“Giving Gifts for the Temple”
Lesson Text: Ezra 8:24-35
Background Scripture: Ezra 8:24-36
Devotional Reading: Mark 12:38-44
Ezra 8:24-35 (KJV)
24 Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them,
25 And weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered:
26 I even weighed unto their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels an hundred talents, and of gold an hundred talents;
27 Also twenty basons of gold, of a thousand drams; and two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold.
28 And I said unto them, Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers.
29 Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord.
30 So took the priests and the Levites the weight of the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem unto the house of our God.
31 Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.
32 And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days.
33 Now on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them was Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui, Levites;
34 By number and by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time.
35 Also the children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, twelve he goats for a sin offering: all this was a burnt offering unto the Lord.
To understand that protection and security are very important for persons who participate in various programs/ministries of the church, especially for those who handle money.
To recognize the significance of financial accountability and security displayed by the priests and the children of Israel under the leadership of Ezra.
To support and pray that churches and missions practice responsible stewardship in handling the gifts that are given and managed by them.
Tons to Transport
The London Times described it as “perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture.” The feat involved gathering, marking, and transporting 7,000 stones of a ruined church from England to Fulton, Missouri. The church building had been severely damaged in the bombing blitz on England during World War II.
Why rebuild the church in Missouri instead of London? Winston Churchill had delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. That speech is often cited to mark the beginning of the Cold War. Eventually, a decision was made to memorialize the famous speech at the place where it was delivered, thus the decision to transport the remains of the ruined church from London to Missouri. The immensity of the project was almost incomprehensible.
The first stones were delivered in time for the groundbreaking ceremony that took place on April 19, 1964. The remaining tons and tons of marked stones arrived soon thereafter, and reconstruction began. The dedication service was held on May 7, 1969. The outward appearance of the completed building very closely resembles pictures of the original. In 2009, the building was designated by Congress as the National Churchill Museum.
Today’s study also relates a time when tons of material were transported a great distance to support a rebuilding effort. The occasion was the return from captivity that was led by Ezra in the spring and summer of 458 B.C. The distance was 880 miles, from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Time: 458 B.C.
The biblical text for this lesson follows immediately after last week’s study, so the historical background is the same. But perhaps a bit more can be said about Ezra’s place in history. He was important in his own time, and he is often considered very important in shaping Judaism. His influence extended down to the Judaism of the first century A.D. and beyond.
This high regard for Ezra has much to support it. First, he is termed a scribe (or teacher), and to have such a title was an honor. This meant that Ezra was an expert in the Law of Moses. It was said of Ezra that he was so worthy that the law could have been given through him “if Moses had not preceded him.” Ancient rabbis wrote that if Ezra had lived at the same time as Aaron (Moses’ brother, who became the first high priest), then Aaron would have been considered inferior to Ezra.
Ezra has also been called “a second Moses,” and the two men can be compared and contrasted in various ways. Moses wrote down the law; Ezra went to Jerusalem to teach it. Both led groups on long trips to the promised land. Moses’ group was protected by a special cloud; Ezra wrote that the hand of God provided protection. The Lord supplied manna and water in special ways for those in the exodus from Egypt; there is no record that this was done in Ezra’s time. Moses performed miraculous signs before Pharaoh to persuade him to allow the Israelites to leave; Ezra had letters from the king of Persia that credentialed his mission. Moses’ group received gifts from the Egyptians; Ezra’s group had gifts from the king of Persia. The Israelites of Moses’ day gave generously to build the tabernacle; those in Ezra’s time gave generously for the house of the Lord. It took 40 years for the Israelites first to enter the promised land; it took Ezra’s group 4 months. Moses appointed others to help him with administration; Ezra utilized priests and Levites to assist him for the trip.
Inventorying the Temple Offerings (Ezra 8:24-27)
Assigning Responsibility (v. 24)
1. In what ways did Ezra show his administrative abilities (Ezra 8:24)?
Ezra demonstrates that he is a careful administrator who knows how to plan his work and work his plan (as we will see in vs. 24-27). The verse just prior to this (verse 23) tells of an important phase of preparation for the journey to Jerusalem: fasting and petitioning God for success of the mission (last week’s lesson). The spiritual things are essential, but that is only one fundamental part of the preparation.
Ezra determines that the responsibility for transporting all the wealth listed in verses 25, 26 should be divided among others. This is a security measure for him and for the valuables assigned to his care. Many churches have similar security procedures in place for the people who handle offerings. The purpose is to protect both the funds and those who have access to them.
To oversee the safe conveyance of the sacred items to the Jerusalem temple, Ezra appointed 12 Levites, prominent among whom were Sherebiah and Hashabiah (v. 24). However, verse 30 clearly distinguishes between priests and Levites on this journey, which supports the idea that Ezra chooses a total of 24 men.
The law specified that the priests were to handle the sacred objects and the Levites were to carry them (Numbers 3-4). Ezra, having studied the law thoroughly, knew this and no doubt tried to apply the rule as closely as possible to the present situation.
Acting In Faith and Wisdom
A few years ago, a certain church embarked on a building program. It needed to replace its old building with one that would better serve the growing congregation. The members gave generously to support the building program. One person was assigned the responsibility for the project, including the management of the building fund.
All went well as the work began. But soon rumors of trouble were being whispered. Contractors who had finished their part of the construction started complaining that they were not being paid. An investigation uncovered the distressing truth: the person in charge of the project had been using the money for his own purposes. As a result, there was insufficient money to pay the suppliers and builders.
Ezra demonstrated wisdom as an administrator. As he made plans to return to Jerusalem with a precious cargo to help complete the temple construction project, neither he nor any other one person was entrusted with the entire treasure. Ezra trusted God for safety during the journey. But Ezra also showed managerial expertise in the way he spread responsibility and accountability for the task. Those entrusted with overseeing the church’s treasure today should be as wise!—C.R.B.
Weighing Out the Objects for the Temple (Ezra 8:25-27)
2. Why was Ezra careful to weigh the valuables (v. 25)?
The value of the donated silver and gold makes it imperative that there be a careful accounting. Coins are sometimes used at this time in history, but the precious metals in view here are in bulk form. Weighing is the best method to determine the amounts involved (as we will see in the next verse).
The special offerings are designated for the house of our God, with King Artaxerxes and others contributing toward this special project. The fact that all Israel participates shows that this mission is known by many.
3. How valuable were the precious metals (vs. 26, 27)?
The total weight of these precious metals represents enormous wealth. Verse 26 details the enormous quantities of money as well as instruments that had been dedicated for use in the temple. The Hebrew noun rendered “talent” refers to a weight of circular shape, which could be made out of gold, silver, bronze, or iron. In ancient times, the weight of a talent ranged from 62 and 66 pounds. So, “six hundred and fifty talents of silver” was about 40,000 to 43,000 pounds (approx. 21 tons). The silver “articles” weighing 100 talents and the 100 talents of gold each varied between 6,200 and 6,600 pounds. Verse 27 refers to 20 gold basins worth “a thousand drams” (which was about 19 pounds in weight). The daric was a highly valued Persian gold coin used at that time. There were also two well-crafted vessels made out of “fine copper.” These utensils were so exquisitely made that they were considered as valuable as gold.
The importance of the temple for God’s people cannot be overstated. To begin, the sanctuary had an indispensable theological function to serve. It was the place where the Lord manifested His holy presence in Israel. It was also the place where sacrifices were made in response to God’s gracious choice of Israel as His people. In the sanctuary, God’s people could spend time in prayer. Furthermore, its design, furniture, and customs were object lessons that prepared the people for the Messiah.
Additionally, the temple had important political and economic roles to play in Jewish society. It was the institution that held together the entire covenant community-the past as well as the present and the future. The sanctuary gave political identity to the people. Access to its courts identified who was properly a citizen and who was excluded. From an economic perspective, rooms in the temple functioned as a treasury-in effect, the society’s bank. Because of the sanctuary’s demands for tithes and offerings, a large portion of the Israelite economy passed through the temple personnel and storehouses. In brief, without the sanctuary, God’s people had little opportunity to pull together as a coherent society to face the challenges of the future.
Taking Charge of the Temple Items (Ezra 8:28-30)
Reminder Given (v. 28)
4. Of what did Ezra remind the temple ministers (v. 28)?
Ezra reminds those to be entrusted with the wealth that the Lord is the One who has set them apart in a special way: they belong to Him (compare Numbers 3:11-13). Since the precious metals and vessels, also holy, have been given as a freewill offering to the Lord, it is a compliment to these men to be entrusted with gifts that are dedicated to God. Things given to God in any era are to be used, but not misused or abused through carelessness.
What Do You Think?
What does your church do to teach giving as an expression of worship? What more can it do?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
To preteens | To teenagers | To adults
In verse 29, Ezra stressed the seriousness of guarding such a great treasure to the 12 priests and 12 Levites. These items were weighed at the beginning of the journey, and the treasure was weighed again when they reaching Jerusalem (see v. 33). Their vigilance was to be maintained until the precious cargo arrived safely at the Jerusalem temple. At that time, the priests and Levites were to put the articles on scales in the designated storerooms of the sanctuary complex. Moreover, this was to be done in the presence of the chief priests, the Levites, and the family leaders of “Israel” (v. 29). In turn, they would verify that whatever had been consecrated as “holy” (v. 28) arrived in Jerusalem safely and intact.
In verse 30, the priests and the Levites accept the seriousness of their charge of guarding the consecrated gifts for the temple of God in Jerusalem. They do not know whether they will
Completing the Mission / Reviewing the Journey (Ezra 8:31-35)
5. What evidence is there to show that God protected the children of Israel during their journey to Jerusalem (v. 31)?
Ezra reflects on the magnitude of what he and his group experience. During the four-month journey from the river of Ahava… unto Jerusalem (see Ezra 7:8, 9, last week’s lesson), they travel 880 miles while transporting tremendous wealth. Their journey takes them through areas where ambushes are often used to surprise and rob sojourners. As Ezra looks back in considering the distance, the days, and the dangers, there is only one conclusion: God had watched over them to protect them. Ezra seems to imply that such attacks did not occur, but the verse could also be interpreted to mean that such encounters did occur, but always failed.
What Do You Think?
When have you seen God’s hand in safe deliverance through uncertain circumstances?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding a mission trip | Regarding an untrue accusation | Regarding a time of testing in a church | Other
An Example to Remember
In an increasingly secularized culture, many Americans are ignorant of (or willfully overlook) the fact that their country’s founders were, by and large, people of faith. For example, the U.S. Declaration of Independence acknowledges “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The document appeals to “the Supreme Judge of the world” to validate the efforts of the colonies, avowing “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” Speaking at the constitutional convention on June 28, 1787, the elderly Benjamin Franklin declared, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs the affairs of men.” How times have changed! Before embarking on a project big or small, how many political leaders—or anyone, for that matter—pause to reflect on the fact that God is in control? On completion of the project, how many stop to think about what God’s part might have been in the undertaking?
Ezra was a leader who acknowledged God’s care and protection. Pray that this lesson about faith and trust will be taught and retaught!—C. R. B.
6. After arriving in Jerusalem, how long did the people rest? Why is this important (vs. 32-34)?
After arriving in Jerusalem the people rested and refreshed themselves for three days. Some of Ezra’s group probably want to make certain that the accommodations to protect the wealth are ready, and it will take time to do the things that have to be done in that regard. A three-day rest in Jerusalem is a real blessing after such a long trip. Then, on the fourth day, they distributed the money and the items dedicated for use in the temple. Everything was meticulously accounted for (vs. 31-34).
What Do You Think?
How can Christians do a better job of watching out for one another in terms of ensuring adequate rest?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding the church’s staff members | Regarding the church’s teachers |Regarding the church’s ministry teams | Other
7. How did the people demonstrate their dedication to the Lord (v. 35)?
The material aspect of this trip now accomplished, Ezra and those who accompanied him turn their attention to something that is very important to every Israelite: being able to participate in offering sacrifices in the temple. The new arrivals gathered at the altar to worship God and declare their unity as His people. The twelve burnt offerings and twelve sin offerings were for the twelve tribes of Israel represented by the Jewish remnant in Jerusalem.
The new arrivals were worshiping in their land, at their temple altar, for the first time in their lives! How Ezra's heart must have been stirred as he stood at the altar and participated in the worship service! “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:1-2).
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Committing (Ezra 8:24-34). To twelve leading priests, Ezra committed the responsibility for the treasure: In one sense, this event is a parable of the Christian life. God's people are on a difficult and dangerous journey to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22), and the Lord has committed certain of His treasures to us. Our task is to protect what He's given us and be ready to give a good account of our stewardship when we get to the end of the journey. The only difference is that, in our journey, God expects us to invest and increase the treasure and not just guard it. (See Matt. 25:14-30; 1 Tim. 1:11, 18-19; 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:2.)
2. Worshipping (Ezra 8:35). These temple offerings remind us that it is necessary to approach God through the provision of the only acceptable atoning sacrifice -His son, Jesus!
A prayer of thankfulness is not mentioned after Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem. Even so, prayers would have accompanied the sacrifices of burnt offerings. Petitioning God is noted at the beginning of the trip (Ezra 8:23), and Ezra offers a lengthy prayer of confession in Ezra 9:6-15. Ezra is a man of prayer!
It is a good reminder that God wants us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In so doing, we will give “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
Almighty God, You have gifted us to serve You in important ways. May our stewardship of those gifts, worth more than silver or gold, be part of our submission to You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Be a good steward of all your resources, especially the resource of prayer.