Obedience

While the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, they were expected to conform to the laws and customs of the kingdom in which they lived. The book of Daniel records two incidents where disobedience was punished by death. The first was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshipping a golden image made by the king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:21) and the second was Daniel who was thrown into a lion’s den because he prayed to his God instead of King Darius (Daniel 6:16). When it was discovered that Esther’s uncle Mordecai would not bow or worship Haman the Agagite, it was not enough for him to just kill Mordecai, Haman decided to have all the Jews exterminated and he was able to obtain permission from the king Ahasuerus to do so (Esther 3:11).

Mordecai’s response to the king’s commandment showed that he was devastated by what was going to happen to God’s people (Esther 4:1) and so, he went to Queen Esther to ask for her help. Esther’s initial reaction indicated that she was more concerned about being killed for breaking the law than she was saving her people. Esther sent a message to Mordecai saying, “All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden scepter, that he may live: but I have not been called to come into the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). The picture Esther painted of her husband, King Ahasuerus was a tyrant that would kill his own wife simply because she dared approach him without his permission. Esther may have been justified in her opinion of her husband, but it also revealed her attitude toward God. Esther didn’t believe God would deliver her, even though he had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, and Daniel when they were going to be killed.

Esther’s insecurity may have been due to her awareness that she was out of the will of God. Although Esther didn’t choose to marry Ahasuerus, she was benefitting from her position as queen of Persia. Mordecai’s argument was that it might actually have been God’s will for her to marry Ahasuerus so that she could use her position to intervene with her husband on behalf of her people, the Jews. Mordecai told Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows that whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). In other words, what Mordecai wanted Esther to know was that God would hold her accountable for her intention rather than her action with regards to her obedience to the Persian law. Mordecai believed God would save his people, including Esther, if she chose to put her trust in him instead of her husband, King Ahasuerus.

Before Esther went in to speak to her husband, she asked Mordecai to have all the Jews observe a fast on her behalf. Esther indicated that she and her servants would fast also. Esther most likely viewed this action as a way of purifying herself. Although the fast may have had some effect in the mind of Esther, it is unlikely God paid any more or less attention to what Esther was doing as a result of their fast. What was important to him was that Esther cared enough to risk her own life to stop what was going to happen to God’s people. It says in Esther 5:2, “And so it was, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter.” This illustration of Ahasuerus’ mercy toward Esther was meant to display God’s pleasure with her self-sacrifice. Although it was true that the king could have killed Esther for her disobedience, God protected her because she was willing to risk her life to save his people.

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Integration

The prophet Zachariah’s final night vision depicted the world after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It began with the entrance of four chariots into the Holy Land, of which Zechariah asked the question, “What are these, my lord?” It says in Zechariah 6:5, “And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” The angel’s reference to the Lord of all the earth indicated that Jesus’ conquest over Satan had already taken place. We know now that it was the Lord’s death on the cross that defeated his adversary Satan. Because Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, he was able to claim the entire world for his kingdom. The angel said to Zechariah, “Behold these that go toward the north country have quieted my spirit in the north country” (Zechariah 6:8).

The north country represented all of Israel’s enemies because that was “the direction from which most of Israel’s foes invaded their nation” (note on Zechariah 6:8). What the angel was telling Zechariah was that the threat of conquest had been eliminated. We know now that the nation of Israel became extinct in the first century after Jesus’s death, but was reestablished on May 14, 1948. Since that time, God has supernaturally protected the nation of Israel from destruction. What is yet to be accomplished is spoken of in Zechariah 6:12-13 where it says, “Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH;  and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

The picture of “The BRANCH” sitting on a throne in the temple of the LORD is a depiction of the millennial reign of Christ. What was shown in Zechariah’s prophecy was that there would be an integration of the roles of king and priest. The Messiah was expected to be a king, but what the people didn’t realize in Zechariah’s time was that the Messiah would also replace the high priest and would be the spiritual leader as well as the political leader of the world. The Messiah’s ability to integrate what we sometimes refer to as the sacred and secular aspects of life is due to his twofold blessing of peace (Zechariah 6:13). Jesus was given authority over all that is sacred in the world because he was born the Son of God. Jesus also inherited the world and was given authority over Satan and every kingdom on earth because he lived a perfect life and died for the sins of everyone, including those that reject him as their savior.

Zechariah showed the people that their hearts were still hardened toward God. The LORD told him, “Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” (Zechariah 7:5). While God’s people were in exile, they went through the motions of worship, but their hearts were not right with him. God wanted to see a different kind of behavior from his people, some evidence of change in their lives, but there was none. God reminded them of their obligation to “execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother” (Zechariah 7:9). Then he said, “but they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 7:11-12).

God explained to his people that it was their own rejection of him that made it necessary for him to implement a revised plan of salvation. Although God intended to restore Jerusalem, there would be a period of time when Israel would not be the center of his attention. In order to incorporate everyone into his plan of salvation, God intended to spread the good news of his free gift of salvation through a different method. What we refer to today as the gospel, the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, was entrusted to both Jews and Gentiles. Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples:

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

A second chance

The remnant of God’s people that returned to the Promised Land after their release from captivity in Babylon were given a second chance to be a part of the work that God was doing to save the world. The rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem was just the first step in getting his plan back on track. God wanted to completely restore his relationship with his people, but in order to do that, the Messiah had to be born. The prophet Haggai was sent to tell the people that things would get better if they would do what God told them to. Their first priority had to be God’s work (Haggai 1:9). In response to his message, it says in Haggai 1:12, “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son Josedech the high priest, with 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.”

The significance of the people’s response was twofold. First, they took action. “They came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14). Work on the rebuilding project had probably been stopped for more than a decade. The only things that were in place were the temple’s foundation and an altar for making sacrifices (Ezra 3:3,11). If the people didn’t do something, the temple would never be completed. So, they started working again. Secondly, the people adjusted their attitudes. When it says “the people did fear before the LORD” (Haggai 1:12), it means that the people recognized the power and position of God and rendered him proper respect (3372). Another way of saying it would be that the people realized God was angry with them and they admitted that they were in the wrong. The people began to take responsibility for their future and do what was expected of them.

Something God’s people needed to understand was that it wasn’t enough for them to just live in the Promised Land. They had to cooperate with God in executing his plan of salvation. Whereas before, they could expect God to bless them because they were his people, now there were stipulations to God’s covenant. The second chance God was giving them did not entitle them to his blessing, but guaranteed they would receive it, if they did what he told them to. The guarantee being the birth of Jesus Christ, their Messiah. God told his people, “from this day will I bless you” (Haggai 2:19). Then he placed his seal, perhaps the Holy Spirit, upon Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of King David and likely the rightful heir to his throne. What we know from the genealogy of Jesus is that Zerubbabel was the missing link that reconnected the Messiah back to Abraham after the captivity in Babylon (Matthew 1:12).

A time for reflection

The prophet Haggai’s short messages to the remnant of Jews that returned to the Promised Land after their exile in Babylon were more personal and to the point than other messages God had sent his people in the past. Haggai’s brief ministry lasted only four months and specific dates were given for his messages, so that it was completely clear, exactly when they were delivered. The first message was delivered on August 29, 520 B.C., approximately eighteen years after king Cyrus had decreed that God’s temple should be rebuilt. In a nutshell, the first message Haggai delivered was about the people of God taking some time to reflect on their current situation. After their return to the Promised Land, the Jews immediately set out to rebuild their homes and plant crops. Obviously, they needed a roof over their heads and food to sustain them, but their effort was inconsistent with the mission they had been tasked with, which was to rebuild God’s temple. King Cyrus’ decree specifically stated that the reason the Jews were to return to their homeland was to build God’s temple (Ezra 1:2-3).

Haggai’s message opened with an important question, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? (Haggai 1:4). God wanted to know why the peoples’ houses were finished, but his was not. The use of the Hebrew word ‘eth, which is translated time in this verse, was meant to be an indicator of the purpose of their return to the land. ‘Eth means appointed time or proper time. “Basically this noun connotes ‘time’ conceived as an opportunity or season” (6256). The Jews would not have returned to the Promised Land if it weren’t for Cyrus’ decree to rebuild the temple, and yet, eighteen years later, the work that was completed was minimal. The only things finished were the foundation and the altar for sacrifices. God said to his people, “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 earneth wages to put it into bags with holes. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5-7).

The Hebrew phrase translated “consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5,7) or siym (seem) lebab (lay – bawb´) derek (deh´- rek) means to place or put something on one’s heart about his behavior (7760/3824/1870). The way we might think of this today is to feel convicted about our sins or being led by God’s spirit to repent. The people that lived before Jesus could not be born again, but there was a process for them to receive God’s blessing. God wanted his people to take some time to reflect on their behavior and see that what they were doing wasn’t getting them anywhere. He pointed out to them that they were expending a lot of energy trying to sustain themselves and were still struggling financially (Haggai 1:7). In order for them to be blessed, God’s people had to listen to him and obey his commandments. After hearing Haggai’s message, it says the people “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God…and the people did fear before the LORD” (Haggai 1:12). In other words, the peoples’ relationship with the LORD was restored.

Troublemakers

Reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem was not a quick or easy task. The original temple that was built by king Solomon took seven years to construct (1 Kings 7:38). Ezra recorded that construction of the second temple was started in 536 B.C., but not completed until 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15). The primary reason for the delay was the harassment the builders received from troublemakers living in the area surrounding Jerusalem. Ezra stated, “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellers against them to frustrate the purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5). The phrases “weakened the hands of the people” and “troubled them in building” may also be translated as discouraged them and made them afraid to build (ESV). The idea being that the people were unproductive because of the harassment they received.

At the very least, the builders of the temple were distracted by the troublemakers that wanted to join with them in their effort (Ezra 4:2). One of the tactics used against the temple builders was what we might refer to today as tattle telling. A report was sent to king Darius, the successor to Cyrus king of Persia, indicating that the people that had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon were trying to rebuild their temple. They said, “Be it known to 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…and yet it is not finished” (Ezra 5:8,16). The troublemakers went on to say that they were told by the leaders in Jerusalem that Cyrus had made a decree to build the house of God and they wanted the records to be searched to find out if that was actually true (Ezra 5:13,17). Fortunately, king Darius ordered a search of the records and Cyrus’ decree was found (Ezra 6:3).

In spite of the corroboration of their story, the leaders of Jerusalem continued to face opposition for another fifty plus years. After king Darius was replaced by king Ahasurerus in 486 B.C., another letter was sent with an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:7). Then, sometime during the reign of king Artaxerxes (465 B.C. – 424 B.C), a final attempt was made to stop the work in Jerusalem. The letter to Artaxerxes went to greater lengths by suggesting that a plot to overthrow his kingdom was in progress (Ezra 4:11-16). As a result of their intervention, Artaxeres I ordered that the Jews stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3) until around 445 B.C. when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem and successful rebuilt the walls in fifty two days.

The fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar’ experience of having his dream interpreted by Daniel did little to change his opinion of himself or God. Even though Nebuchadnezzar identified Daniel’s God as a God of gods, and a Lord of kings (Daniel 2:47), Nebuchadnezzar did not believe in God, nor worship him. As a result of having his dream interpreted, Nebuchadnezzar actually became more conceited and arrogant in his behavior. It says in Daniel 3:1, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits.” The identity of the 90 feet high image is not given, but it may very well have been a statue of Nebuchadnezzar himself. In his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel told the king, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee a ruler over them all” (Daniel 2:37-38). And with regard to the image he saw in his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was told, “Thou art this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).

After his golden image was erected, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship it (Daniel 3:7), “And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:11). The fiery furnace may have been symbolic of hell or was a sadistic means of satisfaction to the king who had been given power over everyone on earth. When Nebuchadnezzar was told there were three men in his kingdom that did not bow down and worship the image, he went into a rage. It says in Daniel 3:19-20, “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heat. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.”

In stark contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s blatant disregard for God’s dominion over the earth, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were completely devoted to the one true God. When they were told they were about to be burned in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego replied, “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” (Daniel 3:17-18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s miraculous deliverance from the fiery furnace was not only a tribute to their faith, but also a sign that God was with his people even during their captivity in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar himself testified to the appearance of a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. It says in Daniel 3:24-25:

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, 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.

The new temple (part 6)

According to Ezekiel’s vision, in the center of the temple courtyard there stood an altar on which sacrifices were to be made. Since the period of grace began, after Jesus’s death and resurrection took place, it has seemed as if sacrifices are no longer necessary. What we can assume from the appearance of an altar in the new temple is that there will come a time when salvation by grace will no longer be available to mankind. In other words, God’s law will once again be the standard by which all men will be judged (Ezekiel 43:27). Although Jesus’ death paid the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed, our ability to claim that payment and apply it to our spiritual account has an expiration date, the day he establishes his kingdom on earth.

During Christ’s millennial reign on earth, a new world order will exist that requires submission to God’s will. Obedience to God’s laws will no longer be optional. If you can image a kingdom in which there will be no sins committed against God, you will understand that God’s sovereignty has never been forced upon man up to this time. Free will represents the ability man has to rebel against God. There will come a time when man’s free will is exempted and God’s grace will cease to exist in the sense that it can no longer be claimed in lieu of obedience to the law. Therefore, sacrifices will be made to God just as they were when the first temple was built by king Solomon. At that time, the celebration of feasts signified a right relationship between God and his people. In the future, that relationship will be restored and it will cause the people to do what was never possible before, live according to God’s commandments.

A glimpse into this future new world order is given in Hebrews 13:10-21. It says:

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burnt without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.