Devotional Reading: Ezra 5
Lesson Scripture: Ezra 6:13-22
Lesson Aims: To recognize that God uses anyone to carry out His plan; give God your best at all times; and to celebrate all of His blessings!
Background: A meeting place for the Israelites (Jews) has been important ever since they left Egypt after 400 years of enslavement. They began with the portable sanctuary called the Tabernacle (only one). Also called the Tent of Meeting, it was constructed during their journey to the Promised Land. God gave specific details to Moses, their mediator, on Mount Sinai. See Exodus 24-31.
This was to be the place where God would meet them. Each time they moved, the Levites and the priests were responsible for breaking down and setting up the Tabernacle. The sanctuary was where they worshipped, sacrificed, and heard from God. It was for the people, because no structure could house God! Some 300 years later, Solomon built the first permanent structure (the Temple) in Jerusalem. It took about 40 years to complete. The magnificent structure lasted until the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BC.
The Temple didn’t save them but served symbolically as a reminder of God’s presence; their covenant relationship with Him; and a pathway to salvation – their sacrifices covered their sins. Jesus’ blood will cleanse their sins once and for all.
Lesson: Praises to God go up when the Temple foundation is laid. The people are on one accord and focused. Their neighbors (called Samaritans in the New Testament) offer their assistance. These are the people (pagans) who intermarried with the Jews that the Assyrians left in Israel after 722 BC. The Jews in the south (Judah) rejected them because they were not direct descendants of Abraham. These semi-pagan people use rumors and the Persian officials to disrupt the building project (chapter 4). From the devotional reading and the first part of chapter 6, we also find out that the returnees become preoccupied with rebuilding their own homes.
Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets, will address this issue. Tattenai (TAT uh nigh), the Persian governor of the region, writes to King Darius questioning the Jews’ authority to rebuild the Temple. Darius has the archives searched; finds Cyrus’ decree; and responds. Not only are they to leave the Jews alone, but they must cover all costs associated with the project. The king warns the people not to obstruct the Jews in any way. If they do, death is imminent! That traditional closing was followed by all kings at that time.
The Persian officials quickly comply with the king’s decree. The builders go to work and in three and a half years the Temple is completed. The dedication is next. According to the book of Moses (Numbers 3; 8:5-26:18), the priests and the Levites are in their proper places as sacrifices are made. Though smaller than the sacrifices of Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah, their offerings are just as significant. God wants our best; He doesn’t compare! The sin offering is the most holy, for it is given by the priest as an atoning sacrifice for all of the people. It represents repentance and seeks forgiveness. On the fourteenth day of the first month, they celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. Once again, God has delivered them, touched the hearts of unbelievers and enabled them to do a great work!
Application: Isn’t it amazing how God uses people? For the returnees, God moves the Persians to allow His people to return home and rebuild the Temple. When He cleared the way, they gave Him their very best! Do we? We serve a faithful God who is loving and forgiving. Do we appreciate that? Each time He blesses us, our praise should go up to Him and Him alone. For you see, it isn’t about us; it is about God and His mighty acts! Our devotion to Him should motivate us to give our best not just a “dab.” He is worthy to be praised whether it is done by one or a group. We face opposition. Look all around but don’t lose sight of the goal. God can and will step in. Worship is fully reinstated in Jerusalem with the completion of the Temple. How about your worship; is it what God wants and deserves?