Title: Promise Keeper
Text: Ezra 1-2
CIT: God keeps his promise to bring the exiles back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple and restore the Wall.
CIS: Because God is faithful to keep his promises, we can place our trust in Him.
The Historical Record:
A people are formed from Abraham. We’re actually studying this during WEBS. This past week we were in Genesis 45 where Joseph sent for his father. The boys return and tell their dad that Joseph is alive. Next Wednesday we’ll journey in ch. 46 back to Egypt where the patriarchs will settle with their families for the next 400 years or so. The 75 family members will explode through the years and become over a million strong, where God will send a deliverer named Moses. This people will be his people: The Hebrew People. He will be their God. They will come up out of Egypt and God will eventually settle them in the Promised Land about 1500 BC.
He warns them repeatedly to follow him closely. They are told to obey his commands. To be his people, they’re to be like him – and so he graciously tells them what they need to do. He tells them that he is vomiting the people out of the land because of their evil, wicked ways. And, instead, will give them the land. However, if they act like the people being evicted, if they follow after other gods, God will do to them what he has done to the previous people who occupied that land – He will vomit them out of the land, too.
They will ask for a king and God will give them one. At about 1000 years before the promised Messiah comes, they’ll be given a king after God’s own heart: David. They won’t make it too far down the timeline in history. As a matter of fact, David’s son will begin straying from God’s commands and the kingdom will become divided in two following his reign: A northern and a southern kingdom.
- The Northern Kingdom – Israel. The NK exists in 10 tribes. Israel will never follow God. At least none of the kings do. They’ll be warned, but in just a couple hundred years, they’ll be conquered by the Assyrians and sent into exile in 722 BC. Assyrians will move in around them and marry and procreate them out of existence. These new people will become the Samaritans we encounter in the New Testament. We’ll meet them in our study of Ezra and Nehemiah.
- The Southern Kingdom – Judah. Judah consists of three tribes: Judah, Benjamin & Levi. The southern Kingdom follows God in terms of certain eras. Good kings would rise and lead the people to follow God. A sense of repentance and dependence upon God will dominate an era. However, after that king dies, another who follows him will worship the idols and gods of the land.
Eventually, God does what he has promised them he will do. As he did with the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, he will do to the Southern Kingdom, Judah in 586 BC. The Babylonians who conquered the Assyrians now rule the World and they will destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. Many of the poor will be left behind, but the rich, the rulers, the well-to-do will be exiled far away to Babylon. But God leaves them with a promise:
God promise is that a remnant will return to the Promised Land. Look at how the Kingdom of Judah is exiled in 2 Chron 36.17
Jerusalem Captured and Burned
17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
So, after 70 years in exile, they will come back and establish themselves in the land. God will establish them and rebuild the Temple and the City. 586 BC – 70 years is 516 BC.
Here is the whole point of Ezra-Nehemiah: God keeps his Promises. He said he would send them in to exile if they didn’t obey and follow him. He said he would bring back a remnant. You know, Here is a great place to offer our 1st application – one that will be repeated. An application that is good for us to remember. What seems like a long time to us is all a part of His Story. Jesus has promised us that he will return for us: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
App.: I believe the day is dawning upon us. Let us be diligent to trust him at his word.
We will be reminded of God’s actions in the times before even the exile and return – of how he kept His Word to his Children even then. There was an exodus from Egypt. Here, there will be an exodus from Babylon. In the exodus, the children of Israel took spoils – they were given spoils as the exited Egypt. It will be the same for these people – the children of Israel – as they come out from their ‘slavery’ and return to that samre Promised Land.
Do you ever feel like we’re just on this Big Ball in the solar system, spinning around and around, and it seems that it is all for naught? Does it seem that it is taking forever for God to keep his promises to us? Remember the whole point here: God keeps his Promises. He is the original Promise Keeper.
Now, Ezra is divided into two parts:
- Chapters 1-6 are the first part and the timeline covers about 80 years. This part concludes with the rebuilding of the Temple.
- Chapter 7-10 are the 2nd part and the timeline there covers about a year.
Let me take this a step further and outline the book:
- 1-2: God keeps his promise in a Persian Decree. He moves the heart of a king to set the Jews free and send them home to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. We’ll look at this more in a second.
- 3: The Worship of God –
- 4: The Work of Men –
- 5-6: The Work of God –
- 7: The Word of God –
- The Mercy of God –
- 9-10: The Repentance of Men –
So, what we find here are two accounts of the return to the Promised Land – let’s begin chapters 1&2…
I’ve chosen to put the 1st 2 chapters together because of 1. Time and 2. Chapter 2 can be quite tedious. I’m not meaning to demean chapter two – God gave it to us for a reason. It’s just that chapter 2 goes well with the end of one. These 1st 2 chapters I’ve divided into three parts:
- The Proclamation by Cyrus (1.1-4)
- The Provisions by Cyrus
- The Pilgrimage Home (2.1)
Transition: So, with this all in mind – let’s begin with the 1st section:
I. The Proclamation by Cyrus (1.1-5)
exp.: rd 1.1; He’s probably referring to Jeremiah 28.8-13; 8 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, 9 behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10 Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. 13 I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations.
Isaiah 44.24-45.13; Amazing! Cyrus is being used by God – a pagan king. I’m sure he thought he was doing his own thing – but we know this God who is really in charge: Prov. 21.1 – The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Look at what this pagan king decrees:
Rd v 2; I mentioned earlier that Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Babylonia conquered Assyria and the Southern Kingdom (586 BC) – all a part of God’s bigger plan. Then, God raised up Cyrus, the Persian king who utterly defeated Babylonia in 539 BC. In 538 he issues this decree and by 537, the first wave of people are back in the Promised Land. rd v 3-4; The decree is issued. The people can go and they’re to be assisted or aided by the Babylonians. Wow. Who would have thought that to be possible?
app.: Here is a 2nd application today: We may not always understand what is going on. We may cringe at what our government does and how they lead us. But, we must remember that all of their decisions, poor or good, will not stop God from accomplishing his purposes. Ever! We must do our best to live good, upstanding, moral lives and trust that God is moving us (and our political leaders) to where he wants us to be in His Story.
Transition: Ezra wants us to see that nothing that has happened is outside of God’s will. God has promised and he’s about to deliver on that promise, even using a pagan king for His purposes. #2…
II. The Provisions by Cyrus
exp.: Not only does God move a pagan King to release God’s people, but God then give His people everything they need to return home. This provision is seen in three parts:
A. The Spirit’s Stirring: (rd 1.5); three tribes: Judah, Benjamin, and Levites; what is this call of the spirit? Rise up, Return, Rebuild – only those whose spirits are ‘stirred’ by God. Interesting. You don’t have to go and we’ll see throughout history that many stayed. But, many did return. This would be a long hard journey. How will it be accomplished? Well, God already thought of that! rd v 6; I call this part…
B. The Spoils of Victory: (rd 1.6) The people of Babylon respond to their leaving just like the Egyptians responded to the Exodus in Exodus 12.33ff; 33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
Not only did the people give them provisions for their journey, but Cyrus gives them back the very items looted by Nebuchadnezzar which he had carried away from Jerusalem.
C. Cyrus Returns the Temple Vessels (rd 1.7-11); And boy is he thorough! He gets a treasurer to serve as accountant and makes an account of the treasures. This treasurer itemizes each piece and returns them to the leader Sheshbazzar, whom Cyrus appoints to be the governor of this far-away land known as Israel. I think Sheshbazzar is Cyrus’ man. Zerubabbel is God’s man – and we’ll see him rise in leadership as governor over all these things.
Transition: With these items in hand, and each heart stirred by God to return, the journey begins. It will take some time. Nothing is mentioned here of the Journey. When we pick up in chapter three, it will be the next year and the Israelites will be back in Judah.
III. The Pilgrimage Home (2.1)
- The Leadership (2.1-2) Also in Nehemiah 7.7; Look at the list and make a few comments:
1Zerubbabel (governor; descendant of David; his grandfather, Jehoichin was the last king; He is a type of Christ, as was David through his lineage as a kinsman redeemer), 2Jeshua (grandson of the last official high priest), 3Nehemiah, 4Seraiah, Ezra 7.1 5Reelaiah, 6Missing, 7Mordecai, 8Bilshan, 9Mispar, 10Bigvai, 11Rehum, and 12Baanah.
1Zerubbabel, 2Jeshua, 3Nehemiah, 4Azariah, 5Raamiah, 6Nahamani, 7Mordecai, 8Bilshan, 9Mispereth, 10Bigvai, 11Nehum, 12Baanah.
- Some final numbers (2.64-66)
- The Invalidated Servants (2.59-63)
- The Son’s of Solomon’s Servants (2.55-58)
- The Temple Servants (2.43-54)
- The Levites (2.40-42)
- The Number of Men (2.3-35)
- The Priests (2.36-39)
- Gifts and contributions (2.67-69)
- Conclusion (2.70)
exp.: I don’t think this list is exhaustive. Most times only the family name or representative is listed – with the corresponding numbers. There is one on this list that I think is interesting: vii. The Invalidated – they couldn’t prove their heritage. Later, we’ll find that some were added in – either they were later able to offer proof or they were added by the casting of the Urim and Thummim. In the exile, their fathers or grandfathers weren’t careful to take care of what needed to be done. They didn’t pass on the lineage. They didn’t take care of business. Unexpectedly, a decree was issued and a return ensued; however, these men weren’t ready. Their unpreparedness left them out in the cold.
Ill.: I think this is a great picture of what it will be like on the final day. Today is the day of preparation. Today is the day in which you should be getting your affairs in order. Then, one day in the near future, A proclamation will be issued from the Throne of Heaven.
Then, We’ll all be ushered before the Lord and he will say: I know you; you’re mine. Enter into your rest. Or, Depart from me; I never knew you. There are many who are wasting this time right now. They could be taking care of this right now. They could be nailing this down so that they would know for sure when Christ returns what their destiny is. But they’re not. They are wasting valuable time.
App.: if you are not saved, let me beg of you today to get this straight. Now, before it is too late. If you’re not a believer, you’re very much like these people who couldn’t prove they were of the priestly line. But let me tell you: there is a high priest who can vouch for you. His name is Jesus – and he will vindicate you and confirm your reservation in heaven – if you will commit your life to him.
Transition: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but stirred the heart of Cyrus. He caused the Egyptians to fear His children and so the Egyptians gave up their wealth to the departing Hebrews. It was a plunder of their gold, silver, money and goods, which was later used to build the Tent of Meeting. The Babylonians did the same thing, offering the spoils of war to a departing Jewish caravan that would help finance their journey and the rebuilding of the Temple. In chapter 2 we read about the numbers of people who returned, much like the census taken in Numbers. The repetition reminds us of God’s faithfulness. He is faithful to keep his promises – from Abraham to the Patriarchs to their descendants to us – God keeps his promises. Not just for this moment, but for all eternity.
Observations & Implications:
- Every believer should be moved to a place of encouragement when they recognize that God is a Promise Keeper. God is still in charge – it doesn’t matter what the leaders of the world seem to be doing.
- Don’t let Putin scare you.
- Don’t put your hope in a presidential candidate – they’re all still just people.
- God will accomplish what he has promised.
- Learning the History of the Bible is a tremendous blessing as it opens our eyes to the faithfulness of God. If you’ve never read through the Bible at quick pace, you should consider it. It takes about 60 hours to read at a regular pace. There are 929 chapters. Break that up into any format that works for you. 45 minutes a day can get you through in 3 months, 13 weeks, 90 days. One hour a day will get it done in 2 months, 8 weeks, 60 days. Get on a reading schedule and learn about God’s faithfulness. It will bless you.
- You don’t just get into heaven without the right credentials.