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Text: Matthew 9:36
Context: Matthew 9:18-38
The glory of God is not simply in His "natural" attributes, such as His being infinite in power and knowledge, but also and preeminently in His "moral" attributes, such as His righteousness, mercy and faithfulness. That God is not only almighty but also infinitely just and merciful makes Him glorious beyond all comparison. If a man is strong but uses his strength to bully women and children, his strength may be admired but not his use of it. If a woman is highly talented but vain and ill-tempered, her talent will be admired but not her character. God, however, unites infinite strength to infinite goodness, infinite intelligence to infinite love. Truly, God is worthy of our highest praise and deepest devotion!
As God's glory is especially found in his moral character, it is in contemplating and confiding in His infinite goodness that we are molded into His moral likeness. As Paul put it, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18) If we have even the tiniest bit of honesty or self-awareness, we will be conscious of some flaws in our character. If we come to really reckon with our actual moral condition in the sight of God we will realize that we are thoroughly bankrupt morally and in need of a radical transformation. When the prophet Isaiah saw the glory of God filling the temple, he cried out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5) When Peter obeyed Jesus' command to throw his net out into the water even though he had spent all night fishing and caught nothing, and immediately caught so many fish that the boat nearly sank, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8) The first response to seeing God's glory is often to see our own sinful wretchedness. But God's response, as with both Isaiah and Peter, is to reassure us that He can change us. The angel took a coal from the altar and brought it to the lips of Isaiah and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." Then the Lord asks whom He should send forth with His message to the people and Isaiah immediately volunteers: "Here am I. Send me!" Likewise, Jesus tells Peter, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." From being guilty sinners they are changed to become a righteous prophet and a saintly apostle.
This transformation is not the work of a moment, however. It may sometimes take giant leaps but more often than not it occurs gradually over the course of our lives as we learn to turn our minds and wills over to God in the various challenges we encounter. It is by beholding the Lord that we are gradually transformed more and more into His moral likeness. This beholding is not literal or physical but intellectual and emotional. It happens as we pay close attention to what the Spirit is revealing concerning the character and will of our Master, Jesus Christ. As we become better and better acquainted with Christ, we grow to love Him more and more. And as we love Him, we naturally tend to imitate Him, to take on His characteristics. We see this happen quite often in the phenomenon of "hero-worship". A young man greatly admires a basket-ball player. This leads him to spend long hours on the court perfecting his game, making shots and executing maneuvers that he has seen his hero perform. He even wears the kind of clothes and shoes his hero wears. A young woman greatly admires a certain female singer. She devotes much time to getting her voice to sound as much as possible like that singer's voice. She finds out all she can about this woman and imitates her as far as she is able. While no mere human being deserves to be worshiped, some unfortunately are! But when someone comes to realize that there is One who truly is worthy of their absolute love and devotion, the same phenomenon takes place, only to much greater effect and purpose.
The reason that many professing Christians show little fruit in their lives is that they have lost their "first love" for Jesus (Revelation 2:4-5). He has ceased to thrill their souls as He once did. This is not His fault. Rather, it is because they have turned their attention away from Him to worldly fascinations and pleasures. And this is not because these things are better than Him; far from it! The reason we turn our attention to other things is that our minds are naturally fickle and unstable. We suffer from spiritual attention deficit disorder. It is the steady gaze at Christ that overcomes the influence of the world, the flesh and the devil. It takes time to see clearly through the mists of this world. Only as we persevere in contemplating our glorious Savior, savoring His words and beholding the beauty of His being and character, that we grow in love and thus, into His likeness. We must not be satisfied with a superficial acquaintance with Christ. There is so much to learn of Him and about Him! That is why we are going through this series on the character of Christ. Though this series barely scratches the surface of our Lord's glorious character, I hope it will whet your appetite to "press on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3).
So far, we have briefly examined the patient endurance, faith and humility of Christ. Today, it is our privilege to begin an exploration of Christ's glorious compassion. In so doing, we will focus on those instances in the Gospels where the Greek verb for exercising compassion, splanknizomai, is found. Of the twelve times it is used, eight of them are used to describe Jesus, one is an appeal for Jesus to exercise compassion and the other three are used by Jesus in parables that contain an instance of showing compassion. What does compassion mean? The English word comes from the Latin "com", meaning "together" and the Latin verb "pati", to suffer. Compassion is to regard the sufferings of another as one's own. It is a necessary corollary of the duty to love one's neighbor as oneself. If you love another as you do yourself, then you will feel for their suffering as you would your own and treat them accordingly.
The Greek verb is derived from the noun, splanknon, which literally means the innards (heart, lung, liver, intestines, etc.) but figuratively, the emotions or affections. The English word, compassion and the Greek word splanknizomai, while not from the same roots, do convey the same idea: to feel with or for another. This fellow feeling, this sympathy and care for another's sufferings is, in the first place, an emotion. However, mere emotion is not a moral characteristic. Strictly speaking, moral characteristics consist exclusively in states of the will, of the intention. When feelings lead to or flow from a morally right intention or choice, the virtue can be denominated from the feeling, as is the case here.
It is quite possible, in fact, it often happens, that proper feelings do not lead to right intention, choice or action. People will experience feelings of sympathy, pity and compassion but not act upon it. They show that they know the sufferings of another are worthy of their actions to alleviate it but for selfish reasons they fail to act. On the other hand, intentions, choices or actions that are merely the result of the feelings dictating the state of the will are vice rather than virtue, even though they appear outwardly virtuous. A spasm of emotion may yield an outwardly good deed but if the will is simply chained to the emotions then it is obedience to emotion, not to the truth. If one lives to gratify ones feelings because they are one's feelings, this is not virtue but vice, even when the feelings are in some sense good. People sometimes gratify their feelings by outwardly bad behavior and sometimes by outwardly good behavior, but the principle behind both is self-gratification. Selfishness can easily parade about in the robes of righteousness!
God created mankind with what the Bible calls "natural affection". Yes, it does say that some are without such emotions, probably due to the habit of stifling these feelings as impediments to the pursuit of selfish pleasure (2 Timothy 3:3) but all people start out with such feelings. They are not virtuous in themselves but are designed to lead us into virtue as we attend to the truth correlated to those feelings: that the welfare of another is as valuable as our own. If we choose to actually treat the welfare of another as equal to our own because we truly regard their welfare as being equal to our own, then that is the virtue God and righteousness require. Thus, even when feelings of compassion wane, as they inevitably do, our will may remain obedient to the truth.
As we have already noted, the Gospels show that Christ was compassionate and was moved with compassion toward others. We are told this explicitly in several instances but we must not suppose that it was only in these instances that He was so moved. His compassion is mentioned in these instances so that we may get a glimpse into His heart, into the motivation behind everything that He did. Quite simply, He regarded the sufferings of others as His own. This motivated Him to act on their behalf. Let us then go through the several places where Jesus is explicitly said to have acted out of compassion for those who suffered. As we look into these instances, we will see that Jesus' compassion was holistic. Human compassion tends to be partial because it is tainted by selfishness. Depending upon individual temperament and inclination, people will tend to gravitate either toward a regard for the material needs of their fellows or else to the spiritual needs. Some people do not wish to see others as spiritual beings because they do not regard themselves as such. They value worldly happiness and well-being supremely and so cannot imagine that there is such a thing as spiritual need. They feel no need for a relationship with God so why should they bother about how others are faring spiritually? They fear the hard work of bringing about spiritual change. Other people would rather preach to people, talk people into believing as they do than meet their material needs. They convince themselves that people are suffering materially primarily or even solely because they are not doing the right thing, spiritually. They fear the hard work of actually bringing about societal change. Both tendencies flow out of a worldly, selfish spirit. Jesus was not so. He was balanced and holistic. Let us first see that He cared for people's spiritual sufferings.
In point of fact, human beings have tremendous spiritual needs. They are not mere animals. Those who focus primarily or exclusively in meeting the material needs, are treating people as though they were mere animals. We were made for fellowship with God. He is our supreme good, our summum bonum. All other goods flow from Him and are designed to lead us back to Him. When we are not rightly related to our Creator, we cannot do well or be well. This will lead inevitably to the worst of all miseries, eternal self-absorption. So it is not surprising that the first instance we encounter of Christ's compassion in the Gospels concerns the spiritual needs of people: "Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38)
God, through the prophet Isaiah says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…" (53:6a) Jesus also compared the lost condition of mankind to that of wayward sheep (Matthew 10:6; 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7). As Jesus went about overcoming the physical sufferings of people, He also was well aware of, and deeply moved by, the terrible spiritual condition of the people. In this instance, Jesus tells His disciples that there is a great harvest to be gathered, that is, a great number of souls that may be saved if there are enough workers to go out into the world and gather people to the Lord. Jesus saw that these people were, as the Greek may literally be rendered, "harassed" and "thrown down". Sin, and their futile attempts to manage its consequences, left them in a harried and depressed condition. They were not following the true Shepherd, the guardian and overseer of their souls (1 Peter 2:25). In such a condition, they were scattered and lost.
In another place, we read, "The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things." (Mark 6:33-37) Again, Jesus has compassion on people because of their lost spiritual condition. This moves Him to teach them. Many today, even among Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, have grown to disdain and disparage the ministry of the word. They will quote what they suppose was a saying of Saint Francis but in fact cannot be traced to him: "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." The gospel may and must be accompanied by acts of mercy, kindness and compassion that help alleviate the physical and social sufferings of human beings. These are among the foremost of the gospel's credentials without which the message will ring hollow. But the gospel itself cannot be preached without words. It is a message from God. In fact, it is just as much an act of compassion to preach the gospel to the lost as it is to dig a well for their village or provide them with mosquito nets or anti-viral medications to overcome HIV-AIDS. To call such actions as "compassionate ministry" as distinct from preaching the gospel is false and misleading. All Christian ministry is, or ought to be, compassionate ministry. Jesus certainly made no such distinction between meeting the spiritual as compared to meeting the material needs of people.
That Jesus' compassion included meeting the spiritual needs of people is also found in three parables where He uses the word. First, we see it in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus compares God's forgiveness of sinners who plead with Him for mercy to that of a master whose servant pled for forgiveness of a very large debt. Jesus says, "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt." (verses 26-27) But when that servant found a fellow servant who owed him a relative trifle, he would not do as his master had done for him; he would not forgive but mercilessly threw him into prison until he should pay his debt. When the master heard of this, he "handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him." Jesus concluded, "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (verses 34-35) Jesus is warning us that our relationship with God is at risk if we fail to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
The next parable in which compassion is featured is that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Of course this parable does relate to taking compassionate action toward the physical or social sufferings of people but it also relates to our spiritual condition. Remember that the parable was given in response to a lawyer's desire to "justify himself" (Luke 10:29), that is, to be just before God and thus gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is saying that our own eternal salvation is placed into jeopardy or doubt if we fail to heed the need for justice toward our fellow humans. The Samaritan's compassion toward the stranger (a Jew, an enemy of his people, from the context) is what showed that he was justified before God. If the lawyer wished to be truly justified, he must become like this Samaritan. He must help everyone in need, even foreign enemies.
The final parable is that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Here, Jesus compares the heavenly Father to that of a Father whose son has selfishly and rebelliously gone off to squander his inheritance in vice. Finally, the son comes to his senses and sets off to return to his father, "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him andfelt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." The compassion of the father for his wayward son mirrors God's compassion for us in our sins. Jesus had the same compassion for the lost as did His Father.
There is an increasing tendency today, however, to avoid and even disparage efforts to win the lost to Jesus through preaching, teaching and personal conversation. This is because we have lost sight of the fact that we are all sinners and justly deserve to be separated from God forever. I love the liberal/left legacy of concern for the poor and their criticism of the rich. It reminds me very much of Jesus' stance as reflected in the Gospels. Yet, what I see so often among them is a willingness to indulge in sins against their spouses and children. They are socially conscious but lacking self-control. They love charity (selfless giving) but hate chastity. On the other hand, I love the emphasis among conservatives upon self-control and family values. They also sound very Biblical as they champion the freedom and responsibility of the individual as created in the image of God. However, they fail to see how freedom and individualism can and is being abused by business and private interests to the detriment of individuals and society. In other words, both have truncated lists of virtues and vices. They do not accept the whole counsel of God. This is a very human tendency. We pick out those virtues we find easiest for us to do and overlook or even critique as evil those virtues we personally dislike or find difficult. Thus, we justify ourselves and gather fig leaves to cover our moral nakedness.
