Rebuilding the Temple
Selections from Ezra.
1. God moves the heart of kings to do His will. Our first verse tells us that the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.
Two things are positively set forth. First, God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus. In other words, God wrought upon the mind and heart of Cyrus in such a way that he was forced to do His will. Secondly, the Lord spoke by the mouth of the prophet, and because He had thus spoken, He caused Cyrus to fulfil His word.
We take it that God would move heaven and earth before He would allow any word spoken by His prophets, from Himself, to fail. This gives a dignity to the Word of God which we do well to acknowledge. This also gives assurance that even kings and potentates are subject to the will of God.
2. King Cyrus praised the God of Heaven. Cyrus acknowledged the supremacy of God, when he said: "The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem." How happy the world would be today if every king or world ruler would be willingly subjective to our Lord. How much happier would the peoples be if their rulers had an ear to hear, and a heart to obey the voice of God.
3. The king called for volunteers to build the house of the Lord. Cyrus said: "Who is there among you of all His people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem." We can almost hear the voice of the Lord, in the days of Isaiah, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
At this moment, also, God is looking for willing hearts who are ready to place their all upon His altar for service.
"Ready to go, ready to stay,
Ready His will to perform.
Ready to hear, quick to obey,
Ready in calm or in storm."
4. The king called for volunteers to help in the work. Verse four tells us, "Let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the free will offering for the house of God."
Cyrus seemed to understand God's method of procedure. There must be a leader and there must be helpers. There must be a leader willing to obey and to undertake for God; there must be helpers, just as willing to rally both with their gifts and with their work.
The task set before the Christians of this hour is tremendous. God is looking now for leaders to head a work here or there in His Name. When these leaders are called, He turns His eyes to all those who love Him, asking them to rally to the support of those whom He sends forth. It took money to build the temple. It takes money to preach the Word. How can a missionary, for instance, go forth to some distant field of labor without there are those who are ready with their silver and their gold and their free will offerings to help him on his way.
5. The people responded gladly to the king. We read of how they brought their vessels of silver with gold, with goods, and with beasts and with precious things. Besides this we read that they willingly offered. All of this must have made Cyrus glad. It certainly makes glad the heart of our Heavenly King when He sees us ready to give our all to Him, and to do it with a happy and a willing mind.
In the eighth chapter of Second Corinthians we read of the Macedonians and of the riches of their liberality. They not only gave according to their power, but beyond their power. The beautiful part of it was, that they were willing of themselves, praying Paul with much entreaty that he would receive their gift.
When hearts are filled with the grace of God, in realization of His so great a gift, they will not be slow to give their money and themselves to His Word and work.
I. A TIME OF JOY AND REJOICING (Ezra 3:10-11)
We are now far away from Babylon, in the city of Jerusalem. The people have already undertaken the work of building the temple, and the foundations were now laid.
We have often thought of the joy that fills the hearts of saints when they have gladly brought their free will offerings, and some new house of God has been dedicated. We can, therefore, appreciate the joy of these Israelites. We read that they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord. Thus they sang together by chorus, in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord. All the people joined in shouting with a great shout because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
Among those who praised the Lord were many of the older men of Israel. Verse twelve calls them the ancient men, the chief of the fathers. These wept with a loud voice, not for sorrow, but for joy. While many of them shouted aloud. So it was that the people could not discern the noise of the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping.
How deep and how sincerely were they moved, as they saw the work of the Lord prospering in their hands.
I think you will all agree with us when we say that the church which has no up-welling of heart-felt music, is barren indeed of the joy of the Lord.
In the old days a certain king put singers at the head of his army. They went forth to battle mid the shouts of praise to God. Our churches should make the welkin ring with the praise of their voices. The Hallelujah Chorus, and other great oratorios should be practiced and sung by our great choirs. The music of the Lord's house should be accompanied by cymbals, cornets, and every instrument of music. It was so in the olden days, and it should be so today.
In David's time Asaph was appointed to lead the choirs of Israel, and their singing was known among the heathen.
Let us praise the Lord because He is good, and because His mercy endureth forever. Let us praise Him because He is worthy of our praise. It seems to me that we are only preparing our hearts and voices for that greater and all-glorious hour described in Revelation four and five when we shall praise Him in the air, around the throne.
II. WHO CAN BUILD THE HOUSE OF GOD? (Ezra 4:3)
1. Is it right to appeal to the ungodly for help? There are a great many people in the church who are always appealing to the world saying, "Come and help us build the house of the Lord." The church knows well enough that the unregenerate are the children of the wicked one. As such, they have no abiding interest in spiritual ministrations. They believe that there is a God, but they do not worship Him, neither do they obey His voice.
It is true that Cyrus was not an Israelite and that he was moved of God to help in the building of the temple. Cyrus, however, acted under a divine impulse placed within his heart. He, however, did not call upon the ungodly who were in his realm to go to Jerusalem. He said, as we discover in verse three: "Who is there among you of all His people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem and build." Cyrus knew that the men who did not believe in God, and particularly those men who were enemies to God, would not successfully build the Lord a house.
2. Are God's people not abundantly able to do God's work? Is it necessary for saints to ask the world to do their work? Are we dependent upon the enemies of our God to furnish the funds which God hath put into our own hands? If saints themselves would gladly give both themselves and their possessions unto God, there would be no need to appeal unto a kingdom of men which is contrary to them.
If the Lord labor in the house it will prosper, but if Satan labors with the Lord, or even with the Lord's people, he will prove a hindrance instead of a help. How can two walk together except they be agreed? The men of this world are motivated by a power which is from beneath and not from above. They are living for the things of earth, and not the things of heaven. Even the best of the unregenerate live after the flesh, and not after the Spirit. They are interested in the carnal, and not in the spiritual.
We have always said in the past, and we still say, that the church has no right to make an appeal to the ungodly.
If we take money from the unregenerate the unregenerate may rightly claim the privilege of helping to control, or at least to suggest in that which their money provides. Our God is abundantly able, and He will help us to do His will and work.
III. WOULD BE HELPERS TURNED TO HINDERERS (Ezra 4:5)
1. An effort to frustrate the purpose of God. When the leaders in Israel refused to allow their adversaries to help build the temple, then they, in turn, hired counsellors against Israel to frustrate their purpose during the days of Cyrus. They succeeded until the reign of Darius the king of Persia.
They went so far as to send to king Ahasuerus accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. In a letter unto Artaxerxes, king of Persia, they said: "Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up to thee from us are come unto Jerusalem building the rebellious and the bad city."
Thus, through many years, they fought the Lord and His people. They lied against Israel in every way.
2. Can the work of the enemy triumph against God? In answering this question, we have a case in hand. The enemy did triumph for a long time. They triumphed through deceit and lying.
When Ahasuerus received the message from the enemy, he ordered the work to cease on the house of God in Jerusalem, until the second year of the reign of Darius.
Let us remember that at this moment Satan still triumphs over many of the children of God. The work that we do in His name is beset by many foes. If, perchance, we compromise and turn away from the real mission to which we are called we may seemingly prosper. When, however, the saints of the Most High stand definitely for a full testimony concerning sin and salvation magnifying the Christ of Calvary, of the "right hand," and of the "glory cloud," the world will be sure to oppose.
It has been said: "If any work is evil, it will come to naught; and, if it is good, it will prosper." We know this is ultimately true; yet, temporarily, Satan is the god of this world going about to destroy the saints. For the time he will be able to do a great deal to withstand the work committed to our hands.
We thank God, however, that it will not always be so, for the Lord Himself will come from heaven to establish His people, and to make permanent and prosperous the work of their hands.
IV. THE WORK ON THE TEMPLE CONTINUED (Ezra 7:21)
1. Ezra called of God. We read that Ezra went up from Babylon and came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of God which was upon him. Beloved, when we can move out into any word or work with such an Hand upon us, we have nothing to fear.
God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. It is true that the enemy will do all in His power to hinder, that foes will set themselves against us, but when God once arises and stretches forth His good hand, who can hold Him back?
When we admitted that the enemy may hinder, for the while; we did not admit that he can hinder all the while. Satan is strong, and his cohorts are many. God, however, is stronger, and when once a Stronger than Satan enters in, He will despoil the goods of the strong man. Oh, that we could live and move under the sense of God's good hand being upon us.
2. Ezra preparing his heart. When Ezra heard the voice of God calling him to go to Jerusalem, he prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
If we are going to work for God, we must show ourselves "approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth." If we are going to work for God, we must do according to all that God commands us. It is then, and then only, that He will make our way prosperous and give us good success.
3. Artaxerxes delivered a decree unto Ezra. He put all of his power and headship behind the children of God. He said: "I make a decree that all they, of the people of Israel, * * which are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee." Then he told Ezra that they should go according to the law of their God, that they should carry with them silver, and gold, with the free will offerings of the people.
There must have been great joy among them as once more the work began. Where is he who would not thank God when those in authority recognized and yielded to the God of gods, and the Lord of lords.
In our country we have, at least, had no hindrance from the government. Our constitution gives religious liberty to all men. Those who seek the Lord are not hindered by law. They are, however, encouraged and strengthened. Would that this were true in all parts of the world.
V. EZRA'S PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING (Ezra 7:27-28)
1. Ezra blessed the Lord. He began his prayer by blessing God. Is not this the way that all prayers should begin. When Christ prayed at the grave of Lazarus, He said: "Father, I thank Thee, that Thou hast heard Me." Let us not be so greedy in seeking new favors, that we forget to bless God for favors past.
2. Ezra thanked God for the king's part in the work. He said, "God * * hath put such a thing as this into the king's heart." In other words, the king did not act on his own initiative. He may have thought he did, but Ezra knew that God was back of it all. Would that we might also be quick to discern the movement of the Most High. Would that we might see the good hand of God as He works for us.
3. Ezra spoke of beautifying the house of the Lord. Our chief desire should be to make beautiful the Gospel which He has committed to our trust. We not only want to beautify the house, or the building in which the Gospel is preached, but we want to beautify the Gospel itself.
4. Ezra thanked God for kindly disposing the king toward himself. God gave Ezra favor not only before the king but before all of his counsellors. God has done this thing in many instances. Think of Daniel, and how God opened the heart of the king toward him.
5. Ezra acknowledged that God strengthened him. He said, "I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me." Did not the Lord Jesus say, "All power is given unto Me, * * Go"? Is not the hand of God upon us? Are we not able to do all things through Him who strengtheneth us? Power belongeth unto God, and when we are panoplied with God, we have all power, according to the working of His mighty power.
Think you that the apostle Paul wrought in his own strength. Far be it. He said concerning himself: "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling * * but in demonstration of the Spirit and power." "Power belongeth unto God."
Let us then go forward strengthened in the strength of His might.
1. The people of Israel did not separate themselves. The message of verse one states that the people and the priests and the Levites failed to separate themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abomination. There should have been then, as now, a marked difference between the children of God and the children of the world.
The Canaanites, the Hittites, and the rest of the nations were very corrupt. They were no companions for the children of God. It would have been bad enough to have had fellowship with them but it is the same old story, if saints keep company with sinners, the saints will fall into the way of the sinners, because of their flesh, far more quickly than the unregenerate will fall into the ways of the righteous. God has never changed from the days of Ezra even until now. His demand is for separation.
In the days of Solomon it was written, "Enter not into the paths of the wicked and go not in the way of evil men." In the days of Paul it was written, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."
2. Ezra blushed before God because of Israel's sins. He said, "Oh, my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." Ezra thanked God that for a little space grace had been shown from the Lord, but he knew that if their sins were not put away that judgment must soon fall. Therefore, he cried unto God.
We wonder how many pastors there are today, who are ashamed and blush when they draw near to the Lord. The worldliness and world-mixing among church members is a stench in the sight of the heavens. It has even come to pass, that our missionaries are ashamed to let the converts of our foreign fields know the evil ways of professed saints in the home fields. The Lord has saved us from sin that we should be a special people unto Him. He did not save us that we might continue in sin. His call is to come out from the world. He says: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." Shall we take the members of the body of Christ and make them members of a harlot? God forbid.
Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. "Little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not."
VII. A CALL FOR CONFESSION AND CONSECRATION (Ezra 10:11-12)
1. The call for confession. Verse eleven says: "Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers." Thank God for the mercy seat. God has told us not to sin, but, says He, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." It is this Christ who is our mercy seat. We know, therefore, that if we confess our sins "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
When David sinned, his bones waxed old with their roaring all the day. Finally, he came unto God and said, "I acknowledge my transgression." He pled no righteousness of his own, for his sin was ever before him. He did come seeking tender mercies, and not pleading for justice. He desired a clean heart and a right spirit. Do you marvel that God heard, his confession and forgave him of his sin?
2. The call for separation. Verse eleven also says, "Separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives."
Confession of sin is all right, but confession must be followed by separation. We must not ask God to forgive us our sins, and then continue in our sinning. It is he that forsaketh his sins, that finds mercy. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord."
3. The call for consecration. With sin confessed and forsaken, the congregation was ready to say, "As thou hast said, so must we do." The rulers and the people actually put into execution their pledges.
4. The call for a sacrifice. They could confess and forsake their sins but they recognized the fact that, being guilty, they needed a trespass offering. For this cause they offered a ram of the flock. Let each one of us remember that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins; yet, in all of this it is the blood of Christ that washes our sins away.
Confession can only be made potent and forgiveness can only be made sure when Christ the sin offering is accepted. Apart from Him and His blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
"In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.