Unit 7 – Return of the Exiles – # 2 Back to Work Part I: Encouragement

coverrz24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:24 esv

After being harassed by the Samaritan Mafia, the returning flock completely stopped working on the temple…and that stoppage lasted for a period of about 16 years – and in that time there’s been a couple of more changes in their government, which was explained in the homework.

1Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Ezra 5:1 esv

Turn with me to the very small book of Haggai.

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Haggai 1:1-7 esv

The first thing I want you to notice is in verse 1: the second year of Darius the king…

Before captivity, the Jews had dated their history according to the year of their own reigning king. Now their history is dated by the reign of a worldly king to whom they were subject. They were no longer a sovereign nation, and the prophet makes that painfully clear in the way he dates the passage. They are no longer in captivity, but, on the other hand, they really aren’t free either.

Immediately, the prophet begins with a confrontational (tough-love) statement directly from the Lord of hosts – you people took it as a sign that just because it got hard to build My house that it wasn’t the right time to build My house. You made yourselves nice places to live (worldly homes) and yet My house sits in shambles!

But here was the other thing – all of their working and toiling was amounting to about nothing, and the Jews didn’t seem to have a clue as to why. They were throwing their hearts and souls into the things of the world – their food, their drink, their clothing and their wages – but not giving any attention to their spiritual growth. God reminded them, through drought, thirst, cold and poverty that He was still with them, and still wanted their attention. But they did not turn to Him for aid, nor did they rebuild His holy house.

The Jews desired a right relationship with their God, but I think attempting to fight off the Samaritan Mafia just knocked the wind out of them. And apparently, the Samaritans didn’t care that the Jews wanted to build for themselves worldly homes – and these were nice, comfortable homes. The language that’s translated to paneled houses in verse 4 indicates:

…”wainscoted,” or “paneled,” referring to the walls as well as the ceilings; furnished not only with comfort but luxury…

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

So they’d been allowed to set up for themselves some really nice homes. Presumably, when the going got tough enough with the Samaritans, the Jews gave up on pursuing their growth in God and His ways and went with their own desires.

And God says, Consider your ways.

I can’t believe how this portion of the Scripture spoke to me when I was working on it. I am going through an extremely difficult period in my personal life, and many obstacles attempt to prevent me from working on this series of lessons. I find myself, daily, considering just chucking the whole project and not teaching at all. I’ve made a few spiritual errors during this time, and many missteps have steered me away from where God wanted me. There have been bouts of time when I very much focused on my comfort, instead of the growth in God that I required in order to finish this particular unit in our Rebuilding the Temple series…and then I came across this statement in a commentary:

Those employed for God may be driven from their work by a storm, yet they must go back to it.

—Matthew Henry Concise

I was in the same place that the Jews found themselves, in the second year of Darius the king. And as I started to study the book of Haggai, it was as if God was speaking directly to me – because, of course, He was!

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” Haggai 1:7-11 esv

Get your tail to work on learning your God and rebuilding your spiritual life! You can’t make it without Me, and you know it. I won’t bless you if you don’t obey.

About 23 days later, they begin work on the temple again. Verse 12 says that they feared the Lord. They were seeking Him and His ways again. And the Lord promises (verse 13) that He is with them. On the threshold of their obedience, there comes a promise from our good and gracious Creator: I am with you.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 esv

Seeking God and being obedient is always rewarded. And it’s right then that God stirs up the hearts of the people, motivating them to continuing the sacred work of rebuilding the temple.

And as a result of this miniscule act of obedience, blessing begins to pour forth in the form of prophecy, and we learn something that wasn’t clear earlier.

And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:7-9 esv

There are easily a couple of prophecies in those verses. The one seems pretty straightforward because the Jews now appear to have been worried about the lack of gold and silver as regards building the temple – so through Haggai, God reassures the Jews that even though the temple doesn’t look like much now, just wait. Very soon, God will see to it that the treasures of all the nations come into this inglorious hovel.

Now, instead of treasures of all the nations, it says: the desired of all nations niv 1984 (Haggai 2:7) and I think that works better here because I believe this is a tectonic prophecy about the salvation that God has planned for all people, and verse 9 follows up:

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:9 esv

Remember, Solomon’s temple was filled with the cloud of glory, the cloak of God:

10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1st Kings 8:10-11 esv

So I think this second temple will be filled with the “glory” of God when Jesus comes cloaked in flesh:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 esv

God cloaked in flesh, just as He was cloaked in the cloud of glory, at Jesus’ first coming, when He enters the temple:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,     according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,     and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:21-32 esv

And many of the Jews of that time assumed that the Messiah would appear in the second temple. But His coming wouldn’t be for about 520 more years.

Haggai hasn’t finished with all he’s been given to say when another prophet, Zechariah, is called to supplement the current message. Haggai won’t speak again until the 9th month, but Zechariah’s beginning is dated for the 8th month, and he’s going to say the same thing as Haggai has said.

And then Zechariah falls quiet for a few months. In the meantime, Haggai (2:10-19) finishes his message from the Lord. In that message, he reiterates in a way what Zechariah is saying to the people – that they must put their sin away and be obedient people of God.

Even though the people were still sacrificing to the Lord God Almighty, they were still bound in their sinful ways. They were still breaking the Law of Moses, and through Haggai God warns the Jews that their sinfulness will defile that which God intends to make holy in His house. Sacrifice and work won’t make holiness. Their disobedience is going to contaminate that which is holy.


…the presence of God excludes evil; and when He is acknowledged, the power of His presence banishes defilement and brings blessing.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

But how is God going to make all this happen?

20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:20-23 esv

This sounds to me like God is preparing for war, especially if we immediately read the next verses of Zechariah:

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ 10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’ 11 And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ 12 Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ 13 And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. 15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. 16 Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. 17 Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’” Zechariah 1:7-17 esv

This man among the myrtle trees, the Angel of the Lord, is Jehovah – the second person of the Trinity manifested in a man’s form.

Being at once divine and human, He must be God and man in one person.

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

Now that was an awesome thing to behold. God was no longer speaking through the prophets, but to the prophet Zechariah in person – and that hasn’t happened for a while.

The Lord’s patrol (the heavenly host) is there with Him.

Think about it, if Satan walks to and fro on the earth (Job 1:7) making trouble and trial for God’s people, how much more so does the heavenly host protect and guard God’s people? Their protection and valor in the defense of God’s favored creation surpasses anything we could ever imagine.

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand     until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:13-14 esv

11 For he will command his angels concerning you     to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up,     lest you strike your foot against a stone. Psalm 91:11-12 esv

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,     you mighty ones who do his word,     obeying the voice of his word! 21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,     his ministers, who do his will! Psalm 103:20-21 esv

Nonstop, perpetual counterwork is happening all around us, keeping us safe from the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12b esv

The Angel of the Lord intercedes for the Jews at verse 12: O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?

He interceded for them 520 years before He came in human flesh, and He intercedes for us now:

… he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 esv

And my favorite:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1st John 2:1 esv

An advocate – one who pleads the case of another. That’s our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and King.

In response to our Advocate’s pleading, the Lord reveals that He is not happy with how His people have been treated. Judgment was intended, yes, but not the complete obliteration of their national identity. He is planning to bring back His national treasure, His peculiar people and His City. He’s returned with mercy and a measuring line – recall from the prophet Isaiah that the measuring line was a symbol of judgment, but now that measuring line will be a symbol of rebuilding, growth, blessing and the glory that is to come back to the Jews.