So now let us consider Jesus' compassion toward those in material need. Jesus worked incessantly at preaching and helping those in need but even He saw the need, on occasion, to get away from the crowds and rest. The arrest of John led Jesus to seek such rest for Himself and His disciples, yet His compassion for suffering humans got the upper hand: "Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick." (Matthew 14:13-14) Jesus had great compassion for those who were suffering from illness and disability. While He did not heal everyone who lived in Palestine during His earthly mission, we know of no instance where Jesus turned down anyone who applied to Him for healing. The motive of compassion in healing the sick is explicitly noted in a couple of other instances: "As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, 'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!' The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!' And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' They *said to Him, 'Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.' Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him." (Matthew 20:29-34) In another instance, a leper brings out Jesus' compassion: "And a leper *came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.'Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and *said to him, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed." (Mark 1:40-42)
Not only illness, but hunger also elicited a compassionate response from Jesus: "And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, 'I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.'" (Matthew 15:32) This led to His miraculous feeding of the Four Thousand. (See alsoMark 8:1-3) All over the world there are people going hungry, some starving to death, including many children. Surely this is grievous to the heart of our Savior who showed by His example how we must do whatever we can to help them.
There is another need mentioned in the Gospels that, in a way, falls between the categories of spiritual and material suffering. I refer to the case of those who were plagued by evil spirits. The examples we find in the Gospels often led to physical and emotional torment. The distraught father appealed to Jesus' compassion (same Greek word though it is here translated as "pity") in order to get help for his demon-possessed son: "And He asked his father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!'"(Mark 9:21-23) While pointing out the unbelief of the father as betrayed in the words "If You can…", Jesus took prompt action, releasing this poor boy from the grip of this fearsome spirit.
Finally, Jesus was moved with compassion for those who had lost their loved ones to death: "Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, 'Do not weep.' And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise!' 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother." (Luke 7:11-15) This reminds us, of course, of how Jesus wept at the grave of His friend, Lazarus, and even though the body had lain four days in the tomb, raised him from the dead and restored him to his grieving family. (John 11:1-44)
If Jesus felt so compassionate for the sick, the hungry, those beset by evil spirits and even those who grieved at the death of their loved ones, why doesn't He always miraculously intervene today to help such people? We must understand that the whole Trinity is grieved at the sufferings of humanity and that God "does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men." (Lamentations 3:33) But God is dealing with the problem of sin. He placed the material world under the curse of decay, disease and death in order to help us overcome the temptation to "worship the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). Adam and Eve chose a piece of fruit over their relationship with God! So likewise have we all done, in one way or another, but the constant reminder that the created things are passing away reminds us that we need to seek a higher good, even fellowship with the living God. In many, this leads to a repentant, seeking frame of mind which the Spirit can use to bring us to salvation.
Nevertheless, this is not God's ultimate goal for us. He is planning to make a new creation and Jesus came as the harbinger of that new creation. His miraculous acts of healing, provision, deliverance and reversals of death were intended to show what God intends to do in the future, on a far greater scale, at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even now, from time to time, God does miracles in order to remind us of this coming kingdom in which there shall "no longer be any death…any mourning, or crying, or pain…" (Revelation 21:4) In fact, God wants us to do our level best to combat sickness, hunger, poverty, oppression (both by men and by demons), war and even death. Not that we shall totally end all of these things before Christ returns but by our so doing, we align ourselves with God's ultimate goal and give witness to the blessings of His coming kingdom, just as Jesus did during His earthly ministry.
God does not delight in suffering, but suffering has become a necessary means to the higher good. In the end, suffering, at least among the redeemed, shall come to an end. Its purpose will have been served. God is compassionate toward us in our sufferings and the greatest evidence for this is found in the mission accomplished by our blessed Lord, Jesus Christ! He who suffered for you on the cross, suffers now with you as you pass through the fiery furnace and the flood of waters. He likewise longs to help billions of others who are suffering, whether from spiritual or material afflictions. Let us join Him in seeking to end that suffering and bring in the wholeness, peace and joy He originally intended for all!
- An outline of Ezra:
- The Return of the Exiles - 1:1-2:70
- The Decree of Cyrus - 1:1-4
- Preparations for the Return and Rebuilding the Temple - 1:5-11
- Census of the People and Priests Who Returned - 2:1-70
- The Rebuilding of the Temple - 3:1-6:22
- Offerings Resumed on the Temple Site - 3:1-7
- Foundation of the Temple Restored - 3:8-13
- Work on Temple Halted - 4:1-24
- Opposition of Local Population during Reigns of Darius and Xerxes - 4:1-7
- Letter of Opponents to Artaxerxes I - 4:8-16
- Artaxerxes Replies and Halts Rebuilding - 4:17-24
- Work on Temple Resumed Despite Opposition - 5:1-17
- Prophets Convince Prince and Priest to Resume Building - 5:1-5
- Local Opponents Write to Darius - 5:6-17
- Temple Rebuilding Allowed, Completed - 6:1-22
- Darius's Decree That Temple Be Rebuilt - 6:1-12
- The Temple Completed and Dedicated - 6:13-18
- The Passover Celebrated and People Rejoice - 6:19-22
- The Return and Reforms of Ezra - 7:1-10:44
- Ezra's Return and Artaxerxes' Decree - 7:1-28
- Ezra Travels to Jerusalem to Teach Israel the Law - 7:1-10
- The Decree of Artaxerxes Giving Ezra Authority to Teach and Judge Israel - 7:11-26
- Ezra's Thanksgiving - 7:27-28
- The Work of Reformation - 8:1-10:44
- The People Who Accompanied Ezra to Jerusalem - 8:1-20
- The Protection of God and the Stewardship of Treasure - 8:21-32
- Treasure Delivered, Offerings Made, Decree Relayed - 8:33-36
- Mixed Marriages Revealed - 9:1-4
- Ezra's Prayer of Confession and Intercession - 9:5-15
- The People Respond and Ezra Appoints a Meeting - 10:1-8
- The People Assemble to Investigate and Rectify - 10:9-17
- Those Who Had Offended - 10:18-4
- Chronology of Ezra
- 606 BC - Conquest of Judah by the Assyrians (First deportation: Daniel)
- 597 BC - Second invasion and deportation
- 586 BC - Destruction of Jerusalem and Beginning of the Exile
- 536 BC - Return of Exiles, Temple Rebuilding Begun (70 yrs. of Captivity concluded)
- 534 BC - Temple Rebuilding Halted
- 516 BC - Temple Rebuilding Resumed, Completed
- 457 BC - Ezra Comes to Jerusalem to Teach and Enforce the Law
- 444 BC - Nehemiah Comes to Rebuild Jerusalem
- Hebrew - 1:1-4:7
- Chaldee - 4:8-6:18
- Hebrew - 6:19-7:11
- Chaldee - 7:12-26
- Hebrew - 7:27-10:44
- The purpose of the book of Ezra is to show how God fulfilled His promise to:
- Return the people of Israel to the Promised Land from their exile in Babylon,
- Rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians
- Restore faithfulness to the Covenant by the remnant of Israel who returned to the Land. It is in the fulfillment of this final promise that Ezra himself plays a pivotal role which is here recorded.
There is a final promise in whose fulfillment Nehemiah played an instrumental role, that is, in the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. That is the subject of the book of Nehemiah. Both of these promises to spiritually "restore" and then to physically "rebuildJerusalem" figure in that wonderful prophecy of Daniel who was among the first of Israel to be exiled to Babylon (in 606 BC) and who lived to see then end of the Babylonian Empire and the beginning of the Persian (9:24-27) We shall examine that prophecy in more detail when we comment upon Ezra 7.
I The Return of the Exiles - 1:1-2:70
A. THE DECREE OF CYRUS - 1:1-4
1. Ezra begins his narrative with the first full year that Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians reigned as king over Babylon, that is, in 536 BC. In that same year, as he tells us, Cyrus fulfilled the "word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah" when he issued a decree that the Jews could return to their ancestral lands and rebuild their temple. What was this prophecy of Jeremiah? It is truly one of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible and shows why the people of Israel preserved the prophetic writings through the centuries after prophecy ceased among them.
2. Jeremiah, in about 603 BC, prophesied that the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, would descend upon the kingdom of Judah with a great army from "all the families of the north" and would lay waste to the land and all the surrounding kingdoms and that the people of Judah would be sent into exile to Babylon. But God added some good news. The domination of the Babylonians would end after seventy years and they would be permitted to return to their land. (25:11; 29:10) All of this came to pass just as God had promised through Jeremiah the prophet, when Cyrus, who had just conquered the Babylonians, decreed that the Jews could return to their land and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
3. The decree of Cyrus is written in Chaldean, the language of the Babylonians, for that language had become the lingua franca of the Middle East. Cyrus commanded that the Jews should return to Judah and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and that the people where the Jews lived should help them with silver, gold, goods and cattle, along with an offering for the Temple. What moved him to do that? Ezra says "the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia". One thing that may have stirred him up was the following prophecy of Isaiah, penned nearly two hundred years before he was born: "It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundations will be laid.' Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 'I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (44:28-45:7) With such an amazing prophecy before him, Cyrus would have been deeply impressed and moved to fulfill it. As we know, the Jewish prophet Daniel not only served in the administrations of the Babylonian kings but also in the early years of the Persian empire and it is very reasonable to suppose that he might have acquainted Cyrus with these and other prophecies concerning the defeat of the Babylonians and the return of the Jews to their land.
B. Preparations for the Return and Rebuilding the Temple - 1:5-11
1. Many from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites responded to the call of Cyrus. There may have also been some of the northern tribes who eventually responded. We know they still remained in the lands to which the Assyrians had exiled them in 722 BC. Also, among those who were in exile with Judah were some from the northern tribes who had migrated to Judah during the divided kingdom period and after the leading citizens of the northern tribes were exiled by the Assyrians. Remember that Anna, the prophetess who welcomed the new-born Messiah when He was brought to be dedicated in the Temple was a member of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36-38).
2. Cyrus delivered over to the Jews 5,400 articles of silver and gold that were once used in the Temple but had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar and used in the temple of his gods. These were to be returned to Jerusalem and used in the temple when it was built again. The person named "Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah" is Zerubbabel, descendent of David (2:2; 3:8; 4:3; 5:2). This is proven by comparing 5:16 where Sheshbazzar is said to have laid the foundation of the Temple with 5:2 and 3:8 where it is said that Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation. Sheshbazzar was his Babylonian name and Zerubbabel his Hebrew name. He does not become king of the Jews but he serves as their governor (Ezra 5:14, 16) and it is into his hands that Cyrus places the temple articles.
C. Census of the People and Priests Who Returned - 2:1-7
1. This chapter is apparently based on historical documentation available both to Ezra and to Nehemiah (7:6-73). The names of the families (clans, really) are given with the numbers of the men of each family and then totaled. Curiously, the sum of the individual totals does not agree with final sum given in verse 64. This may be due to later scribal error though there were no such errors in the inspired original autograph of Ezra. Another possibility is that the total sum includes people not from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin but from the other tribes of Israel whose family names and numbers are not given. The census indicates that it is not just of those descended from Judah or Benjamin, the southern tribes, but from "all Israel" (2: 70). Many from the northern tribes had resettled in the lands of Judah and Benjamin prior to the Babylonian exile and were now returning to their homes with those descended from Judah, Benjamin and Levi. (The Levites had town holdings among all the tribes of Israel but some of those among the northern tribes resettled in the south, especially those descended from Aaron, as their priesthood had been supplanted in the north by the false priests of Jeroboam and the priests of Baal.)
2. A take-away point of this census, as well as the other lists of names in this book and others in the Old Testament Scriptures, as in 1 Chronicles andNumbers, is that the Scriptures are based on historical evidence and eye-witness accounts. They are not stories told 'round the campfire that grew more fanciful over centuries of re-telling. They are sober accounts drawn up by persons who wanted to preserve the history of what really happened. Ezra, the author of this book, was a "scribe skilled in the Law of Moses" (7:6) who had access to all the books of Holy Scripture already written, along with other historical records kept by the prophets, seers and secretaries of the Israelite nation. Ezra, along with Nehemiah and others of the Scripture writers of this period also had access to the official accounts and correspondence of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. On top of all this, the Scripture writers were also eye-witnesses of some of the events they relate. The last three chapters ofEzra are largely based upon his own recollection.
