24 Nov Join the journey of restoration
The Jewish people were taken into captivity for seventy years in Babylon, but in the year 530 B.C. the power of the Babylonian Empire was broken by the power of Persia, and upon assuming supremacy, the king of Persia encouraged the Jewish remnant to return to their own city of Jerusalem. The transition from the exile stage to the return stage of Israel’s history and the preparation of Jerusalem for the birth of Messiah would not have been possible without the obedience of Jewish leaders to Lord’s plan. A few leaders namely Zerubbabel; the Governor of Judah, Joshua; the High Priest, Ezra; the scribe and priest, Haggai, Zechariah; the prophets & Nehemiah; the cupbearer and governor of Judah were used by God to restore the remnant. God also moved the hearts of the Gentile kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes of Persia in this journey. It wasn’t easy for God’s chosen vessels to lead Israel because the journey was without any power at hand [as they were exiles]. Moreover, the remnants had lost their identity of ‘Holy Race’. Yet, God worked in the history of Israel, through the many exploring in this journey which was explained in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Zerubbabel, the royal line of David and Joshua, the High Priest led 50,000 Jews to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild the temple, which was burnt during the invasion of Babylon in Jerusalem. Though they faced difficulties in rebuilding the temple, they were motivated by the Word of God through prophets Haggai & Zechariah. After sixty years, another group of Jewish people returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra. Ezra was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses [Ezra 7:6]. He also devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teach its decrees and laws in Israel [Ezra 7: 10]. Ezra was set about re-establishing the moral and spiritual life of the people in Jerusalem who for so long had lived in a Gentile Nation having lost their identity as ‘Holy Race’. He faced a great deal of discouragement from other people, much remained to be done. It was at this juncture, fourteen years after Ezra’s return God raised Nehemiah to meet the need of the hour. Nehemiah was never late to the plan of God that was put into his heart because he delighted in revering God, had a great concern for the broken walls & the remnant. God opened doors for His mission through Nehemiah’s cupbearer job. He leaned for God’s help in his every move. Nehemiah with the permission of the King went to Trans-Euphrates of Jerusalem and built its walls in 52 days with the help of Jewish remnants. Nehemiah’s concern was always centered on God’s purpose and he made the best use of his job as a cupbearer for rebuilding the wall and as governor of Judah for reformation. Nehemiah’s governance was different from previous officials as he revered God. We live in a time where people are ready to risk their lives for a job but Nehemiah the cupbearer was ready to risk his job for God’s mission. Today we see broken lives and hearts around us due to the insensitivity to wages of sin and lack of knowledge of God, the Way. God is looking for leaders like Ezra, who studies and observes the Word of God to restore the unfaithful to God’s Word. As people chosen and enabled by God for God’s work, are we putting ourselves at risk to build or re-build the broken lives and ministry around us?
For whenever the people of God say, “Let us arise and build,” Satan says, “Let me arise and oppose”. The leaders faced challenges both from external circumstances and internal enemies. The rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple was done in two stages under Zerubbabel. First, the altar was built, so that sacrifices could again be made (Ez 3:2-3). The second phase was laying the foundation of the temple. Interruptions in the rebuilding of temple came due to the politics of local population and lack of spiritual understanding of the returned remnants. At this time, preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah made the leaders and the people to build God’s temple and prosper them. Similarly, while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah and his people were mocked and threatened. But they overcame the situation, under the leadership of Nehemiah through prayer and continued the work with weapons at one hand. Because of this, the enemies tried to intimidate Nehemiah. They plotted to make him come alone and harm him. Nehemiah did not go with them, as he was well aware of God given mission to him. Moreover, they send prophets with made-up prophecies but Nehemiah could discern that it was not from God. They also, tried to dishonor his name. But Nehemiah was able to frustrate their plots because of his prayers and alignment with God’s law & plan. Israel’s restoration evoked fierce opposition, but that opposition was thwarted at every turn by God. Thus they completed the wall in 52 days. He also drove away the internal enemy, Tobiah who was supported by the priest of the temple and was threatening Nehemiah with letters. Having known the Word of God, are we genuinely practising it and using it to build broken lives and to bring spiritual prosperity as Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra did? How do we approach our problems, when we face resistances in ministry/campus/personal life? As quoted by John C. Maxwell, “A leader lives with people to know their problems. A leader lives with God in order to solve them”, Nehemiah lived such a life. How we are?
Restored holy race
Being restored to the offerings and sacrifices after rebuilding the temple, Ezra restored the remnants, Levites and the priests to worship, celebrations and to the Law of the Lord by teaching the Law in an understandable manner. They stood thankful with tears for Lord’s forgiveness, words, miracles, promises, faithfulness, guidance, mercy, grace, compassion, love, answers, patience and deliveries that He had done in their past history. The Israelites confessed their fathers’ ‘pay no attention’ state to God’s Word and came together for an agreement to obey the Law and to assume their responsibilities towards the temple of the Lord. The Law was reestablished as regulative for the life of the community. Ezra was distressed and embarrassed due to the corruption of the Lord’s covenant by the holy race because of leader’s inter-marriages and their unfaithfulness to lead the people according to the Law in marriage. Ezra found the seriousness of their sins, made them confess their sins and separated the convicts. The temple services (daily sacrifices, priestly ministries, Levitical praise and annual feasts) were revived in accordance with the Law of Moses and regulations instituted by David. The “holy city” was rebuilt and inhabited. The restored community was a chastened people, yet they were also in need of frequent rebuke and reformation. Nehemiah corrected the oppressing Israel nobles and officials in mortgaging and debts through the Law of God. He also excluded the Gentiles and brought reformation in negligence towards the house of the Lord, holiness of the Sabbath day and inter-marriages. We should not forget our Lord’s doing in our past life and go to ‘pay no attention’ state for His Word. As readers of the Bible, do we tremble, when we ourselves or others act disloyally to the biblical standards as Ezra, Nehemiah did? Do we have such revived worship in our fellowships?
In fulfillment of His promise, God restored many to their own nation. After restoration, the threat of idolatry was gone in Israel. Jerusalem was made ready for our Savior Jesus Christ who restored the fallen mankind with God through His death on the Cross. Imperial action and authority directly and indirectly initiated, protected and sustained every aspect of restoration though they were judged by Him. The Return stage ends with the message that our God is a “God of restoration” and the NT also opens with a message about our restoring Savior Jesus Christ. Great is His compassionate love for undeserving mankind!! Having explored God’s journey of restoration on the cross, let us join/continue in this journey faithfully with His help.
NIV Study Bible
OT made easy by Rev.Dr.J.Godwin Nickelson
Studies in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther by William H.Scarle, Jr of Bayshore Baptist Church
Victorious Christian Service, Studies in the book of Nehemiah by Alan Redpath
Notes of UESI-TN Bible Seminar 2013 [Old Testament and New Testament Survey]
-R. Adlin Rose
Teaching in an Engineering College in Chennai and is actively involved in UESI ministries