The Book of Ezra, Part 2
When we start a project, we get frustrated when obstacles pop up to keep us from finishing. Imagine how frustrated the Jewish people must have felt when they faced seemingly immovable obstacles while rebuilding the Temple! This week’s show takes us back to Ezra, part 2 of our 4-part series on the book, to examine the obstacles that stood in Israel’s way and how God helped His people overcome them.
The Jewish people faced a significant threat from those later known as the Samaritans who tried everything they could to stop their construction. The enemies of Israel used bribes, intimidation, and the king’s authority to keep God’s Chosen People from worshiping Him alone. But God had a plan to strengthen His people’s efforts. Find out how the Jewish people got past their obstacles in this week’s in-depth look at the rebuilding of the Temple!
If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can listen here.
Chris Katulka: Welcome to the Friends of Israel, today I am Chris Katulka, your host and teacher. Steve Conover is out this week, but he'll be back next week.
Hey, listen, have you been to foiradio.org yet? If you haven't, you've got to get over there because we have eight years worth of all of our programming right on that site for free. Free resources for you to understand more about what's going on biblically with Israel and the Jewish people. Again, we want you to visit FOIradio.org.
Now today we're going to continue our series on the book of Ezra. Last week we looked specifically at how God was going to return the Jewish people to their ancient homeland after they were exiled, but today we're going to actually look at some of the obstacles that appeared as the Jewish people under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra were set to rebuild the temple, set to rebuild Jerusalem and yet faced obstacles that would prevent them and how they looked at those obstacles and how God encouraged them through it.
But first in the news, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the Iranian Shah, who was deposed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, announced his plans to visit Israel in an effort to restore the "Ancient bond between the nations." He posted on Twitter that his trip will also focus on Israeli water technology and Holocaust commemoration as Israel honors their Holocaust Remembrance Day this month. Well, here's my take. It's sad that Iran and Israel have become bitter enemies with Iranian leaders regularly calling for the Jewish state's destruction. But Reza Pahlavi shows the world the side of Iran most people don't ever hear, that Israel and Iran before the revolution had ancient bonds that date back to Cyrus the Great and Queen Esther herself.
Chris Katulka: Last week we started a four part series on the book of Ezra, a book of the Old Testament that really highlights that the promises of God never fail in Israel's darkest moments or in our darkest moments. The Book of Ezra is more than a historical account of the Jewish people's return to their ancient homeland. Ezra is speaking to a Jewish audience who was losing their sight of the Lord's purposes in their lives and their community, and that's exactly what we're going to see today. Before we continue, I want to remind you that the book of Ezra was actually probably written around four 50 BC, long after the original call was given for the Jewish people to return to their land. Ezra is speaking to encourage those exiles who had come back under the leadership of both himself and Zerubbabel encouraging them to stay strong in the Lord, to continue in true temple worship and to remind them to maintain their relationship with God and not to abuse his mercy that's been poured out on them.
Now, last week we dedicated an entire episode to the history surrounding Israel's return to the land in 538 BC when Cyrus, the King of Persia permitted the Jewish people to return and to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem. Now, if you didn't get a chance last week to listen to the program again, be sure to visit FOIradio.org and there on our archives page you can listen to part one of this study on Ezra and also more than eight years of radio content. Again, be sure to go to FOIradio.org. But today I want to talk about obstacles. I'm sure if you're listening today, you know about obstacles. Obstacles in life always seem to appear when you least expect them. I'm the kind of guy that likes to do DIY projects around the house, do-it-yourself projects. I love do-it-yourself projects because I like to try to figure puzzles out and figure things out, but I also like to save the money that a DIY project will provide me.
I can save a couple bucks. I DIY everything I can and it's easy these days with YouTube and all the helpful videos they have available, but all the videos in the world can't help you when an obstacle rears its ugly head during a project, I had all my plans laid out on how I was going to approach a project and then all of a sudden I'll start cutting into the drywall and what do I find? A pipe or an electrical wire right where I wanted to work. Plumbing and electrical is something I leave to the professionals, but they become obstacles to my plan, the plans I made to execute my DIY project, and let me tell you something, I like to control my plan. Well, Ezra shares with us some serious obstacles the Jewish people faced after they returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple and listen, I'm sure Zerubbabel, who was leading the rebuilding, wishes it was just a plumbing issue.
I'm pretty sure and I'm pretty confident they didn't have electrical issues back then. But Ezra writes about the history of the return of the Jewish people in 538 BC, but he didn't travel with Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel who led the first group who returned. Ezra technically doesn't appear in his own book until chapter seven. However, Ezra documents the events that took place upon the first exiles return, and I'm sure when these Jewish people set out to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, they were filled with great anticipation as to what God would do. But soon enough they were met with obstacles. One of the major obstacles they faced were actually their neighbors. That's right, their neighbors. After the altar and the temple foundation were completed, their neighbors appeared to the Jewish leaders and said this in Ezra chapter four verse two, "Let us help you build because like we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon the King of Syria who brought us here."
Okay, so who exactly are these neighbors who are so anxious to help the Jewish people rebuild? And why are they called enemies when they sound like they just want to help? Well, the enemies of the Jewish people refer to the people living north of Jerusalem in Judah in a place called Samaria. And since the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom several hundred years earlier in 722 BC prior to the Persian Empire and the Babylonian Empire, the Assyrian empire conquered the Northern 10 tribes and deported some of the people away to Assyria and brought in other peoples to intermarry. An event that you can read about in Second Kings chapter 17, verse 23 and 24. This is Assyrian tactic prevented strong nationalistic uprisings in the lands that they conquered. Well, the enemies were the descendants of these mixed peoples and the forefathers of what we would call in the New Testament, Samaritans.
These people who said they come to help in Ezra's Day claim that they worshiped the same God, that is the God of Israel, but in reality they actually worshiped both Yahweh, Israel's God and other lowercase g gods as well. And you can read all about that in Second Kings chapter 17 starting in verse 29. The Samaritans as they would later be called, weren't there to help Zerubbabel or Ezra. They were there to hinder the rebuilding that had started with so much enthusiasm. Well, Zerubbabel Joshua the high priest and the rest of the leaders of Israel answered knowing that their visit wasn't to bring a welcome basket for the Jewish people who had just arrived. It was actually a Trojan horse. They replied to the Samaritans, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God, we alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel as King Cyrus, the King of Persia commanded us."
Well, let me tell you something, that interaction kickstarted a series of obstacles. Well, first, the Samaritans harassed the Jewish people and discouraged them, which made them afraid of building the temple and they started to bribe officials to work against the Jewish people, frustrating their plans even though Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia told the Jewish people to rebuild the temple. Well, after Cyrus died, the Samaritans started to write complaint letters to the kings that would proceed Cyrus, they lodged complaints and accusations against the Jewish people to Xerxes the new Persian king who would rule from 485 to 645 BC and he was the King of Persia that we read about from the book of Esther. After his reign, the Samaritans continued to lodge complaints against the new King Artaxerxes who ruled from 464 to 424.
The letter that they wrote him is actually found in Ezra chapter four, and here are portions of what the Samaritans wrote to Artaxerxes trying to get the Jewish people to stop building their temple. They write this, "The king Artaxerxes should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations. In light of the fact that we are loyal to the king and since it does not seem appropriate to us that the king should sustain damage, we are sending the king this information so that he may initiate a search of the records of his predecessors and discover in those records that this city Jerusalem is rebellious and injurious of both kings and provinces producing internal revolts from long ago. It's for this very reason that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed.
"We therefore are informing the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, you will not retain control of this portion of the trans Euphrates." The Samaritans are saying that if you continue to allow the Jewish people to rebuild, they will be nothing but a nuisance to you and your kingdom. Theirs is a history of nuisance. Just do your research king and you'll see. Well King Artaxerxes replied to their letter and agreed with them saying this, "The letter you sent to us has been translated and read in my presence. So I gave orders and it was determined that this city, Jerusalem, from long ago has been engaged in insurrection against kings. It is continually engaged in rebellion and revolt." The Persians came to the Jewish people after that letter and they told them to stop.
Stop rebuilding the temple. Stop rebuilding Jerusalem or are armed forces will force you to stop building. It seemed as though all was lost. The obstacle reached a level that seemed too much for the Jewish people to handle, and you can imagine the spiritual apathy they felt. I mean, this was the reason the Jewish people returned to the Promised Land to begin with and now they can no longer rebuild. Was the obstacle too great for God? Well, you'll find out after this break. That's why you need to stick around.
Chris Katulka: From the original tabernacle to the temples built, destroyed and still to come, God's dwelling place with man has always resided in the temple. Our one day Prophecy Up Close conference focuses on what understanding the temples reveals about God's intentional design to be both present and protecting his people at the same time. Join the Friends of Israel throughout the country for our popular one day conference. Find one in your city at FOI.org/prophecy. Again, that's FOI.org/prophecy.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone. We are continuing our study on the book of Ezra and we've been talking about obstacles. Obstacles that prevented the Jewish people from rebuilding the temple they were called to rebuild By God. It was a dark time for the Jewish people. I mean, what was the point of uprooting our families and traveling all the way to the Promised Land if we can't do what God has asked? Well, we left off with the Persian king Artaxerxes commanding the Jewish people to stop rebuilding because the Samaritans complained about them and the history of their presence in that city. The work of rebuilding stopped, but the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah gave a word from the Lord encouraging the Jewish people and the word was this, "Keep rebuilding. God never told you to stop." Well, guess what? A new king at that time was ruling in Persia and his name was King Darius.
Darius received a letter from his governor in the area of Jerusalem and he told the Persian king the Jewish people have continued rebuilding, and here's what the Jewish people stated was the reason that they started to rebuild against the Persian wishes. They said this, "We are servants of the God of heaven and earth. We are rebuilding the temple which was previously built many years ago. A great king of Israel built it and completed it, but after our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he delivered them into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean who destroyed this temple and exiled the people to Babylon. But in the first year of King Cyrus of Babylon, King Cyrus enacted a decree to rebuild this temple of God. Even the gold and silver vessels of the temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and had brought to the palace of Babylon.
"Even those things, King Cyrus brought from the palace of Babylon and presented to a man by the name of Sheshbazzar who he had appointed as governor. He said to him, 'Take these vessels and go deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem and let the house of God be rebuilt in its proper location.' Then this Sheshbazzar went and laid the foundations of the temple of God in Jerusalem and from that time to the present moment, it has been in the process of being rebuilt, although it is not yet finished. Now, if the king is so inclined, let a search be conducted in the royal archives there in Babylon in order to determine whether King Cyrus did in fact issue orders for this temple of God to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us a decision concerning this matter." Darius the Persian king responded after searching the records saying, "Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this temple of God in its proper place." The obstacle that seriously prevented the rebuilding of the temple and impacted the spiritual lives of the Jewish people was overcome.
Here's one thing I can promise you. Obstacles will always appear when you're doing the will of the Father in heaven. Why? Because Satan is at work to thwart God's plan. Satan's name means the accuser or adversary, and his name is actually derived from a verb which means to obstruct or oppose or maybe you could even say an obstacle. It's what we do with these obstacles in life that matter the most. Will you abandon what God has called you to do like many of the Jewish people who heard the Persian king say "Stop building." Or will you listen to the commands that come from God's word just as the prophets Haggai and Zechariah did when they said, "According to God's word, rebuild."
Leave the obstacles to him, lead them to God. God proved faithful to the Jewish people even in their darkest hour. So let's learn from this passage that no matter the obstacle that's before us, God remains faithful to fulfill his plan. What's an obstacle for believers is always an opportunity for us to trust him.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenaged Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now,. Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: A few years ago, a religious school invited me to speak about the Holocaust. Few of us are left who passed through those terrible days, so students listened with great attention and asked questions. I also spoke about my faith in Christ and how the Lord helped me. Some became angry and said such things as, "This man should not be at our school. Why did he come here? Who brought him here?" When students asked how I came to believe as I do, I told them, “I came to know the Lord according to the Holy Bible.” They were surprised and wanted to know where it is written in the Bible about this man, meaning Jesus. I was happy to show them. Afterward when students would see me on the streets of Jerusalem, they would point me out to others and say, "This is the one who came to our school and tried to brainwash us to believe in this man."
Recently, someone who works at the school recognized me on the street. He asked if I remember speaking at his school. He said, "We want you to come back. Many of the pupils are new and they will be very interested to hear you." I was surprised. I thought the school would never invite me again. I was happy to go. The students were not quiet. Each one wanted to prove he was smarter than I, so they asked many questions and tried to attack me, but my answers came from the Holy Bible, so I was not afraid. They do not know about the Lord from the Bible. Finally, they asked how I came to know the Lord and one asked, "Why did you leave the Jewish faith?" I did not leave my faith in the Lord. You need to ask ourselves, in whom do I believe? Do you follow the Lord or do you follow men with such faithfulness that you have almost turned them into false gods?
They do not realize they respect the rabbis more than they respect God's word. One demanded, "We want to see with our eyes where the Bible speaks about this man." I opened my Bible to Isaiah 53 and read, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed for he was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgressions of my people, he was stricken." "How did you find this?" One asked. I read what is written in God's word. There it says, "You shall fear the Lord your God and serve him. You shall not go after other gods." "Do you have a Bible with you?" One asked. So I showed them my Bible. They look through it very carefully.
I asked, "Have you read enough? Do you think I am telling you what is right?" Then they gave my Bible to their teacher who told the students, "If he is following God according to the Bible, I cannot be against him." And then the teacher started to ask questions, "Why is it that most Jewish people do not believe as you do?" He asked. I replied, "It is because so many do not read the Bible for themselves, and when they do read, they do not trust God to show them what is right. Instead, they ask their teachers and believe their interpretations rather than what they have read with their own eyes." I said, "If they will believe according to the Holy Bible only, which was written by the Holy Spirit of God, they would believe as I do." Please pray for these children, that they will read the Bible for themselves and trust God alone to give them understanding.
Chris Katulka: The impact is Zvi's life and ministry in Israel, it didn't end when he went home to be with the Lord. In fact Zvi's legacy lives on. Our Friends of Israel ministry representatives continue to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Israel, and really all throughout the world. We also serve Holocaust survivors and their families. We provide free food, medicine and clothing, and we even promote the safety and security of the state of Israel and the Jewish people everywhere. So when you give to the Friends of Israel, your donation actually allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah Jesus. You can give online by visiting FOIradio.org. Again, that's FOIradio.org. You can click right there on our donate link. Also, be sure to let us know where you listen when you contact us.
Chris Katulka: Thank you so much for joining us today. Next week we're going to continue our study on the book of Ezra, and we're actually going to see how Ezra was able to minister to the Jewish people who had returned picking up later on in Ezra chapter seven. It's going to be a great time. We hope to see you again next week.
I am your host and teacher, Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performed our theme music. Steve Conover is our executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
The tabernacle and temple play a significant role in Biblical history and prophecy as the epicenter of God’s divine dwelling place with His people. During our one-day conference you will gain an understanding of the Temple and what it reveals about God’s intentional design to be present with His creation.
Apples of Gold: Belief in Men Rather Than God
A local school asked Holocaust survivors to come and tell their story. There aren’t many survivors left on the earth, and it’s important for them to tell these stories. Zvi told his story to the students and also how he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ who gave him hope. The students became angry as he talked about Jesus. Zvi was sure they would never ask him back again, but years later a teacher asked him again. Listen as the students and teacher engage him in a discussion of God’s Word.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
Your gifts help us to continue proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.