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Erza 4: Opposition

 “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel,  they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

4.1-2 While the foundation of the temple was laid and the plan readied in chapter three, the temple would not be finished until twenty years later, when Darius was ruling Persia.[1] Chapter four, gives the reason for why there was a delay.[2]

It begins with a request by the people, the opponents, to help rebuild the temple. Their request make it clear, that they wished to be seen as an independent group, that somehow shared the same religious purposes to serve Yahweh.[3] While the Samaritans offering the help seem friendly enough, by offering to help, there was something more going on in this picture.[4] It would be likely that their request was linked with their fear of losing their power over the territory, because of the Jews return presence.[5] Moreover, by helping with temple, likely they “could later influence the decisions of those in Judah.”[6]

4.3 Zerubabbel and Jeshua refuse their help. Their answer is that the people of the land “have nothing to do with us,” that is, simply put, the Jewish people and the people of the land had little in common.[7]

In part, the statements of the opponents are not fully true or correct, for example, correct worship, as in the temple, had  been not happening, their claim to be sacrificing was likely at a false altar, such as Bethel. The people of the land are also the descendents of those who Esarhaddon had brought into the land (through intermarriage with those original Israelites left).[8] Finally, the people while they made have some sense of worshipping Yahweh, had merely connected him with their other gods and so focused on worshipping him only in a synchronistic way.[9]

The Jews then point that the temple is to be built, by themselves according to God’s commands. Their commitment since coming to the land has not changed.[10] Finally, they say, that all this is beside the point because Cyrus had only given the Jews the right rebuild the temple, not the other people of the land.[11]

4.4 Not receiving the answer they had wished, the people of the land reveal their true intentions and so begin to oppose the Jewish people.[12] While many of the attacks of the peoples will be nothing but bluffs, a few of them will “indeed get bloody and bring physical harm and death upon God’s people.”[13] Ezra describes their actions as “disheartening” the people. The word disheartening, is literally “weakening the hands,” and it gives the sense that the people were discouraged from doing any more work.[14] What had disheartened the people and what had frightened them is not specifically said, only that the actions of the opponents were working.[15]

The opponents are also bribing counselors, likely referring to important Persian officials to help stop the work on the temple.[16] Verse five, encompasses the entire timeframe of the opposition to the Jewish people, from Darius to Artaxerxes and the time of Nehemiah.[17]

Comment: The Israelites are offered helped, but reject it due to a number of reasons, but all focused on the fact that they wished to serve God correctly. This angers the Samaritans and they begin to disrupt the plans of the people of God, disruptions which will only increase in time. We too have deal with many times people outside saying that they wish to help, or want to direct things and when the Church says wait a minute the response is not good. The world wished to be able to change the message of the Church to something more pleasing, and when it cannot it is not very pleased at all and will begin to make things unpleasant at times.

And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.  In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated.

It appears that at least three to four letters were written by the other peoples of the land to the Persian empire.[18] The first two letter reported in verses six and seven are rather cryptic with only a few details given.[19] We are told that the people of the land sent several letters to Ahasuerus, that is Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, both of who did not answer these two letters.[20]

According to Ezra, this first letter, was sent to Xerxes in the start of his rule, a time when he would have been more receptive and/or vulnerable to hear the contents of the letter.[21] The contents are summarized as being an accusation against the Jewish people, but it appears that Xerxes did not answer. It would appear that Xerxes did not answer the first letter because Xerxes was busy with a revolt in Egypt.[22]

The second letter is to Artaxerxes, a usurper to the throne, whose reign was less than a year.[23] Here, Ezra, details the list of the officials who wrote the letter, and the language it was written, that is Aramaic, the common tongue, and once again the subject appears to be the same, and the response is once again voided.[24] This second one was not answered because Artaxerxes too had deal with the Egyptian revolt.[25]

Comment: The opponents send letters off, letters directed toward making the people look bad. Luckily these first few letters are not answered, but… the opponents are not done. In our lives we wil have to deal with the annoyance of people saying stuff that is simply wrong. There are times where we, especially as Christians will come upon someone saying something false. It hurts, even when there is no response from the party intended. The mere fact that it happened still hurts. This is something that we have to realize that we sometimes have to ignore such things, to realize we can’t change other people, but we do have to try and move on.

In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated.  Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”

4.8-9 While the first two letters were evidently ignored, a third one was written, this time by Rehum (the one who spoke it) and Shimshai (the one who wrote it).[26] As Barber noted, “the content of the letter was a cunningly contrived, slanderous attack on those in Jerusalem.”[27] Verse nine give s a long list of the senders of the letter, likely they wished to make it seemed as if all the important officals were against the Jewish people.[28]

4.11-13 The writers of this letter, shifted Artaxerxes’ point of view in to their direction, making accusations that to be proven false would have required a journey and planting falsehoods, which could be given evidence easy enough.[29]  They begin by noting the return of the Jews, (referring the returns prior to Nehemiah and up to this time).[30]  These returning Jews would have arrived at a defenseless city and would have naturally have wanted to rebuild the walls for protection, despite not receiving permission.[31]

Now they begin to move into falsehoods. For example, they pointed to walls being rebuilt, and directed the attention away from the idea of walls as protection and moved it to walls so they could rebel.[32] (The walls, themselves would not really be repaired, however, until the time of Nehemiah, which would be about seventy-five years later).[33]

Calling Jerusalem a rebellious city is of the most important.[34]  Using the term rebellious so oft in the letter, it really pointed to what the Persians were afraid of and what they were constantly dealing with, so a lie they would take easily into mind.[35] Time and time again Persian would be “plagued with rebellions during the fifth century.”[36] If the walls were finished there would be consequences the people say, for instance, the Jews would not pay their taxes, and thus rebel, second a rebellion would bring shame to the king, .[37]

4.14 In contrast to these rebellious Jews, the writers, act as if they are the most honorable of people, and so in verse 14, show their great “steadfast loyalty” to the king.[38] As much as they wanted to get rid of the Jews, the Samaritans are still rather egotistical and want to remain being seen in a good light.[39]

4.15 Cyrus’ decree is not asked to be searched, only the actions of Jews in the past, but actions that would look bad.[40] They pointed to the Jews as a rebellious people and tell them to check documents would have been easy in Babylon and Susa to be gotten and which gave evidenced.[41]

4.16 The letter then finishes with one final exaggeration, the turmoil that would follow a rebellion would be to risk all the territory of the trans-Euphrates, it would not just be centered in Jerusalem.[42] And so they seal their case.

Comment –Ezra now details one of the written letters and it is filled with half truths and outright lies. Moreover, it was made difficult for the Jews to be able to defend and was dressed in a way to make the Persian ruler want to listen to it. Some lies work, no matter how crazy they sound and when they work it just bites. When it happens sometimes we don’t know what to do. We wonder why and find ourselves having a bad day. The truth is, sometimes, people are going to make wrongful comments, based simply on ones belief. It doesn’t matter how true or wrong it is, they have a imagined perception of what it means to be Christian and sometimes it can be quite harsh. It is an issue which has been part of the Church since its beginning and is not likely to end until the return of Christ.

The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid.  Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?” Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease.

17 at long last, the people have received an answer and one which they would have liked. Artaxerces has believed their report, most likely because of their exaggerations.[43]

18 It opens with t the king in essence saying that he had received the letter and had heard it read. In response the king had indeed looked into the matter, looking at the documents that he was pointed to. The findings was that in essence the people were indeed rebellious, (which the last three kings of Judah were).[44] Secondly, they there had been mighty kings of Israel, another worrying sign. [45] 21 Artaxerxes says to stop all work, and in essence gave the best answer that the opponents wanted.[46]

23 In response to Artaxerxes’ letter, the people of the land go to the Jews and forced the temple work to be done, and it was stopped until Darius was king of Persia.[47] In fact, both Josepheus and the writer to the 1 Esdras states that Samaria did so through the use of troops and even destroyed what had bee done thus far.[48] (see Josephus ant. 11:2-29)


[1] Fensham, 66.

[2] Fensham, 66.

[3] Fensham, 66.

[4] Barber, 29

[5] Barber, 29.

[6] Barber, 29.

[7] Butler, 27.

[8] Barber, 30.

[9] Barber, 30-31.

[10] Butler, 27.

[11] Fensham, 67.

[12] Barber, 32-33.

[13] Butler, 28.

[14] Fensham, 67.

[15] Fensham, 68.

[16] Fensham, 68.

