PRIESTLY THEOCRACY V
The letter from Artaxerxes, the First, dampened the spirits of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, but the prophets Haggai and Zechariah turned things around. They proclaimed that Yahweh ordered them to continue building the house of the Lord. They had to obey God rather than Artaxerxes, the First. And they, too, sent a letter Darius the Second, requesting to search the records of Cyrus, the second Persian king. Meanwhile, the builders obeyed the prophets (Ezra 5).
In the second year of Darius (the second) the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the LORD. You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought upon the land and the hills, upon the grain, the new wine, the oil, upon what the ground brings forth, upon what the ground brings forth, upon men and cattle, and upon all their labors.”
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared before the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’S message, “I am with you, says the LORD.” And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month (Haggai 1:1-15).
Darius, the Second, was the son of king Ahasuerus, who was influenced by Haman, a mortal enemy of Mordecai. Haman had permission to eradicate the Jews, but Esther, a niece of Mordecai was married to the king, and was able to expose Haman’s plot and she saved her people. She had her uncle Mordecai promoted and rewarded, and the Jews rose in popularity. We shall discuss Esther and Mordecai’s role in a separate chapter. King Ahasuerus had turned away from those that had opposed the rebuilding of the temple, and Darius, the Second, decreed to search in the records of Cyrus, found his decree to build the house of God in Jerusalem, and commanded the opposition to desist from interfering with the building of the temple. He further ordered them to assist the Jews with assistance and financing. The result of Darius’s support was phenomenon. The prophet Haggai, in particular, flourished and his message from Yahweh lifted the spirits of the remnant that had returned and raised Zerubbabel and Joshua to the statutes of Moses and Aaron.
“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not’” (Haggai 2:2-5).
The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall go down, everyone by the sword of his fellow. On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you. O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:20-23).
Then Darius the king made a decree, and a search was made in Babylon, in the house of the archives where the documents were stored. And in Ecbatana, the capital which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found on which this was written: “A record. In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices are offered and burnt offerings are brought; its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three courses of great stones and one course of timber; let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; you shall put them in the house of God.”
Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shetharbozenai, and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away; let the work on this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God; the cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons. Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled upon it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God which is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.”
Then, according to the word sent by Darius the king, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shetharbozenai, and their associated did with all diligence what Darius the king had ordered. And the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zachariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king (Ezra 6:1-15).
The celebration and dedication of the new temple was small in comparison to Solomon’s display of glory and cost. Nevertheless, it was more memorable; for God had not let Judah and His priesthood perish in captivity. Everything was done according to the Levitical ordinances of Moses.
And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.
On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the passover. For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together all of them were clean. So they killed the passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves; it was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the pollutions of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel. And they kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy; for the LORD had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:16-22).
The first returning exiles, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua build the temple and they were ready for the next infusion of returning exiles under the leadership of Ezra the priest, versed in the Law of Moses. Ezra managed to obtain permission from Artaxerxes, the Second, to take with him to Jerusalem: priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants. He had the Persian king convinced to write to him (Ezra), a personal letter, instructing him to force the Law of Moses on the people. Those who would refuse took fatal risks (Ezra 7:1-11).
Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven. And now I make a decree that any one of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God, which is in your hand, and also to convey the silver and gold which the king and his counselor have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, with all the silver and gold which you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem. With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their cereal offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. Whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do according to the will of your God. The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which you have occasion to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.
And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requires of you, be it done with all diligence, up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred measures of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll upon any on the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.
And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and those who do not know them, you shall teach. Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed upon him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me (Ezra 7:12-28).
Ezra, who was he and what law was he talking about, or what reform did he have in mind? One thing was absolutely certain; it was not about bringing back the Ten Commandments that Jesus restored in Matthew 5:17-20. The people who were not exiled to Babylon were a fusion of the Hebrews and the settlers the Assyrians brought in when Israel was dismembered. These people were the Samaritans, named after the capital of Israel. The Samaritans believed in the Ten Commandments, but they did not believe in the Levitical rituals and their sacrifices. In addition, the Samaritans endorsed Jeremiah’s assimilation of races through intermarriage (Jeremiah 29:4-9). According to Jeremiah, Ezra was not speaking for God, but Ezra was speaking for his personal Levitical heritage, which dated back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. In fact, the writer of Ezra traced Ezra back to Aaron, the first high priest and the founder of the Levitical offerings, their rituals and their sacrifices (Ezra 7:1-6). That is why Jesus regarded the Levitical offerings, their rituals and their sacrifices as the traditions of the elders (Mark 7:1-22). In essence, Ezra was not just a Hebrew of the Hebrews, or a Levite of the Levites, but Ezra was a Levite priest of the priests. He was the heir apparent of Aaron. His main purpose was to restore a pure blood line of Yahweh followers, sacrificers, and worshipers. The seventy years of exile had taught Ezra nothing, but the idea that their failure to abide in Levitical Aaronism was the reason that God had punished Judah and Israel. The return to a pure blood line would bring back God’s favor and God’s blessings. Ezra secured the twelve priests and consecrated them to be in charge of carrying the gold, silver, and the sacred articles that were taken back to the new temple. Upon Ezra’s return, he and his people held their own ritual. It was a direct reversal of God’s message to Isaiah (Ezra 1:11-23). Let Ezra speak for himself.
At that time those who had come from captivity, the returned exiles, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and as a sin offering twelve he-goats; all this was a burnt offering to the Lord. They also delivered the king’s commissions to the king’s satraps and to the governors the province Beyond the River; and they aided the people and the house of God (Ezra 8:35-36).
After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” When I heard this, I rent my garments and my mantle, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered round me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt; and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as at this day. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken thy commandments, which thou didst command by thy servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore give not your daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace of prosperity, that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.’ And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that thou, our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserved and hast given us such a remnant as this, shall we break thy commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Wouldst thou not be angry with us till thou wouldst consume us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O LORD the God of Israel, thou art just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as at this day. Behold, we are before thee in our guilt, for none can stand before thee because of this” (Ezra 9:1-15).
The reader, by this time must be confused. How can something good, that God had made and ordained, be bad? Even Jesus had a problem with that logic. He told those who believed in divorce:
Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Matthew 19:4-6).
There already was the blood of Tamar, of Ruth, of Rahab, and of Bathsheba in their veins (Matthew 1:3-7). Then there was a direct order of Yahweh to Jeremiah to intermarry and prosper in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:6). But the priests did not endorse Jeremiah nor did they obey their own God. Ezra took it upon himself, and in the name of God, he held one of the largest divorce court in history. Ezra broke up marriages that God had joined together (Ezra 10). This act of purifying Jewish blood set the stage for heartaches, animosities, and ultimate disintegration of Judaism and the Levitical idea of human perfection — because — “a good marriage is the evidence that the Creator is pleased with man.” A good marriage is the “living proof” that man was made in the “image and likeness of God.”