3. Another probable reason the Spirit included this census in the account of Ezra is that it serves to underscore the importance of physical descent from the sons of Jacob, for these alone enjoyed the privileges and responsibilities of the covenant God made with their fathers. We see that some were not able to "give evidence of their fathers' households and their descendents, whether they were of Israel." (2:59) The same was true for some who claimed the priesthood (2:61-63). These latter were excluded from the priesthood and considered ceremonially "unclean" until such time as there arose a priest who could enquire of God by use of the "Urim and Thummim". These had been worn by the high priest since the days of Aaron but were now lost. They were worn on the breastplate of the high priest and somehow gave to him illumination as to God's will. Since the Urim and Thummim were never recovered, those who had lost their genealogical records were without any recourse. This is especially true concerning the descendents of David since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, the Roman general. For this reason, if the Messiah did not come before that event, then he will never come because he has to be able to show that he is the descendent of David. For Jesus, we have abundant genealogical evidence of his descent from David, both legally on his step-father's side (Matthew 1:1-17) and physically, on his mother's side (Luke 3:23-38).
II The Rebuilding of the Temple - 3:1-6:22
A. Offerings Resumed on the Temple Site - 3:1-7
1. In the seventh month of the year the Israelites returned to Judea and Jerusalem, they rebuilt the altar of the Lord on its original site and began offering sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. And since it was the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, they celebrated the Feast of Booths, one of the three annual festivals in which all the males of Israel were supposed to assemble before the Lord in Jerusalem. From then on, the sacrifices prescribed in the Law were carried out.
2. They also began to gather materials and artisans to work on the rebuilding of the Temple. For this, they had the express permission of Cyrus but, unfortunately, Cyrus died soon afterward, with eventual disastrous consequences to the progress of this work.
B. Foundation of the Temple Restored - 3:8-13
1. The work on the rebuilding of the Temple commenced in the second month of the second year after their coming to Jerusalem. The male Levites, twenty years old and upward were put to this task by Zerubbabel the governor (and heir to throne of David) and Jeshua (Joshua), the high priest.
2. When the foundation was finished, and all the people assembled for the dedication celebration, those who had never seen the original temple rejoiced with loud voices but those who were old enough to have known it loudly wept, for it was but a shadow of the former glory of what Solomon had built. No doubt one of the things that also prompted their weeping was the knowledge that though the bronze, silver and gold utensils had been returned by Cyrus and brought by them to be placed in this new temple, they had lost forever the Ark of the Covenant containing the original Ten Commandments. Jeremiah prophesied this: "'It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land', declares the LORD, 'they will no longer say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." And it will not come to their mind, nor will they remember it nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.'" (3:16) The younger people did not miss it because they had never known it, but these older ones realized that it meant this new Temple was lacking something that really made it sacred for them. This was a hint from God to them that the Old Covenant was on its last legs and was about to pass away.
3. We must remember that the Tabernacle and the Temple that succeeded it are absolutely central and essential to the covenant God made with the people of Israel at Sinai. Its destruction in 586 BC meant that God was suspending that covenant, at least in reference to its blessings. But God also promised that when the seventy years since they had come under the rule of Babylon were ended, they would return to the Land and rebuild the Temple. This meant that this temporary suspension of the covenant would be ended. However, God also foretold, through the prophet, Daniel, that this second temple would be destroyed and never rebuilt. (9:26-27) Many Christians today believe that the Temple will be rebuilt by the Jews and that the Anti-Christ will enter into it. This is absolutely untenable in Scripture. Jesus ended the Old Covenant in principlewhen He died on the cross. This was betokened by the tearing of the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (Matthew 27:50-51). This is what Daniel 9:27 means when it says that the Messiah will "put an end to sacrifice and grain offering…" in the middle of the last seven years of the 490 years that will elapse after a decree is made (in 457 BC) to "restore and rebuild Jerusalem". This would be in the spring of AD 30 when Jesus was crucified. But the Old Covenant ends in practice when "the people of the Prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary." The people of the Prince who is to come are the Jews, the people of the Messiah, Jesus. They, by rebelling against Rome, fighting against each other and desecrating the Temple, bring about its desolation and destruction. This event is not placed within the 490 years of Daniel 9:24 but is presented as the consequence of the predicted events falling within that period. As it turned out, it was a Biblical generation, forty years, from the year the Messiah was crucified and rose again. While the destruction of the First Temple meant that the Mosaic covenant was temporarily suspended, the destruction of the Second Temple meant that it was forever laid aside but not before a "better covenant… enacted on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6) had been ratified by Jesus through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. This is the "new covenant" prophesied byJeremiah (31:31-34) and pictured in the Passover, as Jesus pointed out at His last supper (Luke 22:20; see also 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14; Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15) This Second Temple, the foundation of which the people of Israel celebrated shortly after they returned from exile, was destroyed and has not been rebuilt for over twenty centuries. In the 60's AD, the author of the letter to the Hebrews points out that the "way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing", which it was in his day but was shortly to be destroyed. He had already established that "whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." (8:13) The existence of the temple was absolutely vital to the worship commanded under the Old Covenant: "Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience since they relate only to food and drink and various washings (literally: baptisms), regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." Those in Israel who continued to believe that the Old Covenant was in force even though the essential element of temple worship was no longer possible after the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, can be excused at least on the ground that they could still hope that it might be rebuilt. In fact, the second revolt of the Jews under the messianic pretender, Bar Kochba, had this very hope in mind, but miserably failed to achieve it. Later, under Julian the Apostate, emperor of the now Christian Roman Empire, the hope of the Jews that their temple would be rebuilt had a moment of revival as Julian, who reverted to the old Roman gods, thought that he could discredit Christianity by allowing the Jews that opportunity. But after more than twenty centuries, how can the continued validity of the Old Covenant be maintained when God has withheld the means necessary to fulfill it? Jews who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah (at this time still the overwhelming majority) allege that since God has made it impossible for them to keep the laws concerning sacrifices and offerings that they are still obliged, for instance, to keep the laws concerning ritual purity, such as the kosher dietary laws. But as the author of the book of Hebrews points out (9:9-10), those laws of ritual purity were required in order to make someone fit to offer sacrifices to God in the Temple or to receive the benefits of the covenant secured through the priestly ministrations in that temple! God has gone to great lengths to keep the temple from being rebuilt. By His providence the third holiest place on earth to a billion and a half Muslims now sits dead center upon the temple site. The Jews cannot build it now without tangling with all those Muslims! What a proof this is that Jesus is the Messiah and that with His coming the promised New Covenant has replaced the Old! The desire of many Christians that this temple be rebuilt is very sad. They have been misled by a brand of teaching that arose in the late 19th century and became popular by the mid twentieth. May it die away before long! Its prediction that Jesus would come within a generation from the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 or the capture of Jerusalem by the Jews in 1967 (a biblical generation is forty years - Numbers 32:13) have both failed, so let us hope that people will grow suspicious of the rest of the features of this relatively new and thoroughly unbiblical doctrine.
C. Work on Temple Halted - 4:1-24
1. The people who approached Zerubbabel and the leaders of Israel, asking to be included in the work of rebuilding the Temple were the people whom the king of Assyria had transplanted to the lands of Ephraim and Manasseh (Samaria) when he had exiled the leading portions of those tribes beyond the Euphrates. These foreigners had adopted some of the customs of worship practiced by the Israelites but had continued also to worship false gods. They were what we would call "syncretists": people who combine the beliefs and practices of more than one religion. They were anxious to prove their legitimacy as co-religionists with the returned exiles but Zerubbabel, Joshua and the leaders of Israel all flatly refused to allow them to help with rebuilding the temple for, "You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God…" (4:3)
2. Naturally, this turned the local population against the Jews and the opposition proved so formidable that the Jews stopped rebuilding until the reign of Darius. In verses 6-23, however, we have a parenthetical insertion by Ezra concerning the later opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem which actually explains why the city walls and many of its buildings were not restored until Nehemiah came with fresh orders from king Artaxerxes. Ezra seems to have inserted this here to show how extensive and successful (though temporarily) were the attempts of the local population to frustrate the Jews in realizing the fulfillment of the promises God made to them that not only would they return but also rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Just keep verses 6-23 in your pocket, so to speak, and connect verse 6 to verse 24.
D. Work on Temple Resumed Despite Opposition - 5:1-17
1. Prophets Convince Prince and Priest to Resume Building - 5:1-5
a. Around fourteen years had passed since work on the temple was halted and God was not pleased with His people because of their cowardice. After all, they had the law on their side with the decree of Cyrus. It is like us Christians today in America who neglect to share the gospel with others because we fear their displeasure, despite the great freedom we have to share our faith under the Constitution and the strong legacy of religious liberty in our country.
b. God raised up two great prophets to get the prince, Zerubbabel and the high priest, Joshua, to take the leadership in resuming the work of building the Temple. Those prophets were Haggai and Zechariah. Read the books bearing their names and you will see what God had to say to the leaders and people of Israel about their fear of the surrounding peoples and their consequent reluctance to rebuild the Temple. For instance, God asks, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" (Haggai 1:4) This is to prick their consciences but later, on a more encouraging note, He says, "'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' declares the LORD of hosts. 'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!'" (2:4-5)
2. Local Opponents Write to Darius - 5:6-17
a. Now here we have the letter that was sent on this occasion to the king of Persia, Darius, concerning the rebuilding of the Temple. As I pointed out before, the comments and letter of 4:6-23 are parenthetical and refer to the period after the temple was rebuilt when the Jews thought they would go on to resurrect the city of Jerusalem from its ruinous condition. This was beyond the express wording of Cyrus's decree and so their opponents could appeal to Artaxerxes to put a stop to it. He replies, "So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me." (4:21) Later, Artaxerxes sends Ezra to convey offerings for the temple and to teach and enforce the Law of Moses among the Jews. This prepares him to take the further step, thirteen years later, of sending Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem, including its walls. So, in the end, the same king who forbade the rebuilding of Jerusalem later issues a decree that led to the spiritual restoration of Jerusalem under Ezra and later, the physical rebuilding of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (with Ezra helping).
b. The letter of the opponents of the Jews shows that they expected that king Darius would not back up the claim by the Jews that they were authorized to rebuild their temple.
E. Temple Rebuilding Allowed, Completed - 6:1-22
1. Darius's Decree That the Temple Be Rebuilt - 6:1-12
a. Here, we have the letter of Darius I in which he fully authorizes the rebuilding of the temple, having searched the archives and found the original order of Cyrus. Thus was God's promise fulfilled as people set to work.
b. Notice that the fulfillment of God's promises in each of these cases included:
1) the things only God could do, such as the decree of Cyrus that the Jews return to their land and the decree of Darius that the Jews be allowed to rebuild the Temple and
2) the things God's people had to do, such as return to the Land and rebuild the Temple. So we see that God's promises include what He will do and what we must do in response or the promise will not be fulfilled. For instance, if you ask Him for a job, don't sit around waiting for it to fall into your lap - do all you can do to find the job God wants you to have. God has promised to provide us with all things needful but we must do our part. This varies depending upon the thing needed by us or promised by God but usually there is something we must also do.
2. The Temple Completed and Dedicated - 6:13-18
a. Now, finally, eighteen years since they had halted work on the temple and four years since they had resumed work on it, the Temple was completed. This was in 516 BC and in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia. The opposition, following the stern and terrifying reply of Darius (6:11) turned to enthusiastically supporting the work by providing all the supplies needed to complete it.
b. Again, anticipating the future decree of Artaxerxes supporting the service of the Temple, Ezra inserts his name here along with those of Cyrus and Darius (6:14).
3. The Passover Celebrated and People Rejoice - 6:19-22
a. The month of Adar was the last month of the sacred calendar of the Jews, so after they had celebrated the dedication of the completed Temple in the last month of the year they lingered or soon returned to celebrate the Passover beginning on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the year. This was followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.
b. What rejoicing they had during the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened bread! God had fulfilled His promises to them! Notice that the priests had cleansed themselves of all ceremonial defilements, and so also the people (20-21). They were ready to worship! O that we were so diligent to prepare ourselves for the worship of God! This is as true for New Testament as for Old Testament worshipers: "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:7-10) Modern worshipers have little of that sense of awe and reverence that the Bible says should precede and accompany our acts of worship. How often do you prepare your heart, whether for private or public worship by confessing your sins to God and heartily repenting of them? If we did that we would know far more of the joy of worship than what we now experience under the stimulus of mere social interaction, upbeat music and snappy sermons. Then we would know the wonder and joy of receiving God's grace of forgiveness, restoration and empowerment to live a holy life!
