Ezra 5-6

Revival and the Construction of the temple

Ezra 5

In the preceding chapters, we have seen the activity of the remnant of Judah. They were composed, in large part, of people who were able to prove their genealogy. Those who were not able to do so were by that very fact excluded from the priesthood as being profane, but God recognized them nevertheless, as a whole so to speak, and, in the presence of their enemies, they bore certain features which distinguished them from the surrounding nations.

If we wish to look for an analogy with this state of things in the midst of Christendom, we would say that the Reformation offers a similar example. The Protestant movement, which came out of an almost idolatrous context, shone at its beginning with the features which the presence of true believers impressed upon it, and, without pushing the comparison further, under the influence of the word of God, there were precious truths rediscovered and brought to light, which greatly influenced the life and behavior of the people of God. But the wiles of the enemy and his violence seduced or intimidated the greater number of those involved in the movement, so that the edification of the house of God was hindered, and then brought to a stop. The epistle to Sardis (Rev. 3: 1-6) describes the state into which the Church, come out from popery, fell following the divine work which had caused it to shine so brightly at the beginning.

In Ezra, we have seen, after the first burst of enthusiasm, when the people were as one man, they lack confidence in divine power and the work stops. Fifteen years go by; only the foundations of the temple have been laid; construction has been absolutely interrupted. During these long years, the people must necessarily do something, and when the Lord no longer has His place in the heart, what occupies a person if not his own personal interests? This is what the prophet Haggai tells us. The people built paneled houses for themselves, while the house of God was devastated (Hag. 1: 4). But spiritual inactivity had yet more disastrous results: the people allied themselves with the nations to whom they had said: "Ye have nothing to do with us." (Hag. 4: 3), and we will see the results of this in Ezra 9 and 10.

Nevertheless the grace which had delivered them was not paralyzed by their conduct, and in Ezra5 we see a revival produced by the Spirit of God. There had been revivals previously under Hezekiah and Josiah, as we have seen when meditating on the second book of Kings*, before the sentence of Lo-ammi, which was pronounced over Israel (Hosea 1: 9), was actually executed. Actually these were revivals of the kings, the leaders of the people. The people benefited from them, without their conscience being reached, as a whole. But here, after the chastening of captivity and re-integration of the remnant of Judah, the revival takes on another character. This is a revival of the people, and moreover, it is not a question, as it was previously, of separation from idols and purifying the temple, but of rebuilding the temple when it is nothing but a heap of ruins.

This is also the character of the present-day testimony in the midst of Christendom. It is a question of bringing materials to the house of God. God has brought back to light the truth that this house, the Church, the assembly of the living God, is of immense importance in the eyes of Christ. Despite the ruin, He considers His Assembly such as He desires her to be, even though, through the unfaithfulness of the people of God, she has completely disappeared as a public testimony. Her existence, and more than this, her unity, are just as real - not to the eyes of the world, but to the eyes of God - as when, like Solomon's temple, she was built and grew to be a holy temple in the Lord. It is the same house. In Ezra also (Ezra5), the remnant considers it from this point of view: "We. build the house that was built many years ago; and a great king of Israel built and completed it" (v. 11) they say. And: "Nebuchadnezzar. destroyed this house" (v. 12); and: "Cyrus gave orders to build this house of God" (v. 13); and again: "Then came the same Sheshbazzar, [and] laid the foundation of the house of God which is at Jerusalem; and since that time even until now has it been in building, and it is not completed" (v. 16).

Building the house of God is also the character of the revival which the Lord has instigated in our days. Already more than one hundred years have passed since this great task of the people of God has been brought back to light. Has it stirred every heart of every believer? It is in nowise a question, we repeat, of building a new Church, for she exists, built by God Himself, and grows to be a holy temple in the Lord; and, in order that she may be so, it is enough that God sees her. But God expects His people to make her visible to all, by bringing materials suitable for her construction. The evangelist, pastors and doctors are the agents used by the Holy Spirit to build the Assembly, but we would greatly illusion ourselves if we should think that only evangelizing adds souls to the building. It is one of the principal instruments, but this work requires the cooperation of all the gifts; and much more, each witness of Christ is responsible to bring noble and living material to the house of God. Our unfaithfulness has scattered these materials instead of gathering them, so that they are not visible except to the eyes of God. Today it belongs to the faithful to discern these materials and to set them in their proper place, so that the house of God may once again become visible in the world, even if it only be by means of a few rows of stones which indicate what she ought to be.

This was the testimony to which the remnant of Judah was called. How many times we hear that evangelizing is the testimony, and the result of this idea, which is fundamentally wrong, is that one believes he has put his hand to the house of God, when souls are converted, and then left helpless in the midst of human systems which are foreign to the Assembly of God.

Dear readers, think about these things. In the days in which we live we have something to build, and this is not those broken-down buildings which are called churches, which God does not recognize, and for which the heart of Christ has no sympathy. He loved the Assembly; by giving Himself for her, He has shown how precious she was to Him. Is she as precious to us as she is to Him? In that case, we will have a large heart which will raise us above narrow, sectarian views, for a heart which burns with love cannot be satisfied except in seeing all the redeemed gathered in the unity of the body of Christ. And, even though this task cannot be realized, as it was at the beginning of the Church's history, God will take account of His servants and their activity to proclaim and realize practically that there is only one House, one Assembly of the living God, recognized by Him in this world.

"Now the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem; in the name of the God of Israel" (Ezra5: 1). In order to produce this revival, two prophets are enough here. They were the bearers and the representatives of the word of God for the people. By their means, the Word, brought again to light according to the power of the Holy Spirit, reaches the conscience. Later we shall see, when Ezra comes on the scene (Ezra7 to 10), this same Word presented to souls without any signs of prophetic power. Ezra who brings the word claims only to establish the faithful in the truths which Scripture presents, so that their walk may be conformed to it. The two prophets on the one hand and Ezra on the other hand present two different activities of the word of God. After re-awaking a soul, it establishes and nourishes the soul, and it is through the word that souls are sanctified so as to behave in a manner worthy of God. A period of revival which is not followed by scriptural teaching will be short-lived and will be extinguished, without leaving any other impression of its occurrence except souls individually saved and brought to the knowledge of Christ. This is an inestimable blessing, no doubt, but one which does not exhaust the treasures of Christian blessing. And so we cannot insist enough on the importance of doctrine for the progress of revived souls.

The immediate result of the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah was that the leaders of the people, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, took their words to heart. "[They] rose up, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem; and with them were the prophets of God who helped them" (v. 2). The leaders do not wait for a unanimous assent, nor do they try to provoke any common action, when it was a matter of building the house. This will always be the case. The only way of stirring up the activity of faith in others is to engage in this activity oneself, with a heart deeply impressed by that which is due the Lord and our responsibility toward Him. We may be only two or three, walking with an undivided heart in the path of devotion for the Assembly of God, but we may be sure that our zeal will bear its fruit. Only two or three? you will say. Yes, Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, alone, represented the true Spirit of Christ at this moment. In brief, in them we see royalty, the priesthood and the Spirit of prophecy at work for the blessing of all. These two men, and with them the prophets of God, began to build. Soon others would associate themselves in building. The people sided with their leaders against the enemy: "And they said to them after this manner: What are the names of the men that build this building? But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews" (vv. 4, 5).

Since the time of the first opposition to the temple's erection, new men, Tatnai, Shethar-boznai and their companions (v. 6), had replaced the ancient enemies of the people, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their companions (Ezra4: 7). In Nehemiah 6: 1 the individuals involved change again: here it is Sanballat, Tobijah and Geshem the Arabian, with their companions who oppose the work. One group of men succeeds the other in their more or less violent hatred against the work of God, but the opposition remains, because the enemy who uses all these instruments has not changed. Oh! If only faith would never allow itself to be stopped by the obstacles which the agents of Satan raise up! If only we well understood that the work of God cannot be destroyed, because God remains over and above all! He may allow our unbelief and laxity to slow down this work and interrupt it, and He may allow this in order to teach us to know ourselves, to judge ourselves and to humble ourselves, but nevertheless His work will be accomplished. His house, even though it be destroyed, remains, and whereas hostile men follow one another in rapid succession, men like Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and their companions remain until they have finished the work to which they were called, and until new instruments, like Ezra and Nehemiah, have been raised up to impress a new character on the work.

But already the testimony belonging to this revival, which was provoked by the prophets, has not entirely the same character as that seen in Ezra3 and Ezra4. In some measure, it could be compared to the evangelizing which accompanies Christianity. Here the remnant no longer proclaims only, as in Ezra4: 1, 3, "Jehovah the God of Israel", but "the God of the heavens and the earth" (Ezra5: 11, 12); and the temple is not merely "the temple to Jehovah the God of Israel" (Ezra4: 1), but "the house of God" (Ezra5: 11, 13, 15, 16, 17). These terms clearly speak of God, as He reveals Himself to the nations, and of Christ's millennial title. The future temple at Jerusalem will not be established for the twelve tribes alone, for the Gentiles will have their part in it, and the nations with their kings will flow up to worship "the God of the heavens and the earth". Here the people of the Lord set themselves over against the nations, as serving the God which the nations ought to serve, and, in the same way, in our day, we present our Father to the world, as "our Savior god, who desires that all men should be saved" (1 Tim. 2: 3,4). In this sense, I would call the revival of Ezra 5, an evangelical revival.

If the people, thus taken to task by their enemies, openly confesses the name and character of their God, it is in no way with any feeling of superiority over those who surround them. The people do not attempt to minimize their guilt, but rather, they recognize before the nations, that they are under God's judgment. If the faithful are "servants of the God of the heavens" (v. 11), they confess that they have been justly punished for their transgressions: "But after that our fathers had provoked the God of the heavens to wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, and he destroyed this house, and carried the people away unto Babylon" (v. 12). Their subjection to the nations was the chastisement of their iniquity (vv. 13-15). Does not this attitude also suit the guilty Church, responsible for what was entrusted to her? Today, as then, God asks of His servants that their testimony, in order that it may be effective, be above all the testimony of their ruin.

Here let us add a remark concerning the tactic used by the people's enemy. Under Artaxerxes, the false Smerdis (Ezra4), who had a major interest in avoiding revolts against his usurped power, the opponents invoke political motives for stopping the work of God. This monarch would hardly have been moved by religious questions, but it was very important to him that the people be prevented from re-unifying themselves and from defending this re-unification in a fortified capital. Therefore the enemies write to the king, saying that "the Jews. have come to Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and they complete the walls and join up the foundations" (Ezra4: 12). Artaxerxes gives his orders in consequence of this message.

Under Darius, the Persian, their tactic has changed. Darius, like other monarchs of Persian origin, detested Babylonian idolatry, but at the same time he granted the countries under his domination the right to each have their own special form of idolatry. He acknowledged the true God, as we shall see in Ezra6, and feared Him in a certain measure. Therefore the accusers of the Jews believe that they will strike a responsive cord, by drawing attention to the construction of the temple and the religious interests of the kingdom. Did Cyrus indeed allow this reconstruction as the Jews pretend? The enemies hide their hostility under the appearance of indifference and almost of tolerance. If the edict given by Cyrus did not exist, or could not be found, they could expect an order from the king to command the work to stop. Their great pre-occupation is to stay on good terms with the power of the world, for the name of God has, in fact, no value to their hearts or consciences. "Let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter", they say (v. 17).

Ezra 6

God particularly favors the revival which He has provoked, while at the same time He causes the remnant to become more and more aware of the ruin caused by their unfaithfulness. Darius, the Persian, supports the Jews and pronounces a fair sentence, which is moreover based on the fact that, according to "the law of the Medes and Persians., that no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed" (Dan 6: 15). In all this, we can see providence of God, watching over His people. The edict of Cyrus is found at Achmetha, in the province of the Medes and not at Babylon (v. 2), which proves that, without divine intervention, even the most scrupulous research would have been in vain. If Darius does not go so far as to proclaim, like the humbled Nebuchadnezzar, that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of men, nevertheless he does acknowledge the God of heaven, and he recognizes the temple at Jerusalem as the house of God (Ezra6: 9, 10, 3, 7, 8). He decrees dimensions which his own intelligence select, because they no longer correspond to the symbolical figures of the early temple (v. 3; 1 Kings 6: 2), and so more than one thought from the mind of God remains as though buried beneath the new figures. Darius also recognizes that the prayers of these despised and humbled people are effective on behalf of the king and his sons (v. 10); he uses the authority entrusted to him to punish those who would oppose the will of God; and lastly, he solemnly calls on the God who dwells at Jerusalem to execute vengeance against those who oppose Him: "And the God that has caused his name to dwell there overthrow every king and people that shall put forth their hand to alter [or] to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem" (v. 12). The adversaries, who have no respect for the people of God, hasten to conform to the king's edict, for the fear of man fills their hearts, but God uses everything, even this fear, in order to carry out His plans of grace for the protection of His own.

The elders among the Jews build and prosper through the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. They complete the temple, not only according to the commandment of the God of Israel, but also according to the commandment of the sovereign rulers of Persia (v. 14). This is the special character of this revival produced in the midst of humiliation and in conditions of subjection to the Gentiles. The work of the temple had been interrupted for fifteen years, from the time of the second year of Cyrus to the second year of Darius, the Persian (Ezra4: 24; Hag. 1: 1). Four years later the house of God was completed (v. 15). How disastrous are the delays caused by the fear of man and lack of confidence in the Lord, which is the necessary outcome of the fear of man!

