"Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them' " (Nehemiah 5:11, NKJV).
This week's "Insights" is divided into two parts - application and insights.
Part 1: Application
The best lessons strike closest to home. With whom in this week's story do you identify? There are three choices.
Nehemiah. Courageous. Self-sacrificing. Persistent. Unfazed by power or wealth. Giving. Just. Prayer warrior. Man of faith. Godly leader. Not intimidated by conflict. Direct in confronting wrongdoing.
The Poor Jews. Frazzled. Frustrated. They and/or their children sold into slavery against their will. In debt. Protestors. Unable to pay taxes or home mortgages. Hungry. Forced from their homes and land. Many troubles and trials.
The Wealthy Jews. Opportunistic. Took advantage of poorer brethren by charging usury (interest). Financial interests were highest priority. Sold their brethren into slavery. Repented and made restitution after their sin was pointed out.
I am not proud of this, but of the three options listed above, I identify most with the wealthy Jews. Though I haven't had the opportunity of selling people into slavery to get my money back or of charging interest on loans. There is something about this group, though, that resonates with me. Let me explain.
"'Let us not love in word,' the apostle writes, 'but in deed and in truth.' The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within. It is the atmosphere of this love surrounding the soul of the believer that makes him a savor of life unto life and enables God to bless his work" (AA 551).
There are plenty of times when the impulse to help and bless others comes to my mind. The trouble is, I don't always heed the voice. Sometimes God puts people in my path who need help when I wasn't planning to give it; perhaps taking time to help wasn't on my to do list for the day. Perhaps the help that is most needed will involve great sacrifice on my part. Sometimes, getting me to help has been like squeezing juice out of a cold, hard lemon. I can relate to the wealthy Jews.
The Lord Himself has identified my condition in Revelation 3. "'Because you say, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing"--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable poor blind, and naked--I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with the eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten, Therefore be zealous and repent" (vss 17-19).
The 1888 message is especially suited to us in Laodicea; we need the righteousness of Christ, for which He has made provision at an infinite, personal sacrifice. I am ashamed that I hesitate to help and bless others. I am sorry for selfishly balking at self-sacrifice and inconvenience.
"We were all debtors to divine justice, but we had nothing with which to pay the debt. Then the Son of God, Who pitied us, paid the price of our redemption. He became poor that through His poverty we might be rich. By deeds of liberality toward His poor we may prove the sincerity of our gratitude for the mercy extended to us. . . 'Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good' " (PK 652).
This week I have frequently found myself checking for updates on the fires in California. One news article pondered the contrast between the very wealthy who were fleeing their homes ahead of fires, and of their migrant worker-employees, some of whom had not even realized there was an evacuation order, but had been faithfully doing their jobs--collecting the trash, tending yards, streets, and vineyards, and harvesting grapes. Our society places high value on wealth, beauty, talent, position, and fame. The article pointed out that the rich need the poor and the poor need the rich. It's just that power and money often lead to abuse at the expense of the poor.
That was what was happening in Nehemiah's day. The very wealthy have means with which to build another home. The poor who work for them do not know if they will get another paycheck. The Lord does not see as man sees. He honored the poor by becoming one of them. He values them as much as the wealthy.
Nehemiah was used by God to reach the wealthy Jews. They repented. They made restitution to their poorer brethren. Everyone is needed in the body of Christ. To our churches the Lord brings the poor, the sick and handicapped, the outcasts, and those in need of clothing, shelter, and food, to our doorstep. The true test of our love for Christ is demonstrated in how we treat these individuals. As far as possible, we should "not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:16).
This week's lesson also covered the topic of oaths, and how they were often utilized to secure agreements between two parties in ancient times. Did you notice the quote in Friday's lesson? "Jesus preceded to lay down a principle that would make oath taking needless. He teaches that the exact truth should be the law of speech. 'Let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one' R.V." (TMB, p. 67).
Continuing, Sister White says, "These words condemn all those meaningless phrases and expletives that border on profanity. They condemn the deceptive compliments, the evasion of truth, the flattering phrases, the exaggerations, the misrepresentations in trade, that are current in society and in the business world. They teach that no one who tries to appear what he is not, or whose words do not convey the real sentiment of his heart, can be called truthful" (p. 68).
Recently a gentleman from England who moved to the U.S. about ten years ago explained to me a difference he noticed between British and American English. The British, he said, employ satire to make a point, by saying the opposite of what they mean. Americans, on the other hand, utilize slang to an extreme. Our language has become littered with many repetitive expressions, some of which border on profanity or swearing, while others are idiomatic of our rapidly changing pop culture. As ambassadors for Christ, we can lay aside these expressions that connect us to the world in exchange for the words of life found in Scripture. Particularly in preaching from the pulpit, the absence of such language gives evidence that we have been with Jesus. "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you" (Luke 26:73).
Part 2: Insight
We owe a significant gospel insight in this week's lesson to a quote in the E. G. White Sabbath School Notes for Monday's lesson. The context takes us back to Nehemiah 5:1-5 where the poor Jews were crying out for justice:
"Because of poverty, some [children] were sold into bondage by their parents. Others who were sentenced for crimes by the judges were sold into bondage. The Lord specified that even these were not to be held as bond-servants for more than seven years. At the end of that time every servant was given his freedom, or, if he chose, he was allowed to remain with his master. Thus God guarded the interests of the lowly and the oppressed. Thus He enjoined a noble spirit of generosity, and encouraged all to cultivate a love for liberty, because the Lord had made them free. Anyone who refused liberty when it was his privilege to have it, was marked. This was not a badge of honor to him, but a mark of disgrace. Thus God encouraged the cultivation of a high and noble spirit, rather than a spirit of bondage and slavery" (Ellen G. White Comments, in the SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1106, emphasis supplied).
Do you see the connection here with the mark of the beast?
When Adam sinned, Satan became his master. "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness. But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" Romans 6:16-18.
This passage clearly articulates that by obeying Satan, we became his slaves. Slavery originated with Satan and was chosen by Adam. Being without hope in this condition, Philippians 2 describes the downward path Jesus took in order to save us from Satan's grasp, "Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant," (vs. 6, 7). Jesus, Who was free in heaven, became a bondservant on earth in order to rescue us.
Let's pick up the passage identified in our lesson that explains the laws governing slaves in Israel:
"If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years: and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever" (Exodus 21:2-6).
Slavery was never God's plan, but in view of the widespread custom of employing slaves, these directions were given to Moses.
Applying this passage to Christ and his bride, we observe the following.
The great controversy has lasted 6,000 years. The six years followed by a seventh year of freedom point to our redemption from this world on the eve of the millennial Sabbath rest at the second advent of Jesus Christ. This is the Christian's Jubilee. As described in type in Exodus 21, Jesus became a servant and came to this world to claim His bride. He has declared his love for her, and for all eternity His intention is to remain married to her. He will not "go out free" without her. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was pierced for our iniquities. He has become one with the human race, never to regain, in some sense, the position He had in heaven before the fall. He was numbered with the transgressors, He will ever retain the marks of His crucifixion in His forehead, hands, and feet, the price He paid to purchase our liberty.
"And one will say to him, 'What are these wounds between your arms?' Then he will answer, 'Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends' " (Zechariah 13:6).
"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).
On the cross, Jesus liberated the entire human race. He opened the slave house door and set the captives free. "With His own blood He has signed the emancipation papers of the race" (Te 124).
When our bodies are transformed at His coming, all traces of sin, including scars, will be removed. Jesus alone will bear the marks of what it cost Him to save us.
At His coming there will be another group, those who worship "the beast and his image," and receive "his mark on his forehead or on his hand" (Revelation 14:9). This mark is characterized by no rest day or night. This group has rejected the liberty in Christ. They have chosen their own righteousness over His robe of righteousness.
Those who do not rest are working day and night to save themselves. "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work" (Ex. 20:9). Those who receive the seal of God in the forehead are resting in Christ for salvation. "But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work . . . " (vs. 9). Keeping the seventh day Sabbath is the sign or seal of God fixed in the foreheads of those who liberty in Christ (Ex. 31:13).
Those with the mark of the beast have not walked out of Satan's slave house even though Christ has opened the door. When this group beholds the marks of Calvary on Jesus, they will be "tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (vs. 10). The sight of Him stirs within their souls the keenest anguish, as the realization of what they have rejected overwhelms them. As slaves of Satan, "they have no rest day or night who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name" (vs. 11).
Hence, the third angel's message is heaven's last appeal to earth's inhabitants to come out from slavery to sin and into newness of life in Christ. Thus, "anyone who refused liberty when it was his privilege to have it, was marked."
"Rebellion was not to be overcome by force. Compelling power is found only under Satan's government. The Lord's principles are not of this order. His authority rests upon goodness, mercy, and love; and the presentation of these principles is the means to be used. God's government is moral, and truth and love are to be the prevailing power" (DA p. 759).
"But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius. Then a written answer was returned concerning this matter" (Ezra 5:5).
Chronology of the book of Ezra
This week's lesson begins with the assertion that "Ezra 3-6 is structured thematically, covering different historical periods of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple. Recognizing this thematic approach will help clarify the overall message" (SS Lesson quarterly, p. 30).
In reality, the book of Ezra is written in chronological order. The confusion begins in the first lesson of this quarter where a list of Persian kings is given as follows (see page 8 of the quarterly):
Cyrus II the Great (559-530 BC)
Cambyses II (530-522 BC)
Darius I (522-486 BC)
Xerxes I (485-465 BC) (Also known from the book of Esther as Ahasuerus)
Artaxerxes (465-424 BC)
Key details from history and the inspired record which are omitted above appear below in red:
Cyrus II the Great (559-530 BC)
Cambyses II (530-522 BC) (the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6)
False Smerdis (525-522 BC) (the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7, who ruled while Cambyses II was in Egypt and for 7 months after Cambyses died)
Darius Hystapes I (522-486 BC) (Who gave the second command to rebuild the temple)
Xerxes I (485-465 BC) (Also known from the book of Esther as Ahasuerus)
Artaxerxes Longimanus (465-424 BC) (Who gave the third decree in 457 BC for the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem in 457 BC)
Just as Pharaoh was a term commonly applied to the rulers of Egypt, so the titles Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes denoted the position of king or leader in Persia.
In Prophets and Kings, Ellen White explains: "During the reign of Cambyses the work on the temple progressed slowly. And during the reign of the false Smerdis (called Artaxerxes in Ezra 4:7) the Samaritans induced the unscrupulous impostor to issue a decree forbidding the Jews to rebuild their temple and city.
"For over a year the temple was neglected and well-nigh forsaken. The people dwelt in their homes and strove to attain temporal prosperity, but their situation was deplorable. Work as they might they did not prosper. The very elements of nature seemed to conspire against them. Because they had let the temple lie waste, the Lord sent upon their substance a wasting drought. God had bestowed upon them the fruits of field and garden, the corn and the wine and the oil, as a token of His favor; but because they had used these bountiful gifts so selfishly, the blessings were removed.
"Such were the conditions existing during the early part of the reign of Darius Hystaspes. Spiritually as well as temporally, the Israelites were in a pitiable state" (pp. 572, 573).
This passage from the inspired record includes three kings in sequence: Cambyses, the false Smerdis (Artaxerxes), and Darius. The quarterly omits the brief reign of the False Smerdis (Artaxerxes), which is essential to a correct interpretation of the text.
In his nearly 700-page book, The Great Empires of Bible Prophecy, A. T. Jones expands on the history of these kings:
"Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, succeeded immediately to the throne of the Medi-Persian Empire, near the beginning of the year 529 B.C. There was a second son, named Smerdis; but Cambyses caused him to be secretly murdered.
"The Samaritans, who had opposed the building of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israel in Palestine, and who had hired counselors to frustrate that purpose 'all the days of Cyrus King of Persia,' continued the same opposition in the reign of Cambyses; for 'in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem' (Ezra 4:6). There is no known record that any notice was taken of their accusation; and the work of restoration in Jerusalem and Judea continued, though meeting many hindrances" (p. 61)
Notice that A.T. Jones equates Cambyses II with the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6.
"When Cambyses caused the murder of his brother Smerdis, it was done with so much secrecy that the great body of the people believed him to be still alive. This resulted in the rise of a certain Gomates, who claimed to be the true Smerdis. Because of the general belief of the people that Smerdis was alive, and because Gomates bore such a close resemblance to Smerdis, this false Smerdis was readily received as the true. Cambyses having been long absent in the far-away country of Egypt, and even Ethiopia, under all the circumstances it was easy for Gomates to fix himself firmly upon the throne of united Persia and Media" (p. 62)
There is more to it than that. Gomates was a magician. He lied to the people, claiming to be Smerdis, causing the people to revolt from Cambyses, which enabled him to seize the kingdom. When Cambyses (still in Egypt) learned of the imposter on his throne, he killed himself.
Jones continues: "This Gomates, the false Smerdis, was a Magian and was largely ruled by the Magian priests. He made it his chief purpose to make the Median influence, and also the Median religion, once more predominant in the united empire" (p. 63).
The point of all this is that the Artaxerxes to whom the letter by Rehum and Shimshai was addressed was none other than the imposter Gomates, impersonating as Smerdis, the son of Cyrus and younger brother of Cambyses. The fact that he was a magician and entrenched in the pagan religion of the Medes meant that he did not share the religious convictions of Cyrus nor did he care to honor Cyrus's decree for the restoration of the temple, hence he commanded that work on the restoration of the temple cease. Rehum and Shimshai lost no time in enlisting the force of arms to carry out this new resolution. Hence "the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius King of Persia" Ezra 4:24.
Lessons from this week's lesson:
1. First and foremost, we need to be students of the Word and of history. Ezra studied both. In his later years, he was a much sought-after teacher.
2. When the going got rough, the Jews became afraid. They ceased building the temple and focused on their own homes. God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the Jews in their work of rebuilding. Despite the challenges, when everyone worked together the temple was completed in a relatively short time, "on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius" (Ezra 6:15), because "the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo" (Ezra 6:14). In every age, God has sent His prophets with a message of present truth for that generation.
3. The second temple was completed, but the walls around Jerusalem were still in ruins. God called Nehemiah to lead out in the full restoration of Jerusalem at the third decree, given by Artaxerxes Longimanus in 457 BC. At this time, many Jews returned to Israel to assist in the repairs. Tobiah and Sanballat did all they could to discourage the builders, but notice what the builders did:
"Nevertheless, we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night," (Nehemiah 4:9).
Nehemiah encouraged the builders, saying, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses. And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work" (Nehemiah 4:14, 15).
4. The last challenge Nehemiah faced was being called away from his post of duty to defend himself against false charges. Had he succumbed to fear ("For they all were trying to make us afraid" Nehemiah 6:9), Nehemiah might have lost his life in the plot to get him to leave his post and defend himself. As it was, Nehemiah was in tune with the Spirit, who revealed the true motives of Shemaiah, and Nehemiah refused to go. Instead, he stayed on task until "the wall was finished . . . in 52 days" (Nehemiah 6:15).
Seventh-day Adventists have been entrusted with a work akin to that of Ezra and Nehemiah in restoring:
--the truths of Christ's cleansing work in the heavenly sanctuary and in us (rebuilding the temple),
--all ten precepts of God's law of love written in our hearts (restoring the wall), and
--the faith of Jesus (defense against the enemy's attacks)
"Among those who profess to be the supporters of God's cause there are those who unite with His enemies and thus lay His cause open to the attacks of His bitterest foes. Even some who desire the work of God to prosper will yet weaken the hands of His servants by hearing, reporting, and half believing the slanders, boasts, and menaces of His adversaries. Satan works with marvelous success through his agents, and all who yield to their influence are subject to a bewitching power that destroys the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent. But, like Nehemiah, God's people are neither to fear nor to despise their enemies. Putting their trust in God, they are to go steadily forward, doing His work with unselfishness, and committing to His providence the cause for which they stand" (PK 645).
Ezra and Nehemiah endured many delays in the work of building and restoration, and so have we. But the promise remains: "He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Romans 9:28).
Our lesson this week focuses on "God's Call". I did not realize the significance of this title until I looked at my calendar. This week my itinerary takes me to New England—where Adventism began. My journey to William Miller's farm comes on the one hundred and seventy-fifth remembrance of the Great Disappointment.
Providentially in preparation for this trip I have been sorting through the largest collection—that I know— of original Millerite material in private hands. We are talking multiple copies of first edition printings of William Miller's book "Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year 1844: Exhibited in a Course of Lectures". Then there are "Prophetic Expositions or A Connected View of the Testimony of the Prophets Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Time of Its Establishment" by Josiah Litch—volumes one and two. Not to mention "Daniel's Weekes" by Joseph Mede which was printed in 1643…that is right 1643…two hundred years prior to the anticipated coming of Christ in 1843 or 1844. All these volumes are calling out for closer study, for reconsideration. Why now? Why me?
Ezra and Nehemiah were called for a specific task by God: to rebuild what lay in ruins. God shielded William Miller from death in the 1812 war thereby weaned him away from Deism and skepticism by sitting him down with a Bible and the Cruden's concordance (the collection has one of those too) to fathom the most momentous events that could ever be considered—the cleansing of the Sanctuary and the return of Jesus for His Children. These William Miller conflated and missed—with God's providential hand covering his eyes, but momentous they were, and are, all the same. William Miller too was called.
I am not a numbers guy, but it seems significant that Ezra preached thirteen years in Jerusalem and William Miller preached about the same amount of time —from 1831 to 1844— to mainly Christians about the Second Coming of Christ. Like Ezra, William Miller had the toughest time to make any headway. It took an intrepid Joshua Himes and encouraging Josiah Litch in the last four of these years to take things 'to another level'. Charles Fitch was a brother in the fight against unbelief and rejection too. We all need colleagues like these. They too were called to self-sacrificially share the message of Christ's return.
What is significant is they were called to place telescopic sights on 1844—all in the providence of God. Gabriel stood at the beginning to guide and comfort Daniel in the seventy weeks prophecy which with laser precision foretold the greatest Gift that our Heavenly Father could give—the ratification of the Everlasting Covenant with the life and death of Jesus Who is the Savior of the World—especially of those who believe. In addition to this prophecy Gabriel also laid out the 2300-day prophecy which brought physical and emotional dis-ease to Daniel when he discovered that the hope of full restoration of the Sanctuary would stretch unattainably far into the future.
For the first time the connection between these two prophetic mountains has been made plain for me. The first resulted in the disappointment of Israel—the second in the disappointment of modern Israel. On both end points of these two momentous prophecies are rebellious and unbelieving children. It is really God the Father Who is disappointed in both these instances.
The prayer of Nehemiah as recorded in the first chapter holds more than an intercessory quality. It is the heart cry call of a servant of the living God to revival and reformation when contemplating that absence of a place of worship to the only Worship Worthy Being in the universe is the present status.
5 And I said: "I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You Who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,
6 please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned.
7 We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.
8 Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations;
9 but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.'
10 Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.
11 O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man."
This lament is the pattern for the prayer of Daniel in the ninth chapter as well—a conviction that the present situation is related to his personal and corporate sin. It is interesting that Nehemiah identifies himself with his people in their unbelief and waywardness. In verse seven he references the history of Israel by referring to Moses. In verses eight through nine he cites the case against Israel but ends by claiming the promise that God made to restoration and purpose for His people. Fred Bischoff put it this profound way "I am convinced that when we repent of our history, we can lead the Jews into repentance of their history."
God's call is to true revival, reformation and repentance—the great need of His Remnant church. We need to acknowledge that we have been recalcitrant and as culpable in the delay of the consumption of the great controversy by saying that all is well when our situation is dire. Here is our responsibility—or the ability to respond.
Unless the church, which is now being leavened with her own backsliding, shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself. When she resists the evil and chooses the good, when she seeks God with all humility and reaches her high calling in Christ, standing on the platform of eternal truth and by faith laying hold upon the attainments prepared for her, she will be healed. She will appear in her God-given simplicity and purity, separate from earthly entanglements, showing that the truth has made her free indeed. Then her members will indeed be the chosen of God, His representatives.
The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place. When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife. Those who have not been living in Christian fellowship will draw close to one another. One member working in right lines will lead other members to unite with him in making intercession for the revelation of the Holy Spirit. There will be no confusion, because all will be in harmony with the mind of the Spirit. The barriers separating believer from believer will be broken down, and God's servants will speak the same things. The Lord will co-operate with His servants. All will pray understandingly the prayer that Christ taught His servants: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:10. 8T 251.1
We need to view God's goodness which will lead to repentance. 'Standing of the platform of eternal truth' hints at reviewing His teaching and includes reviewing how God has led us so far in our history. We need to declare the Third Angels Message in the clear light of how God called Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel and the reemergence of prophecy as His chosen vehicle to sweep away our unbelief and skepticism. God is calling us to read again and prophesy again and to understand with His prophetic perspective.
It has taken the reality of carefully perusing the first edition physical gems in my keeping to wake me up to the significance of God's leading in our history and repent that I have been insensitive, indifferent and ill-informed. I have poured over and learned more about the life of William Miller and God's desire to finish this work in righteousness in the last two months than I have in a long time. Something is beginning to stir in my bones. My prayer is for a willing heart to hear and heed God's call even as we gather at William Miller's farm. May His call to His church be heeded and experienced.
Years ago, I listened to a man from the PR department from Loma Linda University who addressed the issue of leadership styles. The idea, according to him, was this – there was the notion that leaders could be discovered by finding common practices of successful leaders. With data gathered they believed it would be possible to learn the principles of leadership in boys (girls also, I assume). By discovering leadership indicators in them, the researchers believed they could groom those children into leadership roles in the church by the time they reached maturity.
However, while studying the subject of leadership they came to Ezra and Nehemiah. Here the study abruptly ended because of these two different men who were opposite in leadership styles. It was decided there was no "cookie cutter approach" in the discovery of leaders. In other words, they discovered there are no distinguishing characteristics for successful leaders. The lesson learned was this – leadership is not found in "one size fits all" because of individual differences in leadership styles.
Let's consider a few significant differences in the two leaders— Ezra and Jeremiah— both of whom were used by God to accomplish His work at Jerusalem in the rebuilding of the city, the temple, true worship practices and self-government by His people.
Artaxerxes sent millions of dollars in several tons of gold and silver (over 100 million of dollars in today's currency) with Ezra to be used for rebuilding of the temple and its services.
Ezra fasted and prayed to God (Ezra 8:21). He wanted to depend solely on God and to not dishonor Him. So, he wanted no military escort but depended on God's protection while traveling to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:22). When he got there and saw the spiritual condition of his people, he plucked out hair from his beard and wept (Ezra 9:3).
Beginning with verse 4 to the end of the chapter we observe Ezra's corporate prayer with weeping over the sad state of affairs in Israel. As a result, people were deeply moved by his actions and wept with him (Ezra 10:1).
Let's now turn to Nehemiah. He asked for letters of authority from Artaxerxes the king of Persia and travelled under military support provided by the king (Nehemiah 2:9). After arriving in Jerusalem, he let no one know of his secret walk around the broken-down wall of the city. And this in the middle of the night. The next day he revealed his plan to rebuild the wall. This was marked with success in spite of heathen opposition.
Instead of pulling his hair out, as did Ezra, he pulled the beards of Jewish leaders, and cursed those who were openly sinning (Nehemiah 2:9).
These two leaders, with different leadership styles, worked together in God's cause for finishing His work with the city, the wall and the people. Both Nehemiah and Ezra along with the Levites taught and encouraged the people (Nehemiah 8:9-18).
There is no single pattern here for leadership. These men were two different kinds in personality and style. God chose them to further His work on the earth. There were others God used such as Moses and Joshua. The disciples of Jesus teamed up in pairs to spread the gospel. Peter and John were opposites and as were Paul and Barnabas. All were used to spread the gospel.
During the dark ages the Waldensians would send out gospel workers in pairs. And in the time of the Reformation God put Philip Melanchthon and Martin Luther together. In the revival in England a couple of hundred years later the Wesley brothers came on the scene.
During the beginning of the Advent Movement there was William Miller and Joshua Himes working together. This pair is especially worth considering because these two had major theological differences. Miller was a strong trinitarian and Himes was a strong anti-trinitarian, but they worked together in the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord. In the following generation God raise up A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner with a heaven-sent message that motivated many to revival and reformation.
Returning now to Nehemiah who first served in the royal palace of Shushan, Persia. Shushan was the favorite winter residence of Persian kings. Nehemiah gave the winter month of Chisleu (which corresponds to November/December of our day) as the time when he heard bad news about conditions in Jerusalem. This was some 13 years after Ezra's exodus to Jerusalem. The gates of the city had been destroyed by fire; walls were broken down; the redeemed Jewish people from Babylonian captivity were "in great affliction and reproach" (Nehemiah 1:3).
The cause of the problems in Jerusalem was an alliance of three nations whose leaders were dedicated to stopping Jerusalem from being rebuilt. Satan motivated those leaders attempting to defeat God's promise to Jeremiah regarding the fulfillment of 70 years of Jewish captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11).
Later, in answer to Daniel's prayer regarding the return of his people to Jerusalem toward the end of the time specified by Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2), Gabriel assured Daniel that God commanded Jerusalem to be "built again, and the wall, in troublous times." (Daniel 9:25). In God's command to restore Jerusalem, Gabriel also proclaimed the good news regarding the coming of Christ – "Messiah the Prince." It took three Persian kings to fulfill God's command to free His people, to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, in addition to the gospel promise of salvation in Christ within the specific time frame of His public ministry from A.D. 27 to 31. This was during the last week of the prophetic 70 weeks (490 years) as recorded in Daniel 9:24-27.
The decrees of the three Persian kings who carried out God's command is summarized in a single verse (Ezra 6:14). Those kings responding to God's Spirit were Cyrus (537 B.C.), the first one to make a decree to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. However, that work was later stopped until king Darius (520/19 B.C.) read the order of Cyrus, and so made a second decree regarding God's work in Jerusalem. The work of God was stopped again because of lawsuits in the Persian system of law by heathen legal doyens in Palestine who were skilled in Persian jurisprudence. Those lawsuits were brought about by the alliance of the three heathen nations that bordered three sides of Jerusalem.
Finally, the third decree by Artaxerxes (457 B.C.) completed God's command to rebuild Jerusalem and to re-establish God's remnant in that city. Gabriel's instructions to Daniel in chapters 8 and 9 were God's decree that specified two of the most important dates of this world's history, namely A.D. 31 and 1844. These are two specific years in which Christ was to be crucified on earth, and then later would begin His closing work of redemption during the great anti-typical day of atonement in the second apartment of heaven's temple.
One other time of distinguished importance (although not given in Scripture) is the year of 1888, in which God's last remnant was given the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry message of Christ and His righteousness in the time of the end. This message will blot out the records of confessed sin in the heavenly sanctuary and will cleanse the minds of God's remnant people on earth in the very near future when it is fully believed in heart and mind by His people. This message was prophesied by Joel as the former and latter rain where it is called the message of the "Teacher of righteousness" "according to righteousness" in Joel 2:23, KJV, margin.
The coming of the Messiah and His crucifixion depended on the fulfillment of the command of God regarding for the restoration of Jerusalem. No wonder the devil stirred up the heathen to stop His work in Jerusalem. The enemy of God and man must have trembled in abject terror when he heard and read the prophecy of Christ as recorded in Daniel 9:25-27. He determined to stop God's promise, but he utterly failed. The plan of redemption was fulfilled in Christ. The redemption of man and the eternal security of the universe were made absolutely certain because of the crucifixion of Christ on the cross of Calvary and His resurrection from the dead. The stakes were high. They were higher than what Nehemiah knew, although when he learned of the disasters in Jerusalem he was deeply grieved. He wept. He prayed. He fasted. His prayer is found in Nehemiah 1:5-11.
What happened in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra will happen in the last days of earth's history with greater intensity. The issue will not be about Jerusalem that now is, but it will involve the last remnant who will fully respond to God's grace and who will be protected by the God who inspired those leaders of old.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE BOOKS OF EZRA AND NEHEMIAH
#1: TWO MEN WITH A MESSAGE.
In the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, God had a job He wanted to do through his people - the rebuilding of the city and the temple. The work began hardily but quickly came to a halt and there was a great disappointment. God then sent two men (Haggai and Zechariah) with a most precious message of instruction and encouragement, and the work restarted and finished in record time. Fast-forward 2400 years or so. God's people had begun to rebuild what had been broken down through the dark ages. However, the rebuilding effort quickly stopped as there was a great disappointment. Soon after this time, God would send two men (primarily) with a most precious message that would encourage and enable the people to finish the work (the cleansing of the sanctuary) and usher in the most cataclysmic event in history - the second coming of Christ. In 1888, the latter rain and the loud cry began to shed their precious saving presence with all the resources needed to prepare a people for translation. Unfortunately, that is where the comparison loses traction. In Nehemiah's time the temple was finished while we continue to wait. In both cases, God was ready to finish the work through His people, but in our case, we would not have it. "We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ's sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action" (Evangelism, 696). That was written in 1901. The good news is, God will finally have a people that will accept the counsel to the church of Laodicea and usher in the return of Christ that He so longingly desires and deserves! May that day be soon, for His sake!
#2: HISTORICAL ACCURACY MATTERS.
It would be hard to read through Ezra and Nehemiah without noticing that there are a lot of detailed accounts of the workers and their job locations, genealogies, etc. Does the history of the rebuilding effort really matter? What about the chronicling of the historical narrative of 1888? Oh, indeed it does. Ron Duffield has done an excellent job of showing how there were two streams of data that flowed from the 1888 era, which vary greatly. One stream is polluted with misinformation as to the message and the character of the men whom the Lord used so mightily (Jones and Waggoner), while at the same time glorifying the hearty response of acceptance of the doctrine of righteousness by faith. The other stream runs pure with the truth that the messengers, far from perfect as they were, had been ordained by God and that the message was unfortunately largely rejected and spurned. I have been asked by people; "if the message is so powerful, why spend time rehearsing the history and the rejection? Why not just preach the concepts?" I would answer it this way. It is for the same reasons that the history of Israel was repeated so often in the Bible. It is so that we may learn from the past, accept the fact that we were a part of that corporately, and repent and receive the victory that Christ longs to give. Also, if you believe in the Spirit of prophecy, three hundred non-repeated endorsements are enough to make anyone take notice and want to study more!
# 3 CORPORATE SOLIDARITY
The corporate solidarity concept comes to us over and over in both Ezra and Nehemiah, especially in their prayers (Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9). Many of the prayers look back at those gone before and seem to be one with the present. When we speak of corporate solidarity, we mean accounting oneself as part of a communal whole. That could be as part of a family, a church, a nation, or the human race as it is used with both Adam and Christ (Romans 5). The corporate concept does not lessen or undermine our individual responsibility in any way. Joel Kaminski in his book, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible puts it this way: "There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the corporate ideas contained within the Hebrew Bible may provide certain key elements to new theological constructs that would take greater account of the importance of the way in which the individual has communal responsibilities. Such a theology is very necessary at a time when it is becoming apparent that many contemporary problems are communal and even global in nature."
GLEANING FROM THE DEPTHS OF EZRA AND NEHEMIAH
In Ezra seven, we see that fidelity is rewarded as the people continue the work in spite of their feelings (fears), and in chapter ten, one man's prayer leads to many prayers, which is followed by hearty repentance. In Nehemiah we find the importance of prayer, strategy, courage, cooperation, unity, dedication, delegation and sacrifice – people that were not wall builders were building the wall. What does a man and his two daughters, a goldsmith and a perfume maker have in common? They were all wall builders! Chapter four shows us that nothing good happens without opposition and slander. We saw there also Nehemiah's imprecatory prayer, which might sound a bit rough at first, but is clearly very God centered when seen in its context. "And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before you: for they have provoked you to anger before the builders" (Nehemiah 4:5). Notice the focus is not on Nehemiah but on the provocation aimed at God Himself. The thought is not so much about an unwillingness to forgive but a respect for the true representation of the character of God before the builders, and by extension, the world.
We find also in Nehemiah that "building and battle" go together, as well as "wall and war". Chapter five gives us the imagery of enslaved and powerless people who could not be redeemed. Here Nehemiah steps in as a type of Christ who sets the captives free and redeems the race. Chapter six gives us a picture of wisdom, discernment and victory, while chapter eight highlights praise, prayer, and the primacy of the word of God. Throughout the narrative here, we see that spirituality is not isolated or in a vacuum. For success to occur it involves a succession starting with spirituality, leading to sound strategy followed by sustained effort – all spurred on by the Spirit of God. Surely there are many spiritual gems awaiting us this upcoming quarter!