18  And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns! 19 And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” And he said to me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” 20 Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. 21 And I said, “What are these coming to do?” He said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head. And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.” Zechariah 1:18-21 esv

There are several theories, albeit similar, on what these four horns mean. Here are just a few:

To a pastoral people like the Jews the horns of the strongest in the herd naturally suggested a symbol of power and pride of conscious strength: hence the ruling powers of the world (Rev. 17:3, 12). The number four in Zechariah’s time referred to the four cardinal points of the horizon. Wherever God’s people turned, there were foes to encounter (Ne 4:7); the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Samaritan on the north; Egypt and Arabia on the south; Philistia on the west; Ammon and Moab on the east.

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

…the four empires of of Babylon, Greece, Persia and Rome; or Syria, Assyria, Nineveh and Babylon.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

The complete fulfillment of the second vision is still future. The four horns are identified as the four nations which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem—in other words, the four Gentile world empires: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

—William McDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary

And then the Lord shows Zechariah how He will deal with them, and the prophet sees 4 craftsmen. The KJV calls them carpenters…and that made me really curious so I looked up the word in my Strong’s Dictionary and it’s a word that also means artificer, which means a skilled or artistic worker or craftsman (Webster’s Desktop Dictionary) – so someone with a great amount of talent.  And I thought craftsman or artificer was a really weird word to use to describe these Divine agents of justice, but then I came across this little tidbit in my commentary:

The several instrumentalities employed, or to be employed, in crushing the “Gentile” powers which “scattered” Judah, are hereby referred to. For every one of the four horns there was a cleaving “artificer” [something with a tremendous amount of skill] to beat it down. For every enemy of God’s people, God has provided a counteracting power adequate to destroy it.

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

After I read that, all I could think of were Paul’s words to the Philippians:

19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 esv

No matter what wickedness and injury that Satan has planned, God has a counterplan to encourage and strengthen us for our good and His glory. Our Lord God Almighty and His heavenly host are all around us, fighting for our justice and His glory. He only asks us to obey, and He’ll take care of the rest. The battle rests with Him, and He never loses.

© 2016 Ta`Mara Hanscom


Worksheet to prep for October 16, 2016 3-back-to-work-part-ii-zechariahs-night-visions-worksheet

This is part of our continuing series:

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University of Sioux Falls – October 7, 2016

It was a delight and a blessing to teach the parables of Matthew 13 to the 11:00 and 1:00 classes at the University of Sioux Falls on October 7, 2014.

Students: Thank you for your sweet welcome and attention! You were a joy to speak with! And, as promised, my narrative is posted here. At the very end of this post you will find a pdf with highlighted answers corresponding to your worksheets.

Have a super weekend!

About 25 years ago or so I was the assistant to the senior partner of one of the busiest law offices in Rapid City, SD. It was my great honor and privilege to keep track of a man who’d been the Secretary of Labor for the State of South Dakota, and upon leaving that position he had opened his own law firm. We had hundreds of open and active files, specializing in workers compensation and personal injury. We also represented a Fireman’s Union – with which we were deep into a mystery.

One of our most difficult tasks was keeping track of one another’s calendars. So to keep track of our separate schedules, we’d trade calendars on a regular basis – he’d copy off the appointments that I’d made, and I’d copy off the appointments that he’d made.

Now, one of my responsibilities was to take care of the file set up. I’d get the new client’s name, address, phone number, assorted problems, etc., and set up a new file with all this pertinent information.

One day I found a name on my attorney’s calendar that had no phone number. It was simply just the name Muffy Shots, in the 3:00 slot, and I believe it was on a Tuesday.

It was unusual when my attorney didn’t put a telephone number with one of the names that he’d added to his calendar, but we’d been in it deep with this firemen’s union. I presumed that Muffy Shots was probably a fireman, coming into the office with extremely confidential information – so confidential that I was not allowed to have his phone number for the file set up.

I have an extremely suspicious mind – and I love mystery. So, I said not one word to my attorney. I simply added Muffy Shots to the calendar, set up a secret file that I placed in my drawer, and waited for Tuesday at 3:00 to come. I could hardly stand the suspense.

Tuesday finally arrived. My attorney and I met that morning, like we usually did. We sent out some letters, answered some pleadings, faxed a couple of nasty-grams across town – all the regular stuff – and when we finished, I closed my binder and reminded him, “Don’t forget about Muffy Shots this afternoon,” hoping he’d give me some sort of a clue as to the mystery surrounding this new client.

He said, “Oh, that’s right! I nearly forgot!”

I waited a couple of seconds for an explanation, but when none was forthcoming I left his office and went to work.

I could hardly eat my lunch that day. I was in such turmoil about what in the world was going on with Muffy Shots; more importantly, why on earth didn’t I know! I knew everything in that office. I practically ran the place, yet I didn’t know what was bringing Muffy shots in to see us.

At approximately 2:45 that afternoon, my attorney came barreling down the hallway, obviously in a hurry.  He was carrying a huge file and he handed it to me saying, “I’ve got to get out of here. I’m almost late. Will you take care of this for me?”

I took the file, horrified to realize that he was leaving! “But what about Muffy Shots?” I asked.

My attorney looked at me and frowned. “Yes, you reminded me this morning. That’s where I’m going. I agreed to take Muffy for his shots this afternoon.”

The look on my face must have been something else, because my attorney started to laugh and he said, “You know…Muffy my dog?”

Oh yeah…I thought…I know Muffy. I’d known Muffy for years. World’s greatest dog…

I’d assumed that Muffy Shots was somebody else. And instead of asking a simple question, I built my own philosophy around the alleged person of Muffy Shots.

Jesus’ disciples did not do that. While I thought I was just all that, practically running the place, too brilliant to even ask a question, Jesus’ disciples humbled themselves and asked, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Matthew 13:10b esv

Why do you do that Jesus?

Now, I like to teach within context, so if you have your Bibles with you, turn with me first to Mark 3. I am teaching out of an ESV, but I’ve used several translations to prepare for this class. We are studying the parables in Matthew 13 and will spend the bulk of our time there, however, what I want part of your experience to be is the blessing of having several synoptic gospels to extract from. Looking at the same circumstances from another eye-witness’s point of view expands context and gives us a panoramic understanding of the situation at hand.

One thing that interests me about the context in which Jesus spoke these parables, and I hope it will interest you too, is what Jesus has already experienced on this particular day.

At this point in our Gospel history, Jesus has been healing so many people that He’s developed this following, and it’s growing more every day. The religious leadership at this point is threatened by what they perceive to be Jesus’ success. They’re starting to lose their influence over the people, and they loved their power. They liked control and manipulation, and Jesus was never going to be part of that. They know this, and so they want Him dead. So Jesus decides to get away from these folks for a time.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him… Mark 3:7-10 esv

…lest they crush Him…!

Woah…that’s a big crowd. The Pharisees are willing to kill for His crowd.

Okay, now in my Bible I just have to turn the page because I’m going to skip to verse 20 of this same chapter.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:20-21 esv

That word seize in my ESV is translated went out to get Him in the NCV.  My NIV 1984 translates, they went to take charge of Him. The Greek word in that portion of Scripture is krateō, and it means to lay hold, which is how it is rendered in the KJV.

His family was upset, and they were going to take Jesus by physical force away from the crowds that loved Him…because they thought that He was out of His mind. My KJV says that they thought He was beside Himself. The Greek word that’s used there is existēmi, and literally translated means He’s out of His wits just because He doesn’t take a break from His teaching in order to eat.

And then the Scribes – church leaders of Jesus’ time – were standing there, listening to His own family say these things about Him, and they were like, well, He’s possessed by the devil.

Now, not anywhere in what we just looked at was a single question asked of Jesus. He was miraculously healing and doing good. This was a good Man. Whether or not you believe He was the Son and person of God is irrelevant. He did not break a single law, and He performed only righteous works. Yet the assumption of the “leaders” deteriorated into: He’s possessed by the devil.

