The Responsibility of Living On the Other Side

Today’s selected reading continues in and concludes the Old Testament book of Ezra, which not only describes and speaks of the return of the captives and exiles of Israel, but also the rebuilding of the Temple of the LORD. More specifically, today’s passage is found in chapters eight through ten of this Old Testament book. A RETURN TO THE ALTAR! THE REBUILDING OF THE HOUSE! THE CELEBRATION OF PASSOVER! THE PRESENTATION OF OFFERINGS ONCE MORE! THE TEACHING OF THE LAW OF MOSES THE SERVANT OF THE LORD! As you come to the end of the Old Testament book of Ezra you will encounter the tremendous presence of worship which was at the very heart of the return of the people of God out of their captivity and exile. If you want to truly understand the returning of the people of God from beyond the Euphrates you must recognize and understand that the return of the people of God was directly linked to the worship of the LORD their God, and the teaching of the Law of the same God. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely incredible reality, for when we think and speak about the return of the people of God we must recognize and understand that their return to the land wasn’t merely about houses, and fields and vineyards as much as it was about the sanctuary, the altar and the Law of the LORD. You cannot read the narrative of the return of the children of Israel from beyond the river Euphrates unto their own land and not be absolutely and completely captivated by the tremendous need for the altar of the LORD upon which they presented their sacrifices, their gifts and their offerings, as well as the sanctuary of the living God where they could come and appear before the LORD their God. After seventy years of being cut off from both the sanctuary and the altar the people which would return to the land would be given a great and high command and assignment to return to the land and to give themselves to the rebuilding of the sanctuary of the LORD their God. Their return would and could not be absent, without and separate from a return to the altar of the LORD, and the presentation of gifts, sacrifices and offerings before and unto the LORD their God. Moreover, their return to the land would and could not be separated from the Law of the LORD, for it was the direct violation and transgression of that Law of the LORD which caused them to be cast forth from and thrust out of the land to begin with. The more we read and consider the words which are written and recorded within the Old Testament book of Ezra, the more we must recognize that at the very heart of the return of the people of God unto the land of their ancestors and forefathers was the Law of the LORD and the sanctuary of the LORD their God. In all reality, they could not have the land without and apart from the Law and apart from the sanctuary of the LORD. It was indeed true the living God would return and restored them to the land, yet that land would and could not be without and apart from the altar of the LORD, and the altar of the LORD would intrinsically be linked to the sanctuary of God as it always had been.

If you read the Old Testament book of Ezra you will come face to face with the reality that the people of the living God would indeed and would in fact return to the land of their ancestors and forefathers, and yet that return to the land would indeed be accompanied by a teaching priest who was skilled in the Law of the LORD. In all reality, I can’t help but consider the words which are found within this Old Testament book of Ezra and encounter the tremendous reality that when the people of God would indeed return to the land of their ancestors and forefathers, they would do so with a teaching priest who would instruct them in the law of the LORD their God. I absolutely love the truth that surrounds the Old Testament book of Ezra, for within this Old Testament book we find the people returning—not only to the land, but also to the Law of the LORD. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if while the people of Judah and Benjamin were living as captives beyond the river Euphrates they were not taught and instructed in the Law of the LORD. It is quite clear and quite obvious that even after seventy years of captivity there were still priests and Levites who were present among the people of God—despite the fact that neither the priests, nor the Levites could fulfill their ministry before the altar and within the sanctuary of the LORD their God. Oh there would indeed be priests and Levites which were present in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, and yet in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans those priests and Levites were essentially and effectively cut off from the house of the LORD, and from the ministry and service which the LORD their God had ordained and appointed their ancestors to as far back as Aaron and his sons in the midst of the wilderness. When the people of God returned to the land of their ancestors and forefathers, they would return to both the land and the Law, and it would be the law of the LORD that would govern them in the midst of the land. Although the land of Israel and Judah would be under the dominion of the Persian Empire, the people of God themselves would be governed by a higher law than any earthly law or government.

As I sit here this morning I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with and by the fact that when the people of Israel returned to the land which was promised and given unto their ancestors and forefathers, they would do more than simply return to the land itself, but would indeed and would in fact return to the Law of the LORD, and even to the LORD their God. RETURNING TO THE LAND! RETURNING TO THE LAW! RETURNING TO THE LORD! There is not a doubt in my mind as I consider the words which are written and recorded in the Old Testament book of Ezra that the return of the people of God to the land carried with it so much more weight and significance than simply a transfer in geographical locations. I am absolutely and completely convinced that the return of the people of God to the land of their ancestors and forefathers was an invitation to return to the LORD their God in the midst of the earth. In fact, it might very well be said that the return of the people of God to the land of Israel was indeed more than simply a return to the land, but was a return to the LORD of the land. It would be very easy to get caught up and consumed with the land itself and completely forget and miss out on the absolutely incredible and astonishing reality that the people of God were being brought back to the land in order that they might be brought back to the LORD their God. For seventy years the people of God were cut off from the land, were cut off from the altar of the LORD, and were cut off from the sanctuary, and now the time had come for them to return to the land with a singular purpose and assignment in their midst—namely, rebuilding the sanctuary and house of the living God. In fact, I would dare ask and wonder what good the land of Israel would do for the people of God if they sought to dwell within and inhabit it without and apart from the LORD who not only gave the land unto their ancestors in the first place, but who was bringing them back into the midst of the land. What good would the land of Israel do for the people of God if they were unwilling to commit themselves and faithfully serve the LORD of the land—the God who entered into covenant with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely incredible reality, for the land was merely an external manifestation and demonstration of an even deeper reality for the people of God—namely, the people of God returning to the LORD their God who their fathers had forsaken, neglected, abandoned and rejected years earlier. When the LORD brought the people back into the land it was more than simply the LORD bringing the people back into the land in order to release them from their captivity, and to fulfill the promise which He had made through His servant the prophet Jeremiah. The living and eternal God would indeed bring the people of God back into the land, and yet directly and intrinsically linked to the land was a return to something much greater than the land itself—namely, the LORD their God.

When you consider this return to the LORD you must recognize and understand that this return to the living and eternal God would not only take place through the sanctuary which would once more stand in the midst of the land, but it would also take place through the Law of the LORD which would be taught by Ezra and the priests and Levites of the LORD. The words which we find written and recorded within this passage are a clear and present indication that when the children of Israel would return to the land, they would return to the land in order that they might worship and serve the LORD freely. Consider the fact that during the seventy years they lived as captives and exiles—not only did they encounter the temptation to worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had built, and potentially face the fiery furnace if they refused to bow down and worship it, but you will also find that there would be a decree that would be issued during the reign of Darius the Mede that would declare that anyone who prayed unto anyone save the king himself would be cast alive into the lion’s den. Stop for a moment and think about what worshipping and serving the God in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans would and could have meant for the people of God, for on the one hand worshipping and serving the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob could potentially mean they would be cast alive into the fiery furnace—particularly and especially if they refused to bow down before the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had set up in the plan of Dura in the land of Shinar. What’s more, is that praying before and praying unto the LORD their God during the days and reign of Darius the Mede could very well mean they would be cast alive into the den of lions as a direct punishment for defying the decree of the king. Stop for a moment and consider what worshipping the LORD could have potentially meant for the people of God during those days and during those times if they dared defy the decree and edict of the king—namely, not only worshipping the LORD their God, but also refusing to worship and bow down before the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up in the midst of the land. Please don’t miss and please don’t lose sight of this absolutely tremendous reality, for the return of the people of Israel to the land would indeed mean a certain freedom to worship the LORD their God—not only as they would, but also as their ancestors and fathers had done in previous generations. Stop for a moment and think about what it would and could have meant for the people of God to return to the land, and in the process of returning to the land experience a truly wonderful freedom to worship the LORD their God. In order to help illustrate this point even further, I would like to call and draw your attention to the words which the prophet Isaiah prophesied which are written and recorded in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah. Moreover, I would like to draw and call your attention to the words which are written and recorded in the third and sixth chapters of the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel which describe the great temptations surrounding worship and prayer in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion:L therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom deckers himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the LORD God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:1-11).

“Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cuties: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellers, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the decimation of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellers, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the decimation of the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then an herbal cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship[ the golden image: and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: They serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshac, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the kings’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego- And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellers, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego-, ye servants of the most High God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellers, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dung hill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1-30).

“It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; and over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage. Then this Daniel was preferred among the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm. Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God. Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kings, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or many for thirty days, ave of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. No, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Then else men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king’s decree; hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day. Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed. Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel. Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. The the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocently was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him., because he believed in his God. And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den. Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel or-sobered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (Daniel 6:1-28).

Before I return to the words and language which is found in the Old Testament book of Ezra, I feel compelled to call and draw your attention to the narrative of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego who were cast alive and bound into the fiery furnace. If and as you read the words which are written and recorded within this passage of Scripture you will find that undoubtedly Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon fully expected these three Hebrew men to be killed by and in the midst of the flames of the fiery furnace. There is not a doubt in my mind that the king of Babylon fully expected and anticipated these three Hebrews to be killed and to perish in the midst of the fiery furnace. What I find to be so absolutely amazing is that which the living God allowed and permitted Nebuchadnezzar to see after these three Hebrews had been cast alive into the fiery furnace. If and as you read the words which are written within this passage of Scripture you will find and discover that not only did the king of Babylon see the three Hebrews whom he had cast into the fiery furnace walking in the midst of the fiery furnace, but he also saw them completely unbound in the midst of the fiery furnace. What’s more, is that not only did the king see the three Hebrews walking around completely free and loose in the midst of the fiery furnace, but he also saw a fourth one with them in the fire. Furthermore, the fourth one whom they saw in the midst of the fiery furnace with them was like unto the Son of God. A VISION OF FREE MEN IN THE MIDST OF THE FIRE! A VISION OF THE SON OF GOD IN THE MIDST OF THE FIRE! Pause for a moment and think about and consider how absolutely incredible and astonishing it is to read how not only would Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon see free men loose and walking in the midst of the fire, but he also saw a fourth man in the fire with them. How truly astonishing it is to think about and consider the fact that the living and eternal God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to not only see freedom in the midst of the fire, but he would also see holiness in the midst of the fire. The living and eternal God could have chosen to deliver these three Hebrews from the midst of the fiery furnace, and yet the living God did more than that, for He would allow the king of Babylon to see a fourth man in the midst of the fire. There in the midst of the fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon would look upon and encounter a fourth man in the fire—and not only a fourth man in the fire, but a vision of the eternal Son of God in the midst of the fire with them. How absolutely incredible it is to think about the fact that not only would Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon witness and experience freedom in the midst of the fire, but he would also witness and behold holiness in the midst of the fire, as he would see divine holiness in the midst of the fire.

I find it absolutely incredible to think about and consider the narrative of these three Hebrews refusing to bow down and worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up and established in the midst of the plain of Dura in the land of Shinar, and their subsequently being cast alive into the fiery furnace, for the living and eternal God did in fact deliver these three Hebrews from the fire, but in the process of delivering them He would allow the king to see this fourth man in the fire. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this absolutely wonderful and incredible reality, for not only would the living God deliver and set these three Hebrews free from the flames of the fiery furnace, but He would also show the king a fourth man who would first walk with the three Hebrews before He would deliver them from the fire. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that the living and eternal God would allow Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego to face the fire, and to be cast alive into the fiery furnace, and yet even though He would allow them to face the flames of the fiery furnace, He would walk with them in the midst of the fire. There is actually something truly astonishing about this, for there are countless times when we pray and ask God to deliver us from the flames, and to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and yet the living God chooses not to deliver us from the flames and from the fiery furnace. It’s worth noting that the living God could have delivered these three Hebrews from the fiery furnace, and yet He deliberately and intentionally chose not to, for there was something He desired to accomplish in the midst of the fire, and through their deliverance through the fire. DELIVERED THROUGH THE FIRE RATHER THAN DELIVERED FROM THE FIRE! If there is one thing we must recognize from this passage of Scripture, it’s that these three Hebrews would not only be delivered through the fire, but they would also walk in the midst of the fire with one who was likened unto the Son of God. DELIVERED THROUGH THE FIRE AS THE LORD WALKS THROUGH THE FIRE WITH YOU! DELIVERED THROUGH THE FIRE AS THE LORD WALKS IN THE FIRE WITH YOU! How truly remarkable and wonderful it is to think about and consider the fact that not only did the LORD deliver these three Hebrews through the fire rather than form the fire, but even in the process of deriving them through the fire He also walked in the fire with them. Imagine what it must have been like for these three Hebrews to walk completely free and unbound in the midst of the fiery furnace talking with this fourth man in the fire who was likened unto the Son of God, and would eventually and ultimately be delivered through the fire. How absolutely and incredibly powerful it is to think about and consider this truly astonishing reality, for the LORD would indeed deliver these three Hebrews from the fire, yet His deliverance from the fire would not mean they would not have to walk through and in the midst of fire. What’s more, is that the living God would also allow the king of Babylon to witness and behold these three Hebrews walking in the midst of the flames of the fiery furnace unbound and untouched by the flames with one who was likened unto the Son of God. How incredibly captivating it is that the living God would indeed allow the king of Babylon to see this fourth man in the fire. Oh how absolutely wonderful and powerful it is to think about the tremendous reality of these three Hebrews being cast bound and alive into the midst of the fire, and yet not only would they be loosed from that which bound them, but they would walk in the midst of—and ultimately through—the flames of fire after having encountered a fourth man in the midst of the fire with them

When I think about the return of the people of God to the land which was given unto their ancestors and forefathers, I can’t help but think about the great freedom that would be found in the midst of the land, as they would not only be free to rebuild the sanctuary of the LORD, but they would also be free to rebuild the altar of the LORD. What’s more, is the people of God would be free to worship the LORD their God in the midst of the land with their gifts, with their sacrifices and with their offerings, for the altar of the LORD would once more be present among them in their midst. How truly incredible it is to think about the fact that their return to the land would allow them the complete and total freedom to rebuild the sanctuary of the LORD which they had been cut off for the past seventy years. For seventy years the people of God had been without the sanctuary of the LORD, without the altar of the LORD, and perhaps even within the Law of the LORD, and now in their return to the land we find the people of God being brought back to the place of the altar, and back to the place of the Law. It is necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this truly astonishing and remarkable reality, for in their return to the land they would return to the altar and to the sanctuary, and would also return to the Law of the LORD which would be taught unto them by Ezra the priest of the LORD. By being back in the midst of the land which had been given unto their ancestors and forefathers they would now be free to not only worship the LORD their God, but they would also be free to completely and utterly obey and walk in the commands, statutes, and decrees which were in the Law of Moses. Their return to the land would carry with it a return to the Law of the LORD, for their return to the land would mean they would need to walk in obedience and faithfulness before the living God. By returning to the land, they could not walk after the same manner and customs as their fathers did which not only slew the prophets of the LORD, but also which transgressed against the commandment of the LORD. We must realize and recognize that the living God would and could not allow them to return to the land without and apart from the Law and without and apart from the altar, for not only would they need to learn how to worship the LORD their God once more, but they would also need to live their lives in complete and total obedience before the LORD their God who would bring them in the midst of the land into which they were returning. Their return to the land would require a wonderful and powerful sense of obedience and worship before the LORD, as the altar and the Law would be at the very forefront of their life in the midst of the land.

As you continue reading the words which are written and recorded within this Old Testament book—not only will you find written and recorded concerning Ezra the priest of the LORD who would teach them the law of the LORD, but you will also read concerning the prophets Haggai and Zechariah who would prophesy unto them concerning and according to the word of the LORD. Their return to the land would include a return to the altar, as well as a return to the Law of the LORD, however, there in the midst of the land they would have a priest who would teach them according to the Law of Moses, and prophets who would prophesy unto them the word of the LORD. Pause for a moment and consider this tremendous marriage between the Law of the LORD and the word of the LORD, and how during this time of them returning, living and dwelling in the midst of the land, they would have a priest who would teach them the Law of the LORD that they might obey what the LORD had commanded and instructed through His servant Moses, as well as prophets who would prophesy unto them the word of the LORD that they might know and understand what they ought to do during those days. I find it to be truly wonderful to read the book of Ezra and to think about and consider the fact that during this time of the people of God being brought back to the land—not only would they be taught the Law of Moses which was given unto him by the LORD Himself, but they would also hear the word of the LORD. The LORD would indeed bring them back and restore them in the midst of the land which was promised on oath to their ancestors and forefathers, and yet their return would be one that would have at the very heart of it the word of the LORD as prophesied through Zechariah and Haggai, as well as the Law of the LORD which would be taught by Ezra the priest. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this tremendous unity between the Law of the LORD and the word of the LORD, for through the Law of the LORD the people of Israel would learn and understand how to walk in obedience before the LORD their God, and through and according to the word of the LORD they would understand what the LORD their God was calling them. In fact, if you come to the opening verses of the fifth chapter you will find that after the work of building the house of the LORD had stopped because of the work of their adversaries, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah would stand up among them in their midst and encourage them to rise up from their place in the midst of the land and to once more engage in the work of rebuilding the house of the LORD. It would be through the prophetic ministry of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the people of God would hear directly from the LORD, as it would be through these prophets the LORD their God would indeed and would in fact draw and call them into a deeper and greater obedience to the task and assignment that was before them. The Law of the LORD as taught by Ezra the priest would instruct and teach them how to walk in obedience before the LORD their God, but it would be the word of the LORD as prophesied and declared by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the people of God would know and understand that which the LORD their God was calling and instructing . Consider if you will the words which are written and recorded in the first two verses of the fifth chapter of this Old Testament book of Ezra:

“Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (Ezra 5:1-2).

In order to truly understand the tremendous significance of the prophetic ministry of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, I feel it is absolutely necessary to consider the prophetic words which were written and recorded in the opening chapter of the prophetic book of Haggai. If and as you read the words found in the opening chapter of the prophetic book of Haggai you will find the following words which called the remnant of the people of God which had returned to the land to pick up and carry on the work of rebuilding the house of the LORD. It was indeed true the work of rebuilding the house of the LORD had indeed ceased because of their enemies and adversaries, however, that work must indeed continue and go forth. It would be the prophetic ministry of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah that would encourage the people according to the word of the LORD to once more engage themselves in the work of rebuilding the house of the LORD. I have to admit that I am truly thankful for the prophetic ministries of these prophets of the LORD, for it would be through the prophetic ministries of these prophets the people of Israel would know and understand that which the LORD their God had required of them in the midst of the land. Although the work of rebuilding the house of the LORD would temporarily cease, it would be the prophetic words which these two prophets prophesied during this time. Consider if you will the words which are written and recorded within the first and opening chapter of the prophetic book of Haggai:

“In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son fo Josedech, the high priest, saying, 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 houses, and this house lie waste? 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 to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. GO up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified saith the LORD. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? Saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for drought upon the land and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands. Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, 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 did fear before the LORD. Then spake Haggai, the LORD’s messenger in the LORD’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD. And the LORe stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, in the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king” (Haggai1:1-15).

What is so incredibly powerful about the words which are written and found within this passage of Scripture is that through them the prophet Haggai called on the people who had returned to the land to rise up in the midst of it, and to continue on, carry out and complete the work of rebuilding the house of the living God. For seventy years the people of God were cut off from the house of the living God, and for seventy years the people of God were cut off from the altar of the LORD, and had no place with which to offer their sacrifices and offerings. Pause for a moment and think about the fact that when the people of the LORD rose up from their place in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans and returned to their own land in the midst of the earth, they would have a newfound freedom they did not have in the land of the Chaldeans to worship before and unto the LORD their God. What is incredibly tragic about what we find in the book of Ezra is that the people would allow their enemies and adversaries to halt, hinder and frustrate the work of rebuilding the house and sanctuary of the living God. Thank God for the prophetic ministries of Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, for through the prophetic ministry of these two prophets they would strengthen the hearts and hands of the people of God. It would be true that Ezra would teach the people according to the Law of the LORD, and it would be the prophets Haggai and Zechariah that would proclaim the word of the LORD unto them. In the first and opening chapter of the prophetic book of Haggai we find the prophet declaring something almost similar to that which David the man after God’s own heart declared when he referenced him dwelling in a house of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant dwelt in a tent. During the days of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo we find the prophet Haggai asking the people if it was time for them to dwell in houses made of cedar while the house and sanctuary of the living God lies in disrepair and waste. Oh it was indeed true that the altar of the LORD would be rebuilt, and it was true that the the foundation of the house and sanctuary would be laid, however, the actual work of finishing and completing the house would be brought to a complete standstill. Life would continue to go on for the people who had returned to the land of Israel, and they would continue to rebuild and dwell within their houses, and yet the work of the house of the LORD would indeed and would in fact be brought to a complete and utter standstill. I find it absolutely remarkable and astounding that because of the courage, because of the fearlessness, because of the commitment and strength of these two prophets of the LORD—not only would the work of the house of the LORD continue and be completed, but a letter would also be sent to the king of Persia advising him of the decree which Cyrus the king of Persia had issued concerning the rebuilding of the sanctuary. Consider if you will the following words which are written and recorded in the fifth chapter of the book of Ezra beginning to read with and from the seventh verse:

“Unto Darius the king, all peace. Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands. Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls? We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them. And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servant of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up. But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people way into Babylon. But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God. And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; and said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place. Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished. Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king’s treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter” (Ezra 5:8-17).

What I love about the book of Ezra is not only that the house of the LORD was rebuilt, and that the people could once more worship before the LORD their God at His holy sanctuary, and upon His altar, but they would also hear the words of the Law of Moses. As you read the words which are written and recorded in this Old Testament book, however, you will find that although the house of the LORD was rebuilt in the midst of the land once more, and although the altar of the LORD would once more be present in the midst of the land of Israel, there were those who would carry out some of the same ways, patterns and habits their ancestors and fathers had committed. When you come to the eighth, ninth and tenth chapters you will find that Ezra lamented and cried out to the LORD his God in repentance, in humility, and in fasting and weeping because of the transgression which certain of the people had committed. Upon reading the words within these chapters you will find that certain men of those which had returned to the land had given themselves in marriage to foreign and strange wives which the LORD had commanded through His servant Moses to abstain from. There were certain men who would return to the land of inheritance, promise and blessing, and there were men who would perhaps have been involved in the process of rebuilding the altar of the LORD and the sanctuary of the living God, and yet they would give themselves in marriage to strange and foreign women which the living God had instructed and commanded them not to. It’s absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this event as taking place in the midst of the land of Israel, for what we find within this passage of Scripture is a people that would return to the land after being cut off from it for nearly three quarters of a century, and upon returning to the land to reinvent themselves in the midst of the land, they would engage in some of the same patterns, behaviors and iniquities of their fathers. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that while it was true the people of God had returned to the land which was given unto their ancestors and forefathers as an inheritance and possession, they had great need to to return to the land, and yet not carry out the same iniquities, the same transgression, the same sins and the same wickedness which was carried out on the other side of the captivity. Perhaps one of the greatest questions that needed to be asked during their return to the land was whether or not they were willing to return to the land, and completely cast off the patterns, the behaviors, and the transgressions which their fathers had committed on the other side of the captivity. They would indeed return to the land, and they would indeed rebuild both the altar of the LORD and the sanctuary of their God, yet they could not carry out the same sins and transgressions which their fathers had committed during the days prior to the captivity. Oh that we would recognize and understand that we cannot bring on the other side of the captivity when we return to the land the same patterns, the same behaviors, and the same iniquities and transgressions that were completed before the captivity.

I sit here today and I can’t help but think about the tremendous reality and concept of men and women wanting to return to the life which they knew prior to the pandemic and prior to the crisis. There have been countless men and women who have been crying out and protesting that the nation and states be reopened in order that they might return to the life which they knew. There have been pastors and religious leaders alike who have cried out for the ability to return to churches and houses of worship. There is and there has been this tremendous language of returning during this time, and yet the underlying question that I can’t help but ask myself is whether or not we are going to return to some type of “normalcy,” or some type of façade of “normalcy” in the coming days, weeks, and months, and whether or not we can and will bring the same patterns, the same habits, the same iniquities, the same transgressions, the same sins, the same idolatries, and the same wickedness which was an abomination in the sight of the living God. We cannot, we dare not, we must not attempt to return to churches or houses of worship, nor return to our jobs and places of employment, nor even returning to our perception of life as we knew it while at the same time holding on to those things which got us into trouble on the other side of the pandemic and on the other side of the crisis. The single greatest question we must ask ourselves is when we do come out on the other side of this crisis, and when we do come out on the other side of this pandemic—will we be a different people who do things differently than we did before? Perhaps one of the greatest underlying realities during this time is what awaits us on the other side of the pandemic, and what awaits us on the other side of the crisis. When we enter into a new normal—a normal which we did not know previously—what will that look like? In all reality, I would dare say that the new normal that lies on the other side of this crisis cannot and must not look like that which was on the other side of the crisis. The people of Israel were permitted to return to the land after living in captivity and exile during a period of seventy years, and yet when they returned to the land they could not do things the way their fathers and ancestors did on the other side of the captivity. When they returned to the land—not only would they have to rebuild the altar and sanctuary of the LORD, but so also would they need to rediscover the Law of the LORD, and would need to live their lives completely and utterly different from the way their fathers did on the other side of the captivity.

LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE HAS TO BE DIFFERENT! LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE CANNOT BE THE WAY IT WAS BEFORE! LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF CAPTIVITY CANNOT BE THE SAME AS IT WAS BEFORE CAPTIVITY! Perhaps one of the greatest challenges—if not the greatest challenge—the people which returned to the land faced upon returning to the land was their willingness to be completely and utterly different from their fathers who lived on the other side of the captivity. If and as you read the words which are found within this book found in the Old Testament you will encounter and come face to face with the fact that the people which returned to the land not only had the responsibility of returning to the land and rebuilding the altar and sanctuary of the living God, but they also needed to make the conscious and deliberate decision to not be like their fathers, and to not be like those who lived on the other side of the captivity. Perhaps the single greatest question we can and must ask ourselves is what type of people will we be on the other side of the captivity and when we finally do return to those things which we knew before. There was a part of the generation that returned to the land of Israel which knew and remembered it before the captivity, but there was a part of that generation which had never known the land, nor what it contained and could provide for them. Regardless of whether it was those who knew and remembered the land from before, or those who would enter the land for the first time, there was the strong and undeniable need to make the conscious and deliberate decision to refrain and abstain from doing things the way their fathers and ancestors did on the other side of the captivity. We do in fact find a people returning to the land, and the very fact that the Temple of the LORD and the altar of God needed to be rebuilt among them in their midst signifies and suggests that there was a great need for this generation which returned to the land to worship the God of their fathers, and to worship the LORD as their fathers did on the other side of the captivity. Moreover, the presence of Ezra suggested and revealed the tremendous importance and value of the Law of the LORD, for this generation that would return to the land would need to be taught the Law of the LORD and what He required of them through and according to the Law of Moses. In their obedience to the Law of Moses, and in their worship of the LORD at His holy altar and at His holy sanctuary, the people of Israel which would return to the land would need to live their lives completely different than their fathers did, and they would need to be a people that were completely different. The question they needed to ask themselves was what type of people they wanted to be, and what type of people they were going to be in the midst of the land. Were they going to be a people that were just like their fathers, or were they going to be a people that were going to be completely and utterly different from their fathers, and live their lives in complete and total obedience before the living God. Thank God for the presence of a teaching priest, as well as prophets of the LORD who would not only teach them the Law of the LORD, but would also reveal unto them that which the LORD their God required of them. It’s truly wonderful and powerful to think about and consider the fact that the people which would live and dwell in the midst of the land would be a people that would need to set themselves apart from the generations that went before them. Oh what a great and tremendous responsibility faced that first generation that would return to the land, for how they lived their lives, and how they conducted themselves in the midst of the land would indeed and would in fact determine how generations after them would live in the midst of the land.

THE TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING THE FIRST GENERATION! THE FIRST GENERATION IN THE PROMISED LAND! THE FIRST GENERATION TO RETURN TO THE LAND! I sit here this morning and I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with the absolutely incredible burden and responsibility that first generation which returned to the land of Israel had after seventy years living in captivity and exile in the land of the Chaldeans. That first generation which would return to the land of Canaan would be a generation who would not only be responsible for building the sanctuary of the LORD, and not only rebuilding the altar of the LORD, but they would also be responsible for beginning to walk on obedience to the Law of the LORD which was commanded through His servant Moses. What’s more, is that that generation which would return to the land of Israel would be the first generation that would be responsible for living completely and utterly different from their fathers and from those who through their disobedience and rebellion forfeited the land in the first place. That generation which took part in the return to the land of Israel would need to be completely and absolutely deliberate with how they lived their lives and how they observed the Law, the commands, and statutes and the decrees of the Law of the LORD which had been in existence for centuries. I can’t help but think about the great responsibility that first generation would have to not only adjust to life back in the land of Canaan, but also to be a generation of obedience, a generation of faithfulness, and a generation that would walk in the commandments and statues of the living God. We dare not and must not miss the absolutely incredible importance of this generation, for it brings us face to face with the fact that in their return to the land they would need to ensure they did more than simply return to the land, for there would be a great need to return to the LORD their God through their sacrifices, their gifts and their offerings. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this truly incredible reality, for this reality brings us face to face with the tremendous responsibility that first generation had to conduct themselves in a manner that was completely and altogether different from their ancestors and from their fathers. This is perhaps what was so dangerous about their sons and their fathers giving themselves unto and taking strange wives in marriage, for it would essentially be continuing in the same sin their fathers had done—a sin which caused the nation and kingdom of Israel to be divided in two in the first place. It is absolutely no wonder why Ezra would weep and give himself to fasting, to prayer, and to humility before the LORD his God over this great wickedness, for this first generation had a tremendous responsibility to live their lives completely and utterly separate from the nations and peoples round about them, and to be holy and consecrated before and unto the LORD their God. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely incredible reality, for this first generation had a tremendous and great responsibility to directly impact the way future generations would live in the midst of the land.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FIRST GENERATION TO DIRECTLY IMPACT THE GENERATIONS THAT WOULD COME THEREAFTER. The same reality which would be true of that first generation which would enter into and inhabit the land of Canaan to directly impact and influence the future generations that would come thereafter would be the same reality that would be true of this first generation that would return to the land of Israel after spending seventy years living as captives and exiles in the land of the Chaldeans. We dare not, we cannot, we must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely tremendous reality, for this reality brings us face to face with just how important that first generation was to the return of the people of God—not only in terms of once more inhabiting and dwelling in the midst of the land, but also ensuring the Temple of the LORD was rebuilt, ensuring the altar of the LORD was rebuilt, and ensuring that there would be a place for the people of God to come before the LORD and worship Him with their sacrifices and their offerings. During this time when there is so much talk and communication concerning and regarding returning, it is absolutely imperative and necessary that we recognize and understand the tremendous responsibility to not only ensure we take precautionary measures to ensure that we are all able to move and operate safely, but we must also ensure that we take spiritual matters altogether and entirely serious, and that we truly recognize and understand the great responsibility we have to fully and completely surrender ourselves to the LORD our God, and to walk humbly before Him. As I bring this writing to a close, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which are written and recorded in the Old Testament prophetic book of Micah, for during this time we must recognize and understand the great and awesome need for knowing and understanding what the LORD our God requires of us as His people who walk before and follow Him. What’s more, is that I can’t help but be reminded of the words which are written and recorded within the sixth chapter of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, which Moses the servant of the LORD spoke unto that new generation of the people of Israel which were preparing to enter into the land of Canaan. I leave you with both the words of Moses the servant of the LORD, as well as the words of Micah the prophet of the LORD and the tremendous responsibility we as the people of God have during these days as people who walk before Him in sincerity, in truth, in holiness, and in righteousness:

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them fo are sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:3-9).

“Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:6-8).

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