The Second Temple


The Second Temple

November 20th, 1974 @ 7:30 PM

Ezra 3-7

And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia. Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off. Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue. Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort: Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time. This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time. Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations. Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings. Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king; That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed. We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river. Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time. The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them. Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them. At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall? Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building? But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter. The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king: They sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus; Unto Darius the king, all peace. Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands. Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls? We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them. And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up. But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon. But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God. And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place. Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished. Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter. Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits; With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king's house: And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God. Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence: Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily. And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy, And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, The son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, The son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, The son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest: This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem: That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God. The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure house. And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them. And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ezra 3-7

11-20-74    7:30 p.m.


In just a moment of review, last Wednesday night a week ago, we were talking about the great revival under Josiah, the last good king of Judah.  He repaired the temple fallen into ruin [2 Chronicles 34:8-13].  He reinstituted the Passover [2 Chronicles 35:1-19], and the scroll of the Book of the law was found, the Bible, lost in the house of God [2 Chronicles 34:14-21].  And in his day, God sent a tremendous revival [2 Chronicles 34:29-33].  But at the age of thirty-nine, he was slain by Pharaoh-Necho at Har Megiddo (Hebrew), at Armageddon, and his death was deeply mourned [2 Chronicles 35:20-25].

And then we spoke of the great, tremendous world destiny-determining battle that was fought at Carchemish between the forces of Pharaoh-Necho and Assyria on one side and a young upstart of a general named Nebuchadnezzar on the other side [2 Kings 23:29; Jeremiah 46:2] .  And in that battle of Carchemish fought in 605 BC, Egypt was forever destroyed as a world power.  She has never recovered to this present day, nor will she, according to the Word of the Lord [Ezekiel 29:15-16].

In that battle in 605 BC, Assyria fell from history forever.  And we mentioned the fact that so completely was Assyria destroyed and so buried was their great city of Nineveh that, in the after years, Alexander the Great marched his army over Assyria and over Nineveh and had no idea that a great civilization lay underneath his feet.

It is almost impossible to believe how history can be turned in one great conflict, a thousand years is a day, and a day as a thousand years.  And in that battle, Pharaoh-Necho was forever destroyed, his army and his Egyptian empire.  And we read last Wednesday night a week ago Jeremiah’s ode of triumph over the destruction of Pharaoh-Necho [Jeremiah 46:1-26].

Then following through the Lord’s appeal to His people to repent, to come back to God [Jeremiah 7:3, 26:3, 36:3], and Jeremiah cried that return to the Lord [Jeremiah 26:13], and Nebuchadnezzar, this rising star of a general, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar came in 605 BC and took away Daniel and some of his peers of the royal blood [Daniel 1:1-7].  Jeremiah cried, “Repent, get right with God” [Jeremiah 3:12-14], and Nebuchadnezzar came in 598 BC and took Ezekiel and many of the flower of the priesthood and of the nobility [2 Kings 24:11-14].  Jeremiah lifted up his voice and said, “Repent, get right with God” [Jeremiah 26:13].

And when Nebuchadnezzar came the third time, in 587 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21], he didn’t need to cry anymore.  After a siege of eighteen months, the Holy City was destroyed.  The temple was destroyed.  The beautiful accouterments, embellishments, furniture, vessels of the temple were taken to be placed in the temples of heathen gods in Babylonia, and the people were carried away into captivity [2 Chronicles 36:19-20].

Then we closed that lecture with a note that there is always hope for God’s people.  In the prophecies of Jeremiah, he said, “Seventy years and God will visit you, and you can come home” [Jeremiah 29:10-14].  And in Isaiah, beginning at the fortieth chapter, all of those chapters thereafter were written for the comfort and consolation of God’s people.  It begins:

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.

Yea, speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and say unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, her iniquities are pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

[Isaiah 40:1-2]

Thus, we see the people in exile, their temple destroyed, their Holy City destroyed, their land lying in waste, and they hanging their harps upon the willow trees in a strange and a foreign land [Psalm 137:1-3].  And that’s the way we closed last Wednesday night a week ago.

