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RECOMMENCEMENT OF THE BUILDING IN THE SECOND YEAR OF DARIUS. PREACHING OF HAGGAI AND ZECHARIAH (Ezra 5:1-17 :l, 2). It appears from the extant prophecies of these two prophets that the long frustration of their hopes had had its natural effect on the spirits of the people. They had begun to weary of endeavours which produced no practical result, and to despair of accomplishing an object which all their efforts did not perceptibly advance. A reaction had set in. The burning enthusiasm which had shown itself on the first arrival of the exiles with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:68, Ezra 2:69; Ezra 3:11) had faded away; indolence had succeeded to activity, and a selfish desire of comfort to zeal for the honour of God. Instead of watching eagerly for an opportunity of recommencing the great work, and seizing the first occasion that offered itself, the people had come to acquiesce in its indefinite postponement, and to say among themselves, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built" (Haggai 1:2). Laying aside all idea of moving further in the matter of the temple, they had turned their energies to the practical object of establishing themselves in good and comfortable houses (Haggai 1:4, Haggai 1:9). The great revolution in Persia, by which the Pseudo-Smerdis was dethroned and slain, Magism put down, and the (comparatively) pure religion of Zoroaster re-established as the religion of the Persian state, failed to stir their minds or raise their hopes. A whole year was allowed to elapse, and nothing was done, no fresh effort made. It was the second year of King Darius (Ezra 4:24)—nay, it was the sixth month of that year, the month Elul, corresponding to our September, as we learn from Haggai (Haggai 1:1)—and still no step was taken. The nation was "eating," and "drinking," and "clothing itself" (Haggai 1:6), and making for itself "cieled houses" (Haggai 1:4), while the house of God lay "waste" (Haggai 1:9)—in that unsightly condition always presented by works commenced and then suspended for years. Even Zerubbabel and Jeshua the civil and ecclesiastical rulers—acquiesced apparently in this miserable state of things—this tameness, sloth, indifference to God's honour, and general pursuit of mere carnal delights. Such was the situation, when suddenly, unexpectedly, to the people's consternation rather than their joy, a Prophet appeared upon the scene. "In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel." Prophecy had been in abeyance for sixteen years, since the "third of Cyrus," when Daniel uttered his last warning (Daniel 10:1). It was now revived. Haggai came forward, self-proclaimed a prophet of Jehovah (Haggai 1:13), and rebuked the people in the old prophetic tone, and "stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel and the spirit of Jeshua" (Haggai 1:14), and by exhortations, and warnings, and threats brought about in little more than three weeks (Haggai 1:15) the resumption of the work, which was henceforth pressed forward with zeal. Haggai's mission continued only for a very short space from September, b.c. 520, to December of the same year; but before his work came to an end God raised up a second prophet—"Zechariah the son of Iddo"—who carried on his task, sustained the spirit of the people and the rulers, and saw the happy accomplishment of the great undertaking, which he had previously announced as near (Zechariah 4:9), in the sixth year of Darius, b.c. 516.
Zechariah the son of Iddo. Really the grandson (Zechariah 1:1). But Bere-chiah, his father, probably died while he was a child, and, being brought up by Iddo, he was called "the son of Iddo. Prophesied unto the Jews. The addresses of Haggai and Zechariah were only occasionally "prophetic," as we now commonly understand the word. But in the language of the Biblical writers all religious teaching is "prophesying," and Ezra here refers mainly to the exhortations addressed to the Jews by Zechariah and Haggai.
Then rose up Zerubbabel … and Jeshua. Haggai's preaching was especially addressed to these two leaders (Haggai 1:1), and their spirit was especially "stirred up" (Haggai 1:14) by his preaching. The prophets of God—Haggai and Zechariah—were with them, throughout their work, helping them; and that in various ways.
1. By direct command to the people—"Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house" (Haggai 1:8);
2. By warnings—"Because of mine house that is waste … therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit" (Haggai 1:9, Haggai 1:10);
3. By exhortations—"Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be ye strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work" (Haggai 2:4); and
4. By encouraging prophecy—"The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it" (Zechariah 4:9); and "the glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Haggai 2:9). By these and similar means the two prophets aroused a spirit of enthusiasm, which caused the work to make rapid progress, and was an invaluable assistance.
Ezra 5:1, Ezra 5:2
The work revived.
How completely the work described in these verses was a revival of the previous work of building the temple, as described in chaps, 1-3; may be seen by the use of the word "began" in Ezra 5:2. Even "Zerubbabel" and "Jeshua," the leaders, had been remiss and, as it were, dead to the enterprise; consequently, in again going on with it, had again, as it were, to "begin." This seems also the best explanation of the singular way in which Haggai (Haggai 2:18) and Zechariah (Zechariah 8:9) speak of the "foundation" of the Lord's house as having been "laid" at this time. This second "foundation," in the reign of Darius, led to so much more than the first did in that of Cyrus, and proved so much more worthy, therefore, of such a name in the issue, that, not unnaturally, it got almost to monopolise that name even on prophetic lips. It is thus, in another sphere, that historians speak of the Roman empire as being founded by Augustus Caesar, though in reality he only re-established in a more abiding form (as it turned out) what his predecessor, Julius Caesar, had previously founded and lost. Strictly speaking, indeed, would either of these first foundations have been a foundation practically if it had not been afterwards followed up and, as it were, superseded by a second? How this happy resurrection of a buried cause was brought about in this instance is the special point now to consider. It was by the indications of Providence, we shall find, in the first place; and by the voice of prophecy, in the next.
I. The INDICATIONS of PROVIDENCE. Providence had spoken to the people, in the interim between the visit of Rehum (Ezra 4:23) and the time at which our chapter opens, in various ways.
1. In the language of hope. A change of rulers had taken place—both of chief rulers and also of subordinates. Darius instead of Artaxerxes; Tatnai, etc. (Ezra 5:3) instead of Rehum, etc. This was something of itself. When things are as bad as they can be, no change, to say the least, can be for the worse. In such a case, moreover, a violent change, such as this which brought Darius Hystaspis to the throne in place of the usurper Pseudo-Smerdis, and which probably, therefore, affected the empire in all its provinces, was of a still more hopeful description. How likely that the hand which took the previous monarch's crown should also reverse his policy! Especially as, in this instance (and it is almost certain that some rumours of this would reach the ears of the Jews), the new king was showing almost ostentatious respect to the name and memory of that Cyrus £ who had been so favourable to the Jews. To men anxious to be at work again, this would have been great encouragement to begin.
2. In the language of blessing. Judging from the apparently royal luxury which some of the returned Jews were enabled to indulge in (Jeremiah 22:14; Haggai 1:4), the means of recommencing the work must have been somehow placed in their power. This, also, a call to do so (comp. Deuteronomy 8:12, Deuteronomy 8:17, Deuteronomy 8:18; Galatians 6:10; James 4:17).
3. In the language of affliction. These other calls not being attended to, there came one of a different kind. God met the people in their path of disobedience, as the angel met Balaam (Numbers 22:32), with signs of displeasure. The blessings he had given being misused, he began to withdraw them. Instead of plenty there was "dearth" (Haggai 1:11), to the great impoverishment (verse 6) and sore disappointment (begin. verse 9) of them all. See further Zechariah 8:9, Zechariah 8:10 as to the wide extent and deep severity of this visitation; and also as to the precise time of its occurrence, viz; just "before" the people for a second time laid the "foundations" of God's house. Putting these things together, were they not a loud constructive call to begin? So fair an opening, such ample means, such a clear-timed judgment, what does it all mean? To this effect, at least, the Jewish elders ought, in such circumstances, to inquire (see end of Job 10:2).
II. The VOICE of PROPHECY. It was the special privilege, however, of Israel to have more than "constructive" calls from God's throne. He was graciously pleased to make known his will to them by articulate speech (Deuteronomy 4:33; Romans 3:1, Romans 3:2). So, accordingly, it was here. Besides these silent gestures on the part of Providence, so to call them, there were direct verbal utterances also from the lips of those who were authorised to speak to Israel in his name. Two such men, two of these prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, raised up especially, as it appears, for this special emergency, prophesied at that time to these returned Jews (Ezra 5:1). Much importance seems attached here to this fact. These prophets prophesied to these Jews, it is said, "in the name of the God of Israel which was upon them." Being God's people—being, in fact, the very heart and hope of God's people at that particular moment—God's prophets were commissioned to recognise and address them as such. Well might the people listen, that being the case. The purport, also, of the message thus sent to them was just as much to the point. A mere glance at the extant prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah will suffice to show this. The prophecies sent, e.g; were just what was needed—
1. In the way of appeal. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider" (Haggai 1:5); so again Haggai 1:7, "Consider so, twice over, and with a special note of urgency, in Haggai 2:18 : "Consider now from this day and upward … consider." Consider what you are doing, and what you ought to be doing, in your present circumstances. Consider their meaning and message, and what they are now saying to you, in effect.
2. In the way of interpretation and explanation. This is what these circumstances are saying to you, viz; that it is "time" to build the Lord's house (Haggai 1:1-3). There is no further change to be waited for. Now, under your present ruler, is the "time" to begin. Your recent blessings mean this (Haggai 1:4). Your present trials mean it too (Haggai 1:6-11). Thus did prophecy, in this case, interpret Providence, and explain the "signs," as it were, of those "times."
3. In the way of promise. Our present history seems to speak of this particularly in the end of Haggai 2:2—"the prophets of God helping them." The first result of the appeal and remonstrance above spoken of seems to have been a feeling of "fear" (Haggai 1:1-15. end of Haggai 1:12). As soon as this began to manifest itself (see middle of same verse) in a spirit of obedience, the voice of promise was heard. "Then spake Haggai the LORD'S messenger in the LORD'S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD" (Haggai 1:13). Within a short month after (comp. Haggai 1:15, and Haggai 2:1) came another and larger promise (Haggai 2:2-9); and two others again from the same prophet in about two months from that time. Besides that notable series of eight prophetic visions, mainly of hope and encouragement, from the prophet Zechariah, before the close of the same year (Zechariah 1:7-15). So plentifully was this precious dew vouchsafed at this special season of growth; and so harmoniously did all these various changes, dispensations, and voices work together for this revival of God's work.
From these considerations we see—
1. The duty of studying God's works: his works in providence, and in nature too, so far as we have opportunities for so doing, because in all of them he has something to say to us, if we are only able to understand it. This applies especially to those works or doings of God which concern our own persons and times, because we may almost say of such doings that they are presented to us for study. Note the comparison on this subject between nature and providence in Matthew 16:2, Matthew 16:3; and see 1 Chronicles 12:32.
2. The duty of listening to Gods word. Partly on account of the clearer significance which it gives to God's works; partly because of the additional message which it brings of its own. For the language of some of God's works see Psalms 19:1-6, and comp. Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20. For the further language of God's word see same Psalms 19:7-9. Compare also, as showing the specially exalted and complementary character of prophecy or revelation, the remarkable declaration of Psalms 138:2, and 2 Peter 1:19-21. The dark page of God's doings (for so it is to us,. see Psalms 97:2) should never be neglected; but it never can be safely interpreted apart from the plainer page of his word. We may also see from these considerations what is—
3. The central topic of all prophecy. The building of God's house by God's Israel pointed forward in manifold ways to the coming and work of God's Son. That house was a well-known type of his body (John 2:19-21). In that restored house he himself was to appear (Haggai 2:7; Malachi 3:1; Luke 2:25-30). And out of that figurative "house" or family of Israel, as their peculiar crown and salvation, and as a blessing to all other families on earth, he was to arise. When, therefore, the work of building that house, under apparently hopeless circumstances, has to be revived, how fittingly does the spirit of prophecy suddenly reappear on the scene, to stimulate, direct, and encourage these men, who were, virtually, building for all mankind in building for their own Messiah. It may remind us of those well-known passages, John 5:39; Acts 10:43; Revelation 19:10. May it teach us also to give that adorable Saviour a similarly pre-eminent place in our thoughts I
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Ezra 5:1, Ezra 5:2
The inspiration of prophecy.
Through the hostility of the Samaritans, who obtained authority from Artaxerxes, the work of building the temple was interrupted. This interruption seems to have commenced under Cyrus (Ezra 4:5). It was continued under the brief reign of an upstart who feigned himself to be the brother of Ahasuerus; and it was carried on "unto the second year of Darius king of Persia." Thus the work was stopped for about sixteen years. "Then the prophets," etc. Here notice that—
I. THE INSPIRATION OF PROPHECY IS ROUSING.
1. The people now needed rousing.
(1) During the stoppage of the building they had cooled in their zeal for the house of the Lord. Had they examined their hearts they might have seen this, and they might have inferred from it that God must be displeased. But they had not the courage to do this. Query—Are we not slow to examine our own hearts, and to draw faithful inferences from their state?
(2) If they looked around they might have seen the tokens of Divine displeasure. For, year after year, the heavens refused their dew, and the scanty harvests were smitten with "blasting, and with mildew, and with hail." Query—Are we not slow to see the hand of God in our afflictions? Reflect—What greater calamity could befall us than that God should leave us to ourselves!
2. Haggai brought home the truth to them.
(1) His first commission was to awaken them to a sense of their growing selfishness and apathy (see Haggai 1:1-5). Query—How far are we ever justified in quietly "dwelling in cieled houses" while the work of God is neglected?
(2) Then he reminded them that the blast upon their harvests was from God, and incited them to arise and build (see Haggai 1:6-11).
