About four months after arriving in Jerusalem, it was reported to Ezra that there had been a great intermarrying of the children of God with their neighboring idol worshippers—not by just the people, but also by their leaders and rulers. Ezra was deeply disturbed by that news and went to God in earnest and contrite prayer confessing sins and pleading for mercy for the people. They had been delivered from an exile brought upon them because of their refusal to fully trust in the Lord. Their marriages to pagans were in direct disobedience to God’s command.
The people were convinced and convicted of their sin by Ezra. True repentance requires turning one’s back one hundred eighty degrees in reformation from the transgression. The large assembly of weeping men, women and children confessed that they had trespassed against God by taking pagan wives. Shechaniah, a spokesman for the people urged Ezra to allow them to make a covenant with God to put away their pagan wives and children. Over a three month period, a large number of families came forward, confessed and offered trespass offerings as their pagan wives and children were sent away.
When marrying, one must consider the effect that their marriage will have on others, especially their children. It is extremely important for Christians to marry Christians as many times, a non-Christian mate causes the Christian to fall away from Christ.
Approximately seventy-nine or eighty years after the first group of exiles was permitted by Cyrus to leave Babylon, Ezra was allowed to lead a large number of Jews back to Jerusalem. Being of the lineage of Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas, Ezra was a priest. He was also a skilled scribe very educated in the Law of Moses. The Persian king, Artaxerxes wrote a decree giving Ezra gold, silver and other necessary commodities to be used in the worship of the God of heaven. There were to be no taxes levied against the people involved with the temple of God. Furthermore, Ezra was given permission and instructions for setting up a civil government. He was encouraged and very thankful to God for the generosity of King Artaxerxes.
As Ezra and his company began their journey, he took a genealogical inventory of the persons with them. It was soon discovered that there was no one from the tribe of Levi to perform the priestly duties of the temple. That deficiency was soon corrected and they moved on. Travel was hazardous because of the danger of attack, but Ezra refused to request for protection as he trusted in God to deliver them from any enemies. At the conclusion of their safe four month trip, documents were delivered to the proper authorities and burnt offerings were offered up to the God of Israel. “So they gave support to the people and the house of God.” The number of Jews that went with Ezra to Jerusalem was about fifteen hundred men plus women and children.
Previous prophets had spoken of the coming King. Malachi spoke of a coming messenger who would prepare the way for that King. He was described as Elijah. Jesus referred to John the Baptist as Elijah, the one who prepared His way (Mt. 11:7-15).
The King was also pictured as a Messenger who would purify the sons of Levi as one would refine gold or silver by purifying it of its impurities in a smelter. Today under Christ, all Christians are priests just as the sons of Levi had been. We have been purified through the blood of Christ in baptism.
When pointing out the transgressions of the Jews, they asked the prophet in what ways had they committed those various acts. Their consciences were so seared that they did not recognize sin. In each case, he described their actions that had displeased God. One cannot question God’s love based upon current circumstances. Sometimes the wicked seem to be blessed while the righteous suffer. The Lord has remembered the faithful. He made note of them and stated, “They shall be Mine…”
There are uncertainties regarding the authorship and date of the Malachi prophecy. Since the name is defined as my messenger, it is possible that the prophecy was written anonymously by an unnamed prophet. The time frame seems to blend in with a few years of letdown after the exiles from Babylon had rebuilt the temple.
As discouragement overwhelmed the people, they began to question God’s love for them. The prophet reminded them of the choice that He had made between Jacob and Esau. Esau’s descendants, the Edomites had continually interfered with God’s purpose with the Israelites.
God demands and expects reverence, respect and the best that one has. At that point, the Jewish priests had profaned their worship. His requirement for burnt offerings was for the best animals without any blemishes to be offered. BUT the priests had profaned His name and offered stolen, lame and sick animals that would have insulted the governor if offered to him. It was the responsibility of the priests, the sons of Levi to set the proper examples before the people as they led in the worship of the Lord. They had failed in that duty also.
The prophet turned his attention to the relationship of husbands and wives. God had forbidden his people from marrying foreign wives hundreds of years earlier. The prophet’s words perhaps carried a double meaning as he condemned their marital practices. In many respects, the nation Judah had “married” foreign gods instead of remaining faithful to her husband, God. However, Jewish men were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying foreign women. Marriage is a covenant and they were breaking that covenant. God hates divorce.
Ahasuerus was succeeded to the throne by his son, Artaxerxes. By that time, the temple had been rebuilt in Jerusalem and work to rebuild the city and its walls had begun. A group of neighboring people led by Rehum, the commander wrote a letter to Artaxerxes pointing out the dangers to his kingdom if the “rebellious and evil” Jerusalem’s rebuilding were completed. They asked that he examine the records to confirm the past history of the city and to order the halt to its reconstruction.
Artaxerxes replied that upon a search of the records, their concerns were confirmed. He gave the order to, “make these men cease, and that this city may not be built until the command is given by me.” After reading the letter,
“they went up in haste…and by force of arms made them cease.”
This psalm may have been written with the memory of David’s desire to build the temple in mind. Since he had been prohibited from building the house of God, one can imagine his delight in the people’s returning from exile and being able to again “go into the house of the Lord.” That should be the desire of Christians today as they assemble as His house, the church to worship our God. Much of this psalm is devoted to praise, devotion and prayer for their beloved Jerusalem. Even though he had been dead many years, the city continued to be called the “City of David” and “House of David.”
Ps. 84:1-85:13; 87:1-7
At that point in Israel’s history, life had greatly improved. The exiles who had remained in Babylon were doing well under Ahasuerus and Mordecai and those in Jerusalem had rebuilt the temple and were once again close to God. Although the dates of writing are unknown, these psalms picture the beauty of being in a right relationship with God.
The psalmist longed to be in the presence of God in His house. As the birds find refuge in their nests, man finds refuge and safety with God. He stated that being merely a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord is better than all of the imagined joys of dwelling with the wicked. “Blessed is the man who trusts in You!”
Israel had been brought back from captivity. The psalmist prayed for a revival of his people to the Lord. One may be forgiven by God, but still feel guilt for past iniquities. His anger ceases and His mercy covers those sins when one repents and continues walking with Him. He supplies our needs.
Zion/Jerusalem was the city of God. He dwelt in His temple in that city. What could be more glorious that to be in His presence in that place? Those whose physical birth was in Jerusalem were special, but one’s birth in spiritual Zion, the church are promised a more glorious reward.