Now we’re going to enter into the period of the exile.  After Zedekiah, the last Davidic king of Judah, whose sons were slain before his eyes, whose eyes were put out and carried in chains to Babylon where he died in a dungeon [Jeremiah 52:8-11], after Zedekiah, there is no national king in the Davidic line until Jesus came; Jesus, David’s rightful heir [Matthew 1:1].

But He was rejected and crucified [Matthew 27:27-50], so there has been no king of the chosen people outside of those rulers that we know as Maccabees who, as we’re going to see, were priest kings.  There’s been no Davidic ruler, no king over Israel for now over 2,500 years.  I mention that just to point out the fact that all history is like a bridge that has come to the middle of the abyss.

If there’s no consummation, if there’s no ultimate in God’s purpose and plan, then the existentialist philosopher is correct, there is no meaning and no purpose in life.  It’s like a tale told by an idiot, as Shakespeare would describe it.  But, we believe, according to the sure word of prophecy, that what we find in these days past and what has tragically been cut off in the middle of the great chasm of history, has yet another span.  It has another consummation.  It has another outreach, and we are looking, of course, for the day when the King of Israel will return, be seated upon the throne of His father David [2 Samuel 7:12-16], and when He shall establish a kingdom which, according to the prophet Daniel, shall have no end [Daniel 7:27].  And we’re in the midst of that.  We’ve come thus far, but someday, some glorious day, there is to be a marvelous and triumphal ending to the story.

But now the people are in tears and in exile [Psalm 137:1-3].  The sadness of the captivity, the Babylonian captivity, can be seen in the five elegies that constitute the book called Lamentations.  They are almost certainly the dirges of Jeremiah.  I have never heard them read.  Once in a while, I have preached from a text in those lamentations, but they are beautiful.  They are deeply, penitentially spiritual.  I wish we had time to read them.

I have said that they are almost certainly written by Jeremiah.  The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, precedes the Book of Lamentations with these words:  “And it came to pass after Israel was led into captivity and Jerusalem laid waste that Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said,” and then follows the five elegies that are written in the book [Lamentations 1:1-5:22].

When you read them, they remind us of the cry of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:37, who in a like and similar situation said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, your house is left unto you desolate” [Matthew 23:37-38].  I have a little comment to make about this catastrophe that overwhelmed the chosen people of God.

A like judgment awaits any people, however highly favored, who forget that public and private prosperity is secured only by godliness and righteousness.  There is no peace and no prosperity to a nation or a people who live in blasphemy, and in infidelity, and in Christ’s rejection, and in corruption and sin.

Whether that is true of Israel, whether that is true of Judah, whether that is true of Rome, read in the Bible or read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and look at modern America.  It makes your heart faint within you because the destiny of the nation lies not in armies and navies, not in scientific advancement, not in wealth or prosperity, but it lies in the godliness and the righteousness of its citizens, and when the people become corrupt and ungodly, as certain as the night follows the day, there will follow inevitable an ultimate and final judgment.

We see this so tragically in the life of the people of Judah, who are now in Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 24:14-16].  In those days of the exile, there were three great prophets.  Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem.  Daniel, the prophet statesman, saw his visions in Babylon, and Ezekiel in Tel Abib, which is about two hundred miles north of Babylon in the Mesopotamian Valley, saw his glorious visions written in the Book of Ezekiel.

Of those, Daniel and Ezekiel are so like the great apocalyptic writer John [The Revelation 1-22].  The visions of Daniel and the visions of Ezekiel and the visions of the apostle John in the last book of the Bible, in the Apocalypse, all have a tremendous common denominator.  It would be impossible to understand the Revelation without also understanding Daniel.

And if you had any introduction of meaning at all to Ezekiel, it would be because you had faithfully studied Daniel and the Revelation.  The prophet Ezekiel and the seer of Patmos, the sainted apostle John [Revelation 1:9], were separated by 660 years, yet both worked—the one in the prophecy of Ezekiel, the other in the great apocalyptic revelation in the Revelation—they all worked toward the same center, a city, a temple, a throne, a glorified Man upon it, a rainbow round about it, the overthrow of Gog and Magog, and the glory of God enfolding it all.  Isn’t that a remarkable thing?

