It has often been said, and truly, that it is one thing to occupy a right position, and quite another to be in a right condition. The remnant of Judah were in the right position when gathered back to the place of the Name. But we have just seen that they had dropped from the happy state in which they were when they first returned to Jerusalem, and had lapsed into a condition that made them easily disheartened.
What then was the remedy? Give up all and go back to the place they had left? Not at all; for they had God’s word for remaining where they were, and He could be depended on to send them suited ministry to arouse and revive that they might thus reach a healthier state.
Yet how often do we see the opposite of this. People learn certain lines of truth from the Word of God, and seek grace to walk in them. To do so involves a special position as gathering-alone to the name of the Lord Jesus in separation from what is unholy. But by and by the freshness of early days passes away, and a period of lethargy and apathy succeeds. The love of many waxes cold, and the dew of their youth is gone. What should those do who would be right with God? Forsake the position and go back to what they once left for Christ’s sake?
Surely not; but in the position cry to God for the Spirit’s ministry that there may be revival and blessing. Maintain the right position at all costs and cease not looking up to the Head for what each member needs.
But God’s eye was on His discouraged people, and in gracious concern for their state, He raised up among them Haggai and Zechariah, both “the Lord’s messengers in the Lord’s message” (Haggai 1:13). In the name of the God of Israel these two devoted servants exhorted the remnant to consider their ways, and be strong, or courageous, for they were directly under Jehovah’s care as brands plucked from the fire. Haggai dealt more especially with the consciences of the people. His are stirring, cutting words. Zechariah was commissioned to speak more to their hearts, enthusing them to holy boldness in view of the coming glory. Both lines of ministry were needed; for God’s people are possessed of conscience and hearty and each must be appealed to.
The immediate result was the stirring of spirit among the leaders. “Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (ver. 2). Such was the happy effect of this Spirit-given ministry.
And, as might have been expected, their insolent adversaries are once more immediately active. Hardly have trowel and hammer begun to be used in the work of rebuilding or completing the house, when Tatnai, the Samaritan governor, and Shethar-boznai (new names to us), and their companions appear, and indignantly enquire, “Who hath commanded you to build this house?” (ver. 3.) To explain to men like these would have been useless, and would have been but casting pearls before swine. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” and with no one else. Natural men could not understand a divine call and divine authorization. Therefore Zerubbabel and his helpers made no reference to the prophetic messages which had so stirred their own souls, but simply answered those fools according to their folly. “What are the names of the men that make this building?” they asked in their reply. This was but another way of saying that the business they were concerned in was one in which their questioners had no part or responsibility.
And though persuasion and threats were evidently used, “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius;” and then God so directed the king’s heart that he gave an answer of peace and encouragement.
The Darius here mentioned should not be con- founded with the king of the same name in Daniel 6. This was evidently the successor to Xerxes the Great, while the other was but a vice-king under Cyrus. The splendid reign of Artaxerxes, as he is called in this record, had come to an end, and Darius ascended the throne. To him therefore the enemies of the Jews addressed themselves in a lengthy epistle which, at first sight, is of a much more straightforward character than the one drawn up by Rehum and Shimshai. No false evidence as to rebuilding the city is manufactured, but the simple facts stated that “the house of the great God” was in process of construction, and “the work goeth fast on and prospereth.” One point is probably a falsification, in that they say, “We went into the province of Judea,” and beheld these things, as though their going there was only casual, without malice aforethought; whereas, as we know, it was deliberate hostility to the Jews that led them to thus trespass in a district where they had no authority; they were but evil-minded busy-bodies. This they skilfully endeavor to cover, and write as though a mere accident had given them to see what made them fear for the king’s honor.
It is a question whether in the light of verse 4, already noted, they are not drawing on a previous knowledge in putting the lengthy answer into the mouths of the elders which is given in verses 11 to 16. All this was actually done, but it hardly seems likely that it was made known to Tatnai and his friends at this particular time. It was, rather, what they had heard when the work first began-the very thing that had rankled in their minds for so long.
They tell how they had questioned these elders as to who had commanded them to build these walls; and then, for very shame, in place of the abrupt and contemptuous reply of the Jews, they tell that (which Zerubbabel apparently did not say) which would have a great effect upon Darius, in throwing him back upon the unalterable decrees of the Persian king.
They declare that an answer was given to this effect: That these builders were the servants of the God of heaven and earth3 and were restoring the house which a great king of Israel (whose name is evidently unknown to these plotters) had set up. But after their fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, He had permitted the Babylonian captivity, under Nebuchadnezzar, by whom the house was destroyed and the people carried away. But declaration had been made of what, to their minds, was evidently a most unheard of and preposterous thing: namely, that in the first year of Cyrus a decree had been given to rebuild this house of God; and that the vessels of that old and destroyed temple had been restored to these Jews with a command given to Sheshbazzar (the Persian name of Zerubbabel), who was reported to have been made governor, to take these vessels and carry them to the temple that is in Jerusalem, and “let the house of God be builded in his place.” Accordingly the said Sheshbazzar had come to Jerusalem and laid the foundation, and (here followed clear prevarication) “since that time even until now hath it been in building” (as though in contravention of the decree of Artaxerxes, which they supposed fully covered the case), “and yet it is not finished.”
These busy-bodies evidently felt sure that this entire report was without authentic foundation, so they urged that search be made to see if such a decree had ever been issued by king Cyrus, and loyally concluded, “Let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter” (ver. 17).
And so their letter was drawn up and despatched; and doubtless they felt assured that the king’s reply would put an effectual quietus upon the work of these obnoxious Jews, and forever stop the erection of a building which was as a sermon directed against their evil and idolatrous ways.
Meantime the work went right on, “for the people had a mind to build,” as we elsewhere read and the prophets of the Lord encouraged them in carrying out His revealed will, in holy independence of their active and crafty adversaries.
The result could not be in doubt, for God never fails faith. He always makes bare His arm on behalf of those who acknowledge the authority of His Word. He has said, “Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.”
All that is needed is the faith that fears not the face of man, because the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom is upon the soul.
1 I have previously sent forth a little book called “Notes on the Book of Esther,”and have published a volume of “Lectures on the Book of Daniel.”The three post-captivity prophets are in measure expounded in my “Notes on the Minor Prophets.”If God will, a volume on “Nehemiah”will follow the present work.
2 A word of uncertain meaning; they are supposed by many to be the descendants of the wily Gibeonites.
3 Their addition of the words “and earth”shows their ignorance of God’s relation with Israel at that time.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 5". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany