CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] i. The work resumed through the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets (Ezr ). ii. The workers interrogated by the Persian authorities west of the Euphrates (Ezr 5:3-5). iii. The letter of the Persian authorities to Darius the king concerning the work (Ezr 5:6-17).
Ezr . Then] shows the close connection of this with the last verse of the previous chapter. Zechariah, the son of Iddo] He was really the son of Berechiah, and the grandson of Iddo (Zec 1:1). It is probable, as Dean Perowne suggests, "that Berechiah had died early, and that there was now no intervening link between the grandfather and the grandson. The son, in giving his pedigree, does not omit his father's name; the historian passes it over, as of one who was but little known, or already forgotten." In the name of the God of Israel, even unto them] Rather, "which was upon them," i.e. the name of God was called upon them, indicating that they belonged to Him (comp. Isa 4:1; Jer 15:16).
Ezr . Then rose up Zerubbabel … and Jeshua] &c. The exhortations of Haggai were addressed chiefly to these two leaders (Hag 1:1; Hag 2:2; Hag 2:4), and speedily they responded to them. "In the sixth month, in the first day of the month," the prophet delivered his first message to them; and "in the four and twentieth day of the sixth month," the "work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God," was resumed by them and the people (Hag 1:1; Hag 1:14-15). Zechariah did not enter upon his mission until the eighth month, which was two months later than Haggai. And with them the prophets of God] Haggai and Zechariah. Helping them] by exhortation, encouragement, &c.
Ezr . Tatnai, governor on this side the river] Tatnai was governor (pechah) of the entire country west of the Euphrates, while Zerubbabel was governor (pechah) of Judah only, and was therefore subordinate to Tatnai. Shethar-boznai] was probably the royal scribe or secretary. Who hath commanded] &c. In investigating this matter the Persian magistrates only did their duty.
Ezr . Then said we unto them] &c. It is almost certain that the text here has been corrupted in some way, and that the genuine reading is, "Then said they unto them," &c. The question was put by the Persian officers to the Jews, as appears from Ezr 5:9-10.
Ezr . And then they returned answer by letter] &c. Schultz: "‘And they then brought back a letter,' &c. The letter to be brought back was certainly to come from Darius." Keil: "‘And they should then receive a letter,' &c. They (the royal officials) then receive a letter, i.e. obtain a decision."
Ezr . The Apharsachites] are probably the same as "the Apharsathchites" (chap. Ezr 4:9). See notes on that verse.
Ezr . They sent a letter] or a report, a message. All peace] i.e. "peace in all things, in every respect."
Ezr . With great stones] Margin: "Chald., ‘stones of rolling.'" So also Fuerst, who explains it as denoting "heaviness, weight. Ezr 5:8; Ezr 6:4, stone of heaviness, i.e. a heavy, large stone, hewn." And timber is laid in the walls] Rawlinson interprets this as the employment of timber as the material of the party walls. Schultz, as indicating "the inlaying of the walls with woodwork artistically finished." Keil: "The placing of wood in the walls refers to building beams into the wall for flooring; for the building was not so far advanced as to make it possible that this should be said of covering the walls with wainscoting."
Ezr . We are the servants] &c. The elders of the Jews when asked for their names replied by stating their relationship to "the God of heaven and earth," which implied their obligation to obey Him. Which a great king of Israel builded and set up] Or, "and a great king of Israel built and completed it."
Ezr . But after that our fathers] &c. Keil: "For this reason, because our fathers," &c. Similarly Schultz: "On this account, because our fathers," &c. The significance of this verse he expresses thus: "It is true the Temple has been destroyed, but this does not show any weakness in their God, but rather His holiness." Nebuchadnezzar could not have destroyed their Temple, and carried them away into captivity, if God had not first withdrawn His protection from them because of their sins.
Ezr . Take these vessels] &c. "The three unconnected imperatives, ‘take, go forth, lay down,' comprehend the three acts, to a certain extent, in one, thus expressing likewise the zeal of Cyrus, and the zeal that Sheshbazzar was expected to exhibit."—Schultz. Let the house of God be builded in his place] i.e. in its former sacred place.
Ezr . And since that time even until now hath it been in building] These words were probably not a part of the answer of the elders of the Jews to Tatnai, but simply his own statement to the king, which he thought was correct. "It was entirely in the interest of the Jews to be silent respecting the fact that Cyrus had allowed an interruption to take place;" and Tatnai and his associates were probably quite ignorant of the fact that the work had been suspended.
Ezr . The king's treasure house] This is called, in chap. Ezr 6:1, "the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon." Important documents were preserved in the treasure house attached to the royal residence.
THE GREAT WORK RESUMED
The best commentary on these verses is the first chapter of Haggai. In the light of that chapter we propose to interpret them. For fourteen years the rebuilding of the Temple was stayed. We have now to consider the resumption of the work.
I. The inciters to the work. "Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews," &c.
1. Want of interest in the work is implied. The Jews were backward at making a new effort to erect the sacred edifice, and needed stirring up to their duty in the matter. They had been building their own houses, attending to their own affairs, and had become indifferent as to the rebuilding of the house of God. They said, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built" (Hag ). Had they been zealous in this affair, they would have renewed their efforts when Darius came to the throne. But the spirit of worldliness possessed them, and they deferred this sacred duty until they were sharply summoned to it.
