Monday, September 25, 2006

Ezra, Persia, and Temples

For my devotions this week I have been reading through Ezra. The account is of a priest, Ezra, who was commissioned by King Cyrus of Persia to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. He took a thousands of Jews with him to help, as well as letters from the king requisitioning supplies. King Cyrus returned the vessels and utensils which Nebuchadnezzar had plundered.

Some of the local population requested that they be allowed to help build the Temple, since they claimed to worship the same God. In Exodus and Leviticus, God had been very specific about the people who could be associated with the Temple or Tabernacle. Children even of converts were not allowed in the Temple for something like ten generations. These people in Ezra's day were those who became known as Samaritans. After the deportation of Jews from Judah, Nebuchadnezzar relocated some other conquered population, which intermarried with the pathetic remnant of Hebrews and apparently adopted some of the Jewish worship, mixing it with their own paganism. Such were the superstitious Samaritans of Jesus' day. At the rebuilding of the Temple in Ezra, this man of the line of Aaron refused to allow them to help.

The bitterness all started at that exclusion. And their opposition to the "Jewish way of doing things" began immediately. They sent a letter of complaint to the new king of Persia, Artaxerxes. For 16 years, their letter succeeded in postponing work on the Temple. The Samaritans appealed to King Artaxerxes' paranoia and desire to protect his power. "When the Jews have a wall around this city of theirs, and a Temple, they get rebellious. Look at history," they warned.

King Artaxerxes went for their argument. Kings of this empire tended to be gullible, or easily manipulated. I don't know why. When I studied Persian history, I also noticed one other prominent fact: no man stayed in power long. Brothers, cousins, sons, friends, and strangers were all willing to murder each other in order to gain the throne. Soon after Ezra the empire's influence succumbed completely to the succeeding power. I think it was Greece. So Artaxerxes was desperately protecting the unstable authority structure. My imagination presents the picture of him sticking a finger in every leak of his dam, until he ran out of fingers.

On the radio this week someone commented that the North Koreans are so dangerous for the same reason. Their regime is weak. Any regime would be weak that had little money and whose people were starved and tortured. Public approval rates are probably pretty low. Discontent breeds, well, revolution. The leadership of this extreme government desperately needs a show of power to prove themselves. Since the display they threaten is a nuclear attack on the US or their neighbors, they cannot be allowed to succeed. That and the fact that their government is evil and oppressive.

Eventually King Darius became ruler of the Persian empire, and he reinstated work on the Temple. This point encouraged me in my life right now. My latest batch of eBay attempts produced discouraging results. I still need wisdom in how to proceed. Other plans for my feeble start-up business have been halted by government restrictions, requirements, and licenses. But if Ezra can endure setbacks for a cause to which God called him, then so can I. To keep in mind that cause is important.

God is so faithful to provide reminders that He is active. He puts up signposts reminiscent of those yellow and black arrows posted on a sharp curve in the middle of nowhere on a highway. A succession of events, articles, verses, and conversations point me toward those things He wants me to heed right now. For example, last Sunday part of the Sunday school lesson was on the preparation of the Temple for the people to meet with God. So I began reading Ezra, which had this connection with North Korea. And I also read the Copper Scroll (Joel Rosenberg's new book) which happened to be about the eschatological building of the Temple. So those different points fit. I'm not sure of the overarching theme/lesson, but the little applications have been nice.

To God be all glory.

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