Sunday, October 3
Job 42: The last chapter of this book contains (1) a statement of repentance by Job (verses 1-6), (2) the Lord’s reprimand of Eliphaz and his companions (verses 7-8), and (3) a narrative section, at the end of which Job begins the second half of his life (verses 9-17).
First, one observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at this state of humility, not by a consideration of his own sins, but by an experience of God’s power and glory. (Compare Peter in Luke 5:1-8.) When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from what Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed. All through this book, Job has been proclaiming his personal integrity, but now this consideration is not even in the picture; he has forgotten all about any personal integrity. It is no longer pertinent to his relationship to God (verse 6). Job is justified by faith, not by any claims to personal integrity.
Second, God turns and deals with the three comforters who have failed so miserably in their task, and Job is appointed to be the intercessor on their behalf. Ironically, the offering that God prescribes to be made on their behalf (verse 8) is identical to that which Job had offered for his children out of fear that they might have cursed God (1:5). The book begins and ends, then, with the offering of sacrifice.
This divine reprimand of Job’s counselors also implies that their many accusations against Job were groundless. Indeed, Job had earlier warned them of God’s impending anger with them in this matter (13:7-11), and now that warning is proved accurate (verse 7).
In just two verses (7-8) God four times speaks of “My servant Job,” exactly as He had spoken of Job to Satan. But Job, for his part, must bear no grudge against his friends, and he is blessed by the Lord in the very act of his praying for them (verse 10).
The Book of Job both begins and ends, then, with Job and worship and intercession. Ezekiel, remembering Job’s prayer more than his patience, listed him with Noah and Daniel, all three of whom he took to be men endowed with singular powers of intercession before the Most High (Ezekiel 14:14-20). Also ironically, whereas Job’s friends fail utterly in their efforts to comfort him throughout almost the entire book, they succeed at the end (verse 11).
Third, in the closing narrative we learn that Job lives one-hundred and forty years, exactly twice the normal span of a man’s life (Cf. Psalm 89 :10). Each of his first seven sons and three daughters is replaced at the end of the story, and all of his original livestock is exactly doubled (Job 1:3; 42:12).
Monday, October 4
Ezra 1: Since the first verse of this chapter is identical with 2 Chronicles 36:22, there is some merit in the suggestion that there was originally no break between these two books. That is to say, it may well be the case that at one time the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were all one work. Interpreters have long observed that a common theological perspective, dominated by concerns of proper worship, unites all of these books.
Cyrus, who had ruled the Persians since 557, began to reign over what had been the Babylonian Empire in October of 539, but the Bible “rounds out” that reign to the beginning of its first full year (verse 1), the “new year’s day” of which was in March of 538. This is the year, then, that the Babylonian Captivity came to an end.
Cyrus’s decree, of which this chapter contains a Hebrew paraphrase (verses 2-4), indicates the relatively enlightened policy of the Persians towards those who had been conquered and deported by the Babylonians.
Unlike the Assyrians and Babylonians, the more liberal Persians sought to inspire loyalty among subject peoples by respecting their local religions (“which is in Jerusalem,” says verse 3) and, where possible, safeguarding their local and ethnic traditions. From an inscription on a clay barrel known as “Cyrus’s Cylinder,” we know of that emperor’s general policy of repatriating deported peoples and restoring deported gods back to the places of their traditional temples. That documented policy of Cyrus is obviously consonant with the biblical account.
If we examine the wording of Chapter 1 carefully, moreover, we observe that the interest of the author is not in the ending of the Captivity per se (because very few Jews actually returned from Babylon, after all, having established nice homes and lucrative businesses there during two generations), but in the restoration of proper worship in the temple. (Bear in mind that in 538 the ink was barely dry on those final prophetic chapters of Ezekiel, describing the glory of this new temple!) The author’s real interest in the Book of Ezra is not geopolitical, but theological and liturgical (as also in the Books of Chronicles).
The “seventy years” prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10 was not fulfilled until the temple was completed in 516, exactly seventy years after its destruction in 586. When that temple is eventually finished, it will house the confiscated sacred vessels that Cyrus now restores to the Jews (verse 7-10).
Sheshbazzar (verse 11), incidentally, is the Persian way of referring to Zerubbabel, about whom more will be said in the following chapters.
Tuesday, October 5
Ezra 2: This chapter, which is repeated verbatim in Nehemiah 7, accounts for 49,897 people who returned from Babylon to the Holy Land. This very high figure surely indicates, however, not those who were immediately repatriated in the year 518, but includes, rather, those who came in the ensuing years. That is to say, it includes those who arrived by the time of Nehemiah nearly a century later.
Those listed in verses 2-20 are named according to their families, those in verses 21-35 according to their towns (which list, curiously, does not mention Jerusalem).
This chapter lists a disproportionate number of priests (verses 36-39), which is exactly what we would expect. Since all the sacrificial worship of the Jewish religion, following the Deuteronomic reform of 622, was limited to Jerusalem, there was certainly no reason for priests to remain in Babylon.
The number of Levites (verse 40), on the other hand, seems disproportionately small, which disproportion will require the adjustments described in Ezra 8:15-20. Nehemiah 7 will list an additional forty-five singers.
These lists of names throughout Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are theologically important. This is the People of God, not an amorphous mass of nondescript ciphers. No one remains nameless in some anonymous flock, because the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep and calls them all by name. Such lists, therefore, of which Romans 16 is a later example, are precious in the sight of the Lord and deserve to be held precious in our eyes as well. Ultimately the Book of Life itself is just a list of such names.