That’s some warped philosophy.

Turn with me to Matthew 12, where we will catch up with Jesus’ family.

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50 esv

Jesus draws a line here. His mother and his brothers symbolize the nation of Israel, whom Jesus came to heal and save. But since they won’t have anything to do with His ministry (at this time) he sends a distinct signal that He’s making a break with Israel – and if they won’t have Him, He will reach out to those who will. And He stretches out His holy hand and declares a new family. This is about obedience, not worldly opinion.

And it’s after all of this, on this particular day in Jesus’ earthly life that He gives us a beautiful set of parables that so richly illustrate His call to each one of us to relinquish our complacency and lack of regard when it comes to our eternal future and take hold of the salvation He freely offers.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Matthew 13:1-10 esv

Why do you talk like that, Jesus? Why do you do that?

Everyone else is  making a lot of assumptions about Jesus – but the disciples decide to ask a question instead, and Jesus has an answer for them. 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” Matthew 13:11-15 esv/Isaiah 6:9, 10

These people who’ve been following Jesus have been listening to Him and they’ve turned to Him, and they’ve been healed – physically and spiritually. But, there are those among us who don’t care about the Truth – in fact, they’re downright hostile to it – just close their eyes when the Word is spoken. To seek the kingdom of God depends upon how thirsty you are, and whether or not you’re willing to take responsibility for that thirst.

Look with me at a promise that the LORD made through Isaiah. The context is the Israelites’ redemption from their captivity in Babylon, and it speaks to the intense thirst they have for God to satisfy that thirst.

19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;     now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness     and rivers in the desert.

What I want you to picture here is a garden that’s been neglected to the point of drought. The ground is hard-packed, and there are those little cracks everywhere. If you throw a bucket of water on the situation, it’s too much to absorb. But if you run a river (soaker-hose) into this desert, and the water is slowly soaked up, then your garden can be restored. 20 The wild beasts will honor me,     the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness,

…wilderness indicates that there is a lot of wandering around going on out there. Nobody’s listening, and for sure they’re not asking any questions. Until they take responsibility for their own thirst, they will remain a desert and wilderness. But God promises that He will give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, Isaiah 43:19-20 esv

And these chosen people are those who hear the voice of Christ, and want more information – and they turn to Him and they’re healed.

The disciples took responsibility for their own thirst when they asked Jesus, “Why do you talk like that, Jesus? Why do you do that?”

And because the disciples are obviously seeking for more on what Jesus is teaching, they are given an explanation:

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Make no mistake guys, those prophets and righteous people were thirsty – they wanted this stuff, but they didn’t want to take responsibility.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. Matthew 13:16-19 esv

Jesus explains that when the word of the kingdom is not understood, that means it has reached a hard heart. This person just isn’t going to be receptive, and that free knowledge of the salvation of Christ just lays there on the surface of that hard old heart. And given a little time, Satan grabs the memory of whatever is lying there – Eugene Peterson wrote in The Message that the Evil One…plucks it right out of that person’s heart. Matthew 13:19 TM

Then Jesus gives an explanation for the seed sown on rocky soil: 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. Matthew 13:20-21 esv

This is the good-time Charlie heart. He (or she) is so excited when anything new comes along! This person receives the message of salvation with great emotion and instant dedication. There’s a great deal of passion for the Gospel message, but good-time Charlie lacks the thirst to nurture their new conversion. Perhaps someone (sibling, a cousin, a parent, friend) comes along and teases or humiliates this person because of their new faith. And since Charlie hasn’t grown roots in his/her new faith, he/she isn’t going to risk all the bad feelings that are going to happen when these relationships fall apart because of this new faith. Charlie immediately steps away from the faith in order to pursue worldly relationships instead of the saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Then Jesus gives an explanation for the seed sown among thorns: 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Matthew 13: 22 esv

This is the Scrooge heart. Scrooge was a great fiscal genius, and he a general knowledge of God – but his thirst for money was greater than his thirst for God. Had he thirsted for God he would have given his money to the poor and needy on a regular basis. Probably would have been a good tither, would have filled in on the local soup line, would have helped out at the homeless shelter. He would have sought to minister to Bob Cratchit and his family, instead of working the daylights out of the poor man, while his family went without.

And then, Jesus explains the seed sown on good soil: 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:23 esv

This good ground represents the true believer – the one who is ready to hear from Jesus Christ, and is thirsty to grow in the knowledge of Him. Jesus doesn’t say that the good ground has no rocks or thorns with which to contend, but obviously this good ground is willing to receive the seed and bring forth various amounts of crops – no matter what the obstacle may be, whether it be rocks or thorns. This fruit that Jesus is talking about is the fruit of the Spirit, and it only comes when we ask Jesus Christ to forgive us for our sins. The Holy Spirit indwells and seals us at that time. Nothing else can get in, and the Holy Spirit never leaves.

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” Matthew 13:24-30 esv

This is the most interesting parable for me as it brings to mind Jesus’ family.

These weeds are folks who are going to give Christians a lot of trouble – and right now, Jesus’ own family looks like a big weed patch. They gossip and they judge, and they seek to control Him.

Think about that for minute…I’ve looked like a weed, and I remember a time when I gave a certain Christian woman such a hard time that I made her cry. I looked so much like a weed, I’m sure she thought I was one.

There are going to be times when it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat – the unsaved and the saved. Because, beloved, even having been a Christian woman since April of 1979, I have not always behaved like a Christian. Sometimes I act a lot like an agent of evil – and, as Jesus explains, it’s hard to tell the difference so the weeds are going to be left until that day when Christ comes in His glory and sorts the thing out Himself. Until then, the wheat (Christians) will continue to mature and serve God in whatever way He desires.

And we do not cut off or dig up those weeds, no matter how much trouble they give us. Instead, we must continue to instruct them with great love, compassion, and humility. (See Luke 9:51-56)

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:31-33 esv

This grain of mustard seed is so small that you can’t even see it in my hand. And this jar of yeast (representing the leaven) small as it is, raises enough dough for me to make 40 large pizzas. Who would think that this seed so small could grow into a beautiful tree wherein birds can nest? Who would think that this dinky jar of yeast would yield for my business something that people just can’t get enough of?

Seriously, who would have thought that such enormous returns could come out of such a dinky investment?

Matthew Henry wrote:

The apostles, by preaching the gospel, hid a handful of leaven in the great mass of mankind. It was made powerful by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts, who works, and none can hinder. Thus it is in the heart. When the gospel comes into the soul, it works a thorough change; it spreads itself into all the powers and faculties of the soul, and alters the property even of the members of the body. From these parables we are taught to expect a gradual progress; therefore let us inquire, Are we growing in grace? and in holy principles and habits?

—Matthew Henry Concise

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;     I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35 esv

These profound mysteries of our Holy Creator were now coming out of the mouth of Jesus Christ. He (Jesus) came to reveal to us that which He made, and all that He intends.

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:36-43 esv

Jesus explanation is obvious: we don’t want to be bundled up with the weeds.

But what I find even more interesting is how the narrative starts at verse 36: he left the crowds and went into the house…so the first 4 parables that we’ve looked at were spoken to the multitudes. The next 3 were reserved for only the disciples…those thirsty followers and the Christ were alone when He says,

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46 esv

A great treasure is worth everything that you have, and that great treasure is in Jesus Christ and the truth of His salvation. And if you give everything you have (time, talent and treasure) it will be worth it to know His truth.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mathew 13:47-50 esv

Jesus ends His series of parables with a warning. It’s much like the wheat and the weeds in that at the end of days the righteous will be kept, but the evil will be cast out.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:51-52 esv

I love this! If we are continually seeking the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, we will be continually learning. And the disciples, by their own admission, understand Jesus’ parables. Therefore, Jesus tells them, they must go out and share the Gospel with others. In other words, they have been skillfully trained journalists and must go out to deliver their report. Jesus describes his disciples as being like the master of a house who shares his blessing of not only newly gained knowledge, but things learned from prior events. Matthew Henry wrote:

Our place is at Christ’s feet, and we must daily learn old lessons over again, and new ones also.

—Matthew Henry Concise

And then we come to the end of the chapter, but also the end of what had to have been a very difficult day for Jesus. Though He was fully God, He was fully man at the same time. And I think this last experience in His own hometown grieved Him deeply.

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:53-58 esv

The people whom Jesus sought to heal and bless, did not believe Him. If they’d only seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, understood with their hearts, and turned – He would have healed them. But even His own family said that He was out of His mind. And while the people of His hometown had plenty of questions about Jesus, not a single inquiry was asked of Him.

Isn’t that interesting?

The disciples asked one very well formed question, and were given volumes of information. The people of Jesus’ hometown gossiped about Him amongst themselves, along with His family, and they could not experience the miraculous.

After the resurrection, Jesus family believed. Two of his brothers, Jude and James, wrote letters to their congregations. James in particular wrote about gossip:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. James 3:3-6 esv

And James knew well what he was talking about, because he’d done it himself.

Inquisitiveness is not profitable when it takes place within the confines of a vacuum, which is what Jesus’ hometown and his family represent. Certainly they had some excellent questions, but they posed not a single one to the Man who could have answered them. Instead of inquiring of Jesus, they ignored the facts, came to their own conclusions, and then shared their opinions with other people. And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. But they didn’t believe, because they didn’t ask.

© 2016 Ta`Mara Hanscom

USF October 7, 2016

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Unit 7 – Return of the Exiles – # 1 A New Thing

coverrzWe left the Black Hills of South Dakota and moved to Sioux City, Iowa, in May of 1999 – almost exactly 17 years ago on the day that I started to write this lesson. We’d bought a failing business that we thought we could turn around in a matter of months. We could not have been more wrong.

We couldn’t sell our house in Rapid City, so we had to rent one when we got to Sioux City. It was a scary place over on Jones Street, but it was all we could afford. It sat on a hill, 25 steps straight up to our front door. It smelled like kitties in the living room, the basement was full of termites, the air-conditioning failed (and being from the Black Hills we weren’t used to the heat and humidity) and the windows were in such disrepair that they wouldn’t open. My dad called it “The Rock,” and he wasn’t talking about the Lord. He was referring to the Nicolas Cage/Sean Connery movie about Alcatraz. This place was that horrible.

Over the course of our first year in Sioux City, while we battled the termites, air conditioning and a flooded basement, the store that we thought we could quickly turn around was losing money left and right. It was costing money to keep it open – money that we didn’t have.

You cannot imagine how discouraged we were…and things didn’t turn around for quite a while.

In the spring of 2000 (one year later) we finally sold our home in Rapid City, and we used the money for a deposit on a little bit better rental and got out of that scary place on Jones. We were still losing money through the store, hand over fist, but this next rental had working air conditioning, and all of the windows opened but one, but Jim had needle nose pliers and that solved that problem.

And somewhere in that spring of 2000 I found myself at the Christian book store. I couldn’t afford to be there, but there I was looking for a Bible study to help me understand my circumstances. For whatever reason, I pulled a paperback off the shelf entitled Ezra, flipped it over and read the back cover. The description was enticing. For many years I’d been what I’d call a New Testament Christian, but I didn’t know anything about my Old Testament. This little study promised to tell me all about the return of the Jews from their Babylonian exile. It said that it would go into great detail about how everything happened, and the corresponding reasons.

Well, I used the last few bucks I had on one of my credit cards and took it home. I started on it the moment I arrived. The first thing it said to do was get some colored pencils – I didn’t have those, and I’d just used my last ounce of credit to by the book. So I thought I’d just use a regular pencil and see what happened.

The problem was that I was supposed to draw different symbols, dashes, circles – all kinds of stuff – in a color-coded format. It was the most complicated thing I had ever undertaken (remember, I make pizza for a living) and I was only a paragraph into the thing.

The further I went into the study, the more complicated it became. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to these Jewish people and why on earth they were living in a Babylonian exile! Though, I did relate to their suffering. I honestly saw a parallel to my own exile in Sioux City, Iowa. I wanted to go home to my beloved Black Hills of South Dakota more than you could ever imagine. And here I was, stuck in a hot, humid hell-hole, losing money hand over fist, trying to learn something from a nonsensical Bible study. I remember thinking, “My God doesn’t make things this complicated…but Satan does.”

I closed the book and threw it in the trash. I sat down and I started to read my Bible from Genesis forward, and now I know what happened to those Jewish people. I know their kings and their prophets, and I know how it pertains to me living in the light of Christ Almighty.

Look with me at a promise that the LORD made through Isaiah. The context is the Israelites’ redemption from their captivity in Babylon, and it speaks to the intense thirst they have for God – remember those dry bones we talked about last week – God is going to satisfy that thirst.

19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;     now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness     and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild beasts will honor me,     the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness,     rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21     the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. Isaiah 43:19-20 esv

I am doing a new thing…

water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, drink to my chosen people…

The captives are going to call out to God in the midst of their spiritual drought. In captivity, they will know they’re dry as a bone. The captives will at last take responsibility for their thirst, and God will satisfy their thirst. He’s going to do a new thing, which speaks to a new time of forgiveness. They will be redeemed from out of Babylon, and blessed with God’s holy Presence.

And not only does this new thing happen to the Jewish people in exile, but a new thing can happen to us right here in Sioux City, Iowa – I am confident of this, because a new thing happened to me! When I finally took responsibility for my own thirst, God soaked me with rivers in the desert.

Now as we begin the account in Ezra, and as we read the records of the returning Exiles, keep in mind that Ezra is just writing this account. He does not go to Jerusalem in the first wave of returnees.

1In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever 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 rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4 esv

So here we have a Gentile ruler, which is to say, a worldly king who does not believe in the God of the Jewish people, making a proclamation in writing giving credit to the God in heaven who’s house is in Jerusalem for his victory and resultant enrichment. Nebuchadnezzar made a similar profession of faith, but only after he’d spent seven years eating grass on his hands and knees.

Cyrus, on the other hand, points out that he’s received the kingdoms of the earth from the God of the Jews in the midst of his blessing. He does not have to be brought low (like Nebuchadnezzar) in order to see from where his blessing originated.

Is this a profession of faith? Possibly. We have to keep it in context however, and the passage begins with: the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.

Remember, 1The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 esv

As well, if we take just a peek into the local history of the time it appears that Cyrus genuinely sought to mollify all of his captive peoples, whether Jewish or otherwise, for the benefit of their gods during his rule.

And not only does Cyrus, in writing, declare that God has blessed him, but he tells the Jews that God has requested of him to suggest that they go back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s house – the holy temple that was destroyed when they were exiled into Babylon.

This would be the equivalent of a worldly unbeliever in our day age coming up to a believer and saying something like: I believe that your God has blessed me with abundance, and He also told me to tell you to get your act together. And think about rebuilding your temple so that you may worship properly in His house – oh, and by the way, here’s a little financing to get you started.

How many of us are going to listen to that?

Well, probably some of us – but not very many, especially if we’re prospering right where we are, like many of the Jewish people were at this time. And if we don’t see anything wrong in our exile, and we consider ourselves blessed in affliction, we’re not going to open ourselves up for potential discouragement.

However, if we’re loving the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds, we’re going to hear startling truth in Cyrus’ words. We’re going to be on board with rebuilding our temple, which in our day and age is our body (individually and corporately).

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:5 esv

So the Jewish people are going back…at least some of them. What’s important to realize in the above verse is that God is always moving and calling out to us—it’s up to us to respond, i.e., “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers serviced beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15-16 niv 1984

So some of the Jews are going back to rebuild – the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites with all whose spirits God had moved.

One thing my commentaries pointed out was that a probable reason for such a small amount of returnees was the fact that the northern kingdom had been exiled about 135 years prior to the Judean exile (so approximately 200 or more years in exile). For instance, let’s say England in 1775 exiled our forefathers to America. Well, we’ve been born and raised here. I don’t want to go to England and start over no matter what kind of a deal they offer me! No matter what my roots were 200 years ago, my family and my heritage is here.

ALSO, they knew that their land (back in Judah) had been “resting” or experiencing a “Sabbath” for 70 years—it wasn’t pastures, farmland and villages anymore. Much of their land had reverted back to a wilderness and required resettling. This was going to be dangerous.

And besides wilderness, there were people there, just to the north, who really didn’t want the Jews coming back and starting up their religion again.

Remember when the northern kingdom was exiled… 24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities…

And there’s a plague of lions, and so the king of Assyria sends a priest from out of his batch of exiles to teach the transplants how to worship Jehovah, and that gets rid of the lions…but:

29 …every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived…

33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. 2nd Kings 17:24-33 esv

And the new race that came out of those people, the Samaritans, do not want anything to do with the pure worship of Jehovah, which the exiles intend to restore – and God stirs up enough of these exiles to make a profound difference in what will take place in Jerusalem.

When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, Ezra 3:1-2a esv

First things, first; they will worship.

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29 esv

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,     ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;     worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. Psalm 29:1-2 esv

…they built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. They set the altar in its place, Ezra 3:2b-3a esv

Most likely this means that they put the altar back into its original footprint.

They set the altar in its place for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. Ezra 3:3 esv

And they start to obey completely the Law of Moses, maintaining the burnt offerings and the feasts as prescribed by Moses. This was a sacrificial worship. In our day and age it would be our time, talent and treasure. (References were in homework). Fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and that’s these Samaritans. They are terrified of these people bringing trouble into their midst, and so the Jews start to worship in the ways that God gave Moses. Worship is their solution to fear. They gathered as one man… Ezra (3:1), so we know that the community is united in a common cause, and that’s in their worship of the Lord God Almighty.

It takes about 14 months after they’ve returned to Jerusalem to get the foundation of the temple in order. So far it doesn’t seem as if the Samaritans that they fear have tried to meddle in their plans, so they begin to rebuild the temple.

10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For he is good,     for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

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. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. Ezra 3:10-13 esv

Not everyone in this unified community was happy about the foundation. The older members of the community remembered the splendor of Solomon’s temple, and when they saw its itty-bitty replacement, they wept with a loud voice.

Here’s the deal, God had asked the Israelites, over and over again, (and there were some among the returnees who remembered this) “…consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy…” (Leviticus 11:44) but they’d lived such unholy lives that now their temple was a shambles, and they knew it—their sins had manifested themselves into a pile of rubble. God’s chosen people “My peculiar treasure” (Exodus 19:5 KJV) suddenly saw their lust and greed for what it was, and they were filled with sorrow.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” Ezra 4:1-2 esv

 The adversaries (NIV 1984 uses the translation enemies) of Judah and Benjamin come along and offer their “help” in the rebuilding. These folks would be the Samaritans we just read about in 2nd Kings. They’re sort of like the Mafia. They’re enemies. They are completely different from the Israelites, and everyone knows it. Why on earth are they offering their “help?” Thankfully, the Jewish leadership knows what’s up.

 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Ezra 4:3 esv

In other words, “You can’t help us because we know you’re not holy and pure in your worship. Besides, we’re working under authority of the king!”

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build Ezra 4:4 esv

Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, Ezra 4:4 kjv

 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:3-5 esv

The exiles were deeply grieved and repentant when they saw that teeny little foundation, yet they continued to rebuild their temple – their place of worship. But then Satan, under the pretense of philanthropy, comes along and offers to help them.

This is an incredible parallel as regards our own personal walks with God. Oftentimes we assume that Satan will always come at us with blatant, obnoxious force, and we couldn’t be more wrong. Sometimes he comes quietly, in the form of a “helper.”

If we are truly repentant and we’re trying to clean up our act, what in the world do we want with people, whose beliefs don’t line up with our Scriptures, giving us advice on how and where we should worship? And perhaps, can they help us in that worship?

George Williams said of these “helpers,” they

…induce Christian people to accept in spiritual efforts the cooperation of persons who are not true followers of Christ.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

They are God’s enemies, plain and simple. Their beliefs don’t line up with what we find in His Word. Their intention is not to “help” you. They are Pretenders and you need to avoid them.

So, these enemies of Judah and Benjamin, the Samaritan Mafia, Pretenders, offer their “help,” and when the Israelites refuse, the Pretenders go into subvert and destroy mode – just like any good Mafia operative would.

 They bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose… esv

The KJV says hired; the NIV says bribed officials to work against them.

“Hired guns” would be the appropriate present-day terminology. The Samaritans paid the local Mafia to take care of the problem.

Discourage, frighten, frustrate, scheme, gossip – these are tools of the Pretender. If you reject a Pretender’s false overtures, you’re gonna pay.

This is an old, old scheme of the devil. He is not particularly creative, and he uses the same old tricks to divert and distract us away from our purpose in God that he always has. What’s really alarming is that we always fall for it!

I’ve actually had this same trick played on me, right here in this century. I had just started my writing ministry, and I wasn’t prepared for the Pretender. I wound up accepting help from a full-blown Pretender. When I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I separated from the Pretender’s “help.” That ole Pretender flipped out and made so much trouble for me that my ministry came to a standstill, and I had a serious crisis in my faith.

24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:24 esv

24Thus the work on the House of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:24 niv 1984

Discourage, frighten, frustrate, scheme, gossip.

But God knew that all that would happen, so He already had a plan of encouragement in place – because nothing is going to stop Him from doing His new thing.

God is the flawless inventor of our encouragement. And just like He did with me, He will get these Israelites back on track! God used faithful servants to minister to me at my lowest point and do a new thing in me. In two weeks we will see how He used two faithful prophets to do a new thing in Israel.

But those who prophesy are speaking to people to give them strength, encouragement, and comfort. 1st Corinthians 14:3 ncv

September 25, 2016 PDF

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© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

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Unit # 7 – Return of the Exiles (Intro) Exiled in the World They Loved

coverrzI love the Old Testament! Its rich history reveals to us the power and majesty of our living God, and His work within us!

16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, Ephesians 3:16-20 esv

Honestly, I don’t think any of us can have an appreciation for the life of Christ within us unless we know about His historical power in the Old Testament.

Last spring we left off our studies with the people of Judah being taken into exile in Babylon – some of this will be review, especially if you read the prophetic Scriptures over the summer months. But also, we’ll fill in the big Biblical blank between the time the Israelites were taken into captivity and when Cyrus decreed to set them free.

The exile of the Israelites is easy to see from our side of their history. We have the Scriptures to look back on and study, and can watch each step they made in the wrong direction. Though they’d been warned against making friends with the world around them, the Israelites couldn’t seem to help themselves. From Genesis forward it looks as if they always wanted to keep just one little toe in a friendship with the world.

James warns us: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:1-4 esv

God considers our worship of anything other than Him adultery – you adulterous people!

For the Israelites, their adultery in their relationship with God involved casting aside His perfect Law and participating in fertility rites and child sacrifice lifted up in the names of many of the gods in their surrounding nations and communities. Furthermore, they’d brought these abominations into God’s house.

God, through prophets and His own Angel, warned them over and over again that they would be punished for their adultery, but they wouldn’t listen.

Jeremiah preached:

30 “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. Jeremiah 7:30-33 esv

I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like the potential for a valley of dry bones! Which is where we are going to pause for just a little bit. Please turn with me to Ezekiel 37.

A young priest, Ezekiel, exiled in Babylon, was given a vision of dry bones:

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. Ezekiel 37:1-2 esv

The dry bones that Ezekiel envisioned were not only those who’d perished in judgment, but they represented the dry spiritual state of the exiles. They’d turned from a gracious, loving God, smack dab into a violent religion. They were so spiritually dry they were nothing but a garbage pile of bones.

The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had been given power from God to remove the Israelites from the Promised Land – and the survivors were taken to his country, where they served that nation for 70 years. And while they were there, God told the Israelites to pray for the peace of the city of their exile, plant gardens, build houses, get married, have more sons and daughters…and get them married off as well.

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:12-14 esv

As they were exiled, the Israelites’ mouths were closed for their God. But God knows that after a time in exile their voices would call out to Him, and Him alone, and He’s going to hear them and bring them back to the Promised Land…

Which brings us back to Ezekiel’s vision:

3And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:3-6 esv

O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…

These dried up, religion-loving exiles need to hear the word of the Lord so that they can be restored to their relationship with I AM – their Creator, and their God.

7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

Sound = voice;

rattling (some translations say shaking) = earthquake.

So there are these skeletons sort of rattling around…just some empty bones. But there’s been a voice and an earthquake…And there are a couple of ways this can be interpreted.

Literally, it’s God’s voice calling the Israelites out of their spiritual graves. But I love what George Williams wrote about this verse:

The commanding voice of Cyrus caused a political earthquake and raised the exiles out of their captivity grave…

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

2nd Chronicles and Ezra 1 both report that the heart of Cyrus was stirred up or moved by the Lord to show immense favor for the captive Jews. One cannot imagine the political unrest when this mass exodus of a captive people is ordered by the king.

 8And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

So these rattling around skeletons are clothed in some beauty. The human body in all of its complexities is a beautiful thing – But there was no breath…

The Hebrew for breath can also be translated spirit. These beautiful bodies had no spirit in them.

You know, we can look really good on the outside, but on the inside we are still dead.

The Pharisees were beautiful – on the outside – and Jesus scolded them for it:  26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:26-28 esv

You haven’t taken My ways to heart. You’re just faking your way through it, hoping to impress others with your appearance! But I know what’s missing within you – it’s My Spirit.

There’s a lot of knowledge packed into this Book, and I love every word. But for as much as I pack into my head, if I don’t take any of it to heart, and if I don’t bow before the One who wrote the words, then I’m just impressing those on the outside – those who listen to my knowledge, those who are impressed with my studies. And that’s not the audience I should be worried about.

Thankfully God has already implemented a plan to fix that! And the vision of Ezekiel is a double prophecy, richly illustrating not only what’s getting ready to happen to the exiles (who are so filled with phony religion), but also a future plan for us.

9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off. ‘ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:7-14 esv

Jesus promised: 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

We can be dead at times – just like those dry bones – but then our Savior speaks into His creation and we hear His voice. Now, whether or not we answer is up to us… 28…an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:25-29 esv

O dry bones, you’d better hear the word of the Lord!

Last year we left off in the final stages of Judah’s judgment and captivity all due to their not hearing the word of the Lord. And though the Bible isn’t specific on those 70 years, I looked at several ancient historians and pieced together what happened to the Israelites (and the Babylonians) before Cyrus came along and set the captives free – speaking to them the word of the LORD!

The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, took whoever had survived the lengthy siege back to Babylon, where they were to serve that kingdom. And while Nebuchadnezzar ruled (about 43 years), Babylon prospered – but as soon as he was gone there was quite a bit of civil unrest and Babylon started to change governments left and right.

After Nebuchadnezzar died, his son, Evil-merodach, ascended the throne, and the Babylonian government went into a complete upheavel.

According to historians, Evil-merodach released King Jehoiachin (the Judean king who’d lived in exile for 37 years – which we do have in our Biblical history) within moments of the beginning of his reign. And apparently it upset the oligarchy so much that after only a couple of years, Evil-merodoch was assassinated in a coup possibly instigated by his sister’s husband – who’d been a high ranking official in Nebuchadnezzar’s army. His name was Neriglissar.

Neriglissar appears to have been a peaceful ruler as there’s no evidence of war or anything like that during his reign. He was reported to have died a natural death only 4 years later, and his son, Labashi-Marduk, ascended the throne. He was quite young – historians refer to him as a child king – and his rule lasted only 9 months. Neriglissar, his father had not been of royal blood, and so it appears from different historical writings that the priestly party of the time decided to end that dynasty and they appointed a sort of statesman of the time. His name was Nabonidus.

Nabonidus actually married Nerglissar’s widow (which was Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter), and they had a son named Belshazzar – whom we become familiar with in the book of Daniel.

According to my Chronological Study Bible, Nebonidus actually left Babylon in the hands of his fairly incompetent son (Belshazzar) in order to live in an oasis in the Arabian dessert so that he could worship the moon god, Sin.

So the Persians decide to take advantage of this. And one night while Belshazzar is partying it up with his harem and one thousand of his closest friends, drinking wine from the holy vessels of God Almighty, he was slain and the kingdom of Babylon was given into the hand of Darius the Mede.

Darius is either a throne name for King Cyrus, or it’s the name of the governor that Cyrus put in charge of Babylon. At any rate, when we hear about Darius we can interchange his name with Cyrus.

The prophet Isaiah had foretold the Babylonian decline 200 years before it happened, and then he named the king who would deliver Israel out of exile.

28…Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,

and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;

saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’

 and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid. ‘”

1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,

 whose right hand I have grasped,

to subdue nations before him

and to loose the belts of kings,

to open doors before him

that gates may not be closed:

2 “I will go before you

and level the exalted places,

 I will break in pieces the doors of bronze

and cut through the bars of iron,

3 I will give you the treasures of darkness

and the hoards in secret places,

that you may know that it is I, the Lord,

the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,

and Israel my chosen,

 I call you by your name,

 I name you, though you do not know me.

5 I am the Lord, and there is no other,

besides me there is no God;

 I equip you, though you do not know me…Isaiah 44:28 – Isaiah 45:5 esv

God had formed Cyrus, and even though Cyrus didn’t know who God was, God called him by his name. Page back with me to Ephesians 3:14 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…

Cyrus, according to Josephus, had heard of this prophecy of Isaiah. It was supposed to the early historians of Biblical history, that this was why Cyrus sought to restore the exiles to their homeland, and rebuild their temple and city. And that may be so, however, our sacred record says that: the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia 2nd Chronicles 36:22besv

1The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 esv

God’s hand was on Cyrus’ heart, so whether or not he knew about Isaiah’s prophecy, Cyrus was still God’s servant.

At this point in history, the Jews have been through many government changes and wars, however, now with Cyrus at the helm of Persian leadership, if they so choose, the Jews are free to go home.

The freedom granted to the Jewish exiles is so cognate to our salvation in that while we are set free from sin and indwelled with the Holy Spirit, our physical bodies remain exiles from heaven here on earth.

And as we go through the Biblical history of the rebuilding of their worship and their temple, we’re going to be able to relate and sympathize with their struggles. Which is another reason I love Old Testament history! We’re living the same things right here in present day.

Because, let’s face it, we are just a beautiful bag of bones, clanging around without lives until God puts his breath into us.

Paul said about the Old Testament ancients who turned from God to idolatry that …these things took place as examples for us, that we might not *desire evil as they did. 1st Corinthians 10:6 esv

*friendship with the world

We can look upon each and every struggle that Israel experienced and learn from their sin and destruction. And if we pay attention to this sacred history, gifted to us by a holy God who loves us, I can guarantee we’ll avoid a lot of the heartache that we see the rest of the world experiencing. Not only that, but we’ll expose the glory of our Creator, casting a brilliant light in the darkness, and snatching many from the fire. (Matthew 5:14-16; Jude 17-24)

© 2016 Ta`Mara Hanscom


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Ladies’ Sunday School begins September 18, 2016

coverrzThe exile of the Israelites is easy to see from our side of their history. We have the Scriptures to look back on and study, and can watch each step they made in the wrong direction. Though they’d been warned against making friends with the world around them, the Israelites couldn’t seem to help themselves. From Genesis forward it looks as if they always wanted to keep just one little toe in a friendship with the world…

Join us on Sunday, September 18, 2016, for our new unit in Rebuilding the Temple, Return of the Exiles. We’ll be meeting at 10:30 a.m. Lessons and worksheets will be posted here the following week. Come in person, or follow us on this blog.

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

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To Change A Heart

What I notice the most about politicians, as they endeavor to win my vote, is that they continually promise to change the existing laws – always in order to benefit a certain class of people. Whether to benefit those who want the laws to obtain abortion kept without change (or even augmented), or whether to benefit that class of business men and women who desire to keep a larger portion of the money that they earn, the bottom line on a politician’s promise is to change the law.

And speaking of the law…

Over these past few years I’ve been up to my ears in Old Testament law and history. My ladies’ Sunday school class has studied (in-depth) the rise and fall of Israel from their inception, all the way to their judgment and exile. God gave them many, many laws to follow, all of which were for their benefit. Unfortunately, they managed to follow only a very few.

God’s first command to Israel was: “You shall have no other gods before me.  “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them… Exodus 20:3-5a esv

Well, Israel fell into idol worship, and not only did they carve images and bow down to them, but they served and prayed to these images as well. And the service required to worship these idols was horrific. Many Israelite children were given in sacrifice (burned to death) in order to satisfy the idols their parents had carved for themselves.

God said to Israel, through the prophet Jeremiah: 30 “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Jeremiah 7:30-31 esv

God didn’t give a command (law) requiring child sacrifice, and in the end Israel and Judah were exiled and judged, in part, because of what they’d done to their children. Had they followed God’s good law, things would have been vastly different for them.

Which brings me back to these politicians who promise to change the law…

As I was thinking about this the other day it occurred to me that when God sought to reach humanity He didn’t start revising His perfect law. Instead, He set about to change hearts. He sent His only Son to minister and die for us so that our hearts would be changed in His goodness.

When the church in the Book of Acts starting living for the glory of Jesus Christ, 42 they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 esv

…with glad and generous hearts…

God, through the extravagant gift of Jesus Christ, changed the hearts of the people. Their possessions became irrelevant; fellowship took a center role in their community. They aided the impoverished, they reached out to the lost, and they won a reputation of grace. They praised their God, and He added to their congregations. They operated with glad and generous hearts, and they, in turn, were able to change the hearts of many. What a beautiful cycle.

God promised, through the prophet Ezekiel, And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 esv

That new Spirit comes from a belief in our beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who promised to send the Comforter. The church in Acts renounced their sin and turned from their deceitful ways. They believed that Jesus had died for them and was resurrected for them, and they became brand new creations.

Beloved, it’s not about changing laws in order to make things better in this nation – more than anything we should seek to change the hearts of the people most near us. Whatever one can do, that he/she should do. Can you pray for someone who is suffering? Can you share a meal? Can you give a ride? Can you give some of your clothing? Can you pay a medical bill? Can you pay the rent? What can you do?

And, to be clear, I’m not advocating skipping the ballot box. I believe it’s an awesome privilege as well as a duty to vote. Whatever political platform lines up with my Biblical belief, that’s the way I lean.

But in the meantime, let us set out to change hearts instead of laws. Laws will always be broken, even the Laws of God Almighty. But when God changes a heart, it will change forever.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 esv

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

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Unit # 6 Kings & Prophets – # 11 The Sons of Josiah Part I – Shallum & Eliakim

neo-babylonian-empireOf all the kings of Judah, only Josiah had 3 sons who sat on the throne at Jerusalem.

After all of Josiah’s victory and revival there in Jerusalem, he neglects to ask the Lord how he should proceed in one matter of war – when Pharaoh Neco goes up to help the Assyrians at Carchemish.

The Babylonian Kingdom is all over the Assyrians. Babylon had nearly completed their dominance over the region, but the Assyrians and the Egyptians wanted out from under Babylonian rule.

Josiah’s great grandfather, Hezekiah, had made a treaty with the Babylonians so he rides out to fight Neco, defending his Babylonian ally, but he only makes it as far as Megiddo.

21 But he [meaning Neco] sent envoys to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.” 22 Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. 23 And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” 24 So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in his second chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died…2nd Chronicles 35:21-24a esv

Ahab did the very same thing (1st Kings 22). Right before Ahab, king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, are about to go to war against Syria for the land at Ramoth-gilead, the prophet Micaiah prophesies that it’s in this battle Ahab will fall. So, hoping to avoid injury and/or death, Ahab disguises himself – and he loses his life.

With king Josiah gone, Jerusalem goes from revival to a full-blown panic. The people take Josiah’s youngest son Shallum and anoint him king of Judah. His name becomes Jehoahaz, and he is of a mindset against Egypt. This could be perhaps why his older brother, Eliakim, is passed over for the throne by the people. Because, as events unfold it certainly appears that Eliakim desired an alliance with Egypt, instead of Babylon – whom had been a long-time friend of Judah. An alliance with Babylon would make Judah enemies of Egypt.

It can’t be ignored that Jehoahaz reinstitutes idol worship in Judah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 2nd Kings 23:32 esv

He was a rebellious punk, but he was the man chosen by the people – who, honestly, weren’t really that interested in a revival. As we’ve previously studied, they were plotting to go back to idol worship during Josiah’s revival, and they were making their plans right in the Temple of the Lord!

According to the Babylonian Chronicle Neco’s campaign to the north lasted three months (July- Sept., 609 B.C.), and the Babylonians beat him badly. Nebuchadnezzar (who at the time was the crown prince of Babylon and commander of the Babylonian army) couldn’t stick around to finish off Neco because he received word that his father had died. Quickly, he had to return to Babylon in order to secure the throne.

So Neco survived, and according to 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles, Neco then dealt with Jehoahaz – the anti-Egypt ruler, who’s in treaty with Babylon, who’s just beat the pants off Egypt – on his way back to Egypt. …Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem…2nd Kings 23:33a esv

In all my research, I could not find out for certain what Jehoahaz is doing in Riblah, where he is dethroned and hauled away to prison in Egypt. Riblah was Neco’s military headquarters at the time, so I’m going to take a guess that Jehoahaz is there to continue the fight against Neco, on Babylon’s behalf, hoping to overcome him in his weakened state.

Neco isn’t going to stand for that. At the first chance, he grabs the king, has him thrown in prison, and puts the eldest living son of Josiah on the throne in Jerusalem. Eliakim’s name is changed to Jehoiakim, and in doing this Neco establishes authority over all of Judah. Jehoiakim is, evidently, pro-Egyptian alliance. (And that fact will be revealed in the book of Jeremiah) He punishes the people of Judah (the ones who’d put his little brother, Shallum, on the throne ahead of him) with heavy taxation in order to support Neco’s ongoing war with Babylon.

The prophet, Jeremiah, is watching all of this go on in his country, and God gives him message after message to relate to the newest king, and his subjects.

Along with gloom, doom and despair, Jeremiah’s sermon at the Temple conveys a clear message of hope from the Lord:

It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. Jeremiah 26:3 esv God will always forgive, if only they would listen and turn from their evil.

At this point, Egypt and Assyria have forged an alliance against the ever-growing kingdom of Babylon. Neco is rebuilding his military presence, creating a stronghold in the contested area of Carchemish, and Jehoiakim, being Neco’s ally, is probably helping him. God, through Jeremiah, is warning them of a disaster just around the corner – and it started with Carchemish.

From what I’ve been able to figure out in the history of Jeremiah, is that in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, the Babylonians beat Neco again in Charchemish. And they beat him so bad that he retreated back into Egypt. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar was hot on his tail and continued to war with Egypt at their border.

The reduced nation of Judah was right in the middle of this war – and they were a vassal state for Egypt, which meant that they had to support Neco.

God warns Judah, through Jeremiah, that it’s only a matter of time before Babylon invades – and what’s left of Judah will go into captivity and serve Nebuchadnezzar for 70 years. Jeremiah is very specific about this impending doom – unless they repent. God will always forgive.

Well, the leadership there in Jerusalem doesn’t care for what Jeremiah has to say. He’s almost executed for his first sermon at the Temple. And somewhere along the line, he’s banned (restricted niv1984) from the Temple and the court because of his messages.

But Jeremiah, ever faithful to his God, is not about to shut up about Judah’s dire circumstances. So, at the request and direction of the Lord, he writes a letter to God’s people.

In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” Jeremiah 36:1-3 esv

This scroll then would have contained the prophecies of about 23 years. Everything that Jeremiah has prophesied up until this point, even including everything he said to Josiah, is going down on this scroll.

2…spoken to you against Israel and Judah…

Israel refers to the ten tribes in captivity, and God intends for this scroll to be sent to them. Judah refers to the two tribes that are about to be taken into captivity, and God intends for the scroll to be read to them.

 Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am banned from going to the house of the Lord, so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. It may be that their plea for mercy will come before the Lord, and that every one will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.” Jeremiah 36:4-7 esv

6…on a day of fasting…

This is unusual. It shows that the leadership in Jerusalem knows that something is wrong and they have to call out to God for help – and it’s obvious that they want help. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown explains:

An extraordinary fast, in the ninth month (whereas the fast on the great day of atonement was on the tenth day of the seventh month, Lev. 16:29 Lev. 23:27-32), appointed to avert the impending calamity, when it was feared Nebuchadnezzar, having in the year before (that is, the fourth of Jehoiakim), smitten Pharaoh-Necho at Carchemish, would attack Judea, as the ally of Egypt (2Ki 23:34, 35). The fast was likely to be an occasion on which Jeremiah would find the Jews more softened, as well as a larger number of them met together.

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

But, it isn’t until about a year later that they finally call for the fast. In the meantime, Nebuchadnezzar is still fighting Neco on their back porch – and Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. 2nd Kings 24:1 esv

Nebuchadnezzar has gotten into Judah! And he’s even taken some of the hierarchy captive. This was probably when Daniel and his friends were carried off.

Judah is now a vassal state of Babylon instead of Egypt when Jeremiah’s scroll is finally read in the hearing of the princes and officials of Judah, and all of the people.

16 When they heard all the words, they turned one to another in fear. And they said to Baruch, “We must report all these words to the king.” 17 Then they asked Baruch, “Tell us, please, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?” 18 Baruch answered them, “He dictated all these words to me, while I wrote them with ink on the scroll.” 19 Then the officials said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.” Jeremiah 36:16-19 esv

Our king has killed for less, you guys need to hide, and you need to keep it a secret.

Jehoiakim’s heart is so hard that he cannot even consider repenting, even though the Babylonians have already taken citizens out of Judah, and they’re taxing the daylights out of the ones remaining. You’d think that all of the catastrophe that had befallen Jehoiakim’s people would have softened him up a bit.

20 So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king. 21 Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26 And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah the son of Azriel and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the secretary and Jeremiah the prophet, but the Lord hid them. Jeremiah 36:20-26 esv

26…the Lord hid them.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown cross-referenced that verse with these:

19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness,     which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you,     in the sight of the children of mankind! 20 In the cover of your presence you hide them     from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter     from the strife of tongues. Psalm 31:19-20 esv

God hid them and kept them safe for His work.

But as I was thinking about the king mutilating and burning God’s Word, a portion of Romans came to mind:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28:32 esv

Doesn’t that sound just like what we’re learning about the Judean leadership of Jeremiah’s day? The king and all of his servants were not afraid – though the princes of the court (Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah) were obviously freaking out, urging the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen. No wonder God told Jeremiah not to pray for them (Jeremiah 7:16).

We see the same thing in our day and age. People so disrespect our God’s Word that they attempt to cut it off from anybody that it might do some good! The Bible has been thrown out of public service, into the same place that unborn babies have been discarded. Like Jehoiakim, who had undoubtedly burned alive his own children, and then mutilated and burned the Word of God, our own society does the same – and they give approval to those who practice these things.

27 Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 28 “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. 29 And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say, ‘Thus says the Lord, You have burned this scroll, saying, “Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will cut off from it man and beast?” 30 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31 And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity. I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”

32 Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. Jeremiah 36:27-32 esv

So not only was God’s Word restored, but more was added – including a specific judgment against the king himself. The king doesn’t care. He thinks that not only does he not have to listen to God, but he can rise above even the powerful Babylonian forces. In fact, during Jehoiakim’s reign, the Babylonian Chronicle reports that Nebuchadnezzar suffered a weakening of his military while fighting Neco at Egypt’s border. Scholars theorize that Jehoiakim attempted to take advantage of the situation in hopes of freeing Judah from Babylonian rule.

In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates. 2nd Kings 24:1-7 esv

2nd Chronicles adds a little bit of information to all that happened to Jehoiakim: 6…Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon … bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also carried part of the vessels of the house of the Lord to Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon. 2nd Chronicles 36:6-7 esv

Jehoiakim slept with his fathers (2nd Kings)   and … bound him in chains to take him to Babylon…(2nd Chronicles)

The two accounts make it a little confusing as to what exactly happened to the king, except that he died in Jerusalem so, to me, it looks perhaps as if Jehoiakim died before Nebuchadnezzar could take him to Babylon. However, the Babylonian king loots Jerusalem, including the Temple. I find it interesting that Nebuchadnezzar takes only part of the vessels of the house of the Lord. Why didn’t he take all of them? Like, for instance, what happened to the ark of God? Did that go to Babylon, or were they not able to remove it?

Remember when the Philistines captured the ark and had possession of it (1st Samuel 4-5)? They put the ark in their temple, near their god, Dagon, and it wound up face down with its head and hands broken off. Furthermore, Philistines themselves were afflicted with tumors.

I can’t imagine then that God would allow His ark to be taken into the hands of the king of Babylon.

Josiah had the ark returned to the Temple of the Lord, and that’s the last mention of the ark in our Old Testament. It’s not mentioned again until Revelation when John sees it: 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple…Revelation 11:19 esv

My personal theory is that God took the ark to heaven – because within it was His covenant, and both old and what would become our new covenant then were together in heaven until Jesus came.

Along with the other treasures of the temple, Babylon took some more of Judah’s citizens captive. Among them were, more than likely, a young priest named Ezekiel.

Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, is on the throne now, but he won’t be for long.

©2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

# 11 – The Sons of Josiah Part I – Shallum & Eliakim – Narrative WP

Worksheet for April 24, 2016 # 12 – Worksheet

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