do So.

Sometimes our sin results in problems for which are no easy solutions.  This was one of those situations.  To allow those in mixed marriages to continue in them would seemingly condone such behavior and would draw many Jews into religious syncretism right at the time that purity and separation were essential.  According to Edwin Yamauchi in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, only 111 Jewish men are listed as guilty of this sin, which was only 0.4 percent of the 28,774 exiles who had returned under Zerubbabel.  We may be inclined to think that Ezra was making a mountain out of a molehill.

But as Paul said with reference to tolerating sin in the Corinthian church, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).  If the problem had not been confronted, it would have spread even farther.  Since the Jewish exiles who had returned were so few in number, to allow this sin to continue could have effectively diluted their distinctiveness as God’s people.  In His righteous anger, God could have destroyed the people until there was no remnant left (9:14).  Ezra believed that it was necessary to break up these wrongful marriages, in spite of God’s declared hatred of divorce (Malachi 2:16).  The fact that he fasted and prayed before acting on this argues that he did the right thing, although it was not easy.

To break up these marriages meant separating fathers from their wives and children, who would be sent back to their pagan roots, which was not good either.  I think that Ezra believed that breaking up these marriages and restoring purity to the nations was a lesser evil than allowing the mixed marriages to continue and thereby threatening the spiritual purity of the nation in both the present and the future.  Either way was difficult and painful.

Should believers today who find themselves in mixed marriages divorce their mates? Clearly not!  The New Testament commands that a believer should not enter such a relationship (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  But it is also clear that if a believer is already in such a relationship, he or she should live in a godly manner, seeking to be a testimony of Christ by his or her behavior.  The only other biblical ground that permits (not requires) divorce is the sexual immorality of one of the partners (Matthew 5:32; 19:8-9). In such cases, I always counsel repentance and reconciliation, because it glorifies God more than divorce does.

There is another way that our text applies to us today: Just as separating from their pagan wives (and, in some cases, children) was a difficult and painful thing to do, so we must separate ourselves from our sins, no matter how difficult or painful.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:8-9, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”  Jesus was using shocking language to get us to see how serious sin is and that we must take radical action to get it out of our lives, even when it is very difficult.  Sometimes, as in the situation in Ezra’s day, there are no easy solutions.

B. Genuine Repentance Takes The Necessary Action To Correct Our Sins, Even When It Is Potentially Divisive To Do So.

Verse 15 mentions in passing that four men opposed the proposed covenant to divorce these pagan women.  I am sure that there was far more angry dissension than is recorded here.  Ezra would have been attacked as being an insensitive, unloving, self-righteous man who had no compassion for all these hurting people.

If Ezra is the author of Psalm 119 (as many scholars believe), many verses in that psalm reflect attacks on the author.  

  • He was the object of reproach and contempt (119:22, 39, 42).
  • Princes were talking against him (119:23).
  • The arrogant derided him and forged lies against him (119:51, 69, 86).
  • Many persecuted him, dug pits for him, and waited to destroy him (119:84, 85, 95, 110).
  • He had many persecutors and adversaries (119: 157).

Even though he was obeying God’s Word, he was not a popular, well-loved guy!

Some may think that Ezra was wrong to force all the Jews into the covenant under the threat of confiscating their property and excluding them from the assembly (10:8). Wasn’t he just getting outward conformity without genuine heartfelt repentance?  In one sense, I am sure that Ezra hoped that every man would take the necessary action to correct his sins out of a personal, uncoerced repentance toward God.  Yet, in another sense, as a leader of God’s covenant people, Ezra had to maintain certain minimum standards of biblical righteousness or the whole community would become tainted by sin and the testimony of God would be diluted to the point of uselessness.  So, he imposed the covenant on all.

The application for us is that God’s desire for His church is that every member would correct his sins because of heartfelt repentance before God.  But even if some members strongly disagree, the leaders must enforce holy standards on the whole body, or the testimony of Christ will be destroyed.

Whenever church discipline gets to the whole church level, it is potentially divisive. Those who are inclined toward mercy or who do not understand God’s standards of holiness will complain that the leaders lack compassion, that they are not practicing grace, and that they are being judgmental and unloving.

But if a sinning member refuses to repent after the biblical steps are followed (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1), the Bible is clear that he must be publicly removed from the fellowship and that other members are not to associate with him, except to exhort him to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).  Maintaining the purity of the church is more important than the potential strife and division that can erupt in the process of church discipline.  Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 5:13 is not fuzzy, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”


Genuine repentance involves heartfelt sorrow before God for our sins and prompt action to correct them, even when it is difficult and potentially divisive.

There are many today who teach that all that a sinner has to do is to believe in Jesus, and that repentance has nothing to do with salvation.  It should come later, they would say, but to do this is to confuse faith and works.  But Jesus said that He came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).  In the Great Commission Jesus said, “that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).  Paul summed up his Gospel as “solemnly testifying … of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).  We must begin the Christian life by repentance and faith.

But repentance is not just something that we must do at the beginning of salvation.  It is something that should characterize believers all of our lives.  As the Holy Spirit convicts us through God’s Word of our sins, we should go on repenting.  

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 9:1-15 – The Godly Reaction to Sin

Grace For The Journey

I have seen men weep genuine tears of repentance over his sin.  I fear that in our decadent society, even we in the church have grown so used to sin that it does not trouble or shock us anymore.  C. H. Spurgeon, in his Autobiography, warned his fellow pastors of the danger of dealing with sin and sinners professionally, so that we lose our dread of evil.  What at first shocked us becomes commonplace and routine.  As Alexander Pope perceptively observed in Essay on Man,  

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Because we are so desensitized toward sin, we fail to have the proper response toward it, whether it is our own sin, or sin in others.  We minimize it, justify it, or ignore it and go on our way unaffected by it.

If we see someone reacting in a godly way toward sin, we think that he is a bit carried away or extreme.  He is considered judgmental or intolerant.  How dare he cast stones at others!  Does he think that he is without sin?  And so, by casting our stones at him, we justify our sins and go back to business as usual, wondering why God does not bless our lives more than He does.

Our text relates Ezra’s reaction to the sin of the exiles who had returned to Israel after the Babylonian captivity.  About four and a half months (7:9, cf. 10:9) after he led a remnant back to the land, it was reported to him that many people in Israel, including many priests, Levites, princes, and rulers, had sinned by taking pagan wives.  Ezra did not take the news in stride, chuckling, “Well, people will be people.”  Rather, he tore his clothes, pulled some hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled and speechless until the time of the evening offering.  By then, a number of godly people had gathered around him.  Ezra arose, then fell to his knees, lifted his hands to the Lord, and confessed the great sin of his people, identifying himself with them, although he had not sinned in this regard.  His prayer, which ranks with Nehemiah 9 and Daniel 9 as one of the great prayers of confession in the Bible, shows us the godly reaction to sin:

The godly reaction to sin is to

Recognize it from Scripture,

To mourn over it, and

To confess it without excuse

To the God of mercy.

How a person reacts to the news of sin tells a lot about that person.  If we hear about adultery and get a subtle thrill reading the juicy details, it reveals that we do not hate that sin and are vulnerable to it ourselves.  While I confess that I have never reacted as strongly against sin as Ezra did (I cannot afford to pull out my hair!), and while part of his reaction may be culturally explained, we still can learn from him that we need to abhor sin so that we do not become desensitized to it.  The first step is . . .

1. The Godly Reaction To Sin Is To Recognize It From Scripture.

How do we know what is right and wrong?  A popular song (supposedly Christian) a few years ago asked, “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?”  I hope that most Christians know that feelings are not a solid basis for determining right and wrong.  Yet I have had young ladies, purporting to be Christians, tell me that they are going to marry a non-Christian man because they have prayed about it and feel a peace about it.  Never mind that the Bible strongly forbids entering such a marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14)!  It is how you feel about it that really counts!  I have had Christian spouses tell me that they feel a peace about divorcing their mates for unbiblical reasons.  The peace they feel is the relief of escaping from a difficult relationship, not the peace of God.  But they often act on feelings, rather than on God’s Word.

Some say that we should follow our consciences, but the conscience is only reliable to the degree that it has been formed by Scripture.  For example, I ask couples who want me to marry them to fill out a questionnaire.  One question asks about the couple’s level of physical involvement, and the next question asks how they feel about their level of involvement, with the choices: Good, Concerned, Guilty, or Trapped.  Sometimes I get couples who report that they have sex often and they feel good about it!  That tells me that this couple does not have a clue about what God’s Word says about sexual purity before marriage.  Their sense of right and wrong has been formed more by the culture than by Scripture.

A. Scripture Reveals To Us What Sin Is.

Ezra was appalled when he heard about these Jews marrying pagans because he knew that God’s Word condemns it. He laments in verse 10, “For we have forsaken Your commandments,” and he goes on to cite God’s prohibition against intermarriage with the pagans of the land.  His citations are not an exact quote, but rather a summary of passages such as Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4.  The reporting of this sin to Ezra (9:1) reflects the biblical language, in that these are the people groups that inhabited the land before the conquest under Joshua.  Only the Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians were still living there.  But the point is, Ezra and the leaders who reported this sin to him knew that it was sin because God’s Word declared it to be sin.

When the princes reported that the holy seed had been intermingled with the peoples of the land (9:2), their concern was not racial corruption, but rather, moral corruption.  In the original command, God explained the reason for the prohibition, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:4; see also, Exodus 34:16).  God knew the tendency of fallen hearts.  Rather than influencing their mates to abandon their idols and follow the one true God, the Israelites would be prone to mingle pagan idolatry with their worship of God.

This is called syncretism, and it always has been a major problem for God’s people.  We do not blatantly deny Christianity.  Rather, we add to our faith the beliefs and practices of the world, so that in a short time, we are virtually indistinguishable from the world in our thinking and in the way we live.  Because of this propensity, God forbade intermarriage and He even prohibited the Jews from seeking the peace and prosperity of the pagans in their pagan ways (Deuteronomy 23:6; contrast Jeremiah 29:7).  There had to be a clear separation of God’s people from the pagans or God’s people would be drawn into the pagan practices.

Blending in with the world rather than being distinct from it has plagued the church down through the centuries.  Monasticism was an attempt to escape worldly influence by withdrawing from the world.  I was surprised a few years ago to read some leading evangelicals who were suggesting a revival of monasticism as a way to stem the current flood of worldliness in the church!  The problem with monasticism is that Jesus wants His followers to be in the world as salt and light, but not to be of the world (Matthew 5:13; John 17:14-18).  He calls us to go into the world with a distinct mission, to reach the world with the Gospel.  But to do that effectively, we must remain unstained from the world.  

The way we think and the way

We live must be shaped

By Scripture, not by the world.

James 4:4 bluntly says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  1 John 2:15 is no less strong, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Or, as Paul puts it with regards to seeking worldly riches in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”.

I have seen many Christian young people fall in love with unbelievers and consequently either fall away from their faith or have their zeal for the Lord greatly diluted.  If you know and love Jesus Christ, the most important thing to look for in a mate is a person who loves Christ and is devoted to following Him.  A believer and an unbeliever have totally different values and goals.  An unbeliever is living for pleasure and the things of this world.  A believer lives to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.  To join the two is a built-in formula for conflict and misery in the home.  Your children also will suffer.

Be on your guard!  Satan uses the tool of an unbelieving or worldly mate to ensnare many Christian young people.

B. Scripture Reveals To Us What Sin Does To People.

Satan always sugarcoats sin to make it look appealing.  We mistakenly think that sin will get us what we want, but it always leads to bondage and ruin.  Ezra’s prayer from verses 5 through 15 reveals where the nation’s sins had led them.  Verse 7 says, “… on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to plunder and to humiliation, as it is this day.”  Four times he refers to the people as an escaped remnant (9:8, 13, 14, 15), showing how the formerly strong nation had been decimated.  He repeatedly uses words like “bondage,” slaves,” and “ruins” (9:8-9) to describe the condition of the people.  He acknowledges that if they do not repent, God may destroy them so that no remnant survives or escapes (9:14).

God’s Word plainly warns that sin

Not only enslaves and eventually

Destroys the sinner; it also

Takes a toll on others.

Marvin Breneman writes, “Christians who adopt a life-style that negates Jesus’ commands are sacrificing both the future of the church and that of the peoples it should be reaching with the gospel.”  If we blend into the world, lost peoples will not hear the Gospel through our witness and our support of missionaries.  Our children will grow up thinking that Christianity has nothing to do with how we live, and they will reject the faith altogether.

Thus, we must involve ourselves with God’s Word so that we instantly recognize sin in ourselves and can turn from it.  

Being in the Bible more than we are

In TV and other worldly media

Will keep us aware of

The devastating toll of sin.

2. The Godly Reaction To Sin Is To Mourn Over It.

When Ezra heard of this sin of God’s people, he tore his garment and robe, pulled some hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled for hours.  His reaction probably seems extreme to us.  But, as someone has observed, “Rare is the soul who is so shocked at disobedience that he is appalled.”  R. C. Sproul said,“It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath, that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”   In his sermon on that text, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the Church today is a defective sense of sin and a defective doctrine of sin.”  He goes on to say that the reason so many professing Christians lack joy is that they have never experienced a real, deep conviction of sin, which is the essence of the Gospel. He says, “They have failed to see that they must be convicted of sin before they can ever experience joy.  They do not like the doctrine of sin.  They dislike it intensely and they object to its being preached.  They want joy apart from the conviction of sin.  But that is impossible; it can never be obtained.”  Conviction is an essential preliminary to true conversion.

C. H. Spurgeon saw the same thing in his day.  Spurgeon wrote, “A very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, ‘Father, I have sinned.’  How can he be healed who is not sick, or he be satisfied with the bread of life who is not hungry?  The old-fashioned sense of sin is despised.  The consequence is that men leap into religion, and then leap out again.  Unhumbled they came to the church, unhumbled they remained in it, and unhumbled they go from it.”

In his great work, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards rightly argued, “True religion [he meant genuine Christianity], in great part, consists in holy affections.”  When God changes our hearts through the new birth, He gives us new desires for holiness and a hatred toward sin.  These emotional qualities (and many others) will increase over time.  But . . .

A distinguishing mark of a true Christian

Is that he mourns over sin,

Both his own sins and the sins of others.

Ezra was so steeped in God’s Word and the history of God’s ways with His errant people that he knew that God’s severe discipline would fall again if the people did not repent.  Even though Ezra himself had not committed this particular sin, he identified himself with the sin of the people and mourned over it.

What would you think of a doctor, who upon discovering that you had cancer, gave you a hug and said, “Take two aspirin and you’ll be just fine?”  How about a fireman who responded to a report of a house on fire by saying, “It will burn itself out soon?”  How about a policeman who arrived at the scene of a robbery, shook his head, and said, “Boys will be boys?”  In each case, the response is inappropriate to the situation.

A Christian’s response to sin, whether his own or the sin of other believers, should be to mourn.  That attitude stems from trembling at the words of God (9:4).  The godly reaction to sin is first to recognize it from Scripture, and then to mourn over it.

3. The Godly Reaction To Sin Is To Confess It Without Excuse To The God Of Mercy.

Ezra’s prayer is a model of confession.  It has four elements . . .

A. Confession Acknowledges The Absolute Righteousness Of God In All His Dealings With Us.

In verse 15, Ezra affirms God’s righteousness in His past punishment of Israel by sending them into captivity: “O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous.”  In 9:13 he acknowledges that God has given them less than their sins deserve. The implication of 9:14 is that if God were to give them what they deserved now, He would totally wipe them out.  Ezra exonerates God, while accepting the blame for what the people have done.

B. Confession Submits To God’s Righteous Dealings Without Complaint Or Excuse.

There is not even a hint of complaint on Ezra’s part that God has not been fair.  He does not point to any extenuating circumstances.  Perhaps there was not an adequate supply of Jewish women for these exiles to marry, which led them to marry foreign wives. Perhaps the men rationalized by saying, “But our wives promised to worship at the temple with us.”  Ezra laid aside any and all excuses.  Rather than complaining about God’s judgment, Ezra readily acknowledged that God would be justified to inflict much more punishment than He had.

Ezra’s identification with the people, in spite of his own innocence in this sin, shows that he knew the evil that lurked in his own heart.  If he had been self-righteous, he would have prayed, “Lord, these people of Yours are obstinate and wicked. You are righteous to judge them. But I’m not like they are.”  But instead, he included himself when he confessed the sins of the people.

Many years ago, a correspondent of the London Times was reporting on many of the same problems that we now have.  He ended every article with the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”  G. K. Chesterton wrote a brief reply: “Dear Editor, What’s wrong with the world? I am. Faithfully yours, G. K. Chesterton.”  Biblical confession does not excuse oneself.

C. Confession Agrees With God Concerning His View Of Our Sin.

We are prone to minimize our sin by calling it a shortcoming, a fault, a tendency, or some other benign terms.  In verse 6, Ezra admits his shame because, “our iniquities have risen over our heads.”  In other words, “We’re drowning in a flood of our sins.”  He refers to their “great guilt” because of their iniquities that led to the captivity (9:7).  He admits to forsaking God’s commandments by joining with the uncleanness, abominations, and impurity of the peoples of the land (9:10-11).  He refers again to their “evil deeds” and “great guilt” (9:13) for breaking God’s commandments and committing these abominations (9:14).  He does not gloss over their sins as no big deal.  He calls it what it is.

D. Confession Casts The sinner On God’s Undeserved Mercy, Based On The Sacrifice Of Jesus Christ.

Ezra’s prayer makes no petition, but rather, he implicitly casts himself and the nation on God’s undeserved mercy.  He acknowledges that the current return from exile and the building of the temple are a powerful way “grace has been shown from the LORD our God …” (9:8), which those who have sinned have ungratefully disregarded.