(3) This message from God had the desired effect (see Haggai 1:1-12; comp. text). What part Zechariah took at this early date we are not particularly informed.
3. They were satisfied with the credentials of the prophet.
(1) What these were we are not told. Miracles might have authenticated him. This was notably the case with Moses. Or he may have foretold the drought through which they had passed. In this way Samuel "was established to be a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:19, 1 Samuel 3:20).
(2) In whatever way it may have been, Haggai so prophesied, "in the name of the God of Israel," that there was no doubt about him. Look at this expression (see Exodus 3:13-20; Exodus 33:19; comp. also Numbers 14:17), where "power" is put for "name," as in Exodus 34:5, Exodus 34:6). Reflect, gratefully, that we have the truth of God upon the clearest testimony. The Scriptures are authenticated to us not only by miracles, but by the ever-accumulating evidence of prophecy, and by the deep experiences of the heart.
II. THE INSPIRATION OF PROPHECY IS SUSTAINING. Ñ "And with them were the prophets of God helping them."
1. It sustains under the burdens of the work of God.
(1) The work is stupendous. Many interests are involved in it. Many workmen are engaged in it. If all these were loyal, still the work would be heavy.
(2) Haggai therefore, four and twenty days after his first commission, again appeared with needed words. "Then spake Haggai the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord." What a blessed assurance! How spirit stirring! (Haggai 1:13, Haggai 1:14; see also Exodus 33:14, Exodus 33:15.)
2. It sustains against the murmuring of God's people.
(1) Sons of Belial will for very perversity cause trouble. There are also crotchety persons among the godly who embarrass their leaders. And there are croakers who have a morbid pleasure in disparaging the good things of the present by comparing them with the things of the past (see Ezra 3:12).
(2) Haggai, seven and twenty days after his former message, again appeared to strengthen the hands of the faithful against these. In doing this he uttered a very glorious prophecy, showing how by the presence of Jesus in this disparaged building it should come to exceed the glory of the temple of Solomon (see Haggai 2:1-9). Note—This prophecy should convince the Jews. They admit that the Shekinah never came to the second temple; that temple is now no more. If the presence of Jesus did not constitute the greater glory of the second house, what did?
3. It sustains against the assaults of enemies.
(1) Opposition reappears, now led by Tatnai and Shethar-boznai, who question the right of the Jews to resume the building which had been stopped by command of Artaxerxes (verses 3, 4).
(2) Zechariah now appeared. He opened his commission by exhorting to repentance (Ze Zechariah 1:1-6). Note—When trials come we should search our hearts, and, if we see cause, amend our ways.
(3) Haggai also followed with words of encouragement, and assurances that, despite the opposition, the work would be prospered. Zechariah subsequently gave them like assurances. These messages came at seasonable intervals to help the leaders and the workers. Reflection—All these encouragements belong to those building the spiritual temple, for the prophecies have an ulterior reference to gospel times. Let us use the inspirations of prophecy.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
A faithful ministry in the Church.
I. THAT IT IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DIVINE NAME. "In the name of the God of Israel" (Ezra 5:1).
1. It advances in the Divine Name. These two prophets came to Israel in the name of God; a faithful ministry is commissioned by God, has his authority, and is qualified by him (2 Corinthians 5:20).
2. It partakes of the Divine Character. These prophets must bear in their conduct the purity of God, and in their words the mercy of God; a faithful ministry must exhibit the Divine Character.
3. It recognises the Divine Covenant. These two prophets came to Israel as the covenant people engaged in a great work; a faithful ministry is for the Church in its redemptive relationships.
II. THAT IT IS REQUIRED IN TIMES OF MORAL DEGENERACY. The building operations of Israel had ceased; Israel had settled down to an easy life, and was reluctant to enter again upon the arduous task of civil and religious restoration.
1. This faithful ministry was necessary. The Israelites were dwelling in ceiled houses, and God's house was waste (Haggai 1:4). They required to see the wrong of this; and who will show it them if the prophets of God do not?
2. It was timely. It was a word in season to the people; they needed to be called from indifference to their great work. A faithful prophet will adapt his words to the condition of his hearers, and seek to engage the Church in the duty of the hour.
3. It was effective. The people no longer "earned wages to put into a bag with holes," but they feared the Lord, and entered upon his work (Haggai 1:6). Duty is really more remunerative than luxury. See then the reviving effect which two earnest men may exert within a lukewarm Church; they quicken its fading life and inspire its languid work. A faithful ministry is most influential for good.
III. THAT THE SPIRITUAL IS THE MEDIUM OF ITS INFLUENCE, "Prophesied unto the Jews."
1. Not carnal. No sensational appeals were made to set the luxurious Israelites to build again the ruined temple; but by the word of the Lord they were urged to duty. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual; the word of God is the preacher's power. Christ's ministry was spiritual.
2. Not coercive. The sword did not drive the Israelites out of their celled houses; but the word of God spoken by his servants, working in the conscience. The truth is attractive, not coercive. Christ drew sinners to hear him.
3. Not cunning. These two prophets did not seek by cunning arts to win the Israelites from luxury to work for God; but by faithful words of remonstrance. Christ sought not to win men by artifice, but by a solemn statement of fact and duty. The world will not be subdued to virtue by the statesman, by the warrior, by the educationalist, but by the prophet.
IV. THAT ITS WELFARE WILL BE ENHANCED BY THE CO-OPERATION OF GOOD MEN. "Then rose up Zerubbabel" (Ezra 5:2). The prophets alone are morally powerful; but much more so when Zerubbabel and Jeshua are allied with them.
1. The alliance augments numbers. The work of restoration gathers strength by numerical addition, especially by the addition of influential men like Zerubbabel. The ministry needs numerical support; numbers increase the force of the testimony: exhibit the power of the gospel; aid the argument of the truth; are prophetic of future increase.
2. The alliance ensures efficiency. Zerubbabel will aid, advise, support the two prophets, and they in turn will aid him; this combined agency will inspire Israel with duty and courage. Four men can do what two cannot (Mark 2:3). In the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom.
V. THAT IT LEADS THE CHURCH TO THE HOLY ENTERPRISE FOR WHICH IT IS CALLED.
1. Productive work. "To build the house of God" (Ezra 5:2). But for these two prophets it is likely that Israel would have continued to dwell in their ceiled houses, and have neglected the temple. The Church would be much more unmindful of Christian work than it is were it not for its faithful ministers. They awaken its memory. They quicken its conscience. They arouse its affections. They give it a good personal example by coming themselves to build the house of God; well nigh all houses of God in the earth would be unbuilt but for the ministers of the gospel.