Wednesday, October 6
Ezra 3: The seventh month (verse 1) is roughly September, the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Accordingly, when an outdoor altar was set up so that the sacrificial worship can be resumed, the first feast day to be celebrated was Tabernacles (verse 4). This seems to be a feast very appropriate to the actual living conditions of the returned exiles, who were still obliged to live in tents, lean-tos, and other makeshift dwellings.
Some preparatory work for the construction of the temple began in the spring of the following year (verses 7-8), and there follows an account of the liturgical dedication of the new temple’s foundations, which may have included the floor (verses 10-13).
With a lively sense of history the returned exiles dedicated these foundations at the same time of the year when construction had begun on Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:2).
Verse 11 gives the refrain of the psalm chanted during the laying of the foundation stone, evidently indicating that the psalm employed on this occasion was Psalm 136 (135). This makes perfect sense and serves to illustrate the context of certain lines in that psalm. For example, the end of the Babylonian Captivity and the return to the Holy Land are indicated in the lines that read, “who remembered us in our low estate . . . and redeemed us from our enemies.”
The older members among the returned exiles, who still remembered vividly the splendors of Solomon’s temple, wept on this occasion, overcome by emotion (verse 12). They could also see, by examining the dimensions of its foundation, that this next temple will be appreciably smaller than Solomon’s (cf. Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10). Eventually the new temple would prove satisfactory only to those who had never laid eyes of the old one.
Thursday, October 7
Ezra 4: At Judah’s deportation back in 586, the Holy Land was left rather much at the disposition and scant mercies of those people who would, in due course, be called the Samaritans. (And, purely for shorthand, that is what we will call them here.) They were a hybrid race from the miscegenation of native Israelites and those Gentiles who had been imported into the region by the Assyrians after the fall of Samaria in 722.
In the eyes of those Jews who were now returning home from Babylon, the religion of the Samaritans seemed as compromised as the purity of their bloodlines. If the lessons of the recent Captivity had taught these exiles anything, it was the necessity of avoiding contact, and especially intermarriage, with those who professed to be Israelites but whose identity as Israelites was deeply compromised. In spite of overtures from these Samaritans (verse 2), therefore, the Jewish leadership steadfastly insisted on a policy of separation from them.
This decision of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (verse 3) commenced an important new development in the history of Judaism (cf. Haggai 2:12; Zechariah 3:9; John 4:9; 4:48). This new attitude contrasted sharply with that of King Josiah a century earlier, for he had invited these same people from the north into the fullness of the Israelite worship and religion.
This newer policy, however, took into consideration that the religion practiced in the Holy Land had been for a long time contaminated by idolatry and syncretism. Because the purity of the Jewish faith had been purchased at the great price of the Babylonian Captivity, the Jewish leadership was not about to risk its corruption once again, thereby creating those same conditions that had led to Jerusalem’s downfall. They did not feel they could be tolerant, as Josiah had been, because the social and religious conditions had radically changed.
In fact, however, as we shall see, many of the other returning Jews were not convinced by this new policy. They were young, unmarried men, who in due course would take wives from the local population, in quiet defiance of their leaders. This defiance would lead to new problems that we will meet in the rest of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The latter part of the present chapter (verses 6-23), which clearly interrupts the chronological sequence, is concerned with a later period of the general story, for it takes place during the reigns of Darius I (Ahasuerus), 485-465, and Artaxerxes I, 465-424. This narrative is inserted into this place, apparently as a further example of ill will on the part of the Samaritans.
Friday, October 8
Ezra 5: Haggai began preaching in Jerusalem in August of 520 (Haggai 1:1) and was joined by Zechariah, whose ministry spanned 520-518. The returned refugees, because of their poverty and hard life, had delayed the completion of the temple for nearly two decades (Haggai 1:2-10).
As the result of this prophetic intervention, critical of both Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the work on the construction of the temple resumed, somewhat to the suspicion and chagrin of the officers of the Persian Empire’s fifth satrapy, the region that included Jerusalem.
After all, eighteen years had elapsed since Cyrus had authorized the construction, and there had been two changes of emperors since then. Naturally, no one around seemed to have a copy of that original authorization.
Meanwhile, in addition, there had been quite a bit of political unrest in the empire, including a rebellion or two and the suicide of an emperor. This sort of unrest that might make anything new look suspicious (verses 2-4). In short, a new building permit was needed, or at least a clarification from the capital. The correspondence involved in obtaining this permit or clarification occupies verses 7-17 of this chapter, and the reply of Emperor Darius will be in the following chapter.
Saturday, October 9
Ezra 6: In his response Darius refers to the empire as “Babylon,” a name that was retained even after its conquest by the Persians.
The emperor’s letter (verses 3-12) reports on the search in the imperial archives (verse 2) and contains the earlier decree of Cyrus, authorizing the rebuilding of the temple nearly two decades earlier. These pagan documents are incorporated into the narrative here and become, thus, integral to God’s inspired Word.
In spite of Cyrus’s requirement that the temple be completed at royal expense (verses 4,8), we know that it was the Jews themselves who paid for the work and supplies (2:68).
It took five years to finish this work, and the temple was completed on March 12, 515, which was a Sabbath day that year. It was solemnly dedicated that same spring, on Friday, April 1 (cf. 1 Esdras 7:5; Josephus, Antiquities 11.4.7 §107).
There seems to have prevailed the idea, already clear in Solomon’s dedication of the first temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:2), that such a dedication was appropriately associated with the Passover (verses 19-22). This association will prompt Christians, surely, to remember that in the Gospel of John Jesus is identified both as the New Temple and as the Lamb of God.
We may also note at this point that we hear no more of Zerubbabel, who is not mentioned at all in regard to the temple’s completion. One suspects that he returned to Babylon to live out his remaining years. In the chapter’s final verse the Persian Empire is referred to as “Assyria,” so persistently do territories tend to retain their more ancient names.