You remember most of the Jews did not go back to Judah with
Zerubbabel. Some were too old for the journey. Others had good businesses that
they didn’t want to leave. And some, like Esther, had places of honor at Shushan.
Even so, most were interested in what was happening in Jerusalem. They could
hear all about the new temple from travelers - - that it was finally finished.
It was not as beautiful as Solomon’s temple had been, however. And they no
longer had the ark of the covenant to go into the Most Holy Place. Sorrowfully,
the older people began to realize nothing in Judah would ever be the same again.
It was a hard struggle, just trying to rebuild their homeland. But God knew
their sad thoughts and spoke through Haggai and Zechariah to comfort them.
“Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory?… In comparison, is this not in your eyes as nothing?” Haggai asked. “The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former. And in this place I will give peace, says the Lord of hosts.”
What could this mean? As far as we know, God never did fill Zerubbabel’s temple with His cloud of glory. That cloud had shown He dwelled among them both in Solomon’s temple and the tabernacle in the wilderness. Now it seemed that God’s house would be empty until Jesus came and set up His spiritual house, the church - - just as God’s throne would be vacant until he was crowned to be its real King in heaven. We can know, then, that the promise spoken by Haggai would come about in New Testament times. Then God’s people of all times would be blessed.
God used a good priest and scribe named Ezra to help his people stay faithful. Scribes were very important people. Not only did they make copies of the Law of the Lord - - since very few people could read the scribes read the Law of the Lord and explained it for them. Ezra had spent his life studying God’s Law so he could obey it himself and teach it to others. Now he decided to go to Jerusalem and teach the law there.
King Artaxerxes ruled Persia then and knew Ezra was a wise man. He gave Ezra a letter, which read, “I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem may do so.” The generous king sent millions of dollars worth of gold and silver for the temple. He also commanded the rulers in other countries to give Ezra whatever they needed.
Ezra especially wanted Levites to go back with him to help with the temple worship. In his book he explains how he gathered everyone together, and proclaimed a fast “…that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him the right way for us.” There was great danger from robbers who might hurt the children and steal their money, but Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers, too. That was because he had told him earlier, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.”
God did give Ezra and his band a safe journey. After about four months they arrived in Jerusalem and delivered the gold and silver to the temple.
A few days later Ezra found out just how badly his teaching was needed - - many of those who had come back with Zerubbabel had married people of the land! Even the priests, Levites and other leaders had taken wives from the idol worshippers around them. Ezra could hardly believe it! He was so upset he tore his clothes and sat without speaking for the rest of the day. Then bowing before the Lord in tears, he confessed their sins and begged His mercy, saying, “After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt… should we again break Your commandments and join in marriage with the people of these abominations?” As he prayed, a large group gathered around him, weeping and admitting they had sinned.
With Ezra’s help, they put away their pagan wives and made a new covenant to serve the Lord. It was a sad time for those who had children. But, as we have seen, disobeying God always brings pain.
Talking it Over:
1. God’s plans for His people may provide help far into the future. Talk about what patience means. He always protects those who trust Him. How does He protect His people today?
2. Divorce is a great problem today. Talk about its causes and the sadness it brings to a family. How can it be avoided?
3. Read Neh 8 and 9 and talk about Ezra reading the law and the people making a covenant to obey it. How can reading God’s word help us do better?
“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Isreal.” Ezra 7:9
In what ways is Ezra an example for us?
Text by Betty Belue Haynes, originally published in Bible Talk Times. Used here with the kind permission of the author. Users are free to reproduce for use, but not for publication.