Ezra 1:1-6; 2:68, 69; 3:10-13
Introduction: Sometimes God permits an individual or a nation to make a "fresh start" or "new beginning" after previous failure. This gracious opportunity of "beginning again" may come not only once or twice but many times in the life of a person or in the history of a nation. Or we may never have another "chance," as we call it: in many cases the first failure is also the last, bringing ruin beyond recovery.
In view of these observable facts, one would think that people would learn from past mistakes and so become more successful in later efforts. The pitiable depravity of man is nowhere more evident than in his willful refusal to learn the lessons of the past experience of the human race. These lessons can be discovered even in profane history, but are more clearly revealed in the history recorded in the Bible.
Our lesson this week can be outlined as follows: 1. Meaning of History, verse 1:1. 2. A Royal Decree, 2-4. 3. Popular Response, 5, 6. 4. Offering Freely, 2:68, 69. 5. Praise and Thanksgiving, 3:10, 11. 6. Emotional Religion, 12. 7. Confused Testimony, 13. Notes on the Printed Text: Meaning of History, 1. History is nothing but the fulfillment of divine purpose. Certainly man does not know very much about the purposes of God, but so far as He has been pleased to reveal these purposes in His word we can be sure that they will all be perfectly fulfilled.
So it was in order "that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled" that Cyrus was moved by the Spirit of God to issue his written decree. The personal motives of Cyrus, the means that God used to stir up his human spirit, are of minor importance. The important truth is that God used appropriate means to fulfill the divine purpose.
With a multitude of similar instances in Biblical history of events carefully ordered "that the scripture might be fulfilled," we are justified in the conviction that God is in perfect control of history and "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." (Eph. 1:11.)
Here is the only view of history that makes good sense. So long as men believe that history is either a series of accidents or the product of an amoral, impersonal, mechanistic fate, they will refuse to learn from history. It is only when we recognize the personal God of all truth and righteousness upon His throne of active government of His own creation that otherwise meaningless history becomes really meaningful.
A Royal Decree, 2-4. Whether or not Cyrus knew God spiritually in the personal experience of eternal salvation, he knew Him as the "God of heaven" and as Jehovah, Who in His mighty power had given to Cyrus "all the kingdoms of the earth" (2). Perhaps from reading the prophetic scriptures, or perhaps from the testimony of one or more faithful servants of God, Cyrus knew also that God had appointed him to a specific service.
No doubt by divine direction, the royal decree (3) seems to have been a call for volunteers rather than a draft of man-power. For every man of God's people that would respond to this call to go to Jerusalem to help in the rebuilding of the temple, the king openly prayed that "his God be with him."
Those who chose to remain in their foreign homes were commanded to help the volunteer workmen with material contributions toward their expenses, in addition to their freewill offerings for the temple (4).
Popular Response, 5, 6. Appropriately enough, it was the "chief" or leaders among the exiles, especially of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi (5) who are first listed as responding to the king's call. They were not alone, however; with them were others of "all them whose spirit God had raised." The same God Who had stirred the king to action also incited the people to respond.
Contributions of material help (6) came from neighbors who did not choose themselves to go to Jerusalem. That these contributions were "beside all that was willingly offered" seems to indicate that the people feared the displeasure of the king if they should fail to help forward the work which he had proclaimed as a commandment from God. Yet it is good for note that there were some contributions "willingly offered."
Offering Freely, 2:68, 69. In addition to the offerings gathered at Babylon, which were apparently far short of what was needed, some of the leaders "offered freely" after their arrival at Jerusalem (68). Some people must be brought into the very presence of a great need before they will open up their pocketbooks. Some, instead of seeking the Lord's leading for themselves, wait to see what others are giving; and perhaps hope to get more attention and praise by being the last to give, as spoiled children expect to be complimented and rewarded for doing at last what they should have done at first.
Whatever their motives, it was better that these cautious codgers should give freely though late than that they should give stingily or not at all. We rejoice, therefore, that at long last they did give "after their ability" (69).
Praise and Thanksgiving, 3:10, 11. Organization was not lacking at Jerusalem when the foundation of the temple was laid. Arrangements were carefully made and carried out to insure that the occasion would be appropriately celebrated with instrumental music "after the ordinance of David king of Israel" (10). It is pitiful to note the attempt to restore the incidental accompaniments of former glory.
"And they sang together by course" (11). The art of well arranged and well directed singing had survived the exile, and then as always God's people delighted to give praise and thanks to Him in song. Even those who do not sing very well could join in the shouting.
Now, I would not for a moment suggest that there was anything wrong with all this organized effort. I merely point out that mass organization could not and did not provide a satisfactory substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit or for individual faith in God.
Emotional Religion, 12. People generally are more emotional than reasonable, and even God's people too often react emotionally to outward appearance instead of acting reasonably by faith. On the occasion described in our lesson, many of the older men, remembering the magnificence of the first temple and seeing the poor beginning of the second, wept at the contrast. Others, untroubled by comparisons, rejoiced that at least a new temple was begun. We may observe that emotions are not only transitory and undependable, but often unpredictable. The same spectacle that made some men weep made others shout because of joy.
Confused Testimony, 13. If the Jewish leaders had hoped that their carefully planned celebration would produce great encouragement and enthusiam for their building program, they must have been sorely disappointed. The varied emotional reactions combined to produce an abundance of noise, but noise so confused and confusing that it carried no clear message to the people who heard.
Maybe we should confess that for nearly two thousand years Christianity of sorts has been making quite a bit of noise in the world, and yet has not always conveyed a very clear message. Either a church or an individual Christian, regardless of noise, gives only a confused testimony when that testimony consists largely of an outpouring of human ideas and emotions instead of the simple proclamation of the word of God.
Key Verse: "And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid."
People shout about a great many things, most of them not worth shouting over. But surely nothing is more worth shouting about than the blessings of God, and surely any true child of God today can find more blessings to shout over than were known to Old Testament saints. Whether with literal shouts or by other means, let us praise our Lord so clearly that none can mistake our meaning. =================
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, August 9, 1968, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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