Last week, as we took a look at Ezra 5, we were able to see such a clear demonstration of the kindness and love of God. The people had grown stagnant and dissatisfied with life because of their neglect of God’s purpose for their lives. They had totally and completely turned their attention away from the reason the Lord had brought them back to Jerusalem and focused on themselves. They didn’t recognize this on their own. God delivered His Word through two men, Haggai and Zechariah, to help the leaders see what they had done and to urge them to return to God and the job He had given them. Haggai showed them how they had become distracted by the busyness of their lives. They had plenty, but it was never enough. They had devoted themselves to their own happiness and pleasure, but they were empty and unfulfilled. Their slow drift away from God ended when God, in His grace and mercy, sent His Word through Zechariah: “Return to Me and I will return to you.”
Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the people heard God like they had never heard Him before. They laid down their preoccupation with themselves. They cleared their schedules. They went back to work on rebuilding God’s house, the temple. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful story if once they picked up their hammers it was smooth sailing until the temple was completed? Instead, we read in the very next verse that opposition came once again. “Who gave you permission to rebuild this temple? Give me the names of all of these people that are working today.” Really? It had been sixteen years since the work had stopped. The initial reason they had stopped the work on the temple was because of another group of relentless protesters. Now, with God’s help, they had regained their focus, they had laid aside the unnecessary so they could dedicate themselves to what was most important, and here comes more opposition, more trouble. While being shelled with questions we read in Ezra 5:5,
5 But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received. (Ezra 5:5 NIVO)
I know this verse is from the chapter of Ezra we studied last week, Ezra 5, but I can’t shake it. It’s more than a phrase, it’s more than a verse, it is one of the most beautiful and powerful truths of God and we find the same idea appear over and over again in God’s Word. The fact that God was watching over the elders didn’t make life easy for them, it didn’t stop the opposition. God’s watchful eye didn’t disperse the crowd who had formed a picket line. The opposition continued day after day. Their work had already been stopped once, would the king put a stop to it again? They had no idea what the outcome would be, but more importantly, they knew God had called them to pick up their hammers and get back to work so they kept working.
The man who asked Zerubbabel who gave him permission and then took the names of the workers was a man named Tattenai. Jerusalem was under the control of the Persians and Tattenai was the governor of the area. Zerubbabel and Jeshua gave him the information he asked for and kept working. The letter from Tattenai to King Darius is found in Ezra 5:6-17. If you will take a look in your Bible you can see that Tattenai reported what Zerubbabel and Jeshua had told him. He didn’t accuse the Jews, he didn’t tell Darius the Jews were a threat to the throne, but he did ask the king to search the records to see if what the Jews said about King Cyrus was accurate. At the end of his letter, in Ezra 5:17, he wrote,
17 Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter. (Ezra 5:17 NIVO)
This is an example of the way “the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews.” Tattenai could have lied about what the Jews were doing. He could have created a scenario that struck fear in the heart of Darius, but he simply reported what Zerubbabel and Jeshua had told him, “Cyrus gave us permission to rebuild the temple.” Tattenai could have also ordered the construction going on at the site of the temple to stop until word came from King Darius, but he allowed them to keep working.
How long would it have taken to get word back from the king? He couldn’t text or email the request. It would have taken months to get word back to Babylon, conduct the search, and get the king to write a letter detailing his findings. What would happen in the meantime? We don’t know because none of those things happened. Tattenai sent his findings to King Darius, they found the edict of Cyrus, and King Darius sent a letter back to Tattenai. In Ezra 6:1 we read,
1 King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. 2 A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it: Memorandum: 3 In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be ninety feet high and ninety feet wide, 4 with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. 5 Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God. 6 Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you, their fellow officials of that province, stay away from there. 7 Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. (Ezra 6:1-7 NIVO)
Lo and behold they found the record of what King Cyrus had written. And here is another illustration of how “the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews.” Historians and archaeologists have found that Cyrus actually had three homes. He stayed in the capital city of Babylon in the winter, he moved to Susa in the spring, and then to Ecbatana in the summer. He was living in Ecbatana in the first summer after he became king of Babylon. The search for the record of Cyrus’ decree was almost 20 years after the ink had dried, but King Darius found it because “the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews.”
Did you notice, after the letter from King Darius arrived in Jerusalem, Tattenai read it and learned that he and all of the Persian officials were to stay away from the construction of the temple. They were not to interfere with the work on the temple. This would have been cause for a great celebration. Finally, the people of God were free to rebuild the temple and begin to offer sacrifices once again. But King Darius gave Governor Tattenai further instructions. Turn to Ezra 6:8-10 with me and let’s read together.
8 Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. 9 Whatever is needed– young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem– must be given them daily without fail, 10 so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons. (Ezra 6:8-10 NIVO)
Are you kidding me? King Darius, a pagan king, ordered that whatever supplies the Jews needed for their daily worship of God must be provided from the Persian treasury–bulls, rams, lambs, wheat, salt, wine and oil. Oh, can you see how “the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews?”
The Jews continued their work on the temple for more than four years until it was completed. We read in Ezra 6:15 that the work was completed on “the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.” God had used the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah to stir the people to get back to work in August/September of 520 B.C. Now we learn the work on the temple was completed on March 12, 515, nearly four and a half years later. What’s interesting is that tucked away in Ezra 6:14 we read that Haggai and Zechariah were still there sharing a word from God with the people. As a matter of fact, Ezra writes,
14 So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo… (Ezra 6:14 NIVO)
“The eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews” in the presence of Haggai and Zechariah who were daily speaking God’s message to urge them on, to help them stay focused, and to encourage them to stay the course.
In verses 16-18 we read that the Jews then dedicated the temple to the worship of God. Ezra tells us they celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. It’s an interesting contrast to what we read back in Ezra 3 when they set the altar in its place and laid the foundation of the temple. There were many who were filled with joy, but there were others who had seen Solomon’s temple in its glory days, before it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and they were taken into exile in Babylon. Some of those who had seen Solomon’s temple, looked at what was before them now and they wept. There’s no weeping in Ezra 6. They weren’t comparing the past with the present they were focused on what God was doing in and through them and they were filled with joy.
What a great lesson for you and me. The comparison game is a losing bet. What “was” was really never as brilliant and wonderful as we make it out to be. Longing for a day gone by only robs us of seeing His eye upon us and providing for us in the now. Looking backwards only keeps us from looking forward and seeing what God has planned for us in the days to come. Don’t get lured into the comparison game or you’ll become convinced that life will never be like it was back then. The longing for days gone by can happen to any of us, but I find that it is especially tempting for us the older we get.
I’ve got to share a story with you that touched me deeply. Many of you know my dad has had a rough go of it the past year. He’s fallen and suffered a spiral fracture of his leg that required surgery. Then, just a couple of months ago, he fell again and broke his hip on the same leg. He’s been in rehab more than he’s been home the past 12 months. Dad is a really active guy, but he’s been put on the Injured Reserve list and I know it’s got to be difficult for him. My sister sent me a text with a picture of a letter a guy in rehab wrote my dad when he left last week. The letter read:
Just a short note to tell you how easy you made my stay. Wish we’d met a few years ago. It really was enjoyable. Keep on being nice to the women, they enjoy it. Hope you get better soon. My prayers and hopes are there for you. Your new friend. P.S. Hook ‘em Horns
Don’t get caught up in looking back to what you think were the good ‘ol days. Look around and recognize God’s hand at work in the here and now. Just as His eye was on the Jews in Zerubbabel’s day, His eye is on you and me. He’s opening doors, He’s bringing opportunities our way.
Let’s get back to Ezra. In Ezra 6:19-22 we read that they celebrated the Passover followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover celebration of the Jews was a celebration of God’s deliverance. It was a reminder of how God delivered Moses and the Hebrews from the grip of the Egyptians. It was not the goodness of the Hebrews that spared them, but it was the grace of God who provided the blood of the lamb smeared over the door frames of their houses. Once again God had shown Himself faithful. He had delivered His people from the grip of the Babylonians. God had restored and reconciled His own people to Himself. The Passover could only be celebrated in Jerusalem so this was the first time in more than 70 years the Jews had witnessed their sins being atoned for by the Passover lamb of God. Can you imagine the joy that flooded their hearts?!
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is actually a separate celebration even though it starts the day after Passover. It is also a reminder of God’s deliverance of Moses and the Hebrews from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. After Pharaoh discovered the firstborn had died he wanted to kill all of the Jews. They had to leave Egypt immediately so they couldn’t wait for their bread to rise, they had to eat unleavened bread. God told the Jews to get rid of all of the leaven from their house in Exodus 12:15. Take a look at it with me.
15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15 NIVO)
Leaven was symbolic of the corrupting influence of sin. The Jews, going into Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, were to do an inspection of their houses, but even more importantly, their hearts. They were to get rid of all corrupting influences in their lives. In Matthew 16, Jesus told His followers, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6).
For the Jews who had come back from exile in Babylon, rebuilt the temple, and finally, after more than 70 years celebrated Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread–it was a new beginning. As they celebrated the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread they were reminded of God’s covenant faithfulness, His power to restore and redeem. “The eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews.”
Before we get out of here I’ve got to show you one more example of how the eye of God, His sovereign constant care, was with His people. Take a look at Ezra 6:22 with me.
22 For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel. (Ezra 6:22 NIVO)
Did you see it? Did you see the evidence that “the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews?” There are actually three things to notice here in this verse. First, it was the LORD that filled them with joy. Second, it was the Lord who changed the attitude of Darius. Last of all, it was the LORD who assisted them in the work on the house of God during the four and a half years of construction.
God had filled His people with joy. People are desperate for the experience of joy. We will try anything to bring gladness to our hearts, but we learn from studying God’s Word that it is the “joy of the LORD that is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). David wrote in Psalm 16,
11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11 NIVO)
Isn’t it interesting that satisfaction and joy were nowhere to be found when the Jews abandoned their work on God’s house so they could focus on their own lives? They were working, diligently working, but never had enough. They were full of exhaustion, not joy back in those days. Once they refocused, once they made living out God’s will for their lives their top priority, God filled them with His joy.
God changed the attitude of Darius the King. The second bit of evidence that “the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews” is found in Ezra’s statement that the LORD changed the attitude of Darius. Just think of the scenarios that could have played out when Tattenai wrote his letter to the king. The people had no idea how everything was going to turn out: they just kept working and trusting God. This isn’t the first time we’ve read where God impacted the decision of a king. Back in the opening verse of Ezra, in Ezra 1:1, we read,
1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: (Ezra 1:1 NIVO)
We will continue to see this truth shared with us as we study Ezra and Nehemiah. The writer of Proverbs let it be known,
1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Proverbs 21:1 NIVO)
God helped His people in their work on the temple. And our last bit of evidence for those who were wondering if God was work during the long season of opposition, straying from God’s purpose, and then getting back to work: God was assisting them on the work of the house of God. Do you remember back in Ezra 4:4 where we read that those who opposed the work on God’s house “set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.” (Ezra 4:4 NIVO) Now, in Ezra 6:22 we read that God “assisted” them, but in actuality the Hebrew word for “assisted” means to strengthen. This will not be the last time the Jews will face opposition and it will not be the last time the opposition will try and discourage them.
What was true for Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the exiles who had now been back in Jerusalem for more than twenty years is also true for you and me. The eye of the Lord is upon you my friend. There were times during those twenty years when it seemed like everything was against them, but God was still working. There are probably some of you here this morning that it seems like everything is against you, but you need to know this morning that He is still working. He is still working on your behalf whether you are aware of it or not. He is always working. It had to have been months from the time that Tattenai took names and said, “I’ll telling the king” until they got word that the king had told everyone to leave them alone so they could built, but the uncertainty didn’t stop Zerubbbael and Jeshua from continuing to do what God had given them to do. You may be surrounded by uncertainty right now. You have no idea how things are going to work out–you just keep doing what He has given you to do. Keep working and trust the Lord.
There may be someone here this morning who has never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ. Before you can ever follow His will for your life you must first surrender your heart to Jesus. Won’t you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 27, 2019
“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6 NIVO)