[17] Barber, 33.

[18] Butler, 29.

[19] Fenshame, 70.

[20] Barber, 41.

[21] Butler, 29.

[22] Barber, 41.

[23] Butler, 29.

[24] Butler, 29-30.

[25] Barber, 41.

[26] Barber, 42.

[27] Barber, 42.

[28] Butler, 30.

[29] Barber, 43.

[30] Fensham, 73.

[31] Fensham, 73.

[32] Barber, 43.

[33] Butler, 31.

[34] Fensham, 73.

[35] Barber, 43.

[36] Fensham, 73.

[37] Fensham, 74.

[38] Butler, 31.

[39] Fensham, 74

[40] Butler, 31.

[41] Barber, 43.

[42] Fensham, 75.

[43] Fensham, 75.

[44] Butler, 32.

[45] Butler, 32.

[46] Butler, 33.

[47] Barber, 46

[48] Barber, 46.

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Ezra 3.1-13 Return of Correct Worship

When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord.” – 1-5 The Rebuilding of the Altar and worship

3.1 There has now been a gap of time, between the return and the beginning of this chapter, although Ezra does not list a specific date.[2] It was likely during this gap that the people focused on rebuilding their homes and clearing away rubble of all sort.[3]

Only, it is now the seventh month. (Most scholars, think it is within the first year of the Exile’s return that this happened, roughly 537 BC).[4] The seventh month, called Tisri, fell around the time of October, and was considered “the most sacred of all the months.”[5] The month began with a “holy convocation” that is gathering, and on the tenth the Day of Atonement was celebrated and from the 15th through the 22nd, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths was celebrated.[6] It would certainly have been a month which would have pushed the people’s thoughts toward worshipping.

By this point, the people have indeed begun to the inhabit the various towns of the of the land and not simply Jerusalem, their moving in, like the rebuilding of the temple, would not have endeared them to their neighbors, thus, leaving their homes was an act of faith.[7]

At the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the people decided to come together to worship it in Jerusalem.[8] One should perhaps wonder, how often, if ever, were such things practiced in the Exile.[9] Finally, there was a certain sense of unity among the people, once they had reached Jerusalem, this unity would have been needed on the return, would be needed in future problems.[10]

3.2 Jeshua and Zerubbable, both stand up together to speak to the people, here we have the religious and secular leaders of the land coming together to set an example.[11] The first leader to stand up is Jeshua, the son of Jozadak. Jeshua, as noted previous is the same name as Joshua and Jesus, moreover that Jeshua was the high priest.[12] Jeshua’s act here in helping to build the altar pointed him as a man who was faithful, ready, and fearless; for he stood up ready and on faith built the altar despite what may come.[13]

It is likely that a makeshift altar had been built, but the people knew that they must have one according to the direction given by Moses.[14] They have to build the altar, sometimes, worship does not come easy to a congregation and some digging and building is needed to get things rolling.[15]

What is done is done in accordance with the Law, the word of God. As Ironside wrote, “There was no thought of substituting human expediency foe what God had spoke through Moses in the distant past. No one was called on for ideas or suggestions as to the most suitable way to act in these their adverse circumstances…. They simply searched the Scriptures, and when “they had found it written,” that was the end of controversy.”[16]

3.3 The altar is built on the foundation, that is, the foundations of Solomon’s temple, and it is likely they had to destroyed an old altar (cf. Jeremiah 41.5), to build this new one.[17] This in itself, might have caused some controversy among the other peoples of the land.[18] Their desire to worship and honor God was mixed with fear, fear of their various enemies that surrounded them, who had a long and sordid history with them and who would stall several projects.[19]

This rebuild altar, brought with a restoration to the sacrificial system begun under the law of Moses, and so the morning and evening sacrifices are mentioned once again.[20]

3.4 As in the building of the altar, here, the people strove to follow God in their worship of scared festivals, according to the commands he had given, as in everything “they worshiped according to the Word.”[21] Following all of this, the Feast of the Tabernacles took place.

3.5 The people are willing to offer to the Lord, not only the required sacrifices, but also a freewill; in worship we ought to be men and women who are willing to worship, and willing to serve God, to not just do it because have told, but instead to do have a desire, out of “devotion, interest, and affection.”[22]

Comment – The people here, show a willingness to worship, beginning with a work it took to return to Jerusalem and the work it took to replace and create an altar in the way in which Moses had directed the people. Moreover, the people’s desire and willingness to worship is tempered by the word of God, the way in which he had directed the sacrificial system. We need to men and women who come to church with a willingness to worship.

A desire to sing the praises to God for the various things he has done. Not ot just be here, because of some obligation, because we have to be here, but instead to see the many reasons that we have to come and worship God. To worship him through song, through the scripture, with lessons and sermons, through prayer and all the other manners in which we can worship God. To seek him with a heart directed toward him and not see this as merely some routine.

“From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.  Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord. And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.” – 6-9 Desire to build the temple

3.6 Verse six, clearly indicates that all the sacrifices began with the setting up of the altar on the first of the month and later the Feast’s sacrifices took place, all of which was done according to God’s commands.[23] But, and the writer is points this out, that despite all of this stuff, the temple does not yet exist.[24]

Despite having done some initial steps, the temple’s foundations had not been laid, moreover it had been a number of months since they had returned, and no work had been done on the temple.[25] It was during this delay that the part of the ministry of Haggai took place. The people, here, like many, had a desire to finish first their own problems and left spiritual matters in a secondary place.

3.7 Despite, the neglect in building the temple, when it came to donating, the people quickly did their part, and gathered was needed. [26] The wood came from Lebanon, which produced a better wood, being more arable land.[27]

3.8 The building began in the second month of the second year, the second moth, Iyyar (April-May) was the perfect month for building, no festivals of importance were held it, it was the start of a dry season and after a major harvest.[28] Zerubabbel and Jeshua are mentioned once again as a major part of the building, (Sheshbazar, who surely had some part in it, was likely minor, perhaps due to this age?).[29] They look to those who were twenty and older and so at age that could take responsibility.[30]

3.9 After everything is gathered and then the people are organized, then the work begins and so the foundation is begun.[31]

Comment – The people’s willingness to worship is here directed at getting ready the temple, through giving and organization of work. Sometimes, in worship, it is something that does not come as easily as it ought to. That instead of jumping up ready to worship, we as a congregation lag a little bit. We find ourselves looking toward other matters at first, like the people looking toward houses, instead of doing what we should, like the people should have built the temple.

At other times, a desire to worship is needed to be paired with an understanding of worship, the reason for it, methods used in it. As the people here had a desire, but needed to get the temple created, for the right method as ascribed in the Law Moses had told them to do. As Jeshua and Zerubbable had led this whole proceeding, it is the job the leaders of the Church to help the Congregation move toward the right methods of the worship, to gain the right desire to worship.

If there is a person who is asking why he or she should worship, or what it means, and the ways it can be done, we need to get a foundation ready for them. To say, all right, this is what the Word of God says and this is how it can be translated into your lives. To let them understand and therefore sing praises to God with a more willing heart.

“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever 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. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” – 10-13 Rebuilding of the Temple

3.10-11 The foundation, having been laid, the people turn to celebration, which is led by the priest and Levites.[32] The descendents of Asaph, form a part of the musicians who helped with the praising. Two song types were employed at this time, songs of praise, and songs of thanksgiving.[33] Besides these two songs, there was also loud shouting of praises to Yahweh.[34]

3.12 At looking at this foundation, despite the praise of many, those who had seen Solomon’s temple before its destruction, cannot help but weep, for what was built now did not compare to the previous temple.[35] The Jewish Talmud points to some missing things, the Ark of the Covenant, the Sacred Fire, the Shekinah – The Glory of God, Urim and Thumim.[36] Nevertheless, Zechariah wuold tell the people to “not dspie the day of small things.” (Zechariah 4.8-10)[37] Likely the older people could see simply from the different stones of the foundation how much smaller this temple would be, for Solomon would have used large stones, but here they were small.[38]

The weeping of the older people, is drowned out, however, by the joy and praising of the younger, and outsiders could not tell the difference between the two.[39]

Comment – The people react to different ways to the temple, some see only joy at what the foundation being laid and are happy that the work had begun correctly. Others, like the old men, know that the temple is not going to be what it was. To the outside world, what is heard is only noise directed toward God. Neither understanding the various reaction, nor caring.

When we as a body of believers come together, we come with differetn reasons, on different days, to worship our lord and king. With some it may be that we can find all the reasons to be filled with joy and happiness and as we sing it can be seen easily. For others, life might be a little hard now and we come to God with the cares of the world on our shoulder and as we pick the verses close to our hearts they come from passages in the Bible that seem to share the same story.

And there might in all this be a mix between these two extremes. In whatever the case, what is important is that we are coming before, ready to worship. That we say that in spite of because of, I am here, ready to worship the reason behind all of it. That we do not shy away from this awesome privilege we have to worship, but that we come toward with all willingness.


[1] Fensham, 58.

[2] Ironside, 22.

[3] Barber, 18.

[4] Fensham, 59.

[5] Butler, 19.

[6] Butler, 19.

[7] Butler, 19.

[8] Barber, 19.

[9] Barber, 19.

[10] Butler, 20.

[11] Barber, 20.

[12] Butler, 20.

[13] Butler, 20.

[14] Fensham, 59.

[15] Butler, 21.

[16] Ironside, 22-23.

[17] Fensham, 59.

[18] Fensham, 59.

[19] Barber, 20.

[20] Fensham, 60.

[21] Butler, 22.

[22] Butler, 22.

[23] Fensham, 60.

[24] Fensham, 60.

[25] Butler, 23.

[26] Butler, 23.

[27] Fenshame, 62.

[28] Fensham, 63.

[29] Fensham, 63.

[30] Fensham, 63-64.

[31] Butler, 23-24.

[32] Fensham, 64.

[33] Fensham, 64.

[34] Fensham, 64.

[35] Butler, 25.

[36] Barber, 24.

[37] Barber, 24.

[38] Fensham, 65.

[39] Fensham, 65.

Ezra 2.36-70 Zerubbabel’s Return Part II

“The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. The sons of Immer, 1,052. The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. The sons of Harim, 1,017. ”36-39 The Returning Priest

36 Of the returning Priest, there are four families, three of whom could trace their descent to leaders during the age of David.[1] The Priest, also formed about a tenth of the all the returning Exiles.[2] Of the families listed, we are told that Jeshua comes from the family o f Jedaiah, which also happened to be the smallest family.[3] The family name of Pashhur is likely of Egyptian Origin.[4] It may have been a “branch of the house of Malchijah,” which is seen in  Chronicles 9.12.[5]

The writer has now moved to the religious leaders of the return and mentions that a significant amount of them have returned, coming from four families. Our Religious leaders should be the ones leading. They should not be standing by, suggesting that we ought to do this or ought to do that and yet are not doing anything themselves. Like the Priest here, they ought to stand ready to not only say we need to return, but have returned as well.

If we have a leader who merely stands there and does no action it is time to take a step back and ponder that leader. When looking for a leader it is also important to see if they are someone who does something or merely suggests.

 “The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, in all 139.”40-42 The Levites

While a large number of Priest return (4,000), only about 74 Levites returned to the land.[6] This may have to do with the fact that Ezekiel had “downgraded their functions,” and that they therefore had less to do and so gave a muted response.[7]  This small number will be a problem later in the book (chapter 8).[8] For those 74, however, who did return shows a “genuine commitment<’ for they had an even more uncertain future than most in the land.[9]

Of these, the Levites could be split into three groups, the ordinary, the singers, and those whose ancestors had charge over the temple gate.[10]

41, of the Singers, it is of interest that the only the descendents of the famous Asaph return, but not those of Heman or Jeduthun.[11] The exact function and origin of the singers is uncertain, although many have thought that perhaps David set up the first temple singers.[12] The gater keeprs, would have locked and unlock the temple gate and would have also been in charge of the treasury.[13]

Comment: Looking at the returning Levites, there is not many, and that those who had come do so out of sense of true commitment and desire to follow God. Many had stayed behind where it comfortable and easy. Not, where God would have wanted them.

It is important to realize that the religious leaders who are worth the time, are those who stand ready to do the will of the Lord. Those who will get up and leave comfortable lives to do what God wants them to do, who are not only striving to be a pastor or a deacon because it gained some cultural prestige, but do it because they have been called by God and are following that call.

Whenever we enter our churches and look at the leaders in there, it is sometimes important to ask what does the motivations behind this person seem to be? Is it genuine commitment or not? If not, perhaps it is time to find a different place to go

“The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.

The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami. All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392. ”43-58 The Foreigners

The Nethinims or temple servants may have been Gibeonites, but this is uncertain, they may have also been war prisoners, in either case this is a group of non-israelites who had been entrusted in the past with certain temple functions.[14] For example, Me-unim in verse 50, would fit the Inhabitants of Maon who were a “people subjugated by Uzziah, king of Judah” 2 Chr. 26.7.[15]

The  servants of Solomon were other foreigners.[16] Quickly likely a subdivision of the Nethinims. [17]Their exact origin is unclear, they’re connected with Solomon.[18] Some scholars think The servants of Solomon specifically were composes of those Canaanites who had survived up to this day and who in his reign he had separated into a servant class (cf. 1 Kings 9.20,21).[19] For whatever reason, even in the Exile they had remained a separate class of people and now were returning the to the land.[20]

Comment: We now have looked at the returning non-Israelites who had been connected to the temple. While these men and women would have limited function in the temple and at one point likely were a specific social caste in Israel they have retained this and more importantly retained a commitment to Yahweh, for they would certainly have been well enough off in their former homes and yet return.

God does truly prefer that true faith regardless of who we are. These people had a chance to return, a chance not given to the rest of the tribes because they had remained committed to God. Whatever the backgrounds we come from, be it Christian home or not, God desires the same level of commitment is and is pleased when it is shown.

“The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel:  the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652.  Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.”59-63 Those who could not prove their ancestry

Aside, from all the others mention, there were those, who though faithful, could not prove their ancestry. The priest, in particular, had need to prove their ancestry, to be able to serve in the temple.[21] It should be noted that it is actually more surprising the amount who had been able to keep hold of the knowledge and record of their ancestry than those who could not, especially with the turbulent time that led to the Exile.[22]

59-60 appears to refer to laymen in this group, while 61-63 would instead be referring to the priest of the group. While the laymen are seen as important for not knowing their lineage, it is the priest who are of more concern in this passage.[23] The Priest were the bigger problem befause if they could not prove their purity it would disbar them from service in the temple, and so Zerubbabbel takes action.[24]

Firstly he prohibited ht priest from eating of the most holy things, that this food that would be left over after certain acts of worship, secondly that they would in time use the Urim and Thummim to try and figure this stuff out.[25] Likely what he was waiting for was the completion of the temple. The Urim and Thummim are an uncertainty in the OT, but from 1 Sam. 14.41, we known that somehow it was seen that God’s will was discovered through them, perhaps by process of elimination.[26]

Comment: There were certain rules regarding who could and could not be priest in Ancient Israel, but it was in keeping the religious role they played pure. In many ways we need to realize that there are rules regarding who should and should not be a religious leader in the church. We shouldn’t care bout whether they can prove their ancestry or not, but we should care whether they have a firm grasp of biblical truths. That they can show readily that they are part of the family, but knowledge and deed.

Our leaders must be those who when they say I have been called, that they can back that up with the gifts that God has given them, we the desires that he has placed in their lives that, and a commitment that lets them stand ready to follow him.

“The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.”64-67 Total Number

65. The total number given here does not equal the number that one would get if they tallied up the numbers given previously, but this number likely has counted women and children.[27]While the total number given here would have been a large group to travel across the desert to reach Judea, it would not have been a large group to take up residence in the land.[28]

67/67 The animals of this group, show that the people who had traveled back were not the wealthiest.[29] Horses would have been ridden by wealthier people, but the donkey by poorer.[30] They had returned and one can returned Psalm 126(1-3) to see their song of praise.[31]

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;  then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.”

“Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments. Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.” 68-70 On Giving

68 Many upon returning gave freely of their wealth to try and restore the temple’s foundation and to suppose the work of the priests and Levites. The rebuilding of the temple was the first priority of the the people, upon seeing the ruins of Solomon’s temple, the leaders had no other desire than to return the House of Yahweh.[32] Those who gave, did so freely, did not do so out of “pressure,” nor because of a tax.[33] As one commentator writes, “This is the only way to give , and the only kind of giving that God rewards.”[34]

69 Secondly, the people only gave “after their ability,” God does not expect us, nor demand that we give what we are unable to do, while many do not have the problem of giving beyond their means, some do and it needs to be realized that God only wants what we can do.[35] The size of the gift, matters not, it is the intention and heart behind it.

70 This verse finishes with the fact that had returned and lived in their cities. I.e. that the people lived not in Jerusalem only, but also other cities in Judea.[36]

Comment

Conclusion


[1] Pulpit, 18.

[2] Fensham, 52.

[3] Fensham, 52.

[4] Fensham, 52.

[5] Simson, 385.

[6] Barber, 12.

[7] Barber, 12.

[8] Fensham, 53.

[9] Barb er, 12.

[10] Pulpit, 18.

[11] Pulpit, 18.

[12] Fensham,, 53.

[13] Fensham, 53.

[14] Fensham, 54.

[15] Simoson, 385.

[16] Butler, 16.

[17] Simson, 385.

[18] Fensham, 55.

[19] Pulpit, 18.

[20] Pulpit, 18.

[21] Butler, 16-17.

[22] Puplit, 18.

[23] Fensham, 55.

[24] Fensham, 55-56.

[25] Fensham, 56.

[26] Fensham, 56.

[27] Simson, 385.

[28] Butler, 17.

[29] Butler, 17.

[30] Simson, 385.

[31] Barber, 12.

[32] Pulpit, 24.

[33] Butler, 18.

[34] Butler, 18.

[35] Butler, 18.

[36] Pulpit, 24.

Ezra 2.1-35 Zerubbabel’s Return Part I

Ezra 2.1-35

Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

The number of the men of the people of Israel: the sons of Parosh, 2,172. The sons of Shephatiah, 372. The sons of Arah, 775. The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. The sons of Elam, 1,254. The sons of Zattu, 945. The sons of Zaccai, 760. The sons of Bani, 642. The sons of Bebai, 623. The sons of Azgad, 1,222. The sons of Adonikam, 666. The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. The sons of Adin, 454. The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. The sons of Bezai, 323. The sons of Jorah, 112. The sons of Hashum, 223. The sons of Gibbar, 95. The sons of Bethlehem, 123. The men of Netophah, 56. The men of Anathoth, 128. The sons of Azmaveth, 42. The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. The men of Michmas, 122. The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. The sons of Nebo, 52. The sons of Magbish, 156. The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. The sons of Harim, 320. The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. The sons of Jericho, 345. The sons of Senaah, 3,630.

In this section we have the listing of the people who have returned to Jerusalem and to Judea, from out of the Exiles. By and large, we have here a listing a of names of people who we have never heard of and outside of this section will never hear of. Yet the Holy Spirit has decided that this we ought to know the name of the families and the ancenstral places of those who have come out of the Exile, to return to Judea. This section of the Scripture is one of the sections that the average bible reader will try to speed through. These are names that we have never heard of, that may be hard to pronounce, and yet here it is part of the Scripture and is a significant part of the book of Ezra.  And therefore ought not be skipped.

Here we are looking at the first set of names in this chapter. The names here are the common people, the lay people, and are like many in the common church pews, those who were no the religious leaders, the average persons.

“Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.”

2.1 The first chapter appears to have described an initial return with Sheshbazzar and the temple vessels, while this second chapter details another under Zerubabbel and Jeshua.[1] Either Zerubabbel journeyed to the land with Sheshbazzar in 538 BC, or he would have returned shortly after Sheshbazzar around 539 to 538 BC.[2] The children of the providence, is speaking of the Jewish people, this providence, was either referring to Judea, or to Babylon.[3] Although it is likely that the providence in question is Judea.[4] These people were the ones exiled, but are ready to return.

They went to their cities. It can be noted, once more, that only those people of the kingdom of Judah are here returning, those of Israel, were carried off by Assyria, and did not return.[5]Those who returned from the Exile did not go to just Jerusalem, but actually went  to other places in Judea, to towns such as Jericho, Tekoah, Gibeon, and Mizpha.[6] Therefore, some actually were able to live in the city of their ancestors.[7] Not everyone would have been able to go back to the home of their forefathers, which would had been destroyed in the Babylonian Conquest, and some of them may have been forced to go to certain areas, via the Persian government.[8]

2.2 One of the leaders of this return is Zerubabbel, who according to 2.63 was likely the governor of the providence (at some point, likely after Sheshbazzar).[9] Zerubabbel’s name means seed of Babel, or Born of Babel. We know significantly more about Zerubbabel than we do Sheshbazaar, for Zerubbabel will appear in other post exilic works, and is often connected with Jeshua.[10] For example Zerubbabel was a descendant of Jehoiachim, and thus of royal blood.[11] (If the kingdom was around he would have been heir to the throne).

The second verse details ten of his assistance, notably Yeshua the High Priest.[12] We know more of Jeshua than the others in the list as well. Jeshua’s grandfather was Seraiah, whom Nebuchadnezar had put to death after he had destroyed Jerusalem.[13] Therefore Jeshua, had a right to be the High Priest.

Of the 11 listed here, Nehemiah adds another name to list, Nahamani, which brings the leaders up to twelve, and may signify a new community was about to exist in Post Exilic Judea.[14] Of the eleven names mentioned here it is interesting to note, that three of the names have a Babylonian origin, and one a Persian origin, not all had Hebrew names.[15] (Concerning the names of Nehemiah and Mordecai, these are not the same men as those appearing in the book of Nehemiah and Esther).[16]

Comment: The return was at last on hand and God provided not only the allowance on it, via Cyrus, and the ability for the people to go, via gifts, but Yahweh also provided capable leaders. Specifically he provided in the early return, Sheshbazzar, and then eventually Zerubbabel and Jeshua. These three would eventually rebuild the Temple to Yahweh and Zerubbabel and Jeshua would lead the people for many years.

God has placed in our lives certain leaders to guide us. Men like our pastors and other sorts of leaders who direct and guide us as we make various difficult journeys with him. We need to recogonize the leaders he has placed in our lives and strive seek their wisdom for the various things that we may come to face.

“The number of the men of the people of Israel: the sons of Parosh, 2,172. The sons of Shephatiah, 372. The sons of Arah, 775. The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. The sons of Elam, 1,254. The sons of Zattu, 945. The sons of Zaccai, 760. The sons of Bani, 642. The sons of Bebai, 623. The sons of Azgad, 1,222. The sons of Adonikam, 666. The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. The sons of Adin, 454. The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. The sons of Bezai, 323. The sons of Jorah, 112. The sons of Hashum, 223.”

The people who described here, are noted to be the children of Israel, a term usually pointed at the entire nation of the 12 tribes, or to the later Northern Kingdom which fell.[17] However, the writer was likely trying to stress, that the people who returned were those who were faithful to covenant and we so called this to stress God’s continued faithfulness to his people.[18]

2.3 As one commentator noted: “God each individual and family is significant. Thus the group of returnees is not simply lumped together, but valuable space in Scripture is given to otherwise unknown families and individuals.”[19]

In this section, the writer mentions nearly twenty different families.[20] Each family is listed as the children of X, such as the Children of Parosh or the children of Arah, and this means either the family which descended from Parosh, or the family in which Parosh was the chief of.[21]

2.5 Nehemiah gives a different number for the children of Arah, there it is 652 instead of 775, likely some of this number had died on the journey, or had changed their minds, or some sickness or ill prevented the travel and so the different numbers in the two accounts.[22]

2.6 Could the children of Pahath-Moab, be decedents of those exiled by Tilgath Pillnesser III?[23] For that matter, Pahath-Moab, could be translated as govern of Moab and may indicate that in the past, the man who gave this family a name had been a governor over Moab.[24]

The men who are detailed at the beginning of this list are not the religious leaders, but instead are the everyday believers in God.

Yet, their leaving of Babylon, while in the eyes of the world might not have been in a the best choice, but spiritually it was excellent. When they left, there was a cost, it cost them their homes, their friends, and their families, despite going into a mostly unknown situation. This choice, however, showed that they were willing to trust in God, instead of their selves. Finally, it was because of this choice that the Scriptures remember them instead of the countless who had stayed behind.

“Finding one’s name on a list is frequently satisfying and encouraging; it gives assurance that arrangements have been made—that one is expected, valued, and privileged. Such was surely the case with these numbered here among the people God was welcoming back to the land of promise, a land that represented God’s commitment to redeem the earth from sin and judgment and to establish a divine and eternal kingdom of righteousness.”[25]

Comment: There will be times where we are asked to do hard things, where connected to this may mean a lost to our current way of life. Where we may lose friends, or family, or even our home. Where God calls us in such a dramatic way, that we must step into the unknown, uncertain of what awaits us. We need to have the same courage as many of the men and women of these families who trusted in God as they strove to return to Judea.

We will sometimes be walking into the dark, walking into a situation we know we have been led by God, but uncertain of the uncertainties attached to it. Yet as God gave these people courage, he too can and does give us strength and courage to continue the day. Let us strive to be faithful to him.

“The sons of Gibbar, 95. The sons of Bethlehem, 123. The men of Netophah, 56. The men of Anathoth, 128. The sons of Azmaveth, 42. The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. The men of Michmas, 122. The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. The sons of Nebo, 52. The sons of Magbish, 156. The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. The sons of Harim, 320. The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. The sons of Jericho, 345. The sons of Senaah, 3,630.”

2.20 Here, Ezra has moved from listing people by their ancestors, and now is listing them based on places. [26] Like the previous section, nearly twenty different places are mentioned in this passage, some of the cities are well known areas, but most are not.[27] The lesser known places were likely small villages that had no real historical significance.[28] These villages, were, also all rather close to Jerusalem.[29] That is about a 25 mile radius.[30] Indicating, perhaps, the small remnant returning.

Why the list has shifted from a focus on family names to now place names is uncertain. It has been suggested that perhaps, it was because the first set were the richer of the returners, while this second set “represent the poor of the land.”[31] This second set had no specific land grant like that of the first, perhaps instead only a generally idea of where they had come, or where Persia was placing them. They would still have been able to prove their descent, just not their land.

Some of these places are well known, while others were likely listed because the people had retained some sort of traditional knowledge of the locality to which they had belonged. [32] The descendents from places are arranged in a generally geographic ordering, beginning in the south with Bethlehem and moving to toward the north, northwest with Jericho and Senaah.[33]

The Children of Gibbar, likely this is supposed to be the children of Gibeon.[34]  This is actually rather interesting, when realizes that ten tribes did not return, but the Gibeonites, and Solomon’s servants return, despite not being the Chosen people.[35]

1.23 The men of Anathoth, one might need to be reminded of the city’s appearance in Jeremiah 32. [36] In that chapter, Jeremiah had purchased a field, prior to the Exile, which might had saw as foolish. [37] Yet God had known that there would be return, and so Jeremiah’s purchase, would have again been of value.[38] In fact, God had directed Jeremiah to purchase this land, as a sign of the return, and the men of Anathoth would be able to return, because of Jeremiah’s purchase.[39]

Another note of interest is the fact that number of men returning to Anathoth is one of the smaller numbers, 128, there were few of these descendents returning due to their mistreatment of Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 11.21,23; Isa. 10.30).[40]

Comment: The Lists, as one commentator noted, “serves the practical purpose of assuring the restoration community that they had not arrived upon the scene from out of the blue but were in fact solidly established upon their ancestral roots as emphasized by their family pedigrees and upon their ancestral homes as emphasized by their territorial situation.”[41]

God had promised a returned and was able to fulfill that promise, the people had indeed returned as Jeremiah had noted in the purchasing of the land. He remembered not only those of important families, but also those who could only claim a general sense of their ancestor’s home. God is able to keep of this in mind and this shows he was more concerned, not just with family prestige, or ancestral homes, the presence of Gibeon indicate that God is also not merely concerned with his people. Instead, he is concerned with true believers, which this return comprised of, it was made those who were striving to be truly faithful.

As we go through our lives we need to seek to be faithful to God, not for prestige, not for a sense of look how well we’ve done, but instead to be able to say, that we have sought the Lord with all of hearts, for what he has done for us. That we can, like these people, strive to follow God even in these difficult times.


[1] Fensham, 48.

[2] Fensham, 48.

[3] Poole, 1:869.

[4] Breneman, 75.

[5] Pulpit 21

[6] Pulpit, 17

[7] Butler, 15.

[8] Poole, 1:869.

[9] Butler, 15.

[10] Fensham, 49.

[11] Simson, 385.

[12] Butler, 15

[13] Simson, 385.

[14] Breneman, 76.

[15] Myers, 12.

[16] Butler, 15-16.

[17] Breneman, 77.

[18] Breneman, 77.

[19] Breneman, 75.

[20] Butler, 16.

[21] Poole, 1:869.

[22] Poole, 869-70.

[23] Myers, 13.

[24] Breneman, 77.

[25] Breneman, 77.

[26] Pulpit, 17.

[27] Butler, 16.

[28] Butler, 16.

[29] North, 387.

[30] Simson, 385.

[31] Williamson, WBC, 34.

[32] Pulpit, 17.

[33] Fensham, 52.

[34] Pulpit, 17.

[35] Pulpit, 21.

[36] Ironside, 18.

[37] Ironside, 18.

[38] Ironside, 18.

[39] McGee, 2:482.

[40] Henry, 2:798.

[41] Throntvelt, 20

Sermon on Ezra 1

 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers,  30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

Introduction

“ In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”” – Ezra 1.1-1.4

1.1 Ezra, begins with a rather common opening for Hebrew narratives, “And…” which could be translated various ways.[1] It helps to connect this event with the preceding narratives of Chronicles and Kings. That this is the next step in the history of God’s people.

Cyrus, compared to Nebuchadnezzar and Persia compared to Babylon were quite different from each other, Babylon, to strive to keep peace through its realm tried to enforce it through force, through exile, such Judah’s case.[2] Cyrus instead, strove to keep the peace, by allowing the various displaced people of the Babylonian wars to return, such as the case with the Jews.[3] (As well as being attested for by various inscriptions of his freeing other people exiled by Babylon).[4]

We are told that this is the first year of Cyrus’ rule, this points to the first year of his rule following the conquering of Babylon, which happened roughly around 539 BC, under his general Ugbaru.[5] Perhaps the writer wanted to focus on this part of Cyrus’ reign since this was what was important for Jewish history. This decree is likely to have happened in the fall of 538 BC.[6]

The writer is clear that Yahweh drove Cyrus to action, it helps to show the case of the sovereignty of God, God’s hand affects all nations, not just Israel in the past, and he guides unbelievers toward his plans as well.[7] This is a common Old Testament thought, that Yahweh rules and directs the world , so the original readers would have nodded in agreement with this statement.[8]

Connected to this, is Jeremiah prophecy, likely 29.10: ““For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” That is the length of the Exile had come to an end, however one tries to calculate it doesn’t matter, the point is that the prophecy of old was fulfilled.[9]

This proclamation, would have been made by heralds going throughout the land and communicating it by word, it would have been written down and given to the community for proof the proclamation, however. Therefore, the writer, easily could have had access to a copy of it for the work.[10]

1.2 Cyrus, refers to Yahweh by name and further by the tile of God of heaven.

Likely Cyrus merely recognized Yahweh among the many gods of his people, and he may indeed have accepted that Yahweh was one of the gods who had brought him victory.[11] In the Cyrus Cylinder he praises Marduk, the Babylon’s chief God, for his victory, and here he ascribes it to Yahweh, perhaps because it was an edict to the Jews, or because he had learned of the prophecies concerning him.[12]

1.3 Build the House, it may be that Cyrus was directed toward the prophecy of Isaiah (44.28;45.13) that he would help in the rebuilding of God’s temple.[13] “who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ””

I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the Lord of hosts.

Josephus makes this claim as well.[14]

1.4 The final part of the decree, concerns making “provisions of funds for building the temple.”[15] This decree is directed to every survivor, likely this is referring to all of the exiled Jews, it is also likely that the people of the place refers to Jews as well, those who would staying behind, which Cyrus directs to support the returning Jews.[16]  Furthermore, the ones staying behind likely were given this command since many would have been rich and the one who could easily give most.[17]

(It is very likely that this decree was in some way written by the assistance of Jews, either through Jewish court officials, or Jew sought by officials).[18]

Comment: God is not caught off guard, he is in control and is able to bring his plans to their end goal. The Exile happened, but connected to it, were the promises of God that it would end and that his people would be restored. Cyrus is moved to make this decree and however it might be explained, by the secular eye, the writer to Ezra knew that God was in control of it all.

There is much which God controls and directs that we so often do not realize, however, God is in control. God is sovereign over all, that whatever leaders in ruling the rule so to speak, they are there because God has let them, and may perhaps have a use for them, even when we scratch our heads and wonder how. God is able to direct and is able to accomplish his goals even though a leader doesn’t realize God’s hand upon it. It would be better not be like Cyrus, but like the others in this passage however.

 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered.” – Ezra 1.5-1.6

1.5 The people who are returning of what comprise of the Jewish people, that is men and women of the tribe of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, the other tribes are not part of this picture.[19] The other tribes had belonged to the other kingdom, which had been exile and who never returned. Of this group, returning it is only a small handful of pious people.[20]

Three groups of people are pointed out, the Chiefs, the priests, and the Levites, with the chiefs or fathers referring to men who would have been the head of their tribal clans.[21] Not all of the people in these positions of authority seemed to have tried to go back, only those whom God had stirred up.[22]

Many of the Jews who would return were not the richest and likely rather “ill equipped,” for what awaited them in Jerusalem.[23] Verse 6, however, indicates that their kinsmen supported them somewhat for what awaited them.[24]

1.6 Not all of the Jews would return, many remained for a variety of reasons, A) many had become prosperous in this land of exile and B) enjoyed a great amount of freedom, so that there we no push to return.[25] The use of all, would seem to indicate that everyone of the Jews who did not return in some way tried to make an offering for the temple.[26] It may well, be that these verse is also referring to the fact that non-Jewish neighbors helped them as well, perhaps God had moved the gentiles in much the same way he did the Egyptians in the Exodus account.[27]

Comment : In the return, we see several examples of the way in which God moves a person’s spirit, first we see by  decree of Cyrus, for the people to return and build, this would have encouraged many, and secondly we see by God working at their spirit to help motivate them, that in some way he showed them personally the way that he wanted to direct their paths.[28]

As God can work on the national level, he can also work on the individual level. There are many times where God is working with us, closing doors, so to speak and opening others. Where he is prompting us, with little encouragements and the various ways that he helps to understand if we are going toward the right path.

As the people who would return, were directed and went rightly back to Jerusalem we need to be men and women who seek to follow God and the promptings in our lives. To seriously speak with him in prayer about the decisions we have to make and to help us focus on the paths we will have to take. To trust him in all things.

“Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers,  30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1.7-1.11

1.7 Nebuchadnezzar is related in several passages as taking from the Treasury, such as 2 Kings 24.13; 25.13-16; 2 Chronicles 36.10, 18; Jeremiah 52.17-19.[29] Nebuchadnezzar had placed these relics in the temples of his God for two reasons, as a victory trophies and as tokens of the supposed superiority of his god.[30]

1.8 Cyrus, once again reverses what Nebuchadnezzar had done, and so returns these treasures. Verse 8 also shows that Cyrus worked through his officials, here we see it is Mithredath, who gives the vessels back.[31] (Ezra could have easily of known this via court records).[32]Mithredath is called the treasure, and it likely refers to a high position among Cyrus’ financial officials, (or as Batten suggests the treasurer of the temple)[33] outside of this, we know nothing of him.[34]

Mithredath entrust the sacred vessels to Sheshbazzar, the identify of who is debated. At one point, Sheshbazzar was equated with Zerubbabbel, but most scholars now disagree with this.[35] Instead most prefer to see the two as distinct persons. That Sheshbazzar was perhaps the first Governor of the providence, who died early on, to be replaced by Zerubbabel.[36] His name is clearly Babylonia in origins, meaning either Shamas protects the son or Sin protects  the father.[37] The apocryphal work 1 Esdras and Josephus both saw Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel as different people.[38] His role, like his identity, is rather uncertain, though it seems that Zerubbabel succeeded him.[39] Despite being called a prince in most translation, this phrase is also ambiguous merely meaning he was given some sort of authoritative position.[40] It is likely that he was prominent leader of the tribe of Judah, but whether he was of Davidic descent is merely
“speculative.”[41]

(It is suggested that Sheshbazzar may be the Shenzzar of 1 Chronicles 3.18; both of whose names could easily go back to the babylonian form Sin-Ab-usur. This Shenzzar was the son of King Jehoiachin, and could therefore make Sheshbazzar Zerubbables’s uncle.).[42]

1.9-1.10 Various translations differ on the vessels listed in 1.9-10, due to uncertainty and so translations may different widely in this passage.[43]

1.11 5,400, does not equal the sum of the articles mention, but it mad simply be due to copist mistakes or account errors on the part of the Persians.[44] In any case, this passage show that the Exiles did not return empty handed (likely Cyrus wanted to further appease them) and so what was taken for wroship was returned.[45] Sheshbazzar, dealt not only with receiving the temple treasures, but he also led the expedition back to Jerusalem.[46]

The writer gives no details concerning the journey back home, though it was a trip that likely took about 100 days.[47]

Comment: God prompted the way for the journey to open up and then he provided the way for it to take place, as he did in the case of the Exodus. If there is a task that God wants to accomplish he provides help, sometimes not as dramatic as what is seen here, and it doesn’t mean that the task will be easy, for the rebuilding of the temple will take time. Yet God will be there with his people and as mentioned will send help in a variety of ways.

As we go through life seeking the will of God, he will direct our paths, he will help to guide us and strengthen us. To provide encouragements and help us along the way. These things may be difficult tasks, but there is the hope of the eternal reward at the end. Therefore we should be in constant communication with God and seek him as we try to do his will.

Conclusion


[1] Fensham, 42.

[2] Fensham, 10.

[3] Fensham, 10.

[4] Short, 489.

[5] Fensham, 42.

[6] Batten, 55.

[7] Lewis, 6-7.

[8] Fensham, 43.

[9] Fensham, 42-43.

[10] Fensham, 43.

[11] Fensham, 44.

[12] Batten, 57.

[13] Short, 489.

[14] Short, 489.

[15] Batten, 59.

[16] Fensham, 44.

[17] Batten, 60.

[18] Fensham, 44.

[19] Fensham, 45.

[20] Fensham, 45.

[21] Batten, 65.

[22] Batten, 65-66.

[23] Fensham, 10.

[24] Fensham, 45.

[25] Fensham, 10.

[26] Batten, 66.

[27] Williamson, 426.

[28] Lewis, 11-12.

[29] Fensham, 45.

[30] Batten, 66.

[31] Fensham, 45.

[32] Fensham, 45.

[33] Batten, 67.

[34] Fenshem, 46.

[35] Fensham, 46.

[36] Short, 490.

[37] Fensham, 46.

[38] North, 386.

[39] Fensham, 46.

[40] Fensham, 46.

[41] Williamson, 426.

[42] Shot, 490.

[43] Williamson, 426.

[44] Williamson, 426.

[45] Simson, 384-85.

[46] Batten, 68.

[47] North, 386.

The Exile

2 Chronicles 36.17-21

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. 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. 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. 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, 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.

What led up to the Exile?

God had warned his people of a coming Exile, of a time where they would have to face the consequences for their sins. God had begun this warning, back when the people were still wanderers in the desert, in the time of Moses he had warned of this ultimate punishment. For example

Lev. 26.33: “And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

Deuteronomy 28. 64. “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.

God had warned the people that there would be a series of warnings leading up to a final warning, which was the expulsion of the people from the land. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God first tells the people that if they obey him, that they would experience all sorts of blessings, from rain at the correct time to victory in the various battles that they would face. That those who would turn to the Lord would be blessed. However, God also warned them early on, that to disobey was to throw away these blessings.

However, he begins in verse 27.16 of Leviticus or

Deuteronomy 28.15 ““But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

By showing that it was series of sins that would produce the curse, and that at multiple instances the people could repent and be saved of his wrath.

God begins to warn them, that diseases, and sickness, would come to the land, that poor harvest would come to the land, that the enemy would prevail in battles fought. If this events would still not bring about a change in the hearts of the people, he would stop the rains, and bring famine to the land, he would send wild animals against the people and their livestock.

If all of this would still not change the people’s way, he would send enemies into the land, harsher diseases, harsher limits on food to the point of cannibalism, to the destructions of cities, and finally the enemy would chase them out of the land.

The people should have known, therefore, that their sins would lead to punishment, God had been very clear on that issues within the books of the Law and not only in Leviticus, but also in Deuteronomy. If this warning was not enough, God sent his prophets to warn the people multiple times, for example Zephaniah 2.1-3:

Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect before the day passes away like chaff before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you  the day of the anger of the Lord. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.

He did indeed send various famines and enemies as preludes to try and give the people a chance to return to him. The People of Judah saw the Exile even of Israel and should have known all the better that the Lord had a limit to the mercy he was showing.

The Exile was merely one final step after a long series of warnings. The Exile should never of needed to happen, but it did. It happened because the people refused to the listen to God and instead desired to follow the ways of their own heart. Despite this, despite the Exile, God did not and would not abandon his people, in time they would be restored to the Land and as a people.

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30.1-3

God had said way back when in Deuteronomy 30.1-3 that the Exile would indeed happen, that the people would be scattered, but that there was coming a day when they would be restored would be collected up.

The returns in Ezra-Nehemiah did not bring all the people back, and they would be scattered once more; the return in 1948 has not brought all of his people back yet, but one day God will restore his people. Ezekiel and Revelation are certain on that.

Comment: God is a God of mercy and even in the midst of this punishment, one can discern that we follow a God of second chances, a God who forgives and shows mercy even to those who deserve not at all. God is a God of mercy. He forgives his people, he gives chances for the nation to come back to him, even though they desire their own will and their own gods.

God desires that people turn to him and those who have said to have placed their trust in God, he desires that if they have fallen away, that they would return to him. At points, like Israel, that forces his hand and so he must led people to repentance through various punishments. There are certain people who need to ask when they are going through trials, is it because of my sin. Of a lifestyle that is completely void of God? Is the Lord trying to send me a wake up call? God desires us to follow him, not to go against him, but as a loving father at times he will indeed send punishment

Why the Exile?

The Exile happened then because of the people’s continued disobedience to God. For example, The Lord told Jeremiah this, (16.10-13).

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’

The sins of the people were many, Nehemiah 9.30 points that they had not listened to God. They had instead chosen a path for themselves, of their own desires. A path that led them to exile

Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

Their path of sin was connected to idolatry.

They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds.” (Psalm 106.34-39)

A path warned about and seen as rather foolish.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.” (115.4-11)

Their path of sin was connected not only to idolatry, but also not observing the Sabbath years of rests commanded by  the Lord.

For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield,  but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.”Exodus 23.10-11

or

but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.”Leviticus 25.4-5.

This second reasoning is connected to the length of the Exile.

This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 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.”Jeremiah 25.11-14.

 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.”2 Chronicles 36.21.

“In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” Daniel 9.2.

If one were to take into account the length of the Exile, 70 years, we get 70 years of missed Sabbath years. Since the Sabbath year was ever 7 years, we would have to go back to 490 years, that the last Sabbath year was celebrated during the time of Eli. (Some suggest instead this should be taken a little more loosely, i.e. that it should start from the time of the Judges to the end of kingdoms, where surely some kings like David were faithful followers). In any case, there were a significant amount of disobedience on this special year.

Generally, it is thought the Exile began from the first deportation in 605 or 604 BC to the Decree of Cyrus in 539 BC, although some place the marking of the exile from the Destruction of the temple 586 BC to the dedication of the Second Temple in 516 BC. In anycase, the Exile lasted 70 years because of the sins of the people, that they chased other Gods, they did not heed the word of God, and that in generally pointed toward themselves and not God.

We need to take into account what it is we put before God in our lives. What idol do we place before the Lord? What part of our selfish desires do we say earns a more prominent spot before the Lord? Do we continue to let this take hold of our lives, or instead do we strive change this and to direct our lives toward the Lord? Do we want to follow the path of Israel and Judah?

What happened in the Exile?

Before Judah, had been exiled, Israel had faced the wrath of Yahweh and had been deported by the king of Assyria. Of the exiles of Israel we know very little. Many of them, quite likely had simply assimilated into the societies they had been brought to. Of the exiles of Judah, we know significantly more, than we do of the people of Israel.

The Book of Ezra-Nehemiah begins, with Cyrus proclaiming that the people can return to the promise land, and that they should upon returning rebuild the House of God. Ezra describes the return of the Jews from Exile in 538 BCE, the book further describes the rebuilding of Jerusalem, specifically the temples in 538-420 BCE. Not all of the people returned from the Exile. Many instead had come to accept the conditions of the Exile, and chose to remain as strangers in another land.

Of those who had remained in the land, it may likely have to deal with the prophecy of Jeremiah in 29.4-7.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In response to this, the people seemed to have settled at least two towns in Babylon according to the extra-biblical record, the town of Yahudu and the town of Nashar. Psalm 137 mentions a group of exiles by the river, and both the towns of Yahudu and Nashar fit this description. The Biblical record, also mentions that e community was settled by the Chebar river Ezekiel 1.1 which is in Telabib.

Besides the dispersion of the people of Judah, the Exile had a number of other effects upon the people. The Exile forced Aramaic to be the predominate language of the Jewish people, replacing Hebrew, in fact it also replaced the way the people wrote Hebrew; The Exile also shifted the Jewish people toward the Babylonian Calendar, instead of the Hebrew one; many took on Babylonian instead of Hebraic names, and the Exile had profound impact on the religion of the people.

This final major change that the Exile brought is of most import. It was a renewal of the relationship between God and his people.

The people in Exile went under the hard hand of Babylon, where they would meet idolatry in way that they had never experienced before. As Ironside puts it, “It was to cure the people of Judah of their deeply rooted love for idolatry that Jehovah gave them up to serve the Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation” (p. 11). By and large, after the Exile, the people never turned toward graven images again, and the word of God finally took a centerpiece in the lives of the men and women who returned.

Although by the time of the NT, this would have been replaced with a “cold intellectual bibliolatry” of the Pharisaic religion. But at the end of the Exile, many had gotten it, Daniel, perhaps is one of the best examples, with his prayer given in chapter nine of his book. He had acknowledged the sins of the people of Judah and had prayed for forgiveness and mercy from Yahweh, despite the people’s actions.

 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” Daniel 9.16-19

Sermon Judges 3.7-11

Judges 3.7-11

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9 But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10  The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11  So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.”

Introduction: We read this evening from the book if Judges, in particular we are reading about the first of the deliverers of Israel in what is considered on Israel’s darkest ages. When we read through Judges a common pattern emerges, the people sin, God punishes them, they cry out, and God sends a deliverer.

This account should be read partly an example, what happens here is followed  roughly by the other Judges, but Othniel is the model of how it was done right.[1] In many ways, the account that we are looking at today is sort of formulaic account, there is a pattern set here by Othniel, in this period the people will largely follow this pattern, but Othniel is one of the few to end on a high note, as oppose to Samson or Gideon for example.[2]

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” Judges 3.7 The People’s Sins

This account in the book of Judges, begins with the simple statement of “the Israelite’s did evil,” but then gives further detail of what this evil was, namely they forgot Yahweh and instead served other gods, namely Baal and Asherah.[3]

Specially one should note that author stresses that the people forgot their God, but the Hebrew is more forceful than that.[4] They had more than a mere case of being “absent-minded,” they weren’t simply forgetful.[5] Instead when you read this you should read, “They choose to disregard and to not take into account Yahweh.”[6]

Part of this comes from their intermingling with the Canaanites, as verse 6 notes.[7] The Israelites instead of obeying God’s commands to make the land their own, had instead settled for letting the other people of the land do as they pleased and even intermarried each other.[8]

Instead, they took into account, Baal and Asherah.  Asherah was often connected with wooden poles near where she was worshipped as; hence KJV’s sacred Grove.[9]  Furthermore according to ANET she was the mother goddess; hence important to the Canaanites.[10] Asherah would remain a problem for the Israelites and it appears that later in their apostasy they moved their belief from her as consort to Baal to that of YHWH.[11]

Baal was the storm god of the Levant, a major god who was considered the most powerful.[12] When referred to in the plural it seems to be indicating the various local manifestations of Baal. Like Asherah, Baal was a god that he Israelites kept turning to, up to the time of the exile.[13]

The author is not concerned so much about the specifics of the Canaanite paganism, so he gives two important gods of the false religion to show they had fallen.[14] The Israelites in essence had traded their living God, the God who had interacted directed into their story and brought them out of Egypt for gods made of stone and wood.[15]

As Daniel Block also noted, “The lofty theology, austere morality, and abstract cult of Yahwism is replaced with the exciting fertility religion.”[16]

The people of Israel instead of following Yahweh as he had commanded had instead chosen the easy path. They choose to sit back and not worry about the things of the Lord. Furthermore, they continued to disregard him, and chose instead to follow other idols that were more congenial to their own specific desires.  The people in so short a generation had forgotten the God who had take them out of Egypt, who had helped to conquer portion of the promised land.

For a moment we might be tempted to say, that we would never fail in this way. But why our gods may not be made out stone or wood, were certainly find idols and ideologies to replace God with. How often might we spend on Facebook, watching TV, or playing videos games and how little on studying and reading the scriptures. As Isreal would often replace, or put alongside Yahweh other gods, too often in our American Christianity we do the same sin. This ought not be. God is to placed first and God is not to be forgotten in the craziness of life. Let us strive not to forget Christ.

“Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.” God’s response Judges 3.8

God’s response to the his people and this blatant sin is that of righteous anger and so the people are given to Cushan.[17]

Yahweh’s response to the Israelite’s disobedience is to give them away, the Hebrew term here refers often to a person selling his or her goods completely of their own will.[18] This phrase could also be translated as “Yahweh sold Israel.”[19] In essence, this was completely God’s choice, he wasn’t caught off guard about this.

Earlier in their history Yahweh had warned his people what would happened if they abandoned him; Deuteronomy 7.4 .[20]

Rishathaim can be translated literally as the Double Wicked. This could perhaps be a term given to him by his enemies.[21] This suggest that this was not his real name and though there have been various suggestions by scholars of who Cushan could really be, we simply don’t have enough data to know for sure.[22]

Cushan appears to have been from the area of northen Mesopotamia, modern day around Iraq-Syria.[23] Cushan coming from Syria is significant because it shows that out of the various enemies seen in Judges, he is the strongest, for Cushan to have been able to keep the people in his grip for eight years, despite the distance in territory is amazing.[24] Some scholars wonder if perhaps he had hopes for Egypt.[25]

God responded to Israel’s disregard of him by sending them a punishment in the form a foreign oppressor. The account is clear that Yahweh has the option of doing what he can to his people, but also to the world at large. His actions here, as verse nine indicates are for a purpose and throughout the book Judges, each time the people sin, he punishes them to turn them around.

Sin is a nasty thing, it is a part of us that can only be gotten rid of through the help of God. Through accepting the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work within us and that we are daily striving to be more and more Christ-like. We all have our ups and downs on the path toward heaven. Sometimes, a part of our growth is God’s interaction in bringing trials in our lives. Part of our growth is God allowing our mistakes their full affects on us and that we may realize that sin doesn’t get us anywhere at all.

Sadly some who had at once point in their life acknowledge God, have completely abandoned him. God is still there waiting for them, but they need to acknowledge God once more. God strives to get our attention, but too often we would choose rather to ignore him that than seek him.

“9 But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.”Judges 3.9 – The People’s Cry and God’s Response

Eight years pass under this oppression before the Israelites finally turn back to Yahweh and cry out to him.[26] They cried out, probably not only privately, but also in a public assembly.[27] Earlier in the book, Yahweh is moved to action through seeing their suffering, 2.18.[28] Their cry seems to be not so much a cry of penitence, but rather one of “simply… of pain, a cry for help.”[29] So now God is moved in a different way, by their cry for help, not by pity because their problems were self-induced.[30]

We have God who is merciful, who has chosen so often to give us blessings when all we deserve are cursings. There was nothing stopping God from starting over with humanity when Adam and Eve first sin, there was nothing stopping God from destroying us the moment of our first sin. But God in his infinite mercy and grace, in his steadfast love, sent his son for us! We have the option of salvation because of who God is. That Yahweh who is a God of justice is also a God of mercy and loving-kindness.

All that Yahweh wanted of his people was for them to acknowledge him as their God, to turn away from their disregard of him. The moment the people together  sought God, he answered their prayers!

God raises up Othniel, a man who was known already as a hero and who likely would have been easily able to gain allies.[31] josh 15.15-20; judges 1.12ff Yahweh raises him up, meaning in a more simpler term, God choose Othniel for this task.

Othniel was in many ways a perfect choice, namely besides being known, he was related to Caleb, one of the two faithful spies, who along with Joshua was the only one of his generation allowed in the land, making Othniel one of the last links to the generation that had interacted with Moses.[32] Moreover, Othniel in the earlier accounts is known to not have sinned in marrying an non-israelite, but Achsah, Caleb’s daughter.[33] Moreover, it seems that Othniel was ready for the challenge, to serve God, to “call the nation back to faith.”[34]

“The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.” Judges 3.10-11 – God’s Strength and Land’s Rest

10 In the book of Judges, the judge or deliverer is often called by the descending of God’s spirit, or his spirit appears in their act of judging or delievering.[35] When reading of Yahweh’s spirit in the Old Testament we should not quickly think of it in the same sense as it appears in the New Testament.[36] When Yahweh’s Spirit comes upon a person, its affect is to give them the power to do extraordinary things.[37] When the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon a person in the Old Testament, it empowers and makes them ready for the task god gives them.[38]

Moreover, this act of God shows that the selection of the judges in this book, was an divinely led act, and the Judges’ authority comes from God.[39] Othniel will differ from some of the other judges, in that he appeared to have not let this special blessing go to his head and lead to corruption later on.[40]

Despite Othniel’s experience and his natural ability, he still needed the help of God.[41] In fact, the author appears to have purposefully, separated the two accounts of Othniel, to help stress God’s action and direction of Othniel in saving his people.[42] None of Othniel’s abilities could have helped to have saved his nation, rather, it is purely based on God’s power, it was God who had raised him up and is God who empowers him with his spirit.[43] In essence, Othniel was merely the tool and only God could be credited with saving Israel.

Othniel’s victory is given in a rather terse and quick sentence, he fought, Yahweh gave him the victory and he won. Yet this sentence is a reverse of what Yahweh had done to the Israelites, they had been sold to Cushan who is now sold to Othniel, who over powers him.[44]

God empowered Othniel to defeat the enemies of Israel, in fact, despite his clear accomplishments, God’s presence was continually with Othniel this exploit, showing God’s hand upon this deliverer. But also showing that the deliverance was not thanks to Othniel, but thanks to Yahweh.  All over our efforts are in reality meaningless, our talents our not for our praise, but for God’s. It is God who has given us these talents and it s God who empowers us to do great things!

Othniel was a prefect person for the job, but God had given him a task that he could never have done on his own, but Yahweh stayed right there with him and sent his spirit to help him! This is the same with us today in the Church. Whatever task God is leading us to do, often we have no hope of accomplishing it outside of God’s help. But God is right there, God right here with us now and he here to help. No matter the circumstance we can always depend upon God. For he is able, when we certainly are unable.

“when an individual who has been called by God into his service challenges the forces of evil and darkness in his [God’s] power, the hosts of heaven and earth are dethroned. Herein lies the hope for the moribund church today, in the words of Yahweh himself, through his prophet Zechariah, victories are won “not by might or by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6).”[45]

11 This account ends with a statement of rest for the land followed by Othniel’s death being recorded. The land, not the people is at rest for forty years, likely a round number, but even if not, it means a generation has rest.[46]

What is significant of this phrase is the Othniel is recorded, basically as doing the deed God had given him and having not made things worse, the land was able to rest after Othniel, unlike some of the other judges.[47]

Othniel does the task that Yahweh had given him and it appears that he doesn’t try to get in Yahweh’s way. As the book of Judges progresses, there will be those judges who make a mess of things, because they place self before God, but Othniel appears to have remembered that his accomplishments were thanks be to God.


[1] Hoppe, 117.

[2] Matthews, 55.

[3] Block, 151.

[4] Block, 151.

[5] Boling, 80.

[6] Block, 151.

[7] Davis, 128.

[8] Schneider, 37.

[9] Crossan, JBC, 152.

[10] Block, 151.

[11] Block, 151.

[12] O’Conner, 136.

[13] O’Conner, 136.

[14] Soggin, 45.

[15] Block, 151.

[16] Block, 152.

[17] Schneider, 37.

[18] Soggin, 45-6.

[19] Boling, 80.

[20] Schneider, 38.

[21] Davis, 129.

[22] Block, 153.

[23] Webb, 269.

[24] Block, 152.

[25] Block, 152.

[26] Davis, 129.

[27] Boling, 81.

[28] Boling, 81.

[29] Block, 153.

[30] Hoppe, 118.

[31] Davis, 129.

[32] Schneider, 39.

[33] Schneider, 39.

[34] Armerding, 317.

[35] Soggin, 46.

[36] Boling, 81.

[37] Boling, 81.

[38] Block, 155.

[39] Matthews, 56.

[40] Matthews, 56.

[41] Davis, 130.

[42] Schneider, 40.

[43] Block, 154.

[44] Block, 155.

[45] Block, 155-56.

[46] Block, 155.

[47] Schneider, 43.