Verse 5 tells us that Ezra made his prayer at the time of the evening offering.  Perhaps the smell of the sacrifice encouraged his heart that God has made a way for sinners to be reconciled to Him, namely, through the shedding of the blood of a substitute.  The Old Testament sacrifices pointed ahead to the shed blood of God’s perfect and final sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Through faith in Christ’s blood applied to our hearts, we can draw near to God for cleansing from all our sins.


J. C. Ryle said, “Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen.”  Thus, our first reaction to sin must be to see it clearly from the Scriptures.  Then, realizing that it put our Savior on the cross, we should mourn over it.  Finally, we should confess it without excuse to the God of mercy, appropriating His cleansing for our consciences, that we might be renewed to serve Him in purity.

C. S. Lewis observed, “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  As we grow in godliness, with Ezra, we will react more strongly to our own sins and to the sins of God’s people.  We will dwell more consistently at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, where God’s mercy flows to our repentant sinners.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 8:1,15,18-36 – Fervor For The Lord Leads To Faithfulness In The Lord

Grace For The Journey

  I heard the story of a husband who was driving home from church.  His wife was sitting on the other side of the front seat next.  Seemingly a large gulf separated them.  With lonely eyes she looked at him and said, “Dear do you recall when we first met how close we used to sit to each other?  You use to put your arm around me.  What happened to those days?”  With one hand firmly attached to the steering wheel, and the other resting on the empty space between them, he said, “Well, I haven’t moved.”  The distance was not because he had moved.   A separation had resulted because she had moved away.  She had left her first love.  Is this where you are spiritually?  This was the charge the Risen Lord brought against the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love.”  The word “left,” pictures something gradual.  This departure did not happen overnight.  Somewhere along the way they lost their passion.   Have you ever heard of the second-generation syndrome?  The second generation has a natural tendency to accept the status quo and to lose the vision of the first generation.

Church history is filled with examples of it, and sadly, so are many churches.  

The parent’s fervor for the Lord Jesus

Becomes the children’s formalism

And the grandchildren’s apathy

(Judges 3:1-6).

 I wonder is this exactly what happened to the people of God in the days of Ezra?  When the first captives returned under Zerubbabel only 50,000 responded? (2:64).  Even that was small in comparison with the large number of Jews living in Babylon.  But now here under Ezra the number comes to approximately 1,500 men, plus women and children.  Why was there so few?  Over the decades the old generation had died, and a new generation had arisen that had never seen Jerusalem or the temple and probably had little interest in the welfare of their fellow Jews, sacrificially laboring there.  Eighty years had passed from Zerubbabel’s time, sixty years had passed from the completion of the temple (6::15) and these Jews had lost their vision.

The vision they once had of

Being called to do God’s work,

To be a witness to the

Surrounding Gentile nations,

Had now faded

Almost to nothingness.

They had lost the glow,

And the zeal they

Once had was spent,

As they became increasingly

Absorbed into the culture

And lifestyle of Babylon.

Can that happen to us in our Christian lives?  Of course it can.  There is a lukewarmness, a complacency, and an apathy about amazing biblical truths that we have heard from our childhood or from our Bible teachers.  Whether we like it or not, leaving our first love for our Savior is very much a part of 21st century Christianity.  I wonder is this where you are?  Would Paul have to say of you what he said of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas hath forsaken me having loved this present world.”  Thankfully, there are those in every age who remain true to the Lord and here are 1,500 of them taking the long road back to Jerusalem.  There are three pictures of God’s people in this passage that I want you to see.  I want you to see this tiny remnant . . .

1) By The River.

This group left Babylon on the first day of the fifth month (7:9), and after about a week of travel (8:31), they stopped at the River Ahava which was probably a tributary of the river Euphrates.  Here they stopped for three days (8:15).  Now it is very evident that the story of this chapter is closely linked with this river.  Notice how many times Ezra mentions it: We read in 8:15, “And I gathered them together to the river that runs to Ahava;,” in 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava,” and finally,  in 8:31, “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem.  This became a . . .

a) A Time Of Reflection.

The people use this time as an opportunity for prayer, for fasting, and for waiting upon God (8:21).  I can imagine Ezra reflecting on how far God had brought them.  Would his mind not be occupied with God’s providential care for His people?  I can imagine that his heart was filled with “wonder, love and praise,”

as he contemplated the “good hand of His God upon him” (7:9.)  Was this not the secret of his ministry?

Ezra had known something of . . .

1. God’s Gracious Hand.

For it was God who had brought him to the place where his heart was set on God, the things of God, and the things of eternity.

2. God’s Guiding Hand.

God had opened the door for Ezra to go in to see King Artaxerxes and ask permission to return to Jerusalem to reinforce the work, and to reform the workers (7:6).

3. God’s Giving Hand.

While the King had granted permission (7:13), made provision (7:14-23), and gave privileges (7:24) Ezra could trace everything ultimately to the hand of God upon him.

For Ezra, this was a time of reflection as he reviewed the past, considered the present, and prepared for the future.

Do you ever take time to reflect, to ponder all the way your Savior has led you?  James Philip in his booklet “A Time to Build,” says that, “Waiting time is never wasted time.”  How right he is.  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is more important than running, or doing, or serving, or working, or anything else that we might do.  Ours is a frenetic age, and the pace of life is such that many of us, even in conservative circles no longer know how to “wait,” or “be still,” or “meditate,” in the presence of the Lord.  Instead, we are overactive and would rather be running around, busy with a thousand and one other things in our Christian lives, than simply waiting in quietness and reflection upon the Lord.

b) A Time Of Inspection.

We are told in chapter 8 and verse 15 that Ezra viewed the people.  Geographically, Ezra was at an important departure point for the caravans traveling west, spiritually this stop was not a waste of precious time but provided opportunity for Ezra to take stock of the situation.  Here he is making a final, assessment of the situation before setting out a journey of 900 miles. He says, “I looked among the people and priests.”  His purpose being to see how this company of people would be useful in reinforcing the work of God in Jerusalem.  Do you ever consider of what service, value, or usefulness you can be to Christ’s church?  Do you ever assess the work that you undertake for the Lord? Here is a check list to think about . . .

Is your service effective?

What are you achieving?

What goals do you need to set yourself?

Are you frittering away time on unnecessary tasks?

Are you burning up energy on needless work?

Are you fully committed to the Lord’s work?

Are you motivating others to labor for the Master?

c) A Time of Detection.

In checking the exiles Ezra discovered there was not a single Levite among them (8:15).  The Levites were the descendants of Levi (Genesis 29:34) who had been set apart by the Lord, “to stand before the Lord, to minister unto Him and to bless in His name” (Deuteronomy 10:8).  They were to serve in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple (Numbers 3:5).  Levitical service had played an important part in the wilderness journey.  Bearing the Tabernacle of Witness and the Ark of Testimony through the desert had been the responsibility of the three great families of the house of Levi (Numbers 3:17).  Later, King David had organized the Levites into courses for the service of God (1 Chronicles 23-26).  Here were the spiritual leaders, the very ones who should have been in the forefront supporting the man of God and they are absent.  There was a failure in leadership.  This was not something peculiar to Ezra’s day. In the Bible we find that God sometimes bypassed the official leaders because of their failure, and raised up others to do the work.  

  • Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas were official priests, but because of their failure to lead the people aright, the Lord bypassed them in favor of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:11).
  • Amos was a sheep farmer but God raised him up because Amaziah the official priest was a spiritual disaster (Amos 7:10-17).
  • In the New Testament it was not the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees whom God chose to be the foundation of the church, but just a group of ordinary fishermen.

Has it not been the same throughout the history of the church?  When the church needed reforming in the sixteenth century, who did God raise up, but an obscure monk named Martin Luther?  Peter Williams reminds us that, “Before the Evangelical Awakening of the eighteenth century the worldliness of the bishops and clergy was destroying the spiritual life of the church but God had his men in John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.”  Are we not witnessing the same failure in the church’s established leaders today?  When prominent religious leaders deny the authority of the Word of God and encourage acceptance of lifestyles and attitudes contrary to what God accepts, how are we to respond?  Is this not a failure in leadership?  In Ezekiel’s day the whole of society was corrupt.  The prophets, the priests, the princes, and the people (Ezekiel 22:23-31).  God was seeking for a man who would guide the nation and deliver the land, but He found none. He says, “I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”  In Christ’s day when He saw “the multitudes” …. “as sheep having no shepherd,” and He said, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:36-38).

Is this not a rebuke to our slothful condition?  What an honor it is to serve the living and true God, and yet when there is work to be done, where are men and women of God?  Where are you?  Why when we want men to stand in the gap we find none?  Do you want to know why?  Because like many of these Jews in Babylon we say, “Do not disturb my comfort zone.”

2) Before The Lord.

In verse 21 tells us that Ezra, “… proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” e eyes of the Lord was this self-judged fasting company.  No Ark was borne on the shoulders of anointed priests to lead them now; no pillar of cloud by day or fire by night was there to guide; yet they knew that the God who had led them through the wilderness, would not fail and they sent up their request to Him.  It is important that we notice how they came before the Lord . . .

1. Humbly: for they fasted. They came with the attitude of Abraham, “I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord which am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

2. Believingly: they had already told the King, “the hand of our God is upon all them for good that     seek Him” (verse 22c).  Verse 22 concludes with, “So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”

3. Earnestly: they committed to “seek,” God.  James 5:16 reminds us that it is “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man that avails much.”

What a picture of these people before the Lord.  Do you know what it is to get before the Lord, to close the door, to concentrate the mind, to confess the sin, to clear the head, and to claim the presence ?  They got before the Lord in order . . .

a) To Be Guided.

Verse 21 says the people were called to humble themselves, “to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”  They wanted to be guided . . .

1. About Their Future – “… a right way for us …”

They wanted to know God’s way for that is the best way.  

  • Before them lay a journey of 900 miles.
  • Beneath them lay difficult terrain.
  • Around them there was the possibility of encountering formidable dangers from enemies of the land.

They come before the Lord and left their future in God’s hands.  Is your future uncertain? Are you unsure about the path that the Lord would have you travel?  Have you committed it all to Him, the Lord who says in Psalms 32:8, “I will guide with My eye.”

2. About their Family – “… And for our little ones …”

Did you know that God has given you a “right way,” for your family?  It is found in the greatest manual on family upbringing that you will ever find. Do you know what it is called?  The Bible.  Do you know what it says?  In the framework of the home, God has constituted parents to fulfill the role of scribes to teach your children the Word, as priests to pray for them, and as kings to enforce God’s rule in their lives.  Are you really concerned about your “little ones?”  How much time do you spend in prayer for them?  You say, “I haven’t got the time.”  Susannah Wesley had seventeen children and she found time for them.

3. About their Finances – “… For all our substance.”  Is it not time that you got before the Lord and sorted out your finances?  You may think you earn your money by your hard work, by the good job you have.  In reality God gave you that job.  God gave you the skills and ability to learn that job.  God gave you the health to perform that job.  The truth is all that you are and all that you have, which includes your money, comes from God.  The Bible says in Deuteronomy 8:18, “But you shall remember the Lord your God for it is He that gives you power to get wealth.”  The question therefore we need to answer this is, “How much do we owe to the Lord who loved us eternally, redeemed us sacrificially, and indwells us permanently?”  Oh, how we need our great and loving God to guide us in all these areas.

b) To Be Guarded.

Travel in those ancient times was extremely dangerous, and in addition to 1,500 men, Ezra had the women and children to think about, not to mention the vast amount of wealth they were carrying.  Here was a caravan that was a prime target for the enemy.  Verse 22 tells us, “For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road …”  Here is what Ezra had been doing.  Ezra had been witnessing to this pagan king.  He was saying that God was going to take care of them.  He had proclaimed this great truth, now he needed to practice it.  To Ezra God was more than a religious concept, rather He was a God who could be trusted in the most difficult of circumstances.  What a marvelous example Ezra is for us . . .

For having been saved by faith,

We are now called to walk by faith.

Having initially trusted the Lord to save us,

Let us now trust the Lord continually

To go with us and to guard us.

The Christian life is a pilgrimage.  Pressing on to Heaven we are all the while passing through hostile territory.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us our “Adversary the devil as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour.”  The world in which we live has many distractions which would seek to lure us away from the route of our pilgrimage.  Satan has his bandits.  He is a master tactician of spiritual warfare.  He would seek to cut off the supply line and ambush us as we set our faces toward glory.  That is why we need the unseen hand of God to guide us and to guard us.

Lo, the hosts of evil round us

Scorn Thy Christ assail His ways

Fears and doubts too long have bound us

Free our hearts to work and praise

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage

For the living of these days

3) Building The Work.

Or we could say, shouldering the work.  Spiritually speaking . . .

When you get by the river in contemplation,

When you get before the Lord in supplication,

You will build the work in anticipation.

As we look at these Jews we notice . . .

a) What Was Entrusted To Them.

Beginning in verse 26 we read that Ezra chose twelve leading priests and gave them “…the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered” and instructed them to, “Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.”   The silver and gold had to be weighed out and the consecrated vessels were committed to consecrated servants who handled this matter in a most business like way.  These twelve men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were responsible for the Lord’s treasury, and would one day give an account to Him.  This reminds us that we need to be very careful in the handling of finances and the material things God gives us?  This is the principle that Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers when he spoke about the offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians 8:21, “Providing for honest things not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men.”  Paul is saying we are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord, but in the eyes of men.  

Do you see your money as a gift from God?  1 Chronicles 29:14 tells us when David took up an offering for the temple he prayed, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort?  For all things come of You and of Your own we have given You.”  What David literally said was, “What we put into one of Your hands we simply took from the other.”  

This good news to those

Who live “hand to mouth!”   

The Bible teaches us that we

Live, “From His hand to our mouth.”

What about the treasure of the Gospel?  For Paul says 2 Corinthians 4:7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.”   God has entrusted to you, your wealth, the Gospel, and your gifts (Ephesians 4:7). There is a day of examination coming very soon for notice . . .

b) What Was Examined For Them.

Verse 33 tells us what happened when they got to Jerusalem.  There was a weighing and counting of the items and the priests wrote down the number and weight of everything.  The Bible sys in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done whether it be good or bad.”  We will not be there for our sin, for that was settled once for all in the death of the cross, but our service will be reviewed at Bema judgment seat.  Do not you think it is going to be some sort of a children’s party where prizes will be given out without discrimination.  It will be a judgment in every sense of the term. And the quality of every Christian’s service will be tested.  Think of that.  In one sweeping view our entire life of service will be reviewed and revealed.  We will discover then that what we thought was gold is but wood, what we thought was silver stones is but hay, and what we thought was precious stones is but stubble.  How dreadful it will be to pick up ashes of our worthless service and press them into the nail scarred hands of the Savior.  At the Judgment Seat, there will be a review (2 Corinthians 5:10),there will be a regret (1 Corinthians 3:5) and there will be a reward (1 Peter 5:4).   I wonder when you stand in His presence on that day, will you hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21)

Shall I empty-handed be

When before the crystal sea

I shall stand before the everlasting throne

Will I hang my head in shame as I answer to my name

Not a thing that my Redeemer there can own

The Lord has entrusted to you treasure, talent, and time.  At the bema He will call you to account.  We also notice . . .  

c) What Was Expressed Of Them.

Verse 36b says, “So they gave support to the people and the house of God.”  The word “gave support” carries the idea of not only providing for the work but furthering the work.  What a memorial and epitaph.

Will it be said of you, when your day is over not only provided for the work of building the Lord’s church but you also we involved in furthering the work of God?  Here is God’s word of commendation for faithful service.

Oh, may we keep in view

The day above all days

That at the Judgment Seat of Christ

We may receive His praise.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 7:1-10 27-28 – God Always Has His Man

Grace For The Journey

   Someone once asked William Booth of the Salvation Army the secret of his life. He replied, “God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, even with greater opportunities, but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and caught a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with me and them.  On that day I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was.  If there is anything of power in the Salvation Army it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.”  In a journal, Jim Elliot, murdered in South America by the Auca Indians wrote these words, “God I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life, that I may burn for Thee.  Consume my life, my God for it is Thine, I seek not a long life but a full one like you Lord Jesus.”  William Carey, the Baptist missionary ,at the end of the eighteenth century, was one day at his work as a cobbler in Northampton.  Someone who came in that day to visit said, I see that you are a cobbler.”  “No,” said Carey, “My business is the kingdom of God, but I’m doing this to pay the expenses.”

He was really saying that . . .

The thing his heart was set on

Was the work of God,

The good of souls in India.

This is what moved him,

This is what motivated him,


This is what mastered him.

The same is true of Ezra.  It was the year 458, and Artaxerxes 1st was King of Persia.  Almost sixty years had passed since the completion of the temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish remnant was having a very difficult time.  It was then that God raised up Ezra to lead a second group of Jews from Babylon to Judah to support the work and help rebuild the city.  Ezra was a Jew who was brought up in the kingdom of Persia.  As such, he was born and raised a displaced person and ministered in the second half of the fifth century.  He was a trusted official who occupied an important position in the court of the Emperor of Persia as a confidant.  He had never seen Jerusalem and lived in an alien and pagan world.  Yet, he is a man who is remembered as a significant individual in the purposes of God.  People thought of him as a second Moses because of the great revival of God’s work that happened under him.

Every person is important to God and God’s work, but as Dr. Lee Roberson has often said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.”  

  • When God wanted to deliver Israel from Egypt, He raised up Moses.
  • When Israel was divided and defeated He called Samuel to teach the Word and David to serve as King.
  • In this very same period of Old Testament history, we meet with others like Daniel, Queen Esther, and the man who came after, Ezra, Nehemiah.

