Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE AUTHENTICATION.
1. The author's signature. "Cyrus the king."
(2) The same God that inspired the prophecy found means to bring it under the notice of the king. Cyrus accordingly accepted the Divine commission (2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2, 3). Lesson - We should trust that providence which rules all rulers.
2. The date of the document. "In the first year of Cyrus."
(1) This date, B.C. 536, recalls the prophecy of Jeremiah, which assigned seventy years for the duration of the captivity. These were now completed.
(a) Let us see the hand of God in everything.
(b) Nothing is too trivial to be mentioned in prayer.
3. The place of its custody
(1) Tatnai specified "the king's treasure house at Babylon"(Ezra 5:17). Probably because the decree may have been signed there. Search was made accordingly at that treasure house in the royal library, but the document was not found. The malignity of the Apharsachites would now be gratified.
(2) Further search was made at Achmetha, "in the palace that is in the province of the Medes." Here the roll was recovered. Note -
(a) God watches over the true.
(b) The triumphing of the wicked is transient.
II. THE MATTER "CONCERNING THE HOUSE OF GOD AT JERUSALEM."
1. "Let the house be builded.
1. To serve typical purposes.
2. To keep his people from mingling with idolaters. Note - In this spiritual dispensation these reasons no longer obtain (see John 4:20-24).
(2) Where they offered sacrifices." Levitical sacrifices were restricted to the temple because the Shechinah and sacred fire were there; and this ordinance kept the people from sacrificing on high places with idolaters. For this latter reason, though the Shechinah and fire were absent from the second temple, still the ancient place of sacrificing is respected. Lesson - Every species of idolatry should be scrupulously avoided.
2. The manner in which it was to be done.
(1) "Let the foundations be strongly laid." These typified Christ, upon whom the fabric of his Church is built (see Matthew 16:16-18; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20-22). Note - We may confidently rest on him the whole weight of our eternal interests.
(2) "The height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits." This differed from Solomon's temple, first, in that it was larger; and secondly, in that it was square. Solomon's temple was thirty cubits high and sixty broad. The New Jerusalem also is foursquare (see Revelation 21:16). The cube was by the ancients regarded as a figure of perfection and universality, and, in the typical temple, may anticipate these qualities of the heavenly state of the Church.
(3) "Three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber" (see Ezra 5:8). The timber seems to have been laid upon every third course of stones. Note - This timber built in amongst the stones would facilitate that destruction of the temple by fire described by Josephus.
3. How the cost was to be defrayed.
(1) "Let the expenses be given out of the king's house" (see Ezra 3:7). Note - The hearts of princes are in God's hands. Prayer should be made to him rather than recourse be had to precarious expedients for raising funds for his work.
III. THE MATTER CONCERNING THE SACRED VESSELS.
1. Vessels of the metals.
2. Removed by Nebuchadnezzar.
(1) Taken from the temple. The sin of the people was the cause. The removal of the vessels was therefore a sign to them of their apostasy.
(2) Taken to Babylon. Type of the confusion of the world. Placed there in the temple of his god (see Ezra 1:7, 8; Ezra 5:14). Thence taken out only to make sport for the licentious (see Daniel 5:2-4). What a graphic figure of the condition of the backslider!
3. Now to be restored.
(1) "Brought back again to the temple." Sign of the hope a backslider may cherish in the mercy of God.
(2) Restored "every one to his place," i.e. every one that was restored. Many things were wanting in the second temple, and some of the vessels may have been lost. Backsliders must not presume upon an infallible final perseverance of the saints. - J.A.M.
I. THE UTILITY OF HISTORY. "And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written" (ver. 2).
1. Its permanence. The "roll" contained the records of past ages. The memory of man could not retain these events. History preserves them. It would be a pity for the nation and Church to let die the events that have made them what they are; history gives permanence and solemnity to life. Cyrus and his edict lived before those who made search into the old records; history causes dead men to live.
2. Its continuity. The roll linked the times of Cyrus with the times of Darius; showed the continuity of human life. There is no interruption in the plan of the world's life; it runs on from one reign to another. There is no interruption in the making of history; it is made by great edicts, as also by common deeds. It show-s the succession of labour: one man issues an edict to commence a temple, another issues an edict to complete it.
3. Its publicity. In the days of Darius the historical records were written and hidden away in the royal treasure-house; now they are printed and widely circulated; hence history is more influential than ever.
4. Its interest.
5. Its admonition. Darius will soon be as Cyrus, only a figure in history; men soon pass from the actual to the historical. Life continues but for a little (Psalm 39:4).
II. THE FORCE OF EXAMPLE (ver. 8). Darius is inspired by the example of Cyrus to issue a decree for the aid of the Jews in their great enterprise.
1. The force of example surviving the flight of time. Cyrus has long been dead; but his edict has power to animate the heart of Darius. The influence of example never dies.
2. The force of example morally beneficial in its influence. The edict of the dead king inspires a new edict of help for Israel. Let us try to leave the influence of good deeds behind us; thus we may help to build temples our hands can never touch.
III. THE WORTH OF SUPERIOR STATION (ver. 6). Darius commanded Tatnai to let the Jews build in peace. It is the work and worth of superior official power to restrain and to keep inferior men in their right place and to their right duty; to see that they hinder not the great moral enterprises of society.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL USE OF MONEY (vers. 8, 9). The king decreed that his tribute should be given to Israel to aid in completing the temple. Money realises its highest meaning in the service of God. - E.
I. THE INSTRUCTION FOUNDED UPON THE DECREE OF CYRUS (vers. 6, 7).
1. The instruction is intrinsically good.
(1) Do not hinder the work of God.
(2) Do not molest those who are engaged in it.
Good men would receive it gladly. The work of God is their work. Those engaged in it their fellows.
2. But to the wicked it is mortifying.
(1) Not to all equally so. The governor, Tatnai, did not commit himself to the opposition in the spirit of bitterness. Therefore to him the turn of events might not be mortifying.
(2) But to the Apharsachites it would be intensely so. Their opposition was malicious (see ch. 4.). Therefore the frustration of their purposes would sting them to the quick. Lesson - Never do anything that may involve humiliation. Reflection - What an agony of mortification there will be in the vanquished insolence of the lost!
II. THE REQUISITION MADE BY DARIUS (vers. 8-10).
1. That from the king's revenue from beyond the river expenses be given to the builders of God's house.
(1) Not from the kingdom in general, but from that portion whence the opposition came. What a public defeat! Yet not so public as that of the enemies of Christ before an assembled universe in the great day of judgment.
(2) The leaders of the opposition are the very persons required to raise and make these payments. What a retribution! Eye for eye; tooth for tooth.
2. That all they required for sacrifice and offering should be supplied.
(1) For burnt offerings "young bullocks and rams and lambs."
(3) These, "according to the appointment of the priests, to be given day by day without fail." We need the continual efficacy of the sacrifice of Calvary. We need a daily supply of spiritual as well as natural food.
3. Their patriotism and loyalty concerned in carrying out this.
III. THE MALEDICTION DENOUNCED UPON THOSE WHO MAY FAIL TO FULFIL THE REQUISITION (vers. 11, 12).
1. Civil penalties.
(1) His house to be demolished. Infliction not only upon his person, but also on his family.
(2) The timber of it to be made into a cross or gibbet for his crucifixion or destruction. Thus held up to public execration (see Deuteronomy 21:22, 23).
(3) The place of his house to be made a dunghill. That his very memory might be abhorrent to men.
2. The vengeance of heaven imprecated.
(2) This vengeance imprecated upon "kings;" may refer to deputies, and particularly to Tatnai and Shethar-boznai.
(3) It is also called down upon the "people." Those "of the land" particularly intended. Query - Does not this suggest a belief in a future state; for if the civil penalties are to the death, what more can there he else? Let us "fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." - J.A.M.
I. THE OVERTHROW OF EVIL. "Then Tatnai,... Shethar-boznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius had sent, so did they speedily ' (ver. 13). With deepest mortification and chagrin must they have received these tidings from the Babylonian court. Their failure was complete and conspicuous. Not only had they not done what they wanted to do, but they bad been compelled to aid and prosper that to which they were implacably opposed. "According to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily;" they paid the expenses (ver. 8) and presented the offerings (vers. 9, 10), and thus contributed to the cause they set out to demolish. In the end we shall see evil overthrown by the power of God, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. By faith we may say what our Master said by Divine prevision, "I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). And sometimes God gives us to see evil overthrown before our eyes, its designs upset, its fabric brought down to the ground. It is a pleasing and cheering sight when we see it simply defeated, as when, after long and hard struggle, a good cause succeeds in establishing itself despite the utmost efforts of iniquity to hinder it. Still more gratifying is it to see it suffer such an utter rout as on this occasion, when its forces are not only arrested, but made to serve the cause it bad assailed. Then God not only restrains man's wrath, but makes it to praise him and to serve us (Psalm 76:10). Let us be encouraged under oppression and persecution. Our Divine Leader can not only deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, but he may even, as here, and as often since in the history of the Church, compel those who are hating us, and maligning and misrepresenting us, and seriously injuring us, to bring us their tribute and aid us in offering our sacrifice of prayer and praise unto the Lord our Saviour.
