The Book of Ezra
Pr Edi Giudetti
The Faithfulness of God
The Return of the Remnant
Turn in your bible to Ezra 1:1
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be Accomplished/Fullfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying” (2 Chronicles 36:22)
Nothing better portrays both the power of God and the faithfulness of God that when a promise by him is made and evidently kept. The return of the Jews into their land is by far one of the greatest events of the Bible.
Lest we be ignorant about the extent to which the Bible relates the account of Israel and Judah and that particularly with regard to the surrounding history of the event of the Babylonian Captivity, I would like you to take your Bibles and place one finger at the beginning of 2 Chronicles and the other finger at the end of the Old Testament.
Other than the wisdom book between your fingers, the balance of this is that account that both led up to and surrounded this captivity.
There is a tremendous amount that we can learn from this pivotal event but the most important lessons we can glean, particularly from Ezra, is that concerning the faithfulness of God.
Here at the beginning of the Book of Ezra is written almost exactly that which concludes the 2nd Book of the Chronicles. In fact, the opening verse that I began this point with I actually read from 2 Chronicles 36:22, but had you read Ezra 1:1.
The similarity continues until the end of the 23rd verse of 2 Chronicles and the midst of the 3rd verse of Ezra.
This generally leads to the belief that It was indeed Ezra the priest who penned both volumes, but it is not conclusive.
What it does do however is underscore both the prophetic event and the individual who gave the commandment for the people to indeed return to the land. Respecting the prophecy that was given, turn in your Bible to Jeremiah 25:8-12
8 Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, 9 Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. 10 Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. 11 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
But this was not believed by the people, Jeremiah warned them and made clear not only that which would come but the timeframe that would be involved. At the time of chapter 25, the King of Babylon was yet to threaten Jerusalem.
By chapter 27 they were indeed taken but still refused to believe the Lord about the length of the captivity, threatening to Kill Jeremiah.
King Zedekiah had other False prophets telling him to withstand Nebudanessor if he came up again. Jeremiah himself was despised for the word of the Lord by the people he came to warn, they bound him and yoked him.
Then in Chapter 28 came another false prophet named Hananiah the Son of Azur the prophet, to encourage Zedekiah and telling him;
“Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3 Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon: 4 And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord: for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” (Jer 28:2-4)
Hananiah then took the wooden yoke from Jeremiah and broke it, claiming “Thus saith the Lord; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years”. (v11)
But Jeremiah returned to tell them that the Lord will place upon their necks yokes of Iron in the place of wood and the captivity will indeed be long. Hananiah had made the people trust in a Lie and died as a direct result of putting words in the Lords mouth that he never uttered. Today we have many false prophets that have risen to take the place of Hananiah, God has not struck them dead and perhaps the reason for it is that we have his full counsel in our hands. The people of God are expected to know his word and to know the truth and discern between the true and the false.
The Lord warned in Jeremiah 23:28 saying; The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Indeed, what is the chaff to the wheat?
Those who will not discern the difference between the word of the Lord and that of a false prophet will themselves suffer the consequences. Jesus commanded simply, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
Turn to Jeremiah 29:8-10
But the Lord had told them to build themselves houses to dwell in, plant gardens, get wives for your sons and so on, even to pray for the city they are taken into that there peace may also belong to the captives.
8 For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the Lord. 10 For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. (Jeremiah 29:8-10)
Daniel knew it would be seventy years;
Turn to Daniel 9:2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
So the period was confirmed to be seventy years, but what of the decree, the commandment given and by whom?
Turn to Isaiah 44:24
In this chapter God is speaking about the nature of the error of his people who will turn away from him, for it is prophetic of a time yet future. But he also tells of their restoration and gives a name of the one who will restore the nation even before the man was a thought in the mind of his great grandparants, for this was written some 150 years earlier and we will talk more of it when we get to Daniel.
24 Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer,
And he that formed thee from the womb,
I am the Lord that maketh all things;
That stretcheth forth the heavens alone;
That spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
25 That frustrateth the tokens of the liars,
And maketh diviners mad;
That turneth wise men backward,
And maketh their knowledge foolish;
26 That confirmeth the word of his servant,
And performeth the counsel of his messengers;
That saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited;
And to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built,
And I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
27 That saith to the deep, Be dry,
And I will dry up thy rivers:
28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd,
And shall perform all my pleasure:
Even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built;
And to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
45Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
Whose right hand I have holden,
To subdue nations before him;
And I will loose the loins of kings,
To open before him the two leaved gates;
And the gates shall not be shut;
2 I will go before thee,
And make the crooked places straight:
I will break in pieces the gates of brass,
And cut in sunder the bars of iron:
3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness,
And hidden riches of secret places,
That thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect,
I have even called thee by thy name:
I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is none else,
There is no God beside me:
I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west,
That there is none beside me.
I am the Lord, and there is none else.
It is incredible to see History told in advance so clearly as to even give the name of a Heathen King. But that is the Lord, he it is that has commanded the Return of the Remnant.
The Rebuilding of Religion
2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:2-4)
As you read this you can see the reverence that Cyrus has for this God that is in Jerusalem. How must it feel to be given an ancient scroll when you dome to a city, and not only is your name found within the pages but the very detail of your history and conquests and even the manner in which you conquered is written in it?
The people are charged to Rebuild their Religious system and restore the time of worship. Ezra the priest is given charge for the work and he sets about its establishment.
By Chapter 2 the people are named according to their respective family groups, they are numbered to a total of only just under 50,000 people, far less than that which left seventy years earlier. But enough to make a new beginning.
By chapter 3 they rebuilt the alter and worshipped the Lord, in the second year they began to build the temple and to lay the foundations of the Lord.
Cyrus had given them tremendous provision for the work and they finally laid the foundation of it.
Turn to Ezra 3:11
And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: 13 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
Imagine how their hearts where lifted up when they began to see the outline of this second temple in the place of the first which they long ago remembered.
Before we were saved from our sins we had our own temple built up, we worshipped things other than the true God, just as Israel did. God cannot compete with that which we have built in our hearts, these things need to be torn down, razed to the ground before God can build his work in us.
The difficulties I went through before I was saved was of God, to pull down my strong holds. I worshipped other gods, built my own temple and bowed my knee to that which does not edify nor benefit. In fact the very things I followed and trusted in where the very things that would make an end of me.
This is what happened to Judah, they turned to other gods, the gods of the nations. This is what destroyed them.
I have been in construction for many years, what I can certainly say is that it is far more difficult to restore and old corrupt building, than it is to demolish it and begin again.
Before a rebuilding can occur, the old must be torn down. God had done this with Jerusalem, he also did this with me, and he does this with many.
Don’t curse God for the difficulties you face, turn to him. Jesus said to Saul who would become Paul the Apostle, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
But the work in Jerusalem was not yet over, but just beginning. They would go through more difficulties before the work was complete, Both Ezra and Nehemiah record the difficulties they underwent prior to the completion of the work, many people stood against the Jews, many did not want to rebuild, many stood in the way. But God again showed himself faithful.
The work the Lord is doing in your lives is not over yet, there will be difficulties, many of which will be antagonists. But trust and have faith in the Lord, know his promises, trust his words and you pains will come to be the seed of your reward.
The Reawakening of Rebellion
Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.
3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.
It is impossible to imagine the astonishment of Ezra, and what a word to describe how he felt. Jerusalem and its people were put to the worse by the old king of Babylon, set under siege they we beset by starvation until the finally gave themselves into his hand. Why did this occur? For sins such as that which they have now returned to do.
For seventy years they were set apart in a land that does not belong to them, it was the greatest judgment and suffering a people could ever experience without being completely destroyed. Now, grace had been given them, forgiveness and mercy had been shown them, the love and favour of God had returned to them and what do they do?
Rebellion is reawakened in them and Ezra sits astonied!
When I first read this with the spirit of the Lord I personally marvelled at what I was reading, I could not believe my eyes when I had considered all that the people had gone through and then all that God had shown to them of his loving mercy and grace and to think of them almost immediately returning back to the very sins that set them in such affliction, the very sins of the nation round about them which God had also judged, I must say that I sat astonied, and then I read the words;
And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.
And I read it again and again in amazement, what I experienced only as I read of the account was here described by the Lord through the emotions of Ezra the Priest.
Friends I don’t know if that has ever happened to you. I don’t know if you have ever personally experienced the incredible grace of the Lord, his wonderful mercy and his love shown through a blessing that you have earnestly sought for and he gave it with abundance. And then the very sins which set you in a miserable disposition you again entered into.
Your heart feels like it would come out of your mouth, you are so sickened by your own sinful state and behaviour against the one you love more than life, against the sacrifice of the suffering servant, your Lord Jesus Christ and then you find yourself fall with your back against a wall and you slide down it in tears….. until you sit astonied!
Your mouth opens to cry but there is no sound, not even breath as you prepare to howl for your sin wondering how and why it can come so easily, how and why you would do such a thing against the Lord who rescued you from that very act, that act of rebellion that set you from him at the first. You sob like a child with your heart near on breaking apart and in confused silence you look around for an answer as to how and why you have done such a thing and all you can do is sit astonied!
Israel and its people are a picture of the struggling Christian life and walk as the flesh wrestles against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.
The Requirement of Repentance
Two passages we will conclude the sermon with this morning.
The first is the prayer of Daniel in repentance for his and the nations sins on behalf of the people that the Lord will fulfill his promised word.
Keep your finger in Ezra 9 and turn with me to Daniel 9
Daniels Prayer in Daniel 9
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: 4 And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said,
O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; 5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: 6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. 8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; 10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. 12 And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. 14 Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice. 15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. 18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
This is that which was prayed prior to the release of the captives and their return to Jerusalem some 500 km away. This prayer given by Daniel brings to the Lord a recognition of the sins that had taken them away and dispersed them inot many provinces.
Now we have the prayer of Ezra as the people, now released, reawaken that same rebellion that decimated them seventy years earlier.
We had Daniel 9, now see Ezra 9
4 Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, 6 And said,
O 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. 7 Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. 8 And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. 10 And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, 11 Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.
Though we may find ourselves compassed about with many troubles, most of which are brought on by our own errors, the Lord hears always the prayers of his own.
Those who belong to the Lord he does hear and it is always his grace that is given for them when they seek him in prayer in sorrow for their sin.
Those of you who are yet to know the Lord, he also will hear you prayer but not for sin my friends, he does not forgive sin that has not yet been atoned for.
The sacrifice for sin was offered through the blood of Jesus Christ, your prayer is not for the forgiveness of sin you are aware of, but for the very salvation of your soul.
If you are not born again today, you must seek him first to be saved, he will hear and he will pardon when your heart seeks after Christ.