The prophet Ezekiel saw the great and beautiful city with its temple and its throne of jasper and glory [Ezekiel 40-47].  He saw it in the captivity [Ezekiel 40:1].  And the sainted apostle John saw the vision of the new heaven and the new earth and the new glory of another kingdom [Revelation 21-22] when he was exiled on Patmos to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9].  Apparently, it is out of the heartaches and the troubles and the tears of life that we see our greatest visions of God.

Now, we are going to speak of the return to Judah, the return from the Babylonian captivity.  The deportation to Babylon, as I have described it a moment ago, was in three stages.  The people were carried to the captivity in 605 by Nebuchadnezzar with Daniel and his peers [Daniel 1:1-7], in 598 by Nebuchadnezzar, Ezekiel and his fellow priests [2 Kings 24:11-14], and in 587 [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21], the full captivity that carried with it the destruction of the temple, the city, and the state.

Now the return from Babylon was also in three stages.  After the seventy years from 605 to 536, after the seventy years, the return to Judah and to Jerusalem was also in three stages; in 536 under Zerubbabel [Ezra 2:1-64], in 458 under Ezra [Ezra 7:1-10], and in 445 under Nehemiah [Nehemiah 7:5-66].

Under Zerubbabel, there were 42,360 returned, only a small remnant of those who were taken into captivity [2 Kings 24:14-16; Jeremiah 52:28-30].  The rest of them found themselves at ease in the land, so they remained in Babylon and the Mesopotamian Valley.  Only 42,360 of them chose to go back home [Ezra 2:64].  They walked for four months across the pitiless desert, and the song that they sang is Psalm 126:

When the Lord turned [again] the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.

Then said they among the heathen, the nations, The Lord hath done great things for them.

The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

[Psalm 126:1-6]

The song they sang as they crossed the pitiless, barren desert to return home to Judah, the little band of 42,000—they were pilgrims, profoundly penitent, and they set themselves, not to rebuilding the walls of the city, but to the reestablishment of the ancient faith [Ezra 1:5].  And the first thing they did was to erect the altar of sacrifice.  And the offerings began before the Lord.  Before they did anything else, they erected that altar [Ezra 3:2-6].  We are talking about the scarlet thread through the Bible, and there we see it again so poignantly and so significantly.  They began at the center.  They began at the cross.  And if we would worship God, that’s where we also must begin.  We must begin at Calvary [1 Corinthians 2:2].  We must begin on our knees in the confession of our sins [Matthew 3:6].  We must plead the blood, the righteousness imputed to us by our Savior who died in our stead [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21].  That’s where they began.

First, they erected the altar and began the sacrifices [Ezra 3:8-13], just as in our worship before God, we ought to begin on our knees, on our faces, bowing at the cross, asking God’s forgiveness and salvation.  Then the second thing they did after they erected the altar, they laid the foundation of the temple.  And in Ezra 3, verses 8 to 13, you have a most unusual descriptive passage.

They say in Ezra, the third chapter, that when the foundation of the temple was laid, the shouts of joy by the younger people were deafening and thunderous, and it says that the wailing of the older Jews who had seen the Solomonic temple was no less loud, and the noise was such that you could not distinguish between which was which and what was what, as they shouted on the part of the younger people at the relaying of the foundation of the temple and the wailing and crying of the older people who looked at such small beginnings and wept over the remembrance of the glory of the Solomonic temple [Ezra 3:12-13].

Now when they began the reconstruction of the temple, they were stopped for fifteen years by the opposition of the Samaritans and by the loss of the will of the people to build it [Ezra 4:21-24].  I tell you, I sometimes surely need a double portion of God’s Spirit.  Sometimes I think, O Lord, the host of darkness rides so hard it’s just impossible for us to oppose its flood tides.  That’s what happened to the people here.  They stopped the building of the temple because of opposition from the outside and because of their despair of ever rebuilding it, of ever rebuilding the city, of ever getting their state viable again.  Just out of sheer discouragement and despondency and despair, they stopped for fifteen years [Ezra 4:24].

