We Know so Little about God

But we use big words as if we didn’t (know so little).

Every statement from us about Christ is bound to be an understatement (because of verses like Isa. 55:9). Even if we have the words right (and that is usually when we are closest to just using Scripture) we still understate in the sense that we don’t really understand the concepts we use of God.

I am not yet speaking about God, but of the words themselves. Words, in the final analysis, are pitiful instruments to tell of the wonderful truths of God – or many other things in this life. Very often, whether in some other branch of knowledge or in theology, we use words, not to come to grips with something hard to understand – but to make it go away. We do this with a semblance of “having tackled the problem”.

We give a name to the strange force of electricity. We tag it and bag it with eleven letters and neatly slot it away from our consciousness. But what is this electricity? Really?

Gravity?

Music?

Color?

Photosynthesis?

Such knowledge is too wonderful for us.

Eternity?

I have a chart, for instance, I have used both in teaching at church and at the school to show that we don’t really fathom what is involved by glibly saying God is infinite. The demonstration works like this: I first ask them a “stupid” question, as one of my students might have categorized it: “How many infinities are there?” They almost invariably say “one”.

Then I draw an X/Y chart on the board, showing, first of all, how there is an infinite number of positive numbers from zero to infinity. This is a no-brainer.

Then I draw another line from zero backwards to negative infinity. Heads start scratching here – the more insightful ones. This, after all, is another infinite set, and we have only drawn two lines! I can then show them that there seems to be ( I stay away from the indicative mode at this point. I want conclusions to come from them, or not at all) an infinite number of sets.

We have an infinity of all odd numbers,

Of all even numbers,

Of all multiples of, say, 8

And this can go on, well, ad infinitum, each set trailing off into its own domain of infinity. All separate yet, so it seemed at first, equal. An infinite number of infinities! I finally end my demonstration with putting a large circle around the whole chart, saying that this represents all that we can fathom about infinity.

Then I write a large “G” in front. And a large “D” at the other end, spelling “GOD”. This spells out the truth that God is bigger than we can ever imagine. (I have since found out that my “discovery” has long been made by a mathematician of two centuries ago, George Cantor, and that there is a whole branch of math called “set theory”.) We say God is “infinite”. But we are saying much more than we can comprehend.

How is God infinite?

Infinite in time: Eternality. Moses said of Him (Psalm 90:2) “From everlasting to everlasting You are God.” (“everlasting to everlasting”= Eternal). Only God is truly eternal. Though Christians have eternal life, it is only so from this time forward, not backward. See also Deut. 32:40; 1st Tim. 6:16.Infinite in Knowledge: Omniscient: (“all-knowing”).Psalm 139 describes this and the following two aspects of God (omnipotent and omnipresence). Verses 1- 6 refer to omniscience. Also Psa. 147:4- 5.

Everything God planned, He did from eternity past.

He knows the future because His will is done in it and His wisdom and omnipotence brings it about.

Infinite in Power: Omnipotent: (“All-powerful”) “El Shaddai”. This is God’s total ability to achieve His perfect will. “Is anything too hard for God?” (Jer. 32:17, 27)

Infinite in Space (Immensity): Omnipresent: He is everywhere. Psalm 139:7- 12.God fills every part of space with His whole Being! “Do I not fill heaven and Earth?”: I Kings 8:27. See also Isa. 66:1, Jer. 23:23- 24.This is not pantheism. God is everywhere, but He is not everything. “Immensity” means not just that God is everywhere, but that He is surely present in every place.

All of God is in the room in which you, my friend, are reading these words, wherever you are. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,Even there Your hand shall lead me,And Your right hand shall hold me. – Psalm 139:7-10

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Postincarnate Christ

I think that we Christians – like everyone else – have a hard time of thinking outside the box, so to speak. Or outside the body, I should say. It is hard to see beyond our own frame of reference. However I do not think that the body that Christ showed immediately post-resurrection is the same body He had – has now – post ascension. I think the locked door encounter, John 20:24-29, was still part of His Incarnational mission, the “days of His flesh, as Hebrews 5:7 puts it. I think there is a hint of this also in 1 Tim. 3:16 (ESV)

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”

These are all in the past tense, or at least, because the last of the six events is clearly in the past the preceding five ought to refer to events before it.