Just individuals, yet people who left a mark on their generation.  Richard Nixon was right when he said, that leaders are people who “make a difference,”and Ezra was that kind of man.  Do you want to make a mark for God in your generation?  Do you want to be useful to God?  Or do you want to waste your life by living aimlessly?  What made Ezra so useful to God?  Notice, from the context that Ezra was . . .

1) A Distinguished Man.

Ezra is one of the neglected characters of the Bible.  I do not believe he has received proper recognition from Bible expositors and certainly not from the church.  When was the last time you heard a message on this man Ezra?  Yet, Jewish tradition has a great deal to say about Ezra.  It claims that he established the system of synagogue worship while in Babylon.  That he played an important part in the formation of the Old Testament canon.  That he wrote the books of Chronicles, Nehemiah, and Esther.  The accuracy of these facts is not fully established, but the very fact that they are attributed to Ezra, shows us something of the greatness of the man, and why in Jewish tradition, he is regarded as a second Moses.  I believe Ezra was distinguished because of . .  .

a) His Family.

There were some priests in the Jewish remnant who could not prove their ancestry (2:61-63) but Ezra was not one of them.  What he does in the opening verses of chapter 7 is trace his family tree back to Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses to prove that he was a true priest and had the right to introduce necessary reforms.  It was Moses who originally led the people of God to the land which the Jews were now returning with Ezra as their guide.  He acted as a second Moses in the nation.  It seems that Zerubabbel had passed from the scene.  Between Chapters 6 and 7 there is a period of fifty-seven years to which belongs the story of Esther.  Evidently Zerubabbel had died, and spiritual decline had set in among God’s people again, but God had His man and now Ezra with some fifteen hundred people begin the long road home.  

Some of you have never had a godly heritage, but you have determined you are going to give God your all.  We praise the Lord for those of us who can say with the Psalmist, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yes, I have a goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6.)   Can you look down the corridor of time, and in the providence of God, thank God for a godly father and a praying mom? What an unspeakable privilege it is to be brought up in a home like Timothy where, “from a child you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15).

The older I get the more thankful I am for the home that I had. I had a godly mom and father who made a big impression on my life. Being blessed with godly ancestors is no guarantee of success for their descendants, but it is a good beginning.  God promises to bless the descendants of the godly. The Bible says, “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion, and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children and peace upon Israel” (Psalm 128; Deuteronomy 4:40).  Ezra knew the names of his ancestors and what these men had done and he made the most of his heritage.  What about you?  Are you squandering the rich spiritual legacy that has been entrusted to you? Or are you using it to honor the Lord and promote His cause?  What a tragedy it is when the descendants of godly families turn away from the Lord and lead lives of rebellion and disobedience (Judges 2:10).

b) His Focus.

Verse 5 tells us about Ezra’s heritage – He was a descendent of Aaron, the chief priest.  Ezra is the first person in the Bible to be called a scribe or teacher.  Verse 6 tells us that Ezra was particularly skillful in his work as a scribe.  The primary function of a scribe was to make copies of the Scripture.  The office involved classifying, very carefully counting each letter of Old Testament writing to preserve accuracy, and teaching the precepts of the law.  Ezra’s responsibility was to transcribe the sacred Scriptures and then to explain and expound them.   He loved his work and this is reflected in his deep reverence for the Scriptures.  According to verse 6, he saw the law of Moses as something “which the Lord God of Israel had given.”  The very words he transcribed he regarded as “the words of the commandments of the Lord” (verse 11).  He made the law of the Lord his delight.  Ezra was mighty in the Scriptures, reading to know the letter, marking to know the meaning, and inwardly digesting to experience the power of God.

A man whose focus was on the “sword of the Spirit,” might naturally be expected to further the “Spirit’s work.”  Where is your focus? Is it on the Scriptures or on the sport?  Is it on the truth or on the television? Is it on the faith or is it on finance?

c) His Faith.

His careful study of the Word of God had increased his faith (Romans 10:17).  It helped him understand God’s plans for the Jewish remnant and he wanted to be part of those plans.  Certainly, as he studied the Old Testament Scriptures, he prayed for God to help His people, and the Lord answered that prayer by calling him to go to Jerusalem.  Ezra was a man of faith.  Indeed, he traces everything “to the hand of the Lord His God upon him” (verse 6).  Notice . . .

1. His Faith Was Revealed.

Verse 6 talks about “his request.”  Ezra asked the king Artaxerxes to allow him to return to Jerusalem with a second group of exiles. He did this because he realized that his life was not his own (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Do you realize that?  Have your priorities been sorted out?  Has the chief aim of your life been determined?

2. His Faith Was Rewarded.

Verse 6 says, “The king granted him all his request.”  That meant . . .

  • Permission was Granted – verse 13.
  • Provision was Made – verses 14-23.
  • Privileges were Given – verse 24.

All God’s servants consecrated to the work of God’s house were to be exempt from paying taxes.  This letter, like the earlier proclamations is truly remarkable.  Ezra had no doubt that it was all of God.  It was, but do you know the means God used to accomplish His ends? Godly lives.  Think of those who held high office and had a powerful influence on the Persian King . . .

  • Daniel, who was the second ruler in the kingdom under Cyrus and Darius.
  • Zerubbabel, who was appointed governor of Jerusalem by Cyrus.
  • Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.
  • Ezra himself, who held office in the Persian Court.

It was the godliness of their lives, the strength of their convictions, and the distinctiveness of their stand that made them instruments that God could use, to shape the thinking of these pagan kings, and to affect the course of Israel’s history.  One day some men came to see Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  They were trying to blackmail him.  They walked into his office and threatened him, saying that if he did not meet their demands, they would publish things that would ruin his reputation.  He responded, “Write all you know about me across the heavens.”  That is the power of a clear conscience.  Ezra was trustworthy. He was not corrupt, nor was negligent.  He had integrity.  Is that you?  Are you held in respect or contempt by those with whom you work?

3. His Faith Was Reflected.

Verse 7 tells us that Ezra went back to Jerusalem and fifteen hundred people went with him.  Here we see the power of influence., the power of an example.  Make up your mind to follow the Lord, and there will be some people who will follow your example.

2) A Determined Man.

Verse 10 is one of the great verses of this book, indeed of the whole Bible.  Verse 7 begins by saying, “For Ezra had prepared His heart.”  If he had come to that point in his life we would never have heard of him.  But from that moment on he knew where he was going.  Ezra was not going to live aimlessly.  He was going in a certain direction.  He had decided the issue.  He longed to please God, to seek God’s will and do His will.  

We will make nothing of our lives

Unless we come to the point where

Our primary goal is a yearning after God.

Is this your goal?  What is the direction of your heart?  Have you set your heart on God and the things of eternity?  As believers we know the grace of God; we know how Christ died for us on the cross.  We know these things, we believe them, we rejoice in them. But knowing that, do we know what our lives are going to be about?  Do we know our direction?  Like Ezra, Daniel purpose in his heart as well (Daniel 1:8).  This is the place to begin.  How much in your inner being do you deal with the Lord.  What does God see, when He looks in your heart?  Does He see a one who because he has prepared his heart it has led to his priorities being in order?  Ezra had prepared his heart for the day that he would return to his land.  He knew it was coming because he had faith in God, so he inwardly determined to make three things the chief objective of his life. He was determined . . .

a) To Ponder God’s Word.

Verse 10 goes on to say, “ . . . to seek the law of the Lord.”  He would have agreed with the Psalmist who wrote “Oh, how I love Your law, it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).  Remember Ezra did not have a New Testament, and he had only part of the Old Testament, but he immersed himself in it.  For Ezra this was not an academic, intellectual exercise.  No, he believed that this Word that God had given to His people was an incomparable treasure and there was nothing in Persia to equal it.  

Ezra set himself the task

Of mastering Scripture,

Only to discover that

Scripture mastered him.

He was a high Persian official who had tremendous responsibility, yet, in the midst of a busy schedule, he took time to familiarize himself with the Word of God, which was precious to him.  

It was his knowledge of the Word

That made him a useful instrument

In the hands of God.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a worker that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  Are you diligent in this matter? It i not about being Bible scholars; it is simply allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. What time do you give to the reading and study of God’s Word?  Is the Bible precious to you?  Do you read it in such a way so as to allow it to sift your heart, illuminate your mind, and warm your soul? Are you present at meetings where the Word of God is faithfully expounded?  The very first thing that the early Christians were known for was that they, “continued steadfastly in the apostle‘s doctrine” (Acts 2:42).  He was also determined . . .

b) To Practice God’s Word.

Verse 10 concludes with, “… and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”  In other words, Ezra obeyed the Lord and applied the Bible’s teachings and principles to daily life.  Ezra’s whole life became an outworking of the principles that he found in the Word of God.  Is this not the way we should study our Bibles?  Is this not the way we should approach Scripture?  Is this not the way we should come to church and listen to the ministry of the Word?  We should not be just sermon tasters who critique the performances of preachers.  Far too often we compare preachers with preachers and set one style off against the other.  The important thing is not we think of the sermon but what we do about it.  What are you doing about what you are hearing? The Bible tells us in James 1:25, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.”  It is the doing that brings the blessing.  If our knowledge of the truth does not result in obedience then . . .

We end up with a big head

Instead of a burning heart.

(1 Corinthians 8:1; Luke 24:32)

Martin Luther speaking of a pastor by the name of Nicholas Hussman said, “What we preach he lives.” Could that be said of you?

c) To Proclaim God’s Word.

Ezra is searching the Word, he is obeying the Word, and he is teaching the Word in conjunction with the directions of God (Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 2:7).  Ezra studied God’s Word in order to become competent in teaching it to others.  He lived God’s Word in order to present a consistent life.  He proclaimed God’s Word in order to bring about revival in Israel (9:10).  We need a return to preaching in these days!  It was Samuel Chadwick who once declared, “I would rather preach than do anything else in the world.  I have never missed a chance to preach, I would rather preach than eat my dinner, or have a holiday or anything else the world can offer.”  Preachers, do you love preaching the Word?  Do you believe in the preaching of the Word?  

3) A Devoted Man.

Notice Ezra’s hymn of praise at the end of the chapter.  It is a hymn that shows us his devotion to God, a devotion that was expressed in two ways.

a) He Lived With God’s Honor Before Him.

Now there is no doubt that Ezra had played a vital part in the shaping of the thinking of this pagan king but he does not say, “Blessed be the Lord who by my means.  No, he passes himself by and gives glory to the . . .

1. God of History.  Verse 27 says, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers.”  Sam Carson says that probably takes in a thousand years of history for Ezra traces his ancestry back to Aaron the first high priest. My …. aren’t you glad that history is His story ?

2. God of Destiny.  Verse 27 continues by saying, “… who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart . . .”  The Bible says in Proverbs 21;1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will.”  It was God who put all these things in the king’s heart.   Do you live with God’s glory before you?  Have you really got to the place where you can cry, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).

b) He Labored With God’s Hand upon Him.

Verse 28 says, “And I was strengthened …”  I have a feeling that if Ezra had been interviewed by a television talk show at that time, they would have said to him, “Ezra, would you explain to us the secret of your success.  Was it your talent?  Was it the marvelous gifts you had?  Was it your obvious scholarship?  Was it your discipline?  Was it your willingness to pay the price in study?”  Ezra would have said, “No, none of these things are the secret of my success.  The secret of my success is, ‘the good hand of the Lord was upon me.’”   This is what we need today more than everything else.  The phrase “hand of God” is found six times in Chapters 7 and 8 (7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31).  The hand of God speaks . . .

1. Of His Power.

God is omnipotent.  The Bible says in Isaiah 40:12, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”  With what ease did our God create the universe, the same God who says to you this in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”

2. Of His Protection.

Ezra did not ask for a band of soldiers to go with him to Jerusalem, “to help … against the enemy in the way” (8:22)  Why?  Because he had spoken to Artaxerxes about the hand of His God.  Do you feel that somehow you are going to slip out of His hand? Well, the Lord says in John 10:28, “And I gave them unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

3. Of His Provision.

How else did Ezra receive did receive such gifts from the king apart from the hand of God? The Bible tells us in 7:14-23).

4. Of His Purpose.

What is God’s purpose?  That His hand might be at work in us and through us.  God uses all kinds of people to accomplish His will, but if God’s hand is not at work in us and through us, nothing will be accomplished.  Do you need to pray like Jabez, “Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Your hand might be with me …” (1 Chronicles 4:10).

God Always Has His Man.  In the early days of his ministry, D. L. Moody was challenged with these words, “Its yet to be seen what God can do in, and with, and by a man who’s wholly surrendered to him.”  Moody said “I’ll be that man.”  That is what Ezra said.  Will you say that?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 6:1-22 – The Joyful Response From God’s Completed Work

Grace For The Journey

  Dr. Philip Brooks a famous American preacher was asked by an inquirer who had come into his study and seen him pacing like a caged lion, “What is the matter Dr. Brooks?”  Dr. Brooks replied, “The trouble?  I’m in a hurry and God isn’t.  That’s the trouble.”  How difficult at times it is to be patient.  Is it not hard to await the arrival of an important letter or appointment?  Often our patience wears thin.  I wonder if that is how these Jews in Jerusalem felt?  Remember the book of Ezra is a remarkable account of a remnant of the Jewish people who left the land of captivity in Babylon and returned back to the land of promise and to the city of Jerusalem.  Their stated purpose given by God was to rebuild the temple of the Lord, so that the worship of the Lord might be reestablished among God’s people.

There are two main divisions in the book of Ezra.  The first six chapters hang together and then chapters seven through ten.

Chapters one to six give us an account of national restoration.

The key personality being Zerubbabel.  

Chapters seven through ten give us

The story of spiritual restoration.

The key personality being Ezra.

One of the things that strikes you in this story is that Satan never gives up.  When God works, Satan

immediately counterworks.

After 15 years the work resumed with great energy, under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah but again Satan raised his head (5:3).  The enemy wanted the work to cease but God’s eye was on His people so “that they could not cause them to cease till the matter came to Darius (5;5).”  The result was a letter was written by Tatnai to Darius giving him a complete report of what was happening at Jerusalem, and asking him for information concerning the decree of Cyrus (5,13, 17).  The Jews must have felt somewhat apprehensive as they waited for the Kings reply.  I am sure they wondered if Darius would bother to search the old dusty records and back up the claim of the Jews that Cyrus had commanded them to build their temple in Jerusalem?  Did they fear that the King would cause this project to stop?  Derek Kidner sees in the favorable response of the king “a striking instance of the truth,” expressed in Cowper’s hymn . . .

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break

In blessings on your head

Are you afraid of something that might happen in the future?  It may be an operation, redundancy, unemployment, or family problems.  The list is as vast as our imaginations.  But God may surprise us and turn the terrifying prospect into a blessing in disguise.  Whatever happens, whether the future is better or worse than we imagined it will be planned by our wise and loving heavenly Father.  The God who cared for His anxious awaiting the reply of King Darius watches over us and plans the path ahead. Now there are three words that sum up this chapter very succinctly . . .

1) Confirmation – That Had To Do With Their Witness.

When Darius received the letter from Tatnai he took it very serious.  A search of the archives for the decree of Cyrus was made. After a fruitless search in the record house at Babylon, the elusive decree was discovered at the Kings summer palace at Ecbatana.  This was the ancient capital of Media, modern Hamadan on the road from Baghdad to Teheran in northern Iran.  Ecbatana, which sits 6,000 feet about sea level, was a cold place in winter but delightful during the rest of the year and was regarded as an ideal summer home by several of the Persian kings.  It was here that the decree of Cyrus stating that the Jews rebuild the temple, was found.  We see . . .

a) God’s People Were Vindicated.

We are reminded in verses 3 and 4 that the investigation by the enemy focused on two questions: (1) Who gave them the authority to do this? And (2) What are the names of the men working on the building.  In response God’s people, like Peter in Acts 11:4 many years later. “rehearsed the matter from the beginning.”  They stated the facts clearly and honestly and left the outcome to God (5:13-15 6:3-5.)   Their integrity, honesty, and uprightness were upheld.  Here were non-Israelites searching, investigating to prove that the Jews were right or wrong, and they were found to be it all to be true.  The world is tired of people who are playing at Christianity.  People who claim to be followers of the Lamb but engage in shady business deals.  People who say they belong to the Lord, but do not mind telling a lie if business can be brought their way.  Are you such a person?  Are you deceptive if it puts money in your pocket?  Are you callous with others as long as you reach your goals?  How does the world see us this?  When the searchlight of the ungodly falls on you, what do you find?  Are you a person of integrity, of honesty, and of purity?  The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You are our epistle written in our hearts known and read of all men.”  Someone has well said . . .

You are writing a Gospel, a chapter each day

By deeds that you do, by words that you say

Men read what you write, whether faithless or true

Say what is the Gospel according to you?

b) God’s Purpose Was Verified.

What was God’s purpose for His people in Babylon?  Verses 1 and 2 of Ezra chapter 1 tell us: That they leave Babylon return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple.  This was what the decree of Cyrus was all about (Ezra 6:3.  What hope would there have been for the Jews if there had been no written document in this case to appeal to?  This great project may have been stopped.  But the official document, found in one of the royal chambers was beyond doubt and question.  This shows us the importance of written records.  Do you see what was happening here?  

God’s purpose was

Verified by this document

Which was the

Fulfillment of God’s Word.

The opening statement of in the Book of Ezra (1:1) tells us that the decree of Cyrus was the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, “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 nation of Israel had broken the covenant of God, but the Lord had remained faithful to His Word.  God’s Word is where we find His purposes.  God has divided mankind into three parts.  In 11 Corinthians 10:32, the Bible refers to them to as “the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.”  God has a purpose for each of these distinct peoples, and we find God’s purpose in God’s Word.  The Bible is an amazing book!  How precious it is to hold in our hands and read it!  Are you thankful for the Scriptures of truth?  2 Peter 1:16 says, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.”  

How thankful

We ought to be

To have God’s Word

In our hands,

In our hearts,


In our homes.