2. Obligation to perform the work is implied. The prophets summoned them to the work "in the name of the God of Israel which was upon them." This implies His authority over them, and their obligation to render loyal obedience to Him. In His name Haggai commanded them to resume this work. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; … Go up to the mountain and bring wood, and build the house," &c. (Hag ). The Jews did not deny the obligation. Fourteen years previous they had claimed it as their exclusive privilege. At that time they were forcibly prevented from fulfilling it; and afterwards, in process of time, they grew indifferent as to its fulfilment, and while acknowledging the obligation, they postponed its discharge. By neglecting the performance of duty our sense of its sacredness and imperativeness will almost certainly be diminished.
3. Exhortations to resume the work were given. "The prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied unto the Jews," &c. The nature of their prophesying we can ascertain by reference to the books which bear their names. In the address of Haggai (Hag ; Hag 1:13), which led to the resumption of the work, we find—
(1.) Earnest remonstrance because of their neglect (Ezr ).
(2.) Solemn and repeated summons to reflection, "Consider your ways" (Ezr ; Ezr 5:7).
(3.) Interpretation of the Divine dealings with them, showing that God had withheld His blessing because of their neglect (Ezr ; Ezr 5:9-11).
(4.) Command to build the Temple (Ezr ).
(5.) Encouragement to them to enter upon the work (Ezr b, 13). Thus the prophet, under the direction of the Most High, endeavoured to arouse them from their sloth, and incite them to interest and effort in the good and great work.
II. The leaders in the work. "Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build," &c.
1. They resumed the work readily. In less than a month after the summons of Haggai they began the work. On the first day of the sixth month the first prophetic message was delivered to them, and on the twenty-fourth day of the same month actual operations were resumed at the Temple. The readiness of their response is commendable. Delay in the performance of duty is perilous. Promptitude in its discharge is both binding and blessed. (a).
2. They led the work appropriately. It was becoming that Zerubbabel the chief prince, the first man in the state, and Jozadak the chief priest, the first man in the Church, should take the lead in such a work. "Those that are in places of dignity and power," as M. Henry observes, "ought with their dignity to put honour upon, and with their power to put life into every good work; thus it becomes those that precede, and those that preside, with an exemplary care and zeal to fulfil all righteousness and to go before in a good work."
3. They led the work influentially. "All the remnant of the people" followed their example, "and came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." The force of example is proverbially great; but it is especially influential in the case of those who hold the position of leaders amongst men. The example of those who occupy high stations is—
(1.) Most conspicuous. It is visible with great clearness and to great numbers.
(2.) Most attractive. To the majority of mankind the example of persons in eminent positions, from the mere fact that they occupy such positions, has an influence which is denied to others however wise and worthy they may be. (b). Great is the responsibility of those who are called to the high places of society. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required," &c. (Luk ).
III. The helpers in the work. "And with them were the prophets of God helping them." The nature of the assistance which the prophets rendered in the work may be gathered from the prophecies of Haggai which were delivered after the work was resumed (Haggai 2). They assisted by their—
1. Exhortations to vigorous prosecution of the work. "Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord," &c. (Ezr ).
2. Assurances of the presence of God with them. "For I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts: according to the word that I covenanted with you," &c. (Ezr ). This means more than His mere presence; for He is everywhere present. "Whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there," &c. (Psa 139:7-10). It is an assurance of His gracious and helpful presence—His presence as their covenant God. With the obedient God is ever present for their protection, encouragement, assistance, &c.
3. Promises of future blessings from God to them. "The desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts," &c. (Ezr ). What a mighty inspiration there must have been in promises of such blessings as these, uttered by the prophet of God! He who thus encourages the hearts of workers renders them most valuable help in their work. Thus the earnest thinker, and the firm believer in God, may help those who are engaged in more active labours in building the spiritual temple of our Lord.
IV. The great First Cause of the work. It was God who inspired and sent forth the prophets, and who excited the spirit of the Jewish leaders and people to resume the work. "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." "All holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed" from Him. He is the great Master-Builder of His own Church. "I will build My Church," said our Lord to Peter. All the inspiration and wisdom, the patience and power of the under-builders, come from Him. And to Him be all the praise. (c).
1. The insidious nature of the sin of worldliness. See how gradually and stealthily it came upon the Jews. (d).
2. The value of faithful ministers. They both arouse men to duty, and assist them to perform it.
3. The solemn obligation of men in eminent stations. Let them, like Zerubbabel and Jeshua, be forward in every good work.
(a) Pleasant is it to entertain the picture of ourselves in some future scene, planning wisely, feeling nobly, and executing with the holy triumph of the will; but 'tis a different thing—not in the green avenues of the future, but in the hot dust of the present moment—not in the dramatic positions of the fancy, but in the plain prosaic now—to do the duty that waits and wants us, and put forth an instant and reverential hand to the noonday or evening task.—James Martineau.
(b) As we give them (kings) all advantages of honour, so do we soothe and authorise all their vices and defects, not only by approbation, but by imitation also. Every one of Alexander's followers carried their heads on one side, as he did, and the flatterers of Dionysius ran against one another in his presence, stumbled at, and overturned whatever was under foot, to show that they were as purblind as he. Natural imperfection has sometimes also served to recommend a man to favour. I have seen deafness affected; and because the master hated his wife, Plutarch has seen his courtiers repudiate theirs, whom they loved; and, which is yet more, uncleanness and all manner of dissoluteness has been in fashion; as also disloyalty, blasphemies, cruelty, heresy, superstition, irreligion effeminacy, and worse, if worse there be. And by an example yet more dangerous than that of Mithridates' flatterers, who, by how much their master pretended to the honour of a good physician, came to him to have incission and cauteries made in their limbs; for these others suffered the soul, a more delicate and noble part, to be cauterised. But to end where I began: the Emperor Adrian, disputing with the philosopher Favorinus about the interpretation of some word, Favorinus soon yielded him the victory; for which his friends rebuking him, "You talk simply," said he, "would you not have him wiser than I, who commands thirty legions?"—Montaigne.
(c) The scribe is more properly said to write than the pen, and he that maketh and keepeth the clock is more properly said to make it go and strike than the wheels and poises that hang upon it, and every workman to effect his work rather than the tools which he uses as his instruments. So the Lord, who is the chief Agent and Mover in all actions, may more fitly be said to bring to pass all things which are done in the earth than any subordinate causes, as meat to nourish us, clothes to keep us warm, the sun to lighten us, friends to provide for us, &c., seeing they are but His instruments.—Downame.
Day and night the tides are rising along our shores, filling bay and estuary, silently for the most part, yet surely. The power that draws them resides afar off in the heavenly bodies, and is not seen or noticed, but only inferred. All the goodness of men, their generous impulses, their loves and faiths and inspirations of purity, their zeal and enthusiasm in self-denial and devotion—that great moving tide of goodness which is moving in upon the human heart—is derived from God, who, afar off, silent as the moon in summer nights, is drawing all men unto Him.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) Nearly all can recall that favourite fiction of their childhood—the voyage of Sinbad the Sailor into the Indian Sea. They will remember that magnetic rock thatrose from the surface of the placid waters. Silently Sinbad's vessel was attracted towards it; silently the bolts were drawn out of the ship's side, one by one, through the subtle attraction of that magnetic rock. And when the fated vessel drew so near that every bolt and clamp were unloosed, the whole structure of bulwark, masts, and spars tumbled into ruin on the sea, and the sleeping sailors awoke to their drowning agonies. So stands the magnetic rock of worldliness athwart the Christian's path. Its attraction is subtle, silent, slow; but fearfully powerful on every soul that floats within its range. Under its enchanting spell, bolt after bolt of good resolution, clamp after clamp of Christian obligation, are steadily drawn out. What matters it how long, or how fair has been the man's profession of religion, or how flauntingly the flag of his orthodoxy floats from the mast head? Let sudden temptation smite the unbolted professor, and in an hour he is a wreck. He cannot hold together in a tempest of trial, he cannot go out on any cruise of Christian service, because he is no longer held togther by a Divine principle within. It has been silently drawn out of him by that mighty loadstone of attraction—a sinful, godless, self-pampering, Christ rejecting world.—T. L. Cuyler, D.D.
THE GREAT WORK INVESTIGATED AND CONTINUED
I. The sacred work investigated by the secular authorities. "At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shethar-boznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them," &c. (Ezr ).
1. The nature of the investigation. Two points are inquired into:—
(1.) The authority of the builders. "Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?"
(2.) The names of the builders. "Then said they unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?"
2. The spirit of the investigation. It is probable that some of the Samaritan enemies of the Jews, prompted by bitter and hostile feelings, communicated with Tatnai and instigated this inquisition. But as regards the inquisition itself there is nothing to complain of; for—
(1.) Tatnai had the authority to make the investigation. He was "governor on this side the river;" all the country west of the Euphrates was subject unto him. The governorship of Zerubbabel, being of Judea only, was subordinate to that of Tatnai, who therefore acted within the limits of his power in making this inquisition.
(2.) Tatnai exercised his authority in a commendable manner. He made no vexatious or impertinent inquiries. And he presented an impartial and honest report to Darius the king. Very different was the course which he and his associates pursued from that of Rehum and his associates (chap. 4). There is nothing in the conduct of the present Persian officials which bears any resemblance to the unscrupulous and bitter hostility which their predecessors displayed to the Jews.
The eye of the world is upon the work of the Church to-day. And while there are some who would wilfully misrepresent and maliciously oppose that work, there are others who regard it fairly, and speak of it with candour and truthfulness. Let the members of the Church see to it that it shall be apparent to all unprejudiced persons that their work tends to promote truth and righteousness, purity and peace, piety and patriotism. (a).
II. The sacred work carried on through the Divine blessing. "But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease," &c. These words suggest—
1. The Divine interest in the work. "The eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews" is an expression denoting His deep concern in the progress of their undertaking. As we attentive. observe that in which we are greatly interested, so God regards His Church and the enterprises in which it is engaged.
2. The Divine oversight of the work. His eye ever upon the Jewish leaders suggests the accuracy and thoroughness of His knowledge of them and of their great business. In His providence the great God watches over the interests and efforts of His people. (b).
3. The Divine inspiration of the workers. The consciousness that "the eye of their God was upon" them encouraged the Jews, made even coward spirits brave, and nerved even the feeblest arm for vigorous toil, and so raised them above fear, and enabled them to carry on the work. And to-day to godly souls there is unlimited inspiration in the consciousness that the Divine Eye is upon them. (c).
4. The Divine protection of the workers. "The eye of their God upon" them clearly involved this. The figure implies not only interest and knowledge and oversight, but also defence. His eye was upon them not only to inspire but also to shield them; not only to mark their perils, but also to preserve them from injury. And in this way the work was carried on. It suffered no interruption by reason of the inquisition of the Persian officials, and the reference of the case to Darius. (d).
If we are engaged in the work of the Lord, we may confidently look to Him for protection. The path of duty is the path of safety. And the consciousness of the eye of our God upon us should make us patient in suffering, calm in peril, earnest in work, and courageous in conflict.
(a) If the Church will go forth to win new victories, she needs only to take fearlessly up the supremacy with which her God has dowered her, namely, the reconciling life of her indwelling Lord. Shutting up all internal questions that make her militant against herself, she is to move on in her own absolute, sublime majesty, militant only against every form of sin, to enthrone the kingdom of God. She must cease to beg favours of worldly policy. She must stop her infamous coquetry with Mammon. She must not be bowing on Sundays to sectarian prejudice, nor on week-days to social respectability, nor ever whisper guilty flatteries to popular sins, nor wait till great public vices are manifestly dying out of themselves, and feeble with approaching dissolution, before she dares strike at them. The staunch, uncompromising sincerity of old Puritans and confessors must be in her muscles. An awful zeal must gird up her loins. Purity, freedom, equity, are to be more to her than costly churches; the prayers of saintly men, and women and children too, her patronage; and her daily speech, the benediction of charity.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) The infinite knowledge of God fits Him to be a special object of trust. How could we depend upon] Him, if He were ignorant of our state? His compassions to pity us, His readiness to relieve us, His power to protect and assist us, would be insignificant, without His omniscience to inform His goodness and direct the arm of His power. This perfection is, as it were, God's office of intelligence: as you go to your memorandum-book to know what you are to do, so doth God to His omniscience. This perfection is God's eye, to acquaint Him with the necessities of His Church, and directs all His other attributes in their exercise for and about His people. You may depend upon His mercy that hath promised, and upon His truth to perform; upon His sufficiency to supply you, and His goodness to relieve you, and His righteousness to reward you; because He hath an infinite understanding to know you and your wants, you and your services. And without this knowledge of His, no comfort could be drawn from any other perfection; none of them could be a sure nail to hang our hopes and confidence upon. This is that the Church alway celebrated (Psa ): "He hath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations;" and (Psa 105:42), "He remembered His holy promise;" "And He remembered for them His covenant" (Psa 106:45). He remembers and understands His covenant, therefore His promise to perform it, and therefore our wants to supply them.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
(c) Were the Olympian Agonistæ inspired by the admiring gaze of applauding thousands? Did the thunders of acclamation which awoke the echoes of Olympus excite the Athletæ to higher energies? How, then, shall we be affected who believe that we are ever under the watchful eye of the dread Supreme? The KING looks on those who are running the heavenly race—who are wrestling with spiritual antagonists—and who are handing "a cup of cold water" to some drooping and thirsty disciple! As the King's eye brightens with approbation, let us resolve to climb the highest steeps of duty and to walk on the loftiest mountains of holy enterprise!—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(d) The tribulation and poverty of His Church is not unknown to Him (Rev ): "I know thy works and tribulation," &c. He knows their works, and what tribulation they meet with for Him; He sees their extremities when they are toiling against the wind and tide of the world (Mar 6:48); yea, the natural exigencies of the multitude are not neglected by Him; He discerns to take care of them. Our Saviour considered the three days' fasting of His followers, and miraculously provides a dish for them in the wilderness. No good man is ever out of God's mind, and therefore never out of His compassionate care: His eye pierceth into their dungeons, and pities their miseries. Joseph may forget his brethren, and the disciples not know Christ when He walks upon the midnight waves and turbulent sea; but a lions' den cannot obscure a Daniel from His sight, nor the depths of the whale's belly bury Jonah from the Divine understanding: He discerns Peter in his chains, and Stephen under the stones of martyrdom; He knows Lazarus under his tattered rags, and Abel wallowing in his blood; His eye and knowledge goes along with His people, when they are translated into foreign countries, and sold for slaves into the islands of the Grecians, for He "will raise them out of the place" (Joe 3:6-7). He would defeat the hopes of the persecutors, and applaud the patience of His people.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
THE LETTER TO THE KING CONCERNING THE WORK
This letter has three chief divisions, each of which requires brief notice.
I. The inquisition of the Persian authorities. "The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river," &c. (Ezr ). Here is a report of—
1. The observations which they made.
(1.) That the work was being well done. "Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls." This seems to show that the work was being done in a substantial and excellent manner.
(2.) That the work was being rapidly done. "And this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands." Inspired by the exhortations of Haggai the prophet, and encouraged by the example of Zerubbabel the prince, and Jeshua the chief priest, the people worked zealously and the edifice was progressing quickly.
2. The inquiries which they proposed.
(1.) As to the authority of the builders. "Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?" (comp. Ezr ).
(2.) As to the names of the builders. "We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them" (comp. Ezr ).
