March 15, 2009

Lessons From The Book of Ezra - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Growing in Grace-Building Project Scripture: Ezra 1:1–4


Lessons From The Book of Ezra-Part One

Ezra 1:1-4
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Pastor Randy Smith

As I have mentioned already, the next two months could be the most critical two months in the life of our building campaign. It is during this time more than ever that we must unite as a church and aggressively pursue the will of our Lord. But what is the will of God during a building project? What does He expect from us, and how does He work on our behalf? Ignorance in these areas could result in catastrophic consequences that will affect all of us. So what is the voice of God for a building project? Does God have anything to say to us regarding this endeavor?

The answer is "yes." In the midst of possibly the most complex and sensitive time in the history of our church, God has not left us to our own intuition. We are not forced to figure this out as we go along. We are not shooting in the dark, hoping that our arrows may perhaps hit the will of God.

God's Word is sufficient. And it is only natural that God would provide for us specific instruction in this area. God is no stranger to building programs. He had the Israelites build the tabernacle under Moses. Later He had them build the first temple under Solomon. Eventually He had them build the second temple under Zerubbabel. And shortly after that He had them rebuild the walls around Jerusalem under Nehemiah. And fortunately for us, all of these details are carefully recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction. The basic principles are just as applicable for us today as they were for God's people centuries ago.

Since this time is so critical for our church, I have decided to take a break from our study in Matthew and devote approximately seven weeks to study the book of Ezra. My goal is simple. This will not be a verse-by-verse exposition, but rather a topical study as we seek to glean key principles for our present situation.

We do not operate around here on worldly wisdom or human speculation. We operate as God's Word speaks. The Bible is our authority. Its purpose is to instruct our minds and transform our hearts. So for the next two months, let's uncover some strategic principles from the Scriptures pertaining to a building project. And then as God's sheep, faithfully follow as we are called, the voice of our Shepherd (Jn. 10:27).

Today I will only reveal the first of many principles, but before I do that, let's take a few moments to understand the background of the book of Ezra. Since many of us are probably unfamiliar with this book, I believe investing some time in the background will be profitable to establish the context and lay a foundation for the upcoming sermons.

Ezra, found in the Old Testament, is considered an historical book. That means it records the history of Israel. As far as a time lines goes, it picks up where Second Chronicles leaves off. If you prefer dates, the events in Ezra take place between the fifth and sixth century before Christ. The events recorded in the book of Esther also occur during this time frame as do the prophetic writings of Haggai and Zechariah.

It was a rather precarious time for the nation. After 70-years of captivity, the Jews were permitted to return to their homeland of Israel. Often this is called the "Second Exodus."

You will remember in 586 BC that the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the city (including the temple built by Solomon) and led the Jews (namely the Southern Kingdom) back to Babylon. Eventually Babylon was overthrown by the Persian Empire under the rule of Cyrus the Great in 539BC. In 538BC, just one year later, this predominate world leader permitted the Jews to return to Israel.

The first wave consisting of almost 50,000 came back under the leadership of Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple. That account is recorded in Ezra chapters 1-6. The second wave, much smaller in number (1,754) came back under the leadership of Ezra to rebuild the spiritual condition of the people. That account is recorded in Ezra chapters 7-10. A third wave returned under the leadership of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls around the city. That account is recorded in the book of Nehemiah.


Jewish Leader




Persian King

King #



538-515 BC


Ezra 1-6

Cyrus - Darius

1, 4



483-473 BC



Ahasuerus (Xerxes)




457 BC


Ezra 7-10

Artaxerxes I




444-425 BC



Artaxerxes I


While he is not specifically identified as such, tradition has ascribed the authorship of this book we will be studying to Ezra. He is probably a better candidate than any. His name literally means "help." He was godly man marked by a life of moral integrity. He loved God's Word and was grieved over sin. Based upon his strong trust in the Lord, he was used by God to rejuvenate the spiritual life of His people.

So with the stage set, let's begin to extract God's principles from the Scriptures when undergoing a building project. We will look at one principle today.


Principle number one: God will always accomplish His purposes.

For starters, we must understand a clear rule stated throughout Scripture. Our God is not at the whims of human desire. He is not frustrated by contrary forces or dependent on outside assistance. Ephesians declares that He "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). Isaiah 46:10, "Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'" Job said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). God wills what He wills, and what He wills will definitely come to pass!

So here are the Jews; decades have passed since they were led off to Babylon. Second and third generations now exist in the foreign land. The previous temple was destroyed and the newer generations are becoming more unfamiliar with their spiritual heritage. They are enslaved to a pagan nation with very few resources to call their own. What are the odds the temple will ever be rebuilt by these people? Even if God were to desire it, how in the world would He ever accomplish it?

I look at our situation and sometimes ask the same questions.

Verse 1 of chapter 1 says, "The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia." If the Jews were going to do any construction, they were not going anywhere unless Cyrus gave them the green light. So God stirred his spirit. God worked in his heart (probably through the prophet Daniel who was a prime minister in his court) to grant the Israelites favor.

Look at verse 2: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.'" Spoken from a Gentile king dwelling in a pagan land! Cyrus overthrows the Babylonians in 539BC. In 538BC (the "first year" of his reign-1:1) he issues the decree for the Jews to return to their homeland to begin the temple construction.

All of this is remarkable! Yet all of this is according to the unfolding of God's glorious plan (see Jer. 29:14). You see, approximately two hundred years before the birth of Cyrus, Isaiah prophesized this event. God speaking, "It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid'" (Isa. 44:28). Though Ezra chooses to refer to a passage in Jeremiah (probably Jer. 25:12; 29:10), this is as Ezra 1:1 affirms, fulfillment of "the Word of the Lord." In Isaiah 55:11 God declares, "So will My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."

In Ezra 1:3 Cyrus makes his proclamation: "Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem."

God commanded Cyrus to allow the people to return. Yet Cyrus did not command the people to leave. He granted them permission. The people were given an option as to whether they would participate in the Lord's work or stay in Babylon. Again, decades had passed and the Jews were beginning to adjust to their surroundings. They became comfortable. They adapted to the new culture. Why would anyone want to venture on the 900-mile trek and endure the hardship of a building project? Because of this most of the Israelites stayed behind.

Yet God's will was not thwarted. He will accomplish His plans. Even if some are disobedient and lazy, God will find the resources to further His purposes. God will always accomplish what He desires. The only question is whether or not we will participate in His work. Are we eager to be used by the living God for eternal purposes, or are we content to sit on the sidelines and watch the parade go by while others enjoy the blessings? Nothing has changed. Building projects are synonymous with sacrifice. Yet when God wills the work, He raises up the workers (see Neh. 1:5). As we see here, often it is a minority, but a minority of faithful and cheerful servants eager to support His purposes.

As a matter of fact, let's observe how God raised up the necessary support.

We already saw how He changed the king's heart to let the people return, but Cyrus also amazingly supported the work with valuable resources. I will begin reading in 1:7, "Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. Now this was their number: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, 29 duplicates; 30 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls of a second kind and 1,000 other articles. All the articles of gold and silver numbered 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem" (Ez. 1:7-11; cf. 5:14). In other words, the goods that the king of Babylon confiscated from the Jews, the king of Persia returned to the Jews. I am sure that this was a nice boost to start their building program!

Even when Persia was on their fourth king (a man by the name of Darius), the good will toward the Israelites didn't change. In chapter 6, verse 4, Darius affirms the decrees of Cyrus: "And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury." And then he added, verse 8, "Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay." Later the sixth Persian king continues the support. Chapter 7, verse 21, "I, even I, King Artaxerxes, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the provinces beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, may require of you, it shall be done diligently" (also see Ez. 7:22-24).

Ezra acknowledged God's hand in all of this. In 7:27-28 he said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king's mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the LORD my God upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me."

Let's remember these Jews were coming out of captivity. They were returning to rebuild their homeland financially poor. God provided them outside support, but now I want to show you that God still expected them, despite their financial situation to contribute to the work themselves. Every time we witness a building project in Scripture, we observe God calling the beneficiaries of the project to make a financial sacrifice. All may contribute different amounts, but all are called to make equal sacrifice.

Right from the start God's expectations in this area are seen in 1:4. "Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." Whether they remained in Babylon or returned to participate in the work, every person was called to respond with a freewill offering-in other words, a voluntary giving as God moved their hearts.

The people rose to the occasion and responded favorably. In 1:6 we read, "All those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering." The freewill offering is further specified in 2:68-69: "Some of the heads of fathers' households, when they arrived at the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to restore it on its foundation. According to their ability they gave to the treasury for the work 61,000 gold drachmas and 5,000 silver minas and 100 priestly garments."

Building projects are not cheap. And just like for us today, it takes money to make things happen. Look at 3:7, "Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia."

I cannot find a single building project in the entire Bible where God miraculously did all the work. It seems after the Genesis account He was finished with the creating business (other than creating new hearts in those whom He redeems). From the building of the ark to the building of the temple, God gave the vision and then provided the necessary resources, but He still called His people to do the work and make the sacrifices. Obviously He has good reasons for that, and I believe all of them are wrapped in the blessings He intends to lavish upon is.

God's will, will never lack God's resources. In addition to the financial support, He provided the gifted craftsmen (Ez. 3:7) and even spiritual leaders once the temple was completed (Ez. 7:6-7, 9-10; 8:15-20). God granted them protection (Ez. 8:31). He allowed the work to continue (Ez. 5:5) and granted them success in this great endeavor. Ezra 6:14-15, "And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. This temple was completed." And Ezra says at this point, the end of 6:16, "The sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy." For the joy of His people, God will accomplish His will. When He has decreed something, His purposes will always come to pass.

The Old Testament saints had an advantage over us. They heard directly from God through a prophet. When it came to a building, they knew exactly what our Lord desired. Today God speaks to us differently. Though we never question His ability, we do need to discern His desire. Is it God's desire for us to build?

So we pray and fast. We look at our rising attendance and the inadequacy of this present building. We look at our assets and the increase in offerings even in spite of the slumping economy. We look at the overwhelming unity of our entire congregation to move in this direction. And because of all this, we conclude that it is indeed time to build. And if this truly is the Lord's will, may we remember that God will always accomplish His purposes.

Churches of successful building campaigns have said, "Nothing brought our church closer together." We have before us an operation much larger than bricks and mortar. This is a time for the people of God to be stretched and grow in their walk with the Lord as a result of this project. Things were no different during the time of Ezra. During their building campaign we will observe in the weeks ahead how the people were purified and the worship was revitalized. May the God who always accomplishes His purposes and never changes bless us in the same way.

other sermons in this series

May 3


Grace In Giving vs. Giving To Grace

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1– 9:15 Series: Growing in Grace-Building Project

Apr 26


The Sacrifice of A King

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Chronicles 29:1–19 Series: Growing in Grace-Building Project

Apr 19


When God Moves Hearts

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Exodus 36:3–7 Series: Growing in Grace-Building Project