Friday, October 25, 2019

1888 Message Study : Facing Opposition



OCTOBER 26, 2019



"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).


~ Patti Guthrie