Christ in All the Scriptures
by A.M. Hodgkin
- III. Christ in the Historical Books
11. Ezra --
- The decree of Cyrus is one of the most remarkable proofs that God's Spirit speaks to those outside the covenant of His grace. Seventy years before, Jeremiah had prophesied the return of the Children of Israel from Babylon at this time [Jer 25:12; 29:10]. Isaiah, a hundred and seventy years before, foretold that one who did not know God, but whom He called by name-- Cyrus-- was to perform all God's will in the restoration of His people [Isa 45:1-6]. The Hebrew text reads Koresh for this name, instead of Kuresh, which latter would be the exact form for Cyrus. But the Hebrew points (vowel signs) were not inspired-- not occurring in the ancient [manuscripts]; the word, therefore, could be read either way, and no doubt is to be read Kuresh, when it exactly represents Cyrus. A marvellous prophecy, naming him long before he was born. It may well be that Daniel drew the attention of the great Persian conqueror to these prophecies, and that Cyrus learned much from him about the religion of the one true God.
God's Spirit was at work also among His people, stirring many of them up, to take this opportunity to return to Jerusalem and build the Temple. It was only the bitter persecution they had met with in Egypt that led them to come out from that land, leaving not a soul behind. In Babylon, on the other hand, they had prospered, and it was only those ''whose spirit God had raised'' who were willing to go back under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest. They numbered in all nearly 50,000 [ch. 2]; a very small remnant compared to the numbers of the old days of Israel's prosperity, and also compared to the number who remained behind in Babylon.
- The Key-note of this book is Restoration; for in this faithful remnant, we have a picture of restoration from backsliding, of individual faithfulness, and of a true effort after a closer walk with God. The worldliness and unbelief that we see all around us in the Church today need be no hindrance to a faithful walk, on our part, with the God who is still calling us to come out and be separate unto Himself [2Cor 6:17,18].
The restored remnant seem to have begun at the core, and to have worked from within outwards. They did not begin with building up the walls, nor even with building the Temple, but ''they builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the Law of Moses, the man of God, and they kept the feast of Tabernacles'' [ch. 3]. At the very heart of this book, we see Christ and His great atoning work in these burnt offerings. The restored people are pointed forwards to Him that was to come. And every soul that returns from its backsliding today must begin afresh at the foot of the Cross.
The next step was laying the foundation of the Temple amidst praise and thanksgiving. But some of the old men who remembered the glory of the former house wept with a loud voice, so that the people could not distinguish between the shouts of joy and of weeping. As the restored soul rests back upon the one foundation-- Christ Jesus-- there is mingled the sadness over wasted days with the joy of restored communion.
- We next come to a very practical lesson for the Church of Christ today, on the need of separation for service. The adversaries of the Jews were semi-heathen Samaritans (ch. 4:1,9,10) whom Shalmanezer, King of Assyria, had transplanted to the cities of Samaria, in the place of the captives whom he had carried into Assyria at the time of the captivity of the ten [northern] tribes. We have a full account of this in 2Kings 17. There we read, also, that the King of Assyria sent back one of the captive priests to teach these people what he called ''the manner of the God of the land.'' The result was that these people ''feared the Lord and served their own gods''; and this mixed worship was perpetuated among their children.
These adversaries showed their hostility first by offering to help build the Temple [ch. 4:2,3]. That is how the world often begins its hostility to the Church today; and we need to take the firm stand these restored Israelites took, and not compromise God's work by accepting such offers of help, or placing unbelievers in prominent positions in our Churches and Sunday Schools. There is a growing tendency in these days to seek to bring about union with the Church of Rome, and meanwhile to join with them in work, through blindness in recognizing that they are as truly ''adversaries'' as were these to whom Zerubbabel refused any share of the building.
The true nature of these men soon came out. They harassed the people of Judah in their work, and at last succeeded in stopping them. But the Lord sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who so encouraged the leaders, that they began to build again in spite of the opposition. Then Tatnai the Governor asked them, ''Who gave you a decree to build this house?'' Not believing their answer, he sent to Darius the king to inquire. The decree of Cyrus was found at Achmetha, or Ecbatana, the summer palace of the king; and, encouraged in every way by Darius, the building went forward to its completion [4:4- 6:15].
- The Samaritan Pentateuch.
- The Samaritans were fiercely hostile to the Jews at this time [ie., the time of Israel's captivities], as we have seen, and their hostility was no less during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, eighty years, and a hundred years, later. In view of this hostility, it is certain that the Samaritans would not have accepted any additions or alterations in the Pentateuch [as modern critics claim were] made by Ezra, for, as we have already seen, they had been taught by a Jewish teacher, sent by the King of Assyria, ''the way of the God of the land,'' which they could only have learned from the writings of Moses as they then were. They had had these writings-- or the teaching drawn from them-- in their possession a hundred and seventy years before Ezra's day, and would never have allowed any additions to be made to them by this their great enemy, or, indeed, by any of the Jews, whom they so scorned and hated. The enmity, we know, was continued down to the time of our Lord [eg., John 4:9], and yet the Samaritans, to this day, possess the whole Pentateuch, which is virtually the same as the Pentateuch of our Hebrew Bible. We seem, then, driven to the conclusion that they must have received their Pentateuch before their enmity with the Jews commenced, which it did eighty years before Ezra's arrival at Jerusalem. The existence of the Samaritan Pentateuch-- written as it is in the ancient Phoenician style of writing-- is a very substantial witness to its antiquity (Dr. Rouse). We have also abundant evidence in this book that the Israelites, likewise, possessed the Law of Moses, the man of God, before the days of Ezra. The altar and burnt offerings and feast of Tabernacles, of Zerubbabel's day, add their testimony to the fact.
As soon as the Temple was finished, the people kept the dedication of it with joy, and among their offerings were ''twelve he goats according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel'' (Ezra 6:16,17). This is one of the proofs that among the remnant which returned were some of the ten tribes of Israel, as well as of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin; as also in the next remnant, which returned under Ezra, when ''twelve bullocks for all Israel'' were offered (8:35). Besides this, before the captivity of Israel, large numbers of those ten tribes ''fell away to Judah'' on account of the idolatry of Israel (see 2Chr 11:14-17 and 31:6). The returned captives were properly representative of the entire nation, and so are the Jewish people throughout the world today, though a number of the ten tribes are no doubt to be found in the Nestorians of Persia [Israel My Glory, p.101, Rev. John Wilkerson]. ''The sharp contrast between Judah and Israel was given up in a strange land. To the ten tribes in the penitent sorrow of the exile, the name of Jerusalem was again a dearly loved and cherished one'' [Commentary on Esther, Dr. Cassel].
After the dedication of the Temple, the returned exiles kept the Passover [Ezra 6:15-22]. We do not often read of the keeping of this feast. In times of backsliding, Israel neglected to keep the feasts of the Lord; the joy went out of their lives. But whenever we do read of the keeping of the Passover, it carries our thoughts back to the Redemption in Egypt and forward to the Redemption wrought out for us on Calvary.
- Between the dedication of the Temple and the return of the next remnant under Ezra [ch. 7,8], there is a gap of sixty years in the history of this book. Then God raised up a great reformer in Ezra. He was by birth a priest. But in Babylon, there was no temple and no altar, so Ezra gave himself instead to the study of God's Law. He was a ready scribe in the Law of Moses, because he had ''prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.'' God's Law was burnt in upon his own soul, and lived out in his life, before he taught it to others. This enabled him to speak with the intensity of conviction.
It was a high tribute to Ezra's character and ability, that Artaxerxes the king gave him a letter authorizing all the people of Israel, who were willing, to go with him, and commanding that he should be supplied with all that was needful for the house of God, and authorizing him to set magistrates and judges to judge the people, and instructing him to teach them the Law of God.
Ezra attributes all his success, the favor of the king, the preparation of the people, the safety of the journey, to the good hand of his God upon him. He was in all things, under the hand of the Lord. Only a few thousand gathered with him at the river Ahava, and there, with fasting and prayer, they committed their way unto the Lord, for Ezra was ''ashamed'' to ask for a guard of soldiers. No doubt, the remembrance of God's deliverance of His people under Esther, which had occurred during the interval of the sixty years [between ch. 6 and 7], made Ezra doubly sure of His protection now.
- A Man in Dead Earnest.
- This interval had been once more a period of backsliding among the Jews at Jerusalem. They had again intermarried with the idolatrous nations around them. The only reason for Israel's existence as a nation was to be a holy people, separated unto the Lord; and when Ezra heard how utterly Israel had failed, he was overcome with grief and ''sat down astonied until the evening sacrifice'' [ch. 9]. Again, at that sacred hour, relief came. He poured out his soul in a deep agony of prayer to God, associating himself with his people in confession of sin. His prayer, coming from his very heart, touched the hearts of the people, and, assembling in great numbers, men, women, and children, they caught the fire of his spirit and ''wept very sore'' [ch. 10]. But this contrition did not end with weeping. They took sides with God against themselves, and promised to stand by Ezra in his work of reformation. It needed all Ezra's courage to carry it through, and no doubt the authority of the king's letter was part of God's provision for His servant. Out of the whole population, there were a hundred and twelve cases of these mixed marriages, and the Law of Moses was applied to them all.