Ezra 4:6–6:19 With Haggai 1–2. Pushed and Pulled.
to Resist or Surrender?

Key Notes: The Locals opposed the temple. The Persian king authorized and supported building it. The Jews were building their own houses and needed a push. Do we need church buildings? Financing of Christian churches.

Ezra 4:4  The immigrants in the land who had been imported by Esarhaddon, frustrated the work of building the temple during the reign of Cyrus (536–530BC) and Cambyses (539–521), until the second year of Darius the Mede. (520BC)

4:6–23 Ezra inserts a parenthesis here.
The opposition also wrote an accusation to Ahasuerus / Xerxes at the beginning of his reign (486BC). A further letter was sent to Artexerxes (464–423BC) informing the king of the wickedness of Jerusalem. They were then building the walls of  Jerusalem. (4:12).

4:24 No more work on the temple was done until Darius’ reign.

5:1 Haggai and Zechariah emerged as prophets and they encouraged the exiles in 520BC. Sixteen years had gone by and nothing more had been done.
 (Haggai’s message is added at the end of the Ezra text in this lesson. )

5:2 Zerubbabel and Jeshua the priest led the group back to rebuilding.
5:3–17 Tettanai, the local governor and his associates then tried to get the names of the builders. The Jews would not give their names. They said that they were servants of the God of heaven and earth. (5:12). When intimidation failed to stop them, the officials sent a letter to Darius enquiring about whether Cyrus had made any  decree supporting the reconstruction of the temple.

6:1–12 Darius searched the records of Babylon and found that in his first year as king, Cyrus had decreed the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. Darius then gave Tettanai these instructions:

  1. Let the Jews alone and let them rebuild the temple.
  2. Provide for them sacrifices of bulls, rams, sheep, wheat, salt, wine or oil out of tax money as the priests require. May their offerings and prayers preserve the life of the king and his sons.
  3. Anyone who alters this decree shall be killed and his house destroyed.
  4. May the God of Jerusalem overthrow anyone who interferes with the temple building.

Haggai’s prophecy was recorded over a period of  three and a half months late in 520BC.
He had four communications during this time, and they are dated. They alternately rebuked and encouraged the exiles. Each of the first three messages begins with a question.

Hag. 1:1–11. Aug. 29th. Is it time for building your own houses lavishly while the temple lies in ruins? Your lives are futile. The harvest has been poor. Your food does not satisfy hunger; the wine is watery; your clothes do not keep you warm. Your money bags have holes in them.

Hag. 1:12–15 The Lord stirred the heart of Zerubbabel  and Joshua and the remnant of the people and they went to work on the temple 23 days later.

Hag. 2:1–9. Oct.17th. Isn’t this temple as nothing compared to Solomon’s?
Take courage, Zerubbabel. Take courage, Joshua. Take courage, all you people.
God will shake the nations and their treasures will flow in. In the end, the temple will be splendid,  greater than Solomon’s.

Hag. 2:12–19  Dec.18th. Haggai’s third question is to the priests:
 Is holiness transmissible? It is not.
Is uncleanness transmissible? It is.
Application: everything about Israel is unclean. And its resources are lean, and botched with blight and hail. But from this day on God will bless you.

Hag.2:20–23 The same day, Haggai had a personal word for Zerubbabel.
God will shake the nations and overthrow the kingdoms, warriors and all. But in that day Zerubbabel will be God’s chosen,  like  a signet ring.

Comments in reverse order.
Zerubbabel’s grandfather was Jehoiachin, one of the last kings of Judah. God had said of him that if he were a signet ring, he would be torn off and thrown away. (Jer.22:24). Zerubbabel, carrying out God’s will faithfully, would be chosen and honored like a signet ring as his grandfather was unfaithful and cast away. When is "That Day" in which he will be honored?

A repeated theme of II Kings is reiterated by the prophet.
You are ignoring God. Therefore God is not blessing you.
The prophet says that their poverty has a cause. Disregard of giving to God has a threat attached. (Hag.1:6–11; 2:15–17). Parenthetically, tithe-giving has a blessing attached. (Mal.3:10)

Discussion:

It is not that God needs their money. He will see to it that the treasures of the nations flow into the future temple. It is their self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness that is the prophet’s concern.

What future great temple does the OT prophet have in mind? It may have been Herod’s temple, or one yet future.

How do we apply this message? Do we have a similar obligation to our church as Haggai laid on the exiles? We have a divided mind about our church / temple. Is the temple within us and the building of no consequence? New Testament teaching desacralized the temple. There is no NT Christian temple. Churches met in homes. Sometimes Paul rented a hall for teaching. (Acts19:9). The Reformation desacralized the sanctuary again, centering the pulpit as the focus of the church instead of the altar. but keeping the church building for corporate worship.

We depend on a central building, a public church structure for
            a meeting place
            a worship-center
            an education resource
            outreach to neighbors
            a service center
            a public presence.

How should these church activities be supported? Paul speaks of giving for the poor this way:

“You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God, for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows into many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others.” (IICor.9:11–13)

The tithe (10%) was the OT minimum standard of giving. A calculation based on OT law indicates that 30% was the gold standard for giving, including crops left in the field for the poor and tithes for the levites. One virtue of tithing is that it demands care in the use of the rest of the money. The tithe was part of NT Jewish observance (Matt.23:23) but was not advocated for the Church. There is no quantitation of giving in the NT. Jesus talks about money at some length in Luke but without specifics. He teaches us not to love money but to use it for the Kingdom. (Lk.16:9). The only offerings mentioned in the NT epistles were Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem. (IICor.9:11). There were no church buildings and most pastors were not shown to be on regular salaries.

What does Paul mean by generosity? If the tithe is not the standard, what is? At the present time we evangelicals are giving 3%, a third of that  OT standard. And 80% of those who come to the church give little or nothing. Consequently the church is always short of resources. Ministry is pinched. Our teachers and pastors are paid 80% of public salaries. Church income is wasted renting money from the bank to pay the cost of the building mortgage.

We who live under grace should be able to do better than those under the law. Some wealthy people are able to give away 90% of their income and live comfortably on the remaining ten percent.

The push and pull.
Jews came back to Jerusalem by the edict of Cyrus the Persian, according to the word of the prophet Jeremiah. (Jer.29:10). They intended to rebuild the temple, with sacrifices at the altar of burnt offering, but without the gold overlay, and without the ark of the covenant. They were stopped by the superior force of the local pagans. They collapsed under pressure. What else could they do? Could they fight? They had no army. Sixteen years went by.

Since it was God who brought them back, they might have asked, “God, what shall we do now?”  They did not. They just quit. If God wants it, God will have to do it. If he wants us to build, He will have made it easy for us.

When should we resist? When should we surrender? What is God’s will? That question was answered by the prophet Haggai. Give generously. Get up and get going. The obstacles will disappear.