2. Permanent work. The house endures when those who built it are gone.
VI. THAT IT IS SURE TO MEET WITH IMPEDIMENTS IN THE ENTERPRISE IT CONTEMPLATES. "Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet" (verse 1). "At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river" (verse 3). When the prophet comes to a Church to aid its work, Satan generally sends agencies to hinder it. The satanic:—
1. Simultaneous. The prophets and the hostile governors come together; the spiritual and the satanic move side by side.
2. Inquisitive. "Who hath commanded you to build this house?" How the satanic interrogates the spiritual.
3. Overruled. "But the eye of the Lord was upon the elders of the Jews." Providence is co-operative with a faithful ministry, and helps to overcome all hindrances.—E.
RENEWAL OF OPPOSITION ON THE PART OF THE NEIGHBOURING HEATHEN. LETTER WRITTEN BY THEM AND SENT TO DARIUS (Ezra 5:3-17). Once more opposition showed itself. Tatnai, a high officer, called "governor on this side the river" (Ezra 5:3), perhaps satrap of Syria, and Shethar-boznai, or Sitrabarzanes, a Persian noble probably, at this time took the lead, and learning that the building was making progress, came in person to Jerusalem, and demanded to know by what authority the temple and city were being restored. Zerubbabel seems to have answered, "By the authority of a decree of Cyrus, issued in the year that he became king of Babylon" (Ezra 5:13); whereupon a second question was asked, "What are the names of the men responsible for carrying on the work?" Zerubbabel answered that he was alone responsible, giving his name as Sheshbazzar, and declaring himself to be acting under a commission received from Cyrus (Ezra 5:15), and never revoked. Thereupon Tatnai and Shethar-boznai seem to have proposed a cessation of the building until reference could be made to Darius and his pleasure learnt (Ezra 5:5); but Zerubbabel declined to agree to this, and the work proceeded without intermission (ibid.). Meanwhile, a letter was written to Darius, not unfairly stating the case, and suggesting that the state archives should be searched for the decree ascribed to Cyrus, that it might be seen what exactly it was that the decree sanctioned, and further that the king should expressly declare what his own pleasure was in the matter (Ezra 5:17). This letter Tatnai, in his capacity of satrap, despatched to the court by special messenger, and so left the business to the decision of Darius and his counsellors, without further seeking to influence him. Remark the strong contrast between this despatch and that of the Samaritans. In the Samaritan letter private pique and enmity show themselves—Jerusalem is "the rebellious and the bad city" (Ezra 4:12), "hurtful unto kings and provinces'' (Ezra 4:15); its intention to revolt is assumed (Ezra 5:13); the king is warned that his dominion and revenue are in danger (Ezra 5:16); no hint is given of there having ever been any such document as the decree of Cyrus; no reference is made to Sheshbazzar or the royal commission that he had received; altogether, the case is stated as strongly as possible against the Jews, with great and manifest unfairness. Here, on the contrary, where the person who takes up the matter is the Persian governor, a dispassionate tone prevails; no charges are made; no abuse uttered; the letter is confined to a statement of facts and an inquiry; the Jews are allowed to give their own account of their proceedings, nearly half the letter being their statement of their own case (Ezra 5:11-15); the decree of Cyrus is brought into prominence, asserted on the one hand, not denied on the other; that it should be searched for is suggested; and finally there is a simple request that the king will declare his will in respect of the building.
Tatnai, governor on this side the river. The title given to Tatnai is the same which is assigned to Zerubbabel, both in Ezra 6:7 and in Haggai (Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:14, etc.), viz; pechah, which is a somewhat vague term of authority, translated sometimes "captain" (1 Kings 20:24; Daniel 3:2, Daniel 3:3, etc.), sometimes "deputy (Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3), but generally, as here, "governor." The etymology is uncertain, but seems not to be Semitic. The respective rank of Tatnai and Zerub-babel is indicated, not by this term, but by what follows it. Tatnai was pechah "beyond the river," i.e. governor of the whole tract west of the Euphrates; Zerubbabel was pechah of Judah only. A Greek writer would have called the one "satrap of Syria," the other "sub-satrap of Judaea." It was the duty of Tatuai to watch the proceedings of his sub-satraps.
Then said we unto them. It is impossible that the existing text can be sound here. Ezra must have written, "Then said they to them." Tatnai and Shethar-boznai followed up their first question by a second, "What are the names of the men that make this building?" (comp. below, verses 9, 10).
The eye of their God was upon the elders. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous" (Psalms 34:15) with a jealous watchfulness, which never for a moment slackens. "He withdraweth not his eyes from them" (Job 36:7). Nothing happens to them that he does not know and allow. At this time the elders, who pre-aided over the workmen employed in the restoration, were a special subject of God's watchful care, so that those who would fain have hindered them could not. The work of rebuilding went on uninterruptedly during the whole time that the messengers were away.
The Apharsachites recall the "Apharsites" and the "Apharsathchites" of Ezra 4:9. Possibly all the three forms are provincial variants of the more correct Parsaya, which appears in Daniel (Daniel 6:28) as the Chaldaean equivalent of "Persian." Here the Apharsachite "companions" of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai are perhaps the actual Persians who formed their body-guard and their train.
We went into the province of Judaea. It has been supposed, on the strength of a doubtful passage in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:7), that Tatnai ordinarily resided at Jernsalem. But this expression indicates the contrary. Most probably the satrap of Syria held his court at Damascus. The house of the great God is a remarkable expression in the mouth of a heathen. It has some parallels, e.g. the expressions of Cyrus in Ezra 1:2, Ezra 1:3, and of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:47 and Daniel 3:29; but they were persons who had been brought to the knowledge that Jehovah was the one true God, under very peculiar and miraculous circumstances. Tatnai, on the other hand, represents the mere ordinary Persian official; and his acknowledgment of the God of the Jews as "the great God" must be held to indicate the general belief of the Persians on the subject (see the comment on Ezra 1:2). Which is builded. Rather, "being builded." With great stones. Literally, "stones of rolling," which is commonly explained as stones so large that they had to be rolled along the ground. But the squared stones used in building neither were, nor could be, rolled; they are always represented as dragged, generally on a rough sledge. And it is not at all probable that in the "day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10) the Jews were building with very large stones. The LXX. translate "choice stones;" the Vulgate "unpolished'' or "rough stone." Some of the Jewish expositors suggest "marble." And timber is laid. A good deal of timber had been employed in the old temple, but chiefly for the floors of chambers (1 Kings 6:10), for the internal lining of the walls (1 Kings 6:9, 1 Kings 6:15), and probably for the roofing. In the new temple, timber seems to have been employed also as the main material of the party-walls. Here again we have a trace of the economy necessary in the "day of small things."
We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth. Instead of doing as they were requested, and giving in a long list of names and titles of office, the elders merge their individuality in this general phrase; as though they would say, "As individuals, we are nothing; as men of mark in our nation, we are nothing; what we do, we do simply as servants of God, directed by him (Haggai 1:8), bound to obey him, answerable only to him for our conduct." They speak of God as "the God of heaven and earth"—a very rare title—partly in humble acknowledgment of his universal and absolute dominion, as Christians speak when they call God "the Maker of heaven and earth;" partly to impress favourably those to whom they speak, persons accustomed to regard God primarily as the Being who "gave mankind earth and heaven". And build. That is "rebuild." The house that was builded these many years ago. The old house, begun more than 400, finished nearly 400 years previously, and only just beginning to rise again from its ruins, after lying waste for nearly seventy years. Which a great king of Israel builded and set up. Solomon, the greatest of the Jewish monarchs, if we consider the extent and prosperity of his kingdom, and the position that it occupied among the other kingdoms of the earth—a "great king" under whatever aspect we view him, though one who sowed the seeds of that corruption which ultimately sapped the national life, and provoked God to bring the monarchy to an end.
Our fathers provoked the God of heaven unto wrath. Mainly by their long series of idolatries, with the moral abominations that those idolatries involved—the sacrifice of children by their own parents, the licentious rites belonging to the worship of Baal, and the unmentionable horrors practised by the devotees of the Dea Syra. For centuries, with only short and rare intervals, "the chief of the priests, and the people, had transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen," and had even "polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 36:14). Therefore, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. He punished, as he always does, national apostasy with national destruction. Making an idolatrous people, but a less guilty one, his sword, he cut off Judah, as he had previously cut off Israel, causing the national life to cease, and even removing the bulk of the people into a distant country. Not by his own power or might did Nebuchadnezzar prevail. God could have delivered the Jews from him as easily as he had delivered them in former days from Jabin (Judges 4:2-24), and from Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:11-15), and from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:20-36). But he was otherwise minded; he "gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar". He divided their counsels, paralysed their resistance, caused Pharaoh Hophra to desert their cause (2 Kings 24:7), and left them helpless and unprotected. Nebuchadnczzar was his instrument to chastise his guilty people, and in pursuing his own ends merely worked out the purposes of the Almighty.
In the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon. Recent discoveries of contract tablets have shown that at Babylon Cyrus bore the title of "king of Babylon" from the date of his conquest of the city. The same title was passed on to his successors, Cambyses, Darius, etc. Hence we find Artaxerxes Longimanus called "king of Babylon" by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:6).
The vessels also of gold and silver. See Ezra 1:7-11. On the great importance attached to these vessels, see the comment on Ezra 1:7. So long as they remained at Babylon they were a tangible evidence of the conquest, a glory to the Babylonians, and a disgrace to the Jews. Their retention was a perpetual desecration. Their restoration by Cyrus was an act at once of piety and of kindliness. On the temple of Babylon, out of which Cyrus took them, see the comment on Ezra 1:7.
Let the house of God be builded in his place. i.e. upon the old holy site—the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac, in a figure (Hebrews 11:17-19), where the angel stood and stayed the pestilence in David s time (2 Samuel 24:16-18), and where "the glory of the Lord descended and filled the house" under Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1).
Since that time even until now hath it been in building. It is not quite clear whether these words are part of the answer given by the Jews to Tatnai, which he reports to Darius (see Ezra 5:11), or Tatnai's own statement of what he believes to have been the fact. Perhaps the latter view is the more probable; and we may suppose Tatnai not to have been aware that from the second year of Cyrus to the commencement of the reign of Smerdis, and again during the latter part of this reign and the first eighteen months of the reign of Darius, the work had been suspended.
Let there be search made in the king's treasure house. The Vulgate has "in the king's library;" and this, though not the literal rendering, is probably what was intended by Tatuai. Libraries or record chambers were attached to the royal residences under the old Assyrian and Babylonian kings; and the practice was no doubt continued by the Persians. Some of these record offices have been recently found, and their stores recovered. In the year 1850 Mr. Layard came upon the royal library of Asshur-bani-pal at Koyunjik, and obtained from it several hundreds of documents. More recently, in 1875-6, some Arab explorers happened upon a similar collection near Babylon, which yielded from 3000 to 4000 tablets. It is quite possible that the "decree of Cyrus" may still exist, and be one day recovered.
We have in these verses a twofold account of two different things. In Ezra 5:3, Ezra 5:4, in the first place, we have the historian's account of the revived opposition called out by the revival of the work of temple-building on the part of the Jews. In Ezra 5:6-10 we have an almost identical but slightly fuller account of the same matter in the letter sent by the opponents themselves to Darius. In Ezra 5:5, in the next place, we have the historian's account of the amount of success to which that revived opposition attained, viz; to obtaining the consent of the builders, whilst still justifying and continuing their operations, to refer the whole subject to King Darius. In Ezra 5:11-17 that same letter of the same opponents to Darius gives us a fuller account of this point also. Altogether, we cannot help seeing how very marked is the difference, so far as the question of result is concerned, between this attempt and that made before. In that other case, while the appeal was pending, the work on the spot almost expired of itself (Ezra 4:4). In this case, although the appeal is consented to, the work on the spot, meanwhile, thrives to perfection (Ezra 5:5, Ezra 5:8). What are the reasons of this striking difference? So far as second causes go, they will be found, we believe, in two things, viz; I. In comparatively greater moderation on the part of the attack; and, II. In comparatively greater vigour on the part of the defence. Let us proceed to see how the whole story illustrates these two points.
I. A WEAKER ATTACK. For example, it was
(1) apparently not so general. Names we read of before Ezra 4:7, Ezra 4:9), such as Bishlam, etc; the Dinaites, etc; are now mentioned no more. Tatnai and Shethar-boznai are acting, if not in ignorance, yet in independence, of native ideas. So much so, that the only "companions" mentioned in this case, the Apharsachites, are supposed by some to be themselves "Persians" of some sort. At any rate, all the other previous "companions" are only conspicuous now by their absence. The present movement is less formidable than the previous one both in numbers and names. Also the attack is
(2) less vital. There is no such plausible yet utterly fatal proposal for co-operation in this instance as that we read of before; only certain not unnatural and, all things considered, not disrespectful inquiries are addressed to those engaged in so evidently important a work. "Where is your authority for operations such as these? Who are the persons who hold themselves really responsible for them." These deputy rulers would have failed in their duty if they had asked any less; even if we infer, as we must, from Ezra 4:5, that their object in so doing, at any rate in the first instance, was to "cause" the Jewish elders to "cease" for the time. Such opposition, even so, is very different from that settled intention to "frustrate" the Jewish "purpose" entirely of which we find traces before (iv. 5). Once more, the attack is
(3) less unreasonable and malignant. The answer of the elders to the official inquiries put to them is heard with candour, and reported with truth. Nor are any charges made, as before, of treachery or sedition. Nor is anything more proposed to the king than a due hearing and examination of the appeal which the Jews have made to a previous edict of Cyrus in justification of their conduct (Ezra 4:17). Meanwhile, moreover, though apparently with some reluctance, the chief authorities of the province in which Judaea was situated have consented to treat that justification as being, till proved otherwise, sufficient and valid, by allowing that work to go on without endeavouring to stop it by menace or force. In all this, if there is something of opposition, as there undoubtedly is, it is not like that of the previous occasion—not a wide conspiracy, not a deadly aim, not a malignant effort, like that before.
II. A STRONGER DEFENCE. The answer of the Jewish elders was a good one—
1. On the score of principle. "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth" (Ezra 4:11). In other words, "Do you ask our names? We are named after the great God (see Ezra 4:8), the God of heaven and earth. Do you ask why we are thus labouring? Because in doing so we serve him" (comp. Acts 27:23). It was well for them to put this first, like soldiers displaying the flag they fight under on entering into the battle. "Before all things we wish you to understand that this is a question with us of religion."
2. On the score of precedent. This was no novel idea that they were engaged in promoting. They were not beginning, but restoring, the temple. Many successive centuries (though these officials were perhaps not aware of it) a glorious temple to the great God had stood on that place. Not only so, the man who had originally "built" and "set it up" had been one of the greatest of their kings. This was also a wise line to adopt. If they were permitted to be Jews at all (as they certainly were), they might not only be allowed to worship their own God (as already touched on), but also to worship him according to so long-established and truly national a manner.
3. On the score of necessity. Their national welfare and even existence depended on the work they were engaged on. Long experience and heavy affliction had brought home this truth to their hearts. Why had their fathers gone into captivity? Why had the original house been destroyed? Because their "fathers" had "provoked the God of heaven" for years in connection with the worship of that house (Ezra 4:12; also 2 Chronicles 36:14-20; Jeremiah 7:1-15, Jeremiah 7:30). On the restoration, therefore, of the true worship of Jehovah, and, as a first step towards that, on the restoration of this his house, depended, nationally, their very life. The very permission, in fact, to rebuild it at all was a kind of token of restored animation which it would be double death to neglect.
4. On the score of authority. In all this they were acting, furthermore, as good subjects of Persia. One of the first decrees of that king of Persia who conquered "Babylon" and became its "king" (see Ezra 4:13) was a decree to rebuild this house. Also, one of his first appointments the appointment by name (Ezra 4:14) of a Jewish "governor" to see to this work. Also, one of his first actions the very significant action of restoring the temple vessels.
5. In the way of conclusion. All these things being so, was it to be wondered at that "the same Sheshbazzar," thus empowered and equipped, had come to Jerusalem and begun the work? Was it not rather to be wondered at that a work of such amazing importance should have remained on hand for so long (Ezra 4:16)? Even "yet it is not finished!" What a master-stroke was that to end with. "You ask why we have done so much. As Persian officials, speaking to us as Jews, rather ask why we have done so little." Observe, in all this—
1. The secret of spiritual deliverance. God delivers his people sometimes by restraining their adversaries (Psalms 76:10; Proverbs 16:7); sometimes by giving themselves special wisdom and courage (Luke 21:15; Acts 6:10); sometimes, as here, by doing both. How comparatively tame these adversaries. How bold and wise these defenders. How complete, therefore, even so far, the deliverance granted (comp. Acts 4:8-14, Acts 4:21).
2. The secret of spiritual courage. Why is it we fear man so much? Because, as a rule, we fear God too little (Luke 12:4, Luke 12:5). How different the case when, as here, we feel the "eye of our God" to be "upon" us (Ezra 4:5). See also, in case previously referred to, Acts 4:19, and Acts 5:29; also Isaiah 51:12, Isaiah 51:13. Many feel a difficulty in speaking for Christ. If they were more often in the habit of speaking with him the difficulty would greatly diminish. Possibly it might even be found on the opposite side (see once more Acts 4:20).
3. The secret of dealing with honest doubt; viz.,
(a) listen to it, do not repel it;
(b) confront it, do not avoid it;
(c) enlighten it, do not despise it.
The reason why many are "sceptics"—i.e. (if they are so honestly) merely "inquirers"—is because they do not know the strength of the believer's position. If you know it, as the true strength of their position was known by the Jews before us, and can make it known in turn to such "inquirers" with like courage and wisdom, you will at least obtain their respect. It may also please God to cause your effort to do even more (see 2 Timothy 2:24, 2 Timothy 2:25).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The eye of God.
The "people of the land" procured authority from the Persian king to stop the rebuilding of the city and wall of Jerusalem, and used it to stop the rebuilding of the temple as well. After an interval of nine years, through the incitement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the great work was resumed, and with the resumption the old hostility was revived. So the text, etc. The eye of their God was upon them—
I. To GIVE THEM ASSURANCE AND COMFORT.
1. This figure expresses his watchful care.
(1) His eyes are everywhere (see Job 28:24; Proverbs 15:3). He observes us in the work of the sanctuary. When working in the city. When working on the wall.
(2) His vision searches the heart (see 1 Samuel 16:7). He fully comprehends the hypocrite. So the sincerity of the innocent. How assuring! How nerving to moral courage!
2. It also expresses loving favour.
(1) As pity is expressed by the human eye, so, etc. Thus used to express the compassion of God for his suffering people in Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10). Also, for the tears of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:5). So he pitied his people in Babylon, and his eye of pity is over them here.
(2) As the eye also expresses satisfaction, so the complaisancy of God, etc. Thus favour towards the holy land (Deuteronomy 11:12). Towards the holy temple (1 Kings 8:29). Towards the holy people (Psalms 34:15; Jeremiah 24:4). What comfort to the faithful!
II. TO GIVE THEM WISDOM AND DISCRETION.
1. They need this in the presence of their inquisitors.
(1) They are people of influence. There is "Tatnai, the governor on this side the river." If the "river" here be the Euphrates, then he would be over the provinces of Syria, Arabia Deserta, Phoenicia, and Samaria. If the Jordan, then still a great personage. There was Shethar-boznai, probably the secretary appointed by the Persian crown, as was customary, to act as a check upon the governor. There were "their companions," probably magistrates.
(2) They put questions which imported mischief. By whose authority do you build (verse 3)? Expressed again, verse 9. Who are your leaders in this questionable business? Implied, verse 4 (see verse 10).
2. Their answers were guided by a watchful wisdom.
(1) That they acted as the "servants of the God of heaven and earth" (see verse 11). No authority could be higher. Query—Do we always and adequately recognise that authority?
(2) That they claimed a prescriptive right in the temple which was originally built by one of their great kings (see verse 11).
(3) That their captivity did not forfeit them that right. For God banished them into captivity for their sin: Nebuchadnezzar was but his servant; and God now favours their restoration (see verses 11, 12). We should never be ashamed to avow our connection with God and his work.
III. To DEFEND THEM FROM THEIR ENEMIES.
1. By moderating the opposition.
(1) Their former unscrupulous foes are not mentioned (see Zechariah 4:7-9). Changes in the supreme government often involve changes of provincial rulers. Possibly the judgment of God may have overtaken them.
(2) The temper of these men is better. They state facts honestly.
2. By sustaining them at their work.
(1) Tatnai proposed that, until the question of their right should be determined by Darius, the work should cease. But they saw the eye of their God, and declined (verse 5).
(2) The prophets kept this vision vividly before them. They came forth from the presence of God, having witnessed his visions and heard his words, which, under the strongest sense of the reality, they so communicated that the people saw as it were the very eye of God upon them, and went on with his work. Query—Should not ministers, as coming from the very presence of God, so deliver the gospel message that? etc.
3. By bringing good out of the evil.
(1) The attention of Darius was thus called to the decree of Cyrus (see verse 17).
(2) The king issued instructions accordingly (Ezra 6:6-12).
(3) These instructions were carded out, and the good work was carried on to its completion (Ezra 6:13-15).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Wisdom in trial.
Hardly had the Jews recommenced their work, when they again found themselves subjected to a—
I. TRIAL OF FAITH. "At the same time," etc. (Ezra 5:3). Again their unfriendly neighbours came to the attack. They challenged their right to build up the walls: "Who hath commanded you to build?" "By whose authority do ye these things?" The names of the leading men were demanded (Ezra 5:4), with a view of sending them on to the Persian court. Pressure was evidently to be brought to bear on them to compel them to desist. Accusations would certainly be made against them; ill feeling would inevitably be fostered; prohibition would probably be issued; and, not unlikely, there would be forfeiture of privileges if not loss of goods, perchance of liberty. What, now, should they do? Should they again lay down the saw and the trowel, leave the woodwork and the walls till a more favoured time, and content themselves with using the altar they had reared, as hitherto? They were enjoying freedom in their own land, with liberty to worship the Lord according to their ancient law; perhaps they would lose everything by striving after more than they had. Should they yield to these alarms presenting themselves in the form of prudence? or should they dismiss them as cowardly fears, and go on with their work, confiding in the help of Jehovah? Such distractions must have agitated and perplexed their minds. Such trials of faith we may expect when we have entered the path of piety or the field of Christian work. Inexperience might imagine that in a path so sacred and Divine the adversary would not be allowed to enter. But experience knows that it is not so; that "there are many adversaries" we must expect to encounter. Not only from "them that are without," but also from those that are within the Church do obstacles, hindrances, discouragements arise. We may look for sympathy, help, success, victory; and, behold l there meets us conflict, disappointment, defeat. Shall we, we ask ourselves, retire as unfitted for what we have undertaken? or shall we hold on our way, still grasp our weapon, trusting that the insufficiency which is of man will he more than made up by the sufficiency which is of God? But in this trial of faith we have, as they had—
II. A TWOFOLD INCENTIVE. "The eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease" (Ezra 5:5). Here was
(1) a spiritual force working within them. They felt that their work was marked of God. The active participation of his prophets in the work (Ezra 5:2) would help them to this. They realised that they were being Divinely guided, and were engaged in the most sacred cause: "We are servants of the God of heaven" (Ezra 5:11). They were wisely conscious that past misdoings had led to penalty and suffering (Ezra 5:12). They lived and wrought "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye;" and because they felt that he who "looketh from heaven and beholdeth all the sons of men" (Psalms 33:13) was continually regarding them, accepting their service, recording their negligence and distrust, prepared to reward or to rebuke, they were incited to continue, let their enemies say or do what they please. The thought of God's all-seeing eye, of his all-searching glance, is one of the strongest spiritual forces which can work within us. Man sees and blames. Man sees and threatens. Yes; but God is an on-looker also, and an in-looker too. What does he see? What does he think? What judgment is he forming? What does he purpose? If he is for us, who can be against us? But here was also
(2) a Divine power working upon them. There is suggested here a prompting, controlling influence exerted upon them from on high. God saw them, and, beholding their difficulty and their need of his Divine help, interposed to sustain their courage, to strengthen their hand, to uphold them in their work. This is a power to be earnestly sought, and found, in believing prayer, when we are passing through the time of trial.
III. A TIME OF SUSPENSE (Ezra 5:13-17). Their adversaries now laid their case before the Persian authorities. They gave a fair representation of the answer of the Jews to the royal court, and begged that steps should be taken to confirm or disprove this their reply. "Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house … whether it be so" (Ezra 5:17). We may presume that the Jews knew the tenor of this communication. We can picture to ourselves their anxiety to know the result of the appeal. What if the record should not be found in the Persian archives I What if some ignorant librarian failed to know where it was kept l What if some venal officer should be bribed to get at it and destroy it I etc; etc. Should they win or lose their case? It might, after all, go ill with them and their work. It was a time of suspense. A very hard time to go through. Souls that can endure all else know not how to he tranquil then. Then is the time to trust in God, to cast ourselves on him. When we can do nothing else, we can look up to heaven and wait the issue calmly, because all issues are in the hands of the holy and the mighty One. "What time I am afraid I will trust in thee" (Psalms 56:3).—C.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The providence of God over the Church.
I. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD EXERCISES A STRICT WATCH OVER THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH (Ezra 5:5). As soon as the Israelites commenced to build the temple their enemies began to trouble them; but while the eye of "Tatnai," "Shethar-boznai, and their companions" was upon them, "the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews."
1. The Divine providence is cognisant of the first motion of the enemies of the Church; this should cause them to pause in their unholy task.
2. The Divine providence watches the men who would oppose themselves to the enterprise of the Church; they cannot escape the Omniscient eye.
3. The Divine providence watches the Church earnestly in the midst of its enemies. The look sends light, means love, indicates help, should inspire trust. Let the eye of the Church be toward God. The Church must remember that the eye of God is upon it, and not yield to the enemy. History proves that God's eye is upon the Church; the Bible asserts it; reason suggests that the heavenly Father will watch over his troubled children and workers.
II. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS CALCULATED TO DEFEAT THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH. "That they could not cause them to cease" (Ezra 5:5). The providence of God sustained the Israelites in their work of building, notwithstanding the hostility of their enemies.
1. Providence awakens a persistent spirit in the Church. "They could not cause them to cease."
2. Providence inspires the Church with right views of its citizenship. "Till the matter came to Darius." The people of God have citizen rights, and are not to cease their work at the bidding of unauthorised men.
3. Providence uses the incidental processes of life for the welfare of the Church. The letter in those days was a slow process; before it could be answered the building would be well advanced. This delay was useful to Israel. God causes all the little processes of life to work for the good of his people. Thus God's aid renders the Church victorious over enemies.
III. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD DOES NOT ALWAYS ALLOW THE CHURCH TO EXPERIENCE THE FULL SEVERITY OF TRIAL. The opposition of Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions (Ezra 4:7) was much more inveterate than that of Tatnai; the hostility now is feeble. Heaven does not always allow the furnace into which the Church is cast to be seven times hotter than is wont; in wondrous and kindly manner it restrains the wrath of man, that spiritual work may be completed. The worst passions of men are controlled by God; the old enmity of the serpent is limited and often subdued.
IV. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD OFTEN WINS KINDLY HELPERS FOR THE CHURCH. "Let the work of this house of God alone" (Ezra 6:7). God can raise up a Cyrus to commence the work, and a Darius to conserve and complete it; kings are within the plan of Providence. Let the Church take hope, for the eye of God is upon it.—E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The letter to Darius.
The occasion of this letter was the resumption of the work of rebuilding the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem after an interval of sixteen years. The authors of it are Tatnai, the governor, probably of all the provinces west of the Euphrates, and Shethar-boznai, who may have been the scribe or secretary associated with him, as Shimshai was with Rehum (see Ezra 4:8). Or possibly Shethar-boznai was the leading man of the Apharsachites; for these are mentioned as more particularly "his companions." The Apharsachites probably called the attention of Tatnai to the matter, who attended to it in a spirit of fairness which favourably contrasts with the conduct of the former leaders of these instigators (see Ezra 4:1-24.). Having authenticated the letter, the writers proceed to state—
I. WHAT THEY DID.
1. They surveyed the building.
(1) They describe it as "the house of the great God. The renown of his wonderful works in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan had filled the world. They were judgments upon the little gods of the nations (see Exodus 8:10; Exodus 9:14; Exodus 12:12; Exodus 18:12; Numbers 33:4).
(2) They noted the importance of the building. "Great stones" (Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5, Luke 21:6). "Timber laid in the walls." Beams of cedars from Lebanon. All work for God should be nobly done.
(3) They also noted the rapid progress of the work.
2. They interrogated the elders.
(1) Who commanded you to build this house? This question is radical. Not, Who hath authorised you to resume the building? but, Who authorised the commencement of the work?
(2) By whose authority do you "make up this wall"? Probably referring to their repairing of breaches in it made by the "people of the land" (see Ezr 3:1-13 :23).
(3) "What are the names" of the chiefs? Those who work for God with his approval need not fear the scrutiny of inquisitors.
II. WHAT THEY LEARNED.
1. That the builders professed themselves servants of the God of heaven and earth.
(1) What a glorious Being!
(2) What a noble service! Query—Are we his servants? This honour not limited now to Israelites It is common to all true builders of the spiritual temple.
2. That they were engaged in no novel business.
(1) "We build the house that was builded these many years ago." About five centuries had elapsed. But even Solomon's temple replaced the tabernacle which had been set up about five centuries still earlier. True religion may have external changes, but remains essentially the same.
3. That its ruin was occasioned by the rebellion of their fathers.
(1) God gave it up to desolation. The outward splendours of religion are nothing to him when the spirit of it is dead (see Matthew 23:37; Matthew 24:1, Matthew 24:2). The temple of Solomon in ruins was a fit emblem of humanity degraded by sin.
(2) Guilt is hereditary. "Our fathers had provoked," etc. They suffered; we suffer.
4. That the building is in process of restoration.
(1) "In the first year of Cyrus." Memorable for the termination of the seventy years of Jeremiah (2 Chronicles 36:21; Jeremiah 25:11, Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 29:10; Daniel 9:2). In this memorable year "the king made a decree," etc.
(2) Vessels of the house also restored. These had been desecrated "in the temple of Babylon." This was the temple of Belus or Bel. This desecration of the vessels a figure of the condition of backsliders from God (see Acts 9:15; Romans 9:22; 2 Timothy 2:21).
5. The prominent place occupied by Sheshbazzar.
(1) Cyrus trusted him with the custody of the sacred treasure. Made him governor. He was of the seed royal of Judah.
(2) His people honoured him. He laid the foundation-stone. Conducts the work.
(3) Type of Christ.
III. THE RECOMMENDATION.
1. To test the question as to whether Cyrus authorised the work as alleged. Nothing to object to the fairness of this. It could only prejudice the Jews if found untrue.
2. To signify the king's pleasure to his servants that they might carry it out. It were well if all who oppose God's people were as reasonable as Tatnai. Opponents so honest and free from prejudice may have the honour, like Tatnai, of promoting the work of God (see Ezra 6:13).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
Things a Church should understand concerning itself.
I. THAT IT IS ENGAGED IN THE SERVICE OF HEAVEN. "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth" (Ezra 5:11).
1. An exalted service. It is the service of God.
2. An extensive service. It reaches in its influence throughout heaven and earth.
3. An arduous service. It is to rebuild a ruined temple in the midst of enemies.
4. A humble service. At best the Church is but a servant.
II. THAT IT HAS SUFFERED MUCH THROUGH THE COMMISSION OF SIN. "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" (Ezra 5:12). This is the best confession a Church can have; the Church is alone responsible for its weakness.
1. Its degradation. Israel is subject to a heathen power.
2. Its suffering. Israel is in captivity.
3. Its destruction. "Who destroyed this house." All this was attributable—
(1) Not to the Divine inability to help.
(2) Not to the Divine lack of interest.
(3) But to the Divine displeasure on account of sin.
Let the Church understand and acknowledge that her sad condition before the world is due to her lack of fidelity; she must take the discredit of her broken temples.
III. THAT IT IS CONNECTED WITH THE HISTORY OF A WONDROUS REDEMPTION. "But in the first year of Cyrus" (Ezra 5:13).
1. The fact of redemption. The Israelites were delivered from Babylonian captivity. The Church has been set free by Christ.
2. The history of redemption. The history of Israel's deliverance was written in the records of Babylon. The history of redemption by Christ is written in the Bible; it is an earthly record as well as a heavenly history. It is in the annals of Babylon as well as in the annals of God.
3. The research of redemption. "Let there be search made" (Ezra 5:17; 1 Peter 1:12).
4. The pleasure of redemption. "And let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter." God's pleasure is man's freedom.
IV. THAT IT IS ENGAGED IN A YET UNFINISHED ENTERPRISE. "And since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished" (Ezra 5:16). It is indeed true that the Church is as yet engaged in an unfinished enterprise; all its temples are not built; its walls are not erected; Jesus does not yet see all things put under him.
1. The reason. Why is the work of the Church unfinished—is it from lack of energy or fidelity?
2. The duration. How long is it to remain unfinished? only God can tell. How long, O Lord?
3. The reproach. With so many workmen, and with the aid received, the work of the Church ought to be more advanced. The half finished walls are a rebuke to us.
4. The requirement. We must go with new determination and more fervent prayer to complete the work of the Church.
5. Caution. We cannot judge the temple till it is finished; the work of God will appear best at the end.
6. The anticipation. When the top stone of the great temple shall be brought on with joy. Let us build to completion.—E.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany