After the Exile:
Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, and Nehemiah
Understanding the Old Testament Lesson #021
June 4, 2000
"Lord, we do thank you for the opportunity we have to come together as a body of believers to worship You this morning through the study of Your Word; that we come to understand Your plans and purposes in history and Your character and how You are forever faithful to Your covenants and Your promises, and how You have brought all things to completion from the Old Testament in the Person and Work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross as our substitute. Now Father, as we study these things we pray that we ay be challenged by them; that our confidence in You might be strengthened for Your honor and glory. We pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen."
We have been studying through the Old Testament to get an orientation to what the Old Testament is all about and I have been trying to answer the question, not so much what are all the facts? What are all the details? What happened when and who and all of that, some of that, but not a whole lot, to give you an overview of the events and answer the question why is it that of all the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hundreds of thousands of events and activities of people that lived from the creation to the Cross; why is it that it is only these few events and these few people that we are told about? Because in light of everything that happened so much is left out, so much is left unrevealed to us about what happened, especially in those years before the flood. Why is it that these things are given to us? And what is it that God is trying to tell us through these events? And what we saw is that when we started off the study in 1 Corinthians 10 is that the New Testament clearly tells us that these things are given to us as an example, a TUPOS. All of these events, all of these things happened to teach doctrine to New Testament believers. When we get into passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where Paul says, “all Scripture is God-breathed” what he has in mind in that particular verse is not New Testament revelation as much as he does Old Testament revelation. He is addressing Timothy and in the context he is talking to Timothy about his background, his training from his parents, and of course, in that context all Timothy had as a young man was the Old Testament.
So in contrast to the view of many people in the Church Age who somehow think, well that’s the Old Testament; it doesn’t relate to today. Somehow even dispensationalists get that idea. That is not the view of the New Testament. The New Testament sees a vital role to the Old Testament and there are many things that we learn there because we can see in those examples, in those people, in those events, in the historical things, how God works in history. That God is in control of history; that God works out His plan and there are many principles of the New Testament Church Age spiritual life that are exemplified for us in these episodes in the Old Testament. Now one last time to review the Old Testament, how it is structured; I am going to beat this into your brain so it can’t escape. Remember, one of the great hallmarks of I think, isagogical, categorical, exegetical teaching is not the principle that I want to teach things so you can remember them, but that I want to teach things so that you can’t forget them. There is a big difference between the two. Now that is what I was taught in seminary. What you want to do is to teach things in such a way that by Sunday afternoon or Monday morning people could at least remember one or two of your points and maybe one application. I figure that is pretty shallow. You want to teach things over and over again so that people can’t forget them.
The Old Testament is divided in the Hebrew into three sections: The Law, The Torah, The Prophets, both the early Prophets and latter Prophets, the Nevi'im and the Writings, the Ketuvim. In our English Bibles we divide it a little differently into five sections:
• The first five books of the Bible make up the first section called the Law, which in the Hebrew is Torah, which is really means “instruction.”
That is the instruction as to how to live and that was written by Moses approximately 1440 B.C. while the Israelites were on the Plains of Moab on the verge of entering into the Promised Land. This is the Exodus generation, the generation that was born in the wilderness, as they are about to advance into God’s plan for the nation.
• Then we have the historical books.
The historical books are divided into the early history: Joshua, Judges. Judges and Ruth were combined in the Hebrew Old Testament, and Joshua, Judges, Ruth and then 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings. 1 and 2 Samuel cover the period of the united kingdom. The reign of Saul, David, and Solomon. Then in 931 B.C. with the death of Solomon the nation goes through an eternal revolt, a civil war, and the ten northern tribes under the leadership of Jeroboam revolts, and that becomes the nation of Israel; and then two tribes stay together in the south in Judah. Now they stay together and they are kept together in order to have that continuous witness of the Davidic Covenant on the throne. God promised David that there would always be his seed on the throne. Now it is important to understand history to understand these covenants and the covenant structure of the Old Testament. Remember it was in light of Abraham’s call that God is working out His purposes now through a unique people through the Israelites, through the Jews, and they are to be the witness. So God is going to demonstrate His faithfulness to that covenant despite their failures and their rejection of Him. Of course in the north they were continuously in a state of rejection and in violation of Him. So finally, in 722 B.C. they are taken out in divine discipline through the conquest of the Assyrians and those ten northern tribes are scattered in sort of a repopulation policy of the Assyrians. Judah stays together until 586 B.C. when the third invasion of Nebuchadnezzar occurs. The temple is destroyed. The city is overrun, and the southern nation goes out under the divine discipline for approximately a 70-year captivity. Then, as we will see in our final lesson this morning in this area, in 539 B.C. Cyrus grants a decree for them to return to the land. This is covered historically in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
• Now if you want to put the other books, the poetic books: Job takes place sometime, probably during the period from the Tower of Babel to the call of Abram. We are not sure. It doesn’t say for sure. The Psalms were written mostly by David, but there are Psalms by Moses, Psalms by many others, even post-exilic Psalms. So these are brought together during the period roughly from about the 10th century up to the 5th century B.C. We have the writings of Solomon: Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes.
• The major prophets of: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and then Daniel.
• Daniel in the English is usually viewed as a prophet. In the Hebrew collection he is part of the writings. That is because Daniel did not hold the office of prophet even though he prophesied. In fact, what I think is that Daniel really belongs in that realm of wisdom literature. We studied wisdom literature with the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I think that there is an element to Daniel being wisdom literature because it’s teaching the Jews how to live wisely in the midst of the times of the Gentiles and that is the prophecy portion of Daniel. It is to let the Jews know that God is going to have a future for the nation, but in the meantime there will be times of the Gentiles. If you are going live wisely you have to understand God’s prophetic timetable so that you can live accordingly.
• The pre-exilic minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, and Micah.
• The post-exilic prophets: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Now that is the overview. That is the structure of the OT. The thematic verse that we saw was from Exodus 19:5-6a when God is calling Moses out to deliver the nation from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 19 says, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This is the purpose for Israel. So in one sense, all of history is; let me coin a word here, “Israelcentric.” All of history is centered on Israel and God’s plans and purposes for Israel. So as God promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, “those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse.” The word there for “curse” is two different words we saw in the Abrahamic Covenant; and that is a literal translation: those who treat you lightly I will curse; I will judge mightily. There is a difference between those two words “curse” in the Hebrew, which indicates how seriously God takes His promise to work out His spiritual blessings through the nation Israel.
Now Israel fails in the OT. They fail and they go out under divine discipline, then they come back and they continue to fail and they reject Christ, who comes as Messiah. Yet God has promised them that there is a future. We have seen this in the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel the last couple of weeks; that God is going to restore the nation in all their glory; that the Shekinah Glory of God that was present in the temple that departed in Ezekiel 11, when Ezekiel had his vision of the Shekinah Glory moving out from the temple up to the mountain and then to heaven. That this Shekinah Glory returns, but it did not return in the OT, and does not return until Christ comes in His millennial kingdom. The point is, there is a future. What we learn from that is a lesson that really comes through in the post-exilic period; and that is a principle of truth for all time: If God has a plan, no matter how things get, if you are still alive God has a plan for our life no matter how you fail, no matter how horrible the circumstances might be, no matter how badly you might have messed up in your life; if you are still alive God still has a plan for your life and God is still faithful to us even though we have been unfaithful to Him. This is what we see during the post-exilic period.
Now to put things into perspective in a biblical timeline here:
What we have here is the period of the divided kingdom. The dark shaded area here is the Babylonian captivity, and then you have the post-exilic period. Now if you look down at this lower line here you see this slightly darker blue line. It is a benchmark period of 500 B.C. The remnant returns around 539–535 B.C., and then you have the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Under their leadership the temple is rebuilt. The temple rebuilding starts here and then the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and then you have your last prophets. Malachi is here, Malachi being the last book of the OT. This is a slightly different bracket to show the relationship of the book. This is 500 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah are written just before that time period in 520 B.C.; and then in the fifth century you have Esther, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah and the last book written is Malachi. So that just kind of helps you orient to this time period.
One thing we have to understand when we get into any of the books, the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, any of the Minor Prophets; we have to understand the historical background. We go back to Isaiah 44:28 and we see the reference to Cyrus the Great. In Isaiah 44:28, so open your Bibles with me to Isaiah 44. This is the great Cyrus oracle. We’ve looked at it a couple of times in our study the last couple of weeks. It took place in the 7th century B.C., so about 150 years before Cyrus was born we have this extremely precise prophecy given by Isaiah to the exile generation. This is what they have with them during the exile to give them comfort. As they have this prophecy they know that God does have a plan. Now at the end of Isaiah he announces that there will be someone who will come and bring them back from captivity. It is so specific He even names him. “It is I,” the “I” there refers to the LORD, who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’” Now this refers to Cyrus who is the first king of the Persian Empire. The dates, his reigning dates, are roughly from 550-530 B.C. He is the one who conquers the Babylonian Empire and will give a decree for the nation Israel to go back to the land to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple.
Let’s go on down. Remember, there were no chapter divisions when Isaiah wrote. So this chapter just divides the Cyrus oracle in an awkward place. Look at Isaiah 45:1-4 “Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand” Notice He calls Cyrus His anointed. That is the Hebrew word Mashiach, which means “anointed one or appointed one.” Some people have suggested that perhaps Cyrus was a believer, but that’s not supported by any evidence either or scriptural or extra-biblical. He is appointed “To subdue nations before him And to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut.” This would be anything that would prohibit the Israelites from returning home. “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places.” Now this is God saying all He will do for Cyrus in order to allow Cyrus to accomplish his goal in relationship to Israel. “In order that you may know that it is I the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me.” So this shows the sovereignty of God over the affairs of man. Jesus Christ controls history and He is the One who raises up kingdoms and the One who destroys kingdoms.
In fulfillment of this prophecy when Cyrus united the Persian Empire by defeating the Medes in approximately 550 B.C. he comes to the throne. In 540 B.C. he defeats the Meads and then he devised a plan to conquer the Babylonians. It is quite a feat of engineering. He brings his army, apparently in secret, either they were in secret or the Babylonians were in such arrogance over the fortress of Babylon. We’ve seen how the walls of Babylon were around 60 feet tall and they were wide enough for chariots to run around the entire parameter, four abreast. It was a mighty fortress. The walls were extremely thick and they felt like they were impregnable. What we see in the map here is the blue line running down through the city is the river Euphrates. What Cyrus did was he divided his army and he took one part of his army, which were his crack troops, and he split them into. He put one unit up on the north side of the city and one on the south side of the city, and one where the river entered, one where the river exited the city, and then he took the majority of his army up north of the city where they had discovered (off the map) a huge bog area. They then dug a trench, a canal to this bog area and diverted the river so that it would overflow into this bog area. The river proceeded through the city and would dry up.
You see the way the Babylonians had built the city (the blue line around the perimeter is the moat.) Once the river was diverted and dried up, then there was an entry way under the gates, under the wall, where the water had been flowing. While the Babylonians are having a huge party, described in Daniel 6 with the handwriting on the wall, and Belshazzar and all the nobles were there and they are having a huge drunken orgy. They think they are impregnable. The army of Cyrus is outside drying up the river Euphrates. They march into Babylon without any opposition, with no battle, and they conquer the Babylonians in one swift blow overnight. They raid the treasury. They take all of the wealth that the Babylonians had accumulated over the years through their conquest including all the temple treasury from when they had conquered Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar had gone into the temple and taken all of the gold. Remember the beauty of Solomon’s temple. He has taken all the gold out and moved all the furniture and everything to Babylon. Well that’s still there. Cyrus institutes a policy. No one knows why he is this way, but his policy is to free the captive peoples. Not just Jews that are captives in Babylon, but there are many other nations that have been conquered by the Babylonians. He sets a policy to restore the native peoples back to their land. He not only is going to give a decree for the Jews to go back to the land, but he is going to send back all the temple articles with them. He is going to give back these things. He doesn’t horde this wealth for himself.
So the first king, to get a little background on the Persian Empire, which is necessary to understand all that goes on during this period. The first great king is Cyrus the Great, who conquers the Meads, then conquers the Babylonians. It is called the Meads and the Persians, but the Persians are the dominant force. It is the Median-Persian Empire. He unites the empire and he institutes this policy to restore captives to their lands. He issues decrees. We do have one cylinder that archeologists have discovered that has on it the decree of Cyrus to the nations to return to their homelands. In 530 B.C. he has an insurrection on the border in Central Asia. He goes out to put down this insurrection and he is mortally wounded in battle. His son Cambyses takes the throne from 530 B.C. to 522 B.C. Now Cambyses is important because he is going to further expand the Persian Empire by conquering Egypt. So he will extend the empire all the way to the borders of Ethiopia. In order to secure his power when he first comes to the throne he has his brother killed, but he doesn’t tell anybody. He tries to keep it secret. It is interesting how things always seem to find you out eventually. But he keeps it secret. Nobody knows that his brother has been killed. So he leaves on a military campaign. He goes down and conquers the Egyptians. He extends the border of Ethiopia.
There is a few that have discovered that the brother is dead and one of these men assumes the identity of his dead brother. The people don’t know that the brother is dead. So somebody comes in and assumes the identity of his brother and claims to be the rightful heir to the throne and takes over. Cambyses has to hurry back to the capital from Egypt and by the time he gets there this imposter has consolidated power. The queue has been victorious. Cambyses takes the honorable way out and commits suicide. The name of the usurper was Dalmata. He only lasted about three months before it was discovered that he was an imposter. So a cousin of Cambyses, a member of the royal family, has Dalmata assassinated. Darius I secedes. He was one of the greater rulers of the Persian Empire from 522-486 B.C. Now he consolidates the kingdom. He puts down various revolts because he has to pull all of his power together. He heads to Egypt in order to put down a revolt there. Now as he is headed to Egypt he has to pass through Judea. As he passes through Judea, just two years after he takes the throne in 520 B.C., he discovers that there is a major configuration going on in Judea. Cyrus had issued a decree for the Jews to rebuild the temple, but they were going through opposition from some of the locals to the Samaritans, so there is a big fight and they had laid the foundation for the new temple. They had put in the altars for the sacrifices and that was it. For about ten or twelve years now all work on the temple had ceased.
