Sunday School 07 14 2013

 

 

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" Dedicating The Temple"

Lesson Text: Ezra 6:13-22

Background Scripture: Ezra 6

Devotional Reading: Ezra 5:1-5

 

Ezra 6:13-22 (KJV)

13 Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.

14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

16 And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.

17 And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.

18 And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.

19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.

20 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat,

22 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

 

OBJECTIVES

To remember trust and praise God in the midst of opposition.

To recognize that it is good for us to celebrate God’s great acts.

To live a life that is honoring and committed to God, so that others around you can see your light and come to glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

 

INTRODUCTION

Time: 516 B.C.

Place: Judah

 

The Importance of Places

 

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She was a stranger. She came to the door and introduced herself with an unusual request: she wanted to know if it would be all right if she came into the house just to see it again. She explained that she had lived there when she was a little girl and that her father had built the garage that was next to the house. The home owner’s first impulse was to think she might have ulterior motives, but she seemed genuine. Permission was granted. She shared her memories of events in the house, and it was a rewarding experience both for her and the current occupants.

 

It has been said that you cannot go back to a place and expect it to be the same. That is true, but you can return and have your mind flood with memories. The place may have changed from a house to a parking lot, from a school to an office building, from a rural setting to a sprawling subdivision, from a church building where your wedding took place to a retail business. The place may not be the same, but the memories still return.

 

The lesson today continues the account of people who bravely made the journey to a very special place—Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem where the temple had been built, and it was only there that they could obey many of the ordinances given by Moses. Jerusalem was indeed a very special place!

 

LESSON BACKGROUND

 

We must know two things in order to interpret the book of Ezra correctly. The first is that the book has two major parts: chapters 1–6 and chapters 7–10. The first section describes the events associated with the first return from Babylon to Jerusalem. The book begins with the decree of Cyrus that permitted the return, and this decree was perhaps given in the spring of 538 B.C.

 

 

Ezra 6 concludes the first section as it describes the completion of the temple 23 years later. The final four chapters of the book of Ezra provide information about a second return to Jerusalem that Ezra himself led in about 458 B.C. Events associated with this second return are subjects of the next two lessons.

 

 

 

The second important factor for understanding the book of Ezra is to recognize that much of Ezra 4 is a parenthesis. Ezra 4:1-5 tells how opposition to the building efforts in Jerusalem became very intense. The result was that the rebuilding of the temple came to a halt.

 

In Ezra 5:1 we learn how God used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to get the leaders and people of Judah to resume their work on the temple. When Persian officials heard about what was taking place, they investigated the matter. However, they did not stop the Jews from moving forward with their plans. Instead, the officials sent a letter to King Darius. They explained what was going on and asked him to check the Jews’ claim that Cyrus had authorized them to rebuild their temple (see Ezra 5:1-17). A search for the decree of Cyrus was made, but evidently, the records were not found in Babylon. Instead, an important scroll was found in Ecbatana, the former capital of Media and the summer residence of the Persian kings. The official communication verified Cyrus’s original command authorizing the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of its foundation (see 6:1-2).

 

Verses 3-12 reveal the content of Darius’s letter. The king specified the size of the temple and ordered that stolen articles were to be returned. His officials were to permit the Jews to complete their work. In fact, funds from the royal treasury were to be used to pay for building materials and sacrificial animals. Those who opposed the king’s edict would be severely punished. He directed that his orders be implemented with care, thoroughness, and diligence.

 

 

Decree Obeyed (Ezra 6:13-15)

 

1. Why was it so important for the Persian officials to carry out King Darius’ decree to complete the Jerusalem temple (Ezra 6:13)?

 

Disobedience to the king will bring a rapid end to any political career (if not to one’s life, see Ezra 6:11-12). However, in verse 13, we told that Tattenai (who was governor of the province west of the Euphrates River), Shethar Bozenai (another official of the Persian government), and their colleagues, complied at once with the command of King Darius. Clearly, the prophecies the Lord had made through Haggai and Zechariah were coming to pass. God was giving the Jews success in rebuilding and dedicating their temple.

 

So, what started out as an investigation ended up as a royal decree that protected the Jews and provided for them!

 

But suppose the Jewish remnant had been offensive and treated Tattenai and his associates with defiance and disdain when the officials questioned them? His letter to headquarters might not have been as positive as it was, and this could have changed everything (See Ezra 5:3-17). Peter admonishes us to speak “with meekness” (1 Peter 3:15) when unsaved people question us, because this glorifies God and opens new opportunities for witness. God's eye is upon His people as they serve Him, so we need not fear what men can do to us.

2. When was the temple completed (Ezra 6:14-15)?

The temple was completed about five and a half years after Haggai and Zechariah called the people back to work (Ezra 5:1). During years of delay, the people had fallen into deep discouragement. They now needed reminders of God’s love. The people also needed consistent exhortation because their work was hindered by more than just their enemies. It was also hindered by their selfishness and fear. When they decided to trust and obey the Lord, they prospered and God took care of their enemies. Since the people needed encouragement, the Lord provided it for them through the messages delivered by Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 6:14).

 

Ezra’s report of the completion of the temple takes into account all of the layers of responsibility for it (Ezra 6:14). The “elders of the Jews” were responsible for the laborers at the job site. Haggai and Zechariah provided the spiritual motivation that produced success. And the decrees of three Persian emperors-Cyrus, Darius I, and Artaxerxes I-authorized the project.

 

 

The fact that Artaxerxes is included seems strange (6:15), for he will not become the king until about 56 years later. One suggestion is that Ezra has the “big picture” in mind. Just as he included Artaxerxes in chapter 4, where opposition is described, so Ezra looks ahead to the time of his (Ezra’s) writing of this book, when Artaxerxes is reigning. Ezra’s purpose under this theory is to commend Artaxerxes for giving permission for Ezra to lead his own return to Jerusalem (458 B.C.) with large gifts for a completed temple (which we will see in the next two lessons).

This verse shows that God is the primary source for the command to build, but also that pagan kings are used to fulfill God’s purposes.

The temple was completed on “the third day of the month Adar,” —in the sixth year of the reign of Darius is generally agreed now to be March 12, 515 B.C.

What Do You Think?

What have you learned from projects that your church has planned and completed?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

What motivated leaders to lead | What motivated people to follow | What contributed to good planning | Other

 

The Temple Dedicated (Ezra 6:16-18)

3. How did the people celebrate the completion of the temple (Ezra 6:16)?

The dedication of this house of God is a joyous occasion for all the people of Israel! The ones who left Babylon to come back had first dedicated themselves to endure the travel and toil. Things have not gone just as they had wished, but the wait is worth it. This is always the attitude of faith!

Having completed their work, the people and their leaders broke into celebration. This was a significant milestone in the nation’s history. After all, the “house of God” (Ezra 6:16) was not just another building to His people. It was the place where the Lord manifested His presence. The key to understanding this celebration is the contrast between living in exile in a land saturated with pagan idolatry and being able to worship the one true God in His sanctuary. His people were overcome with joy because they now had the latter opportunity.

The upright remnant had learned the painful lesson of God’s judgment for their past idolatries. While in exile in Babylon, they missed so much the opportunity for worship afforded by the Jerusalem temple that they established what later became the synagogue service. This included prayers, Scripture readings, and moral instruction. The completion of the second temple ensured that the worship of the one true God remained a vital part of Jewish national life.

What Do You Think?

How can dedicating a physical building (church) be of spiritual benefit today?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

For adults | For children | For posterity | For witness to unbelievers

4. What sacrifices did the people offer to the house of God (Ezra 6:17)?

Having returned from exile without much money, the people’s sacrifice of 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and 12 goats represented a costly commitment to God (Ezra 6:17). Although most of the people who have returned from exile are from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, it’s reasonable to assume that people from the other 10 tribes of Israel are also in the group. Thus the sacrifice of a sin offering for all Israel, twelve “he” goats. The dedication of God’s house required significant sacrifices for two reasons. First, sacrifices proved the people’s commitment to the Lord. Second, sacrifices reminded them of their sin and God’s holiness.

Everyone celebrated the dedication of the new temple with great joy. However, this marvelously joyous celebration was tiny compared to when Solomon dedicated the first temple (1 Kings 8:63). Undoubtedly, this circumstance reflected the poverty of the returnees compared to earlier days.

When King Solomon dedicated the temple that he built, he offered so many sacrifices that they couldn't be counted (1 Kings 8:5), plus 142,000 peace offerings which were shared with the people (1 Kings 8:63). The Jewish remnant offered only 712 sacrifices, but the Lord accepted them. Most important, they offered twelve “he” goats as sin offerings, one for each tribe, because they wanted the Lord to forgive their sins and give them a new beginning.

Today, animal sacrifices are no longer necessary because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice in the life of His Son (Hebrews 9:11–10:18). Even so, Christians are called to make certain sacrifices (see Luke 18:28-30). The nature of our “good cause” is never in doubt, but what about our willingness to make sacrifices for it?—C. R. B.

5. What were the required duties of the priests and Levites in the temple (Ezra 6:18)?

After offering sacrifices, the people divided the priests and Levites into their various divisions. They were to serve at the temple of God in Jerusalem, in accordance with the instructions “written in the book of Moses” (Ezra 6: 18). We must remember that the ultimate goal is not to erect a building, but to serve God as He has directed. This requires many people for the multiple tasks involved. Moses was the one who first made distinctions between the duties of the priests and Levites (see Numbers 18). The priesthood at that time consisted of only Aaron and his sons. The number of priests grew, and 400 years later it was David who organized both groups into rotating divisions so that everyone had the privilege of serving God at the temple (1 Chronicles 23–26). We recall that all priests are Levites, but not all Levites are priests.

Joshua the high priest also consecrated the priests and Levites for their ministry in the completed temple. David had organized the priests into twenty-four courses so they could minister more effectively (1 Chron. 24:1-19). It wasn't necessary for all of them to serve all the time, for each course was assigned its week of ministry at the temple (Luke 1:5, 8). The statement as it “is written in the book of Moses” (6:18) refers to the consecration of the priests, and their obedience to these mandates (See Lev. 8-9.)

What Do You Think?

What benefits and challenges are there in using a “rotation system” for teachers in the church?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Consistent leadership vs. preventing burnout | Experience vs. involving more people

Recruiting “lifers” vs. recruiting for short-term service


 

Passover Observed (Ezra 6:19-22)

6. What celebration followed the completion of the temple? What role did the priests and Levites play in it (Ezra 6:19-20)?

The highlight of the temple’s completion came with the Passover observance. The date assigned to this event is April 21, 515 B.C., so several weeks have passed since the dedication. Passover was first observed on the night that the Israelites left Egypt in about 1446 B.C. The references to Passover in the Old Testament after that memorable night are associated with special events or covenant renewals. Of special significance in the New Testament is the fact that Jesus and the apostles observe Passover on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Christ is referred to as “our passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.

Ezra 6:19 states that the priests and Levites had gone through the purification ritual and so were ceremonially clean. In accordance with the Mosaic law, they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for the other priests, and for themselves (v. 20).

7. What two groups ate the Passover together? For what purpose did they come together (Ezra 6:21)?

Two groups of people are mentioned as participating in this Passover: (1) those who had made the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem and (2) the people of the area who decide to separate themselves from the unclean pagan customs in which they have been involved. This second group includes the few Jews who had remained in the land, but until now have not been careful to disassociate themselves from the unholy customs of the people around them. The enthusiasm of the Israelites in recent weeks may be responsible for this second group’s desire to return to their roots.

The temple had been dedicated, and now the people were dedicating themselves to the Lord. Additionally, the Jews’ ceremony stressed the reality of their walk with God. By keeping the Passover, the returnees acknowledged their total dependence on the Lord. They wanted to learn more about Him and demonstrate that He was not just another local tribal deity. Indeed, out of the fires of suffering there emerged within the remnant a new level of interest in the things of God.

8. For what other things did the Jews have reason to celebrate God (Ezra 6:22)?

The Passover is followed immediately by the seven-day “feast of unleavened bread” (Exodus 12:15-20; Leviticus 23:6). These two essentially are blended together into one observance, and the word Passover is used to refer to the entire period of this celebration. It involved eating bread made without yeast, holding several assemblies, and making designated offerings. It commemorated how the Lord rescued His people out of Egypt with rapid speed. This festival was observed at the newly rebuilt temple with the same joy that had marked the sanctuary dedication (Ezra 6:16, 22).

It’s important to note that this jubilant time of celebration was based on what God had done through the “the king of Assyria” (Ezra 6:22). Darius was, in fact, king over all that had once been the Assyrian Empire, and an ancient king list of Babylon includes him in a list that begins with Assyrians and continues far after his time (Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Eerdmans). Ezra may have chosen this title to draw a contrast between the earlier Assyrian kings – used to chastise Israel-and this one-used to bring God’s blessing.

No wonder the people were rejoicing! It was all because of the faithfulness of God. He had “turned the heart of the king” to assist the people, and now the work was completed (see Prov. 21:1). The people realize that ultimate credit belongs to the Lord!


 

POINTS TO PONDER

1. Be diligent in completing the work of the Lord (Ezra 6:13-16).

2. Give your very best and be willing to make sacrifices for the Lord (Ezra 6:17-18).

4. Remembering what God has done for you in the past will reassure you that nothing is impossible for Him! (Ezra 6:19-22.)

 

CONCLUSION

 

Real Joy

 

Joy is associated with the feasts that Israel kept. Joy is listed among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Paul states in Philippians 4:4 that Christians are to rejoice, and then he repeats it: “Again I say, rejoice.” Paul stresses this yet again in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament: “Rejoice evermore!” (In the Greek, this is shorter than the two words “Jesus wept” of John 11:35.)

 

The dedication of a new building produces joy for the ones who had the vision for it, but there is a greater joy for people in Christ. As expressed in 1 Peter 1:8, we have not seen Jesus Christ, but we love Him and believe Him, and we rejoice “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” The people of Ezra’s day built a building with stones; for our part, we “are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Rejoice!

 

PRAYER

 

My Father in Heaven, today I am grateful for the people who went before me, who gave of themselves to build my life in Christ so that I can be a living stone for Him. Thank You, in the name of Jesus, amen.

 

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

 

Continue to let God build your spiritual house.

 


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