II. SPIRITUAL BUILDING. "And the elders of the Jews builded" (ver. 14), "and they builded and finished" (ver. 15). Then the Jews, under their elders (in order, giving rank and direction to those who were men of experience and capacity), builded the house -
1. For God: for his worship and praise; that offerings might be presented unto him which should be acceptable to him; and -
2. With God: they gladly availed themselves of the help accorded them by the prophets of the Lord. These men (ver. 14) "prophesied," i.e. they spake in the name of the Lord, urging all to do their work diligently and faithfully, and therefore speedily and Soundly; also obediently, "according to commandment" (ver. 14); and thus they brought their work -
3. To its completion: "they finished it;" it stood strong and fair and well furnished, from foundation to top-stone. We, too, are building for God; not, perhaps, a material fabric, but that which is more precious in his sight - a Christian character or a Christian cause. We are engaged in "building up ourselves in our most holy faith" (Jude 1:20), adding to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, etc. (2 Peter 1:5, 6, 7). And we are (or ought to be) engaged in building up the temple of some good cause. Some work of God is occupying our time, is engaging our strength and skill. We are laying the foundation in some small beginnings, or, on the foundation another has laid, we are building up the imperishable "gold, silver, precious stones," rejecting (as far as possible) the "wood, hay, and stubble," which the fires of God would consume (1 Corinthians 3:12). Let us see to it that, in building up both our own character and the cause of God, we build -
1. For God; doing all things mainly and chiefly unto him; as "unto the Lord," and not as unto ourselves. Let the glory of Christ be the mainspring of our action. Whatever toil, patience, forbearance, charity may be required, let us gladly yield all because "Jesus is worthy to receive," etc.
2. With God; accepting all the help God offers us through the varied means of grace he has supplied - notably the preaching (or "prophesying") of his servants; consulting his word to know his will, that all our building may be "according to commandment." We must do what we do in the way, i.e. in the spirit and after the method, in which he would have us work.
3. Unto completion. Learning, growing, ripening until death; sympathising, giving, striving, co-operating till the work is done and the fabric is finished. - C.
I. THAT GOD'S PURPOSES WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED.
1. This truth is exemplified in. the creation.
(1) A universe sprang into being in obedience to his voice (Psalm 33:9).
2. This truth is also exemplified in prophecy.
(1) The temple was finished in accordance with prophecy (Isaiah 44:27, 28). The events which prepared the way were also pre-indicated (see also Jeremiah 50. and 51.). These are samples. The whole subject of prophecy proves that God governs the moral world by a plan.
(2) This plan must comprehend all possible contingencies that may arise from the action of free beings. There is a limit to all freedom except that of God. His absolute freedom ultimately limits all that is relative. Lesson - To attempt to resist the will of God is indeed madness.
II. THAT GOD HONOURS HIS WILLING SERVANTS.
1. He gives them an interest in his work. "They prospered," viz., in the success of God's work.
(1) They obeyed his commandment because it was his. Love to God animated their zeal.
(2) Thereby their own moral nature became ennobled.
2. He encourages them by his approving voice. "They prospered through the prophesying of Haggai," etc.
(1) His word supplies the noblest motives. To the true servant of God nothing is trifling; he does all to the glory of God. This stamps the most ordinary things with sublimity.
(2) His word gives wisdom, viz., to sustain them in his work against the prudence of the world (see Ezra 5:5). Also to answer prudently in the face of the enemy (see Ezra 5:11-15). Prophecy in Christian sanctuaries is a grand thing for business men.
3. He crowns their labours with success.
(1) There may be, there will be, vicissitudes in the way. Even in these there is real success when the signs of it are not visible.
(2) But the issue is sure. The sequel will be glorious. Lesson - Trust God when you cannot trace him.
III. GOD MAKES UNLIKELY PERSONS HIS WILLING SERVANTS.
1. Several Medo-Persian kings were such.
(1) These were worshippers of the elements. Why should they favour the worship of Jehovah, who had humiliated their idolatry by defeating their gods? The miracles of the Old Testament in general were levelled against Sabianism.
(2) Political as well as religious reasons would render it unlikely that they should favour the return of the Jews. They succeeded to the place of the Babylonish kings, and might be presumed to follow up the policy of Nebuchadnezzar.
(3) But God found means to move the heart of Cyrus. Darius also was moved by him to follow his great predecessor. This he was the more disposed to by nature of the laws of the Medes and Persians, which alter not. Artaxerxes Longimanus, in after years, rendered his service to the people of God.
2. Perhaps Tatnai was another example.
(1) He was unlikely inasmuch as he had been moved by the enemies of Israel. But he seems to have had little sympathy with their malice.
(2) The "speedy" obedience which he rendered to the decree of Darius may have been cheerful. Lesson - Let no one despair of the power of the gospel to convert unlikely sinners.
IV. THAT GOD MAKES UNWILLING PERSONS SERVE HIS PURPOSES. The "people of the land were in this category.
(2) But their opposition was overruled for good. It brought the necessities of Israel, occasioned by the neglect of the decree of Cyrus, under the notice of Darius. The enemies now had to pay and collect taxes to supply those necessities. They do this too speedily," not because they love God, but because they fear the king (see vers. 11, 12). So God "makes the wrath of man to praise him." Better we should praise him with a loyal heart. "When a man's ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." - J.A.M.
I. THE REBUILDING. The accession of Darius appeared to Haggai and Zechariah the sign that the Lord had again visited his people. The last monarch had been a Magian, "opposed to belief in a personal God," and "not approving of temples." Darius was in sympathy with the work of Cyrus, having faith in the God of heaven, and regarding the Jewish nation with special favour (vers. 10, 12). Darius was the great organiser of the Persian kingdom. He made each province feel itself under the protection of the central authority, and by his system of "posts" brought each province into immediate communication with himself. A strong central authority is the best protection against the tyranny of provincial governments, with their petty jealousies and miserable intrigues. Modern as well as ancient Oriental history illustrates how heavily anarchy may press on a people like the Jews, too steadfast in religious convictions to join in prevailing heathenism and immorality, too feeble to enforce their claims. The change in the method of administration of which general history informs us is indicated in the sacred history (cf. the title "governor" given to Tatnai, Ezra 5:3, with the titles "chancellor" and "scribe" given to Rehum and Shimshai, Ezra 4:9). Tatnai's personal character, moreover, appears in favourable contrast with the characters of the "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" whose letter is recorded Ezra 4:7-16. He writes no "accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem;" he simply reports the case for the decision of Darius (Ezra 5:6-17). Nor is his a one-sided report; fairly enough he states the pleading of the elders, referring definitely to the decree of Cyrus under which they acted, and asks that search may be made for it. And when the answer of Darius comes to him, he loyally endeavours to fulfil it. Tatnai's doing, and doing speedily, "according to that which Darius the king had sent," is mentioned in connection with the "prospering" of the elders of the Jews. The wisdom of the leaders of the Jews is seen in their hurrying forward the work. The zeal of the people might flag; changes might occur in the monarchy; they must take advantage of the favouring circumstances. The work was a great one; not all was accomplished when the temple walls were built; the mention of Artaxerxes in conjunction with Cyrus and Darius shows that they were in the middle, not at the end, of their labours. But this at least they could do - make sure their steps as they proceeded; the temple once erected was not destroyed;it stood a point of vantage for the carrying out of further projects. Their wisdom appears again in their refusal to relax their efforts while the appeal to Darius was being made (Ezra 5:5). They knew the character of Tatnai; they acted in confidence either that he would not desire or would not venture on his own authority to disallow their appeal to the decree of Cyrus. Their boldness was the truest prudence; it would keep up the hearts of their own people; it would overawe the "adversaries." The basis of their wisdom was piety; they knew that "the eye of their God was upon them." They not only confided in the general providence of God; the prophets Haggai and Zechariah urged the Jews to remember his special commission to them: he had brought them back. from captivity to do this work; his blessing would crown their fidelity with success; his curse would fall on their negligence. Haggai spoke to the people, pledging the fidelity of the Lord to them (Haggai 2:10-19). Zechariah appealed to the sense of Divine inspiration in Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6-10), and strengthened Jeshua the high priest by lofty assertions that he and his purpose and his trials were near the heart of God (Zechariah 3.). Special tokens of the Divine favour encouraged the people in their labour. The closing Psalms of the Psalter are assigned to this period of Jewish history; Psalm 146-148, are entitled in the Septuagint version "of Haggai and Zechariah;" and they speak of deliverance out of trouble, and prosperity after distress. Haggai's pledge on behalf of God was fulfilled: for drought they had flowing waters; instead of fruitless labour they had "food for the hungry," and "the finest of the wheat" (cf. Psalm 146:5-10; Psalm 147:3, 8, 13-20, with Haggai, passim). In almost all great histories of deliverance and progress these two elements are found united - favouring circumstance and human character. One-sidedness must be avoided in our interpretation of history. It is not wise to overlook the force of propitious events; we break human hearts if we teach that everything depends on our own fidelity, our own skill; not only so, we thus obscure men's faith in the providence of God. On the other hand, no times are propitious to those who are not ready to serve God. God's providence does not supersede our service, nor render needless his choicest gift of men. Inability to read "the signs of the times" is declared by Christ to be a mark of insincerity (Luke 12:54-57); the highest service man can render man is to be an "interpreter" of God's purpose, a prophet calling for the fulfilment of God's will.
II. THE DEDICATION. The festival of the dedication contrasts strikingly with Solomon's festival. "The holy of holies was empty. The ark, the cherubim, the tables of stone, the pot of manna, the rod of Aaron were gone. The golden shields had vanished. Even the high priest, though he had recovered his official dress, had not been able to resume the breastplate with the oracular stones." (Cf. 1 Kings 8. and 2 Chronicles 6. with Ezra 6:17, and Psalm 136, with Psalm 146 150) It is the contrast of youth, flushed with prosperity and of an exultant tone of piety, with experienced and saddened manhood. The barbaric munificence of Solomon's offering, 22,000 bullocks and 120,000 sheep, contrasts also with the 100 bullocks, 200 rams, and 400 lambs of the second sacrifice. But one touch of pathos appears here wanting in the first - the offering of twelve he-goats, a sin offering for each of the tribes. The sin offering, for sins of ignorance and negligence, was a confession that all had been heedless; they knew not, with all they had learnt, the full extent of their remissness, they felt "the sin that mingled with their holy things." We are touched by the record; the appeal went to the heart of God. "Thou desirest not sacrifice." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit." With the dedication was associated the first passover, about a month after. The true consecration of a house of prayer is not the august ceremonial which attends its opening, but the habitual service offered in it. Note the carefulness to follow the law which is characteristic of this period (vers. 18-20). Negligence had been their undoing; the sin offering confessed that; but the true repentance is amendment of the evil habit. There was a forward look in this arrangement of the priests and Levites; it was provision for a long future of Divine service. And with this was combined hope for the ingathering of all the nation. All the tribes, the children of the captivity, the children of the dispersion, and the undistinguished remnant left behind by the king of Assyria were regarded as one. Their hearts - like that of Paul (Romans 9 - 11.) - could not endure the thought of losing any. The family is not complete until all are gathered; humbler members, its very prodigals, as well as the virtuous and the prosperous. A nation, a Church, includes the weakly and the "less comely" members as well as those which are honourable. Among those who "had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land to seek the Lord God of Israel" may have been heathen proselytes. The "court of the Gentiles" appears for the first time in the temple of Zerubbabel. The true separation, it was recognised with increasing clearness, was separation from the sins of heathenism, not national exclusiveness. The joyousness of the festival is twice noticed (vers. 16, 22). It is remarkable how much is said of joy in the Divine service in these books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Perhaps we are never fully conscious of joy till we have been sobered by sorrow. And it is a religious duty to encourage hope and gladness in the depressed. We must learn how to treat the various experiences with which we have to deal; not only weeping with them that weep, but doing all we can to win them to smiles. Elevating influences are most needed by the depressed. It was to slaves Paul told Titus to speak of "adorning, making beautiful, the doctrine of God our Saviour." To the prosperous we may speak of sobriety; we may remind him who lives many years, and rejoices in them all, of the "days of darkness," which shall be many. But those who have seen affliction, and who have arduous labour and adverse times before them, require that their religious services should be made as joyous and as bright as possible. - M.
I. THERE WAS A CHANGE OF MOOD IN THOSE WHO HAD SOUGHT TO HINDER THE WORK. Tatnai, who had sought to hinder the building of the temple, now by the royal command does all he can to promote it. The world sometimes changes its mood toward the Church; often from motives of policy or fear; seldom from good will. Civil governors can greatly aid religious builders. When enemies help the Church prospers.
II. THERE WAS A FAITHFUL MINISTRY EXERCISED IN THE MIDST OF THE PEOPLE. "They prospered through the prophesying of Haggai" (ver. 14). The ministry has much to do with the prosperity of a Church; men like Haggai and Zechariah cannot fail to inspire their comrades with their own earnest spirit. A faithful pastor will often make a Church prosperous.
III. THERE WAS THE COMPLETION OF AN ARDUOUS UNDERTAKING. "And this house was finished" (ver. 15). A great enterprise, which had passed through so many vicissitudes, was now successfully ended. By the completion of its toils the Church indicates its energy, provides for its own welfare, and glorifies God. - E.
I. THAT GOD REQUIRES a HOUSE ESPECIALLY ERECTED FOR HIS WORSHIP. "This house."
1. As a dwelling on the earth. God's presence pervades the universe; there is no place where it is not. The heaven of heavens cannot contain him, much less the house which we have built; yet in great condescension he manifests a richer presence in his holy sanctuary than in all the world outside. The Shechinah dwells in the temple. God's dwelling-place is in Zion. Christ is in the midst of his gathered people (Matthew 18:20).
2. As a testimony for the truth. The temple was a testimony to the heathen nations and to all people of the worship and sacrifice due from the Israelites to Jehovah. Our Christian churches testify to our belief in the great God, and to all those sacred truths which he has revealed in his book.
3. As the evidence of a religious feeling. While others are only building houses for themselves; we build also for God; we sacrifice the comfort of our ceiled houses and of our gains so to do. Our churches are evidence of the unselfish and devout sentiments of the human heart.
4. As the means of social philanthropy. We love the nation, and seek its moral welfare, hence we build it a sanctuary.
II. THAT THERE ARE A GREAT MANY IMPEDIMENTS IN THE WAY OF BUILDING CHURCHES. The Israelites had many hindrances in their work.
1. The lack of a good heart for the work.
2. The lack of generous gifts for the work.
3. The lack of suitable men to lead the work.
4. The lack of sympathy in men for the moral welfare of God's cause.
5. The lack of mutual concession to opposing ideas.
6. The lack of right help from the outside circles of society.
Christian enthusiasm, generosity, sympathy, good feeling, are the requisites of successful church building.
III. THAT THE COMPLETION OF A NEW CHURCH IS WORTHY OF SPECIAL GRATITUDE. The Israelites would indeed be grateful to see their finished temple.
1. Grateful for the kind providence that had aided them.
2. Grateful for the valiant leaders that had inspired them.
3. Grateful for the persistent spirit of work which had been given them.
4. Grateful that their arduous toils were at an end.
5. Grateful that the glorious worship of God could now be fully celebrated.
6. Grateful that they had a new impulse given to their national life. - E.
- As the temple was a type of the Church of God, and the stones of which it was composed represented individual believers, so the completing of the building foreshadowed that grand consummation in which the number of the elect shall be complete. The consequent dedication of the finished edifice will therefore represent the future devotion to the service of God of his glorified Church. By anticipation it also describes the service which believers should now render to God, since each part should be a true sample of the whole. In this view how fittingly was the dedication of the temple an occasion of joy (ver. 16)!
I. THE REJOICING WAS OVER THE FINISHED WORK.
1. It was the end of all their toil.
(1) The end, in being the consummation towards which they wrought. So will the heavenly state be to all true workers in the Church of God.
(2) Also the end, in the sense of bringing their toil to its period. The labour of twenty long years was now closed. No more straining of muscles in felling of cedars in Lebanon. No more sweat of the face in lifting great stones. No more endurance of cruel mockings and violent persecutions, So when we gain our reward "there will be no more curse" (Revelation 21:3-5).
2. It was the triumph of their faith and hope.
(1) The word of God sustained them against opposition from the rulers and from the rabble. It nerved them under the discouragements of threats and violence. So amidst vicissitudes for twenty years they plodded on. Now they reap the reward of their constancy.
(2) So has the Church of God been carried up stone by stone amidst opposition from princes and people. Amidst poverty and perplexity. With interruptions and threatenings. But it is destined to witness a magnificent sequel (see Revelation 21:1, 2, 9, etc.).
(3) The history of the Church has its epitome in the experience of its members. Their constant faith will reap its reward too in the heights of the heavenly Zion.
II. THEY REJOICED OVER IMMENSE SACRIFICES.
1. There were peace offerings for the dedication.
(1) The number of the victims was 100 bullocks and 600 smaller animals, viz., 200 rams and 400 lambs. At the dedication of Solomon's temple the sacrifices were 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (see 1 Kings 8:63). Yet this immolation does not compare unfavourably. Here were only 50,000 Jews as against say 10,000,000 Israelites in the days of Solomon, or 1 to 200. Multiply these victims by 200, and they scarcely differ in number from those offered at the earlier dedication (see also Ezra 8:35). Consider also the difference in their circumstances (see 2 Corinthians 8:2, 3). Well might they rejoice in their religious zeal.
(2) Corresponding to this enormous slaughter, there will be in connection with the dedication to God of his glorified Church a fearful sacrifice of his enemies. These judgments began upon the antichristian Jews (see Jeremiah 19:6, 7). They will culminate in the destruction of the Antichrist of Gentiledom (see Isaiah 34:1-7; Ezekiel 39:17-20). If mercy rejoices, it rejoices upon judgment (not "against" it); as the ark of mercy rode upon the flood of judgment (see Revelation 22:15).
2. There were sin offerings for all Israel.
(1) "Twelve he-goats according to the number of the tribes." The number of the victims sacrificed for the tribes at the dedication of Solomon's temple is not mentioned (2 Chronicles 7:4).
(2) Why for "all Israel," when so large a part of the ten tribes remained in their dispersion? Perhaps an expression of faith in those promises which speak of a full restoration of "all the house of Israel wholly" (see Ezekiel 11:14-20). This restoration was but an instalment of the ultimate restoration even of Judah.
(3) Atonement necessary to the acceptableness of services. The "children of the captivity" had a lively remembrance of the miseries they had suffered through sin. The redeemed in heaven will sing of Calvary (Revelation 5:8-13).
III. THEY REJOICED OVER THE ORDERING OF THE SERVICE OF GOD.
1. The priests were distributed into their divisions.
(1) These "divisions" are also called courses (2 Chronicles 8:14). They were twenty-four in number, and so ordered by David (1 Chronicles 24:1-5). They served in turn, under the direction of the high priest, and on entering this service were ceremonially sanctified (2 Chronicles 5:11). Example in the case of Zacharias (see Luke 1:5, 8).
(2) There will be supreme order in the service of God in heaven.
2. The Levites also were distributed into courses.
(1) David, the type of his infinitely more illustrious Son, gave this ordinance likewise (1 Chronicles 23:3-6).
(2) Their services were
(a) those connected with sacrifice (2 Chronicles 31:2).
(b) Supervising matters pertaining to the temple.
(c) Keeping the doors of the house of the Lord.
(d) Leading the praise in the worship of God.
3. Believers in Christ are the priests and Levites of the spiritual sanctuary.
(1) They offer continual sacrifices of prayer, of praise, of service.
(2) Everything which concerns the house of God concerns them. The service they render is therefore joyful service. We should welcome holy ordinances with joy (Psalm 100:2) - J.A.M.
I. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD IN A SPIRIT OF SOLEMN REJOICING. "With joy" (ver. 16).
1. The work itself a joy. As a material structure, embodying the skill and handiwork of man, it is a joy.
2. The purpose of the work a joy. It is built for the glory of God and for the good of man.
3. The spirit of the work a joy.
4. The completion of the work a joy.
5. The prospect of the work a joy.
6. The interest of the work a joy. Heaven rejoices m the finished sanctuary, in which its holy worship shall be conducted, and its redemptive purposes be promoted. Religious worship is a joyful thing; let us enter the house of God with thanksgiving.
II. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD IN A SPIRIT OF DEEP SELF-ABASEMENT. "For a sin offering" (ver. 17).
1. We must not be proud of our mechanical skill. Israel might be tempted to think that as a band of captives they had displayed great skill in building the house; they rather felt that God had built it.
2. When we have completed any great work for God we must not think that we have done anything worthy of praise; we must not commend our energy, devotion, or self-sacrifice; but we must remember our delay, our weakness, and how we needed the ministers of God to stir us to duty.
3. We must humble our souls before God in deep confession of sin.
4. We must come offering by faith the only sacrifice that can avail to make us and our imperfect work acceptable to God. The best house we can build for God is unworthy his acceptance; he can only accept it through the sacrifice of Christ.
5. We must come united in the sacred fellowship of the Church. Israel united in the feast.
III. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD BY INAUGURATING USEFUL MORAL AGENCIES. "They set the priests in their divisions" (ver. 18). The house will be comparatively worthless unless it becomes the scene of busy Christian toil and enterprise; it is to be a house of moral industry. The agencies are -
2. Varied. Priests and Levites; all kinds of workers.
3. Orderly - "in their course."
4. Useful - "for the service."
One course will relieve another. It is impossible to indicate the manifold agencies which ought to be set in operation by a new church, or to estimate the mighty impulse which should be given to the work of Christ on the earth.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD REGARDING IT AS THE REPOSITORY OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH AND THE SCENE OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. "As it is written in the book of Moses" (ver. 18). "And killed the passover" (ver. 20).
1. The repository of the truth. The temple was the repository of the law of Moses; in it the law of Moses was recognised as of supreme authority. In the new church God's book must rule our thought, speech, and action; a law more complete than the law of Moses; for in these last days God hath spoken unto us by his Son.
2. The scene of worship. The new church is not merely for literary, scientific, philanthropic purposes; but for the passover, for Christian worship. See that it is used for its rightful purpose. - E.
timely, and, moreover, it was wise; let us see its characteristics.
I. JOYOUS. "And the children of Israel... kept the dedication... with joy" (ver. 16). It was "the Lord had made them joyful" (ver. 22). Their souls were all alight and aglow with that best kind of happiness, the joy of gratitude. There is nothing so miserable as unthankfulness; nothing so happy as gratitude. They were mindful of his mercies who had brought them out of bondage, away from the "strange land" where they could not "sing the songs of Zion" (Psalm 137.), to their own home, the land of their fathers. They remembered him who had "turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them," and made him even lend them his aid; they blessed the Divine hand which had arrested and diverted the blow of their enemies. "Not unto us," they said, "but to thy name," etc. (Psalm 116.), and their souls thrilled with enthusiastic joy as they took possession of the new house they had built (ver. 16), and again as they kept the feast of unleavened bread (ver. 22). Happy they who "drink of the river of his pleasures," whom God makes joyful, whose gladness of heart is not the mere excitement of the flesh, but the pure and healthy satisfaction of the spirit.
II. SACRED (vers. 17, 20, 21). Proceeding from a pure and sacred source, it flowed in a sacred channel, and took a devout and holy form; for
(a) they purified themselves, "separated themselves from the filthiness of the heathen" (ver. 21); they made themselves clean of heart and hand, preparatory to worship, and "all of them were pure" (ver. 20). And
(b) they brought sacrifices in abundance to the altar of the Lord (ver. 17). Not the "thousands" of Solomon's time of wealth, but the "hundreds" of their own time of poverty; gladly, spontaneously, liberally they presented their offerings unto God. Here are two of the requisites of acceptable service.
(a) Purity. If we regard iniquity in our heart the Lord will not hear us (Psalm 66:18). We must be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord (Isaiah 52:11). Only the pure in heart can hope to see God, either here by faith, or hereafter by sight (Matthew 5:8).
(b) Spontaneity. The willing, cheerful surrender both of ourselves (our will, our affections, our intelligence) and of our possessions (our time, our strength, our money) unto our Lord. "In the strength of grace, with a glad heart and free," we must dedicate ourselves unto him.
III. HUMBLE-HEARTED. They "offered for sin offering," etc. (ver. 17). Twelve he-goats were offered as a sin offering (ver. 17). It was not forgotten that, beside God's mercies to be celebrated, there were their own sins to be atoned. In the midst of our overflowing joy, joy before God and in him, it is well to remember that there are "sins of our holy things," and many shortcomings in our service, beside trespasses in our daily life, which Should lead to the prayer, "Let thy mercy, O Lord, lighten upon us," blending, not inharmoniously, with the voice of our supplication, and the song of our thanksgiving.
IV. SOCIAL. "And the children of Israel... did eat, and kept the feast," etc. (vers. 21, 22). All the children of Israel, from the highest to the lowest, from the governor to the humblest menial of the state, from the high priest to the lowliest Levite, all sat down together to eat, to keep the feast. Their holy joy was multiplied and was beautified in the sight of God by being shared, and by being made as social as their circumstances and customs would allow. So should ours be; and though we have no longer Christian institutions answering to the early "agapae," we should seek for and discover some ways by which our "common joy in the common salvation" should be expressed together, in social as well as sacred service.
V. SYSTEMATIC. "They set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses" (ver. 18). They kept the passover according to law (ver. 19), and instead of letting enthusiasm simply blaze up and die down, they made provision for future devotion (ver. 18). Here is enthusiasm in its wisdom; in the hour of its strength providing for the hour when its excitements will be over, when reliance must rest on calm conviction, and when piety must be maintained by devout habits and wise methods of worship and of work. - C.
Exodus 12.). The second in the wilderness (Numbers 11.). The third at Gilgal (Joshua 5.). The fourth in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30.). The fifth in the eighteenth year of Josiah (2 Kings 23.). The sixth is that here mentioned. The subject is distributed into two parts: -
I. THE FEAST. This also is distributed into two parts.
1. The passover proper.
(1) This was held "upon the fourteenth day of the first month." This was the anniversary of the night before the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, when the angel who destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians passed over the Israelites, who were protected by the blood of a slaughtered lamb.
(2) What an expressive type of the protection we derive through the sprinkling of the blood of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 5:7)! The very time of the death of Jesus was indicated in this date. He suffered not only in the first month and on the fourteenth day, but also "between the evenings" (Matthew 27:46).
2. The feast of unleavened bread,
(1) Scrupulous care was taken that no leaven should be found in their dwellings. Leaven is a salt and sour matter which is put into dough to ferment the mass for bread, and is also of a putrefying nature. Its exclusion by the ancient Israelite expressed his aversion to the abominations of the Egyptians from which he was delivered (Exodus 12:17; Exodus 13:3). These Jews would associate with the abominations of Egypt those of Babylon from which they were now delivered.
(2) The Eucharist is our feast of unleavened bread. Those who partake of this should put away all leaven of heresy (Matthew 16:16). All notorious and scandalous living (1 Corinthians 5:6, 7). All malice and wickedness of the heart (1 Corinthians 1:8).
3. The feast was kept with joy.
(1) With the joy ordinarily fitting to such an occasion. They kept it "seven days, and therefore with its "holy convocations" on the first and last days. Holy convocations to godly persons are essentially joyous. They anticipate the convocation in the heavens.
(2) But they had special reason for rejoicing. "For the Lord had made them joyful by turning the heart of the king of Assyria unto them to strengthen their hands," etc. The Persian monarchs are here collectively called the "king of Assyria" because they were rulers over the ancient Assyrian territory. (Note - May not this suggest the key to many prophecies which evidently relate in their fuller expression to the latter times, in which names of ancient kingdoms are still used?) The finishing of their temple was an occasion of great joy. There is no joy to be compared with that which the Lord makes for us.
II. THE PREPARATION.
1. The priests were purified, and the Levites were all of them pure. The state of things was now as it had been in the days of Hezekiah, when the passover had to be held in the second month because the priests had not sufficiently sanctified themselves to hold it at the more proper time (2 Chronicles 30:3). Note - When the spiritual temple is complete the priests and Levites - the saints of God - will be all morally pure.
2. All the children of the captivity were pure.
(1) This is evident from the fact that the passover was killed for them all (ver. 20). The second passover was instituted to meet the case of those who through ceremonial uncleanness were incapable of taking the first (see Numbers 9:6-11). Here there was no need of a second, for the whole nation was ceremonially clean. This was a very remarkable circumstance, and shows what a wonderful providence was over their families, for a dead body in a house was sufficient to render its inmates unfit for this feast (see Numbers 19:14). What a type of the glorified Church! The joy of the paschal feast when it is renewed in the kingdom of God will not be interrupted by death. All there will be pure in the noblest sense.
3. Believing Gentiles were joined with their Jewish brethren (ver. 21). They were qualified for this holy fellowship -
(1) By "separating themselves from the filthiness of the heathen land." Some may have come with them from Babylon, as the mixed multitude came up from Egypt (see Exodus 12:38; Nehemiah 13:3). Some may have been "people of the land," descendants of Esar-haddon's importation (Ezra 4:2). But they must have become Jewish proselytes.
(2) By "seeking the Lord God of Israel." True worship and salvation are nowhere else to be found (see John 4:22). At whatever sacrifice, let us seek the fellowship of the saints (Ephesians 2:13-22). - J.A.M.