We look at the principle of cause and effect and how it relates to the theme of exile and return. How are we supposed to reconcile the providence of God with the people’s choice to trust and obey? We explore stories from 1 Chronicles, revisit the character of King Cyrus, and look at three minor prophets – Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah.
1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Isaiah, Haggai, and Zechariah
Introduction and review
I was telling these guys that the series has kind of worn me out. It’s such a massive amount of information that I’m trying to summarize and put into a capsule, it’s kind of worn out my research capabilities. But I’ve sure enjoyed it. I hope you have.
In Exile and Return, of course, we have the mega context where we as humanity were exiled from the Garden of Eden. On that day when they sinned, they’re exiled from the Garden; that’s death. And everything God had intended for humanity, which was all the perfection of harmony, of relationship with one another, harmony of relationship with family, harmony in relationship with work and our roles, harmony of walking with God, harmony with nature. All those harmonies were broken that day.
And the exile is death. Socrates chose hemlock over exile because he understood that relationship and harmony with your purpose is life.
And we’re in this long exile. All of us are in exile pending our return to the Garden of Eden in the new earth, when the Tree of Life will again be at the center, and we’ll be able to eat of it and so forth.
So we’re in this big exile and return era, and we have this window into a physical exile and return that Israel experienced, and the lessons from that are directly applicable to us.
We’ve talked about the massive amount of biblical books that touch on this exile and return.
So the three main points of today’s lesson are the principle of cause and effect, the providence of God, and the people’s obedience and trust.
1 Chronicles. Why has this happened to us?
We’re going to start in 1 Chronicles. 1 Chronicles 9.
1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles appears, on first examination, to be a retelling of 1 and 2 Kings. And for many years, I wondered, why did they put it in here twice?
1 and 2 Chronicles, probably, according to Jewish tradition, was written by Ezra the scribe; and Ezra, as we’ll look at in some depth today, is intimately involved with the return from exile in Babylon. And it is a retelling, but it’s a retelling from the perspective of we’re not in the land anymore, and we don’t have a king anymore, why did this happen to us?
And the theme of the book is summarized in 1 Chronicles 9:1. After 8 chapters of genealogies, if you have been exiled, ripped out of your land, taken to another land, one of the things you want to know is, who am I? Who are we as people? Are we Babylonian? And the first eight chapters answer the question. No, you’re not Babylonian. You are Hebrew. And here is your genealogy and who you’re connected back to.
And after the end of the genealogies, who are you? The answer to the question, why has this happened to us, is answered.
1 Chronicles 9:1. So all Israel was recorded by genealogies, and indeed, they were inscribed in the book of the kings of Israel. But Judah was carried away captive to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness—
And there’s a pretty good summary of 1 and 2 Chronicles right there. You see that same basic message embedded as you go through the book.
Just as an example, if you just flip over to 10:13, you see after the story of Saul’s death with his son Jonathan, it says, So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord—
The principle of cause-effect
Now God has built this principle of cause-effect, and it’s always operating. There’s a cause-effect even with our new birth, with the grace of God. We, in Adam, sinned, and we fell; and because of that, death entered the world. That’s a cause.
And as a result, Jesus, God in the form of Jesus the Messiah, came down and paid the price for death with his own death. And as a result, we can be brought back into the family of God. It’s still cause-effect. Even the grace of God is cause-affect.
Now, having been born into the family, our choices have consequences. We reap what we sow. Our reaping and sowing has nothing to do with whether or not we’re in the family of God; it has everything to do with who we become and the impact we have on the world and the extent to which we experience the promises of God and the life that he’s given us. This principle, we’ll see it again.
That’s the first point.
Cyrus, the providence of God
The second point is the providence of God.
Let’s go to the book of Ezra. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are kind of the last books of the historical section of the Bible; and then, of course, it’s overlapped significantly with the prophets, which we’ll see in some degree of detail today.
So we’ve got the principle of cause-effect, the first point. Now we’ll see the providence of God. Let’s look at Ezra 1.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—
Let’s just review our timeline real briefly. We’ve had the exile from Israel to Babylon take place in three waves, three dates.
So we’ve got 605, that’s the one Daniel goes out with.
597, that’s the one that Ezekiel goes out with. He’s in the countryside of Babylon.
And 586, and that’s one where Jeremiah’s in the city being thrown in a well and eating a starvation diet and all that sort of thing.
In 539, the handwriting on the wall happens, and Darius the Mede takes over the city and captures Persia. And now Babylon becomes Persia. Darius the Mede is probably also called Cyrus.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled—
Jeremiah prophesied something, and in the first year of Cyrus, this 539, 538 timeframe, that the word of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.
Let’s see what word of Jeremiah we’re talking about. Look at Jeremiah 29:10, right next to the famous verse.
Jeremiah prophesied all about the exile and return from Jerusalem. He’s the from-Jerusalem correspondent. We’ve got the correspondent and actor in the government in Daniel during this time period. And you’ve got the countryside reporter of Ezekiel during this time period. And in Ezekiel 29:10, it says—
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Now we go back to Ezra, and it says—
—that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled—
This is, by the way, the same prophecy that Daniel read. There’s a mail or courier service between Babylon and Jerusalem going on, and Daniel read this prophecy; and you can see in Daniel, one of his big visions happened because he starts praying and fasting before God and saying, “I see this clock ticking. How are you going to do this, God? We’ve repented. I repent on behalf of everybody. How’s this going to happen?” Because he knew that Jeremiah was a real prophet.
—that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia—
Is the king of Persia a notorious God-follower? Not particularly, right? Is Persia a God-chosen country? Not particularly.
But look at this. Look at Isaiah 44. Isaiah now is prophesying during the time of Hezekiah, so Hezekiah is back in around 700 B.C., just before the Assyrian captivity of Israel or Samaria, the northern kingdom.
So Isaiah. We’re now 125 years earlier in Isaiah. Isaiah 44:28.
Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd,
And he shall perform all My pleasure,
Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” 700 B.C. now
And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ’
“Thus says the Lord to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—
To subdue nations before him
And loose the armor of kings—
Here we are in 700 B.C., and through the mouth of Isaiah, God is saying I’m going to raise up somebody in Persia, which wasn’t even a world power at that point in time. His name is going to be Cyrus, and he’s going to say Jerusalem should be rebuilt. And at this point in time Jerusalem’s not even knocked down.
Liberal scholars before the 60s or so were very confident that there were two Isaiahs, an Isaiah that wrote chapter 1 through 39, that actually lived back in Isaiah’s time; and then another Isaiah that wrote 40 and later that probably wrote all this maybe after Jesus because it had so many precise predictions in there. Of course he had to be writing in arrears, already knowing what happened.
And the Dead Sea scrolls were found, and the prized possession that you can actually see a reproduction of the whole scroll in the shrine of the book in Jerusalem, and they show the whole scroll; and it’s a one continuous scroll of Isaiah, unbroken, no break point at chapter 40. It kind of blew their theory away.
Because God is in control of things, and if he wants a pagan ruler to do something that fits his plan, then that’s what’s going to happen. Cyrus my anointed.
You’ll see things happen in your lifetime from this point forward and have seen things in your lifetime from this point back where you are disgusted with a ruler somewhere. And you never know if that ruler’s doing something at God’s behest. Okay? It’s fine to be disgusted. And it’s really good to stand up for what’s true and what’s right. Daniel did.
But God’s in control. God is sovereign. He’s in charge. We should never despair because of what is happening. We should only worry about what God has asked us to do.
God’s sovereignty is really amazing here. The providence of God really at work. We haven’t even made it out of verse 1 in Ezra, and it’s all over the place.
Well, Ezra then chronicles the raising up of a fellow with the wonderful name of Zerubbabel, and Z for short probably. And Zerubbabel takes a group back from Babylon to Israel to repopulate it.
And they take about fifty thousand people, something like that.
Now, today, if you go to Israel, it’s seven million people in the land, and it’s mostly uninhabited. Fifty thousand people. Think about—see, the land of Israel is about a hundred miles long and sixty miles wide or something like that. You scatter fifty thousand people in there, and it’s just not very many people. But they went. This was a pretty brave thing to do.
And when they went, one of the first things they did is to start building the temple again. Ezra 5:
Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them.
So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem—
Now, before this—and we can see this, roughly—let’s look at 3:8.
Now in the second month of the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began work and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the house of the Lord.
And verse 10. When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals—they had brought all this stuff back with them from Babylon.
Verse 11. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: This is a praise service here.
“For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”
Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy,
I’ve actually misspoke about this in the past that it was the temple. It was actually the foundation of the temple where the old men cried because it was so pathetic compared to what they’d had before that was torn down. It reminded them of a painful memory. And the young guys are like, “Yeah! We’re back again!” So they have this joint celebration.
Well, why do we have them beginning to build again in chapter 5 when the foundation’s already been laid? The answer is because after the foundation’s laid and you have this small group of people in the land, resistance arose.
If you look at chapter 4, there are these letters going back to these kings saying, hey, look in the history and see how responsive and submissive Jerusalem’s been. Because not that long before, Nebuchadnezzar had to stomp out a rebellion by razing everything to the ground. It’s only 586. This is 539. It’s only 40 years prior. And they do a search and find out, sure enough, it’s a really bad city.
Now Cyrus has gone on to the next life, and a couple of short-term kings come in. In the secular world, these guys are called Cambyses and Smerdis. In the scripture, here, they’re called Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes, which is very confusing to me because there’re Artaxerxes that happen after Darius that have that name in the scripture and also in secular terminology. But that really has to be the answer here because the restoration is going to happen under Darius and Artaxerxes.
So they write this thing, and these guys are, you know, new kings. New kings always have political turmoil. And in comes a letter that says all that’s happening here is they’re about to start another rebellion. And, understandably, the king says, “Tell them to stop.” So there’s a ceasing.
Haggai, build the temple!
Now you get Haggai and Zechariah that rise up, and they have a message. Chapter 5. They have a message. So let’s look at Haggai. You can go to Matthew and just thumb back a couple of books. You got Malachi, Zechariah, Haggai.
Haggai. In the second year of King Darius—now we’ve got Cyrus. He dies. You get these two guys that were king for just a short time. One of them says, “Hey, stop.” And so you’ve had this pause.
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel—
Zerubbabel is the guy that led them back and laid the foundation of the temple. And now Haggai is actually prophesying mainly to one person.
And he says, and to Joshua—or Yeshua—the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” ’ ”
You know, it’s just not time yet. The temple needs to be built, but it’s just not time yet.
Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying,
“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?”
Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!
“You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”
Consider your ways! Go build the temple!
So here we have both the providence of God and cause-effect. There’s nothing we can do to pluck ourselves out of the family of God because the cause-effect there is an eternal payment for all of our sins, and we’ve been brought into the family.
But now, being in the family and being children, every decision we make is a reaping-and-sowing decision. And God is saying here, look, you’re focusing on trying to build your little life here and make yourself comfortable and whatever, and your inward focus is actually what’s killing you. Focus on me and do what I’m asking you to do, and I’ll take care of the rest. Jesus is going to say something like that later, right?
So, Haggai’s message is basically, “Get going! Get your rear in gear and build this temple!”
Let’s look at Zechariah, the next one over. Zechariah is going to have the same message but in a little different format. Haggai is pretty straightforward. Zechariah, if we look at 4:8—
Moreover the word of the Lord came to me (Zechariah), saying:
“The hands of Zerubbabel
Have laid the foundation of this temple;
His hands shall also finish it.
Then you will know
That the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.
Zechariah is actually saying Zerubbabel is going to finish this temple.
Imagine yourself listening to these two prophecies if you’re Zerubbabel, and you’ve got these Persian kings who have stomped you and are the heads of the earth to deal with.
Well, they send another thing back to Darius. Now Darius is king, and Darius says search the—this is a governor that sends this back. Darius does a search and finds the Cyrus decree to rebuild the temple.
Cyrus, likely, is the same guy that knew Daniel and was greatly influenced by Daniel and saw Daniel saved from the lions and said, after that happened, “This is the real God.”
Cyrus probably really was a believer in God. And he probably really was one of God’s servants. It doesn’t tell us; we just have clues. But he does this, and the temple starts again. And they get it built; and they get it finished. The resistance doesn’t stop, but it stops for long enough for them to get that done.
Zechariah’s big picture. Prophecies of Christ
Now we go to Zechariah’s bigger picture. Haggai says, “Go and build that temple, guys.” Zechariah says, Zerubbabel is going to build this temple, but this is a little part of a big plan. Because if you read Zechariah, he stood up and said, “Yeah, build that temple,” but, boy, he says so much more.
Let’s take a little look at Zechariah; and, again, we saw this principle of cause and effect, and now we’re talking about the providence of God, and now the providence of God that we’ve seen with this specific prophecy, this person called Cyrus is going to rebuild Jerusalem, this word of Jeremiah is going to be fulfilled, this prophecy that this guy is going to go and lead the people, and they’re going to rebuild the temple, moving the kings for being opposing to being supporting in support of that.
Now let’s just take a look at Zechariah’s big picture. We’ll just look at a few things. All of this has to do with the exile and return; but Zechariah is going to talk more about the concentric circles of exile and return because we’re going to have this exile and return from Babylon to Israel in the time of Jeremiah, and then we’re going to have this big exile and return that we’ve just started to see, I think, the fulfillment of in 1948 when Israel becomes a state and goes from just a handful of Jews now to like six million Jews. And then, ultimately, the return of Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel.
Let’s just look at a few things here that Zechariah did. This is a little bit of a big plan.
And I want to make this point now, and I think I’ll reinforce it; but a lot of times, we think that what God’s given us to do seems trivial, don’t we? And building a building might seem trivial. Giving some money to build a building might seem trivial. And by itself, it is.
But what God asks us to do is trust him and obey him, and all these little trusts and obeys are integral parts of building a much bigger building that is the kingdom of God. And he’s got this big plan, and it’s in his hands, and it’s going to happen; and he’s asking us to participate!