2) Continuation – That Had To Do With Their Work.

From chapter 6, verses 6-12 we have the reply of King Darius to Tatnai.  This is an amazing document from a pagan king, for he comes down solidly on the side of God and His people.  God’s people must have been “over the moon,” when they heard all this!  How wonderful are the ways of God!  Paul was so right when he proclaims in Romans 11:33, “O the depth of the riches both of the knowledge and wisdom of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out.”  Who would have thought that such a desperate situation facing God’s people could change so radically?  The underlying truth of this chapter is . . .

That it was all God’s doing.  

We cannot always explain

The ways of God with His people,

But the comforting truth is

We do not need to explain God,

We need only to trust God.

The people believed that when the situation demanded God could move a pagan king like Cyrus to begin His work, and another pagan king like Darius to finish that work (6:15-16).  I think we can say that Darius was impressed by the legislation of Cyrus.  It spelled out provisions which seem to gather around four “lets.”

1. Let the house be built – 6:3.

2. Let the foundations be strongly laid – 6:3.

3. Let the vessels be restored – 6:5.

4. Let expenses be given – 6:4.

Darius upheld this decree of Cyrus, but he went even further and gave Tatnai four directives . . .

a) Progress Was To Be Unhindered.

Verse seven tells us that the decree of King Darius instructed the people in the land to, “Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of Gd on its site.”   Literally the edict was saying, “Keep your distance.”  Neither the local Persian officials nor the people of the land were to interfere or hinder the work, but rather they were to do everything they could to support the work.  

What started out as an investigation ended up as royal decree that protected the Jews. God used a pagan king to protect His people.

While the Bible teaches that the state and church are to be distinct (Matthew 22:17-21), God sometimes grants His church favor with earthly monarchs and human authorities to further His own sovereign purposes.  Do not forget that the perseveration of the Jewish race was an essential link in the chain which led to the birth in Bethlehem of our Lord Jesus.  Our salvation hinged on the safety of God’s people in the days of King Darius.  What a God we have!  Aren’t that you glad that our God is sovereign?  That our God is in control?  That our God is the Master of every situation?  That our God is working all things together for your good?  How comforting to be able to rest in that abiding truth that the Bible proclaims in Romans 8:28,“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

b) Provision Was To Be Unlimited.

In verse 8, Darius in effect says not only are you to stop hindering the work, you are to help it along. You are to keep the taxes that you gather over there on that side of the river, instead of sending them over here to Persia, you are to give the money “immediately to these men, so that” the rebuilding of the Temple is not hindered.”  What a decree this was.  People who once hindered the work are now helping the work.  We must remember that . . .

This God the God

Of overruling providence

Is our God.

To the believers at Philippi Paul’s imprisonment seemed to be disastrous yet he writes in Philippians 1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” 

Paul recognized the over-ruling

Providence of God in his daily life.

Do you?  Do you see the God who is ordering all your affairs?  The God who has promised to meet your needs?  The Bible says in Philippians 4: 19, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Our needs are as many as our moments.  When we can count the sands of the Sahara we may guess the number of our needs.  From the cradle to the grave we are simply a bundle of needs.  Needs known and unknown crowd in upon us in a thousand different ways.  Who is sufficient for them?  God.  When you cannot see your way clear, remember God will show you the way; when no one takes note of your needs, remember God not only sees your needs but will supply all your needs; when there is no other source to supply your need, remember that God has promises to supply your every need!

c) Prayer Was To Be Unconstrained.

Verse 10 says, “pray for the life of the king and his sons.”  Here we see . . .

The desire of the sovereign


The duty of the servants.

Did Darius acknowledge Jehovah as the supreme God and yet worship other deities?  Or was this an act of political expediency?  He had recently defeated Egypt, and therefore it was necessary to have loyal subjects so close to Egypt, a difficult country to control.  Whatever his motive, Christians are commanded by God in 1 Timothy 2:2 to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”  The request for quiet and peaceful lives is not a selfish desire, but rather a request so that circumstances might be conducive for the spread of the Gospel.  Here is a pagan king with little if any understanding of the true and living God asking for prayer for him and his family.  When someone has reached out a hand and asks me to, “Please, pray for me.”  I treat such requests seriously and use it as an opportunity to witness to God’s presence, care, and ability to work in whatever situation and to sow the seeds of the Gospel.  Do you believe that God answers prayer?  Is prayer a reality to you?  It is not talking into the air, but holding fellowship with a personal, loving, heavenly Father.

d) Punishment Was To Be Unparalleled.

Verse 11 tells us Darius decree’s that anyone who messes with the work of the Lord that he be hung on timber from his own house.  His edict was fulfilled in other ways.  Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple during the Maccabean period, and Herod the great altered it with a view to glorifying himself. Both of these men were smitten by an awful disease and died in great agony.  The Romans utterly destroyed it in A. D. 70, but in so doing, sealed their own doom, and that mighty empire today is but a memory.  Who says that God is not in control? Who says that God is not working our His sovereign purpose?  God is still on the throne!  The Bible says in Daniel 4:17, “The most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will.” 

3) Celebration: That Has To Do With Their Worship.

Verse 15 tells us the temple was completed in 515 BC.  The construction was started about 535 BC (3:10), so it was over 20 years in building.  Chapters 3 through 6 give us a timeline of this . . .

Chapter 3: The Building Commenced.

Chapter 4: The Building Ceased.

Chapter 5: The Building Continued.

Chapter 6: The Building Completed.

It was completed in the month Adar (March), the last month of the Jewish year.  The temple was completed.  In following the example of King Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:1, they dedicated it to the Lord. It was a time of celebration.  A time when they worshipped the Lord . . .

a) Joyfully.

Verse 22 shows us why, “For the Lord had made them joyful.”  What a contrast this was to the despondency of the previous years.  The word “joy,” had not occurred since verse 13 in chapter 3 many years earlier.  

We can be so preoccupied with our problems

That we forget to thank God for His gifts to us,

His care of us . . . His presence with us . . .

His purpose through us.

The word for “joy,” has the meaning of “enjoying yourself.”  That is not the usual idea people have of Christians and the worship of God is it?  Yet, do you remember the early church?  Of them we read in Acts 2:46-47, “They …. did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart praising God.”  Where has the joy gone in our corporate worship?  In the early days the believers were so filled with joy that even when they were taken and thrown into prison, Acts 116:25 says they, “Sang praises unto God.”  Today, in a lot of churches, you can hardly get a “praise the Lord” or “hallelujah.”

b) Sacrificially.

When we compare the sacrifices at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 8:63 with the sacrifices at the dedication of Zerubbabel’s Temple, those of the returned exiles seem few indeed. Solomon offered 22,000 cattle compared with the 100 bullocks offered here.  Some would argue that Solomon was a very wealthy man.  Although these Jews were not poor (1:5-8 2:66-67) their giving could not match Solomon’s.  But don’t get caught up in the figures.  The Bible tells us that God wants us to give out of love and as He has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2).  In other words, each of us should be setting aside a sum of money in keeping with our income.  I personally favor the tithe and offerings as a way to handle this.  The important thing is, have you established the principle of stewardship in your heart and in your home?  You might ask, “preacher what should motivate us?”  Verse 17 mentions “the sin offering.”   The people offered the sin offering not only because of the need to atone for their sin but to acknowledge their gratitude and joy in the reality of that forgiveness.  For us, it is not the sin offering of dead animals but the offering of our loving Savior who gave Himself as an atonement for our sin at Calvary that motivates us.  When we look to Calvary, how can we hold back from giving to God?

c) Biblically.

Verse 17 tells us the people we instructed to do this, “As it is written in the book of Moses” (Exodus 28:29; Leviticus 8-9.  

Their main concern was to

Know what God had said,

What God had directed.

Notice also they kept the Passover (Verse 19.  Each year the Jewish men were required to make three trips to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16).  During the years in exile, how the hearts of the Jews must have yearned for the day when once again they were free to go to their Holy City and worship God.  Passover of course was a memorial feast.  In it they were acknowledging the fact they were a redeemed people.  Christians today do this in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  The Bible teaches that his ordinance is a time to remember and reflect upon what Jesus has done for us through the cross and the empty tomb.  1 Corinthians 11:24-26, “’… this is My body which is broken, for you; this do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner he also took the cup after super, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.”  They were obedient to their Lord’s command.

d) Unitedly.

Verse 17 shows us that representatives of all the tribes were present, and the full nation was still viewed as consisting not of two, or ten, but of twelve tribes.  There is a false ecumenism that is condemned in Scripture (Ephesians 5:11); there is a true unity which is commended in Scripture.  The body of Christ, the church was brought into being by the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (1 Corinthians 12:13).  Today, believers experience that baptism at conversion and are incorporated into the Body of Christ, which is the church.  We are not simply a collection of individuals, we are members one of another because we are members together in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4).  Do you recognize this oneness?  Do you seek to nurture it in the bond of peace?  What a day of celebration this was.  Notice finally, they worshipped God . . .

e) Purposefully.

Verse 21 tells us the people, “… separated themselves from the filth of the nations.”  The focus here is upon the attempt to have purity of heart.  Verse 21 also tells us the people did it, “to seek the Lord God of Israel.”   The focus here is upon their intensity of spirit.  It is a like a precious young girl who is in love and getting ready to be married.  She is so in love with her husband to be, she separates herself from all others, because she has only eyes for the one to whom she has pledged her life.  When you come to worship the question is, “How have you come?” 

  • You should come to contemplate His faithfulness.
  • You should come with preparation of heart.
  • You should come with intensity of spirit.

How easy it is to settle into the routine of worship and to chat before and after about anything other than Him!  How do you come?  The Bible specifically tells us how we are to come in Psalm 27:3-5, Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or who shall stand in His holy place?  He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.  He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God Working Through His People: Ezra 5:1-17 – The Result Of Being Challenged And Encouraged By God

Grace For The Journey

  Two men who lived in New York City decided that they had it with city living.  They bought a ranch in Texas in order to live off the land like their ancestors.  The first thing they decided they needed was a mule.  They went to a neighboring rancher and asked him if he had a mule to sell for ploughing.  The rancher answered, “No I am afraid not.”  They were disappointed but one of them saw some honey dew melons stacked against the barn and asked, “What are those?”  The rancher seeing that they were city slickers, decided to have some fun. “Oh,” he answered “those are mule eggs.  You take one of those eggs home and you wait for it to hatch and you’ll have a mule.”  The two men from New York were overjoyed at this so they bought one of the melons and headed down the bumpy country road toward their own ranch.  Suddenly they hit a large bump on the road, and the melon bounced out of the back of the pickup truck, hit the road, and burst open.  Seeing what happened in his mirror the driver turned the truck around to see if he could retrieve his mule egg. Meanwhile a big old Texas jackrabbit came hopping by and saw the melon burst in the road.  He hopped over to it and standing in the middle of that mess he began to eat.  Then along came the men from New York.  One of them shouted, “Our mule egg has hatched let’s get our mule.”  But seeing those two men run towards it, the jackrabbit took off hopping in every direction with the two men in hot pursuit. They gave everything they could to catch it but finally they could go no further.  Gasping for breath one of them said to the other, “Well I guess we lost our mule.”  The other nodded and said, “Yeah, but you know, I am not sure I wanted to plough that fast anyway.”  

Let me ask you as you begin this new session, “How committed are you?”  It was Jonathan Edwards who said, “I go to preach with two propositions.  First, every person ought to give his life to Christ.  Second, whether or not anyone else gives Him his life I will give Him mine.”  That is commitment.  It was the Lord Jesus who said in John 17:4, “Father I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You gave me to do.”  That is commitment.  Today, however commitment is a bad word, especially in the local church.   I heard of a pastor who met one of his delinquent members and said, “I haven’t seen you in church much lately.”  “No,” he said, “you know how it’s been.  The children have been sick, and then it’s rained, rained, and rained.”  The pastor said, “Well it’s always dry at church.” “Yes,” the member said “ that’s another reason why I haven’t been coming.”  The mood of God’s people at this time was one of apathy and indifference.  Can you imagine the scene at this building site in Jerusalem?  Fifteen years have passed since any work has been done.  The weeds and thorns have grown over the foundation of the temple, and the general impression is one of desolation and neglect. But then Darius I ascended the Persian throne and suddenly with the opening of chapter 5 the scene changes dramatically with the emergence of two very powerful preachers.  In essence their message was, “Let’s get going again.”  The first thing we see from this passage, is . . .

1) The Instruction From God’s Word.

Verse 1 of says, “Then the prophets …. Prophesied.”  Harry Ironside draws a picture of the biblical prophet when he says “the true prophet is the one whose words come from heaven to men on earth, searching the heart, reaching the conscience, and exposing the evil that may have come in.”  Though preaching, which requires study, is different from prophecy a direct message from God, Ironside’s words are a good “job description,” of the preacher’s task in these days.

The means that God used to get the

Work going again was the Word.  

Never underestimate the power of

The faithful preaching of God’s Word.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot help feeling that the man who preaches the Word of God is standing, not on a mere platform, but on a throne.”  God’s people needed “stirring again,” and God raised up two men to faithfully minister the Word of God.  In these verses we notice . . .

a) It Was Powerful.

Verse 1b says they prophesied “in the name of the God of Israel.”  

They were sent from God,

Equipped by God,

Walked with God,


Preached for God.

These two men Haggai and Zechariah were different.  

Haggai had his feet on the ground,

Zechariah had his head in the clouds.

Haggai is pretty plain spoken.  He sees everything in black and white.  Zechariah is more of a dreamer.  You will read about his visions for the future.  But . . .

God used these preachers

Who were distinctly different

To challenge His people

To resume the work again.

The church always needs preachers with fearless courage who can inspire believers with far reaching vision for the cause of God. In the local church there will often be a variety of spiritual leaders with a diversity of gifts that ought to be used for the building up of the believers. Stephen Olford used to say, that “God does not deal in duplicates he only makes originals.”  Aren’t you glad about the different gifts that God has given to this church?  Yet, all will be unfruitful without the favor of God.

b) It Was The Right Time.

If anyone during those fifteen odd years had raised the question, “Do you not think we ought to do something about starting work on God’s house again?” the people would have said, “No, the time is not right.”  They would have come up with all sorts of excuses as to why the time was not right.  A spirit of apathy and indolence had crept over them from which they could not seem to rouse themselves, and so the work of God remained at a standstill.  This was not something unique to the Jews of that time.  For most of my ministry I have heard different believers say, “It is not a good time to be or do something for God.  When the right time comes, then all will be different.”  Somehow, the right time never seems to come.  Perhaps you no longer attend public worship as regularly as once you did.  Maybe you are not seen as often at the prayer meeting or the Bible Class.  Could it be that you are no longer consistent in your personal prayer time and the reading of the Word?  You do have time to make excuses . . .

  • The time is not just right.
  • The economy is bad.
  • The family are demanding.
  • I am just so tired.

Vance Havner said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.”  When you talk about evangelism and winning people to Christ, there are some who say, “It is not the right time to do that.  It is hard to win folk to the Lord.  We are living in the last days.  Wait till there is more unity in the assembly.”  Is this not the way we talk?  No, hurry about the Lord’s work, no urgency about prayer, plenty of time to do everything but the Lord’s business.  If Christians ran their business the way they run God’s work they would be out of business.  The cults put us to shame with their enthusiasm and zeal and we stand among the ruins of the temple and say, “the time is not come.”  The Lord Jesus says in John4:35, “Say not there are yet four months and then comes harvest?  Behold I say unto you, ‘lift up your eyes and look on the fields they are white already to harvest.’”  This instruction from God’s Word. 

c) It Was Needful.

The attitude of mind that paralyzed the workers and hindered the work was challenged by the servant of God.  Haggai chided them in Haggai1:14 for saying the time is not right to build the Lord’s house.  But he noticed they had plenty of time for building and refurbishing their own houses with decorative paneling and other extras.  Not that it was wrong in any sense for the people to furnish their homes tastefully, and to provide themselves with certain comforts.  The point Haggai was making was that these things had taken over their lives and had become more important to them than the things of God.  You see, their sense of priorities had become distorted, and as a result the Lord had withheld His blessing (Haggai 1:5-6).

Someone has defined worldliness as “That state in which our thinking is governed by the mind and outlook of the world.”  That is what happened in Paul’s day.  He wrote to the church at Philippians 2:20-21, “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.  For all seek their own interests not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” AsPaul looked around him in Rome the general attitude of believers was a self-seeking spirit that delegates the Lord Jesus to second place.  Living for time instead of eternity, living for self instead of for God, living for the temporal, instead of the eternal.  You can see how easily this happens to us.  Our homes and families, our jobs and careers, our interests and pleasures, can all displace and jeopardize the work of God in our lives to the extent that the Lord Himself becomes marginalized.  Is this, what has happened to you?  Has your life become so cluttered with other things that the Lord is now secondary?  Do you not take time for reflection on the things of God?  Does the Lord have to compete with all these other things to get a foothold in your life?  Are you beginning to see how relevant this instruction from God’s Word was?

d) It Was Helpful.

Fifteen years have passed between chapter 4 and 5.  It is not until the Word of God is proclaimed by Haggai and Zechariah, that the work of the temple begins again.  

The Word of God began the work (1:1)

And now the Word of God would

Encourage the workers

To finish the work (6:14).

God’ servants not only challenged the people, but they encouraged the people. These two prophets who were sent by the Lord encouraged the Jews by reminding them of . . .

1. The presence of God: Haggai 2:4, “For I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

2. The provision of God: Haggai 2:8, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

3. The purpose of God: Zechariah 4:9, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, his hands shall also finish it.”

The people came to feel like things were depressing indeed, but the people were encouraged to know that then with God all things are possible.  Could it be that you are weary in the work of God?  Is the feeling of discouragement ruling your life?  There are Monday mornings when I am ready to call it a day.  There are Sunday nights when Sunday School teachers are ready to quit.  There are pastors grow weary of the constant moaning of the people.  There are deacons who are tired of their duties.  Then the Word of the Lord comes to us and reminds us of . . .

1. The presence of God: “I am with you.”

2. The provision of God: “I labored more abundantly than them all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Corinthians


3. The purpose of God: that though the powers of darkness assail, Christ will build His church.

There is something else to notice about this instruction . . .

e) It Was Fruitful.

It is truly amazing how the Word of God can transform people – we see that in verse 2. This discouraged and fearful people were changed into warriors who wielded trowels in the battle to build for the glory of God.  

They responded Promptly.

In less than a month after Haggai had poured out his heart and delivered his message (Haggai 1:1,14) the people had resumed the work.  When God’s Word stirs you, do you obey promptly obey it, or are you merely a sermon taster, just a “hearer of the Word” (James 1:22).

They responded Properly.

Zerubbabel, the civic leader, and Jeshua the spiritual leader, take the initiative.  The preachers were not afraid to dirty their hands.  Verse 2 says, “So Zerubabbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.”   (verse 2).  Some pastors and elders think they are above getting their hands dirty.  These the leaders took the initiative and lead in the work of God.  Do you see here the effect of God’s Word?  The work resumed.  The preaching of Martin Luther brought about The Reformation, the preaching of John Wesley produced a spiritual awakening in Great Britain, the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people of God to resume the work of God.

2) The Investigation of God’s Work.

Verse 3 tells us, “At the same time . . .”  We see the same old enemy is still at work.  As a Persian official, Tatnai was concerned about what the Jews were doing in Jerusalem.  No doubt he was well within his rights, for it was his responsibility to protect the interests of King Darius and the welfare of the empire and see to it that peace and security were maintained.  Yet, I believe it was Satan working behind scenes . . .

When God works,

Satan immediately


He worked through . . .

a) Discouragement From Without.

Verses 3 and 4 tell us this attempt to discourage focused on two questions: (1) “Who has commanded you to build this temple and finish this wall?” and (2) What are the names of the men working on the building?  “Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building.”  It is interesting to note that there was no opposition to the Jews all through those years when they were building their own houses, and pursuing their own interests, but immediately when they start rebuilding the house of God, the Devil shows his hand.

Do you know something?  If you as a believer settle down in this old world, and love the temporal rather than the eternal, the things of time, rather than the things of God, the Devil will leave you alone.  But the moment you are “stirred,” by the Word of God to do the work of God, you will feel the heat of opposition.  You see, Satan never gives up in his efforts to frustrate the ongoing work of God in the world. Many Christians do not seem to recognize that.  Have you fallen into the trap of thinking that you are finished with the Devil because you gained a victory over him at some time?  Satan never gives up.  He will always come back to attack.  We are in a constant battle with the forces of evil at work in this world.  Someone has said, “That battle goes from one circumstance to another, from age to age and from generation to generation.”  It will never cease until the final battle, when the Lord Jesus comes in power and great glory and destroys the Devil and all his works.  That is why Peter urges us in 1 Peter 5:5, “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.”

There was also . . .

b) Encouragement From Above.

Conjunction in the Bible are very important.  Verse 5 declares, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them to cease …”  Here is a wonderful truth . . .

When you are sent

By the Word of God,


When you are under the

Care of the eye of God,

You can be sure that work

Of God is going to get down.

This shows us that it was . . .

1. God That Prompted Them.

Not only to commence the work – 1:5

But to continue the work – 5:2

And to complete the work –  6:22.

Here were people working in the realization that the eye of eternity was upon them. The Bible says in Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”   I have no doubt that those who compete in sports at the level of the Olympic Games are inspired by the presence of the applauding multitudes.  

The thought God’s all seeing eye

Is upon you should inspire

You to greater heights,

Incite you to greater efforts,


Encourage you to greater service.

This shows us further . . .

2. God That Protected Them.

Scholars tell us that the reference to “the eye of God,” may be a play on words because the Persian civil inspectors were known at that time as “the king’s eye.”’  This comparison speaks volumes to the children of Israel, but to us as well . . .

  • The Persians had an earthly eye on them, but the people of God had an eternal eye on them.
  • The Persians had a human eye on them, but the people of God had a heavenly eye on them.
  • The Persians had a wicked eye on them, but the people of God had a watchful eye on them.
  • The Persians had a deadly eye on them, but hallelujah the people of God had a divine eye on them.

God was their shield and defense.  That is why the work of God could not stop.  This is such great truth!  Have you become disheartened in the cause of Christ?  Be encouraged by the realization that the eye of God is on you!  Let this truth challenge you and create in you a spirit of surrender to the Lord God Almighty knowing that no sinful habit, shady deal, bitter spirit, carnal attitude, unforgiving disposition will interfere with what God sees it.  The Bible says in Psalm 33:18, “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him.”  This is a picture of God’s watchful providence over us.   

God is watching over you . . .

God is working for you . . .

God has His eyes on you.

He loves you so much He cannot take His eyes off you.

3) The Information On God’s Will.

This is what the rest of the chapter.  Verses 13 and 17 tells us that Tatnai writes to Darius, giving him a complete report of the work at Jerusalem, and asking him for information concerning the decree of Cyrus.  In Ezra 1:1 we are told what  the decree of Cyrus was – That the Jews leave Babylon go to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  Tatnai did not realize it, but he was asking the king to supply him with information about God’s will for His people.  Now the information that was sought centered around . . .

a) God’s Work.

Verse 8 is the beginning of the letter that he sent to king Darius, “Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being build with heavy stones, and timber is being laid in the walls; and this work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.”  There are two words in this verse that are worth highlighting.  They are: “This work.”  They may have sent this letter in malice, but . . .

It testified not only to

The greatness of God,

But to the greatness of the

Work that was being done.

“This work,” was God’s work.

And it was being done . . .

1. Conscientiously.

This is the gist of verse 8.  God’s work must be done in God’s way by God’s people for God’s glory.  Are you interested in “this work?”   Are you involved in “this work?”  What way are you doing “this work?”  Pastors, church leader, are you doing “this work,” conscientiously, or we are just a pastor or leader in name only, but not in nature?   It is all part of “this work,” and “this work,” is God’s work.

It was also being done . . .

2. Urgently.

The sense of the words in verse 8 speak of this.  Inspired by the preaching of the prophets and encouraged by the example of the leaders, the Jews worked zealously and urgently.  I wonder at times have we lost the note of urgency in the Lord’s work?  Someone has rightly said, “Soon will the season of rescue be o’er, soon will we stand on eternity shore.”

This work was also being done . . .

3. Effectively.

Verse 8 ends with, “… and prospers in their hands.”  Without God they could not get the work done, but with God they were more than able to do it!  That is what we as we step out into the next verses.

b) God’s Workmen.

We notice in verses 9-10 that when the people were asked, “… Who commanded you to build this temple and to finish these walls?”  That the people answered in a way that allowed them to tie their work with their witness is something that we should not miss.  Verse 11 says, “The are servants of the God of heaven and earth and we are rebuilding the temple …”  There are two phrases in verse 11 that are worth underscoring – (“servants of the God of heaven and earth” and “we are rebuilding the temple.”)  

They knew who they were,

They knew what they believed

They knew what they were doing,


They took opportunity to share

The Good News about

God’s redemption plan.

How important it is to realize that we are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and that we are a part building a spiritual temple out of the ruins of fallen humanity.  Their response drives home several truths . . .

1. Humility – “… servants,” listening to our Master’s voice, learning at our Mater’s feet, leaning on our Master’s arms, “ servants.”

2. Dignity – “… of the God of heaven and earth.” Is any service more honorable than God’s?

3. Responsibility – “… and build the house …,” not a material temple, but a spiritual temple which requires all to know about and accept.

We build realizing that the eye of God is ever upon us and responding to opportunities to share the Good News of God with others.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God Working Among His People: Ezra 4:1-24 – Operation Counter-Attack

  It is an often a repeated truism that where God is at work then Satan will be at work as well.  Whenever God initiates a spiritual work there is bound to be resistance.  This is exactly what happened in our passage today.  The euphoria of the foundation stone laying ceremony had hardly died down before their enemies launched an attack.  When God begins to move in power, the devil begins to move in resistance.  That is why I have titled our study today in chapter four “Operation Counter-Attack.”  Those who you who are familiar with church history will realize that this is exactly what happened after the 16th century Protestant Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church responded to the action of the reformers with what was known as “The Counter Reformation.”  Four critical events took place that were instruments Rome used against the Reformation . . . 

1)   The Jesuits were founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534.  The Jesuits were permitted “to do evil that good may come,” holding that “the end justifies the means.”  In the Church of the Jesuits in Rome there is a plaster cast depicting Loyola with his foot triumphantly placed on the neck of Protestantism.  

2)   The Roman Catholic Church began to tighten up on things and initiated a number of moves to get try and regain ground that had been lost.  In 1545 Pope Paul the Third called for the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which was the most authoritative of all Roman Councils.  It was at this Council that the position of the Roman Catholic Church was reaffirmed.  Papal authority, the place of tradition, and all the other teachings of Rome were underscored.  It was this council that declared that both the Bible and tradition contained the Word of God, that the two are of equal authority, and that it is the duty of every Christian to accord them equal respect.

3)   The Inquisition, which according to Baker was “for investigation and punishment of those who hold erroneous doctrines.”  The total number of victims of the Inquisition has been calculated to have been between 50 and 68 million.

In one way or another the Roman Catholic Church won back some of the territory that had been lost during the Reformation.  This was not an ecclesiological batter but a spiritual battle.  While God is a builder, Satan is a destroyer.  God’s purpose is to build up and edify, Satan’s purpose is to tear down and destroy.  Every time God begins to build, you can be sure that the Devil will begin to battle. Opportunity and opposition usually go together, and the greater the opportunity, the greater the opposition.   The Apostle Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 16:9, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me and there are many adversaries.”  Opportunity and opposition always go together, and that is exactly what we find in our study of chapter four today.

As we begin our study, we notice . . .

1) The Antipathy To God’s People.

Verse 4 states, “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel.”  The “the adversaries,” that suggests, “antipathy, hostility, opposition.”  

This verse tells who they were . . .

a) Their Identification.

We get a clue about this in verse 2 where the writer talks about “Esar-haddon king of Assur.”  In the British Museum is a large cylinder and inscribed on it are the annals of  Esar-haddon, an Assyrian king who deported a large population of Israelites from Palestine.  These were the ten tribes who went into exile into Assyria in 722 BC.  Then the King of Assyria sent some of his own people to colonize the depopulated areas.  These Assyrians intermarried with the Jews who were left in Israel creating a mixed population, who became known as Samaritans.  The result was a mixture of true and false religion.  The Bible says in 2 Kings 17:33, “They feared the Lord and served their own gods.”  It was a kind of syncretism that could have diluted the identity of God’s people.  The Bible says in Exodus 20:3-4, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  There is but one true and living God and true Biblical Christianity is exclusive.  It excludes every false religion.  This note of clarity not needed today.  With the influx of different nationalities there comes different religions, different cultures, and different standards.  We need to be clear and firm as to the true Gospel.  We are living in an atmosphere where people are saying, “All religions are good and what we need to do is to have a cafeteria approach, and pick a little from this one, and a little bit from that one and just mix them all together.”  The word for it is syncretism, mixing all religions together.  My word for it is rubbish. There is only one true God, one true Savior, and one true Authority – the Bible.

This verse tells what they wanted . . .

b) Their proposition.

Verse 2 tells us the opposition says, “Let us build with you for we seek your God as ye do.”  This was an offer of help, of cooperation in this great work of building the house of God. It so subtle and dangerous.  If these outsiders had begun to mingle with the Jewish remnant, it would not have been long before the two groups to started socializing and intermarrying, and that was contrary to the law of Moses

(Exodus 34:10-17; Deuteronomy 7:1-11 12:1-3).  Israel was a nation set apart from the other nations (Numbers 23:9) because God had given them a special task to perform in the world (Genesis 12:1-3) and if they were corrupted, the success of their God given ministry would have been jeopardized.  They would have led the Jews back into idolatry again.  The proposition was a temptation to overlook their differences.  They may differ on their commitment to Who God was and what the Bible taught, but they could still compromise for the sake of the common good.”  

This proposal was on . . .

(1) A Leadership Level.

God’s people were faced with a group who wanted to join in with the work of building the temple at Jerusalem, but at the expense of compromising biblical truth.  According to verse two, these were people who were worshipping God, who were friendly and courteous, and who wanted to share in the building of God’s temple.  This appeared to make them acceptable as fellow believers and workers.  What was wrong with doing that?  Just this – They worshipped other gods.  On a church level today, we are told to “disregard our differences, join together on a common platform, and forget about clear and critical biblical doctrine.”  This is subtle and yet dangerous.

This proposal was also on . . .

(2) A Personal Level.

Do you ever hear the voice of the Devil whispering in your ear, “Do not be so strict and rigid in your faith.  You could win more friends and influence more people if you would relax your convictions and be more accepting?”  Sometimes he uses the voices of those in our families who are unsaved.  I wonder have you heard those voices recently, “Can you not tone down your convictions?  Can you not give a little in your Christian faith?  Can you not be more tolerant of other faiths?  Why are you so narrow-minded and dogmatic?  Why are you so exclusive?  Who do you think you are anyhow?”  Do you see something interesting here?  These “adversaries,” were amicable until the people of God answered with a differing opinion.

Notice . . .

c) Their Opposition.

Do you see what happened when God’s people stood there ground and said “No?”  Verse 4 tells us . . . This opposition was . . .

1. Purposeful.

Before leaving Babylon the hands of the remnant had been strengthened (Ezra 1:6) by all those whose spirit God had stirred, but now back in Jerusalem, the people of the land were working against them as Satan worked up a spirit of opposition.  The word “discourage,” in the Hebrew contains the meaning of “to weaken the hands.”  

They were determined to undermine the work.

What did they do?  

They demoralized the workers.

The word “troubled,” in verse 4 suggests that they actually terrorized them.  They employed tactics that struck fear into the hearts of the builders, and they did this to such a degree that the entire enterprise was brought to a standstill.

 I wonder, because of God’s work in you and because of God’s work through you, are you feeling the heat of opposition?  The Lord Jesus warned us did He not when He said in John 15:19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”  Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”  Sometimes Satan comes . . .

As the serpent to deceive (4:2)

And when that fails,

he comes as the

Lion to devour (4:4).

He will use friends and family, times of joy and sadness, times when things are going well with us, and times when circumstances are against us. 

Always his aim is the same,

to undermine the work of God

and to crush the people of God.

Notice further, their opposition was . . .

2. Professional.

Verse 5 tells us that, “they hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose …”  They employed professional help.  These were corrupt Persian officials who were offered monetary inducement to thwart the plans of God.  The devil will do anything in his power to stop the work of God.  Make no mistake about, Satan is out to get you.

d) Their Accusation.

From verses 6 through 23 we have a parenthesis.  This a passage inserted into this chapter that needs to be marked off.  

Ezra 4:1-5 and 4:24-5:2 deal with

Rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel,

While Ezra 4:6-23 recounts the history of

Opposition in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.  

In movies there is often a “flashback,” to some incident in the past.  In these verses we have a “flash forward,” to events which take place several years later.  Why does Ezra, bring in these events at this time, since it breaks the continuity of the story of building the temple?  For one simple reason . . .

To show us the constant hatred

Of those who oppose God’s work.

Ezra shows us in these verses what the nature of opposition was at this time?  The Bible identifies it for us in verse 6, “… they wrote an accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.”  That letter contained four charges against the Jews . . .

1. Jerusalem is a rebellious city: 4:12.

2. They will stop paying taxes: 4:13.

3. The king will not be given the proper respect: 4:14.

4. The king will lose control of territory: 4:16.

These people were doing the devil’s work.  If you make a serious study of the Word of God on how Satan is described, you will get the picture . . . 

  • In Mark 14:56 and 64, he is accused the Lord Jesus of blasphemy.
  • In Job 1:11, Satan accused Job of serving God out of self-interest.
  • In Revelation 12:10, he is described as “the accuser of our brethren.”
  • In Acts 6:13, Satan accused Stephen of blasphemy.

It is important for us to realize that if the devil cannot get us outwardly, he will seek to get us inwardly.  Do you know how he does it?  He will accuse you through your conscience.  He will attack your motives, he will remind you of your weakness, he will tell you that you are a hypocrite or a failure, he will suggest that God’s grace in your life is not real.  He never gives up.  

2) The Answer Of God’s People.

How encouraging it is to see their bold, courageous, and uncompromising stand.  I love how the Bible puts it in Philippians 1:27b-28, “… that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries …”  We, as God’s people today, need Holy Spirit boldness and courage to take our stand against any person, church, or social group that would encourage compromise of biblical beliefs in order to cooperate in any work.  We need to do it courageously, graciously, and firmly.

Notice that . . .

a) They responded negatively.

Verse 3 shows us they said, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel …”  Those of a liberal and ecumenical persuasion would think that Zerubbabel and the leadership were terribly intolerant to refuse this offer of help from the Samaritans who after all were not godless people, and genuinely wanted to help in building God’s house.  But their stand was uncompromising, for they realized that . . .

Such cooperation would

Undermine the work of God.

The question is . . .

Can we maintain

A Biblical Gospel

And stand together

With those who do not?

The answer is no.  Like the Samaritans, people today may outwardly appear to be Christians, they may be friendly and courteous, they may want to help in the building of God’s spiritual house; but like the Samaritans, there are other ingredients in their faith that we must take into account . . .

  • They deny the total inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
  • They dislike any preaching on hell and judgment.
  • They decry the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus.
  • They denounce the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead.
  • They declare that there are other ways to God beside Jesus alone.

Charles Spurgeon used to describe this kind of believing and preaching as . . .

Using bits of the Bible

As coat hangers on

Which to hang a

Few moral platitudes.

The Bible is very clear on this . . .

  • In Galatians 1:8 the Bible says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
  • In Jude 3 the Bible says we should, “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

I believe this should be every Bible-believing, Bible preaching church’s official position to the ecumenical movement . . .

We stand outside it,

We stand against it,

We stand opposed to it.

For the Bible says in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed.”  That does not only go for church matters, but for personal matters, for matrimonial matters, and for social matters.  Many a believer has weakened his testimony through an unequal yoke, a secret society, or an unrighteous business partnership.  There is no question about where they stood.

b) They Responded Positively.

In verse 3, Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses said, “But we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel …”  Zerubbabel could have said, “Seeing as you will be only be mixing mortar, digging the foundation, hauling rubble away, and working with carpentry and masonry I suppose we could use you.”  But he did not do that.  Why?  Because . . .

This great enterprise that

They were engaged in,

Every facet of it is God’s work,

And the Lord’s work does not

Need the help of the world.

The same is true today . . .

  • We do not need the world’s money.
  • We do not need the world’s machinery.
  • We do not need the world’s mentality.
  • We do not need the world’s methods.

The Samaritans proposition was rejected because they did not belong unto the Lord.  Only believers are qualified to serve the Lord. Incidentally, that is another thing we believe in.  We believe in a saved membership.  How tragic for churches to permit into its membership, unconverted people, whose unspiritual thinking will contaminate the whole fellowship.  

God’s work is

To be done

In God’s way

By God’s people

For God’s glory.

The biblical guidelines for being involved in God’s kingdom work is laid out very clearly . . .

  • We must be saved.

Jesus said in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  The Bible tells us what that means: In John 10:9-10, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” … “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly;”  in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me;” Acts 2:36-38, 40b, Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.  Now when they hear this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (because of) the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” … “and with many other words he testified and exhorted the, saying, ‘Be saved from this crooked generation.” and in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

  • We are to be surrendered.

The Bible tells us in Acts 2:41-42, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized” … “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  As they accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, they sought to join themselves with other believers because desired to grow by the learning and living of God’s Word (2 Peter 2:2).  Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.  Amen.”  An identifying mark of a genuine believer in Jesus Christ is their desire to obey the Lord and seek to grow in their understanding and love of Him.

What part are you playing?  Are you saved?  As a believer have you submitted yourself to the Lord and the truth of His Word?  It amazes me how many believers there are who are out there on the peripheral, and have never submitted themselves to the Lord and to learn and live by the teaching of His Word.  That is the responsibility of every local church.  That was the pattern in the early church as taught in passage in Acts 2:41-42 that we just talked about: They “received his word,” that is faith (accepting what God says about Himself, about Jesus, and about our sinful condition and asking Jesus to be our Savior and Lord), they “were baptized,” that is submission (following Matthew 19:20), they were “added,” that is local church membership, and they “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrinte and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” that’s growth.  

Sadly, the chapter ends on a down beat note, for we note,

3) The Apathy In God’s People.

Verse 24 says, “Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease.  Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued till the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”  This verse takes us back to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, back with the main context that has to do with the temple.  Verse 24 follows chronologically after verse 5 and shows us that apathy had crept in amongst the Lord’s people. The result?  The work stopped for and for 15 years not another brick was added to the building.

Two factors contributed to this apathy . . .

a) Harassment From Without.

The constant opposition had taken its toll.  The work of building the house of God ceased.  Perhaps you are thinking, “I thought God was in this, and if God was in a situation it could not be stopped.”  Wait a minute . . . Do not jump to conclusions.  I want to point out to you that delays are necessarily denials. The Bible says in Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you.”  God has a purpose.  Indeed through Isaiah He says, “My counsel shall stand and I do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).  

Satan may temporarily delay God’s work,

But he cannot permanently defeat God’s work.

The Bible tells us about the work of God through the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “We would have come unto, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us.”   

In building the temple, the opposition of the enemy caused the work to halt.  For 15 years nothing was done.  But . . .

The enemies actions

Would not determine

The final outcome,

Only God Himself would.

The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus is reminding us that what God begins He always finishes.

For all outward appearances it seemed that God’s purpose in His Son at Calvary was defeated and that the agents of hell had won the day.  Even those the two disciples in Luke 24:21 on the road to Emmaus thought it was the end of all their hopes, “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.”  Then came Resurrection Day!  Far from being the end of God’s purpose it was the beginning of a new era, the birth of a new church, the dynamic of a new power and continued.  Aren’t you glad that the last word is never with men but with God.

There was also . . .

b) Discouragement From Within.

Verses 23-24 tell us the work ceased.  The immediate cause was opposition from without, but the secondary cause was discouragement from within.  For Haggai, who was a contemporary of Ezra, tells us in his book that the people of God had lost heart and were thinking only of themselves and their own houses.  He said in Haggai 1:2 that the people came to say, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”

1. They lost Heart: the battle was too much.

2. They lost Vision: they went back and put materialism before the things of God.

3. They lost sight of God: For 15 years they had an altar, but the freshness of their first love was gone.

Does this describe where you are today?  Are you on the brink of resigning from some Christian ministry through discouragement?  Are you ready to call it quits?  Some years ago, someone gave me a little verse that said, “It is always too soon to quit.”  Why would you quit?

You have the Word of God before you,

The Christ of God beside you,

The resources of God within you,

The people of God around you,

And the glory of God before you.

The Bible says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not, ( if we do not lose heart.”

Have you lost heart?  Has the battle become to hard?  Have you lost vision?  Are you more caught up with the material than with the eternal?  Have you lost sight of God?   Are the outward trappings are there, but the inward reality of a daily walk with God gone?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth

Will grow strangely dim

In the light of

His glory and grace

This is God Word . . .

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God Working Among His People: Ezra 3:1-13 – Starting Again

 Grace For The Journey

 A kidnapper abducted an eight year old girl one morning.  He drove around the town and surrounding countryside before phoning the family to ask for a ransom.  Without trying to collect any ransom money, the abductor inexplicably released the unharmed girl to her home.  When the offender was finally caught, his family and neighbors were amazed for they had always considered the man to be a model citizen.  Further investigation into his case revealed that the criminal’s fall into delinquency had not been sudden.  There had been a history of a slow build-up of adverse circumstances which led to the crime.  Someone has said that “collapse in the Christian life is seldom a blow out, it is usually a slow leak.”  Is that what it has been with you?  Have you just slowly drifted away from your Christian moorings?  That is how it was with the Jews in Babylon.  For 490 years the land had not rest (Leviticus 25:1-4; 26:32-35).  Think of it, 490 years and no sabbatical years, that is, 70 sabbatical years ignored.  So what did God do?  He sent them into captivity for seventy years.  But now, in the providence of God, they have traveled a distance of some 1,000 miles, been on the road for 4 months, and are now back in the land of promise again.

It is interesting that Ezra wrote nothing about the long trip, or what the Jews experienced during those four difficult months.  It reminds us of Moses description of Abraham and Sarah’s journey into Canaan in Genesis 12:5, “And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan and into the land of Canaan they came.”  Alexander Maclaren says, “It’s a strange narrative of a journey, which omits the journey altogether and notes but its beginning and its end.  Are these not the main points in every life, its direction and its attainment?”  Surely the two most important aspects of your life are the beginning of your life and the ending of your life.  It is important for us to begin well.  That is why I would urge people to come to Christ when you are young.  I was 7 years of age when God worked in my heart and I trusted the Savior.  Do not come to the end of your life and blow the smoke of a wasted life in the face of Jesus Christ.  Come to Christ at the beginning of your life.  But it is also important to end well.  Vance Havner, the great American preacher used to talk about “getting home before dark.”  Do you not want to end well?  It is possible to end with a saved soul and a ruined testimony.  Do you know what our constant prayer should be?  We should pray, “Lord help me, to end well, help me, never to bring shame and dishonor on the lovely name of my Savior.”  

Here the children of Israel are at the end of the journey, they are back in the land.  They have sat by the Tigris and Euphrates and wept when they considered the privileges they had scorned.  They had taken the opportunity to return under Zerubbabel, and contributed to the cost of rebuilding.  Now they were in Jerusalem the spiritual capital of their true homeland.  Can you imagine the depth of feeling they experienced?  Can you try and enter into the very thoughts that must have coursed through their minds? As they stood in a ruined city, before a desecrated temple, in the very place where God had chosen to reveal His glory, there was a new beginning, a glorious opportunity to start over again.  Is that what you need to do?  As a believer, have you lived carelessly, failed miserably, and disobeyed continually?  Thank God, you can start again.  As we look at chapter 3 today, notice,


Verses 2-3 tell us that the altar of God was first.  The altar was the place of worship.  Genesis 13:1 and 4 tells us the place of the altar of God to Abram, “And Abram went up from Egypt” … “to the place of the altar, which he had made at first.  And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.”  I Kings 18:30 tells us what the first thing that Elijah did as he challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, “And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.”  The people had to get back to a right relationship with God through worship and prayer.  Revival always results in worship.  When there is a “stirring,” of the people of God, the result is they will return to the place of worship.  One of the sad things today is that so many people have their names are on church rolls, but seldom if ever darken the door of those churches.  I think of members of our own church family, who are rarely present to worship the Lord with us.  

Here were a people who were determined

To set their worship and lives on

A right footing from the beginning.

Notice, there was . . .

a) A Propriety About This Worship.

Verse 3 tells us, “They offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord.”  These were the most common offerings for sin.  This was an offering that depicted Christ as One who was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).  It speaks of the consecration and devotion of the Lord Jesus.  Christ offered Himself without spot to God.  He died in the sinner’s place and our fellowship with God is based on the sacrifice of the cross.  The altar and the burnt offering answer to the deep cry of man, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God?” (Micah 6:6).  The basis for our worship is Calvary.  There is no other altar.  Christ has been sacrificed once for all (Leviticus 1:4).  Our worship is to be built on the basis of the cross.  Today, ours is a table of remembrance rather than an altar.

  • We look back at what already has been accomplished by the shedding of the precious blood of our Savior.  
  • We look into our hearts to ensure there is no sin harboring.
  • We look up to heaven to where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.
  • We look forward to His return, because we take the emblems, the bread and wine, and remember the Saviour until He comes.

The only altar we build is a biblical understanding of the cross, which is the foundational theology of our worship.

b) An Authority About This Worship.

While our worship is grounded

On the Work of the Cross,

Our worship is to be guided

By the Word of God.

Did you notice the place these returning captives gave to the Word of God ?  Verse 3 tells while the offered the burnt offerings they did so, “… as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God” (See also: Exodus 27:1-8).  They were returning to God’s way of doing things. 

Everything now was to be directed according to the Word of God.  This is how it was before.  In observing the feast of Tabernacles the children of Israel were to do it, “As it is written” (Numbers 29:12-38).  When they laid the foundation of the second temple the accompanying ceremonial was, “after the ordinance of David King of Israel” (Ezra 3:10; 1 Chronicles 15:16-21; 16:4-6).  In other words, whatever they may have practiced in Babylon, whatever their traditional rites and customs, all these had been left behind in the scene of their captivity, and now as they have been delivered and brought back into the land, nothing could satisfy them short of the Word of God.

Our worship must be based on the Word of God, adhering to the principles that He has given to us in His precious Word.  

David discovered that God

Is not only interested

In our motives,

The Lord is interested

In our methods, as well

How we worship Him

(2 Samuel 6:1)

We live in a day and age when so many innovations are being brought into the worship of God, and we need to be careful lest we introduce something for which we have no “Thus saith the Lord.”  Why do we come to worship?  Is it not to worship the Lord? To give unto Him, “glory and honor and power?” (Revelation 4:11). 

There is an attitude in today’s church

That worship is something for us.

It is wonderful to sense the presence of God in our times of worship and it warms our hearts.  But we ought not to come to the Lord with a What can I get out of this time of worship,” attitude.  Worship is primarily about giving to God, not getting from God, and when we do that then we will sense the nearness of His presence.

c) A Regularity About This Worship.

Verses 3 and 4 tells that the people offered, “burnt offerings morning and evening” and “daily burnt offerings.”  Verse 5 says, “Afterwards they offered the regular burnt offering, and those for New Moons, and for all the appointed feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and those of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD.”   In the Old Testament there were five offerings that they people brought and seven feasts that they observed.  Each had a special significance.  For example, the Feast of Tabernacles brought joy to the heart of the people; the burnt offering brought joy to the heart of God.  For these people who were fresh out of Babylon they saw it as a great privilege to engage in corporate worship at the beginning and end of the day.  Verse 6 tells us that the people did this, “although the foundation of the temple of the LORD had not been laid.”  They could not wait until the temple was done – the desire and love for God and desire to meet with and obey God was so great they could delay no longer.  It is sad today that many churches struggle to meet twice on the Lord’s Day.  It is tragic that many professing Christians have replaced the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s half day.  Is it not a sad reflection on the level of our desire and commitment that we give so little of our time to the Lord?  Can you imagine the persecuted church, where meeting together involves risking your liberty and life, spurning such opportunities?

d) A Unity About This Worship.

Did you notice the emphasis on unity as you read these verses in chapter 3?  In the verse 1 we see, “the people gathered;” in verse 9 tells us, they worked  together, verse 10 says they “stood” together, and in verse 11 tells us they worshipped together.”  That is how it was – The many were as one. They gathered together, they stood together, and they worshipped together. Does that not remind you of the early church?  The Bible says in Acts 2:1, “And when the day of Pentecost was come they were all with one accord in one place.”

Indeed the key term in the book of Acts is “one accord.”  We are not just a collection of individuals, we are members together in the Body of Christ.  Paul says in Romans 12:5, “So we, being many, are one Body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”  Do you know how the Body of Christ was created?  The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we bond or free, and have made all made to drink into one Spirit.”  The unifying baptism of the Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost, and every Christian partakes of that baptism at the point of conversion, and so the people of God are made one Body in the Lord, we are one in Christ Jesus.

We are not running around to create a false unity like the ecumenical movement, the unity already exists.  All who are thus united are asked to work toward its maintenance (Ephesians 4:3).  That is something we are not very good at it is it  I heard about two sisters who were always fighting and quarreling.  After one such bout of squabbling their mother broke them up and said, “You are sisters, you ought to love one another.”  There was an unusual silence for a few moments, and then one of the sisters responded, “I know she’s my sister but do I really have to love her; can’t I just like her?”  Do you feel exactly the same way?  How have you come to worship?  Do we come unitedly, harmoniously?  Could it be that you come with an unforgiving spirit, a bitter attitude, and a long standing grievance in your heart?  When we will learn that it is in the place of unity that the Lord commands the blessing even life for evermore (Psalm 133:3)


Here is an important truth . . .

Worship always

Leads us to work.

There is not a dichotomy between worship and work.  

  • Some people put all of the focus on worship and they never get around to working.
  • Others put all the focus on working and they never get around to worshipping.

It is the Mary and Martha syndrome all over again.  Luke 10:39 tells us that Lord Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany and before long the two sisters were preparing a tasty meal.  Things were well under way when Mary seeing no need for further service, “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His Word.”  Martha her mind is on the kitchen.  She is distracted, pulled in different directions.  I can imagine that she running around the kitchen doing several things at the same time.  Then she came to Christ in a huff, “Lord dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve thee alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:40) I just wonder did the Lord smile. He certainly said, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  Do you see what Christ was saying?  

He was saying that worship

Has to come before work.

Your work will never be effective,

Unless your worship is effective.

When you worship the Lord, then you

Will want to work for the Lord.

Notice . . .

a) The Commencement Of The Work.

What work were they going to do?  They were going to lay the foundation of the temple.  Verse 6 says, “But the foundation of the temple was not yet laid,” then look at verse 10, “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord.”  Between verse 6 and verse 10 there is some work going on – The laying of the foundation of that temple.  I do not know much about building, but I do know that foundations are very important.  

  • The foundation of a structure determines the size of the structure.
  • It determines the shape of the structure.
  • It determines the strength of the structure.

Even I understand that if you want to go up, and up, and up, you need first to go down, and down, and down.  Foundations are very important.  That is why the Psalmist says in 11:3. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  There is only one answer that can be done – lay the foundations again.  Is this not what spiritual revival is all about?  Getting back to the foundations of the Christian life and making sure they are solid, the Word of God, Christ, prayer, obedience, and holiness.

We need to ensure that we have a solid foundation for each local church.  We need to ensure that it is founded on the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11); founded on the shed blood of the Savior; founded on the Written Word (Ephesians 2:20).  Do you recall the Savior’s promise in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The house of God in that day was material; the house of God today is spiritual.  It is comforting to know that the future of the church does not depend on important people, fancy gimmicks, or slick programs.  What Christ has begun, He will continue and consummate.  He chooses to use people, that is why we read here not only about the commencement of the work, but about . . .

b) The Commitment Of The Workmen.

Verses 8 and 9 tell us that the workmen had their work to do; so did the priests and the Levites, as well as all the people.  When the building of the Temple got under way there was a division of labor, and a commitment to see the job done.  How thankful we are for those who have gifts and talents to bring into the service of the Lord, but then the Holy Spirit has not left one single believer without some gift to enable or her to serve God. He has “divided to everyone severally according to His will” (1 Corinthians 12:11).  The real question is seldom one of gift or even of opportunity, but rather one of faithfulness and commitment.  Do you recall the question that was put to Naaman in 2 Kings 5:13, “If the prophet had bid you do some great thing would you not have done it?”  It seems that many empty-handed Christians are waiting for the Lord to give them “some great thing,” to do.  However, the Bible teaches that it is by being faithful in that which is least that we are entrusted with some larger service (Matthew 25:21).  Does the fervor of these Old Testament saints put us to shame?  Are you still enthusiastic about the Lord’s work?  Or are you saying, “I have given enough, I have done my bit.”  I am reminded of David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary to Africa, who walked over 29,000 miles.  His wife died early in their ministry and he faced stiff opposition from his Scottish brethren.  However, the words in his diary ought to challenge us, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me.  Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.  Sever me from any tie, but the tie that binds me to your service and heart.” Finally, we see . . .


Verse 13 tells us when the foundation was laid, “ the people shouted with a loud shout and the noise was heard afar off.”  

a) There Was Celebration – They Sang.

Following the example of David, when he brought up the Ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:4) and Solomon when he dedicated the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3), the priests and Levites sang praise to the Lord, and the people responded with a great shout that was heard afar off.  Their singing was reminiscent of Psalm 136:1, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD for He is good!  For His mercy endures forever.” (See verse 11).  The Psalms was the hymnbook of the Jewish people.  In that Book you will find an appropriate Psalm for every experience of your life.  In fact, David wrote the Psalms out of the experiences that he had with God along the way.  Go through the Psalms and learn to sing the praises of God through the experiences of your life.  The Bible says in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  You may not sing well, but it will be well when you sing, because you will be “making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  We listen to the voice, but God listens to the heart, and He wants every heart singing praise to Him. 

b) There Was Lamentation – They Sighed.

Verse 12 tells us that they were weeping.  Why?  Because they had seen the original temple before it was destroyed (586 BC) over fifty years before and the new edifice was nothing in comparison (See Haggai 2:3). These godly old men longed for “the good old days,” but it was the sins of their generation that had caused the fall of the fall of the kingdom to begin with.  

These are people who are

Looking in the wrong direction.

The tendency of the young

Is to look to the future,

The tendency of the old

Is to look to the past.

We can learn from the past, but we are not live in the past.  If you are not careful you will get yourself caught up talking about the “good ole days.”   Like the little girl listening to her Granny reading the great stories of the Bible and saying, “Wasn’t God exciting then, Granny?”  Are you tempted to think that God is no longer exciting, that all His great deeds are in the past?  Are you like these old timers here? Somebody says, “Isn’t this a beautiful foundation we are laying for the temple?”  One old timer speaks up and says, “Sure, but you ought to have been around when we built Solomon’s Temple. This ain’t nothing compared to that.” 

I heard about a man who wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper.  He said, “Your paper is not as good as it used to be.”  The editor wrote under it, “Our paper never was as good as it used to be.”  I have got news for you – God is just as real in 2021 as He was in 1921 and 1951.  

Old saints can either be a help or hindrance to the young.  

Young believers can either be a burden or blessing to the old.  

We need one another as we go forward in the work of the Lord.

Dr. Jerry Vines says, “If you have all old, they’ll bind you up, if you have all young, they’ll burn you up.  What you need is young and old and they’ll build you up.”  Its takes all of us to do God’s work together.  

We certainly cannot ignore the past,

But the past must be a rudder to

Guide us not an anchor to hold us back.

Someone has said, “God’s people are a family, not a family album, they are a garden, not a graveyard covered with monuments to past successes.”  We ought to be singing constantly . . .

I’m pressing on the upward way

New heights I’m gaining every day

Still praying as I onward bound

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground

c) There Was Proclamation – They Shouted.

Vese 13 says, “For the people shouted with a loud voice and the noise was heard afar off.”  This is a bit like Paul and Silas in the prison praying, praising, and preaching where the Bible says in Acts 16:25, “And the prisoners heard them.”  Revival is something God does in His people, evangelism is something God does through His people, and inevitably when revival comes, evangelism occurs, and souls are saved.

Starting Again.  Is that what you need to do?  The first offering that is mentioned as the people begin to rebuild is the burnt offering.  It not only speaks of the total consecration of Christ, it speak of the total commitment of Christians.  There’s an old hymn that begins like this, “Is your all on the Altar of Sacrifice Laid?”  Well is it?  Are you totally sold out to Him?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 2:1-2, 64-70 – Only A List Of Names? Testimonies Of Being Preserved By God, Being Precious To God, And Participating With God.

Grace For The Journey

  Be honest!  What do you do when you come up to a chapter in God’s Word like Ezra Chapter 2?  You have committed to reading methodically and systematically through the Word of God in your quiet time and you come to Ezra Chapter 2, so what do you do?  I do trust that you read and study the Word of God methodically and systematically.  Sometimes, I hear of believers who go in for the “lucky dip,” method of reading the Scriptures.  They just open the Bible anywhere and take that as their daily reading.  If you do that, you might be like the man that I heard about who opened his Bible for his morning dip and was startled by these words, “And he …. went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5).  He was not satisfied with that message for his morning devotions so he opened the Scriptures at random for the second time.  This time the text was “Go and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37).  You can imagine that by time he was getting a little concerned.  He was determined not to give up, so a third time he took a go at “the lucky dip,” method.  This time he was even more startled, for his third reading was “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27).  Be careful about how you read the Word of God. But, if you are committed to reading systematically through the Bible and you come to this chapter, what do you do?  Do you skip over it and go on to (Chapter 3)?  We would prefer John chapter 1 or chapter 14, or Romans chapter 8, or Psalms 23, but Ezra chapter 2?  What significance could it have, it is only a list of names?  Yet there are things here of vital importance for the Christian, otherwise the Holy Spirit would never have moved Ezra to write it.  The Bible reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable ….”  This list (and a similar one in Nehemiah 7:6-69) shows that the returning exiles were the legitimate descendants of the Jews who occupied Israel prior to their deportation to Babylon.

The history of the Bible is redemptive history and such lists are meant to show that God has preserved the chosen people and the promised line of Messiah from generation to generation.  It is important to recall the context of this passage.  The Babylonian captivity has come to an end, and God stirs the heart of a heathen king to accomplish His purposes.  In 538 BC God works in the heart of Cyrus, the King of Persia who issues a decree giving the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  It is interesting that just as the deportation to Babylon had taken place in three stages, so the return of Jews to their homeland took place in three stages:

1. In 538 BC the first remnant returns under Zerubbabel:

2. In 458 BC the second remnant returns under Ezra:

3. In 445BC the third remnant returns under Nehemiah:

There were two Exodus’ in Israel’s history . . .

  • The first Exodus was from Egyptian Captivity – Genesis 15:13.
  • The second Exodus was from Babylonian Captivity – Jeremiah 25:11-12.

In Ezra we see them going home to broken walls, burnt gates, and a desolate temple to start all over again.  The amazing thing was that even after seventy years they were still together.  Here were a people who were . . .


The gift of the land and the preservation of Israel as a distinct nation were tied in with God’s plan to send His Son, the Lord Jesus to be the Savior of the world.  Israel is a remarkable nation.  Israel is God’s covenant people.  Throughout the history of this tiny nation, an invisible hand has been upon her and it is the hand of God.  Israel is the nation that will not go away.  She is an indestructible people (Jeremiah 31:35-37).  Here Judah in the exile was preserved by God.  How?  How were they kept together?  Notice the means that God used. There was . . .

(a) Faithful Preaching.

Ezekiel ministered during the exile.  His name means “strengthened by God.”  He had a prophetic ministry that God had called him to exercise (Ezekiel 3:8-9).  Ezekiel and his wife (Ezekiel 24:15-27) were among 10,000 Jews taken captive to Babylon in the year 597 BC (2 Kings 24:11-18).  For the first six years of his ministry, he preached to the exiles, while Jerusalem was still standing.  Later he had the difficult task of keeping before the generation born in captivity the national sins that led to the exile.  It is worth remembering that the children of Ezekiel’s day were, generally speaking, those in later years who returned to Jerusalem at the end of the seventy-year captivity, a restoration that Ezekiel speaks of in the latter part of his prophecy (Chapters 34-48).  His ministry was very important –

Faithful preaching


The people of God.

Many today think that preaching is a thing of the past or that we do not need a strong emphasis on preaching today.  In these wild, weird, and wicked times the work of the preacher is being rethought, revamped, and re-examined.  Preaching is being pushed from the platform in favor of celebrated experts and entertainers.  In an effort to appeal to people’s interests, the church today emphasizes a great many, different programs, methods, and approaches.

  • Small group activities.
  • Worship services were music and drama get top bill.
  • Musical evenings and Gospel concerts.
  • Seminars on everything from how to have a good marriage on to how run your finances.

Not all of these things may be harmful, and in their proper place may even be helpful.  But . . .

What has been sacrificed

In the flurry of activities

Is preaching.

But the Bible still says, “… How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).  What kind of preaching do we need?  We need the same kind we always needed.  We have a new kind of preacher in some quarters today who dilutes and waters down the Word.  But the Bible says “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

(b) Family ties.

These genealogies had been kept to provide proof that those returning were in fact the descendants of the original Jews who had gone into exile.  This generation-to-generation linkage was important to identify the Jews as God’s covenant people, and especially important to the Messiahship of Christ, as the genealogies of Matthew and Luke make clear.  Behind all of this was the strong emphasis on Jewish family life, which is as important today as it was then.  Do you see what God is doing?  He is using Jewish family life to hold the Jews together.  God was using the warmth of family life to preserve His people.

Recall what God’s law said in Exodus 20:12, “Honor thy father and mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.”  In Deuteronomy 6:6-9 God also instructed Moses to charge His people to bring the Word of God to their children, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gate.” 

What an awesome responsibility

Before God it is to be a parent.  

Being a parent is not just a biological matter,

It is not enough to meet physical needs.

Being a parent is not just an emotional matter,

It is not sufficient to only meet their emotional needs.

Being a parent is a spiritual matter,

You have to meet spiritual needs.

The University of Chicago did a survey of its graduate students asking them where they received their clearest teachings or impressions on religion and morality.  The majority of those students answered they picked up their concepts of religion and morality from the meal-time conversations of their families.  Do you realize that your number one responsibility is to lead those children to know and accept the Savior?  

The Bible says that Noah was, “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).  He preached for 120 years, and the people ridiculed and mocked him..  Yet, one day when the rains of judgment began to fall, the Bible records that Noah, his wife, his sons, their wives all entered into the ark of safety.  

No person is a failure who can lead his family into the ark of safety.

I pray that you are passing on the Word of God to your children.  Is your faith being preserved by this means?

(c) Fearless Men.

Daniel and his three friends were teenagers in the year 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and began his conquest of Judah.  What difficult days they were for these young men . . .

  • There was a challenge to their walk as the king sought to conform them to the ways of Babylon.
  • There was a challenge to their witness as the wise men of Babylon were unable to tell the king his dream and were delivered unto death.
  • There was a challenge to their worship as Nebuchadnezzar demanded that all should bow in worship to his golden image and Darius liked the idea that no-one could pray to any God only to him.  

In Chapter 3 we see Daniel’s three friends were

Standing when everyone else was kneeling. 

In Chapter 6 Daniel was kneeling

When everyone else was standing.

What was the principle that governed their lives?  It was the truth that they learned from the Word of God in 1 Samuel 2:30, “Therefore the LORD god of Israel says, ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’  But now the LORZD says, “Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me hall be lightly esteemed.’”  These young people were encouraged by their parents, friends, neighbors, and nation to honor the Lord, obey the Lord, serve the Lord, live for the Lord, and glorify the Lord.  

Daniel went down to Babylon as a teenager

And he lived to the age of 86,

And he ended his life,

The way he began,

Honoring the Lord.  

Can you imagine

The tower of strength and

Star of hope he brought to

The captives during those

Difficult days of the exile.

They were faithful and fearless men, who had an impact on the rank and file of God’s people.  We see, secondly . . .


I think Dr. Ironside put it best when he said, “Most of the names are for us only names, but God has not forgotten one of the persons once called by these names on earth.”  Think of the pains the children of Israel took to keep a strict record of their families while in captivity, and here . . .

God uses his servant Ezra

Under the inspiration of

The Spirit of God

To pen their names.  

Is that not an indication

That our God is concerned

With us as individuals?

In this we see . . .

(a) Their Identity Made Them Precious To God.

They belonged to Him. The Israelites were a covenant people with an important God-given task to fulfill on earth and they could not allow themselves to be corrupted.  Indeed, we read of some in Ezra who were unsure of their family roots (2:59-63) and thus they were barred from partaking.  As a result, these same people down in Babylon felt that the Lord had forgotten them.  Isaiah had prophesied about this in 49:14, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”  Do you feel that way this morning?  Do you feel that because that trial has crossed your pathway that God does not care?  Do you believe that because your prayers are not answered that the Lord is uninterested?  Do you suppose that because you have been by passed for some promotion that God has forgotten you? Do you not realize that you are making the same mistake that the children of Israel did?  At the very time you are saying “My Lord has forgotten me,” at that moment God is saying, “Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase

Impressed on His heart it remains

In marks of indelible grace

Yes I to the end shall endure

As sure as the earnest is given

More happy but not more secure

The glorified saints in heaven

Recall what the Lord Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them shall not fall to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”  You might not be important in the eyes of the world, but you’re precious in the eyes of God.  God regards you as one of His jewels.  The Bible says in Malachi 3:17, “’They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts.  On the day that I make them My jewels …”  God is saying that each of us are very precious to Him and deeply loved by Him.  Do you realize that’s how God looks on you?  You are very precious and deeply loved!

(b) Their Fidelity Made Them Precious To God.

The total numbered who returned to Jerusalem seemed very small yet they constitute the “ remnant,” who in every age are faithful to God.  Ezra himself, in chapter 9 verse 8, in his most moving prayer speaks of the graciousness of God in permitting a remnant to return to their homeland, “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place …..”   This doctrine of the remnant runs through all of the Scriptures.  It would be a good study for you to search the Scriptures on this subject.   Ezra lists them for us . . .

  • The leaders – (2:2; Nehemiah 7;7)
  • The priests (2:36)
  • The Levites (2:40)
  • The singers (2:41)
  • The children of the porters (2:42)
  • The Nethinims – hewers of wood and drawers of water. (Joshua 9:27)
  • The children of Solomon’ servants. ( 2:55 )

All with a contribution to make.  As Harry Ironside says, “How highly God values all that is done from devotion of heart to Himself and for the glory of His name.”  Could it be that you are experiencing loneliness in being one of God’s remnant?  Maybe in the place you work, in your home, in your school, or in your neighborhood.  Does your stand for truth make you feel isolated?  Can I remind you, that the Lord has others who are faithful to Him, and they are found in shops, business, colleges, and even in government places.  They are the modern equivalent of 7,000 who did not bow the knee to the Baals, the false gods, and wicked rulers of Elijah’s day. These are the remnant who one day will receive the crown of life for their faithfulness.

They are faithful and fearless men and women who have an impact on the rank and file of their world.  We see, thirdly . . .


It is a privilege and honor to be co-workers with the Lord.  Paul speaks about this in 2 Corinthians 6:1, “Being workers together with Him.”  I want to suggest to you that these Jews participated with the Lord . . .

(a) In Their Going.

Do you remember the challenge of Cyrus?  In Ezra 1:3 he said, “Who is there among you of all his people?  Let him go up to Jerusalem.”   Here were a people who had turned their backs on Babylon and set their faces toward Jerusalem.  But why so few?  50,000 was a tiny number to go up to Jerusalem, in comparison with those who had gone down to Babylon.  Why so few?  It might help us to thing of the situation in Israel today.  In 1948, the modern state of Israel was established and immediately Jews began to return from all parts of the world where they had been scattered for nearly two thousand years.  But even so, the population of modern Israel is about 6.2 million, whereas the number of Jews living in other countries is about 9.8 million.  Some are returning but many living in the U.S.A. and the U. K. have become comfortable and they have no wish to exchange that for the hardships and dangers of war-torn Israel.  I am sure it was the same in Ezra’s day.  The people had settled down in Babylon: they had created a new lifestyle for themselves, they had become prosperous over the years (Jeremiah 29:4-7).  Who would want to take a dangerous journey to a city in ruins, and a temple that no longer existed.  The cost was too great, in modern language, they did not want to get kicked out of their comfort zone.  Sadly, many believers today are not so much at ease in Zion, as they are content in Zion.  We are like the people that Amos confronted in Amos 6:1, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria, notable persons in the chief nation, to whom the house of Israel comes!”  Are we too comfortable in our faith, enjoying a laid-back kind of Christianity?  Does our commitment to Jesus Christ make any real demands upon us involving personal cost and sacrifice?  Does it even make demands when it comes to giving of our time, our energy, our money in the Lord’s work?  What about that other kind of cost in things like prayer for the ministry of the Word, and for the souls of those who are lost?

A missionary who was watching the construction of a beautiful temple asked an Indian lady, “How much will it cost?”  “It is for the gods,” she answered, “We do not ask what it will cost.”  Are you holding back your life because you are afraid of what it might cost?

These Jews participated with the Lord . . .

(b) In Their Giving.

Do you see what they did when they assembled on the site of the ruined temple?  We read about it in chapter 2 verse 68, “Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place.”  Although the temple was in ruins, that house still existed in the mind of God and in the hearts of His people.  They loved that spot, and it was there they gave to the work of the Lord.  In Nehemiah 7:70-72 the Bible tells us the tribal leaders and Zerubbabel the governor gave generously, and the common people followed their good example.  This reinforces the thought – Everything in God’s work rises and falls with leadership.  That is why God demands dedicated men to challenge His people and lead the way.  Now did you notice how they gave to the work of the Lord?  They gave . . .

1) Willingly.

The Bible says in verse 68, they, “offered freely.”  They did not require a sermon on stewardship to cajole them into parting with their money. Our love for Christ can be measured by how much time and money we gave to Him.

2) Thoughtfully.

The Bible says in verse 69, “after their ability.”  The rich according to his riches and the poor according to his poverty.  Paul puts it this way, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:1).  Are you giving, or do you plan your giving in a systematic, thoughtful way in relation to the wages you earn?

3) Cheerfully.

The Lord was their vision and in the light of that vision everything else paled into insignificance. The Bible says, “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).   Do these Old Testament saints put us to shame in relation to our giving?  Do you realize that giving to the Lord’s work is not a fringe activity but a spiritual obligation and opportunity?  Surely if we acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord, then His Lordship extends to every part of our lives, including our giving.  Yet, as someone has said, “many a Christian’s wallet or purse is unconverted.”  Is this you?  Sure, you are saved, but are your pockets are sown up?  

4) In Their Goals.

In the closing verse of chapter 2 we see that the people are dispersed to their own towns and villages and started rebuilding their homes and their lives.  But that was only after they had made provision for the temple.  

Their goal was this . . .

God first, and only then did

They give attention to

Their own personal concerns.

For so many, including Christians, other things are put first – Fashion, food, finance, fitness, the family, and the future.  It is nice to have all these things but everything must be in its proper order, for our God is “a jealous God,” (Exodus 20:5) and will not come second to any one or any thing.  As long as we downgrade Him in our hearts, we shall never fulfill our true potential as His children.

Only a List of Names?  Yes, but this faithful remnant speaks to us today and tells us that we are . . .

Preserved by God,

Precious to God,


Participating with God.

This is the Lord’s list for Israel, but did you know the Bible has another list.  We are told about that list in Revelation 21:27, “But there shall by no means enter into it (heaven) anything that defiles, or causes an abomination, or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  Our name is not written in Ezra chapter 2, but is our name in the Lamb’s book of life?  Have you repented of your sins?  Have you turned to Christ and received Him as your personal Savior? 

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 1:1-11 – A New Beginning

Grace For The Journey

  One day, towards the close of the 18th century, a gentleman and a lady sat side by side in a stagecoach as it rumbled its way through the English countryside. The lady appeared to be occupied with the content of the book in her hand, at times reading, at times meditating on what she had read.  She was enjoying the words of a lovely hymn,

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Steams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise

She turned to the gentleman and sought to interest him in what she was reading.  She asked him if he knew the hymn.  At first, he appeared embarrassed, even a little agitated.  Eventually with tears in his eyes he said, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago and I would give a thousand worlds if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”  The man on the stagecoach was Robert Robinson.  The hymn was the product of his pen some thirty years previously.  In the words of his own hymn, he was “prone to wander,” but thank God he experienced the restoring grace of God.  We are all “prone to wander,” and “prone to leave the God we love.”  When we catch up with the Jews in the book of Ezra, we discover that they are in captivity in Babylon.  God has a way of giving us what we insist upon having.  The Psalmist says, “And He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul.”

(Psalm 106:15).  God allowed Babylon to conquer His people because they were given over to idolatry.  He sent them back to Babylon to the very center of idolatry, and there God cured them of idolatry forever.  From that point on the children of Israel were monotheistic.  They believed in the only one true Lord God.

I want you to take on a journey back in time to about 500 years before the Lord Jesus was born.  That means, we are going back in time to about 2,500 years to this land that was known as Babylon.  It is modern Iraq, but in those days it was Babylon, the fountain head of all idolatry; Babylon, the origin of every germ of evil teaching; Babylon, where the children of God, the Jews were in the land of captivity.

There are six books in the Old Testament, which have to do with the Jews being in captivity in Babylon. Three of those books are in the historical section of your Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.  The other three books are in the prophetical section of your Bible: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.  

Those six books have to do with

This period of time known as

The captivity and the return

Of the Jews back to

The land of promise.

Ezra is a book that emphasizes . . .

The ongoing work of God

Among His people to

Preserve, protect, and promote

His redemptive purposes.

Now you might wonder why I would take us into a study of such an old part of Israel’s history.  After all, we are living in the year 2021.  We are a modern people.  We have needs and we face problems that seem a lot different than way back then.  We live in an age that focuses on experienced-centered living that focuses more on how one feels and how one is to walk by faith and obedience.  Need I have to remind  you that people in every age are the same.  We need to study this portion of the Word of God because it will directs our mind to a God who is holy, who demands reverent worship, uncompromising loyalty, total obedience, and wholehearted commitment.   

Chapter 1 is all about “A New Beginning.”  Beyond that, it is all about God.  We will learn about God’s providence, God’s people, and God’s provision.  It will be a great adventure of learning and living by these marvelous and always abiding truths.


Do you know providence is?  The best definition that I have found is, “Providence is that work of God in which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that happens in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”  Now we see in the opening verses of Chapter one.  We see here the providence of God in relation to . . .

a) God’s Word.

We see that in the opening phrase, “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 prophet  Jeremiah had prophesied not only the fact of the Babylonian captivity but the duration of it.  He said in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10, “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation” … “For thus says the Lord, ‘after seventy years be completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you in causing you to return to this place.”  The seventy-year captivity began in 606 BC and in 536 BC Cyrus issues this amazing proclamation, allowing the Jews to go back to their homeland to rebuild the temple.  

The decree of Cyrus was

The fulfillment of prophecy.

No doubt during the long night of the exile God’s people must have wondered at times if they would ever see Jerusalem again.  Psalm 137:1 gives us vivid picture of how the people felt, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.”  All seemed to be lost and there appeared to be not future for the people.  But . . .

God was faithful to His Word

And did not forget His people.

Do you recall Joshua’s witness at the end of his life, “Not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you.  All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).  The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  This nation had broken the Covenant, but the Lord had remained faithful to His Word.  One of the great proofs for the inspiration of the Bible is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Someone has said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about the first coming of Christ.  All of those prophecies were fulfilled to the exact detail.

Isn’t it an amazing book we hold in our hands?  In spite of their sins, these exiles were God’s chosen people and children of the Covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3).  God was faithful to His promises and He did not forget His people.  But then He never does!  Are you finding that difficult to believe?  Are you going through some kind of personal exile?   Is your situation dark and gloomy?  Is Satan whispering in your ear that God has forgotten you? Is he tempting you to look at your circumstances rather than God?  The truth God wants you to stand on is that at such a time, when everything else has failed, the only thing we have left to rely on is the faithfulness of God and His Word.   We also see the providence of God in relation to . . .

b) God’s World.

God is in control of the nations.  God is governing global affairs in accordance with his blueprint for mankind.  God is still on the throne.  

  • It was the Lord who raised up Nebuchadnezzar whom He called, “My servant,” (Jeremiah 25:9 27:6 43:10 ), to chasten the people of Judah.
  • Then He raised up Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and establish the Persian Empire.  The Lord called Cyrus “My shepherd,” (Isaiah 44:28 ) and “My anointed,” (Isaiah 45:1).  In Isaiah 45:13 the Lord said, “ He shall build my city and he shall let go my captives.”

Now when we consider the fact that these words preceded Cyrus’ decree by about two hundred years it is really astonishing and amazing.  Here we see the sovereign hand of God working through the processes of history.  This is all the more remarkable when we realize that Cyrus did not know God (Isaiah 45:5).  But God knew Cyrus.  The Bible reminds us “that the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1).  Whatever political motives lay behind Cyrus’ decree, God was working out His own plans.  What a God we have!!  What a Bible God has given us!

Proverbs 21:1 continues, “The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord; Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”  People do not have to be Christian believers for God to use them.  It does not matter whether it is a president, or a prime minister, or a mayor, or a governor, God can exercise His sovereign power to accomplish His purposes for His people.  This is one reason why the Bible exhorts believers to pray for those in authority, not that our political agenda might be fulfilled, but that God’s will might be accomplished on this earth (1 Timothy 2:1-8).  Puritan John Watson said, “God can make a straight stroke with a crooked stick,” and that is what He did with Cyrus.  

If we could lay hold

Of this great truth

That God is control

We would be

Freed from anxiety.

As we watch the news programs on television, and see the world scene with its rebelliousness, perverseness, political unrest, and shaky foundations we might become fearful for the future.  That is why it is so important to listen to God.  He says in Daniel 4:17, 25, and 32, “… That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.”

But there is another thread here, not appearing in this chapter that God used in the fulfilling of His purposes.  For we see here God’s providence in relation to . . .

c) God’s workman.

In the 9th chapter of Daniel we find Daniel reading His Bible.  Do you know where he was when he was reading it?  He was reading Jeremiah’s prophecy (25:8-11).  Do you know what he was reading about?  The end of the captivity after seventy years. (Daniel 9:2).  That really grabbed his heart!  Daniel knows that the captivity has lasted nearly seventy years.  It is almost time for God to take the Jews back to their own land, and that drives him to his knees in prayer and to cry, “Lord do as you have said.”  

Some believe that Daniel, prime minister in the administration of Cyrus, showed his monarch, these prophecies about the duration of the captivity, and that under God Daniel’s influence had the effect of disposing the king to be favorable to the exiles.  It is possible that Daniel’s last official act was to prepare the papers releasing his people from Babylonian bondage.  

Now that is . . .

Not only wonderful but amazing . . . 

To be able to stand back and

See the heart of God planning

And the hand of God shaping

The events of history according

To His plan and power!

I heard about a ship that was caught in a storm.  The passengers were fearful that the vessel might sink.  A group of them huddled together, in a state of distress.  Then someone suggested that one of the party should go and talk to the captain.  The chosen person made his way to the helm of the ship, where he saw the captain from a distance. He moved toward him and as he did so, he caught a glimpse of the captain’s face. Immediately his fears were quelled, because he had seen on the captain’s face . . .

The serenity of man who

Had nothing to fear.

It was obvious that

Everything was

Under his control.

Are you filled with fear like this?  You need to get a glimpse of the face of the Captain of our salvation!  The One who has everything under His control.


Look if you will at verses 2 to 3, “Thus Cyrus king of Persia: all the kingdoms of the earth the LROD God of heaven has given me.  And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.  Who is among you of all His people?  May 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 God, which is in Jerusalem.”  What a challenge this was.  For those who would return home it would involve considerable sacrifice and hardship. They were not going on a holiday, but were faced with a dangerous journey of some 900 to a 1,000 miles and the land waiting for them had been devastated, and its temple had been razed to the ground.  What a challenge.

Now we need to put this challenge in its context.  We see . . .

a) Nationally: The Glory Of God Had Departed.

We see an important phrase in verse 2, “The Lord God of heaven.”  This lovely expression is peculiar to the books of the captivity.  During the captivity God was known as the “God of heaven.”  Why?  Judah turned away from the Lord and Jerusalem was burned, and the temple was destroyed.  The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of God departing from the earth (Ezekiel 9:3, 10:4 11:22-23). That Shekinah glory cloud that had rested on the mercy seat lifted in the Holy of Holies and then moved over to the threshold of the temple door.  Then it moved from the temple to the Mount of Olives on the east of the city.  Finally, it departed back to heaven and for a period of time, until, Christ came, there was no glory of God on earth.  God was the “God of heaven.”  Do you see where Judah was a nation?  “Ichabod,” could be written over the nation, the glory had departed.

b) Spiritually: A Passion For God Had Declined.

The people of God found that the geographical distance between Babylon and Jerusalem reflected something of the spiritual distance between themselves and God. They were estranged from the Lord, removed from the blessing, and under His discipline.  Spiritually, life in these two centers Jerusalem or Babylon, speak to us of two different kinds or levels of life that may be experienced by the people of God.  

It was always

Up to Jerusalem


Down to Babylon.

Paul identified the spiritual significance of these places when he said to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corintians 3:1, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal.”  Here we have the New Testament counterparts of Zion and Babylon.  You probably know that Corinth was the carnal church of Paul’s day?  They were marked by strife, division, and immaturity. They were man centered when they should have been Christ-centered.  They were feeding on milk, when they should have been feeding on meat.  Spiritually, they were like these people of old by the rivers of Babylon.  How did Judah ever land in captivity in the first place?  Their passion for God declined.

(1) There Was A Departure From The Worship Of God.

Their love for the Lord had grown cold and idolatry usurped the place that should have been the Lord’s in the hearts of His people.  They had heard and knew the importance of what God said in Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no others gods before me,” but they treated it with indifference and even contempt.  I wonder do the words of Robert Robinson’s hymn summarize your spiritual condition? “ Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  Could it be that you, like Israel, have fallen out of love with Christ?

(2) There Was A Departure From The Word Of God.

God had instructed the children that every seven years the land was to enjoy a Sabbath.  The whole year the land was to be rested. (Leviticus 25:1-4; 26:32-35).  But, the children of Israel did not live by God’s Word.  For 490 years the land had no rest.  Think of it – 490 years and no sabbatical years, that is 70 sabbatical years ignored.  So what did God do?  He sent them into captivity for 70 years.  

Some years ago, a prison chaplain noticed one of the prisoners sewing a covering on a pair of overalls.  Greeting the man cheerfully, the chaplain said, “Good morning, friend, sewing?” “No sir,” replied the prisoner with a grim smile, “reaping.”  The Bible says, “the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15 ).  These causes have their spiritual counterpart today.  Could it be that the decline of a love for the Lord and obedience to His Word has led you spiritually down to Babylon?

c) Personally: The Hour Of God Had Dawned.

The Lord not only moved the heart of a heathen ruler, He motivated the hearts of a Hebrew people.  These were days of great stirrings. Verse 1 tells us, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.”  The prophet Haggai in chapter 1 verse 14 tells us, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel” …. “and the spirit of Joshua” …. “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.”

It was Zurubbabel, who led the first return from Babylonian captivity and he did so because the God of heaven “stirred up,” his spirit.  It reminds us of Paul in Athens where he waited for Silas and Timothy.  Luke says in Acts 17:16, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”  Paul’s spirit was so grieved by the idolatry of the city that he was moved to preach the gospel.   Are our hearts ever stirred when we contemplate the idolatry, the blasphemy, the depravity, and the anarchy of our nation?

This is what happened at the time of the recovery from Babylon.  God’s hour had come. God was moving towards the bringing in of the promised Messiah, and this required that the chosen people should be present in the promised land.  

This is what gave urgency to

The leaders and to the people.

They understood that the Lord

Was in this thing and so

They rose up to go.

This is what revival is all about!  

God stirring the hearts of His people.

Revival is not something on

The outside that works in.

Revival is something that

God does on

The inside and works out.

Revival is a heart matter.

It is something that begins to take place in the human heart. There is Divine Sovereignty in revival as God stirs the heart, but there is human responsibility in revival as we meet the challenge.  Cyrus says in verse 3, “Who is among you of all His people?  May 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 God, which is in Jerusalem.”  We cannot create the wind, but we can set the sails.  Is your cry this?

Oh for the floods on a thirsty land

Oh for a mighty revival

Oh for a sanctified fearless band

Ready to hail its arrival.


The Lord not only delivered His people from Babylon, but . . .

He also provided all

The costs for the journey,

And for the settlement

In Jerusalem as well.

Think for a moment about . . .

a) Those that remained.

Sadly, all were not ready to leave Babylon.  Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins but that did not matter too many.  

No doubt a great number

Had grown comfortable

In Babylon and preferred

To remain there.

But one thing that can be said in their favor is this – There was no spirit of enmity or judgment between those who remained and those who returned.  As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that those who remained helped their brethren who went up.  They provided the things that they needed.  Verse 6 tells us, “Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.  And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold; with good and livestock, and with precious things, besides that was willingly offered.  Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods . . .”  God moved in the hearts of those who stay to support those who were going.   I am sure they were encouraged by what God was doing and helped them to be reminded about God moving and care which they would need when they got back into the land.

Did you know that in warfare it is estimated that for every soldier out there on the front line there has to be ten people behind him?  Ten people getting supplies to him, food, clothing, medical care, and ammunition.  The same not true in the army of God.  That is why it is important to keep a strong home base.  The stronger we are at home, the more we can do abroad.

b) Those that returned.

In God’s Hall of Heroes are the names of nearly 50,000 Jews who left Babylon for responsibility in Jerusalem.  The Lord had called them back to do a difficult job . . .

To rebuild the temple,

To restore the city,


To reform the people.

It involved a four-month journey, a distance of almost 1000 miles, and a great deal of faith, courage, and sacrifice.

Who would meet their needs? God.  

Who would provide the materials? God. 

Who would give the manpower?  God.

Do you know what one of the great names for God in the Bible is?  “Jehovah-Jireh,” which means “the Lord will provide”(Genesis 22:14).  Here is a great truth . . .

Those whom God calls He equips.

Take the case of Hudson Taylor walking on Brighton beach on the 25th June 1865.  He came to the decision to begin a mission work in central China and wrote these words in his Bible, “Prayed for twenty four willing, skillful laborers.”  Two days later in faith he opened an account in the name of the China Inland Mission with the sum of ten pounds. In the years that followed God provided all that was needed so that it became one of the great faith missions of the Christian world, with hundreds of workers in the field.

What about godly George Muller of Bristol?  On the night he had made known his intention at a public meeting to start an orphanage, he made it clear that no one would ever be asked for money or materials, there would be no charge for admission and no restriction on entry because of class or creed.  All those employed as masters, matrons and assistants would be unpaid and had to be believers.  At the end of the meeting no collection was made but a lady gave him ten shillings and volunteered for the work.  The next day, a husband and wife volunteered their help, and also promised, to give all their furniture for use in the orphanage.  From that point on Muller never looked back and never lacked support for the work.  For . . .

God’s work done in God’s way

Will never lack God’s supply.

I wonder is God challenging you specifically?  Is He exercising your heart about ministry?  Is He calling you to “… go up …. and build?” (verse 3).  Is the Lord challenging you, is He stirring your heart to get involved in His work?  Is He calling you to build up the work of God in the place he has planted you?  Are you available to Him? Are you willing to say . . .

Mine are the hands to do the work

My feet shall run for Thee

My lips shall sound the glorious news

Lord, here I am send me

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”