III The Return and Reforms of Ezra - 7:1-10:44
A. Ezra's Return and Artaxerxes' Decree - 7:1-28
1. Ezra Travels to Jerusalem to Teach Israel the Law - 7:1-10
a. In the 7th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra was moved of the Lord to undertake a journey from Babylon to the land of Israel. This was not a tourist jaunt! He was going with a high and God-given purpose. He was "a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given…" (verse 6) He was a man of great literary and legal accomplishments. The Jews have credited him with copying and preserving not only the Torah but also the other books of the prophets written to that time. He may have been the one who wrote the books of Chronicles. Apparently he also served in the court of the king of Persia and so was strategically placed by God to overcome the prejudices that had been introduced into Artaxerxes' mind after receiving the letter of Rehum and Shimshai (4:8-16) concerning the efforts of the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem after they had completed the rebuilding of the Temple.
b. Ezra's great ambition in going to Israel was that he might "study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. (7:10) This is such a wonderful summary of what all preachers of the gospel, all teachers of the word and all disciples of Jesus should do. We ought to study the Scriptures, practice what we learn therein and then teach them to others, in that order. All too often we reverse this. We teach the word of God before we have either studied or practiced it ourselves!
2. The Decree of Artaxerxes Giving Ezra Authority to Teach and Judge Israel - 7:11-26
a. The decree of Artaxerxes authorizes or commands the following:
1) that any of the people, Levites or priests of Israel who wish may return with Ezra to Jerusalem, (Please note the emphasis upon Jerusalem.)
2) that they are to enquire for the king concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of God, (in other words enquire as to whether the people are abiding by God's law)
3) that Ezra and his company convey to Jerusalem an offering of silver and gold by the king and his counselors, along with the freewill offerings of the Israelites,
4) that this money shall be used to purchase offerings for the Temple
5) that what is left over be used for any other purpose on behalf of the Temple,
6) that a certain amount be taken from the royal treasuries in the region adjoining Jerusalem and Judah for the support of the Temple,
7) that neither tax, toll or tribute shall be levied from the Levites, priests and other assistants to the worship of the house of God,
8) that Ezra shall appoint magistrates to judge the people of Israel in Judea according to the law of God,
9) that Ezra should teach the law of God to any who are ignorant of it and
10) that Ezra shall see to it that the law of God is enforced among the Israelites.
b. This is the "decree" that was prophesied by Daniel (9:24-27) from which the sixty-nine sevens of years were to be counted off until the appearance of the Messiah to Israel. Some people say it should be counted from the year that Nehemiah received permission from Artaxerxes, thirteen years later, to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it. But notice that the prophecy of Daniel 9calls it a "decree" whereas there is no mention of a decree in Artaxerxes' words to Nehemiah. In fact the decree given to Ezra in 457 BC is consummated in the job given to Nehemiah in 444 BC by the very same king. The prophecy of Daniel says that from the going forth of a decree to "restore and rebuild Jerusalem" until the coming of the Messiah, the Prince shall be 7 weeks of years plus 62 weeks of years (483 years). 483 years from 457 BC lands on 26 AD, the very year that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, in the autumn of that year to be more precise. Then the prophecy of Daniel says that "after the sixty-two weeks" (plus the 7 weeks of years prior to that during which the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt "in times of distress") "the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing…" This will happen during the final week of years, specifically at the midpoint of that last week for "in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering…" by fulfilling the meaning of those sacrifices and offerings through the offering up of His own body on the cross.
c. To return to the issue of which date to start from for the "decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" the two words denote two phases in the fulfillment of God's promises to the children of Israel. Jerusalem would berestored only by the return of the people to whole-hearted fulfillment of God's law. This was the necessary precursor or condition upon which God could release the necessary support and provision by the king of Persia for the physical rebuilding of the city. First comes spiritual restoration and then physical rebuilding. This has the following applications:
1) Messianic - the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land was necessary so that the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah might be fulfilled. But mere return was not enough. The people must be purified from the things that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon. They need a spiritual restoration. This is what Ezra was perfectly equipped to provide under the blessing and direction of God. Yes, Jerusalem must be physically rebuilt for it is there that the Messiah will appear to Israel and there that He will accomplish redemption. But if Israel had not preserved the prophecies of His coming or were not faithfully carrying out the ceremonial requirements that prefigured His coming, there would have been no witness and hence no reason for the world to believe in Him.
2) Personal - Your life needs spiritual much more than it needs material betterment. In fact, your "practical life" will be meaningless without spiritual restoration. Many try to "reform" their lives in order to attain some worldly goal but because they do not do it in the framework and context of God's word they are wasting their time. Ezra was a teacher of the word of God. We need to know God's point of view before we can even begin to establish what we are supposed to be doing down here on earth. In fact, we need to be constantly reoriented to the compass of God's truth, just as sailors once had to take daily compass readings to stay on course.
3) Church - the Church needs spiritual restoration far more than it needs physical or social accomplishments. So much of "church growth" strategizing, organizing and programming is a total waste of time so far as God's kingdom goes. Why is this? It is because it ignores the first need of the Church and that is to hear and do the will of God. The Church is meant to be a fellowship of disciples, not an audience of consumers. Yes, we can use buildings, paid personnel and programs but if we lack the fire of God and the leadership of His Spirit, we will go nowhere. Just as God sent Ezra before He sent Nehemiah, so the Lord today will cause the Church to truly grow through spiritual renewal and then He will send the material and social resources such a renewed body of believers need to reach the world.
4) Social - of course we should be making a difference in society, helping to reform it and make it more clearly reflect the priorities of the kingdom but so many efforts for good are fruitless or result in the ruin of those who attempt them because they are not done in accordance with God's word and with the resources of His Spirit. Thomas Kelly, the Quaker spiritual writer, was led into a much deeper walk with God after he felt and observed in his fellow Quakers an unendurable amount of stress, strain and frustration in their efforts to reform the world. Yes, we need the ministry of Ezra before we can do the work of Nehemiah.
3. Ezra's Thanksgiving - 7:27-28
a. The thanksgiving Ezra offers here is for God's intervention in the heart of a pagan king so that God's gracious promises might be fulfilled. How wonderful to see the hand of Providence in our circumstances rather than what appear to be the capricious and unreasonable results of chance. This is what dwelling on God's word provides for us.
b. Ezra gathered the leading men to himself. All good leaders recruit and attract other leaders. The leader that wants to be the sole leader is no leader.
B. The Work of Reformation - 8:1-10:44
1. The People Who Accompanied Ezra to Jerusalem - 8:1-20
a. If we total up all the persons who went with Ezra to Jerusalem it would be over 1,500 males. This is a large body of returnees! They included lay people as well as the priests and Levites.
b. "According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight…" (8:17) Such people are much needed in the Church and in society! Let us pray that God would make us such people and bring forth such people to serve Him in our day!
2. The Protection of God and the Stewardship of Treasure - 8:21-32
a. Ezra made it a point that they would not depend upon the protection of the king of
Persia. They were a large, slow-moving body bearing much wealth for the service of the temple, a tempting target for bandits or local war lords. He had bragged about God's protection to the king and so he made a point to provide God an opportunity to demonstrate it. God likes that sort of thing - people who put their faith into practice and show an unbelieving world that God is real. Ezra's company did face real dangers but they escaped them all (8:31).
b. Ezra takes great pains to see that the treasure entrusted to them is counted and entrusted to worthy people. Spirituality must not be an excuse to be care-free with the resources of this world.
3. Treasure Delivered, Offerings Made, Decree Relayed - 8:33-36
a. Here we can summarize by saying, "Mission Accomplished", at least the initial phase of it. Ahead lay much work but the relief of finally arriving in Jerusalem and being able to deliver their supplies and messages must have been great.
b. The most important thing that Ezra did initially, however, was to deliver the king's edicts to the leaders of the surrounding nations so that they would not interfere but cooperate in carrying them out.
4. Mixed Marriages Revealed - 9:1-4
a. Now for the heavy lifting! No sooner than he had cleared his calendar than a report was brought to him that something dreadful had been going on for some time among God's people. They had been marrying the daughters of idolaters in that region. Why was this a problem? God had forbidden them to do this. By why had He forbidden them? It was essential that Israel, as God's witness to the world and the people from whom would come the Messiah, the Savior of the world, should not be enticed into idolatry and into the wicked practices of the idolaters.
b. Ezra was deeply shocked, mortified and distressed. He tore his clothing, pulled out his hair and "sat appalled until the evening offering." Many gathered around him who, like him, "trembled at the words of the God of Israel". Do we tremble at God's word today? Not very much, if ever. We Quakers got our name because we quaked or trembled before the Lord because of His awesome glory and majesty and because we saw how all our righteous deeds were as filthy rags as compared with His infinite purity. Like Isaiah we should cry out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)
5. Ezra's Prayer of Confession and Intercession - 9:5-15
a. Here we find one of the most impressive prayers of the entire Bible. It is filled both with deep feeling and with profound insight. He is "ashamed and embarrassed", unable even to lift up his face to God. And yet he is filled with agonizing concern for the glory of God and good of His people.
b. The sharp point of Ezra's prayer comes from two terrible ironies:
1) That the people had reverted to the very thing that was the beginning of all Israel's troubles: bringing idolaters into the community of God's people.
2) And this in the face of all God's gracious goodness to them in granting them favor in the sight of the kings of Persia and a return to their land and the rebuilding of their Temple. Paul's question comes to mind here, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" His answer is loud and clear: "May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2)
c. Is this question of intermarriage still relevant today? Yes, it is, in that New Testament believers are told not to be "bound together with unbelievers." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) Friends used to be very strong on this, going so far as to "disown" those who "married out of meeting" - even to other Christians who did not share the specific "testimonies" of Friends. That may have been going too far but it was done to keep their community from gradually falling back from the high ground the Lord had enabled them to attain in the early days of their movement. But one thing should be kept in mind. New Testament believers, while they should not marry or become bound with unbelievers in a way that would lead to compromise or corruption are nevertheless called to salt for a corrupt earth and light for a darkened world. Friends eventually became so concerned to remain pure and unstained by the world that they ceased, for a time, to do much good for the world. We must be in the world but not of it. Do we have friendships with unbelievers? Good and fine, but let them be redemptive or else cease to call them friendships. Friends don't let friends go to hell! Jesus became "infamous" as a "friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) but His friendship with them was in order to bring them to salvation.
6. The People Respond and Ezra Appoints a Meeting - 10:1-8
a. Ezra's work of restoring the people of Israel to the foundation of God's word had begun with his own response to their abject failure. Now it required action. The putting away of these wives and their children was not to be done in a cavalier or careless manner. They would not be sent away empty. Dowries would be returned to the wives and provision would be made for the children. A certificate of divorce would make it possible for them to be remarried (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). This matter had to be accomplished according to the law of God. That is why it had to be done in an official setting and also why it took so long.
b. The Bible is very clear on the evils of divorce but here the priority of Israel's protection from spiritual and moral corruption took first priority. In a sense, these marriages were null and void so far as the Mosaic covenant was concerned. This led the Christians in Paul's day to wonder if they should do likewise and divorce their unbelieving wives or husbands. To this Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, responding with an unequivocal "No!" The unbeliever might divorce or desert them, it is true, but they must not divorce the unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:10-16; An exception in the case of fornication or adultery is recognized by many Scripture scholars, based on Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9.) After all, in the case of the Corinthians Christians, it wasn't that they had gone out and married unbelievers. Rather, it was they who had been unbelievers and then were converted to Christ. That is how they came to be married to unbelievers.
7. The People Assemble to Investigate and Rectify - 10:9-17
a. Strong medicine was needed and dispensed. On penalty of loss of all their possessions even those otherwise unwilling were forced to attend to this matter. No such force is to be used in the Church today for we are under a covenant of grace, not law, of spirit and not the letter. Nevertheless, church discipline remains and those who continue to flout the standard of teaching and behavior they had pledged themselves to pursue should be, after every effort to reclaim them has been made, declared to be no longer a member of the church until such time as they may repent. b. This would not preclude them from attending meetings for worship but would exclude them from some ministries in the church and from having the right to deliberate in the meetings for business.
8. The Names of Those Who Had Offended - 10:18-4
a. Ezra's book concludes with a list of the names of those who had offended in the matter of marriage to idolaters. We have seen several other lists in this book, lists that we would be proud to be on - people who boldly stepped forward to serve the Lord despite great risk and hardship. But here we see a list of shame. Nevertheless all the redeemed will appear on both kinds of lists, for we are sinners saved by grace. Those on the list of shame presumably were repentant and wished to make things right.
b. This reminds us that there is a list we all should want to be on - that list appearing in "the book of life" (Revelation 3:5; 20:12, 15) You may make sure that you are on that list by surrendering your life to Christ today, gratefully acknowledging all that God has already done for you through His Son on the cross and by His Spirit in your heart and eagerly embracing all that God wants to do for you and through you for the rest of your life. Such repentant and surrendered souls God delights to receive. Come to Him this day, this very moment!
1. Ezra, or whoever wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles, had a different aim than the writers of the books of Samuel and Kings. This is indicated, both by the materials he omits and the additional material he provides. The Chronicler focuses primarily upon the kingdom of Judah and on David and his descendents who succeeded him on the throne. He does not mention the northern tribes, (commonly known as "Israel" in distinction from the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Simeon, known as "Judah", even though the southern tribes are, in the original sense, members of the nation of Israel) except when they come into contact with the house of David. In 2 Chronicles, he omits the stories of Elijah and Elisha because these two prophets ministered in Israel rather in Judah. More material is provided 2 Chronicles concerning the kings of Judah than we found in 1 and2 Kings. The activities of a number of prophets new to the Biblical narrative are found in this book because of its focus on the southern kingdom, such as Shemaiah, who spoke to Rehoboam,and Azariah the son of Oded who exhorted king Asa to "be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work." (15:7) The "work" Azariah mentions was to remove idolatry from Israel and restore the proper worship of God.
2. The books of the Chronicles are supplementary to the books of Kings, just as the Gospels are supplementary to one another, filling in blanks as well as providing a different, but complementary, perspective on the events and characters they share in common. For instance, in 2 Chronicles we learn, for the first time, of Joash's apostasy from the Lord after the death of Jehoiada, the high priest. In 1 Kings we were told that Joash "did right in the sight of the LORD all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him." (12:2) In 2 Chronicles that we learn what Joash did after the death of Jehoiada, and it is not a pleasant account. Other events that appeared in the books ofKings are given shorter treatment in the Chronicles, such as the wicked deeds of Ahaz and Manasseh. The apostasy of Solomon is entirely omitted. In general, the Chronicler brings out the good deeds of the kings of Judah and how Judah prospered greatly when king and people were obedient to the Law of God. As we saw above, it also shows how a king's failure to lead the people in righteousness proved the undoing of the good things with which God had blessed His people during their times of faithfulness. But again, in general, the Chronicler's eye is on the positive in order to encourage the returning Israelites to follow the good examples they had in their former history. Now, that they were back in the Land but no longer had a prince, only a governor appointed by the Persian emperor, the responsibility naturally fell more to the priests and the people. They would need to take the initiative in living for God and keeping His commandments but they could still derive instruction and inspiration from the good examples made by some of their kings.
3. For the New Testament people of God these examples are also instructive. Our Savior has given us His laws, which are an extension and enhancement of the abiding moralcontent of the Law God gave to the people of Israel through Moses. Many Christians today, by wrongly interpreting some of the words of Paul, suppose that Christ came to do away with law altogether, to make the Law of God irrelevant except as a means to show we are all guilty before it. But the Prophets of the Old Testament foretold that the Messiah would indeed teach God's commandments and would cause people to keep them.Isaiah 2:2-4 says that in the "last days" when the Messiah comes, "Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.'" And why is this to happen? "For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." The result will be that "they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war." (see also Micah 4:1-4) In Isaiah 9:6-7 we read of the child who will be born "and the government will rest upon His shoulders… There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…" The Messiah will govern and must therefore deliver wise and just laws for His subjects to obey. In Isaiah 11:1-10 we read of a "shoot" from the "stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots that will bear fruit", upon whom will rest the "Spirit of the LORD", that is, "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD." He will judge fairly and render just decisions so that there will not be any who "hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" because "the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious." In other words, the Messiah will effectively rule according to His law. In Isaiah 42:1-4 we find a wonderful prophecy of how the Messiah will bring forth "justice to the nations", not by loud words or condemning the guilty but by His patient persistence in pursuing justice and His ability to inspire people to do the same so that "the coastlands[a term meaning "the nations"] will wait expectantly for His law." In Jeremiah 23:5-6we read that the "days are coming" when God will "raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'the LORD our righteousness." (See also Jeremiah 33:14-16) He will reign as king; that means He will bring a law for His subjects to obey. Not only will He bring His law but He will also cause it to be followed, for He will make a "new covenant" by which He will put His law within men and write it upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In Ezekiel 11:19-20, speaking of the days after the Messiah comes, "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. (see also 36:26-27)" This shall take place because of the coming of the Messiah, whom God calls "David" not only because He is the descendent of David but because in Him is found the perfect embodiment of all the good things that were in David. Because this David will reign over the people, "they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them." (Ezekiel 37:24; see also34:23-24) In Daniel 2:44-45, we read that in the last days God will set up His kingdom which will crush and put an end to the despotic empires of men and will endure forever. A kingdom is no kingdom without laws. Then, in 7:13-14 we read that the "Son of Man" will receive from the "Ancient of Days… dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed." If men serve this King, it must be according to the laws which He gives them to follow. In Daniel 9:24-26 we read of "the Messiah the Prince", the time of whose coming is precisely foretold and coincides perfectly with the year in which Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John and presented by that prophet to the people as the Messiah. Notice that the Messiah is "the Prince", that is, the King (not, as we tend to use the word, as the son of a king who is waiting in the wings to succeed him). Again, if He is King, so He has laws for us to obey. Then, in Zechariah 9:9-10 we read of the coming of the king who is "humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey." It is He who will "speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth." His dominion means that His laws shall be made known and shall be obeyed.
4. So we see that the Messiah does not merely die for our sins (as symbolized in the sacrifices offered according to the Law and as prophesied in Isaiah 53) but also causes those who trust in Him to keep His commandments. Jesus did give us commandments which He expects us to obey. The Sermon on the Mount is one example of this. In that sermon, He promises that those who obey His teaching will be like those who built their house upon the rock and which remained standing after the winds blew and slammed against it, whereas those who did not obey His teachings are like those who built their house upon the sand and which fell when the winds blew against it (Matthew 7:24-27).Those who fully trust in Jesus will find that they are able to keep His word, for He is the fulfiller of His own law. To those who deny this, I reply - "Where is this taught in Scripture?" They will no doubt point to Romans 7, forgetting that it is set in the context ofRomans 6 and 8 which both unequivocally teach that the believer is set free - not to break the Law but to fulfill it! Romans 7 is Paul's contrast of the life lived under the tyranny of the flesh with the life of those who are walking in the Spirit.
5. The book of 2 Chronicles can be simply divided into three parts with the middle part taking up the lion's share of the book:
I The Reign of Solomon - 1:1-9:31
II The Kings of Judah - 10:1-36:14
1. Rehoboam - 10:1-12:16
2. Abijah - 13:1-22
3. Asa - 14:1-16:14
4. Jehoshaphat - 17:1-20:37
5. Jehoram - 21:1-20
6. Ahaziah - 22:1-9
7. Athaliah (Queen, and her overthrow by the priest, Jehoiada) - 22:10-23:15
8. Joash - 23:16-24:27
9. Amaziah - 25:1-25
10. Uzziah - 26:1-23
11. Jotham - 27:1-9
12. Ahaz - 28:1-27
13. Hezekiah - 29:1-32:33
14. Manasseh - 33:1-20
15. Amon - (33:21-25)
16. Josiah - 34:1-35:27
17. Jehoahaz - 36:1-3
18. Jehoiakim - 36:4-8
19. Jehoiakin - 36:9-10
20. Zedekiah - 36:11-14
III The Destruction of Jerusalem and Exile of Judah - 36:15-23
6. The main object of 2 Chronicles is to point out the blessings that the kings of Judah obtained by being faithful to the law and will of God. While passing over some of the evil deeds of some of the kings, beginning with Solomon, the author does note the evil deeds of several of the kings and shows the disasters that followed upon their disobedience. If we keep in mind that the Old Testament was a teaching demonstration that prepared the way for the New Testament, we will see how these lessons apply to us today. Under the Old Testament, the rewards of obedience and the punishments for disobedience were primarily material and temporal whereas under the New Covenant, they are both primarily spiritual and eternal. Whereas God promised the Israelites that they would dwell in security and prosperity in their own land if they obeyed His commandments, the Lord Jesus told His disciples that they should not look for security in this life. He said, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." (Matthew 10:16, 21-22) On the night He was betrayed, He again warned His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me." (John 15:18-21) The disciple of Jesus, therefore, must keep his eyes on the eternal prize, joy everlasting in the kingdom of God. This does not mean, however, that there are no temporal blessings for the New Covenant child of God. Right now we experience the foretaste of heavenly glory for, in its essence, the kingdom of God is not a glorious place but a glorious state of the mind: "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17) While what we experience of this state of mind in this life is but a tiny drop of that vast ocean of bliss which will be ours in eternity, it is enough to assure us that it is very worth preparing for in our fleeting time on earth. This does not mean that the New Testament believer is oblivious to the world or the affairs of this life - far from it! It is in this life that we prepare for eternity and if we are not living in the foretaste of the kingdom here and now, we have little reason to suppose that we will enter into its fullness hereafter. Jesus said to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-21; 19:21; Luke 12:21, 33; 18:22) We do this by providing the goods of this world to the poor and needy, letting our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Thus by making friends through the generous use of "unrighteous mammon" (worldly wealth) we will have friends to receive us into "eternal dwelling-places" when unrighteous mammon shall be no more! (Luke 16:1-9) But what of material blessings; are there no material blessings that come from obedience to God's will for the New Testament believer? God's law will naturally produce great good, both material and spiritual, both temporal and eternal, for God's law is simply the surest path to the highest good, known only to God and revealed to us by Him. As believers follow His will, they will enjoy better health, longer lives, financial gains - provided these are, in the wisdom of God, consistent with the highest, long-term good. If people are honest, they will be entrusted with the goods of this world by those who esteem their honesty. If they take joy in providing excellence in their service or product, people naturally desire that good or service and reward them for it. If people turn away from harmful substances and pastimes, they are rewarded with good health. This is the natural result of doing what God wants us to do. In addition, God does delight in rewarding obedience, even here in this life and will often encourage His children with rewards in this life. But if He sees it best to withdraw some worldly goods, the New Testament believer is not without solace. Indeed, he knows that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
I. THE REIGN OF SOLOMON - 1:1-9:31
The book of 2 Chronicles covers the same period as do 1 and 2 Kings and yet is shorter because it focuses exclusively upon the southern kingdom of Judah except when Judah comes into contact with Israel (the northern tribes thereof) or with surrounding or invading nations. The first nine chapters cover the reign of Solomon but the author leaves out the spiritual decline of Solomon into idolatry in his later years. The accent in 2 Chronicles is on the positive side of obedience to God, the blessings that came to the nation when it was led by a righteous king and the people did what was right in God's eyes. The negative side is mentioned but not as often as in the books of Kings. He does want to show the evil that came to Judah because of their defections from God but his hope is to motivate the returned exiles more by the benefits of obedience to God than by the bad results of disobedience.
There are natural results that come from obeying or disobeying God and then there are the additional incentives and disincentives that God adds as the One who presides over the moral government of the universe. What is important to realize is that the ultimate natural results are the reasons God forbids certain things and commands others. In fact, there is some overlap between natural results and the sanctions He imposes when His commands are disobeyed. It is said that virtue is its own reward. This is true. It is also true that vice is its own punishment. The Bible says that God's punishment consists, essentially, in allowing disobedient souls to go on being disobedient.
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul shows how mankind descended into greater and greater sin after turning away from God, for they "exchanged the truth [of God's existence and divine nature] for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature [created things]rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever." (verse 25b) The punishment God visited upon them was that He "gave them over" (verses 24, 26, 28) to a depraved mind and to a continued pursuit of evil. The essence of sin is selfishness, seeking one's own pleasure above the pleasure of God and the highest good of His creation. It is the opposite of loving God supremely and one's neighbor as oneself. Ironically, those who pursue their own happiness as an ultimate end find that they, sooner or later, become miserable. If they become wise, they repent of this but if not, they make even greater efforts to secure their own happiness. The result is a steadily reduced capacity for happiness.
Apart from God's intervention, this depraved state of mind will become permanent, and can even get to the point where no amount of God's grace can save a soul from its own destruction. This is the "second death" of which the Apostle John speaks in the book of Revelation (20:6, 14; 21:8) and the "hell" or "Gehenna" of which Jesus speaks (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). The image of fire and brimstone is meant to convey the awful suffering of an immortal soul whom God has left to itself forever. As C. S. Lewis observed, in the end there are but two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done."