In the month of Adar, the twelfth month (which corresponds to our month of March), the dedication of the house takes place, but the house is no longer, as we have already pointed out, built according to its first dimensions, which were divine. This dedication is celebrated in a very feeble way, compared to the dedication of Solomon, a glorious memory, but in spite of this, joy fills the hearts of the people, for once again, God causes "his name to dwell" (v. 12) in this restored house in a publicly approved way. Not that His glory returns to it, nor His throne between the cherubim, but His spiritual presence cannot be lacking when the center of gathering of His people is acknowledged. Nineteen years previously, at the time when the altar was built, they had shown their unity; now, at the dedication of the temple, they realize this blessed truth: that the Lord is in their midst. The people consecrate, so to speak, their unity by His presence, but here again their unity bears the marks of their sin and ruin. They offer twelve he-goats as a sin offering, according to the number of tribes of Israel (v. 17). No tribe is excluded from the public confession of sin expressed by the sacrifice. We no longer find, as at the time of Elijah, an altar of twelve stones expressing the unity of the people, but rather, we find twelve he-goats offered on the altar for the expiation of a common sin. Thus they acknowledge their solidarity and equality in sin. The sin of Judah and Benjamin, to which tribes these transported people belong, is just as great in their eyes as the sin of the other ten tribes and it requires the same expiation. In these circumstances, they have recourse only to the Word, to that which "is written in the book of Moses" (v. 18) in order to organize their service.

Does not all this speak to us of the position of believers today? It is our place to acknowledge the sin of the Church and to bear the responsibility for it before God, without thinking of casting it off onto others. Our present-day privileges are: to seek the presence of God in the midst of His own who gather to His name, and not to pretend to completely restore what we have ruined; to hold to the word of God alone for the establishment and maintenance of order in the Assembly; to rejoice, in the midst of our great poverty, at having the Holy and True for us and with us in our humiliation.

In addition to these blessings, the remnant discover yet other fresh blessings. The dedication had taken place in the twelfth month; in the following month, the month of Abib (April), the first month of the new year, the people celebrate the Passover. They again find the order of the feasts, as instituted by God, as soon as a complete order - the altar, the temple, the gathering and unity of the people, and the presence of the Lord in their midst - is recovered. In Ezra 3, after having built the altar, they had celebrated the feast of Tabernacles with burnt offerings, and that was legitimate, because they had recovered their dwelling place in Canaan. Here they keep the Passover. The Passover was the memorial of the sacrifice in virtue of which Israel had been preserved from the judgment of God on the one hand and delivered from the bondage of Egypt on the other hand. For us, Christians, this feast corresponds to the memorial of the death of Christ, of our deliverance and the blessings of the new covenant in His blood. This memorial is celebrated on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, which is "the beginning of months" (Ex. 12: 2).

The priests and Levites had purified themselves "as one [man]" (v. 20a); they were all pure (v. 20b), and so, in a proper condition to celebrate the Passover. They realized that they could not bring impurity to this holy, commemorative meal, and, just as they had been unanimous in building the altar, and overseeing the work and laying the foundations of the temple, so they are now unanimous in purifying themselves "and all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek Jehovah the God of Israel" (v. 21).

This ought always to be the character of the testimony of the remnant in the midst of ruin. They realize that defilement cannot be allowed at the Lord's table and that the world has no place there; they realize that the supper cannot take place without self-judgment: "Let a man prove himself, and thus eat of the bread, and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11: 28).

Lastly, they "kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy; for Jehovah had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel" (v. 22). This feast of unleavened bread is a type of complete, perpetual sanctification, followed for a period of seven days (the number of fullness, the image of the entire course of our life, of a life devoted to the One who delivered us by His death and to the One to whom we belong) This feast is a figure for the collective and individual sanctification, spoken of in 2 Corinthians 6: 17 to 7: 1. The restored remnant celebrates this feast with joy, as they had done at the feast of tabernacles and at the dedication of the foundation and at the dedication of the house (Ezra3: 13; Ezra6: 16, 22). In this respect, the feast differed from what was said of it in the law of Moses: "Seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread with it, bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste" (Deut. 16: 3). Here, in the midst of all these recovered blessings, there is no room for any sentiment but joy.

The remnant of the captivity were not the only ones who celebrated the feast. Among the people, who had remained in the land during the captivity, "all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek Jehovah the God of Israel" (v. 21) took part in this solemn feast. Without forming part of the testimony, properly speaking, they came to associate themselves with true practical holiness. And so they had part in the memorial and the feast.

This truth is of great importance for the present day. All Christians separated from the world and from the lifeless profession which surrounds us, have the right to the Lord's table and are received with joy there by their brothers.

Despite so many blessings, the resources of the people, whether for offerings, or for service, were very much diminished (compare 1 Kings 8: 63), but this did not in any way hinder the order of service. For this order, they had an infallible authority, to which they could always have recourse: that which "is written in the book of Moses"; in other words, the word of God (vv. 17, 18).



*Meditations on the second book of Kings, by H. R.