There was opposition from the Samaritans and when Darius showsup the Jews go to him in order to take their complaint to him to get the Samaritans to cease their operation. Darius goes through the archives and discovers that Cyrus had indeed issued a decree for them to rebuild the temple. He orders the Samaritans and his local governor to quite opposing the Jews in the rebuilding of the temple. So the Jews once again rebuild the temple. Now this is going to be in conjunction with what we are going to see in a minute with the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah. The during this time, once they get a little opposition, how easy it is to say this isn’t God’s will for my life because I’m encountering a little difficulty. This is what often happens with people. They think something is God’s will and it is and they start doing it and then they encounter some opposition, a little difficulty, they go through some suffering and a little angelic conflict, and they say, oh, this really isn’t God’s will for my life. I want to do something else. And so the people had become concerned more about their day to day life and continuing wealth and security and developing their economic position. They were no longer concerned with the things of the LORD. Two or three things are happening together as God works out His plan, the preaching prophesying ministry of Zechariah and Haggai; and then from the secular level Darius comes along and removes the hostility and within four years, 516 B.C., the temple is rebuilt. Remember, in 586 B.C. the temple was destroyed; in516 B.C. the temple is restored, 70 years. God’s timing is always detailed. It is always impeccable. This shows us that Jesus Christ controls history and again reminds us that no matter how bad things look for us at times, if you are alive God still has a plan for your life.
The next emperor was Xerxes who reigned from reigns from 486-465 B.C. He has a remarkable reign and he is also called in the OT Ahasuerus. This is the Ahasuerus of Esther. Like his father, Darius, he has a desire to expand the border of Persia and he looked westward towards Greece. He decides he is the one who is going to conquer the Greeks. He organizes his armies, navies, and he has somewhere around three or four million in his armies and navies. He heads west. So the East is going to conquer the West. He crosses the Hellespont and heads into Greece. Now at this time the Greek city states were divided. They all spoke different dialects, although there was a similarity. This was before the great period of their Golden Age, which comes later in this century. They head down the Greek peninsula and they start conquering the Greeks. The Greeks finally unite and try to pull together. In order to buy some time you have what I call the Greek Alamo. For those of you who are not familiar with Texas history, the Alamo is where 180 Texans bought time for Sam Houston so that he could organize an army and eventually defeat Santa Anna and gain Texas’ independence. I always have to honor that. Back in the old days when we still thought things were good and true, Texas always got a holiday on April 21st. We never went to school on San Jacinto Day or on Texas Independence Day. They don’t do that anymore because we’ve lost all concepts of patriotism. But back when things were still good we did that.
The Battle of Thermopylae was like the Greek Alamo. It had 300 Spartans. These were the crack troops of the Greek Empire. In fact there is a historical novel that’s just been written. It is out in paperback. I’ve been reading it lately. It is all about Thermopylae. It is called Gates of Fire. It is a very interesting, fascinating study. It is written by a guy who is a classics professor. He has all of his history right and throws in a lot of Greek terms. It is an interesting historical novel. He sort of does with Thermopylae what the author of Killer Angels did with the Battle of Gettysburg. Three hundred Spartans, these are the crack troops. The training they went through was something probably not unlike what Seals or Special Forces guys go through today. They were crack troops and as you head south down the Greek peninsula everything sort of narrowed into this one pass where there were some hot springs where the Greeks would go in order to take the baths. That is why it is called “Gates of Fire,” which is what Thermopylae means. It was a very narrow pass and so all of Xerxes’ mighty army had to be squeezed down to go through this one pass. These three hundred Spartans held their ground and several hundred thousand Persians lost their lives until the last Spartan was killed. That bought time for the rest of the Greek states to put together their army and navy and eventually to defeat the Persians, which they did at the naval Battle of Salamis, where Xerxes lost over two hundred ships.
Xerxes had to lick his wounds, so he just went home and left the army in charge with one of his generals. Xerxes took solace, according to Herodotus, in his harem. His queen, Vashti, doesn’t like to go along with him, so Vashti’s out and he looks for a new queen and Esther. See how all of this fits together. You have to understand your secular history to be able to really understand the dynamics of what is going on inside the scriptures. So Xerxes goes home and takes solace in his harem and that sets up the stage for the episodes in Esther. Xerxes is succeeded by his son Artaxerxes from 465-424 B.C. He is the one who in 444 B.C. gives the authorization, the decree to the Jews to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem, which is a phenomenal decree because to rebuild the wall means he is giving them military autonomy. We saw last week in our study of Daniel’s prophetic timetable, the 70 weeks, the 490 years of Daniel 9 that it is this decree of Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. that kicks off that timetable. He is succeeded by Xerxes II who only lasts for a few months on the throne, from 424-423 B.C., then Darius II from 423-404 B.C., and Artaxerxes II from 404-350 B.C..
This is a map that gives us an idea of the extent of the Persian Empire:
You can see from it that it is quite extensive. They cross the Hellespont and conquered the northern part of Greece, so they are in Europe. They are in northern Africa, what is now modern Libya and Egypt, down to the borders of Ethiopia. So you see the vast area they cover all through Asia Minor, what’s modern Turkey, Syria, Israel, down through Iraq and Iran, all the way to the Indus River. So northern India, modern Afghanistan, all of this area is all under Persian control. So they were the largest empire to date. During the period of time the Persian Empire was dominating there were six books mentioned in the Scriptures that flows out of our study: Haggai and Zechariah, and then the last prophet, Malachi. Then you have three historical books, Ezra-Nehemiah, which in the Hebrew was really one book, then the book of Esther. In the Hebrew Bible the 1 and 2 Chronicles were also written during this period to boost the confidence of the nation in their return to the land.
I want to begin by looking at the two post-exilic prophets that worked together to challenge the nation to get their focus back on doctrine and to rebuild the temple; and this is Haggai and Zechariah. So turn to Haggai. It is the third book from the end, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Haggai gives us a specific time period at the beginning of his book as to when he writes, Haggai 1:1 “In the second year of Darius the king,” this is Darius I Hystaspes. This would be dated to 520 B.C. They didn’t count the first year if he came up in the middle of the year that wasn’t considered the first year; that was the accession year. So it is only the first full year that he is on the throne that they count as the first year. So the second year he came to the throne, 522 B.C. 521 B.C. is the first year; 522 B.C. is the second year. “In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.” So Joshua is identified with the high priest here. What we see by a corollary passage in Ezra 5:1-2 is this statement by Ezra, “When the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them, then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak” the high priest. That just gives you a location in history.
Ezra identifies the fact that it is the prophetic ministry of Haggai and Zechariah that God uses to bring the nation back to focus on God. What had happened was that they had become consumed with their own personal security and their own personal comfort. They were not at all concerned with rebuilding the house of the LORD. Reading here it says, Haggai 1:4-5 “It is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses.” Now the idea there is that they are busy building very comfortable dwellings for themselves and focusing on the details of life; and God says, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house” that is the house of the LORD “lies desolate? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways!” This is the theme of Haggai. It is repeated again in Haggai 1:7, “Consider your ways!” It is time to take a personal assessment of your life and see what you are doing, what your priorities are like. And your priorities need to be on the Word of God and the honor and glory of God, which is exemplified by rebuilding the temple. Your priorities are totally askew; you are totally consumed with your own personal lives and personal details of your lives and not at all concerned with Me.
This is completely contrary to the attitude of the psalmist, who said, Psalm 69:9 “For zeal for Your house has consumed me.” We saw that same passage applied to Jesus Christ when He cleansed the temple, and it is the same temple. This temple that is being rebuilt is the second temple. It is the same temple that is there when Jesus comes in the First Advent. There is a massive renovation campaign that is carried on by Herod the Great to make it more glorious than the Solomonic temple, but that doesn’t come until much later. At this stage it is going to be a very simple temple; and when it is finished in 516 B.C., the Jews weep because it is so much smaller and so much less glorious than the Solomonic temple. But look at the promise that God gives them in the second chapter, Haggai 2:2-3 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah.” Now Zerubbabel is a member of the royal family. He’s probably a descendant of Jehoiakim. He is the governor of Judah, “and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?’ ” There are very few that are left that survived the seventy year captivity. They would have just been children if any of them came back, and most of them had never lived in Israel, so they just have legend to go by or stories that have been passed down by their parents’ generation. But God gives them a comfort prophecy in Haggai 2:4 “ ‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares Yahweh, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you.’ ”
In other words this is My plan. You are still in My plan. I haven’t forgotten the Abrahamic Covenant, and even though this temple overtly does not have the splendor, the majesty of the Solomonic temple, this temple will be more glorious than the Solomonic temple. Haggai 2:5-8 “As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst;” and that is the passage we looked at in Exodus 19:5-6. “My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear! For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ ” Now when does that occur? It occurs at the First Advent when Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity takes on flesh and comes to this temple. So this is a prophecy that this temple has to survive long enough for the Messiah to come. Haggai 2:9 “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,” Why? Because it sees the coming of the Messiah. It is in A.D. 70 that the Roman armies under Titus invade Israel and destroy the temple. So this tells us that this gives us a parameter that the Messiah had to come before A.D. 70. So that is something you can just sort of keep in the back of your mind the next time you get a chance to witness to a Jew.
It is interesting, last week when I was in Houston, on Saturday, performing a wedding. One of the wedding guests that sat across the table from me was a Jewish man with a fascinating history. He is the president of the Holocaust Survivors Association in Houston. He was about twelve years old when he was sent to Bergen-Belsen to begin. It was his job to pull the teeth out of the bodies of those who had been killed in the gas chambers. He was taken with his family. He was with his father. His father wanted to keep them together. He and his father both survived and they went through the entire Holocaust together, which was extremely unusual, but when they got all the families together, the Nazi officers made all the kids under a certain height come forward. His father was at the back of the crowd and made this boy stand on a pile of bricks so that he was higher then the standard. They took all of the kids up and shot them in the head. He watched his little sister get executed right in front of him.
But we were talking and of course it was interesting because everyone else at the table was from Berachah. So we sort of did a tag team witness on him. We did not push it too far. You never want to make anybody feel uncomfortable or out-numbered. It is interesting that over the course of the past five or six months about seven or eight people from Berachah have all gotten to make this man’s acquaintance. It will be interesting to see how that witness continues. You never know what kind of an opportunity you are going to have just to say one or two things that will cause someone to think. You never think that you are going to get a chance like that and you are going to make the final closing of their conversion. You just get a few opportunities. These are the kinds of things that are helpful to keep in the back of your mind when you are talking or witnessing to a Jew. Ask what do you think about the Messiah? When do you think the Messiah will come? How do you handle a passage like the prophecy in Haggai 2, which says that the glory of the Messiah must come before the destruction of the second temple? How do you handle that? Things like that give them something to think about.
The message of Haggai is that God still has a plan for the nation and He is going to restore them to the land. Now Zechariah is also concerned with this same period. His book is much more concerned with the coming of the Messiah. He focuses on the coming of the Messiah and he too is concerned with the building of the temple and challenging the nation to rebuild the temple.
I want to go to one other book and give you a brief overview, and that is Esther. Esther takes place outside the land. Turn back with me to just prior to Job. Esther is the last of the historical books in the OT. We are working backward a little bit here, but there is a reason for that. Esther, I think, is written about the same time as Ezra-Nehemiah, but Esther takes place outside the land. I want to look at Esther first because that is dealing with those out of the land and then we will close out with Ezra-Nehemiah and Malachi, which are focusing on the Jews who have returned to the land. The background here, as I stated earlier, is that Xerxes, known as Ahasuerus in this book, returns from his defeat at Salamis and takes comfort in his harem. He calls out Esther here and it fits into the overall context. This time period is back and forth. It is the beginning of his reign and then he leaves and comes back. It is here in Susa where you have the great palace. During the first twenty months of his reign he is concerned with building projects. In the third year he heads for Greece. Then he comes back after his defeat and finishes rebuilding the capital. He moves it to Susa, which is the scene for much of the activity in Esther.
Now what happens basically, just to summarize, one of the key figures is a man named Haman. Haman is anti-Semitic. Haman finagles a way to get the king to pass legislation that all the Jews are to be killed on a particular day. When that day came anybody could go out and kill a Jew and get away with it. He works at that but Esther’s uncle Mordecai, who gets wind of the plot, goes to Esther, who has been taken into the Harem of Ahasuerus. He goes to Esther to plead with her that God has put her in this position in the harem of Ahasuerus in order to intercede for her people. So she goes and stands before the king, which was a very challenging thing to do because if you just walked in and imposed yourself for an audience and the king did not recognize you, then you were to be executed. So she goes in. The king recognizes her and she makes a plea for her people. When Xerxes understands what he did he reverses the edict and instead of having the Jews becoming the focus he makes Haman’s people, the Hagagites, the focus of the edict and in the process the Jews kill over 75,000 Hagagites.
There are a number of interesting problems related to the book of Esther:
1. The Name of God is never mentioned once. This is one reason the Jews didn’t think the book was canonical for some time. There is no mention of God. It was a tremendous time of distress, the Jews are under persecution. They are going to be killed, and they never call on God. In fact, at one point they come right up to the point where they are fasting but they don’t call on God. You would expect. That is exactly what you read as you reading along and if anyone is fasting they usually call upon the LORD, but it just stops there. They never call on the Name of the LORD. Why is it that God is not mentioned here?
2. How do we deal with this book against the background of the Jews in the holocaust? Here we see God’s sovereign protection of the nation against genocide in their Gentile captivity and this did not happen in the Holocaust. So that is an important question that needs to be addressed.
3. We need to ask the question: what is our attitude towards this massacre of the 75,000 Hagagites? I think the answer to all these questions flows from understanding that what the book of Esther is doing is showing us God’s sovereignty, God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant towards protecting the Jews, even when they are out of fellowship. What I mean by that is that they are out of the land.
Isaiah had prophesied, and we looked at the prophecy a couple of weeks ago, that when he announced the captivity that would come he also announced the coming of Cyrus. To prove that in Isaiah 45 he says, “Flee back to the land.” So God’s will for the nation is at the conclusion of the captivity for all the Jews to go back to the land. The vast majority never returned to Israel. They are out of the will of God and therefore they are out of fellowship. They are not concerned with the things of the Lord and they are staying in Babylon. So they have rejected God’s plan for their life. So the book of Esther, then, shows how God continues to care for the believer, even though the believer is out of fellowship. In this case how He continues to be faithful to the Abrahamic Covenant toward the Jews event though they are out of fellowship. They don’t care anything about Him. We see how He protects them despite their disobedience. That is why they are not calling on God. They are not concerned with the things of the LORD at all, but God does preserve and protect them.
When we come forward to the 20th century and we see an episode like the Holocaust. We see the work of God, even in the midst of all that evil. I always go back when I think about the Holocaust, which is a major, major problem for many Jews to deal with when it comes to thinking about God; they are concerned with this whole question of evil. How can a good God allow this to happen? The problem that we run into is anytime you are addressing somebody and they are concerned about this question of evil, of how can a good God allow suffering in the world? Either He is not omnipotent, because if He were omnipotent then He could control evil. Or He is not good because if He were good, then He wouldn’t allow all of this evil. They are assuming that they know some absolutes. That is the problem. As soon as you come along and say you are assuming that there can’t be a greater good. When somebody raises a problem of evil, the answer to the problem of evil is that God has all-knowledge. He is omniscient. He knows that there is a greater good and a greater purpose, and if God were to stop all suffering He would have to stop all sin and that would terminate human history. God is working out His plan because there is a greater good. The person who raises the question of the goodness of God in all of this, and this is the exact problem that this individual was raising, who had gone through the camp. He had to go to Belsen; he went to Auschwitz. He saw family members killed. He saw and underwent horrible things having to go to the death chambers afterward and remove all the bodies and strip the bodies. You just can’t imagine. I can’t imagine the horror that he was exposed to between the age of twelve and sixteen.
So the question in his mind is how could a good God allow this to happen? When I addressed this I see eyes glaze over every now and then, like this is some great academic question, but this is not just an academic question. This is a very real question that many people weigh and it is a stumbling stone for them or a question that they are honestly asking as they are asking as they are truly seeking to understand the gospel. The point is that they have been miffed. In the midst of asking that question they are assuming this always happens. You have to remember this line I have here. The Creator is above the line and the creature is below the line. When the creature, Romans 1, rejects the Creator, he always takes something from the creation, below the line, and tries to move that up on top of the line and then deify it. He is going to make it God. What he is doing is he is deifying his own absolutes and his own thinking. The hidden assumption in that whole argument against evil is that “I know enough. I know so much that I know, as a creature, that there can’t possibly be an absolute; there can’t possibly be a standard; there can’t possibly be a good that is greater than all other goods that could possibly justify the existence of suffering in the realm of the creation.” What has he just done? He has just said, “I know everything” and man doesn’t. Man’s intellect is limited. His experience is limited. We know probably less than 1/10 of 1% of what there is to know and is possible for creatures to know, and yet we are automatically assuming that we know more than God knows in order to raise that question.
So the thing to do in a witnessing situation is to try to demonstrate, in some sense, the inconsistency and the rational problem in that argument. I did something like that that day at lunch last week. What opened the ball on the witnessing situation was that this individual was talking about Judaism and he was referring the Jews, the Orthodox Jews. He said, you know anybody who thinks their way is the only way to God is such a dogmatic statement that I think that is automatically wrong. I looked at him and said, so what does that say? What are you trying to me is that anyone who says that their way is the only way is wrong. You just told me that every way is the way to God and any body else is wrong. You are making the same kind of statement. Anytime propositionally that you make a statement like “every way leads to God” then you are making a positive statement, “every way leads to God” and that is just as dogmatic as the statement “there is only one way to God.” You just said what your one way is, it is every way. So you turn the table back on them and say well that is a totally inconsistent statement. He saw the light bulb right away. It turned on and flickered and then the lady next to me drove the gospel peg through the opening in the wall.
So you always have to understand the question to be able to answer this. You will never know when you are going to get the opportunity to explain the gospel to somebody and maybe the Lord will use that to generate some thinking.