II. The reply of the Jewish leaders. "And thus they returned us answer, saying," &c. (Ezr ). This answer is remarkable both for its prudence and for its piety. It seems to us to present the following aspects of the work. That it was—
1. Not a mere human enterprise, but a Divine commission. When asked to give their own names, the Jewish elders replied, "saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth," &c. Of their personal names and distinctions they say nothing; but assert that in rebuilding the Temple of Jehovah they were acting as servants of the Supreme Being, whom they were bound to obey. The work was to them not optional, but obligatory.
2. Not an innovation, but a restoration. "We build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up." Nearly five hundred years had passed since Solomon built the first Temple. The building they were raising was not a novel invention of their own, but was supported by the venerable antiquity of its predecessor, and by the fame of the great king which built that predecessor.
3. Not in a spirit of presumption and pride, but of obedience and humility. "But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon." At least three portions of this statement have a bearing of more or less importance in the present position of affairs.
(1.) That the destruction of the former Temple was not owing to any imperfection on the part of their God. Nebuchadnezzar did not prevail against Him. This testimony vindicates Him against any imputation of inability to defend His people and His Temple.
(2.) That the destruction of their former Temple was owing to their God having forsaken them. "He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar." He withdrew His protection from them, and they speedily fell before the Chaldeans.
(3.) That their God forsook them because of their numerous and heinous sins. Their fathers provoked Him unto wrath by abominable idolatries, and He retired, leaving them to themselves and to the gods whom they had chosen. They forsook God, then God forsook them. This testimony reveals the fact that it was in a spirit of penitence rather than of presumption that they were working. It also shows the obligatoriness of the work: having seen the evil of their ways and returned unto Jehovah their God, it behoved them to rebuild the Temple for His worship.
4. Not in opposition to, but in conformity with, royal authority. "But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon," &c. (Ezr ). Three things (which we have already noticed) are here laid down.
(1.) That the work was commanded by King Cyrus. "King Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.… Let the house of God be builded in his place" (comp. chap. Ezr ).
(2.) That the work was assisted by King Cyrus. "And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God," &c. (Ezr, and comp. chap. Ezr 1:4-11).
(3.) That the work was carried on by the officer appointed by king Cyrus. "Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem," &c. (Ezr, and comp. Ezr 5:2, and chap. Ezr 1:8). Thus they show that in this work they were obedient and loyal subjects of the Persian monarch.
5. Not political, but religious in its character. They were building an edifice which was designed not for plotting but for piety, not for political schemes but for religious services—"the house of God." Moreover, they were not building this Temple to any merely local or national deity, but to the One Supreme Being—"the God of heaven and earth." Thus the reply of the Jewish elders was fitted to honour Jehovah their God, and to disarm the opposition of men; it was both pious and prudent. (a).
III. The appeal of the Persian authorities to the king. "Now, therefore, if it seem good to the king," &c. They ask Darius—
1. To ascertain whether Cyrus did authorise and encourage this work. "Let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem."
2. To issue instructions for their guidance in relation to this work. "And let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter."
Two things we may well admire and imitate—
1. The fairness of the Persian officials. Let us deal justly with those who differ from us in faith or opinion; let us be careful to represent their views and beliefs fairly and accurately, &c. (b).
2. The faithfulness of the Jewish leaders. They "witnessed a good confession." Let us imitate them in this. By the testimony both of the lip and of the life, let us honour "the God of heaven and earth." (c).
(a) As the hermits were communing together, there arose a question as to which of all the virtues was most necessary to perfection. One said chastity; another, humility; a third, justice. St. Anthony remained silent till all had given their opinion; and then he spoke, "Ye have all said well, but none of you have said aright. The virtue most necessary to perfection is prudence; for the most virtuous actions of men, unless governed and directed by prudence, are neither pleasing to God, nor serviceable to others, nor profitable to ourselves."—Dict. of Illus.
(b) There are a great many who cannot accept religion as a mere fact. There are a great many on whose minds are thronging thousands of thoughts. There are those who come to religion from the side of their household, and from the side of their affections. And they cannot doubt. Blessed be that man who had such a father and mother, that as long as the memory of father and mother lives he cannot doubt. Under such circumstances, whatever the intellect may do, the heart rectifies it. The intellect may write "Scepticism," but the heart rubs it out, and writes "Love." But many have no such childhood, no such teaching, and no such association. My memory goes back to the Sabbaths of my childhood—to the bright hill top, to the church-bell, and so long as I remember these things, and have a vision of my mother, and a recollection of my father, I cannot doubt religion. But there are many who had no such parents, or none within their remembrance. Many have had their whole life's training in the most material elements, some in artistic relations, some in realms of doubt, some in intellectual gladiation. Men come to the subject of religion from entirely different points. And when men come to religion in such ways that they have in themselves no moral witness to the truth, and have suggestions and doubts that they do not seek, but that are forced upon them, there is a certain respect to be paid to them, and a certain sympathy to be experienced for them.—H. W. Beecher.
