“Samuel said, “Does the LORD have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than a sacrifice, And to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22 NASB2020
We land in the dusty streets of a “paused” Jerusalem, Darius has either just taken the throne of Persia for the first time, or as some historians have postulated, he’s returned to clean up some messes his progeny made while he took a little holiday. Here in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel is still the executive leader in charge and the pastoral leadership is still Joshua, or as Ezra captured it, Jeshua.
Be prepared leaders! The trials are about to get tougher.
Your Bible might have a heading for this chapter, “Haggai Begins Temple Building,” but by the second year of Darius’s reign, they had been at it for nearly 3 decades! And at this point in the story, his grandson had ordered the work stopped. Sometimes, it’s better to just trust the text and not the headings the publisher puts in.
For the children of G-d, first it was the “peoples of the lands” that tried to stop the temple rebuilding, then it was an ignorant government by decree.
In your own efforts, now that Satan is on the ropes, you may find your own people saying, “The time has not yet come, the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.”
In their case in scriptures, maybe it was even from some of the church leadership? Haggai didn’t say, but whoever it was lived in “paneled houses”, so they weren’t no slouches.
What are you going to do if some of your own leadership isn’t getting involved, maybe even saying, “why are we talking about rebuilding now when there are other priorities?” What are you going to do if your leadership isn’t united as we laid out on Day 3 of this study guide and reading?
This is the chapter that originally got our attention for this entire project because it came with a dashboard warning light, like the ones in your car, that fit our lives in that moment.
We all can feel that our lives, particularly our business lives, can become stagnant and unfulfilling. Like it’s a meaningless or even fearful game of working hard to put another gold coin on top of a stack, only to have some unexpected expense or loss steel one from the bottom. That feeling should be a dashboard warning light! Don’t ignore it!
When we feel this way, we all often turn to G-d in prayer and say, “Please Lord, bless my business.” But Haggai says twice, “consider your ways.” Any time the Bible repeats something, it’s moving the dashboard warning light to the top and putting it right in the middle of your speedometer, so you won’t miss it.
G-d gives us this commandment in the center of that warning light, “Go!” up to the mountains, bring wood, rebuild the temple. Or in our case, “go” into the neighborhoods around your church and home, bring people, rebuild the body. All other projects, no matter how ambitious will fail. Why? Because the Lord of armies says He will blow it away.
Did you get that?
When your ambitious church plans fail, it can be G-d Himself blowing them away because His house remains desolate while yours is fine. And fearfully, this punishment doesn’t just apply to your church, it applies to all the land around it and its inhabitants—the churched and the unchurched.
And G-d won’t just stir up the spirit of our leaders in a vacuum. We must do something first. In this chapter, before a stirring, and without any cool music concert, or entertainment, without any formula or plan of man, the leaders with all the remnant…obeyed G-d to rebuild and showed reverence. That was it. No predicate. Just obedience and reverence.
Then… G-d said, “I am with you.”
Wow. That’s amazingly cool, and then stirred up the spirit of the executive and pastoral leadership, and the remnant of the people and they all worked on restoring the temple.
Big Take-Aways from Haggai 1
16) Do a sanity check on your efforts. Is your leadership united on outreach? Are the people? Are any of your other efforts stagnating? If so, teach others why this is happening by sharing this chapter from Haggai 1! 17) Call on your leadership and your people to obey G-d and show reverence. He will be faithful and stand with you and stir your spirits.
“For just as we have many parts in one body and all the body’s parts do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another.” Romans 12:4-5 NASB2020
We find ourselves in somewhat of a time machine this episode, as we read Ezra chapter 4. Time is passing for the rebuilding effort after exile. And though he first initially speaks of Cyrus in the present tense, Ezra uses a very clever device of language to accelerate the passage of time. Remember that the first 6 chapters are somewhat of a historical summary. Well, starting so fast he jumps right over the reigns of kings Cambyses and Smedis, and tapping the brakes a little with the phrase, “even until Darius”, Ezra begins his coast to a stop, checking in first with Ahasuerus (better known as Xerxes from the movie The 300) before ultimately coming to a complete halt at Artaxerxes.
In chapter 4, Ezra steps back and allows a more encompassing view of the future, foreshadowing a death to the vision of rebuilding the temple.
Whenever we set our minds to doing G-d’s will and proclaim His light, it draws bugs. Satan is the biggest bug of all. In Ezra 4, the bugs came and, even while claiming to be friends offering help, they discouraged, frightened, frustrated, accused, even spent money to thwart rebuilding G-d’s temple. They even petitioned Artaxerxes, the son of the king involved in the story of Esther, who had some early tolerance for the work of rebuilding likely due to respect for Esther. But they threatened the king’s tax base and very kingdom security. The enemy is not subtle in attacking this kind of dedication to G-d’s work.
We began our work just 3 days ago… have you experienced any of these types of attacks? I know I have—sincerely, and from directions I didn’t expect.
When Artaxerxes replied, he ordered the cessation of the building effort by force. They were banned from continuing in the work G-d had given them. This brought a death to the vision. The concept of “death to a vision” is a common thread throughout the scriptures. Abraham and Sarah were promised a child when barren. Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac. Pharaoh denied Moses. Even Yeshua on the cross! G-d often makes promises and then permits circumstances that seem to end the promise’s realization. Why? One reason is to allow room for faith. In some Biblical cases, people remained faithful. In others, they took matters into their own hands to bring about the promise, usually with less-than-ideal results.
But G-d is always faithful. How do we keep our faith when there’s a death to a vision? David gave us all the example we need when about to face Goliath, “The G-d who saved me from the paw of the bear and the paw of the lion will surely save me from this Philistine!” Faith is a muscle. We exercise it as we face trials. Each of us is given a measure of faith (Rom 12:3), and G-d has provided us with a proportion of grace (Eph 4:7). Between the two, our glass is full to the top! no matter where we are in our individual spiritual growth.
Big Take-Aways from Ezra 4
13) The enemy will surely come against us. If he doesn’t then we aren’t doing our job right. Pray that G-d rebuke’s the devourer, and that our fruit will not wither on the vine (Mal 3:10-12). 14) Pray for wisdom, and for those of us with the spiritual gift of discernment to discern our friends from our enemies. Just because someone is offering to help you doesn’t make them your friend. We need wisdom and discernment now more than ever. 15) When circumstances bring about a “death to the vision,” rely on your past experiences where the Lord was faithful. Set your mind to growing your faith.
The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him. Nahum 1:7 NASB2020
More people have returned to the land… the cities are filling back up. Cyrus is still king, we see a new leader step-up in Judah—now Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and we get their first named spiritual leader, the aptly-named Jeshua.
Q. Why did the leaders start by rebuilding the altar?
A. Because they were terrified of the peoples of the lands.
Sacrifices, feasts, and festivals were the order of the day. They wanted a public statement of dedication to focus their efforts on rebuilding, and one goal was their defense against the peoples of the lands.
They then paid money to the craftspeople necessary to provide supplies. Leadership became united in a single goal, and when they finished their first step, laying the foundation, they held a celebration to publicly recognize the milestone and praise G-d.
We already have the perfect sacrifice—Yeshua Hamashiach!
It should be noted that throughout this chapter, the prophet uses perfunctory language over and over again, “as it is written”, “the prescribed number of”, and “according to the directions of”. Basically, they were doing these things because they were told to do it. We’ll show you many chapters from now, near the end of our journey together that, many years later, they celebrated these same things with reckless abandon and the prophets at that time will state that it was the first time they actually celebrated these festivals. But for now, it was a good start to do these things.
Sometimes, we may feel like we are just going through the motions, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To heal from the more vitriolic mental illnesses like eating disorders, youth/parent problems, alcoholism and substance abuse, and PTSD, having and doing acts of tradition and ceremony that require us to engage with others, especially for things that are beneficial to a community, can be an important first step to a healing process. It breaks the cycle of mentally reliving our traumas over and over again, which can lock us in a black box of hopeless despair.
This is what was happening in Ezra 3. They were carrying out traditions, even if the intent of the heart wasn’t there, as a way to break the cycle of mentally reliving their traumas over and over again. Even if they were just going through the motions, there was value in going through the motions of tradition and ceremony. This is how G-d begins to cure us.
But we can’t do that from our couches watching church remotely on our TVs.
As a church body, our walls have been decimated (divided by 10), our people returning from exile likely feel defenseless, we’ve lost our sense of community, and the “peoples of the lands” today are just as hostile against the church as then. No doubt, the problem domain we face today is very similar in many ways to theirs. Our leaders need to be not only united but also have a plan with milestones—and each must be celebrated. This is a big elephant of a project, and we eat it one tiny bite at a time, celebrating each victory.
When we celebrate our first milestone, will those of us that saw our old temple before Covid exile weep as loudly as those who praise with shouts of joy at the celebration today?
Big Take-Aways from Ezra 3
8) Start at the altar, recognize G-d’s sacrifice for us to be here and so dedicated to this effort. 9) Hold festivals and feasts, making a goal of each to rebuild through outreach – inviting others. 10) Pay money, out of outreach offerings, to craftspeople to help us: messaging, materials, food, etc. 11) Pray that our leadership unites in vision and goal. 12) Ask our leadership to plan milestones and celebrations.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:1 NASB
It’s still the first year back from Babylonian exile. Cyrus is king of Persia, and Sheshbazzar is the Jewish “governator” over Judah. We don’t know who the priests are because…they’re still trying to figure all that out.
As the great theologian and writer, Steven Ger, once said, “There’s a lot of great action in genealogies.”
I found humor in that the 5th name of this genealogy, “the sons of Elam were 1,254.” Then near the end, and just to see if you were paying attention, the Lord included, “the sons of the other Elam, 1254.”
In high-tech circles, this is sometimes called a “data janitor” problem. Was there really another Elam, or perhaps one of the census takers entered the same family twice? It raises a question: in a data set of 33 family lineages, there are two pairs of precisely matching numbers, which can happen, but one pair is for two families of the same name?
I was reminded of the old Bob Newhart bit, “I’m Larry, and this is my brother Elam, and my other brother Elam.”
Anyway, the much bigger take-away is that they did a census. We should all thank our church administrators who make the effort to update the directory! Ezra is showing us that the Lord wants us to take a measurement of where we are. One thing’s for certain, we don’t have as many priests (lay ministers) as we used to. Our priest-to-family ratio has suffered. Members and pastors have visibly stepped up and filled in the gaps, but when we have “teams-of-one”, then too many are doing too much and will burn out (if they haven’t already done so).
For the second chapter of Ezra, 42,360 people returned. There were only 341 Levites. That’s a 124:1 ratio! No wonder in chapter 8, we will see Ezra double-check their count and go back for more Levites. Now, they had temple servants to help, but think about your church now. What is your member to pastor/rabbi ratio after returning from Covid exile?
We need to pray today that G-d sends us more lay ministers.
Can you imagine being released from exile, excited to get back to a life you once knew, traveling back to your home and temple? How would you cope with the emotions of expectation? What would you hope to find when you arrived?
What if the reality didn’t live up to your imaginings? The Jews clambered up the hill to Jerusalem full of that expectation, and as they crested the ridge…then found their temple tattered and torn; their walls destroyed. What a shock it must have been.
What was your first day back to church or temple like after Covid Exile?
Well, upon their return, the heads of families “offered willingly” to reestablish the temple. Church leaders…we should pray about making this option available to our people – an opportunity to give specifically to our outreach efforts for this restoration of our temple after Covid exile.
Big Take-Aways from Ezra 2
6) Pray for new lay ministers 7) Pray for wisdom on offering an opportunity for an offering for outreach
“It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he will carry out all My desire.’ And he says of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’” Isaiah 44:28 NASB2020
Cyrus the Great is king of Persia, likely around 533 BC, roughly 6 years after conquering Babylon and liberating the Jews after 70 years of captive exile. Sheshbazzar is governor of Judah.
Are you ready for miracles? How about plans within plans? What is G-d going to reveal to you…to all of us about rebuilding our temple after Covid exile as we read through these 56 days of scriptures together?
Time and space are going to fold as we simultaneously A) journey through a rich tapestry carefully crafted 2400 years ago, on a prayerful mission reliving the struggles and triumphs of that long-ago generation released from exile only to find their temple and their sense of community demolished, all the while as we B) live out our own struggles and triumphs through the same epic challenge before us today.
What did G-d do for them? What is He about to do for you and the leadership of your church?
His plan for rebuilding our temple after Covid exile is emerging, and the thrill is spreading like waves throughout our community. But it all starts with a simple…stirring?
Is that all it takes for our Lord of Armies to begin a campaign that will change lives forever?
First, let me ask you to think of how you want to approach our trek together. Do you read the chapter first and then this commentary, or the other way around? Find the groove that works best for you and consider praying before or after.
The Spirit is about to reveal, day after day, the threads of your own plan, woven carefully into a tapestry of your own that He has been preparing just for you and your temple for over a hundred years.
For today’s chapter, we see G-d started this remarkable odyssey by planning centuries ahead and selecting just the right leader/patron, announcing him even before he was born, and interestingly enough, even one that didn’t follow G-d. The Lord richly blessed him and stirred up his heart to lead the effort to rebuild the temple.
[Note: see the actual prophecies involved—Isaiah (740 – ~686 BC) 44:28 – 45:14 and Jeremiah (655 – 582 BC+) 25:11-12; fun to read along with reading Ezra 1]
Cyrus (pronounced ‘Kər-us or cure-us, who’da thunk it! – a pun in English) was prophesied by not only Jeremiah, but also by Isaiah – really cool stuff. He gave the following direction to kick off the rebuilding effort; does it apply to us today?
There are to be two groups of people: workers and supporters. There is no third role mentioned of “kibitzing”, so everyone is either one or the other. This is a kibitzing-free zone! No one is allowed to just watch and not participate.
Who were the workers? “Everyone” whose spirit G-d stirred. Is G-d stirring your spirit?
Who were those who supported the effort? “All” of those around them.
What did they give? Everything that was needed… in ADDITION to (aside from) voluntary offerings.
Plus, the leader/patron restored everything that had been taken away. An inventory for a homecoming.
When G-d plans something for a century or longer, His excitement must be palpable! Can you imagine that about your own effort to rebuild after Covid exile? That G-d, the Lord who stretches out the universe…has been planning for what your church is about to do…and is excited about it!
Does that make you excited? He hopes so.
Big Take-Aways from Ezra 1
Pray for our leader/patron that they, whoever they are, would be granted favor and ALL the material needs to make rebuilding possible. G-d doesn’t do anything halfway. G-d, Himself, will go before leveling the mountains, breaking down gates of bronze and cutting through bars of iron.
We need to take an inventory of everything we lost during our exile. I believe we already have: we have an MIA list – people that have not returned to our church after Covid exile, as well as the growth we were experiencing before, which hasn’t returned.
Pray for our Cyrus. G-d already knows who that is. Pray that the Lord stirs up his/her spirit.
Set up a framework for both the workers and supporters – so that it’s easy for people to be one or the other, but make sure they know there is no 3rd option here. We all have to be dedicated to rebuilding.
In order for us to have our inventory returned to us, and acknowledging that some people have moved away and can’t easily move back, perhaps we should consider a homecoming of sorts – an event to return all the inventory to the temple? Perhaps to coincide with the end of our initial outreach effort? Perhaps the Feast of Trumpets? What works best for your church?
Do you feel something different since returning from Covid exile? Feeling flat? Do you have intrusive negative thoughts? Increased alertness, anger, fits of rage, irritability, or hatred, difficulty sleeping or concentrating? Do you find yourself avoiding situations or people?
Covid Exile forced our church family, our temples, to shut down and disperse worldwide. We were separated from our spiritual homes and put in remarkably stressful isolation from our community.
The pandemic will likely have long-term effects on spiritual health, mental wellbeing, and addiction. Current data point to a major disruption in the way churches live and grow. We’ve lost our ability to community.
Can we reverse that trend?
There are six books from the Hebrew Bible that address post-trauma stress and rebuilding after Babylonian exile. What do they have to tell us today? By studying them together, we will find G-d’s solution to this present darkness.
So, grab a cup of tea and pull up a comfy chair. Like a friendly fireside chat on a blustery autumnal eve, it’ll draw us closer, time will fly. What starts out as a simple, friendly conversation will quickly become the opening thread to a greater adventure.
This tempting string, this flaxen filament before us, if we decide to pull it, will reveal a problem of Brobdingnagian proportions that we simply must think through together, you and I. And as we do, a shocking duty will emerge like a rocky spire in a receding, moon-lit tide–one that’s as inescapable as it is foreboding. It calls to us…woos us to engage.
It’s in this moment that I find my heart gladdened that you are here. I couldn’t imagine this epic quest without your skills and your spiritual gifts.
Are you feeling something different since returning from Covid exile? Feeling flat? Do you have intrusive negative thoughts? Increased alertness, anger, fits of rage, irritability, or hatred, difficulty sleeping or concentrating? Do you find yourself avoiding situations or people?
Covid exile forced our church families, our temples, to shut down and disperse worldwide. We were separated from our spiritual homes and put in remarkably stressful isolation from our community.
The pandemic will likely have long-term effects on spiritual health, mental wellbeing, and addiction. While it’s not yet clear what will happen, current data point to a major disruption in the way churches live and grow.
Can we reverse that trend?
This exciting global project will result in a simple collection of communications, suitable for newsletters or emails, that we will craft together–one per “day”.
By the word, day, we mean one chapter of scripture. We have identified 56 chapters–there’s a helpful chart in the next section that lists them in order. Ultimately this project might be reviewed in 56 hours, 56 days, or 56 weeks.
This trip will be 56 weeks.
Each “day” will have a loving message that carefully examines scripture, which we will find to be a page lifted right out of someone else’s journal, written by a generation 2400 years ago, and that was facing the same problem we’re facing today. We’ll do this in the actual order the events occurred and learn from the source how they struggled through the ordeals of returning from their exile to find their temple destroyed and community broken.
What from their successes can we apply to our dire needs today?
Together, we’ll find out and then our messages will be sent out, one every “day”, to your church’s leadership in an important preparation for a systematic and effective outreach effort to rebuild your temple through a custom-made plan. Be assured, G-d will reveal it to you as we go through this process together.
How deep is your desire to see your temple restored?
Everyone’s contributions here are valuable. We’ll curate them as input for a book written to help remedy this global problem we all face.
That is our quest.
By participating and contributing in this 3rd cohort, this 3rd merry band going through this material together, you consent to this discussion being used as a loving gift to improve our approach and material for this ongoing tail for the next group.
We Need You
Pray for this project
Register for a login on this site
We’ll attempt to email out some reminders along the way
Get ready to read each post and apply the scriptures to your life
Rate it! How much did each post fit your life?
Let us know what you think!
Engage others in a lively discussion about each chapter
Invite others to join this community!
Become a part of the rebuilding effort world-wide.
If you have any questions, you can ask the author directly!
Let’s take a fresh look at our lives and understand the problem we globally face, realize that our Father has led a similar group through the same restoration process before, and let’s role up our sleeves and get busy. His temple awaits!
What’s Expected of You
The expectations on you are high. Are you up for the challenge? This is a year-long commitment. Are you ready? Here’s what’s expected of each participant.
Weekly read the focus chapter of scripture for that week
Read the accompanying devotional synopsis
Memorize that week’s memorization verse (yes, we have to memorize things in spiritual warfare)
Engage others here and in small groups where you are
Know (discover if you don’t know) what your gifts of the Spirit are and apply them — this is a team effort.
Put into practice Key Take-aways each week
This study will span all 6 books of the Hebrew Bible that deal with the return from exile in chronological order. Significant work went into structuring this order, but there’s always room for improvement. Our goal is to come as close as we can to a “daily journal” approach to these scriptures as we walk in their sandals for 56 “days”.
A word about this next section of scripture. You can skip this historical note if you’re not a Bible geek. 😉
Some historians say the chapters from Ezra 1-6 and then 7-10 are thematic. That is to say that Darius is Darius and Artaxerxes is Artaxerxes, and therefore the events are historically thematic, meaning Ezra is first writing like a historian in 1-6, jumping back and forth in the narrative, like a history book on the United States might have a chapter about Abraham Lincoln where they also site something George Washington said or did. Then in Ezra 7-10, he starts writing a personal diary, which is chronological.
Others say the text is, itself, chronological and they account for this jumble of names by saying that Persian kings shared names, or titles that sound like names, and that two Persian kings not even listed in the Bible but that did historically exist, Cambyses and Smedis, were also known as Darius and Artaxerxes, names shared by their respective grandsons as titles. Therefore, the enemies of the Jews could appeal in Ezra 4 to Ahasuerus (Xerxes, really Cambyses) and then Artaxerxes (really Smedis) and then later appeal to Darius (Darius), and then later in Ezra 7, he could be provisioned by Artaxerxes (Artaxerxes). The whole thing could be chronological but would result in large gaps of 15 years or more between letters and events, which would make some prophets and characters unrealistically old.
Our project here arrives at something of a chronological hybrid because there are extrabiblical texts that suggest that Darius was a king not really all that into ruling, and he would take long sabbaticals, leaving his son Xerxes to rule for a season and then coming back to fix messes. Xerxes would often go on military campaigns, such as that seen in the movie The 300, where he fought king Leonidas of Greece. During such times, if he was also ruling, he might yield administrative nuisances to his son Artaxerxes. In this way, a young Artaxerxes may issue an impetuous decree in his youth that his grandpa Darius may later have to correct.
This neatly explains the unanswered letter to Xerxes mentioned in Ezra 4:6, and the fast-following letter to Artaxerxes in 4:7. The reply letter from Artaxerxes in Ezra 4 shutting down the work of the Jews vs. his letter in Ezra 7 to provide everything Ezra and team needed for their journey to join the work effort are strikingly different in tone and maturity. The first letter reads like a teenager responding to a nuisance with informal and personal salutations to the people of the land (likely Samaritans) and the second like a regal magistrate, remembering perhaps Grandpa’s rebukes, providing well-constructed legal directions for all care. Also, the letter from Darius in Ezra 6, which falls between those two letters from Artaxerxes, feels a little like it’s written by an embarrassed or angry grumpy grandpa who is having to fix a mess his dopey grandson made of things. The only issue to tie up with this approach is that the scriptures capture this particular time of Darius after returning from a sabbatical as his “second” year, which can be a reasonable interpretation of that particular period of his reign.
In this way, with our interpretation for this project, like the thematic interpretation, Darius is Darius and Artaxerxes is Artaxerxes, and yet the events can be historically chronological. With this approach, the ages of the prophets and characters can have reasonable lifespans.
From Nehemiah 12
“Now in the days…,”
For the Bible geeks out there, and you know who you are, the next section will provide hours and hours of fun! It’s like a Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring (see the movie, A Christmas Story). But it spells out something more profound than, “drink your Ovaltine!”
We can use the following to true-up our assumptions for chronological ordering of post-exilic scriptures:
From Other Sources
Using mostly scriptures, the table above, and a few other sources, we pulled together the following timeline of chapters. Here is the table from which we worked to develop this project.
Please sign up for this fascinating journey together and give us your feedback for each post. The discussions should be amazing and I look forward to your thoughts.
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