What we see here in this whole episode is Israel out of fellowship so the assault, the killing of the 75,000 is not necessarily something that God approved of; it is just simply the recording of a historical fact. So that is the book of Esther.
Ezra-Nehemiah tells the story about the rebuilding of the temple. Ezra is the priest. He is a Zadokite priest who returns to the land and is rebuilding the temple and that is the focus there. The reestablishment of the priesthood so that the nation has a central rallying point now. The temple is going to be rebuilt. Sacrifices are going to be reinstated. The priesthood is reinstated. So now there is a point of cohesion and unity for the nation so that they can survive and go forward. What happens during this period, as Ezra comes in and lays the foundation, is that it also lays the foundation for the legalism of the Pharisaical period. You get into the New Testament and you look at the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin, those groups were born during this period under Ezra. I am not saying that Ezra started it. I am saying that this is when they rise to the forefront; because what happens is that the people are still in failure. They are still in spiritual failure. They have returned to the land, but now what they do, because they were disciplined for idolatry, they return and they become legalistic about the application of the Law; so that the Law becomes an external system and in an external religious system there is all this ritual, but there is no reality. There is no understanding of the relationship to God. In the next generation the temple is rebuilt under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah.
Nehemiah comes back in 444 B.C. with the commission from Artaxerxes to rebuild the wall. There is the rebuilding of the wall and it is an engineering feat because they do it in a very short time. He organizes the people. It is a real textbook on leadership and organization. He rebuilds the wall and in the midst of this they recover the Law and they stand up and they gather all the people and they read through the whole book of the Law to the entire nation and everyone stands up and listens to the oral instruction from the Law. It is not like today when everybody wants to sit in comfortable seats. Nobody would stand up for an hour or two hours to listen to the reading of the Word. It is the reading of the Law at that time that does produce a true repentance, change of heart, on the part of the nation. There is one of those true and rare spiritual revivals in the nation under the ministry of Nehemiah as a result of his reading of the Word.
But this doesn’t last long. The last prophet of the Old Testament is Malachi. Malachi comes and challenges the nation because of their inconsistent application, their superficial application. They are not even bringing their tithes, under the Mosaic Law, to the temple, the storehouse is the treasury here. This doesn’t have anything to do with New Testament tithing. It has to do with the application of the OT Law. Malachi challenges the people because of their disobedience; and at the end of Malachi there is the prophecy. Malachi 3:1 “ ‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,].’ ” That is the prophecy of John the Baptist. Malachi is the last prophet and for the next four hundred years there will be silence from the Lord; there will no longer be a prophet. It always amazes me how in the Church Age I have people come along and they say, well, how can revelation cease? Well, we have precedence in the OT.
Revelation ceased for four hundred plus years and it has ceased during the New Testament because the revelation is complete. But in the inter-testamental period, if you read in Macabees, they knew that God was no longer speaking to them. They knew that there wasn’t a prophet; and this is why when suddenly John the Baptist appears on the scene that people flock to hear him. Because they knew he was a prophet. It was a self-authenticating message and now they knew that God is doing something. This is the messenger of Malachi. That is who John the Baptist claimed to be; and so the people went out to hear him because they knew God was again speaking to the nation. I think thousands trusted the Lord and responded to his message of the Lord, but the leadership didn’t and the vast majority of the people rejected the Lord and that is the tragedy; that in the New Testament Israel continues to repeat the negative volition of the OT. So they are taken out under the divine discipline in A.D. 70, but God still has a future for them and they will be restored to the land at the end of the Tribulation in spiritual restoration and then they will go into the Millennium where all of the promises of the Davidic Covenant, the Real Estate Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, and the New Covenant will be fulfilled for the nation of Israel.
So that wraps up our orientation to the Old Testament. You can see how all these things fit together. How God is working things out. The Bible must be taken as a whole and we see in the New Testament the fulfillment of all of these events in the Old Testament.
"Father, we do thank You so much that we have Your Word and there are so many things Your Word has authenticated to us. It is Your revelation to us of Your work in history. Father, we thank You that You are always faithful despite our unfaithfulness. So much so that while we were yet sinners Christ died on the Cross for us, as our substitute. Father, we pray that if there is anyone here this morning who is unsure of their salvation and uncertain of their eternal destiny that right now they would make that sure. All that You require is that we put our faith alone in Christ alone. The Scripture says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” It is not an issue of moral reformation, church attendance, church membership, or any other human factor. It is simply an issue of trusting in Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross alone is our salvation. Father, we pray that You would help us to think through and understand the tremendous scope of events in the Old Testament that we could see there how You never leave or forsake us and that if we are still alive, no matter what has happened, You still have a plan for our life and that we might be encouraged by this and be challenged to spiritual maturity. We pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen."