In the Minor Prophets

The five books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi give an account of the return of a remnant of Israel from their seventy years of exile in Babylon. Ezra and Nehemiah deal with it from an historical standpoint, while Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi describe the spiritual and prophetical movements which characterized this final revival in the Old Testament. As well as the five names that head the books, two others are prominent in the narrative, Joshua the High Priest and Zerubabbel the civil governor. All seven had a vital part to play in this great work of the Spirit of God.

There are two prophetical passages that form a background to the exile and the exodus of the remnant of Israel from Babylon. The first is Hosea 3. 4-5, ‘For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their Cod, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days’. This has had a primary fulfilment in the Babylonian captivity and the death of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The people of Israel had no longer a king to rule over them. But they did have princes such as Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, as is clear from his genealogy. The final fulfilment is in this age of grace. Since the death of Israel’s Messiah, who came as King of the Jews, Israel has had neither king nor prince. Secondly they shall be without God’s appointed sacrifice. After ai?70 there is no temple; there is no high priest; and there is no sacrifice, for there are no genuinely appointed priests to offer it; and the atoning sacrifice of Christ has been completed once for all. There is no atonement because there is no sacrificial blood in all their religious ceremonies. Remarkably, the Babylonian exile had the effect of turning them away from idolatry. During the long centuries of dispersion and suffering they had nothing to do with Baal, Ashtaroth or the household gods of teraphim. Finally there is the promise of a glorious future. There are three marks of time when this shall take place: ‘many days’, ‘afterward’, and ‘in the latter days’. There are three elements in their restoration, ‘return’, ‘seek’, and ‘come with fear’. The seeking will be to their God and ‘David their king’ in the person of His greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, see Rom. 9. 10-11.

The second prophetic passage is Daniel 9. 24-27. Daniel, whose name means, ‘God is my judge’, as a youth was taken to Babylon in the first deportation under Nebuchadnezzar about the year 604 bc. He lived to see the fall of the Babylonian empire under Darius the Mode, 5. 31. In the first year of the reign of Darius, when Daniel was approximately 82 years old, he was reading in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 25, verses 11-12 that the Lord would accomplish 70 years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Realizing that the time was almost up, he gave himself to earnest agonizing prayer and confession. The result was the great revelation of the seventy weeks or heptads. ‘Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times, and after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself; {Hi. and have nothing}, and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined’, 9. 24-26.

Many volumes have been written on the details of this tremendous passage. Its chronology concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, at the end of the first seven weeks; the time of the violent death of the Messiah and its glorious results in the expiation of sin, iniquity and transgression at the end of the 69th week. These have been fulfilled in detail. The prophetic events connected with the tribulation and the final 70th week, outlined in Daniel 9. 27 will take place in God’s good time.

The Return From Babylon

Ezra chapter 1 is the connecting link between Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years captivity, 25 11-12 and Daniel’s revelation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. But the records go even further back. The closing vision granted to Daniel was given to him in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia. In the opening verses of Ezra we are carried back to the first year of that great monarch, whom the prophet Isaiah mentioned by name about two centuries before he ascended the throne. In Isaiah 44. 28 we find the prediction of what he would do. ‘That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid’. Ezra 1. 2 records his carrying out that which Isaiah had foretold. How wonderful are God’s ways and purposes, working through the centuries in performing His plans!

‘Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, 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, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem’, Ezra 1, 1-3.

In every God-given revival God raises up men with a burden. The initial response to the proclamation of Cyrus, was the migration of 42,360 persons and some servants and their possessions. Their leaders were Zerubbabel, who became the Tirshatha or civil Governor, and Jeshua, the priest, called Joshua in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. Their experiences are recorded in Ezra chapters 1-6. Their primary objective was to build the temple on the old foundations in Jerusalem. They were anxious to get back to Mount Zion, the original gathering centre. They were a humble remnant in comparison with those that remained behind at Babylon. Their first recorded concerted action was to rebuild the altar and offer burnt sacrifices on it. ‘Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord. From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid’, Ezra 3. 2-7.

It is emphasised that the first priority of the returning exiles from Babylon was to rebuild the altar and offer blood sacrifices upon it. They did not have the opportunity of doing this in Babylon. Burnt offerings are mentioned six times, and ‘as it was written’ twice, Jeshua the priest and Zerubbabel the prince were careful to go back to the word. Later on there was opposition and ridicule from the political and the religious world represented by the Samaritans, but they continued steadfastly in the work of building the temple and the worship connected with it as the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah narrate.

All of this should speak loudly to our hearts and consciences today-Trie Lord’s supper, with its remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifical sufferings and vicarious death on the cross, celebrated on the first day of the week, should be the first priority in the life of every born again believer. There, as a holy priesthood, we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. 2. 5. Witness for Christ is important, but worship is supremely important.

The book of Zechariah has been called ‘The Apocalypse of the Old Testament’. The visions of the early chapters give us the principles of true Holy Ghost revival. The last section, from chapter 9 to chapter 14 is a magnificent prophetic exposition of the person and work of the Shepherd-King, the Messiah. His two advents, first in lowly grace, then in His manifested glory to establish His kingdom are concisely but clearly predicted. Chapter 9, verse 9 outlines His official presentation at the temple on the last day of Daniel’s 69th week. ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’. This was fulfilled in detail in Matthew 21. 1-10. Then the account of Judas’s treachery: If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver’, ch. 11. 12; Matt. 26. 15; 27. 9-10. Finally the death of the Good Shepherd upon the cross: ‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts; smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones’, 13. 7.

Jehovah bade His sword awake,
O Christ it woke ‘gainst Thee; Thy blood the flaming blade must slake.
Thy heart its sheath must be; All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.

The prophecy ends with a magnificent outline of the second coming of the Messiah, to deliver and restore His earthly people, Israel and to set up His Millenial Kingdom. Amen, even so come, Lord Jesus.

As we took a backward look at the history of mankind recorded in the Old Testament scriptures, we can trace man’s sin and the desperate need for a remedy that would reconcile God’s holiness and man’s fallen state. That remedy is pictured by blood sacrifice of an innocent victim, pointing forward to one supreme sacrifice in the blood shedding and vicarious death of God’s sinless Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Abel’s offering of the firstling of the flock; Noah’s multiple sacrifice on Mount Ararat after the flood; Abraham’s altars, with its climax on Mt. Moriah; Moses and the passover lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the door posts in Egypt; the innumerable Levitical sacrifices offered under the law, Samuel’s offering of a sucking lamb, and Elijah’s altar and sacrifice on Mt. Carmel arc all a commentary on the great truth of Leviticus 17. 11, ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul’.


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