In the light of Hebrews 2:14 I am convinced that Christ being in the flesh was mission-specific. I do not believe that Christ is flesh and blood now. The purpose for that, according to Scripture, is long gone.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,”

He became flesh and blood – and suffered in His flesh and shed His blood. I doubt we can fathom the depths of what He did to rescue us and to destroy the one who had the power of death.

However some people assert that Christ is flesh and blood now because of 1 Tim. 2:5

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (ἄνθρωπος Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς),”

But this does not prove that Christ is flesh and blood, but that He is the God-Man.

And this begs the question: What does it mean to be human? Is flesh and blood required for that? I do not think so. If it were, then my Christian father ceased to be human five years ago when he died. And all the saints who died in Christ also lost their humanity. But I cannot accept this. I believe, rather, that they joined “the spirits of just men made perfect”, Heb. 12:23.

Our goal is to be like Christ, Christlikeness, not that the Second Person of the Godhead should from the time of His incarnation onward stay flesh and blood. Scripture has no proof of this.

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Teachable Teachers

I remember this man at my yard sale in Winston-Salem over thirty years ago. He saw a number of commentaries I had for sale, stood facing me, his legs in a stance like he was braced for a hurricane. He pointed his finger at me and challenged,

“What is your position on Acts 2:38!?”

I forget what I answered, or what he answered, except that it was somewhat abrasive. He was poised for a hermeneutical harangue. But it is funny that I still remember him after all these years. Maybe because it reminds me of an attitude that I have seen all too often. I have done it myself: Started a discussion and downgraded to an argument.

I have slowly come to understand that the people I learn the most from are those gentle spirits that shine more light then generate heat. And there are good verses on this topic.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;”
Gal. 5:22-23

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matt. 7:15-20

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,” 2 Timothy 2:24-25

From these verses we see that spiritual teachers demonstrate spiritual gifts. Carnal teachers have no choice but to show their carnal attitudes. This is, of course, a general rule. Spiritual teachers certainly have their off days and carnal teachers and false prophets can muster up a virtue or two when occasion really demands. But when we get to know different teachers over a period of months their true center becomes obvious.

Recently on certain Christian Facebook pages I have seen this principle at work. A teacher – a self-appointed expert on a certain doctrine, by an unspiritual demeanour, discredits whatever position he is teaching, whatever books he is selling.

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God’s Rebuilding Project From Ruins to Righteousness Isaiah 61:4 – 62:2

There is something both incongruous and fitting about that title. The expected word after “ruins” might have been “rebuilt”, not “righteousness”. But the very fact that the metaphor seems jarring points out just how different this new kingdom is: It is a spiritual kingdom. The main excellence of this kingdom, the main distinguishing mark, is true righteousness. In this sense it is totally different, not only from the earlier Zion, but all other earthly kingdoms. It is something truly new.

But there is also continuity. It is a kingdom with roots in the past, already fore-typed unmistakably in earlier times. The best features of the old Kingdom of Israel were sure prophecies of the better Zion that was to come. Christ assured His disciples that they, once well-taught, will be “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” [1]

4. And they shall rebuild the old ruins,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.

“They shall rebuild”. And who is “they”? The same ones who “mourn in Zion”, vs. 3. “Blessed are the mourners”.  [2]

Notice the continuity here. This is a “rebuilding”, a “repairing” of “former desolations”. The enlightened Jerusalem Counsel (Acts 15) , having heard of Paul’s recent missionary successes, understood this to be a “rebuild[ing of] the tabernacle of David”, Acts 15:15-17.

5.  Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
And the sons of the foreigner
Shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.

It is easy to misunderstand these verses as being adversarial, as if the Gentiles are forcefully subjugated into an unwilling cooperation. But this is not the intent of the passage. This nothing other than the Gentiles, the middle wall of partition having been taken down through Christ, entering into the blessings of God’s people. It is Japheth living – at long last – in the tents of Shem.  [3]

Notes
1. Matt. 13:51 – 52. Notice that the disciples were asked if they understood “all these things”. The entire seven parables, not just the last one, seem to be in view.

Jesus, having just expounded seven Kingdom parables, questioned His own disciples whether they understood what He had taught. They responded, “Yes”.. This is what prompted Christ’s comment above.

The question could also very fittingly be addressed to today’s disciples: Do we understand these things? Many today don’t, because the teaching of these seven parables is not often taught as they should be. If we do not understand these things – the basic nature of the Kingdom – we cannot bring out of our treasure things both old and new, seeing that we are not able to distinguish the old from the new. This is one of the core errors of modern Dispensationalism.

2. Matt. 5:4. Several places in Scripture we have God working wonderful blessings through great hardship and sorrow. We must through many tribulations enter into the Kingdom of God. Saints of all ages, not just the dedicated Jews of the Old Testament age, go through the “Valley of Weeping” in order to arrive at Zion. God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness”, 2 Cor. 6:9.

“As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;

Each one appears before God in Zion.”
 

3. Genesis 9:27.

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The Woman – and the City – Caught in Adultery

As I think about this passage I cannot help but think about other connections. The following applications I will not be dogmatic about, but I offer them for your consideration.

The Jews brought the woman to be judged but the judgment turned against them. Jerome and Ambrose both brought up the connections with Jer. 17:13 and 17:1.

The Jews in John 8 departed (just like those in the Jer. passage). They could have stayed and been forgiven. And I wonder if there is not a connection with here with Daniel 5. There the writing was on the wall of the palace in Babylon. Here it is on the Temple floor. Both are from the hand of God.

“He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”

The only one without sin that day was the One who spoke this. Jesus, alone, had the right to cast the first stone, which He did not, of course. But about forty years later He did. The adulterous woman repented on that day and turned from her sin. But the adulterous men that day – most, if not all of them – went on in their adulterous ways spiritually speaking, at least.

And the sum total of that adulterous generation, Jerusalem (which becomes mystical Babylon) would in less than forty years face their judgment. Christ is the Rock that both strikes the base of that golden image in Daniel 2 and He is also the One who gives to Babylon (Jerusalem) what she deserves.This is the judgment of both the Beast and the False Prophet.

I think it is a fitting historical detail reported from Josephus about the adulterous city being stoned by the Roman ballistae, stones that weigh about one talent, as both Josephus and Revelation 13 report.

Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.”, 2 Cor. 6:17 (cf. Isa. 52:11)

“Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues.”, Rev. 18:4

Comments appreciated. Like I wrote, I am just offering these connections for consideration. I am clear in my mind that Jerusalem did indeed become spiritual Babylon.

About some of the other cross-references I am not as dogmatic on, but they seem reasonable.

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The Bible cross-references the Bible

The Bible is more a Book than a book of books. That means that the best way to understand any one book is to have a sufficient familiarity with the other books. I believe that any one who wants to seriously tackle, for example, Zechariah, ought to study all of the exilics and post-exilics together; the three prophetic and three historic books (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther). I had written about this in my introduction to Nehemiah and Ezra in the New Covenant Bible

One of the most common mistakes Christians make is to treat Zechariah as if it was a stand-alone prophecy.

For that matter, they treat Daniel 9 the same way.

Martin Luther himself was nonplussed by Zechariah 14, saying.

„Hier, in diesem Kapitel, gebe ich auf. Denn ich bin nicht sicher, wovon der Prophet spricht.“

(“Here, in this chapter, I give up. For I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.” )

I believe the great Reformer made the same mistake of not studying out continuity and the overriding theme of God’s dealing with Israel. To properly understand this one needs to be well grounded in both Testaments, seeing how the prophecies in the Old Testament have their fulfillment and/or clarification in the New

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The Woman Caught in Adultery

The very title of this article is a sort of half-truth.[1] It is certainly the starting point of the story but the context and outworking point to a larger sin and judgment than that of this one woman. The men who cornered her and dragged her up to the Saviour (and where was the man?) wanted to make the story all about her and about the predicament they thought they would land the Teacher in. If He exonerated the woman He would go against Moses and the Scriptures He himself said could not be broken. If He agreed to her stoning then He placed himself in opposition to the Romans, who alone claimed the right to inflict capital punishment. They saw this as an easy win either way.

But Jesus surprised them with His answer. He wrote on the ground. Silent. This act puzzled them. It has also puzzled countless writers ever since. The translators of the KJV unhelpfully provide the gloss “as though He heard them not”. Other commentaries suggest various other guesses which are pointless to go into.

The point, I believe, is not what He wrote but that He wrote. This is where context comes in. Two passages are important to keep in mind. Just the day before Jesus had spoken of the “living water”. John 7:37-39. This is the first passage:

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

His hearers, especially those well-versed in the Scriptures – might very well have noted the connection with Jeremiah 17:13. Certainly the scribes and Pharisees should have known this passage:

“O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.”

