Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Ezra 4:5). It was continued under the brief reign of an upstart who feigned himself to be the brother of Ahasuerus; and it was carried on "unto the second year of Darius king of Persia." Thus the work was stopped for about sixteen years. "Then the prophets," etc. Here notice that -
I. THE INSPIRATION OF PROPHECY IS ROUSING.
1. The people now needed rousing.
(1) During the stoppage of the building they had cooled in their zeal for the house of the Lord. Had they examined their hearts they might have seen this, and they might have inferred from it that God must be displeased. But they had not the courage to do this. Query - Are we not slow to examine our own hearts, and to draw faithful inferences from their state?
(2) If they looked around they might have seen the tokens of Divine displeasure. For, year after year, the heavens refused their dew, and the scanty harvests were smitten with "blasting, and with mildew, and with hail." Query - Are we not slow to see the hand of God in our afflictions? Reflect - What greater calamity could befall us than that God should leave us to ourselves!
2. Haggai brought home the truth to them.
(1) His first commission was to awaken them to a sense of their growing selfishness and apathy (see Haggai 1:1-5). Query - How far are we ever justified in quietly "dwelling in cieled houses" while the work of God is neglected?
(2) Then he reminded them that the blast upon their harvests was from God, and incited them to arise and build (see Haggai 1:6-11).
(3) This message from God had the desired effect (see Haggai 1:1-12; comp. text). What part Zechariah took at this early date we are not particularly informed.
3. They were satisfied with the credentials of the prophet.
(1) What these were we are not told. Miracles might have authenticated him. This was notably the case with Moses. Or he may have foretold the drought through which they had passed. In this way Samuel "was established to be a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:19, 20).
(2) In whatever way it may have been, Haggai so prophesied, "in the name of the God of Israel," that there was no doubt about him. Look at this expression (see Exodus 3:13-20; Exodus 33:19; comp. also Numbers 14:17), where "power" is put for "name," as in Exodus 34:5, 6). Reflect, gratefully, that we have the truth of God upon the clearest testimony. The Scriptures are authenticated to us not only by miracles, but by the ever-accumulating evidence of prophecy, and by the deep experiences of the heart.
II. THE INSPIRATION OF PROPHECY IS SUSTAINING. Ñ "And with them were the prophets of God helping them."
1. It sustains under the burdens of the work of God.
(1) The work is stupendous. Many interests are involved in it. Many workmen are engaged in it. If all these were loyal, still the work would be heavy.
(2) Haggai therefore, four and twenty days after his first commission, again appeared with needed words. "Then spake Haggai the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord." What a blessed assurance! How spirit stirring! (Haggai 1:13, 14; see also Exodus 33:14, 15.)
2. It sustains against the murmuring of God's people.
(1) Sons of Belial will for very perversity cause trouble. There are also crotchety persons among the godly who embarrass their leaders. And there are croakers who have a morbid pleasure in disparaging the good things of the present by comparing them with the things of the past (see Ezra 3:12).
(2) Haggai, seven and twenty days after his former message, again appeared to strengthen the hands of the faithful against these. In doing this he uttered a very glorious prophecy, showing how by the presence of Jesus in this disparaged building it should come to exceed the glory of the temple of Solomon (see Haggai 2:1-9). Note - This prophecy should convince the Jews. They admit that the Shekinah never came to the second temple; that temple is now no more. If the presence of Jesus did not constitute the greater glory of the second house, what did?
3. It sustains against the assaults of enemies.
(1) Opposition reappears, now led by Tatnai and Shethar-boznai, who question the right of the Jews to resume the building which had been stopped by command of Artaxerxes (vers. 3, 4).
(2) Zechariah now appeared. He opened his commission by exhorting to repentance (Zechariah 1:1-6). Note - When trials come we should search our hearts, and, if we see cause, amend our ways.
(3) Haggai also followed with words of encouragement, and assurances that, despite the opposition, the work would be prospered. Zechariah subsequently gave them like assurances. These messages came at seasonable intervals to help the leaders and the workers. Reflection - All these encouragements belong to those building the spiritual temple, for the prophecies have an ulterior reference to gospel times. Let us use the inspirations of prophecy. - J.A.M.
I. THAT IT IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DIVINE NAME. "In the name of the God of Israel" (ver. 1).
1. It advances in the Divine Name. These two prophets came to Israel in the name of God; a faithful ministry is commissioned by God, has his authority, and is qualified by him (2 Corinthians 5:20).
2. It partakes of the Divine Character. These prophets must bear in their conduct the purity of God, and in their words the mercy of God; a faithful ministry must exhibit the Divine Character.
3. It recognises the Divine Covenant. These two prophets came to Israel as the covenant people engaged in a great work; a faithful ministry is for the Church in its redemptive relationships.
II. THAT IT IS REQUIRED IN TIMES OF MORAL DEGENERACY. The building operations of Israel had ceased; Israel had settled down to an easy life, and was reluctant to enter again upon the arduous task of civil and religious restoration.
1. This faithful ministry was necessary. The Israelites were dwelling in ceiled houses, and God's house was waste (Haggai 1:4). They required to see the wrong of this; and who will show it them if the prophets of God do not?
2. It was timely. It was a word in season to the people; they needed to be called from indifference to their great work. A faithful prophet will adapt his words to the condition of his hearers, and seek to engage the Church in the duty of the hour.
3. It was effective. The people no longer "earned wages to put into a bag with holes," but they feared the Lord, and entered upon his work (Haggai 1:6). Duty is really more remunerative than luxury. See then the reviving effect which two earnest men may exert within a lukewarm Church; they quicken its fading life and inspire its languid work. A faithful ministry is most influential for good.
III. THAT THE SPIRITUAL IS THE MEDIUM OF ITS INFLUENCE, "Prophesied unto the Jews."
1. Not carnal. No sensational appeals were made to set the luxurious Israelites to build again the ruined temple; but by the word of the Lord they were urged to duty. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual; the word of God is the preacher's power. Christ's ministry was spiritual.
2. Not coercive. The sword did not drive the Israelites out of their celled houses; but the word of God spoken by his servants, working in the conscience. The truth is attractive, not coercive. Christ drew sinners to hear him.
3. Not cunning. These two prophets did not seek by cunning arts to win the Israelites from luxury to work for God; but by faithful words of remonstrance. Christ sought not to win men by artifice, but by a solemn statement of fact and duty. The world will not be subdued to virtue by the statesman, by the warrior, by the educationalist, but by the prophet.
IV. THAT ITS WELFARE WILL BE ENHANCED BY THE CO-OPERATION OF GOOD MEN. "Then rose up Zerubbabel" (ver. 2). The prophets alone are morally powerful; but much more so when Zerubbabel and Jeshua are allied with them.
1. The alliance augments numbers. The work of restoration gathers strength by numerical addition, especially by the addition of influential men like Zerubbabel. The ministry needs numerical support; numbers increase the force of the testimony: exhibit the power of the gospel; aid the argument of the truth; are prophetic of future increase.
2. The alliance ensures efficiency. Zerubbabel will aid, advise, support the two prophets, and they in turn will aid him; this combined agency will inspire Israel with duty and courage. Four men can do what two cannot (Mark 2:3). In the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom.
V. THAT IT LEADS THE CHURCH TO THE HOLY ENTERPRISE FOR WHICH IT IS CALLED.
1. Productive work. "To build the house of God" (ver. 2). But for these two prophets it is likely that Israel would have continued to dwell in their ceiled houses, and have neglected the temple. The Church would be much more unmindful of Christian work than it is were it not for its faithful ministers. They awaken its memory. They quicken its conscience. They arouse its affections. They give it a good personal example by coming themselves to build the house of God; well nigh all houses of God in the earth would be unbuilt but for the ministers of the gospel.
2. Permanent work. The house endures when those who built it are gone.
VI. THAT IT IS SURE TO MEET WITH IMPEDIMENTS IN THE ENTERPRISE IT CONTEMPLATES. "Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet" (ver. 1). "At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river" (ver. 3). When the prophet comes to a Church to aid its work, Satan generally sends agencies to hinder it. The satanic: -
1. Simultaneous. The prophets and the hostile governors come together; the spiritual and the satanic move side by side.
2. Inquisitive. "Who hath commanded you to build this house?" How the satanic interrogates the spiritual.
3. Overruled. "But the eye of the Lord was upon the elders of the Jews." Providence is co-operative with a faithful ministry, and helps to overcome all hindrances. - E.
I. To GIVE THEM ASSURANCE AND COMFORT.
1. This figure expresses his watchful care.
(2) His vision searches the heart (see 1 Samuel 16:7). He fully comprehends the hypocrite. So the sincerity of the innocent. How assuring! How nerving to moral courage!
2. It also expresses loving favour.
(1) As pity is expressed by the human eye, so, etc. Thus used to express the compassion of God for his suffering people in Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10). Also, for the tears of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:5). So he pitied his people in Babylon, and his eye of pity is over them here.
(2) As the eye also expresses satisfaction, so the complaisancy of God, etc. Thus favour towards the holy land (Deuteronomy 11:12). Towards the holy temple (1 Kings 8:29). Towards the holy people (Psalm 34:15; Jeremiah 24:4). What comfort to the faithful!
II. TO GIVE THEM WISDOM AND DISCRETION.
1. They need this in the presence of their inquisitors.
(1) They are people of influence. There is "Tatnai, the governor on this side the river." If the "river" here be the Euphrates, then he would be over the provinces of Syria, Arabia Deserta, Phoenicia, and Samaria. If the Jordan, then still a great personage. There was Shethar-boznai, probably the secretary appointed by the Persian crown, as was customary, to act as a check upon the governor. There were "their companions," probably magistrates.
(2) They put questions which imported mischief. By whose authority do you build (ver. 3)? Expressed again, ver. 9. Who are your leaders in this questionable business? Implied, ver. 4 (see ver. 10).
2. Their answers were guided by a watchful wisdom.
(1) That they acted as the "servants of the God of heaven and earth" (see ver. 11). No authority could be higher. Query - Do we always and adequately recognise that authority?
(2) That they claimed a prescriptive right in the temple which was originally built by one of their great kings (see ver. 11).
(3) That their captivity did not forfeit them that right. For God banished them into captivity for their sin: Nebuchadnezzar was but his servant; and God now favours their restoration (see vers. 11, 12). We should never be ashamed to avow our connection with God and his work.
III. To DEFEND THEM FROM THEIR ENEMIES.
1. By moderating the opposition.
(1) Their former unscrupulous foes are not mentioned (see ch. 4:7-9). Changes in the supreme government often involve changes of provincial rulers. Possibly the judgment of God may have overtaken them.
(2) The temper of these men is better. They state facts honestly.
2. By sustaining them at their work.
(1) Tatnai proposed that, until the question of their right should be determined by Darius, the work should cease. But they saw the eye of their God, and declined (ver. 5).
(2) The prophets kept this vision vividly before them. They came forth from the presence of God, having witnessed his visions and heard his words, which, under the strongest sense of the reality, they so communicated that the people saw as it were the very eye of God upon them, and went on with his work. Query - Should not ministers, as coming from the very presence of God, so deliver the gospel message that? etc.
3. By bringing good out of the evil.
(1) The attention of Darius was thus called to the decree of Cyrus (see ver. 17).
(2) The king issued instructions accordingly (Ezra 6:6-12).
(3) These instructions were carded out, and the good work was carried on to its completion (Ezra 6:13-15). - J.A.M.
I. TRIAL OF FAITH. "At the same time," etc. (ver. 3). Again their unfriendly neighbours came to the attack. They challenged their right to build up the walls: "Who hath commanded you to build?" "By whose authority do ye these things?" The names of the leading men were demanded (ver. 4), with a view of sending them on to the Persian court. Pressure was evidently to be brought to bear on them to compel them to desist. Accusations would certainly be made against them; ill feeling would inevitably be fostered; prohibition would probably be issued; and, not unlikely, there would be forfeiture of privileges if not loss of goods, perchance of liberty. What, now, should they do? Should they again lay down the saw and the trowel, leave the woodwork and the walls till a more favoured time, and content themselves with using the altar they had reared, as hitherto? They were enjoying freedom in their own land, with liberty to worship the Lord according to their ancient law; perhaps they would lose everything by striving after more than they had. Should they yield to these alarms presenting themselves in the form of prudence? or should they dismiss them as cowardly fears, and go on with their work, confiding in the help of Jehovah? Such distractions must have (or may have) agitated and perplexed their minds. Such trials of faith we may expect when we have entered the path of piety or the field of Christian work. Inexperience might imagine that in a path so sacred and Divine the adversary would not be allowed to enter. But experience knows that it is not so; that "there are many adversaries" we must expect to encounter. Not only from "them that are without," but also from those that are within the Church do obstacles, hindrances, discouragements arise. We may look for sympathy, help, success, victory; and, behold l there meets us conflict, disappointment, defeat. Shall we, we ask ourselves, retire as unfitted for what we have undertaken? or shall we hold on our way, still grasp our weapon, trusting that the insufficiency which is of man will he more than made up by the sufficiency which is of God? But in this trial of faith we have, as they had -
II. A TWOFOLD INCENTIVE. "The eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease" (ver. 5). Here was
(1) a spiritual force working within them. They felt that their work was marked of God. The active participation of his prophets in the work (ver. 2) would help them to this. They realised that they were being Divinely guided, and were engaged in the most sacred cause: "We are servants of the God of heaven" (ver. 11). They were wisely conscious that past misdoings had led to penalty and suffering (ver. 12). They lived and wrought "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye;" and because they felt that he who "looketh from heaven and beholdeth all the sons of men" (Psalm 33:13) was continually regarding them, accepting their service, recording their negligence and distrust, prepared to reward or to rebuke, they were incited to continue, let their enemies say or do what they please. The thought of God's all-seeing eye, of his all-searching glance, is one of the strongest spiritual forces which can work within us. Man sees and blames. Man sees and threatens. Yes; but God is an on-looker also, and an in-looker too. What does he see? What does he think? What judgment is he forming? What does he purpose? If he is for us, who can be against us? But here was also
(2) a Divine power working upon them. There is suggested here a prompting, controlling influence exerted upon them from on high. God saw them, and, beholding their difficulty and their need of his Divine help, interposed to sustain their courage, to strengthen their hand, to uphold them in their work. This is a power to be earnestly sought, and found, in believing prayer, when we are passing through the time of trial.
III. A TIME OF SUSPENSE (vers. 13-17). Their adversaries now laid their case before the Persian authorities. They gave a fair representation of the answer of the Jews to the royal court, and begged that steps should be taken to confirm or disprove this their reply. "Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house... whether it be so" (ver. 17). We may presume that the Jews knew the tenor of this communication. We can picture to ourselves their anxiety to know the result of the appeal. What if the record should not be found in the Persian archives I What if some ignorant librarian failed to know where it was kept l What if some venal officer should be bribed to get at it and destroy it I etc., etc. Should they win or lose their case? It might, after all, go ill with them and their work. It was a time of suspense. A very hard time to go through. Souls that can endure all else know not how to he tranquil then. Then is the time to trust in God, to cast ourselves on him. When we can do nothing else, we can look up to heaven and wait the issue calmly, because all issues are in the hands of the holy and the mighty One. "What time I am afraid I will trust in thee" (Psalm 56:3). - C.
I. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD EXERCISES A STRICT WATCH OVER THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH (ver. 5). As soon as the Israelites commenced to build the temple their enemies began to trouble them; but while the eye of "Tatnai," "Shethar-boznai, and their companions" was upon them, "the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews."
1. The Divine providence is cognisant of the first motion of the enemies of the Church; this should cause them to pause in their unholy task.
2. The Divine providence watches the men who would oppose themselves to the enterprise of the Church; they cannot escape the Omniscient eye.
3. The Divine providence watches the Church earnestly in the midst of its enemies. The look sends light, means love, indicates help, should inspire trust. Let the eye of the Church be toward God. The Church must remember that the eye of God is upon it, and not yield to the enemy. History proves that God's eye is upon the Church; the Bible asserts it; reason suggests that the heavenly Father will watch over his troubled children and workers.
II. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS CALCULATED TO DEFEAT THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH. "That they could not cause them to cease" (ver. 5). The providence of God sustained the Israelites in their work of building, notwithstanding the hostility of their enemies.
1. Providence awakens a persistent spirit in the Church. "They could not cause them to cease."
2. Providence inspires the Church with right views of its citizenship. "Till the matter came to Darius." The people of God have citizen rights, and are not to cease their work at the bidding of unauthorised men.
3. Providence uses the incidental processes of life for the welfare of the Church. The letter in those days was a slow process; before it could be answered the building would be well advanced. This delay was useful to Israel. God causes all the little processes of life to work for the good of his people. Thus God's aid renders the Church victorious over enemies.
III. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD DOES NOT ALWAYS ALLOW THE CHURCH TO EXPERIENCE THE FULL SEVERITY OF TRIAL. The opposition of Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions (Ezra 4:7) was much more inveterate than that of Tatnai; the hostility now is feeble. Heaven does not always allow the furnace into which the Church is cast to be seven times hotter than is wont; in wondrous and kindly manner it restrains the wrath of man, that spiritual work may be completed. The worst passions of men are controlled by God; the old enmity of the serpent is limited and often subdued.
IV. THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD OFTEN WINS KINDLY HELPERS FOR THE CHURCH. "Let the work of this house of God alone" (Ezra 6:7). God can raise up a Cyrus to commence the work, and a Darius to conserve and complete it; kings are within the plan of Providence. Let the Church take hope, for the eye of God is upon it. - E.
Ezra 4:8). Or possibly Shethar-boznai was the leading man of the Apharsachites; for these are mentioned as more particularly "his companions." The Apharsachites probably called the attention of Tatnai to the matter, who attended to it in a spirit of fairness which favourably contrasts with the conduct of the former leaders of these instigators (see ch. 4.). Having authenticated the letter, the writers proceed to state -
I. WHAT THEY DID.
1. They surveyed the building.
(1) They describe it as "the house of the great God. The renown of his wonderful works in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan had filled the world. They were judgments upon the little gods of the nations (see Exodus 8:10; Exodus 9:14; Exodus 12:12; Exodus 18:12; Numbers 33:4).
(3) They also noted the rapid progress of the work.
2. They interrogated the elders.
(1) Who commanded you to build this house? This question is radical. Not, Who hath authorised you to resume the building? but, Who authorised the commencement of the work?
(2) By whose authority do you "make up this wall"? Probably referring to their repairing of breaches in it made by the "people of the land" (see ch. 3:23).
(3) "What are the names" of the chiefs? Those who work for God with his approval need not fear the scrutiny of inquisitors.
II. WHAT THEY LEARNED.
1. That the builders professed themselves servants of the God of heaven and earth.
(1) What a glorious Being!
(2) What a noble service! Query - Are we his servants? This honour not limited now to Israelites It is common to all true builders of the spiritual temple.
2. That they were engaged in no novel business.
(1) "We build the house that was builded these many years ago." About five centuries had elapsed. But even Solomon's temple replaced the tabernacle which had been set up about five centuries still earlier. True religion may have external changes, but remains essentially the same.
3. That its ruin was occasioned by the rebellion of their fathers.
(1) God gave it up to desolation. The outward splendours of religion are nothing to him when the spirit of it is dead (see Matthew 23:37; Matthew 24:1, 2). The temple of Solomon in ruins was a fit emblem of humanity degraded by sin.
(2) Guilt is hereditary. "Our fathers had provoked," etc. They suffered; we suffer.
4. That the building is in process of restoration.
(1) "In the first year of Cyrus." Memorable for the termination of the seventy years of Jeremiah (2 Chronicles 36:21; Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Jeremiah 29:10; Daniel 9:2). In this memorable year "the king made a decree," etc.
(2) Vessels of the house also restored. These had been desecrated "in the temple of Babylon." This was the temple of Belus or Bel. This desecration of the vessels a figure of the condition of backsliders from God (see Acts 9:15; Romans 9:22; 2 Timothy 2:21).
5. The prominent place occupied by Sheshbazzar.
(1) Cyrus trusted him with the custody of the sacred treasure. Made him governor. He was of the seed royal of Judah.
(2) His people honoured him. He laid the foundation-stone. Conducts the work.
(3) Type of Christ.
III. THE RECOMMENDATION.
1. To test the question as to whether Cyrus authorised the work as alleged. Nothing to object to the fairness of this. It could only prejudice the Jews if found untrue.
2. To signify the king's pleasure to his servants that they might carry it out. It were well if all who oppose God's people were as reasonable as Tatnai. Opponents so honest and free from prejudice may have the honour, like Tatnai, of promoting the work of God (see Ezra 6:13). - J.A.M.
I. THAT IT IS ENGAGED IN THE SERVICE OF HEAVEN. "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth" (ver. 11).
1. An exalted service. It is the service of God.
2. An extensive service. It reaches in its influence throughout heaven and earth.
3. An arduous service. It is to rebuild a ruined temple in the midst of enemies.
4. A humble service. At best the Church is but a servant.
II. THAT IT HAS SUFFERED MUCH THROUGH THE COMMISSION OF SIN. "But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon" (ver. 12). This is the best confession a Church can have; the Church is alone responsible for its weakness.
1. Its degradation. Israel is subject to a heathen power.
2. Its suffering. Israel is in captivity.
3. Its destruction. "Who destroyed this house." All this was attributable -
(1) Not to the Divine inability to help.
(2) Not to the Divine lack of interest.
(3) But to the Divine displeasure on account of sin.
Let the Church understand and acknowledge that her sad condition before the world is due to her lack of fidelity; she must take the discredit of her broken temples.
III. THAT IT IS CONNECTED WITH THE HISTORY OF A WONDROUS REDEMPTION. "But in the first year of Cyrus" (ver. 13).
1. The fact of redemption. The Israelites were delivered from Babylonian captivity. The Church has been set free by Christ.
2. The history of redemption. The history of Israel's deliverance was written in the records of Babylon. The history of redemption by Christ is written in the Bible; it is an earthly record as well as a heavenly history. It is in the annals of Babylon as well as in the annals of God.
3. The research of redemption. "Let there be search made" (ver. 17; 1 Peter 1:12).
4. The pleasure of redemption. "And let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter." God's pleasure is man's freedom.
IV. THAT IT IS ENGAGED IN A YET UNFINISHED ENTERPRISE. "And since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished" (ver. 16). It is indeed true that the Church is as yet engaged in an unfinished enterprise; all its temples are not built; its walls are not erected; Jesus does not yet see all things put under him.
1. The reason. Why is the work of the Church unfinished - is it from lack of energy or fidelity?
2. The duration. How long is it to remain unfinished? only God can tell. How long, O Lord?
3. The reproach. With so many workmen, and with the aid received, the work of the Church ought to be more advanced. The half finished walls are a rebuke to us.
4. The requirement. We must go with new determination and more fervent prayer to complete the work of the Church.
5. Caution. We cannot judge the temple till it is finished; the work of God will appear best at the end.
6. The anticipation. When the top stone of the great temple shall be brought on with joy. Let us build to completion. - E.