Then arose two prophets; one was an old man by the name of Haggai, and the other was a young man by the name of Zechariah.  And through the remarkable encouragement of these two prophets, the people began to build again and completed the temple [Ezra 5:1-2; 6:13-15].

I want to point out to you how, when we stagger at something God says, we don’t know what God’s purpose is, how our eyes and our minds are so limited it’s hard for us to realize sometimes the glory of God’s promises and predictions.  Now you look at this one.  In his encouragement to the people to build the temple, in Haggai 2, verse 7 and verse 9, the prophet says to them, “Thus saith the Lord God the glory of this temple that you are building will be greater than the glory of the former temple” [Haggai 2:7, 9].

I can easily think that the people who heard Haggai say that, I could easily think of their inward response, “That is impossible.  It is unthinkable that this little small beginning that we are attempting for the Lord could ever rise to the glory of the temple of Solomon.  It is unimaginable, it is unthinkable.  It’s inconceivable.”  I could imagine that.

Well, what do you think about it?  Was the prophecy right, that the glory of the temple that they were rebuilding would be greater than the glory of Solomon’s temple? [Haggai 2:7, 9]. Tell me yourself.  Had you rather have seen Solomon’s temple without Jesus, or had you rather have seen this temple with the Lord?  Why, there’d be no comparison.  I don’t care what Solomon’s temple looked like.  It had nothing of the glorious interest for us that the temple of this one that Haggai’s talking about, with Jesus in it, and Jesus preaching in it, and Jesus walking through its porches, and Jesus teaching the people, and Jesus coming there that Passion week, every day, to speak to the people.

You don’t know, you don’t know.  Just give God time.  Let God work out His purpose, and not one of His prophecies will ever fail or fall to the ground.  They may look impossible to us.  Just like watching somebody die, and before the embalmer takes the body, a dead cadaver immediately begins to corrupt, immediately.  I have never quite understood how corruption could so immediately seize upon a body, but it does, immediately.  The whole visage and the whole character of the body changes.  Now you just look at that, and then remember the promise of God; that it is sown in corruption, it shall be raised in incorruption; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a mortal body, it is raised a spiritual body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory [1 Corinthians 15:42-44].  How could God do that?

And maybe the dust blows to the wind, into the earth with the wind, and maybe the big fish eat it up, or a big oak plunges its roots down through the middle and saps its strength and it goes up into leaf, and flower, and bark, and limb.  How that?  All I know is God said that in the power of His grace and might and Spirit, He will raise us up from the dead [Romans 8:11].  And to us, it just seems so beyond even what God could do.  Not so, not so.  These prophecies that the Lord makes, not one of them will ever fail or fall to the ground.  It will come to pass in God’s day and in God’s time.

So with the building of that temple.  Twenty years after the return, after Zerubbabel came back, the temple was dedicated.  And in Ezra 6, verses 16 and 17, sacrifices there were made, a sin offering was made for all Israel [Ezra 6:16-17].  There’s nothing in the Bible of the lost ten tribes.  The Diaspora includes Ruben and Simon and Levi and Naphtali and Issachar and Dan and all of the rest.  “All Israel,” that is expressly stated [Ezra 6:17].  Sacrifices were offered.  Sin offering was made in the dedication of the temple for all Israel, and in the same chapter, Ezra 6, verses 19 and 22, they kept the Feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread, the scarlet thread through the Bible [Ezra 6:19, 22].

Now I want to point out something to you that to me is just unbelievable.  There’s no need for you to turn to it, though I’m going to turn to it.  I hold in my hand here an open Bible at Ezra, at Ezra.  And here is the sixth chapter of Ezra, there, there, there, down to there.  And this is the beginning of the seventh chapter of Ezra, and it goes on without a break, without any notation of a hiatus at all.  It just starts up here, “Then Darius, the king, made a decree,” and that’s 6 [Ezra 6:1].  Then now after these things, in the reign of order Artaxerxes the king [Ezra 7:1], and then it goes on.

I want to use that as an illustration of how God has written the Bible and its purpose.  There are fifty-eight years between the end of chapter 6 in Ezra [Ezra 6:22], and the beginning of chapter 7 [Ezra 7]; 516 BC at the end of Ezra [Ezra 6:22] and 458 BC at the beginning of chapter 7 [Ezra 7:1].  This shows you, as I’m going to demonstrate here in a moment, this shows you in poignant illustration and vivid example the selective purposes of the Bible.  The Holy Scriptures are not a record of world events, to present the story of the development of civilization or culture or society or of mankind, but the Holy Scriptures have one great purpose, namely, to present the progress of God’s unfolding, redeeming purpose.

Now, you look at the event that took place in these fifty-eight years of silence.  Now listen to it.  Between chapter 6 [Ezra 6:22] and chapter 7 [Ezra 7:1], in the Book of Ezra [Ezra 6:22], in those fifty-eight silent years, these things came to pass.  Listen to them.  In China, Confucius lived and died.  In India, Buddha, Gautama Buddha, lived and died.  In Greece, the nation reaps her golden age.  Herodotus, the father of history, began to write.  Thucydides, the first great philosophical historian, began to write.  Socrates and Anaxagoras were the great philosophers, with their pupils, Plato and Aristotle.  Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles were writing their tragedies.  Pindar was penning his beautiful lyrics.  Aristophanes was writing his comedies.  Pericles and Themistocles and Aristides were swaying the Athenian public with their political judgments and oratory.  And Marathon and Thermopylae and Salamis were the battles fought on land and sea in that little period of time between the sixth and the seventh chapters of the Book of Ezra [Ezra 6:22-7:1].

You would think the quintessence of all civilization and cultural advancement of the whole human race is represented in that list that I have just presented to you.  There is no hint of it.  There is no reference to it in the Bible.  It is passed over in absolute silence.  The Scriptures have a very definite purpose.  God wants us to be saved, and that’s why the Bible.  He wants all men to come to repentance and find in Christ their personal Savior [2 Peter 3:9].  That is the Bible.

And when a man preaches in the power and the Spirit of the Lord, that’s what he preaches.  He preaches, “Ho, ho, all that thirst come, come to the waters and drink.  Come without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1].  Why do you spend time and effort in life for that which satisfieth not?  Hear, and your soul shall live [Isaiah 55:2-3].  “Let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord . . . and He will abundantly pardon” [Isaiah 55:7].  That is the gospel.  That is the Bible.  That is what the man in the pulpit ought to preach.  “Come, come, come.”  And all of these other things, what you might say about Confucius or not, about Buddha or not, your references to history or not, all of those things are just incidental.

The great, main burden of the Scriptures, of the message of the church, if it’s true to its faithful mandate from heaven, and of the God-called preacher is always one of redemption.

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

[“Are You Washed in the Blood?” Elisha A. Hoffman]

That is the Bible.

There’s only one exception to this silence of fifty-eight years [Ezra 6:22-7:1], and that is in that period occurred the story of Esther [The Book of Esther].  She lived from about 484 to 465.  The story took place in those years.  Looking at Esther, in just a comment, always you find the Jews in history with a vast, disproportionate influence in the life of the nation and nations and in the life of the people.

They’re talking about firing that General Brown up there, you know, for saying that the Jews had an overweening, overabounding influence in the financial life and political life of America.  I don’t object to it.  He’s just telling the truth. That’s been true everywhere in the beginning.  There are no people with the tremendous abilities and gifts and influence like God’s chosen family.

You can start with the story of Joseph in Egypt, or Daniel in Babylon, or Ezekiel by the Chebar, or Mordecai and Esther in Susa, or Nehemiah in Shushan, or any other date and time in history.  They’ve changed the course of civilization.  And you have that illustrated in the Bible story of Esther [Esther 1:1-10:3].

Now we must hasten because I must conclude this lecture tonight, because next Wednesday night, we’re going to study the interbiblical period when the greatest changes in the biblical people, in the biblical story, came to pass.  Four hundred years of silence, but tremendously important because of the changed world into which we come when we read the story of the life of our Lord.  Under Ezra, when the people went back, under Ezra, there came to pass some of the great and abiding institutions of Judaism.

Ezra came back seventy-eight years after Zerubbabel led his first pilgrims [Ezra 7:6-9], and fifty-eight years after the temple was rebuilt [Ezra 6:15].  He came from Babylon with a caravan of pilgrims that numbered about five thousand souls, and likewise, he journeyed across in about four months.  This man Ezra was a scribe, that is, he was a student of the Scriptures, and he wrote them, copied them.  And he was a priest.  He was a man of vast abilities and dedication.  He immediately, because of his sterling character and his pristine gift, when Ezra came, immediately he became head of the Jewish community in Jerusalem.  And at that time, when Ezra came, the adult men in Jerusalem numbered just about forty thousand.

Now the decay in the Persian Empire evidently forced Ezra to give up his leadership among the Jews.  The walls of the city were still unbuilt.  The people were in reproach from the Samaritans and the Arabs, but worse, the people had fallen into heathen ways [Nehemiah 1:3-7].  And it was in such a state as that that Nehemiah was moved in the palace in Shushan, under the Persian monarch, to weep when his kinsmen came and described the wretchedness of the people, the destruction of the city, and the ruined walls that still lay in all manner of disorganization and rubble [Nehemiah 1:1-4].

So, in 445 BC, about twelve years after Ezra returned, Nehemiah came [Nehemiah 2:1-11].  He was appointed governor of the Jewish community, and his first governorship lasted for twelve years [Nehemiah 5:14].  Then he went back to Shushan, the palace [Nehemiah 13:6].  Then he came the second time to be governor of the people, and that governorship lasted about three years [Nehemiah 13:7].  And there was a great revival in the Jewish community with Ezra and with Malachi the prophet [Nehemiah 8:1-18].

With Nehemiah and Ezra and Malachi, the walls were rebuilt [Nehemiah 4:1-23, 7:1-3], the people purified [Nehemiah 9:1-3].  And what Haggai and Zechariah were to Zerubbabel [Haggai 2:2, 21-23; Zechariah 4:6-10], Malachi and Ezra were to Nehemiah [Ezra 8:1-4; Malachi 3:8-10].  Ezra and Nehemiah made a great team, the scribe priest and the ruler governor.  I have said many times that an unbeatable team is a godly pastor and a godly deacon, a man of God in the pulpit and a man of God in the pew.

What the devil wants to do is always to sow discord among them, to pull the pastor away from his deacons, pull the deacons away from the people, the congregation, to separate us.  But as long as we stay together in Christ, in the Lord, we are an unbeatable team.  And you find that in the story of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Often in the Bible do we see men like that, in pairs.  There’ll be Joshua with Moses.  There’ll be Jonathan with David.  There’ll be Baruch with Jeremiah.  There’ll be Peter with John.  There’ll be Timothy with Paul.

It’s a wonderful thing in the church to see men of God who are dedicated, not just one man bearing it alone, but men together working for our blessed Lord.  Now to speak of Ezra himself; Ezra has been called the second founder of the Jewish state, Moses the first one and Ezra the second one.  He almost certainly wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles.  He almost certainly gathered the Hebrew canon, the Old Testament Scriptures.  He was almost certainly the founder of the great synagogue that came later to be known as the Sanhedrin.  He was almost certainly the founder of the spread of the synagogue over the land to teach the people.

He was the father of the order of the scribes.  He himself in Ezra 7:6 is called a ready scribe.  The significance of the Scriptures in the three-hour public service in Jerusalem, described in Nehemiah 8, was led by him [Nehemiah 8:1-4].  He is the father of all expository preaching, taking the Bible and explaining to the people the meaning thereof [Nehemiah 8:5-9].

I think those who refer to Ezra as the second founder of the Jewish nation, I think they are correct in so describing that remarkable man; Moses here and Ezra there.  And after Ezra, you have the shaping of the Jewish people that has remained to this present hour.

So the king is exchanged for a governor [Nehemiah 5:14], and the priest who precedes the prophet [Ezra 7:11].  A new era is instituted with new institutions, new offices, new officers, and new activities.  And this leads us to the interbiblical period that we will discuss next Wednesday night.

God is moving.  He never retracts.  He never hesitates, nor does He ever change in His purpose; on and always on His redemptive story in the Scriptures, in human history, and in our lives today.