Note the offense and the judgment. They forsake the Lord, the Living Water. John 7:39 shows that they are forsaking the Holy Spirit.[2]
What is the judgment? They are “written in the earth“. (See also Jer. 17:1)

Their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. They are not written in Heaven. They are written in the earth.

I believe this is the point of Jesus stooping on the ground.

 

Notes

1. For those who think that this passage has a questionable provenance I suggest that read a number of older commentaries. By far, the majority see this passage as not only inspired and from John, but also in the proper place. This is my view as well.

2. From John Gill’s Commentary:

“See Jer 17:13, “they that depart from me shall be written in the earth”. It could be that Christ was writing their names in the earth, thus fulfulling this prophecy in Jeremiah. They knew the Old Testament and this passage, and were convicted in their hearts. Editor.) … In vindication of which, he cited the passage in Ho 4:14; and this agrees with their own account of the times of the Messiah, and the signs thereof, among which stands this Deut 17:7″

More later.

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Rise, let us go from Here

Rise, let us go from here.”

There are two times in Bible times when this intriguing sentence was spoken. The first one we will look at is not actually from the Bible, but reported by contemporary historians, most notably Josephus.

“Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost [June 66 AD], as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’” [Wars 6.299 (6.5.3)]

An interesting comment from Ed Stevens:

“Note that Josephus gives us the exact day and hour when this event occurred (on the day of Pentecost at the hour of the evening sacrifices), where it occurred (in the Jerusalem Temple), and who witnessed it (the officiating priests). The Jewish priests testified about what they felt and heard in the Temple at night on Pentecost in the year AD 66, at the very time when the Zealot war with Rome was about to begin.

“This transfer of a large multitude from one place to another in the unseen realm seems to have been the resurrection of the dead and the change of the living saints, when they were caught up to be with Christ. This event occurred at Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Notice also that it occurred at night, not during the daytime. That explains why no one noticed the snatching away of the living saints.” – page 221, Final Decade, Ed Stevens

There is much more that needs to be said about this remarkable event, both as to who were involved in it and the nature of the event itself, but that needs to wait for a separate article.

The Sentence in John

But there was an earlier occurrence of this sentence. We have this from John 14:31 (ESV)

“… but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”

I do not think that the inspired writers of the New Testament would include this last phrase if it was as trivial as it sounds. There has to be more than is on the surface. Many sermons and commentaries assume that this was spoken just after they had left the Upper Room. But John Gill makes two observations that merit consideration. He says that John 14:31 was spoken before Jesus and His disciples went to the Upper Room, that they were, in fact, arising from Bethany and just now going to their appointed room. More significantly he shows that the phrase that Christ spoke, and the phrase that was spoken in the night air in 66 AD, had a possible Jewish significance. This would lead to a possible eschatological connection that has been overlooked by many. Notice the several “possibles”. I am frankly not sure of the suggestion from Gill on the background of the phrase, but I think it is worth considering.

Here is the comment from John Gill on John 14:31, underlining is mine:

arise, let us go hence: not from the passover, or the supper, for the passover was not as yet, and the Lord’s supper was not instituted; nor in order to go to Mount Olivet, or to the garden, where Judas and his armed men would be to meet him, and lay hold on him, as is generally thought; but from Bethany, where he and his disciples now were, in order to go to Jerusalem and keep the passover, institute the supper, and then surrender himself into the hands of his enemies, and die for the sins of his people; for between this and the sermon in the following chapters, was the Lord’s supper celebrated; when Christ having mentioned the fruit of the vine, he should drink new with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom, he very pertinently enters upon the discourse concerning the vine and branches, with which the next chapter begins: the phrase is Jewish; so R. Jose and R. Chiyah say to one another as they sat, , “arise, and let us go hence” (f).

(f) Zohar in Exod. Fol. 74. 1.”

(I was unsuccessful in finding this quote from Zohar. Any help in locating this would be appreciated. At any rate, whether or not this phrase has a Jewish background is minor to the main point of this article.)

The Eschatological Connection

“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”Matthew 26:29

This comment from Jesus in the Upper Room makes the connection between this Last Supper and the Parousia, the beginning of which the believers are raptured. If this latter event did indeed happen right at the “Let us depart from here” utterance recorded by Josephus it raises the possibility that the quote in John was more than just a casual comment, but had an added prophetical meaning.

 

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The Other Martin of the German Reformation: Martin Bucer

Speaking of Reformed “dead guys”, there are some who are not only dead but forgotten. And that is our loss. Some who come to mind are Martin Bucer, David Pareus and Matthius Flaccius.

Bucer, the other “Martin” of the German Reformation, was right there with Luther, Zwingli and Melanchthon through most of those frenzied early decades of the continental Reformation. He was at times befriended, at other times distrusted, by the more famous Martin. His “problem” was that he wanted the various factions of the Reformers to be unified in the face of opposition from both State and from Rome. At times he was too pragmatic, like when he (along with Melanchthon and Luther, however) assured their local leader – I think it was Philip the Confessor – that he could have a second wife! And citing the Old Testament as precedent! But he later repented of this. Where Bucer really shines is in his carrying over his work into England, having been banished from Strasburg (along with his partner, Paul Fagius) for not going along with the compromise of 1548 with Roman Catholics (It was officially called the “Augsburg Interim”, but the name is not the thing).

It was in England that Edward VI, young heir of Henry VIII, eager to put God’s truth into action, asked him for help in carrying along true Reformed principles in the kingdom newly entrusted to him. The last, best labor that Bucer brought out for this young king was his “De Regno Christi” (“The Kingdom of Christ”). Shortly afterward he died. Bucer’s fellow-fugitive, Fagius, also died about this same time (of the plague, I believe). Unfortunately Edward died also, very soon afterwards. He died young, being replaced (after a tragic interim) with the vicious “Bloody Mary”, who promptly disinterred the bones of both Bucer and Fagius.

God’s purposes and working are truly beyond our understanding. Here was the opportunity for the German Reformation to bear wonderful fruit in England. But instead – after just a couple years – all of these, the advisors and the regal advisee – died. And along comes Mary!

But God knows what He’s doing.

As far as Bucer’s writings is concerned, Brittanica Encyclopaedia tells us “The definitive edition of the collected works of Bucer is now in progress”. I look forward to that.

Some sources that may interest you printed and online (read with discernment):

Written:
“The British Josiah”, N.A. Woychuk, 2001 (SMF Press)

Online:
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9017859/Martin-Bucer
http://www.tlogical.net/biobucer.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareus
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/martin_bucer.htm
http://chi.gospelcom.net/DAIL…/2002/…/daily-10-21-2002.shtml
http://books.google.com/ (English Synopsis of Bucer’s Latin Commentary on John)
http://www.reformationucc.org/…/martin-bucer-a-reformer-in…/
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03025d.htm

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Preface to Ezra-Nehemiah

This is the introduction that I contributed for the new Fulfilled Covenant Bible. It is now titled The Kingdom Bible (TKB).

 

Exilic and Post-Exilic History: Record of God’s Providence

The books of  Ezra , Nehemiah, and Esther are unique among the historical writings in that they give us no new communication from God within the context of the respective stories themselves. That is, there is no “And a prophet spoke in the assembly, “Thus saith the LORD…” or “And a dream came at night to Solomon …”. In Esther, additionally, there is not even a reference to God.

In Ezra and Nehemiah we have godly men praying to God, invoking promises already given, and resting firmly upon what was already revealed. These all rested in the Covenant mercies of the LORD. There is no recorded response from God – other than the unmistakable proof of the eventual successes of their respective God -ordained purposes. [1]   As such, these books are fitting models for Christians of the New Covenant, who likewise rest in the promises of the same faithful but invisible Savior, in spite of seeming silence and distance.

Ezra and Nehemiah are both a recapitulation of the glories of the past and a presage of a future spiritual  greater glory. Several passages of the rebuilding of the temple recall the first building. Lumber is once again rafted down from Lebanon, etc. But this recollection is a bittersweet one. The erection of the Temple provokes both shouts of joy from the hopeful younger generation and weeping from the older.

 

Ezra-Nehemiah: A Single Book

Originally Ezra-Nehemiah was considered a single unit in the Hebrew canon – just as we today view 1st and 2nd Chronicles – but were first treated separately by Christians around the 3rd century.

 

The Problem of Names and Dates

There is a special difficulty in fixing the chronology of Ezra-Nehemiah. There is considerable variation between conservative – even Preterist – writers on dates. There are several reasons for this, too complicated to deal with at length here. An ancient but oft-copied error concerning names ( Xerxes for Artaxerxes) has been especially problematic. The Greek historian Thucyidides, a contemporary, provides us with the important fact that Artaxerxes Longimanus’s reign began 473 or 474BC. Thus the twentieth year of his reign would be 454 BC (Ussher). [2] This is the date of the very decree, Neh. 2:1-6, that begins the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9.

 

Timeline of Ezra-Nehemiah

The history covered by Ezra-Nehemiah (along with the contemporary Malachi) bring to an end the first division of Daniel’s 70 Weeks. These books evidence the “seven weeks” (49 years) of the city being built “even in troublous times”, Daniel 9:25.

 

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Both Ezra and Nehemiah, on the authority of royal permission, are instrumental in restoring post-exilic Judah to a return to the God of the Covenant. The Temple and the city, through the instrument of these two men of God, are rebuilt. Both Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9 (and also Daniel 9) show a lengthy and rich intercessory prayer of confession and supplication for the people of God.

Both men show them to be worthy examplars of the Old Covenant. We can follow their examples in principle, though not always in practice. (Mixed marriages and Sabbath observance have long since ceased to be issues).

 

Ezra

Ezra begins with a repetition of the last passage of 2nd Chronicles, with Cyrus’s permission for the Jews’ return to their land to build Him [God] a house at Jerusalem”.  See timeline above for particulars of the return and subsequent events. The persons returning in this first wave, mainly from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with Levites,  are listed in chapter two. (The Nehemiah here is not the same as the one of the next book.)

Ezra encounters, as Nehemiah will a few years later, opposition from without as well as troubles within. The similarities of those internal troubles experienced by both Ezra and Nehemiah, Sabbath profanation and intermarriages, has led many to assume that the events coincided. But Ezra encountered these problems twenty-five years before Nehemiah did. (See timeline).

 

Nehemiah

Nehemiah, “the king’s cupbearer”, was “a man of like passions with us”, moved to tears – and then to prayerful action – by the deserved disaster that fell upon his people and his beloved city.

The events of this short book cover a longer period than some might imagine. Over the years the governors of Israel deteriorated in character. From the good example of the first governor, Zerubbabel, we descend to later governors who abused their power, buying up land and reducing the poorer of their fellow countrymen to servitude and financial hardships. Their exacting of gifts, alluded to by the Prophet Malachi, was an abuse aided by the absence of Nehemiah from Israel. A further deterioration is found in the same time; Tobiah the Ammonite  progresses from a mocker of Nehemiah’s work, 2: 19, to an infiltrator, actually living in the Temple premises! The end of Nehemiah “ending with the deaths of Malachi and Nehemiah in the last ten years of the fifth century B.C”4 coincides with the end of the Old Testament, and of the first division of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.

 

Value of Ezra and Nehemiah. We can see God’s hand in an inspired overview, over the span of years. From chapter to chapter we can scan beyond the harrassments and impediments to see the work completed in God’s due time. This encourages us that our own impediments are also merely, so to speak, just a few verses long, that God is faithful and will fulfill what He ordains for our life. We need only to remember to, in the context of these two books, follow the footsteps of Ezra and Nehemiah – in principle.

 

Notes

1. Although we can infer that both Ezra and Nehemiah were encouraged by the contemporary prophets Haggai and Malachi, we find no mention of them here. We do find addressed here the same themes of those two prophetical books; true repentance toward God, the sin of mixed marriages, worldliness and avarice of the priests and leaders, etc.

2.Proof and further elaboration on these dates can be found in Thucydides’s, Peloponessian Wars, Ussher’s Annals, ed. by Larry and Marion Pierce. See especially Pierce’s careful notes on both names and dates as well as for the history of the error that is now so commonly found in most Bible margins today . Also see Christology of the Old Testament, Hengstenberg as well as Vitringa.

3.Nehemiah 12:22 refers to the reign of Darius Nothus. According to Ussher (and John Owen in verse Neh. 12:12 as well) we have an addition to the book from after Nehemiah’s time. Jaddua was the high priest who went out to meet Alexander the Great outside of Jerusalem. See Owen’s Commentary on Hebrews (Ages Software), Exercitation 15, p.446.

4. Commentary on Malachi, Jamieson, Faucett, and Brown.

5. The “certain days” being “many years” is ably examined by Albert Barnes, Commentary to Daniel, Vol.2, p.175.

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