Praise and Thanks to the LORD

Thursday, June 30, 2016

“And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid” (Ezra 3:11 KJV).

Just imagine Israel’s joy as the Temple is being reconstructed!

The Babylonian armies had come many decades earlier and destroyed Jerusalem. Solomon’s Temple, the house of the LORD, the magnificent center of Israel’s religious life, was burned to the ground! The Jews of the southern kingdom (Judah) were violently carried away to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:14-21).

JEHOVAH God commissioned Persian King Cyrus the Great to rebuild His Temple (Isaiah 44:28—written nearly two centuries previous to Cyrus!). Obeying Cyrus’ decree, Zerubbabel leads some of his Jewish brethren from Babylon back to Jerusalem to begin the construction (2 Chronicles 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1-11). These Jews have given of their material riches to construct the Temple. As chapter 2 of Ezra says: “[68] And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place: [69] They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.”

In today’s Scripture, they are excited that they have now laid the foundation for this new Temple. Literally, they are “re-laying the groundwork” for their Mosaic religion. They want JEHOVAH’S presence to return to them. They desire for Him to dwell in Jerusalem with them as He did before their Babylonian captivity/exile. It is a very emotional time. The older men, those who had seen Solomon’s Temple before it was destroyed over 50 years earlier, observe the construction of this new Temple’s foundation and they “wept with a loud voice” (verse 12)! They recognize that they had sinned (leading to their punishment in the captivity) but their God has been faithful in bringing them back into the Promised Land. Not because of their faithfulness, but because of His!

When the LORD Turns Israel’s Captivity #5

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

“That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3 KJV).

In today’s Scripture, Moses prophesies Israel’s glorious future restoration!

We read in Isaiah 5:13: “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.” And 2 Chronicles 29:9: “For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.” And Ezekiel 39:23: “And the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword.”

The above Scriptures (and many others) were written in light of Assyria and Babylon carrying the idolatrous Jews away captive to foreign lands. Israel and Judah knew exactly why JEHOVAH was so angry. For centuries, He had warned them to reform (with no success). They would no more defile His Promised Land with their idolatry (Leviticus 18:24-30)!

Ezra 9:7, spoken after the Jews’ exile to Babylon, and the Jews’ partial return to Jerusalem, says: “Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.”

When Jesus came, He would have delivered Israel from her captivity amongst the nations. He was so willing to rescue Israel from that fifth course of judgment (God’s wrath and her exile), to save her from her sins, and deliver her from Satan’s bondage. Jesus Christ was ready to be their King and reverse their captivity (thus fulfilling today’s Scripture). But Israel refused Him: “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). So, Israel waits even today to be released from that captivity….

The Jews Are Coming!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

“And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:14 KJV).

Jerusalem, the Jews are coming, the Jews are coming!

From 606 B.C. to 536 B.C., Judah was captive in Babylon. JEHOVAH told them that after those 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12; cf. Daniel 9:2), He would bring these Jews back to Jerusalem; He would not leave them hopeless, for He still had marvelous plans for them despite their unbelief and disobedience (Jeremiah 29:10-11, the context of today’s Scripture).

The Jewish Bible, which ends with 2 Chronicles, concludes with Israel back in her homeland (chapter 36): “[20] And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: [21] To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. [22] Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, [23] Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.”

These two Jewish expeditions from exile to Jerusalem are recorded in the Bible books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Still, many Jews are still scattered worldwide today, and certainly not enjoying God’s earthly kingdom as they should have.

Jeremiah 29:11 is Israel’s hope in such a hopeless condition!

Our latest Bible Q&A: “Why do the wicked prosper?

The Three E’s of Bible Study

Sunday, November 9, 2014

“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8 KJV).

Can you name the three “E’s” of Bible study?

In Nehemiah’s day, 150 years after God deported Judah and Jerusalem to Babylon (their chastisement for centuries of pagan idolatry), the priest-scribe Ezra led some Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. After Jerusalem’s wall is completed under Nehemiah’s supervision, Ezra preaches to Israel from Moses’ writings (probably Leviticus and/or Deuteronomy). Men are standing with Ezra, explaining God’s Word to Israel. The people are moved, convicted, realizing their sins before God; they are instructed to do right in God’s sight; and they finally obey JEHOVAH’S words by keeping His Feast of Tabernacles (verses 9-18).

Hence, whenever God’s Word is opened and thoughtfully read, these three events should always occur:

  1. ENLIGHTENMENT—“to give spiritual light to; instruct.” Paul prayed for all believers: “[17] That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: [18] The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,…” (Ephesians 1:17,18).
  2. EDIFICATION—“to instruct or benefit; uplift.” “Edify” is derived from two roots, the first meaning, “to build,” and the second, “house, temple.” The idea is building a structure of sound doctrine inside a person’s soul. Paul and Timothy wrote, “…we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying (2 Corinthians 12:19). “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord giveth us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed” (10:8).
  3. ENCOURAGEMENT—“to put courage in; to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence.” Paul wrote to downcast Timothy, “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). “[S]tand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries…(Philippians 1:27,28).

Big Brother Versus Heavenly Father #4

Thursday, November 7, 2013

“…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5c,6 KJV).

Big Brother is watching; Heavenly Father is, too!

A brief survey of the Old Testament Scriptures reveals God’s chief nation in the earth, Israel, refused to submit to His will. Like sinful Adam, Israel had no interest in governing earth for God’s glory. Israel’s recurrent breaking of the Mosaic Law had a consequence: she could not be a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:3-6).

In Leviticus 26:27-39, God had warned them that, after repeated chastisements and subsequent habitual disobedience, His final judgment on them would be that Gentile nations would defeat them in battle, and carry Israel out of her Promised Land. Israel’s monarchy would be lost, and not restored until Messiah-King would come (Ezekiel 21:26,27).

The culmination of this judgment against Israel was when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon successfully thrice invaded Jerusalem. During the last invasion (586 B.C.), Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, God’s Temple was burned to the ground, and the remaining Jews taken captive to Babylon (see 2 Chronicles 36:5-21).

Some Jews returned to the Promised Land after the Babylonian exile, such as with Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Nevertheless, the majority of the Jews are still scattered worldwide, still without a Davidic kingdom. By the time Jesus Christ came, Babylon, Media-Persia, and Greece had already ruled over Israel. In Jesus’ day, the Roman Empire was oppressing Israel.

Ezekiel 21:26,27 said that Israel would not receive her crown again until her Messiah came. When Jesus finally arrived, and Pilate told Israel, “Behold your King!,” the Jews released themselves from their national heritage as they publicly declared, “Crucify him… We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:14,15). By rejecting Jesus their King and demanding His crucifixion, they hindered God’s earthly kingdom from being established (again!).

During the early Acts period, most of Israel still rejected Jesus’ right to David’s throne. The last week of Daniel’s prophecy, Israel’s spiritual cleansing and God’s wrath, would be postponed so God could commence another program… ours….

Consider Your Ways, Israel! #5

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

“Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:5,6 KJV).

The Jews have built their houses, but they are apathetic that they have not finished JEHOVAH’S….

Thus far, we have seen the Scriptures that demonstrate the complacency of the post-exilic Jews living in Jerusalem and Judaea. They had forgotten about JEHOVAH’S unfinished Temple because they had forgotten about JEHOVAH. In His mercy, grace, and longsuffering, He sent prophets to preach His Word to those Jews, to the intent that they would see their error and turn to Him.

The Jews considered their ways, and they believed the Word of God that Haggai and Zechariah the prophets preached to them. “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel…” (Ezra 6:14; cf. Ezra 5:1,2; Haggai 1:12-15). God’s Word encouraged them and, by faith, they finished the Temple about four years after construction resumed under Darius the Persian king (Ezra 4:24 cf. Ezra 6:15). As an interesting historical side note, circa 500 years later, Herod the Great refurbished that Temple, which Temple existed during Christ’s earthly ministry, and which Temple the Romans destroyed in A.D. 70.

Although these Scriptures were not written to us or about us, we can appreciate them in their rightful place in God’s inspired Word. Moreover, there are parallels to these Scriptures regarding the Bible books written to us and about us—Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon. In the next 10 studies, two companion devotional arcs, we will look at how these Scriptures from the books of Ezra and Haggai help us to better understand and appreciate the purpose and plan that the Lord Jesus Christ has for us….

Consider Your Ways, Israel! #1

Saturday, September 21, 2013

“Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:5,6 KJV).

The Jews have built their houses, but they are apathetic that they have not finished JEHOVAH’S….

In the context of today’s Scripture, only a remnant of Jews has returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity (606-536 B.C.). Like Zechariah and Malachi, JEHOVAH has sent Haggai to instruct, encourage, and rebuke these post-exilic Israelis in Palestine. Both Haggai and Zechariah preached prior to Ezra, the priest-scribe who led a group of Jews from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Today’s Scripture, dated approximately 520 B.C., parallels Ezra 5:1.

Haggai, preaching to the returned Jews in Jerusalem and Judah, reminds them that though are now living again in the Promised Land, their lives are futile and empty (today’s Scripture). Some 15 years earlier, King Cyrus of Persia had granted the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild Solomon’s Temple (destroyed 586 B.C. by the Babylonians). However, Gentile opposition to the Jews building at that site halted construction until the time of the context of today’s Scripture (Ezra 4:23,24 cf. Haggai 1:1,2).

The prophet Haggai rebukes the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah who have built their own homes, but who could not care less that JEHOVAH’S Temple is still unfinished, nearly two decades since its construction began. “Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built. Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled [roofed, covered] houses, and this house lie waste?” (Haggai 1:2-4).

We will better understand the meaning of today’s Scripture by taking a closer look at the minor prophet’s book. Let us see why Israel’s strenuous labor is yielding little reward, and if she will reform her ways….