(c) We all have our creeds, and, in spite of ourselves, we profess them;—the creed of fashion; the creed of appetite; the creed of a selfish expediency; the creed of a sect; the creed of indifference, which is as irreligious and as bigoted in its way as any other; or the creed of eternal right and Gospel faith. Conduct is the great profession. Behaviour is the perpetual revealing of us. A man's doctrines flow from his fingers' ends, and stand out in his doings. What he may say is not his chief profession, but how he acts. Character lets out the secret of his belief; what he does tells what he is. He has "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," when he has "Christ formed within him." His profession is as natural as the pulse in his veins. The good man makes profession of his goodness by simply being good; but the Christian man will not forget that he is not wholly good till he has joined himself to Christ's body. He publishes his adhesion as spontaneously as nature publishes her laws,—as the sun its light,—as the rose its sweetness; by being steadfast; by shining; by fragrant charities. It costs a graceful elm no spasm to paint a graceful image on our eye, and the sea spreads its mysterious arms around the hemispheres without vanity. They make their nature known by silently keeping its laws. And because the Christian soul is made to be a conscious member in a living organism or church, it keeps its own high law only by being there. Religion belongs in the heartbeat of a man's affections, and the breath of his daily desire; till it has so possessed him, it is a small matter that he keeps its effigy as a connoisseur keeps his marble Apollo,—on the outskirts of his practical fortunes. The true hospitality takes it to the heart. But when the heart has taken it in, it will not lock it there, and make it a prisoner. It must go abroad again, for the blessing of man and the praise of God. It will put its owner into the Church, not to show himself, but that he may the better become one with his brethren, and their common Head. So does the religion that is natural unite the public confession of it with the hiding of its inward power.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
The matter of professing Christ appears to be regarded by many as a kind of optional duty, just as optional as it is for light to shine, or goodness to be good, or joy to sing, or gratitude to give thanks, or love to labour and sacrifice for its ends. No, my friends, there is no option here, save as all duties are optional, and eternity hangs on the option we make. Let no one of you receive or allow a different thought. Expect to be open, outstanding witnesses for God, and rejoice to be. In ready and glorious option, take your part with such, and stifle indignantly any lurking thought of being a secret follower.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
THE SUPREMACY OF GOD
"We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth."
These words lead us to consider—
I. The universal supremacy of God. "The God of heaven and earth." The idea of sovereignty is involved in the idea of God. "The very name of a God includes in it a supremacy and an actual rule. He cannot be conceived as God, but He must be conceived as the highest authority in the world. It is as possible for Him not to be God as not to be supreme." Our text brings to our notice the extent of the Divine supremacy, but we shall do well briefly to notice—
1. The ground of the Divine supremacy. God is the universal Sovereign because of—
(1.) The perfections of His being. He is infinitely wise, righteous, and kind. He is supreme in authority because He is supreme in ability and excellence. "God therefore being an incomprehensible ocean of all perfection, and possessing infinitely all those virtues that may lay a claim to dominion, hath the first foundation of it in His own nature." (a).
(2.) Because all things were created by Him. The maker of anything has an undoubted right over the thing which he has made. The invention is the property of the inventor; the picture, of the painter; the book, of the author. God's creatorship is most complete; all things, in respect both of matter and of form, were made by Him; therefore His sovereignty is absolute.
(3.) Because all things are sustained by Him. "By Him all things consist." He "upholds all things by the word of His power." "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." He is the Force of all forces; the Superintendent of all laws and processes of nature, &c. "As the right to govern resulted from creation, so it is perpetuated by the preservation of things."
(4.) And this supremacy should be the more heartily recognised and responded to by us because of the benefits which He bestows upon us, and especially because of our redemption from sin by Jesus Christ. "Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God," &c. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present," &c. (b).
2. The extent of the Divine supremacy.
(1.) It extends throughout heaven. He is "the God of heaven." He is supreme over heavenly beings. "Angels that excel in strength, do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word." They are "His hosts, ministers of His, that do His pleasure." The music and joy of their being is in doing His will. He is supreme over heavenly bodies. "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth." "He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by name."
(2.) It extends throughout earth. He is "the God of heaven and earth."
"By knowledge supreme, by wisdom Divine,
God governs the earth with gracious design.
O'er beast, bird, and insect His providence reigns,
Whose will first created, whose love still sustains."
He rules over all men. The highest potentate and the humblest peasant are alike under His authority. He "bringeth the princes to nothing; He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity," &c. (Isa ). He rules over men in every respect. Nothing pertaining to their life is too great or too small for His oversight and control. Even "the bounds of their habitation" are determined by Him.
(3.) It extends throughout hell. "The devil and his angels" are rebels against God's authority, but they cannot annul that authority, or free themselves from the restraints of His arm. Satan could not afflict Job beyond a certain limit, which was determined by God (Job ; Job 2:6). "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell," &c. (2Pe 2:4). "The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation," &c. (Jude 1:6). Thus the Divine supremacy is universal in its extent. (c).
II. The great obligation of man. "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth;" and are therefore under solemn obligations to obey Him. His will we should accept as our law. And our obedience to Him should be—
1. Complete. We should conform to His will in all things. No department of our life is beyond His control. We may not select certain commandments for our obedience, and reject or ignore others. We must "have respect unto all His commandments." (d).
2. Perpetual. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Our obedience must be continued as long as our being. The redeemed will "serve Him day and night in His Temple" through all eternity.
3. Hearty. Mere mechanical obedience is not acceptable to Him. The service of the hireling is an abomination in His sight; but that which is spontaneous and sincere He delights in. (e).
4. Joyous. Obedience to Him should be a pleasure to us. Joyous service is frequently commended in the Scriptures. "I will run in the way of Thy commandments." "Thy statutes have been my songs." "Serve the Lord with gladness." "I delight to do Thy will, O my God." (f).
III. The exalted privilege of man. It is deemed an honour to serve human sovereigns and princes. How much greater—how immeasurably greater—is the honour of serving the God of heaven and earth! When the service of God is rightly estimated, it is regarded as a glory, and rejoiced in as a privilege.
What is our attitude towards the sovereignty of God? Do we bow to it only when we are forced to do so, and because we are forced to do so? Or do we rejoice in being "the servants of the God of heaven and earth"?
(a) This is the natural order God hath placed in His creatures, that the more excellent should rule the inferior. He committed not the government of lower creatures to lions and tigers, that have a delight in blood, but no knowledge of virtue; but to man, who had an eminence in his nature above other creatures, and was formed with a perfect rectitude, and a height of reason to guide the reins over them. In man, the soul being of a more sublime nature, is set of right to rule over the body; the mind, the most excellent faculty of the soul, to rule over the other powers of it; and wisdom, the most excellent habit of the mind, to guide and regulate that in its determinations; and when the body and sensitive appetite control the soul and mind, it is a usurpation against nature, not a rule according to nature. The excellency, therefore, of the Divine nature is the natural foundation for His dominion. He hath wisdom to know what is fit for Him to do, and an immutable righteousness whereby He cannot do anything base and unworthy; He hath a foreknowledge whereby He is able to order all things to answer His own glorious designs and the end of His government, that nothing can go awry, nothing put Him to a stand, and constrain Him to meditate new counsels. So that if it could be supposed that the world had not been created by Him, that the parts of it had met together by chance, and been compacted into such a body, none but God, the supreme and most excellent Being in the world, could have merited, and deservedly challenged the government of it; because nothing had an excellency of nature to capacitate it for it, as He hath, or to enter into a contest with Him for a sufficiency to govern.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
(b) That benefit of redemption doth add a stronger right of dominion to God; since He hath not only as a Creator given them being and life as His creatures, but paid a price, the price of His Son's blood, for their rescue from captivity; so that He hath a sovereignty of grace as well as nature, and the ransomed ones belong to Him as Redeemer as well as Creator (1Co ): "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price;" therefore your body and your spirit are God's. By this He acquired a right of another kind, and bought us from that uncontrollable lordship we affected over ourselves by the sin of Adam, that He might use us as His own peculiar for His own glory and service. By this redemption there results to God a right over our bodies, over our spirits, over our services, as well as by creation; and to show the strength of this right, the Apostle repeats it, "you are bought," a purchase cannot be without a price paid; but he adds price also, "bought with a price." To strengthen the title, purchase gave Him a new right, and the greatness of the price established that right. The more a man pays for a thing, the more usually, we say, he deserves to have it; He hath paid enough for it; it was, indeed, price enough, and too much for such vile creatures as we are.—Ibid.
(c) The sapphire throne of God, at this moment, is revealed in heaven, where adoring angels cast their crowns before it; and its power is felt on earth, where the works of creation praise the Lord. Even those who acknowledge not the Divine government are compelled to feel it; for He doeth as He wills, not only among the angels in heaven, but among the inhabitants of this lower world. Hell feels the terror of that throne. Those chains of fire, those pangs unutterable, are the awful shadow of the throne of Deity; as God looks down upon the lost, the torment that flashes through their souls darts from His holiness, which cannot endure their sins. The influence of that throne, then, is found in every world where spirits dwell; and in the realms of inanimate nature it bears rule. Every leaf that fades in the trackless forest trembles at the Almighty's bidding, and every coral insect that dwelleth in the unfathomable depths of the sea feels and acknowledges the presence of the all-present King.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(d) All the commandments have the same Author, and the same sanction. He who thinks to atone for the breach of one by the observation of another; he who reserveth to himself a license of indulging in any favourite, darling lust, while, in general, he preserveth the appearance of an exemplary conduct, is a hypocrite, and, unless he repent, will be brought to shame, if not before men here, yet before men and angels hereafter.—Bishop Horne.
The hypocrite is in with one duty, and out with another: like a globous body, he toucheth the law of God in one point—some particular command he seems zealous for; but meets not in the rest; whereas, the sincere heart lies close to the whole law of God in his desire and endeavour.—W. Gurnall.
(e) As fruits artificially raised or forced in the hot-house have not the exquisite flavour of those fruits which are grown naturally, and in their due season; so that obedience which is forced by the terrors of the law, wants the genuine flavour and sweetness of that obedience which springs from a heart warmed and meliorated with the love of God in Christ Jesus.—H. G. Salter.
(f) Men are commonly more cheerful in their obedience to a great prince than to a mean peasant, because the quality of the master renders the service more honourable. It is a discredit to a prince's government, when his subjects obey him with discontent and dejectedness, as though he were a hard master, and his laws tyrannical and unrighteous. When we pay obedience but with a dull and feeble pace, and a sour and sad temper, we blemish our great Sovereign, imply His commands to be grievous, void of that peace and pleasure He proclaims to be in them; that He deserves no respect from us, if we obey Him because we must, and not because we will. Involuntary obedience deserves not the title: it is rather submission than obedience, an act of the body, not of the mind: a mite of obedience with cheerfulness, is better than a talent without it. The testimonies of God were David's delight (Psa ). Our understandings must take pleasure in knowing Him, our wills delightfully embrace Him, and our actions be cheerfully squared to Him.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST SINNING
In this verse we have three weighty reasons for abstaining from sin.
I. It provokes God. "Our fathers provoked the God of heaven unto wrath." By many sins, and especially by the practice of idolatry with its accompanying vices, the people of both Israel and Judah had long provoked Jehovah before He suffered them to be carried into exile. The evil of sin, as a provocation of the Most High, will be more impressively realised if we reflect that He is a Being of—
1. Infinite purity. He is "glorious in holiness;" … "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity." Sin is the very opposite of holiness; therefore it grieves Him, and if persisted in, it provokes Him. It is the "abominable thing, which He hates." Have we not in this a reason for shunning it? (a).
2. Infinite patience. He is "not easily provoked;" "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." He "is long-suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." How wonderful was His forbearance with His ancient people! How long He suffered them, notwithstanding their heinous, widespread, and long-continued sin! Yet at length they provoked Him unto wrath. How wicked and how persistent must the sin be which provokes so patient a Being to anger! Therefore let us flee from sin. (b).
II. It deprives the sinner of His protection. "He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean." By their sin the Israelites deprived themselves of the sure defence which His presence afforded to them, and frustrated His gracious purposes in relation to them. This truth is pathetically and beautifully expressed in Psa : "My people would not hearken to My voice; and Israel would none of Me," &c. By his sin the sinner places himself beyond the protection of the Divine Providence; he takes up the position of a rebel against the Divine government, and so forfeits the rights and privileges which that government confers upon its loyal subjects.
III. It strips the sinner of power to battle with his foes. "Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon." Bereft of the Divine presence and protection, the men of Israel and of Judah could not stand before their enemies. Guilt robs a man of courage. The consciousness of righteous action in a righteous cause is the mightiest inspiration in conflict and the surest defence in peril. Sin deprives a man of this. Guilt brings faintness into men's "hearts; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth," &c. (Lev ). "The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion." Or, as Shakespeare expresses it—
"Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;
The thief doth fear each bush an officer."
A guilty "conscience does make cowards of us all."
"From the body of one guilty deed
A thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts proceed." (c).
By all these reasons let us beware of sin, shun it, hate it; and "follow after holiness." For in respect of holiness we may reverse the argument of our subject, and affirm that
(1) it is well pleasing to God;
(2) it secures to its possessor the Divine protection; and
(3) it invests its possessor with moral strength and courage.
(a) Is it (if the supposition may be allowed) anything merely personal which God condemns in the action of the sinner against Himself? Can the sinner do God any harm? Can the mightiest chief in all the armies of hell pluck one star from the sky, or keep back the light of the sun, or bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? God is not, so to speak, alarmed for His personal government. The offences against His power cost Him no concern, but the offences against His holiness afflict Him with great sorrow. The parent cares nothing for the mere blow of the child's tiny fist, but the passion which prompted it breaks his heart. God has to maintain the public virtue and order of the universe. He fears no stroke of power; but if, for mere convenience of expression, we may distinguish between His personality and His attributes, we may say that offences against His person are forgiven, but offences against His attributes cannot be forgiven apart from confession and repentance on the side of the criminal.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) The more His patience is abused, the sharper will be the wrath He inflicts. As His wrath restrained makes His patience long, so His compassions restrained will make His wrath severe; as He doth transcend all creatures in the measures of the one, so He transcends all creatures in the sharpness of the other. Christ is described with "feet of brass, as if they burned in a furnace" (Rev ), slow to more, but heavy to crush, and hot to burn. His wrath loseth nothing by delay; it grows the fresher by sleeping, and strikes with greater strength when it awakes: all the time men are abusing His patience, God is whetting His sword, and the longer it is whetting the sharper will be the edge; the longer He is fetching His blow, the smarter it will be. The heavier the cannons are, the more difficultly are they drawn to the besieged town; but, when arrived, they recompense the slowness of their march by the fierceness of their battery. "Because I have purged thee," i.e., used means for thy reformation, and waited for it, "and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused My fury to rest upon thee. I will not go back, neither will I spare; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee" (Eze 24:13-14). God will spare as little then as He spared much before: His wrath will be as raging upon them as the sea of their wickedness was within them. When there is a bank to forbid the irruption of the stream, the waters swell; but when the bank is broke, or the lock taken away, they rush with the greater violence, and ravage more than they would have done had they not met with a stop: the longer a stone is in falling, the more it bruiseth and grinds to powder. There is a greater treasure of wrath laid up by the abuses of patience: every sin must have a just recompense of reward; and therefore every sin, in regard of its aggravations, must be more punished than a sin in the singleness and simplicity of its own nature. As treasures of mercy are kept by God for us, "He keeps mercy for thousands;" so are treasures of wrath kept by Him to be expended, and a time of expense there must be. Patience will account to Justice all the good offices it hath done the sinner, and demand to be righted by Justice; Justice will take the account from the hands of Patience, and exact a recompense for every disingenuous injury offered to it. When Justice comes to arrest men for their debts, Patience, Mercy, and Goodness will step in as creditors and clap their actions upon them, which will make the condition so much more deplorable.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
(c) They say sheep are scared with the clatter of their own feet as they run; so is the sinner with the din of his guilt. No sooner Adam saw his plate off, and himself to be naked, but he is afraid of God's voice, as if he had never been acquainted with Him. Never can we truly recover our courage till we recover our holiness. "If our heart condemn us not, then have we boldness before God" (1Jn ).—W. Gurnall.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany