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Notebook: The Return From Babylon

J Grant

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When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians it appeared that the history of Israel as a nation had come to an end. Some were scattered, some went down to Egypt, and others were taken to Babylon to become absorbed into Babylonian society. Now, seventy years later, what appeared to be impossible is taking place - Jews returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and re-institute the worship of Jehovah. This revival is remarkable for many things, one of which is the detail that is revealed to us of what was at work to bring this revival about. All who seek revival today would do well to read carefully the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The period

The prophet Jeremiah had written, "And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon" (Jer 25.12; see also 29.10). In the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, who had overthrown Babylon and captured the city, Daniel read the prophecy of Jeremiah and understood that these words had been fulfilled. Herein lies a lesson for all who read the prophetic books. When the prophets write of Israel they mean the nation of Israel and when they give times they mean actual dates. Do not be confused by those who transfer the promises made to Israel to the Church.

The people

Stage 1

First, we note Daniel the prophet. His understanding of Jeremiah’s words drove him to prayer (Dan 9.3-19) as a result of which there was revealed to him God’s timetable for the future of Israel (Dan 9.20-27). Read Daniel 7-12 to learn more about these events, all of which were future when Daniel wrote, although many have by now been fulfilled. Their fulfilment is proof, although no such proof is necessary when God makes a promise, that all that is stated will come to pass.

Second, there is Cyrus, king of Persia. It was through him that the word of the Lord through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord stirred him up and charged him "to build him an house at Jerusalem" (Ezra 1.2).

Third, the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin and all those "whose spirit God had raised" (Ezra 1.5) determined to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem.

Stage 2

The second stage of the revival was led by two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, both of whom write the prophetic books that bear their names (both these books should be read to understand the spiritual condition of those who had returned to Jerusalem). All that is said of Haggai himself is that he was known as a prophet. Zechariah was "the son of Iddo" (Ezra 5.1) and is called in his prophetic book "the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo". This is not a discrepancy as "the son of" can bear the meaning of "the grandson of". Both these men prophesied to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah as a result of which the work, which had ceased, was recommenced.

The third stage of the revival was led by Ezra the Scribe. He was "a ready (skilful) scribe in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7.6). A scribe is one who studied the Law, the Word of God, who sought to put it into practice in his own life, and who taught it to others. Clearly, Ezra was proficient in all of this and his desire was to go to Jerusalem and teach the Law. In this way the revival was revived.

The fourth stage of revival was led by Nehemiah. He was a Jew, the cup bearer, a senior post in the palace in Shushan, which was one of several capitals of the Medo-Persian empire. On hearing of the sad conditions pertaining in Jerusalem he requested of the king that he should travel to Jerusalem. The wall of the city was broken down, the gates still lying burned with fire and the condition of the people falling short of which was expected of them. The king appointed him governor of the land of Judah (Neh 5.14), a post that he held for twelve years.

Behind all this, however, was the hand of The Lord. This revival was not just a political movement whose followers believed that the time of their "idea" had come. Amongst nations there had been dramatic changes. The centre of power had moved significantly, and the certainties of seventy years’ relative political stability had been destroyed. Kings and an empire, that of seemingly impregnable Babylon, had been overthrown, another empire, Medo-Persia had been established, Daniel had laboured in prayer, the spirit of individuals had been stirred up.

The principle

The sovereignty of God to raise up and put down rulers is clearly seen. He has the right to do as is His will, and although He explains His purpose in these events He need not do so. "He putteth down one, and setteth up another" (Ps 75.7); He has sovereign rights over individuals. Men may strut on the stage of history, aspiring to "greatness" and to be remembered. Most never know that they may do as they will, but all is in the sovereign control of God. Little do they understand that "The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps 103.19). They may oppose Him but "He that sitteth in the heaven shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (Ps 2.4).

The progress

When the work commenced the brazen altar was soon built, the Feast of Tabernacles was observed, and the foundation of the Temple was laid. Progress like this, however, is noted by the Adversary and he attempts to bring the work to a halt. Believers today must recognise that this still is his avowed purpose.

The first attack

An alliance was offered. Those opposed to the work asked if they could join in it. This offer was refused as the work could not be carried out with the workers yoked together with unbelievers. Paul’s exhortation regarding the dangers of the unequal yoke (2 Cor 6.14-18) must be heeded today.

An attack was mounted. Having failed through subtlety they weakened the resolve of the builders by their conduct and hired counsellors to discourage them. Following this they used politics. They wrote to the king to report that the city had been, and would be, opposed to the empire. The commandment then came for the work to cease (Ezra 4.23-24).

The second attack

The book of Haggai provides us with the reasons why it had recommenced. If the first attack had come from external forces, the second came from within. The people had enjoyed a measure of prosperity. They had built attractive houses (1.4), but when building for themselves they had neglected the House of God. Already, however, they were learning that neglect of the Lord led to a diminishing prosperity (1.5-6). When the work did restart, however, there were complaints that what was being built was not as grand as Solomon’s Temple. These two enemies have not diminished their activity - if we allow them they can be as effective today. Prosperity may diminish our devotion and complaints may divide the workers and discourage us in the work.

The third attack

A period of over sixty years separated the completion of the Temple and the return of Ezra. During this time the people had integrated with the surrounding nations. There was no separation (Ezra 9.1). They had adopted the idolatry of these nations and had married into them; they had embraced their religions. The only answer to this was to turn back to the Word of God. Ezra, the skilful scribe, was well fitted to carry out this work. As with those who serve Him today, God had fitted the man and the message for the work that was required. Note, however, that the people did not only express their sorrow by tears (10.1), they also put the Scriptures into practice (10.2-44) - another vital lesson for today. The latter proves the sincerity of the former.

The fourth attack

Ten years passed and Nehemiah came to Jerusalem where the wall and gates had been neglected, still lying broken and burned. The work commenced with all the workers united and each responsible for a part of the work (ch.3). The same should be true in the assembly today. But the Adversary still attacked. They tried mockery (4.1-2), then solidarity (4.7-9), followed by subtlety (5.1-9), after which there was duplicity (6.10-14). Apart from these external forces, once again there were internal pressures. The people were discouraged (4.10-23); there was discord (5.1-13); the nobles of Judah were guilty of disloyalty (6.17-19). Finally, the wall and the gates were complete after fifty days of hard work. The attacks from outside and inside had failed. The completed work was proof that the work was of God (6.16).

The Word of God was now taught, for outward symbols are no proof of inward devotion. Divine order was re-established (chs.7-12). Lest we be complacent, the final chapter warns us that the Devil will not give up. Let us be like Nehemiah and seek to build the Word of God into our lives, but also be constantly on the alert to discern when the Adversary returns. May we do as Nehemiah did and "cast forth" (13.8) all that the enemy seeks to bring in, and keep ourselves separate from the world (13.15-28).


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