Those whose chief joy is in the service of God and His creation will find that they will be given an unlimited and ever-increasing scope for such service, both in this life and in the life to come. That, ultimately, is their great reward. As before noted, the essence of the kingdom is "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). When you are fulfilling the "royal law" to "to love your neighbor as yourself" (James 2:8) then your conscience is at peace. Instead of accusing you of pride, selfishness, covetousness, etc., it smiles upon your conduct. This is why God gave us a conscience and informs it by the revelation of His will and the reasons why we ought to do it. Added to this is the sense of God's approval, which also promotes a sense of peace. Joy also results from fulfilling the royal law as you see the good that your actions produce. When your chief desire and design is to be used by God to bring Him glory and bless your fellow creatures then when those ends are achieved or show promise of achievement, your joy overflows! Real joy comes from loving and being loved.
Those who say that they are going to heaven when they die but who do not seek first the kingdom of heaven and God's righteousness (Matthew 6:33) while on earth are only kidding themselves. Salvation is not something in addition to living for God, it is living for God! If God has saved us it means He has persuaded us to seek first the interests of His kingdom and the paths of His righteousness. It does not necessarily mean we always obey or always put God first in our lives but it does mean that we sincerely want to do so and are easily returned to a right frame of mind whenever we go astray. We may become distracted or cast down by the subtle stratagems of Satan but the Holy Spirit is right there to remind us and His gentle reminder is all we usually need. That is the character of a true child of God and one who will not fail to move forward in their pursuit of "the prize ofthe upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14) Heaven is to them, not pearly gates, streets of gold, a mansion by the crystal sea or the mere absence of sorrow, pain and death. It is, above all, the chance to live the life of loving and being loved forever, without hindrance from the flesh, the world or the devil.
Now, coming back to the reign of Solomon, as conveyed to us from the pages of 2 Chronicles, we see something more than what we saw in 1 Kings concerning God's appearance to Solomon when he went to offer sacrifice in Gibeon before the old tabernacle, still there after David moved the ark to Jerusalem. We learn that it was not just Solomon and his immediate retinue who were gathered there but that he had summoned all the leaders of Israel to that place. (1:2-3) God wants us to see in this circumstance that Jesus Christ, the greater Solomon (Man of Rest) wants all His disciples to receive wisdom from on high for the great work they are called to do. It is not enough that Jesus is all-wise; He wants His servants also to partake of God's wisdom. Our calling is to serve the body of Christ and to extend the kingdom of God to every person in every nation. Yes, there are special "leaders" in this work but they are not to do it alone. Every believer ought to be a leader and therefore needs God's wisdom.
2 Chronicles spreads before us the period when Solomon was humble, obedient and intent on doing the will of God as did his father, David. It shows the benefits that he and the nation received for this, in particular, vast wealth (1:14-17). Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a "treasure hidden in the field" and to "a pearl of great value" (Matthew 13:44-46). He said that those who found the treasure and the pearl sold everything they had to acquire them because they were worth far more than all their other worldly goods. The point is that the kingdom of God is living within the will of God with the promise of continuing to live within His will forever and that this is worth more than all wealth this world could provide us. Jesus taught us that a man would suffer infinite loss if he were to gain the whole world and lose his soul. (Matthew 16:26) Yes, following Jesus requires us to give up everything that we have (Luke 14:33), that is, to give up the right to everything we have and surrender it to God's control. He may require us to give it all away (Luke 18:22) or He may allow us to keep some of it (19:8-10) but it must be placed entirely at His discretion as to its use. The thing to remember is that living within the will of God is salvation, so when Jesus requires us to surrender all to Him that we might be His disciples it is not a quid pro quo, something we do for God to obtain salvation from Him. Rather, it is necessarily the thing without which salvation is impossible. It is like saying, "I want to swim but I don't want to get into the water" or "I want to fly but I don't want to leave the ground." And so, coming back to this question of the kingdom's value, it is worth infinitely more than all the wealth this world could bestow upon us. To surrender what little part of that wealth we currently hold in our hands is nothing as compared to the treasure of living with God and in harmony with His revealed will. Adam and Eve once sold it for a piece of fruit and every human being since then, except Jesus of Nazareth, has sold it for some comparable trifle. Those who have "buyer's remorse" for selling their birthright for a pot of "lentil stew" (Genesis 25:27-34) have God's wonderful offer to exchange it back for the "weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is because Jesus died to make this offer possible. There is a way back. Will you take it?
2 Chronicles gives us a wonderful account of what happened after the temple was completed. Again, Solomon is walking in obedience to the Lord and carries out the will of God in building a glorious temple where not only Israel but all nations can seek and find God. God shows His great pleasure in Solomon's obedience by filling the temple with His glory, a glory so great the priests could not stand to minister. They fell on their faces before God's presence in the cloud that filled the temple! (5:11-14) This is a wonderful picture of what happens to the believer when they are walking in obedience to the Lord. Peter says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). When our hearts are submitted to God we are vessels through which God can pour out His goodness and reveal His glory. It is a blessed thing to have in us a "well of water, springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14) but an even greater thing to have from our "innermost being… flow rivers of living water." (7:37) In the former, we are blessed but in the latter we are a blessing to others. This is a figure of speech Jesus uses to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, says the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19). While we walk this earth we have the wonderful privilege of manifesting the glory of God in our bodies through the Holy Spirit's indwelling! The display of His glory in us will draw others to God so that they too can taste the goodness of the Lord and enjoy the blessings of His kingdom.
In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, the Lord says to Solomon, "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." This wonderful promise to the nation of Israel has often been quoted in relation to the need for revival.Under the Old Covenant, this is speaking of material blessings withheld because of disobedience. But from a New Testament perspective, this is a promise to reach the lost through the church when the church gets right with God. All around us in the world today we see the prevalence of unbelief, sin and unrighteousness. But that should not surprise us. Jesus said that we, the church, are the "salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:13-16) In the days of Jesus, there was no refrigeration. If you wanted to keep meat from decaying you had to preserve it with salt. If we look around at the world in general or to our nation in particular and see much evidence of moral and spiritual decay we must not simply shake our heads in consternation and reproach at the world. Rather, we should remember our Lord's teaching that we are the salt of the earth and if we have lost our saltiness, in that we have become more like the world than like true followers of Jesus, then of course the unbelieving world will not benefit from our being among them. In Jesus' day, light at night was provided by oil lamps. No one who wanted to see in the darkness would put a lamp under a bushel basket. But that is just what we have done by obscuring the light of Christ within us through our spiritual apathy and disobedience to His command to proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). If the world is in darkness, we must not blame the world but ourselves! We are its light but we have hidden our light from the world through cowardice and love of worldly approval. Of course the world will not applaud us when we tell them the truth about their need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But only when we are faithful to proclaim and live out His truth will the world have the opportunity to repent and turn to God. Many a sinner has at first scoffed at and treated rudely, if not violently, the messengers of the gospel God sent to him but upon seeing their patient forbearance and consistency of conduct, they have in time come to receive the truth in love and enter into the lists [old term for an arena of combat] on the side of Christ. I was once such a scoffer so I know it from personal experience.
II. THE BLESSINGS OF OBEDIENCE ILLUSTRATED BY THE KINGS OF JUDAH - 10:1-36:14
King Rehoboam's reign (10:1-12:16) shows God's mercy to those who repent, even when that repentance is not all it should be. Because of his disobedience to God and that of the people of Judah, God sent the Pharaoh Shishak against Judah with an immense army, intent upon destroying Judah and Jerusalem. But because Rehoboam humbled himself, along with the people and said, "The LORD is righteous", that is, right in sending so great a judgment upon them, He limited the damage that Shishak did to the kingdom. This shows us that God is ready to encourage even the most tentative turning toward Him. A greater good would be accomplished once a king and people arose who fully followed the Lord but damage was limited here by even a partial turning to God.
King Abijah's reign (13:1-22) shows that those who obey the Lord have an advantage in war over those who have forsaken Him, in this latter case, Jereboam and the northern tribes of Israel. The New Testament believer is not called to physical warfare with physical enemies but spiritual warfare with spiritual enemies for the souls of men (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We look around us today at a culture and a people who are rapidly forsaking much of what the Lord has revealed to be His will. But they will not prevail if God's faithful people rally to the standard of Christ and press the battle. In the end, truth will win. This is not because human beings will inevitably progress but because God wills the triumph of His truth over all error.
King Asa's reign (14:1-16:14) contains a wonderful illustration of how those who are obedient in the Lord and trust in His power are enabled thereby to overcome what would seem to be overwhelming forces intent upon their destruction. (14:2-15) Hear Asa's wonderful prayer: "Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You." (verse 11) Against us, indeed, are arrayed a host of enemies, both within and without us, who would drag us back into captivity to sin if they prevailed. But we can put on the "whole armor of God" and prevail in "the evil day". (Ephesians 6:10-18) Remember, we have two basic objectives in this war to which we are called as followers of Christ: 1) to stand, and not fall before our spiritual enemies and 2) to rescue other souls from the clutches of the enemy so that they turn sides against the devil and for Christ. We pray to God, "And let not Satan prevail against You." God has repeatedly promised ultimate victory for the kingdom of His beloved Son. We must lay claim to those promises and remind God constantly that it is not right that He should lose to Satan.
One other thing to notice is God's word to Asa through the prophet Azariah (15:1-7). God describes the terrible sufferings that happened to Israel when they forsook Him in the past, how "Nation was crushed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every kind of distress." This reminds us of Jesus' words to the people of Israel concerning the time that should soon come upon them because they rejected Him and His teaching concerning the "things that make for peace" (Luke 19:41-44; 21:10-11) But notice also God's encouraging word to Asa: "But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work." (2 Chronicles 15:7) Jesus, likewise encouraged His followers to be faithful despite all the troubles that would soon come upon the nation of Israel and the Roman Empire. You must realize that this is God's word to you as well. Because men are disobedient, times of suffering may have to come but you should take courage and do His will for there will be reward for your work.
King Jehoshaphat's reign (17:1-20:37) shows forth many blessings that came to him and his kingdom because he was obedient to the Lord - until he made an alliance with wicked king Ahab of Israel. This is a strong warning for us not to "be unequally yoke together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) This does not mean that we are to stand aloof from unbelievers for our Lord set the example of going among them and sharing God's love with them. But what it does mean, at the very least, is that we are not to accept them as members of the church until they have ceased their rebellion against the Lord. Many a church has lost its ability to shine for Christ and advance His cause because they have become a "mixed multitude" of both disciples and those who have not yet taken up their cross to follow Christ. In King Jehoshaphat's case, God sent the prophet Jehu to warn him (19:1-4) and he seems to have profited by it, for he was able to bring back many Israelites, even in the northern kingdom, to God. But a bigger test lay ahead.
Chapter 20 contains an account of how Jehoshaphat faced a huge army composed of several enemy kingdoms. His response was perfect. He called together the people and prayed before them all, calling on God to help them. Right in the assembly, following Jehoshaphat's prayer, God filled a man with the Spirit and spoke through him, saying, among other things, "You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem." So, the next morning, Jehoshaphat assembled the people against and said, "Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed." (verse 20) Then, instead of assembling the army, he assembled the singers and musicians to praise the Lord and while they were praising the Lord, He set the armies of the three different kingdoms to fighting with each other until they utterly defeated themselves!
What is the application here? There is one that I think is highly instructive to us as believers in Christ. Jesus has taught us to love our enemies, to overcome evil with good rather than returning evil for evil. Many Christians limit this to personal squabbles but if you take into account the prophecies concerning the Messiah's influence over men that will bring them to turn their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks so that nation will not go to war against nation nor learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4 and many other passages) and you consider that Jesus was teaching a third way besides collaboration with the Romans and armed revolt against them, then it would be ridiculous to limit Jesus teaching on non-resistance to the purely personal sphere. The early Christians understood this and when they were criticized for not fighting in the army to defend the Roman Empire they replied that they did more to overcome Rome's enemies by fighting on their knees [in prayer] than all of Caesar's armies did on their feet. O - if only we had tried Jesus' way when Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11! Of course, had our President suggested we do that he would have been immediately impeached. The sad part is that Christians would probably have been the most ready to impeach him! We have got a lot to learn. We must learn to trust in God and in His ultimate Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes it will appear the height of folly but if God says it, we should do it. Then we will prosper and then we will have success.
The reign of Jehoram (21:1-20) is one of the negative examples. This king of Judah copied the mistakes of the kings of Israel, even marrying the daughter of Ahab, one of their kings. His rule was marked by many losses and tragedies and he came to his grave through a terrible illness. (This fatal illness was prophesied beforehand by Elijah as a punishment for Jehoram's many sins, including the murder of his brothers "who", says God, "were better than you." We know that Elijah was a prophet to northern Israel, mainly, but here he was sent to the king of Judah) The final word on him is, "and he reigned in Jerusalem for eight years; and he departed with no ones' regret, and they buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings." The lesson here is that living for the devil makes for a terrible legacy! On the other hand, those who serve God leave behind a lot of people who will really miss them and perhaps an even greater number waiting on the portals of heaven to receive them!
Despite Jehoram's grievous disobedience to God and the disasters consequent upon this, the Chronicler is careful to point out that "the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David because of the covenant which He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and his sons forever." (21:7) This statement shows that God's covenant with David was unconditional, at least as to its final fulfillment. His covenant with David is the logical extension of His covenant with Abraham for in that covenant He promised that through Abraham, that is, through his "seed all the nations [or families] of the earth shall be blessed." (12:3; 18:18; 22:18) This blessing refers back to the "curse" God placed upon mankind because of the sin of Adam (Genesis 3:17-19) and the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, Satan (3:15) and thus liberate mankind from his tyranny. While "seed" refers to all the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it refers particularly to the Messiah. The promise God made to David that he would never lack a descendent to sit upon the throne of Israel points to the specific descendent in whom this promise would be forever fulfilled, Jesus, the son of David and the Son of God. It is through this Seed of the woman, of Abraham and of David that mankind would be delivered from the power of sin, the curse of death and the tyranny of Satan.
The reign of Ahaziah (22:1-9) shows us another sad instance of disobedience to the Lord. He lasts only one year upon the throne before he is killed by Jehu who has a commission from the Lord to wipe out all the house of Ahab, the wicked king of Israel whose sons were following in his footsteps. Ahaziah should not have been in Israel or collaborated with that persistently disobedient kingdom. Hear why he was destroyed: "He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly. He did evil in the sight of the LORD like the house of Ahab, for they were his counselors after the death of his father, to his destruction." (verses 3-4) We must be careful who we listen to. The blessings of obedience will be lost to us if we listen with credence to those who are disobedient to the word of God. Look at their lives. Are these counselors full of God's peace and contentment? Are they filled with His joy and abounding in His loving-kindness? What is the fruit of their lives? All Ahaziah had to do was see the results of their wicked policies. That would have told it all. Instead, he listened to their boasts and empty claims and so was deceived. Let us therefore receive only godly counsel, that which is consistent with the word of God: "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a true firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (Psalm 1)
Upon Ahaziah's death , Athaliah (22:10-23:15), his mother, murdered all his male children. Imagine such a grandmother as that! It was as if she had ice water in her veins instead of blood. But, by God's providence, one of Ahaziah's daughters, Jehoshabeath, who was married to the high priest, Jehoiada, hid Joash, a new-born son of Ahaziah in the temple. There he stayed for six years, hidden from his murderous grandmother. In the seventh year, Jehoiada and the Levites, brought him out and seated him upon the throne and put Athaliah to death. Her reign perpetuated the idolatry and wicked disregard of God's law followed by her son.
The reign of Joash (23:16-24:27) brought about the beginnings of a return to God in Judah. Joash ordered that the temple be repaired, that its articles needed for worship be returned from where the priests of Baal had taken them and that proper worship in the temple be restored. So long as Jehoiada the high priest remained alive, Joash served the Lord. But when Jehoiada died, at the ripe old age of one hundred and thirty, Joash began to listen to ungodly counselors who led him to worship idols and set up the old pagan altars. God sent prophets to warn him and the people but they would not listen. Finally, the Spirit of God came upon the priest Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, who said, "Thus God has said, 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'" (24:20) They could not prosper because they had forsaken God and broken His commandments. That is the main lesson of this book. Obedience brings blessing and disobedience results in destruction. A wonderful summary of this principle is found in Isaiah 3:10-11, "Say to the righteous that it will go well with them, for they will eat the fruit of their actions. Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, for what he deserves will be done to him." For the New Testament believer the blessings of obedience are mainly spiritual and eternal, as we have already seen, but they are also material and temporal, as they were for the Old Testament believers, to the extent that God sees they are consistent with these higher blessings provided for us under the terms of the New Covenant. After a forty year reign, Joash's servants conspired against him and murdered him, just as he had conspired against and murdered Zechariah, the son of his greatest friend and benefactor, Jehoiada. What he had sowed, he now reaped.
The reign of Amaziah, son of Joash, (25:1-25) is another of the mixed variety in regards to obedience to God. Right away, he showed respect for God's law by executing only the ones who had murdered his father and not their children. Deuteronomy 24:16says that the children shall not be put to death for the misdeeds of their fathers. Yet the Chronicler says that that Amaziah did not serve the Lord with his whole heart (25:2). This lack of a whole-hearted commitment to the Lord is a problem with us today as well. Amaziah's divided heart showed itself when he hired soldiers from the northern tribes of Israel to augment his army. God sent a prophet to him who told him that he should send them away because God is not with the disobedient and he would suffer defeat because of them. Amaziah protests that he would have to pay them for nothing but the prophet replies, "The LORD has much more to give you than this." (25:9) This is a wonderful lesson. Whatever we give up to serve the Lord, He has much more to give us! We cannot lose when we obey God. Amaziah did not learn this lesson. Although he did send the Israelites away and God did give him a resounding victory over the Edomites, he then set about to worship the gods of the very people he had just defeated! God sent a prophet to him to point out the stupidity of this response to His goodness but he would not listen. Next time, when he faced the king of Israel in battle, he suffered a humiliating defeat. The Chronicler says that from the time he turned away from the Lord, a conspiracy against him developed that eventually brought about his death.
The reign of Uzziah (26:1-23) shows both the blessings that flow from obedience to God and the damage that comes from disobedience. Uzziah starts off very well as one who "did right in the sight of the LORD" and who "continued to seek God". The results were good: "as long as he sought the LORD, God prospered him." (26:5) He enjoyed great victories in battle, wisdom in raising soil and animal productivity, creativity in the invention of defensive machinery so that his fame traveled far, "for he was marvelously helped until he was strong." God was with him and helped until he became strong. And yet the strength and success that God gave him became the seed of his downfall, for then he forgot who had given him his success and why. Waxing proud and arrogant, he decided to enter the temple and offer incense before the altar, an act that only a priest of Aaron was allowed to do under the Law of God. When confronted with his misdeed by the priests, he raged at them until they began pointing at his forehead, exclaiming "Leprosy! Leprosy!" Sure enough, God had struck him with leprosy and he had to remain quarantined for the rest of his life while his son took over effective control of the kingdom. For the New Testament believer, blessings of spiritual strength and effectiveness flow from obedience to the law of Christ but pride must be guarded against. We may forget where our strength comes from and presumptuously depart from conformity to God's law. The result will be that our strength will leave us and our ability to do good in the world and for the kingdom will vanish. We will be, morally and spiritually, a leper, cut off from effective ministry for Christ. By the way, it was "in the year of king Uzziah's death" that Isaiah saw his wonderful vision of the "Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple." (read Isaiah 6) The Apostle John says that "the Lord" whom Isaiah saw was none other than Jesus (John 12:40-41)! The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are both implicit in John's testimony here.
The reign of Jotham (27:1-9) shows how, though the king may be right with God, the people may not be. Isaiah's words indicate the people were far from God at that time (Isaiah 6:5, 9-12). The king, however, "became mighty because he ordered his ways before the LORD his God." (27:6) The ability to conquer and subdue kingdoms by a king of Judah translates into the New Testament into a believer's ability, says Jesus, to "tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy [Satan and the demons]" so that "nothing shall injure you." "Nevertheless," says Jesus, "do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." (Luke 10:19-20) Our eternal inheritance in heaven is a greater thing than the effectiveness of our ministry on earth but as we remain humble and trustfully submissive to God's will, our effectiveness to overturn the kingdom of the enemy of God and man will remain strong.
The reign of Ahaz (28:1-27) marks a sharp contrast with that of his father Uzziah's. He made idols and worshiped the false gods even to the extent of burning his sons in the fire "according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel." (28:3) God blessed Uzziah's reign even though the people were wicked but now nothing stood in the way of the dire results of that wickedness: "Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the king of Aram; and they defeated him and carried away from him a great number of captives and broughtthem to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who inflicted him with heavy casualties." (27:5) The sons of Israel also started to take away many captives but God, through a prophet, forbade them and they were persuaded to release them. Their kind treatment of the captives is a wonderful example of how non-combatants and refugees should be treated in times of war. But for the New Testament Christian it is, above all, a reminder that "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) We are at war with a spiritual enemy who has taken captive the minds and souls of men. Therefore, "we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses." What are these "fortresses"? "We are
destroying speculations and every lofty thing [in men's minds] raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ…" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Instead of restraining sin in his kingdom, Ahaz "brought about a lack of restraint in Judah and was very unfaithful to the LORD." (28:19) He had hired the king of Assyria with treasure from the temple to come against his enemy, the Arameans, but this backfired as the king of Assyria, "afflicted him instead of strengthening him." And did this distress lead him to repentance? No, it did not, for king Ahaz "became yet more unfaithful to the LORD." (28:22) He even started worshiping the gods of Aram his enemy but "they became the downfall of him and all Israel." (28:23) A popular saying is that insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results. By this standard, Ahaz was certainly insane. But that is the default condition of all human beings, for the Bible says, "the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives." (Ecclesiastes 9:3) Only God's gracious visitations of the Holy Spirit to the souls of men are capable of giving us periods of lucidity in which we may turn from our wicked ways and onto the path of wisdom. But if we remain obdurate even under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, there is no hope for us. This is indeed the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" for which Jesus said there is no forgiveness, either in this world or the next (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10) for the obvious reason that we will not repent unless we receive these gracious illuminations of the Spirit for what they are and respond accordingly.
The reign of Hezekiah (29:1-32:33) registers a one hundred and eighty degree turn back to righteousness of which not only the king but also the people partook. Again, reform begins with the house of God as Hezekiah commands its cleansing from the pollution of idols and a restoration of proper worship in it according to the will of God. Then, Hezekiah sent messengers throughout Judah and even into the territory of Israel where those who remained after Assyria took away the leading citizens gave a mixed response, some heeding and some scoffing at his invitation to come up to Jerusalem to worship at the Passover. As for those of Judah, "The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD." (30:12) That first Passover after the restoration of the temple produced "great joy in Jerusalem, because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel." (30:26) During Hezekiah's reign the idols were removed, not only from the territories of Judah and Benjamin in the south but also in those of Ephraim and Manasseh in the north. The tithes for the support of the Levites and priests were gladly offered and brought in during his reign. The overall evaluation of Hezekiah was that he "did what was good, right and true before the LORD his God." Moreover, "Every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered." (31:20-21) But did this shield him from all adversity? No, it did not. Nor shall obedience to God shield us from all adversity. We must be tested in this life. Without testing there is no strengthening in righteousness, just as muscles will not grow stronger unless they are exercised. (1 Timothy 4:7-8; 1 Peter 1:6-7)
God, in His love and wisdom, permitted Hezekiah and his kingdom to suffer a terrible assault by the king of Assyria. All the cities of Judah were captured, except for Jerusalem. But Hezekiah did the right thing in seeking God for deliverance, which came about through a plague that killed so many of the enemy that they retreated back to Assyria where the king was eventually assassinated by some of his own children. God may permit Satan to buffet us severely for a season but if we seek Him instead of forsaking Him, we shall triumph in the end. The victory actually takes place when we refuse to "curse God and die" as Job's wife told him to do when he suffered terrible afflictions (Job 2:9) for the object of Satan's attack is to pry us loose from God and if he fails in that, we triumph! But there will come a time, after we leave this vale of tears, when we shall look down on our thoroughly defeated foe and watch him slink away into eternal darkness never again to trouble us. The next time we shall see Him will be at the general Day of Judgment where he and his cohorts shall have to answer for all their crimes against God and his creation.
Hezekiah's final years showed the great fruit of his faithfulness to God: riches, honor, prosperity in fields and flocks, great works of building and improvement such that he was "exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter." (32:23, 27-30) A period of spiritual declension did occur at this height of success and Hezekiah, like Uzziah before him, succumbed to pride. But then Hezekiah humbled his heart, as did the people and God forestalled, temporarily, the judgment that He had threatened.
The reign of Manasseh (33:1-25) again brought a reversal back to disobedience by both king and people. Manasseh rebuilt the "high places" (unauthorized places of worship generally dedicated to idolatry) which his father, Hezekiah had torn down. He set up altars "for all the host of heaven" (the stars) in the temple precincts and "made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom…" Witchcraft, divination and sorcery all flourished during his reign. He topped it off by placing a carved image in the very house of God! "Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel." (33:9) But God had mercy on Manasseh by sending him to prison in Babylon where he humbled himself and cried out to God for deliverance. God answered and returned him to his kingdom. The result: "Then Manasseh knew that the LORDwas God." (33:13) He got rid of his idols and even the people reformed somewhat for though they still worshiped in the high places, they did so "only to the LORD their God." (33:17) Still, as regards the ultimate fate of Judah, God saw that only the destruction of Jerusalem and exile would bring about a sufficiently deep and lasting change among the children of Israel. This would come about shortly but the reigns of several kings would come and go in the meanwhile, one or two good but the rest evil.
The reign of Amon (33:21-25) lasted but two years and "he did evil in the sight of the LORD as Manasseh his father had done, and Amon sacrificed to all the carved images which his father Manasseh had made, and he served them." Unlike his father, he never humbled himself or repented. Finally, his servants conspired against him and put him to death. Might he have repented had he lived longer? Only God knows that.God is under no obligation to extend the time of our probation on earth in order that we might have occasion to repent of our sins and turn to Him. He alone knows how best to manage the mess that sin and sinners have created in His kingdom. Judgment serves the highest good as well as mercy. We must leave to Him this incredibly difficult job and focus upon our own area of responsibility. The question should never be concerning God's goodness but our own. Are we still breathing? Then we must conclude that God has given us time to repent, grow and eventually become, by His grace and power, what He desires us all to be: forever joyful in His presence, perfectly reflecting the beauty of His holiness.
The reign of Josiah (34:1-35:27) marks the high point for Judah and the dynasty of David in terms of obedience to God. Once again, idolatry is removed from Judah, and even among the remnants of Israel to the north. The temple is cleansed and renovated, the priesthood revived. But what marks this revival of obedience especially notable is the part played by the rediscovery of a copy of the Law of God, probably the book of Deuteronomy, as they cleansed and renovated the temple. Apparently, this portion of the Pentateuch had not been consulted since the days of Amaziah (25:4) and its graphic depiction of the punishment that God would visit upon Israel if they did not obey God's law (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) powerfully affected both king and people. To make sure that this really was God's word and that it did apply to them, Josiah's advisors brought the book to Huldah the prophetess who confirmed its authenticity and added to its testimony God's word to the present king of Judah, assuring him that because his heart was "tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you… Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants." (34:27-28) We must not neglect the reading of the Holy Scriptures for, under the gracious illumination of God's Spirit, they become the "sword of the Spirit", the very "word of God" to us (Ephesians 6:17) which is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword… piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) We are in constant need of such surgery to remove the cancer of sin upon our souls and we can ill afford to avoid the surgeon's knife, the Holy Scriptures as wielded by the Holy Spirit.
The need to listen to God is further underscored by how Josiah met his end. When the king of Egypt came into the land on his way to battle with the king of Assyria, Josiah presumed to meddle in big power politics by coming against Pharaoh in battle. He may have been motivated by great zeal and his belief that God was behind him because of his obedience to the Law. But what he apparently did not do was consult with God first before launching himself presumptuously and precipitously into this audacious attack on Pharaoh. God, however, still tried to warn him through the words of Pharaoh: "What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you." The Chronicler adds that Josiah "did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God…" (35:21-22) Perhaps he did not think that God would speak through the mouth of this foreign king. But did he not remember that God spoke through the mouth of a false prophet, Balaam, and even through that prophet's donkey?! (Numbers 23-24) In the New Testament, we see that God spoke through the mouth of the high priest even though he was a wicked man and was urging his colleagues to put Jesus to death (John 11:47-53). In any case, Josiah had stopped seeking God's wisdom and presumed that his plans were the same as God's. This is a mistake frequently made by us, the New Testament followers of Jesus Christ. In the flush of past successes and in a presumptuous notion that we and God are so alike that we think alike, we do not stop to humbly ask for God's direction. When we fail to heed His written word He sometimes graciously attempts to speak to us by other means and yet we fail to heed even these warnings. A parent or a friend or even someone we don't like may give us advice that is sound and which we should have thought of ourselves but for our mindless zeal. God may also caution us by His Spirit, giving us a sense of the questionable nature of our course of action. We ignore these messages at our peril, as Josiah's case clearly reveals. He was mortally wounded by an arrow in his battle with Pharaoh, even though he disguised himself to avoid attracting special attention from Pharaoh's archers. How many of God's children today are wounded and removed from effective service because they stopped listening to God and listened only to the counsel of their own hearts?
The reign of Jehoahaz (36:1-3) lasted only three months. Necho, Pharaoh of Egypt, who had taken Judah into his sphere of control through his defeat of Josiah, decided Jehoahaz should go and be replaced by his brother. We are not told if he did good or evil, obeyed God or didn't. Perhaps he did or said something to make Pharaoh think he might rebel. As New Testament believers we are told to "be in subjection to the governing authorities." Why is this? "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." (Romans 13:1-2) We must never obey them when they require us to disobey God (Acts 5:29) but in all other respects we are called to submit to their authority. The people of Judah, and their kings, forgot why they had fallen under the authority of these outsiders. It was because of their sins and so they ought to have waited on God for the freedom He would provide. Many years later, after enduring years in exile and many more years under the rule of foreign kings, they finally did rebel and God was with them for the king they were then under was a cruel despot absolutely determined to make them live in gross disobedience to God's will. But now, after Josiah, they should have wisely submitted to Pharaoh and later, to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. By rebelling, they sealed their fate.
The reign of Eliakim, renamed Jehoiakim by Pharaoh (36:4-8) lasted eleven years and showed that Judah was ripe for destruction, for they continued to walk in disobedience to the Lord. The Babylonians were now in control, having defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. In 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, having found Jehoiakim untrustworthy, hauled him off to Babylon, along with some valuable articles from the temple in Jerusalem for use in his temple in Babylon. Incidentally, this was when Daniel and the other Hebrew boys were brought to Babylon to serve Nebuchadnezzar.
The reign of Jehoiakin, Jehoiakim's son (36:9-10) followed thereafter. He reigned only three months and ten days. Installed by the king of Babylon, he soon proved a problem and was, like his brother, removed to Babylon along with still more valuables from the temple. Again, he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
Zedekiah was Jehoiakin's uncle, his father's brother and he was next placed on the throne by the king of Babylon (36:11-14). He reigned eleven years and he "did evil in the sight of the LORD his God; he did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for the Lord." Not only was the king bad but also the people for "all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the LORD which He had sanctified in Jerusalem." It was now time for God to bring upon them the catastrophe He had long threatened.
III. The Destruction of Jerusalem and Exile of Judah - 36:15-23
Since the time of Moses, nearly a thousand years before, God had warned the children of Israel about what would happen if they did not keep His commandments but "The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling-place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy." (36:15-16) God is very patient and long-suffering but when He sees there is no other remedy, He executes judgment. Now they must suffer the destruction of their city and the temple and go into exile until the "seventy years" prophesied by Jeremiah (25:11) during which Judah would be under the rule of the Babylonians, was completed. This period began with the accession of Nebuchadnezzar in 606 BC and ended with the return of the Israelites under Darius the Mede in 536 BC. The destruction of Jerusalem happened earlier in this period, in 586 BC. The period of the exile lasted 50 years, during which the land of Judah "enjoyed its Sabbaths" but the overall period during which Judah was under the heel of Babylon was 70 years.
The Chronicler had the privilege of living during the time shortly after Judah's exile in Babylon came to an end and a large number had returned to the Land to begin rebuilding the temple, Jerusalem and the cities they had vacated. He wrote the Chronicles in order to give these returnees and the ones still in exile the right perspective on all that their people had experienced during the time from the reign of the first king of Judah and Israel until the last reigning king of Judah, Zedekiah. They were to draw from this wealth of experience the lesson that it is always better to obey the Lord than to rebel against Him, that He rewards those who serve Him and punishes those who do evil.
2 Chronicles concludes with Cyrus, the king of Persia's decree: "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!" The book of Ezra will begin at this point and take us through the period after the Jews return from their exile in Babylon and the struggles they went through to fulfill this decree of Cyrus as well as to make a clean break with their past of disobedience.
The book of 2 Chronicles is meant to be an encouragement to us to turn from our foolish pursuit of self-glory and self-gratification and to give our lives unreservedly to God and to His service. As we have seen, the rewards offered for this under the Old Covenant were mainly of this world and of material goods but the rewards offered to us under the New Covenant are mainly spiritual and eternal. God gives us the example of His goodness to those under the Old Covenant so that we may see how faithful He is to keep His promises of reward and, though contrary to His highest desire, to administer His discipline or punishment. The history of God's dealings with the people of Israel provides for us a this-worldly example which we can apply to God's dealing with us as we pursue God's eternal rewards. As Paul says, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." (1 Corinthians 10:11)
The "ends of the ages" are the overlapping ends of two ages: this age and the age to come.
The Old Testament people of God lived exclusively in this age, so that their interest in God was mainly in this world, although there are indications here and there that some of them were aware of a greater reward than just a piece of property in the Middle East secured for their physical posterity. But since the coming of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, we live in two ages at once, this one and the age to come. Our prize is infinitely greater. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat, what we will drink or what we will put on but to seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness with the calm assurance that all these other needs will be met. (Matthew 6:33)
A great summary of the lesson of 2 Chronicles is found in Paul's words, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh from the flesh will reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:7-10) We are not under the Law of Moses but we are under the Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21) and when we "bear one another's burdens" we are fulfilling that law (Galatians 6:2). Yes, we must refrain from having other gods, worshiping idols, using God's name in vain, profaning the Sabbath, dishonoring our parents, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting what doesn't belong to us but we are also to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as we do ourselves. It is a law that commands us to do good as well as to refrain from doing evil and so applies to every waking minute of our lives. The Apostle John assures us that God's "commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." (1 John 5:3-4) Those who have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ find that they want to keep God's commandments and that they are a delight and not a drudgery to fulfill. That does not mean that it is always easy; far from it. But the strong desire to stay with God and do His will constantly compels them to fight the good fight and continue in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Selfish, carnal desires may still win some battles but they are losing the war for "Mansoul" (from John Bunyon's allegory called "The Holy War").
What spurs us forward is faith in Christ's promise that "those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled." A wonderful part of our great reward is that we shall one day be beyond the reach of temptation and beyond the power of the evil one and that all the treasures we have laid up in heaven will be ours to enjoy forever - the souls of those brought to salvation through our deeds of kindness and words of faith (1 Thessalonians 2:19). But beyond these wonderful goods will be the ever-increasing, always-expanding capacity to love and be loved by the glorious Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Even here, in this life, we can experience the foretastes of these heavenly delights and thereby receive encouragement to keep on our way to heaven where the full and unfettered enjoyment of them will be ours forever.
The Promised Land of Canaan was the great reward of God's people under the Old Covenant and keeping the commandments God gave to them through Moses was the condition of entering and remaining in that land. When they continued to fall away and disobey His Law, God finally gave them the sternest of chastisements by sending them away from the Land into exile. In a sense, the motivation for doing right under the Old Covenant was extrinsic, it rewarded one thing by giving another thing. But under the New Covenant, the reward is intrinsic; the thing done is its own reward. The New Testament believer longs to do God's will and God offers to him the prospect of inheriting a condition in which he will never do anything but God's will and never see anything but the doing of God's will. The heart of the prayer Jesus gave His followers was "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) Jesus said that His nearest relations were not His literal brothers, sisters and mother but those who did His Father's will (12:46-50). Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of My father who is in heaven will enter." And He assures us that there will be those at that time who will say to Him, "'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (7:21-23)
It is not that we are saved by works of the Law, as the Pharisees believed. We are not saved by our works but we are God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10) Regeneration by the Spirit provides us with a heart that longs to do God's will and is prepared to do it. Such a heart will be burdened by any sense of remaining sin and struggle to be free of it and lay hold of every means God gives to overcome temptation. The reward of the righteous is to do what is right. The reward of those who seek God is to find Him. The reward of the one who loves his neighbor is to see his neighbor blessed. The reward of those who seek God's glory is to glorify Him. The reward of those who struggle for purity of heart is to find their hearts are pure. This is no mercenary enterprise, no quid pro quo, no barter with God of one thing for another. In the final accounting, the blessings of obedience are all found to be intrinsically bound up in the doing of it.
Now, what kind of a heart do you have? Was it once alive with desire to do God's will but now has grown cold and indifferent? Regeneration you may have experienced in the past but now you need its revival in the present. Perhaps you have never known what it means to be given a new heart that yearns for, and seeks to do God's will above all else. In either case, you need to come to Christ to receive a new heart from Him. It is, in reality, His heart, the heart that was pierced for you upon the cross, the heart that longs for you to be forever with Him. Won't you come to Him now?