God Keeps His Promises

Ezra

Look at the influence the Lord has! Are there members of your family who are not interested in building the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit? Ask the Lord to stir their hearts. Do you have friends or neighbors or people in your life that you would love to see moved to join the cause of covering the stage God built with His glory? Do you see the rulers of the world and fear the detrimental effect they could have on the gospel? Seek the Lord to stir their hearts. He can do this great work.

Ezra 1:6-11

What Cyrus decreed in Ezra 1:4 is enacted in verse 6: “All their neighbors supported them with silver articles, gold, goods, livestock, and valuables, in addition to all that was given as a freewill offering.” Just as the Egyptians gave freely to Israel at the exodus, so now those who surround 10Israel as they exit Babylon give them silver and gold and other things of worth.

In addition to the plundering, there are more hammer blows on that nail, driving into place the truth that God keeps His promises. God promised in Jeremiah 27:21-22,

Now we read in Ezra 1:7-8,

The vessels are itemized in Ezra 1:9-10, and then note the last words of verse 11: “when the exiles went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.” Even though Babylon has fallen and the Persian Empire controls the place, the region is referred to as “Babylon” to highlight the way God is fulfilling the prophecies of a new exodus from Babylon and the return from exile to the land of promise.

God keeps His word. Not only that, He provides for His people. God promised to restore His people to their land, and it looks impossible. It looks impossible because Cyrus king of Persia is in charge. It looks impossible because they can’t possibly afford to go to Jerusalem and build the temple. God makes impossible things happen. God stirs the spirit of Cyrus, and Cyrus funds the rebuilding of the temple. Impossible!

Are you looking at something that seems impossible: raising funds for an international adoption, overcoming infertility, the possibility of getting married, overcoming some temptation or pattern of sin in your life, dealing with a difficult situation at work, renewing intimacy in your marriage, growing in wisdom to the point that you’ll be useful to the Lord? What do you look at in life and say, “That’s impossible”?

Look at these Israelites in exile. It was impossible that the king would issue a decree that they could return to the land and promise to pay for 11the rebuilding of the temple. If you had suggested those things before they happened, they would have sounded like castles in the clouds! Preposterous suggestions! Impossibilities! Exactly. Look at God’s power and justice and faithfulness and mercy on the stage.

God keeps His word.

Ezra 2:1-70

The first verse of Ezra 2 tells us what the chapter contains:

The second verse of Ezra 2 lists 11 leaders of the community.

The material in Ezra 2 is repeated almost exactly in Nehemiah 7, but there are some differences between the two chapters. One of those differences is that in Nehemiah 7:7 there are 12 names. Some scholars think this indicates that there were probably 12 names in Ezra 2:2, and one of the names was left out by mistake (so Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, 18; Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 37; Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, 24). If this is correct, the fact that there were 12 leaders of the returnees represents an intentional reconstitution of the 12 tribes of Israel. Even if this wasn’t originally the case with Ezra 2:2, it is the case with Nehemiah 7:7.

Let me be clear about what I’m saying here. I am not saying that the author of the book of Ezra made an error. I am saying that it appears that those who copied the book of Ezra made an error. This kind of thing is why evangelicals say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs. An autograph is the hand-writing of some famous person. The autographa or autographs of the biblical manuscripts are the hand-written copies made by the authors themselves. We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the books of the Bible. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit kept the authors from making errors. God is true and trustworthy, and what He communicated in the Scriptures through the biblical authors is true and trustworthy. So when we say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs, we are simply saying that God inspired the original authors who wrote the Bible, but He did not inspire every scribe who copied the Bible so as to preserve them from minor error.

12This portion of Ezra, with the numbers at the end of chapter 1 and the names in chapter 2, seems to have been a challenge for the scribes. When numbers were written in ancient Hebrew, they used a system of symbols that might not have been clear to later copyists. Derek Kidner refers to “many other indications in the Old Testament that numbers were the bane of copyists” (Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 38). In the same way, the similarity of many Hebrew names could have caused scribes difficulty as they copied the text. We see difficulty with numbers in two ways in this section of Ezra.

How should we respond to this kind of information? One way to respond is the way Bart Ehrman does: “What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies”(Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 7). If you are looking for excuses to rebel against the Bible, you can go Ehrman’s way.

Another way to respond to this kind of information is to look at what we have and ask if Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah it is enough to enable us to understand the message of Ezra. So the numbers of the temple vessels don’t add up, a name appears to have fallen out, and the numbers in Ezra 2 don’t match the total given at the end of the list. There may be valid explanations for each. The lists may be excerpts while the totals are complete. The copyists may have bungled the job. Can we understand the text in spite of these difficulties? I think we can. In fact, I think that going Ehrman’s way would be as silly as receiving a reliable written message 13from someone you trust warning you about a nucular attack and rejecting the message because the word nuclear is misspelled. Would you risk being nuked because of a spelling error? Are you going to risk going to hell because there are difficulties with these lists in the Bible?

These difficulties do not keep us from understanding the message of the text. We can see, in spite of the question about the numbers of the vessels, that God kept His promise and restored those temple vessels. We can see, in spite of the question of the numbers of the returnees, that the people of Israel were restored to their land.

And when God restored His people to their land to rebuild the temple, He stirred the hearts of those who returned. He stirred the hearts of leaders in 2:2, of ordinary Israelites in 2:3-35, of priests in 2:36-39, of Levites in 2:40-42, of temple servants in 2:43-53, and of the sons of Solomon’s servants in 2:55-58. God stirred the hearts of everyone necessary for the work.

The fact that there are difficulties in the text should not make us conclude that the Israelites were not careful with details. Again, we can distinguish between what the author wrote and what later copyists did.

Look also at the way the returnees to the land respond to those who “were not able to declare the house of their fathers and their seed, whether they were from Israel” (2:59; my trans.) in 2:59-63. These people are listed out, and then in 2:61-62 we read that priests who could not demonstrate their genealogy were “disqualified from the priesthood.” We see here an intense concern with holiness. This concern for holiness is for the good of those excluded. If they are not priests and they draw near to God, they could be struck dead by His holiness breaking out against them. So their exclusion is for their protection.

It appears that the “sons of Hakkoz” in 2:61 (my trans.) were verified when a priest arose and consulted Urim and Thummim, as mentioned in 2:63. From what we read in the ESV of 1 Samuel 14:41-42, it appears that the Urim and Thummim were used as lots to determine the will of the Lord. These were two small stones kept in the high priest’s breastpiece, one indicating yes and the other no. A question would be put, a stone drawn out, and the answer would be determined. In Ezra 8:33, Nehemiah 3:4, and 3:21, we read of a descendant of Hakkoz named Meremoth serving as a priest. So it seems that the Urim and the Thummim verified his family.

Consider with me the status of the family of Hakkoz for a moment. These men want to serve as priests, but they are unable in themselves 14to demonstrate that they descend from the sons of Aaron. They need someone to arise and do for them what they cannot do themselves. They need a vindication that comes from outside themselves.

If you are an unbeliever, let me suggest that your condition is analogous to that of the sons of Hakkoz. You are unable to achieve for yourselves the vindication you need before God, but a priest has arisen who has provided what you need. Someone has done for you what you cannot do for yourself. Someone has provided a vindication that comes from outside yourself, outside what you are able to accomplish, and this vindication has been accepted before God.

What I mean is this: Your sin disqualifies you before God. Jesus lived the perfect life you should have lived, and He died on the cross under the wrath of God as you deserved—not as He deserved. He did this so that if you will trust in Him and swear fealty to Him as your Lord and King, His payment of the penalty will count for you. If you trust in Jesus, then, like these sons of Hakkoz, you can serve God as a priest.

As God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, He stirred the spirit of Cyrus. As Israel plundered the Egyptians and built the tabernacle, the Babylonians funded the rebuilding of the temple. As a census was taken in Numbers when the people prepared to march on Canaan, so the returnees to the land are enumerated here in Ezra 2.

There was an exodus from Egypt and an exodus from Babylon. Jesus also accomplished an exodus in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Everyone who trusts in Jesus participates in His exodus. Everyone who trusts in Him is forgiven of sin. Everyone who trusts in Jesus will participate in the exodus from being in bondage to corruption. This exodus will happen when all things are consummated and Jesus takes His people into the new heaven and new earth. Is this your story? Are you trusting in Jesus?

This passage is hammering on the nail of God’s faithfulness. Are you hearing those hammer blows and believing that God can be trusted to keep His promises? God will save every one of His people. Their names are recorded for life in Jerusalem. None will be lost.

Look at how Israel responds to the Lord’s faithfulness and deliverance here in Ezra 2:68-69. Everything necessary for the rebuilding of the temple has been provided by Cyrus (1:4, 7-11; cf. 6:4). Nevertheless, “some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of 15Yahweh, which was in Jerusalem, gave freewill offerings for the house of God to establish it in its place” (2:68; my trans.).

I mentioned earlier that what we see here in Ezra 1-2 is the first installment of the new exodus and return from exile. I called it the first installment because we will see another installment of it in Ezra 7-8. Figuratively speaking, then, we have a new exodus and return in Ezra 1-2, and another new exodus and return in Ezra 7-8. This may provide a precedent for the authors of the New Testament presenting the first coming of Jesus as a new exodus and return from exile, and then Revelation also presenting the second coming of Jesus in the same way—as the climactic fulfillment of the pattern of exodus and return from exile.

In response to the way that Jesus has liberated us from bondage, don’t you feel the way these “heads of the fathers’ houses” feel in 2:68-69 (my trans.)? Everything has been provided, but don’t you want to give? Don’t you want to sacrifice? Don’t you want to make freewill offerings?

This is still the stage God built. He still wants it filled with His glory. Rebels will give Him occasion to display the glory of His justice. Those who trust Jesus will experience the glory of His mercy. So the question is not whether you will glorify God but how. How will you glorify God? Let’s fill the stage with praise for the One who is worthy, and let’s live in ways that demonstrate the happiness of holiness (see Ps 144:15).

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