Like Haggai, Zechariah begins: “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius…” (Zechariah 1:1 ESV). It is clear that both Haggai and Zechariah are addressing the ex-exiles at about the same time. The recurring theme is “return to me”. The LORD wants the people both to return to him and from their evil ways and deeds.
Zechariah experiences a vision of a man riding on a red horse. Naturally, Zechariah wants to know what this means. Also with the red horse were red, sorrel and white horses. Zechariah then asks “the angel who talked with me” “What are these, my lord?” (v. 9 ESV). The angel tells Zechariah that “these are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.” (v. 10 ESV) This actually harkens to Job 1:7 when Satan responds to God’s question: “‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth and from walking up and down on it.’” (Job 1:7 ESV) The similarities end there. These are angels patrolling through the earth reporting to the LORD that the world was as “rest”.
Why is the angel of the LORD troubled that by the report given by the man on the red horse that the world is at rest and peace? How does God feel about Jerusalem and Zion situation? Why does God’s anger burn against the nations (the nations that brought about Israel’s destruction)? How will God make things right?
Not only did the prophets predict the restoration of Jerusalem, they also spurred the people into action and even rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty. What does this tell you about the nature of faith? See also James 2:17. What makes this faith all the more remarkable is that while Cyrus gave the order to begin work on the temple (Ezra1:2-4), a later order issued by King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:23) halting the project had never been rescinded.
While the Jews put their faith into action by restarting work on the temple, God supplied the power. How does God prevent the work on the temple from being halted?
Darius made search and found that a decree was issued by Cyrus authorizing the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, further that it was to be financed from the royal treasury. That goes a bit further than the decree as reported in Chapter 1: “And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:4 ESV)
Darius’ decree for the rebuilding of the temple began with a warning to Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River to “keep away”. Let the work proceed and not only that, Tattenai is to provide for the cost of the building “is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River.” (Ezra 6:8 ESV) And if that weren’t enough, the governor is to provide “whatever is needed – bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require – let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.” (Ezra 6:9-10 ESV) The penalty for anyone altering the edict is that he be impaled on a beam from his own house and that the house is to be completely destroyed, i.e., made into a dunghill.
It is clear from this that the LORD is working in the heart of Darius to get the temple built. There are now no excuses for the structure not to be built. All obstacles have been swept away. Why is Darius so eager to see the temple built? Can we see the obstacles in our own lives which need to be swept away?
Do we experience the same sense of urgency (in terms of importance not in terms of time) regarding God as Darius? How do we get to the point where “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart”? (Deut. 6:5-6 ESV) Is not this the thing the LORD really wants from us?
What I know of Nehemiah can be summed up in the phrase “cupbearer to the king”. This says a great deal about what influence Nehemiah had with the king. A cupbearer was a bit more than a food taster – though that was not insignificant. The cupbearer had to be a person of trust for he held the king’s life in his hands as it were. When you add to that that this cupbearer was a foreigner and a captive indicates to me that Nehemiah had found great favor with the king.
While Nehemiah could have lived out his days comfortably, what news does he receive that changes the trajectory of his life? What does he do first with the news and for how long? How would you outline his prayer?
Section 1 (5-6a) __________________________.
Section 2 (6b-7) _________________________________.
Section 3 (8-11) _________________________________.(How does Nehemiah know what to ask for in verses 8-11?)
Are you facing something that breaks your heart? Try following Nehemiah’s pattern of prayer.
What begins with mourning and fasting and earnest plea to God is now translated into action. What tremendous risk does Nehemiah take in putting his prayers into action? Nehemiah courageously obeys, but God supplies the power. What does God do to make Nehemiah’s God-given dream a reality? How does Nehemiah inspire the people to begin the work of rebuilding? What stirrings of opposition do you see? Watch for it in tomorrow’s reading.
Opposition to the Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts begins with ridicule from their enemies. How do the Israelites respond to the opposition? Opposition is now ratcheted up. Sanballat and the neighboring tribes plan to attack Jerusalem before the wall is rebuilt. What two things do the Israelites do in the face of the threat? What does God do to frustrate the plans of the enemy?
To be sure, the obvious enemy was Sanballat and his cohorts but there was another. We can deduce that there was a serious famine in the land at that time because people were mortgaging their homes, selling themselves and their children into slavery. The building of the wall was just an added burden of the people of the land. What was depressing was that the wealthier Jews were exacting usury (illegally high interest) from their own. There were provisions in the Law of Moses regarding usury and slavery (of Jew to Jew) but these were being ignored.
How does Nehemiah attack the debt crisis facing the poor in the city of Jerusalem? How is Nehemiah different than the governors that preceded him with regards to the poor?